To Italia With Love.

Dear Italia, As our time together comes to end, I would like to thank you for all that you have done for me and how much you have changed my life.

On that fateful day in June three years ago, I fell for you.

And I fell hard. Fast forward a few summers, thousands of miles, and whole lot of of gelato and I could not be happier.

While things have not always been perfect and your unreliable buses, trains, restaurant hours and movie schedules have been the cause of a few headaches,

I am willing to put up with them because despite your flaws, you complete me.

Thanks to you I have met the most beautiful people,

seen some amazing places,

and eaten amazing and unforgettable food.

Above all, I love who I am when I'm with you.  With you I breathe deeper, walk slower, worry less, smile bigger, and laugh harder.

I swear it seems that all of my anxieties melt into your cobblestone streets whenever you're around.

You have given me some of the best times of my life and I will never forget them.

While I am reluctant to leave, I am not sad because I know that, without a doubt, I will be back.  It's not "ciao"-- it's just "arrivederci."

Un bacione,

Julia

My [Bologna] has a first name...

...it's A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. When people ask me my favorite city in Italy, I initially stutter. That is like asking me to pick my favorite child.  Or having to decide to eat either only peanut butter OR ice cream for the rest of my life.  It's just not right.  But when forced to choose, I choose Bologna.

Why Bologna?  Well Bologna, to me, aside from being an architecturally beautiful city with equally beautiful people, harbors a passionate food culture that embodies all that is Italian cuisine.  First, all of the foods that come to mind when one thinks about Italy (minus pizza) are found in Bologna.  While the region in which Bologna is found, Emilia-Romagna, is filled with gastronomically-impressive cities and towns, Bologna is the epicenter of all that is good and delicious in Italy.  Imagine hand-cut tagliatelle, giants legs of prosciutto, wheels of fragrant parmigiano-reggiano, logs of mortadella the size of a small boat, and tiny bottles of ridiculously thick, aged balsamic vinegar.  And all of these are either made right in Bologna or are arriving from neighboring towns, like Parma and Modena.  Do you really need anymore reason to go?

Second, nowhere else in Italy is food treated with such respect and pride.  This is evident everywhere you walk in the city- from the display windows of food specialty shops displaying mountains of handmade tortellini the size of my thumbnail, to the street markets with unbelievably fresh produce that make me want to rent an apartment, buy one of everything, a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, and flee to the kitchen.  And it is this sense of inspiration that I feel in Bologna that mesmerized me the first time I went and the reason why I decided to return.

Aside from the food, I love Bologna because it is still authentic and not overrun by tourists.  While Firenze is a lovely city rich with history and an impressive cuisine all its own, it is sometimes hard to ignore the crowds of tourists that I pass everyday on my walk to the market.  So Bologna is also the ideal place to escape to for a day if you just want to discover a less-frequented corner of Italy.

Anywho, my day in my favorite city in a nutshell proceeded as follows: I walked around, ate, walked some more, and proceeded to eat even more.  They don't call Bologna "La Grassa" ("the fat one") for nothin'.

I forgot to mention that I also had the best ravioli, tagliatelle al ragu, and gelato ever.    But that's a post for another day.  Let's just say I left Bologna with a belly full of joy and a renewed appreciation for Italy and all that it has to offer.

When in Rome Firenze...

...do as the Fiorentini do: eat gelato!Before I came to Firenze I discovered the annual gelato festival would be going on during my first few days in Italia.  While I knew these days would most likely be very busy and that I may not be able to go, I secretly had my fingers crossed in hopes that I would somehow make it there.  So when my host mom, Luigina, casually asked if I would like to go the gelato festival, I couldn't help but blurt of an affirmative "Si!"

two tickets one ticket to paradise!  1 card= 5 gusti (flavors) of gelato.  ohh yeahhhh.

The Firenze Gelato Festival features a slew of gelaterias from Firenze as well as other parts of Italia.  I didn't really have a strategy for selecting the five gelaterias of my choice-  I just walked up to the tents with the longest lines and made my way through the seas of aggressive and ravenous Italians.

Gelateria: Grom. Gusto: Pastiera napoletana

Creamy vanilla base.  Chunks of what seemed to be biscotti and candied citrus.  It is no secret that I am a Grom fanatic and thus I could not pass up paying the Grom booth a visit and trying a new flava-flav.

Gelateria: Il Procopio.  Gusto: Follia.

While I don't know exactly what this is, it had toasted almonds and swirls of caramels throughout.  This flavor definitely made my heart stop a beat.  So creamy with a texture more similar to ice cream.  And I liked it.  I liked it alot.

Gelateria: Triangolo delle Bermuda.  Gusto: Sorbetto che non c'è.

( and in case you were wondering, my nail color is "Italian Love Affair")

NERD ALERT!

I don't really know what the flavor name means but this slightly icy like a sorbetto but still lusciously creamy like gelato.  The flavor reminded me of a combination of fresh strawberry and strawberry-flavored Pez (?)  I love berry-flavored anything and if it weren't for the next flavor, I would have crowned this one my favorite.

Gelateria: Malotti.  Gusto: Crostata al sottobosco.

Mi piace.  Mi piace molto.  Super rich vanilla base with swirls of berry (raspberry/blueberry/blackberry) and chunks of vanilla wafer crust.  Nom nom nom.  For those not familiar, a crostata is a free-form version of a pie.  So this could be compared to blueberry pie or something like dat but in gelato form (!!!)

Gelateria: Andrea. Gusto: Yogurt Nutella. 

Probably my ideal flavor of gelato: yogurt is one of my all-time favorite flavors of gelato and nutella is my second favorite condiment (peanut butter will always have a big ol' piece of my heart).  I loved the chunks of hardened nutella.  Note to self: try to re-create this at home.  If I ever return. 

While this was very good, I would not say that it was my favorite of the day.   However, it was up against some stiff competition.

I enjoyed and savored every bite that passed my lips and I would gladly order any of these five flavors again.  But if I were forced to pick a favorite, it would be the Crostata al sottobosco.

Luigina wanted to make a cameo.  She got pignola (pine nut).  It was delicious. 

(And no, sorry, I don't know the name of her nail color.   Although to be honest I am very jealous that she can rock the blue at sixty/seventy-something. 

When my tongue had extracted every last bit of gelato from the final plastic cup, I shed a tear, and proceeded to walk home with Luigina and a belly full of gelato and joy.

And on our way we stopped by the Ponte Vecchio.  The perfect end to the perfect day.

Butterflies.

I live for the slurry of emotions and sensations that traveling harbors.  The tingle in your tummy when you spot your terminal letter as you approach the airport.  The sight of your loved ones waving goodbye as you walk down the aisle to the security line.  That drop in your stomach when the plane's wheels leave the pavement of the runway.  And the first deep inhale you take when you step out of the airport and into your destination.  Italy has a particular smell that I dream about.  And no, I'm not referring to the ubiquitous scent of cigarette smoke and  expensive perfume/cologne that permeates most of Europe.  (If you've ever been, you know what I mean).  But above all, I live for the butterflies.  I love the idea of an adventure and the fact that such possibility lays before me.  These butterflies are the reason I am addicted to travel.  They drive me and inspire me to book that next flight and to leave my comfort zone.

 The course of the next six weeks will be determined by me- my attitude, my confidence, and my ability to maintain an open mind.  I'm excited to see what the future holds and I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity to do what I love- travel, explore, and eat.  So watch out Italia- I have a voracious appetite for adventure and food!

Ciao for now!