Yesterday, I was really happy to be home, eating normal food, sleeping in my own bed and not having to deal with teeny bathrooms, gross bidets and stupid hair dryers. Today, I’m nostalgic and sad the trip is really over.
We left off with me telling you about a prosciutto tasting we were headed out to. I’ve eaten a lot of prosciutto in my lifetime coming from an Italian family where every holiday involves some sort of meat platter as an antipasto. I thought I was eating the good stuff considering we always go for the astronomically priced imported version until I tasted this….Prosciutto de Parma, in Parma from a family run small business in the Italian countryside. It was seriously one of the best food experiences of my life. If the stupid people at customs would’ve allowed me to take meat back to our lovely country, you can bet all your life’s earnings that leg of pig would’ve been coming home in my suitcase instead of my dirty clothes. Priorities.
As if Parma hadn’t already won my heart with the prosciutto it had to go and be all gorgeous and charming in it’s perfectly sized small city with cobblestone streets sort of way leaving me wishing we had more than 2 days there.
It’s now officially taken over from Siena as my all time favorite Italian city. I will be back.
After Parma we headed to Lucca which was almost as cute and had a completely intact 4 km wall around it that we walked before getting my first salad of the trip for lunch…7 days after arriving. If someone could please explain to me how I saw maybe 2 overweight Italians the entire time I was there and yet all I was fed was pasta, sugar and wine, I would be grateful because right now I’m convinced they must be some sort of alien life form.
Before our next city, we headed to a balsamic vinegar tasting at a small family operated “factory” (it was really more like a farm). People, do me a favor, go read the back of your balsamic vinegar and if you see the words “caramel coloring” promise me you’ll throw that crap out and buy the real stuff. Don’t feel bad, I’m guilty too. I just assumed there wasn’t anything to “discover” on that ingredient list. Wrong. After tasting 5, 20, 30 and 100 year old balsamic vinegar I can assure you there is a SIGNIFICANT difference in the good stuff and the fake colored crap most grocery stores sell. I came home with a 40 Euro small bottle of juniper berry balsamic vinegar that I’ve forbidden Ulysses from touching. This is not the “pour it on your salad” kind of vinegar. I’ve got some delicious meat recipes brewing in my head for this stuff.
Cinque terra and Santa Margherita were next. I was actually the most excited for Cinque Terra and subsequently the most disappointed. The weather wasn’t ideal that day and the boats weren’t running from one city to the next in the Cinque Terra line up so our tour director decided to take us by train instead. Great idea except the only problem was that every.single.other.tour.company had the same idea. Being shoved into an overcrowded train with every square inch occupied by another tourist speaking a foreign language and not wearing deodorant (I’m looking at you, smelly French people) was not really my idea of a fun time. I thought we’d be good once we were off the train but the cities themselves are so small with literally one street that it was like the running of the bulls except no one was running. Slow walkers are pretty much my nightmare so that was a fun test of patience.
Santa Margherita on the other hand was lovely. The perfectly sized, seaside city where we had one of the best meals of our trip at a quaint little seafood focused restaurant, Il Ristorante Nostromo. The owners were two young guys, one as the chef, the other as the host/waiter who as it turns out, grew up in the village next to where our relatives are from outside of Genoa.
And because we hadn’t been drinking enough wine (ha), we also visited an Asti Spumante factory (Italy’s name for Champagne). 3 glasses of that before lunch will leave you feeling slightly lightheaded in case you were wondering.
And if you never actually eat lunch and just go to another factory where they make torrone instead, you’ll experience this weird sort of drunk/sugar high that is fun for about 20 minutes.
In my next life, I’m coming back as a torrone maker.
We ended the trip in Torino (Turin) where the highlights were eating at Eataly in it’s original location (finally some vegetables!) and delicious gelato. Although, the gelato part could be said for every city.
The best part of the trip besides the food though was the people. We had a completely full tour of 44 people. Odds of getting at least one jerk are pretty high with those numbers and yet every single one of them were awesome. I’ve never had so much fun with people more than twice my age in my life.
A little glimpse into what went down at night in the hotel lobby:
The front desk staff were definitely not as enthralled by his performance as we were.
And last but not least, our tour director (left) and bus driver. Equally talented in their own right. Massimo (the bus driver) got more than a few rounds of applause on the bus for some of his maneuvers in those tight Italian streets. He’s also adorable in that cute middle aged man type of way.
It was 11 years between my last trip with my mom and this one. If we wait that long again, I’ll be 41. I’ve vowed to not let that happen because 1. that’s just too long and 2. I can’t even fathom that age right now.