Cinque Terre.

May 25, 2011 § 6 Comments

This past weekend, around 20 of us took a trip to Cinque Terre, a city of five different villages located on the coast about six hours from Cortona. Although the travel to Cinque Terre was a bit of a mess (a total of four train changes, almost missing our train out of Florence, walking around the city of Bonasolla for around two hours as we tried to find our hotel at 1 a.m., etc.), the trip was easily the most worthwhile thing I’ve done since being in Italy.

The hike between the five villages is only a total seven miles, it was easily the most intense and physically demanding thing I have EVER done. We assumed that the hike would be on a nice, flat sidewalk, winding through the villages at an easy, breezy pace. We were so wrong. So very wrong.

The hike took us through the mountains along the coast, sometimes up stairs that seemed impossible to climb. The hike sometimes took two hours just from one village to another, and felt like the most intense Stairmaster of my life. Four days later, my legs have still to recover from the strain I put them through in Cinque Terre. But I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that hiking Cinque Terre was one of the best experiences of my life, and one that I will never forget, no matter how bad my calves ache days later.

We took a train from the city of Levanto and arrived in Riomaggiore, the first city in Cinque Terre. We purchased our tickets to allow us to enter into the Cinque Terre park, and then decided to get a little food before heading out on our (presumably easy) adventure. At a restaurant sitting on the coast, I had a fruit salad called macedonia, which was easily the best fruit salad I have ever, ever had.

The best fruit salad...and not a bad view to go with it.

Riomaggiore is one of the smaller fishing villages, located right on the rocky coast. But with the crystal clear water below and the boats pulled in by the shore, it made for a beautiful view from our restaurant.

Riomaggiore.

After eating, we left our little seaside restaurant and embarked along the Via dell’Amore, a road where lovers from years long past leave messages and locks along the path, intended for the person who will “hold the key to their heart.” For someone who has an inner romantic side, I found this part of the trip especially touching, just with the thought of all the people who have left messages for someone who may or may not ever see it. But their declaration of love in a really beautiful place is still a thoughtful and romantic gesture, and I couldn’t help but love everything about that part of the hike.

A lover's bench, surrounded by locks that are waiting for the right key to open them.

We arrived in Manarola around thirty minutes later by train (the path from the Riomaggiore to Manarola was closed due to a landslide), but only stayed there long enough to snap a few pictures and grab another quick bite to eat. I’m pretty positive we ate something in every town we stopped in, but it was probably for the best, considering how much energy we would need for the more intense parts of the hike to come.

A street in Monasola.

A poppyseed croissant with stracchino cheese and crudo, an Italian ham. Easily one of the best sandwiches I've ever had.

We left Manarola after eating and embarked on another short hike to Corniglia, the middle of the five cities. The hike there took us around 45 minutes, but was relatively easy as it was on a flat sidewalk that wound up the side of the mountain. We essentially skirted the city, but the view from just past Corniglia showed another beautiful, colorful city that looked straight out of a picture book.

Corniglia from a distance.

The hike from Corniglia to Vernazza was absolutely incredible, filled with breathtaking views of the sea. We climbed through the country side, and passed by homes tucked away behind small vineyards. I can’t imagine living in such a pristinely beautiful place, but that is the reality for the people of Cinque Terra. Lucky Italians.

Oh, you know, just another beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea.

The hike from Corniglia to Vernazza was extremely challenging, and although I wanted to collapse on the path several times, I kept going. Not only did this view reward me with some amazing views, it also showed me that I’m capable of things I never thought I’d be able to do. A two hour hike literally up the side of the mountain? Before this trip, I didn’t think I could do something so strenuous, but I was very proud of myself for what I’d already accomplished. So proud, in fact, that I treated myself to gelato as soon as we arrived in Vernazza.

Vernazza was my favorite city out of all the five villages, as it was the most colorful and full of life. The beach comes right up to the edge of the city, and people were relaxing by the sea or laying on the beach, just enjoying the late afternoon sun.

Colorful, beach side buildings in Vernazza.

A beach with a mountain view...only in Italy.

I think we all could have sat in Vernazza for the rest of the day, but the city of Monterosso kept calling our names. So we sat and enjoyed our gelato in Vernazza, and then embarked on the last leg of the hike.

I’ve got to say, the last leg of the hike was both the best and worst part of the trip. We were all so exhausted, but we were so close to being done. It was only the determination to finish the hike and the ability to say that we hiked all five villages that got us through that last portion. The best parts were the friends we met along the way, including a few fellow American college students and a two very friendly boys, one from Alaska and one from Australia, who hiked with us the rest of the way. And the views leaving Vernazza weren’t bad either.

Look up "Cinque Terre" on Google Images, and I guarantee that this is the picture you will see.

We arrived in Monterosso around two hours later, just as the sun began to set over the Mediterranean. I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to stop moving in my entire life. We arrived in Monterosso, changed into our swimsuits, and ran straight into the water. The water was cold as the sun had already begun to set, but we didn’t care. Finishing our hike with a dip in the Mediterranean Sea was the perfect end to a perfect day.

Late afternoon in Monterosso.

Like I mentioned earlier, the hike of Cinque Terre was the coolest thing I have ever done for so many reasons. Not only was it an incredible experience to see all the five villages and experience a little bit of life in each one, but it was also a once in a lifetime hike that I doubt I will ever do anywhere else. And on top of that, the day really brought all of us closer together, and I can easily say that I bonded more with these people than I could have imagined possible in one day.

Seven miles and six hours later, we were happy to be done.

Assisi.

May 22, 2011 § 4 Comments

After spending a week in Cortona, I didn’t think I would find any city in Italy more beautiful than Cortona. But that was just because I hadn’t been to Assisi yet. Assisi is one of the most historically monumental cities in Italy, as it is home to the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, where St. Francis is buried. To go into detail about the importance of St. Francis would take way too long, but if you’re interested in reading about the history of the city and St. Francis, it really is quite fascinating and totally worth looking into.

We loaded up the bus this morning and headed to Assisi, about an hour and a half away. The drive there took us through Perugia, which is another beautiful part of Tuscany. Once off the bus, I once again started my day with a cappuccino, but added a special treat this time. Steven, I asked for sfogliatelle, and I hope this is what it is, because it was puff pastry filled with a creamy custard and topped with thin apple slices. If this wasn’t it, I hope it was close!

Breakfast!

We walked through the city until we were in the main piazza. Assisi was full of people, most of them American, but there were also groups of people from all over, from Britain to Japan. As a result, Assisi was much more touristy than Cortona, and shops with cheap trinkets and knick-knacks could be found at every turn. But as we walked through the city and found a place to have lunch, I managed to find a few of the more beautiful, isolated parts of the city.

The main piazza in Assisi.

Side street off the main square.

The sign for the ristorante where we had lunch.

Lunch was good, a simple penne pasta with sausage and cream. Nothing too exciting or very picturesque, although it did cost around 13 euros. I’ve found that even the simplest of meals can still cost you around $15 or $20, which is just the price of living in Italy, I suppose.

After lunch, we had some free time until we took a tour of the Basilica, so a few of us roamed the back streets of Assisi and found some amazing views, beautiful doors (I have become the running joke of the trip, as I constantly hear people yell back to me, “SARAH! There’s a REALLY GREAT door up here!” or “Man, this city is just FULL of good doors!”), and a restaurant with a view that I could see myself eating at every single day.

A beautiful alleyway tucked up at the top of Assisi.

Old wooden door, surrounded by jasmine.

The best restaurant view. Period.

I wasn’t allowed to take pictures once I got into the Basilica, but I think the 200 I took for my few hours in Assisi made up for it. Assisi was an absolutely beautiful city, and I wish I had had more time to spend there, exploring every little narrow side street that I walked past.

We left that afternoon, heading back to Cortona with heads nodding and people curled up in their seats. Our first field trip really took it out of us, but it’s just one of the many to come in the next few weeks.

Italy is easily the most amazing place I’ve ever been, and there’s a good chance I may never come home…allowing that my bank account can handle the outrageous euro exchange rate for a little while longer.

So much food, so little time.

May 17, 2011 § 8 Comments

Buon giorno, my American friends! I apologize for the lack of postings lately, but there has been much less free time here in Cortona than I had been expecting. My first few days in Cortona were an absolute whirlwind, trying to absorb as much of this beautiful city as possible in the first 48 hours.

We were lucky to be blessed with absolutely beautiful weather on our first full day in Cortona, and lucky for me, that was market day! Of all of the fresh produce stands I have seen, this one beats them by a long shot. Every single fruit and vegetable here is just hitting its peak season, and I probably spent more money buying fruit and vegetables that day than I have yet anywhere else in Cortona.

But before I could go to the market, I had to start my day with this:

My first real Italian cappucino.

Then it was on to the market.

Literally every fruit and vegetable you could imagine.

Blood oranges! So rare at home.

Beautiful heirloom tomatoes.

Fresh herbs, and the market vendor who wanted to be in the picture with them.

I ended up buying strawberries, a few bunches of sweet cherry tomatoes, several blood oranges and a bag of cherries. Over the next few days, I was always very glad to have fresh fruit with me for an afternoon snack.

We moved on from the produce section of the market over to where the real action was going on: the seafood, meat and cheese stands. There were cases full of fresh seafood, from little clams to huge lobsters and fresh squid. It easily topped any seafood market I’ve seen at home, but I’ve learned that is just the way of Italy: everything’s better here.

Squid, lobster, and a terrifying-looking fish.

Huge prawns...and do I spy an octopus in the background?

Some of the food in the market was stuff I had never seen before: huge tubs of salted fish, cheeses I had never heard of, and aged meats hanging from twine on the top of the stands. And then there was this:

Roasted whole pig. It's what's for dinner.

Yes, that is the head of a huge pig. Or perhaps a boar. I can’t really be sure, but what I do know is that this man was chopping meat off of the pig and laying it on toasted rolls and serving them for 3 euros. If I’m in Cortona next Saturday when the market is back in town, I will be getting one of those sandwiches. Just to say I did.

We left the market at lunch time and spent the rest of the day exploring Cortona, finding beautiful homes and narrow winding streets that led off to other piazzas, full of their own stores and restaurants. I can’t post all of the pictures on here, but here are a few of the beautiful places I found in Cortona that day.

Wouldn't mind coming home to this every day.

Windy, cobblestone streets leading to beautiful views.

I’ve also started my collection of door pictures, which was an idea I got from multiple people. Won’t be hard to make a college with all of the beautiful and unique doors I’ve seen here.


My day in town ended with a soccer game and dinner at Tonino’s. There has been so much going on the past few days that this is only a very brief, condensed chunk of my time here thus far. But I’ll do my best to find time to update this blog more often before I begin all of my trips to other cities around Cortona.

But for now, I will leave you with a picture of the view that I am lucky enough to see every day.

The Tuscan valley.

Though there’s grinning and mandolining in sunny Italy, the beginning has just begun when the sun goes down.

May 13, 2011 § 4 Comments

After many hours in an airport and many more hours on an airplane, I have finally arrived in Cortona! Everything about this city is a hundred times more picturesque and perfect than any description I’d heard prior to arriving here. I can’t wait to wander through the piazzas of Cortona and see what kinds of adventures I’ll find in this beautiful, walled city.

The trip here wasn’t filled with any particularly memorable food, although I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the meals on my flight over to Rome. Having only flown on Spirit Airlines prior to this trip, the only airplane food I’d ever known was little pretzels. But Delta served us snacks, a full dinner and even breakfast in the hour before our plane landed! And even though the food wasn’t anything to write home about, I couldn’t help but feel perfectly content with my egg and cheese croissant while looking down below at the snow-capped Alps, rising up in peaks through misty clouds.

Our first full day in Cortona was filled with your standard orientations and roommate assignments, as well as conquering the steepest hill I’ve ever climbed in my entire life. No wonder the Cortonese are in such great shape; they’re climbing the equivalent of Mt. Everest several times a day.

We didn’t have much time for lunch, but dinner was a welcome relief after a long day of traveling. At Tonino’s, the restaurant that serves the Cortona program dinner seven days a week, we were served spinach and cheese ravioli, followed by a leek and endive salad, some of the best roast beef I’ve ever had, and then a sweet vanilla mousse for dessert. Although this meal was tasty, I didn’t capture it on camera: I’m saving my photos for the real deal, the meals from the ristorantes and tratterias that I find tucked back in the windy, cobblestone streets of Cortona.

Tomorrow morning we’re waking up for an early breakfast, and then several of us are heading down to the mercado, where I’m sure I’ll find plenty of beautiful food to take pictures of. After the market, we’ll head to lunch and then to an afternoon soccer game, followed by dinner and dancing at a local bar. Tough life, but someone’s gotta do it, right?

But for now, I will leave you with some beautiful views of Cortona, followed by a glimpse of the street where my journeys will all begin tomorrow.

The Tuscan countryside from my campus.

Piazza

Now off to bed (which is odd to think about, since it’s 5 p.m. back in the states). But if I’m ever going to make it through the day tomorrow, a good night’s sleep is much needed.

Buona notte miei amici.

Bun Voyage goes to…

May 9, 2011 § 1 Comment

It’s here. The moment you’ve been waiting for. The exciting news about Bun Voyage that I have been dangling in front of you for a week now.

Well, wait no longer, because I’m done dangling.

Get excited, readers, because Bun Voyage is going…to…ITALY!

And more specifically, Cortona (which you can view in all its splendor below:)


I’m leaving for Italy this upcoming Thursday to spend a month in Cortona, Italy, on a Viticulture and Enology program. Essentially, I will be studying the production and consumption of wine. Tough life, but someone’s gotta do it.

And although Bun Voyage has been about burgers up until this point, I felt that it was only appropriate that I take my voyages overseas with me. I plan to take pictures of everything and anything I eat, as well as some pictures of other beautiful Italian things (buildings, churches, vineyards, gelaterias, Italian men, etc. etc.)

So stay tuned, because I promise to post lots of pictures, tell a few stories, and have a whole bevy of Italian-themed Bun Voyages during the next month.

Arrivederci for now.

When in Roman’s…

May 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

My semester has finally drawn to a close. I finished my last final on Friday and made the three hour trip back home to Asheville. And now that I’m back home for a few days, today seemed like a perfect time to highlight another favorite burger place of mine right here in my hometown.

Roman’s is a relatively new restaurant in downtown Asheville, although I believe they were already open out in another part of town before they moved to their current location. They’re located on Haywood Street right next to the Civic Center in a small little storefront, with big windows and a few tables out on the sidewalk. It’s just a block past the main drag of Haywood Street, so many tourists have already turned around and headed back down the street before they see Roman’s. Most of the people I’ve seen there are either local businessmen or Asheville residents (and if you live in Asheville, then you know what I’m talking about: you can spot an Ashevillian a mile away).

I went to Roman’s a lot over this past summer, and tried almost every type of sandwich they have on their menu. They feature a daily special (their orange barbeque chicken sandwich was to die for), but I have special place in my heart for their Italian sandwich. But their burgers are truly outstanding, and some of the best I’ve ever had.

Roman’s gets its beef from Hickory Nut Gap, a local farm out in a part of town called Fairview, near where I used to go to high school. Hickory Nut Gap cows live a happy life, eating grass out on wide open pastures, and the farm promotes sustainable practices in every aspect of their business. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know how I feel about local and organic meats. “They taste so much better!”  “Such a delicious grassy flavor!” and so on and so forth. So no need for me to brag about Hickory Nut Gap, because you can probably guess what I would have said.

So today my father and I went to Roman’s for lunch, and because he is also a Bun Voyage enthusiast (Hi, Dad!), he decided to get a burger as well. I went with my favorite choice, the Ranch burger, which is a 6 oz. burger on a whole wheat roll, served with vine-ripened tomatoes, red onion, Bibb lettuce, Colby Jack cheese, thick-cut bacon, and a delicious avocado-dill ranch sauce. My dad went with the BBQ Bacon burger, which is served with the same thick-cut bacon, baby Swiss cheese, grilled red onions, mayonnaise and a sweet, tangy BBQ sauce. Served with only a pickle spear on the side, the burger really is the star of the meal.

After only a few minutes, our burgers were brought out to us, and I’d be hard pressed to say that I had seen a prettier burger during this whole semester.

Ranch burger.

Isn’t that the most picturesque burger ever? The vibrant colors of the vegetables just pop, and give it this wonderfully appealing sense of freshness. And once it was sliced in half, it looked even better.

Yummm.

My dad’s burger didn’t look too shabby, either.

BBQ Bacon burger.

The first thing I tasted when biting into the burger was not the meat, actually, but the super flavorful whole wheat bun. I’m not typically a fan of extra wheat-y things, but for some reason, I loved this bun. It had the perfect wheat flavor mixed with just the right amount of sweetness. Slightly toasted on the underside, it served as the perfect platform for a bevy of other ingredients.

The next thing I tasted was, of course, the meat. Grassy, perfectly cooked and seasoned impeccably. No need for extra salt here; the flavor of the burger leaps out at you in every single bite. The avocado-dill ranch sauce blends perfectly with it, giving the meat the perfect cool, creamy accompaniment, with just a little bite from the dill. And along with the sauce was the Colby Jack, which had melted down perfectly, blending with the meat and the sauce. The bacon gave the burger a welcomed salty crunch.

To be fair to the burgers that I ate in January and February, it would have been difficult to find vegetables in season unless they came from somewhere under the equator. And this is why I love spring, because it is the perfect season for fresh ingredients. Tomatoes aren’t exactly in season yet, but we’re getting close. Even still, this tomato was one of the best I’ve had on a burger. And even the red onions, which I’m not normally a huge fan of, were sweet and delicious. The Bibb lettuce is a little less crisp than your traditional  iceberg, but has a great flavor nonetheless.

In between bites of my burger, my dad let me try his. Even though his wasn’t topped with the fresh vegetables mine was, the flavors in his burger shone in a completely different light. The sweet grilled onions and the salty bacon blended together so well, and the baby Swiss had a mild flavor that helped bring all of the other toppings together.

Our burgers were gone in less than 10 minutes, with nothing to show for them save a few crumbs and the stem of a pickle spear.

But how did Roman’s measure up all across the board?

Quality of meat: 10
Hickory Nut Gap never fails to disappoint me, and they didn’t this time either.

Freshness of ingredients: 10
Fresh Bibb lettuce, juicy tomatoes and perfectly sweet and crisp red onion. Probably all from local farms, too.

Presentation: 9.5
This burger looked like the kind of burger that would belong right on the cover of any national magazine.

Creativity: 8
There wasn’t anything particularly creative about this burger, save for the homemade avocad0-dill ranch sauce. But extreme creativity isn’t really needed when you’ve got such awesome ingredients to begin with.

Overall rating: 9.75

If you live in Asheville, or if you live in Athens and you’re considering a trip up to Asheville one day, you’re not going to want to miss out on Roman’s for much longer. Find them with the information below:

Oh, and be sure to check in tomorrow for the VERY EXCITING news that I promised you last week!

Roman’s
75 Haywood St.
Asheville, NC 28801
http://www.romanstakeout.com/

Good Food.

May 2, 2011 § 3 Comments

With the semester coming to a close, the past few weeks have been filled with the wrapping up of class projects and getting ready for finals. But one of the luxuries of being a PR major is that we rarely ever have final exams. I finished with two of my classes this past Thursday, and now, I have nothing but an easy peasy fashion merchandising exam on Friday.

But the best news about being done with classes is that it gives me more time to go out to eat!

This post isn’t particularly about burgers, just because I haven’t had a chance to go get one in a few days, but more about celebration of food in Athens, and the events that bring it to you.

This past weekend was full of all kinds of events and happenings, as it was the weekend of the Twilight festival. And on Saturday, my friend Hannah and I went to the 1st Annual Good Food Block Party, hosted by Farm 255 and several other restaurants to benefit the Athens Farmer’s Market.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know I’m gaga over Farm 255, and when I saw that they were hosting this party, along with 5 & 10, The National, and Last Resort, I knew I had to be there.

Hannah and I arrived to Farm at 2:30, where the block party was fully underway. Music was playing and people were eating some seriously delicious looking food. The block party had a ticket system, where a $1 got you a ticket, which you could then put towards any dish you wanted. Here are a few of the delicious things Hannah and I got with our tickets:

Fresh produce for Last Resort's green salad.

Last Resort had a fresh green salad mixed with fresh produce from local gardens. Tossed together with a tangy dressing and some grilled bread, it was a cool, healthy start to the meal.

I used 6 of my tickets to get one of Farm’s homemade pork sausages, which they had grilling over a hot charcoal fire right in the middle of the patio.

Grilled housemade sausages.

Once they handed me my sausage on a toasted bun, I topped it with homemade cole slaw and sauerkraut. One of the best sausages I’ve ever had, with that similar grassy flavor that I admire so much in the rest of Farm’s meat dishes.

Not quite a burger, but close!

One of the most exciting parts of the event was seeing a shout out to my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, represented in one of the dishes.  One of the vendors was selling crostini, and one of them featured a goat cheese produced by Spinning Spider Creamery, which is located just outside of Asheville. Topped with a golden raisin and leek chutney, it was full of vibrant flavor and reminded me of the time I visited Spinning Spider and tasted their goat cheese right there on the farm.

Look! Cheese from Asheville!

Hannah and I had a wonderful time at the party, and even had the chance to sit at the same table as the mayor of Athens. What I loved most about this party was the welcoming environment. The vendors were extremely friendly, and we made a number of friends just by walking around and eating our food.

And I think this is what I love most about events like this. People come together over shared experiences with food, and I think that’s one of the things that’s most valuable and special about life. A great meal can make new friendships, strengthen old ones, and give you experiences that you’ll never forget.

And speaking of experiences that you’ll never forget, I have some exciting news for you as my readers: this blog is about to head into some new and exciting territory. But I won’t tell you what it is yet, I’d rather build the suspense. But don’t worry. Just because the semester’s over doesn’t mean Bun Voyage has ended its journey.

It’s just going in a new direction.