Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Italy 2014: Day 6: Wednesday: May 7: Mantova

It appears to be slightly overcast in Mantova this morning so we decide to take the opportunity to do our first laundry of the trip.  After a pretty good breakfast at the hotel, I walk out to find the laundromat and do a little exploring.  It is easily found and I get to walk around a part of Mantova that we don't know.

This is our third visit to Mantova--16 years and 10 years ago--and we are pleased to return.  The city is one of those medium sized Italian cities that feel bigger and more sophisticated than one expects.   Historically this was the city of the Gonzaga family who were very tuned into the arts and were vigorous promoters of music, painting, etc.  This tradition has carried down to the present. The historic center is quite extensive, there is a pleasant modern downtown and there are many museums, art galleries, churches and other sights  (the Mincio River is dammed up creating three "lakes" that give the city a long waterfront) to keep you busy.  It is also well known for its food culture--many restaurants featuring local specialties.

So we are happy to be back with no obligation to redo all the sights but to relax and just enjoy being here.  

It was a bit jarring yesterday on our arrival to find the town seemingly overrun with groups of schoolkids....May is school trip month and the everywhere you looked, there were groups of happy, exuberant young people.   Today the school groups are still here but we are better equipped to deal with them.

The Lavapiu is a modern, well lit, clean laundromat with comfortable seating....we are experts on Italian laundromats by now so all goes well.  While our laundry is in the machines,  a well-dressed man in nice suit carrying a briefcase comes in and starts sweeping up and cleaning out the lint filters.  We would have taken him for a banker.....

By now it is lunch time and we ask the hotel manager for a suggestion.  He sends us to a small but extremely popular place a few blocks away.   Trattoria Quattro Tette (I will let you figure out what that means by looking at this picture of their signature plate)

The place is full of locals and the food is terrific....Diana has a plate of the local risotto specialty, I have a lentil, artichoke and chickpea soup and we share a frittata with onions and artichokes.  We enjoy a couple of glasses of the house lambrusco (forget lambrusco that used to be sold in the US....this is a different animal) which is very refreshing.  We may have to come back here every day for lunch.

I take a long walk around town after lunch....I find the synagogue (Mantova had a large Jewish population--about 3,000 people-under the Gonzaga princes) and we will try to visit it tomorrow.  I walk past many of the old palazzi and the remains of the canal system that connected to the lakes and then back to the hotel through the extensive shopping area.


In the late afternoon, we get in the car and drive out to check out the rice farm where we had a great meal sixteen years ago.  The countryside around Mantova is very flat with islands of factories and warehouses interspersed with extensive tracts of farms....fruit, wheat and rice are important crops.  The lush green of the farmland takes the edge off the flatness and we enjoy meandering through the small towns.

The Antica Riseria Ferron is actually in the next province (Verona) in the town of Isola della Scala.  This is where much of the premium rice for risotto is produced and rice paddies stretch for as far as you can see. 


This riseria is famous for its antique machinery that is still in use and its traditional means of production.  We had hoped to be able to eat in their restaurant on the premises...our meal there sixteen years ago had been memorable...but there was no meal scheduled for our time in Mantova so we just take a look around and head for San Benedetto Po, a historic town close to the Po.  The town is very quiet with a grand piazza and an imposing abbey church dominating the square.  


The church is closed so we stop at a bar and have a prosecco.  Following that, we buy some strawberries at the local "fruttaverdura" and have a nice exchange with the owner.   The strawberries are terrific as well.

Back in Mantova, we decide that we are not really that hungry for dinner, so we opt for a gelato at the nearest gelateria--fior di latte and strawberry for me and vanilla with sbrisolona and panna cotta with figs for Diana.

Tomorrow, we hope to visit the synagogue and the Thursday market which takes over the center of Mantova.

Jim and Di