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Published: March 16th 2011
Pizza.... Spaghetti....Ravioli..... Cannoli..... Tortellini..... Rigatoni..... Penne Vodka..... Pesto Farfalle.... Gelato..... Repeat.
My favorite way to immerse myself in a new country or culture is to EAT! Well my dearest readers, I recently came back from Italia, and to say that I ate my way through the country would be the greatest of understatements. "Indulgence" would better describe my experience in this glorious land. It’s two weeks later and my jeans still don’t fit the same. But I don’t care!
Ms. Elizabeth Gilbert knew EXACTLY what she was doing when she decided Italy would be her country to EAT (I'm referring to the lovely lady from the book and recent film "Eat, Pray, Love") Italy is a gorgeous country, people are wonderful- not to mention incredibly beautiful, the fashion is SO forward, the sights are unreal but the food! Oh, the food was truly divine. When I travel to new place, of all the things I see or experience, one two things really, truly stick with me, as a mental souvenir. I'm sure you can already guess what Italy's is....
So the first meal I had was pizza! Couldn't go wrong there, right? We (Natasha, my roommate and
I) landed in Milan from Sevilla, Spain and immediately dashed to the first pizza place we could find. The place was only about half full and felt like the mafia should be sitting the back, discussing their latest deal. It wasn't darkly lit, as you might assume after that last comment. The place was actually very bright but the ambiance had a feeling that was distinctly Italian, maybe because it was tastefully gaudy. Anyways, I ordered my pizza and didn't look up from my plate until suddenly, there was one sliver left and I was panting. This pizza was so impressive- note it was only a margarita pizza, I felt like I might be able to eat another. But, I restrained myself.
Wandering Milan was wonderful, unbenounced to us, it was FASHION WEEK!!! Yes, fashion week in Milan! We got ourselves to the area where all the shopping took place. There were models wandering around like tall, gangly, clothes hangers, in black robes, hair and make-up done, ready for the catwalk. We didn't make it to any shows, I personally didn't have a clue as to how one might even score tickets to such an event. Talking to an
Italian girl, she said entrance fees weren't terribly expensive but she wasn't very clear on how to get your hands on a couple of these golden passes. As we had to catch a train to Florence at 5:30, it didn't leave us enough time to hunt down the appropriate person. So.....no fashion shows for us!
Milan isn't the most gorgeous city, but I appreciated it because it gave me that extra European shock I was looking for. This probably sounds crazy for someone who has lived in Europe for nearly six months but Italy is very stereotypically European. What I mean by this... When Europe is depicted in film, TV, magazines, etc.- that is Italy! The fashion, the sunglasses, everyone in black, the heals, the expensive bags, the fur, the jewelry, the fierce, in your face, unapologetic luxury- THAT is Milan. I even saw some garbage ladies with full faces of make- up, jewelry and hair done to the T. And this is what I thought ALL of Europe was before I arrived. Spain is much less "European" (given the context), many places remind me of Central America and the Caribbean. This I like- much less pressure to be
perfectly coiffed everyday.
Boarding the train to Florence was kind of a free for all. We had assigned seats, but they weren't in the same cabin so we just sat together and hoped no one would kick us out. They didn't, and we ended up making friends with an Albanian girl who had lived in Italy for seven years. Her English was pretty good, for never having practiced yet she was a little shy about it. She had moved to Italy to study and was working on her doctorate. We, well I, was drilling her with questions about Italy and Albania, how her life had changed drastically, how she learned Italian, how she missed her family in Albania and so on. She was a sweet girl and very interesting; it was nice to talk to someone when we had a four-hour train ride to endure.
At about 8pm that night, we arrived the wonderful little city of Florence. We wanted to take the bus, it was cheaper than cab, of course, so we wandering around the station looking for the bus stop for about twenty minutes before we were fed up and took a cab. But cab ride
was beautiful! The driver must have taken the scenic route because the shops were all lit up like adorable little gems. 10 euros later we arrived at our hostel!
Florence's hostel was charming but I felt like I was in an orphanage. For those of you who aren't familiar with hostels- basically you sleep in a room with complete strangers, (ranging from one to nineteen others, we slept with only one other, thank goodness) and you are given lockers to keep your things. But in this place, there were no lockers...isn't that the idea? Well they weren't very apologetic about it. I ended up carrying all my valuables with me, which were small enough to all fit in my purse. I guess I should be doing that in the first place anyway!
By that time, starved and exhausted from the day’s travels, we went on a hunt for food. Little did we know that the kitchens in Italy close at 11. At least in Florence! Finally, after talking to a local he told us to go to a pizza place down a couple blocks that stayed open late. The guy was like someone out of brochure, he could
Bought a lil painting from this funny woman
be on the cover of a "Florence’s Cheap Eateries". It was just a little corner place with one counter and one man working. He was probably in his early sixties and spoke no English. Up until this point, we had been able to speak English with everyone. The big cities in Italy are so accustomed to tourists that almost everyone speaks high-levels of English. And since Italian isn't used as an official language anywhere else in the world, English is pretty necessary for survival. When we came across someone who didn't speak English, we could just speak Spanish and they would respond in Italian and it worked like a charm! I always knew that Italian was similar to Spanish but I didn't know it was that close. Anyways, the precious little man was just ready to feed anyone, full of smiles and incredibly pleasant. I had two pesto pieces and they were scrumptious.
The next day in Florence was spent hitting all of the tourist spots we found on the map. It was perfect, a gorgeous, sunny, 60 degree day, bustling with people. We thought that there would be fewer tourists in Italy since it was the end of
One could stare for hours
February/beginning of March, but, we were wrong. There will always be tourists in big European cities, no matter what. Kind of like New York. Fortunately, we were able to conquer nearly all of Florence in a day! Took about seven hours, but we did it! We saw a couple of museums, cathedrals, street markets, the lovely river Arno. El Duomo, a huge catholic cathedral, preserved from 1436, is probably one of the most sought-after tourist spots in Florence. The enormous space is immaculately decorated, with something like sixty statues and the tiling is unreal (this is all on the exterior). We just stood staring at the outside for a good half an hour. To enter is free, but to go up inside the huge dome is something like 15 euro. Needless to say, we skipped that part.
The cathedral was started in 1296 but apparently wasn't actually finished until 1436. The dome of the cathedral is completely painted in fresco-style (painting on a ceiling while the plaster is still wet). The ceiling is completely covered in biblical images, mostly Jesus with his disciples, Jesus and Mary, angels, demons, etc. The cathedral itself is incredibly spacious and open, very little
It really changed my life
is actually on the floor except for the 150 plastic chairs near the back that are for services. In this huge, medieval space, tacky plastic chairs look pretty ridiculous. Huge slap in the face for the cathedral if you ask me!
At the end of this exhausting day, we sat down to the most DELICIOUS spaghetti and meatball dinner I have ever had. This was one of those meals that changes your life. I gobbled up that plate so fast I think I forgot to breath… and my "mmmmms" thoroughly creeped out Natasha. My parents thought I was ridiculous for "just getting spaghetti" At the end of the meal the owner forced cheesecake on us, as if a heaping plate of spaghetti was just a snack. This was something I loved about Italy. Everyone wants to feed you! I think I loved the food so much because it was like I could taste the love that went into making the meal. These people love to cook and feed others and the love was truly overwhelming in the restaurants. The menus are like books and the restaurant feels like someone’s dining room, Italian restaurants definitely have a family-oriented atmosphere. And
SUCH a character, he had to be respected though, he was SO serious about his hustle
yes, I ate all that cheesecake, thankyouverymuch!
Sunday morning was spent waking up at the crack of dawn and hopping the train to ROME! We arrived at noon and checked into the hotel and off we went to explore! Rome is one of the most overwhelming places I have been because there is so much to do! There are so many things that you want to see and do, but there really isn't enough time in one trip. My take on it is, you really don't want to do everything in one trip because then you can't appreciate the details of each activity. You are so focused on your itinerary that you can't even take the time to notice, understand and enjoy what is in front of you. Maybe this is my new philosophy to live by. Don't rush through life- you'll miss the beauty!
Anyhoo, Rome is wonderful, bustling, busy, FULL of monuments and museums and truly grand. This city is probably the definition of grand. Everything is marble and huge and immaculate. Another great word to describe Italy, immaculate. Italy is kind of chaotic, people are yelling in the street, in a loving way of course.
Notice the elegance
For example, when we got off the bus in Milan after taking the bus from the airport to the city center, two men were having a conversation very loudly and aggressively. If you just heard the conversation, you might think that they were arguing. But after I stopped and watched them for a minute, they were simply THAT passionate about whatever they were discussing. Between the slaps on the back and the smiles I could tell there weren't any hard feelings. Things aren't terribly organized; people aren't obligated to pay for the bus. I never asked a local why this was, but we noticed that some people paid and some didn't, it was kind of like, if you were feeling generous that day you could pay and if you weren't, you skipped it. Strange. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that Italy spends more of emphasis on being grand, immaculate and beautiful than on other things, that we find valuable- being conscientious of the noise level, organization, efficiency, things of this nature are simply less of an issue outside of our culture.
Like I said, there are a million things to see in Rome and we saw
a number of them but we were only there for three full days. So I will talk about my favorites. We went to the Vatican Museum on Monday and that was enough visual stimulation for me- enough for a week! We went in the morning, actually got in around 10 and left around 2. By the time we left I felt like it might be dark outside that’s how much we saw in four hours. So many detailed rooms, statues, murals, paintings, artifacts and the like- truly a site to see! The Sistine Chapel is located inside the museum and that was by far the most gorgeous place we saw while in Rome. The ceiling and walls are filled with murals, all biblical (of course) and we sat there for probably an hour just staring at all the different images. The entire space is probably the size a high school gym, but with all the paintings it feels enormous. When you enter, you are supposed to be completely silent. When people started to talk, the guards would yell "SILENCE" and shush everyone but of course, after a minute people would start chatting again and the whole process would start over.
This is another example of their lack of inefficiency- if they didn't let everyone and their cousin in at the same time, there wouldn't be so much doggone noise! I thought things like that were obvious... Nonetheless the Sistine Chapel was honestly one of the most compelling places I've seen, it was surreal to see images that are used in advertisements everyday.
THE COLOSSEUM. WOW. What a crazy place! It really made me want to watch Gladiator. It is pretty difficult to explain the overwhelming enormity of the building; it feels like a football stadium but with an almost haunted aura about it. While wandering the outside, there were Roman impersonators that you could take pictures with, so we did, just for kicks. They were hilarious and extremely animated, the kind of people you want in a photo! We finished the photo op but then the oldest one, around seventy, came running after us asking for money. He said 5 euro each. EXCUSE ME!? I replied how about 1 euro each. He exclaimed- THAT"S CHARITY! First of all, we took the pictures on our own camera! And second of all we asked the price beforehand and they just looked
at us, like of course this is free! Anyway, the old man was quite upset that we only gave him 5 euro, he walked away yelling, "YOU CHEAP S#*&S!" Rather amusing. I was disappointed that I hadn't anticipated such a scheme, after traveling to so many developing countries and being swindled far too many times, I should have had my guard up in touristy areas. Oh well!
Natasha and I were debating on whether or not we should go inside, but I am so glad we finally decided to! (It was a little pricey) Actually, we used our Spanish residency cards and got discounts- that was surprisingly exciting to do! For some reason, I had this satisfying sensation of saying "Do we get a discount? We're Spanish." I'm not exactly sure why, but being able to use an identity other than American was curiously thrilling! That was the first time I felt truly Spanish, like I had been accepted into this new society and I could conquer anything. It was like a coming out moment! A strange sense of relief or something, I'm not sure if this is coming across the right way but it just felt really cool.
As a matter of fact, while we were in Florence, we were talking to a local and he spoke English but was struggling a bit. Finally after a couple minutes of getting acquainted, we told him we'd been living in Spain. He exclaimed, "Oh, you guys speak Spanish!?" and he proceeded to speak perfect Spanish and his whole mood completely lifted. It was a beautiful thing to be able to communicate with someone in a way that they felt most comfortable. I felt this sense of joy for myself and for him that I was able to do him this favor. I'm realizing that having this ability is going to provide me with all kinds of opportunities that I hadn't even anticipated. Being able to say that I've lived in a certain country or that I can speak Spanish will help me in so many social areas. Quite honestly, I was really counting on this experience as well as my experience in the DR to help in the professional realm. But here I am, counting my blessings for the fact that I can do things and speak to people about my travels on a strictly social basis…I knew I had
this possibility before but I had yet to truly relate to someone about my life and how it has changed because of travel. Normally, it is like I am talking to a wall or I feel like I am bragging about the places I have seen. I can’t wait to find a circle of people who can understand and share in the joys of travel, culture and language!
After we left the Coliseum, we wandered over to the Foro Romano, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the ticket included both the Coliseum and the Foro Romano. The Foro Romano is basically a huge preserved space of ancient Rome. Enormous and full of columns, temples, white marble statues, government buildings and the like. We wandered this huge outdoor space for about an hour before I made the comment, "It's crazy all this history Europe has". Natasha snapped back with a bunch of reasons why the USA has the equal amount of history as Europe, and we shouldn't discount it. I'm glad she called me out, BUT what I meant to say is that its frustrating that Europe has so much more PHYSICAL evidence of their history while we
have little to LOOK at-(from more than 500 years ago). Anyway, I am quite frustrated! I would like to be able to go to Native Americans old stomping grounds and see how they lived, not just the Romans. But, I guess the only people I should be frustrated with are the Europeans who destroyed it all...
The last night we went to Monte Carlo, a famous Roman pizza joint. Was one of those kinds of hole in the wall places that would be on one of Food Network's travel and eat shows. I have to be honest, I wasn't blown away. Maybe since this was the last night, I had already developed an advanced palette for Italian cuisine- wink, wink! Who knows!? We wandered the last couple of places in the city, through the Trastevere area, saw the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Campo de Fiori, Poarta San Pancrazio and so on. We got to the Fontana de Trevi and WOW! Gorgeous, truly gorgeous- I am so happy I saw it at night! This is the fountain that was in Dolce Vita, the 60's Italian film. This fountain was one of my favorite moments in Rome- I will never forget it!
The tradition is to throw a coin over your left shoulder into the water. I partook, maybe my new dream of having an Italian chef live in my kitchen will come true now.
The last day, we woke up, packed our bags and set off for our last pizza and a taste of a cannoli. We finally found one and it was a little disappointing and so over-priced! Of course, the only place we could find them was in the swankiest bakery in the whole city, or so it seemed. The day was rainy, as all the other days there, but I was truly heart-broken to leave this gorgeous and delicious land. This is dedicated to you, Italy, until we meet and eat again! CIAO BELLLLLLA!
Pizza.... Spaghetti....Ravioli..... Cannoli..... Tortellini..... Rigatoni..... Penne Vodka..... Pesto Farfalle.... Gelato..... Repeat.
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