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Thursday, November 14, 2013

An Italian Holiday

Post by Kristy McCaffrey

“Life is like a ten-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.” ~ Charles M. Schulz

My mother, my sister and I went on an Italian holiday in October, just the three of us, women alone navigating a foreign country. I’ve traveled quite a bit, my mother also, my sister into the wilderness but never out of the country, and despite this there was an underlying element of fear. Travel can be unsettling, and in a different country, disorienting. Add to that the absence of the men in our lives, that subtle reliance I have on my husband to, well, fix things, to problem-solve, to pick up the phone and speak to someone in a language likely not to be English.

My mom at the Colosseum.
We landed in Rome after fifteen plus hours of travel and immediately toured the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. I would highly recommend booking a tour in advance if only to bypass the long entrance lines. We did the same at the end of the week for the Vatican. The magnificence of the Sistine Chapel left me in tears, or maybe it was the claustrophobia of seeing it with 10,000 other people. Our savvy tour guide—a young Italian woman—gave us wise advice, “Get out while you can. Save yourself.”



Michelangelo's Pieta.
Truly magnificent.
Piazza Navona, Rome.
My mom and I in St. Peter's
Basilica, Vatican City.

Soriano nel Cimino.
The bulk of our holiday was spent on a Culture Discovery Vacation Tour in the small town of Soriano nel Cimino, a two-hour drive north of Rome. Soriano is a medieval village situated upon a hill, very quaint and picturesque; it was like stepping back in time. But several excursions into the countryside later, we learned that picturesque medieval hilltop towns are everywhere in Italy. Italians are so lucky. We arrived during Soriano’s annual Chestnut Festival, which meant a steady stream of sword-fighting displays, drumming through the evening, jousting and archery tournaments, and flag-throwing competitions. Not only were we immersed in Italian culture, we were now steeped in historic Italian culture. It was difficult not to skip down the narrow cobblestone street each morning to the local café for a pastry and cappuccino, so idyllic our existence became. My sister and I settled into a cute two-bedroom apartment while my mom had her own accommodations, a one-bedroom retreat. We soon began our week of eating cheese and pasta and cheese, and drinking wine, wine, and more wine.

My Italian apartment in Soriano.
The cobblestone streets of Soriano.
My sister, myself and my mom.
The castle of Soriano is behind us.

Culture Discovery offers trips that encompass hands-on cooking classes with tours of surrounding towns. Interaction with local families lend a friendly atmosphere not normally found on trips abroad. It’s an immersive experience and an exhausting one. Still, my appreciation for Italy has only deepened.

I’m a middle-of-the-road cook; my mother hardly cooks at all; my sister loves it. The cooking classes offered something for everyone. We made Pappardelle pasta from scratch, along with Bolognese sauce. There was Tuscan Roasted Chicken and Potatoes and homemade Tiramisu, a Brasato al Barolo Roast (soaked overnight in an entire bottle of Barolo red wine) and a light, creamy Panna Cotta for dessert. We learned the art of making Pecorino cheese, heating the sheep’s milk in a huge pot and scraping the sides by hand to scoop the cheese, then upon reheating, skimming the curdles from the top for Ricotta (a re-cooked cheese). In learning to make Panzanella I came to appreciate the ingenuity of Italian women. Panzanella is a salad with old bread soaked in water as its base. Italian women always make use of leftovers. Throughout the week it became clear that many Italian dishes are deceptively simple. We were urged to experiment upon our return home. Olive oil, fresh garlic and lemon can work wonders with almost any ingredients. I learned a new appreciation for my Italian mother-in-law, surrounded as I was by men and women who reminded me of her boisterous family that had emigrated to Pennsylvania.

Brasato al Barolo Roast.
Tuscan Roasted Chicken and Potatoes.
Panzanella.
Making ricotta cheese.
The finished product.

Assisi.
We toured the town of Assisi, resting place of St. Francis and St. Clare, as well as the papal city of Viterbo. We saw Montepulciano, home of the world-renowned Vino Nobile wine and the most beautiful wine cellar in the world. For Twilight fans, New Moon was filmed here. We visited Civita di Bagnoreggio, known as the Dying City because it’s literally crumbling away, but unfortunately were unable to see the Italian Grand Canyon due to heavy cloud cover. We drove through Tuscany and it’s truly as beautiful as any photograph. We witnessed the magnificent gothic cathedral in Orvieto.

Wine cellar in Montepulciano.
The Dying City.
Gothic cathedral in Orvieto.
This big guy lived across the street from the cooking villa.

And of course we shopped—leather boots, wallets, purses, cheese, olive oil, and boar sausage. We shipped many cases of wine home because in the slightly inebriated state reached while at wine tastings we became convinced we’d never find a wine as good as this one back in the U.S.


The trip wasn’t without mishaps—flight delays both leaving and returning, a missed train stop in Rome causing us to drag our luggage up and down flights of stairs as we struggled to find our way, a cancelled hotel that put me on a Portuguese pay phone on our layover home hoping to find someone who spoke English. I imagined what my husband would do…and then I did that. I forged ahead, feeling unsure and nervous, but determined to solve our dilemmas. Sometimes my sister solved them. And sometimes my mother did. To travel is to explore, to learn, to journey, but it’s also to shift those gears that get little use in the safety of home.






















5 comments:

  1. Hi Kristy,
    Just found your blog and was drawn in. We visited Italy in April/May this year and like you I loved it so much. I'm not a cry cry girl, but at many times I felt like bursting into tears as I was blown away by all the history, beauty and almost everything else splendid in Italy. We travelled all over and visited Orvieto, Rome, Assissi, Positano, Pompeii.....oh gosh I would go on forever!! lol. A beautiful country. Thanks for sharing your pics.
    Cheers, Anita.

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  2. Hi Anita,
    Thanks so much for stopping by. Italy does have a way of leaving you completely amazed. Definitely a place to visit again!
    Very Best, Kristy

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  3. Hi Kristy! Thanks for the share it looks like you guys had a blast. My family and I just recently booked one of those Luxury Villas in Tuscany and was wondering if you had any advice on places to see and things to do. Any help?

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  4. Hi Joan,
    Thanks for stopping by. Those Luxury Villas look nice!! What a great idea for a vacation. I never made it to the Florence area so I can't say what would be good to see up in those parts. I really enjoyed Assisi, Montepulciano, and Orvieto.
    Have a wonderful trip!
    Best, Kristy

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