Eat Your Way Through Europe: Part II
Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable.
Sometimes it hurts. It even breaks your heart. But that’s okay.
The journey changes you—it should change you.
It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness,
on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you…
hopefully, you leave something good behind.
Recently I was a guest on The Fatal Charm of Italy podcast, with host Rick Zullo. It was such fun to reminisce how I powered through Europe eating clean and healthy. Below is an excerpt from a chapter in Release Your Obsession series: Release Your Obsession with Cheat DAZE: Heal from the Inside Out. The link to the podcast is also available for you to listen to us chat about my experience.
One of the highlights of my life thus far was going to Europe in 2016. I was a first-timer going abroad—and I looked it too. Can you imagine a full-blown confirmed food addict heading out to Europe for the first time ever, and not eating sugar, flour, or wheat? Yep, I went into the unknown, and I want to take you with me step by step…food by food.
This is Part II of my experience, when I head off to Italy…
Italia Here We Come
One of the most frustrating things in traveling is packing way too much.
Arranging my possessions before heading off to Italy from England, I once again had no room in my suitcase for anything extra.
On Saturday, only days after my arrival in England, we made our way to Venice, landing at the Marco Polo Airport. The airport is located on the mainland four-point-three nautical miles north of the city in Tessera, a small village near Venice, close to Mestre.
The terminal is not only architecturally stunning, but it’s also equipped with a state-of-the-art security system. Nearly tripping over my feet and luggage, I captured dramatic pictures of the airport floor—the art was exquisite. This was only a small taste of things to come as the days in Italy unfolded.
The three kids, my sister’s grandchildren, pulled luggage through the airport like troopers, as they were accustomed to traveling throughout Europe, while Mickey and I—and Emil too—were innocents, excited to soak it all in. The instant I exited the plane, I felt the shift—different country—different culture. Once again, I had to manage my way through customs, but this time I was with experienced travelers and felt more at ease.
Our first stop was to secure our rented extra-long vehicle, big enough to accommodate our little posse for our travels throughout Northern Italy, as we had many stops planned. Well, not so easy. We waited, and waited, and waited—welcome to Italy where “no rush” appeared to be the constant message—as Memoirs of a Solo Traveler (a book mentioned in Part I) mentions throughout.
The kids were hot since the temperature was nearing ninety degrees, and hungry, and so was I. Did I mention I become super crabby when I don’t eat for hours on end? Hence, my fear of not having my foods with me comes to mind…
A Villa On The Mountain Side
In Italy, we stayed in a cottage three-hundred-forty feet above sea level on a mountainside, where the air was thin, leaving challenges for me so far as breathing was concerned—but the beauty far surpassed any distress I suffered.
Winding our way up and down the mountain was trying, to say the least. I feared our over-large vehicle would fall off the cliff. The only comfort I had was in knowing Trevor was driving on the right side of the road and positioned “per normal” in the car—less dizzying for me than driving on the opposite side of the road in England.
But fear remained with me on our ups and downs every time we returned to our lovely cottage. The mountain roads had no barriers on the side and no dividing line for oncoming traffic.
Hiking and walking and walking and walking filled up the majority of our time. But I loved our little country bungalow up in the mountains, totally secluded, with only Italian-speaking people around.
Upon arrival, we made our way to a market in the village. Nobody spoke a word of English, while we struggled with our phone translations, receiving many sighs and much eye-rolling from the Italians. We were exhausted and starving, and realized we needed our staples to last us through the first day until we could make our way to the real grocery store—which looked like a mall to me.
The real store, Centro Commerciale Di Abano, was housed with other mini-stores inside the main structure. I felt as though I was in a mall with a grocery store positioned in such a way you could see the activities happening in the other stores, such as Le Flamboyant, Alidiro, Non Solo Spot (sneakers), an eyeglass shop, a hair salon, and a jewelry store, to name a few.
The key to traveling—anywhere in the world—is to prepare in advance, to stop at a store or market to obtain food and drink supplies to carry you through your journey without your having to resort to fast foods or foods that won’t promote health, but will rather lead you down the path of guilt, shame, and self-judging, not to mention cheat days.
Once you’ve eaten nutritious foods, you’ll begin to feel confident that having the most amazing travel experience is possible and probable, placing the focus on the now and soaking in the culture, rather than the cheat foods that can take over and make the trip a nightmare.
I know, I can hear you saying, “But the food in the culture IS the experience.” Yes, this is true. But the food doesn’t have to be sugar, flour, and wheat. It can be fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, high-quality fats, non-processed starchy carbs, and dairy. Think about what that can mean. Pull those foods together for an amazing feast such as fruits and yogurt, or steak with roasted potato and a salad topped with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.
Food Is Plentiful
Italians eat close to the Mediterranean style with loads of vegetables, olive oil, fruits, and fish. Cappuccinos can be found on almost every corner for a “pick-me-up.” In most of the “touristy” spots, finding bottled water and fresh fruits was easy. I also carried with me a trail mix of nuts, organic crackers made of sprouts, and raisins for emergencies if I was becoming hungry. And for long car rides, I carried a cooler with fruits, boiled eggs, and raw veggies, should I need a fix.
At the cottage, Terre Bianche, known as “the cottage in the park,” where we spent seven glorious days in Teolo, Italy, we were greeted by Angela, an eloquent, red-headed Italian—owner of the Airbnb, who seemed to be always dressed elegantly, with jewelry and hair intact, even while she was bent over picking the vegetation on her land.
Up on the mountain, we roamed the terrain, finding fresh olives, apples, raspberries, and grapes, and tiny pears that provided an amazing snack. We ate out on the terrace every evening at a long table with a breathtaking view of mountains around us. Cooking facilities were available to us, making evening meals easy, together with easy preparations to load up on good foods for our next day’s travels. During our stay at the villa, we had a stove, grill, and refrigerator, along with a large walk-in pantry.
Our first attempt at dining at a restaurant in the little town of Teolo was hilarious. Nobody understood English, and we didn’t understand Italian. I had studied for a few months, thinking I was good to go. Not. My poor language skills were embarrassing, to say the least, but we managed to be fed.
After fumbling through the ordering process I finally ordered a succulent steak, fresh Brussels sprouts in a buttery sauce, roasted potatoes, and sparkling water—acqua frizzante—which they brought to the table in large bottles. I preferred the fizzy one as it was refreshing and filling.
After waiting for what felt like an eternity, our incredible meals arrived—but mine was missing the roasted potatoes. Try as I might to catch the waiter’s attention, he ignored me. I guess he was annoyed. To this day, my brother-in-law shares the story—especially the part of my not getting my potatoes after what seemed like an hour’s process of trying to order my food.
I woke each day in Italy long before the others, enjoying my quiet out on the terrace, writing, meditating, praying, and journaling, listening to the locusts make a swishing musical melody, at times super loud—while the church bells chimed on schedule, on the hour every hour.
Most mornings I had eggs, blueberries, and oatmeal. Preparation was simple, and the food worked into healthy eating. That early in the day, I sat out at a picnic table overlooking the mountains, writing and sipping on my coffee that I’d made using a little percolator that I heated on the stove, taking more than THIRTY minutes to brew. I wanted to feel the realness without the microwave comforts…all while the others slept.
Out for an Outing
In Arqua Petrarca, a small town in northeastern Italy, in the Veneto region, the province of Padua, I felt that time stood still. In this quaint town, the center of the Euganean Hills, the locals said that more than any other village around, this town maintained the charm of the medieval. I picked a loose rock off a wall to transport home…one of the oldest rocks used to build here, they claimed.
For every outing, I packed my needed foods and water—just in case—as my sister reminded me. She couldn’t bear my troubled moods when I didn’t eat—as she continually reminded me. And little Colty was mesmerized and obsessed by my things, snatching my headband, and prancing around like a bunny, wearing it as he grinned from ear to ear. He also liked looking in my food bag and taking bites of my snacks and swigs of my water—leaving behind a little backwash.
Venice Here We Come
Venice (Venezia) is a city in northeastern Italy and the capital of the Veneto region. It’s situated on a group of one-hundred-eighteen small islands that are separated by canals and linked by over four-hundred bridges. We witnessed the beauty of this locale firsthand, visiting the collage of Venice including the Piazza San Marco, the Grand Canal, and the interior of the opera house La Fenice, as well as taking in a view of the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. All spectacular.
Our time in Venice was amazing, especially when we rode in the gondolas, though they weren’t as imagined, with no music playing and no romance. The water was a murky green and the paddler didn’t seem to enjoy moving us about as he maneuvered under the Rialto Bridge through Venice’s main water thoroughfare lined with great renaissance palaces and returning around the back streets of Venice.
We walked the streets of Venice and then to St. Mark’s Square, la Piazza, where we ate a lovely salad filled with dark greens, shavings of fresh Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, and chicken. After our bellies were full, we checked out Rio di San Salvador, lined with beautiful churches, particularly the Chiesa di San Salvatore (of the Holy Savior), a church along the Merceria, the main shopping street of Venice.
Parts of Venice were a bit eerie…walls too close, making us feel claustrophobic. And seeing clothes hanging on lines to dry seemed quite barbaric. We learned that the city continues sinking—at a slow rate of one to two millimeters per year, with a state of alert in place.
We walked in and out of many churches and cathedrals, like the Basilica Dei Frari, St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica of San Marco), and the Chiesa di San Nicolò da Tolentino on the Rio del Tolentini. Passing smaller canals and passageways not visible from the city’s narrow streets, we made our way back to the car. Along the route, we were impressed by so many frescoes—paintings, most of a holy moment, applied directly onto dry plaster imbedded on the wall, a refreshing sight, and not something you’d see on every street corner in the US.
The highlight of my trip in Northern Italy was in Dueville, meeting our relatives. We drove around and around, not knowing where we were going, to the point I began to feel my stomach gurgle, and fear gripped me because I had to use the bathroom soon. If you’ve ever been to Italy, you know the bathroom not only costs euros in some places, but often you have to squat as if you were in peasant times, and the bathrooms are coed.
Yes, you read right—both squat and coed. Squat because often the toilet was just a hole in the floor, and here I was with a serious stomach upset, and the facility was open to both male and female. The experience was not a pleasant one.
But the great part was that we finally found where we needed to be and waited in a quaint park for my cousin Annamaria to arrive. We heard out in the distance someone with a thick Italian accent yelling out, “Americanos, hello, hello, Americanos!” It was my cousin, who doesn’t speak a lick of English and must have practiced those words for days, if not months.
Together we shared a pleasant meal with my dad’s first cousin, Nico (Domenico); his wife, Elda; and Annamaria’s parents and three sisters: Roberta, Anna, and Agatha—all distant cousins.
Again, the foods I needed were there…a delightful never-ending salad of tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, and greens; sizzling steak; fresh fruit; and my favorite, a bottle of Levico, Naturale, a fizzy water that I came to adore. Watching my dad’s cousin interacting with Mikalina (my sister Mickey) was surreal, and we laughed and cried about the interaction for days on end afterward, because they talked, laughed, and squealed—yet neither spoke the other’s language.
And then we went to Caldogno, a town and commune (the commune is an administrative division) near Vicenza, Italy, where my grandfather Nonno lived until he moved to America with my grandmother, Nonna Anna. In honor of the blessed mother, he built a monument out of marble, which I called a shrine, but Aunt Mary calls it, Modono di Coldogno Capitello. Four marble pillars surrounded steps leading up to a life-size Blessed Mary placed inside on a pedestal. Mary was dressed in white with a blue cape, hands folded to her chest in prayer. Bountiful flowers surrounded the shrine along with a meticulous mowed lawn. It’s a place of worship to this day.
And then there is a Monte Ortigara, in the Province of Vicenza, where the Battle of Mount Ortigara was fought from June tenth through June twenty-fifth in 1917 between the Italian and Austro-Hungarian armies for possession of Mount Ortigara in the Asiago Plateau. I’d hoped to visit as we share the same name, and my father spoke of it often, but time would not permit.
Another highlight was at La Ceramica VBC, where we bought and shipped home some beautiful ceramics. That same day, we made our way to Bassano del Grappa, where we had an amazing lunch of mozzarella cheese, onions, corn, tomatoes, and greens topped with tuna. Afterward we visited Fiume Brenta (Bassano Del Grappa) in Veneto where the Brenta Riviera is the villa-lined land on either side of a waterway linking Venice to Padova.
Romeo and Juliet
One day we traveled to Verona, Centro Storico, the home of Romeo and Giuletta, some say. The balcony is still intact, with Juliet wannabes—old and young alike—climbing up for a photo. That evening we consumed another meal just as exquisite as our lunch, with whole green beans, chunks of mozzarella, tomatoes, black olives, and boiled eggs topped with tuna. I was happy, as was young Colty when he stood by the makeshift coliseum alongside soldier actors he could interact with.
And from there, we stopped at Lago Garda, where we took a boat ride, and Colty almost fell overboard climbing up on the rail out of curiosity, which caused quite an upset with the family clan. Of course, only an hour before boarding the boat, the kids each ordered a single serving of gelato, but the server was so taken by Colton he triple served him—which led to one wired little boy on a fast moving boat…
By the end of the next day, I began to feel quite concerned about my breathing. I felt as though my airways weren’t quite open. I was coughing and seemed to have built up phlegm. I began to realize mountain life—high elevation—isn’t good for me. I’d had untreated asthma as a kid and felt catapulted back to that time when I could barely breathe
In spite of my not feeling well, we did make our way to see the church of St. Anthony in Paduva, which I talk about extensively in my second book, Release Your Obsession with Diet Chatter: Heal from the Inside Out, as my grandfather, Nono, had attended this church in Italy as well as St. Anthony in Chicago, a smaller version of the one in Italy, but patterned after it. I felt as if I were going back in time. Because I hadn’t been to the one in Chicago since I was a little girl, this looked the same to me…big and miraculous. But a year later, I visited the one in Chicago again and realized from my adult view that the church was quite small.
Our last day in Teolo at the cottage, we hiked down the mountain and back up. I found this to be the hardest workout of the entire trip. At the top was a midway landing with an oversized rosary and a bench. I said out loud, “Who’d want to sit here?” Well, after completing the climb down and then back up, guess who was sitting on that bench eating wild berries. Yep, I sat where the monks of long ago sat, resting my aching legs.
Off To Roma
Leaving the quaint countryside, we hopped a train to Roma, the capital of Italy filled of hustle and bustle with a city feel. Two young travelers with skateboards popped in on the second stop, explaining to us that they were skating through Italy. The terrain was exquisite, and we passed beautiful farms and rolling hills. Only a few weeks later, this very landscape experienced an earthquake.
My sister Mickey looked out for me the entire time, always concerned about whether I had enough food to eat—as she surely knew the snarly me comes out when I’m not fed—so she avoided that at all cost.
I was totally exhausted, never having walked so much. My clothes were beginning to hang on me as I was dropping weight, though such was unintended.
In Rome, we stayed in an Airbnb in a high-rise. The renters had carved a hotel-style suite into a building filled with condos and old—very old—elevators with the chain and see-through bars. Mickey refused to get in and climbed what seemed like hundreds of steps to avoid this contraption.
We each had our own rooms, and breakfast was served to our rooms every morning. I fed on eggs, yogurt, and oatmeal. We suffered a shortage of fruit, but I was ready. The little pears I’d picked up in Teolo made staying on course easy.
Words cannot describe the awe I felt seeing the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican—an Italian renaissance church in Vatican City—the papal enclave within the city of Rome. St. Peter’s is the most renowned work of renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world. Regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines, St. Peter’s is the burial site of Saint Peter—the first apostle among Jesus’s apostles—and also the first bishop (pope) of Rome.
Another highlight of Rome was the Sistine Chapel, and words cannot do the experience justice. It is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the pope in Vatican City. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, most particularly the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo covering the altar wall.
Another highlight, in addition to St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, and the Coliseum was Ristorante Deoardo II, a place where the rich and famous are known to dine among the brightest, deepest pink decor. We were treated like royalty. The owner seemed to play all parts: cook, bartender, server, and entertainment, speaking in Italian mixed with English, almost as if he were reciting in a play.
The owner also took to Colty, as most do, giving him loads of attention, including a lovely fresh orange, and though a simple gesture, the acknowledgement was a delight for the boy. Again, we ate lovely salads and had a large bottle of Acqua Nepi—fizze (fizzy) water. My meal further consisted of pork chops cooked to perfection with cooked zucchini and eggplant baked in olive oil on a bed of dark greens. The kids seemed addicted to the Margarita pizzas throughout our entire stay. We were all happy!
We concluded our trip in Rome at the Trevi Fountain…tossing our coins backward, for certain to return once again. Jacqueline, Vanessa, and I ended our Rome stay, dining our last evening at the Sul Tett Tratteria while the others stayed in. The restaurant was all the way up on the building’s rooftop terrace with a breathtaking panoramic view of the Vatican all in lights—a perfect way to say goodbye. We were told this was one of actor Dustin Hoffman’s hangouts.
A Last Peek in London
We returned to London, leaving Italy behind, and soon I’d return home. On our last day, we made our way to Windsor Castle for a complete tour before winding down. I then prepared for my trip back to the States.
What is your experience traveling, is it opportunity to cheat eat? Do you find the culture and food indulgences go hand-in-hand? Have you ever found eating whole and healthy increase your vacation experience? What advice do you have for others?
Stay tuned…you never know where my mind will wander…
You can leave a comment by scrolling down to the section that says leave a reply. I look forward to hearing from you!
Hugs to you, I care!