Italy is the world's largest exporter of wine, and fourteen billion espressos are consumed each year. It was our duty and honor to include ourselves in this remarkable statistic.
Every afternoon my husband and I would politely saddle up to the coffee bar and wait patiently while self-assured Italians cut in front of us belting out "un caffe' per favore". After fifteen minutes and not a single glance in our direction from the barista, it was time to get serious. I felt like Dustin Hoffman in a scene from "Tootsie" where he's attempting to hail a cab in a dress, wig, and sweet high-pitched voice. Deeming this method clearly unsuccessful, he finally belts out a roaring TAXI!!! The cab pulled over, and we were awarded two caffe' doppios.
Rome, the "Eternal City", welcomed us with open arms via the 80 mph autostrada. I will circle back to that hair raising phenomenon in a moment.
Once we set our eyes upon Rome's otherworldly charms, we knew she would leave a mark, a longing in our hearts to return to her as quickly as possible. With 900 churches, 280 fountains, and over 60 museums, it's clear to see why it's one of the most revered cities in the world.
Exploring Rome will leave even the most adept map reader perplexed. The streets are quietly marked in small print on the corners of most buildings, most being the operative word here. We did get wonderfully lost on several occasions, and were even referred to affectionately by the Polizia Municipale as "tontos", or in english, "idiots". Italian really is the most romantic language isn't it?
Losing your way in Italy really isn't losing at all. Every turn opens up into a wonderful surprise for the senses. The smells emanate from nearby salumerias and gelaterias, there are sounds of ancient cathedral bells and buzzing vespas. There is also the overwhelming sense of community here. Piazzas await at the end of almost every cobblestone street, daring you to take just one more photograph or step inside the awe-inspiring Pantheon. You might drink prosecco on the Spanish Steps, or relax in a nearby bistro for your next spaghetti alla carbonara.
We made our way to the Trevi Fountain, and like most tourists, made a wish and threw in some change. The Trevi receives 3000 euros a day, all of which is donated to charity. We are in the process of building a similar fountain in our backyard for our retirement fund.
If the Vatican, Colosseum, The Forum, or a stroll through one of Rome's exquisite museums is on your agenda, making reservations online before you leave is by far the best route to take. We buzzed by about 400 impatient patrons in line for tickets to the Vatican. Opt for a guide if possible, you hear stories like Michelangelo painting donkey ears on the Pope's master of ceremonies for constantly criticizing his work on the Sistine Chapel's famous ceiling fresco.
We chose to rent a car for the entirety of this trip, and we would have several rendezvous with Italian toll booths. Now, my husband and I consider ourselves intelligent people, problem solvers by nature, however these tolls would prove to be pivotal moments in our marriage.
Whatever you do, do not try to pay your toll in the Telepass lanes, this is much like our Good To Go lanes in Washington. You must have the corresponding sticker on your car or you will receive a fine in the mail. Also, make sure to have the correct change on hand, and don't expect anyone to speak to you in English. Most tolls run electronically, and we were not only in the incorrect lane, but we didn't have sufficient change. I'm sure it looked like a foreign horror film, Italians honking their horns, waving their hands, and hollering "yooou-a neeed-a teeeket-a!!
Yes, thank you for that. Needless to say, we received a traffic infraction in the mail ten months after our return home. In true Italian style, they took their time.
And now back to the autostrada. There is a reason why Italy is responsible for some of the fastest and highest performance sports cars in the world. They drive with reckless abandon. You should be fine if you remember these two very important driving tips: DO NOT HESITATE, and as the Italians say, "you watch your front, let everyone else watch your back".
Tuscany brings to mind images of vines and olive trees, quaint little towns tucked away in rolling hills, winding dirt roads, villas surrounded by herb gardens, and muted hues of browns, tans, oranges, and greens. There are so many excursions awaiting, that it must be visited more than once to even scratch the surface. We flipped a coin and set out on adventures to Montepulciano, Siena, and Chianti. Would you believe that Chianti was having there 45th Annual Wine Festival the weekend we stopped by? Kismet my friends, kismet.
Even after long days of sightseeing and day drinking, don't expect to sit down for dinner before 8 o'clock, and that is the early seating. It didn't take us long to acclimate.
It is clearly the heart and soul of the Renaissance and much artwork is waiting to be admired. It's also home to some of the greatest wines in Italy, and in Montepulciano you'll find underground cellars at least four stories deep. Make an afternoon out of relaxing on a hillside, uncork a bottle of red, snack on pecorino cheese, salami, and frantoio olives. Paradiso!
Enough of this siesta Italian style. We are in Florence, and we're climbing the 483 steps of the famous Duomo today. This is not for the faint of heart or claustrophobic, but in our opinion, worth every glute-burning step. The 360 degree view of the city is second to none. Plus, there's nothing like rewarding yourself with a Dulce De Leche Gelato after a great workout.
If shopping is more your speed, you've come to the right city. It's like the Rodeo Drive of Italy. You can spend a small fortune if Valentino, Armani, Versace, or Gucci is on your list, but for the common traveler, there are plenty of family owned boutiques bursting with handmade jewelry and leather goods.
Florence is the capital of the tuscan region, and the suburbs of Pisa, Livorno, and Lucca are just over an hour's drive. We decided to visit the offbeat little town of Collodi, home to Pinocchio and its author, Carlo Lorenzini, better known by his pen name of Carlo Collodi.
Italy really is everything it's cracked up to be and more. There isn't a day that goes by that we haven't thought about her, relived her memories, or longed for a homecoming. Walk along the Ponte Vecchio, eat gelato daily, sip un caffe' in the afternoon, talk with your hands, and drink wine while dining al fresco. When in Rome.....
For more information on our hotel stays visit:
Stay tuned for Italy Is Always A Good Idea - Part 3
We'll take you to Cinque Terre, Lake Como, Verona, and through the canals of Venice.