Parma Eats: old-school at Ristorante Cocchi

After not getting to eat at the "recommended" Da Enzo and Da Danilo in Modena because they were full, I called ahead to Ristorante Cocchi to make a reservation for lunch two days later. The friendly guy spoke English well, and asked me to call ahead if I couldn't make the reservation because he said that Sunday lunches were his busiest times.

Cocchi is a bit outside of Parma town center. It's a pretty easy walk down a slightly dull, busy road, but I did take the bus back into town on the return to save time and get out of the sun.

My table was waiting for me with my name on a little tent card!

For my starter, I got a plate of cold cuts - I wanted to eat Parma ham in Parma! The plate included salume, parma ham, culatello (ham from the pig's rear end, supposedly the most tender of all), bacon, and coppa, all served with fried bread.

A Day of Cheese, Vinegar, Prosciutto, and Food Coma!

When I was choosing where to spend my weekend after Milan Design Week, I originally had decided on Cinque Terre. It was a place I missed visiting on my Pisa/Florence/Bologna trip a few years ago, and it seemed like a relaxing place to be for just a couple of days.

When I looked into it more, though, it seemed like a combination of cute buildings, stunning scenery, and a bunch of tourists. Which isn't bad - Lake Como is kind of like that -, but I thought back to my Pisa/Florence/Bologna trip and remembered another part of the region that I missed: learning more about the vinegar of Modena ("balsamic vinegar" as we call it in the US), Parmesan cheese, and Parma ham.

I investigated doing a tour of my own, looking up different cheese factories and their opening times, seeing how much it was to go by taxi to the different spots. I quickly came to the conclusion that a food tour would be much more convenient, relaxing, and potentially cost-saving. The food tour from Italian Days had wonderful reviews online, so I just booked it and didn't think twice about it.

Modena Eats: a drop-in at Zelmira

I didn't make any reservations for dinner in Modena before I arrived. Probably not the best idea, but I was simply too exhausted to do much research and planning.

My Airbnb host recommended Da Enzo and Da Danilo, but said that they would likely already be fully booked on a Friday evening. I walked over, and indeed they were fully booked. A note for next time: I got a good vibe from Da Enzo. I walked up and came upon all of the staff, including the waiters, folding tortellini in the landing!

I wandered around town, passing by the famous Osteria Francescana, and passed by this little terrace tucked into a corner of buildings. I kept walking, but eventually circled back and decided that this had a nice, relaxed atmosphere, and that's all that mattered this evening.

Modena Impressions

There are some cities where I've not even gotten out of the taxi from the bus/train station/airport and already feel stressed and hectic (Rio de Janeiro). Others where I feel refreshed and alive (Oslo). Others were I only think of how soon I can get to air conditioning (any city in Asia in summertime).

Modena is a city where, just by walking a few minutes from the train station to my Airbnb in the city center, I felt calm, relaxed, and immersed in a sensation of refinement.

The colonnaded walkways, the streets gently curving about. It's such an elegant city.

These features are also distinctive. Watching the second season of Master of None with no context or background, I knew it was Modena where Aziz Ansari went to study pasta making before they even said it.

Lodging Review: the unabashedly old-fashioned Marriott Milan

K

There have been a lot of innovations in hotels in the last couple of decades, from big things like making lobby spaces more multifunctional - integrating lounge space, restaurant space, and check-in space for example - to simpler things like getting rid of highly decorative wallpaper and heavy drapes for a cleaner look.

In fact, last year I stayed at the Moxy Milan Malpensa hotel for a night during Design Week, and absolutely loved it. A new brand from Marriott, Moxy hotels try to give you just what you need, no more, no less. So arriving on a late flight, I was glad there were local food and drink options right in the lobby/check-in-desk/bar. The room was small but I didn't lack for any more space, being just a short layover. The bathroom was great. I really feel like they studied travel habits well and designed the hotel around the experience.

What hotel hasn't apparently changed in the decades? The Marriott Milan.

Milan Eats: cheap deep dish pizza at Spontini

K

You know there's that type of person who insists they're the arbiter of authenticity?

They say they traveled somewhere for two weeks, or they lived someplace for two years, so they know.

They say that "real," "authentic" Italian pizza has a thin, crispy crust. It doesn't have loads of cheese. It's nothing at all like the spongy, greasy pizza that you're used to: soooo American. (As if inauthentic food can't be delicious, too!)

You know the type, right?

Well, let me present to you Pizzeria Spontini, a little chain of pizza places around the Milan area.

Milan Eats: bistro fare at San Maurí

K

Last year during Design Week, I came upon this cute "bistrot"-type restaurant. Big windows looked into a cozy interior, no tablecloths, casual, a simple, seasonal menu. Reviews looked good. But of course it was fully booked for the evening.

People can be surprised, but sometimes eating in Milan during Design Week can be a rather un-inspirational experience. You're walking from one place to another trying to see as many shows as possible, so you prioritize convenience and speed and pick up reheated pizza on the go. Or you decide to sit down, but the restaurants are completely packed.

Goiko Grill: finally, a real hamburger in Valencia

K

The hamburger craze in Valencia started long before I arrived several years ago, and it's still going strong. I'm pretty sure I eat more burgers with my friends every year in Valencia than I used to in the US in fact.

The burgers here range from okay to pretty good, with the main complaints being:

- beef that doesn't really taste like beef, because of lots of added Worcestershire sauce or other flavorings

- beef that didn't have the texture of beef: with additives like vegetable fibers, burgers here often have the bouncy texture of sausages, and maintain an industrial cylindrical shape before and after cooking  

- bread that is too firm.

With the arrival of Goiko Grill, of all things a Madrid-based chain opened by Venezuelans, we finally have a real, honest-to-goodness burger in the city.

ARN-FRA-VLC: new SAS lounge + new Lufthansa pastries

K

My journey back to Valencia started in the groggy early morning hours to walk to the train station, getting on the Arlanda Express, and checking in my bag in time for the 6:15am flight. I wasn't particularly looking forward to the SAS Lounge, having been to the Copenhagen one a couple years ago (very crowded), and the Gothenburg one (very slim pickings). I was surprised that the lounge in Stockholm featured a new design, with sections separated by carpeting and screens, creating various little living rooms. The use of diverse furniture designs is brilliant in breaking up that massive uniform look a lot of lounges have.

The food was pretty good - mainly cold options besides an oatmeal option (I seem to recall). I went in for one last big helping of the pate that I so loved from the hotel breakfasts.

When checking into my Lufthansa flight, there was a warning in the email saying that certain countries (i.e. Sweden) have instituted passport control, even for flights within the Schengen zone. This started with the refugee crisis...

Lodging Review: Haymarket by Scandic, Stockholm

K

I'd stayed in a few Scandic hotels in my previous travels through Sweden - once each in Stockholm, Linköping, and Gothenburg. They were all pretty nice, clean hotels, approximately the standard of a Hilton Garden Inn perhaps.

So I was curious what kind of hotel "Haymarket by Scandic" would be. Usually when someone puts a new name, followed by the world "by" and then the original brand name, it means that the new concept departs from the original brand in some way.

And the Haymarket certainly does! In fact, I'm not really sure what the "by Scandic" buys it from a branding perspective. The Haymarket is a hip, stylish hotel built in a former department store, and carries a 1920s glamour theme consistently throughout the experience from the logo typography down to the last details of even the bathroom mirror and coat rack. 

Stockholm Eats: Getting a Mouth Workout at Oaxen Slip

K

It was late, and I had just finished walking back to the hotel through snow flurries in the dark. I was enjoying the warmth of my room, and was contemplating perhaps just going across the street to a food court, but none of the restaurants there really struck my fancy.

I called a restaurant a bit away to see if they had any tables for dinner, but they were fully booked. So then I tried Oaxen Slip, which was even further away. A super friendly guy answered the phone said that they certainly did have space, and welcomed me to come over.

So I put on my boots and coat, and walked quite a bit in the freezing cold to a tram stop, and waited there for ten minutes or so for the tram to come to take me to the area of Skansen, where Oaxen was. This had better be worth it! Little did I know...

Stockholm Eats: Semla at Vete-Katten pastry shop

K

On the way to and from my hotel, I passed by a cozy-looking café always filled with people leaning into tables with cups of coffee in their hands.

I decided to come in for a break, after a long trek on food through dark, snowy weather. After ordering and picking up my food at the counter, I had a sudden case of déjà vu when I turned the corner into the rear dining rooms.

Seeing this central table with carafes of coffee and empty cups for the taking, surrounded by a motley collection of well worn tables and chairs, I realized that I had been here a few years ago with my parents!