By Dave Nelson
One of the greatest bars I’ve ever been in, certainly the biggest, was occupied at the time by just six people—the bartender, my wife and me, and three German nuns. That was a first, drinking with nuns. Of course, we weren’t actually drinking with them. They sat at a separate table. And they were drinking coffee, not wine. And they may not have been nuns, but they dressed like nuns and they spoke German.
So that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.
How we got to this bar, and what we did there, is a simpler tale. My wife and I were staying in Lucca, in northern Tuscany, and decided to make the two-hour drive to Modena, north of Bologna. Modena is where the world’s finest cars (Ferrari and Lamborghini) and most exquisite balsamic vinegar are made. I have no idea what the two products have in common but we heard Ferrari was giving away a free bottle of vinegar with every purchase of one of their 12-cylinder models. So we were intrigued.
We never arrived at Modena, however. Not even close. We started late and, just 20 minutes into the trip, we decided it was time for lunch. (Vacation schedules are such a grind.) But where to eat? We pulled off the autostrada at a town called Montecatini Terme. There we found not just lunch but one of the loveliest afternoons imaginable.
While trying to find our way back to the highway after lunch, my wife spotted what appeared to be a palace surrounded by ornate, manicured gardens. “What do you think that is?” she said.
A few right turns (and a few wrong turns) later, we found ourselves standing at the palace entrance. Nobody was there! No cars in the parking lot. No tourists. Was it abandoned? Closed? Private? True, it was a drizzly, umbrella afternoon but even the most overlooked landmarks in Italy are usually jammed in May, no matter the time or weather. Yet, there was nobody.
We peeked in and saw the most astonishing promenade—columns, stained glass, tile, and frescoes, classic Art Nouveau architecture. We found an admission booth and a lone ticket seller. I asked her if the place were closed. No! What was this place? She told me it was a “terme” (TEHR-meh). The word, “terme” had not yet entered my Italian vocabulary so I didn’t understand her answer. But, hey, two euros apiece and we were in! Continue reading