I haven’t blogged in quite a while so I decided that I would write this fun article to get back in the swing of things. Most of you know that I travel a lot and Europe has become a home base for me in a sense, especially southern Germany. The great thing about Europe being a home base is that traveling to a new culture is only a seemingly short journey, or for most Europeans even shorter. It is strange coming from a country that takes a hearty five hours to fly from coast to coast and where although there are different micro cultures that influence the way we as Americans function, there aren’t seriously big differences in the way we live. Yes I live in the southwest and it is seriously different than where I spent my college years in the Pacific Northwest but on face value from an outside perspective the changes are small and insignificant. Now take the difference between Northern Germany and German speaking Switzerland for example; only about a one hour plane ride. In many ways they couldn’t be more different and linguistically they can’t even understand what each other are saying.
Europe is built on layers. The first layer is a larger more generalized outlook of a country meaning what we associate with it on face value. We know that a country is just not that simple so the many layers of cultural differences within regions being the lower levels. Germany for example is seemingly simple, defined by Americans for their beer, sausages, polka music and WWII history. While easily defined on the surface this, for me, doesn’t define Germany at all, but is a simplification of things that one may encounter on the media or on the television. The fact is that the sausages are completely different regionally whether you are into Thuringers, Weisswurst or Blutwurst, each region and each town may have their own variation. Think that the German language is all the same. Not a chance. Being a long time student of German has taught me that the language is astoundingly dialectical and has different sayings, pronunciation and usage in villages towns even within an hour of each other. Don’t even get me started on Schweiz-Deutsch, that a whole other battle within itself.
The point of this rant, and yes I have gotten away from the main topic of the story, is that I value the importance of culture and have been blessed to have experienced so much of it in my short stay on this planet. Last week I got to experience Italy for the first time. I took a train down from Zurich to Florence and subsequently spent the next week touring Tuscany and the northern Italian Mediterranean coast. Upon my wanderings and in my reading of whats good to do in Tuscany, APERITIF HOUR, kept coming up. I have heard of an aperitif, the funny French word for a drink before the meal but I really never gave it much thought.
It turns out that the Aperitif Hour is something in fact not to miss in Italy and something that Italians everywhere not only enjoy but live for. To call it a happy hour would be comparing a Honda Civic to a Ferrari, it just isn’t compatible. We all know the good ol’ American happy hour, a cheap drink, half off food, good times had by all. The Italian version is much different.
The Aperitif Hour normally starts around 7 and runs until 9 because the average Italian isn’t eating dinner until at least 9 or 930, those crazy bastards! You find a nice spot outside and sit down. Now during this time every drink costs a flat rate, anywhere from 7 to 11 Euros normally. Since every drink is the same price it would make sense to shoot for a drink with a bit more booze to get your monies worth, although I saw cocktails, beer and wine strewn across every table equally. Now that may seem expensive for a drink but I haven’t discussed the best part yet.
One notices upon sitting down that there is somewhat of a buffet inside. A beautiful alignment of homemade antipasto style offerings lined up one after each other, either at the bar or somewhere within the restaurant. This also is also no ordinary buffet. The drink gets you access to a bevy of ridiculous good food and depending on the restaurant the selection can truly be lavish. The first aperitif place my mother and I tried was in Santo Spirito Piazza in Florence, where the restaurant was offering Italian classics such as Panzanella salad with Tuna, Lasagna, Pasta with Basil and Balsamic Tomatoes. The best part about the place was that every dish was different, with a waiter quickly refilling each empty dish with something new, something exciting. Its hard because you are traveling and want to try them all but one has to restrain themselves because technically, this is only a pre dinner affair.
The next two places we tried the aperitif hour was in Milan and if you were frugal, there was definitely no need to buy dinner after, which I would assume is frowned upon in Italy. Milan really brought out the big guns with arrays of roasted vegetables, freshly made pizza and foccacia, slices of prosciutto, crudo and salami filling the brim of every plate. Hot plates of basil gnocchi and even a whole wheel of Parmesan with a cheese knife so you could hack off a chunk of the good stuff right from the source.
We had no dinners in Milan, not one. We dined, we drank, we enjoyed with no service beside a bar tab involved. I don’t know much about Italian eating culture but I can tell you this, they really take pride in the little things and they don’t hold back on the things they enjoy. That could be a metaphor for life, or maybe that’s just the Italian way.