Red Whine

For the past two weeks, my sister and I have been taking over Europe. When she first arrived, I got to play guide as we blitzed through Vienna doing all the obligatory sight seeing and eating. Our next stop was Italy, and I’ll admit I was a bit apprehensive taking my sister. Her friends had warned me that every time she was in Italy she fancied herself to be quite Italian, and would turn up the hand gesticulation and began talking witha Eetaliano accenta! However, given as on my adventures I managed to find myself extremely influenced by Australian, Irish, or French-Canadian accents, I figured that if she started, I probably would, too.

One of the most important things I learned during my wine tasting school in Tuscany was that everyone has different tastes. For one, a particular wine may taste like liquid gold, but for the person beside them, it might just taste like “pee-pee.” So, keep that in mind as I do the following taste test of the Italian cities I explored over the past week. What was an oasis to me may be a retirement village to you, or what is one of the fashion centres to the world is in my opinion, well, absolute “pee-pee.”

Acetic – a sour, vinegary odour
Coarse – rough texture; little breed or elegance
Maderized – wines that have passed their prime and have acquired a brown tinge

Perhaps the days of this city I tasted were a bit…corked. So, I will try hard not to judge it too harshly. The day my sister and I flew into Milan was a hot, muggy one, making the metro ride to our airport more like a sauna… a sauna with a man staring at us with such unbridled intensity it was hard to shake off my typical I-am-woman-hear-me-roar reaction. As a girl travelling, you always get warnings from your friends about the level of respect to expect from the boys in Italy or Spain, but that had me bracing for cat calls and not to be stared with a look that made me feel like I was cornered prey. I began to dread walking in Milan, anticipating the next Hannibal-esque “Ciao, bella…”

When we finally made it to our hostel (which we overshot in both directions several times as the sign was nothing more than a small placard on the call-button list outside the building’s door), we were greeted by the most enthusiastic bed and breakfast owner I’ve ever met. However, after an early morning, a humid/hot day, and six floors worth of stairs, we had little energy to keep up with him socializing and just bee-lined for bed.

When we woke up a few hours later, we were jonesin’ for some pizza. Our hostel owner recommended going to the canals for one of the better cluster of restaurants, so again we boarded the sauna-metro and set off in search of some real Italian cuisine. Now, I suppose my expectations were a bit too high for Milan. And when I heard of the canals, I had imagined, well, what Hollywood told me to: lovers in gondolas being serenaded by a sweet mandolin. I had imagined it to be this city of haute couture filled with stilettos and tiny poodles. However, on our walk to the canals for dinner, it was dirty streets, “Imma eat you” looks from boys, and some of the trashier wear I’ve seen this side of Eastern Europe. But, given as I am an emotional eater, as my large pizza was slid before my eyes, it had already started to soothe my soul.

Now, everyone who knows me, knows that I am not a morning person. So much so that the very act of speaking in the morning pains me greatly. So, you can imagine the scene my sister saw when she walked into the kitchen to our host singing and dancing wildly to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” while I sat miserably in the corner, glaring death-rays into my coffee mug, flinching hard at every “Wimoweh.” He asked us where we were going after Milan, and we replied “Pesaro.” He looked shocked, “Why you want to go Pesaro? Nobody go to Pesaro. I never met anyone here who go to Pesaro.” (I kid you not, this was entirely accurate to how he spoke) This made us nervous. Admittedly, all my sister and I knew about the town was that a) we found it on a map on the coast of the Adriatic Sea b) it had great photos on Google Images. We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but stubbornness runs in my family, so we set our jaws, and said we would have to find out for ourselves.

Baked – quality of red wine made in a very hot climate from very ripe grapes
Mellow – softened with proper age
Velvety – a smooth, silky texture that will leave no acidity on the palate

In Pesaro, we really looked like tourists. Not only were our giant backpacks a tell-tale sign, we were also the palest people there by at least ten shades. This, coupled with the lost expressions on our faces and the fact we were both pointing in opposite directions staring at the same map, is why an ambulance stopped in the middle (yes, the middle) of the road to ask us if we were lost. My sister went to his window and asked for directions to our hotel, saying (in the broken Italian/French/English/German combo we spoke the whole trip), “Dove Viale?” Turns out “viale” was not the address of our hotel, it just means “avenue.” So, a touch on the vague side. Fortunately, all the hotels in Pesaro were on the same avenue, so he just pointed and said, “Two kilometres.” So, we gritted our teeth and walked, and walked, and walked, and walked, and walked.

Apparently, Italians don’t care much for numerical order either. Whenever we thought we were headed in the right direction, the hotel numbers would suddenly switch from 42 to 108 to 96 to 2, and we were left scratching our heads at our bad map. We finally caved and walked into the nearest hotel to ask for more exact directions. The woman at the counter pointed to the complete opposite end of the avenue. My sister said, “Taxi?” and the lady said, “No, you walk.” I nearly handed her my bag and told her I’d be glad to have her walk it over while I rode beside her in an air-conditioned taxi. Instead, I manned up and figured that the walk would help me earn my pizza that night.

On the whole Pesaro gets three thumbs up, Google Images did not let us down. Pesaro was picturesque and had a Florida vibe where everyone was either an Italian tourist, three years old or an octogenarian. Our first full day, we decided to hit the beach despite the raging sea breeze. I ended up building a sand fortress that included my overturned beach chair to protect me from the wind which had made it seem deceptively cooler than it actually was. Despite my slightly olive-y complexion and the rarity with which I burn, I decided to forgo sun block in certain areas to help even out my tan. I grossly underestimated the intensity of the sun, as every single spot on my body that I missed with lotion, the sun found and cooked until a crispy well done.

The best (and definitely cheapest) food we found was in Pesaro. I ate one of the most delicious seafood pizzas the world has ever known with one of the best bottles of wine while watching the sun set over the sea. I was purring. We then set off to find a good place for some drinks to enjoy the cool night air. We came across a lounge/bar/gelateria (what?) that was also close to the water, and asked to see the drink menu. Our waiter said, “But I am also the drink menu.” So, we told him what things we liked in our drinks, and he brought us back our custom drinks with more fruit/umbrellas/straws than glass. We knew we’d be fast friends. Our newfound friendship actually paid off when, on our last night in town, my camera was left on the table and I’d tearfully written it off for lost. When we called them from Florence,  they confirmed our waiter had brought it back, and my fingers are currently crossed that it’s in the mail on its way back to Canada.

Pesaro is definitely a small enough town that it really only takes about a day to explore its entirety if you’re feeling ambitious. Personally, I like that in a beach town, because then I feel less guilty to splay on the beach for hours instead. The competitive spirit in me would see a dark Italian sunning and go, “Oh yeah? Anything you can I do, I can do better!” Unfortunately, we only had two days to become bronze goddesses, so I fell significantly short (and much less cancer-y) compared to my leathery competitors, but I think I got enough to make my friends back home jealous. And if that’s not the point of the travelling game, I don’t know what is.

After a long goodbye, we set off for Florence.

Noble – superior and distinguished
Spritzig – pleasant, lively acidity and effervescence noticeable only to the tongue and not to the eye
Sound – healthy, well balanced, clean-tasting

I think in Florence I heard more English than I ever did Italian. This definitely made the hunt for our hostel significantly easier than in our other two cities as we just had to follow the 18 other backpackers on their way to the same place.

My sister and I decided to do a nighttime bike tour which we thought would be a great introduction to the city, not to mention the fact it would be significantly cooler and less crowded. This being my third bike tour while in Europe, I figured I was some kind of pro. However, I was not prepared to take on Florence’s ancient cobbled streets in a wobbly, no gear, 80-year-old cruiser. My grace on the bike was comparable to a baby deer’s first steps, and it never got any easier.  We were not mistaken as it was absolutely stunning to ride through the streets of the city I’ve only read about lit up at night (not to mention that our guide was pretty stunning, too). We ended our tour in the Piazzale Michelangelo, for a breathtaking panoramic view of the city.

The next day we had signed up for a market food and wine tour through our hostel, which ended up getting cancelled as we were the only two. However, we were given a map to the market and we set off on our own. It was an absolute overload for the culinary senses with truffles and pastas and meats and wines and pastries lining every aisle. We were given tasters of olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, we ate ravioli and parmigiana, sipped wine, and sampled some nutella-y cookies. We wandered outside to the other half of the market that was filled with row upon row of leather wares, scarves, jewelry, and incredibly tacky postcards. The women in my family has a passion for pashminas, so my sister and I loaded up on some scarves. By the end, we were knee-deep in “souvenirs” (AKA gifts for ourselves). We then headed back to our hostel to meet our friend Eve who’d come to join us.

For our last full day in Florence we booked a wine tasting tour through Tuscany. So, early in the morning, we loaded ourselves onto the bus bound for the Chianti region. Our first stop was a wine tasting school, where they guided us through the finer (and more pretentious) points of wine tasting. As I’d become the de facto wine connoisseur at every meal (my tasting and subsequent approval was based on little more than me picking up the glass, taking a big swig, and stating whether or not it tasted like vinegar), I thought it’d give me some good tips. However, I don’t think you’ll catch me checking out the measurements of my wine glass or covering the opening while I swish my wine to “build the aroma.” All my friends would probably beat me up, heck, I’d beat me up. We then went to a second winery for a tour of the wine production (wine production tour > steel mill production tour) and a light, traditional Tuscan lunch. Our final stop was to the medieval city San Gimignano for some world famous gelato (…every gelateria in Italy was somehow world famous) and some photo ops with the picturesque rolling hillsides dotted with wineries.

As if we hadn’t “sampled” enough wine that day, we decided to go for a pub crawl that night. While it began optimistically enough (our pub guide was none other than our bike guide), photographic evidence and the jackhammer headache I had the next day evidenced that somewhere along the way, the night went horribly wrong. However, my sister and I were forced to drag ourselves out of bed to get to the train station to head back to Milan for our flight back to Vienna.

Milano Airport vs. the Ball Sisters 

As rational beings, one would assume that arriving forty minutes before his/her intended flight would be more than adequate time. This would be doubly true for an Italian airport as everywhere else in Italy seemed to function on a slow, rather non-linear schedule. Up until this point, my sister and I had made our train connections and flights by the skin of our teeth but had made it nonetheless. HOWEVER, the woman sitting behind the counter told us we were too late for our flight and would not be admitted. She informed us that we had to be there 45 minutes before the scheduled flight time, and currently it was only 40. My sister and I were completely incredulous. So, we dragged ourselves defeated to the ticket counter to try to get on the next flight. Turns out the next flight was a mere 13 hours later and 200 Euros more. We didn’t like the city so we sure as hell weren’t going to sit in the airport for the entirety of my sister’s last day in Europe. We ended up forking out over 400 Canadian to fly out in an hour, but that was within my budget to save myself 13 hours of sheer/horrific boredom.

We arrived home just in time to repack her bags, nap briefly, and head off to my friend’s residence to watch the Austria-Germany football (soccer) finals, where we suffered the ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS 2-1 defeat by Germany (the soccer player in me knows that Germany definitely deserved to win that one, but when surrounded by Austrians, you know better than to say so). Finally, only three hours after we had gotten home from the party (Europeans have a very different concept of late), I found myself wishing my sister a safe flight back home to Canada with a sinking feeling in my gut knowing that I’d be joining her much too soon.


About j.ball

I took all the thoughts rumtumbling in my head, and I put them in this blog.
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