Thursday, April 26, 2012

Italy: Spring 2012: Thursday, April 26: Day 2: Livorno

Day 2: Livorno

Beautiful morning.....a bit cool but clear and sunny.

I take a short morning walk along the water through the Piazza Mascagni and then back into a nearby neighborhood...these walks help me get my bearings and I always find a place that I have read about in guidebooks.  Today I find the Museo Fattori, a old palazzo with galleries of "plein air" (macchiaoli in Italian) painters from the 19th century.

Breakfast at the hotel is very good....I even get a large cup of coffee (caffe doppio e acqua calda).  Luckily for me, the waiter speaks excellent English although he claims to have understood my request in Italian.

First order of business is going downtown to do some errands and shopping.  After a "tour" of some downtown streets, we park and check in at the tourist office for maps and information.  After finishing our business at the TIM (wireless phone) store, we set out on foot for the COIN department store but decide it is too far to walk and change plans.  We sign up for a canal tour at the tourist office and have a coffee on the Piazza Grande while waiting for the tour.

We are accompanied on the canal tour (a large open boat) by almost two dozen lively French tourists and few Italians.  Livorno has always been an important seaport and military base and we pass two large forts as well as the commercial harbor and ferry docks.  The ride is very pleasant with the warm sun and clear skies.  We get off (with four Italian tourists) at the landing under the large Livorno market for a tour.  This is where goods used to be unloaded when they were brought in by boat but now almost everything is trucked in.  The market is reputed to be the largest indoor market in Italy (they count the basement storage space in that calculation).  

The building is one hundred years old this is built in the "art nouveau" style with intricate iron work, lots of light and very high ceilings.  It is decorated with large wall statues of the farmers and market people who brought their goods into Livorno from the neighboring countryside.  The guides explain about the three local Livornese food specialities--cacciucco (a fish stew), torta di ceci (chickpea pancakes baked in a pizza oven) and ponce (punch)--a coffee and rum drink- and we get recommendations about where to find them. 

After the tour, I sample the torta di ceci at the recommended shop outside the market.  In Livorno, the torta is served as a sandwich like they do in Sicily.  For me, the bread seemed superfluous but the torta was light, crisp and delicious.

We have a driving adventure trying to find the department store (as usual in Italian cities, the one way streets are killers) but finally--after circling it for half an hour. we hook up the GPS and arrive at the front door.

After a stop at the hotel, we decide to skip lunch and get in the car for a drive down the coast and into the countryside.  The road along the water south of town is lined with very impressive old houses and there is a wonderful bicycle and walking path that goes on for miles.  There are great views of the water and we stop to have a gelato (our first of the trip) while sitting on a bench overlooking the Mediterranean.  The view was great but the gelato was only so-so.

We meander through a couple of beach towns...nicely kept with lots of trees along the streets..and then head up into the hills for the return trip.  This area of Tuscany is not as immediately stunning like Chianti and southern Tuscany but it is lovely to drive through--winding, narrow country roads, up and down hills with long vistas over the valley and hill towns in the distance. The early spring green and the blooming wisteria, poppies, lilacs, irises and broom add to the beauty. A very nice afternoon drive...

Back at the hotel, we go to the roof for a drink on the terrace....sipping delicious prosecco while watching the sun going down over the Mediterranean.  

We have dinner at Gennarino, the place the guide recommended for cacciucco.   Our GPS gets us right to the restaurant which is near the market (this area of Livorno is very quiet in the evening) and I find a parking space right across the street.  The restaurant is not busy (only a couple of tables are occupied) but it is attractive and quiet.  Dinner is very good.....Diana has a ravioli dish and a grilled orata and I have a bowl of mussels and clams followed by the cacciucco.  For dessert, Diana has an apple cake and I have a panna cotta--everything is delicious.  We drink a local white wine from Suvereto which disappears quickly.

The drive back to the hotel is easy.....

Tomorrow we have an appointment to visit Jewish sites in the city...the synagogue, museum, cemetery and house of Amadeo Modigliani, the painter who was born in Livorno.

Jim and Diana

PS Still having technical problems with the uploading photos....hope to resolve it soon.

PPS Here is the Wikipedia entry for cacciucco.

Cacciucco (Italian pronunciation: [katˈtʃukko] is an Italian fish stew consisting of several different types of fish and shellfish cooked in wine, tomatoes, and chili pepper. Similar fish stews are popular all the way up and down the Tyrrhenian Sea, but Cacciucco is specific to the port city of Livorno.

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