Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Città di Castello-My favorite fieldtrip!

*Note: I wrote this upon immediate return to Perugia in order to keep the experience and emotions freshly documented.  I’m just now posting this entry considering I was not in my possession of my computer when I wanted to post it!

This past Sunday, I went on a fieldtrip with school to a small village in the rolling hills of a province of Perugia, called Città di Castello.  We went to a family owned and run farm where we went truffle hunting and olive picking.  It was one of my favorite experiences in Italy since coming here! This fieldtrip had been postponed a few times since the weather has been unseasonable warm in Italy and the olives were not ready to be harvested.  So, when the details were finally worked out I was ecstatic that I could experience this authentic, Italian food activity.  It was a very unique experience that I am so glad I got to be a part of because I was engulfed in family customs and practices that have been around for years and years.  It’s a way of life for the Italian family with whom we spent the day.

Upon our arrival, the first thing we did was indulge in a marvelous brunch! The family served us a delicious array of food items.  My favorite was bread with fresh olive oil mixed with garlic.  The bread was generously soaked in olive oil.  It was one of the best things I have ever tasted.  The flavors were perfectly blended and the oil was just so fresh.  Some of the other things they served were bruschetta/pizza slices, frutti di bosco pie (fruit of the woods, or mixed berry), and some sort of chocolate bread/cake to name a few.

After we ate, we went truffle hunting.  Now it used to be that boars would do the job of hunting truffles but now people often use dogs.  The elder gentleman who took us truffle hunting just had surgery on his leg just over a week ago.  He was in pretty good shape for being in recovery mode.  He let his dog, Lola, lead the way in search of truffles, however she had some performance anxiety to say the least.  She freaked out with all of us staring at her and putting all this pressure on her to find us truffles.  She managed to find one or two truffles and then the man had to take her back to relax a little bit.  I never really knew what truffles were or what they looked like.  The ones Lola found and the ones that are easier to find are small, brown, and almost pit-like in appearance.  Lola searched around the base of trees in the outskirts of the woods.  The man said that if he had let her roam freely deeper in the woods, she probably would have found many, many more truffles to share with us. There are white truffles that harder to find and very rare.  He apparently found the largest white truffle in the history of the area nearly 20 years ago.

The next item on our agenda was to go olive picking.  As I said earlier, the weather has been unseasonable warm in Italy this fall, so the fieldtrip was supposed to happen a month or so ago.  The family had recently harvested their olive trees with the exception of three or four trees they left for us to do.  We learned how to treat the trees in the process of stripping them of their olives.  You never want to shake the tree because that will damage the olives and the tree.  The first order of business is to put a net and stakes in the ground to catch the olives.  Then, if you don’t want to use your hand, you can either use a small, handheld rake or an electric rake to strip the olives off the branches.  I got to use the electric rake at one point.  Now this rake is roughly the same size as the tool my dad uses to take the snow off the roof (well, maybe slightly smaller).  Picture this: me holding this Italian power tool of sorts, which aggressively vibrates and sticking it into the olive tree and shaking olives out of the tree.  My whole body was vibrating while holding this tool.  It was really cool, though.  The farmer showed me where to stick the tool and how to be efficient while using it.  It was pretty neat!

As cool as the olive picking was, I have to set the scenery for you: I was picking olives that would be made into olive oil in the middle of the Umbrian countryside surrounded by rolling hills with a slight mist covering them in the distance.  It was something off a postcard.  Literally, when we walked down to the trees, the other Umbra students and I were in disbelief of the scenery because it was so beautiful it almost looked fake.  It could easily have been a backdrop for a movie.  In between picking the olives, we just sat on the hill and took in the environment, so clear and fresh.  It was rejuvenating and surreal.  I had absolutely nothing to complain about because I was experiencing daily life for this Italian family with the most breathtaking atmosphere I have been exposed to yet!  Hopefully these descriptions and pictures will help you envision my countryside outing a little better-I have to warn you, it is very hard to capture the essence of my day in words, that’s how unreal the experience proved to be.

After we completed our tasks as farm workers for the day, we made our way back to the house/B&B to indulge in what turned out to be a mere 6-course lunch.  Everything was homemade so while the family was still cooking, they served us an aperitivo (appetizer) to keep us occupied for the time being.  It was a gorgeous, warm day with not a cloud in the sky so we just sat in the sun and enjoyed ourselves.  Finally, lunch was underway.  Let’s take a look at some of the things I ate:

·      Antipasti: sautéed onions, assortment of meat/cheese pies, cheeses (including one containing truffles) with fig jam

·      Zuppa: my favorite part of the whole lunch; a soup (somewhat like pasta e fagioli) with beans and short, flat square pasta

·      Primo: pasta with ragu sauce

·      Secondi: an assortment of meats, including…PIGEON! Yes, I ate a tiny piece of pigeon meat after much contemplation.  It tasted like turkey, but looked very dark.  I can’t think much about it or else I freak out because Perugia is filled with pigeons so I see them all too often. There were also grilled vegetables, like peppers and eggplant...I apologize for the lack of picture here-I was clearly too focused on eating Pigeon!

·      Insalata: simply lettuce with a fresh, citrusy dressing

·      Dessert: I didn’t really eat much of the dessert but I didn’t like it too much (Italy is not known for their desserts believe it or not) and also I don’t think there was any more room in my stomach.  There was zuppa d’inglese and panna cotta with hazelnuts, served with dessert wine and coffee.

There was so much food! I had to unbutton my pants because there simply not enough room to allow myself to keep eating.  At one point the entire table looked like we were quickly slipping into a food coma and then we heard that we still had three more courses to go.  It was definitely a marathon, not a sprint! It was so deliciously satisfying because of its freshness and authentic quality. 

After stuffing our faces with some of the most delicious foods I have tasted yet in Italy, we loaded the bus, along with our freshly picked olives, and went over to an olive oil press factory.  Here, we saw just the process of how the oil gets extracted from the olives and winds up in our kitchens.  The farmers added the olives we picked into the machines and they started their journey of becoming olive oil.  The press gave each of us a small bottle of freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil, from olives pressed the day before we went.  This bottle is coming home with me to try for the holidays!

This trip was my favorite fieldtrip--I couldn’t have asked for a better day!

Brunch upon arrival

Lola doing her thang!

Beautiful foliage-finally felt like fall!

How beautiful!!!

The Italian power tool :)

One of my favorite pictures captured from the day...

And another... 

All our hard work :)

Some fellow classmates in the tree!


Chickens-hey, at least we know everything is fresh!

Olive oil time!

Step 1

Step 2

What remains in some sort of tempanade-YUM

Eccolo! (There it is!-the Italian version of Voila!)


Monday, December 19, 2011

Final portion of fall break: Venice

The next morning, Saturday, we departed for Venice, but of course, never without some struggles.  Our original plan was to leave on the 9:30 a.m. train but that was sold out…so was the 10:30 train.  We managed to get tickets for the 11:20 train, which would get us to Venice two hours later than we wanted to.  The amount of time we would get to spend in Venice was getting shorter and shorter.  Finally after much confusion and frustration we were at the dock taking a water taxi on the Grand Canal.  While on the taxi ride, which was a beautiful ride itself, we saw a man propose to his girlfriend on a gondola below us.  I saw them snapping pictures of themselves and I saw the woman staring in awe of her new ring crying.  I obviously started crying!  It was such a beautiful sight!  We even saw a wedding take place the next day.  Lovely!

(Note: I need to learn how to pay closer attention to what says about where their hostels are because although it may say that they are located in the heart of the city, or just 10 minutes away from the center, they actually don’t mean what they say.  Our hostel was actually 10 minutes walking distance from the train station and 15 minutes by bus to the dock where all the water taxis depart and take you to stops along the Grand Canal. Ugh!)

The first order of business was to get on a gondola…and preferably for cheap.  The trick is to go down the side streets and ask the gondoliers how much they are offering for a ride.  Some of very expensive but if you bargain you should be able to get them to lower the price-especially for female students ;) My roomie Alyssa had paid 25 Euro per person when she went, however, Meredith and I didn’t try that hard and paid 50 Euro each.  There are three different types of tours you can take (basic, middle, and then the longest tour), so we chose the basic one.  The gondolier said he would let us pay for the basic and he would give us a middle level tour, which is basically 1km more. 

The gondola ride couldn’t have been more perfect (I mean, it could have been longer)!  Riding along the Grand Canal and cutting through all the small side “streets” at sunset was beautiful.  It is such a unique way to see a city and I wish I could have seen more of Venice this way.  SO worth it!!

After the gondola ride, we meandered through all the side allies.  It was like a maze-I’m not sure we ever went down the same road twice.  Everything connects in between the buildings and before you know it you come out at a different end of the city.  Venice is very mysterious in it’s own way.  We had dinner at this quaint little restaurant and then continued exploring the city at night.  We eventually reached the piazza of the Basilica di San Marco, got some gelato and sat outside at the café and took the scenery in while listening to a two-person orchestra.  It was a lovely night!

The next morning, we were on an early morning water taxi to Murano, one of three islands off the coast of Venice.  Murano is known for their glassmaking and beautiful glass products.  I was in shopper’s paradise all day long as we went from store to store looking at the exquisite jewelry and sculptures among many other glass objects.  When we first got off our water taxi, we literally stepped right into a glass shop where we got to see a glassmaker practice his craft.  That morning he happened to be making glass giraffes.  He whipped each one out in under a minute.  Absolutely incredible!  All the shops we went to were filled with bright colors and an inordinate amount of glass products.

Later on that day, Meredith and I were back on a train headed home to Perugia.  I was so excited to show her my study abroad environment.  I loved being able to see Meredith in Paris doing her thing and now it was my time to show her around my quaint, beautiful home of Perugia!  I showed her all “my” places and even got to take her out for a night on the town, considering it was Halloween, she picked a good night to stay.  It was so cool being able to have my new study abroad friends meet my college roommate.  Talk about worlds colliding!

We both had a marvelous time in Venice.  It is definitely one of my favorites cities in Italy and a place I need to go back to some day!

(Yes! Finally done blogging about fall break-seems like years ago that I actually went to these places). Enjoy the pictures!

Along the Grand Canal

Sunset on the Grand Canal

Venetian masks

Start of our gondola ride!

One of my favorites pix captured from the gondola!

Me & Mere

Aw, how romantic ;)


Basilica di San Marco at the right...

Providing some nightly entertainment for us while eating gelato...

The crowd these two guys drew that night

On the way home on the water taxi

Murano glass shop

Murano glass factory


Mere ready to go: OJ, a child of a water bottle, and chocolate

Ciao, Venezia!

Fall break provided me with the opportunities to go places I never thought possible!  I saw three countries with some of my favorite lucky am I?!?!