Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
After three days in the Dolomite Mountains, it was time to move on. Getting out of Moena was not all that easy, since many roads were blocked for construction. Eventually, we followed other cars and found the one way out.
The road was sometimes straight, but mostly not. The villages were all scenic, however with their Italian-Austrian flavor. By the end of the day we would have left German signs behind.
The final part out of the mountains was a twisty set of hairpins, tricky driving, but we managed to stop long enough at a wide spot to enjoy the valley scene below.
Out of the mountains, the rest of the drive was mostly on autostradas; busy, narrow, and truck-filled. Driving was definitely a full-time job. Even navigating was work, as we negotiated past a half-dozen construction zones. Stopping at the Affi Supercharger was a relief! (Our version of the Model Y actually had plenty of range to make the whole Moena-to-Modena trip, but the driver and passenger didn't.)
Our home for the next week was a vacation rental called "Antico Borgo". We chose it because it was just outside the congested part of the city and seemed like a good base for our visits to car museums and Balsamic vinegar factories. The place is roomy enough, but pretty basic, and we have traded walking for the need to drive everywhere.
Davide, one of the hosts, recommended restaurant La Grotta for lunch and even called ahead to make sure they were still open. We got there at 2:29, a hair before their closing, and were first told "no", but that shifted to "no pasta". I guess the chef had already turned off his stove. Instead we each ordered tuna and "fish" carpaccio, both quite delicious. That, salads, and coffee ran to 70 euros, expensive, but we weren't complaining
Our next chore was to go to the grocery store to pick up some essentials: fruit, coffee, cookies, etc. The store had everything we needed, and it made us feel a bit more relaxed about being in a no-service vacation rental versus a B&B or hotel. A start, anyway.
We wasted no time getting on with our tourist goals. Not far from our neighborhood was the CPC Group factories where parts of the Aptera, the spaceship-streamlined car I have on order, will be made. Months ago, I had asked for some sort of plant tour, but was turned down, so instead, we went there for a sidewalk photo-op. At least I got to touch a carbon-fiber part bound for a different high-tech project. "My" car is still at least a year away, but the company has shown a few parts already made here.
The next tourist goal was to get a feel for Modena's old town, a UN World Heritage site. Marianne was driving, since she is better at cities than I am, and I was navigating. My navigation had us violate the rule about cars entering the old part of the city-center. Sorry. On other days, we would park the car properly and walk the old streets.
We spent the evening planning what we would do for a week. I made reservations to see two Ferrari Museums on Monday and two others Saturday and Tuesday. (PANINI Museum and Stanguellini Museum). That may be enough, although other options exist. (Lamborghini, Ducati, and more).
Marianne researched Balsamic vinegar, and art and culture attractions. There is more than enough for a week!
Today, we would explore the old part of Modena, legally. All we had to do was find the Parcheggio del Centro (Central Parking), go underground, pick up the payment ticket, exit the garage, and find the entrance to the old walled city. We complicated this by having to go back to the car to find a lost phone, exit the garage because we had thought we would leave, go back in, and start all over. I think my biggest worry on this slight mishap was that it would characterize the day. It didn't.
We walked for hours. We saw the cathedral (Duomo), an ancient market, the square by the ducal palace, and streets-with-tourists. Here's what it looked like:
The Duomo and Tower Ghirlandina by the Piazza Grande may have been the central attraction, or at least the one with the most tourists. It dates from the 13th Century and has what Modenese feel is the best bell tower in Italy. Maybe.
The Mercato Albinelli was inaugurated in 1931 and is the oldest covered market in town. At the time, it reportedly had the finest food in all of Italy. We looked over the stalls, bought a (not-finest) lunch, and took home some cheese and bread for future meals.
The 17th Century Ducal Palace, after 200 years as the center of local royalty, now serves as a military academy. Having not made reservations, all we could see was the square outside,
but that may have been enough.
A recommendation. Clean facilities for tourists. Near the Mercado. Bring small change.
And more street scenes. Just a fraction of what we saw.
Exhausted, we even passed on art galleries, a rare omission for our house artist. Oh well, we still had several days. Our last downtown pictures come from the central garage. A few observations. It is clean and well lit. Our Tesla Model Y was one of the largest vehicles. Some fancy autos are kept under wraps: Ferraris and such, I'm sure. And there were at least a few cars that had been here for months, if not years. Interesting.
We made it home safely, discovered we were hungry, got back in the car, and went to a neighborhood pizza restaurant. The place was simple, but the wood-fired pie was delicious and cheap.
For dessert back home, we cut into treats from the Mercato Albinelli. Sweet end to a long day.
Target one for Saturday was the Panini Automobile Museum, out in the countryside somewhere. Of course, we didn't worry about locating it, because we have Tesla's GPS map. What could go wrong? We arrived at the driveway where the car told us to go at 9:30, early for our 10:00 appointment. We waited. I took pictures of the neighboring vineyard. At 10:10, we decided something was wrong, so I walked up to the nearby house and asked a young boy where the museum was. No English there, but he got his mom. No English there either. Then dad came out, and gave us clear directions to one farm over, the Hombre Ranch. (Lesson learned: GPS in Italy is iffy.)
At Hombre, there was a collection of barns and brick buildings, but I figured the right place was next to the Lamborghini tractor. This was the Umberto Panini Automobile Museum, a private collection specializing in Maserati cars and their history. Go to the link to get a full history. It's worth it.
Meanwhile, here are some more of the too-many pictures we took:
Across the dirt parking lot was another interesting-looking building that turned out to be a store specializing in Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Three Americans were just starting a tour, so we tagged along.
This farm's production was all organic, so we started with a barn tour
to see all the well-tended cows. Calves are always cute.
Inside the aging room were a zillion wheels, aging up to 90 months.
Our guide explained the quality controls used in the three regions that produce
The final step on the tour was tasting, where we were provided with 24-, 40-, and 80-month aged cheeses. Time alters the cheese in sharpness and, reportedly, in health benefit. Older is better. (Like people? Not.) Personally, I preferred the least aged. Maybe the best part of the tasting was meeting new friends .We discovered people with whom we shared California Central Valley, art, and automobile connections. Small world. We plan to meet again during our stay.
Next on our day's activities was to be Balsamic vinegar explanation and tasting. Rhonda, from the cheese tasting, suggested a change in our plans from a large commercial establishment to Acetaia La Vecchia Dispensa, a small family operation. After killing some time at a Tesla Supercharger, we drove into Castelvetro, a darling tiny hill town. There was a festival happening, so there were no legal parking places left. Not a problem. We joined others parking illegally. It's Italy.
Here is what we saw and learned about Balsamic vinegar.
Our guide explained that this tower was the prefect place to produce traditional Balsamic vinegar.
The climb up was a bit of a challenge
Vinegar is produced in a series of small casks, spending at least 12 or 25 years rotating through the series. The complex process explains why true traditional Balsamic is worth it's weight in gold.
The view from the top of the tower made the climb worthwhile.
The most interesting part of the tour was tasting. We were given drops of five products, three from a modern process and two from the traditional one we had just seen. (The region produces almost 200 million liters of the modern version, but only about 10,000 liters of the traditional.) None of these were what we buy in grocery stores!
The drive back was as confusing as we now expect travel in this region to be. Traffic is mostly tiny little Fiats, but there are occasional Ferraris, Maseratis, and tractors mixed in. On narrow roads.
Dinner was left overs - or, more properly, goodies from the market and last pizza.
We ended the day with cheese and crackers at the room of fellow travelers staying in the Antico Borgo. The Virginia couple was part of an eight-person entourage. That seemed like too big a group, but they were apparently veterans of traveling together. Everyone has their own style.
Sunday started out unplanned, except for a Zoom with family at the end of our day. Over at-home breakfast, we decided on two more goals: a good Sunday lunch and a visit to the Lamborghini Museum. That museum is in the small town of Sant'Agata, northeast of Modena.
That's where we looked for a restaurant and found one with good website pictures, a traditional local menu, white table cloths, and nearby public parking. Our criteria. Marianne called Trattoria Dagli Angeli and made reservations in her best Italian. Not much English on the other end of the line, but arrangements seemed OK.
We drove up to the village, found the parking lot, did some grocery shopping, walked to the tiny town square, and asked to get in 20 minutes before our reservation. This early arrival placed us in an empty dining room, but we had faith that other customers would arrive. Still communicating in our sparse Italian and the staff's limited English, we ordered (Parma ham and melon, two pastas, salad, steak). Our food and other customers arrived over the next hour. The people created a family-festive environment and the food was excellent. We felt lucky to have found the place.
The rest of our stay in Sant'Agata, was spent at the Lamborghini Museum, on the southern edge of the town. The museum is part of the factory where the super-cars are designed and built, but plant tours require reservations well in advance, beyond our planning capability. Instead, we settled for a tour of the museum collection.
Among other things, we learned the back story on why there even is a Lamborghini car company. It seems that, in the early 1960s, Ferruccio Lamborghini, a very successful farm equipment manufacturer and owner of several fast cars, was dissatisfied with his latest Ferrari. The clutch failed repeatedly. He decided that one of his tractor clutches would work better. He installed it and there were no more failures. Lamborghini went to Enzo Ferrari to offer his solution to the car builder and was told to go away, "go back to the farm". Mr Ferrari needed no help.
From there, Lamborghini resolved to build a car better than Ferrari in every way: faster, sleeker, more luxurious, and more expensive. In 1963, he produced his first car (the red one below) and it met the requirements. Over the next 60 years, he has continued to produce some of the most iconic automobiles in this rarefied segment of the industry.
The museum collection was overwhelming. Beautiful car after beautiful car. Most were ground-hugging two seaters, but Lamborghini has also experimented with four-seat touring cars and even a few off-road vehicles, not sacrificing speed or luxury in any of them. Google the name for more detailed stories, but for now here are way too many pictures, since the cars call out for photos:
After this, we were saturated with million-dollar and multi-million-dollar cars. It's hard to even imagine who buys these products. Young men with Middle East oil money,we thought, but our guide said Lamborghini's largest market remains the US. Where?
We made it back home in time to have our traditional weekend Zoom with Jen, Brian and Geoff. No games this time, but plenty of chit chat updates on happenings with us, them, and grandkids. I hoped we could keep up this weekly tradition, although travel did complicate things.
Tomorrow should be Ferrari and Pavarotti.
Over our homemade breakfast and instant coffee, we discussed the plan. Breakfast was toasted cheese sandwiches, cooked in a frying pan. The cheese and butter were good quality, so it passed, but I think I miss the full breakfast of Germany and our Alpine resort. Nonetheless, plans seemed about right: two car destinations and some culture. Maybe.
The Ferrari Factory and Museum are located in Maranello, south of Modena. Marianne got some more practice driving on not-very-big highways, with lots of small cars and trucks for company. We miss the Autobahns.
We arrived a few minutes before opening, so had plenty of parking. I think that was my #1 touring concern. Inside, the museum is expansive and shows off the whole company history in cars, engines, and memorabilia.
Once again, we took too many pictures, but it was hard to stop with beautiful and colorful displays everywhere. Here is about 10% of what we saw:
Ferrari has always focused on racing, from old cars like this blue example,
to the far more exotic Formula 1 machines.
Ferrari customers can order their cars in any color (but pink). And interiors can be in various leathers, stitching, and patterns. Mechanically, customization is more limited, of course, except for about once a year when a very well-heeled client asks for a custom made car. I can only imagine how expensive THAT is.
The Ferrari Museum offers "factory tours", but only from a van or bus that drives past all the various shops, offices, and assembly areas. Unfortunately, the reasonably-priced bus tours were not being offered on our Monday. However, in a amazing stroke of luck, we got added to a private van tour.
While waiting for the museum to open, I had struck up a conversation with a Ferrari fan from Houston. "Not an owner ... yet." Later, when we were checking in, he overheard that we could not arrange a bus tour and offered to add us to his van. He had already paid for the five-seat tour, yet was by himself. Wow!
For an hour, Phillipe the guide told us about the facilities we passed and the Ferrari culture that was part of each building. Enzo Ferrari was a tough entrepreneur with his own approach to racing and car building. Long after his passing, the company is part of Stellantis, a group that owns Fiat, Chrysler, and many others, but Ferrari is still largely independent and different. Production, at 22,000 per year, is far higher than Enzo would have endorsed, due to corporate realities, but otherwise he would still take pride in the company that bears his name. No pictures were allowed inside the factory gate, so we made do with before and after snaps.
Thanks to our Houston friend! (Could not remember his name. Senior moment.)
After our tour, we stopped at a trattoria in Maranello, the Ferrari town. It was just a small place in a strip mall, but our salads and pastas were good, lasagna for me a pappardelle with mushroom for Marianne. We could get used to this.
After eating, we headed to the Pavarotti House Museum, not far from Maranello. The last mile or so was on a tiny farm path, no wider than the car, with ditches on each side. The good news was that no one came the other way. The bad news was that there was no one else because the museum was closed on Mondays. I did not want to risk the drive again.
Skipping Pavarotti, we moved onto our next stop: The Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena. This second Ferrari museum is on the grounds of the original repair and race preparation operation of Enzo Ferrari, including when he started his namesake company. The displays were held in two buildings, one the original building showing off engines, and the other, a huge tent-like room, filled with more "Game Changers". (Honestly, the Ferrari hype, especially that about the world role of Enzo, was a bit over-the-top, but that's OK.)
To us, these cars seemed so much more approachable than the newer exotics we had seen at the factory.
Ferrari has designed and produced 178 different engines,
including the hybrid electric-gas on the left and the high-revving (19,000 rpm) race engine on the right.
By now, we were saturated with Ferrari cars, engines, and memorabilia. It was time for the drive back to Antico Borgo. We took a few crazy turns to leave downtown, and we made our way "home".
On Tuesday, we hoped to spend time in Modena proper, before we go to a 4:30pm appointment at yet another car museum, Museuo Stanguellini.
OK. We did the plan: two attractions and eat. However, my first worry was parking. There is no visitor parking allowed inside the city center, so we need to use the Central Parking Garage. It's a great facility, but until I get enough experience, I worry if we will find space. We always have, because the two-level structure is quite huge, but worry is what I do. By the way, always take a picture of your parking place, otherwise you may not find your car. (This was one of those times when we did have trouble.)
Attraction #1 was the Estense Gallery for Marianne's art fix. The gallery holds works from the House of Este, a dynasty that ran much of Northern Italy during the Renaissance. The gallery is on the top floor of one of the royal buildings, but the opulence starts on the ground level.
Looking through my too-many photos, I noticed that I focused first on three-dimensional pieces, some for historical interest, but most for their elaborate craftsmanship, done by skilled hands hundreds of years ago. Here is a small sampling, not more than a few percent of displayed pieces.
Even more impressive may have been the paintings, Renaissance works mostly, many very, very large. This first one (on right) is an exception, small and from the late 13th Century, it is the collection's oldest painting. I found colors to be remarkable, not the faded and muted versions often seen in old collections. This is not the sort of art that either Marianne or I normally gravitate to, but we had to admit this was most impressive. Again, I am showing only a small fraction of the displayed paintings.
Back on the ground level, we stopped off in the "chapel", a church as grand as one would need if ruling a Renaissance empire. While visiting, Marianne lit candles for her mom and dad, hoping they are enjoying our trip as they watch.
For our lunch, we asked advice at a small gallery nearby and were directed to "Pomposa", humble on the outside, small on the inside, but good food.
After eating, we walked long enough to get a feel for parts of the old city and to not feel guilty about our calorie intake. Eventually, we needed to get our car so we could drive to our next appointment, a car museum on the eastern side of town. As noted earlier, we did get lost in the massive "Centrale" parking lot, but that just meant more steps added to our fitness counters.
We found a parking place near our next museum, a lucky day! However, we were an hour early, so we took a walk through the ordinary neighborhood we found ourselves in. Nothing remarkable. Nothing terribly old. Just more steps. In fact, it was so many steps that Marianne opted to crash inside the Tesla's air conditioning, rather than suffer another car museum. I understood.
The only tourist for the day, I was greeted at the door and we started a remarkable little tour of the not-too-big Stanguellini Automobile Museum. If the Estense Gallery is the display of the Renaissance House of Este, this was the display of the 20th Century House of Stanguellini.
Who's that you ask?
The Stanguellini family first became notable in 1879 when Celso Stanguellini invented the modern, adjustable, orchestra kettle drum. The patented design provided the basis for further businesses, including as the first Fiat automobile dealer at the start of the 20th Century. An example drum, and the 1908 Fiat with Modena license #1 are in the entrance to the car show rooms.
The show room has two parts, the first devoted to the Formula 3 and other race cars that the family became famous for. The Open wheel F3 cars were a low-cost entry into Formula racing, based on modified Fiat engines and very brave drivers. The Stanguellini family built a business of making the race cars and selling the resulting engine and Fiat modifications to car enthusiasts who wanted a bit more speed for their own car. Eventually, he teamed with other Italian car companies to make both race cars and (fast) street cars.
Stanguellini also manufactured shop equipment for race cars, including a sophisticated test stand for measuring power.
The rear-engine "Dolphin" was developed at the same time as Ferrari's rear-engine "Shark".
The Stanguellini car had pipes connecting the engine in back to the radiator in front
- and a thin pad to protect the poor driver's arms.
Other innovations included experiments with "yoke" steering wheels
(like modern Tesla Model S/X) and exhaust pointing out, "to scare other drivers".
Parts of the businesses that paid for racing: modifying engines,
making parts for Fiat owners, and supplying engine and car test equipment.
The second half of the Stanguellini Museum show room held the family's personal car collection, a mixture of Stanguellini cars, cars done in collaboration with others, and examples the family found interesting to display "people transportation" (hence, the tiny post-war Fiat, and early Porsches). Wandering though here was fun for me because these were cars of the 1950s through 1970s, back from when I was first driving and thinking about cars.
Tomorrow, our last day in Modena, had only an appointment with gelato - and new friends.
The day started with breakfast out, or so we hoped. I had looked up the word "bakery"; "forno", and we sought out a couple of small places not far from us. The shops had some good looking pastries, and we bought our allotment, but this was strictly take-away, no relaxing with a sweet and coffee. That, I discovered, was the role of a "caffetteria". Makes sense, actually, and the cappuccino at Caffetteria Bellini may have the best I'd ever had, creamy and thick to the bottom of the small cup. Back home, we added in the forno products to our calorie intake. A good start.
For our last day in Modena, we only had one afternoon appointment, so we puttered around the Antico Borgo before driving to our favorite central underground parking garage in late morning. From there we wandered a bit, observing the old architecture mostly. And, later, a church. Always a church.
At 2:00, we met Rhonda, outside Bloom, reputedly the finest gelato shop in all of Modena. Could be, but we would need to sample all the others to know for sure. Next time. Inside, Rhonda introduced us to her husband Paul and his nephew Jonathan. Paul spent a long career in the auto design business, ending up at the San Francisco Art University organizing an auto design program. That's why he and Rhonda ended up in Modena: "for the cars".
We talked for an hour or two, mostly about cars and the changing auto industry. Paul is not an Elon Musk or Tesla fan, and my guess is that he's not on the side of electric cars generally. Rhonda commented that "he's opinionated" and that was clearly true, but with opinions based on decades of experience in the auto design business. Fair enough. Among the cars he does like, is a 35-year-old Lotus they recently bought and which Paul tweaks, while scuffing up his arms on the tiny British street racer. He also builds guitars, a skill he was working to transfer to Jonathan. An interesting trio. Who knows, our paths may cross again.
The only thing left for the day was more eating, this time back to La Grotta, the seafood restaurant in our neighborhood. We arrived at 7:00 pm, the time of our reservation, but the chef, his family, and staff were still eating their own dinners, so we killed some time sitting in the car, ruminating about the flexibility of time and reservations here in Italy.
When we were allowed in, our sorta-surley waitress showed us to the family table and offered us both English and Italian menus. English was far better, because the fishy offerings were pretty complex and our Italian seafood vocabulary essentially non-existent.
We chose two courses: deep fried baby squid and a seafood pasta. Both were excellent, with the tiny squids being unlike anything I think we'd ever had. Worth the wait. Topped off with espressos, we left full and happy.
On Thursday we left for our week in Asti. I wondered what we would see and do.
John and Marianne