Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Trip of a Lifetime

By Karen McCullough

A couple of weeks ago I got back from a trip I’ve waited for my entire life. Along with my husband, son, daughter-in-law and baby grand-daughter, I went to Italy. It was a return trip for me, since forty-some years ago I spent a summer in northern Italy, basically as an English tutor. I retained vivid memories of the cities of Milan and Como, and of Lake Como, which I’d been able to visit then. I’ve long regretted the other cities of Italy I didn’t get to, particularly Rome. This trip would rectify that omission.

St. Peter's Square in Rome
We spent the first five days in Rome, traveled to Florence, spent a couple of days there, then went on to Varenna on Lake Como for a few days before flying back to the States. Despite extreme heat and crowds of tourists, the trip met every expectation I could possibly have had.

I have a series of posts about the trip over on my own blog at kmccullough.com/kblog.  You can head over that way if you want to read about the whole thing, day by day.  In this post I just want to talk about a few miscellaneous things noted on the trip.

Travel – Airplane travel sucks. Don’t believe it?  Read my story about the flight to Rome here, but (warning) it may make you reluctant to ever fly again. On the other hand train travel in Italy is amazing. Where it was available, we paid a little extra for first class seats and it was so worth the small additional cost. Travel by train is much nicer and more comfortable than travel by airplane anyway, but paying a few Euros per person more for first class makes it even better. Seats were roomy, well padded, had power outlets, USB ports, tables and footrests. Even on the trains that didn’t offer first class service, the seats were comfortable and the amenities adequate. Plus the high-speed trains get you to your destination in surprisingly little time. I realize that the US is a lot bigger than Italy or even most of Europe, but still, more high speed trains would put some of the pleasure back into traveling around the country.

Gelato – Oh, yes!  But first, you should know that some gelato places are better than others.  Some so-called gelato isn’t much better than the ice cream you can get here in the US. But good gelato—oh my!  It’s richer, creamier, and fresher-tasting than anything I can remember tasting at home. After hiking around the city on a hot day in Rome, nothing tastes better.

Coffee – Years ago when I was there, I developed a love for real Italian coffee, a thick brew served in tiny cups. Most of the Italians I knew then added large quantities of sugar to it. Espresso in the US is the closest thing you can get to it here, but it’s not exactly the same. And in all the hotels and most of the restaurants we frequented, they had machines that would produce Americano and Cappuccino as well as Espresso. Ask for just coffee, and it was a toss-up whether you’d get a half cup of a slightly stiffer brew than Americano or the coffee I remember from my last visit, which compressed all the coffee goodness (and caffeine) of a standard cup od Americano into about  a quarter cup of liquid served in teeny tiny cups.

Wine – We sampled many of the local wines at meals, including a number of Chiantis. (Another leftover from my previous trip: I love Chianti!) After a few days, my husband said, “They clearly aren’t shipping the good stuff to the U.S.” So true. For a reasonable five Euros (a bit under six dollars US), you could get a glass of outstanding wine.

I
Absolutely the best Tiramisu ever!
talian Cooking in General
– Oh, man.  I’m not a gourmet or a gourmand. On the “live to eat, eat to live” dichotomy I definitely fall on the eat to live end of the spectrum.  But even I can recognize great cooking when I taste it. I’m still partial to northern Italian cooking, which eschews tomato and pepper-based sauces in favor of more subtle flavors of butter and cream toppings for creative pasta based dishes. Seafood is common. My favorite meals were spaghetti with clams and ravioli stuffed with lakefish.

And the desserts were sheer decadence. We’re all partial to Tiramisu, and just about every place we ate in Italy had it. But there were a lot of varieties, and a lot of different ways to serve it.  We had Tiramisu on plates, in parfait glasses, and, memorably, in a large brandy snifter.

I have no idea when I’ll ever get back, but should I ever the chance, I’m totally up for it. (Except for the unfortunate necessity of having to fly over and back.)

12 comments:

  1. Karen, your trip to Italy sounds wonderful. I'm so glad you got to revisit the areas that you love. I lived in Germany as a newlywed and would love to revisit some of the places went, but I'm not sure that will ever happen. So glad you did.

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    1. Thanks, Fran! Germany is on my bucket list as well. I don't know if I'll ever get there, but I can hope!

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  2. Sigh. Someday. Italy is definitely on my bucket list. Really jealous but glad you got to re- experience all the good things.

    BTW. I hate to fly also but not much choice if we want to have wonderful times like this

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    1. Italy has been on my bucket list for most of my life, too. There are a few other places I hope I get to someday as well. And-sigh-yes, it is pretty much necessary to fly to get many of those.

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  3. Adore Italy! Glad you got to go; hope to go again soon. Love it!

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    1. Thanks, Susan. I'd love to go back someday too!

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  4. Hi Karen--
    I can't wait to visit Italy. You make it sound wonderful and the food sounds amazing. I won't have far to go since I'm in Germany, now.
    Victoria--

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    1. HI Victoria -- Definitely make time to get to Italy. You won't regret it. I want to get to Germany someday, too. My family is originally from parts of Bavaria and around Cologne.

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  5. Karen, your trip to Italy sounds heavenly. So glad you got to return to your favorite places and experience some new ones. Thanks for sharing. I've been to Italy once - a short trip with a tour group - and loved it, especially the little things like Gelanto and seeing whole families out together at night, strolling and enjoying ice cream.

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    1. Thanks, Sandy. It was wonderful! Do go back and spend more time if you get a chance. It's so worth it.

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  6. This reminds me so much of my first (and sadly only) trip to Italy in 2008. I was so inspired by the beauty and passion of Florence that I set my debut novel, Wait A Lonely Lifetime, in Michaelangelo's city. Thank you, Karen.

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    1. HI Leigh -- I'll have to look for your book. I hope you get a chance to go back sometime. It really is a wonderful country.

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