Monday, April 14, 2014

"..Bella Notte"

    "Pleeeeease!" He begs, puppy dog eyes and all.
    "Fine! But..." I'm cut off as he jumps from the couch in excitement and runs to the bedroom to grab his computer. He's been pleading with me for the past hour to go out on the town to dinner with him and with my luggage finally returned to me, I agree. At least I'll be able to wear nice clothing and makeup for the first time in days.
    "Buuuut," I attempt again now that he's returned to the room, "you need to make sure we have a way to get there and back, make sure you know where we're going, and that we can even get is a Sunday evening you know!"
     He's grinning from ear to ear whilst half-listening to my demands. He shuts his laptop with a light 'smack' and starts for the door.
     "And when I say 'make sure', the internet DOES NOT COUNT!" I am pretty sure he heard me but the door clicks and he's undoubtedly on his way to talk to the front desk for suggestions.

     We are dressed up and on our way to the bus, the trip made much shorter by riding our brand new bikes. John swerves and hops and shows off while I guide my trike(yes, it is a tricycle) slowly and carefully through the street. The night is beautiful and though leaving base makes me apprehensive I find myself looking forward to our long dreamt about meal. The ideal is to find a place tucked away and small, ran by locals. We lock up our bikes and head for the stop.

    Our bus ride is short and uneventful. We hop off a few stops later than our choice from the day before and notice a street market of sorts. The square is absolutely packed with people. Locals and tourists alike. Shoppers with bags from H&M and suit shops that would give Armani a run for their money. Bags filled with breads and cheeses and wines and shoes and jewelry and hand made glass. You name it, their selling it. And all of it sparkles and glistens and fills your nostrils. We don't talk much as we meander through the crowds. But occasionally something will stick out and we'll laugh or gape.

These three dogs belonged to the man on the bicycle in front
of them and followed him wherever he went.

     We head toward the large catedral looking around and taking it in. We're both hungry though so John turns us around toward the piazza. As we're walking we observe the people. Everywhere you look people are greeting each other with kisses or lighting a cigarette. Some walk with a hurried purpose, almost seeming annoyed, most likely locals who are just trying to complete their weekly shopping. Others leisurely wander like us, just trying to stay out of peoples way.
     We hit the piazza and pick a street to go down. As we're walking I'm beginning to become more and more aware of my hunger. The word restaurante is now my target and I am a heat seeking missile. Despite my laser-focus, a menu catches John's eye first. It's on a small a-frame poster and printed on basic paper. I would have walked right by. We skip across the street toward it and skim the offer. A four course meal for only fifteen euro. Sold.

We scurry down the alleyway and come upon the restaurante and the courtyard it opens up to. A pleasant young woman greets us as we both do full circles taking in the gorgeous buildings it's tucked into.

    "Hi!" I say, not even attempting an Italian greeting.
    "Buongiorno!" John says with a smile. Proud of his retention of last nights Rosetta Stone lesson.
    "Hi." The young woman returns with a laugh. We roll our eyes at John and she seats us outside. The weather is perfection for eating as it's cool enough to ward off the bugs but warm enough that it's still comfortable.
    John and I quick look at the menu and decide we're going to do the deal advertised that brought us in. I order the gnocchi for my first course. Little potato-pasta-dumplings dressed in butter and herbs. As a self-proclaimed carb addict, my first course promises to be fabulous. John orders the bigoli, always going for the oddest thing on the menu, and the most authentic. We order our other courses and she brings us out our drinks and some fresh baked breads and nuts.
    "I'm never going to find good beer.." John makes a face after taking a drink out of his glass. I laugh,
    "You're just going to have to develop a taste for wine.".
He glares and I smirk and a few minutes later we receive our first course.

John's dish was a handmade pasta with
a sauce made of sardines.
The flavor was similar to that of a cesar salad dressing.

We gobble down our first course. Barely stopping to exclaim how absolutely delicious it is and exchange tastes of each others dishes. Soon enough, the waitress brings out our second course with both John and I ordering a fresh salad. Talk about a palate cleanser. The vegetables are so fresh they pop and crunch in your mouth, the bitterness of the tomato complimenting the sweetness of the carrots. We've dressed them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar brought out to us separately so we can use the exact amount we want.

After the salad comes our main course. I ordered the chicken "stew" expecting a bowl of something but receiving a plate instead, and John orders the grilled pork. I raise my eyebrows at my dish as it's served to me but go with it anyways and we dig in. By this point we are already pretty full, as the portions are not skimpy whatsoever. However, there is about twenty minutes between each course, allowing us to digest a bit.

Yet again we are amazed by the quality of our food. The chicken in my stew is very apparently slow-cooked as the meat is falling off the bone, and the sauce of onion and tomatoes absorbs into my grilled polenta, all together each bite is a whole spectrum of tastes and textures that consume me. John's dish is wonderful as well. You can tell that this family-run place is serving us what they would make for themselves at home.

Our amazing main course.

Finally, we have dessert, an apple pie type pastry with the texture of a pudding. It has nuts layered throughout it and a strawberry sauce for dipping, accenting. John devours his but I only taste mine, as I am holding out for gelato after dinner. The sweet young woman takes our plates away and allows us to pay, though she seems a bit confused by our rushed nature. We only have about half an hour left until the last bus comes through and we still have to find a gelato place.

A light dessert.

She gives us a suggestion on gelato that's close and we thank her again, leaving through the alleyway we came.

Following her directions we weave our way through the crowds toward the shopping and sure enough Venchi is on our right.

Note the bambina pouting in the lower left-hand
corner. It is a crime to be deprived of ice cream
no matter what country you're in.

We enter and wait our turn as we admire all of the brightly colored ice creams and chocolates. John points out that they have pistachio, and I point out a rich chocolate cream. Both of us in the interest of the others favorites. I get a cone and John a small paper bowl, we pay and depart. The gelato is delicious, the flavor much stronger than that of American ice cream. Mine is warm and nutty and creamy while John's is rich and bold. I think of a quote from the Lizzie McGuire movie that takes place in Italy, a childhood favorite of mine.

Miss Ungermeyer, Lizzie's high school tour guide and chaperone in response to one of the kids being upset while they are touring Rome;

"...Gelato! Now, remember Italian ice cream has about twice the sugar of American ice cream. So you want what? Two scoops?"

You got it, Miss Ungermeyer!

We make it to our bus with plenty of time to spare and enjoy our ride back, though I am anxious, as always that we will miss our stop, John hits the button just in time and we deboard and head back through the gate.

My tricycle, which has a basket on the back
big enough to carry all of our groceries
when I go shopping.

After a cool and serene ride back to our hotel we discuss our evening and I start humming a tune I've had stuck in my head all night. A tune from a movie that has always been synonymous with Italy and Italian food in my mind.

"This is the night,
What a beautiful night,
And we call it 'bella notte'"


  1. Beautiful writing. The pictures were fantastic. Thank you for sharing your adventure. I look forward to your blog. I miss you guys and wish you the best. Seriously, great writing, tell John hello. Love ya. -Zach