What I learned from a tour guide, a chef, and Michelangelo…

What I learned from a tour guide, a chef, and Michelangelo…

What I learned from a tour guide, Chef and Michelangelo

 

I went to Italy on a 10-day trip to Tuscany and Rome a couple of weeks ago.  It was my immediate family and our significant others. We went to Tuscany for 8 days and then ended the trip in Rome.  We stayed in a beautiful villa in Panzano, Tuscany and took small day trips to the local towns and then some of the bigger cities like Florence, Luca, and Cinque Terre.  We had a private tour guide who was local to the area and brought us around. We had a chef who came and taught us to cook homemade pasta and pizza, and then we have another tour guide bring us all through Florence to point out and teach us about the art and history of the city.

It truly was the trip of a lifetime.  We had such a blast drinking wine, eating unlimited bread cheese and pasta and just being together.  But the icing on the cake was really learning about and getting to know some of the locals. Our tour guides and chef were so gracious, all with huge smiles and a deep appreciation for their country and its history.  They all lived very different lives, but they all taught me something that I didn’t think I would find in the classic Italian laid back culture.  

 

They all taught me that they are all incredibly hard workers, you can reinvent yourself many times in your life, and don’t rush the process.

 

Italy is known for its laid-back culture, focused around food family and an appreciation for the things that are all around them.  Going into the trip I was expecting only this type of lifestyle and I absolutely saw this, but once I really learned more about our tour guide, chef and the life of Michelangelo, I realized there was so much more to the people than that.  

Like any good book, or an onion, when you dig deeper in and peel back the layers, there is always more than what meets the eye, and I absolutely found that here in Italy, in its people.  

Now, my opinion and experience could have been completely different if I got to know a different set of people, but they are the ones that I met and what I learned from them really stuck. 

 

Let’s start by giving a quick back story on each of them:IMG_8579

 Our tour guide who was with us for 3 days bringing us to all the local cities, was actually from Germany.  She moved to Italy after “Hotel School” and worked in a hotel to “practice her Italian” and she never looked back.  She met her husband who was a chef, then they opened a restaurant in a small local town that became a Michelin Star restaurant.  They had two kids and the restaurant became too much, so then she became a tour guide and started bringing people all over the local Tuscan Chianti Classico region. 

IMG_9265Our chef went to school to be an English teacher and then moved to London to find work.  The first job he found was a cook in a big fancy hotel. He always loved cooking so he took the role, and then stayed there for 15 years.  During that time he met his wife who was also Italian, and they moved home to Italy to have their family. In Italy, he started a huge restaurant that had over 30 tables in it.  He ran that for years and then also decided to back off a bit and slow down. Today, he owns a wine bar in the center of a small town and teaches cooking lessons to tourists who rent in the area. 

Then there was Michelangelo.  He is not alive, so I didn’t personally meet him but I 3DCA8181-7C8C-4288-A105-E7BCC9DFAE9Dwas blown away by his story and the impact that he made in not only Florence but the world of art.  Michelangelo was the greatest of the Italian Renaissance artists. He was born in a small village and then grew up in Florence. By the age of 13, he was an artist’s apprentice and creating work that we still are paying to see today.  He also became a sculptor and later in his life he got into architecture. In his lifetime he was commissioned to do many pieces of artwork for churches and wealthy families. A few of his greatest pieces of artwork include the statue of  David, the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Pieta, and the Last Judgement which is also in the Sistine Chapel. These are just a few of the many pieces of artwork he created in his lifetime. All of which crowds gather around to this day to get a glimpse of the masterful work he has done. 

 

Clearly, these three individuals are all VERY different.  Not even remotely similar, but there are parts of their story, characteristics they all have that are all the same. That’s what I wanted to talk about today.

 

They are all incredibly hard workers.  You don’t just casually open up a Michelin Star restaurant, slave in a restaurant of a famous hotel, or paint a 40.9-meter ceiling in the Sistine Chapel without working hard.  The Sistine Chapel took Michelangelo 4 years to paint, and it took our chef 15 years of experience working in a high-end restaurant until he had the skills and knowledge to open up his own.  That is HARD freaking work, and you have to work even harder to do it and then become the best at it.  The culture may be known as laid back, but it doesn’t mean that the people within it aren’t working their butts off to achieve their dreams. 

 

They all ALSO reinvented themselves many times in their lives.  They didn’t have one path or do one thing for their entire life.  In the U.S. it seems as everyone is on a path. They go to work and then work their way up one path, without much variance.  It’s just what you do, and if you don’t do that and you try something different or new people question you, it’s like taboo. They don’t understand.  With these three individuals that were completely the opposite. Michelangelo started off as a painter, then became a sculptor and then an architect… AND he was renowned in his work in each of those areas.  Granted he was known as a genius in what he did, but he still did it!  So many people who are geniuses or have lots of talent don’t even try to do something like that.  

Then there was our tour guide who ran a hotel, then a restaurant and now it is a travel guide.  She doesn’t quite measure up to Michelangelo’s level but she still reinvented herself time and time again and found success with each new turn.  That still takes guts and work and is incredibly impressive that she found success over and over in completely different fields.

I think that was one of the greatest lessons I learned, that all of us could learn.  Just because you are doing something today, or you are on this path, it doesn’t mean you are stuck there. It doesn’t mean that you can’t make a change and reinvent yourself and still be successful.  You CAN reinvent yourself, you CAN do something differently, you CAN follow your dream and have your cake and eat it too. 

 

Then finally, none of them seemed to rush the process.  Now I must reiterate, I did not meet Michaelangelo so he could have been a crazy man speeding through every project he had to finish.  But in the attention of detail in his work and the quality of what he created, I just can’t believe that was the case.  

The two people I did meet, our tour guide and the chef did not rush the process.  The chef took his time and learned all that he could in the restaurant business before starting his own.  Then when that became too much he downsized and opened a wine bar that became the top bar in the town we stayed.  He was never in a rush to get somewhere or to the next thing or goal, and he still got there successfully. Even when he was teaching us how to make pasta and bread, there wasn’t really a sense of urgency to get it done, but he carefully went through the process of showing us step by step with no impatience in between. 

This was another huge lesson to me because I am super type A and don’t do anything slowly.  I walk fast, talk fast, everything. I am also always eager to hit the next goal and do the next thing so I am always looking for ways to hurry up the process to get there faster.  Understanding and seeing that things not only take time, but you will still get there, in the end, was almost a relief for me.  It showed me that it is okay to give yourself space and time to slow down and fully be in the process of working through it one day at a time. 

 

So there you have what I learned about the Italian lifestyle from a chef, tour guide and Michelangelo!

 

You meet so many different people when you travel and learn about the history and what made the people and the country who they are today.  But how much of that are you fully absorbing and analyzing, making comparisons and contrasts to how you live your own life?  I think making mental notes of reflection makes it all the more interesting. With that, I would like to challenge you, the next time you go away to ask yourself, What did you find to be different? What do you notice? What will you learn?

 

Until next time, ciao! 

Love, Emily 

What I learned in Italy: The Food Edition!👩‍🍳

What I learned in Italy: The Food Edition!👩‍🍳

Coming off a 10-day vacation in Italy with a 9.5-hour plane ride, a couple of blog ideas were bound to happen. For starters, the trip we had truly was a trip of a lifetime.

My family and our significant others rented a villa in Tuscany for 8 days.  We took day trips to the local towns, Florence, Luca, and Cinque Terre.  Then we ended the trip with two nights in Rome.

We were toured around by locals, taught how to cook pasta and pizza by a local chef, had multiple wine tastings at local Chianti wineries, and had some really interesting tours in the big cities.  We drank unlimited wine, Aperol Spritz’s, and ate homemade pasta and bread and oil Every. 👏Single.👏 Day👏.

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The best part was that the wifi and service at the villa totally sucked and I didn’t buy an international phone plan.  Therefore, for 7 nights I had little to no access to the internet, email, texts, and social media.  At first, it was infuriating but by day 2 I started to appreciate the lack of service because it truly forced me to unplug, focus and soak in all my surroundings.  It ended up being my blessing in disguise.

Being completely out of touch with my life back home, while experiencing new places, people and things, really makes you start to think about things more clearly.  It opens your eyes to another way of life and allows you to learn new things.  It’s one of my favorite parts about traveling.  Everything seems to get really clear for me.  Really simple. That happened on this trip.

 

I started to notice several things were different from my own lifestyle and the states back home, and since I am a blogger, I, of course, wanted to talk about it! 😊

There were two major differences I noticed when comparing Italy to the states.  As I am sure you can guess, one was the food because it’s Italy. Then the other was the lifestyle because again… Italy. I wanted to break it up and into two blogs so I can break down what I saw and learned!

 

Since Italy is most known for its food, I thought I would start there.

 

IMG_8407To give you a quick back story on me.  I am a food and health junkie; I love to eat healthy delicious food and I am passionate about living a healthy lifestyle.  At home, I don’t eat any dairy and little to no meat and primarily fish and eggs.  For carbs, I mainly eat sprouted bread, quinoa, and sweet potatoes.  I even try to buy oil sprayers so that I don’t use too much oil.  I try hard to make as many healthy choices as possible in my day to day life.  I’ve watched one too many documentaries and have read too many books on the topic do otherwise.

So when I was heading to the pasta, bread, meat and cheese capital of the world, I was a little nervous about how it would affect my body because I obviously wasn’t going to pass up on any of it while I am there.

Not to mention that the last time I went to Italy with my best friend I gained over 10 pounds and it took months to work off.  Granted we were fresh out of college and totally reckless eating Gelato at 11 am, but it still happened!

Though, I had heard multiple times from a lot of people that the food is different in Italy.  The ingredients are fresher, and they don’t use the chemicals that we do.  I believed all of that to be true, but I still questioned how my body would react.

Would I still get breakouts when I ate the dairy products? 

Would I get bloated and sore after eating the bread and pasta like I did at home?

 Would I get super hungover from 2 glasses of wine?

 

But once I got there and ate and drank ALL of the things… I didn’t.  I didn’t have any reaction at all. I was perfectly fine, the entire time.

 

This was my first lesson.

The food is LEGITIMATELY better in every single way.

When I say we ate pasta, bread, and cheese every single day, I am not kidding.  But it img_8784.jpgwasn’t because we were in Italy, but there really weren’t that many other options.  Salads were available, but nothing fun like we do in the states with craisins, nuts, quinoa, and other veggies.  It was straight up lettuce tomato and maybe some cucumber.

It was the same with the vegetable options, they were very limited. They DID have unlimited options for cheeses, meats, bread, and pasta, so that’s what we ate.  So, as a result of my surroundings, I ate all the things that I almost never eat, every single day, and I was totally fine.  I didn’t have one break out or a hangover and never felt the bloated achy feeling that I get when I eat bread at home.

I want to say it was mind-blowing… but it’s really wasn’t.   I knew exactly where all the cheeses, meats and wines were coming from and how they were being made.  Then the bread would start to go stale after being out for just a couple of hours. You couldn’t even bite into day-old bread.  Compared to the states, where I have no idea how they make the cheese, preserve it or where it comes from, and then the bread lasts for weeks without going bad…sketch.

One morning we went on an olive oil tasting and the woman who gave us the tasting said that she stopped buying chicken from the store because she didn’t know where it was coming from or how the chickens were being treated. It mattered to her to know what she was eating was coming from.  I think that is a major difference. We DON’T really know where our food is coming from or how it’s being prepared.  So much of what we eat, and buy is made for convenience, speed, and cost.  But because of that something gets lost (or added) in between and we are physically affected because of it.

The whole experience just made me stop and think about the foods I was putting into my body in an entirely different way.

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Speaking of the lady from the Olive Oil tasting, she made a huge impact on me in the short time we were together so the next two lessons are from what I learned in my conversations with her.

To give you back story on her, she and her husband own an olive tree farm.  The farm was passed down to them, it has been in the family for hundreds of years.  It is 99 acres of olive trees that his family would organically produce into olive oil.  They continued to keep that tradition alive and produce thousands of cans of olive oil every year.  So, she clearly knew a thing or two when it came to olive oil.  What I found most interesting was what TYPE of olive oil you should buy.

 

My next lesson was on Olive Oil Purchasing.

She taught us that once olive oil is made it needs to be kept in cold and dark places so that it doesn’t oxidize and lose the nutrients and vitamins.  Because of that, we should NOT be buying any olive oil unless it is in either a tinted glass bottle or a tin can.  She told us that anything that ISN’T in a tin can or tinted glass bottle is NOT 100% real olive oil and has some sort of chemical or additive in it to keep it the golden yellow color, and it doesn’t have the same vitamins and nutrients that real olive oil has.

She also said that you should NEVER buy olive oil that is in a plastic container because the chemicals from the plastic seep in.  After she said that we all gave each other a guilty look because we all knew that we ALL buy the jumbo plastic olive oil containers from Costco…

So pretty much all the olive oil I have ever eaten hasn’t been the best quality…which is nuts to think about because I pride myself on buying high-quality foods but at least we all know now so we can make better choices moving forward!

 

Moving on to my next lesson learned…

During our tasting, the woman told us that she gave cooking lessons, so I was excited to hear about the different meals she made.  In that conversation, she mentioned how in Italy the foods they cook change every season and went on to describe the foods that they eat in each season.

They ate for the season.  That was my next lesson.

They ate what was available to them at that point in time-based off of what was growing IMG_4550that season.  They ate tomatoes and cucumbers in the summer, and then the peppers and eggplant in the fall, and broccoli and cauliflower in the winter months.

They didn’t have a grocery store full of cauliflower crust pizzas or a plethora of options of vegetables, fruits, and foods to choose from. They primarily ate what was grown and picked last week from the farms.  For whatever reason, that made me stop and think for the first time when should I be eating certain foods.

Is a tomato you eat in summer as flavorful and full of nutrients and vitamins as the tomatoes you eat in the winter?  Where are the broccoli and cauliflower coming from that I am eating all summer long when it’s not in season until wintertime?

I am not a nutritionist and I didn’t try to go find the exact scientific answer to these questions. But if you look at it simply, we probably should be eating fruits and vegetables when they are in season, local, and freshly picked because that IS when they are at their best.

From that conversation, I am much more interested in not only learning more about eating for the season but also, what vegetables and fruits are best in what seasons so I can start to implement more of that in my own life.

 

 

Then the final thing I noticed, which ended up being my last lesson was that there was,

NO Snacking.

If you think about a typical US grocery store there are aisles and aisles dedicated to different snack bars, to-go packets of nuts, chips, cookies, and crackers. There are loads of it and we are constantly craving it.  Partially because it’s filled with sugars that we are addicted too, but more so because it’s a part of our culture.  Snacks between meals is a common thing that most people do in the US.

In Italy, they don’t do snacks.

There were few snacks available to buy at small-town grocery markets or at the convenience stores of the side streets.  They didn’t have chips for you to buy or bars or snacks.  They had meals.  They had bread, pastries, a slice of pizza, and all types of sandwiches with prosciutto, but there is very little else to buy outside of that.  They are more focused on eating meals and more “real foods”.   Think about how differently your own day would be if your only option for food was “real” food.  Food that didn’t come out of a package or freezer…

 

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Overall, I truly believe that submerging yourself in another culture is one of the best educations you can get because you are seeing and experiencing it firsthand.

 

Those were just a few of the details I noticed and the lessons that I learned while we were away.  I hope that you were as intrigued as I was, and it taught you something new or simply was just some food for thought. 😉