Honeymoon

Our Italian Honeymoon: Moneglia

Silence. Dead frickin silence. How unnerving. Living in Koreatown, Los Angeles, or as I call it living “in Blade Runner,” is a world away from where we are now. Here, in Moneglia, Italy, there are no helicopters hovering every night looking for the latest bad guy or news scoop. I do not hear cars and motorcycles screeching or rumbling by. I don’t hear that ever annoying rolling/scraping sound of a guy on a skateboard, who is way too old to be on it by the way, whizzing down the sidewalk. All I can hear is the sound of my brain straining to shut down, relax, and, as Depeche Mode recommends, enjoy the silence.

moneglia

If you have ever been to or heard of Cinque Terre, or the “Five Lands,” you have probably heard that it is a tourist mecca now. It is busy, hectic, and over crowded. Well, that may very well be, especially during the high season summer months. But we are here in the fall. And we are not IN the Cinque Terre confines exactly. We are in Moneglia, north of there by about a 20 minute train ride. Close enough to enjoy day trips yet far enough to not be bothered with all the negative aspects of the tourist trade.

moneglia-beach

Here we have found the perfect AirBnB experience. We have rented out a one bedroom apartment all to ourselves for a month as our Honeymoon home base. When our host Michela picked us up at the train station she was very nice and, as awkward as first meetings with linguistic hurdles can be, she was gracious and accommodating. She even took us to the store for some first night provisions, aka wine.

One thing to note, we knew there would be a walk down the hill from our flat to get to the town. While Michela drove us up the hill that walk seemed farther and farther to me, reminiscent of JoBeth Williams run down the hallway in Poltergeist, only without creepy clowns and hungry grabby trees. But she assured us it was only about a 20 minute walk to town. She was just about right. It turns out that the 3 mile round trip walk was not only pleasant, but relaxing and beautiful. And yes, we are truly getting buns of steel.

This place is amazing! It is plenty roomy, has a full kitchen (granted, it has an oven resembling the Easy Bake variety, but it works well enough), a washing machine, a nice comfy bed, nice decor, and an amazing patio for sunset watching over the sloping hills toward the ocean. There’s even a little grill area outside and a pizza oven! A full frickin pizza oven!!! I have GOT to cook something in that. All of this for one month for about $1000. Not too shabby AirBnB. Not too shabby.

moneglia-airbnb

As we make our jaunts down to the town and back and sample all the wonderful restaurants, we are getting to know the place as our own. We hit the one (tiny)supermarket that takes credit cards almost daily. You can’t carry too much up that hill at once. We are getting into the local rhythm. We have sampled several wonderful restaurants already. We know some folks by name and will see them again.

assirto-moneglia

So far the biggest standout here has been Assirto, where I saw god in the form of some truly spirited acorn fed Iberico ham served with marcona almonds. Kim had the same experience with the goose cutlets in an apple sauce. We also had the full sea breem, caught that morning about 100 yards off shore in Moneglia, filleted and broiled full body. Then there was the yellow fin and salted cod sashimi style, with olive oil made just down the road in Levanto, crushed with oranges for that hint of citrus. Truly inspired. Before we ordered, the owner, Luca sat with us and told us of every little detail of the menu, in his wonderfully broken English. He spoke in a way that let you know, he was proud and excited to be serving the fruits of his home with you. By the time he was done, we just said, whatever you recommend, Luca, that is what we will go with. So we enjoyed a lovely local Rosé wine with our sumptuous repast. And we will be paying another visit to Luca soon.

moneglia-beaches

After several days of chilling in the area and feeling like a local, I am sure I will find a way to relax and enjoy the slower pace and less ruckus. In fact, we are heading out as I write this for a Halloween weekend in Venice. I am looking forward to heading back “home” to our little hideaway in Moneglia to see how it feels to unwind again from our latest adventure. We have made day trips to Cinque Terre and they are gorgeous and romantic as advertised. I will have much to say about these places for sure. But right now as this train bobs and weaves its way toward Venice, with all the train noise, views whipping by at top speed, and cacophonous screaming children aplenty, I am finding myself longing just a bit for the solitude of our little quiet retreat in the hills and a nice quiet sleep.

Our Italian Honeymoon: Florence

Aaaaaaahhhhhhh Florence. Now this is what Rome was supposed to be! The beautiful architecture, and the pace - romantic, less chaotic, ancient and full of intrigue. It was welcoming above all. I did not immediately feel the same sense of apprehension that Rome inspired. As soon as we settled in to our truly great, and uber funky, hotel find in Room Mate Luca, we knew that our stay would be something special.

All of our friends who had visited the great city of Florence (or Firenze, as the locals would say) sang its praises and said without a doubt that we simply MUST go see this city. Actually we had no firm plans to stop there at all. It was a fluke of my scheduling mishap. I had booked our flat in Moneglia one day later than I had thought, so we had an extra night to fill. Well, Florence was on the way, so why not.

I knew very little about the place. I had seen the Borgias, I knew there was a Duomo of some kind, and that the steak was supposed to be out of this world. Once we got settled in to our funk-a-riffic digs, we set out to see what all the fuss was about. In about 5 blocks, I knew what so many were talking about. WOW! That is one beautiful Duomo! It is massive and it really does take your breath away. The amazing detail that went in to it is awe inspiring. The way the light hits it at dawn and dusk is simply magical. And at night it is lit up and looms over the main center of town. Where everything is happening.

Il-duomo-florence-travel

There are several upscale places to shop for fine leather goods as well as your cheapo knock off souvenir shops. And fortunately for me (and them) there are far fewer annoying iphone “selfie” peddlers. Just across from the Duomo, we had our first taste ofhappiness, Florence style. At a great little trattoria called Sasso di Dante, where I had an incredibly rich chicken liver bruschetta. We sat down in view of the great structure, had some lovely red wine, incredibly tasty nosh, and were serenaded by an authentic Italian accordion player. Aaaaaaaaahhhhh Florence, you do weave your spell….

florence-accordian-street-performer

Next up, a visit to the bell tower at the Duomo. 443 or so steps to the top. I recommend you do it at sunset. You will have an amazing 365 degree view, you will work off lunch and work up an appetite for the amazing dinner to come, plus, your ass will be quarter-bouncing firm by the time you are done.

Since we only had one night to get acquainted with the gorgeous city, there were only 2 things I knew we had to do, and both involved food. The first was to have an authentic Florentine steak. Originally to be had at Mario’s, but that was to have to wait, as they only opened for lunch. Our new hotel friends at Luca recommended a place that was open that night called Donnini’s. Oh dear gawd, I cannot recommend this place highly enough! Perfectly situated on a grand piazza with open air seating and a lovely view of a working and very lit up carousel. Which, of course, we rode on. Derr…

Now, that steak was a thing of beauty. I dare say it was truly the best steak I have ever tasted. At the very least it is in the top three. On par with the Kobe Beef I had in Kobe, Japan and the bone in ribeye at Wolfgang Puck’s Lupo in Vegas. But, now that I consider it, I do have to walk the Florentine steak to the front of the line, as Puck’s steak did have a sauce on it, and the Kobe steak was sliced and diced by a great chef. This steak was primal, simple, perfect. Just a big ass T-bone (well Porterhouse really) as big as my head, seared to perfection, seasoned and served with just salt and pepper and a little grilled potatoes on the side. No filler, no showy glamour, no glitz. Just the ne plus ultra. My king of steak.

I’m not forgetting about Mario’s though. We were able to visit for lunch just before we left. And oh what a lunch. This tiny bistro just off a main piazza around a hidden corner is an icon. I had no idea. We went in, gave our names and waited outside like everyone else. While we waited the line got longer and longer. We had arrived at just the right time. Once our name was called, we were ushered to wedge in, joining another coupleat a tiny table, while rubbing elbows with another table of four mere inches away. Boy, do they pack you in! Our newfound table mates were just finishing up their repast and said nary a word to us until they got up and said “Ciao” in their best German accented Italian. Shortly thereafter we were joined by a lovely young couple from Iowa on their Honeymoon as well. Small world.

We chatted away as we were given our liter of house red wine (just for Kim and I), and John and Helena were given theirs. I think that set us back a total of 14 Euros, about $20. Always order the house wine when traveling in Italy. Just sayin. The next thing to plop down was a perfectly cooked osso buco for Kim and a braised rabbit in a (paprika?) sauce that was divine. I was told to try the Florentine steak at Mario’s but for lunch it was just a tad to heavy for me. Guess I’ll just have to come back….. Oh wait, WE ARE!!!!

kimberly-spencer-italy

Now that we have been introduced to this incredible place, we have decided to make another stop for 2 days on our way back to Rome for our final Italian Honeymoon goodbyes. A visit to the Uffizi Gallery will be attempted and a sunset at Ponte Vecchio has been recommended as well. So, Mario’s will get another chance to wow us as I am sure it will. There most definitely will be at least one more Florentine steak in my near future, though I’m aiming for at least two.