Unlike my first impression of France, which left me scorned and rejected and wanting to go home, my first impression of Italy was love at first sight. This is in part because of the beauty of Italy—it is like no other country I’ve visited—but also, in majority, because of the local Italians I met through couch surfing who were unbelievably kind and generous to me. This is a three-part tribute to them, with an interlude about Venice.
Part 1: Treviso
Treviso is a small city northwest of Venice. I don’t think it’s hot tourist destination, but Ryanair uses the Treviso airport to fly people into Venice*. The only reason I chose to stay there, in fact, was Ryanair; my flight arrived late at night and I didn’t want to find lodging elsewhere. It turned out to be a secret gem: great restaurants, cheap food, no crowds of tourists, and close proximity to the beach.
*For those who’ve never used Ryanair, be aware that their flights deposit passengers at least 30 minutes away from the city in which they want to arrive. And if you ever travel with them, be sure to read the fine print about baggage fees and checking into the flight days in advance, otherwise you’ll lose all the money you saved by buying a cheap ticket.
As I alluded to in my last blog, I am frightened of public transportation, and it’s only after I’ve been shown how to use it that I feel comfortable using it by myself. On my first day in Treviso, I was supposed to take a bus to the train station, and then a train to meet Ilaria, the first person in Italy I’d arranged to hang out with. She must have sensed my apprehension of impending doom through my Facebook message, so in her benevolence she offered to pick me up from my B&B. I loved her immediately for this.
Ilaria also made quite the impression on the owner of my B&B. When we were deciding what to do and when to meet, she suggested meeting the night I arrived for an “aperitif.” (I always thought aperitifs were special types of brandy or some elitist drink reserved for after dinner. I was wrong.) I didn’t want to miss my check-in time for the B&B, so Ilaria looked up their phone number and called them before I arrived to see how late I could check in. Long story short, we ended up not getting drinks that evening, but when the B&B owner picked me up from the airport and I told him I was spending the next day in Treviso with a friend, he said “Ilaria?”
“Yes! How’d you know?”
“I remember her,” he said seriously. “She called.”
I later found out that when she talked to him, he sounded confused because she spoke in Italian (he’s Filipino and preferred English), and he thought she was from Hostelworld working as an undercover spy checking on my reservation. I just thought it was amazing that she did all the hard work for me: called my B&B, gave me train times, offered ideas of things to do during my visit, took me to the pharmacy, texted my friend who’s getting married since I don’t have a working phone, basically took care of everything. The only thing I did was dress myself and take photos. (Thanks for being awesome, Ilaria!)
Here are some of the highlights of our day.
1. Second Breakfasts
My first breakfast was at the B&B, so this qualified as my second breakfast. On croissant scale of deliciousness, this was better than the one I had in France–which I believe sets the bar for croissants, no? There were so many types to choose from, but I went with Ilaria’s recommendation, the cream-filled croissant. Imagine the best cream-filled donut and multiply the goodness by 10 and divide the sugar and grease by 20, and that was this croissant. AND it was generous on the cream unlike those let-down donuts that have one tiny dot right in the middle. Best of all, everything we bought (two cappuccinos and two croissants) cost less than 5 euro, which was the best bargain I’d seen in all of Europe.
Italy, well done.
2. The streets of Treviso
This was my first taste of Italian architecture, and although I’ve seen movies and pictures, there’s nothing that compares to seeing it in person. I was snapping photos right and left, on every back alley, while Ilaria was trying to lead me to churches and monuments and things that might actually be considered photo worthy. But how cool are these buildings and streets?
3. Speaking of church…
Ilaria took me inside several churches, including one that was in the middle of a service. I refrained from taking photos there, but I got some of the outside. The entire height of the church would not fit into my camera’s field of vision.
She wanted to show me a crypt within a church, but it was closed. I took pictures anyway (not of the crypt, but the general interior).
4. Frescos, Landmarks, and Water
Ilaria pointed out the buildings with frescos and explained the origin of the name. I’d like to say I remember what she told me, but all I remember was the word “fresh.” Maybe there was paint over paint and it had to be drawn while it was still fresh?
And Treviso, like Venice (and hey, Providence!), sits on water, so this excited me.
Lastly, Ilaria showed me one of my favorite landmarks of all time: the restaurant where tiramisu was invented. I asked if it was the best tiramisu ever and she said, “It’s all the same,” which wasn’t the most encouraging answer. Then she said the restaurant is overpriced because of their fame, and that was enough reason for me to skip going inside.
5. Aperitifs, snacks, and second snacks.
All the picture-taking wore me out, so we stopped for an aperitif and bruschetta. Ilaria picked everything out while I sat on the windowsill and tried to get in touch with my friend who was in Treviso. (When we finally spoke, our conversation went like this:
“Where are you?”
“I’m sitting on a windowsill.”
“It’s across from the place with the first tiramisu!”
[It turns out, the windowsill anecdote actually helped her find us])
Ilaria came back with a beautiful drink called “Spritz,” which is a traditional drink made with Prosecco, sparkling water, and either Aperol or Campari. It was light and tasty and went straight to my head.
She also brought food. Prepare yourself.
The first one Ilaria wanted me to try was the one on the bottom left corner. She said she wouldn’t tell me what it was until after I ate it, which is something you always want to hear after you’ve taken a big bite.
Well, it was white and light and I thought it might be some kind of fish. It had a melt-in-your-mouth quality, and was rich in flavor–not fishy at all. That’s when she told me it was lard0. That is, lard. From a pig. Just the fat, sliced right off.
I didn’t tell her that eating solid fat is my worst nightmare, along with eating monkey brains and live insects, so I smiled politely and fainted on the inside. For the next couple of hours I felt slightly queazy, but I survived and feel like a stronger person because of it.
The other two bruschetta I don’t remember because my brain had stopped working, but my favorite was the bottom right. Vegetables and pesto, or so it appears. The top one was arugula with sundried tomatoes and anchovies. Tasted good, but the anchovies were strong. [Although after eating lard, I say, “Bring on the anchovies!”]
The weather up until this point had threatened rain, but the sun came out and we decided to go to Jesolo beach. Ilaria needed to change into her suit, so we stopped at a restaurant and had second snacks. It looked like a wrap, but you buy it by the slice. This is the one she chose for me:
She wanted me to try something I haven’t had before, something Italian, and this is a type of meat that is prepared smoked (so, it’s not completely uncooked). I found it to be really good. It was actually the mayonnaise that I was most leery about.
6. The beach!
I didn’t anticipate going to the beach in Italy because my whole trip is in the north, so this was an awesome surprise! I brought my bathing suit all the way from Rhode Island and hadn’t used it once, so at least I can say it wasn’t a frivolous packing choice. We moved past all of the chairs to find an empty spot on the beach where we relaxed and soaked up some sunshine.The sand was as soft as walking on flour, and the water was so warm! After living on the east coast where the last time I went in the ocean, I had to wait until I went numb before I could enjoy the water, this was a dream! Once the salt water got into my bloodshot eye, however, it started watering uncontrollably, so I had to get out.
7. Dessert and Dinner
All of that lying around caused me to have an appetite, so we left the beach in search of a snack. And what better snack is there in this world than gelato!?
Ilaria pointed out the shop that had homemade gelato, and I went galloping up to the window to pick out my flavors. Ilaria wasn’t quite as excited as I was. She got a single scoop of hazelnut (which was amazing!) and I got two scoops: cookies and coconut.
I’m not usually a “cookies” person, but it looked amazing and I know Lauren usually gets the cookie flavor, so I thought I would give it a try. It was great, I enjoyed it.
But the coconut?? OH. MY. WORD. The best coconut I’ve ever had!** It tasted like a whipped bag of coconut shavings, and in fact, there was some actual coconut in there. I probably had a silly smile on my face the whole time I ate it.
** To Lauren, it was better than the one in Prague, which I didn’t think could happen.
We weren’t planning to eat dinner directly after this, hence the “snack” part of gelato, but we changed plans and decided to stay in Jesolo for dinner. So, gelato was the appetizer, pizza was the dinner.
Ilaria told me that before I go crazy with pizza toppings, I need to try a pure, unadulterated margherita pizza. I agreed***. We searched examined several menus because beach town = inflated prices, but all of the margherita pizzas were 5 euro or less. (ITALY IS AMAZING) She said you should never pay more than 5, so that’s my new standard.
***I read Eat, Pray, Love. I remembered.
I ordered an inexpensive carafe of red wine and enjoyed my very first pizza in Italy (with a bloodshot eye)!
Overall, it was a wonderful first day in Italy, and I couldn’t have imagined a better one.
Thank you, Ilaria, for the marvelous introduction to your country! I had the greatest time.