In October 2002, I had the pleasure of visiting Italy for too short a period but fell in love with it just the same. Here are some of my thoughts from that time and that continue on. Someday I'll return.
Having contracted bronchitis just before I was to leave for Italy, I made a quick trip to the doctor's office and armed myself with antibiotics. I vowed not to let anything slow me down. After enduring a 9 hour flight, I arrived in Rome in the pouring rain. With no luggage. Thank you Al Italia! After a dangerous but exhilirating cab ride, I arrived at the Scalinata di Spagna. A hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps you say? What a fantastic idea! Try walking those steps with no lungs to help you. The room was not ready. Ugh. The lobby wasn't big enough to even wait in so out into the rain I went. Luckily, there was an enterprising street urchin selling umbrellas. I looked down the soaking Spanish Steps wheezing and thinking, this is going to be the worst vacation of my life.
About an hour went by, the clouds parted, the sun shone and the angels sang. The room was ready, the luggage was found and brought to the hotel and maybe this would work out after all.
Rome was wonderfully chaotic and breathtaking (it wasn't just the bronchitis at this point). Figuring out the subway was easy, a couple of straight lines just like ours and off to the Colisseum it was. I was not prepared for the staggering beauty of this structure especially since you step out of the subway station entrance and Pow! there it is. There were costumed Gladiators wandering about for the tourists. After touring through there and feeling properly awed, spent time looking around at the Forum and the ruins. There were cats sleeping in and among the ruins and this seemed strangely poetic. A great deal of walking ensued and the sights, sounds and smells of Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, St. Peter's Cathedral, Piazza del Popola and about a million other things filled my head and my heart.
Shopping (okay, window shopping) on the Via Condotti was fun and ritzy and made me feel just like the Eurotrash I've always longed to be.
The food was great and I fell in love with a little Ristorante called Alla Rampa at the bottom of the Spanish Steps near the hotel. The whole experience was that much more charming with guitar and accordion playing musicians serenading diners outside.
There was a good deal of time spent recuperating from walking in little cafes which afforded great people watching. I was supposed to head to Venice during this trip but feeling there was enough water in my lungs, I thought going to a city surrounded by water would be a bit much. Rome forced me to stay a couple of extra days and I was powerless to resist.
Possibly the most charming moment of my life: I was walking along a little street and a 70ish year old man and I collided. He looked at me, smiled and simply said 'boom' and shuffled along on his way.
I went to a church and saw selections of classic opera performed by a Tenor, Soprano and Mezzo-Soprano and an 11 piece orchestra all dressed in 18th century costumes. If I was ever to find God, it would have been there. He was hovering at least I'm sure. I also loved the fact that all the wind instrument players of the orchestra smoked heavily at the intermission.
Whether they were trying or not, everyone in Rome was just plain sexy. There is such a thing as sexy ugly too but sexy just the same. Even the homeless had cooler shoes on than I did.
The hotel was expensive but charming and the rooftop patio/breakfast room was cool. You could see St. Peter's from the little shuttered terrace off the hotel room.
Eventually the rest of the journey had to be made so off by train to Florence it was. On arriving, it was clear there was a different vibe at work. The city seemed a bit less friendly and perhaps a little seedier but at the same time, more casual. There were a lot more shifty characters and ne'er do wells skulking around.
Seeing Michelangelo's David at Galleria dell'Accademia made me stop and think: Hmm, so that's what I look like naked. So many art treasures to take in there and at the Uffizi and of course interesting architecture everywhere.
More walking and shopping on the Ponte Vecchio which has always been a bit of a dream for me. The Arno River was a bit murkier than I'd imagined but still a sight with its 7 bridges. From a distance standing in Michelangelo's Square, the city was more majestic and beautiful looking. Toured through the Duomo (cathedral) and it was pretty amazing, did a guided tour through the Pitti Palace and saw more treasures, classic art and general beauty.
The low point of any of these excursions was the more often than not mulletted group of Americans complaining about the stuffy air inside these ancient beautiful palaces and leaning on statues and looking bored much to the tour guide's and my consternation.
More wonders abound: Went on a 5 hour tour of the hills of Tuscany stopping in a little town to visit a church and then onto Castello del Trebbio, a 12th century castle surrounded by olive groves and grape orchards. The castle's own wine and olive oil making and the history of the site and it's owners was exquisite and interesting.
The hotel Boccaccio in Florence was a little more Spartan but charming and with a friendly and helpful concierge who got us reservations at a very busy and semi swanky restaurant but with very low prices. All through Tuscany and Rome, the food was very imaginative and darned tasty. Even the simplest things like breaded vegetable soup was amazing. I thought it was a typo but it was vegetable soup with bread put in it which absorbed most of the broth making it more like a hearty stuffing. Yum.
Off to Verona where again, adjectives became meaningless. Quaint and history filled with its own unique ruins, it was like a miniature Rome with a more relaxing pace. The Roman Arena which is still used for operas can seat 25,000 people. Unfortunately there were none playing at the time.
Visited the beach at Lago di Gardo and a castle with a town built all around it and watched the sun go down, sob, sniff. Juliet's balcony was cool in that you know there was no real Juliet in Verona right? kind of way. Watched a one day National strike go by and felt the sun kiss my face while safely encsconced in a nearby cafe.
Met up with Matteo, a guy whose website I had found and sent email to asking about the Opera there and he insisted on showing us around and was a fantastic host. He had at one time studied to be a tour guide so he was up on everything. He then invited us to dinner with his friends. He was funny and friendly and a great resource for any possible question we had. Dining out, it was interesting to find horsemeat as a prevalent menu offering. Lots of rabbit too. I couldn't bring myself to try eating Black Beauty or Thumper but I did have some delicious pasta with Daffy Duck in it.
From Verona, the journey ended in Milan which was a little disappointing. The world famous (Teatro Al) la Scala opera house was closed for renovations and fairly boarded up. Even their massive and impressive Duomo was scaffolded all over the front. The hotel was sterile and 'big city' and not welcoming at all.
I wanted to cry at having to leave since everything up to Milan had found me amazed and enthralled. Italy, I want to make love to your whole country. Okay, maybe not the homeless, I just want their shoes.
Everyone in Italy is sexy.
It is okay to bring your dog into a restaurant and have them sit quietly at your feet.
Even if you're not a wine drinker, when in Rome...
Those tiny Smart cars and scooters don't look dangerous but they are.
The Pope is not hurting for cash.
Tourists are boorish (me excluded).
I can haggle (a little). Try it in the leather market in Florence.
Fine Italian shoes are pretty cheap 'over there'.
I think I can now speak Italian but deep down, know that I can't.
There seem to be a lot of Somalians in Florence.
Florence needs a bath.
Frittata sandwiches are good.
Ice cream floating in coffee is very good. It's even better when there's a little crooked waffle shaped like the Leaning Tower of Pisa sticking out of it.
Opera in a church can make me cry but I can hold it in.
You can smoke wherever you like.
Walking up the Spanish Steps with bronchitis can require the use of a ventilator until you find the elevator off to one side.
McDonald's here at home do not have marble foyers and do not serve drink drinks.
Blockbuster and Footlocker should not be considered ambassadors of North American culture but they're all over the place.
Trains arrive about 1 minute prior to their scheduled departure time and they depart on time -- Run!
Australians in cafes also complain about other tourists.
Dubliners have thick accents - nod and smile.
Tourists from Pennsylvania sometimes look like they're trying too hard.
People will expect me to stop talking about this trip eventually. I may. I may not.