I didn’t plan it this way.
It just happened while I was sitting in my hostel in London. One of my friends in Pavia emailed me to say that she accidentally booked a double room at her hotel in Parma instead of a single and would I like to come join her next weekend. Would I?! As someone who has been looking to travel anywhere and everywhere and say yes to every opportunity presented to me, I was more than ready to hop on the train early Saturday morning.
Parma is the kind of place that you know, but you may not realize it. They’re the home of prosciutto di parma and parmesan cheese. The people who live there are called Parmesans. Although it’s in the same political region as Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, there is still a strong cultural divide between Emilia, where Parma is located, and Romagna, which is further to the east.
The first day was horribly rainy with the kind of weather that could only do justice to a bed. We walked around, dodging the puddles lodged in the big cobblestone streets and clutching onto our umbrellas. Thankfully, Parma is a small town so we never had to be outside for too incredibly long. It made the perfect excuse to go to all the museums we could and, failing that, sit inside at restaurants and eat. We did a good job on both accounts.
There aren’t too many sights to see in Parma. If you aren’t interested in art, you could probably visit them all on a single (week)day. We saw the Teatro Farenese, Galleria Nazionale, Galleria Stuard, Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista, Parco Ducale, Duomo, Cattedrale, Camera di San Paolo and we would have seen the Spezeria di San Giovanni Evangelista had it been open as every schedule indicated it would be. This is Italy, you learn to go with the flow.
The museums and sights were beautiful, but I do not appreciate art enough to truly connect with them. My dad, a true art-fan, would have been in heaven. Sure, frescoes and gilded churches shock me with their initial beauty, but after seeing a million other paintings of Mary and Jesus, I tend to get a little bored. Fortunately, the museums were incredibly cheap and even cheaper for a student. The same can be said, more or less, of the entire town.
Eating well, however, is the reason most people will be interested in Parma. Pasteccerie and Salumerie line the streets the way Starbucks dot the streets of New York; they’re everywhere. From slices of parmesan cheese served with glasses of prosecco to the regional ravioli (squash, mushroom and herbs, you can find a sampler available at most restaurants), the food is top notch. It’s not always cheap, but you don’t need to be anxious about getting a bad meal. My friend and I have tested this out for you, don’t worry. We tried torta fritta, a savory fried bread. We tried Lambrusco, which may not be a popular wine but gave a lovely sweet/salty combination when eaten with cheese and prosciutto (a bit like chocolate or maple syrup and bacon). We went to an enoteca and had cheap, cheap, cheap glasses of Malvasia, the region’s white wine. We tried some amazing brioches, interesting little pastries, good coffee and the world’s sweetest macarons. Did I mention we were only there for the weekend?
Parma was a great experience for me because traveling in Italy reminds me to go with the flow of living an Italian life. My day-to-day routine will always have staunch overtones of my American upbringing and my English university world. I can appreciate Italy during the week, but it often gets in the way. At the weekend, especially when traveling, my only task is to appreciate and experience Italy. It’s a worthy lesson.
Okay, where to next?
Where’s the best foodie destination you’ve been to? Art destination?