Dear Mum, A Letter From Italy
Oct 30, 2017
It’s official. You heard it here first. If there was anywhere else in the world Lauren and I could call home it would be Italy. It didn’t take long at all for us to come to that conclusion this time around. And Kaz, I know you will be more than happy to visit us on a regular basis if we were to move here. Everyone is welcome – accommodation free.
Flying into Rome for both of us this time felt like we were returning home. Arriving at the airport instantly bought memories back from last year when we were meeting Kaz in the arrivals hall and about to embark on our eating, drinking and sightseeing tour. You were as tired as hell Kaz, but do you remember the high when we saw each other for the first time, in Roma!
This time we left the airport, paid for our bus ticket to central Rome and made our way to our hotel. Not far from where we stayed last time Kaz. While I don’t remember how hot it was, it was hot. I can distinctly remember my legs feeling as if they were cooking in my jeans as we walked. Fast forward less than 30 days later and it’s 12 degrees outside but feels like 9. Tomorrow we will be wearing our thermals. Its not even winter here yet but it freezing and Kaz – you would not like to be here now. Its no place to be for an Aussie Queenslander who likes the warmer climate. Even Lauren has taken to drinking MORE vino rosso to stay warm.
Anyway, back to our arrival in Rome. We make it to our hotel, check in, offload our bags and go for a long walk in search of dinner. We walk past the Colosseum again. I mean it would be rude not to and marvel at her beauty once again. At dinner that night we relish in the fact that we are here once again when it was never part of the original plan. All this happened again by chance, fate, divine intervention – whatever you call it. We can’t walk a mile or look upon a ruin without being reminded of you sissy and our precious dream holiday together.
Walking to dinner in Rome felt as if we’re walking to dinner in Newtown, with a very different view of course. Rome felt familiar, we walk but feel orientated – well Lauren does, I just follow. She knows which streets to walk, which turns to take, which alleys to explore – without even looking at a map. We don’t get lost. Its our town. We see all the same beautiful people we saw last year. Well maybe not exactly the same people. We were home.
So, the next day were back on the road after a great dinner and restful sleep. We’re making our way by train down to Amalfi as our first tour starts there. We’re comfortable, relaxed, taking in the views and I’m listening to a conversation between father and daughter when I hear a word that triggers a memory long buried. I hear the word ‘tondo’ which means round.
In that very instant I remember my mum singing me ‘Ring around the Rosie’ in Italian when I was a child.
Giro giro tondo
Com e bello il mondo
La gallina canta …….
How did I forget such a thing? I’m so glad I was eavesdropping on that conversation nearby. One word resurrected something buried so deep until now. Poor Lauren has heard me singing it to myself countless times since that first time. She too can sing the first few lines now…
When I wasn’t singing ring around the rosie, we were doing what one should do before a tour starts - Eat, walk, sightsee, rest, repeat. The weather was perfect at the beginning of October and the sky the most brilliant shade of blue.
So after 24 hours in Amalfi we met our small group of 8 other travellers and our guide Elisa. We could tell pretty quickly we were going to love Elisa - our guide from Milan.
Elisa shared our passion for excellent local food and was always keen to share what specialty we should try in each different region. We seemed to be the only ‘foodies’ on the tour that devoured every suggestion she offered.
Our group on the other hand were just keen to complain. So while they were busy complaining about anything and everything we were just immersing ourselves in everything she suggested. Never once did she fail us on a suggestion. Whether it was food related or taking us ‘off tour’ to swim in the stunning Polignano a Mare – a town in the city of Bari, Apulia, southern Italy, located on the Adriatic Sea and one given a blue flag for the most clean and beautiful beaches of 2017 - she was always making sure we were having an unforgettable time.
After leaving Amalfi we passed through Naples – home to the best pizza in the world (according to me) but it was only a 2 hour stop while we were in transit. Elisa worked out very quickly how much we LOVED food and gave us directions to the world famous ‘Pizzeria da Michele’ – it’s the pizzeria Julia Roberts enjoyed few slices of pizza from in the movie Eat, Pray Love and the one that was closed for renovation when we were here with Kaz last year. It was crazy busy and given we only had two hours we made the decision to get take away and eat on someone’s door step as we’d seen another couple doing the same thing. There was no way we were missing out this time. We owed it to Kaz to eat a pizza or two in the gutter of Napoli this time round, and we did it with pleasure!
When we haven’t been eating or fantasizing about our next meal, gelato, pastry, coffee or wine we really have been enjoying the sights. It felt like every stop in Italy has offered us a different view. Trani in the heel of the boot of Italia was the sleepy, seaside town but without question was where you lived if you had some serious cash in the bank. Then there was the cute town of Alberobello. Neither of us had ever seen such cute houses with conical roofs. And then there was Matera. Matera needed to be seen to be believed. It was where they filmed the stations of the cross from the Mel Gibson film ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and only recently stopped referring to it as ‘hell on earth’ within Italy itself. Lauren recognized the spots shot from The Passion pretty quickly and knew which part of the film was shot where. Even though we weren’t in the Holy Land It resurrected that feeling within here. I pray Lauren can tick Israel off her bucket list one day…
Lauren also found she had a natural gift for dancing the ‘Taranta Pizzica’ which is a very old folk dance originally from the Salento peninsula in Apulia that we’d never seen or heard of prior to this trip. The highest compliment that could have been paid to Lauren was when an Italian man asked our guide if Lauren had ever danced this dance before and when our guide said no, he said it was ‘Impossible! She must have! Maybe in a former life!’ Lauren will say to this day that it was one of the best nights of her life, dancing the Taranta Pizzica in Lecce, Apulia.
In the sprit of getting involved we also tried horse meat which is a specialty in some regions - much to the delight of our tour guide and to the horror of our very judgmental travel companions. We both agreed it tasted just like beef.
All this walking around, eating and listening to everyone speak Italian helped another memory rise from the grave. I could hear the tune in my head and the only words I knew were ‘Mama son tanto felice.’ It was driving me mad! I was a little embarrassed but plucked up the courage to ask our guide Elisa to help me remember the song. I sang the few words I knew and hummed the rest of the tune. Before we knew it and with a little help from our hotel concierge only too happy to help, we had the song! ‘Mamma’ by Claudio Villa - Its such an old song but one that reminds me of mum. Poor Lauren, between Ring around the Rosie & ‘Mamma’ she’s been subjected to a lot of my singing and humming to myself. She doesn’t seem to mind though. I often catch her humming the songs under her breath.
And so before we knew it, time got away from us and it was time to say goodbye to our guide Elisa (unfortunately) and to our group (Yay!! No more complaining!)
Sicily was our next stop and she was always going to be special. While I have no idea where in Sicily my grandmother came from, I just know its her home. It was immediately apparent from when we landed in Catania that Sicily had some serious grit and traffic congestion. Where did all these cars come from? Neither one of us thought Rome to be this chaotic. It felt like a very different Italy.
We had 3 full days here to relax before the next tour started. Lauren did an amazing job at booking a little self contained apartment for us in the beautiful little town of Taormina. OUR OWN APARTMENT! There really aren’t any words to convey how happy we were to have a kitchen, laundry and outdoor area IN SICILY! So our days here were spent having breakfast at home - mortadella and cheese on toast, fruit and Italian home made coffee. Putting on a load of laundry, sightseeing, going to the beach and appreciating the Greek/Roman ruins and eating (of course). We even had dinner at home twice. It was such a treat to stay in and have a simple dinner of antipasto.
And then just as soon as our 3 day break started it ended and we were recharged and ready for our Sicily tour and so we made our way back to Catania by the bus we came on for a mere few euro.
It was a bigger group this time round with 12 + our guide Laura + us. Just quietly I was hoping to hear a lot less complaining from this group. As it turned out we were gifted with a happy go lucky bunch of people who we both got along with extremely well. We swapped travel stories and enjoyed each others company as we took on the sights together.
Lauren and I decided the capital Palermo wasn’t our favorite city. It was noisy, very busy and incredibly multicultural. It was the noise and business that did us in. Our hotel here felt like we’d travelled back in time to the 1980’s complete with beds with springs poking you in the back while you sleep. Surprisingly we both slept well despite mattresses that Mumma Lomas could have pummeled with a meat tenderizer! The friendly hotel staff made up for the 1980’s décor and mattresses. Palermo is also where I tried spleen sandwich – a local street food. Lauren just wasn’t up for the challenge. It wasn’t my favorite. It tasted like liver, also not my favorite.
What was our favorite was a beautiful little town called Ragusa that delivered up a wine tasting /dinner. This is where Lauren tried a red wine called a ‘Frappato’ it left her cheeks tingling and a lingering aftertaste of lavender after each mouthful. The Sommelier seemed quite impressed that Lauren recognized the lavender aftertaste, as did I, but she always has had a taste for the vino rosso.
In Modica we visited a chocolate shop that made a delicious biscuit with a chocolate and beef filling. Don’t worry I thought it was going to be disgusting too. It was so good I had to have a second! Lauren didn’t dare give it a try. Between all the eating there was stunning churches filled with mosaic designs and detail that simply defies belief.
We both fell in love with Syracusa and decided this is where we would live if we had to pick somewhere in Sicily. Her cobblestoned streets were perfect. Her main square breathtaking, her food to die for, she had just enough Greek/Roman ruins, she was on the water and offered spectacular sunsets. But we didn’t come here to settle we came to keep exploring…
Our final stop in Sicily was the region of Etna. The night before we hiked Mount Etna we stayed at a beautiful farmhouse. I could liken it to staying somewhere cosy in the Hunter Valley. We had a room and a dinner at the restaurant on the farm. You’re not going to believe me when we tell you that dinner started at 8 AND FINSIHED AT MIDNIGHT!!!! Never in all our lives have we eaten the sheer quantity and quality of seafood! For 4 hours!!! Please see below the menu.
Salmon – Carpaccio
Zucchini & Prawn Risotto
3 types of cooked fish
2 types of cake
You feeling full after that?! We were exploding. Neither one of us felt hungry until the following night for dinner. It took what felt like an eternity to digest what felt like our weight in food! Kaz – where were you!?! Apparently they had made enough for you too!
Lucky for us the following day we took on Mount Etna. The slow walk to the top aiding the digestion. Digestion aside the landscape was once again new to us. We both said we felt as if we were on another planet. In the distance we could see smoke billowing from the crater, the land around us varying from black and volcanic to black and covered in low lying yellow dry shrubbery to spectacular brilliant colours of green, red and orange bush.
It was a day of mixed emotions. It was our final day in Sicily and tomorrow we’d be heading back to Rome. While our Italian adventure wasn’t over yet, the Sicilian chapter was about to end and it was making me feel a little sick and sad. The night couldn’t have ended more perfectly though. Back in Catania we had a perfect dinner with our fabulous group one last time and a sip of bitters after dinner. One by one we both said our goodbyes and as much as there was sadness we couldn’t have ended our tour on a higher note. It truly was an amazing group of people who we will be friends with for a lifetime to come.
After a short flight the following day we were back in our beautiful Rome. With two full days under our sleeve we got our walking shoes on and walked like we were back in Spain doing a Camino. Walking all day, only stopping to eat lunch or have a tiramisu, or a glass of vino in honor or Kaz. We went back over some of the sights we did with you Kaz like the Pantheon and St Peters Basilica. We didn’t go inside this time, we just walked to them and admired them from the outside and gave thanks to the time we had here together last year.
That same day after leaving St Peters Basilica we were hungry and looking for somewhere to have lunch. By random chance we ended up in exactly the same restaurant we did with Kaz, Shannon and Jess the year before! The restaurant where we ate with the locals and Lauren had the rabbit. We couldn’t believe our luck! I say that because we often thought of that restaurant but didn’t know the name or street to look it up. It has no signage or menu outside. It was completely coincidental and the food just happen to be as spectacular as it was last year with our girls. Lauren had the Carbonara in honor of her sissy and the Rabbit again as her main. It was just meant to be.
Now we could have spent all our remaining days in Rome but we still wanted to see more of Italia before we left. We decided on the Umbria region as it’s very similar to Tuscany only not as popular. We based ourselves in Assisi for three nights and spent our time exploring the town and the neighbouring town of Spello and Perugia – capital of Umbria. Assisi is where we saw one of the most amazing sunsets of our lives and Lauren ate the most delicious pork sandwich right off the street! It was in beautiful Spello we had a degustation recommended by our beautiful guide Elisa and another wine tasting / pairing with our meal. Lauren had truffle pasta for the first time and whilst we both think truffles are nice I don’t think we truly appreciate what all the fuss / dollars are about.
And so now, we’re basically at the end of our one month Italia experience and once again that sick feeling is back. As I write this we have merely two more sleeps to go. We’re in a charming little 14th century medieval town called Gubbio in Umbria. Its not winter here yet but the average is below 20 degrees without considering wind chill. It snows here, in like a month. Its freezing but beautiful. Lauren is enjoying the lamb, potatoes, vino rosso. I feel I have to write this now because if I leave it to the end I may just be writing through tears. We are freezing but the food and wine seems to make it better. You would need more than a denim jacket if you were here with us now sissy. I have the wine waiting though…
Just quietly its probably a good thing we have a departure date because quite simply we cant keep eating the way we have been even though we’ve enjoyed every moment. We both already know where we’re eating tomorrow when we get back to Rome and what we’re having. We had a list! We will raise our glass one final time, have an extra glass for Kaz and thank God for blessing us again with Italia before flying into my mothers country of birth. Lauren has booked me a prime window seat position to see the pyramids as we fly into Cairo. Lets pray it’s a clear day.
Love and light,
Your Wanderlusters xxx