Okay, I have really really wanted to go to Italy for the past 10 years. I feel like I've had it on my mind forever, then suddenly there I was, landing at the airport in Milan amidst real Italians. In a flurry of travel, I got from the airport to central station, to Turin, and then to Bra by 9pm. Where is Bra, you ask, and Why did you go to this random small town in Piedmont? Well, an American friend just started grad school in a food program there. But she and I have actually never seen each other in America- we met in 2005 in our study abroad program in Mexico, then were both living in Korea at the same time and met up in Seoul, and now in Italy!
She warned me about the cheese smell before we got to her house, and in that moment I decided that a good way to judge how much I like a country is by the likeliness that people's homes smell like strong cheese. She had recently visited a farm and bought this amazing cheese directly from the farmer. She immediately opened a bottle of local wine, and made a dinner of fresh spinach and ricotta pasta with truffle oil, along with 2 kinds of bread, fresh tomatoes, cucumber, and the aforementioned cheese. It was such a welcoming first night in Italy and I'm so grateful she was able to host me in the midst of her busy schedule.
She is going to the University of Gastronomic Sciences, and it's no coincidence that this city is also the birthplace of the Slow Food movement. Food is always the topic of conversation, from a new way of hulling rice to whats at the market to whats for dinner. You feel like you've barely finished one meal when you start to shop and prepare for the next. That day we went for a run, ate a great lunch at home, drank espresso, ate gelato, and walked around the city.That night we went out for pizza, my first authentic Italian pizza. We ordered 2 pizzas between 3 of us, mushroom and gorgonzola. They were both delicious. As I looked around though, I noticed every one had their OWN pizza, big pizza. After sharing 2 pies, we were all stuffed, and I couldn't imagine how an average person could eat a whole one. Little did I know that barely 10 days later, I would be able to tuck into my own pizza without a problem. But for now, I just marveled at the newness of the place, at trying to read the menu, and at what verbs to use for ordering things.
Though I wanted to stay longer, hang out with my friend, and visit her school's campus, I had to be on my way. It felt like a bit of a whirlwind, but I had planned to start volunteering on an organic farm the next day, so Monday I set out from this random but great first city in Italy.