You know that sinking feeling when you do something really big and then later people ask you how it was and you have absolutely no idea what to say? That’s pretty much how I feel right now. I went to Italy for over a week, and now it feels like a blur. I want to tell you all about it, but where to start?? The sights? The food? The people?
I guess I’ll just start with this: Florence was my favorite city, followed closely by Rome. If I were to live in any of the Italian cities I visited, it’d be Florence, hands-down. The city is beautiful, the people nice, the food cheap and delicious. It’s not so big that you get easily disoriented, but it’s not so small that you feel cramped. There are still a lot of tourist traps, the San Lorenzo market being a big one, but outside of that, it’s fairly calm. There’s also so much history steeped in the city, and the churches are absolutely stunning. Did I mention that Florence is also where gelato was invented? If all of the high-quality fresh gelato isn’t attractive, then I don’t know what would be.
That said, if I were to visit an Italian city, I’d go to Rome first. Rome has its own kind of charm. It’s similar to New York. But with ancient Roman ruins. It also has mountains of history behind nearly everything (obviously). I spent the longest in Rome, and I still feel as though I saw the least of that city. There’s honestly just too much to do and see for one trip! There are the outskirts of the city center, which are much calmer, and much more diverse. The Roman asian quarter is sort of like its own little town, right a few blocks away from the train station, where people can buy everything Asia.
Rome has the most history, hands-down. You can’t really argue with the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, the Palatine, the Pantheon, and the seemingly millions of other Ancient Roman structures around the city. Honestly, after touring Rome, I feel “done” with some things. Like basilicas and churches. I saw the Vatican, and the Pantheon– the most awe-some and the oldest. I’m fairly certain that most all other cathedrals pale in comparison to those two. The Sistine Chapel is… wow. Some works of art you see so much on the Internet that once you see it in person, it’s lost its charm *coughMonaLisacough*. But the Vatican’s summer palace and the Sistine Chapel are even more stunning in person. When I learnt about how Micheangelo refused to paint the ceiling at first, but then ended up spending four years looking straight up, paint dripping and ruining his eyes, that made the work seem even better and more brilliant than before. I know that the other frescoes and decorated ceilings I’ve seen are great– most are actually quite stunning– but for some reason they just can’t compare anymore.
The same kind of “done”-ness happened with gelato and some primi piattis.
I’m somewhat bashful of just how much gelato we consumed during our weeklong trip. We definitely went to different stores twice in a day several times, and once even back-to-back! We didn’t know the etiquette rules for entering a gelato shop holding a cup from another store, so we stood outside and finished before going in. We definitely made destinations of famous shops like Vivoli, Perche! No, G Fassi, Giolitti, and Venchi. Then we stumbled across Blue Ice, Lindt (ohhh ya we got ice cream in the chocolate store!), and Gelteria Neri. Yeah. That’s a lot. By the end, I knew it was good, but it all felt the same. I barely remember all the flavors I tried, now.
I’m also pretty over some primi piattis. What’s a primi piatti? It’s the first course of an Italian meal. Generally their largest meals are at lunchtime, and menus offer an antipasti, like an appetizer; a primi piatti, generally a pasta or starch; a secondi piatti, the meat or fish dish; and then dessert. Pizzas are their own category– I’m not too sure where they would fit in, if at all. Usually when we refer to “Italian food,” we mean the primi piattis or pizza. Primis are things like pasta (carbonara, pesto, amatriciana, bolognese, lasagna, etc), gnocchi (potato dumplings), or risotto (a slow-cooked broth rice dish). Interestingly, the pastas I had in Italy weren’t so amazing. The carbonara pastas we tried were too peppery, with badly butchered ham bits as opposed to luscious bacon, although the actual egg sauce was nice. I tried pesto twice as well, and found it lacking the sharp, strong garlic and basil taste of the fresh pesto I’ve had before. Interestingly, though, I found the gnocchi pretty good, even considering it generally isn’t a Southern dish. I also tried it twice, and had differing results. While both were pillowy soft, one was stickier and more starchy than the other– whether that was due to the potato or the cooking method or done on purpose due to regional differences, I don’t know.
I had pizza three times. The first night we were in Italy, in Milan, the first night in Venice, and the second to last night in Rome. Overall, if the restaurant has a wood-fired oven going, the pizza’ll be good. You can’t really go too wrong, in my opinion. Until we got to the third pizza. A random restaurant far from the center offered us a pizza with the thin crust of Rome, but with very weak toppings. My friend ordered a pizza with mushrooms, egg, artichokes, and bacon, which sounded awesome. But it came with the toppings in quarters. One part with mushrooms, one part with a quarter of a hard-boiled egg placed on top, a quarter with artichokes, and a quarter with some bacon. My pesto pizza was sad– too oily from the pesto and mozzarella (should’ve known), and a very weak pesto flavor. The previous two were good, though– pull-the-cheese-forever cheesy, a just-barely-cooked egg, strips of bacon. Oh my goodness. I’ll make myself hungry if I keep going!
The thing about Italian food, and really, Italian culture and history, is that it isn’t actually “Italian.” It’s “Roman” or “Florencian” (if that’s a word) or “Northern”. Venice purposely chose their winged lion emblem so they’d be symbolically detached from Rome (never mind that they’re physically detached as well, being a set of islands). Florence proudly displays its own Renaissance-based history through the unique churches, and the ties all throughout the city to the Medici family, and to Michelangelo.
Same thing for food. Florence is known for their lampredotto – a braised tripe sandwich served on round brioche-like buns with salsa verde. Florence in general consumes a lot of beef tripe, and beef tongue, an other cuts generally discarded in the US. It’s also where gelato was invented, meaning that there are tons of old gelato shops, all claiming to be the oldest shop. Milan in the north is known for the rice dishes, like risotto, as well as the use of squid ink and cuttlefish. Venice is, obviously, big on fish, and their markets sell more fish and shellfish than vegetables and fruit! Rome is known for their carbonara (egg sauce with ham, pepper, and pargiano), and amatriciana (smoky tomato bacon sauce) sauces, as well as thin-crusted pizzas, in contrast to the Naples-style with “handles” around the rim.
I did so much on this trip that I came back feeling like I needed to learn about the Bible stories and Greek mythology to properly understand the things I saw. So far I’ve read through summaries of the major Bible stories (is it just me, or does the Old Testament seem cooler than the new?), and I’m about to start working my way through the myths. I guess there are just some highlights from each city that I want to remember/point out.
In Milan: the Duomo, the saffron risotto, and the proliferance of tourist traps (toys, bracelets, pigeon food, etc all getting pushed onto you)
In Venice: Of course the beautiful water and bridges, the masks, the Murano glass, the gondolas, and the winged lion everywhere.
in Florence: The San Lorenzo market and the Central market, the Lampredotto sandwich, the Rialto bridge, the fiiiine Italian leather, and meeting Darrick and Tiffany (they’re from San Fran, we met on a walking tour and ended up hitting it off and exploring Florence and Rome together). There was also the on/off ADD rain, all the Michelangelo spots, all the gelato, and all the Medici family insignias everywhere.
In Rome: obviously all the historic sights like the Forum, Palazzio, Colosseo, Wedding Cake, Pantheon, and Vatican. But also trying the pastas, the never-ending search for the best gelato, and asian district
So much happened, and I’m sure it’ll all start getting hazy in a month or so. But I hope I can at least remember these highlights, and retain some of what I learnt along the way 🙂