Saturday, November 13, 2010

Leaving Beautiful Italy

Our last few days in Italy were spent delaying the inevitable. After 6 glorious weeks in this incredible country, we were definitely not ready to leave. If the weather was not significantly deteriorating (being November), we may have just found a way to stay. Italy made us swoon, but not only that…..it’s the number one country we had visited that made us feel completely at home and more relaxed than we had ever felt before. We loved the food (of course), the people, the landscape, the architecture, the character…..actually, it is pretty hard to think of anything about Italy that we didn’t fall in love with. Ok, so we had a little hiccup with our car being broken into, but thankfully we had nothing stolen and we were on our way to get that fixed. Besides, the glad wrap was doing a perfect job of performing a substitute window role.

Our last few days in the country were spent driving from Cinque Terre along the coast to France. We spent a night in Ravallo, where we sought ideas from locals about where we would be blown away by our last meal in Italy. The recommendation certainly didn’t disappoint and we gorged ourselves a little silly despite not having the appetite to match.
 
We also had the opportunity to wander around the stunning village of Portofino with its famous postcard layout of pastel houses in a row, lining the water’s edge. It was here that we saw the extent of the storm devastation along the coastline, with a huge amount of debris floating on the water and tired ducks that had obviously been injured trying to wade through it to get to dry land. I could tell they were looking for food and I was gutted to not have any bread or access to it with most stores being closed.
 
The atmosphere of the Italian coast was definitely dying down, with many stores and tourist oriented businesses closed for the season. We did enjoy the fact that there were very few tourists around, but we could also tell why…..it was really starting to get chilly now. As we drove across the Italian/French border the following day, I couldn’t help but shed a few tears because we were saying goodbye to probably the best time of our lives thus far. I suspect we will have an attachment to Italy for the remainder.

Portofino

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pastel Stacked Houses and the Slow Life in Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, translated as ‘Five Villages’ is up there with the most stunning stretch of coastline in the world I’m sure. It is mind baffling how these little villages of pastel houses have been built, piled on top of each other along the cliff face. No cars are allowed inside these villages because the houses are packed so tightly that there is only room for alleys and laneways. We wondered, not only how these houses were built like this, but how materials, furniture and items needed for every day living are transported and delivered locally. What we discovered, is that the locals here do life at a much slower pace and they seem to prefer it that way. We saw the odd piaggio (mini 3 wheeler ute), but other than that, it was men towing carts by foot and old fashioned baskets in arms. The locals in this part of the world are extremely active and appear to do so much more by hand than we could possibly imagine doing in our own technologically advanced society here in Australia. We watched fisherman as they finished up for the day, mooring their small boats and emptying their day’s catch from their nets into their big blue buckets. It was also fascinating to see two builders at work, one lowering rubble to the other down below from two or three levels above using a bucket and rope. Both guys were sweating profusely and it made me think about how good this work would be for their fitness. I wondered if we had lost so many opportunities for good health and fitness in our own culture, simply because of our use of machines and technology. Moreover, in a world that is forced to slow down simply because of the landscape, it really did seem to be a good thing – that maybe life could be somehow appreciated more. We have begun to openly question our own society where it seems that convenience, ‘efficiency’ and productivity are highly valued. In our endeavour to make life more convenient though, have we instead made it more complicated? Have we really freed up our time with all our technological advancements, or do we just fill our lives with more commitments and obligations? We have and are continuing to learn so much about simplicity from the Italian way of life.

The stunning village of Rio Maggiore




Fisherman in Rio Maggiore 

Lover's Lane

Just before we had arrived in Cinque Terre, a severe storm had battered the coastline and significant land slides resulted. No homes were lost that we know of, but part of the very famous walkway between the five villages had been severely damaged. The number one activity on our list while in the area was to do this beautiful walk and I was looking forward to challenging myself with the significant hike up and down the mountain sides.  Despite missing out on the complete 5km walk, a small section of the path was still open, otherwise known as ‘Lover’s Lane’. The path sweeped around from the last village – Rio Maggiore, following closely to the cliff edge. Although the day had been quite gloomy, we arrived in time for the most spectacular sunset and we no longer felt like we had missed out on anything. I also discovered that I had not escaped the fitness challenge because there were enough stairs and steep slopes in all five of these villages to give anyone a run for their money. 


Lover's Lane

The beautiful sunset

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Food Experience That Exceeded Them All

Not only did we visit Parma, Modena and Bologna with a car enthusiast agenda, but also to savour the  culinary pleasures that the Emilia-Romagna region is famous for. We were on the home turf of balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese and prosciutto, knowing that we would be eating well, but not really grasping how well. The night we arrived in the region, we searched out the highest quality prosciutto (culatello) and at 92 Euros a kilo, it tasted beyond amazing – so soft to chew and gliding down the throat like a piece of butter. Four paper thin slices for 4 Euros did not last long, but the experience was worth every cent! We sampled 30 year old aged balsamic which was like no other balsamic that we had tasted and huge chunks of parmesan cheese that was almost too good to grate.

Although every mouthful of food that we consumed in Parma was incredible, we almost had to bow at the feet of the staff and owners of ‘Trattoria de Tribunale’. True to my form, I had researched the best place to eat while in Parma, but was hoping for something with a little extra pizzazz to do justice to Tim’s 30th birthday celebration. We stepped inside the door of this very rustic restaurant and immediately felt at home, with its warm atmosphere, stone walls, low ceilings and cured meats hanging on display. Guided to the perfect table, in full view of the chefs working their craft, we glanced at the menu and realized we didn’t have much chance at deciphering the very detailed Italian descriptions. Feeling slack, we requested a menu in English and were pleased to have one placed in front of us. The service was impeccable and we ordered several dishes based on our waiter’s recommendation. Whilst every dish was beyond wonderful, I will spare you from a description of each mouthful. What I do have to tell you though, is that if you want to eat pasta that exceeds your wildest dreams, you need to eat at Trattoria de Tribunale in Parma. Tim and I have decided that the only way to describe our experience that evening is ‘orgasmic’! Upon savouring every bite, we could utter no words, but muster only groans, ooooh’s and ahhhhh’s. We had very obviously died and gone to pasta heaven! Lol! The texture and flavour of this pasta had exceeded any other pasta we had eaten in Italy and we sat there trying to work out how it had been perfected. We knew that Italians pride themselves on using quality ingredients, but this was simply ridiculous! It was definitely one of the culinary highlights, not only of our trip, but of our lives!
Trattoria Del Tribunale

The orgasmic Culatello Tagliolini

The best proscuitto ever!


Ravioli to die for

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Behind the wheel of a Ferrari

Ever since deciding to travel, on the top of my ‘must do list’ was to visit all my favourite car and motorcycle factories in Europe! What can I say, I’m a big kid and I can’t help myself. I had all the big names lined up - Ducati, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Pagani. I knew Sal was pretty unimpressed about enduring several factories, but thankfully she happily tolerated it all considering it was my 30th birthday. As I enquired about appointments and bookings, I was disappointed to learn that the Ducati and Lamborghini factories were closed due to maintenance or refit. Nevertheless I was determined to at least see the museums. I also discovered that unless you own a Ferrari or are a legitimate buyer, you won’t even get a look within their factory. Unfortunately, being an owner of a matchbox Ferrari didn’t count.

It was the day before my birthday and Ducati was up first. As usual we ended up running late and managed to miss the English speaking tour by two minutes. My stress levels rose and in pure discouragement I hung my head and walked off, leaving Sal to wrap up the conversation about how unfair it was that we couldn’t participate in the tour 2 minutes after it began. As I walked back to the car feeling sorry for myself, I actually remembered that when I made the tour appointment I was told to be there early….. doh!

Dusting myself off we proceeded to the Ferrari museum. Outside stood many pretty Italian women convincing us to drive a supercar but I of course remained cool, calm and collected. Of course I wanted to drive one, but I wasn’t really sure what Sal thought about it….I decided to sit on it for a bit. Browsing the museum, impressed with what I saw, I realized how much I loved the Ferrari story. It didn’t take long to become convinced that I needed to take one for a spin and this was definitely a legitimate 30th birthday present. Approaching the ladies outside the museum I bartered a good price on the best car they had – the Ferrari 458 Italia!


video

The experience was un-fricking-believable! I could not believe how this car performed. I was in love. Even though I did manage to give it a good run I still needed to be a little conservative as I was driving it on a public road and it had a ‘measly’ pocket change of €10,000 ($14,000) excess if I crashed it.
The following day we went back to the Ducati museum, learning from the previous day’s experience and arriving on time. The tour was great, well informed and I was glad to hear it in English. Feeling happy that I got a second opportunity at Ducati and still elated from the Ferrari experience I was keen to get to the next factory. So off we rushed back to the car only to find broken glass and destroyed door locks! We completely freaked as all our valuables were in the car including our laptop with all our photos and hard drive back ups. It could have been a total disaster and we were pretty stupid to leave that stuff in the car. Lucky our security locks would not allow the doors to be opened and nothing had gone missing. A local bystander was kind enough to help by guiding us to the police station to report the incident. With broken Italian and a game of charades, I managed to get the message across that our car had been broken into. We patched up our window using some glad wrap, intending to get it fixed as soon as possible.


After the drama had settled, we were off to the Lamborghini factory. Upon arrival I was gutted again to find out that not only was the factory closed due to a refit, I could not even visit the museum because it was closed for a private function! I made the most of being at Lamborghini by buying a souvenir, grabbing a quick glance at the museum through the windows and snatching a few photos with their best models displayed in the shop.

I left extremely disappointed about how the whole ‘factory’ experience turned out over the previous couple of days and although not all was achieved, Sal helped to bring some perspective. I was reminded that I got to drive the latest Ferrari and there will be an opportunity to return to Italy again. It ain’t over and I’m not going to let the Italian motor industry beat me. In the end it was a great birthday and I have to be thankful for what I did experience. 

Tim.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Last Train Out of Florence

After yet another beautiful meal in the city of Florence, we decided to go for a stroll and headed toward Palazzo Vecchio. Knowing that our last train was just before midnight, we grabbed a quick Italian hot chocolate with the intention of making our way to the station soon after. The very talented busker strumming his guitar and singing all time classics in the Palazzo however, became an instant distraction. As we stood and listened, the crowd continued to grow, becoming more engaged and involved by the minute. It was the largest group of people we had ever seen surrounding a busker and this guy had me mesmerized. Every couple of minutes, Tim would interrupt my gaze to tell me we should go or we might miss our train. I dragged myself away as I continued to listen to the words of ‘Winds of Change’ by the Scorpions, echoing throughout the Palazzo.

Arriving at the train station, we discovered that the last train to our hotel (45 minutes away), had left over an hour before. Shit!! We searched the timetable to find the next train and saw that it wasn’t until 6am, with no other trains running to anywhere near we needed to be. In a state of flurry and of course taking it out on each other, we tried to find an information booth to speak to someone. All we could find was a Police Officer who thankfully was happy to help us problem solve. He informed us that our only option would be to get a taxi that might cost us in excess of 50-70 Euros. By this time, we had become irritated, to say the least, not wanting to accept we had to pay that much for transport, especially when we had been so diligent with our budgeting. Whilst trying to come to terms with the situation, we were still unconvinced there was no other way. I have no idea why we decided to return to the same Policeman, as if he was going to tell us anything different. Since we had spoken however, he did discover another way……hallelujah! The outcome: We caught a train at 1am to the closest station to our hotel and then paid a 30 Euro taxi fare from there. Not ideal, but a hell of a lot better than the original solution. Collapsing on our hotel bed, emotionally and physically exhausted after a long day, we were reminded again how travelling is often stressful and bloody hard work!  

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Learning the Art of Tuscan Cooking

Much to the disgust of other seasoned travelers we met on the road, we chose to neglect several major attractions in Florence including the world famous Ufizzi Art Gallery, home to Michelangelo’s David. I guess it didn’t spark our interest as much as learning to cook in a Tuscan kitchen with a Tuscan chef.

As someone who is a little crazy about food, if there was one thing I didn’t want to miss in Italy, it was learning to cook the Italian way. I was even willing to pay the extortionate fees that most cooking schools were asking. It was a score when I discovered classes at half price without any skimping on the quality and we immediately booked ourselves in. We began with a tour of the San Lorenzo food market where our chef teacher guided us through the market stalls, introducing us to the fresh produce and products on offer. The vibrancy and depth of the colours on show as well as products of all shapes and sizes were mesmerizing. It was foodie heaven, until we approached one merchant who proudly sold tripe of all kinds and the occasional cow face. Impressive albeit slightly disgusting. We learned that the Italians make use of almost every animal body part in their cooking and these were also on display. I bordered on the very edge of converting to a vegetarian when a little lamb with its eyelashes still in tact was gutted and beheaded right in front of us. Eeeeewwww!! I guess the meat could not get any fresher!! Apologies to everyone….especially vegetarians who are feeling squirmish after reading this!  

 Mmmm, tripe! Not!

Look at that colour! :-)

After purchasing the ingredients for our class, we returned to the kitchen to prepare our degustation menu of tomato and basil bruschetta, pasta with a roasted vegetable sauce, balsamic glazed meatballs and panacotta with fresh strawberry coulis. The chef meticulously demonstrated the preparation of every ingredient, incorporating a few little secrets and hints about creating authentic dishes. We learned to part cook pasta in boiling water and then complete the cooking in the sauce, adding extra water as it softens. This little trick helps the pasta to completely soak up the sauce, instead of sitting on top of the pasta. The result…..a totally different and authentic taste, one that I’ve wanted to create for a while. I will be remembering this one!

Roasted vegetable pasta....delish!

Bruschetta....there's a few secrets in making these good too ;-)

We worked in a group of four to prepare each dish and sitting down to savour our creations was divine! Not only was the food as good as anything we had eaten in Italy, it was even more satisfying to know that we had a hand in perfecting it. So impressed by our experience, all we wanted to do was book into every class that was on offer….realistically, we only had time for one, so we registered for the ‘fresh pasta making’ class.

Waking up super keen and wanting to get to our next class early, we decided to drive the car into Florence, which from where we were staying was about half an hour. What we weren’t prepared for was any kind of drama, especially since Tim was obviously confident about where he was going. Walking for about twenty minutes I began doubting we were in any vicinity to the cooking school, but upon reviewing the map again, Tim assured me we were not far away. By this time, the class had started, we were fifteen minutes late and I was irritated to say the least. After studying the map together again, what we realized was we had been walking in the completely opposite direction for about two kilometers!! Ok, now I was infuriated! We caused a big scene on the side of the road, classic Italian style, with my meltdown over the likelihood of missing the class and Tim with his meltdown over getting the directions completely wrong. Then, in true hero style, Tim’s problem solving hat went into overdrive and he managed to spot a taxi sitting on the street corner. We jumped in and in broken Italian we directed the driver to where we needed to go and waved our hands around to gesture ‘get us there fast’! Arriving half an hour late, a little hot and sweaty, we really hadn’t missed much and our chef happily took us aside to help us make our pasta dough. I couldn’t be annoyed at the situation anymore or at Tim, who couldn’t have been more sorry about stuffing up the directions. We are all human after all.

Although I don’t mind eating dried, packet pasta, there is really no comparison to freshly made pasta and it was a treat to learn the art of making it. To prepare a good freshly made pasta, it’s all about the tools and letting the dough rest before using it. A very useful device in the Italian kitchen is a pasta making machine which flattens the dough and can also cut it according to the type of pasta you want to make. Of course these processes can all be done with a rolling pin and a knife, but the pasta maker speeds up the process. With dough that ended up over a metre long, it was a lot of fun to keep it in tact, but we managed to succeed in making tagliatelle and spaghetti. It seemed that we had a knack for it and even Tim’s enthusiasm peaked with the use of a new gadget. With minimal use of the pasta maker, we also learned how to make ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta. Just as important as the pasta, were the sauces to go with it – ragu (Bolognese), butter and sage, and fresh tomato and basil. All so simple but so delicious!


Making pasta....like being back in kindy!

If there is one thing I would recommend everyone do whilst in Italy, especially if you enjoy food, it would be to participate in at least one cooking class. To experience first hand, the love, passion and zeal that Italians have for their cuisine was inspiring. I can’t wait to cook up an Italian storm at home, wherever that may be.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Surfing a Tuscan Couch

The kindness of complete strangers was demonstrated yet again when Gabriele, a local Tuscan accepted us into him home for four nights through the Couch Surfing Project. His couch in this case, was a queen size bed in his upstairs attic with a private bathroom and overlooking the neighbouring vineyard. It is always a strange feeling venturing into the home of someone you’ve never met before knowing you will be staying for a few days. Amongst couch surfers though, there is a common understanding which facilitates an instant connection. 

With our love for photography growing every day, it wasn’t long until we were completely engrossed in Gabriele’s plans to travel as a Photographic Journalist. He was working for Italy’s top news magazine and in just over a week he was embarking on a 12 month world tour, all expenses paid by the company. The purpose…..to search out unique couch surfing experiences and to produce a weekly article for the news magazine. He would spend 10 weeks at a time away, to surf other people’s couch, then return home for 2 weeks to host travelers. Inspired and a little bit jealous, we continued to inquire about his profession as he showed us some of his work and published photographic books. Creative portraits are his specialty and we were so impressed by his innovative ability to tell an individual’s story in a single photograph. We were a little taken a back when Gabriele asked our permission to include us in his project and requested that he take some portrait pics of us. What a privilege to be a part of this very exciting venture!

Over a home cooked meal with his adorable girlfriend Elisa, Gabriele continued to share about his photo journalism and his interest to uncover hidden issues through his work. We were struck by two particular stories, one about U.S. army women who during their service, became victims of rape. The other, documented the enormous amount of waste from the technological world that is sent to India where all circuit boards are stripped of their copper using acid. This acid is then dumped into the public waterways, the same ones that supply drinking and washing water to many villages. It was truly inspiring to see how creatively Gabriele is bringing these issues to light. 

We were invited to Gabriele’s farewell party at a restaurant tucked away in the mountains with about thirty of his Tuscan friends. Like old mates, we were immediately welcomed with open arms despite most people’s limited English. Of course we made use of that universal language that can be spoken (or acted out) by all! After a lavish menu and quite a few drinks later, the limited English was mostly used to teach us some ‘inappropriate’ Italian words! The night rolled on with air guitar, makeshift band and dancing to the DJ in the restaurant’s back room. It was such a sweet night and we felt so honoured to be there when we had only just walked into Gabriele’s life a couple of days before.

 The partay!

Who's the best air guitarist?

Those of us left at the end of the night - a very bad self portrait

What makes it even harder to leave a place on the road is when you have a connection with someone and you’ve had an unforgettable time in their company. Gabriele and Elisa had so much going on in their lives, but they chose to open up their home and make us a part of it. It really challenges me to think about that now…..about how willing I have been to open up my life to others in the midst of my busyness. I hope in the future we can be a generous with our time as these guys were with us. 

Us with Gabriele & Elisa

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bella Tuscany

As we drove from Rome into the long awaited region of Tuscany, we had to pick up our jaws from the dash as we looked out into the rolling hills, in awe of the array of colours and textures weaving into each other like a perfectly sewn patchwork quilt. I had a developed a very dreamy cliché image of Tuscany, gained mostly from films, but this view offered so much more than I had imagined. The Chianti vines showcased all shades of green, yellow and red in the mid-afternoon sun and the autumn leaves danced as they blew gently in the breeze. We approached our B and B where we were staying for the next few days and were so happy to find a classic Tuscan farmhouse perched overlooking the vines. Bliss!

We spent a fabulous week in the Tuscan countryside, much of this time spent driving through the hills, taking in our picturesque surroundings, admiring the locals harvesting their olives and of course savouring every mouthful of Tuscan culinary specialties. We stopped to explore several medieval villages perched high on the hilltops where we would often watch the sunset. We visited the wine regions of Chianti, Montapulciano and Montalcino, where we tasted the top varieties like Brunello and Nobile inside rustic little wine bars or cellars and discovered yet again our partiality to Italian wine. The best wine we tried however, was a Pinot Nero (noir) in a gorgeous husband and wife run restaurant in the heart of Montapulciano. The best feature of the service – we got to try about ten of their wines before we chose the one we wanted to drink. We never would have picked a Pinot Nero to be the best otherwise.

One of our favourite spots in the area was San Gimignano, a tiny walled village with the most gorgeous rolling cobblestone alleys, piazzas and panoramic vistas. It was here we found the best gelato in the world!! No, it’s not just in my opinion! This place has won many awards with this exact title and we could taste why!! Nothing that we had tried up until this point had come close to what we ate in San Gimignano….in fact, if anyone asks me the places not to miss in Tuscany, I would say this little village as number one, based on its gelati alone!! It could not be possible for any other icecream to taste as creamy and so full of REAL flavour as this did. But it wasn’t just the taste that impressed us….it was the creativity of the flavours too!! We ordered what we thought was raspberry and then learned the raspberry was accompanied by rosemary!! Sounds weird, but the unlikely combination completely blew us away! Soooo good! It was the only gelati shop where we felt no guilt whatsoever in going back for a second pot! The walnut and blue cheese flavour did look extremely tempting, but we decided to save that one for next time.


The weather wasn’t completely kind to us in Tuscany, but even the rain and cold couldn’t keep up away from experiencing as much as we could of this breathtaking region. We had been told by a local that we must try the Panini at an enoteca (wine bar) in Cortona and being the home of ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ (film/book), we were keen. So we rugged up, pulled out our umbrella and braved the cold, but it didn’t take long before we needed to escape it. The amazing Panini was worth the trip on it’s own though – dough so light, fluffy and crispy all at the same time, with prosciutto and cheese, so simple and yet so yummy! I just can’t get over the way Italians can take such few ingredients and make them taste unbelievably good! Yes, I do enjoy getting myself tied up in knots over food!


Our most memorable experience in Tuscany though, surprisingly had nothing to do with food! It was the few days we spent with a local couchsurfer in his home in Castiglion Fiorentina. More about that in the next post.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Enchanting Trastevere

Rome’s oldest preserved district – Trastevere, lured us to return almost every day with its captivating maze of cobblestone streets opening into piazzas and stark pastel colours contrasting the deep blue sky; bulging walls of old buildings, stripped plaster and faded paint work; creeping plants cascading from windows; items of clothing blowing in the breeze as they hung to dry; cars, scooters and pedestrians navigating the tiniest of spaces, dodging each other just before impact and of course did I mention the pistachio gelato!!? Time to take a breath now!

Captivated by the depth of character that oozed from Trastevere, we wandered around for what felt like hours, exploring every nick and cranny. It was obvious that compared to the rest of Rome, very few tourists frequent the area, a bonus for us because it enabled us to see what the locals get up to away from the crowds. One of the many beautiful scenes we witnessed was an older gentleman standing outside his front door, smoking a cigarette and watching the world go by. What was starkly different about this gentleman however, was the biggest, fattest cat that he had draped over his shoulders, snoozing away and perfectly balanced like it was a regularly performed activity (unfortunately didn't capture this on camera). We watched as people walked their dogs, stopping to chat with each other and others on their mobile phones, waving their hands in the air and almost dancing in the street as their conversation turned into a live drama for all to see. More moments when we had to remind ourselves that what was before our eyes was indeed real.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rome: Love at first taste

Although we had eaten some pretty good gelati along the Amalfi coast, we had no idea what we were in for when we tried pistachio gelato in Rome. Avocado green in colour with a texture as smooth as silk, permeated by real pistachios and perfectly balanced with both sweet and nutty flavours…. it was love at first taste! Which pretty much sums up how we feel about beautiful Rome!

Engage in a conversation with anyone about the highlights of their visit to Rome and you will almost definitely hear about the history, museums, ancient ruins and monuments, cathedrals, piazzas, fountains and other impressive architecture. We spent six nights in this incredible city and visited all of the major sights – the Colosseum, the Vatican, Saint Peter’s Cathedral, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. You only have to walk around Rome for a day to be swept away by its incredible preservation of history and intricate detail of its architecture. For us though, it wasn’t the history that completely stole our attention, it was the modern day atmosphere of this ancient city and ultimately the food! (Surprise!)

The Roman Forum

The Colosseum

One of the many beautiful streets of Rome

Rome for us, was the perfect place to just sit and watch the world go by. Unlike Paris, it has affordable coffee, wine and cuisine that rivals every other city in the world and we took full advantage of this. After we’d seen the major sights, we’d find a good cafĂ© or wine bar, sit down with good glass of wine, a plate of antipasto and watch as people went about their day. I can excuse all our eating and drinking by saying that these times were really important because they gave us time to reflect and enjoy the beauty of Roma. Ok, ok, so we did a lot of eating….isn’t that what you do in Italy?? If you’ve had enough about me talking about food, then don’t read any further! ;-) Maybe this whole blog needs to be renamed to ‘A Foodie’s Global Odyssey’!

Piazza Navona

Campo Di Fiori

Watching the world go by

The tiny streets of Trastevere, one of our favourite spots, were lined with quirky shops, bars, cafes and restaurants, each with their own rustic design and we did our research about the best places to eat in the area. Our most divine experience of food in Trastevere and all of Rome however, was not found from our own research, but was recommended by a local man walking his dog. We stopped to ask him for directions to a particular restaurant and he went on to suggest that we consider Mel Gibson’s favourite place to dine when he is in Rome and also where the locals eat – Taverna Trilussa. It was here that we decided to celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary and what an incredible culinary treat that was!! The entry area and restaurant itself, was graced with an artistic display of gastronomic delights including numerous different meats hanging from high above. I just knew this was going to be good and couldn’t contain my excitement as the waiter showed us to our table. The pasta, served in the pans they were cooked in, could not have tasted any more heavenly and although the following two courses were also amazing, the quantity of food was more than we could handle! Needless to say, we rolled out of there that night completely full to the brim! We walked a mile to the bus which gave us good opportunity to let the food go down and to contemplate just how much we love this country! We were certainly settling into the lifestyle of Italy and our own love for all things culinary meant we were fitting in just nicely.

Taverna Trilussi


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Must Love Dogs

Pompeii (new town) certainly didn’t come close to the beauty of the Amalfi Coast, nor could I possibly suggest that most places would! What we did find, was a place that appeared dirty, with crazy traffic and rubbish lying around in gutters. Most people visit here to see the ruins of Old Pompeii which was a town annihilated by a volcano (Vesuvius) in 79AD. As incredible as these ruins have been described, we just couldn’t get into it! We made a real effort, even purchasing the audio guides so we could learn about the history of this place, but we were left feeling flat and bored. I completely acknowledge that these ruins are indeed fascinating, but for us, we just couldn’t connect with the ancient history here and our fascination faded very quickly. Ok, so I think you get the picture….not one of our highlights.

What did get our attention though, was the several dogs we encountered roaming the ruins and the streets of new town Pompeii. Some were healthy and others had a limp or were looking unwell, but all of them stole our hearts! We discovered that all of them had made Pompeii their home, but none of them had official owners and you could visibly see the sadness in their eyes as they sought the attention of every passer by. One took a real liking to us and followed us for over a kilometer until we had to get into the car and leave it sitting on the kerb. Of course all I wanted to do was take this beautiful creature and give it a home, but the reality of what I was actually able to do left me feeling gutted! It was a reassuring discovery when we learned about Pompeii’s care program which provides food and veterinary care for these dogs who have made the streets of Pompeii their home. As we wandered around the new town, we saw water containers in front of businesses and we realized then, that these dogs were very much valued by the locals here. I still left there however, with the imprint of sad eyes in my head and wondering how much happier these dogs might be if they had a human companion or family to love them.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Can you ever have too much limoncello?

The answer to this question is probably yes, despite the fact that upon my first sip I thought that would never be possible!! Limoncello is a traditional Italian lemon liqueur made using fresh lemon zest, water, sugar and 95% alcohol. The ingredients I’ve listed don’t really make this little gem sound very impressive, but it’s the Amalfi lemons that give it the ‘wow factor’. The lemons here are the yellowest of yellows and the size is more similar to a grapefruit or a melon than any lemon we’ve seen! One day we were served a piece of this lemon with our calamari starter and it was about 10-15cm long! As we squeezed it, not only juice exploded, but pieces of flesh also went flying. Ok, you get the picture of how good these lemons are. So this is why the limoncello was so incredible! I discovered quickly however, that this liqueur should be consumed in moderation because as yummy as it is, it does make you very drunk very quickly and with the amount of sugar it contains, feeling very ill is inevitable indeed! Now I’m back to drinking it in the traditional way…..one small glass after a meal.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Italian Secret to a Long Life

On the Amalfi Coast, we had the privilege of staying with an Italian family and experience their amazing hospitality and love for life. With three generations living on one property, you could visibly see how important family is in the Italian culture. We were treated to Grandma’s home cooked dinners, including the best gnocchi and tiramisu we’ve tasted. We had a whole lot of fun trying to communicate when the family’s English was limited and so was our Italian. Thankfully, hand gestures are a perfectly acceptable form of communication in Italy and it’s amazing how much can be said if you get really creative!
Grandma's home made gnocchi...mmmm!

Just a few family members

We spent a significant amount of time with the Grandfather of the family – Luigi who seemed to take a liking to us. We were greeted by him in the morning and as a result, didn’t leave the house until after 11am each day. We returned in the evenings to find that he was almost looking for us. It was such a joy to be in his company and even though his English wasn’t brilliant, he gave it a good go and he had such a zest for life that drew us to spend time with him for hours. We were so impressed by the fact that he was trying really hard to learn English using his two phrasebooks and genuinely desired to communicate with us. With the help of Google translator, we managed several conversations and laughed until we cried. We even met some of Luigi’s extended family and discovered that Italian men are obviously very proud of their big round belly because they like to point it out to you, with a pat, a rub and a big cheesy grin! We managed to decipher that they wanted us to stay longer and if we did, they could help Tim out with growing his belly!

One discussion we had with Luigi really stuck with us – firstly, he told us he was 80 years old and we were so shocked he obviously thought we didn’t believe him because he pulled out his pensioners I.D card with his date of birth. Honestly, this guy looked barely older than 60 and it made us instantly curious about what has kept him young. He went on to explain that the secret to a long life involves 3 things…..number one – eat fresh organic produce with no artificial preservatives/pesticides, number two – allow 2-3 hours to sit and have your meals and number three – consume a small amount of red wine each day. Luigi took us to his ‘workshop’, otherwise known as the kitchen out the back and there we saw plump red tomatoes and curing prosciutto hanging from the ceiling. In one corner was his limoncello in the making – lemon peel soaking in large tubs of 95% alcohol. As we sampled Luigi’s home grown produce, we were inspired by the passion that so obviously went into the creation of delicious culinary delicacies.

Luigi

One of the things we love about the Italian culture is how much each meal is central to the day and these times are never rushed. Eating is such a relaxing and enjoyable task here and our digestion really thanked us for it. For someone who usually has gut problems, mine were almost non-existent during our time here, despite eating pasta almost every day. Interesting! Ok, so allowing 2-3 hours for meals might seem a bit unrealistic in our own culture, especially with scheduled working hours, but we can definitely learn from the Italians and maybe slow down a bit more. We might just add a few years to our lives.