You know, I never thought I would love Italy so much. When I was in high school, I had a lot of Italian friends, and I thought I had a reasonably good grasp of the culture and cuisine of that country from having dined in countless downstairs kitchens, drinking homemade wine out of juice glasses or else being served Brio Chinotto (or "Italian Coke" as it was fondly known) by tiny, squat, black-clad Nonas.
But that wasn’t Italy at all. That was Sicilian immigrants in Toronto. BIG difference, as it turns out.
So last week I had the extreme good fortune to spend three days in Italy. First in Naples (or as I like to remember it, Napoli): the birthplace of pizza. We actually didn’t spend any time in Naples itself, but rather toured Pompeii and then drove along the Amalfi coast to Sorrento and then traveled by hydrofoil to the island of Capri (yes, I wore capris!) where we dined on traditional Margherita pizza. Margherita pizza is named after Queen Margherita, who originally requested a pizza made with only tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil. Here is mine:
It was, in a word, superb. As was the view from the restaurant:
On Day two in Italy, we saw Rome: forever Roma to me now (or as much of it as can be squeezed into eight short hours). The Eternal City deserves its name, with ancient ruins right beside busy highways, and spectacular works of art around every corner. On such a busy, busy day, we only had time to grab a panini from a roadside vendor outside the Pantheon. We went classic again, eating tomato and mozzarella on toasted slices of bread. All six in our tour group agreed it was the best sandwich we’d ever eaten.
Sorry, I missed photographing the food, but here is me inside the Pantheon:
But Day three. Ahhh…Day three. It started out simply enough, with a quick drive from the port of Livorno to Pisa, to snap pictures of the famous leaning tower. Then an hour’s drive through Tuscany (you cannot believe how beautiful the Tuscan countryside is!) to Florence, forever to be remembered by me as Firenze: the City of Art. Everything in Florence just effuses art…even the buildings are works of art! Marble inlays are everywhere, castles are converted to shops or restaurants and even the most mundane of buildings are decorated with elaborate and beautiful frescoes.
I and my five companions decided that Florence was the place where we would sit and have a real Italian meal at a real Italian restaurant. Our guide recommdended one and we spent two delicious hours there, enjoying each other’s company and eating what is easily the best meal I’ve had in my life, accompanied by the best wine I’ve ever drunk. Here are a few photos:
And for dessert? Michelangelo’s masterpiece David, in the Galleria dell’Accademia. It is absolutely stunning. Far and away the most amazing sight I saw in my three days in Italy, and even better than Michelangelo’s other famous masterpiece, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (which, admittedly features a fun image of God’s bum!). Cameras are not allowed in the Accademia, but here’s a shot I grabbed off the net:
And, just for fun, here’s the ORIGINAL POSTERIOR. Yes, that’s Him in the pink robes: on the left he’s creating the earth, on the right, the stars and planets).
In the end, I must say that you have to hand it to the Italians: food and wine, art and culture – they OWN these things! Do yourselves a favour and try to get to Italy at some point in your life. I guarantee you will NOT regret it!