10 cool random things in Italy

1. Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak)

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

The trattoria’s of Florence are highly regarded across Italy for their mastery of Tuscan cuisine, but there’s one item on the menu which is truly godly. Forget Argentina, Texas or where-ever else you hold a cut of beef in high regard – the Florentines have being fine tuning the art of the perfect steak for longer than anyone else, with outstanding results. Bigger is definitely better here, and you’ll have a hard time finding any place which does a cut (traditionally a 1.5 inch thick T-bone) that’s less than 800 grams, though 1kg is about the standard. In most cases it’s a meal for two. The Bistecca alla Fiorentina is grilled to medium rare perfection with a concoction of the finest Tuscan herb seasonings, then served semi sliced on a large wooden board.  Buddy it with some sides of sautéed porcini mushrooms, white beans and roasted potatoes – and you’ve got the traditional Tuscan lunch of champions.

2. Praia a mare coastline

Praia a Mare

The Italian Riviera is brilliant, but the Praia coast beats it hands down as there are virtually no tourists and the place is more less untouched by development.  Praia a Mare is settled in the ‘toe’ of Italy in the region of Calabria, the poorest part of the entire country. But what it lacks in infrastructure and economic progress, it makes up for in outstanding natural beauty. The beaches are pristine and the cliff heads along with the town’s natural landmark – Dino Island – are host to an array of breathtaking aquatic grottos. The area is also a hotspot for adventure sports including cliff jumping, para-gliding and white-water rafting in the mountains just behind the coastline.

3. Ferrara’s signature pasta dish

Osteria al Brindisi

The town of Ferrara in Emilia Romagna is home to the oldest Osteria in the world, Al Brindisi, which is over 600 years old and does the towns signature dish perfectly: Capullucci al zucca. Essentially it’s a variant of Raviolli stuffed with sweetened and spiced pumpkin and covered in a butter and sage sauce. It’s already covered here. Find me a better pasta dish in Italy and I’ll find you a more disgraceful contemporary politician than Silvio Berlusconi.

 

 

 

4.Rubik café, Bologna

Magic Sam cocktail

Located on Via Marsala in the old town, this tiny bar has become a perennial favourite of Bologna’s young and cool crowd for pretty much one reason: its signature cocktail the Magic Sam. Namesake of legendary in-house Bartender, Sam, take a brutal mix of spirits with three times the strength of a Long Island Ice tea and you have some insight into what you’re dealing with alcoholically. The magic part is you can barely taste it, and what you can taste goes down like a tropical treat. 2-3 of these and you’ll be well on your way. 5 + and you’ll be totally fucked. For this reason Rubik café is always crowded and always an awesome place to hang out. It’s an in-the-know must go for any visit to Bologna.

 

 

 

 

 

5. The Sistine chapel ceiling and Last Judgement frescos

Sistine chapel

While pretty much tired of any sort of regular sight seeing these days, one of the most famous gems of the Vatican still astounds me. Michelangelo was a passionate and celebrated sculptor who despised painting but was forced into the project as he was under commission from the pope. To paint on the highly curved ceiling was a technical challenge unto itself, never mind the fact that Michelangelo was neither familiar nor a fan of the fresco technique.  None-the-less the end result is the most famous if not greatest fresco of all time, all this from a guy who didn’t even want to do it. It’s a testament to the man who was rivalled only by Da Vinci as a bona-fide renaissance genius. Despite his personal misery throughout the projects, Michelangelo was able to at least use the time to incorporate depictions of his critics and enemy’s suffering in hell in The Last Judgement.

 

6.Pompeii & Herculaneum

Herculaneum

If you were only going to go to one place in all of Europe to soak up the greatest culture of antiquity, it would have to be here. The original Roman resort towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were famously buried by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD, before been excavated 17 centuries later to unveil two towns and tardy locals frozen in time. As a result you get a fascinating insight into the everyday life of the Roman Empire when it was at its peak, as well as a morbid lesson on the effects of superheated volcanic gases and ash on the human body.

 

 

 

7. The original pizza, Naples

Napolitani Margherita Pizza

Everyone knows pizza is from Italy, but more specifically it’s from Naples. While technically in existence since Roman times, it wasn’t until the mid 19th century that something resembling modern pizza came about. Since then pizza has been modernised further throughout Italy, and the world – the only exception being Naples itself. Connoisseurs will tell you that while the rest of Italy concerns themselves with pizza texture, the Napoliatoni original is all about taste. The result is a pizza like none you’ve had before, with a flatter base, thicker toppings and fresher ingrediants. Given that Naples nowdays is little more than a mafia microstate of rancid garbage, crime and corruption – it’s lucky to have at least this going in it’s favour.

8. Via Castiglione, Bologna

Via Castiglione

Starting at Bologna’s famous Due Torre, Via Castiglione is one of the original Roman streets of the old town which leads from the centre to the outside. While there are countless streets in Italy that will send you in time, this one really does it Bolognese style.  It is the street to live on in Bologna and the buildings are a beautiful terracotta mixture of medieval and high renaissance, all linked by the Bolognese trademark arcade porticci. It also features fine food stores, trattorias, and the best gelato in Emilia-Romagna – if not all of Northern Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Colonne, Milano

Colonne, Milano

It’s a good thing that in the city of smog and smug wankers, there’s an oasis. Colonne is close to the centre of town and is named after the sole remaining structures from when Milan was Mediolanum under Roman rule – a row of 2nd century Corinthian temple columns in front of a 16th century church. While the historical ambience is lovely, it’s the area’s surrounding bars and chill out spots where people come to drink that makes it particularly appealing. It’s far less pretentious than the rest of the city and you can even get a beer here for under €3. It’s almost like you’re not in Milan.

 

 

10. Doing sweet fuck all

Mario takes some time off

The casual traveller to Italy will quickly learn that Italians are a people fairly dedicated to taking time off. From 1-4pm you’ll find most shops are closed and on a Sunday no one will open their doors period. Not to mention the pantheon of both national and regional holidays that seem to occur as periodically as an after-thought. It’s a pain in the ass as a first time traveller who’s just arrived, but if you work there it’s a pretty sweet deal – especially the amount of allocated time off that’s dished out. The entire summer month of August is a holiday for basically everyone but for the most essential of public services, then another 3 weeks over Christmas is also fairly standard. Most people will get a few other random weeks off thrown in over the course of a year as well. The obvious flipside of this is that salaries tend to be low compared to the rest of Europe, and the fact that fuck all ever seems to get done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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