I am so sorry for my lack of blogging recently. Really, I am. As you all know, traveling can be a really exhausting experience, however fun. However, I thought I would share with you all a quick recount of some of the places W and I have been, as seen through HIS eyes! This way you can get another person’s point of view on things, which may or may not be in accordance with my own (read: disclaimer). Apologies in advance for typos and spelling errors… he types like a storm! Also, this is an email that he wrote some friends of ours, so double apologies if it reads like it!
An update message is long long long overdue so I thought I would send one the second I had the chance. Believe it or not, this is the first moment I have really had to write an email. I sincerely think that in the last 6 days we have walked about 60 miles. Quite literally in one day we walked about 14 miles… hahaha so I have been exhausted at the end of the day, but today you have my undivided attention!
Italy has exceeded my wildest expectations in terms of beauty and culture. I really did not know what to expect, but I have come to realize that for some unknown reason I had a negative impression of it and/or bad attitude toward it. Why else would I have come to Europe several times before, only to miss Italy every time? I think it was because karma was waiting to provide me with the gift of Trish as an interpreter and inspiration… and punish me for her ability to walk a drill sergeant into the ground!
The food is pretty amazing. I am not sure what you all experienced in Rome or in Florence or further north, but for me the food has been a revelation. We have had too many good treats – from fresh baked bread and jam to full dinners with pastas and sauces that are so simple yet so unexpectedly delicious. The dinner we just had this evening (in Palermo) had shrimp in it that I swear were caught about 50 feet away in the ocean… 10 minutes before they were cooked. Haha I think what is different here is the freshness of the ingredients. I am just finding it far more interesting and enjoyable than I’d have previously thought possible.
The drinks!!!! If I thought the food was good, I think alcohol is unbelievable!!! I am absolutely addicted to a coffee drink called shakeratto… they literally put hot espresso in a martini shaker w/ a little bit of sugar and a lot of ice and shake the hell out of it. Then they pour it into a martini glass and it is cold and frothy… I simply can not get enough of them! Coffee aside, we can’t leave out wine. Wine is always good, I mean… c’mon… its wine! They have a dessert wine here called Vin Santo (which I had never heard of). It is basically a sweet desert wine served with Biscotti. You dip the biscotti in the wine until it is soaked through and then you eat it… bang, that’s dessert. It is outrageously delicious and perfect for the end of a long or particularly rich meal!
Now, this last drink gets a paragraph all to itself! The Spritz!!!! This is my new favorite drink and I am afraid I am developing a problem… along with most Italians over the age of 14… old people… day laborers… professionals… and basically everyone. Everyone is looking at their watch waiting to see when it will be appropriate to say, “Hey, anyone want a spritz?” even though it is 9:30am and breakfast was 15 minutes ago. Hahah so, a Spritz is a 60/40 mix of Prosecco and Aperol, over ice, with a spritz of soda and a wedge of orange. It is bubbly, semi-sweet but more bitter, cold and very refreshing. We have found ourselves saying, “God, I am exhausted and dehydrated… lets get a Spritz!” Which is like saying, “God I am tired and dehydrated, lets get more tired and dehydrated!!!!” But somehow magically this drinks just makes you want to continue the day with a bigger smile than before.
Ok, lets just get this out of the way before we go on to the good stuff! Naples, Italy is an absolute hellhole filled with cutthroats, shifty eyed undertaker looking criminals, trash, more trash, illegal Algerians and Tunisians, stray dogs, cats, dead animals and more criminals. We spent roughly 6 hours there and it was six hours with a wallet clenched in one hand, a knife hidden in the other and me randomly spinning in a circle every 3-4 minutes to see if we were being followed into alleys or stairwells, or simply stopping in place while the guy ambiguously following us passed by. I felt safer at 2am in the alleys of Istanbul than 3pm in the main streets of Naples! Fuhgeddaboudit…..
Now that that is out of the way… Italy is wayyyy cooler than I expected it to be!
Florence was naturally awesome, because I had Trish to show me everything! Her fluency with Italian is really amazing… as in, she misses nothing and can say anything. So, getting around Florence was a piece of cake, as well as finding all of the museums and getting through ticket issues and basically all of the annoying stuff concerning traveling. In Florence we went to the Duomo, the Bargello and the Uffizi… in addition to about 20 gelato places and places to get a good Panino (sandwich). It was really a relaxing way to get used to Italian culture .
Modena is where they make true balsamic vinegar. I guess most of the stuff we call balsamic is red wine vinegar with brown sugar in it. The real stuff is amazing and thick and an explosion in your mouth with one drop. It is also expensive!!! Anyway, the town of Modena was pretty bucolic – and the town piazza was a big parking lot… but the vineyards were awesome. Trish and I went out to a vineyard and we seriously were given a private tour of their entire facility by the owner and their two dogs… it was like touring a winery in Napa in 1960… It was absolutely incredible. The pictures will do most of the talking, but this was a fourth generation company. Our tour guide was the great granddaughter of the founder and the balsamic we tasted was over 100 years old… and the grapes it came from were picked by the great grandmother… two generations neer even tasted the final product. It was just unforgettable. The 100 year stuff sells for $2000 per liter. The stuff that was 25 years sold for $100 per 100ml… so that is what we are bringing home.
Montalcino is where they make Brunello and Rosso Di Montalcino – Italy’s most famous wine. We told the people at the Balsamic place we were heading to Montalcino and they laughed and said, “Montalcino! It is easier to get land on the moon than in Montalcino!” It was a fortress retreat for the soldiers and nobility of Sienna and when Sienna fell to Florence, Montalcino never surrendered. When we arrived we realized why. From 10 miles away you could see a mountain shoot straight up out of a valley with near vertical cliffs on 3 sides and a steep winding canyon up the back side. It was absolutely beautiful and absolutely impregnable. So, the top of the mountain was a small town and the valleys below were the wine lands. In the main castle there was a wine bar and Trish and I had a flight of Brunello wines. It was a real experience and these wines… WOW… we have not had them yet together because A) they are super complex and B) they are $60 a bottle for the cheap cheapest… in my opinion the best red wine in the world. Anyway, the town was quaint, the heights beautiful and the vineyards splendid… if I ever want to get away from everything, it will be to Montalcino.
Cinque terra was just too cool to describe! Pictures will be far better. It was a bunch of small villages set along the coast that tourists could walk between and it was a long day, but beautiful!
Rome was so much more pleasing than I thought it would be! I always had this image of it being a gritty dirty town, full of smog cars and pick pockets. It was anything but for us. We were SOOOOoo lucky in that this was the time in which Andrew (whom you met briefly) came to meet up with us. He had been laid over in Rome about 40 times and knew every single street, bar, restaurant and hotel… literally. SO we never even looked at a map… we had a private tour guide who liked to stop roughly once every 5 blocks for a coffee or a spritz or BOTH J Pictures will do more justice to our adventures, but it was just great to finally see the ruins and attractions of such an ancient city. I will never forget the Pantheon!
Hahahaha OK, so this email is going ON and ON and ON…. But we are really getting to the good stuff! Sicily!
I don’t know what to say because I have not had a ton of time to process it all. However I can say that Sicily is one of the most interesting and amazing places I have ever been. You should be getting a whole gaggle of post cards any day now and you will see some of the places we have been in Italy and Sicily. I know that we will all get here together someday and it will be amazing. Sicilian culture is seriously at half speed. Everything closes at noon and at 1pm you would seriously think Zombies had attacked because everything is closed and a city the size of Berkeley is dead quiet, no one about and nothing open. Then, at 6pm everything opens and by 9pm everything is raging as though it was 4pm and time to buy groceries… it is very strange!
Sicily is seriously a fascinating mix of 1st and 3rd world living. One neighborhood has all of the designer stores and a nearby neighborhood honestly has dirt streets flowing with a broken water pipe and stray dogs eating trash. It simply feels like a different country than mainland Italy and to hear Trish say it, it sounds as tough Sicilian has little in common with the Italian Language. It is just fascinating.
Now, with all of that said, I will wrap up this email! Tomorrow we head to Mt. Etna and if it does not erupt with us on it we will be back in the States again soon!