Italy trip: best gnocchi and my new favourite place

N and I returned from Italy about a few weeks ago. Vacation, yes. 

I had always wanted to see the famed rolling hills of Tuscany that graced the pages of fancy travel magazines. Now I can finally say, been there done that.

We flew from Hong Kong to Milan, and went by train down to central Italy. We stayed in Manarola for 2 nights, visiting the other Cinque Terre seaside towns in the day, then spent another 4 days around Val d'Orcia. The trip concluded with a day in Florence before we were headed back for Milan the next morning.

Now, I’m not going to write a super long nor detailed post about this trip, because truth be told, it was a brief trip and we didn’t do all that much. Not enough to be able to share with you why Italians like their pasta rather salty (by my standards; I like bland food) and why I chanced upon crying-Italian-women thrice throughout the trip.

Instead, I will sum up the trip with my two-cent thoughts on the places we visited in Italy. Bear in mind we spent about 10 days in total, with most of our time dining in Italian proportions.

If you're new to experiencing Italy like I am, you may find this list slightly helpful.

1. Milan was more dingy than I expected. Its reputation as a fashion capital was misleading. (Then again, I guess that's partly Europe in winter for you)

With my bird friends at Duomo di Milano

With my bird friends at Duomo di Milano

Famed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele with a semi-constructed Christmas tree

Famed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele with a semi-constructed Christmas tree

2. Cinque Terre offers splendid views, but is a bit too much touristy. Interestingly, it’s visitor demographic seemed to consist a rather plentiful lot of punk-looking youngsters.

Here's what Manarola, a much quieter town than the others, where we stayed, looks like:

Manarola at sunrise

Manarola at sunrise

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The views at Vernazza, a popular town of Cinque Terre:

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The prettiest spot in Vernazza for the sunset!

The prettiest spot in Vernazza for the sunset!

And Monterosso al Mare - basically a pastel beachfront town:

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I loved the pastel-shade houses here

I loved the pastel-shade houses here

3. We discovered the best gnocchi on earth in Siena. And I would go back to Siena just for that slice of heaven. Hint: Taverna di Cecco

This is what the best gnocchi actually looks like. 

This is what the best gnocchi actually looks like. 

4. This might sound... duh but if you're like us and come from a land which does left-hand drive, please remember to drive on the right side of the road (pun intended). 

Or you might end up with this:

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While driving toward Pienza we actually collided with a van. We spent the entire day taking in the views of rolling hills from the front of a tow truck, and had to travel all the way to Siena to pick up a new rental car. While it was such a hassle and unpleasant experience, I think we were most thankful that no one was hurt. 

And as terribly shaken as we were, driving back to our lodging at Spedaletto that night proved extremely stressful (we didn't even want dinner that night). 

To begin with, driving around Tuscany wasn't what we anticipated thanks to all the unexpected heavy vehicles on the roads (those travel magazines never mention things like that, do they). 

5. Despite how shaken we were after the incident (and after some discussion), we battled our PTSD and eventually made it up to Pienza in one piece. It was rewardingly beautiful.

View of Pienza from below

View of Pienza from below

The view from Pienza itself

The view from Pienza itself

my new favourite place

my new favourite place

6. Our last evening was spent in Florence. And we decided we had to have Florentine steak - a signature of Tuscan cuisine - before we left. Here's how the attempt went down.

When the steak arrived

When the steak arrived

Some 15min later... Bear in mind this is 1kg+ of steak (with a few pieces already eaten)

Some 15min later... Bear in mind this is 1kg+ of steak (with a few pieces already eaten)

By near the end of the meal. The I-can't-eat-anymore face unveils itself.

By near the end of the meal. The I-can't-eat-anymore face unveils itself.

7. Dining the Italian way was probably the best takeaway from this trip. The Italians take so much pride in their food, and sitting down to appreciate the little things through a good two-hour meal has completely altered our perception of wine and dine. The details that go into each dish of food, experimenting taste with different condiments, the cosy ambience and even down to observing fellow diners, the Italians value dining as an experience and not just as food to fill a tummy.

8. I also learned the shocking truth that pasta isn't a main. *gasp* Though there's nothing much I can do when my tiny tummy has only enough room for a dish of (not to mention, of such generous portions) pasta.

 

That pretty much sums up our Italy trip experience. If you're headed there, be prepared for lots of food and walking.

Despite the unpleasantness of the misfortune we experienced, we can’t wait to return and explore more of Italy. It reminds me of how much there is to discover in the world and the endless possibilities to learn and grow. Though our next time in Tuscany will probably involve more train journeys than car ones...