Pontedera home of the Vespa
Pontedera is a small town in the province of Pisa in Tuscany. Although not a bad little place, there’s not that much to see or do around town.
However, it is home to the world-famous Piaggio company whose classic brands include the Gilera motorbike, the Vespa scooter (a mod icon)…
The factory, at 7 Via Ronaldo Piaggio which runs parallel to the railway line, has its own museum where you can see examples of their famous vehicles, ranging from the sublime to the silly, from down the decades.
Prior to the war they were a ship fitting and locomotive company but moved into aircraft and then motorised vehicles in the mid 40s.
The first Vespa (wasp) was produced in 1946.
My dad used to have a Vespa when he was in his teens so I thought I’d go along to see if I could find the model he rode and take some pictures for him. I’m guessing it was this white Vespa 50 from 1965.
This was the one I’d like to own.
There were lots of other weird and wonderful creations including a few bizarre prototypes…
… a scooter/helicopter hybrid…
…an Ape fire engine…
a bazooka scooter…
… and giant and extra long scooters, amongst many other oddities. There’s even a Vespa covered in reclaimed fish skin and another decorated (badly) by Dali.
The museum is open 6 days a week from 9 till 6, except Saturday when it closes for an hour for lunch (which caught me out).
I stayed at the Hotel Armonia www.hotelarmonia in Piazza Cadutti To get there turn right out of the station and walk down Via Dante Alighieri (second right out of the station square) for about ten minutes.
It’s a very nice hotel with spacious, elegant rooms, good wifi and breakfast and very accommodating staff. So much so that, when I was chucked out of the Piaggio museum at lunch time, they even let me back into the room I’d checked out of while I waited for my train. Now that’s service.
Unfortunately though I didn’t eat particularly well in Pontedera on the two nights I was there, which was a bit of a disappointment…
La Polveriera (Intermediate C), 54 Via Marconcini
Came here on my first evening when it was chucking it down with rain. No doubt this added to the atmosphere of the place which was quite gloomy, not helped by the dirge like soundtrack of instrumental hip hop interspersed with other bizarre musical choices, some good, some not. The young girl serving was very pleasant but the rest of the staff appeared to be teenagers who didn’t really seem to know what they were doing.
I ordered a primo of Spaghetti dei ‘Matelli’ con le Telline de Marina, tiny angel-wing clams that are a favourite of mine, which had disappointingly already been shelled (hard work but satisfyingly fun) and tossed in butter with the pasta. It was fine (B) but didn’t blow me away.
I went for the secondo, Francesina di Polpo con Patate because it was described as a typical local dish. It turned out to be cold sliced potatoes with diced octopus in a tomatoey sauce which did absolutely nothing for me (C) so I spared you a picture.
Ditto the contorno of Verdure Grigliata, grilled aubergines, courgettes and chicory, which were a bit on the raw side and would have benefitted greatly from being dipped in a bit of olive oil before being introduced to the griddle. They were pretty hard to digest as my bloated belly reminded me at 4am that morning (D).
The mezzo carafe of house white was only just drinkable (C-). Stick to reds in Tuscany is the lesson I should have learned by now.
Trying to cheer myself up I succumbed to a slice of chocolate tart (B) and an unchilled limoncello but the warm lemon curd flavour just compounded my misery. Limoncello has to be frozen to be drinkable!
A colleague had been here and had some quite decent prawns which are what I should have gone for. Won’t be giving it a second chance though. Total cost with the thankfully free limoncello €42.
A couple of doors down on the corner at 21 Corso Principe Amadeo is the Bulldog’s Cafe which might sound like it’s infested with skinheads but is just a plain and simple place frequented by a young crowd where you can watch music videos with your chosen nightcap.
Aero Scalo (Intermediate B-), 8 Via Roma, Tel. 058 752 024, Closed Monday
I ate here the next night with my colleague David, who along with the hotel receptionist had recommended the place to me. The owner greeted us and gave us the menu verbally, all of which he said was typical Tuscan food.
David went for the chicken liver pate on toast which looked ok and I opted for the Risotto ai Frutti di Mare. It was over salted but my companion, who has been in Tuscany quite a lot, said that that is what they do here. I’m a bit of a salt addict myself but it was too much for me even.
We both had the Ossobucco, the second night in a row for David. It was fine (B) if a bit oily, but I had been spoilt by an amazing version I had in Milan a week or so earlier (see the Milan Gioia post) which blew this one away.
Not wanting to give up on local white wines, I’d matched the risotto with a non-descript bottle of ‘Sangervasio’ Chardonnay (C) but gave up on it after the second glass and went for a carafe of house red which was a bit better (C+).
Total cost was a reasonable €36.
If I were in town again I might come back to Aero Scalo, or I might just go for a salad and a pizza at Anitica Pizzeria da Cammillo at 155 Corso Matteotti which is supposed to be good. They have supposedly been around since 1870 so hopefully should know how to make a good pie by now. They also specialise in Torta de Ceci (chick pea pie) which sounds interesting.
Or you could save some euros and have the €6 lunch buffet at the Cafe d’Oro in the square at the end of Corso Matteotti, near the pizzeria above. It was fine if nothing special (B-).
Another colleague recommended the local rosticceria, but there are two of them so it was hard to know which to go to. Il Pollo Gigante is opposite Aero Scallo on Via Roma.
If you are choco-dipendenti (a chocoholic) you might want to procure some Amadei luxury chocolates which are made in a village nearby.
I didn’t have time to go but the Piscina Comunale (public swimming pool) is at Via della Constituzione. In 2013 it cost €7.40 in the morning and €4.90 in the afternoon. Remember your cap.
So Pontedera wasn’t a great foodie experience, but the museum was interesting. Hope you have better culinary luck than me.