From terrorism to the steady decline of the education system, it’s an understatement to say that my posts have been rather gloomy of late. There’s plenty to be blogging about in Politics at the moment – should we bomb Syria? Probably not. Should we leave the EU? Probably not. Is the Chilcot Report ever going to be released? Probably. However it’s been an exhausting month and I quite fancy writing something a bit lighter, a bit more hopeful. So I’ve made the decision to add a monthly travel post to the site. Like most people with a pulse, I love to travel and visit new places. To date my adventures have taken me to 4 different continents, 16 countries and countless Cathedral cities. My experiences range from typically tourist (hot dogs in New York, neon paint and fishbowls in Ko Pang Yang) to the more unusual (travelling from London to Malta by train and boat, eating fried crickets etc…)
For the first travel post I decided to write about the only time I’ve travelled alone – my summer in Italy. If you want a blow-by-blow account of this trip including detailed itinerary, restaurant recommendations and the story about the boy who decided to bring home a girl to our dorm for some romancing you can find that here. Instead this post is more a tribute to the inspiration for that trip – Elizabeth Gilbert.
Without being too dramatic, I have Gilbert to thank for the Summer That Changed My Life and believe me, I know how trite that sounds. It’s the sort of tagline you might find on a bargain bin novel or teen movie. But (again, without being overdramatic) nothing has been the same since Italy(another tagline.) In the two years following that trip I’ve changed jobs (twice), moved house, got engaged and adopted a cat called Bubbles. All off the back of that one decision and here is the passage that started it all:
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”
– “Eat. Pray. Love.” Elizabeth Gilbert
I look back on that Summer now as the perfect balance of complete freedom and independence without feeling lonely or isolated. Every day started with “well – what do you want to see today.” Sometimes the answer was “I want to see the Trevi Fountain.” and sometimes it was “I want to read in that garden next to the gelateria.” I was the director and star of my own little film and, like all good films, well-known faces popped up throughout. (It turns out if you announce that you’re going to Italy for the summer, many of your close friends will happily join you.)
I ventured through Venice alone tying myself in knots getting lost and summoning the courage to try out the small amount of Italian I’d learnt. I drank local wine on a farm in Tuscany with my oldest friends, I swam and sailed through Lake Como with some of the best travel companions a girl could ask for and, when I finally reached the glorious city of Rome, I had a very special guest in the shape of my friend, The Man On The Piccadilly Line. That summer is a montage of happy memories with some of my best people and yet some of my happiest times were warm evenings sat alone with a glass of wine and a book, awaiting my spaghetti alla puttanesca .
Before booking the trip I’d toyed with visiting one of Gilbert’s other destinations, India or Indonesia but the food swung it in favour of Italy. A country that encourages you to eat pizza, spaghetti, gelato and coffee every day is the sort of place I want to be. My trip was less “Eat, Pray, Love” and more “Eat, Eat, Eat” but despite 5 weeks of a diet based entirely on pasta and gelato I returned to the UK 8lbs lighter – god bless you Italy.
The most striking thing about Italian food is how simple it is. Most of the meals I ate were made from 4 or 5 really fresh ingredients. I am grateful for this as it means on cold, winter evenings, 1000 miles from Rome, it’s possible to recreate some of those beautiful meals. Puttanessca, as well as being of my favourites, is as simple to make as it is delicious. I will leave you with this recipe from Naples:
750g Pounds Canned Pureed Tomatoes
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
200g large Black Olives
4 Tablespoons Capers
Salt & Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
400g Dried Spaghetti
OPTIONAL EXTRA: Balsamic Vinegar (because my family believe most meals can be enhanced by balsamic vinegar)
Heat the oil in a medium sauce pan and add the garlic, and cook briefly.
Pit the olives and cut into halves
Discard the bones from the anchovies and thinly slice
Add the tomatoes to the oil and garlic, and then the olives, anchovies and capers. At this point you may wish to add a glug of the Balsamic but y’know – no pressure.
Season with salt & pepper and red pepper flakes.
Cook for 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
Use to top spaghetti pasta cooked “al dente“.