Friday, October 24, 2014

That's Amore

"When the moon hits the sky like a big pizza pie, that's Amore; when the world seems to shine like you had too much wine, that's Amore" sang by Dean Martin 

What is it with Italy that so many people fall in love with it?  Is it the beautiful natural landscapes, their cities' colorful buildings?  Why is it that you always hear about people ready to drop it all and move to Italy?

One of the possible answers could be Italians' ability to demonstrate their feelings more openly.  Are we, people born in other countries craving a little bit more "Amore" in our lives?  Certainly, Italians know how to express love.  (They also know how to express frustration, anger and every other feeling listed in your emotional intelligence books.)

Nutella Pizza, now that's Amore!

Here are some phrases that will help you reciprocate your love when in #Italy, even if it is your #love for #pizza.

Let's start using some superlatives in our own language and love with all our hearts, like Italians do.

Arrivederci with lots of love,

Friday, October 17, 2014

Be a Traveler not a Tourist

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” G.K. Chesterton

I just got back from a trip to the Cinque Terre (Five Lands) National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and even though the villages are beautiful and quaint, I couldn't be more bothered by the behavior of the visiting tourists.   I'll try to explain why.

The Cinque Terre are five fishing villages built on the coast line of the Italian region of Liguria, on what is known as the Italian Riviera.  Their lifestyle seems to have changed very little since the late middle ages, when they first sprouted.  Even though the park groups the five villages under one name, they are actually five independent towns called Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.  You can hike from one to the other in about an hour and a half.  They are also connected by a regional train line that gets you from one town to the adjacent one in about 5 minutes.  

You can choose to stay in one of the towns, Monterosso al Mare being the biggest and the one that offers more options regarding accommodations.  I would recommend against staying in Corniglia, because it's the only one that sits above the cliffs and from the train station to the town you have to climb 365 steps.  Something I wouldn't want to do every time I went exploring the other towns.

Staying in Vernazza gave me the opportunity to really experience the town.  I woke up early walked the two steps to the main and only piazza (city square) and just sat, observing a day in the life of the town.  The postwoman (wearing way too much make-up at 7am) delivering mail, chatting with every store clerk for at least 10 minutes before getting down to business.  The robust garbage man, too big for his mini-version of a garbage truck.  The town elders, the first ones to rise, ready to direct anything that might be going on that day.  The young local guys, ready to help pushing a boat out of the water.  The grandmas yelling at the kids from a second story window.

From seven to about ten in the morning, being in Vernazza was kind of being in an Italian movie set, full of strong characters living a simple life.  At about ten in the morning the trains started arriving loaded with tourists.  They arrived in packs, dressed head to toe in Cabella's, LLBean's and Orvis' hiking gear as if they were about to climb the Himalayas.  The magic was gone.  I know the towns live out of tourism, but do we tourists need to be so disruptive to their way of life?  These are one street towns, with not a lot of room for loud obnoxious tourists.  Like the group that sat next to me one night and started singing "That's Amore" at the top of their lungs, disrupting the piazza's romantic charm.  Or the guy outfitted all in Washington State gear demanding eggs and bacon for breakfast (read all about eating in Italy here).  

If you try to observe your surrounding and catch a glimpse of their conversations you will see the several hand gestures a minute for which Italians are known.  If at the restaurant you didn't ask for your fish to be served without the head, you would witness the surgical precision with which the waiter debones that fish and hear, like I did, how it was caught that very same morning and how proud they are to serve you nothing but the best.

Please, don't ruin the postcard perfect scenery, be a traveler not a tourist.

Arrivederci for now,

Thursday, October 9, 2014

10 Things You Need to Know Before Eating in Italy

“Watching Italians eat (especially men, I have to say) is a form of tourism the books don't tell you about." Barbara Kingsolver

Let's talk about one of my favorite subjects: Italian food.  Having tried "Italian" cuisine around the world, I have to say it does not compare to eating real Italian food IN ITALY.  Italians love to break rules, unless we are talking about food, then their rules are very strict as they don't like to deviate from tradition.  So, I'm going to share 10 things I've learned and that you should know before eating in Italy:

1. Have your breakfast standing: Regular Italian breakfast consist of coffee and a croissant, locally called "cornetto".  Since it will take you about two seconds to drink your shot of espresso, Italians usually have their coffee standing at the coffee bar.  If you sit at a table and wait to be served, you will be charge quadruple the price. Beware!

2. Is it lunch time yet?: Don't show up at a restaurant before 12:30, they will not be ready.  

3. Order in Order: There is a specific order when it comes to eating Italian food.  If you order out of that specific order, you may be frown upon or else.  So here is the order:
  • Antipasto: Is the appetizer 
  • Primi: Is your pasta dish
  • Secondo: Is you your meat/chicken/fish dish which can be ordered at the same time  as the side dishes; normally you will have to order your sides (called "contorni" in Italian) as they don't come with the meat dish.
  • Dolce: Is is your dessert
Now, you don't have to order all the courses, just make sure you don't order a Secondo first and then and antipasto.

4. Do not mix and match: Food in Italy is approached with the same devotion as a religion. Do not mix and match when it comes to food in Italy.  If you order a pasta dish as a Primi (first course) and a chicken dish as a Secondo (second course) DO NOT put your chicken and your pasta in the same plate!! All you need to know is that it's a sin ;)

5. Ranch, what is "Ranch"?: When it comes to salads you will not find several pre-mixed dressing options.  Most likely your only option will be bottles of Olive Oil and Vinegar at your table, and salt and pepper.  You are expected to season your own salad to taste.  Sorry, only Italian-style in Italy.

6. Dishes you won't find: Italians around the world have allowed themselves to be creative and break the rules that are so strict in their country of origin.  However, no matter how much you search for them you won't (easily) find: Spaghetti and Meatballs, Spaghetti with chicken legs, Pasta Alfredo, pasta with everything but the kitchen sink on it.  Their dishes are usually built with a few "extremely good" ingredients.

7. The real meaning of Pepperoni: In Italian the word Pepperoni means Bell Peppers, so if you order a "Pepperoni" pizza, you'll get red bell peppers as a topping.  If you want an American pepperoni pizza try "Pizza alla Diavola" which comes with a spicy salami on top.  It's yummy, you will not be disappointed. 

8. Is it dinner time yet?: No. If you are looking to dine at 6:00 pm, you're out of luck, it's not dinner time until around 8:00 pm.  If you are starving, you can try an Aperitivo, a drink which comes with little munchies, kind of like happy hour.

9. Now it's dinner time: Same rules apply as at lunch time.  Ah, and no need to tip a percentage of the meal, a couple of Euros will do.  Waiters receive a salary and are not dependent on the tips to make a living.  

10. The best part of it all: Take your time! Enjoy your meal! Have some wine! Eat out on the terrace if the weather is nice.  Nobody will rush you out, they will not bring you the bill as soon as your food is on the table, they will not even bring it what you are taking your last bite.  You can linger for as long as you want, talk, laugh and take it all in.  Lower the RPMs and enjoy your real Italian food experience.

Arrivederci for now,

Friday, October 3, 2014

What to See While in Rome: Campo De' Fiori

“The earth laughs in flowers.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Most people who arrive to Rome have a pretty good idea of what they want to see during their visit.  Some others, like me, after reading every article from every subject-matter expert, decide to forget it all and let the city captivate them by its own right, roam around and get lost in its labyrinth cobble stone streets to find your own version of Rome.  And walking like that, without a destination, I arrived to Campo De'Fiori.

Campo De'Fiori is a piazza (city square) that hosts an outdoor market operating Monday through Saturday from 7 am until lunch time (around 2:00 pm).  In the morning, the market sells all kinds of goodies, from flowers to fruits, fish and spices.  After lunch the market disappears  leaving the piazza ready for the nighttime scene.  Campo de' Fiori at night is very popular among the younger crowd.

In the middle of the square there is a statue of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican Friar, mathematician, and philosopher who was burnt alive in 1600.   Yes, in the sixteen hundreds, Campo de'Fiori was a place for public executions, like many other piazzas around Rome.   All the buildings that surround the square are the typical Roman buildings of terracota and mustard colors that make this piazza such a postcard-perfect picture of Rome and Roman life.

If you go during the morning, try a freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, pack with antioxidants.  You can also buy fruits and veggies, or kitchen utensils to take home.  Don't forget to pick up some multicolored pasta as a souvenir.  

If you go at night, try a typical Roman happy hour drink like the Spritz and enjoy yourself.  Having a dinner at an outdoor terrace, surrounded by ancient buildings but a very hip and trendy atmosphere is just priceless.

Arrivederci for now,