I Went to Places Unknown

We’re back from what felt like a whirlwind trip of Italy. We traveled up and down the boot, from the Cinque Terre to Sicily and back up to Rome. We were on beaches and in cities, walked on sand and cobblestones. We attended a wedding with many other Americans and went to areas where we saw almost no other Americans.

This much travel is unusual for us. On prior trips, we’ve stayed longer in one place. We spent 10 days in Paris alone in 2003. Last year, we were in Florence for a week. But on this trip, we had just a few days in each place before we headed out to somewhere new.

rome

The positive of going to so many places is that you get a taste of many different places, and you don’t end up stuck somewhere you dislike. We had considered staying in Naples and I am so, so glad we stayed in Rome and went to Naples just for the day.

Since Italian food is deeply regional, traveling so much meant we ate a lot of different food.  We had focaccia and pesto in Liguria, cous cous in Trapani, pescespada (swordfish) in Palermo, margherita pizza in Naples, and simple, perfect pastas in Rome.

We again sought out Slow Food restaurants whenever possible, visiting Cantina Siciliana in Trapani, Da Sergio and  Dal Cavalier Gino in Rome, and Europeo in Naples.

The one constant in all regions we visited was gelato. In Sicily, it’s often served ‘con brioche’ (shown below). Yes, that’s two flavors of gelato tucked into what is essentially sweet bread roll. It’s a very intense ‘snack’.

In Rome, we stumbled on San Crispino (warning: website may tempt you to buy a flight directly to Rome) and we’ll never be the same again. San Crispino’s gelato is denser than the gelato I’d eaten before, and the flavors are completely authentic. Nocciola (hazelnut) is available in almost any shop, but San Crispino’s version tastes most like an actual hazelnut. And no other gelato shop offered a flavor studded with chunks of meringue and caramel.

gelatoconbrioche

We learned a lot from this trip. We know now that we ultimately prefer to travel at a slower pace and to spend more time in fewer places.  Nearly everywhere we went deserved more time and focus than we had available. There’s so much more I’d like to see in Sicily and we barely scratched the surface of Rome.

By staying in an apartment, at a hotel and in a bed-and-breakfast on this trip, we’ve learned that we’re happiest in an apartment. It means less help (there’s no concierge to make dinner reservations for you), but we love having a kitchen and getting to actually shop at the local food markets, rather than just observing. Our previous apartment rentals in Paris and Florence made us feel more like locals than tourists.

corniglia-harbor

I’ll post more about the places we visited, but overall, I’m happy to be back in California. This trip reminded me how much we have here in the Bay Area. Eating pasta in Rome made me better appreciate the menu at SPQR on Fillmore Street. The pizza at Europeo was pretty similar to the pies we get at Pizzeria Delfina. Our Ferry Building farmers market is so diverse that we recognized most of the produce at the local food markets we visited in Italy.

After the hazy, humid days of Italy, California’s startlingly bright skies and San Francisco’s lovely cool breezes feel just right.

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