When I turned 40, I’d never been to Europe. I decided that it was time, and started formulating a plan. I wanted to go somewhere warm where I really liked the food and where it was warm – I was thinking of Italy, Spain, and Portugal. As it happened, I saw a flyer from our local community college that listed a two week language school in Florence that could offer homestays. I attended a short seminar, and really liked the people involved and the price. I arranged for a month off from work, and off I went. Here is a photo montage of the sights. This chilly Portland weather makes me yearn for a sunnier climate, and Italy would certainly do.
Our visit to Bologna earlier this year was wonderful. My favorite part of the visit was the food, of course, but I also liked the red buildings. The Italians refer to the city as “the red one” (la rossa) in part because of the red bricks and roofs in its historic center but also because after WWII it became a center of socialism and communism. Its other nicknames are “la dotta”, or learned one, because the oldest European university is located here; and “la grassa” (fat), because of its cuisine.
We discovered a little canal on one of our walks. In the photo above, Todd is taking pictures of the canal. The photo below is very overexposed on the top but when I cropped that part out, it didn’t seem balanced. My Photoshop skills are not advanced enough to fix it. For a better view of the canal on the other side of the street, see this post.
It’d be amazing to live in a city with old Roman ruins mingled with everyday buildings. This is one of my favorite things about Europe – the old and the new living harmoniously together. I love the sense of history that permeates Europe but some of it is very sad.
You might recall my earlier post about my personal challenge to pack very little on a 10 day trip to Europe in May. My idea was to pack everything in a smallish carry on. Here is what I ultimately packed:
- black travel dress
- white silk crinkle skirt
- 4 dressy tee shirts (fuschia, white & black stripes, black, deep orange)
- trouser jeans
- black 3/4 sleeve cardigan
- scarves -green, red
- green Puma slips on shoes
- black Adidas thin sneakers
- lightweight undergarments to wash in the sink
I wore either the black knit dress or the white pleated skirt with a tee shirt most days, and didn’t even spill red wine all over the skirt. I hand-washed the tee shirts in the sink but the cotton ones took a really long time to dry. Next time I’ll just bring the modal ones. The black dress also took a full day to dry, but I’d still bring it because it’s so versatile. It was summer, so I only wore the jeans on the plane, which wasn’t a good use of my limited space. Maybe linen pants would be better next time – they’d certainly dry faster.
I think this packing list would have worked better if we’d had easy access to a laundromat but we didn’t find one quickly in Bologna or Lucca. Having our clothes laundered was very expensive, so we both went shopping to tide us over till we found a place to do our own laundry, which wasn’t till the last day of our trip.
My choice of shoes was poor. I brought two pairs of “comfortable” but not too American-looking shoes, with which worked okay except that neither had very good tread. I slipped and fell in Madrid on one of the beautiful but very slick sidewalks in the rain. I suppose I need to find a cute pair of Mary Janes with better tread. I REFUSE to wear athletic or orthopedic shoes. I want cute, comfortable shoes, with a bit of tread, made for narrow feet.
I forgot a sunhat, so that’s the first thing I bought in Italy. I also bought a green linen skirt, an orange cotton sweater, and a green tee shirt because we couldn’t do laundry as often as we’d expected. Next trip I’ll look for another lightweight dress in something other than black, a pair of better shoes, and maybe a pair of lightweight linen pants instead of the jeans. Overall, I’m pleased at how little I brought with me on this trip.
Are you a light packer or do you bring everything but the kitchen sink? Is there one thing you bring no matter where you’re going?
One of the things I like to photograph on our trips is the surface we’re walking on. It’s so basic but I’ve gotten some interesting photographs from changing my perspective to holding the camera down, instead of the usual over or up.
I still haven’t figured out the whole “gallery” function on WordPress but this little project was a good learning session. I really need to check out a basic HTML book from the library so I can learn the basics.
An internet aquaintance of mine from Lucca suggested we try Ammodonostro, a restaurant off the tourist path in Lucca. We were the first customers of the evening, not surprisingly. Italians eat dinner later than we Americans tend to. The waitress was very friendly and spoke good English, and chatted with us for a bit before we ordered. We ordered the house red, Le Mura Rosso, produced by Colli Toscani Igt with Sangiovese and Canaiolo grapes. It was a light red with just a bit of tannin.
We weren’t up for a typical full course meal as tempting as the menu was so we ordered a Lucchese specialty, Tortelli Lucchesi al ragù di carne, which is a meat filled pasta with a sauce similar to “bolognese” sauce. Our waitress tried to explain the difference between Bolognese and Lucchese sauces and said one had tomato while the other didn’t, and one had a white vegetable in it but she didn’t know the name. I looked through my Italian cookbooks but could find the difference but I’m guessing it’s either celery or leeks.
The tortelli was delicious! It was lighter than I expected, not at all like the heavy ragus I’ve eaten at Italian-American restaurants. The pasta was fresh, and the meat inside was also light and flavorful. I enjoyed every succulent bite.
Our second course was a tomato and mozzarella salad. The tomatoes were green, as in not at all ripe but it worked because it gave crunchiness to the salad very ripe tomatoes don’t have. The mozzarella was creamy and flavorful, and a bit of olive oil and basil leaves were drizzled and strewn on top. I don’t know if the tomatoes were a different variety, or if they use them green before they ripen, but it really worked in this dish. The only other way I’ve green tomatoes is breaded and fried, and everything is tasty when fried.
Alas, the end of this really nice meal was exasperating. We were both tired and ready to go back to the hotel. (We’d already had to wait a few hours to get into our hotel but that’s a different story.) I motioned for the check, which our waitress acknowledged, but we didn’t see said check until 45 cranky minutes later. Todd asked for it twice, and she agreed to bring it but didn’t. Finally,she did bring it and we paid. I’m sure part of it was that she got suddenly slammed and it seemed like she was the only wait person. I also sure part of it was our non-Italian inability to savor a meal for hours on end. (One of us more so than the other but I’m not naming names here….)
When I was in Italy, I was really inspired by the bright colors worn by Italian men and women. In the past few years, I’ve been trying to incorporate more color into my mostly black wardrobe, and got some fun ideas. When I was there, I wore a green linen skirt with a grey and white striped tee shirt, and an orange sweater draped around my neck. No black! I think the dreary grey Portland winters and springs require bright colors to keep a morose attitude at bay. A glass of white wine helps, too. I can trick myself into thinking it’s summer.