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December 21, 2010

Italy: Modena and Osteria Francescana

Filed under: Europe 2010, Food, Italy, The List, Travel, UNESCO World Heritage — anotherheader @ 3:08 am

A platter of petit fours offered at the end of our meal at Osteria Francescana

Stonework at the entrance of Modena’s duomo

Ultimately this leg of the trip would end in the Dolomites in the Italian Alps.  We could have driven to the Dolomites in one day but there were UNESCO World Heritage sites and Michelin starred restaurants along the way.  And in this particular case, two of the restaurants, Osteria Francescana and Le Calandre, are top twenty members of San Pellegrino’s World’s Best Restaurant list.  With crew in the Kangoo, there was little chance that we could just drive on by.  Stops in Modena and Padua were inevitable.  It would take us a few days to reach the Dolomites.

From Tuscany we headed directly to Modena arriving an hour before our lunchtime at Osteria Francescana.  Once we parked the car we could explore Modena’s UNESCO World Heritage listed sites.  At the first lot there was broken side window glass that looked to be from a car break in.  The Kangoo was loaded to the gills with personal belongings.  We decided it was best to find a more visible parking area.

It looks like a standoff between G and Wiligelmo’s lion at the entrance of the duomo.

Closer to the restaurant, we found the perfect, miracle street parking slot.  With the Hillbilly Kangoo resting in the Holy Grail of parking spots we checked the area to see that we were in a legal spot.  It looked, as far as we could tell, like we were in the clear.  And, just to be safe, for the first time we removed some of the critical personal electronic items from the Kangoo.  We’d stash these at Osteria Francescana while we explored the city.  Still not trusting our luck with the parking spot, we gave the restaurant staff a nebulous description of our parking spot and asked if it was OK.  Most likely it was, they told us.  It was time to explore Modena on foot.

A bit of our lunch

Our tour of Modena was short, just long enough to elicit our typical vow to return.  Modena’s main sights, the Duomo and the Torre Civica, bracket Piazza Grande and are close to Osteria Francescana.  Beyond the UNESCO sights, we had enough time to experience Modena’s cool arcaded walkways on a hot day and test one of Modena’s most famous products.  The product, regrettably, was not the one that is usually comes in red and seems to often come equipped with a blond in the right seat.  There’d be no opportunity for a visit to Ferrari’s nearby factory or to test a car.  Instead we tasted Modena’s famous basalmic vinegar.

Soon it was time for lunch. According to Restaurant Magazine, the source of the aforementioned San Pellegrino list, Osteria Francescana is the sixth best restaurant in the world.  Apparently the word is slow to get out, as we were the only guests for Friday lunch.  Perhaps it is a sign of the economic times.  This gave us plenty of time to chat with the renowned, enthusiastic chef, Massimo Bottura during the meal.  Imagine having a private meal in one of the best restaurants in the world with the chef giving a play by play.

The food at Francescana is good and well conceptualized.  As you’d expect from such a highly regarded restaurant, it is creative and tasty.  For me, the food, particularly for mid-summer fare, was on the complicated and savory side of my preference.  In the midst of our long travels, refreshing and palate cleansing food was particularly valued.  As such, Becky and I preferred our next big meal at Le Calandre a little better.  I didn’t record G&C’s vote on the meal, perhaps because we were distracted immediately after the lunch.

Wiligelmo’s lion

The distraction came when we returned to the car.  Or at least when we returned to the spot where we parked the car.  Assuming we had the right spot, there was now another car in our formerly super deluxe parking spot.  The Hillbilly Kangoo and all of our stuff were gone!  Becky immediately showed signs of third stage shoe separation anxiety.

Was the car stolen?  We didn’t see any signs of a theft but what did that mean?  Was the car towed?  How could we tell?  Either way, what would we do now?  How were we going to make our room reservation for the night two hours away in Padua?

Without many easy options, we headed back to the restaurant to ask for help.  And the staff was obliging.  First they figured that the car wasn’t stolen.

“No cars get stolen in Modena,” Massimo pronounced.

Tasting baslamic vinegar in Modena

We’d have to go with that, though the broken glass we’d seen earlier didn’t inspire confidence.

Eventually the staff determined that our car was likely towed.  The “miracle spot” that we parked in was in neighbors only area, it seemed.  Still it was a surprise that we were towed, we were told.

“They don’t usually tow cars with foreign plates,” Massimo said.

I didn’t mention the bikes and cardboard strapped on top of the Kangoo.  Maybe the neighbors were concerned that the Hick Cadillac parked nearby could cause a collapse in Modena’s housing market and complained to the authorities?  Or maybe it was that we had French license plates on the car.

Whatever the reason, it now was most likely that our car would be found in one of two tow company lots.  The restaurant requested a taxi to take us to the lots.  (I learned later that Massimo would have taken us to the garages himself but had committed to taking an American couple to find 100-year old basalmic vinegar.)

When the taxi arrived, Massimo slipped the driver a 50-Euro note and told him to take us to the garages and help us find the car.  It was very generous.

In the taxi it was a short distance to the first garage.  Where’s the Kangoo?  It wasn’t visible.  But then we looked closer into the garage itself.  Sure enough, there was a European styled mini transport van with bikes strapped on the roof inside the garage.  We’d found Homer.

More stonework details on the duomo

It was good news for the taxi driver who just got fifty Euros for a five-Euro taxi ride.  He took off happy.

Now we had to get Homer out of hawk.  Inside the garage, when we asked the woman behind the desk if she spoke English, we got a quick nervous sign of the cross.  Somehow we learned that we’d have to pay the garage for the towing and pay off the police separately.  We were confused about how the second portion, paying off the cops, would happen so the woman summoned help from others loitering in the garage.

First the explanation came from a gentleman who spoke in French perhaps because of the French plates on the car.  And C indeed does speak a little French and the conversation about the car proceeded slowly.  It took a few minutes before they both realized that we all spoke better English.  Once the language switched, we found that the police had been summoned and we’d have to wait for there arrival.  We also found that almost everyone hanging out in the garage, other than the woman behind the counter, spoke a bit of English and were eager to practice.  At this point, we knew in no uncertain terms that the police would soon be here and we’d pay them directly.  And we learned exactly why we got towed and how the police knew to tow us.  It was an expensive education.

Becky does a dance as we find Homer in the towing companies garage

Soon the policemen did show up, three officers strong in one car.  The smartly dressed officers received the remainder of the 174 Euro fine/towing charge.  They seemed to be pleased that we were so happy to pay off the fine and sign the receipt.  For us, we were happy to just get the car back.  And everyone in the garage was having a good time practicing English.  It was a regular happy hour.

A couple of hours after our meal ended, with a lighter wallet, we headed out to Padua.  It seemed a narrow miss.  Fortunately we had Homer back.

After fighting through the dense traffic we rolled into Padua later than scheduled.  Near our hotel, we found another perfect, miracle street parking spot.  We were nervous.  This time we looked this gift horse spot very carefully in the mouth.  After reading and re-reading the parking sign, we decided it was indeed OK.  In Padua, we’d not be giving English practice session at the tow lot at the end of our visit.


  1. Nice!

    Comment by CultureChoc2010 — December 21, 2010 @ 3:18 am

  2. Hi Dave-
    Great food shots. What camera are you using?

    Comment by Gail — December 21, 2010 @ 11:56 pm

  3. […] we rescued Homer in Modena it felt like we received a get a jail free card. The Kangoo and all of our stuff weren’t stolen […]

    Pingback by Italy: Padua « Another Header — December 22, 2010 @ 5:43 pm

  4. […] Osteria Francescana (Modena, Italy, 6-2010, 2 stars) […]

    Pingback by The List « Another Header — December 22, 2010 @ 6:19 pm

  5. […] photo credit: anotherheader […]

    Pingback by Top 5 Of The World's Best Restaurants 2015 - Travefy — June 3, 2015 @ 10:02 am

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