Congratulations, you are about to embark on the journey of a lifetime! You will make so many great memories and friends in Italy, I know I did. When packing for Italy make sure you pack light, it gets really tiring carrying around a giant suitcase through the cobblestone streets and you want to leave room/weight for souvenirs. I brought three pairs of shoes and I wore one pair of sandals the whole time, make sure you wear comfortable shoes because you are walking everywhere! There are washing machines at the apartment but no dryers so make sure you give your clothes enough time to dry. There are definitely some things in Italy that are much different than America. For one, the stores are not open all the time. Stores close at 1 and re-open at 4:30, this threw me off for the first couple weeks so plan ahead when you need groceries. Fresh foods tend to go bad much faster here because they are picked when they are ripe and it is very warm here so don’t buy two weeks of food because you won’t be able to eat it all. Piazza Arringo and Popolo are wonderful places to hangout, do homework and eat but make sure you explore other parts of the city as well. You can get comfortable in one area and miss out on some great hidden places. Experience everything you can and try to keep a journal, at the end of five weeks you will forget the things that happened in the first week. Its also nice to go back and read travel journals months after you’ve come home to remember your experience. Finally make sure you have fun! You might get a little home sick at points but this trip goes by so fast and you don’t want to miss a minute of it!
As someone who does not eat meat I follow the key principles of the Mediterranean diet already, lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. When I am at home my diet mostly consists of vegetables with legumes for protein and grains like rice. Being in Italy I have adopted the practice of cooking with olive oil instead of something like butter. It is not the easiest task trying to find butter in the grocery store; they definitely sell it here in Italy but it is much harder to find. However if you want to find a giant vat of olive oil have no fear its everywhere. When you go to a restaurant and order a salad they bring you olive oil and balsamic vinegar as a dressing and almost everything is cooked with olive oil. Not really surprising because there are olive trees everywhere. When I am cooking for myself I sauté vegetables with olive oil or drizzle it over my pasta. Extra virgin olive oil is the best olive oil and is made from the first pressing of the olives so it has a very strong olive taste to it. I have really enjoyed cooking with it and eating it over the past 5 weeks and it is an aspect of the Mediterranean diet I will be taking home with me, along with three bottles of Italian olive oil.
Sitting at Lorenz cafe after classes with my friends I see little kids chasing each other through the middle of the Piazza, families walking their dogs, and friends sharing food and drinks. Old churches and shops surround me in a neat rectangle creating one of the most beautiful piazzas in Italy. We all order pizzas and talk about plans for the weekend, what we will do when we get home and the paper that is due this week. I have visited this restaurant many times over the past 5 weeks and every time I am left with good feelings from sharing food and conversation with the friends I have made here.
Piazza del Popolo has become one of my favorite spots in the city. It is a central location with great food and shops. On the weekends there have been different events such as concerts, dance shows and even an Italian production of the Lion King. The steps of the Facciata Palazzo dei Capitani del Popolo is a perfect spot to people watch. Even though Ascoli is a small city there is so much to explore. I recommend everyone who comes here to put Piazza del Popolo on their list of places to visit.
We went to the organic farm Recchi this week that was extremely passionate about tradition, culture and the sharing of food when it comes to the Mediterranean diet. A panel of people sat and spoke to us about their beliefs and practices when it comes living a healthy lifestyle and eating right. There was a farmer, journalist and individuals who worked on the farm. They are working to preserve ethical, local foods in small towns; taking out the middle man and getting the fresh food straight to the customer. They spoke about the importance of the Mediterranean diet and how healthy it is for people. They described the different parts of the diet as a temple rather than a pyramid. The roof was made of moderation held by the columns of cereals, legumes, fish, fruits and vegetables on the base of sustainability, affordability and food that is healthful for the fields. They stressed the importance of talking about food, lifestyle, eating together and social interaction because this has been lost in recent years. They raise pigs for meat locally, out of the chemical industry of highly processed foods. They took us to their butchery and showed us how they cut the pig to create sausage. I was unable to be a part of this demonstration because the slaughtering of the pig made me uncomfortable as a vegetarian. However, I thought this trip was important because these farmers are working to keep their food local and sustainable in order to provide people with the healthiest option.
While in Italy my mom and I have been emailing back and forth. I have been telling her everything that I have been doing and getting updates on my family and dog. She asked me to teach her about Mediterranean cooking before I went back to school. I briefly told her in an email that the Mediterranean diet we study in class is not really practiced here anymore because of how westernized Italy has become. The Mediterranean diet that was heavily studied and has been proven to have health benefits was the diet eaten during the 50s and 60s. The Mediterranean diet is a plant-based diet with a focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Meats are not eaten everyday; seafood and poultry is suggested two times a week. Red meat is used sparingly throughout the month and used mostly as seasoning. Due to the reduced amounts of meat, olive oil is the main fat. Reduced portions of dairy such as milk and cheese are spread throughout the week. They drink lots of water and wine is enjoyed in moderation. In the Mediterranean meals are enjoyed with friends and family and they get moderate amounts of exercise.
When I am living in the dorms at school my biggest complaint is how monotonous the food gets, however having to plan a meal for my friends and I was actually a huge challenge. For the most part I have been eating out in Italy because I have been trying new things and have been really enjoying the food culture here. So when it came to planning a meal we had a hard time deciding what to eat. Kelly and I decided we would pick up some food from the grocery store without a list in order to get some inspiration, bad idea. We went in there and just started taking things off the shelves. By the time we got home we had a bunch of food and nothing to make. Katie and Ashley came over to help bringing more food and no ideas. We finally decided on vegetables with rice and potatoes and got started cooking. It took some rearranging of burner positions and pots to figure out what needed to be cooked first but we ended up starting the rice and potatoes and then moved on to the vegetables. Even though we have a very small kitchen everyone pitched in cutting things up, even my roommate Kelsey helped us season the potatoes. It was definitely a group effort, and even with a the struggles in the beginning I think the meal turned out really well. As we sat down to eat and talk Kelly said that she actually really enjoyed having everyone here at the apartment, and I would have to agree with her. All in all I think this was a positive experience and I will definitely be eating in more often.
Since arriving and getting a chance to explore the city I have fallen in love with this place. Ascoli Piceno is a picture perfect medieval town made up of hilly streets and wonderful piazzas. My favorite thing to do is walk around the city and find new places I have not seen yet/get lost in the twisting streets. I have discovered my favorite gelato shop, the best place to get a cappuccino and of course, mozz balls. Though I have had a hard time communicating with the locals everyone here is so nice and welcoming, they really try to communicate with you and in the end we can usually figure it out.
We are here during their renaissance festival that celebrates the towns heritage. The first weekend we arrived they were holding a flag throwing competition where all the different zones of the towns competed against one another. Everyone in the stands sat with the zone clad in its colors. This display of hometown pride reminded me of football homecomings in America. Some of the other festivities they have include jousting and a parade all in Medieval costumes.
Whether Im sitting in Piazza del Popolo at night watching everyone walking around having fun or Im sitting in Arringo doing my homework I love living being out in the town. Even though there are some comforts from home that I miss, like peanut butter, I really love that I am able to feel safe here walking around at night and being involved with the festivities of Ascoli in the summer. For anyone who wants to study abroad or travel to Italy I would definitely put Ascoli Piceno on your list.