Food, Farms & Our First Flat Tire in Central Italy4 Posted by b_puliti - August 11, 2014 - Bike Tour, Italy, Sights, Travel
Last week we found ourselves in Perugia for a few days. I’m sorry to say we didn’t even leave the hotel to take in Umbria's capital city. Instead, despite painfully slow Internet (this seems to be a trend), we got loads of work done, and Justin met with a distributor. Though we didn’t get out to explore the local area, we did get a taste of the local culture. And it was delicious. We were treated to a traditional Italian meal that consisted of an extraordinary amount of courses: Aperitivo – champagne & small salmon appetizer Antipasto – vegetarian antipasto & cheese, fruit and jam plate (pictured above) Primo – tomato, mushroom and cantaloupe risotto & ravioli Dolce – chocolate mousse Caffe – strong coffee Digestivo – grappa: a grape-based brandy made by distilling the skins, pulp, seeds and stems that are left over from winemaking. Apparently, to be considered grappa, no water can be added to the fermentation and distillation, and it must be made in either Italy, the Italian part of Switzerland or San Marino. Two additional courses we opted out of: meat or seafood, “secondo,” and a vegetable side dish, “contorno.” (Did I miss anything, Simone?) Silence fell when the first plates of food were brought to our table and our first forkfuls were brought to our mouth. One of our dining partners told us that’s how you know the food is fantastic. Really, it’s truly a wonder we spoke at all during our meal. We did, though, because in case it’s not apparent from the plethora of courses, dinner is eaten—or rather savored—over hours. While we were in Perugia, we figured out a game plan for the rest of our time in Italy. Rome was 200 kilometers away, which I thought was too close to pass by. I also researched a bit more about Giulianova, a town on the eastern coast where some of my family still lives. So, we put both places on the map. On our way out of Perugia, we decided to make a small detour to Assisi. The town is the birthplace of San Francesco (known to us as Saint Francis), who created the first nativity scene, and was the first recorded person to receive the stigmata. Made a saint in 1228, Saint Francis is one of two patron saints of Italy, and is known as the saint of animals and the environment. We were interviewed by a few students on a school trip who seemed impressed that we were from the United States and had ridden our bikes to Assisi from Germany. I was just as impressed with them: young teenagers who started a conversation with us in Italian and then quickly transitioned to English once they realized we were American. After taking six years of French, I could hardly get by when we visited France last year. C’est la vie! Once we entered the town, we rode up to The Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi (pictured above), "the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor" according to Wikipedia. After Assisi, Google maps took us through rural towns where it looked as though time had stopped hundreds of years ago. Old women slaughtered chickens, men mowed farm fields and Justin got the first flat tire of the trip on a rocky dirt road. The day before we arrived in Rome, we ended up on the same road as two bike tourers from Poland and cycled with them for several kilometers. Peter had planned their two-week trip over a year ago, and picked up his buddy in Austria at a wedding along the way. Their final destination was Rome and they were excited to reunite with their wives. They had camped all throughout their time in Italy mainly on church grounds. We shared stories of life on the bike and I learned the two “magic words” in Polish: “proszę” and ”dziękuję” (please and thank you). That night we slept in our first farm field! We awoke to a very foggy morning, which took a while to burn off and kept things nice and cool for a while. The next day, our lives flashed before our eyes as we pedaled into Rome going the wrong way on a busy shoulder-less highway.