I have visited a number of cities in Italy, including Rome, Naples, Pisa, and Venice. La Spezia (pronounced like lespet’zia) was the farthest from any tourist center I have ever been for any extended period of time, and I was surprisingly unimpressed with it. A relatively small town with a distinctive city feel, it seems to cater more to native and local Italians than visitors. In fact, My One Hotel La Spezia, as small and unassuming as it is, it is arguably the fanciest hotel in the city, and that’s not saying much.
I spent four (primarily working) days in La Spezia, with a little time here and there to explore. On the first evening, after checking into My One Hotel, I spent a couple hours walking up and down the many local market streets southwest of the hotel, looking for food, and generally getting the lay of the land. I was constantly surprised at the lack of variety of restaurants available. Aside from the single Chinese and Japanese restaurants, a McDonalds, and a couple Middle Eastern sandwich restaurants, EVERY food-serving establishment served nearly the same items: sandwiches with a giant piece of bread and a single thin piece of one meat or another; pizza; pasta; gelato, or pasties. Most places serve beer and wine, but nearly all have a barista fixing espresso or cappuccino any hour of the day. I imagine this is mostly due to the city catering to local tastes rather than tourists. And normally I would prefer this, but for some reason it wasn’t working for me here.
I settled on a take-away pizza place that reminded me of a similar one in San Francisco. Most by-the-slice pizza was of course served in the Italian(New York) style of pre-cooked pies which were put back in the giant ovens upon ordering and served hot and thin. There was absolutely none of that thick bread stuff they pass off as pizza in Chicago… Also, just as about anywhere else outside the United States, the round meat slices are called salami, not pepperoni (pepperoni are small green peppers kind of like banana peppers, not meat, and they are what you will get if you order “pepperoni pizza”).
The next day for dinner I went out with a group from the conference I was attending. We went to a small place nearby The One Hotel called Pepe Nero. I was about to order Calzone Classico (I would also like to point out that Italian Calzone does NOT contain Ricotta cheese like in the US, they use only Mozzarella. In fact, when I pointed this out to an Italian in our group from Milan, he was surprised to find out that restaurants in the US do it…though perhaps it is a regional thing from elsewhere?), then one in our group mentioned they had steak as a special, so I switched to that. It was awesome! A large steak, sliced and cooked with mushrooms and a thick broth, it made me wonder how many of the other restaurants in the area also had specials like this that were not on the menu stands outside.
On the third day I worked mostly in my room, having lots of additional travel arrangements to make, and emails to send. For lunch, I searched online for a Japanese restaurant and found one nearby that I had missed on previous journeys in the area. Sakura turned out to be pretty good. They have an All-You-Can-Eat menu for €12 for lunch, and €20 for dinner. You pay that one amount, plus a drink, and you can order anything on the menu.
I ordered mixed sushi, a salmon roll, and edamame. When I asked the waiter (clearly of Japanese descent), who didn’t speak English, if they had miso soup he looked confused. I had pronounced it mee’ssoh in the Japanese way. Once I described it, he said “ah, Soopo Meee’zzo” in the Italian way. It had never occurred to me that he didn’t speak or know a word of Japanese, and the difference between the “sss” and “zzz” in Italian would be so significant (especially since it’s also a hard “sss” in Spanish). Anyway, it turns out you have to pay for miso soup extra…strange since it costs all of a few cents per bowl to make, and would fill people up so they order less ‘free’ sushi, which is definitely more expensive…whatever…
La Spezia Streets
I went for a run later in the afternoon when it warmed up a bit. The temperatures in this sunny mid-October fall week had been in the 60s(F) during the day, and 50s(F) at night, with lots of wind, so I had decided not to go in the early morning and risk a cold or dry cough the rest of my trip. I ran from the front of the hotel, which it 5 stories higher than the back door of the hotel which is nearly at sea level. There are narrow winding streets lined with tiny cars on both sides. The occasional views of the sea between houses where awesome, as were the palm trees and flowering bougainvillea and oleander.
La Spezia Marina
After a while, I found a winding street that went down to sea level and ran along the park the lines the water side of the city, then to the marina and pier to get some pictures. It’s not the prettiest coastal city I’ve seen, but it is nice, well kept, and they do maintain lots of semi-tropical Mediterranean trees and shrubs, so it’s not too citified quite yet. There were at least quite a few others riding bikes and jogging around as well, so I wasn’t the only crazy jogger dodging all the pedestrians walking their dogs and children.
Later that night I went back to the Pepe Nero to actually have the Calzone this time. The place was nice, and the steak was awesome, so I figured it would be a good place to get authentic Italian. Problem was, I got there about 6:45pm, and no restaurant opens for food before 7pm. Most serve drinks and some serve appetizers, but amazingly, nearly all the sidewalk tables and tents are completely empty before 7pm. At 7:10pm they are packed though, as hoards of people just show up right on time and the places are booming quickly. When I first entered the place, it looked open, but it turned out that the staff was just sitting down to eat their dinner together (a pretty large group). I said I’d come back in a few minutes and walked the streets for a bit. When I got back they were just finishing up and I was the first one to sit down. Shortly, many others (mostly tourists from the UK I think) showed up and it was pretty lively.
As I expected, the calzone was great, pretty much like some that I have found in the US in the more New York style restaurants, so I feel vindicated in siding with New York all these years.
When it was time to check out on the last day, it was a simple matter to get a taxi from the front desk. I could have walked to the train station, as I saw many people doing on previous days, but the cobblestone streets are not only noisy, but are terrible on the luggage wheels and your arms and wrists. If I had only a backpack I would have walked, but do yourself a favor and spend the €10 and make an easier trip of it.
Have you ever been to rural Italy? How was it?
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