Ravenna and Modena: Part 1

While we stayed in Dozza, we visited the nearby towns of Ravenna and Modena.

Ravenna is the home of eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, thanks to its various glittering Byzantine mosaic murals.  Because of glass’s ability to retain color, these mosaics are nearly as vivid today as they were fifteen hundred years ago.  This was hardly an opportunity Matt and I could pass up, so we took the short drive to Ravenna and spent the morning gawking at broken bits of glass in several churches and buildings.  The most impressive mosaics were in the Basilica San Vitale, a church built in 526.  That’s THREE digits, not four.  Which means it’s REALLY REALLY OLD.  The mosaics were stunning.  Pictures and words can’t begin to describe them.  The skill and technique required to create these intricate masterpieces is mind-blowing.  We visited several other mosaic sites in Ravenna as well, and while all were glorious, none could match the jaw-dropping San Vitale.

Other than the mosaics, the town of Ravenna was pretty typical for the region. Cobblestone streets charming their way into your heart, buildings in warm yellows and oranges, gelato shops galore.  (Oh what I would give for that to be considered typical here in America!)

Modena was another typical small town that we visited for several reasons: 1) to tour a Parmigiano Reggiano factory. 2) to visit an artisinal balsamic maker and 3) to eat lunch at Hosteria Giusti.

Okay, the Parmigiano Reggiano factory–I thought I was going to vomit.  The smell was so strong.  It took 95% of the strength I had not to hurl all over the whey-covered floor.  The other 5% was devoted to contorting my face into an expression that I sincerely hope resembled pleasant interest and curiosity.  I love parmesan–a lot.  It’s one of my favorite compliments to a meal.  But this tour involved being in a storeroom with thousands (not an exaggeration) of aging cheese wheels the size of small tires stacked twenty high.   The air was so thick I felt like I was inhaling a syrup.  A syrup made of feet.  Matt and the other two people on the tour didn’t have a problem with the smell.  (Robots!!!)  I wonder why.  My mother didn’t breastfeed me, could that be it?  Perhaps starting the first several months of your life drinking and puking sour milk equips you with a lifelong ability to withstand a giant room of cheese?  There you have it, moms-to-be, a good reason to breastfeed: your babies will be able to visit cheese factories when they get older!

But anyway. I didn’t lose my breakfast, somehow.  Go me!

The smell aside, the Parmigiano Reggiano tour was super fascinating.  It was free, too, which is always a plus.  A tour can be arranged at one of several factories through the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, who take pride in promoting authentic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  Only five cities in the Emilia-Romagna region are legally allowed to produce Parmigiano Reggiano cheese: Bologna, Modena, Reggio Emilia, Mantova, and, of course, Parma.  It’s like how Champagne can only be called Champagne if it’s made in the Champagne region in France.  Anywhere else and it’s just … sparkling wine.  That grainy stuff from a green can that’s been sitting in your fridge for years that you shake onto your Prego-laden spaghetti noodles from a box is not Parmigiano Reggiano.  It’s just … parmesan.

Click here to read a good summary of how Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is made.

To be continued…



Our first three nights in Italy, we stayed at a bed and breakfast on a farm in Dozza, a medieval village about 30 minutes east of Bologna.  The farm, run by a family of four (mom, dad, two young daughters), consists of a vineyard, fruits and vegetables, goats, and chickens (we got to drink wine made from the grapes and eat fresh cheese from the goats’ milk–mmmm!).  The mom was off interpreting for a meditation retreat in Tuscany during our stay, so we didn’t get to meet her, and as a result probably had a different experience than most visitors who stay at the farm.  For starters, there were no napkins provided when we ate dinner with the family, and there was no hand soap in our bathroom.  Is that a sexist thought?  Thinking that the mom would have thought about napkins and soap when the dad didn’t?  Maybe she doesn’t care about clean hands either, who knows?  Could be the reason why they fell in love.

Though our hands were unclean, our stay was lovely and we were fortunate to have spent a few days with an Italian family.  The grandmother (Nonna) even invited us into her home to teach us how to make fresh pasta, an experience that has pretty much ruined dry pasta for us forever.  So now we need one of these.  (And a bigger kitchen, please!)  One thing that was incredibly entertaining about this class was watching the steady stream of family members and neighbors waltzing into Nonna’s home.  “Mia bella!” a grandfather-like figure exclaimed with outstretched arms to one of the little girls, as the adults chattered on excitedly in fast Italian.  The second little girl yanked out a few of her eyebrow hairs, feeling rejected once again.  (Kidding.  I’m sure she got a nice exclamation from pseudo-grandpa, too.)  Later on, Nonna abruptly took a break from teaching us about pasta when a neighbor brought over a newborn baby.  As she oohed and ahhed over the wee bambino, we were but a distant memory in her mind for several minutes.  Not that we minded.  It was like watching an Italian sitcom!

The father served the pasta we made that night with browned butter and sage.  So delicious.  You’ve seriously not lived until you’ve had fresh pasta.

Anyway, Dozza has an undeniable charm.  The town center is tiny, about a quarter mile long and half that wide.  What sets this town apart from the hundreds of other villages in Italy is their painted wall festival–Biennale di Muro Dipinto–a biannual event since 1960, where painters from all over the world are invited to paint murals onto the walls of the village.  This means that Dozza is essentially an open-air art gallery, currently boasting about a hundred murals.  Pretty rad!

The largest structure in this tiny town is the Rocca di Dozza, a fortress from the middle ages.  In the cellar of this fortress is the Enoteca Regionale, the official wine “museum” of the entire Emilia-Romagna region, housing over a thousand wines.  You guys, it was the coolest wine shop I’ve ever been to!  I mean, The shop was in the freaking cellar of a freaking medieval fortress!  How can Binny’s Beverage Depot possibly compete with that?  We met an insanely cute sommelier who denied our request for a menage a trois (kidding–obviously she accepted), but not before recommending a few lambruscos for us to try.  While the lambruscos typically imported to sugar-addicted America are cloyingly sweet and disgusting, the lambruscos offered by the Enoteca are dry and robust and fizzy, like a prosecco with more depth.  Delicious.

Did you like how I strung random words together to make it seem like I actually know anything about wine?  Did ya did ya?!  Yay!  (But seriously, dry lambrusco KICKS sweet lambrusco’s ass.)

Anyway, pictures!  As I mentioned in my previous post, Matt and I are terrible at taking photos, so I had to google a couple to fill in the blanks.  If you took one of these, let me know and I’ll credit you.  (Also: get a life, why are you reading some rando’s blog?)

[Aside: my friend Jessica teaches a pasta making group class here in Chicago.  If you ever want to learn how to make pasta, give her a call.  Here’s her website and her yelp page.]



Matt and I went to Germany and Italy for our (belated) honeymoon. It was my first time in Europe–and certainly not my last. LOVED IT.  Can’t wait to see more.  I hope you don’t mind me taking a break from my cochlear implant adventures to discuss it a bit.  (Spoiler alert: I am hearing so much more now!  I have got to write a post about that.  Sorry, I was busy honeymooning! Speaking of which…)

Quick breakdown of our trip:

First, we spent three nights in Berlin. Then we flew to Bologna, rented a car and drove to a bed and breakfast in the nearby town of Dozza, were we stayed for three nights. After that, we took a train to Venice for two nights. Then we flew to Naples and immediately took a ferry to Ischia (an island off the coast of Naples), where we stayed three nights. Then we took a ferry back to Naples and stayed two nights there before flying home.

Whew. So much traveling! Matt and I agreed that packing so much into this trip was inevitable, since Italy has so much to offer, but that next time we go overseas (ahem, Thailand, pleeeease) we’ll take a more leisurely route.

Because writing about the entire trip in one post would be kinda boring, I’ve decided I’ll break it up by city. So, today: BERLIN!

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t super stoked at the idea of going to Berlin. When I saw The Talented Mr. Ripley back in the late ’90s, I was utterly seduced by not only Jude Law, but by Italy, as well. Those dreamy images of Anthony Minghella’s sun-drenched paradise stuck with me more than a decade later, so when it was time for Matt and I to decide where to go for our honeymoon, I could only picture one place: DUH, Italy. Matt was in agreement, but suggested we include Berlin in our iterinary as well. His friend Adam has been living there for the last several years and Matt felt it would be a shame to go to Europe and not see him. I nodded, uh-huh, but I’m sure my expression read: Berlin? Gray, dour Berlin? But WHY, when we have Italy, with its vivid reds and yellows, its warm mountains, its turquoise seas? Where Jude Law stepped out of a tub naked? Where God, after being in labor for a torturous 43 and-a-half hours, birthed pizza and tortellini and Campari and wine? And where, you know–I’m sorry–a ton of unbelievably super depressing shit didn’t happen in the last century?

Buuuuuut apparently being married means cooooompromising and blah blaaaaah blaaaaaaah.  So… Berlin, in addition to Italy. Okay!

As you’ve probably deduced by now, I came to Berlin with low expectations. And guess what? I loved it. Of all the places we went to on our vacation, Berlin was the only place where I could actually see myself living.

Adam was a great host and gave us a chance to see Everyday Berlin as opposed to Berlin: The Tourist Version. I mean, we did see some landmarks, like Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, and what’s left of the Berlin Wall, but we also ate at a variety of restaurants (Chinese, Ethiopian, Caribbean, and of course, German), hung out at random bars with his friends, strolled through a turkish market with endless stalls of aromatic foods, walked through a huge flea market filled with hipsters and street performers. (Yeah: hipsters. Berlin is chock full of mustachioed imps!) The city is beautiful, not at all gray as I expected.  Its history is so rich and bursting from every orifice, unlike anything in America, which I never really truly realized is just so young.  There is nothing like being in an old city, especially one that has been through so much.

Berlin’s vibrancy is all that more impressive in light of its history.  I mean, it’s been dealt a dark, dark hand.  There are old bullet holes from World War II all over buildings throughout Berlin and East Berlin still has a section of that infamous wall that held its citizens prisoner for so many years.  These scars show how far Berlin has come and exist as a reminder that what didn’t kill it only made it stronger.  And way cooler!  And far more interesting!  Gahhhh Berlin is so awesome and I want it to be my best friend and can we hang out soon please?!?

Anyway!  Neither Matt and I are that great at taking pictures.  We tend to get caught up in a moment and sometimes forget to capture it.  Oh well.  Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  A single memory is more valuable than a thousand snapshots.  I was kind of disgusted by all the tourists who literally saw every moment through the viewfinder of a camera.  Dudes, put those cameras down.  You’re  actually living that scene you’re constantly taking pictures of.  Enjoy it.  Have some wine.  Gawd.  But, we did get a few pics: