Upon leaving Lyon, we adopted a new mode of transportation, driving a car. For the following 9 days we plan to be exploring central and western France, specifically the Loire Valley, so a car is the best way in which to get around to see the many sites in this part of France. Before leaving the US, we went to the AAA office and obtained an International Driving Permit which requires nothing more than presenting your US driving license, getting a photo made to attach and paying a fee. However, this is a necessary item when renting a car in most countries. So from Lyon, we pointed the Renault Twingo towards Dijon (pics) by way of Macon.
When I posted about Venice, I neglected to mention cicchetti. This refers to small snacks or side dishes served in bars around Venice. These may be small sandwiches, crostini, vegetables, a variety of seafood or other small portions of typical full course plates. You can pick and choose portions of these dishes. The bar we visited for cicchetti had a variety of about 20 different items to choose from, priced from 1.5 Euros to 3 Euros each.
Cicchetti is generally available throughout the day and locals may stop in at any time for a quick snack. Usually, cicchetti will be accompanied by a glass of wine so there is a social ritual that goes along with this type of food. The bars are generally small and may only have a few tables where you may stand while having your snack. It’s a terrific way to experience some different foods and to take part in a very Venetian activity.
Malbec wine and Mendoza. The two are inextricably entwined. Mendoza (photos) is unquestionably the wine capital of Argentina. There are over 1,000 wineries in the Mendoza province that are responsible for about 70% of the total wine output for Argentina. The Malbec wines put Argentina on the map in the wine world but Mendoza is producing a wide variety of red and white wines.
The fact that anything at all can grow in Mendoza is owed to a network of irrigation canals or acequias. Mendoza gets very little rainfall, less than 8 inches annually. All of the vineyards and the entire town get their water from these canals which are supplied with water from the nearby Andes precordilleras or foothills.
Cafayate (photos) is a popular tourist destination with a small town feel. In fact, it is somewhat small with just over 11,000 residents. The draw is twofold: 1) Cafayate is Argentina’s second center for quality wine production (second to Mendoza) and, 2) the nearby Quebrada de Cafayate offers breathtaking natural landscapes.
About 4 hours south of Lima, Ica is an agricultural center, home to the leading Peruvian wine producers and gateway to Huacachina. Apparently, Ica churns out large amounts of asparagus, cotton and fruits. It’s hard to imagine since it is very dry and dusty. We’re told that it hardly ever rains here and is known as the “city of the eternal sun” (photos).