So as I have like 10 min to write this before lunch is ready I'll quickly update everyone on what has happened in the last two weeks! [edit: finished writing this on the train to Florence, I never can write short quick updates... Weeee, we're going 299kph!)
I arrived and got picked up by my awesome cousin, Federico. What a champ he has been the past two weeks... From giving up his room to finding awesome wine tasting in Tuscany to sweet castle touring in Piemonte at the foot of the alps, he has been the most amazing host. Give that man a Klondike bar. And a raise. Anyway, so later that day, after not sleeping for like 30 hours because the fights were such that I never saw the sun set (talk about trippy, whoa), Fede and I drove around the lake region and then got my first gelato and what would become the best gellateria I've yet to encounter in Italy (which says something as I've eaten a gelato every day except two days but I made it up by eating two other days)! Then we met up with some of Fede's and Nicola's friends and went to a bar-- sorry, "brewery and beer shop" as Greg, the owner, will be sure to correct you if you say bar like I did-- which was literally bookshelves of over a hundred different types of hipster beers. After a couple of beers (which I got by describing how I was feeling using all the emotional lingo I know in Italian, and because Greg is awesome he indulged my fancy and picked some great Italian beers) we all went for a walk along the river and happened upon probably among my favorite memory so far in Italy...
"What's this memory," you ask? Well, let me just tell you...
So there we were walking along, me ecstatic to be in Italy and slightly sleep deprived, the rest (thanks for being great sports, dudes!) just entertained by my fascination with everything, when we came across a scent that could not ever been better timed nor better smelling. I followed my nose and much to my great surprise there was a vendor selling what I learned was not a hotdog but rather salamella... Which to call a hotdog is like to compare the real David to the replica sculpture at your local miniature golf course--they're not even the same material! The best part was that when the man selling the meat found out I was from California and had never eaten it before (but clearly I was excited about it as I literally clapping my hands and waiting anxiously like a child waiting to use the bathroom) he offered to make the sandwich as he recommended (with ketchup only) and gave me a free cup of wine to go with it! And then, after waiting what seemed like ages, but really was only like 5 min I'm sure, while he cut open the casing and grilled the glorious roll of meat, I was handed it-- hot, on a bread roll lightly dusted in flour which reminded me of these Mexican bread rolls we used to eat growing up, and slightly coated in ketchup but not enough to cover the flavor. And oh man....
It. Was. Great.
I'm not normally one to freak out about meat, especially since I rarely eat red meat and only ate fish for like 3 years during my undergrad, but dang, I understand now why people here tilt their heads, squint, and respond with "no problem, we have lamb," when I mentioned veganism. (Ok, so I might have stolen that from a movie, and I haven't actually mentioned vegan lifestyle except for once in a discussion with my cousin, but I'm pretty sure the reaction would be all the same.)
After that amazing night I struggled with jetlag and just lay in bed (as I did for the following several nights) trying to fully grasp that I was actually here. I'm actually following through with this dream of mine. I have struggled truly to put into words the sensation I'm feeling but it's a mixture of being CONSTANTLY excited about the everyday life around me, exhausted because I have to focus so hard to understand ever conversation which I really only get like ~50-60% of maybe, and nervous but in a good way about what tomorrow might bring teaching me to go with the flow. Each day is a gift of which I savor the anticipation and keep the wrapping.
The next day, Sunday, we hung out because I was tired but of course we got a gelato. Monday we went to a vineyard in Tuscany and even drive there was beautiful going through random mountains! I went on a tour of the process for creating the wine and understood like maybe 25% of what she was saying but it didn't matter, I enjoyed listening to the Italian being spoken. And like, who could be anything but stoked to be in an old villa/estate on a hill in Tuscany about to drink 3 types of red wine and a dessert wine, all the meanwhile eating amazing cheese, crackers, and prosciutto e salami??? Fun fact: "biscotti" in Italian just means cookie, not the specific type of cookie we Americans think of when we hear biscotti. That sweet baked good is called something else I'll look up when I have access to the internet again. Anyway, we dipped "American" biscotti in the dessert wine and it was aaaaamazing.
After Tuscany we walked around Florence for the afternoon on our way back. I got my gelato and we watched some street performer pick random strangers out of the crowd to imitate, switch hats with, etc. One of the paintings in a building there began renovating before America was discovered. Mind. Blown. Moments like that remind me that I'm really not in America anymore... As if the presence of gelato everywhere and over stylish men wasn't a clue enough. Dopo Firenze, we picked up Chinese (Italian Chinese, so there was of course pizze on the menu) and went to eat at my cousin, Nicola and Michele's, house. Hilariously the Chinese food was like a kind of fancy restaurant and a treat to Italians. The way in which they ate it, that is, with noodle first dishes and meat second and appetizers first of all, reminded me of the way in which I eat Italian meals, but just actually Chinese food. It was interesting to see the hybrid of the two cultures.
Fast forward some days, I went into Milan a week ago Friday and met with Enzo, the president of the MIT Italy club, who is a very nice person and is going to connect me with some people for a potential internship here in Italy next summer. We met for an aperitivo which invoices buying one drink and then being brought lots of goodies to eat. I'm telling you, when it comes to anything food related, be it happy hour or street carts, Italians know what they're doing! Then Fede and his friend, Gamba, and I went to another bar for another aperitivo and after I went to Massimo gelato which is voted the best gellateria in Lombardia (region that Milan is in). It was worth the 15-20 min wait. When I sampled the pistachio flavor, it was like I had chilled, slightly salted, pistachios in my mouth. Unbelievable. The best part, my daily indulgence is only about 2-2,70€! So worth it.
Then the next day we went to a medieval times themed display in a castle in Piemonte in a town, Candelo, that exists pretty near the base of the alps so that in all my pictures, they were just there chilling in the background. I sampled some standards for cheese and cookies of the era... The cheese was good, as always, the meringue I tried was lavender flavored and it tasted like I was eating a plant... Sad times. But other than that, I had the best peach gelato of my life and then returned to the gellateria later to try their granita (I remember you saying it was great, Bristin, so I've been keeping my eyes peeled for it anytime I find it in scoopable consistency). It was, the bomb. Frutti di bosco, can't go wrong...
Then I got sick because my allergies hate me and so for the past week I was relaxing around the house, enjoying greatly my daily gelato from Vergiate (the gellateria from the first day, fortunately only a 5 min drive away) and my ginseng coffee with my zia Ornella. She has been spoiling me introducing me to all sorts of local goodies from "vergiatini" (the oh-so-amazing almond cookie from Vergiate) to ginseng coffee to meringata (a cake that layers meringue, which is so much better here than in the US, and panna which is slightly like homemade whipped cream). Not to mention I learned to make strawberry tiramisu (still trying to upload those videos, Lisa!!!!) from my cousin's beautiful girlfriend, Lisa. Seriously, want to adopt her as my sister!
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I did my first "da sola" adventure in the form of a day trip to Verona last Wednesday. It was AWESOME. So invigorating to travel by yourself in a foreign country. Not to mention I got a free appetizer and a special made meal because I was a "single beautiful woman" eating by myself. Ha! Awesome. Read the captions of my lunch in Verona (risotto with a piece of fried parmesan) to learn more!
For that matter, check out my instagram (https://instagram.com/chacha_durazo/) for TONS more visual explanations of what my words fall so short of describing. When I get the chance, I'll post pictures below outlining some of what I described above.
For now, I'm about to arrive in Florence and thus begin my truly "da sola" travels!
Weeee! Loving this life of mine.