Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rovinj, Croatia

The city of Rovinj, Croatia

The city of Rovinj (Rovigno, in Italian) use to be an island that sat right off the coast, as you can tell in the above picture, the space has since been filled in and it is now connected to the mainland. The city is a winding labyrinth of narrow streets leading up the hill to a large church. We enjoyed wandering around and finding the hidden treasures of the city.

St. Euphemia Parish

like these small alleyways that led straight into the sea
a restaurant without a ceiling
lounging cats

and beautiful, narrow homes

We were very lucky and ended up renting an apartment in the middle of the historical city center. I loved living among the locals and being able to go inside one of the very narrow apartment buildings.

This was our apartment building. Can you see the stairway in the back leading to the front door? Our apartment was on the top floor!
P.S. I was thrilled to see that this was the entryway to our apartment. Andrea, maybe not so much.

Our downstairs neighbor
the view from our apartment

We also had many excellent meals, including local cheeses and lots of delicious seafood (my favorite was the grilled squid which we had several times), in beautiful spots.

A yummy lunch of melon, cured meats, cheese, and olives on the beautiful, back patio of a small restaurant right on the water. At the end of the meal I fed the rest of our bread to the hundreds of small fish in the water and the eagerly awaiting seagulls - not environmentally correct, I know, but really fun.

our table on the rocks
you cannot beat that view

One night we had dinner on the rocks next to the sea. When we sat down there were still people jumping off the rocks into the water.

we had front row seats for the stunning sunset

Rovinj is a perfect place for a long weekend getaway from Bologna. I look forward to going back and enjoying the crystal clear water, the yummy food, and the quaint, historical old center.

The biggest compliment

On Friday night, I strode up to the restaurant (where earlier that day I had phoned in and made reservations - in Italian!! on the phone!! - needless to say I was very proud of myself) where I was meeting friends for dinner and I told the waitress in my very, best Italian that I had reservations, for three people, and the name was Smookler (side note - from now on whenever I need to give anyone in Italy my last name I am using my boyfriend's last name, which is Italian, because nobody understands mine, which is not at all, anywhere close to Italian). After she showed me to the table she asked if I would like water and to look at the menu while I waited. I replied "si" to both. Here comes the best part, before she left to get me the menu she casually asked, "il menu in Italiano, si?". Yes! Yes! Yes! Is what I thought in my head. To the waitress, I answered a confident and smooth, "si".

This moment was such a break through in my whole languge learning experience. Since returning to Italy in August, I have been building up my languge abbilites and more importantly my confidence. When I am out and about in the city, I have been pushing myself to speak more; however, often people either do not understand me or they, in an effor to be kind, begin to speak to me in English. Either situation serves as a big blow to my self-confidence. Friday was different. Friday was the opposite! The waitress understood everything I said and deemed me to be good enough in Italian to, without question, have the Italian menu! I am still beeming!

This whole experience, and the confirmation of my improvements in the language, could not have come at a better time because tomorrow I am beginning Italian classes. I will be going to school two nights a week from 6pm to 9pm. I am really excited and to be honest a little nervous. I cannot wait to see how my Italian improves over these next two months. I will keep you posted.

Thanks for letting me brag a little. I hope you all take time to be proud of your accomplishments as well.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chocolate is back!

Yummy hazelnut chocolates at one of our favorite bars

One afternoon this last August, after finishing lunch with Andrea, I felt like a bite or two of chocolate would be the perfect way to end my lunch hour before heading back to the office. Andrea and I headed into the nearest bar and he asked the bar men if they had any chocolate. This seemingly innocent question was first met with confusion, then a look to me at which point they quickly realized I was (a crazy) American, then looks of clarity came over their faces as all the pieces fell into place. They began to crack up and explain that of course they did not have any chocolate because it was the height of summer. "Well yes", I thought, "I know it is summertime but I did not realize that summer and chocolates are mutually exclusive". We went to three other bars and tabaccherie and were met with similar reactions. That day, in August, I learned that when the weather gets warm the chocolates go away because how would they ever keep chocolates with the heat of summer.

As we are enjoying the very last days of summer here in Bologna and the temperatures have plummeted from the high 30s down to the low 20s, I have been slowly watching chocolates pop up around town. A small sign of the changing seasons.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Saturday in Toscana

This Saturday we travelled to Toscana...

First stop was at the Barbarino Outlet mall just north of Florence. They have great deals on designer products. This trip I focussed exclusively on Dolce and Gabana and I picked up a new, gorgeous, cranberry colored wallet (my friends could attest to how badly I needed a new wallet - the old one was literally in pieces) and a pair of black, skinny dress pants which I hope will take my day to day dress up a notch from the typical jeans.

Next we headed to San Gimignano, one of my favorite villages in Tuscany, for lunch.

The main porta (door) heading into the walled city of San Gimignano
The main piazza

Cinghiale (wild boar) they are ugly but oh so delicious and quite the regional speciality

We had a wonderful lunch at Locanda Di Sant'Agostino a restaurant we went to over a year ago and have longed to go back to ever since. We enjoyed cinghiale in umido con olive which is wild boar cooked slowly in sauce so that once it arrives to the table the meat is falling apart. Thank goodness they served us this dish with plenty of bread to soak up the delicious sauce otherwise we might have just licked our plates. We finished the meal with the house made tiramisu which was somehow creamy and robust without being heavy.

After lunch we set out to find a restaurant we went to last winter where we had the very unique treat of salvia (sage) gelato. The flavor resembles mint but is more delicate and extremely refreshing. We wandered the streets and eventually found the restaurant, Ristorante Peruca. When we went in we found the restaurant closed and the family who owns and runs it sitting together having lunch. We explained to them that we came back especially for their salvia gelato and they graciously offered to serve me some and in the end they refused to let us pay - amazing hospitality!

Sitting out front of the restaurant enjoying the salvia gelato. It was just as good as I remembered it.

The beautiful Tuscan countryside

Then we were off to Panzano in Chianti for the Vino al Vino festival. It is the beginning of the wine harvest so many towns host festivals to highlight the wines of the region and give people a chance to taste them.

The vines are all heavy with dark purple grapes!
The hillside town of Panzano in Chianti

The festival was held in the town's main piazza with twenty different winemakers pouring a range of their wines. For the amazingly low price of 12 euros we each bought a glass (along with the accompanying neck bag/wine glass holder you can see me modeling in the above photo) that enabled us unlimited tastings! Obviously the majority of the wine being poured was Chianti but it was also interesting to taste the Rose and Rosato coming out of the region.

I was also particularly excited to travel to Panzano in Chianti becuase this summer I read Bill Bufford's book Heat which in part details his experience working as in intern under Dario Cecchini, the world's most famous butcher. Bufford tells great stories of this passionate man who would spontanesouly began to quote Dante at length; needless to say I was ecstatic to see the Butcher shop and meet Dario.

in front of the butcher shop

Inside there was Dario behind the display case, a tall man with strong features but an ever present smile (something that surprised me because in the book he came off as a somewhat daunting character), clearly commanding the room. In the shop, they were also serving lardo on bread. I hesitantly picked up a piece and thought what better place to try this delicacy. I took a small bite, not expecting to like it, and was instantly surprised and very, very delighted. There was an amazing contrast of crunchy, crusty bread and the smooth, silkiness of the lard as well as a healthy kick of garlic. We went back for seconds and then thirds before my heart began to hurt. While we were at the shop we found out that Dario has two restaurants in town and we quickly made reservations at Solociccia for dinner.

We arrived at the restaurant and were guided down two flights of stairs to a small room with stone walls and a large table for twelve people that took up almost the whole room. I didn't realize it was going to be a communal dining experience but I am so glad it was! Everyone came to have a good time and we enjoyed drinking copious amounts of red wine together, sharing stories and laughing. The seven course dinner was all served family style (which I love) and featured beef (what else could it feature at a butcher's restaurant). Now I would never say that I am a fan of meat in general and especially beef but this was fantastic. I actually haven't been able to stop thinking about the food since. Both Andrea and I loved what they called the "sushi of Chianti" which was a raw meatball which had been quickly seared on the outside and served with white beans. I never thought I would like raw beef, in the past just looking at the words tartare on a menu made my stomach flip, but this had a fresh, light flavor that was totally different than what I had imagined. The other big standout dish was beef cooked in vinegar. The beef was very tender having been slow cooked and seemed to just melt in our mouths. The full rich taste of the beef was balanced out at the end of each bite with the slight acidic tang of vinegar coming through.

Me and Andrea at dinner

We finished the evening my gathering in the street between the butcher shop and the restaurant (they sit directly across the street from each other) where Dario and his staff were carrying towers of shot glasses and serving after dinner liqueors to everyone. They were beyond happy to pour us as many drinks as each of us wanted.

Dario and all the ladies from our table

As we stood outside it began to rain and we could hear the low rumble of thunder in the distance and see brief flashes of lightening above us. No one ran for cover. This party was too good. The good time that all of us, so recently strangers to each other, were sharing was stronger than any rainstorm. So we got wet and we loved it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

2 Things I love about living in Italy

1. Pasteries (paste in Italian)!! Any shape, size, and flavor at any time of the day - I love them all! It really is a wonder that I am not 500 pounds!

Le paste at our favorite pasticceria La Caramella

2. Shopping at a few different, small shops for my food instead of a large supermarket. Just two blocks from our house there is a fruit and vegetable stand as well as a shop that sells bread, pastery, meat, cheese, and fresh pasta. The fruit and vegetable stand is Full Service (remember when they use to do that at gas stations) meaning when I enter I must wait for the one employee to finish with anyone who came in before me and then I tell her item by item (including the quantity) what I would like. It was strange at first not being able to touch the produce but now I have gotten use to it and it is GREAT language practice! There is an adorable couple that runs the other shop and they are very patient with my Italian because like the Fruit and Vegetable store most things are not self service. My absolute favorite thing in the store is a huge bowl of stunnigly, deep green pesto! You can order as much or as little as you want and poof you have the easiest, yummiest dinner ever. Now, don't get me wrong there are supermarkets in Italy and I do shop at them sometimes but it always makes me happy to go from shop to shop gathering my food for the evening and then walking home with the bags swinging from my arms.

Photo by Andrea

Coming Soon...

The View from our apartment in Rovinj, Croatia

Since I returned back to Italy (I was in the states for 4 months to obtain a new visa) last month I have vistitted the Rovinj in Croatia (with a quick stop for lunch in Slovenia), Malta, and Florence. Stay tuned for the pictures and stories to be coming up this week.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Me on the back patio of Andrea's and my apartment

I am an American girl living in Bologna, Italy. Since I arrived, a year and a half ago, I have had many funny and beautiful experiences as well as more than a handful of frustrating and strange ones. Now that I am starting to feel settled here (believe me there is a lot more to adjust to than eating pasta and drinking wine everyday), I wanted to create a space to keep track of my experiences and to share them with all of you. I hope you enjoy laughing along with me as I continue to figure out life here in Italy.

Photo by Andrea