20 things we will miss when we leave Italy (and Europe in general)…Part 1 of 2
NOTE: This post is part 1 of a 2-part series of posts related to our “extended” time in Italy.
Living in Italy for the past couple of years (at least for my wife, while I “commute” between Hawaii and Italy twice a year), my wife and I have come to appreciate the beauty the country (and by extension, Europe in general) has to offer. Prior to arriving a couple of years ago, we were eager to sample the cuisine, experience the culture, and marvel at centuries-old architecture and ancient history seemingly at every town and in every street corner of any city or even a small town. Italy, and Europe, delivered in its promise (in spades) to provide awe-inspiring vistas and structures coupled with memorable culinary experiences. Seeing the grandeur and opulence of Saint Peter’s Basilica…the serenity of the Grand Canal in Venice at night and in the early morning…the mysterious Stonehenge…the majestic Prague Castle complex and Charles Bridge…the ancient Roman Coliseum…viewing an opera in centuries-old Verona Arena…the romantic beauty of Portofino, Cinque Terre, Tuscany, and Bruges…scenes forever seared into our memories. How can I forget that Arroz con Pescador in A Tasquinha in Nazare, Portugal…quite possibly the best seafood dish I have ever had…or that memory of eating freshly baked baguette cereales as we strolled along the streets of Paris…or the Vesuvio pizza from our neighborhood pizzeria…or the seafood paella in Can Sole in Barcelonetta….or eating Roast Suckling Pig at the oldest restaurant in the world, Ristorante Botin in Madrid…or the wines in Italy, beers in Belgium, and the vodkas in Poland…or the Ottoman dishes we savored in Pasazade in Istanbul. The list goes on.
As our time here in Italy comes to a close, we have all those memories to look back on. Below are some of the things we will “sorely” miss when we leave Italia (in no particular order):
1. Fresh pastries and bread seemingly at every corner. We loved the local, fresh pastries at our local pasticceria as well as the breads in our local panificio. The fresh and flaky brioche in the morning or the crunchy outside but soft inside and slightly salty pane con olive. Those would be difficult to find back home in the U.S.
2. Preponderance of cafes. Although there are no Starbucks in Italy, there was an abundance of cafes serving exquisite cappuccinos. Even though my wife savored her cappuccino at any time of the day, despite the Italians protestations about only drinking cappuccino in the mornings before 11:00 AM, she remains oblivious to any snide comments (mostly from me, I might add) or looks of derision from the barista…she loves her cappuccino at any time of the day or night…especially when paired with some dolce.
3. Neighborhood pizzerias. We were fortunate to have discovered a “mom and pop” pizzeria near our apartment serving an awesome pizza called Vesuvio, with the perfect combination of grilled eggplant, roasted garlic, spicy salami, pomodoro sauce, mozzarella cheese, and Asiago cheese all lovingly baked in a wood-fired brick oven. It’s the ONLY pizza we ordered from their pizzeria and the proprietors already knew what we would order when our shadows darken their doors. I used google translate to translate my thank you and farewell “speech” from English to Italian…and they were beaming and got emotional when I told them how much we would miss their pizza, how they’ve added flavor to our Italian experience, and how our memories of Italy would not be complete without thinking fondly of them and their pizza.
4. Decent and readily available public transportation. Italy, and Europe in general, has an extensive public transportation system making it easy to travel within the city and between towns, cities, and countries. When we were not walking all over the place, we made sure to make extensive use of the public transportation system.
5. Old history and architecture; history at every corner of every town. This is one of the things we will miss most…making old history from history books come alive with visits to nearby towns or museums…just exploring some town with an ancient past and being startled at seeing centuries-old structures with their own story. We’ve heard it said during our traveling adventures that in America, we think 100 years is a long time…while in Europe, they think 100 miles is a long distance. Therein lies one of our differences.
6. Wineries abound. Driving anywhere in Italy, one is awestruck by the abundance of vineyards along the highways, along the cliffs hugging the shoreline, terraced up a hill top and a mountain top…basically anywhere grapevines can and will grow, expect to have a thriving vineyard there…and by extension a local winery. My wife and I aren’t oenophiles…but we’ve come to appreciate the local wines in any Italian town we’ve visited. Chiantis in the Chianti region of Tuscany, Vernaccia from San Gimignano, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Sciacchetra from Cinque Terre, even Vin Santo in Santorini, and of course, Prosecco in the Veneto region.
7. Variety of choices with olive oils and cheeses. Italy not only produces world class wine, they also boasts of some of the best olive oils in the world as well as a variety of cheeses up and the down “the Boot”. It is not uncommon for vineyards to produce their own olive oils and for small towns to have an olive oil press, producing artisanal products.
8. Outdoor markets with various local vendors providing fresh, local, seasonal produce. Nothing tastes better than fresh, local produce that is in season. In Italy, and in Europe in general, locals have come to expect this and produce some culinary magic with what’s in season.
9. Travel opportunities were abundant. During our “brief” stay here in Italy, we were able to explore other European (and even African countries). Airfare is relatively cheap, especially with the abundance of low fare airlines like RyanAir, EasyJet, Wizz Air, Vueling, Brussels Air, etc. It would be a wasted opportunity had we not taken advantage of the myriad of opportunities to explore. In addition to the low airfares, it was relatively easy and smooth process traveling between EU countries; no need for immigration checks. In the end, we felt we “ran out” of time and still have other places on our list to visit…maybe when we come back for an extended visit on our own dime.
– Italy (Portofino, Tuscany/Florence, Rome, Cinque Terre, Lake Como, Venice, Verona, Milan, Pisa, Asiago, Vicenza, Marostica, Padova, Soave, Treviso)
– San Marino
– Vatican City
– Czech Republic
10. Access to free pay-per-view sporting events. With AFN (Armed Forces Network) those pay-per-view sporting events were broadcasted for the American servicemembers stationed overseas for free…albeit without some of those witty commercials.
11. Locally handcrafted products like ceramics from Nove. Even before we came to Northern Italy, some folks who’ve been there raved about ceramics in Nove (and there were three or four popular places where Americans normally flock to). Of course we had to head out there. At first, we thought we would get a token piece or two…but once we were about to leave and took stock of how much we’ve bought, we were a bit surprised to see our haul amounting to 3 big boxes to be shipped. There is a Nicoli handbag factory not too far from Vicenza and of course there are world class leather goods as well as suits from renowned haberdashers in Milan.
12. Authentic gelaterias abound Gelato isn’t just ice cream as we Americans have come to know ice cream…it just seems to have more flavor. While my wife loves to try different flavors, I stick with the tried and true pistachio, using that flavor as a measuring stick in comparing the various gelaterias we visited all throughout Italy.
13. Interaction with locals and other tourists from other countries willing to share their culture. We truly enjoyed our interactions with locals and their genuine, ardent attempts at teaching us their language and culture. We were amazed at how welcoming the locals can be if one just makes an effort to learn some of the local language and culture…although maybe none friendlier than those Irishmen.
14. Relative safety even in big cities.
While European cities have a reputation for property theft, most notably and deservedly for pick pockets, we found the cities and small towns to be safe. Now, it still pays to be conscious of your surroundings when travelling overseas and be aware to stay away from shady neighborhoods, especially at night, but for the most part, we explored all throughout Europe and only had to contend with pickpocketing in Madrid. Good thing I was able to sense something wrong and averted a potentially nasty incident with what appeared to be a gypsy with two of his accomplices trying to steal my camera out of my camera bag one night while walking towards El Retiro Park in Madrid.
15. Taxes included in price reflected…no need to be a “mathlete” to compute additional taxes. The price you see is the price you pay, unlike in the U.S. where one would have to “compute” federal, state and any applicable local sales taxes. We love the “convenience” of this.
16. Tipping not required in most areas of Europe. The tipping culture has not quite permeated the European continent as much as it is pervasive in the U.S. There are some areas, like in Istanbul, where tips are somewhat expected and places such as Budapest where service fees are added to your bill, but for the most part, the cheapskates in us can make do without having to part with our hard-earned money on tips.
17. Diners can linger at your table for however long you desire…servers will not rush you out the door. Unlike in the U.S. where restaurants are always concerned about making sure tables are available and will often send signals, sometimes not too subtle, to get diners to finish eating and be out the door, the restaurants here in Italy, and for the most part in Europe, can be a little more patient with diners who linger on their table as they engage in good conversations and possibly milk their spritz con Aperol.
18. European doors and windows that tilt open. Despite houses and apartments in Italy lacking some screens for doors and windows, we’ve come to love those European doors that tilt open.
19. Regional Italian cuisine. It’s been said that there’s no “real” Italian food, as cuisine varies by region. Pizza, often associated with Italian cuisine is a Naples specialty (Campania region)…Veal Marsala is from Sicily…Bruschetta (pronounced broos-keh-tah and not broos-sheh-tah) from Rome (Lazio)…Bolognese and Prosciutto di Parma from Bologna (Emilia-Romagna)…pesto from Liguria…Risotto and Osso buco specialties of the Lombardy region….and risotto and polenta from the Veneto region. During our travels, we try to sample regional cuisine.
20. Being able to watch an opera in an arena built in the 1st century! Watching a production of “Aida” in the Verona Arena was just icing on the cake.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post.