How to prepare an Italian for an Irish Christmas

  1. Keep them warm. Socks, thermal underwear, hats, gloves, scarfs.  Go on dress them up like a mini Micheln man you won’t regret it.
  2. ….and keep them cool.  We have a nice open log fire at home.  One of the things I miss the most is sitting in front of warm glowing log embers on a dark cold winter evening…….but what no one tells you, is that sitting next to a burning flame is hot. Really hot and I don’t mean in the sexy way.  Imagine sitting in the living room.  Open fire.  40 degrees celsius stripped down to our underpants.  Cheeks glowing pink (it’s probably due to the wine consumed, but we’ll blame it on the temperature) and then deciding its time for bed, or a bathroom break or whatever.  Heading away from the fireplace into another part of the house.  Now  this can only be described as an experience similar to that of jumping into a frozen lake after sitting in a Nordic sauna.  Not at all pleasant.  Although come to think of it people do say this is healthy and good for you, which on second thoughts almost always equals something rather unpleasant.
  3. Get the liver warmed up. Increase daily tolerance of alcohol SLOWLY in the weeks leading up to the festivities.  This should allow the body to get used to the blood being a little more diluted than usual.  Do you need some more wine in your blood system???  No problem, just visit my mum.
  4. Gin and Tonic is an aperitivo.  Consumed in our household normally before the Christmas lunch.  This is THE secret ingredient to all our cooking and quite frankly anything that helps keep my mum singing while she’s juggling a 2 kilo turkey in the kitchen is more than welcome! In Italy this cocktail is more commonly consumed as a digestivo, late in the evening after a hearty meal so getting used to this cultural difference, I hope should come as a pleasant surprise.
  5. Throw away the daily planner.  Mum is in charge.  Much like Italian mothers controlling the household, Irish mothers seem to have read the same parenting handbook.  Think Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins without the psychedelic trips into street paintings.  You should not expect to make any decisions for the entire stay. This however should be seen as a positive.  Say yes for a simple life and let the brain take a well deserved vacation.
  6. Set them up to make pasta fresca.  I ordered a while back for my sister a large rolling pin and tagliere, the large wooden board for making fresh homemade pasta.  This can have two benefits.  The home cooked Italian pasta creating a mini-island of calmness and familiarity in the chaos that is an Irish home – and we get to eat well!…
  7. ….or alternatively get them to be mums chef in training in the kitchen. This is a more realistic option for Christmas as generally there is little time to ask, “what shall we eat today?” given all the mincepies, turkey, christmas puddings, coffee, cakes and finger food that is forced upon you.  Bonus points with mum as she has a little helper never fails!
  8. Secret escapes to the beach.  A little ‘down time’ away from the Irish clan is essential to (a) relax the brain from having to understand our babbeling, noisy, fast and unique way of communicating with each other.  Remember your (better) Italian half will feel at times like a fish out of water (b)  Breathing in the fresh salty sea air is just priceless and a great way to steal secret kisses and hugs with your Italian Stallion (although be warned the dog will be keeping one eye on you!).
  9. The dog is the most loved member of the family.  She will be your shadow, cuddle your feet, eat your leftovers and take you for walks.
  10. Finally, say goodbye to elegance and impeccable Italian style.  Say hello to crazy Christmas jumpers!

How not to drink coffee in Italy

How not to drink coffee in Italy

Do not sit down to drink your coffee: Lets be honest, coffee is a drug and who needs to sit down for a daily injection of caffeine in their blood system? We are in Italy and the bar is not Starbucks and no you cannot sit here for free for the next 2 hours.

No need to order an espresso: Un caffé per favore is all you need to say.

In fact, no fancy coffee allowed: keep it simple and certainly do not try ordering a white chocolate mocha frappuccino, that’s like asking for  a single malt whisky with olives and  a cocktail umbrella in an Irish pub.

Do not order cappuccino after 11.00 a.m.: Baristas have been known to split their beautifully fitted tailored shirts rolling in laughter when a tourist does this.  I am still uncertain of the rationale behind this but I suspect that the highly evolved (and as such delicate) italian digestive system has something to do with this.

If you need some milk in your coffee and it is past noon you are safe to order a caffé macchiato: this baby cappuccino literally means ‘stained’ coffee as it has been stained with a splash of milk.  You will be asked if you prefer hot or cold milk, congratulations if you can taste the difference.

You don’t go to a café to take your coffee, you go to the bar: No all Italians are not alcoholics unless….

You are in the mountains/ski resorts and you ask for a caffé the barista will look at you twice and say ‘liscio?’ which literally means ‘straight’ i.e. no additives, no liquor….are you joking??

Which leads me to a caffé corretto: this literally means a ‘corrected coffee’, with the liquor of your choice.  Normally this is grappa, brandy or sambuca and can be served with a shot glass on the side or with a few drops added to your coffee cup depending on the crazed look in your eyes or the generosity of your barista.

Finally once we’ve enjoyed our coffee we have to ask for lo scontrino and pay, or should i have paid first?!: This is where it gets a little confusing as payment systems vary. Generally in small local places you can order, consume, order a second pastry (or is that just me?) and then pay once you’re satisfied and refueled.  At the larger bars you need to: queue, order, pay, get a ticket, order a second time (in a different queue), now wave your ticket frantically in the air in front of a second barista who will actually give you your coffee. Hurrah!

Anyone have any other Italian coffee survival tips for this caffeine addict?  Let me know in the comments!

Canyon Adventures in Tuscany

This weekend was a women’s only fun packed adventure fest.  We nicknamed ourselves the ‘spiderwomen’ due to our newly discovered ability to stick to walls in a bid to (a) not get our feet wet or (b) fall to certain death …..ok so I exaggerate a little, but we did feel euphoric on our canyon adventures and to us it felt like we had real super powers.

We started by driving into the heart of Tuscany and found ourselves near Bagni di Lucca where we embarked on our first stop, Canyon Park.  This is Italy’s first adventure park where you zip, fly and climb inside a canyon.

The canyon is quite small, but because of this it is extremely intimate and inviting.  It doesn’t take long to feel like you really must be a long lost decedent of Tarzan and Jane.

The canyon experience is guided, and all equipment is provided at the site. Hard hats and harnesses for everyone.  Just don’t eat a heavy lunch before hand as they are well tightened ….looking on the bright side I finally had that 36-26-36 Lara Croft body i’ve always wanted.  Trust me the snug fit is very welcome when you’re swinging above the canyon river.

Our guide was very professional and we were given a good safety briefing at the start. Then the fun begins! There are numerous zip lines and climbing sections, wires and Tibetan ropes to walk along.  The course gets progressively more challenging as you move through the canyon.   You build your confidence quickly from those tentative baby steps across the first wire and soon every section is a real thrill!  Its exhilarating and super fun lasting an intensive 1.5 hours and at 23 euros, well worth the experience!

At the end of the adventure we devoured our picnic lunch soaking up some sun rays beside the ‘blue lagoon’.  The place is magical and really a world apart.  ThIMG_3061.jpge water is the most incredible combination of emerald green and blue sapphire.

We took the opportunity to rent a stand up paddle board (SUP) and paddle in between the steep canyon sides.  I imagine this is what it feels like to be an amazonian goddess …… I mean its not everyday you get to glide along the river in the midst of the forest, with only the silence and beauty of nature overpowering your senses.

Recharge & Relax

No girls weekend would be complete without a little pampering and obligatory spa visit.  We arrived at the spa Terme Bagni di Lucca still sweaty from the canyon adventure to be greeted with a surprised ‘welcome sporty ladies’ (I think the usual clientele are a little less rustic)! As we relaxed our tired muscles in the spa, our hosts at the hotel offer complementary aperitivo (prosecco and finger food). What a treat to walk around the hotel lounge still snuggled in the big white hotel dressing gown, grab a naughty prosecco and gossip in the gardens ….all while watching the sun go down. Pure luxury!

Another day another Canyon – Orrido di Botri

Day 2 we headed to  Orrido di Botri, Tuscany’s largest canyon, carved out of the limestone rocks over millennia.  This time we would be walking with our feet firmly on the ground …. although they wouldn’t always remain dry!

This place took my breath away.  With the narrow river bed and the high imposing canyon walls, I was transported into another realm.  Every angle, every rock and every pool of water is in itself a piece of art.

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You have to pay a small 2 euro fee to enter and with this the park rangers also give you a helmet which is obligatory to wear in the canyon.

The trek itself lasts approximately 4 hours, so slip some easy snacks and water into your back pack as you’ll need to recharge on the trail. However as you are walking in the cold river for most of the trek, picnic time is best left for when you return to camp!

So pack your bags and head to this incredible corner of Tuscany, away from the typical tourist trails to discover a slice of the wonderful and exhilarating nature that Italy has to offer.  After all at the end of this adventure, there is always a bottle of Italy’s finest red wine waiting for you as a well deserved reward!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 reasons to vacation with your scooter

 

10 reasons to vacation with a scooter

  1. Free parking: An unexpected bonus of travelling on two wheels – where would you display the parking ticket and would people be honest enough not to steal it if we left it on the windshield?!!  Fortunately in Italy, scooters and motorbikes (in most cases) get a free pass. At an average €1.50/hour this little trick paid for our nightly aperitivo!
  2. Parking in the best spots: all the towns and parking areas in Italy generally have specially designated  spaces for scooters and motorbikes.  If none exist you can still scooter on up as close to your destination as possible and squeeze in a tight spot somewhere – beating the chaos and saving a valuable 10 minutes walking time to the beach everyday – priceless!
  3. Top up your sun tan while on the move:  Not being enclosed in a metal box for your journey means you freely bask under the golden sun while you clock up those kilometers – warning – sunburnt arms and t-shirt tan lines a risk you need to be prepared for!!
  4. Breathing fresh air and escaping the air-conditioning: Now I understand why dogs hang their heads out of car windows!
  5. Minimalist packing: No room for a suitcase. Period. Prepare only what you need and then halve it – seriously, I still don’t use a third of the things I bring with me.  Back to basics and easy living is one of the best things about things about travelling this way.
  6. Skip the queues: Who enjoys sitting in a long traffic jam under the blazing summer sun when the beach is waiting?! The nimble scooter zips easily past all the stationary traffic – and it feels so good to feel that engine rev under the seat!
  7. Best way to enjoy the views: Road-tripping in a car is like travelling inside a giant goldfish bowl.  On the scooter there is nothing between you and the world.  You look around with brighter eyes, you travel a little more slowly drinking in the scenery.  You feel every curve – and every bump!
  8. Journey ‘off the beaten track’: On the scooter you choose the scenic route -after all whats the hurry? I’ve discovered many hidden wonders and seen beauty in every angle of the Italian countryside on our travels.  Just don’t let your vertigo get to you on the mountain trails!
  9. You feel free: you feel connected to the world.  After all, when its just you inside your helmet and you are surrounded by the wonders of nature, and there is the comforting sound of the engine beneath you its easy to find your zen.
  10. Its not your average road-trip: With a scooter, you don’t just travel to reach your destination – the journey is the destination, the experience, the adventure. Now go do it!

 

There are many more reasons to vacation on a scooter, what are your favorite ones?

 

Pasta Fresca, the golden secret of Emilia Romagna

I will never forget the moment when I first truly understood the passion that Italians have for food.

Shortly after I first moved to Italy from the UK, I was out dining with locals – the dish was tortellini alla panna (tortellini with cream).  An amazingly good, melt in your mouth experience but I was struggling with the generous portions and I decided to leave the plate unfinished.

Within seconds my dining companion exploded with the fiery outrage Italians are famous for, ‘but that dish has taken 3 years of love and tenderness to make – you can’t leave it!!!” He was serious.  I was speechless.

Nowadays of course I wouldn’t dream of such a thing, after all to quote the original Italian goddess Sofia Loren ‘everything you see I owe to spaghetti’ …..and tortelli, pizza, risotto, the list is endless!!

Anyway, back then I was still very much a ‘rookie’ when it came to understanding where my food came from and crucially the importance of tradition in the Italian kitchen.