Monday, May 31, 2010

20 flavors of Gelato (A visit to the Homeland)

I am Italian. Really, I'm only 50% Italian, with the other half of my ancestors bringing German, French, English, and a tiiiiny bit of Cherokee into the mix. Sorry to say it Mom, but I generally ignore that side of my heritage. Truth be told, I am unsure as to why my identity rests so heavily in this fact. Maybe its because Mom-Mom makes delicious home-made food. Maybe because in 7th grade, when I was self-conscious of my big nose, knowing that it was Italian made me feel better. Maybe it's because my friends always commented on my olive skin tone, something that definitely does not come from my Mom's side. Whatever the reason, my strong Italian identity made it easy for me to choose my next big travel destination during my time here in Europe.

Although I really wanted to start the trip of in Naples (where all of the ancestors but one lived), I only had 5 days available for the Homeland, seeing as I had an oral presentation the day I left, and one the day after I came back. Thus, I narrowed the vacation down, with the help of my traveling partner Jenny McCoy, to Rome, Florence, and Venice, in that order.

The week started off with another six hour bus trip to Madrid, where I slept for four hours with Jenny in her twin bed. Romantic, we know. The next morning we were off to Rome on an early flight. Jenny had already been to Rome earlier, in fact, it was her first traveling experience during study abroad. The fact that her hostel got raided within the first day (most hostels in Italy are actually illegal because of the strict regulations and high taxes required by the Italian government) of her trip made her much less excited to be there, so much so that she refused to throw a euro in the Trevi Fountain. So, when we were planning our trip, we compromised: we would visit Rome, but only for a day.

Seeing as Jenny had already been there (and the fact that she's really great at reading maps, or maybe I just really stink), Rome was a whirlwind of sight-seeing. In only one day we saw the:

-Arch of Constantine
-Roman Forum
-Trevi Fountain
-Spanish Steps
-Piazza Navona
-Piazza del Campidoglio
(and more that I can't remember)

[Throwing my euro in the Trevi Fountain!]

Rome was also the place where my Search for the Best Gelato Flavor started. I forget the actual name of the gelato shop, but it is located right near the Pantheon and has literally 100 flavors. 100 FLAVORS! Obviously, it was our first gelato stop, so I was a little overwhelmed with all of the choices, but narrowed it down to these:

1. Torrotina
2. White chocolate
3. Pistacchio (that was for you, Dad)
4. Fruta di bosco

After enjoying our delicious gelatos, we realized we were incredibly tired after all of the sight-seeing we had already accomplished, and so went to take a little rest in the plaza in front of the Pantheon. Not too long after laying down (we were tired, ok?!), we heard a male voice say, "Hey, are you girls American?" Long story short, we met this film crew from Education First travel, who then bought us free gelato (5. Lemon) and capuchino, and then filmed us sitting in front of the Pantheon and describing our experiences in Rome. The best part of the interview was obviously when Jenny finished describing our morning and I decided to follow up with " we're just chilling." Excellent Lyndsay, excellent. Somehow this didn't completely deteriorate their impression of us, and we met up with them later that night for some drinks. Then, after a frantic metro ride from the wrong train station of Rome to the correct one, we were on our way to Florence in Harry Potter like fashion.

We were able to be more relaxed in Florence, since we had given ourselves 2 full days to enjoy the city. To start off, we stayed in Plus Florence, this incredible hostel that is more like a hotel; it had a gym, a pool, a rooftop and basement bar, giant rooms, and water pressure! We took our time walking around and exploring the city, visiting these sites along the way, among others:

-Il Duomo (where we climbed 463 steps to get the incredible view)
-Ponte Vecchio (one of 3 bridges in the world that have shops on it)
-Piazza della Signoria
-Piazza Michelangelo

Things that we were too cheap to buy entrance tickets to, but saw from the outside:
-Palazzo Vecchio
-Bell Tower (Campanile di Giotto)
-Galleria dell' Accademia
-Uffizi Gallery

Florence was my favorite city of Italy. The river that runs through it is gorgeous, and it had some of the best food I've ever tasted, including a warm vegetable Panini with a seasoning called Viagra in it. It was spicy. And delicious.
Our first night we went to a nice restaurant and shared some wine, which made us friendly enough to get to know our Italian waiter. We met up with him and his friend later that night at a bar, and after they led us to a secret bakery, which was literally a door on a side street with no sign. Best part - inside the pastries was chocolate pudding! But above all, my favorite part about Florence was the Piazza Michelangelo. Following the recommendation from our Argentine roommate (Anna, you live there right now!), we went at around 7 pm to be able to see the sun set on Florence. It was just breathtakingly gorgeous.

[One of my favorite places in the world.]

Also, my Search for the Best Gelato Flavor continued in Florence with the following:
6. Biscotti
7. Yogurt
8. Butterscotch
9. Green tea
10. Chocolate
11. Banana
12. Egg nog
13. Hazelnut

[On the Ponte Vecchio.]

If anything could define our visit to Venice it would be the directions given by our hostel to arrive there from the train station: "Walk outside, take a left, and then walk 'straight' for about 8 minutes." Straight in quotation marks? And how can you say 8 minutes, when everyone walks at a different pace? Yes, that would be the city of Venice. None of their streets are actually straight, and it is a city that is impossible to navigate, which we figured out very quickly. So, we put the guide book back in Jenny's bag, and let ourselves get lost in the floating city.

The thing about Venice is that there is really nothing to do there besides take pictures, eat, shop, and get lost. So, that's what Jenny and I did. We took pictures of pretty bridges, ate pasta, pizza, and more, and shopped. And got lost. After the first day, when our feet and legs were tired from walking all around the city (there are no cars or bikes or anything on the island, only water transportation), we tried to find a bridge to take us back to the other side of the river, where our hostel was located. This is the part of the trip when we realized that traghetto didn't mean bridge, and that we would have to retrace our steps all the way back (lots more walking) to the bridge we originally used.

[Jenny and I combining two of the four things to do in Venice: taking pictures and shopping.]

Another thing about Venice is the extreme number of tourists. (And on top of that, tourists with extremely bad fashion! Seriously, Jenny and I were amazed at the rampant wardrobe malfunctions.) Based on this fact alone, I really didn't enjoy Venice as much as I thought I would. It seems more like an amusement park than an actual Italian city, like all of the authenticity is gone. This is the case even for the northern islands off of Venice, especially Murano and Burano. We visited these two, and Torcello, on the second day of our time in Venice. Murano is famous for its glass (we saw a glass-blowing demonstration), Burano has brightly colored houses, and Torcello...well we only spent an hour there so I'm not quite sure as to what that island has to offer. Overall, Venice was beautiful, but it was too touristy for my liking. But of course, it did help me round out my Search for the Best Gelato Flavor (which at this point all of you should realize was just an excuse to eat a lot of gelato and there will actually be no winner) with these:

15. Vanilla
16. Coffee
17. Venetian
18. Amarena
19. Amaretta
20. Blueberry

[Jenny and I in Burano.]

Although Venice wasn't my favorite city, I still had a blast during the entire trip. If anything, it made me want to come back and see more of the homeland, like Naples and the Tuscany countryside. But in 5 days, I feel like we got a real taste of Italy. Literally. Chencha knows that Italian food is my favorite, and loves to see my reactions when she makes pasta for us, because I get so excited and always grab seconds (or thirds). She likes to laugh at me and say "¡Que sangre italiana tienes! ¡100%!" (What Italian blood you have! 100%!) Well Chench, maybe not 100%, but close enough. :)

No comments: