Traveling into Italy’s Heartland: Parma

Early this morning at breakfast we had a really nice surprise. “Happy birthday!” said the hostess to David and presented him with three tiny cakes on a slate dusted with powdered sugar and surrounded by fresh strawberries. David immediately assumed I must have told them, but I did not. They got the information off his passport.

A 25 minute easy walk from our hotel is the Academia Carrara which is considered one of the finest art galleries in all of Italy. The gallery showcases art from four collectors. The art is beautifully displayed and contains an enormous collection from the masters. My favorite paintings are ones showing landscapes or cities. I try to imagine what it must have been like long ago in these places.

In one room was art restoration in progress. A woman with magnified goggles was carefully cleaning a painting. A screen showed us the precise area of the painting where she was working. Usually when we leave a museum we like to buy postcards of some of the works, but this museum has a different approach. Instead of a gift shop, there are poster tubes filled with four colorful posters, yours for a donation of any amount.

We took an easy two-hour train ride to Parma with one change. Here in Italy paying just a little more for first class is worth it. We know from many trips in coach where we were left standing for hours because people piled their suitcases into seats beside them and were unwilling to move them. We traveled in a car with compartments with seats for six people in each compartment. The only other person in ours, a young man on his iPhone the whole time, was told by the conductor he had a second class ticket and he needed to move. He just replied “oh,” and then stayed anyway.

We love our hotel, the NH Parma. We are very close to the old town and walked down to it to check it out right away. The buildings are very old, some dating back before the 1500s. We stopped at an old world cafe where people were watching a soccer match. Fans even stopped by on bicycles.

Dinner tonight was one of the best on our trip. We had Parma ham for a starter followed by pasta with pesto, shrimp, and cashew nuts. Most impressive was the espresso. It came served in tiny china cups on a doily with a lid on top to keep it hot. The restaurant had linen tablecloths and napkins, wine buckets with linen cloths, and attentive and professional waiters who seemed to have an appreciation for the tradition that is providing quality service at a restaurant. Here at this old world restaurant though, the old blended with the new. We could see the chefs cooking behind a glasses in area in back. There was an old world elegance, but it was not pretentious. No on was dressed up.

After dinner we walked around town. We are excited to explore it tomorrow.

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