Today we visited our last vineyard, Pomaio. It was a very small vineyard with a high altitude, and it was beautiful! The most interesting thing about it was how green the vineyard was. They were so conscious of doing everything the natural way that their wines are actually vegan. They try to keep everything local and to reduce their impact in as many ways as possible. I could tell that both of the brothers were so passionate about what they did. I really really liked their business. The wines were good as well! We started by tasting a rosé wine. I had never actually had a rosé before this experience, and found it interesting. It wasn’t my favorite, as I prefer the stronger and more complex reds, but I’m glad I got to try it. After the rosé we tried three different reds, an entry level Sangiovese, a Chianti, and a more high quality Sangiovese. My favorite was the last type of wine that we tried. It seemed the most complex to me, and had less of the licorice taste that the first two had. The wines were very good. The food was an ART FORM. They kept bringing out dish after dish, and we kept wolfing them down. Focaccia bread, salamis, cheeses, stuffed tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, a pie-like pasty. I was obsessed with the food selection at Pomaio. It really makes me wish I was good at/liked cooking, because I sure enjoy eating good food. Anyway, I was very impressed with Pomaio as a company, and Marco was absolutely adorable. It was a great experience!
This weekend was the free travel weekend. It was our first chance to practice traveling independently, but after our trips in Rome and Florence, I felt ready for it.
On Friday after the test, I took a short ride over to Cortona with Miranda and Meagan. It was a really pretty town on top of a hill (yes, all Italian towns seem to be on top of hills). It was actually very similar to Arezzo, which I guess isn’t surprising since it is so close. It had its own castle and historical center. It even had banners up for each of it’s own four corners. One of my favorite things about Cortona was the amount of shopping it had on it’s main road. I would say that a lot of this shopping was geared towards tourists, and that Cortona was marginally more touristy than Arezzo. Nevertheless, it was a fun town. At the top of the hill in a beautiful old church, we were shocked to stumble across a shrunken old dead body of a saint on display. From a distance, we assumed it was a statue of the saint on top of her grave like we had seen for several dead Popes in other churches. But no. It was an actual dead body. Apparently this is actually a common thing that can be found in churches in Arezzo as well. After that shock, we kept marching up the hill to visit the city’s fortress. I thought it was interesting that much of the fortress had not been renovated like in Arezzo, and it was cool to compare the two.
The next day, Saturday, I woke up early to catch a train to Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is this collection of five tiny towns on the coast, which all combine into the national park of Cinque Terre. It was breathtaking. We got off of a train at Riomagiorre,and I was startled by how clear and blue the water was. I’d never seen ocean water apart from the east coast of the United States. The beaches were rocky, with large black rock formations around the coast. You could see everything which made it an ideal location to try cliff diving for the first time. It was so much fun! I would estimate that the highest point Shelby and I jumped from was about 25 feet. I could have spent a week on those beaches easily. We also had a lot of fun hiking the second day there. To get between towns one can either take a train, or one can hike between towns. The easy paths along the coasts were closed for maintenance, so we took the upper paths. And by upper they mean upper. We ended up hiking from the first town to the second and then from the second to the third. A large part of these paths involve walking up stairs roughly cut into the rock up the entire mountain. It was so tiring but so fun! Once you got to the top, the whole ocean just opened up before you. The tiny towns and beaches where you had spent the day seemed like nothing. I was just amazed with the farmers who manage to grow grapes, olives, and other crops all of the way up the side of the mountains. If I had more time in Cinque Terre I would have liked to spent a night in each town and hiked in between, spending ample time at the beaches. I definitely hope to come back one day!
On Monday we celebrated a belated birthday in a traditional Italian way. This involved several bottles of Prosecco and a yummy cake called mille folgie. The cake had been prepared for us at Bar Stephano, one of my favorite local places, and it was delicious. Prosecco is basically the Italian version of champagne. It’s a sparkling white wine. The first time I tried it was actually in Rome, but the versions that we tried in class were a lot nicer. It really wasn’t my favorite though. I don’t love carbonation, and I feel like the wine would have been better without it.I also wonder if I might like the sweeter version of the drink. I feel like this would be a strike against my palate, but oh well. I tend to prefer my whites to be sweeter.
On Monday we learned how to make pasta. It was so much fun! We learned how to make three types of pasta: ravioli, tagliatelle, and gnocchi. I was surprised how simple the process of making these pastas was. For ravioli and tagliatelle, the dough consisted only of regular flour, egg, and a pinch of salt. The gnocchi consisted of potatoes, flour, and egg.
I don’t typically like cooking very much. I have a bad habit of only doing things that I’m naturally good at, and cooking is definitely not one of those things. It was fun to play with the dough though, and the extra dry pasta that I created was disguised amidst everyone else’s pasta so everything turned out okay. The best part was eating the pasta. I was very impressed with my classmates and myself! It tasted delicious! Of course this was also due to the sauces that were prepared for us: Ragu, a tomato sauce, and a sage and butter sauce with with the spinach and feta filled ravioli. I absolutely loved all of the pastas, and think I will actually try to recreate the recipes for my friends and family at home. My favorite was the ravioli, but the gnocchi was also really good. I’ve had gnocchi several places in Italy so far, and it’s a really good noodle. I liked how natural it tasted that I was able to taste a few small potato chunks in our own “little mice”. It was definitely a fun experience that will allow us to recreate a little piece of Italy at home once we leave.
Last week we visited the old fortress on the very top of the hill. I had seen the outside of the fortress many times in the park, but it was really interesting to be able to enter. The fortress had been rebuilt many different times during different eras. I thought it was interesting that much of the fortress actually used to be under ground and that local kids used to play on top of it before it was excavated. The architecture incorporated into the renovation was really beautiful, and very much my aesthetic. I loved all of the natural stone with glass and rustic sleek lighting and accents. I love the history of Italy. It seems that in the middle ages people based all of their building strategies on defending themselves from invaders, which just isn’t something I think about often. I think that once the renovation is done, the town of Arezzo will make a lot of money off of the space. I’m sad I won’t get to see it completed.