June 18, 2013 by Dan
There we were in the cafe with two empty cups and nowhere to sleep for the night. I broke out our trusty Rough Guide and took a look at the options listed there; nothing really appealed to us.
“Let’s go back to the unhelpful tourist office,” said Julie. “That’s what they’re for, right?”
She was, as always, correct. We trundled our rolling luggage back across the square and to the office, where the unhelpful woman behind the counter looked at us strangely – were we going to ask about luggage again? I explained our predicament, and she gave us a little book of Parma hotels.
“Or,” she said, “you could go to the other tourist office. They have lists and can help.”
The other tourist office?
“Four blocks away,” she said.
We bumpity-bumped our bags over the sidewalks to the town’s main piazza, where a small amount of traffic wound its way through an enormous open plaza, ringed by restaurants andporticoes. The tourist office was in one corner, and was stuffed with brochures, couches, and a friendly attendant. She gave us a list of hotels with prices, and we sat on the couch and looked at the phone. I was steeling myself to make a call – I have a little angst about non-English phone calls these days – when the woman spoke up.
“I am happy to call for you,” she said. “If you know where you would like to stay.”
You know in the movies when the trumpets sound and the sun comes out from behind the clouds? This was like that. In three minutes we had a place to stay at a reasonable rate, walkable from where we were. Getting there involved bumpitying our bags about halfway to the train station over a sidewalk we had trod many times before, but that was fine. The hotel was perfectly nice – a little albuerge with an incredibly friendly desk guy, morning coffee, and a shower that ran hot. Julie curled up in bed with a book, worn out from the annoyances of the morning.
After an hour or so, I got bored. “Let’s go somewhere,” I said.
“I kind of hate it here,” said Julie. “Maybe if we stay in it’ll stop being lame.”
“Come on,” I said. After a bit more cajoling, we got our act together and headed out. A happy omen – this place was right down the alley:
We walked past the main piazza to a small alley chock-full of little restaurants and shops, selling all sorts of things, and the inevitable cured meat.
Eventually we settled in a Tabarro, a little wine bar with a small appetizer menu, tables made from wine barrels, and a friendly barkeep who spoke fantastic English and gave us a primer on our wine and cheese plate.
“This,” he said, pointing, “Is the goat. This is the sheep.”
Works for me.
I would like to note here that the Parma ham and cheese were stunning. Delicious. Bordering on unbelievable. We started to perk up. Outside, local folks were gathered at the two outdoor tables, swathed in coats and scarves in the cold. Inside, it was crowded and warm, and we happily sipped red wine and noshed.
Time for dinner – we checked out a couple of places on the square, but nothing seemed quite right.I had a brain flash – there had been a little trattoria right across the alley from our hotel, right?
And there was. And it was perfect.
The owner in and out of the kitchen, the wife back cooking, the son handling the front of the room. Eight tables. Ravioli in butter-parmesan sauce, and braised pork cheek. The ravioli was perhaps the best either of us have ever had, swimming in creamy, delicious melted butter. The pork cheek fell apart as I jabbed it with my fork, mixing with a perfect polenta. The owner swooped down on us after we finished, presenting us with two glasses of his limoncello, on the house. We paid our check, and as I was putting on my jacket, he swooped again.
“Dessert,” he said. “A gift.”
It was like tiramisu, but not quite that – a creamy pastry thing with chocolate shavings an an extra helping of delicious. We were the second-to-last people to leave, and we left quite happy.
Parma – not bad.
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