Italy: It’s All About the Atmosphere

A Lovely, Warm Home

Going to Italy is like visiting a very dear friend you haven’t seen in a while, but every time you see them it’s like no time has passed at all. This friend of yours has a lovely, warm home with lots of wine, and pizza. They love to stay up late into the night, chatting with you over candle light and Italian food. 

I have quickly discovered that Italy is all about senses; the sounds of an accordion, the tastes of spaghetti and wine, the smells of pizza and oregano, history appearing before your eyes, the touch of your lovers lips on yours. Italians look like the happiest people in the world and it’s easy to see why. Their passion to appeal to the senses puts them in the present moment; the worries of the previous days all but forgotten.

Rome: The Most Endearing City

The first time I stepped out onto the streets of Rome I had a hand drawn map of the center, and what I assumed was a good sense of direction. I looked around me in a daze, and smiled at the thought of eating gelato in front of the Trevi Fountain. My daydreams were interrupted by a group of rowdy boys whistling at me and a Vespa speeding past. But, for some reason, this made the city all the more endearing.

I took a walk through the Roman Colosseum that afternoon, completely in awe at the fact that gladiators had actually fought each other here in front of excited audiences. Walking around Rome is like stepping into a time machine and witnessing the past; a past full of war, conquering, and fierce gladiators. But, in the present day, Rome is like the movie montages you might see with Dean Martin playing in the background. Gelato and pizza shops, grand architecture, sun shining off the cobblestone streets, and fountains, lots of fountains.

A Cold Evening in January

On my last trip to Rome I arrived by bus from the Fiumicino airport on a cold evening in January. I had printed a map off Google that should have easily taken me to the hotel I would stay at that night, and it was in walking distance. Not only was I carrying a 20 pound backpack but I also had a huge suitcase big enough to fit me, my whole family, plus the entire British royal family. My hotel was near the Piazza dell’Esquilino, and I assumed it would be easy to find. 

Unfortunately, every alleyway in Italy also has a street name and Google didn’t seem to know that. I walked around that night for 2 hours in a thunderstorm that just wouldn’t quit. I had asked for directions at every restaurant within the piazza and had promised every single one of them I would return for dinner.

Hotel Rafaello

I left my suitcase under the awning of another hotel (who had offered me a room for double the price of my already booked, yet still undiscovered hotel) and I searched every street within the piazza until I had just one left. On the verge of tears, I walked down that street, soggy map in hand, and finally spotted it; a bright yellow, neon sign that said “Hotel Rafaello.” I fell to my knees thanking God, Jesus, Mary, and everyone else from the Bible.

A very nice concierge greeted me. He looked like he was part of the advertising campaign for Hugo Boss and had the potential to make a viral YouTube video about perfecting the mustache.

After drying off and warming up, I went back out for dinner. I ate pasta carbonara; my first meal of the trip. On the way home I stopped for pastries that had been screaming at me from the window, “hey, hey take me with you, please!” What kind of cold-hearted person would say no? I fell asleep that night with a half eaten eclair in my lap, and watching The Lizzie Mcguire Movie.

A Truly Authentic Experience

However, for a truly authentic meal you will have to travel outside of the major tourist cities in Italy. Restaurants in Rome will tell you they have homemade pasta, but really, they have 10 boxes of Barilla noodles stacked up in the kitchen.

My first ever pizza in Italy was at the Albergo Copa restaurant in the small village of Dazio. I was staying there for 6 weeks, and realized it was only one of two restaurants in the whole town. Eating pizza like that was absolutely orgasmic. Crunchy, thin crust, and sizzling melted cheese; it sounds like an erotic novel.

When people think of Italy they think of the food; spaghetti, pizza, gelato, cheese. However, Italy isn’t only known for the food itself, but it’s known for an atmosphere you could only find in the home or restaurant of a true Italian family. Laughter, and smiling people sipping wine next to candle light and eating the best food the world has to offer.

The Best Meal I’ve Ever Eaten

The absolute best meal I’ve ever eaten was in Bergamo, Italy. It was a small, family run restaurant and when I arrived there weren’t any customers yet since Italian people eat much later. The owner of the restaurant was obsessed with American culture and the walls were covered with Elvis pictures and baseball memorabilia.

A salad bar was set up with fat red tomatoes, cheeses, pickles, olives, lettuce, and everything was in colorful, hand painted dishes. I ordered a pasta carbonara but it wasn’t the kind you usually get in most Italian restaurants. Homemade noodles were stuffed with cheese and bacon, and mixed in olive oil, pepper and cloves. The owner, Raphael, told me it was his mothers recipe as he sadly pointed to the sky with his hand on his heart.

I had tiramisu for dessert that was served in a blue and white, chipped coffee cup. It was as light as a cloud yet had the most authentic chocolate taste I’d ever had. At the end of the meal he gave me a free shot of limoncello and gave me a bottle of wine from his family vineyard, signing it “To my USA friends, with love and happy.”

What Makes Italian Food So Delicious?

So, what is it that makes Italian food so delicious? Well, pizza and pasta are pretty damn good, but what I have discovered is that it’s the warm atmosphere created around an Italian dinner table. When I eat these foods I’m immediately taken back to warm, candle lit evenings, sitting around a table, drinking wine, laughing, and forgetting all of the worries I’ve ever had.

For my family, I try to re-create the atmosphere I’ve experienced in Italian restaurants and homes. I like to open a bottle of wine, turn on some Dean Martin music, and cook. For the last big meal I made, I started with a plate of various cheeses, meats and olives. I made a beef carpaccio as a starter, and chicken Parmesan for the main meal. But, what really makes an Italian meal special? Spending time with your family, eating good food, laughing, and sharing in happy memories.

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