My Italian connection

Dolce Vita Bloggers link up 

#dolcevitabloggers

My love for Italy, Bella Italia, is the longest love affair I’ve ever had and it’s not about to subside anytime soon. When I was invited by a lovely online friend Kelly from Italian at Heart blog to participate in a monthly blogging link up, I couldn’t say no. Now, I know, I need to get a bit better with time management as this should’ve been posted on the 7th… let’s just say I’m doing this in Italian time! Better late than never, right? This month’s linkup theme is My Italian connection.

Family

Many of you already know that both of my parents are Italian. Mum is from a little town called Lioni, in subregion called Avelino in the mountains inland from Naples. Dad is from Mestre, a town just outside of Venice. My surname, Bortoletto is from Treviso, not far from Mestre, and that’s where my Nonno (Dad’s dad) was born. You can read more about my family here.

Last year I travelled to all of those places with my mum and dad – an amazing experience to see where they came from. They left Italy as 10 – 11 year olds with my grandparents in the 1950s, travelling to Melbourne by sea in search of a better life. Both of my grandfathers went to Melbourne two years earlier to find work and set up a life with nothing more than a suitcase full of dreams (and a couple of shirts), leaving a young family behind in Italy. I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like. Especially back then when Italians were “wogs” and discriminated against by many in 1950s Australia.

About 20 years ago, I backpacked through Italy with a lovely Italian friend of mine Paula – a trip we named ‘The feast and famine tour’ because when we stayed with my relatives or her relatives, it was a feast, I mean we were fed until we couldn’t breathe. In between family visits, we ate little – to save money and give our digestive systems some time off, like a famine. During that trip, I met many of my great aunts and uncles and some cousins. It was a privilege to be able to do that and I’m so glad I did – one amazing thing was that despite my Nonna living in Australia for 40 years, my great aunts both cooked pasta the exact same way as my Nonna – the same sauce and everything.

The whole family in Positano last year. From left front: mum, John, me, Leo, Matt. Back: Dad, Marnie, Con, Zorba, Katie

My first time

My first time in Italy was in 1996, about 18 months before the feast and famine tour, and it immediately sparked my love for Italy. I’d always had a connection to Italy, I always felt Italian, I certainly looked Italian, but when I finally set foot in the Mother Country, my soul felt like it was home. And every time I go back to Italy, I feel like I’ve come home. Conversely, every time I fly out of Italy, I cry. Every time. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve been to Italy (not bragging, just go at every opportunity I can) and I always feel the same way.

With those feelings in mind, I decided to go and live in Italy in 2007 (wow, over ten years ago!)

Piazza Navona

Living in Italy

I took seven months unpaid leave from work (a sabbatical) in 2007 and fulfilled a lifelong dream of living in Italy. For six months before the trip, I had an Italian tutor help me learn the language (a basic level but it got me by – thanks Chiara Kinder!) and off I went to Rome, my favourite Italian city. I love Rome for its importance, its history, its chaos and quirks, its food and fashion, the people and their passion – well, everything really.

My intention was to stay forever, find a job, set up a life and become a proper Roman. I found a job teaching English and I hated it with such passion that I barely lasted three weeks. At that particular school, I was teaching Italians to be parrots, not to comprehend English and I felt like a fraud. Plus I was paid 10 Euros per hour and it would take me over an hour by bus to get there from where I lived in Trastevere. For the measly amount I was earning, it was just not worth it, plus it was ruining my experience of living in Rome.

With no job, I had time and I was able to do whatever I wanted. I sat in cafes, I walked, I window shopped, I travelled a little and I started to blog. I was the second person I knew who had a blog (back then) and for me it was a really cool way to write about my experience living in Rome and share photos with family and friends – remember, not everyone had Facebook in 2007, in fact, I opened my Facebook account in Rome then. My biggest surprise came when other people started reading my blog, people I didn’t know (and here we are!).

Blogging in a cafe in Trastevere

I continued to look for a job but without perfect Italian, in fact, my Italian language skills were very basic (I could only speak in present tense and perfect past tense), working in PR or media was out of the question. I could’ve worked for an English speaking company but that would’ve meant living in Milan, something I wasn’t keen on.

Living in Italy is much different to holidaying in Italy. The challenge of dealing with utility companies, phone companies, banks, hell, I even had to allow half a day to go to the post office because I never knew if it would be straightforward or a bureaucratic nightmare – most often the latter. Don’t even get me started on the rigmarole of getting a codice fiscali (tax file number). It was exhausting. I decided to stay the seven months and go back to Austalia to resume my well-paid government job.

In my last week of living in Rome, I was offered a pretty good job working for a low-cost bus company that shuttled passengers from airports to city centres all over the world. It was paying decent money by Roman standards (still about 30 percent less than I was earning in Australia) but it meant I had to spend four days each week at Stansted Airport in England. Have you been to Stansted Airport? Back then, it was the shittiest, cruddiest airport ever – and because it serviced the low-cost airlines, it attracted low-cost passengers in their thousands. The thought of spending four days per week at Stansted Airport did not fill me with joy – it defeated the purpose of living in Rome. It was a tough decision and I was at a crossroads – should I stay or should I go?

In the sweltering July heat, seeing every second business close up shop for summer, I made peace with my lifelong dream of living in Italy. For me, everyday life in Australia was a better option and holidaying in Italy would be something I’d always do.  Perhaps living there one day when I no longer needed to work.

Lago di Como

My Italian connection now

Since that awesome experience living in Rome in 2007, I’ve returned to Italy many times. I’ve also taken up studying, a Diploma of Italian at the University of Western Australia. In semester one I got a High Distinction, yep, 94%, the highest mark of any subject I’ve ever achieved, ever. I’m eagerly waiting for results for semester two. I nerd out big time studying Italian and I love it. I have to thank my Greek sister-in-law Marnie because she enrolled first and when she told me she was going to study Italian at UWA, I thought to myself, “I just have to do this too because I can’t listen to her talk about her Italian studies without going crazy!”. It’s just one unit per semester, very part-time. We’ve got two more years to go. In July we’re going to Bergamo for a university exchange to study there for three weeks – I can’t WAIT!

Also, I’m on the lookout for Italian clients – any Italian companies that would like PR representation in Australia – ideal clients would be anything to do with motorsport, tourism (Italian Tourism Board!), travel industry, food and wine 😉

Join in

Do you have an Italian connection or are you an honorary Italian you love it so much? If you want to participate in Dolce Vita Bloggers monthly link up, click on the badge below (also on the right hand side column and be sure to check out the hosts’ blogs:

Kelly italianatheart.com

Jasmine questadolcevita.com

Kristie mammaprada.com

Grazie mille! Buona giornata xx

Orvieto, Umbria

 

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Roma – 24 hours in the Eternal City

Exhausted and exhilarated, we arrived in Bella Roma after a long haul flight from Perth and had less than 24 hours in the Eternal City.  Out hotel, Residence Regola, was perfect.  In a great location just two minutes walk to Campo dei Fiori, two minutes over the pedestrian bridge Ponte Sisto to Trastevere, and five minutes walk to Piazza Navona. Tucked behind a boom-gate protected piazza, this little boutique hotel with just six rooms was whisper quiet, spotlessly clean, and had a new fit out. We booked through booking.com and paid 151 Euro (A$225) per night. The king size bed and rain shower were worth it.

We had a little kitchenette inside a cupboard at Residence Regola

We had a little kitchenette inside a cupboard at Residence Regola

With just one night in Rome, we forced ourselves to go out, despite not checking into the hotel until 9.30pm local time. After a short walk to Trastevere in the rain, we decided to eat at Osteria Ponte Sisto, a restaurant I’ve eaten at previously several times. It’s not the most amazing restaurant in the world, but in our jet-lagged state, it was adequate. We both had a traditional Roman dish, spaghetti carbonara (8 Euro, A$11), with homemade fresh pasta. The pasta was beautifully cooked, but the sauce, if I’m honest, was overloaded with pepper and not silky like it should be – the eggs had scrambled, but I enjoyed it anyway. The house red wine at 10 Euro ($A15) was quaffable.

We slept until our bodies woke us.  By the time we got ready and left the hotel, we had four hours – we had to be back at the hotel at 2.45pm to pick up our luggage and take a taxi to the airport. My only objective – throw a coin over my left shoulder at the Trevi Fountain (which means that one day you will return to Rome – it’s worked every time to date), and Zorba’s objective was to have a nice lunch and gelato.

First stop was for a cappuccino – enough said. No breakfast required as lunch was just an hour or so away. Then Campo dei Fiori. The Greek bought two tomatoes from the market, washed them under the fountain, and ate them like an apple. It’s his Roman tradition.

Second stop was Piazza Navona, one of the most beautiful squares in the world. We popped inside the Brazilian Embassy that was having an open day and stared in awe at the beautiful fountains of Neptune, the God of the Seas. And there’s a obelisk, one of 27 in  Italy that the Romans stole from Egypt, which only has 11.

We walked past the 2000 year old Pantheon on our way to the Trevi Fountain and stopped to have a quick look inside. It’s a marvellous example of ancient architecture – the perfectly designed dome has a hole at the top that lets in light, and if it rains, there are drainage holes in the marble flooring that is sloped every so slightly so the water drains away.

When we reached the Trevi Fountain, we were in the company of about 45,000 tourists. It was horrendously busy, as it always is. I took some quick snaps and we threw coins over our shoulders.

Lunch was next. We walked and walked to a restaurant I’d read about, Ristorante Duelle, which was not open for lunch. Grrr. We spent five minutes searching Trip Advisor for a nearby restaurant. Unsatisfied with that, we decided to head back towards Piazza Navona and find a restaurant that wasn’t a tourist trap – a mission in that part of Rome. Time was ticking and we had to hurry up.

Fatto in Casa, in a quiet-ish street looked inviting, even more so when I spotted a couple of Nonna’s and another table of Italians.  There were no A-frame signs out of the front with pictures of food, or spruikers trying to entice people in. We sat, my feet welcoming a rest, and decided that this placed ticked the boxes: authentic menu with traditional dishes, reasonable prices, tables of locals, and not in sight of any major monuments (which tend to rip off tourists and serve below par food).

It proved to be a winner. My antipasti of panzanella – a tomato, bread, and basil salad was flavoursome, but it was the stuffed pumpkin flowers that I worshipped. I’ve had stuffed zucchini flowers plenty of times, but this was a first. Stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, the out batter was crisp and when cut, the cheese oozed out. I needed to add a little salt to the batter which made it a memorable dish.

Zorba’s mozzarella di buffalo (buffalo mozzarella) was soft, but not oozy like some we’ve had before.  His main, spaghetti carbonara, was luscious. The egg and pancetta sauce that coated the al dente pasta was silky, smooth, and rich. A much better version that the carbonara we had last night at Osteria Ponte Sisto.  My main of cut danish beef steak with rocket, tomato and balsamic, a traditional Roman dish, was delicious if I was selective with which parts of the steak to eat. The ends were a bit tough, but the centre was rare and tender.

With one hour to go, we paid ‘il conto’ and walked towards Campo dei Fiori to go to Grom, a well regarded chain of gelaterias. Besides the classic flavours on the menu like caffè that I ordered, they change each month with non-traditional flavours such as sugar and salt. I loved the sugar and salt – it was like a creamy salted caramel. Four years ago, there was just one Grom gelateria in Rome and it was so popular that we had to join a queue that went out the door. Now there are six, and no queues.

And there draws and end to our Roman time. I tend to agree with Zorba who said he feels robbed that we haven’t allowed more time in Rome. A sacrifice we had to make for the Monaco Grand Prix. Next stop, Nice.

p.s this could be my last blog post because a certain someone only packed a power adapter that takes 2-pin plugs – my laptop has a 3-pin plug and is almost out of battery…hence the lack of photos in this post – sorry!

 

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

The opening of the dome in the Pantheon

The opening of the dome in the Pantheon

 

FACT FILE

Residence Regola
Via Trinità dei Pellegrini 20, Navona, 00186 Rome
Contact them via their website

Fatto in Casa
Via del Governo Vecchio 125, Rome, Italy
+39 06 686 8693

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Roman signs

Creative religious inspired street sign in Rome

I do love a good street sign. Here’s one of my favourites that I came across in Trastevere in Rome in July 2012.

 

 

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Best travel app

Trip Advisor is a great website for travellers and one I use all the time when looking for hotels or restaurants when travelling.

Zorba downloaded the free Trip Advisor City Guide for Rome so we could use it offline on the iPhone, which was perfect.  You can look up restaurants, hotels, attractions, sights, shopping as well as follow self-guided tours whilst walking around.

The very best feature is Point Me There to help you find your way to wherever it is you want to go. A large arrow points you in the general direction you need to walk. Because it is offline, Google maps doesn’t work, but that does not seem to matter.

Zorba loves the Point Me There feature of the Trip Advisor app. We used to it find our way to the Trevi fountain, Villa Borghese, Cappuchin Crypt, and dinner at San Michele in Trastevere.  It’s brilliant – you don’t need to stop and pull out the map every 10 minutes – just quickly glance down to the phone and make sure you are heading in the right direction.

The best part of it was that we walked down streets that normally I would not have taken if I was following a conventional old-school map and we stumbled upon some really lovely sights.

Highly recommended.

FACT FILE

Trip Advisor app is available through iTunes and is free.

Downloading the specific city guide is essential to be able to use it offline.

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San Michele Restaurant, Trastevere (Roma)

San Michele Restaurant and Pizzeria on the road that runs along the Tiber River, on the Trastevere side, was another top recommendation.
Foto di San Michele, Roma
Questa foto di San Michele è offerta da TripAdvisor.

It was our last night in Rome for a while and both Zorba and I wanted to have a fantastic farewell meal.

The setting of San Michele is just beautiful. It is like a large private courtyard filled with jasmine, trees, potted plants, water feature and the odd sculpture.  The pretty little lights take away the darkness with a subtlety and a huge canvas market umbrella provides shelter for the middle few tables.  Short stout Italian men in black trousers, white shirts, vests and bow ties were scurrying around with haste to service the Italians dining in.  No stranieri or foreigners here, just well dressed Italians.

Antipasto was mozzarella di buffala, stuffed zucchini flowers with mozzarella and anchovies, and stuffed crumbed olives.  A trifecta of yum! The mozzarella had a very light outer with gorgeously soft silky almost sweet mozzarella centre.  Absolutely heavenly.  Zorba said it was the best mozzarella he has ever eaten – and that’s a big call because he eats it at every opportunity.

The delicate zucchini flowers were crispy, slightly salty from the anchovy and again, deliciously moorish.

Zucchini flowers and crumb stuffed olives

For main course, Zorba and I shared a 900 gram bistecca Fiorentina – or Florentine t-bone steak.  This is no ordinary steak. There is a special breed of beef that this meat comes from. It is cooked over coals, slightly charred on the outside and served rare to medium rare.  It is so succulent and tender that the meat just melts as soon as it hits your tongue. I was in food heaven.

Fiorentina

It was also really great to eat meat again after all the unintentional Italian carb loading we have been doing. Although it was not so great when Zorba picked up the bone and started gnawing on it to ensure that he had eaten every last scrap of meat! I was mortified! No no no no NO! As much as I secretly love to do that also, not in public and certainly not in a nice restaurant! Thankfully, no one seemed to bat an eyelid – after all, we are in Italy and Italians really do appreciate good food.

For dessert we shared a chocolate gelato.  Always a winner.

Naturally, we had to digest and luckily we had the help of a couple of Amaro liqueurs that were served in a glass half-filled with frozen water, which when it melted slightly, turned into huge ice cube. It was pretty cool actually.

Thanks to my my Aussie friend Cat who has been living in Rome for six years for this fab recommendation.

This wins meal of the trip so far. Ten out of Ten.

FACT FILE

San Michele
Lungotevere Ripa, 7, Roma 00153 (zona Trastevere)
Tel +39 06 584 826

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