Apologies to all my readers (well both of you). I haven’t blogged for what seems like ages! Why I hear you ask? Maybe a combination of working too hard, eating out in all my spare time and a touch of “writer’s block” – well that’s what the professionals call it. So if you haven’t worked it out yet, this blog post is about our recent adventures in Italy. We have talked about doing a mini Italian tour for a few years and decided to take the plunge. Obviously, we did some sightseeing but mainly we ate food and mixed with the locals. You might say this is a very rough guide to the Italian food scene.
First stop – Venice
The main reason I really wanted to visit Italy was for the tapas! The “tapas” scene has exploded in Bristol (just like I predicted back in April). We have such amazing places such as http://www.polpo.co.uk and http://www.bellita.co.uk to name just a few. So the first chance we got to escape from our “free walking tour” of Venice – which was amazing – we found a bar that seemed to be popular with locals. We ordered a couple of beers and did what all good English people do when on holiday, we pointed at what took our fancy. Basically bread with cured meats. Simple but effective and great to just keep the edge off when feeling a little hungry. Oh, how I was so excited for my next tasting.
In order to fit in with the locals, we decided to eat lots of “gelato”. They seem to be on every corner and very reasonably priced for what you get. I counted that we ate around 15 each over the 9 days. I know that is a dedication for you. The best by far, in my opinion, was this “fruits of the forest”. It was one of those times in life that we all encounter where you are literally depressed at the end, it was that good! You will all be able to guess what happens next? No matter what, I couldn’t find this flavour again for the rest of our stay. I am now going to tell you something groundbreaking about Italy!! It’s pretty much built on pasta and gelato! Venice is a must visit for all.
Top Tip – Do not eat in any restaurant on the main streets, go and get lost and you will find some amazing cafes and restaurants for a fraction of the price.
Second Stop – Bologna
Why here you ask? Well, my other half watched a Rick Stein programme and convinced me that this a must for all foodies. Challenge accepted! So we bought our train tickets (best way to travel around Italy, cheap and punctual), jumped on the train and headed south for about 2 hours. Bologna isn’t the biggest of places but they certainly do love food. So many options and so little time to enjoy them all.
This absolute beauty was a charcuterie board in a beautiful little cafe/restaurant in central Bologna, although trust me it was hard to choose where to eat as the options were endless. Every type of meat you can think of coupled with cheese, olives and bread washed down with a couple of the local beers. An amazing venue with an atmosphere you can just soak up all day. Bologna has plenty to offer although there is not a lot to see as it’s all about the food and the wine.
One of my favourite things to do in Bologna was sit in a coffee bar; order tea (I actually don’t like coffee), sample some of the local cakes and sit back and watch how Italian after Italian walks in, orders an espresso, adds some sugar before they stir the life out of that coffee and then drink it in one if not two mouth fulls, then leave! The whole experience pretty much lasts for five minutes max, bust fascinating to watch and you get a real feel for how they go about their daily lives.
Top Tip – Visit La Gazzetta, best cakes you will taste and get a real feel for Italian life.
Third stop – Florence
What a beautiful city, although you will have to fight the crowds, so if you do like to “get lost” walk down some side streets and you will find some great little bars where you can buy yourself some cheap but good wine and what seemed to be an endless supply of food….for free. The Italians like to offer anything from crisps to bruschetta to olives – just for you drinking in their establishment. Wake up early get your tickets for the various places of interest and that will then free up your day for all the spectacular food Florence has to offer.
One of the must food places to visits is the indoor “Mercato Centrale Firenze”. This is a two-floor food market that will blow you away. The ground floor is your run of the mill Italian market selling cheese, vegetables and butchers so suit every need. However, the real gem is the short journey upstairs to what I can only describe as a food court! But please don’t let that put you off, as it is nothing like the awful food courts in the UK. There is every type of food you can imagine, so the biggest problem is what to have. We went for Chinese crepes, filled with beef and pork they were absolutely delicious, accompanied with dumplings, as we needed a break from pasta.
Top tip – You must visit All’antico Vinaio the best sandwiches you will ever taste, although get there early as this place is an institution and very popular but worth the wait.
Third and final stop -Pisa
We pretty much chose Pisa as it was where we were flying back to Bristol from. Pisa was a bit of a disappointment and apart from the famous tower that does lean a lot, there wasn’t much more to do, except eat and drink with the locals. Once again venture from the main street leading from the tower and you will find some locally run restaurants where the food is top notch. My final night I went traditional with pizza. Maybe it just tasted better because I was in Italy and got washed up in the atmosphere?
Top Tip – Avoid Pisa unless you are desperate to see the Leaning Tower.