Monday, June 17, 2013

Spring, Northern Italy, Goto Restaurant

Flowers for sale at the Old Town square

Mother Nature keeps teasing us here in southwestern Finland. For a few days, it will be sunny -- and very warm! -- then, all of a sudden, it will be cold, windy and rainy. Midsummer is next Saturday, which is a two-day holiday here and a cause for big celebrations. Everything closes -- even the Alko (liquor store). You can bet there will be long lines there on Thursday! Hopefully, the weather will cooperate. I will admit that the long days and nights are much better than winter, when it's dark and depressing. The black-out shades have been in place for several months and taped to the wall, but sunlight still slips through. Officially, the sun "sets" right now around 11:15 p.m. and "rises" at 3:55 a.m. But it never gets totally dark.It usually wakes me up at 3 a.m.

Root vegetables for sale
It's already been warmer here this year than last summer, although we had some dreary weather this weekend. The only time I wore shorts last summer was when we went to Barcelona and London! This summer, we've actually had a few days where the temperature reached 80 degrees F.! That is unheard-of. The winter was milder this year as well. Even the locals comment on how much worse winter and summer were in 2012 compared to this year so far. We were at the company summer party this past weekend, and several of us were talking about how obsessed we are with the weather here. I think it's partly because the weather changes so quickly. One minute it's sunny and pleasant; the next, the wind blows in from the Sea of Bothnia and there's a 20-minute rain storm. Unlike the southern U.S., we rarely have thunderstorms here in Finland. But we have had a few in recent months.

The Doumo in Milan at night
I know the weather issues haven't been limited to Finland. I worry about everyone back home in the U.S. with all the severe weather. A tree fell on a friend's house during a recent storm -- thankfully, no one was hurt.

With better weather, more vendors are showing up in the Old Town square every day with fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables. The strawberries and blueberries finally have some taste, and you can get every root vegetable imaginable -- beets, carrots, turnips, onions, and many varieties of potatoes. The local tomatoes are still the hot-house variety, but we can get decent ones from Holland and Spain. I even got some peaches from Spain the other day that were edible. And of course, we've been getting some yummy asparagus, although most of it also comes from abroad, usually France. I've been steaming asparagus and putting it on salad almost every day.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan
Taking advantage of the season, my friend Marion and I visited northern Italy last week. We flew to Milan, toured the city, saw Da Vinci's breath-taking "Last Supper," visited the famous Doumo, ate some great food, drank just a little wine (!), and did a bit of shopping. We took a day trip to Lake Como, which included a boat ride to Bellagio. We saw lakeside homes belonging to Sophia Loren, George Clooney and Sir Richard Branson (his house is spectacular).

Next, we took the train from Milan to Santa Margherita Ligure. What a picturesque seaside town! We took the ferry to Portofino, which also is beautiful, although a bit touristy. I will say that Italians are some of my favorite people. Everyone seems to be happy all the time! And who wouldn't with all that good food, drink and scenery!

Milan train station
If you get the chance to travel in Europe, I highly recommend taking a train at least once. It is simple, affordable and stress-free. Also, I usually don't like organized tours, but a tour is such a good way to get acclimated to a new city. In the case of Milan and "The Last Supper," it's a perfect way to see a masterpiece that is very difficult to get tickets to. You have to book months in advance for a 15-minute visit with Da Vinci's second most famous painting (yes, the "Mona Lisa" is No. 1 -- although it is much smaller in person and is always crowded with camera-wielding tourists in front of it at the Louvre in Paris). You aren't allowed to take photos of "The Last Supper," which is probably a good thing, since it allows you to reflect more on the work, which Da VInci painted on the dining hall wall of the monastery of Santa Maria della Grazie church in Milan. "The Last Supper" depicts the reactions of the twelve Apostles when Jesus announces that one of them will betray him. The painting recently underwent a major renovation, and the colors are just as Da Vinci painted them in the late 15th century.
Santa Margherita Ligure

We also took an organized bus tour to Lake Como. Yes, we could have taken the train ourselves, then taken the ferry ride to Bellagio, but we would have missed all the great commentary by our enthusiastic guide. Plus, we never would have guessed which house was George's!

Back here in Finland, my husband and I are preparing to return home to the U.S. in a few weeks, as our time here comes to a close. I have met with the packing company, we sold our car, found buyers for our bicycles, and I have started clearing out the pantry. I'll have some more thoughts on the move in a future post. We also are planning to visit Rome and Tuscany before returning to the U.S., so I'm excited to return to Italy so soon.
The Mediterranean Coast



 One new thing here in Rauma is the opening of Goto, a restaurant run by the 2012 winner of Finland's version of "Top Chef." I have to admit that I love "Top Chef" in the U.S., and I was impressed when I heard the winner, Teemu Laurell, chose Rauma to open his restaurant. Well, it turns out that Teemu was born in Rauma, and "Goto" means "home" in Finnish. Former ice hockey champions Janne Niskala and Petri Vehasen, along with former coach Timo Elon co-own the restaurant.

The menu has a lot of the typical Finnish items -- salmon, whitefish, pork, herring, but Teemu's dishes are creative with lots of sauces and garnishes to make them stand out. They use local products whenever possible. My husband had the whitefish, which as seared and served along two different sauces. It was served with tasty roasted cauliflower. I got the marbled filet of beef, which had a "cafe de Paris" sauce comprised of butter, mustard, garlic, shallots, a variety of other herbs and spices, along with minced sardines, which I never would have guessed. The desserts are unbelievable. How about marinated strawberries with milk mousse and strawberry ice cream? Or my choice, chocolate mousse, bits of brownie, roasted white chocolate and coffee ice cream?

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