This past weekend the students (all 198 of us) + some SLAs (student life assistants, similar to college RAs) + some faculty + some staff took to 4 coach buses and headed to the Italian coast. On the itinerary? Stops in Herculaneum, Pompei, Salerno, Paestum, and Sorrento.
Friday morning came much too quickly. Thursday was an insane day (some of which included switching classes, trying to buy books, and trying to sell books). Though Thursday was also an awesome day. How many people can say they’ve seen an Italian opera? Though, in all fairness, it was the European premiere of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge. Hence, it was in English (with Italian subtitles). But before you count me out, I just want to inform y’all that, because the orchestra was so loud and our seats were fairly high up, we couldn’t even hear the English. Which made reading the Italian subtitles in order to follow the plot necessary. Though I could have succumbed to a major bout of grumpiness at this point, I took it as a blessing in cognito. Because, guess what?! I actually understood a majority of the plot just by reading the Italian (I give hefty credit to taking Spanish for 6 years…they’re both romance languages, right? :)) All circumstances aside, it was such an experience to be in an Italian opera house, listening to people who dedicate their lives to singing. Hey, it could be me after this Intro to Voice class I’m taking. (ha! yeah right.) After getting home around 12:30 am that night, the 6 am wake-up call came much too early (kind of a “yell-up” call…the SLAs cruised through the halls with megaphones. And yes, I did hear them. Even with my earplugs still in).
Regardless of how early in the morning it was, I like to classify myself as “a morning person.” Hence, once I was up, I was ready to get movin’! I packed a nutella sandwich on wheat bread for breakfast, along with an apple. (Sorry, no pics of that one!)
We strolled through the ruins of Herculaneum, a city that, in AD 79, had been covered in 65 feet of ash within hours, due to an eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius.
We visited ancient temples in Paestum (built 500 years before Christ!)…
We side-stepped the puddles and made our way through the quaint little streets of Sorrento (famous for their limoncello)…
(If you’re observant, you’d notice that one essential clothing item was present in all of the above photos):
Mah Hunter rainboots (with the fleece liners, natch…’cuz my feet have a tendency to get fa-reezing!). These babies are the best investment ever. Since I was limited on how much stuff I could bring over here (1 big wheely suitcase for 4 months + a duffel), these are great because they work double-duty: great for cold & snowy days (though Rome doesn’t get much snow) and, obviously, perfect for rain! And it rained the. entire. weekend. long. All 3 days. That’s why I have to go back to the Amalfi Coast. I mean, it was stunning…but I don’t think you really get the full effect unless it’s hot & sunny!
Okay, I’m done rambling about the rain. But, as always, though I could go on and on (and on and on…) about the fascinating sights we got to take-in (despite the rain) this past weekend, you really want to know what we ate, right? 🙂
This weekend trip was kind of the creme de la creme of our orientation, “welcome to campus” shin-dig. Which translates into: being fed 3-course lunches and dinners daily. I know, I lead a tough life, right?
Here are a few of the highlights:
Friday’s lunch in Paestum started with a generous assortment of appetizers (I think they thought to please Americans they should give us all fried food?):
I tried to make a point to at least have a nibble of everything on the plate, but, alas, I fell short. The bad boy above? It’s still unbeknownst to me what, exactly, is inside. Some kind of seafood? Eh, not really sure…. I do have to give a shout-out to the Bruschetta (though, honestly, not as good as Il Ritrovo’s back in my hometown!) and the yellow-and-gold-ish balls at around 10 o’clock in the first photo. They were filled with…just…this doughy substance. Which was basically amazing.
The appetizers were followed by individual pizzas (but let’s all laugh at the “individual” in this sentence; this baby could’ve easily fed 2-3): a cheesy, delectable pie with basil (I was yearning fo’ some mo’!), fresh mozzarella, and a pillow-soft, thin crust…oven-roasted to perfection (with bottom grill-marks to prove it).
I couldn’t help but think about my brother Andrew during this portion of the meal. He had gotten some reallyyyyy bad frozen pizzas from the grocery store and was very upset with their disgusting-tasting sauce. (And Andrew loves pizza. So when he doesn’t like one, it must be inedible.) I only wish he could’ve been with me to try some of this pizza — I’m quite convinced he would’ve finished the whole pie! 🙂
The “pie” wasn’t even the best part of the dining experience. Luckily, we had these hunks serenading us. (Take note: I’m using the term hunk very lightly here. Veryyy lightly.)
Dessert? A (non-rum infused) fluffy, delicate cake with a light-as-air, whipped topping. (Reminsicent of “cool whip,” so I know Layne wouldn’t have dug that ;))
On to the next epic meal – (Good thing I hit the gym hard when we returned…)
This was a lunch in Paestum, complete with a cute menu welcoming our group and (thankfully!) telling us what we’d be served. (Julie and I lamented (only kidding, of course) that we wish we could always have known what would be the next thing we’d be served…so we’d know whether to “eat up!” or save stomach-space for the next course(s). As I’ll mention later, this would prove vital when it came to the decision whether to save room for dessert.)
Our first course was ravioli bathed in a sweet marinara sauce (along with rolls, obvi. During the subsequent meals, I realized I probably shouldn’t be eating alllll that bread. So I learned to restrain from the bread bowl…though it’s still a struggle haha):
I was glad I saved room for the next course: tender pork bathed in a combination of its juices & gravy, along with delicious, grilled potatoes and a (rather salty) side of fresh greens tossed in a vinaigrette:
The dessert was epic: a tall, parfait-like concoction of vanilly/fruity gelato with fresh, cut-up fruit (think kiwis, apple, oranges) holding the fort at the wayyyy bottom of the ginormous glasses:
Drizzled with a rasperry sauce? I mean, c’mon!
(I’m amused by the fact that I look slightly overwhelmed in the above photo.)
Our dinner in Salerno on the second night was fun…mostly because of the great company I was in. We laughed, laughed, laughed, and then drank some (fantastic tasting!) wine.
So, what’ll it be? I have to say the best part of the meal was the first course: al dente penne pasta mixed with a light, minced cucumber-infused “sauce” and topped with parmigiano reggiano (now I know why my mom says she’s “spoiled” when my dad returns home from work with cheese from Italy…she hates using the store-bought stuff now, after tasting the fresh goodness of Italian cheese):
I’ve gotta say, I was not really impressed with the rest of this meal (which, considering that we were being fed stellar meals the entire weekend isn’t too much of a downer). The second course was, once again, fried (NOT a fan!): fried, round potato balls. You guessed it — it’s basically a mashed potato deep-fried. Ehh…wasn’t digging it. Paired with that was a bread-crumb crusted, very dry cut of pork. Ehh…again, wasn’t digging it. (Our table shamelessly asked for ketchup, which they did not have. Because, like I mentioned in a previous post, ketchup fixes everything. We even had our friend Mike go to a neighboring table and ask for their A1 Steak Sauce, which we later found out was a bottle of balsamic vinaigrette. Hey, ya win some, ya lose some…):
Now, here is a case where I would have eaten more of the pasta had I know the 2 courses that would follow (though, if I’m saving calories in this feast-all weekend, it really couldn’t hurt :)). I had gotten to the point where I realized a number of bites (where I really took note of the flavor and texture of the food, even the smell) would satisfy me, and leave room for…
In a coined-by-me-phrase, bring out the rum cake…and put the fork down.
Man, I don’t know who the Italians are trying to impress with this rum cake stuff. I even asked my mom, “Aren’t they the land known for tiramisu?” Her response: “Well, maybe each restaurant thought the other one would be serving you tiramisu.” Good thought, mom. Good thought. This was the second rum cake (of 3) we were served this weekend. The first one, one teeny bit and done. This one, I gave it a shot (only because it had significantly less rum than the previous and was also infused with a nutella-like substance):
Okay, okay. The nuts on top also intrigued me.
We stayed in a hotel in Salerno (situated on the Gulf of Salerno and overlooking the Amalfi Coast) 2 nights, and were provided with a “continental” breakfast both mornings. I was so enamored with my choices the first morning that I ate exactly the same for the second! What can I say, I’m a creature of habit, even in Italy 🙂
My choice(s)? A fresh-from-the-oven roll (evidence: it was still warm inside when I sliced it open) layered with a thin slice of deli meat and cheese. On the side? Some scrambled eggs. Paired with a steaming-hot mug of lemon tea, with fresh lemon. (I was getting a sore throat…perhaps because of all the wet, rainy, & (relatively) cold weather we were having…this did the trick to soothe it!)
(Okay, again on the pepper. Why don’t they have a shaker? I put sooo much gosh-darn pepper on it because they only give you a little spoon! Read my previous experience with the pepper shaker in Mensa here.)
Our last big meal was on Sunday in Sorrento, a stunning little town along the coast in the Campania region of Southern Italy. Overlooking the Bay of Naples and the island of Capri, I’m sure it would have been even more stunning had there been some sun! (or at least a lack of a torrential downpour). Let’s just say…the drive here was beautiful.
Again, not the greatest of the meals we’ve been served here but, alas, it’s all better than Lean Cuisines and the like, right? 🙂 I think I can handle it…
The first course was a manicotti-type pasta, filled-to-the-pasta-seam with a rich mixture of ricotta cheese and spinach and layered with a few dollops of marinara. A little too rich and cheesy for my liking (truth-be-told my favorite part was the noodle!):
(Dusted with parmigiano reggiano, natch.)
Second course? This was my fave part of the meal, no doubt. A tender cut of chicken (unlike the dry pork in desperate need of some ketchup/catsup/katchup from the previous night) with a light, mushroom sauce. Along with some steamed baby carrots and roasted (again to perfection), cut potatoes with aesthetically-pleasing and palate-gratifying oregano? As Campbell’s would say, “Mmm…mmm…good!”
Alright, let’s talk. This is, again, a point where I wish I would have eaten more of the second course because my “favorite” friend made another appearance:
Anywhoo, one whiff of this and I was done. Like legit. Like, not even lift a fork to this baby. Not even worthy of a photo!
Though this weekend was full of a lot of food, it was so much more than that. It was taking in sights that had been standing for centuries (centuries!) before Jesus Christ walked the Earth. It was forming new friendships with people from all over the country. It was laughing at the fact (because, really, what else could we do?) that our feet were soaking wet, our fingers numb-to-the-bone, and our toes capable of falling off. It was relishing in the fact that, no matter where we came from, we’d all been given the incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore Italy and the world outside of our homes. It was looking at the world in different ways, understanding the context & stories behind that alfresco we otherwise could have overlooked. It was realizing that, in all honesty, we were 198 of the luckiest “kids” in the world.
Even if the bus Julie and I were on got a flat tire and allll the buses had to stop and wait while it was repaired.
And heck, even if we did save room for that darn old rum cake.
(Please keep reading below…)
A couple of items before I let you guys all leave (no, you are not just able to click the tiny “x” on the corner of your screen and exit this site):
-My dad sent the fam a link to an absolutely wonderful, touching story on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (superbowl-bound! Ooh, ooh!): I’m begging y’all to read it. It is one of the most incredible little stories out there…check it out here. We are so lucky to have this guy representin’ our state 🙂
-Since you all are aware that my blog mainly focuses on food, please check out my friend (and roommate) Julie’s blog about everything going on in these 4 months of our Italian adventures. She covers it all: from the sights, to the travel, to the day-to-day experiences that make us laugh and get us acquainted to the Italian lifestyle. She’d love to have you guys stop by!