Our grand tour of Italy included Florence, Rome and Venice with day stops in Pisa and Orvieto. Pisa was our first stop, although the chefs spent the whole time in an amazing supermarket on the outskirts and only made it in so far as the coach park. Apparently this is what happens on each trip so Pisa is nothing to look forward to for us. Except for the supermarket. As we went through Italy we found that their supermarkets were almost all this fantastic, but this was the first. The deli section was the best, cured meats as far as the eye could see (almost) cheeses of all types piled high, fresh pasta the likes that I haven’t seen before packaged and waiting to eaten, vegetables that I have never seen before and fresh cakes with cream and fruit looking luscious and sweet. Ah-mazing. I didn’t end up minding missing out on Pisa.
In Florence we were staying in a huge accommodation, a campsite about 30 minutes drive out of the city. Each other time I have stayed in Florence I have stayed in camping Michelangelo which is just a walk out of town and I was excited to hear that on a regular trip we would be staying there also. Camping Girasole where we were covered acres and had a water park, night club, 3 restaurants, a supermarket and I’m sure much more included on its site. We were lucky enough to be staying in cabins here and had dinner in one of the restaurants. Florence was actually another good city for the chefs as we had dinner out both nights here.
Oh Florence. How I love you. This time was my third time to the city and it still retained its majesty for me. It was a beautiful warm day as we walked around the city. We were given a guided tour by a local, I loved this during TT, all these cities that I had been to before but I had never been given a tour of before, it was a great learning experience! The other thing I loved on TT was being able to walk around anywhere and just ask the closest TL “Hey, what’s that building?” or “Can you explain the fall of communism in the Balkans again? I didn’t quite get it.” And they could generally tell me! It was like having a walking talking guide book.
We met with suppliers at a leatherwork store before traversing the Florence from campsite to hostel, sampling the gelati and coffee on the way (When I write it like this it really doesn’t sound like such a bad trip!) We met for dinner that night at a restaurant in town which ended in karaoke with the trainers joining in as well and everyone dancing and singing together was only the start to a very memorable night. It was so memorable because when we arrived back at camp at 11pm, me with my head filled of the homework I had to do, we were told to meet in the camp nightclub in 15 minutes. I couldn’t believe it. We had had a huge day, I had things to do and I was still not clear of that cloud that had gathered over me in Antibes. Still I went down to the club and pasted a smile on my face, what else could I do?! We danced until we were let out of the club at 2am. All of us tired but with no choice, the only choice we could make was to enjoy ourselves. And we did. We encouraged the shyer ones to get up on the dance floor, we showed off our moves and when we saw another slowing down and starting to lag, we went to them and tried to raise them back up to some level of energy where they could continue. I loved my fellow trainees that night. When 2 am came and we checked out with our trainers (who were marking us off on their lists) they told us that they would see us again in a few hours at 5:30. One thing I became very good at was falling asleep instantly!
Day 24 we got up blurry eyed but still smiling and began our drive to Rome. On drive days, which were every other day, we were divided on the coach. Drivers sat up the front so that they could take route notes and watch signs, TL’s sat in the middle whilst they studied their history and stats and got called up to spiel on the microphone and chefs sat on the back seat and made meal plans and shopping lists and recipes. We may have called ourselves the backseat bandits but given half a chance we moved as far up the coach as possible! The back seat was the warmest (not good for trying to stay awake) the noisiest (being near the engine) and on our coach had a seat that we termed the torture seat, naughty corner or devils seat. For some reason this seat had bits of metal sticking up in it and on several occasions, normally sane people lost their temper whilst sitting there. It was soon declared off limits after that. Whilst driving we had to work and we had to stay awake. These were together, big tasks and I did the majority of my work standing up and writing leaning on the back of a seat to keep from falling asleep. Probably 75% of the time I spent standing, giving the TL’s and interested face every now and then, watching the scenery and getting close to the AC.
Every day though, you would have a moment or so when lucidness was not present and on these occasions different people reacted differently. We would become what we termed ‘Starry eyed’ which is that face where your forehead is all scrunched trying to keep your eyes open, and they are, but they aren’t seeing anything, and someone would say your name as if from a distance which would bring you back for all of 10 seconds before you went back to that place that lives just in front of your eyes and disconnected from your body… I know this place well. My writing would become illegible whilst I struggled to pretend I was still awake. Laura would write random items onto her shopping. One day she showed us a list to which, in her delirium, she had added “mixed herds – don’t make them angry, Potatoes – 50 Aus and 50 US” and “100mls of Italy”. That shopping list has gone down in TT history.
We stopped on our drive at Orvieto, a hilltop town, for lunch. We dashed up the hill to one of the most spectacular cathedrals I have ever seen and had just enough time for a wild boar sandwich and lavender chocolate before heading down again for lunch. Hey. A cooks gotta do what a cooks gotta do!
On arrival in Rome the TL’s had to go out and practice what is one of their biggest spiels, the 3 hour walking tour in Rome. The cooks got excited by the fact that the supermarket was across the road from the camp and we also met the catering manager for Topdeck whom we had heard so much about. That was a very nerve wracking time. Rome was big for us in general; we have a showcase meal that we cook there. The magical Lasagne without an oven. I was cook of the day for that day and was lucky enough to be in charge of cooking that one; I also did white bean bruschetta as a starter and tiramisu for dessert. Yum yum! During our time in Rome we also did a Vatican tour and fact finding of the city. I fact found some more delicious gelato and the Capuchin monks catacombs which are totally decorated in bones in a most spectacular and slightly creepy way. I started seeing things as my tiredness caught up on me in Rome and it was at that time that I decided (with others) that napping on the lawn in front of a shopping centre was probably the best idea ever. Life saver.
Rome also become a focal point for the trip because it was when we got severely culled. By this time several people had already been asked to leave including 3 in one go in Barcelona and it was a shock every time. It felt like living in a game show, we would all of a sudden discover that someone was evicted and had to leave straight away. In Rome they announced to us that they would be culling us so that we would fit into one coach instead of two. We were left hanging on this terrifying statement for a whole day before they announced that 6 of the chefs would be going to continue their training on site and that 3 of the drivers would be going off on Walla trips (basically shadowing another driver on a real trip). So this meant that actually only 2 people left the trip entirely in Rome. When the next morning we crammed all 49 of us into the one coach there was a very different feeling in the air. We were making our way to Albania today and it felt like TT had passed the halfway point and it was a downhill roll from here. Or at least that is how it felt for me. How wrong I was.