We woke up Friday fairly late because we could! Parma’s so small that I could manage to show Courtney almost everything in one day but still waking up late meant that we would not have time to fill in some sort of ‘nap’ in the afternoon. Oh well, it was a beautiful warm day (a rarity in Parma). God must love Courtney because beautiful weather follows her. I had made lunch and dinner reservations for us the day before. Our lunch would be at my favorite Parma restaurant, Hostaria da Beppe, where I took my parents for some high quality risotto. Even though I had made us risotto the night before I figured that one could never have enough risotto. We took advantage of the beautiful day to traverse the city on bike before we had to be at the restaurant. It seriously took all of 15 minutes, maybe 20, for me to take Courtney through the important parts of the city. She loved it all though, the Comune, the Piazza Garibaldi, the Piazza Della Pace, all of the shops, restaurants and old buildings. Parma is certainly a beautiful city, but it is infinitely times nicer on a clear, sunny day. The old city shines in the light, losing the cold, clammy, slightly mournful feeling it can acquire in the damp, foggy weather. Italy, especially northern Italy is so different from southern Spain that Courtney must have felt much farther away from Granada than she had to yet to feel while abroad. Still, she oddly must have felt as close to home as she had during her experience because of the obvious similarities between northern Italy and New England.
Courtney even commented on this mentioning how she could it see how I had almost zero culture shock during my experience.
On the way to lunch we rode through the Parco Ducale behind my house so that Courtney could get a full view of the trees during the day and actually enjoy their beauty, which she did. While the type of trees in the park, mostly Chestnut I believe, are not exactly the same as those that line the streets of Boston, New York or Connecticut, they carry the same feeling, smell and similar appearance to our trees in home. While Courtney knew it was Italy because this park felt Italian, she kept sensing home. I knew the feeling. It had tugged me since day one, but not until Courtney arrived did the tugging finally embrace me and convince me that I was indeed home. It was a relief to feel. I was indeed home, yet part of knew the real reason why and dreaded what would happen when she left. I pushed the thoughts out of my mind.
We were the only ones in the restaurant besides two older gentleman, each eating by himself yet talking to each other, and the owner/chef who likely recognized me by now. We sat down and I ordered us the tried and true vegetable plate appetizer because it’s just that damn good (I describe it in my blogs about my parents coming to visit). Courtney told me she was hungry so I ordered the osso-buco plate for her which comes with several pieces of unbelievable melting veal shank served over equally as good saffron risotto. For myself I ordered the pumpkin gnocchi but quickly changed to the seafood risotto after seeing one of the other men devour it. In retrospect I should not have ordered that massive plate of food for Courtney on top of the appetizer and bread we received but I figured we were in Italy and she should experience the crazy food culture as much as possible (unfortunately for her it would be squeezed into one very short weekend). The food, as always, was tremendous but poor Courtney, unaccustomed to eating like an Italian was left with a persistent stomach ache for the rest of the trip. Changes in diet, especially the extreme ones, can be quite painful.
To fight off the stomach ache we returned to bike riding and headed off to see the Baptistery, its museum, the Duomo and St. Giovanni’s Church before I would take her shopping. How could Courtney actually have the full Italian experience without seeing old Catholic structures and spend some time, and money, in the Italian stores? The Baptistery of Parma is a nearly 1000 year old, tall, octagonal building made with white and pink Veronan marble. I think it’s quite beautiful, as did my parents and Courtney.
There are those who dislike it, probably because it seems a bit gaudy and out of place in the city. This, though, would be my first time inside the structure because I had missed the group trip there while remaining stuck in Paris (oh the shame!). The inside of the still-in-use baptismal structure the walls were covered with Gothic frescoes of St. John the Baptist and other major religious stories. They were gorgeous, and fairly well-preserved. In the center of the small octagon rested a large marble baptism bath. It provided the center focal point for the surrounding images that I’m sure tell some specific story which I would not recognize without a guide. What I did recognize, interestingly, were several religious symbols of God knows what (maybe somebody could help identify it?) that I saw in the Hagia Sophia but without the icons, so that only the pattern of the figure remained without the actual figure. The images are below.
From there we went to the museum which was relatively uninteresting except for looking at the few cool artifacts of Parma including a mosaic wall. Again, if we had a guide or we had stopped to read the descriptions of the pieces we might have discovered new historical facts and I treated ourselves a bit more, but time was short and I wanted Courtney to have a solid feel of Parma in her one full day there.
Our next two stops were the two major churches of Parma. First I took her to the Duomo to show her it’s Gothic and Renaissance artistic achievements. The place is pretty much decorated from ceiling to floor with frescoes and paintings. It’s nearly 1000 years old, as well, built in the Gothic style but with series iTunes artistic upgrades. It’s a beautiful and powerful statement of Parma’s wealth during the Renaissance. After that I took her to the smaller, darker, but still beautiful St. Giovanni’s directly behind the Duomo where there is a famous fresco of Corregio (or Coreggio, not sure of the spelling). For the first two Italian churches that Courtney has seen these were not a bad start but nothing in comparison to the churches of Rome or Florence.
Then it turned into shopping time! Woohoo! We went here and there doing window shopping until we got to Zara, a European clothing company that may or may not exist in America. Courtney found a jacket and a pair of jeans that she loved while I discovered a jacket that complete my European wardrobe, at least for one outfit. We walked around the city some more, Courtney got gelato, and we went home to get ready for dinner at 8:30 at a romantic restaurant called La Filoma where we would enjoy a double date with my tandem partner, Andrea, and his girlfriend. I felt bad for Courtney. This day had been non-stop for her. There was a lot to do and see and not much time to do it. We met Andrea at 8:30 in the main piazza of Parma and walked to the restaurant.
Coincidentally Andrea’s parents were also eating at la Filoma Friday night and at the same time! None of us had ever eaten there before so we had no idea of what to expect. His parents didn’t eat with us, but I thought it was quite cute/funny that they happened to frequent the same restaurant as us on that particular night. Both Andrea and his girlfriend, Giulia, speak pretty good English so most of the nights conversation was conducted in English which was weird for me because I grew accustomed to only speaking to Andrea in Italian. I did act as translator in a few occasions but it was largely unnecessary because Courtney could speak in Spanish and they understood her perfectly. And she’s MUCH better at Spanish than I am at Italian so my translation “skills” were rarely needed.
The food was tremendous but the night was even more fun (If you’re interested we all had a plate of Parma meats, Courtney had Tortelli all’Erbete [which I think are Swiss Chard but I’m not sure] and I had pumpkin tortelli with sweet, pumpkin butter sauce. Fantastic.). The conversation all night was wonderful. Andrea and Giulia loved meeting Courtney and thought her, like everyone who meets the girl, to be delightful. We talked, as usual, about the differences between cultures, a little about politics, about music (all three of them are musician-types) and life in general. After dinner Andrea asked me if Courtney and I would like to accompany him and Giulia to his favorite ‘locale’ (which is an Irish pub called Dubb Lin) which was celebrating its birthday. Even though we were exhausted we welcomed the invitation and figured that we would go out for one drink before calling it a night.
The pub was crawling with Italians acting as I don’t usually see Italians; that is fairly drunk and behaving as Irish or Americans or British in a pub. It was loud and rowdy instead of the general calm (excluding the night before) of most Italian joints. Andrea had a large group of friends already there. Apparently they know the owner of the bar which gave them pretty nice privileges such as being able to use the bar when it’s closed to watch football matches. Our small table quickly became encore led by Andrea’s friends. I could follow the conversation a bit when I tried but they were using so much slang and making fun of each other so much that I needed Andrea’s explanation for many of the words. Courtney had a much more difficult time as her Spanish language knowledge could not possibly help her comprehend the slang and speech of young Italians. We still had fun though at least in observing their shenanigans. After a drink Courtney and I left to call it an early night. We had to wake up early, after all, to take a bus to Verona with my group for a day trip.