It’s cheap, delicious and plentiful. Never more than 2€ for a waffle cone with two scoops, even at the ‘gourmet’ homemade shops. Our favourites were Grom and Gelateria de Piazza. I tried some crazy flavours, including Saffron, Cherry and Ricotta, Lemon, Grapefruit and Licorice. All amazing. Often, we substituted gelato for lunch. And sometimes dinner.
2. Simple Food.
Good food in Italy-not the kind you find in the restaurants on the tourist strip, where there is an over-priced tourist menu and waiters trying to snag people off the street- but real, authentic food is not hard to find if you take a turn down a side street and look for a place without table cloths. The menu should be in Italian (not translated into 6 languages), and every dish should have no more than 5 ingredients-all fresh, in season and local. That’s real Italian food, and it is worth getting lost for.
There is no to-go coffee in Italy. It’s never served in paper cups, and only invalids and small children would drink it with milk after 11 am. It’s strong, black and flavourful. Most Canadians who are used to their Tim’s coffee don’t seem to like it, but if you are a real coffee snob (like me), you will be in heaven. For 1€, enjoy an espresso or a macchiato (really just espresso with a bit of milk) standing at the bar of any cafe. Drink it from a proper little cup (with a saucer, how sophisticated!) with a bit of sugar, and be on your way. If you want to sit down, your coffee will be more expensive. And no, they are no ripping you off by not filling the cup up all the way. It’s about quality people, not quantity.
4. The Man Purse.
Aaahhh, the man purse. Nothing else to say really. Part of the Italian experience. I didn’t see this particular guy, but I wish I had.
5. Old Stuff.
It’s everywhere. Especially in Rome. Coming from a country where nothing is older than 200-300 years, it’s amazing to see what our ancestors could accomplish despite the odds. Makes me wonder what we are building and leaving for future generations to marvel at. Suburbs? Fast food restaurants? Big box stores? Super Wal-Marts?
Sculptures, paintings, mosaics, frescos, you name it. Italy has all the big names-Michaelangelo, Bernini, Botticelli, Da Vinci…plenty to see even you are simply an art appreciator, not an aficionado. My favourite was Michaelangelo’s statue of David. I could admire him all day.
Cars are fairly impractical in most cities, so most Italians opt for a scooter or a bike. Interestingly, most of the bikes were what we would call “vintage” and not the “mountain” variety. People could be seen riding bikes in skirts, high heels, and suits. And never with a helmet. I was in heaven! Hopefully someday I can return and see the country from a bicycle seat.
Drinking wine in Italy is like breathing. You need to do it everyday, and often.
9. High Heels
Italian men have their man purses, and the women have their high heels. The ability to walk in them all day on the cobble stone streets must be part of Italian DNA or something.
The streets in Florence were probably designed by an artist. They have a slight curve to them that invites you to wander down and see what’s around the corner. In Venice, the main streets are made of water of course and the rest are designed to prevent invaders from penetrating the city. In Rome, they take you from ancient ruins to religious meccas. Walking through these city streets was the highlight of my time in Italy. Luckily, I wasn’t wearing high heels.