Wednesday, 7 April 2010
written 6th April
It is a bit hard to write a best of's for Italy. I was pondering this all day yesterday on our long trek east from Peschiera del Garda to Gorizia, in sunshine but through flat, uninteresting, industrial countryside.
Out of everywhere on the trip, Italy is the country we have been to the most (well certain places) in the recent and not so recent past, relatively speaking, so is definitely more familiar in someways than other countries. But it is easy to think of Italy as a homogenous whole country - chaotic driving, art and architecture in all their forms, fine wine, oodles of pasta, pizza and gelato, job done - however on this trip we have really found that each region we have visited is very distinct, especially in terms of landscape and architecture.
Due to the weather and various time constraints, it has been a bit of a down and back up again trip on the west coast, rather than the two-stage, round trip we had originally envisaged, but we have got further and seen more than we thought we would in the time available and have pretty much enjoyed it all and with the possible exception of Montalcino, there is nowhere we haven't liked or wouldn't recommend to others - taking account that we had good advice for Pisa, go, see, silly picture, leave!
In terms of best of's, the only things I can really come up with are:
Rome - fabulous, everyone should go once
The Sistine Chapel - worth every penny of the ridiculous ticket price, but go on a bright, sunny morning for the real wow factor
If you are looking for heavenly coast line and only have time for one, go to CinqueTerre and walk, rather than drive the Amalfi coast.
Pompei is good but don't miss Herculaneum.
Vesuvius is good, but don't miss Solfatara
Pasteum is an overlooked gem for those with an ancient history fascination
Umbrian and Tuscan hilltop villages in the sunshine are lovely - especially those with fine food :)
There is a lot of art, everywhere, especially in Florence, pace yourself!
I have learnt a lot about La Dolce Vita though, which will stand me in good stead for years to come. In particular:
How to better use Will's coffee machine (a nespresso machine which was apparently the only wedding present he was allowed to choose...). Turns out, I really like coffee - very short, very dark, very sweet - and the Italians make the best coffee of any nation so far but I have been making espressos too long and cappuccinos in the wrong order - add the frothy milk to the espresso and stir, not the other way round - so no wonder I didn't like it before.
It is true that after about 11am, cappuccino is just not the thing - we both came away from a coffee shop one late morning wishing we had had espresso!
Although there are rules that certain pasta shapes should go with certain types of sauces - have had this verified by an actual italian! - pesto and sun dried tomatoes goe with all of them (we have bought six different shapes of pasta in three weeks and we have only scratched the surface even alphabetti spaghetti and campervans!) and is far nicer than emergency pasta
I prefer Grand Padana to Parmesan (and its cheaper!)
I prefer Prossecco to Champagne (ditto!)
The best gelato comes from towns with no tourists, in shops where the icecream is piled in a mountain, way beyond the confines of the tub, the pistachio is olive coloured and the flavour is indicated by a chunk of whatever it is (pineapple, chocolate, kinder egg) stuck in the side.
Nice olive oil is worth every penny - we now have two, one for cooking and one for bread dipping and won't go back! - but the stuff which has been preserving sundried omatoes in is also delicious - a meal in itself with bread, once you have put the tomatoes in your pasta
It is worth the effort to make risotto with actual risotto rice - don't know why I haven't before - really does make a difference!
So, we have eaten well, drunk well, enjoyed fine company - both honorary van dwellers and random strangers - and become a little more cultured and educated (I have read the Iliad, half of the Odyssey and have Dante queued up) but is definitely time to be moving on. Food and petrol are expensive and we have a had an elegant sufficency of paintings, sculptures and architecture (I can now tell my renaissance from my mannerist, my gothic from my romanesque from my baroque!). It is a shame we probaby now won't get to the untamed toe and stilletto heel of this knee-high boot of a country - as the guidebooks say, 'banditry is no longer common in the far south'... hmmm - and will probably have to leave Sicily for another trip.
so onwards, leaving the known, western world behind us and in the the exotic and uncharted central east...
With love for now from Becky, Will and Jules on Wednesday, April 07, 2010