When traveling, I highly recommend choosing hotels that include breakfast. We had such a hard time choosing food for lunch and dinner sometimes (not because nothing sounded good but because everything
sounded good) that I can't imagine what we would have done trying to choose a breakfast place before having coffee.
All three of our hotels included breakfast buffets that we took very complete advantage of. There were always pastries, fresh fruit, yogurt, and my new favourite breakfast: fresh buns and slices of mild provolone cheese. There was also cappuccino every morning, to my delight. Coffee
Russ and I are espresso drinkers at home too. Years ago, when Russ worked at Starbucks, we used his staff discount and a Boxing Day sale to buy an espresso maker. We gave up the regular coffee machine fairly soon after.
"I don't want all these fancy drinks – these cap-a-chinos. Why can't I get a regular cup of coffee? I just want regular coffee," the woman was obviously American by her southern accent. She is sitting with her husband and another couple at a nearby table in the breakfast room in our hotel in Florence.
Russ, ever helpful, leans over: "Order an Americano."
"An A-mer-i-can-no? Is that a regular coffee?"
"Kind of. It's espresso and hot water. It's like a regular coffee."
"Marvin? Marvin, go order me one of these A-mer-i-can-nos."
Marvin obediently gets up and goes to the espresso bar at the far end of the breakfast room. In the meantime, his wife turns to the other couple at their table: "Do you guys want some too?" When they nod, she yells across the room: "Marvin! Marvin, get two more of those A-mer-i-can-nos!"
We left for a tour while their order was being made, so we never did find out if they found an Americano enough like regular coffee or not.
On a friend's recommendation, we made another delightful discovery (in additional to bread and cheese for breakfast): espresso con grappa
. This is not a breakfast drink, but best sipped after dinner, perhaps with a tiramisu. We brought a bottle of grappa home with us to enjoy.Tiramisu
We made it a tradition to celebrate our last night in each city with tiramisu.
In Rome, we had tiramisu on the Piazza Navona. We laughed again at the story we'd learned during our walking tour of Rome: Bernini, who created the famous fountain at the center of the piazza (the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi), and Borromini, who designed the church along one side of the piazza (the church of Sant'Agnese), were great rivals. The pope of the time set them to work at the same time in the piazza. Their rivalry is reflected in their great works: the four characters on the fountain are all turned away from the church – one has her face covered, while another has a hand out as though to ward off the church's ugliness – and on the church's front, the sole character – a statue of the saint – is turned aside so only her profile is seen and so that she doesn't face the fountain.
In Florence, we had tiramisu on the Piazza della Repubblica. First, we went to this very fancy restaurant and candy store – a candy store where we had accidentally spent €12 on two tiny bags of candy the day before – but after saying "sit anywhere", no one came to bring us menus or see what we wanted. After waiting for fifteen minutes, we moved on to one of the many other restaurants on the piazza. The staff at the snobby restaurant looked quite shocked that we were leaving, but at the second place we tried, we were served delicious tiramisu (my favourite of the trip, actually) and espresso con grappa in a prompt and friendly manner, and for several Euros less than the other place as well.
In Venice, we had tiramisu at the base of the Ponte del Rialto, along the Canal Grande. We briefly considered celebrating our final night in Italy in the Piazza San Marco, which is even more iconic than the Rialto, but one look at the prices quickly made us look elsewhere: the cost of a dessert was going to be more than we had spent on some meals. And the Canal Grande is gorgeous at night anyway. Wine
Every restaurant we ate in seemed to have a house wine. They were all delicious, and they were all labeled "vino della casa", with no other information about how we could buy a similar wine at home. The Italians have a wonderful invention that I've never seen in Canada: the 375 mL wine bottle. It's just a half-sized bottle, complete with cork, and it is perfect for two to share over a leisurely meal without overindulging or leaving any behind. It is especially perfect to share over lunch, when you don't want to end up too tipsy or sleepy after. Pizza
Red wine and pizza go very well together. Red wine goes especially well with whatever wonderful drug is in Italian tomato sauce: it tasted so simple, but was undeniably some of the tastiest sauce I've ever had in my life. Since it is vegetarian and easily identifiable, I had a lot of pizza margherita in Italy, which was delicious, but I also had a most wonderful creation one day when we escaped from the rain in Venice by ducking into the first restaurant that looked warm: tomato sauce, bocconcini, asparagus spears, and an egg right in the middle. Sounds weird – it looked weird too – but tasted like the best of breakfast and pizza brought together.Coming home
Since coming home, I've been eating breakfast regularly for the first time in years. I have a slice of bread, sometimes with jam, and I've been experimenting with different brands of provolone cheese to find one that tastes right (some are too aged to be eaten so early in the day) and is affordable (the pre-sliced one from the Safeway deli tastes right, but it is a bit pricey, and I'm perfectly able to slice my own cheese).
Today, walking home from the Central Library, I was getting hungry and thought I'd stop somewhere for dinner. The whole walk home, through a good part of downtime Vancouver and all of Chinatown, I kept looking for some place to eat, and nothing looked appealing. I wasn't sure what I was looking for – what I wanted to eat or drink, what kind of atmosphere I wanted – until I realized that I was looking for Italy. Realizing that I wasn't going to find wine and pizza or perfect melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi on a cobblestone street or lovely piazza, I went home. I made my own pasta dish and opened a bottle of Russ and I's own "vino della casa" (a Pinot Noir we made at a local u-brew) and consumed most of both on my back deck in the last hours of sunshine, reading my book. It wasn't Italy, but it was lovely, and close enough for today.