It's probably a good job I don't go to Italy too often. So many of my favourite foods, so little time. If you don't want to read about it, or you think low carb is a good idea, look away now.
Things started well before we even got there. As I was searching online for pubs near the M11 (we were flying from Stansted), I stumbled across this place. One look at the menu made the decision to go on a detour past Stansted very easy indeed, and what a good decision that was. I don't think I've ever eaten as well in England, or not for a long time. I had aubergine and feta filo parcels with a jacket potato and veg, followed by a shared portion of figgy pudding and it was divine. Mum's veggie tagine was fantastic too. We left the pub trying to think of excuses to head back in that direction sometime soon.
Then early the next morning it was off to Italy. Breakfast was standard airport fare, but we were in Bergamo in time for lunch, and I attempted to be vaguely virtuous with a plate of grilled vegetables and local cheese. There were lots of veg, at least. At this point I realised that (a) a 250ml carafe of red wine was cheaper than the equivalent amount of beer, and (b) you can't sit down for a meal without breadsticks and a huge basket of bread being delivered to the table. I wasn't complaining about either of these things. Mid afternoon was relatively restrained, consisting of juice, before an evening meal of pizza smothered in lovely mediterranean veg, followed by thick, sticky Italian hot chocolate.
The breakfast buffet at the hotel had huge bowls and plates of various fruits every day, which almost made up for following it with muesli and bread and honey. And maybe a bit of cake. And I had to work my way through some important Italian foodgroups of risotto, pasta and ice cream on Monday. I felt that it was my duty. We also tried fried courgette flowers as a starter, which I've heard about before but never actually seen on a menu. I think that mum thought I was mad for suggesting them, but they were pretty good. Remarkably, by Tuesday lunchtime I was actually craving salad, which I duly dispatched with ease. On Tuesday evening, after another mid afternoon ice cream we decided to venture into one of the local bars which did an apperitif plus early evening buffet for 6 euros. We could have made do with that, but melanzane parmiggiana (plus a side salad) was calling my name, so I made room for it.
Remarkably by Wednesday I was still going strong, making the most of the last opportunity to have pizza, and a tiramisu ice cream sundae, before buying some of the local cakes to take to the airport with us. I'm not sure whether they were a bit "paste" like inside, as my bag got searched when they went through the scanner... Sadly, there was one food group missing, but luckily we managed to pick up a bag of fresh gnocci to bring home and eat tonight to try to prolong the gastronomic experience a little more.
Every mouthful of food I had was delicious, freshly made and worth it. I know that I ate more (and exercised less) than I usually do, but I don't care. I don't go to Italy often enough to turn down the opportunity to try all the different things on the menu. Even though the quantities were substantial (and carby) it was good, relatively healthy stuff, and it felt nourishing rather than empty and devoid of nutritional value. The encouraging thing was that I actually turned to salad mid way through the holiday, because I was craving it. I don't think I've ever craved salad before now, but I've actually started to feel like I need something green and leafy in my diet on a regular basis. Strange.
And anyway, I had a way to stop myself getting too far off track. The summer this year has been awful, and as I was packing I realised that, not having had a reason to wear shorts all year, I didn't have any that fit. On Saturday we went to Wembley for a rugby match before flying out on Sunday, and to get there we parked at Brent Cross and got the bus over from there. That involved going near shops, and I decided to look whether there were any shorts left in the sales. It wasn't worth spending a lot of money on them, but if there was something cheap...
We went into Gap. I picked up a pair of shorts. They looked roughly the right size (I'm surprising myself with how well I can judge this). The only problem was the size. The label said they were size 8 (US size 4). I looked at the label and reminded myself that there was no way on earth I'm a size 8. But then I'd look back at the waistband and realise it looked like my size. I crept towards the changing rooms hardly believing what I was about to do. I tried them on, and they were perfect (and only about £10). I remain convinced that they are the biggest size 8s known to man and that size inflation takes place between my shopping trips, but there was still something quite cheering every time I realised that I was wandering round Italy drinking wine and eating pizza and ice cream in a pair of size 8 shorts, and not bulging out of the top of them or being unable to sit down. I knew that the shorts would soon let me know about it if I overindulged too much. In a bizarre way they even made me eat more, because I don't want to be a size 8, and the thought that I might be triggered thoughts like "must do everything in my power to stop getting too thin... more pizza please" I may need to frame those shorts for posterity just in case next time I have a reason to wear shorts they're on the wrong side of too tight, but for now I'm still in shock that I got them on.
The only downside about the holiday was more about what I didn't do than what I did. I feel guilty for thinking it, but I sometimes feel like when I'm on holiday with mum she cramps me, and I can't do what I want to do. I guess I'm too used to independence and being able to flit around doing whatever takes my fancy, whether that's a day of walking or a day in bed. With mum, although she can walk for long distances on the flat, she can't walk up hills, refuses to ride a bike, would die if you suggested climbing or swimming. I constantly feel like I need to make sure she's doing what she wants to do, even if it's not what I want to do. We spent a couple of days round Lake Iseo (beautiful, and far less crowded than some of the Italian lakes), and even in Bergamo could see the southern Alps rising behind the city. My imagination kept being captured by two things. Firstly the thought of heading up into the mountains, and secondly, how bike friendly it was. The road round the lake was pretty flat, and all the ferries which went from town to town had bike racks on them. I didn't want to follow the lycra clad cyclists on their road bikes up into the mountains, but there were plenty of people pottering round more sedately on hybrids with baskets, and I wished that I could find a hire place and spend some time doing just that. Even around town, we always got the funicular up to the "citta alta", whereas I'd have been quite happy walking up - in fact I even ran it one morning, so it can't have been too bad.
Where this leads to a bit of a conflict is that I've started thinking seriously about using a weeks holiday next year not to go to Gran Canaria, but to go on a walking/cycling/vaguely active holiday somewhere mountainous. It might even involve tents. This isn't through some masochistic desire not to take any time off exercise, but because that's what I enjoy doing now. I want that sense of achievement that comes with conquering a peak, or the feeling of slowing down that comes as you potter down the road on a bike rather than in a car. I love feeling closer to a place by being in it, unprotected by metal and glass, hearing it and smelling it as well as seeing it through the window.
I've been considering the Lakes or Scotland, although given the crummyness of our weather the Alps could tempt me. But Mum now also wants to go away for my birthday to somewhere different, and I'm trying to work out a gentle way to tell her that the sort of holiday she's thinking of and the sort of holiday I'm thinking of aren't likely to be the same thing. She seems to think that if I'm going away for a week I want company, and while it's nice to spend time with her, my holidays are a lot more precious to me than hers (on the basis that I get a limited number of carefully counted days, whereas she just takes off from the dive school whenever she feels like it), and even though I'm more than happy to spend a good portion of them with her, I sometimes feel like using them for something completely different, which doesn't necessarily involve her. I guess she looks for company during a holiday because she spends a lot of her "working" day either in the office pretty much on her own or walking up and down the seafront with the phone in case it rings. Whereas I look for escape and my idea of bliss is being somewhere where I can admire the view and do things without needing to make constant conversation. I don't know whether she thinks she's doing me a favour by being company for me, to save me going on holiday alone, but sometimes that's actually precisely what I want to do. I don't think she'd ever dream of trying to tag along with my sister and her boyfriend, but because I'm single it seems to be assumed that I want to go on holiday with my mother all the time. This year I've made a bit of a breakthrough in that she's not coming to New York, but I suspect that might be because of the cost more than anything else.
We'll see. My holiday plans for next year are all a bit dependent on (other people's) weddings and how much money I have left after New York anyway, but I get the feeling that our different views of what to do on holiday are going to have to come up against each other at some point.