For the 8th consecutive year Dr. Charles Sims took 20 Gators on a 3-week study abroad trip to Italy. Our trip started at the Rome airport on June 3 where everyone had gathered for our flight to Palermo in Sicily, where our adventure began. After our first huge Italian dinner at our Agriturismo that evening, everyone was ready for a good night sleep. The first day was an action filled day, starting with a visit to a sea salt producer then a visit to an olive oil producer and a wonderful rustic lunch at the farm. That afternoon we visited a coffee roaster where we learned all about expresso, then finished the day with our first winery visit in the town of Marsala. The next morning we visited the famous street market in Palermo, where we sampled all kinds of interesting things, including a spleen sandwich. After lunch at the market, we drove across Sicily, visiting a wheat mill making semolina for pasta along the way. We arrived at our next Agriturismo on the slopes of Mt. Etna for another wonderful dinner. The following day was spent learning about the pistachios that grow in the area and all the wonderful food products made from them. After a tour and lunch at a winery on the slopes of Mt. Etna, we visited a honey processor for a sweet ending to the day.
The following morning started with an early morning drive to the summit of Mt. Etna where we hiked around a very active volcano at around 9,000 feet elevation. After our first delicious pizza lunch of the trip, we drove to the most Southern end of Sicily where we visited a producer of the famous Avola almonds. Our next Agriturismo included the Mediterranean as our swimming pool, although very rough seas kept us from our traditional cliff jumping! The following day began with a visit to a producer of sun dried tomatoes where we were treated to a tasting of their delicious products. After seeing tuna and anchovies being processed by hand, we enjoyed a wonderful seafood lunch in the coastal town of Marzamemi. Following a final swim in the still rough Mediterranean, we enjoyed our last dinner in Sicily.
The next morning we drove to the airport in Catania where we boarded our flight for our next destination, Venice! We enjoyed a wonderful Saturday night in Venice, and continued to soak in all the sights the following morning. Late that afternoon we boarded our new bus and drove to Bologna, where we were treated to a much enjoyed BBQ dinner at our next Agriturismo. The following morning we departed very early to visit a producer of Parmesan cheese and taste their wonderful cheeses. Our next stop was a historic producer of Balsamic vinegar, where we had lunch and got to taste a 100 year old Balsamic vinegar. An enjoyable visit to a producer of Lambrusco wine was lengthened by a very strong hail storm, but we finally arrived back at our Agriturismo after a full day on a very hot bus whose air conditioning was not working. A new bus picked us up the next morning and took us to the town of Parma, where we visited a producer of the famous Parma ham and enjoyed lunch at their restaurant. That evening we experienced our best meal of the trip at the Trattoria del Gallo outside of Bologna, one of the most popular traditions of this trip! We spent the next day visiting and learning about the University of Bologna, the oldest university in Europe, before we departed for our next destination, Vicenza.
After a wonderful dinner at our Agriturismo, we departed early the next morning and drove to the town of Asiago in the foothills of the Alps, where we of course visited a producer of Asiago cheese and got to taste their delicious cheese. After exploring the town and having lunch, we visited a small producer of sausage where we learned all about sausage production. The day ended with a cooking class at our Agriturismo, where we helped prepare an incredible dinner we all enjoyed. The following morning we visited a producer of fresh pasta and then one of the oldest grappa producers in Italy. Many of students considered tasting grappa more work than fun and agreed it was an “acquired taste.” Our next destination was a winery specializing in grapes native to the area, where we enjoyed lunch and a tasting of some of their wines. The next day we loaded up on our bus again and took a very long drive to our next destination, Tuscany. Following some very curvy roads, we made our way to the winery San Felice, a beautiful resort and winery in the heart of the Chianti area. We learned how Chianti was made and got to sample several of their outstanding wines, including the Chianti wine that was used in the movie Silence of the Lambs. After a long day, we finally arrived at our Agriturismo in the Tuscan hills and enjoyed the pool and the scenery of the countryside. The next day we departed early for a full day of Florence. We toured the historical sights and museums, shopped till we nearly dropped, and thoroughly enjoyed this special town. At dinner that evening, we realized the next day was our last day of technical tours of our trip.
The first stop of the day was to a producer of Pecorino cheese, were we got to taste and evaluate 8 different cheeses made from sheep milk that has been aged in different ways. Our next destination was the historical town of Montalcino, where we visited a winery that makes the famous Brunello di Montalcino. We were greeted by the 88 year old proprietor of the winery, Mario, who gave us a very entertaining tour. Following lunch with some of their fine wines, we headed for our final destination of the day, the Tuscan town of Siena. We toured beautiful churches, walked around the historic square, and had time for a quick gelato before heading back to our Agriturismo for our last night in Tuscany.
The next morning we loaded up on our bus for the last time and headed for our final destination, Rome. Just outside of Rome, we stopped at La Cucina Sabina for a wonderful visit and the best pizza we had on the entire trip. This villa is owned and operated by a UF/CALS alumni, Mike DiGirolamo, who has established an endowment for this trip and is an enthusiastic supporter. After fighting through traffic in Rome, we finally arrived at our hotel where everyone unloaded and tried to see as much as possible before dinner. That evening we walked together to our favorite restaurant for our “Last Supper”, where we enjoyed traditional Roman food and reminisced about our trip. Dr. Sims shared his “superlatives” of everyone on the trip, and we walked back by the Trevi fountain and Pantheon before barely making it back for the last subway of the evening. The last day in Rome, all the students enjoyed seeing as much of this wonderful city as possible. Our last night in Rome was spent packing, weighing and rearranging our now very heavy luggage, and one final night on the town.
Everyone was quiet on the way to the airport the next morning for our return to the US, realizing our adventure of Italy was over. Our group of 24 people had became good friends and will always remember and share our experiences gained on the trip. Ciao Italy.