I met Missy Hanley when we were both pledging Theta Phi Alpha Sorority at the University of Cincinnati. I immediately knew she was someone I wanted to be friends with. During our time at UC, Missy continuously blew me away with her ability to know everyone on campus, rarely miss a social event, and still earn high marks in the notoriously challenging nursing program. It wasn’t just me she impressed, because by graduation she had received just about every award given out on UC’s campus. Missy is a good friend to have because not only is she a hard worker and a ton of fun to be around, but Missy challenges those around her to be better people.
Missy is one of the most incredible women I know. She’s smart, but always looking to learn more. She’s strong in her convictions, yet inclusive and open-minded. But, what I’ve always admired most is Missy’s passion for helping others. Her willingness to serve has taken her around the world, including a medical education and nursing mission in Kenya and Tanzania. Currently, she lives with her husband Brian in the Italian countryside and has been able to travel extensively throughout Europe. Missy shares my passion for food and travel, and after months of enviously viewing her photos, I knew she would be the perfect person to interview for food and travel (and a bit of medical) advice. Enjoy!
After reading Missy’s interview, check out this recipe for Ragu alla Bolognese.
Q. Let’s start with some background. Tell us about yourself and how you ended up living in Italy.
A. I was born and raised in the heart of farm country, Coldwater, Ohio. I went to the University of Cincinnati for nursing school and participated in various programs to give me extra training in critical care, international healthcare, and research. My nursing experience began with rotations in the ICUs of UC’s Medical Center. I moved to Chicago to work as a Clinical Leader and Research Chair in the University of Northwestern’s Neuroscience Department. Then, I received the incredible opportunity to move to Italy for work – my husband Brian is a Judge Advocate General (JAG) in the Air Force and I work as a civilian contractor at the hospital on base. I work in Medical Modeling and Simulation Training and train military personnel on medical, cardiac, and trauma emergencies. When we return to the states in 2016, I want to focus on emergency nursing and go on to graduate school.
Brian and Missy
Q. Wow, moving to Italy sounds like a dream, but I’m sure there are difficult aspects too. Can you tell us a little bit about the transition, the differences of life in Italy and how Italians differ from Americans?
A. Where do I begin? This could be a book. Allora, what I love about Italy is the high priority Italians place on leisure and enjoying life. Eating, drinking, and enjoying company are the foundation that life is built on and the most important thing to most Italians. Most go on vacation for a full month in the summer (and another week or two during winter holidays) and work is just the necessary evil to make it all possible.
That being said, everything happens on a slower timeline because work is never a priority. The workday starts later and ends earlier and most stores are only open 4 or 5 days a week and are commonly closed on random days with no explanation. On the days they are open, the hours are 10-12 and 15-19 (because of riposo aka Italian siesta).
Three hours lunches are standard. The famous phrase around here is “a domani” which means tomorrow, because the mindset is why do today what can wait until tomorrow? This is NOT how the base works! My Italian neighbors and coworkers think all the Americans work too hard and it’s not good for them. I am a ‘Type A’ American, and this can be maddening periodically, but overall I think it has taught me to slow down and brought me a greater work-life balance.
Everyone in the world is more socially and politically aware than we are on average in the States. I spoke to an Italian gardener who didn’t speak any English and he asked my thoughts on Ferguson. When I went to a village in Tanzania, one of the men asked my thoughts regarding one of Obama’s new policies. I blame our news and media. Maybe we could take a breather on Kimye and talk about world issues every once in a while?
I also like how Europeans are more comfortable with their bodies. We’ve all got one and they are all a little bit odd- who cares! The nurse in me came to the conclusion years ago and I appreciate a society who gets it! Everyone should go to a nude/topless beach or a warmbad/hot spring, get over themselves, and go native at least once in their life.
Missy’s Husband Brian enjoys the scenery near Prosecco Road
Q. So, it’s true that Italians love to eat and drink but is it really all the pasta and bread we imagine? Tell us how Italians really eat.
A. Italians take GREAT pride in their food and drink. Every region of Italy has a few dishes and a type of wine they are known for – and they celebrate this.
The people of Italy really do live off of pizza, pasta, gelato, cured meats, cheese, wine and espresso… Yup that’s about it haha! Maybe some salads, soups, and sandwiches to mix it up and keep it light on a hot day. Italian food also contains a lot of seafood, always fresh, and cooked whole. You learn to filet your own fish and not get distracted by the fact that it is looking at you!
Italian food has the right portion sizes and very few ingredients. The theme is high quality, small volume. The Italians are very into biking, skiing, and evening strolls, which I think balances it all out.
Italy’s famous cured meats
Q. What do Italians think of American cuisine? Do you see much American culinary influence in Italy? What are some of the biggest differences you’ve noticed between the cuisines?
A. Italians think Americans are in a rush, don’t enjoy things fully, and shove anything in their mouths. They do think American cocktails and barbecue are fun but they rarely try to mimic it.
I have noticed some a few common American misconceptions about Italian food. Alfredo is a name and not a type of sauce here (carbonara is more or less the equivalent). Meatballs are served on their own and never on pasta.
Several American foods are actually against European food laws – particularly the processed stuff. You won’t find Kraft Mac and Cheese here for that reason! Peanut butter? Forget about it. The only directly American thing I have seen in Italian grocery stores is ketchup.
On the whole, Italians aren’t very interested in American food, as they think they’ve perfected the food scene… and in a lot of ways I have to agree. In an Italian grocery store, there is an obscene amount of pasta – every shape and size that you could imagine. The deli section doesn’t have cold cuts but rather shelves of aged prosciutto and cheeses. The frozen foods are mostly pasta, pizza, and gelato. Produce is always local and seasonal. Asparagus and mushroom season are cause for festivals around here!
No caption needed.
Q. How has the Italian way of life changed your diet and your food preferences?
A. I was lightweight vegan before coming here and that is out the window! I live in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia which is well known for white wines, mountain cheeses, and prosciutto. I’ve had REAL Tuscan olive oil and Modena balsamico and I can’t go back!
Also, I was into craft beers and microbreweries before moving here but have learned so much about wine that going forward I am a probably going to be a switch hitter…admittedly, I am probably a little annoying…but I can’t just sit by while you order red wine with your fish. It’s just wrong. Drinking a fruity wine with your steak? No my friend, you need some tannins!
There are only a few things I find disgusting. One of these things is Aperol, a bitter and bright orange liquid that gets thrown in bubbly wine in summer time. It’s gross and ruins perfectly good wine! I hate a majority of gnocchi because it is too heavy but when it is done correctly, they are fluffy little lumps of heaven.
Italian food is fantastic but I was spoiled living in Chicago. I could have Thai for lunch, Vegan tacos for dinner, and sushi delivered to my door as a late night snack…and that was just the food in my neighborhood. Mostly I miss spicy food – think Indian and Tex Mex. Brian and I actually pursue these categories actively when we head to major cities like Paris. We had fantastic Mexican when we were in Prague last year! About once a year, I really crave a good burger. No one can do a burger like America…I may or may not have had a horse burger while in Innsbruck last summer…I will neither confirm nor deny…it was delicious.
Needless to say, Missy is no longer vegan
Q. What is your advice for travelers looking to eat well in Italy?
A. When you’re eating in real Italy (not tourist spots), you don’t need to tip but you will pay a table cover of 2-3 euro. Water and wine are standard at every meal. Water is never free and won’t come with ice (go for the frizzante, it’s the best) but the wine will be cheap.
Breakfast is just a brioche and espresso or cappuccino (sorry eggs and bacon lovers). Never order a cappuccino after noon (its considered a breakfast drink…they will give it to you but will whisper about you in Italian).
Lunch and dinner are usually at least two courses (antipasti = appetizer, primi = pasta, and secondi = meat/fish). Portions will be small so you will leave satiated and not STUFFED. Waiters will not ‘check in’ on you, so you get their attention if you need anything. Service is slow compared to American standards, so don’t stress about it, continue with your good conversation and sip on your wine. Coffee (espresso) at the end of any meal is standard and a shot of grappa isn’t unusual after a large dinner. Unless you are in a formal restaurant, you walk up to the register when you are done and pay your bill. In small towns, it’s not unusual for the cashier to ask what you ate instead of providing you with a check. If you don’t have exact change, they may round down because they don’t want to deal with change.
My best advice for eating in Italy is to always ask the chef or waiter for his/her suggestion on the menu. They aren’t working for tips and sure don’t care about a profit so they aren’t just going to suggest the priciest options.
Missy trying her hand at pasta making
Q. Speaking of traveling to Italy, what advice do you have for someone looking to visit for the first time? Any insider advice on getting around Europe?
A. I am going to pass the buck to Rick Steves here. Rick Steves has been our dirty little secret for most trips. His food suggestions are “meh” but the tour, ticket, and travel guidance has been on point! I’ve been to most major spots in Italy multiple times and he normally takes the words right out of my mouth. His travel guides are a great starting point.
Know going into your trip whether you are most interested in food, art, history, outdoor activities or family experiences and focus your trip around that! Ideally, you can talk to a friend that travels like you (foodie, historian, or big family, etc.) and you can get the low down from them.
It’s SO easy to get around Europe. RyanAir and EasyJet are cheap flights if you know how to pack light. The train system is fantastic and convenient throughout the continent and country – bring all the fluid you want, don’t get molested going through security, and enjoy big cushy seats with plenty of legroom.
Friuli Venezia Giulia, the Italian countryside where Missy and Brian live.
Q. Let’s talk about some of your other travels. Where else have you been?
A. I’ve visited 15 countries in Europe and counting. In Africa, I’ve been to Morocco, Kenya, and Tanzania. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to make it into any other continents yet (except North America, of course).
Q. Can you share some of your favorite dining experiences from your travels?
A. I have been to so many countries and we eat and drink our way through every city we visit, so this question feels impossible! I asked Brian, my husband, this question to see if it would help me answer and he just laughed.
Sienna, Italy – Let’s see… aged cheese drizzled with walnuts and honey as a starter. Pasta with truffle sauce as a primi followed by Florentine style steak (cooked medium rare and seasoned with only local olive oil, salt, and pepper), paired with the perfect Chianti. The restaurant was suggested from a local sommelier and the restaurant’s wine cellar went underground for 4 stories (the som had told us about it) and the owner let us roam through it when we asked about it– incredible.
Austria –Tafelspitz from Plachutta in Vienna. We went here over our anniversary weekend after a day of very cold sightseeing! We bought their recipe book because the food was so incredible. We had their flagship dish with a bottle of local wine.
German Christmas Markets: I recommend vin brulee (mulled wine) and sausage in any and all Christmas Markets. The mulled wine warms you up in the cold winter weather as you walk through the market. The bratwursts and sausages have this perfect little snap and are regularly paired with the sharpest mustards and best sauerkraut! Add it on top of the baseline holiday cheer and it is just a perfect experience.
London – High Tea at the famous F&M with several rounds of tiered plates with crustless sandwiches and heavenly sweets and biscuits. In my opinion, champagne and clotted cream are signs that God is real and loves us. Haha! The tea menu alone was as thick as a Cheesecake Factory menu. I went for the Royal Blend because it only felt appropriate. Everything was delicious!
Sausages at the Christmas Market in Budapest
Missy (far right) and friends enjoy the mulled wine at a Christmas Market
Tafelspitz from Plachutta in Vienna
A few other favorite food memories:
Cincinnati – Greendog Café – vegan and delicious..It is possible!
Chicago – Chicago-style hot dog and Goose Island beer in Wrigleyville
West Virginia – My in-laws are phenomenal cooks and my mother-in-law has a bunch of family recipes that will make you fall in love with Appalachian cooking: homemade tomato juice, pickled corn, wilted lettuce, tomato gravy, fried potatoes, cucumbers with vinegar, cornbread…this list goes on for a while!
San Francisco – Oysters straight out of the bay on a sunny 70-degree day with my now husband and in-laws. It was a perfect afternoon in every way.
Tanzania – The juiciest, sweetest mango of my life– I’ve never had one like it since.
Morocco – Chick pea soup from a street vendor off the tourist path – me and two friends all had dinner for less than a dollar. Locals were buying it in bulk for take-away. Needless to say the conditions didn’t look up to US Health Department standards so we all took our antibiotics – no one got sick 😉
My favorite place in all of Italy– Osteria Agli Stemmi. – This is a tiny osteria in a tiny town ten minutes from our house. FANTASTIC wine and they always have crostinis out for patrons to nibble on with a high quality variety of meat, seafood, polenta, truffle, or aged cheeses. The menu is short and always changing with what fresh produce is available locally and never written down; the chef comes out and just tells you what they have that day. We eat here often and have never had a bad dish. It is rarely crowded and mostly filled with old Italian men joking around about life while enjoying the fare. There is always a nice backdrop of blues or jazz music playing. It feels like you are just hanging out in a friend’s kitchen… if you had friends that speak little-to-no-English. J The owners are very warm and it’s obvious how passionate they are about great food. Hint: Wherever the old Italians are eating is where you want to be.
Q. Let’s talk alcohol. What are your most memorable drinking experiences across the globe?
A. New Year’s Eve in Budapest– We kicked off 2015 with fireworks and bottles popping in a public square with thousands of strangers… and then going on to a ruin bar with live music until all odd hours of the night…and then recovering from that overindulgence in the Szechenyi hot springs the next day!
Renting a house with friends in Bruges – Roaming the cobblestone streets of Bruges/Brussels and popping into random underground bars. Trying every kind of beer we could get our hands on (which Belgium is famous for having hundreds of varieties of beer). I am a big fan of the cherry beer – Kriek! But I also had the privilege of trying the ‘best beer in the world,’ and it was pretty damn good. We laughed, we cried, the cops were called, a friend got engaged; insanity.
King’s Day in Amsterdam – This was a girl’s trip and it was priceless. The whole city is dressed in orange. An interesting choice, considering orange is not the most flattering choice for the fair skinned-blondes of the area (I would know). I have been to many festivals in major cities but I have never seen an ENTIRE city be this engaged. Every child to grandma on every block of the city is just having a good time and selling food, drinks, and random items. Live music and DJ’s playing house music were around every corner.
Recovering from a crazy NYE at the Szechenyi Hot Springs in Budapest
At an underground bar in Bruges
Q. What is your travel food philosophy? How do you find great food while traveling? What do you do for long flights?
A. Two words: Ask Locals. Sometimes the best food in a location is the fancy six-course restaurant but many times it’s the hole-in-the-wall where a family has been hand-making their pasta for generations. If you are traveling somewhere and want to plan ahead, TripAdvisor really is very helpful but be sure to look for reviews with large numbers, ideally in the local language. Don’t trust anything next to a major landmark or tourist hotspot. Always check out the little place in a back alley with a handwritten menu. This has been the best meal for me SO many times and holds true from London to Bratislava.
As for flights – booze. Lots of booze. Wait, is that a bad answer? Haha! For long flights, I just recommend sleeping as much as possible to make the time go fast. Also, that way you are well rested when you get to your destination and can start enjoying it immediately. Transatlantic flight food is disgusting so pack granola, nuts, or jerky if you want to avoid it. But European flights and snack bars in European airports usually have nice sandwiches, yogurt, and fruit available for you to grab in transit.
Q. Let’s talk dessert and baking. Tell me about some of the best desserts you’ve had in Italy or around the world.
A. I have a sweet tooth and it gets me in trouble in Europe! I love gelato and tiramisu in Italy and anything from a French bakery is always a good choice (they have seriously perfected the craft in my opinion) but I croon for their quiche. Apple strudel and kaiserschmarn in Germany is a personal favorite. Waffles and chocolates in Belgium…believe the hype.
Missy enjoying desserts in Austria
Q. We all like to travel for the pleasure of food and drinking, but what I admire that you have traveled for a greater purpose. Tell us about your trip to Africa.
A. I went with a group of doctors, nurses and pharmacists with the Village Life Outreach Project. We opened field clinics and visited local hospitals in various villages and treated patients. We developed and published a bilingual book on pregnancy and delivery and taught several courses to locals. We also worked on a few World Health Organization initiatives and did data collection in some of the areas we visited.
In Africa, the people were so warm and full of life. They had so little and were grateful and appreciated what little they had. There was a really strong sense of community – they called everyone “brother” and “sister” and it was obvious that they sincerely cared about one another. Even visitors were welcomed like kin. All the elders were deeply respected and all the children listened to all adults. Made me think, that in more developed countries, too much time and money may have taken us a little off track on how to live with joy and function as a community.
The health disparities are tragic. There was a woman who suffered from polio as a child. She can’t stand or walk as a result. She dragged herself to the clinic we set up to be seen for back pain. Children suffered from belly bugs from their village’s water source being contaminated. I met a man with untreated leprosy that lead to permanent damage to his skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes. Never forget how lucky we are to have access to high quality health care!
Many children in the villages we went out to either had never or rarely seen a white person before…and I am about as fair and pale as white people come. Local children were obsessed with my skin and hair – I was pet by strangers a lot! Haha
Missy teaching locals about pregnancy and delivery using a bilingual book that her team developed
Q. It’s not often we get to chat with a nurse with extensive international training. Let me take advantage of this opportunity by asking for some professional advice. How do you avoid getting sick while traveling?
A. If you get sick it will most likely be one of three things:
Exhaustion – drink plenty of water and really make getting decent sleep a priority. Many people get sick at the end of their trip or when they come home because they were all hyped up on adrenaline and then crashed. You can have a great time without running yourself into the ground!
Crowds– If you are going to a popular tourist destination you are most likely going to museums and landmarks with hundreds to thousands of other people. How many hands have touched that railing up to the next floor of the Uffizi? Wash your hands when you sit down to eat and throw hand sanitizer in your purse for when you leave crowded places.
Food/Water contamination – This is really only an issue if you are traveling to a third world country. Before I left for Africa the first time, I went to Passport Health. I highly recommend them. I received a few extra vaccines that are recommended for diseases that are endemic to the area I was traveling to but not where I am from (yellow fever, Hepatitis A, etc). They prescribed me a daily pill to take while I was there to avoid contracting malaria. I also brought an antibiotic (Cipro) for the “just in case” factor. I stuck to bottled water and cooked food instead of raw (cooking kills many germs) and never required the Cipro. Again, you do NOT need to take these precautions for traveling around Europe.
If you have any questions about where you are going and there is not a Passport Health in your area – ASK YOUR DOCTOR! If you have any health issues to consider, talk to your doctor about where you are going and form a plan. Before doing something stupid (i.e. jumping off a cliff into a body of water that you don’t know the depth of), consider whether you want to be in an ER that doesn’t speak English.
Tip: Pharmacies in Europe are like little walk-in clinics. If something minor comes up, the pharmacists can give assistance over the counter. The medications are different but have, for the most part, the same active ingredients. I’ve had to do this once or twice and it’s always been a great experience.
Missy in Morocco
Q. So, now that you’ve taught us how to stay healthy, let’s finish up with some of your best travel advice. What are the essentials that you always pack?
A. I am a BIG believer in traveling comfortable and light. I pack my clothes the night before – items I can layer and tops and bottoms that can mix and match. I wear one comfortable pair of shoes to the airport and pack one alternative pair. I pack all my toiletries the morning I leave – use it and then pack it. It’s how I know I won’t forget anything. You’ll notice my hair is up in most of my travel photos – I don’t think it’s worth it to drag all the hair products, straighteners, curling irons, etc. Especially since so many places we travel are hot, windy, or rainy! I always bring Tylenol, Tums, and Zyrtec; which covers most of life’s little bumps. I always have my passport in my wallet. Make sure I have cash and cards. Print out EVERYTHING and toss it in a folder- hotels, reserved tour confirmations. iPad and cellphone (+chargers!) and you are set.
Q. What’s next on your travel dream list. Where are you dying to go?
A. I’ve been really lucky and have had lots of opportunity to travel but I haven’t been to South America or Asia yet. I’ve got my eyes on getting to Peru and India some day – ideally on another medical trip. I like the idea of not only traveling somewhere and experiencing a location, but leaving that place a little better than I found it.
‘Traffic’ in Innsbruck, Austria
Q. And a question just for fun – If you could be transported to one place at one specific time, where would it be and why?
A. I think we live in a really exciting time in history. The world is getting smaller and more progressive by the day – I think I like now. The world’s far from perfect but overall there are a lot of good things happening. Plus, realistically as a woman, I’d mostly be cleaning the house in any other time period. haha
Q. And for our last question, how has living in Italy changed you and what will you miss the most when you return to the US next year?
A. I think the Dalai Lama summarized it best when he said,
“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
Italy has taught me work-life balance.
I’ll miss seasonal, local, unadulterated food being the standard everywhere you eat. Cheap and delicious wine and cafe! I will also miss the people with their lovable chaos and leisurely pace. They are vibrant people with deep family ties, and I have a lot of respect for these aspects of their culture.
Missy (Feltz) Hanley was born and raised in Coldwater, Ohio. She went to school at the University of Cincinnati and then moved to Chicago, where her true love of food began. In the last year and a half she has traveled to Germany, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, Spain, England, Netherlands, Belgium, Morocco, Denmark, Hungary, and all over Italy. She currently lives in the Italian countryside just outside of Venice. Aside from traveling and eating, she has a passion for teaching and emergency medicine. She currently works as a trauma nursing specialist in medical modeling and simulation training for the US military.
If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to check out the other posts in The Hungry Traveler Interview Series: