It’s relatively warm for a late November day and I am sitting under a high ceiling in a Florentine hotel with a quaint charm to it. The curtains on my left run about 15 feet high, hiding the narrow street lanes of the town behind it. The dark wooden furniture, pastel green walls and a decidedly antique chandelier in the hallway take me back by about a century. In my mind, a suspicion flickers that a big part of this may not be original and the antiquity has been installed artificially; but I enjoy it regardless. The room comes with a WiFi connection and a TV screen in one corner. The place might be a 100 years old, but the huge wooden doors to the entrance operate automatically, thus bringing me back from my daydream of a rustic fantasy. The hotel, in many ways, seems to represent my image of Italy, as I experience it from a tourist’s lens in a span of about 6 days.
Day 1 : Tirano, Milan
For skipping ahead to Cinque Terre, click on this link.
For skipping ahead to Florence, click on this link.
For skipping ahead to Venice, click on this link
Our Italian sojourn began at Tirano, a small, sleepy town close to the boundary between Northern Italy and Switzerland. Riding on the Bernina express from Zurich, we had traveled through the Swiss Alps to finally enter the Italian land by arriving at this town.
Our final destination for the day would be Milan; however we had planned to stop by at Tirano for a couple of hours just to get a feel of the Italian countryside and have some good food on the way. From here onward, we would be riding on the Trenitalia for the rest of our stay in Italy.
Tirano is a historic town settled in the Valtellina valley. As you walk along the narrow streets, you keep seeing mountain faces around you and river Adda keeps meting you in between as you hop from one side of the town to the other. The whole town is so small; we could do a good tour of it in an hour or so. We didn’t have enough time to visit the basilica, which seems to be a tourist attraction. Instead, we headed to visit Pallazzo Salis, a 17th century building constructed by the noble family of von Salis-Zizers.
The 15 min walk from the station to the palace took us across the river – the bridge had these cute flowerpots places on their sides. Crossing the river, we walked for a few minutes through some narrow, cobble stone lanes. A clock tower kept us company and kept looming up from behind other buildings. We passed a few lanes packed with cars on one side and in one such lane, I found an orange tabby that had made himself comfortable on the bonnet of a car. We spent some time trying to interact with the cat and reluctantly detached ourselves to head towards the palace.
We arrived at the pallazzo quite suddenly. There was no activity around this part of the town, neither tourists nor locals were in sight – I blame it on the off-season though. The wooden door at the entrance of this historic building was quite impressive, but was locked for the moment. The building is a makeover of some already established 16th century buildings and has maintained the architectural character of that period. It is now run as a museum, with frescoed halls and an Italian garden in the backyard. Unfortunately, the building was closed when we visited it. We took a walk outside the building and entertained ourselves with imaginary tales the place inspired in our minds.Having not fully understood the significance of the building at the time, yet intrigued by its historic facade, we clicked some pictures and then traced our steps back to the station to continue our journey towards Milan.
Few hours later, we arrived at Milan Central Station amid the buzz of a big city. The station was huge and heavily crowded. Because of the limitation on time, Milan exploration had taken a back seat and we were treating Milan as a mere stop-over for resting our backs, before heading next day to Cinque Terra, a group of 5 coastal villages on the north-western coast of the country. We did treat ourselves to a really good pizza at a pizzeria close to the hostel and relaxed in the common room, before turning in for the night.
Day 2,3 : Cinque Terre
Fascinated by the classic Cinque Terre pictures with brightly lit up houses sitting beside the dark coast, we didn’t want to do injustice to the place and had reserved maximum time in the itinerary to explore it. The 3.5 hours long train ride from Milan Centrale train station gave us glimpses of the Italian countryside. I felt that it resembled the Indian countryside in some ways. May be it was the presence of small cement-concrete houses, green deciduous vegetation and a lack of an urbanized feel that is so typical of countries like United States that made me feel that way. About two hours in the journey, we route started to pass along the Tyrrhenean sea . Seeing open waters along the way helped build the excitement about our stay in Cinque Terra for the next couple days.
Starting from Milan, the order in which the villages can be located is Monterroso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. The villages are located on the coast of Tyrrhenian sea, on what is called as Italian Riviera. It made sense to stay at either of the two ends as we had plans to hike across all villages in the next two days (that is probably the best way to experience this place). From online reviews, it seemed that Monterroso would have been too commercialized to suit our taste; so we opted to make Riomaggiore our base.
Cinque Terre coastline is a UNESCO World Heritage site and vehicular traffic is prohibited inside and across the village (yay!). The only way to go from one village to another is via trains or on foot along the coastal trails. The trains are very convenient – they run frequently and each village is only about 3-5 mins away from the previous/next one. We landed at the tiny station at Riomaggiore and had to walk for only about 5 mins to reach our hotel on Via Colombo (Via means street in Italian), which is the central street in the town. As we were to discover next day, each of the 5 villages are quite small in their overall expanse, with a single central street that runs all the way from the beginning to end (at the coast). So arriving at the train station, one only has to locate the central street and cruise along it taking in the colorful building and shops, finally ending the walk by the sea, obviously stopping by multiple times to gorge on the yummy food and relish the local wine. It’s quite easy to get lost in the tangle of the buildings along the street and it’s enjoyable to do so at least for some time! You just keep going around where ever the narrow lanes take you, losing orientation quite quickly.
Unlike the fishermen’s houses on tiny islands near Venice, the houses in Cineque Terre were only colored after 1970.
We deposited the luggage in our clean and spacious room on the second floor of the hotel , and treated ourselves to pasta and local Vermantino wine before hitting the coastal end of the village in no time. This seemed like the most beautiful spot in the town as you have lightly colored buildings of all shades behind you while you gaze upon the blue waters ahead, thinking where those waters would take you if you were to start sailing in it. The mountains stand looking over the village and are heavily terraced with a cultivation of grapes and olives. November air was chilly but not so much as to not let us enjoy it. As I looked up from a spot on the harbor, I could see rows of houses forming an elevated semi-circle around me. May be the village is not so beautiful as the pictures purported it to be; but there’s a uniqueness to it that I had not seen before. It was also very peaceful because of the off-season – there were hardly 3 or 4 other tourists in the entire town because of the non-sunny climate. The town had an extremely lazy air to it, with most of the local restaurants either shut down completely for the season or opting to close as early as 6 or 7 pm. The restaurant right next to our hotel was one of the few places still open in the off season and we made it our food place for all the meals in our Cinque Terre stay. The chef (he was probably the owner too) was a jovial Italian fellow who stayed true to the animatedly talking and wildly expressive stereotype of Italian men in my head. We really liked his food and didn’t mind having to go there again and again.
There was still some day light left; so we decided to take the train to Manarola, the town credited with the classic view, pictures of which were responsible for bringing us here in the first place. Like Riomaggiore, Manarola was also placed at the bottom of a terraced mountain slope ending into the sea. We went down the street to the harbor. At the harbor, you have to walk up along the cliff side trail for about 5 mins before reaching the point with the beautiful view of the town. We took a few pictures from this point before and then after the sunset and the whole thing really looked very beautiful once the lights went up! I recommend taking a tripod for these pictures as the lights are not as bright as one would have thought and we had to make do with blurry pictures. We found our way back to Riomaggiore that night and slept contentedly after a round of filling pasta.
The main attraction of Cinque Terre for us was the coastal hike that takes you from one village to another. Quite a few parts of the trail are closed due to landslides in the recent past; Based on that, we had decided to hike from Monterroso to Corniglia – a hike of about 3-5 hours. Among the four stretches of the hike, Monterroso to Vernazza and Vernazza to Corniglia are supposed to be the best in terms of views. The lower level Azure Trail being closed, we were to walk on the longer and steeper red trail that climbs up the mountain and then ultimately brings you down into Corniglia.
The hike started from a point just beyond the train station at Moneterroso. We passed a castle like structure and soon started climbing stone carved stairs all the way to the top of the mountain. The uphill walk took us about 45 mins and was quite steep. We passed orchards and orange trees on the way and could see the sea on our right side all along. The view became better once you are at the top and start traversing along the mountain in the direction of Vernazza. On the way, we found a feral colony and tried our best in befriending a tabby cat that woke up upon our arrival and came outside of his shelter to greet us. I would rate the hike as very easy in general. The part I liked the best was cruising along the mountain side and stopping by the cliff side to gaze upon the string of villages that lays in front of you along the coastline. While I wouldn’t call it as one of the most spectacular hikes or anything close to that level, it is definitely a must-do activity if you were visiting Cinque Terre. The trail began to descend after a while and we could see Vernazza hugging the sea in some distance.
The village of Vernazza was marked by its Bell Tower and a harbor jutting out in the sea. This village has a castle build on the water and remains of an old wall. I had read up that this is the most beautiful of the 5 villages and I couldn’t agree with that statement more. Looking at it from somwhere up the mountain, it looked sunny, at peace with itself and isolated behind the blue sea waters stretching up to the horizon.
We were quite hungry after our excursion and decided to just relax at Vernazza instead of continuing on to Corniglia. It was a perfect sunny day to walk along the waterfront piazza and enjoy the place. We had some delicious pesto pasta in one of the seaside restaurants and washed it down with red wine. We spend some time looking at the waves slapping the harbor and then made it back to Riomaggiore to end the day. That night, I went back to Riomaggiore harbor to soak in the view of the village one last time before moving on to Pisa and Florence the next day.
Day 4: Pisa
I wouldn’t have agreed to take a pit-stop at Pisa on the way from Cinque Terre to Florence had it not been for Abhi’s insistence that it would be a waste if we don’t stop by even when it’s right in the middle of the way to Florence; Abhi had a civil engineer’s curiosity in the famous Pisa structure and so it was that we ended up taking a city bus from Pisa Centrale train station to the leaning tower of Pisa! Like every other town that we saw in Italy, this one too was divided in the center by a river, in this case river Arno. Houses leaned on each other along the river as we rode past them.
The leaning tower of Pisa is located at Cathedral square, just behind the Pisa Cathedral. The place was buzzing with tourists like us. So many of them were trying to pose in a way that would lead to the illusion of them pushing against the tower! The two white structures – the cathedral and the tower were beautiful to look at and the history behind the tower was especially interesting. To those who don’t know, the tilt of the tower was not intentional. The title began during the construction because of the ground on one side of the foundation was too soft. The tilt went on increasing till the time it was stabilized by artificial means by late 1900’s. Listening to the story from Abhi, I couldn’t help feel bad for the architect or the engineer who might have been in charge of the project at the time. We clicked the tower from various angles, Abhi trying to teach me the concept of perspectives and tricks for clicking such vertical structures. Not having much to do apart from the tower visit, we found a restaurant just behind the tower area and got back on the train to reach Florence by evening.
Day 5 : Florence
When I first started reading up on what to see in Florence, it was quite easy to find a list of the most popular attractions. But there was so much to see, I felt a little disoriented in general and wanted to first understand the layout of the city and its main areas and then locate each of the attractions on the city map.
So here’s how the city is divided: You have the area around the Duomo, which is the most touristy part of the town with an abundance of hotels and lodging options (we opted out of staying here as it sounded too touristy to be pleasant..I know, I know, it’s hypocritical of me to say so but still!).
The next is Piazza della Signoria, where you have the famous Uffizzi gallery, other museums, Ponte Vecchio and Pitti Palace.
The third major area is Santa Croce, which is a little far from the main attractions but has a good food scene with some really good restaurants and bars.
San Lorenzo seems to be a market hub and Santa Marian Novella which is close to the train station but in general doesn’t seem to have good reviews on the web.
We stayed in Santa Croce for its virtue of being away from the typical touristy buzz and also because we found a good deal on a hotel that proclaimed itself to be an old palace now converted into a hotel (but that’s most hotels in Florence for now. Be wise and pay attention to reviews while making a reservation).
River Arno flows through the center of the town – most of the areas described above are on the northern side of the river while Santa Croce, where we stayed was on the other side ( We didn’t mind the extra walk). Starting from our hotel, we wanted to first see the churches, gardens and monuments which lay on our side of the river. In hind sight, this was a big mistake as we were unable to get a ticket to go the top of Duomo, on the other side of the river, on account of having reached there quite late in the day. I would recommend going to the Duomo and buying a ticket to climb up to its top as the first thing to be done early morning.
There are multiple bridge connecting both sides of the river. Ponte Vecchio is probably the most popular and interesting of them all. The bridge is famous because of the ‘Vasari Corridor’ (secret passageway build for Duke Medici in 1556) that was built on its top. Ponte Vecchio connects Palazzo Pitti on the north to Palazzo Vecchio on the south. It has a lot of shops and is the only pedestrian only bridge in Florence.
Thus oriented with the layout of the city, we reached Florence in the evening, freshened up in our palace like hotel and got out for an evening stroll. We especially wanted to go to Piazzale Michelangelo to enjoy sunset view of Florence skyline from the south side of the river. Piazzale Miechlangelo is a terrace on top of a hill and overlooks the river Arno and the city of Florence beyond the river. The walk from our hotel up to the piazza was about 25 mins long. As we sauntered through the alleyways of Florence, I was again struck by how the historically and architecturally preserved facades of the buildings were complemented by modern interiors. Florence was dominated by brown colored buildings and didn’t have much of a trace of the light colored buildings we had seen in Cinque Terre or Pisa.
Streets of Florence
We climbed up the stairs of the hill to reach the piazza at the top. The piazza was filled with tourists and vendors. There was also a replica of Michelangelo’s David that left us confused for a few minutes. The Sun had just set and the air was abuzz with lively conversations. There was an amphitheater like arrangement of steps for people to sit down in peace and gaze down at the view of the city across the river. Although full of people, there was some kind of a peace in this place and I very much enjoyed looking at the lit up skyline of Florence, with The Duomo and Grotto’s Campanile taking the center stage of the view. We were in no rush to return to the hotel and spent quite some time at the piazza. After making sure that we had seen the view from all possible vantage points, we started our walk back to the hotel. There was a series of restaurants just close to our hotel. We randomly entered one of them and celebrated Florence by having wine, a supremely delicious pasta, ending it with an equally delicious dessert. A typical Italian meal consists of two courses, the first consisting of pasta or rice and the second with protein like meat or fish with a side dist for salad or fruit. The size of our appetites never allowed us to go up to the second course and the first course would prove more than enough to satisfy us.
We started our Florence sightseeing from Palazzao Pitti, a palace that is only a short distance away from Ponte Vecchio on south side of the river. It is a large museum complex and has several museum galleries inside it. Due to lack of time, we decided to skip the galleries and instead start our walk in the Boboli Gardens, entrance to which is Pitti Palace itself.
Boboli gardens was created over multiple years, spanning 15th to 19th century. They are a great piece of green architecture and also serve as a museum of sorts, with its array of sculptures around centuries old trees, and fountains of water that is brought from River Arno via an artificially build conduit. The gardens were bought by Cosimo I de’ Medici, the Duke of Florence and were enlarged over the years. (Medicis were a powerful banking power from Florence with great influence on the contemporary politics. A lot of the history you see in Florence revolves around the Medici family or has their influence). We started exploring the gardens from the ‘amphitheater’, a large area at the base of a hillock. The amphitheater boasts of a number of statues based on Roman mythology. We walked uphill from the amphitheater, constantly flanked on both sides by Oak tree hedges. At the top of the hill, we came across Neptune’s Fountain, with Nepture holding a trident in his hand. A lazy stork was providing company to the statue and didn’t mind us taking his pictures.
In some distance on the hill, we could see a green colored building, which rather looked like a house. We were interested enough to walk up to it but the entrance to it was closed. However, from the backyard of the building, we could get a beautiful view of Florence across the river. The Duomo was the most prominent feature but we could also see Palazzo Vecchio and . We got to know later that the building is called Kaffehaus, which in Italian literally mean Coffee House. It was built by the Lorena family (one of the noble families) to be enjoy their coffee and hot chocolate. Interesting!!
Afterwards, we took a path that descended down towards the main street and came across various tree formations like passages or tunnels formed by trees/foliage. By then, we had spent almost an hour and half and had started craving for some food or Gelato ice cream! We emerged out of the gardens and walked towards Ponte Vecchio to finally cross into the other side of Florence.
Ponte Vecchio was a crowded place but afforded some good views on both sides of the river. We crossed it in about 15 minutes and emerged on to the other side close to Palazzo Vecchio. Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall of Florence. It is a prominent building with a crenellated tower and overlooks Piazza della Signorial, which is a L-shaped square and hold the reputation as a political hub of the city.
The square was a lively place, with Loggia dei Lanzi celebrating Rennaissance art that included ancient sculptures including the Medici Lions. Loggie dei Lanzi also feels like a museum, as it is housed inside wide but completely open arches, on one corner of the square. We finished our Gelato sitting by its steps, looking at the tourists milling aroun and then bought the tickets to take a tour of the Pitti Palace.
Inside the palace, each floor is brimming with history, architecture and paintings. From here onward, my recollection of the place becomes vague as I lack an artistic eye through which one needs to appreciate and make sense of these aspects. While I was awed by the beauty and grandeur of the structures and frescoes, it is indeed difficult for me to describe what I saw in words. One needs to understand art and be guided through the chambers and hallways by someone who can explain history as well as art to the uninitiated. Abhi seems to be better off in these areas. After about half an hour of trying to take it all in, I started looking forward to our next destination, the Duomo, the Florence Cathedral.
We lunched at a small cafe by the Duomo, while a small drizzle took shape outside. With stomachs filled, we were ready to see the church and climb up to its top for a sweeping view of the city.
The cathedral complex is quite expansive and two other buildings, the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower), apart from the church. The cathedral has the largest brick dome (Brunelleschi’s dome) ever constructed in history and is one of the largest churches in Europe. For many years, the cathedral was without the dome as dome of the scale required by The Duomo had presented many architectural problems that only Brunelleschi, a hot-tempered goldsmith with no formal training in architecture, was able to solve with his brilliant ingenuity. I’d say the main attraction at the Duomo is the walk up to the top of the dome and the view of the city from that place. It was therefore unfortunate that we underestimated just how busy and crowded the place would become by the time we reached there in the afternoon and had to be told to come back only after two days for any chance of buying tickets. We contented ourselves with the serenity inside the church and emerged out on the drizzle to walk towards Galleria dell’Accademia that houses Michelangelo’s David.
Visiting the statue of David was really just a tick mark on out list of places to visit. I used the visit as a break to relax my legs while staring at David’s behind. Again, I think I lack an artistic view that could let me admire the meaning and beauty of these sculptures.
Our last destination for the day was Basillica de Santa Croce, which is the largest Franciscan church in the world and is the burial place of a lot many world-famous Italians like Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. The church was about 15-20 mins of walking distance from the Duomo and looked beautiful when seen from Piazza de Santa Croce. Like The Duomo, Basillica de Santa Croce is also built in a Gothic Italian architectural style. I liked their the white exteriors that had a symmetric geometrical design on them.
The place was less crowded than the others and I liked it even more for it. Having more affinity towards the subject of astronomy that others, Abhi and I spent more time in front of Galileo’s tomb inside the church. By the time we got outside, it was close to sunset. With aching legs, we returned to the hotel area for the last evening in Florence.
Next day, we would take the train to the most famous of all Italian towns – Venice!
Day 6: Venice:
Let me begin by saying that I had really lowered my expectations for Venice, supposedly one of the most romantic places in the world. All because I was expecting it to be so mainstream and commercialized that I’d not consider it to be more than a tourist check mark. That might have been true for the summer season, when every alley and every canal is filled with tourists from all over the world. But having gone there in late November, I was pleasantly surprised by the quieter beauty of this floating city.
In terms of the visual aspect, Venice turned out to be exactly how one would imagine. Water canals connecting different parts of the town, Gandolas doing the rounds with couples trying to woo each other and Vaperetto, the ubiquitous water bus, operating as the main mode of public transport. What I did not imagine was Venice having a maze of narrow alleys through which to walk and get lost, only to eventually find yourself at a familiar piazza or a square or Vaperetto station; Or a version of Venice with a bunch of different architectural structures to marvel at. I did all that and some more in my 48 hours in Venice and I actually liked it a lot more than I liked other parts of Italy.
We arrived at Venice after ~4 hours of train ride from Florence. Getting out of the train station, the first thing you notice is the Grand Canal. Grand canal is one of the main water traffic corridors in Venice. It’s a serpentine canal that forms the shape of the English letter ‘S’ as it passes through different parts of Venice, before opening up into the sea. The canal is lined by old buildings, representative of the long history that this town has witnessed. Our hotel was a just a 5 mins walking distance from the train station. Within no time, we were back on the streets of Venice, with a map in one hand and camera in the other.
There’s a lot to experience in Venice – the water, the alleys, the food, the islands and their colorful houses and a lot of history. If time permits, do stay in this town for more than 2 days. We tried to find a balance between relaxing and still seeing some of the biggest attractions in the town and in the process, got a pretty good taste of this age-old center of commerce and finance.
On our first evening, we started out by figuring out how the vaperetto schedule, stations and ticketing system. Our first ride in the grand canal took us to Basillica de San Marco. This is a beautiful piece of architecture built in Italo-Byzantine style. It’s domes shine in the sun and the interior is equally grand. Outside, St. Mark’s campanile rises up in the sky in Piazza San Marco. Campanile, the bell tower is one of the prominent symbols in the city.The brick tower looks rather simple but at the top, houses 5 bells. You can go up to the top of the campanile and enjoy some great views of Venice. We went to the top on a rainy day and as such, couldn’t see much around the tower but the small glimpses made us feel like we were missing out on great views and also made us regret yet again, not going to the top of the companile in Florence. Piazza San Marco, where the basilica and the companile are located, is a huge square with different types of food and jewellery shops lining its three sides. As you walk along the shops, you notice small alleyways emanating from the back of the piazza and you pick one randomly to start your real Venice exploration.
I had my aha moment at the entrance of one such alleyway. I had not read much about Venice before arriving there and as such, suddenly finding myself in a maze of lanes and passageways felt quite amazing. Every alley had a variety of different shops and they were brightly lit up for the evening. Abhi and I stopped by several of these shops for picking up snacks and dinner. We experimented with food, with some success and some failure. As we walked along, we would pass the water canal, enter dark alleys, and see the gondolas riding in the water along old, dilapidated building with the color peeling off of them. It was charming and a little sad at the same time. It was like time had hung still in this town, while water flowed along ceaselessly. In those moments, you wanted Venice to keep up with the modern times and be all polished and bright, even as tourists would want to cling on to its timeless history. We passed numerous lanes, residential areas, tourist areas, museums, piazzas, restaurants and gandolas before realizing it was getting rather late. Before coming back to the hotel and calling it a day, we stopped by a water facing restaurant and indulged in food and wine to celebrate this place.
A trip to Italy would not feel complete without getting to see the wonderfully colorful houses that are such a trademark of this country. So far, the colorful parts of the country were pastel shades that failed to give a sense of exuberance. So we were keen on visit the island of Burano, as the town is famous for its bright-colored fishermen’s houses.
To reach Burano, we took a vaperetto ride from Venice that first stopped at the island of Murano. We decided to walk through Murano in our return journey and headed towards Burano. As we started nearing the town, we could already see houses in bright blue, yellow and pink lining the water canal. Alighting from the boat, we started our walking tour of the island, through its silent but colorful lanes. The next two hours were a blur of color and water merging into each other. While Venice had a deep character because of its art and architecture, Burano was a delight for photographers. You can enjoy this place without knowing its history, so intense is the power of the colors and symmetry that one can experience here. As per the legend, the fishermen of the town started painting their houses in bright colors so that they could spot them from the water even in foggy conditions and avoid crashing on the shore. Each house is painted a different color so that different families could mark their houses separately. With Abhi’s expert advice on how best to click buildings, I spent an hour in photographic experimentation before settling down for a sumptuous lunch consisting of sea food and of course, the red wine! This was to be our last meal together in Italy, as I would head towards Germany and Abhi to India in the next two days.
Burano provided a perfect ending to our trip-Italia. It put us into a happy mode, among people, among colors and among the waters of the Adriatic coast. We were now ready to move on to explore yet another part of the world!
So far, what we had seen was overwhelming in its beauty and complexity. To me, Italy seemed like a place an artist, a designer or a history buff would enjoy. Brushing up on your knowledge of these domains and also making sure that you take a guide along with you to help you understand the finer nuances of the paintings, sculptures and structures that you’d keep running into, would greatly enhance your experience. We tried our best in steering clear of the ‘touristy things’; but still found ourselves getting dragged into the ‘top 10 things’ kinda lists pretty much every day of our trip. While the approach worked in many instances, it felt like there’s more to these places than we could understand.
If I were to sum up my Italian experience, I’d call it a colorful time travel, that begs to be understood through layers of history, art and modern-day politics. Along the way, my palate got treated to the best of the Italian food and whenever it got a little overwhelming, I just gulped it all down with a glass or two of the old red wine!