Monday, May 18, 2009

Italy Vacation (Day 1) – May 6-7, 2009

I needed to get away to clear my head a bit, plus I had frequent flyer miles, plus I had a break in my MBA classes: all these added up to a vacation in Italy. I’ll spare you as many details as possible, but these posts are going to be lengthy…

The day started at 6am, when M.Giant called to tell me Trash would not be picking me up to go to the airport. M.Edium had been up sick all night. Fortunately, M. Giant also gave me the phone number to the airport cab company, which ruled. Since I was using frequent flyer miles, they routed me all over the planet to get to Italy. Minneapolis-Chicago-NYC-Milan. In Chicago, I saw an Inuit kid with Downs Syndrome being pulled by his caregiver on a leash. Due to delays at O’Hare, I had to run through the airport to catch the plane in NYC. I was travelling light – just a regular-sized backpack – which is definitely the way to go. I made it just as they were closing the door. There was already a kid in my window seat, and I was nice and let him have it. That’s the last time I’ll do that. My neck was killing me from not having a wall to lean against for the eight-hour flight. So after 8 hours of not sleeping, and a really sore tailbone, I landed at 8am in Milan, Italy.

From here I had to hop on a bus to the train station which was downtown. Another hour of travel. Then when I got there, I had to hop a train (actually multiple trains) to go to Riomaggiore – one of my favorite cities in the world – in the Cinque Terre. My train got in late to Genoa. But on my next train to La Spezia, I met a super cool couple from Australia. They had bought “round the world” tickets (Hong Kong, Greece, Italy, France, and the U.S. (NYC and San Francisco). Now THAT is a serious vacation. On my La Spezia train, I met another couple from Poland who were also trying to get to the Cinque Terre. Elijah was from North Carolina, teaching English in Poland. He was travelling with a really beautiful polish girl named Annetta, though they were more touchy than I thought many teacher/student combos are. Super cool people though.

I eventually made it to Riomaggiore, and everything looked reassuringly familiar. There’s a long pedestrian tunnel that wasn’t finished the last time I was there, but has now been completed and it’s awesome. I knew exactly where to go to find the people that ran my housing. Down the tunnel, turn left and go up Via Colombo to a door on the left. The Mar-Mar Rooms. The same lady that ran it last time was working, and expat named Amy. She walked me to my room which was up some stairs past some scaffolding and on the left.

It was a huge apartment even for two people, let alone one. Really quaint kitchen which I wouldn’t use, a small bedroom, and a large bathroom. The shower was built into the stone, which was the selling feature of the room. REALLY awesome and three different shower heads.

I took a walk around town, since it was the early afternoon. I walked up to the top of the village, past the castle and then down to the harbor and beach (rock beach, not sand beach).

Down by the harbor, I grabbed a table with a view of the Ligurian Sea and had a quick sandwich and glass of wine.
Finished that up and since I was on vacation with nothing to do, I ordered a Sciacchetrà (local super-sweet dessert wine) and a Strawberry Caipiroska (fresh strawberries, vodka, crushed ice, raw sugar, and limes).
An American couple showed up (you can tell by their stars and stripes t-shirts and loud voices. They ordered some food from the bar. All the guidebooks will explicitly tell you, if you find the same glossy menu at multiple bars, it’s microwaveable pasta (plus it looks like that). These people raved about how awesome the food was and I just smiled (and drank).

Went down to the beach to listen to the water roll the rocks around – one of my favorite sounds on the planet (also one of the reasons I love Riomaggiore). Then I watched my first sunset over the water… alone… and cried like an idiot because I missed Gerd. The view was amazing and I wish she was next to me. It was excruciating.

I walked back to the main part of the village and checked out a few menus until I found enough non-seafood items that I could eat something. Being a maritime village, 97% of menu items were seafood of some sort. Even though I went there years ago, I ended up at La Lampara. The food was fantastic 5 years ago, and I had every assurance it would be equally awesome this time. I asked for a table for one and ordered a half bottle of red and ordered a Beef Carpaccio salad. For the record, it’s a very safe bet to order house wine in Italy – it’s going to be waaay better than house wine in America. A super nice American couple was seated next to me after I ordered. The sommelier brought my wine to their table (actually the same sommelier from 5 years ago – very distinct old Italian guy). They laughed and gave it back to me so I could drink it. My salad came out and the same thing happened – it went to the table next to me. They handed it over, but not before deciding they would both get that same salad. Thin slices of tender rare beef, arugula lettuce, and shaved parmesan, all drizzled with local olive oil. It was delicious!

I ordered Spaghetti Alla Lampara which is spaghetti with pesto (a local specialty) and swordfish. I’ve never eaten swordfish, but Gerd always said I’d like it, so I thought it would be nice to try it and think about her while I ate. The waitress brought out my food to the other table and we ended up striking up a conversation at that point. We should have just had dinner together. Robin and Pat were hilarious and they were spending their kid's college fund on their vacation when said kid announced he was dropping out of college. These guys ruled. Robin writes a travel blog detailing their adventures so check it out. Pat and Robin were in town about two hours when they went back to their room rental place and asked to extend their stay – I TOLD you it’s a beautiful area. The spaghetti was really good, though still a bit fishy for my non-seafood taste. I’m curious how swordfish would be in steak format though. I may have to give that a shot next time. But the flavor of the pesto and the swordfish was still very vibrant so I would recommend this dish if you go to Lampara (hint hint).

Pat and Robin had been to La Lampara the previous night and told me I needed to order this special dessert. I told them I’m not really a dessert person and they still said I should go for it. They ordered it for me, in fact - Torta di Mandorle. And when I thought about it, Gerd would have gotten dessert as well, so it just seemed to be the right thing to do. I’m glad I got it. Some sort of tort with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate (some of them had caramel). Brilliant dessert.

I might not be a dessert convert, but I would recommend the heck out of this. I ordered a finisher – limoncino (in the Cinque Terre, they call lemoncello “limoncino” and I think they make it a tad sweeter). Pat and Robin had never heard of it, so I explained a bit about it (it's yellow and it's strong) while I sipped mine and distracted them from their meal. Ha ha. Limoncino is amazing. We finished dinner and said goodbye.

When in Italy, you HAVE to have gelato at least once a day (not my rule, I just follow it). So I wakled up the street to a gelateria I had been to 5 years back. I got fragola (strawberry) and amarena (cherry) (as many of you know, I love pink ice cream). Gelato is good everywhere, but it’s especially good in Italy. Perfect nightcap.

I went back to my apartment since I was really dragging. And I also found out my new BlackBerry Storm works in Italy like a charm (don’t know how much it’s going to cost me yet, but it works!). I sent a couple of e-mails letting people know I made it in one piece, sent my friend Belcher a note to rub it in that I was in Italy, and a note to my friend in Sicily telling her I would see her Saturday. Then I tried to write in my journal all these notes and promptly ended up face down and unconscious.

That’s a really long first day in Italy.

Top 5 things about the day
1. I’m in Riomaggiore
2. Gelato
3. Limoncino
4. Awesome apartment, compliments of the Mar-Mar Rooms
5. Already met cool people from Poland, Australia, and Montana!

Bottom 5 things
1. This should have been Gerd and I’s trip
2. Crying while watching the most magnificent sunset ever sucks really bad
3. Being on a plane and then a bus and then a train for like 18 hours is grueling (as is staying awake that long)
4. “Ugly Americans” ordering microwaveable pasta and raving about it – they probably love Fazoli’s too
5. Running through the JFK Airport like O.J. Simpson


Anonymous said...

I don't think it is possible to go anywhere in Europe without seeing scaffolding.

EnYa Face!

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