Taste of Italy

Italian cuisine is one of the best among the world’s cuisine. It is one of the most popular and most copied type of food as well. And where can you find the best authentic Italian food? In Italy of course!

When we visited Italy last month, we covered most of the country, from the northern region, with cities like Milan and Venice, to the central region which is Tuscany, including the cities of Pisa and Florence, and to the southern region, in Rome and even down to the Amalfi coast.

Amalfi coast (photo taken with an iPhone)

By the way, we avail the services of JDC Private Tours when we were in Italy, that’s why we were able to visit so many places and packed so many activities in such a short period of time. I was more than happy and have only compliments of their business.

Part of our trip of course was sampling authentic Italian food. Their cuisine is known for its regional diversity, especially between the north and south of the Italian peninsula.

Overall, the Italian foods that we ate, from the ‘street’ and on-the-go food to the long sit-down fine dining with 5-course dinner, (one evening we’re treated out by a friend from Rome and we ate dinner for almost 2 hours!), and from the appetizer like bruschetta, to the dessert like tiramisu, were all very good. It was really a delightful gastronomical experience.

Here in the United States, when we talked about Italian food, we think mostly of pizza and pasta. However, many of the “Italian” food we have here are somewhat modified to cater to the American taste.

For instance, when we went to one local restaurant in Rome, there was a note in their menu that says, “we don’t serve spaghetti with meatballs, fettucini alfredo, and lasagna.” That was interesting. Perhaps that’s all the American tourists order, and to the locals those were not even really authentic Italian dishes.

To say that Italy have many kinds of pasta, is an understatement. After all it is the mecca of pasta. But one thing peculiar is all their pasta are served “al dente.” Meaning it is really firm, teetering to raw, that you have to bite and chew it before you can swallow.

Leaning Tower of Pizza…….I mean Pisa

Another thing is that the Italian pizza is not served pre-sliced. They give it to you as a whole piece, fresh from the wood-burning oven, and they give a fork and a knife for you to slice it yourself. I heard that when they first introduced pizza in New York City long long time ago, somebody had the bright idea of serving it by the slice and made more money from it. Since then pizza in the US is served pre-sliced.

In one restaurant we went to in northern Italy, I was impressed on how many types of sauce or variation they have for pizza. The menu had 3 pages just for pizza! And Hawaiian pizza? That’s not even in the menu, because as you can surmise, that’s an American version of an Italian dish.

As a Filipino who grew up in Manila, I also have a different concept of an Italian dish. My favorite is the Greenwich pizza, which I understand is a Filipino brand of pizzeria. Furthermore, I used to think that spaghetti always have a sweet-tasting sauce, just like how my mother prepares it, which is close to the taste of spaghetti in Jollibee, the largest Filipino chain of fast-food restaurants.

When I migrated to America more than 20 years ago, the first time we dined in an “authentic” Italian Restaurant in New Jersey named Trattoria, I was a little surprised that the spaghetti tasted “sour.” In fact me and my wife looked at each other and said to ourselves, maybe the sauce was spoiled as it tasted different. That was an ignoramus moment for us.

Back to our tour of Italy, we landed in Milan airport and stayed in Milan for two nights. On our first day, we were so tired and jet-lagged that my son and daughter went to sleep without having dinner. But my wife and I, despite being tired, felt the hunger pangs and so we went out to eat.

view from our hotel room in Milan

Since we were in the heart of the city of Milan, there were several decent restaurants around our hotel. In fact in our hotel itself was a good ‘ristorante,’ but my wife and I wanted to explore the city. And lo and behold, just walking two blocks from where we were staying, we found what we were looking for.

We were excited as we enter the restaurant. Then we ordered our very first meal in Italy. I understand that you cannot go wrong if you order pasta in Italy, and that’s what I did. I ordered spaghetti. And when I tasted the spaghetti, it was all what I envisioned. It was good.

In case you are wondering what restaurant we went to for our first Italian dinner?

It was Jollibee!

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(*Jollibee opened in Milan last year, and was the first ever Jollibee branch and only one so far in Europe.)

A Place Somewhere In Time

Nestled between the upper and lower peninsula of Michigan is a place where time stood still. The Mackinac Island, located in Lake Huron, is a popular tourist attraction due to its certain appeal. This place has undergone extensive historical preservation and restoration and is considered a National Historic Landmark.

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I have heard of this place from a partner of mine when we moved to the Midwest more than a decade ago, but it was only recently that we were able to check this place out.

Mackinac Island is only reachable by a ferry from either Mackinac City or St. Ignace. These are fast hydro-jet ferries and only takes less than 20 minutes to get into the island.

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As winter can be brutal in this part of Michigan, most businesses on the island, hotels included, are only open from May to October. Though there are residents that stayed on the island even through the winter.

Visiting Mackinac Island is like walking back in time, as houses and buildings are mostly built from the glorious era of the past, or at least they are made to look that way.

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The island is not only for history fans but also attract nature lovers. There are lots of beautiful sights to enjoy, either cultivated or natural.

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Tourists who visit Mackinac Island are called “fudgies.” I believe the reason for this is that the island has several fudge stores, and all of them offer free samples. So the tourists definitely take advantage of this, us included. But we also brought some home, as we felt obliged to buy after sampling a lot of them.

One of the most unique feature of the island is that there are no cars here. All motorized vehicles are banned on the entire island since 1898. There are only three motorized vehicles in the island: an ambulance, 1 police car, and a fire truck. So to get around, you either walk, bike, or take a taxi. Of course the taxis are horse-drawn carriages.

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When you’re on the island, time is not an essence. People here take their time leisurely. And even if you are in a rush, you cannot hurry the horses. The horses rarely trot, and most of the time they walk. They don’t gallop. If you’re a fast walker, it may be even faster than riding the carriage. As I said, time here stand still.

Horses rule the island. They have only one physician in the whole island, but they have three veterinarians available here. So you know where their priority lies in this place.

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One of the down-side of having many horses walking the streets, is that the roads are littered with their manure.

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The smell is undeniable and sometimes can be overwhelming. But there are many people employed here as a “pooper-scooper.” They even have a mechanized street sweeper or cleaner. Of course it is also horse-drawn (photo below).

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Beside the horse-drawn carriage tour, another faster way than walking, to tour the island is to go biking. And that’s what my family and I did. The whole island is only 8 miles around, though there are some steep hills that may be challenging to ride up.

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One of the most iconic place in the island is the Grand Hotel which opened its doors way back in 1887. As the name implies, it really is grand. It even has its signature horse-drawn carriages available for their patrons.

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This hotel has hosted many presidents, dignitaries, and famous people in its existence. Even if you don’t stay in this hotel (as it is a little pricey) you can still tour it for a minimal fee. It remains one of the most visited place in the island.

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The hotel is also known in the popular culture as this is where the classic movie “Somewhere in Time,” starring Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymour, was filmed. The film is about a time traveler who fell in love with someone in the past. They chose this location for the obvious reason that the hotel have not changed much even in the passing of time.

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Overall, we really enjoyed our trip to Mackinac Island. Even though we are not time travelers, perhaps we can be considered as such, as we felt like we visited the “past.” And we definitely fell in love too from something in the “past.”

From Mackinac Island,

Pinoy Transplant

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(*all photos taken with an iPhone)

No Uber

I have used Uber several times before to get around in places we visited. I have used this ride in cities like Chicago, Boston and New York City.

However in our recent trip to this certain place, there was no Uber. In fact, this was their equivalent of Uber:

It is not only Uber that is banned in this place, but all motorized vehicles for that matter. It is like being stuck in the 19th century.

I guess we just have to use our legs to get around.

(*photos taken in Mackinac Island, Michigan)

Under The Presidents’ Nose

That’s where I was last week.

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We have been to the Blackhills, South Dakota twice before, but this was the first time we hiked the Presidential trail, and thus got a closer view of the Presidents’ faces. We were really right under their noses.

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(*photos taken during our recent trip to Mount Rushmore with our visitors from the Philippines)

Road Trip

The road hums a wistful song, while the passing trees, powers lines, and scenery plays like an old movie in my hazy field of vision. I am safely buckled in my seat, while we whiz down the interstate. The car’s trunk is loaded, but not nearly as full and cluttered as my mind is.

My daughter and I are going on a road trip.

It is hard to imagine that it was more than 50 years ago now, when my daughter and I went on our first long trip. We went camping in a distant national park, and even though we stayed there only two nights, we packed our car full. We brought almost everything, except the house itself – the propane stove, the tent, the air mattresses, pillows and comforters, folding chair and tables, and even a portable heater.

When I fastened my little girl on her car seat when we embarked on that trip, she mildly protested. It seemed like we stopped on every rest area for a bathroom break, as my daughter claimed she needs to go. But maybe it was just her ploy to get out of her car seat. And yes, she asked a million times, “Are we there yet?”

It was a fun trip though.

It was more than 30 years ago now also, that I took my daughter on another long road trip. We drove for several hours to another nearby state. The car was overloaded with many things, like the electric fan, microwave oven, television, vacuum cleaner, a closet-full of clothes, and my daughter’s big cello. That was when I dropped her off to college.

She was so excited to go to the university and to be on her own. I guess she views it as independence. My heart was heavy all the way through that trip. Even though it was a long drive, I don’t want it to end. For I know that when we reach our destination, I would be leaving her behind and may not see her again for several weeks. Perhaps months. But she has to go and leave the nest, and make a mark of her own in this world. I get that.

Of course she made it through college. And beyond.

Now we’re together again on another road trip. Except that I am not in the driver’s seat anymore. I am just the passenger and my daughter is driving.

She said that I cannot live by myself anymore in our old big house. And I agree, since her mother left for heaven, I am really lost and lonely. She is taking me to a place to be closer to her.

She told me that I don’t need most of my stuff, just the bare essentials. For in the place where we will go, it has everything I need, she said. I don’t need much stuff anyway. The most precious things I used to have, I already lost them.

Funny that people say that my memory is getting bad. That my mind is already playing tricks on me. That I don’t remember things anymore. Like where I placed my glasses or even my dentures. Or who is Mr. or Mrs. so and so, people they say I should know. And yet, why do I remember all these nostalgic memories so vividly?

I know this may be my last road trip. For I can barely walk without any assistance anymore. I cannot even feed myself without spilling food on my lap and all over the floor. And that’s why I am going to this “big house” with all the help available, with some other old forgetful people like me. I hope my daughter will visit me there often.

It’s nice to be on the road again. To feel the wind and the sun on my face again. If only this road trip would not end.

photo taken in some back road in Iowa

(*This short story is written as a fiction. And hopefully will stay as fiction.)

Walking in the Land of History

In my lifetime, there are trips that I really cherished. Journeys that have deep personal meaning, that they are more than just trips.

Like the trip we made a few years back to the place that gave me so much inspiration since my teenage years (see previous post). And to see and be there in person in that awe-inspiring place was a life-fulfilling dream.

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me in the Grand Canyon

Then there are the trips that are always dear to me. Trips that bring me back where I came from. That even though how far I wandered, this place always pulled me back, for this is where my heart is. Home.

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photo taken somewhere in the Philippines

This year we made another epic journey. To a place whose relevance is more far-reaching than the place itself. A place so rich in history, that the events that happened here changed the course of humanity. This place has a special spiritual meaning to me: to walk where my Savior walked.

Jerusalem as viewed from the mount of Olives


(*More post of our trip to Jerusalem to follow. No, not the musical chair, but the real trip to Jerusalem).