Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Wining in the Med...

Pena Castle, Sintra, Portugal
JD and I traveled to Europe in June. It was the first time we had been overseas since 2004. We traveled with a group from Zaca Mesa Winery, on the beautiful Oceania Riviera cruise ship. All travel was facilitated by Food & Wine Trails. We spent two days, precruise, in Lisbon, a city I would like to revisit very much. The cruise stopped in ports along the Mediterranean coast, ending in Civitavecchia, the port of Rome.

In the light of the current political situation, I was afraid we were going to have to apologize for being American. Amazingly, all the folks we met - Americans, Europeans, Africans, Asians, Indonesians, etc. - were friendly, kind, interested and interesting. We were able to learn about the history of the cities and towns we visited, sparking our imagination and memories of what we had learned in school so many years ago. We ate delicious local food, drank beautiful local wines. Visited historic sites. Talked to people.

More after the jump...

There were moments of sheer perfection. 

On the island of Mallorca, we visited two wineries, one new - 3rd generation wine making at Mesquida-Mora - and one old - 13 generations at Bodegas Ribas! And still family-owned. Our lunch at Bodegas Ribas on the patio, shaded by huge, old trees, was rustic and tasty. Truly, there is nothing better than sitting at table with diverse folks, drinking great wine, sharing local foods, and getting to know each other.

Portofino, Italy
One afternoon in the picture-postcard-perfect port of Portofino, we blew off our scheduled excursion, found a waterfront cafe, and people-watched while drinking crisp Italian rose paired with fresh, fried anchovies and a cheese plate filled with regional cheeses.

Our excursion to the ancient town of Bolgheri included a tasting of regional Italian wines, and locally-made olive oils. We stood under a 300-year-old oak tree, overlooking the vineyards of Ornellaia that rolled down to the sea. It felt oddly like California. And yet, not. Beautiful. Timeless. Lunch at Ornellaia was overwhelming, delicious, silly, wonderful. And included a huge, fast-moving thunderstorm, complete with hail.

JD in Rome
In Rome, so crowded, hot, and muggy, we found a pizzeria a few blocks from our hotel. We munched on fresh pizza; I drank crisp, cold Prosecco, JD something red, probably Sangiovese of some sort. We watched the World Cup, chatted with folks at nearby tables, watched the foot traffic outside. Perfection.

It was astonishing to see the huge, expensive yachts in the harbors of San Tropez and Monte Carlo. Someone told me these yachts are for rent, costing up to $200,000 per week. Very James Bond.

It was fascinating to discover how areas of Spain and France resemble the Central Coast of California. I begin to understand why Santa Barbara is referred to as the 'California Riviera'.

The Mediterranean presented itself in shades of blue, from deep navy and gray to blindingly brilliant turquoise. Now I understand the name, Côte d'Azur. Amazing.

From Lisbon to Rome, we found ourselves in lively discussions, rarely about politics; mainly about passion, food, wine, art, history. People shared their "origin" stories; how they met their partners, what they cared about, where they had traveled. The staff/crew on the beautiful ship, our floating hotel, were from all over the world, and while the work was hard on board, it provided them a way to see the world and support their families. On the way to Rome, our driver told us he liked the Golden State Warriors, but his son preferred the Cavaliers!

It was gratifying to be addressed as 'sir' and 'madam' as opposed to 'you guys', but the microcosmic world of a cruise ship offers an unsettling class consciousness that is not as obvious as the more usual hospitality industry service. I'm still processing why it felt so weird to me. 

Travel opens the mind and heart. People are the same all over the world. We all want the same things. Meeting face to face, sharing experiences, discovering our similarities - and differences. What a privilege it is to be able to travel.

Cruising, as wonderful as it was, is not the way I want to travel. I want to have more than one day in a town. I want to explore without the urgency of having to get back to the ship. I don't want to rush the experience.

Now I'm hungry to travel again. Bon appetit!

The view at Ornellaia, Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy

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