This is not a blog post. It’s a love story.
It was late afternoon when we stepped outside of Pisa Centrale, the clacking of my son’s stroller on the cobblestone streets echoing down the lane. We just came from Florence for the day, we had no luggage, and we also had no taxi to take back to our hotel. It had been a long day. We must have walked a dozen miles in the last 7 hours exploring every Florentine nook and cranny we happened to come by. I was at the end of my short string, and my husband was at the end of his long one. Our toddler was quiet in his stroller, obviously just as exhausted as his parents even if he hadn’t left his stroller for more than 10 minutes each time. One wrong move, we would’ve exploded. While waiting for the taxi in silence, I had been staring at a building unseeingly for the last 5 minutes. Then I realized, the light looked yellow. The sun streaming through the sides, and indeed, showering us with its rays was actually golden. That jolted me to the present and reminded me that I have no right to be grumpy. I was in Italy! The world was actually and literally shimmering around me, and I should know I am one lucky woman to be there with my family on a holiday!
Writing this a few months later, the details have blurred a bit but that golden moment under the Tuscan sun was something I will remember for the rest of my life. There are many things I loved about Italy, but the quality of its sunlight, and the slightly ochre, sienna, golden sheen of its surroundings are what I love best of all. But then, I do not need prompting to talk about the many other things that fascinated me in Tuscany. It is my pleasure to share with you some of our itinerary in the hopes of enticing you to look at the region from a different perspective. For this first post, let me focus on what is most important. The Food.
Oh. My God. The Food.
Come on! It’s Italy! There is a reason people joke and say it’s Eat-aly. You have to eat your way through the country, if you can. I must have eaten my weight in pizza and gelato while we were there. Not to mention my son, who had the privilege to eat his very first pizza at 18 months old in a quaint but fantastic little pizzeria off Via S. Frediano near the center of Pisa. Yes, eating pizza in Pisa is a thing, and unsurprisingly, they make them damn pizzas reaaaaally well.
Our first Italian food experience was at Ristorante Pizzeria La Tana, after getting lost a little in the streets of Pisa. We had been walking for a while, Google Maps failing me once or twice. We were really hungry when we got there so we ordered a lot of food. I kid you not. We ordered pasta in cream (fresh, fresh pasta, fresh fresh cream!) and pasta in olive oil (simplest but bestest tasting pasta I have ever eaten), beef and rocket salad (I never knew arugula could taste that good, and the beef was succulent), melon and prosciutto antipasti (wasn’t aware they go so well together), and “kiddie meal” of prosciutto pizza for my son. One thing we noticed was that the servings were huge. Even my son’s pizza in the kiddie meal was larger than my own face. And it was delicious. I grew up eating Pizza Hut and Domino’s so please forgive me for salivating all over again how fresh and amazing that pizza was. What was more pleasing was that our meal was just shy of 80 Euros. For the quality and the quantity, I was expecting somewhere upwards of a hundred. We just came from Paris and Geneva, so you could imagine how happy we were to see and feel (in our tummies) the price difference.
Our next meal was a little less memorable --- and we learned our lesson to range farther from the Leaning Tower. Those restaurants were more touristy than good, and not everything was always fresh. What I do remember is that in one of the diners we tried, almost half of the waitstaff were Filipinos. Even the cook was Pinoy! We joked that when he gets back to the country, he could set up a restaurant that boasts of authentic Italian dishes. His reply though was a little bit sad, he had no plans returning to the Philippines because even if the pay was low there, there’s still more opportunities to be found than if he went back here. It was a solemn point in our trip and it kept us mindful of the realities of our lives as Filipinos.
Ah, but there is one surefire thing that cheered us up. Gelato --- and gelato is always good anywhere. Our hotel is actually only a stone’s throw away from the Cathedral compound (where the leaning tower is), and in the number of times we strolled through its streets is the number of times we had our frozen treats. Gelato flavors are more intense, and I guess it’s the process that makes it a bit thicker but also silkier than ice cream. It does melt easy, the more reason to gobble it up fast. Pisa gelato is great, but the ones we had in Florence were even better. Our favorite is Venchi which has multiple branches. My sister got Pistachio, and I got Strawberry the first time, and then Vanilla and Strawberry again the next. Both times were amazing!
In Florence, we had lunch at Eataly. Uh-huh, you read that right. Someone got on the pun and turned it into a gourmet’s wildest dream come true. The pasta was alright, the food was a little more expensive. But after La Tana, it was a little underwhelming. What got me though was the dry goods and deli selection. They also function like a little gourmet grocery store and the choices were astounding. I wanted to take home soooo many bottles of olive oil and pasta I didn’t even know existed. Unfortunately, we were only taking the train back to Pisa so heavy packages will be inconvenient. But oh! I wanted to take those goodies home so bad.
I made a mental note that next time, we have to devote a whole month to explore Tuscany (and the rest of Italy) because there is still so much to explore. I guess, my point is that, Italy will feed you well, brothers and sisters. Food is the most important thing to experience when traveling through Italy, but it is also the most accessible.
In the next blog post, the Leaning Tower of Pisa takes centerstage. One funny anecdote about our trip: My husband was not aware that the Leaning Tower is a belltower, which makes sense because it is beside a Cathedral and a Baptistry. Not his fault entirely because most pictures only feature the tower itself, and many people are not aware of its exact function. Boy, did my husband learn a lot in this trip.
More on this, next week. See you then!
Smell ya later,