We have begun our honeymoon; eight months late but totally worth the wait. Following a pretty rockin’ Fourth of July celebration, we boarded a plane on the fifth bound for Milan by way of Newark, NJ. The overnight flight was uneventful, although neither of us got any sleep to speak of. We landed in Milan at 8:30am, bleary-eyed and armed with our Italian coffee-related phrases.
The first Italian that we enountered lacked the effusive warmth that I had been led to expect. She did not kiss us on both cheeks and welcome us enthusiastically to her country. She did not invite us to sit at her table and share a bottle of wine, asking us about where we came from and telling us all the charming things about her town. No, she simply stamped our passports and waved us on.
Undiscouraged, we proceeded to the rental car desk where we learned that we had paid for one more day than necessary, as we had forgotten that even though our flight took off on the fifth, it landed on the sixth. We considered ourselves lucky that they hadn’t cancelled our reservation and went outside to find our Fiat 500 (cinquecente). It’s a sporty-looking little thing, but after a few kilometers on the Italian Autostrada, I began to suspect that cinquecente refers an engine displacement of 500cc. To put that in perspective, that means the engine is half the size of the one in the mortorcycle that took me to California. I discovered this in a tense merge getting onto the highway (and rediscovered it as we tried to climb the steep road up to the agriturismo). Nevertheless, he’s served us faithfully and we’ve dubbed him Umberetto Cinque - Little Umberto Five.
We arrived at the agriturismo – think a B&B on a working farm – about 1pm local time. At this point we had been awake for the vast majority of the last 24 hours and found that our room was not yet ready, so the owner brought us some beer and set us up in the shade overlooking the valley of vineyards while she finished up the room. Not too shabby. You’ll have to forgive the lack of photos for the moment. They are all on either my camera or my phone and I’m blogging on Jen’s iPad. We’re not travelling with a laptop, so I haven’t yet devised a method for getting my photos to my blog.
Once the room was ready, we showered off 4500 miles of traveling grime and napped the naps of the righteous. We forced ourselves to get up around 5:30 or so, despite the fact that we both felt like we could sleep through the night. We headed into the local village to look for a market where we could get a few bits of food to have in the room, and got a little lost on the way. We stopped and asked a small group of people for directions. “Scusi. Dov’e il…” - I knew “Excuse me, where is…”, but not the word for market or store. I called on the bit of contextual Spanish I know from living in the city, and threw out a guess. “mercato?” Six people look at me, puzzled, then huddle together. Meanwhile, I’m worrying that I’ve just asked where is the… undertaker? brothel? hemerroid clinic? But no, in perfect English, on of them very politely explains that there is a convenience store nearby, but one would be hard-pressed to call it a mercatao (which does, in fact, mean market). Molto bene. Grazia mille. And we’re off up the hill to stock up on plain pasta, Barilla pasta sauce (which we have in our cupboards at home) and a can of sardines (because why not?). We did manage to get some local goat cheese, which we had this morning on some bread, and itt was delicious.
Other than that, the food has been delizioso. Last night we went to a small restaurant up the road from our place, which was basically like sitting in someone’s living room while they cooked you a ten course dinner. Yep, ten. More on that in a moment.
Paolo, one of the owners of the agriturismo kindly made us reservations at the restaurant. When we asked him what time we should be there, he said “eh, 7:45, 8?” We were surprised that the reservation didn’t have a definite time, until we discovered that the meal would span several hours. So the restaurant wasn’t concerned with turning our table over; we would likely be the only ones sitting at it that evening. As long as we got there at a reasnable time, all was well. I’m liking the Italian way of living so far.
When we got here, we discovered that Paolo had made reservations for us and another goup staying at our place, but unfortunately, the restaurant (the name of which we still don’t know) had only taken the other group’s reservation. In our very broken italian, we explained that Paolo had in fact called for two groups, and please if there was space we’d love to eat here but we understand if there’s no space. I’m sure all of that was effectively communicated in our broken Italian, but regardless she made space for us and promptly began the parade of gluttony. The meal went thusly:
- Local bottle of wine - like, probably from down the street
- Breaded fried squash blossoms
- Prosciutto and melon - Jen even eschewed her "no pork, only bacon" rule and ate (and loved) the prosciutto.
- Beef tartare - this one Jen sat out. I showed perhaps a little too much enthusiasm for it and ended up with basically an entire uncooked hamburger on my plate. I ate most of it but got called out (I think good-naturedly) by the owner of the restaurant for not finishing.
- Some kind of potato/carrot/caper/squash salad
- Head cheese on a bed of greens - again, Jen politely declined and I showed enthusiasm, ending up with a lot of head cheese. I couldn't insult the cook twice, so I made sure to eat it all (and actually, it was quite delicious
- Pasta dish was a ravioli in a light butter sauce, filled with some kind of mystery sausage. Super delicious and complemented by some extra tagliatelle they had.
- Dessert(s). The owner first offered us pork chops as our next course, but we explained that we were very full and would like to just have a little dessert while we finished our wine, if that was possible. She listed our options and when she got to panacotta, Jen and I both lit up and said "Si, panacotta, per favore". Apparently this was the wrong choice. She started trying to steer us toward a different dish, which we figured out was a local specialty. Great, we'll have that. But then there were options and questions and more options and we clearly got it wrong as we tried in good faith to answer her questions and order what she was recommending, but ultimately we had to bust out the ever handy "Mi dispiace, non capisco" -- "I'm sorry, I don't understand". Ok ok, she said, and disappeared into the kitchen. She retuned with not one, not two, but three desserts: panacotta, something similar in texture to panacotta but deep dark chocolate flavored, and a hazelnut cake that (we think) was the local specialty she was steering us toward.
As we left the restaurant, we thanked her for making space for us even though we didn’t have a reservation, exchanged some pleasantries about where we were from and what we were doing in Italy, and then rolled ourselves back down the hill to our beds, where we slept soundly for 10 hours.
Moral of the story? Make a good-faith effort to order whatever the restaurant recommends. They might just bring you three desserts for your trouble.