Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Fairytale: Sirmione

Figure 1: The exact same VHS cover that I have at home

When I was six years old, my favourite movie in the world was The Swan Princess, based on Tchaikovsky's ballet, Swan Lake. It tells the story of Prince Derek and Princess Odette who are forced by their parents to spend every summer together, in hopes that they will fall in love. But the evil Rothbart casts a spell upon Odette: until someone makes her a vow of everlasting love, Odette will remain a swan during the day, only returning to human form at night. And of course, Derek comes galloping in on his horse, slays Rothbart, pledges his love to Odette, and they live happily ever after in a magnificent castle.

I couldn't tell you exactly how many times I watched it. But let's just say I watched it so many times that, to this day, I still know every single word to this song:

Figure 2: This Is My Idea, the first song of the Swan Princess soundtrack 

So when I got to Sirmione, I couldn't help but feel like I was walking around inside a fairytale. At twilight, I sat at the foot of the castle and watched white swans glide over the lake, with the Alps in the distance that turn a powdery-blue when the sun sets.

Figure 3: Lake Garda 

Figure 4: Sirmione Ccastle

Figure 5: Sunbaking, European style

Not only did I have the fairytale surroundings, but I also had a fairy godmother: the lovely Elisabetta, who invited me to stay at her place during my stay in Sirmione. When I arrived on Saturday afternoon,  I discovered that not only does she have a gorgeous apartment overlooking the lake - her family also owns an Italian restaurant in Sirmione, as well as three gelaterias (Italian ice cream shops). Our conversation wens something like this:

"Holy shit are you freakin' kidding me?!" 
"No, I'm serious! Go unpack your things, then come and try some ice cream."
"Which flavours should I try?"
"You can just try all of them."

And I cannot think of another moment in my life when it has felt so, so good to be alive. 

The Bounty 
Ristorante Pizzeria and Gelateria
Piazza Costello 30/32
Sirmione, Brescia
+33 30 916009

Figure 6: Not a bad location

Dinnertime came, and I took a table outside Elisabetta's gelateria so we could chat when the shop wasn't too busy. Without opening the menu, I asked her which pasta I should order, and she told me to get either the Tortelli di zucca al burro e salvia (pumpkin tortelli with butter and sage) or Tagliatelle ai fungi porcini (tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms). When I told her I couldn't choose, she said she would just ask the chef to put a little bit of both on my plate. 

Figure 6: Just for me!

I was shortly presented with a beautiful plate of golden, fragrant pasta garnished with fresh herbs. The tagliatelle was excellent, but that tortelli was somethin' else. Elisabetta was worried I might not like it, apparently not many tourists do. But I loved it. I loved everything about it, from the sweet, aromatic pumpkin filling to the perfectly cooked al dente pasta surrounding it. It was a perfect balance of sweet and savoury flavours. I never wanted those five pieces of tortelli to end.

Figure 8: Freshly cooked seafood pasta

The next day I also got to try the Maccheroncini ai gamberi, pomodoro fresco e basilico (maccheroncini with prawns, fresh tomatoes and basil). A classic Italian recipe, fairly light and perfect for summer. The natural sweetness of the prawns were brought out by the tomato sauce, and freshly chopped basil scattered on top sealed the deal. 

Figure 9: Mine, all mine!

Figure 10: Happiness in a cone

In the two days I spent in Sirmione, I probably ate enough ice cream to fill a small fish tank. On my first day, after tasting more flavours than I could count, Elisabetta bestowed unto me a waffle cone with one scoop of Dark Chocolate and one scoop of Mandarin Choc Chip. And I sat outside the gelateria with this monster dessert, eating the ice cream slowly with my little plastic spoon, then demolishing the cone until there was nothing left. If you ever go to Sirmione, find her shop and make sure you try the Amaretto, Peppermint and a couple of fruit flavours too. All of her ice cream is artisanal, and they use real fruit in everything.

Figure 11: Grazie mille, bella! 

On my last night in Sirmione, Elisabetta, her friends and I sat outside the restaurant having drinks. Time was passed talking and laughing while I tried to understand their language and they tried to understand my accent. As well as educating me on Italian food, language and what Italians think of the French (don't ask), they also taught me how to say "posso avere un spritz per favore", which I'm sure will serve me well during my travels over the next couple of weeks. 

Grazie mille, Elisabetta! For sharing your home with me, and for spoiling me rotten. See you in Australia!

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