Welcome back to this edition of Katie's Guide to Epcot!
Today, we're going to take a trip to one of my favorite countries on the Epcot circuit. Okay, it's my very favorite.
Maybe it's just because I want to go to the real Italy so bad, I'll take anything that resembles it, even in an unauthentic Disneyish way.
When you walk into the Italy pavilion, the first thing you see is a large brick tower modeled after the Campanile di San Marco from the Piazza San Marco in Venice. Venezia!
Actually, most of the main plaza area of the Italy pavilion in Epcot is supposed to represent Venice. There is a building on the right that is supposed to represent rural northern Italy, and a fountain toward the back that is supposed to represent Rome, but the main square is modeled after Venice.
The pink building to your left upon entering the plaza is a representation of the Doge's Palace in Venice. The Doge's Palace was the home of the Doge (Duke) of Venice for several hundred years. Now I believe they use it as a center of the municipal government, like a regular town hall, in Venice. The Disney version is an uncanny representation, right down to the stone cutout flowers bordering the top floor, but I am sure it's about 1/4 the size of the original.
Inside the fake Doge's Palace, you will find a shop that sells perfumes, leather handbags and belts, some clothing (mostly soccer related) and a lot of jewelry. There are a lot of things made out of Murano glass as well, which is the special kind of glass they make on one of Venice's peripheral islands. One of the most famous designs is the Milefiori, which means thousand flowers.
I actually don't like that design much. But they also sell other designs, like ones with pretty swirls going through it or just interesting solid colors.
After passing through the main room, you cross into a smaller room at the back of the building. This room usually contains various Christmas wares, even in the middle of summer. I guess they must make some great Christmas ornaments in Italy or something.
Across the main plaza from the Doge's Palace is the rural Italian home, which contains a wine bar, a kitchen store, a candy store, and an actual mask maker from Venice and his various wares.
The kitchen store usually has some pretty irresistible coffee sets and espresso accessories, as well as coasters and wine stoppers and cookbooks. The candy section sells some very good hazelnut flavored nuggets of chocolate, all excellent for eating with a glass of sparkling wine. There are also some prepackaged cookies, which apparently are the real deal, i.e. actually eaten and sold in Italy. My friend of Sicilian ancestry certified them as such, and I believe her.
The wine bar usually has a pretty good selection of red and white wines. You can also get a flight of red or white, as well as some sparkling and dessert wines. One of my favorite wines there is the Banfi Rosa Regale, which is a very sweet, red-tinted sparkling wine. It tastes wonderful with the chocolates.
They do sell quite overpriced glasses of Reunite D'Oro, considering you can buy an entire bottle at Marsh for about 7 bucks.
One of the best things about the wine bar is, however, the limoncello. If you haven't been introduced to limoncello, it is a liqueur made with lemon peel and sugar. (If you want a whole description of how they make it, watch Under the Tuscan Sun.) The final product is pretty syrupy, fluorescent yellow, very sweet, but also very strongly alcoholic. The stuff will knock you on your ass.
It is served in a small shot glass looking thing, but don't take it like a shot. You'll probably start choking, and anyway, it is made to be enjoyed in sips, not gulps.
In the back of the Italy pavilion, there is an Italian restaurant. It used to be this very cool restaurant based in Rome called Alfredo's, which is actually where they invented Fettuccini Alfredo. Hence the name.
Unfortunately, something happened a few years ago involving contracts, and Alfredo's moved out of the space. For awhile, there was even talk about putting in a Buca di Beppo, which would have just been disappointing, however, after some time they put in the new restaurant. I think it is still disappointing, but that's just because I don't like a lot of sausage. Most of their dishes have a lot of sausage or pork content, which is fine if you like that sort of thing, and I am told that in Italy they eat tons of sausage. I am sure it is a perfectly good restaurant, but it isn't Alfredo's. Alfredo's with the tiramisu and the fettuccini alfredo and the usually attractive Italian waiters.
And just to memorialize that wonderful lost tradition of Epcot visits, I post for you here today the original fettuccini alfredo recipe, from Alfredo's.
1 lb fresh fettuccine noodles
4 qrt boiling, salted water
1 cup unsalted Plugra butter, softened
⅓ to ½ cup Parmesano Reggiano cheese, freshly grated.
Melt Plugra butter over very low heat. Whisk in grated parmesan cheese; continue whisking over a low heat until the cheese melts and the butter/cheese sauce becomes a creamy consistency. Drop fettuccine in boiling salted water. Cook until noodles float to the top of the pot (2 to 3 minutes). Drain immediately and place in large pasta bowl; toss with sauce. Garnish with freshly cracked black pepper.
So much butter. Yet sooooo good.
Moving on back out to the main plaza, there are plenty of small tables and benches to rest upon while you digest whatever it is you have consumed, and soak up the sun while you're at it. If you notice the pattern of the paving stones on the ground, you will see that they are arranged in strange square shapes that seem to make no sense.
In reality, they too are modeled after the Piazza San Marco in Venice. As the story goes, nobody really knows why these paving stones are arranged in these patterns, although some suspect it was an organizational system for vendors that would set up their booths in the square. In Disney, however, it is just for decoration.
If you happen to be hanging out in Italy at the right times of day, you can catch a silly kind of street performance, during which the Disney actors actually pull people out of the crowd to participate.
For future reference, when you get chosen to participate in the play, they give you a button that says you have participated in the humiliating event. If you keep the button and wear it on any subsequent visits, you don't have to experience the embarrassment ever again.
If you want a less crowded space than the main Italy plaza, you should check out the small waterfront area across from the main plaza, located right on the sores of the World Showcase Lagoon. You have to cross one of two bridges to get to it. You will notice a small canal under the bridge, which of course is also supposed to represent Venice. There is actually a gondola tied up in the canal. This is because originally, Disney was going to offer gondola rides, but sometime during the evolution of the park, decided against it.
This is just my own speculation, but I think it was either because they realized they were going to have to give everyone a life jacket because of liability, and it would have been too inconvenient, or they realized the lines were going to be too long. So, the gondola ride is now a peaceful hangout and photo opportunity spot for weary Epcot travellers.
The fountain is a good place to sit and enjoy some wine, while enjoying the music that floats over from the auditorium at The American Adventure, located right next door.
If you happen to be in Epcot's Italy on a hot day, you can get yourself a frozen gelato from a multi-colored cart pulled by a fake donkey. They have lemon, strawberry and chocolate flavors. The cart is usually located right next to the small refreshment stand outside the main plaza, in front of the fake Doge's palace.
The main refreshment stand is where you get your beer, for all you beer lovers. Now, unfortunately, they no longer carry Peroni, my favorite Italian beer. At this stand, they serve Moretti instead. I think it lacks the subtle vanilla flavor present in Peroni, but it is beer, and it works if you don't like wine.
Also in this stand, they sell bellinis, which is a lovely slushie made with peach liqueur and champagne (or spumante), and something called an Italian margarita, which sounds absolutely disgusting to me, but it contains rum, I believe, possibly tequila and limoncello in a frozen mixture.
They also sell little desserts and pastries at this stand, including cannoli. It also may be a good time for you to catch up on your water intake for the day.
That's all from Italy.
Although I do want to mention: If you are at all interested in the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot every fall, the menu has just been announced.
Tune in next time for the American Adventure! Also known as redundancy with giant turkey legs.