Highlights of Italy
Spending 25 days in Italy has been fantastic. It’s something about the small cars and even smaller shots of espresso; the over-generous portions of food and good-looking people. I thought I would like Italy – but I loved it. Here are some of the highlights.
1) Aperitivo in Milan. It’s a sophisticated Italian spin on Happy Hour. 7 Euros each bought us a glass of red wine and unlimited access tasty tapas.
2) Quattro Cavalli in Palermo, Sicily. This trendy restaurant was recommended by our host Giuseppi (more on him later). We ate fantastic dishes like pasta with sardines and stuffed calamari. The meal was superb; the price even better.
3) Slow Food in Catania. The Slow Food movement is the adherence to traditional recipes and cooking techniques. Our meal included my first time trying Sicily Donkey and a delicious ravioli.
4) Sofia in Rome. This was my mom’s favorite. Read here glowing TripAdvisor review here.
Worst meal: We fell into a tourist trap in Rome. The economical prices and 10 positive TripAdvisor reviews lured us in. However, the food was terrible. Two lessons were reinforced from the experience. First, splurge on food in Italy. It’s what it takes to get the good stuff. Secondly, don’t trust a limited number of TripAdvisor reviews. They’re all written by the owner’s friends.
1) Venice. It’s the world’s most interesting city. Water canals replace cars; side streets are the width of a wingspan. Venice is an urban maze with the piece of cheese being Piazza San Marco. Incredible.
2) Piazza del Campo in Siena. An absolutely lovely plaza. It’s a wonder how twice a year they turn the plaza into a horse-racing track.
3) Rome’s monuments and fountains. Seemingly around every corner an ancient gigantic monument or fountain awaits.
1) Hostel Of The Sun in Naples. It has the price, facilities and solid service of a hostel while offering the private rooms furnishing of a mid-range hotel. Their staff was instrumental in my Italiano Pizzeria Internship (story to be told soon).
2) Ai Quattro Canti in Palermo. The host Giuseppi should be Sicily’s Minister of Tourism. He gave us a great overview of Palermo. His food recommendations were spot-on. Most importantly, one night he walked down to a restaurant to find us. He wanted to make us we knew how to get back home. His hospitality was outstanding.
3) Farmhouse in Tuscany. Staying in a rustic apartment attached to a farmhouse in the gorgeous Tuscan countryside was a bit of a splurge. But it – combined with the cooking class – was one of our most memorable experiences in Italy.
Worst Accommodation: Sleeping on an overnight Italian train. The entire night our cabin was hotter than a pizza oven.
1) Cooking class in Tuscany. Learning how to prepare pasta and gnocchi from scratch inside the kitchen of an Italian grandmother – priceless.
2) Italino Pizzeria Internship in Naples. The story coming soon…
3) Sign language haircut in Sicily. My mom spoke no Italian. The flamboyant hairdresser spoke no English. Somehow, a great haircut took place.
1) Espresso bars. Ordering “un café” (espresso) for 1 Euro and sipping it at the bar counter astounds me. I did it everyday. Going to Starbucks will never be the same (I may never return).
2) Good and cheap wine. Affordable quality wines are abundant. I especially love that fact that upscale restaurants offer 1 liter of vino della casa for under 10 Euros. And it’s good!
3) Public drinking water fountains. In the age of water privatization/commercialization, it’s refreshing to see Italian cities offer free drinking water from public fountains. Bravo!
4) Cheap trains. Italy is not cheap. But their regional trains must be the most affordable in all of Western Europe.
5) Prego. Prego tomato sauce covered my mother’s spaghetti that I ate as a young boy. In Italy, the word literally translates to “I pray”. It’s used for “how can I help you?”, “you’re welcome”, a dozen other social situations.
6) Generosity with food. Their portions have blown me away. Even at food farmer markets, locals have nonchalantly handed me large hunks of food as to say, “Go ahead and try it. I know you’ll love it.”
If Italy and I dance again, I’ll be sure to explore other parts of the country. This includes Verona, Sardinia and small towns around Sicily and Tuscany. Bello, absolutely Bello!
Photos of the trip to Italy are on EyeOnTheRoad’s Instagram account here.