Italy

After a gruelling two-day journey due to delayed flights we’re finally back in Scotland.  I think we were all glad to be back home and the trip already seems like a far-away warm memory, especially with the weather being nearly a full 20 degrees cooler, but I can say for myself that Italy, its people, way of living and food have all left a big impression on me.  Sadly, I didn’t take pictures of any of the food we ate with the exception of one pizza on our last evening – we were simply too busy greedily munching it.  I still can’t believe the sheer volume we ate and the amount of meat and cheese that seem to be the common ingredients of so many Italian dishes – my stomach was having a little trouble with digesting all of it, given that I’m used to far less of both at home.

Food

I lost count of the number of pizzas and bowls of pasta we ate, as well as bruschetta.  Bruschetta may be my new favourite food – we tried many variations but the plain tomato ones were my favourites as all Italian tomatoes I tasted seemed to all burst with flavour.  The rows upon rows in the grocers of types we’d normally only see in ‘supermarket premium brand’ boxes were being offered there in big open boxes.  The other variations I tried (and liked) were ones which had finely chopped artichoke over them, some kind of sausage meat spread, and salted bread with plain mozzarella.  Yum.  The other food we tried and that I fell in love with is arrosticini. A regional food from Abruzzo (where Pescara is), consisting of small cubes of mutton on skewers cooked over a fairly hot charcoal brazier and salted just as they finish cooking. I’m determined to see if I can replicate these in Scotland – it may require a trip to the butcher as mutton is something I’ve rarely come across in a supermarket.

Salt was something I noticed being used a lot more in native Italian cooking (compared to ‘Italian’ food we get here) – it really brings out a lot of the natural flavours of mozzarella and tomatoes and gave what might have otherwise been bland dishes a flavour which was mouthwatering.  None of the food we found on offer had spices in it, either – salt seemed to be the main flavour enhancer beside the simple high quality ingredients used.

On that note, I can’t wait until my greenhouse tomatoes have ripened! One is very slowly turning yellow for me and is being checked every morning and evening with longing hope.  The first one to ripen will be quickly bruschetta-ized!

Plants

When it came to plants Italy was a strange mix of wildly exotic and oddly lacking. There were massive ‘hot-house’ plants on almost every street and trailing plants taking over housefronts as well as little bits of greenery just everywhere but, other the other hand, it was so dry in Rome that the ground was parched – having that odd ‘dots of green in a sandy landscape’ look.  I guess I’m just too used to verdant Scotland where every scrap of bare land tends to be colonised by one weed or another and grass rarely dries out even in a sunny summer.

It was amazing, though, to see plants I’d only ever seen in glasshouses (or at least, ones of that size) out in the street doing well – fruiting and flowering.  Thriving.  Grass didn’t seem to be as common in the areas we were in – it had mostly been overtaken by low carpeting weeds and I wonder if that had anything to do with the much drier climate.  One of our hosts was telling us that they get hot, dry weather from May through to October! Wow.  Of course, both the places we were in were near the sea and the mountains, when we drove through them, looked a lot more lush.

Whilst we were away I kept a little diary so that I wouldn’t forget all of the ‘little things’ as well as the big, so I’m going to mark down what I’ve written for posterity.

Rome

Sunday night – arrived, went out to grab a quick drink.  Andy was overcharged for a half-litre of beer (~9€).  We sank into bed in an un-air-conditioned room near the centre of Rome in temperatures hitting the 30s.  We’d been travelling since around 12midday and arrived about 10pm local time.

Monday – Had a small lie in to shrug off the effects of travel and then headed out into Rome.  We pounded the streets for hours – taking in the Trevi fountain, Pantheon, the riverside, a tonne of small piazzas and had lunch in a lovely area where many artists had set up stalls to sell paintings and do artwork on the spot.  We loved this place as it had an air-con composed of a fan with a water mister which periodically sprayed the whole area.  Delightfully refreshing.  That was out first pizza in Italy!  We also had our first Italian gelato on our way between monuments – incredibbly yummy.  For dinner we went to a place near the hotel – it had lovely lasagne (which almost all of us had) and we might have had a few bottles of wine after which everyone else (there were six of us travelling together) attempted to teach me poker.

Tuesday – Possibly my favourite day in Rome – we visited the Colosseum and did an audio tour, Forum Romano, and Palatine Hill all before lunch.  We’d gotten up early as we knew the queues would be bad.  We had gelato outside the Colosseum from a Metro station!  All around Rome there are tonnes of water spigots with fresh, cold water in them.  Andy tried these and found them to be more than a little refreshing so we filled up our bottles (and hats) several times whilst wandering around.  This was great as it meant we didn’t have to carry so much water with us.

We spent a good while looking for a cash machine for one of our group as his card seemed to have limited acceptance and found a little place to have dinner on the way back to the hotel – my first Italian carbonara.  I think I prefer the British style, I guess I’m a bit of a philistine =(  It was lovely, though, all the same!  Andy had an amazing gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce, though, that I absolutely adored. The beer we had here was judged to be ‘one of the best ever’ simply by the merit of being frosty cold when we were incredibly thirsty and tired from walking around.

We also had pizza for dinner that night in a very small, busy place.  It was really good, but I was still a bit full from lunch.  To our detriment, probably, we found that that local ‘wee shop’ had bottles of drinkable wine for 99 cent.

Wednesday – Our last day in Rome was spent having a long lie in, doing some quick souvenir shopping, grabbing some very tasty pastries from a local shop and then heading to go see Vatican City.  Our first Metro trip was a squeeze but fun.  It was a very, very hot day but we found some relief inside at the basilica etc.  I think I got a sore neck from craning up at all of the amazing artwork / sculptures.

After the basilica we went for a ‘wander’.  Our map showed us that there were some viewpoints nearby and we figured that we’d go past them on our way to the place we’d been recommended for dinner.  There were, indeed, spectacular views of the city and, as we climbed up, there were also more monuments and statues – including rows of busts – commemorating the (I think) wars of Unification.  It was a beautiful, peaceful walk which took you out of the way of that constant ‘city’ feel and into something a bit gentler.  I really enjoyed it, and by the time we were done was totally ready for dinner ;)

We had a really big meal for our last night in Rome – in a place where our friends had been before and even being served by the same waiter.  We had to, at least one, try a ‘large beer’ – one litre!  It was nice and light and actually not badly priced.  Dinner, for me, was a pasta with a white sauce, langoustines and courgettes which was lovely and which I’d like to try to replicate.  The white sauce seemed like it might be ricotta / oil based but I’m still not 100% sure. I had a greek salad, too, and was so glad to be able to get some greenery in me.  At home I eat salad nearly every day so my stomach, by this point, was really starting to complain a little at me overworking it =(

We walked back from south of the river to our hotel – a good hour and a half walk – and whilst it was hot, it was nice to walk through Rome in the dark, get some pictures, and have one last look before we headed off to Pescara.

Pescara

Pescara is on the opposite coast of Italy – almost directly across from Rome – and is the epitome of a seaside resort.  It was sunny, hot (hotter than Rome!) and fairly busy at nights but generally friendly and a nice place to relax.  To get there we took a bus through the mountains – there was beautiful scenery but I was feeling a little under the weather so I missed most of it whilst curled up around my kindle.  The hotel we stayed at there was beautiful – and had aircon which was instantly put down to 15C.

Thursday – Arrived in Pescara in early evening, unpacked, and generally revelled in the air-con.  Went out for dinner to a nearby shore-side restuarant (and there were hundreds of these) and had some seafood – Pescara’s ‘speciality’.  Andy’s dish was many small fish and bits of seafood fried whole.  It looked amazing – as did the calamari which was the best I’ve yet tried.  There were tonnes of palms with fruits on them.

Friday – We spent the day by the seaside.  I threw some seaweed on Andy which he responded to by shrieking like a wee girl ;D Got to use my Irn Bru beach towels for the first time (spot the Scottish tourist), read my kindle all day under a sunshade on the beach.  It was so nice and relaxing.  At some point Andy disappeared and returned with a quarter watermelon.  This was in season, I think, and being sold everywhere at ridiculously cheap prices.  It was so wonderfully sweet that even I liked it – I pretty much refuse to eat watermelon in the UK because I find it watery and tasteless.  He also had his eye out for the granita man – a vendor on the beach selling shaved ice slushies.  These were delicious and bought at nearly every point available to help with keeping temperatures down.

That evening, an Italian friend of our friends came to take us to a place where they eat arrosticini. It was amazingly tasty and a great night – we explained scottish dialect and what garlic bread was to some of them and they told us how we should eat arrosticini and a bit about the region and why it was popular.  They were all lovely and friendly people =)

 Saturday – Chilled start to the day followed by more beach time.  I went swimming for what must have been the first time in over ten years.  I forgot how much I missed it – especially swimming under water. Andy got a random, tiny hermit crab in his shoe whilst we played volleyball (badly).

We discovered ‘Nutella & Go’ in the local supermarket – a choc-dip with built in iced tea.  Brilliant idea!  Dinner was in the hotel.  It was expensive but really nice and, because we were the first to eat, we had about six waiters for our table for the first little while.

Sunday –  We were getting really fatigued by this point (too much good fun!) but were invited to the home of one of the Italians friends.  It was the most amazing evening of the whole holiday.  They treated us to home-made pizza (someone’s Mama brought it over freshly baked), home-made pasta with home-made sauce from home-made tomatoes.  There was more arrosticini – cooked over an arrosticini ‘barbecue’ – a long, thin, charcoal brazier made to hold the skewers which had a larger piece on the end for grilling your bruschetta.  Then there was singing.  My goodness.  You’d have thought they were a proper choir – two guitars were brought out and a violin and we were treated to Wild Rover & Sweet Molly Malone, some (silly) Italian songs which they helped us learn and then some beautiful Alpini songs.  Whisky, cigars (not for me) and dark chocolate, a beautiful terrace under dark, countryside night-time skies, with crickets and cicadas all around and with people singing in the background.  Indescribable, really.

Monday – We slept in until ~1 after having such a great, but late night.  Andy had managed to get a little sunburnt over the last few days and (we now reckon) a bit of dermatitis from the suncream of all things!  We packed, lazed around and then went out for one last Italian dinner.  I had a ‘white pizza’ – which has no tomato paste – and we all tried to think what we could do for when one of the Italians comes to visit us.  We think we’re going to be hard pushed to show him as good a time.

Tuesday – We knew today would be ‘travel day’ but we didn’t expect quite how it’d turn out.  We got on a bus directly to the airport from Pescara – a four hour journey in which I did actually manage to see the countryside, thankfully.  When we got to the airport we were a little early, but there were no other busses which would have gotten us there at the right time so we knew we’d have to wait a bit. When we went to the ticket desk, however, we were told our flight was delayed by an hour.  Knowing we had a connection flight which was 45 minutes after landing we were understandably concerned.  This being BA, however, we were told we’d be looked after – which would, given our late entry into the UK, mean a night in London.  Once we’d resigned ourselves to that fact we waited.  And waited.  And Waited.  It ended up being nearly 1hr 45 minutes late  due to unforseen weather conditions on the way but once we got on the plane he made it back to the UK in pretty good time (cutting off about 30 minutes).  Once in London we were whisked away to a Premiere in and given vouchers for dinner and breakfast.  It was 10pm by now and we had left Pescara around 10am.  Oh and our flight the next morning had a check-in time of ~6.50.  to say we were knackered is an understatement but it was a nice dinner, a good bed, and we made it back into Scotland at around 8am.  I love BA, by the way.

I do note that I’m utterly terrified of flying, but I managed to struggle through four flights and I’m glad I did as it was a fantastic holiday =)

Unfortunately I’ve been pretty ill since I came back, so I’ve not had much of a will to write things until now.  Hopefully things will be going back to ‘schedule’, though.

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