Nikita Chawla explores the charming Italian countryside soaking in one city at a time.
Italy means many things to many people (A FIFA team, Pizza, Espresso, Bernini, Michelangelo etc) and I was no exception. So with ten days to spare in the country of art, spices, fountains and squares I couldn’t have asked for more! Beyond the tourist spots and selfie shots I ventured into the fresh countryside and upcoming ports inhaling its beauty without expectations, one city at a time.
Palermo in Italian means port and for a fleeting moment this city transports you to a glorious past only to quickly yank you back to your urban senses. As I began to explore, I realised Time stops at Palermo. Not because it’s breathtakingly beautiful but merely because its one sleepy town where Time is not important. Even the striking Great bronzed clock that sits atop the City Tower has no Hands (It’s not an antique bearing historical relevance but was added only a few years ago).
That’s perhaps because the time of great ages and great men has passed. Beautiful women in luxurious costumes, the Baroque pageantry, limestone quarries and export of the famous spices, national and regional governments once made and then finished, fortunes changed hands…Yes all that took place in Palermo.
Today it is rich with date palms and a reminder of its grandeur before the Nordic invaders and Spanish traders tried to westernise it. Tropical and Mediterranean greenery with majestic plantain trees planted in the 19th century flank the city lanes and Romantic English gardens. Traces of the Excess of the nobility in the 15th century can be seen dispersed in whole lanes which of a proud modern Palermo. The Byzantine mosaics and the Norman-Romanseque architecture on Churches and Cathedrals is testimony to just how much is unresolved between the Quran n the Bible. It’s hard to imagine the limestone caves, perfumeries and Oriental wonders that existed here only a few centuries ago.
I stopped by the narrow atmospheric streets of the porta carini bazaar and was quite fascinated by the Fish market that highlights the scales and iridescent colours of squibs and fish with locals bargaining hard.
This brings me to the food. Sicilians flirt audaciously with the 7sins (particularly luxury and gluttony) like there is no tomorrow! The table is testimony to the different Mediterranean cultures that have come to Sicily and eagerly blended into the cuisine and hearts of the people. But mind you, the food is not for the fainthearted intimidated by triglycerides and cholesterol!
Whether it’s the pasta in pesto sauce or that extra cheesy ravioli served with a generous glass of white wine (They drink wine by the glass, not bottle) it is deliciously rich and heavy not to mention calorie laden! Their famous liqueur Limonchillo soon became my favorite and I brought home 4 huge bottles.
The Italians have a real worship for Bread n our attached to their own type. The make, level of shape, size and cooking, gimeno (The toppings usually sesame seeds) and crust all matter and sharply divide the Italian taste buds and community.
Gelati is consumed shamelessly every hour of the day. The locals say, it keeps the ideas ‘fresh’ and I conveniently agreed! There is no one standard recipe of this delight- You can ask for the same flavour in different shops and Gelaterias (Even McDonalds keeps Gelato) and be scoop served a differently each time. Buon Apetitio!
Sardinia’s capital city Cagliari has vast stretches of uninterrupted shorelines dotted with well marked and elevated view points for tourists. Just like Rome Cagliari is built on seven hills and is rather heterogeneous in terrain with its variety of rocks, highlands, coasts and caves.
The most striking being the one near the 18th century Basilica of our Lady of Bonaria. A day trip to Dolianova (Ancient Sardinia) made it worthwhile. Scenic, flavorful and aromatic this pretty market town is the local centre of olive oil production and packed with beauty. The Dolianova cathedral is largely Pisan-Romanesque in style. The drive to the Argiolas vineyards located in the small nearby village of Serdiana took me through the Mediterranean landscape full with juniper, wild olives and mastic trees interspersed with healthy doses of sunshine that lifted my spirits. The winery produces some of the best Sardinian wines which are aged in several vaulted underground caverns. I had a Sardinian kind of supper with local cheese, olives, wine and a deliciously crisp and twice baked flatbread called ‘pane carasau’ before heading back to Cagliari.
In Genoa they call every little open area square and this could range from the size of a football to field to an average sized kitchen in a local building apartment. Unlike Milan (they shared a healthy competition back in days) Genoa is neither well marketed nor flashy.
Though steeped in rich Italian charm, this city must be approached a certain way. It doesn’t immediately win you over with its art, fashion or seas and you must just sit back n let it seduce you. Genoa demands patience but once experienced, understood or even just explored this gem of northern Italy it is unforgettable.
The Ferrari square is the commercial heart of Genoa (The name has got nothing to do with the car; it bears a family name that generously contributed in the making). But what caught my fancy were the walls in the city. They are painted with myriad optical illusions to look larger than life and grander than what they actually are primarily to save cost.
All alleys are strategically made for enemies to get lost in the old city and I’m glad I explored it by an e- rickshaw that came with a well informed and chirpy guide.
Next I visited Cinque Terre .The Pastel colored Fisherman colonies studded with high end boutiques and sea food restaurants that fringe the picturesque Italian riviera are a sight to behold! I sipped a leisurely latte by one of the chic seafront cafes and admired the Piazzetta lined with super-yachts offering panoramic views of the town and the Ligurian Sea.