Saturday, 10 May 2014

Italian Cookery Course - Day One, Saturday 10th May 2014

An early start for the flight out to Bologna from Terminal 5 at Heathrow – we were meeting the group at 6.30am for an 8.30am flight. What a miserable and cold day to leave the UK – raining, dreary and windy. A typical spring morning! Luckily, we had stayed the night before in the Sofitel, which is attached to the terminal so we didn't have to brave the fresh air at all. We met everyone, except one couple that we seemed to have missed (note to self, make sure I take a Travel Stop sign next time I am trying to meet people who I don't know what they look like), but made sure that they had checked in so at least they were there. Jenny, who I also did not know, had said she had white hair and jeans. Amazing how many ladies have white hair and travel in jeans! It helped to find her though.

Time for breakfast! The group seem to be getting on really well together looking at how they were chatting over breakfast. Even the Eastern European waiter had a good sense of humour – he needed it when he managed to dip his tie into Paul's latte! The food was apparently not good though – glad I did not partake.

It was a quick hop to the gate, and the flight left on time. A completely full flight – except for the seat in between Nick and Jane, so they were in “business class”. A very nice bacon, tomato and cheese croissant was served – included in the price!! And Paul ended up sitting next to Glenda and Ron, who we missed before we checked in. Result! Two hours soon went, with some spectacular scenery across the alps. Bologna airport was a lovely little airport – and it was 25 degrees when we landed. Beautiful!

Our driver was there to meet us through passport control. After paying for the parking, we followed lots of people with bicycles that were on our flight (Nick ascertained that they were here for a bike race) out to the car park. We had a mini bus and a car for the nine of us – as the driver of the car was rather better looking than the driver of the mini bus Isabel decided they were going in the car! The luggage (just) went in the back of the mini bus, and we were on our way. The air conditioning needed to be on full flow, as the temperature was now up to 28.
The first part of the journey was through very flat but very rural countryside. Lots and lots of grapevines, peach trees and other crops that were in full bloom. Then we had to stop for petrol – one wonders why he didn't fill up before getting to the airport! Perhaps Daniele from Typically Italian had threatened him with something worse than death if he was late picking us up! After about forty five minutes we started to get into hill territory. The scenery changed dramatically – it is absolutely stunning. Lush green rolling hills, and quaint little villages with an odd fort or two thrown in. And lots of very fit people on racing bicycles. They seem to take this sport very seriously.
We arrived at the Al Vecchio Convento after just over an hour and a half journey from the airport. We had gone into the tiny streets of Portico di Romagna, under an arch and the hotel was on the left hand side. A converted convent, it is extremely old with beautiful flowers and seats outside the front door. The “mamma” of the hotel came out to meet us – just as Daniele had described. He had promised that she would be everyone's mamma by the end of the week. We were all shown to our rooms – very basic but functional. It is a converted convent, so I don't believe nuns needed all the mod cons. There are ensuite facilities in every room, and the shutters open and overlook the front street and the bell tower.
A lunch was set out for us in the garden. A beautiful little courtyard garden, with a table for nine laid for us. We had a starter of roasted vegetables, with home made bread. Then came the pasta dish – I thought this was going to be a light lunch! Beautiful! The chef was the son of the owner, that came out to make sure everything was OK. By the look of nine clean plates I think everything was OK! He said he was going to be showing us how to make pasta tomorrow – if it tastes like this I think I might be trying it when I get home.
After a rather elongated lunch that lasted until 4o'clock, a couple of us decided to go for a wander whilst others decided that lunch, more importantly the wine course, should last until 6pm. No names at this stage! Needless to say, Paul looked after this contingency. After turning right out of the hotel, a hundred yards down a tiny street, right again through a tinier alleyway that must have had a one in four gradient, around a cobbled street and over a bridge that was the biggest up and over I have ever seen. This was over the river, and then we walked alongside the river. What a beautiful area! We walked back over a weir back to the other side of the river, and then on a bit further to a waterfall where there was a swimming hole in between the rocks. A bit chilly (or rather icy) so I declined! So peaceful. Daniele phoned, just to make sure everything was OK. I could (and probably should) have wound him up. What was it he said I needed to do if anyone asked a question? Hands in the air, shrug the shoulders and what will be will be! He was pleased to hear that we were all here and happy. He can sleep tonight!

The walk back was round the other way, and back to the hotel via the village again. Virtually every house had their elderly sitting out the front in the sunshine. How European. Or is it that we don't have the weather in the UK to be able to do that? Is it the olive oil or the good weather that prolongs life out here? So many questions!!
Back to the hotel – the wine contingency were still in the same place as we had left them. So we had to join them again. This is going to be a very liquid holiday I feel.
It was soon 6.15pm – we needed to be back and ready for our “presentation” about the week ahead and dinner by 7pm. A quick visit to the room, unpacked and got ready for dinner. Along with the basic room, the bath towels are more like tea towels. I am sure we will manage! Along with having to get a small step ladder to get onto the bed – it is rather high. And what do we need the ear plugs for that are left by the bed? Either they have heard about my snoring, or something is going to happen perhaps very early in the morning that we really don't want to hear. Might be something to do with the bell tower. Will update you on this tomorrow!
We met in the garden for a lovely bottle of prosecco, and Marissa (mamma) went through the programme for the week. Will update you day to day on this, but needless to say it looks as if we may all be going home a few pounds heavier than when we arrived. We then had a short Italian lesson. We should all now be able to be very polite when we ask for a large glass of wine!

Dinner is in the dining room – a lovely old room with many, many artefacts all around. First course is the antipasti – more vegetables in olive oil, different from lunchtime. With lovely home made Italian bread. Then comes the risotto course – with asparagus. I think everyone could have finished with that course – but then we had the meat course. Wild Boar, with some sort of onions and cabbage. Lovely. Only the dessert and the coffee course left. It was Jane's birthday today, and the pudding came out with three candles in for her.  Nice touch! Sorry to say that there were lots of clean plates. Good to know that we all enjoyed it, but feel we are all well on the way to putting on the first few pounds. Bring on tomorrow!

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