Thursday, November 2, 2017

So if you’re like me and are a fan of the critically acclaimed Netflix original “Masters of None” then you may have heard of the small Italian town of Modena. In the series, Aziz Ansaris’ character spends three months learning how to make pasta in, you guessed it, Modena! Aziz actually spent a full month in the town filming. So as a fan of the show, this was one of my selling points to visit. 
However, if you haven't watched the show (seriously, why haven’t you?), you may have heard of the city for creating balsamic vinegar or for being behind the invention of the Ferrari. Since I lack interest in motor vehicles, the food and Aziz Ansari motivated me to check out the city only a mere hour or so away from where I’m living. 

So like every day trip, our journey began with a bus ride from Cento (for four euros) and a very early wake up. Needless to say our first stop on the agenda was not only to find the centre but a nice cafe for coffee. Thankfully in any small town in Italy, both of these are easy to find. Most of the time you can find the centre of any town here by merely looking for a sign, all along the roads you will come across an arrow sign with the word “centro” on it, follow it and the crowds of people and you will walk right into the centre. We sat at a cafe right across from the cathedral and were lucky to bear witness to a wedding happening nearby. 

Like many of the nearby small towns, we were told that we could see all of the main sights in Modena in a few hours, but we opted to spend the entire day there, relaxing, drinking wine,  shopping, taking in all of the sights, and of course taking lots of photographs! And that’s just what we did. Walked along the main road for shopping, took copious amounts of photos, and when we needed food other than croissants, we found a restaurant that looked promising. Unfortunately I didn’t save the restaurants name, I wish I had! It was situated right across from the centre next to a small park. We didn’t have to wait for a table but as we leisurely drank our white wine and waited for our meal, a line to eat formed and never ceased. 

If you take one thing away from this blog post, its this: you can’t go to Modena and not have the balsamic vinegar. We ordered a plate of bruschetta for us to share and I choose a meal specifically because it listed balsamic as an ingredient (more specifically pumpkin tortellini with balsamic), and it did not disappoint. So, we enjoyed our meal, the sun shining down on us on the patio, and our white wine. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the ambiance of the small town; from the local musicians playing in the street, locals enjoying the day, copious amounts of people taking photographs, and local artists painting. The last thing we did before ending our day in Modena was visiting Basilica Metropolitana di Modena. While I may not frequently attend church, I do find myself in many of them in Italy, adoring the architecture, handcrafted with such detail, the stain glass, each colour highlighted by the light, and the overall ambiance, a quiet peacefulness in each church I visit. 

While it is a town that is small enough that you can see all the main highlights in a day, its a town with so much charm that makes you want to go back! 

The outside of the Basilica Metropolitana di Modena
A classic Italian breakfast; a cappuccino and pastry!
Bruschetta with balsamic vinegar, a must have in Modena!
Pumpkin tortellini with parmesan and balsamic vinegar
Inside of the Basilica  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I have always had a rule about not visiting romantic Italian cities alone, so when the opportunity to spend a weekend in Verona with my friend Valeria presented itself, I excitedly took it! Now I’ve never been the biggest fan of Shakespeare, least of all Romeo and Juliet (two preteens who know each other for a few days and kill themselves because they can’t be together…not having it), but I was excited to visit the beautiful medieval town that inspired not only Romeo and Juliet but also the Two Gentlemen of Verona. And after spending the weekend there, I am happy to say that its beauty did not disappoint. So the two of us took the train early Saturday morning from the nearest train station to us in Crevolcore for eight euros and within an hour we arrived. Our first stop was to check into our place for the night, which was thankfully right in the centre. Now the two of us paid seventy euros each, mind you we booked it only a week beforehand, so I would suggest booking a few weeks in advance if you don’t want to pay nearly as much. After we checked in our first stop was…you guessed it, Casa di Guilietta (Juliets House)!

The house itself is so beautiful, despite the crowds, with vines spiralling up the sides of the brick wall and thousands of love notes gracing the entry way. Even a romantic cynic can’t help but smile at all the couples taking a moment to show their love for one another. You can go up to her balcony for only a mere six euros, which will allow you access to the house once. The inside is rather empty but does contain the bed and costumes that were featured in Franco Zeffirellis’ 1968 version of the movie "Romeo and Juliet". Now if you are going there and have the expectation that the house will be anything like it is in the movie “Letters to Juliet” you will be slightly disappointed. No its’ never empty enough for you to sit alone and write in a journal or be surrounded by peace and quiet, but it is beautiful and one of the main highlights of Verona. 

Afterwards we stopped by a shop a few doors down to pick up a popular treat in Verona, strawberries in a cup! I recommend the shop Gelato & Cioccolato close to Juliets’ balcony for strawberries, chocolate, and whip cream, worth the six euros! We ate our strawberries and walked around the centre for the rest of the afternoon. Thankfully the town is small enough that all of the main highlights are attainable by walking. So after hours walking around, taking photographs, and absorbing in all of the beauty Verona has to offer, we rested up in our hotel before finding a place for dinner. 

One of my favourite things to do when visiting a new place, is researching what type of food it is known for, in Verona one of the most popular dishes is amarone risotto (risotto made with amarone wine). So when deciding where to have dinner that night we had two requirements; that it be decently priced and that it had risotto. We settled on ZOO’e, who have that dish and it is so delicious! You have to have a minimum of two people to order it but it is so worth it! 

A big reason we wanted to stay overnight in Verona, though we were told we could “see it all in a day”, was so that we could go to a club Saturday night. Luckily my friend knew someone in the city who offered to get us free drinks at a popular nightclub. So of course that was enough for us to know! Even with the promise of free drinks we did want to have some wine beforehand and since you can get a relatively decent bottle for one a few euros in the supermarkets here we decided to find one after dinner. However, as the hours of operation are vastly different here than in Canada (and by that I mean the hours are never accurately presented), we were standing in front of a closed grocery store with no wine. So we did the only sensible thing we could think of, ask a complete stranger where we could get wine. As it turned out he was a wine distributor for a bar which happened to be located a mere minute from where we were. We followed him to the bar where they sold us the wine! 

After getting ready and drinking the wine we got from a guy in a van, we googled the bus route that would take us closest to the club Berfis. Now just a heads up, the club is located outside the centre surrounded by warehouses, so maybe take cabs to and from (we walked to it and it was rather creepy).  Another heads up if you are planning to go to a club in Europe, since they are open till much later (some are open till five in the morning!), no one gets there till at least 11:30pm, so if you'd rather not stand in a bar across from the club for a solid hour waiting till it's busy enough to go in, don't leave before midnight. The club is like many of the big ones I've been to in Italy, different rooms have different themes and generally a different clientele. We stayed in the room featuring house music since it had more of our age group in it. If you're wondering, the guy did live up to his promise and we were treated to all the free drinks we wanted. Safe to say we did not wake up early to do more sightseeing the next day.

So we checked out of the hotel and walked along the centre of the city to find a place for our morning coffee and pastry. We stumbled upon Pasticceria Flego, a beautifully decorated, Parisian style cafe, and even though it looked as though it was packed full, it seemingly never ended. It was the perfect way to end the trip. Although we were told by everyone that you could “see Verona in a day”, we opted for two days and it was worth it!  

Interior of Pasticceria Flego 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The first time I visited Italy I completely and utterly fell in love with it, the main reason was due to the fact that it helped me to discover who I am. Before, there was this whole side of myself, of my family, that I had no idea about. So when my estranged father offered me the chance to travel with him to Italy, I wholeheartedly took it. I spent two weeks roaming around the countryside, eating the best home cooked meals prepared by my cousin (seriously, Italian women know how to cook!), meeting family members I never knew existed, and discovering roots I didn’t know I had. Two weekends ago I  I was able revisit the countryside at my aunts house. I went from the city to the country, where I woke up every morning to the sound of chickens, of birds, and my family doing their morning chores. 

On Friday night, the 29th of September, I arrived at Frosinone train station, approximately forty-five minutes from Rome, and spent the next hour lost on the dark and winding roads. The backroads of the Italian countryside are one of the scariest things to be on in the dark, seriously, no lights, no railings, and my father driving at high speed in a standard car. Once we arrived at my Aunts home, she prepared a simple pasta dish with tomatoes and green beans, with wine, prosciutto, bread, and all the fruit I could want! It was the perfect end to a long journey. I woke up the next morning to some of the most beautiful views, the mountains in the background, rows and rows of olive trees, and miles of open fields. It was such a nice change from the city. After my morning cup of coffee (technically more like an expresso that I add copious amounts of milk and sugar to), we drove to my fathers birthplace of Arpino, a beautiful small town on the top of the mountain, known for being the birthplace of Cicero. We then visited my cousins, the same ones I stayed with the first time I visited Italy, where I watched them make homemade pasta, and walked around the nearby fields. 

Saturday evening was spent at yet another cousins house, one I visited previously, near the town of Posta Fibreno. If you spend twenty minutes or so driving up to the top of the mountain you can witness the beautiful views of the Lago di Posta Fibreno (Lake of Posta Fibreno) where we were able to watch the sun set over. We drove back down to walk along the lake once night had fallen, the town above us was lit with candles for their festival that night. And topped off the day with another homemade meal of fresh bread with walnuts, prosciutto, pasta with freshly picked mushrooms, champagne, wine, and of course…fresh fruit!

Most of the trip consisted of visiting family and eating homemade meals, which was no exception Sunday as we travelled to Alatri to see five of my cousins and eat copious amounts of food before we got into the car and spent five hours driving back to Cento, back to the city!
The view I had each morning!

In Arpino, overlooking over the countryside below the town

The homemade pasta my cousin made for lunch!

One of the highlights of my weekend was all the dogs I got to see!

Watching the sunset in Posta Fibreno

Lago di Posta Fibreno. Walked along the water later on...worth the mosquito bites

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

After a series of many unforeseen events, life seemed to be handing me many obstacles, ones that nearly broke me down completely. So, when confronted with a rather depressing period in my life, I thought back to some of the happiest times of my life, many of which took place in this very country; in Italy. 

So here I am now, living as an au pair for the second time. If you don’t know what an au pair is, I’ll give you a short breakdown. You get the chance to stay with a local family in their house, free of charge, in exchange of helping their child, or children, with English. It’s becoming more popular as jobs become more scarce and the ability to receive jobs is highly dependent on being able to speak and understand English. So it’s perfect for people who want to live in a foreign country or those like me who are delaying the process of adulthood and need more time to figure out what they want to do with their life. It should be treated like a job, therefore it’s not always easy, but it is so rewarding and worthwhile. 

If anyone asks, I will always recommend trying it, even for just a few months. The first time I was an au pair was for the duration of three months last summer (May to August of 2016), in a small town called Recanati in the Marche region of central Italy. During that time I was in yet another uncertain time of my life and wanted to find a way to combine two things that I love most, travelling and new experiences, while having a sense of security, which made it the ideal choice. It was truly one of the best times of my life, I met so many people (including some who I remain close to even today), had some romances, many adventures and new experiences, and had so much delicious food. Seriously, come to Italy, even if just for the food! I had the best cacio e pepe in a small local restaurant, tried fresh octopus salad on the sea, the best florentine steak right in Florence, and affogato on hot summer days! So it only made sense to come back to the place that gave me so many wonderful and new experiences.

Arpino; I fell in love with Italy after visiting my family's hometown two years ago so I've come back as an au pair twice