My first stop was at a little gelato shop in France, in the resort town of Bandol. I tried the caramel gelato. It was impossibly creamy, and the caramel taste was deeply rich. This was an adult gelato, a mature and not-too-sweet gelato, light but with serious taste and wonderful texture.
My next gelato stop was in Lucca, a small city in Italy. They had an abundance of choices at this gelato shop, and I chose two flavors, strawberry and banana. The gelato was cool and smooth, and the fruity combination worked perfectly together. The banana, in particular, was a standout, somehow taking the banana flavor and elevating it to something else entirely. The flavor was not overpowering, and the creamy consistency worked extremely well with the subtle flavor.
In Rome, I tried something called Grom, which the store clerk told me was similar to what we know as ice cream in America. I picked Stracciatella, which was vanilla-based with small chocolate chips. I have to say, I was not all that impressed with Grom; it lacked the creamy texture of the previous gelato flavors, and fell short in comparison to American ice cream. I would say it tasted like a watered-down version of ice cream.
The final stop on my gelato tour was in Barcelona, Spain. I chose Stracciatella again, and this time it did not disappoint. It was lighter and creamier than both the Grom and the chocolate chip ice cream that we have in the US. It was vanilla-based with chocolate chips and chocolate shavings, and had more chocolate than chocolate chip ice cream usually has. It was a good choice, with the creamy vanilla balanced by chocolate pieces and chocolate shavings in every bite.
My favorite of all the gelato flavors I tried was probably the caramel, with the banana a close second. On the whole, gelato is lighter than ice cream, and seems to be a healthier choice because of its lighter consistency. Which leads to the perhaps false assumption that you can eat a lot of it! Luckily, I had the opportunity to work off some of the gelato on an old fashioned bike ride in Lucca, Italy, which was one of the highlights of my trip.
The city of Lucca is a walled city, with a wide, paved pedestrian and bike path at the top of the wall. My family and I rented bikes to ride the two mile circumference of the city, which is a great way to see all of Lucca from a bird's eye view. As you ride, you can look down into the city, and every few minutes there is a paved path to ride down into the city and explore. The day we rented bikes it was in the mid-90's, but I refused to let that deter us from our ride. I zoomed away on my bike, while trees, flowers, and beautiful Italian buildings whizzed past. The breeze provided a nice diversion from the heat, and I just wanted to keep riding, to experience the city from my bicycle. My oldest daughter caught up to me and said, "You ride shockingly fast for someone who could barely climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa."
Indeed, the climb to the top of the Leaning Tower was a struggle for me, and truth be told, I am not a huge fan of regular exercise unless it involves walking my dog or a yoga mat. But bike riding, now that's a different story. I'm not talking about serious biking, which again, is beyond my capabilities. I'm talking about 'going for a bike ride,' like in the 1970's, on a bike with a bell and a flower basket. I grew up during that glorious time when kids could take off on a bike for hours and no one worried. I spent many a summer day riding my bike up and down our street, or better yet, riding down the street to the dirt path, past the giant rock, and down the long dirt road to the lake. In elementary school, I had a series of one-speed bikes with back-pedal brakes and a banana seat. In the fifth grade, I graduated to an orange-red ten speed, and that became my forever bike, which came along with me years later when I went to college. During most of my childhood, any day that wasn't raining involved a bike ride of some type, whether it was to find friends, to ride off to the lake, or simply to ride up and down the street and practice riding with no hands.
It's nice to know that the best parts of our childhood never really go away. It was quite special to find my 11-year-old self on a rented bike in Italy, and to see that my forty-something-year-old self could actually keep up with her.
Tap into your inner child this week! And take a sweet treat along for the ride!