Oh Panzanella...how I love thee so. After Farro Salad, Panzanella is my 2nd favorite go-to summer salad to make. Especially on a budget! When I was living in Lucca for a couple months during the summer, I'd bounce between these two salads all the time because they were tasty and made a LOT for not much money! Plus, making them in the summer has the added benefit of all the fresh seasonal produce that make them even more delicious.
They're actually really similar recipes too. Nearly identical actually except this recipe has the added tasty ingredient of fresh croutons! Traditionally, Panzanella is made with stale bread which is then softened with water to make edible again, then tossed with all the other ingredients. I like to make mine with day old focaccia which is a whole other level of YUM!
The first time I ever visited Lucca was the fall of 2011. I had been fulfilling my internship at the study abroad center in Castiglion Fiorentino for most of the year when my good friend Vanessa sent me a message. She and her boyfriend at the time were staying in Lucca and were shopping for apartments. I had a day or two free from work so I hopped on a train for this small town west of Florence. It was a quick train ride through Western Tuscany, an area I had only passed through as a student on our to the Cinque Terre. As the train rolled into the train station at Lucca, I spied a tower with trees growing on the top of it and wondered how in the hell had I never heard of this place before.
When people think of Italy, they usually think of the food, the museums and churches, the crazy drivers and, of course, the artwork. In particular, David...the giant, towering carved marble statue by Michaelangelo. This gigantic beauty is housed in the Accademia, one of the most visited museums in its home city Florence! Also known as Firenze, Florence is a bustling city that tends to be boiling hot in the summer, crowded as hell but almost always worth the wading through the tourists to enjoy the gelato, panini, and more hidden spots away from the well trod tourist paths.
It honestly took a while before I actually spent more than half a day in this crazy gorgeous and crazy crowded city. When I studied abroad in Castiglion Fiorentino, Florence as almost a weekly destination to visit museums (hello David), cathedrals, small churches and historic sites. Even when I lived an hour south after college, we'd often only go into the city to visit our favorite sandwich shop, do some shopping and sketching and then catch the train home to be back for dinner shift.
It took a few more years before I actually had a solid 24 hours in this city. The first year I ever did a retreat in Italy was actually based in Florence for a week! Showing our guests around a city I studied so much as a student really changed my perspective of this city and gave me a chance to finally discover Florence.
It can be tricky landing in a foreign country after a long flight and hitting the ground running. Feeling the need to squeeze everything in such a short span of time while all you want to do is sleep can be a miserable way to start a vacation.
I feel ya, I've been there many times. But I've always found that I'd rather have one really long, tiring day to get over jet lag than have the first week of my trip be disrupted by an unusual sleep schedule and the subsequent exhaustion. Especially when you're in the most wonderful country for a small chunk of time!
This past summer going to Italy was my biggest jet lag battle I've ever had when I landed in Rome a week before our next round of retreats. I think I walked over 10 miles that day to stay awake but I wouldn't have done it any other way...
Written by Chelsea Ward, the host and founder of Wanderful Retreats