Parma & Modena getaways September 2014 1st September we embarked on a train trip to Parma. Starting out at 5.15 am (it took till 11 am to get over the shock) we groped our way through the dark and lightening show to the station. The electrical storm kept up all the way past Florence, where we changed trains, but we remained dry if sluggish. All the high speed trains were late some by just 5 mins but the train from Florence to Parma was delayed by 25 mins so we arrived after 11 am instead of 10.35. Still we ambled along to the center, very easy as the station is just a 15 mins walk, to see the Duomo, Baptestry and Mary la sticcata church. Wow doesn't cover it. We're not normally church viewers but outside of the Sistine chapel these 3 have it all. The baptistery is an octagonal pink marbled building you pay to see it, every surface decorated with a vast central font, a second one standing on pillars on the backs of Macedonian lions stands by a wall. In muted colours the walls are totally painted floor to celling in square panels.

While in the church of la Steccata the tombs were the attraction, as well as the paintings. The alter is a blaze of gold and the arched ceiling above it with the back panel a riot of colour.

There are many pictures, carvings and fresco's within the church and several; side chapels which are also beautifully decorated, one is covered in sacred heart medals to signify prayers answered.

The carving of the shrouded Christ, the photo doesn't do it justice, the shroud accents the body rather than hiding it. The building externally is rather plain although there is statuary along it's top edge, nothing to indicate the astonishing decoration inside.

There are more churches than you can see in just one day, so you do have tt pick and choose In the cathedral the pictures are bright, the cupola is a gilded marvel and the nave will give anyone a crick in the neck trying to take it all in.

Unfortunately it wasn't possible to see the dome above the alter depicting the ascension by Correggio as it is roped off but its impressive and looks like it was just painted.

There were 3 clocks painted on the outside of one building, the information center is housed next to a palace and a monument to Verdi is in a park outside the palace of Pilotta, never completed and now houses a museum. There is so much we didn't see, the old fort, the art galleries, museums, a cheese factory, the palace and gardens and so on.

We caught the train to Modena and stayed the night 10 minutes from the station in the hotel del Pace, just 2 mins from the new Ferarri museum. They couldn't have been nicer. The rooms are recently re-furbished and decorated, with small but adequate shower ensuit, good quality bedding and towels and spotlessly clean. Paolo offered locally made pastures, abundant coffee. Melba toast, jams and yogurts for breakfast and kept our bags until our train as there are no lockers at the station. Modena is very laid back and you'd not realize it was a city at all as the contrast to Parma is marked. So easy to stroll about, everyone happy to help and where Parma is gaudy, Modena is plain. The Duomo is a huge medieval building, started in 1090's and finished over several additions later. It is plain, there are side altars, but the inside says “church/place of worship” in contrast to Parma's “look how wealthy I am” . Mike went up 2/3rds of the tower, the remainder is a shaky wooden stair that visitors are not allowed up. He said from the look out he could see …...............

The old palace is now the police academy and another is a botanical garden. We discovered the market where you could buy just about any vegetable and fruit known to man, fresh meat, fish, bread, flowers and preserves. We saw an out door market selling bio-goods with a bee keeper, several offering garden produce and bread. We stopped at a cafe and the owner explained all the items they sold were produced locally and were pure, so we tried a beer, lemonade, lambrusco and tonic water, all were delicious and not over priced. We tried to get a cake from a world famous bakery but the electric company had cut the supply to do essential work. We decided against traveling to a balsamic vinegar farm and went to an outlet instead. The man took great pains to explain the difference between the supplier, use of different casks and years- they started in an oak, ash, juniper, cherry, mulberry, chestnut, acesa, sherry, brandy- the vinegar reduces in volume as it goes until it is thick and almost immobile after 50+ years, naturally the price increases with the year. There are 2 products the Vinegar and the Condiment. The vinegar is indicated by a coin on the label 1 coin= 2 years, the older the better and the condiment has a “wax” stamp impression with the year shown, after 15 years there is no more acid in the product and it is quite thick. A young Balsamic vinegar is very liquid and suitable to dress salads, marinade meats and seafood, prepare the vinaigrette and dips; a medium aged balsamic is perfect not only on salads and veggies but also on risottos, soups, meat, fish and fruit salad. A condiment quality balsamic aged for at least 15 years shows a very velvety consistency and so is good on cheese, caviar and seafood, strawberries and other fresh fruit, ice-cream, custard, cheesecake and even as an ingredient for refreshing cocktails. Usually the product is added at the end of the recipe at 1 teaspoon per person or in the case of the condiment by the drop. We tried a 5 year, 7, 10 & 15 year of both the vinegar and condiment to contrast and bought a 12 year old bottle of the condiment as we actually preferred the slight tang to the 15 year smoother one also the price went up by 20 euros for the 3 year difference. We did look at the reserva's over 25, 50 and 75 years in tiny bottles ( to be sipped alone) and admired the prices! It has a culture and mystic all of its own and although we learned a lot we cannot say we grasped the intricacies of it all. Past the Paverotti theater we dawdled our way back to the Ferrari museum set in Enzo's old home, which he sold at 21 to buy his 1st racing car, and Telly Tubbies extension (that's what it looked like from the train, a yellow topped green mound) . They rotate the exhibits and even drive the cars regularly to keep them in good working order. We liked the city a lot.

All too soon we were back on the train for home where we shared a carriage with 2 young cello students who've been studying for 8 years +, one wanted to play for an orchestra the other would like to build instruments, perhaps we met the new Stradivarius and Julian lloyd-Webber? We helped a man in the car park change a wheel then we went for pizza & pasta in Palazzione, the cats were delighted to see us and told us so for the next 2 days. The following morning we were greeted by the aftermath of the storm we'd seen from the train, the pool was full of leaves and bits of tree all over. Still the weather remained reasonable so everyone could use the pool, well beyond our normal closure time. Just as we were taking them to meet the train, Helen & Pat saw 3 deer run across our car park into the woods and we all noticed the squirrels had taken all the walnuts off tree.

A friend not seen for over 40 years joined us for a BBQ with her friend, it was fun to catch up . After all the visitors, expected and surprise, we have gained between 5-10lbs so salad days will extend into late December. The wood was delivered, in the 3rd week, and the pool closed just as the weather decided a storm was due, although we got it stacked in time Lucca, Pisa and Florence were hit with tornado like winds and rain so heavy they closed the Uffisi museum and the Boboli gardens and other public places due to roof collapses, trees over and windows smashed with hailstones.

We celebrated our anniversary, my birthday, at the end of the month with pasta and processco in Cetona, Annie introduced us to a new restaurant which is just for celebrations....lovely ambiance and very attentive staff.