Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why not just pop on over to Italy?

I was so lucky to get to spend three days in Verona with Heather and Tyson Fujikawa. They recently moved there for Tyson's job, and it was such a fun visit for me. Knowing I only had three full days, I decided that the best approach would be to tour the area near Verona the best that I could, but not to try to do too much and cram in lots of sights. That was one of the smartest decisions I have ever made! We visited areas off the typical tourist path and enjoyed the days so much more than if we had been waking up at 5am and running from site to site until midnight.

Overall, I learned a very good lesson for those three days - enjoy the time and what happens in it. By not being disappointed that we didn't see everything, it made me better appreciate what we did see - and be so excited to come back some day with Patrick.

Ok, now on to the adventure!

My first day, Tuesday, I arrived at the Verona airport around 6:30 pm. Tyson picked me up from the airport and took me straight to their palazzo. I'm not just using that word lightly - their apartment is literally part of a Count's home and was recently converted into a gorgeous two bedroom apartment. The decorating was so perfect - a mix of heather's colorful and funky style and the owner's vintage pieces and it was incredibly spacious. Huge bathrooms, a giant living room and crazy high ceilings complete with chandeliers in every room. Even the kitchen was big! (at least much larger than I had imagined an Italian apartment's kitchen to be). I felt so at home - especially when I noticed Heather's welcoming touches - like the photo of us on the nightstand and the toothbrushes and toiletries in the bathroom.

I didn't pick my jaw up off the floor until - well now that I think about it, I think it's still on their floor!

Heather and I spent a few hours taking a quick tour of Verona. I absolutely fell in love with the city on that walk. I was oohing and ahhing over every inch of it. Everywhere you look, there is another incredible house or darling balcony full of colorful blooms.

To stave off the jetlag, We ate delicious pizza while standing on a 9th century bridge and got lost in so many tiny alleys. 

After our walk, we met up with Tyson at The most amazing Pizzeria - Bella

I had the primavera pizza - Buffala mozzarella, arugula, cherry tomatoes, shaved Parmesan and balsamic crema. I died and went to pizza heaven! American pizza, even the most gourmet, just isn't the same. Fun fact - Italians eat their pizza from the inside out - and NEVER use their hands. I almost forgot that part several times :)

Needless to say, after all that flying, walking and eating, I slept amazing and woke to a delicious breakfast "al fresco" with Heath on their glassed-in patio. Toast with ricotta and jam never tasted so good!

We spent our morning at the grocery store - heather humored my passion for grocery stores and we spent time browsing the countless butters, cheeses and cured meats. I spontaneously decided to take advantage of her refrigerator and bought 2 butters, 5 different cheeses - smoked mozzarella, 2 different Buffala mozzarella, burrata (always has been and still is my favorite!) and stracchino (the softest cheese ever, basically the middle of burrata) and a dozen different meats. At first, the man at the deli counter didn't understand why we were only getting two or three slices of each meat, until I was ordering the 6th one and he caught on that I was
a. Crazy
b. a tourist.

I tried asking him which meats were the best or which I should for sure order (heaven forbid I miss out on one!) and we accidentally had that translated to "I have a crush on you" by another grocery clerk. Ha!

That afternoon, we took the train to Lake Garda and then a ferry to Sirmione to explore the fortress there. It was such a cute little place - darling shops and walking paths - also the largest Gelato of my life- although we did regret not having our bathing suits with us when we saw all the locals taking a dip in the lake - and our one big regret of the trip - not being able to convince one of the guys to take us for a ride on their speedboat. We got so close, but couldn't close the deal. Maybe if we were single ;)

Towards the end of the afternoon, we spent some time in the Grottos but our energy was fading fast, so we decided to take the next ferry home. Lucky for us that we did that, because it spontaneously started to POUR right when the ferry was pulling into the harbor. Heather had run over to a little bakery to get some treats for us and I was waiting for the boat. Next thing we knew, the boat was there, everyone was running on, it was pouring rain and heather wasn't back! I was a little worried that we might miss the ferry, but luckily heather ran back up just in time - but with no treats. the bakery worker was taking FOREVER (note to self, never be in a hurry in Italy, it will drive you batty) and she had to bail before we missed it! Never you worry though, We ate enough treats all the other days to make up for it :)

That night, we came back to the apartment and ate the most delicious aperitifo spread. Tyson and heather were so kind to let me take over their kitchen to fulfill my dream of an unlimited meat and cheese feast. It was truly sooo delicious. I also loved that part of an authentic Italian aperitifo spread (at least from what I saw at all the restaurants) was potato chips so I was sure to include them in ours. I was meant to live Italian. Or at least Veronan.

My second full day in Verona was even better than the first! In the morning, heather had to work for a bit, so she drew me a map and sent me on my way to find the farmer's market and Juliet's balcony. I was so proud of myself for finding my way through the castle, over the castle bridge and into the farmer's market. It was so fun to see the locals in their element - it was definitely not a tourist destination. I saw a woman selling truffles, several fruit and vegetable stands and quite a few cheesemongers. There was even one stand selling salami and meats. I again took advantage of the Fujikawa fridge and purchased a piece of meat to cook that night, just for fun. It was ,animating in some delicious looking herbs and I wasn't sure if it was beef or pork so I tried to ask the clerk - is Carne? She kept repeating something else that I didn't understand, so I finally just snorted like a pig and she laughed and nodded - ohhh a pork chop! (for the record, it was very delicious).

After the farmers market, I stopped in at a street side cafe for some Italian hot chocolate - soo rich, and soo delicious. I felt so European sitting at my little table, sipping my little drink. Just wished I had brought a book along!

I then started off to find Juliet's balcony, and got a little lost. Turned out to be the best detour ever because I stumbled into this tiny frame shop and met the darling owner. He has owned the shop for 56 years. Couldn't have been nicer! I bought a gorgeous lithograph print from him and we became fast friends - such great friends, in fact, that when I brought heather by to meet him later that afternoon, he gifted me a copy of a Verona art book that included information about the lithograph I had bought! Lots of smiles and kisses on the cheek later, I was off to Juliet's balcony.


It was fun to see the balcony, but I didn't spend too much time there -just checked it off the list. It was pretty crowded with tourists touching the statue's boob (weird tradition...) and I was running out of time to head back to the apt. I stopped in at a few more local shops and grocery stores that afternoon and then heather and I caught a bus to Sousa - a darling little town right outside of Verona that had a gorgeous castle - with the most incredible view of the valleys around us and awesome pistachio and stracchino gelato. I was one happy girl!

 Look! It's Tyson!!

That evening was my favorite of the whole trip. We went back to Verona and Heath took me to have her favorite lasagna. Not only was the lasagna truly incredible, but the ambiance of that little cafe was PERFECT. We were surrounded by Bougainville and star jasmine and the "roof" was grapevines with little grapes hanging down around us. I could have stayed there for hours! (the cute Italiano waiters didn't hurt either ;) )

 I love me some old men, especially with accordians!
 Eek! A Horse meat Shop
 Obligatory Coliseum shot. 

My last day in Italy, we took the train to Venice. What a gorgeous place to end the trip!

 At the train station, we coincidentally ran into these two cute girls - and one happened to be from Utah and Heather knew her older sister! And the other, had been to Utah for an exchange program and happened to have met a sister missionary from Verona that turned out to be the sister-in-law of a girl Heather is dear friends with in Italy! It's amazing, the coincidences you find just by being friendly.

Our first stop was a fantastic bakery right near the train station with the best pizzettes ever. We ordered one, then another, and then another! And on our way home, we were wishing we had bought even more! The perfect flakey crust, delicious sauce and of course, cheese. Yum!

 Look, Patrick! It's Grom! (only the best Italian Gelato ever to make it to NYC and Malibu!)
 Creepy-Cool Candy Shop

 Oh look, it's me eating another snack.

 Poor heather, such a good sport - patiently entertaining my grocery store habits!

We also stumbled upon the fish market where I met a cute old man - (Big surprise) We chatted for a while and I of course, got a photo with him (and his email address, but that's another story). Look how perfectly he is dressed!

We wandered through the tiny streets and over the canals for a few hours. Heather was so sweet to be so patient with me while I ate at every shop we passed. I just couldn't help it! Everything was so cute and sooo delicious. I even forced myself to be brave and try a regional favorite - bacallate (not sure) in two varieties - cod with milk and cream on toast and cod with garlic and parsley on toast. I was nervous they would be ├╝ber fishy but was pleasantly surprised.

The afternoon was spent on the ferry to the islands - with a short stopover on Murano, we were determined to make it to Burano, the lace island. By the time we pulled up, we realized we only had thirty minutes before we needed to catch the ferry back for our train so we had a whirlwind visit. Oh what a place! The brightly colored buildings just put such a pep in our step. We were soo happy there. I'm totally jealous that heather can just spontaneously head back any time she feels like it!!

 Catching the train back that evening was bittersweet. I was having such a blast in Italy - not just because of the place itself, but it was so wonderful to spend so much one-on-one time with such a dear friend. I was excited to head off to the next leg of the trip, but my short visit in Italy couldn't haven been any better. Every single minute was just perfect (ok, minus the fact that I was totally missing Mr. Larsen!). I feel like my friendship with Heather is just getting better and better every year, even while they are so far away. I'm so happy they are in Italy, but I sure do miss them back in LA!

Grazie Mille, Heather and Tyson for being such amazing hosts and such true friends. I love you soo much - Can't wait to come back again soon - and next time with Patrick!

Location:Verona, Italy

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