Anyone who has travelled to Europe (or a Disney park) knows that money goes fast when food is factored into the equation. Everything is more expensive, even without the knowledge that one euro equals about one and a half US dollars. Exchanging money is always a gamble too. You never know when the exchange rate will go up or down, so you could buy euros for a high price and end up losing shocking amounts of money if you need to exchange them back to dollars. Then again, if the exchange rate goes up higher and you need more, you will be paying many more US dollars for the same amount of euros. Exchange fees don’t help this problem either.
I’m no financial adviser though, as anyone who has seen me do math knows. Back to food.
Spaghetti. Pizza. Pollo. Tortellini.
This, plus the chic greeting “ciao,” was my expertise in the Italian language before the trip. Yes, I owe my entire pre-trip Italian vocabulary to the Olive Garden.
I thought it was all I would need to know to order food. I could order it in its original language in the U.S., why not in ‘Ze Old Country? Turns out, spaghetti and pizza get really tiring after a few days. None of us knew how to read anything else on the menu unless my mom brought her Quick and Easy Italian phrase book. Even then, we found out that we were pretty picky eaters when it came to authentic Italian cuisine. Also, Italy’s idea of some familiar-sounding things was very different than ours. Ham, for example. Entirely different taste. Bacon was floppy and white, not crispy and reddish. There was nothing inherently wrong with the food. It was mostly very good. We just didn’t know how to order what we wanted beyond our meager Olive Garden education.
Now, some of these things we knew from our travels around Britain and France. We were prepared for no ice in our drinks and hard, cold bread served with breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. We knew the tip is often included and to ask the waiter or waitress for the check. What we didn’t expect is how much our stereotypes of Italy would prove true with the sheer volume of restaurants specifically devoted to spaghetti and pizza.
Something we never got tired of eating, however, was gelato. My family loves ice cream in practically any form it can take. We have a homemade ice cream maker. We grew up with a tub or two always in the freezer, even in the winter. Ice cream is a good old friend. Gelato was this friend’s cool, exotic, foreign cousin. No matter how tired we were of spaghetti and pizza, no matter how badly we failed at experimenting with new Italian dishes, we knew we could count on a cone of gelato to make things right between our taste buds and Italy’s food.
So we ate pasta, pizza, gelato… healthy? No. Vacation? Yes. I also would like to give a shout-out to whoever invented Europe’s versions of Fanta and Coke Light (their Diet Coke). Much better than their American counterparts. For a complete European junk food experience, add in some Kinderbueno and Nutella-to-go (which kind of reminds me of Japan’s Yan Yans, sweet munchies in the same family with Pocky and Hello Panda).
Sorry for all this food talk. Now go get a snack. 😉