“Volete più vino da bere?”
The man with the wine gestured to my glass. I looked up. Blearily.
“He wants to know why we aren’t drinking,” my friend said, half-heartedly, from across the table. Seeing as the man was also her uncle, she was automatically on translation duty. She didn’t exactly seem keen on the job.
I surveyed the two bottles of wine that stood before me. From my slightly slumped position, sliding half way down the leather-backed chair, they seemed even larger than usual. Large, dark red, and barely a drop touched in each. The five glasses of water that circled our plates only added to the mockery.
My head, meanwhile, was enjoying a slow, methodical thud.
It was almost too ironic. There we were, lunching in the porch of a beautiful Italian vineyard, treated to beautiful balls of mozzarella nestling amid piles of prosciutto, and the most delicious red wine had been rendered practically undrinkable on account of my worst hangover in six months.
But come on: who goes to Italy and doesn’t get a bit indulgent?
Reuniting in the heat
When I signed up for a group tour around India, I wasn’t thinking about the long-term implications. Sure, I was hoping for a good group of people to travel with, but that’s about as far as it went.
I certainly hadn’t envisaged making such good friends that I’d be spending my third week back in Europe in a centuries-old Italian villa, competing in a highly tense gelato challenge, spinning circles with my heel firmly rooted upon a mosaic bull’s historical testicles, and discussing the gang bang theory with a drunk bar owner. But that’s exactly the kind of thing that happens when you’re not expecting it.
My visit to the city of Brescia had started innocently enough. A reunion with my two India-made friends (one from Italy, the other from Sweden) was long overdue, so we hugged, screamed, and complained about being too hot while simultaneously attempting to get as tanned as possible. Northern Italy in August is, for those who do not know, absolutely boiling.
So, within a day of arriving, we hopped on the train and reached Iseo, a little town with a beautiful – and blissfully cool watered – lake, where we sunbathed, swam, ate a multitude of fresh fruit, and watched the oddities of Italy pass us by.
The beginnings of tan lines successfully appearing, we returned to Brescia to enjoy a casual aperitivo in the main square and listen to the ghost stories that surround my friend’s villa. The Italian side of her family have owned their house for at least the last 300 years – a place which has enjoyed previous incarnations as hospital and a monastery for the church across the street.
In a city which recently received UNESCO-worthy status, and which has a maze of underground passages spidering their way from houses to the various Roman ruins scattered around, it’s only fair that Brescia has a healthy dollop of ghostly action thrown in. Sadly I didn’t meet any of these ghosties on this trip, but the spine chilling stories of fallen paintings and loud noises from the fifth floor were definitely good for cooling us down in the heat!
On our third day, we headed for the sweltering heat of fashionista filled Milan. We wandered through the city, stopping in at the cathedral to admire the stained glass windows, the beautiful dome and to get slightly creeped out by the mummified priests, before a quick trip around Museo del Novecento for a dose of modern art-induced culture, and eventually being told to turn in hysterical circles on a famous bull’s balls for good luck.
Although I still maintain my friend invented this ‘tradition‘ to make me look stupid. But hey, when in
A brief cocktail with two very well dressed Italian women later (one of whom being our friend’s mother), and we suddenly found ourselves running for the last train back to Brescia.
With three minutes to spare and no time to buy our tickets, we sat for an hour in nervous anticipation that we’d meet a ticket conductor (although distraction was successfully achieved by sticking our heads out of the windows and blurry photo posing). And then, because we made it back in one piece and without a huge ticket-evading fine, we clearly had to celebrate.
A celebration that was accompanied by the realisation that cocktails in Milan are always a bit stronger than one first thinks.
Drunk Skype calls? Yes please!
This particular evening in Italy gets a bit blurry. I remember that we sat outside to drink and eat and drink some more; I”m pretty sure that we bought roses from a street vendor; and I know we chatted to the owner of an outdoor bar about his global alcohol-based exploits as we sipped his unnamed cocktails. But when you throw a Swedish girl with an iPod full of ABBA’s greatest hits into the mix as well?
Well. Suffice to say that the Skype calls our Aussie friends received at 4am our time were filled almost exclusively with our joyfully raised voices.
“Why are you whispering??”
“Because I’m at work,” our friend Bianca hissed, iPad pressed up against her face.
“But WHY are you hiding in a cupboard??”
“Because you guys are actually being really loud…”
Rousing ourselves at 10am for a trip to the family vineyard when we’d fallen into bed at 5am wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. Coping with the raging hangover wasn’t enjoyable either. But, thankfully, Italy is designed for the indulgence of such vices.
Italy: a food lover’s heaven
I am, of course, talking about food. For five days, the never-ending stream of Italian deliciousness reminded me why I found living in Florence such a struggle a few years ago. It also points out the terrible internal struggle so many gorgeous Italians have to face every day; to strive to remain gorgeous, or simply give in and start gorging?
In five days I inhaled a huge amount. There was mozzarella, prosciutto, fresh tomatoes, ricotta cheese, pasta, risotto, fish, pesto, meatballs, brioche, fresh bread, figs and doughnut peaches. There were more trips to the gelateria than there were days in Italy, thanks to the gelato challenge, as we attempted to guess which store was my friend’s family favourite: I ended up sampling such delicate flavours as basilico, violet petal and gorgonzola.
Yep, that’s right; cheese flavoured ice cream. Basically two of the best foodstuffs in the world, combined.
It was actually a good deal better than I expected! There was even a sad occasion when I managed to combine two of Italy’s best, and dripped a lovely thick strand of burrata, the world’s creamiest mozzarella, directly into a fresh glass of red wine. Thank goodness no gelato made it into that mix..
Sadly, all too soon it was time to go back to the airport and fly home to cloudy England, where the weather seems to have forgotten it’s still officially in summer mode. But it’s a great feeling to realise that, after flying halfway around the world and back again recently, Europe is right on my doorstep. And when you’ve made firm friendships with people who own haunted Italian villas, well: things can only get better!
So, what’s the next stop on the Indian reunion tour? Half of the girls I met out there are from Australia, which despite its temptations, is sadly a tad too far at the moment. So Sweden it is: a land of crayfish festivals, craggy fishermen and my friend Linnea’s brand new apartment in Lund. I have a feeling that a trip to Scandinavia could be just as ridiculous as this one turned out to be…