Livorno for Lunch: Take 2!

To start, I would like to thank those who commented on my ranting, raving post yesterday. It means a lot to know I have so much support. It wrote it for me, because I needed to get it out there. This growing up thing is hard!
To return to blog business, I had a relatively uneventful Thursday – except for a tour of a gelateria! Well, it wasn’t exactly a tour, and there were some snags hit, but in the end we got to watch a cute little old man make strawberry gelato and then eat it fresh from the ice cream machine! 
See those teeth it’s coming through? That’s how it gets to look so pretty!!
And pretty it is. Not to mention delicious.
Although strawberry isn’t always my first choice, it was cool to eat gelato you watched get made in matter of minutes! They had some flavors that we also wanted to try (dark chocolate sorbetto?! nutella mousse?!!), so expect to see more gelato from this place in the near future.
The most exciting part, though, was that he couldn’t give the tour in English, and even though we had a translator, I understood almost every word he said. So exciting!!!
Made some mean oats that morning, too:
Chocolate + banana. That’s true love, right there.
After my field trip, I was treated to some incredible eggplant parm made by Alaina (click for pictures!). We spent our train trip today in fact discussing how to incorporate spinach into it and decrease the amount of oil used. You know you’ve been living with someone for a while when you start having the same ideas about recipes!
I mentioned our train trip today. Alaina and I went to Livorno! Yes, I went again. Both of us were dying to try cacciucco, the local specialty seafood dish that I wasn’t able to have on my first trip there.
We went back to the same restaurant I went to because it was SO. GOOD. They didn’t let us down.
I had to have the antipasti platter again:
A lovely selection of seafood salad (shrimp, calamari, and octopus with some tomatoes in a very light vinegar-olive oil dressing), smoked salmon (YUM),delicious fresh anchovies, the BEST mussels I’ve ever had, and the most. amazing. crostini. ever. [I talked about it here too.] Seriously, I have no idea what’s on it, but my tastebuds didn’t care. Some kind of tapenade with mussels. And maybe a little magic.
Next, we moved on to cacciucco. Please prepare yourself for what you are about to see. This is not your grandma’s seafood stew like we expected.
Ready?
That would be a plate piled high with vast quanities of unidentifiable body parts of sea creatures. Tentacles, fins, and a whole shrimp – eyes included, all drowning in this earthy, spicy, salty sauce – almost wannabe bbq sauce? We could not figure it out. Actually, we were so in shock with this dish, we couldn’t really figure any of it out. I didn’t love it, but I definitely didn’t hate it. This dish encapsulates what I love most about food – it’s a true experience in and of itself. We laughed, we ate, we looked in awe at what was put before us. It definitely goes to show – when in Italy, expect the unexpected! We certainly had fun.
And just like last time, we were brought a very large shot limoncello to aid in digestion – we were definitely in need of some of that!
What I like about limoncello is that it is a nice way to end the meal. It’s suuuuuper strong and always leaves me a little tipsy and a few mere sips, but I really enjoy taking part in the ritual of it. What can I say – American girl, Italian heart!
Despite the fact that were stuffed to the gills – or perhaps, to the tentacles – we are firm believers that no city has truly been explored without sampling their gelato. And we are hard core explorers.
Melon (canteloupe) and dark chocolate.
The dark chocolate was alright, but nothing special – of course, now that we’ve discovered the best of the best in Florence, anywhere else becomes “less than.” Actually, Alaina hit the flavor right on the nose – it was just like Hershey’s dark chocolate! I use their dark chocolate powder a lot at home, and this was definitely that taste. Not bad, but not Vestri. The melon was lovely, though. Very sweet, as it should be. Gosh I love melon.
After a lot of walking, we made it back to the train station in good time. Another lovely afternoon spent in Livorno.
Off to paper-writingdom!
~Namaste~
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Livorno for Lunch

HAPPY FIRST DAY OF SPRING!!!

I only wish the Italian Mother Nature got the memo. This week through Thursday – all during mid-terms – was gorgeous. Sunny, warm, spring-like…and the spring break starts and BAM! back to grey skies. The temperature is still alright, but I would like to know where the sun went! It’s alright, though because I have been considering this and have concluded that in these situations one has 2 options:
1. Sit in the apartment staring out the window mournfully, moping around, and feel sorry for yourself because spring break is “supposed” to include sun
OR
2. Laugh at the little obstacles life throws you, get up, get out and HAVE FUN.
I think the option to choose is quite obvious, no?
Livorno is a town (small city) right on the coast, west and a little south of Florence. It’s not touristy at all and because of it’s seaside situation is known for seafood…hence it was at the top of my to-see list. So today, my roommate Sam and I hopped on a train [I won’t lie, there was some running involved as well…we like sleep] and were whisked off to the Tuscan coast!
First stop: food. We tried to find a restaurant I had heard about that specialized in the Livornese cacciucco, which is a tomato-based soup with seafood and bread…but, as we were wandering we noticed that pretty much every restaurant we had passed was closed. What to do? Walk toward the light!
…No, we weren’t that hungry – we literally walked toward the restaurant we saw with the lights on. This turned out to be a very good decision. It was clearly a local place, with seafood spread out on a table just inside the door. The waiter didn’t speak English, and I wanted to hug him! I did a pretty ok job of understanding. They were all out of the cacciucco, but I think they made up for it and then some…
Antipasti della casa: a homemade tartar sauce, a calamari salad, some octopus, crostini with anchovies mixed with some kind of veggies, mussels, and snails.
I don’t know where to begin. The anchovy crostini was the most amazing thing…sweet (from bell peppers I think) and rich, crunchy bread and the soft mix on top…oh man. Next up: the mussels. Now, being from Massachusetts, and being a serious Legal Seafoods junkie, I have experienced mussels many times. But not like this. If I’ve ever had better steamed mussels in my life before these, then I don’t remember. SO. FRESH.
The snails were in this really interesting sweet (balsamic vinegar? wine?) sauce, great for bread-dipping. This was definitely a very good way to meet Livorno!
Lobster pasta. Clean and simple. And oh, so, so good.
We had a GREAT time here – the little old man who clearly ran the place kept coming over and asking us how it was, and where we were from, and gave us a discount! And just in case we weren’t happy enough, they brought us each a glass of limoncello (lemon liqueur, served as an after-meal drink). Not gonna lie, I was a little buzzed. But happy!! Nothing like a wonderful meal to begin a day trip.
After that we just wandered. I got the sense that there isn’t much to do in Livorno other than enjoy the seafood and the lack of tourists, which sounded pretty perfect to me! On our wanderings, we found…

Tree-lined streets

Funky-shaped buildings. I wanted to go inside just to see what the rooms on the corner looked like!

Perty street lamps. I think these would make really cool earrings.

RENT in Livorno. This is clearly my kind of town.

A Greenpeace protest. Awesome.

A wedding party awaiting the bride – right across the street from the protest.

Lots and lots of boats!

I have no idea what these are – maybe for cleaning/chopping the fish?

Cute little bridges 🙂

Old walls around the port. And this is Italy – when I say old, I’m talkin medieval-era old.

Fisherman, laughing and generally loving life.
Water, water, everywhere…
Some abandoned art.
Poor pigeons didn’t even have a crumb of a chance.
He totally posed for this picture. After rolling around in the dirt.
 And check OUT this train station:

Would that they all were this pretty!

So, you’re probably thinking “so basically, you went to Livorno…to eat.” To that, I reply – YUP! And I’d do it again. Life is good.
The day was finished with online crossword puzzles, a salad, and Law & Order:SVU in Italian. Man, I love Spring Break.
~Namaste~

Dio Mio Venezia!

Venezia, a city built on a lagoon. Sounds dreamy, no?…..well, go during the last weekend of Carnivale, and that turquoise water, romantic gondola-filled dream turns into a chaotic, claustrophobic nightmare. But let’s start at the beginning.


Our bus was leaving for Venice at 6 AM, which, as I’m sure you can imagine, us 300 college students were absolutely thrilled about. But hey, we were going to Venice during Carnivale, so it’s worth it, right? Yep, that’s what I thought too. My day started out with this:
I was going to throw out our recycling and a chain got in my way. 3 weeks in and I have already managed 2 injuries. Super.


Being my peppy 6 AM self (HA), I stood up, brushed myself off, and limped my way to the bus (well, ok, several four-letter words may have been grumbled before the standing happened, but I repeat – it was not even 6 am.). Nothing a 3 hour bus ride with a cold water bottle on it couldn’t fix. On the way, we stopped at a gas station – why they thought bringing 300 sleepy, hungry teenagers to one gas station was a good idea, I do not understand. Nevertheless, after lots of elbowing, I managed to suck down a cappuccino (which was very worth it – totally delicious) and hop back on the bus.


We went straight to Tronchetto, which is a man-made island/harbor where you park to board the boat to take you to Venice.  It was very chilly, but bright and sunny, and the boat ride over was quite pretty.



Sorry about the picture quality,  it was really bright out and my camera does not like taking pictures on moving vessels.
I know these pictures are random and a bit fuzzy, but I wanted to at least show you how the water comes right up to all the buildings.  It’s really pretty cool to see.

You see that house right in the middle – it’s yellow, but hard to tell because of the brightness. THAT is Elton John’s villa that he visits every year during Carnivale.  So I was only some yards away from the man himself. Emily, I thought of you the whole time! Amusingly, this is about the time that the entire boat started whipping out their cameras in a frenzy. Never mind the centuries-old church next to it, Elton John could be in there. Oy. I found the church slightly more impressive.  Sue me.


After about 20 minutes, we stepped into Venice.  Now, yes, it is an absolutely beautiful city…



But during Carnivale…



…looks can be deceiving.

Never in my life have I been around so many people. And I’ve been to India. It was awful. Truly, my personal version of hell. The tour guide was pretty awful, and we ditched it about halfway through in search of food and quit. No such luck. Lunch only made it worse – overpriced, crowded, loud and far less than mediocre.


The one nice thing about the day was buying my mask:

I just loved the shape – “mezzaluna”.
After about an hour of wading through human rivers to get back to the pier, we left to check in to the hotel. I was, at this point, essentially comatose. My intensely introverted self was absolutely drained. I was exhausted, hungry, and my knee hurt. Ick.
Around 7, we wandered out of the hotel to find dinner. We stayed in Mestre, which the town basically on the other side of the lagoon. I was not going back to Venice after the day we had there, so we asked the hotel concierge for a close-by restaurant. Dinner wasn’t bad – warm crusty bread was a very good start. I ordered spaghetti alle nero di seppie:
The regional specialty – sauce that uses squid-ink to turn it black. It was really quite delicious. I LOVE trying the crazy regional dishes!
It was a very touristy restaurant, and the portions were HUGE. I made a major dent in it though. It made up for my highly unsatisfactory lunch. And the nice little Italian guy brought us “dessert” on the house…
Limoncello! VERY heavy on the alcohol. But frankly, after this day, I really needed it.
After dinner Marissa and I went back to the hotel. I was ready for a hot shower and bed. Our roommates were going back to Venice for some night life…or so they thought. If our day hadn’t sucked badly enough, the ticket machines wouldn’t allow them to buy tickets. So, they came back to the room and we celebrated Valentine’s Eve with wine, chocolate, and the Olympics. An appropriate end to a truly cruddy day.
Because this is already a monster post, I’m going to do another one for Day 2. STAY TUNED!