Saturday, January 4, 2014

Me and Mr. Pants in Italy!

Door, Barbaresco

These iPhone photos cannot do Italy justice. The hills are closer, the sky more vibrant, you can't smell the river and the rain coming in Verona, or the dark grapes on Piedmont vines, or watch your feet, in their modern shoes, walk on old stones that millions have walked on for centuries. 

Sometimes only an accidental sliver of the history is apparent, a Roman tower here, a medieval carving there. But vast stretches of historic strata lay under the streets traversed by sleek, gleaming trams and buzzing Vespas. 

Walk into a church to find it was built over medieval cloisters, which, in turn, were built over a Roman forum or circus, which was built over a shrine to Minerva, which was built over sacred Celtic hot springs.. and so on.

Alba houses 

Turin's Market

We liked Turin. The land of Visigoths, Vermouth and Nutella, was full of narrow streets, grand old squares and cafes under porticos. 

It's also home to the largest open air market in Europe. Want something? They've got it.  We bought far too many balls of mozzarella as well as fresh porcini's, bread, tomatoes, basil, and (wild boar) sausages to take to the red-shuttered farmhouse we'd rented in the vines near Asti.  

Turin from top of the Mole Antonelliana

Morning at the casa in the Piedmont

View from Casa 

The Piedmont is farm country, with it's vineyards, goats and hazelnut groves. Day-trips to Barbaresco, Acqui Terme and Alba brought strange experiences like the bizarre but interesting wine museum, (Barolo) and lots of hot, fruitless walking around looking for roman ruins and hot springs (Acqui Terme), but also some damn fine food, like this antipasti from Alfredo's, below.  

Melon, ham, figs 

And where Mr. Pants got greedy with dessert. 

The hirsute Mr. Pants and his two desserts

Verona's masses of people in the streets, after the peace of the Piedmont was jarring, but vibrant.  The masses of people outside the pink-stoned colosseum waiting to enter through the same gates that people had been entering for many years.

Verona's amphitheatre

Skip the faux Shakespearean characters' houses, milked for all their worth by fair Verona.  Eat some real tiramisu instead. 

REAL Tiramisu in Verona at the Caffe Dante...oh my god oh my god

Milan was civilized and gritty, by turns sleekly modern, then flowery and Belle Epoque. Delicate art nouveau swirling iron-work lies right next to clunkily fascistic buildings sitting in the middle of a block like stubbornly clenched fists. 

We just happened to be there during "Fashion Week", so Milan was full of people with ridiculously fabulous hair, and freakishly tall, thin, delicately stomping black-clad models trailing tiny black rolling suitcases. 

We also had some of the most generous aperitifs in Milan. This early evening ritual, sort of like a far more bountiful happy hour with no time restrictions, is one tradition that makes America seem stingy by comparison. For the price of one lovely drink, you can basically get a whole meal, absolutely free. Olives, chips, tiny sandwiches, vegetables, fruit, these were just some of the offerings that were brought out to us free of charge, because it is just so darn civilized. 

Aperitivo buffet

Aperitivo snacks at Peck in Milan

I suspect Italians live better lives. Traveling to Italy helps me recognize the good things:  Negronis, family, dessert, history, great red wine from old vines, art, and Mr. Pants. 

Highlights:  Fresh porcini mushrooms, Italian aperitifs, architecture, archeology, and just so many beautiful things.

Disappointments:  All trips must end.

Mr. Pants: Grateful that I drag him away from the computer sometimes to see the world for reals.