by Kira Maixner
I had the fortune of living in Italia on several different occasions. It is a country of infinite and insurmountable grace. Cities are decorated with cathedrals and duomos designed by masterminds such as Botticelli and Michelangelo.
Vaulted ceilings are delicately illustrated with frescos and ancient Roman artifacts seem to be strewn across the land, just waiting to be admired. The people are beautiful, graceful, and friendly. And the food? It’s just as delectable as it looks.
I’ll take you on a tour of the Italian coast. We’ll start with Venezia or Venice, the legendary city of canals, bridges, and gondolas. The city is comprised of 117 islands planted in a lagoon both of which are listed as World Heritage Sites.
It is a city just as romantic as the movies make it out to be, if not more. I strolled the streets hoping to find my true love, but was lost in the maze of pastel painted flats reflecting off the water. I was told it was a must see city, and the all recommendations were correct.
Small powerboats, rowboats, and gondolas drifted along the canals, their captains without rush. Lovers kissed on Piazza San Marco in the dwindling light. I was out of time for a boat ride, but wandering the narrow streets, crossing picturesque bridges, and exploring hidden passages was just as romantic.
I particularly love the doorways in Italy – and Venice had an infinite supply of twisted metallic knockers, brightly painted doors, and decorative entryways.
The next day, I took the ferry to the island of Murano to stock up on Venetian glass and watch the artists work hot bands of molten matter into delicate wine glasses and colored dishes. This is not to be missed, if only for the one-of-a-kind souvenirs you’ll be able to purchase for your friends and family waiting back home.
Once again the sunlight waned on the water and I headed back to my hotel. I stopped into a restaurant and ordered the gnocchi, washing it down with wine and tiramisu.
Cinque Terre, Ligura
Directly translated, Cinque Terre means “The Five Lands” literally, it’s made up of five quaint villages connected by a narrow footpath that clings to the cliffs that separate them. My weekend trip began in La Spezia, a port city that is located directly south-east of Riomaggiore, one of the tail-end villages that make up Cinque Terre.
I highly recommend that you bypass the crowded trains that shuttle tourists between the villages and opt to walk part or all, of the cliff-side trail that connects the villages. The southernmost part of the path is called Via dell’ Amore or “The Way of Love” and all available railing space is adorned with padlocks signifying a couple’s undying love for one another.
The footpath is well maintained with few steep or rocky sections. You can choose to walk just one section, between two or three villages that takes one to three hours, or the whole thing, that takes a commitment of about five hours – depending on how many times you stop to take pictures.
While hiking between the cities the view of the Mediterranean soars off the horizon. I was left in the haze of sunlight and daydreams about sailing along the colorful coast. With a history rich in fishing culture, it’s not surprising to find pescatore precariously perched on boulders along the coastline.
I was meandering the streets of Monterrosso when I stumbled upon a pizzeria that boasted a cheese and prosciutto pizza, bubbling and sitting in a bed of untraditionally (for the North) soft dough. I’m in no way a pizza connoisseur, but that was by far the best I’d had in Italy. To find it again, I’d have to get lost in the streets of the city.
Livorno holds a special place in my heart. Ruled by the Medici Family in the late 1500s, Leghorn was deemed a port to attract foreigners. A city that hails from pirates and the riff raff that accompanies them the city has lively and welcoming character that is defined by the people (not to say that everywhere in Italy is energetic and warm).
The home of a naval base, the city also has a strong culture of sailing that encourages children to step aboard at a young age.
A good portion of Leghorn’s city center was destroyed in World War II. Consequently, churches, synagogues, and apartment buildings were built anew with a style that doesn’t quite fit the sweeping arches and intricate statues of their predecessors. Luckily, not all of the city was destroyed and many statues and cathedrals remain. The most happening part of town goes by the name Little Venice and boasts canals that run switchbacks and circles among the streets.
The food in Italy is exquisite. Daily markets boast fresh vegetables, herbs, fruit, and cheeses from local farmers (my favorite of which is mozzarella di buffala), flowers, vino, and so much more. A traditional food in Leghorn is the legendary cacciucco, a seafood stew made with the local catch or sea critters, frutti di mare. It is said that this dish represents the diversity of the livornese people. The recipe differs for each family or restaurant. It’s rumored and verified by myself, that Il Sottomarino, a local trattoria, has the best in town.
Let’s not forget about savory dishes that include pasta made from scratch and copious amounts of fresh olive oil. One of my favorite piatti is ravioli al tartufo nero, ravioli with black truffles, alongside a fresh tomato dipping sauce and bruschetta.
Let’s not forget the wine. Coming from vineyards across the country you’ll be hard pressed to find an unsatisfactory barrel. Most restaurants have a vino della casa, or house wine that is delicious and made in house.
Street food in Livorno includes a chickpea patty sandwich called cinque cinque or five-and-five named for the original two five-cent-Lira it cost. Lastly, let’s not forget about my comfort food, quattro formaggi pizza. Usually, all to myself with the cheese dripping off the sides.
Lastly, Leghorn is know for it’s sunsets, best seen off of Piazza Mascagni, a stretching, black and white checkered plaza complete with a red-roofed gazebo.
For me, Italy is a place I can easily call home. It is a place that I still visit in my dreams and recall as easily as an old friend. The beauty of the country is breathtaking, yet it’s not solely in the scenery or the food – though certainly influencing factors. This other beauty is subtle. It’s in the wisps of sweet cigarette smoke that linger in skinny alleyways. It in the clatter of high heels on cobblestone and the sputtering motor of a Vespa as it swishes down the road.
It’s in the ease of which the language rolls off the tongue, and strangers call you bella, cara,and amica.
Kira Maixner does digital communications for San Francisco-based startup, GetMyBoat. When she has free time, she is learning to sail, daydreaming about travel and exploring the city by bicycle.
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