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Category Archives: Italy

Cinque Terre is five picturesque town located on the Italian Riviera in Liguria, between La Spezia and Genoa. I had gone there my last time in Italy and it did not go very well. It was a rainy day in November than was peppered with thunder and lightning. I got wet and lost and did not have the experience I had hoped for. This time was much different.
The middle of September is still the peak of tourist season in Cinque Terre. There were a lot of tourists, most coming from the US or Germany. The prices were touristed up quite a bit too; hings were very expensive. Table wine at a restaurant was twice the price as anywhere else in Italy. This affected me a great deal, but I survived.
My economic survival was helped by Couchsurfing. Prior to arriving, I had reservations about my host. Her profile says that she is bipolar, obsessed with homosexuals and transgendered individuals, and often thinks about killing herself. To my relief/disappointment, Margherita ended up being (relatively) normal. We spent a lot of time with her dad. He is a former world champion swimmer and, now retired, he works his own organic farm. He produces his own wine and also grows vegetables. I came in time to help with the grape harvest and spent a wonderful morning on my back under grape vines on the terraced hills of Vernazza.
I took a day to check out the other 4 towns. They are very small, pretty, and full of tourists. I had a nice meal at a place from my Slow Food guide in Corniglia, A Cantina De Mananan. The seafood sampler we had for a starter was especially good. I encountered a pasta I had never seen before, testaroli. Texture-wise it was the pasta equivalent of tripe and was interestingly delicious. We had extremely fresh grilled fish for our main.
The cool thing about Cinque Terre is that the locals still live there. For the most part, they just ignore the tourists and go about daily life as they have for centuries. Staying with Margherita allowed me to meet some of them and see how they live. Let me tell you, it’s a very good life. The thing that really impressed me was that they continue to appreciate the beauty of the place they live. They admire each sunrise and sunset and still marvel at the deep, dark blue of the sea.
One night there was a festival/fundraiser for a church in Monterosso. There was really good lasagna and lots of wine. The performance part of the festival had two parts. It started with a group of highly intoxicated men dressed as a cross between scarecrows and sailors, wearing eyeglasses with a lemon round around each eye walking around the block. They were followed by onlookers, including yours truly, and stopped at several restaurants and bars where they shared wine and snacks. Once they returned to the piazza the theatrical performance started. There was a large building overlooking the square and actors would open one window at a time and say some funny things in Italian. At the end of the performance they all opened up their windows and led the crowd in singing the national anthem.
Cinque Terre is a very special place. The natural beauty is undeniable. It is what draws in tourists by the thousands and is still appreciated by the people who have lived there for millennia. The way the locals capitalize on the influx of tourism while still maintaining their traditional way of life is remarkable. It is definitely worth visiting these five beautiful towns.

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My first WWOOFing experience went a lot like my first Couchsurfing experience. It was perfect! Il Troscione is a small organic farm/agritourism site in the southwest of Tuscany. Fiorella and Igi own and operate this little slice of heaven. They are a wonderful couple that moved from Milan to Il Troscione 5 years ago to live out their golden years. Before retiring Fiorella worked in marketing for MTV Europe then owned her own Godiva Chocolate shops and Igi ran a glove company. Fiorella is gracious, welcoming, very intelligent and has a better grasp of American politics than most people in the States. Igi is an excellent host, a sports fanatic, a wine expert, and a true gentleman. I could not have asked for better hosts. They have one employee, Angela. She is really fun and nice and despite not speaking English, we got along very well. They produce and sell wine, olive oil, and preserves. There is a vegetable garden where much of the food they and their guests eat come from. Everything grown on the property is organic. They also have chickens, two very fat bunnies, a dog, and a small army of cats.
The typical work day is from 8-11, with lunch at 1, and dinner from 7-10. On most days I napped on a hammock (my office) for about an hour. Watering the plants and feeding the animals was part of the daily routine, then we would have a different task for the rest of the morning. The work varied, but it was always fun and interested. We bottled, corked, and labeled wine, skinned, seeded, and jarred tomatoes, worked in the vegetable garden, helped prepare and serve meals, and cleaned up after we ate. I was lucky enough to be there for the annual grape harvest. I got to pick grapes as well as participate in the early stages of the winemaking process. WWOOFers and guests are also welcome to cook. I made gnocchi with sage brown butter sauce one day for lunch that was a disaster, but redeemed myself with a very good spezzatino di chingiale for dinner later in my stay.
Not once did I feel like “the help.” All of us WWOOFers were treated like family. The guests that stayed at Il Troscione were really nice and interesting. Most of the guests were very into food as well and a couple even prepared dinner for everyone. People staying at agritourism places tend to be a different breed than you would find at, say, a resort.
Fiorella and Igi have an apartment in the town of Pancole, about 1 mile from Il Troscione. When there are more than a couple WWOOFers, they stay there. Just outside of the apartment is a piazza where the locals drink vino out of plastic cups and play bocce. I got to join in on the fun a few nights during my stay and it was beyond awesome. Pancole is a VERY small town. Everyone knows everyone and they don’t get many visitors. We were treated like rockstars whenever we showed up. Every night included lots and lots of vino and the first night also had BBQ suckling pig.
Sundays were our days off and we made the best of them. On my first day off, two fellow WWOOFers and I took a great car trip through the south of Tuscany. On my second day off, we went to Sienna and had an incredible lunch.. We went to the beach on my last off day.
My day-to-day life at Il Troscione was better than any holiday or day off. I was doing things that I really enjoyed, surrounded by amazing people, in a truly beautiful place. My two weeks there flew by and leaving was very difficult. I can’t say enough good things about Fiorella, Igi, and my experience at Il Troscione. If you are looking to WWOOF or partake in some agritourism in Italy, GO TO IL TROSCIONE!

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I spent one of my days off from Il Troscione in Siena with 3 of my co-WWOOFers. Due to logistics, we only had about 3.5 hours in the city. We spent 30 minutes having nannini coffee in the main piazza, then walked around town for about an hour. Siena is really beautiful and was covered in tourists. It still wasn’t as bad as Florence or Rome and was not enough to detract from the experience. We checked out their church and the first bank in the world. Siena is also home to one of the premier Slow Food restaurants in the country, Hosteria Il Carroccio. They are Golden Snail recipients and have all kinds of foodie bling on their door and entryway. Il Carroccio is also the first restaurant I encountered from the book that offers a tasting menu. We all went with it and were blown away. They opened with a charcuterie and crostini platter and followed it up with a very Tuscan bean and bread soup. We had the also very Tuscan, pici pasta with mushroom sauce. We had two meat courses that shared a plate: grilled wild boar and braised veal. The boar was a little chewy and was the only part of the meal that bordered on being a disappointment. Dessert was biscotti and ricciarelli. I’m not a big sweet fan, but really enjoyed the ricciarelli. Along with the cookies, our server put full bottles of grapa and limoncello on our table. The prix fixe included all of the water, red wine, white wine, grapa, and limoncello we could drink. It’s fair to say that we got our money’s worth. Lunch lasted a little over 2 hours and we ended up having to take a taxi to make our train and didn’t get to see any more of the city. From what I saw of Siena I liked and what I tasted in Siena, I loved. It’s a place I wouldn’t mind going back to for more than a few hours.

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One of my fellow WWOOFers at Il Troscione, Tony, drove to Il Troscione and was nice enough to take us on a tour of southern Tuscany on one of our off days. We visited five towns in all and had a wonderful time.
Our first stop was Montemarano. It is a sleepy little medieval village with not too much going on. They do have a 2-star called Caino, that a couple staying at Il Troscione hit up for lunch one day. The male half of the couple described his experience there as “like having an affair with a beautiful woman.” Next, we went to Saturnia. This place is special for their sulfur hot springs. There is mud behind one of the mini waterfalls that you can cover yourself in, which I of course did.
Savona was another cool little medieval town. We had a very nice lunch there. My two companions each only had a first course, but I had to do it proper and go for two. I had pappardelle with wild boar ragu and wild boar “hunter style.” Lauren, a fellow WWOOFer, had the “mystery pasta.” The secret is kept so closely that they would not tell us the contents of her dish even after she had eaten it, but we suspect it was duck.
Sorano was our next stop. It is bigger than the previous towns and built on top of a cliff. There was an art exhibition in a castle that was really cool. For some reason, there were bottles of water outside of most of the houses.
We saved the best for last. Pitigliano is a bigger, more beautiful version of Sorano. It’s also perched atop a mountain and is very photogenic. There were far more people in Pitigliano than any of the other places combined. There was quite a bit going on when we arrived. They had a wine festival that also featured local cheese and cured meats. There was some sort of parade involving motorcycles. The synagogue had an open house with music and snacks. Unfortunately, we arrived so late that most of the food vendors had closed down. The signs offering porchetta were still up, but there was no more pig.
It was a very eventful Sunday that was topped off with a trip to the local pizzeria for some Neapolitan deliciousness.

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Just as in Rome, this time around I only spent two nights and one day in Florence. My stay was very brief, but I couldn’t return to Italy without visiting my (former) favorite city. The last time I came to Florence it was November and I spent an incredible week there. I went to most of the major tourist attractions: the duomo, the Uffizi, Academia, piazza de Michelangelo, ponte vecchio, and a few others. I had great food, met awesome people, and was overwhelmed by Florence’s charm.
In August, the city’s charm is drowned beneath a sea of tourists. It was worse than Rome. It was also more difficult to find an open restaurant from my Slow Food guide. There was only ONE restaurant from the book that was open. That restaurant, Hosteria del Bricco, was the only bad meal I have ever had from a restaurant out of the book. In fact, it was the only non-great meal I have ever had from the book. The spaghetti with wild boar sausage was fine. The spaghetti was a little too thin and cooked too long for my liking, but it wasn’t bad. Whenever I see roast suckling pig on a menu, I have to order it. It’s not even an option. Their version of one of my favorite dishes in the universe was beyond pathetic. The meat wasn’t dry, but it was far from moist. Quite a bit of chewing was required to take down an animal that tends to be tender, but even that I could deal with. These sick bastards committed the cardinal sin: they didn’t even attempt to make the skin crispy. My favorite part of roast suckling pig is the crispy, crunchy, and at times glass-like skin. The skin of this little piggy was rubbery, chewy, and tragic. To their credit, the beans served with the pork were very nice. They were cooked in juices from the swine and were full of pig fattyness.
I bypassed the tourist attractions, since I had done them all previously. Instead, I took a long walk around the city and searched for a restaurant that looked decent. I had become so dependent on the bible (my Slow Food guide) and Bourdain’s recommendations that it was difficult looking on my own. I spotted a place far from the center of town that was full of locals and gave it a shot. Trattoria I’Brindellone was phenomenal. I started with taglierini al tartufo and had trippa alla florentine for my second. They made it rain truffles on the pasta and it was sooo good. The tripe was the best I’ve ever had. It was fork tender and beautifully flavored. This would be the perfect gateway tripe for those who are wary of eating pig intestines. After finishing my meal along with my standard half liter of house wine, I contemplated returning to Hosteria del Bricco, taking their Slow Food sticker, and giving it to I’Brindellone.
Florence is also home to my favorite gelato place in the world. Santa Trinita is located one bridge west of ponte vecchio on the south side of the river. Words cannot express what their dark chocolate gelato does to me and I’m not even a big fan of sweets. I went three times in a day and a half.
While this brief stint in Florence was nowhere near as spectacular as the first time, it was still pleasant. Unfortunately for the city, Bologna took over my #1 spot in Italy. Bologna is a much more livable city, while Florence transforms into a Disney like theme park for at least part of the year. There are just way too many tourists and far too few restaurant options for my liking in Florence in August. Florence is still an amazing city, just do yourself a favor and don’t visit in the summertime.

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Bologna is the culinary capital of Italy, which I consider Italy to be the culinary capital of the world. Needless to say, Bologna is a very spiritual place for me. Again, this being August, many of the restaurants were closed for holiday. Bologna is also a university town and was pretty much a ghost town because school was not in session. Despite visiting in August, I could not have had a better time in Bologna.
This was my first time Couchsurfing and I owe my amazing experience to my host, Valentina. Valentina is one of, if not THE, most amazing people I have ever met. She radiates goodness, positivity, and love. Seriously. She lives in a 2 bedroom apartment with 6 roommates and still managed to host another Couchsurfer, her sister and brother in law, and me. Just 3 of her roommates were around during my visit and they were all great people. They are a group of 20 something students, young professionals, and artists. Four of them, including Valentina, work at a really cool little wine bar that is a short walk from home. They live, work, travel, and play together. Staying with them was like entering another world, a world that was VERY difficult to leave.
Valentina took me around town and was a perfect guide. She knows a lot about her city! I had no idea that Bologna used to be filled with canals like Venice. Almost all of them have been redirected or moved underground, but a few still remain. She took me to a great little place for breakfast that had a rear balcony overlooking one of the existing canals. Quite a few of the places she wanted to take me were closed, but our walk around the city was great. We even met another Couchsurfer that she ended up adopting for the next couple days.
On my last night in town a group of us went to neighboring Ferrara for a festival. It was held at a really neat medieval castle and featured artists, musicians, and alcohol. The festival was really cool, the company was perfect, and I had a truly great time.
Now to business. I had come to Bologna for food and it certainly lived up to the hype. I got to check something off of my bucket list when I had pasta Bolognese in Bologna. The local specialty of lasagna verde was amazing too. I had a charcuterie platter that even included Bologna, but it was far from the American supermarket kind. The mains were not as great as the pasta dishes, but the pork shank I had during my last meal in town was superb.
My experience in Bologna was perfect. The food was amazing, I saw parts of the city that most visitors never do, and I met some special people. It is honestly a place I could see myself staying for a while and will definitely be going back. Thanks so much Valentina!

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I visited Rome the last time I was in Europe and could not spend a month in Italy without stopping by again. I only spent two nights and one full day in the city this time, but still had a great time. I’m a big fan of history, culture, and architecture in addition to, of course, food. In my opinion, Rome has more to offer in these areas than any other place in the world. I could spend days walking around the city, admiring the beautiful buildings and eating great food.
That being said, August is a difficult time to visit Italy’s capital. Nearly every restaurant from my Slow Food guide to Italy was closed. It took me 4 hours and I walked about a dozen miles before I found a place that was open for lunch. The food was fantastic and was well worth the effort. My only proper meal in Rome was at Osteria Dell’Angelo. I had spaghetti cacio e pepe and roast bunny. I’m not a big spaghetti fan, but this was very thick, perfectly cooked pasta and it was delicious. I’ve been a little disappointed with some of my second courses in Italy, but this bunny was moist, flavorful, and amazing.
Another downside to visiting in August is the swarms of tourists. Last time I visited was in November and the Vatican Museum was quiet and peaceful despite having a significant amount of tourist traffic. This time around it was a zoo; overcrowded and noisy. There was a plus side to the situation. Taking pictures in the Sistine Chapel is forbidden, but there were so many people that the guards were unable to enforce the rule. The Vatican museum and St. Peter’s Basilica combined are one of my favorite touristy sites and I had to visit again while I was in the neighborhood. It was still incredible, but the noise and presence of so many people did detract from the experience.
I took a very long walk around the city at night and checked out many of the major attractions while they were lit up. It was really cool! The Colosseum and the ruins surrounding it were especially spectacular. I also hit up the Pantheon and had gelato at the famous place by the Trevi Fountain.
I had originally planned to stay at The Yellow Hostel, which is centrally located near Termini Station. When I showed up there were drunk 19 year old British kids dressed up as gladiators drinking at the hostel bar near reception. I ended up going to neighboring A Beautiful Place in Rome Hostel and it was very nice. The hostel was more like a hotel and was extremely clean, had wifi, and the staff were great.
My time in Rome was very brief this trip and involved more walking and a lot more tourists than I would have liked, but I’m still very happy I went. The city is so amazing that it would take a lot more to make it not worth while. I look forward to going back again when the restaurants are open and the tourists are home.

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