Italy is most famously known for its copious amounts of delicious gluten : pizza, pasta, eggplant parmesan, breadsticks, and everything else wheat-filled. Gluten is the lifeblood of the country. Gluten is also my papa’s mortal enemy. His kryptonite. “Sono celiaco… senza glutine.” These are the only four words of Italian that my papa knows. But god, he sure knows them well, sounding like a true Italian when he speaks them.
We crammed into our tiny rental car, five grown adults and eight suitcases. The females in my family have a chronic overpacking problem. Not our fault, it’s in our genes. This was our family trip of the year. The All-American Peek Family Road Trip, in Europe. We initially tried so hard to blend in with the locals, not wanting to draw attention to ourselves, but when you need to go gluten-free, the task can be difficult. Plus, our oversized cameras, zinc oxide sunscreen (mom), and conjugation-less Italian did not help our cause. We were in Italy, in the middle of summer. Hell, everyone is a tourist so we quickly got over it.
Our trip began with a few epically, sweaty sight-seeing days in Rome. We then headed north to Viterbo in Lazio. As we pulled the car through the fields of the ancient lavender farm we would be staying on, a massive afternoon thunderstorm darkened the skies. It felt good to be back in my old hood, the sights faintly familiar from my study abroad program five years ago. Dinners in Viterbo were spent with our hosts, the Grani family and their tiny dog Teo, eating apertivo and drinking homemade wine. The language barrier quickly melted away as more and more wine was consumed and laughed warmed the brisk evening. So far removed from clanking sounds of the cable cars and constant car alarms sounding, the quite of the land felt slightly unnerving. Unnerving in the most heavenly of ways.
Our next stop, Florence, was full of Renaissance-art-gawking and Chianti drinking. In order to maintain everyone’s sanity, driving was something that we tried to keep to an minimum. One dark night, we did however, find ourselves on a street that was more of an alleyway for a bicycle or thin dog. Let’s just say that we left our mark on not one, but both side view mirrors at the same time. It’s a rental, don’t be gentle, right? After a few days, our giant trek north began (well, not really giant because it only took four hours to drive. But when you are the cheese in the middle of a human sandwich, smooshed with your knees up to your chin, 4 hours feels like 40. Thank god for neck pillows). We spent one crisp night in a small northern Italian town called Laveno Mombello and quickly dipped our toes in Lake Maggiore before heading to off to Switzerland to the towns of Tegna and Gordevio that would be our home base for the next four nights. We successfully hiked and biked off every gluten filled carb (“senza glutine” carb for papa) and drop of wine we had consumed throughout the trip in those four days in Switzerland. With sore legs and sunburnt cheeks, we hobbled over to Menaggio for a couple days of boating on Lake Como. Unfortunately, we did not have any Clooney sightings and let it be known that he will not even come out to save a damsel in distress that casually slips off the back of the boat and realizes that she cannot swim. Rude. Whatever, it was worth a try.
In efforts to keep the family drama, driving scuffles, and inside jokes to a minimum, I will leave you with this one non-revolutionary thought: Italy eats well. Really, really well. Let it be known however, that my soy sauce and kimchi cravings were at an all-time high as I stepped off the plane into the terminal at SFO.