All great destinations start with a long and sometimes tedious jounrey. So when we set off on the 7th of November at 6:30am we were excited if not a little anxious about our up coming day of bustling train stations with over packed and stuffy trains. Six trains is by no way the most efficient way of getting to Itlay but the journey was made without any casualitites or delays. Our warm and welcoming arrivial to the Magnoulfi hostel quickly made me forget my 12 hour journey as I gladly accepted a shower and the nibbles they had for us to indulge in.
That first night, although tiredness weighed heavily on us all, we participated in games to get to know one another and the upcoming events that had been planned for us. A brief exercusion into the main city to got our bearings and a very welcomed cocktail in a bar fashioned in the stlye of an old pharmacy had me charmed and wanting to discover the city more! Albeit rest was awaiting.
Our first location for the next day was the Medici Villas. You’ll have to excuse me for my lack of facts and figures, I am much more interested in textures and colours than dates and events! The villas were an immense triumph of detail, botany, agricultural and artistical display! There were so many different shapes; octagons, hexagons, triangles, squares as well as imposing black paintings (Cacciagioni e cucine) of gothic and bloody game and kitchen scenes. There was also a ghoulish circus element what with pictures of animals with two heads. Our guide gave us a healthy dose of debauchery and macabre as often accustoms acient history.
Our subsequent bus to Armitono would rattle any experienced driver what with the windings roads that bended with every turn. The drivers sounded a clown like horn as he came around sharp corners to warn uncoming passengers. The windows revealed Touscan and olive trees, rolling and tumbling hills that dipped and soared from a countryside filled with every shade of green! Our first taste of “real pasta” and some wine was in order and truly appreciated!
Although it could be argued that food and wine are not spiritual I disagree. Our trip to both the pasta factory and the vineyard were the highlights for me. As it is I am a huge lover of food. So this activity was going to please me no matter what. And thus a kid in a candy shop had nothing on me and my excitement level on entering the pasta factory. You walk in and already before the magic begins there is cheese, great floating balls of mozzarella and slabs of Parma ham as big as tree trunks. It was a true delight to see the pasta being mixed, made, rolled, flattened and stuffed. Getting to taste it to made me weep for all those years I spent in university buying 3 minute pasta. The family who run it were adorable and we were so willing and proud to share with us their love of pasta.
Wednesday’s activity involved wine tasting in the morning. And even though a busy trafficked road hugged the vineyard it still smelled amazingly fresh and green and well of course of wine too! The impressive cave was filled with massive barrels containing 2,500 litres of wine. We were allowed to sample their wine and learn all about the journey these grapes take to end up in the bottles that I ended up taking home with me. Our tasting was also accompanied by homemade olive oil with bread and Parma ham to add to the Tuscan experience!
The biscuit and the tasting of sweet wine ended our day of gluttony. Although I was less fan of the crunchy biscuits the history and tradition of these nibbles was really interesting. Like all of Italy’s food everything has its own history, ritual, and season.
We didn’t just eat and drink (although the trip to the brewery was also a real treat!!) we also got to encounter another crucial part of Prato’s rich tapestry, its textile history. Their museum was an incredible display of textile with items resembling fish tails, octopus tentacles, wilted roses and intestines. We were able to to touch all the different types of material and interact with it which added another level to the traditional museum experience.
This trip truly allowed us to get a real impression of the city of Prato. The story telling at night added another level to the spirit of the city making it seem somewhat more macabre! The food was a gateway to understand what these people truly love and experience that with them. I never would have thought of coming to this city but I glad I got to experience it the way I did.