October 19, 2012

And Now, Back To Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

The view from a mountaintop in Cinque Terre, Italy.

What a month this has been!

Ryan and I just returned from our first trip to Europe. We spent four days in Paris, followed by a week traipsing through Italy: Venice, Florence, Pisa, Cinque Terre, and Rome. It was an adventure to say the very least. There was initial culture shock, amazing red wine, a language barrier, unbelievable macarons, a language breakthrough, the best pizza we've ever had (ever), more amazing red wine, some incredible white wine, an unforgettable hike through a terraced vineyard on a mountainside overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, gelato for breakfast, and more pizza.

The tiny village of Manarola, tucked into a mountainside covered in terraced vineyards.

We met wonderful people, made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower, missed out on the Louvre, saw the Statue of David, stood on the sacred ground where Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, and Galileo are all buried, walked more miles than ever before, learned the Paris Metro system, took trains from Veneto to Lazio, saw the Colosseum, and so much more.

Gelato for breakfast in Venice.
Despite the difficulty posed by a language barrier (it was easier in Italy, since I had three semesters of Italian buried in the back of my brain), one thing rang true throughout the trip. Food binds us all.

My favorite part of our adventure was the time spent in a tiny village called Manarola. It is part of the Cinque Terre region, and it makes for a surprising agrarian community.

Olives, lemons, and grapes grow beautifully with the cool mountain air and fresh Mediterranean mist, but in order to farm these crops, farmers must work in very interesting conditions.

I found myself entranced by the backyard gardens everywhere we went, and in Manarola everyone had their own tiny patch of land. Gardens dotted the landscape, and offered everything from sorrel to chard, peppers to artichokes, and more. Some gardeners were growing pomodorini (little tomatoes) on trellises—with limited room, everything was growing up. In such a small community that's so far from a large town, everyone pitches in for the local food economy. Between the fruits, vegetables, and seafood, I don't know how anyone has room for the other local specialty—focaccia—but I'm sure glad that was a part of our experience. Yum!

Grapes with one wonderful view. 
The local wine in Cinque Terre is a white varietal, and it is wonderful. We had two bottles that were made specifically with the grapes on the mountain in Manarola. Slightly dry, somewhat fruity, undertones of peach and apricot (note, I'm not a sommelier), both bottles were well balanced and while they weren't touted as organic, it's very likely that the grapes are grown without pesticides.

We also enjoyed the other local specialties: limoncino (northern Italy's answer to limoncello) and fresh seafood. Ryan had his fill of anchovies, and I tried calamari, homemade seafood ravioli with shrimp sauce, and whole grilled fish too.

Backyard gardens in Cinque Terre: one lemon tree sports a capri blue trunk!

I love that food and agriculture carry the same importance, no matter where you go.


Beth said...

Cinque Terra is my favorite place on earth. Oh the fooooooood! And wine!