Some people demand to hear stories and see pictures from peopleâ€™s vacations. That works for me because I enjoy talking about it. However, I realize that there are also some people that think reading or hearing about peopleâ€™s trips is obnoxious and boring. So Iâ€™ll hide most of this post after the jump so it doesnâ€™t take up half the page. There, everyone is happy!
So, how do you describe 10 days worth of vacationing in Italy? I could never do it justice with a quick summary and I donâ€™t want to write a full day-by-day rundown. So Iâ€™ll just give you some highlights and try to bring out the things that meant the most to me. Starting withâ€¦
I have to start off with food because it was one of the biggest things I was looking forward to about the trip. There were 6 meals that stood out above the rest.
Two of my favorite restaurants were recommended by friends.
1. Trattoria Sostanza in Florence recommended by my food-snob friend Sadler. We knew we were in a good place when everyone around us was speaking Italian (and we were the only dumb tourists taking pictures of the place). The melt-in-your-mouth chicken in butter sauce was hands down the best chicken dinner Iâ€™ve ever had. (by the way, counting my wife, that makes 5 people who have said the same thing about this dish. Trust me, its worth raving about.
2. Il Forno Campo Deâ€™ Fiori in Rome was recommended by my buddy Doug who lived overseas for a few years. This was more like going to an Italian home for dinner than a restaurant. There was a sweet old lady that greeted us at the door. There was no menu, they just brought out several courses of fine Italian cuisine. Then there was the old gentleman (perhaps the old ladyâ€™s husband) that went around and taught you how to eat like an Italian (apparently you are supposed to dip the crust of the dessert into your drink). Great food, great atmosphere. We also heard that Rick Steves was there the night before. Canâ€™t wait to hear what he says about it.
The next two best places we found in our Rick Steves guide book.
1. Trattoria al Vecio Canton was a quiet place tucked in a back corner of Venice off the beaten path (yup, we got lost trying to find it, but thatâ€™s all part of the fun in Venice). Best pizza Iâ€™ve ever had and the price wasnâ€™t bad at all.
2. Osteria Enotecca Al Bric in Rome was our last meal of the trip and it was a great farewell. Best fresh pasta I had on the trip smothered by a thick cheese sauce (Al Bric is known for its fresh cheese selections).
The last two restaurants Iâ€™ll mention were part of the tour package and I canâ€™t remember the names of the places. I just remember that it was all inclusive so they just brought course after course out for us to devour. At one point they gave us a whole basket of sausages, salamis, and other various meats for an appetizer. They also brought out various fried vegetables, olives, and salads. Then they brought out 2 types of fresh pasta. Next was the meat dishes. I had enough veal in the last week to make a vegan put out a Mafia hit on me. Other times I wasnâ€™t sure if I was eating chicken, veal, or pork, but I knew it was good so I really didnâ€™t care. Then there was dessert. Tiramisu has now become one of my favorites. (more on sweets later)
Iâ€™ve never had such quantities of quality food over a such a prolonged period of time. I will have to get to the gym and do at least 10 minutes of cardio to work all this off (yes, Iâ€™m one of those people that never gets fat, sorry).
Ok, ok, enough about the food. What about the country itself? Here are some impressions:
Rome: A busy, modern city folded into and on top of ancient ruins and historic landmarks. Walking along the streets you are very likely to a) get cut off by a moped or mini, b) stumble across a fountain that has existed since before the birth of Christ, c) have real live gypsies accost you for loose change, and d) walk past more gelaterias than you will Dunkin Donuts in Boston.
Venice: Just a beautiful city. The gondola ride was romantic, the buildings are quaint and picturesque, and there is plenty of shopping and gelato. Just a wonderful place to get lost. One of the places the wife and I decided we have to return to.
Florence: Didnâ€™t get a lot of chances to sample the art scene, but we did climb to the top of the Duomo for a fantastic view of the city and countryside. The Tuscan hills are everything you picture old-fashioned Italy to be.
Verona: Saw Julietâ€™s balcony. Umm, did it occur to anyone that it is a FICTIONAL play? In other news, the Two Gentleman of Verona spent very little time actually in Verona, and so did we. Just a half day and too quick to really get a very good impression.
Pompeii: Best place to get a feel for how they lived during the Roman Empire. Very well preserved city uncovered from the ashes of Mt. Vesuvius. Of course the volcano could re-erupt at any moment, so I wouldnâ€™t invest in real estate there without a good insurance policy.
The Amalfi Coast: Best. View. Ever. If you go to Italy, you must visit the island of Capri. There are houses and lemon orchards built right into the side of cliffs that hang over the Mediterranean. Driving up the side of the coast is not for the faint of heart but if someone else is driving (that you trust with your life) it can be quite the roller coaster ride.
Other random thoughts of the trip:
Taking a Tour: There are pluses and minuses to going on a tour. For me, I really enjoyed not having to plan out every last detail, book reservations, stand in long lines, butcher the Italian language asking for directions or cab fare, or worry about being stranded in a place that I really have no idea how to get home from. However, you have to understand that you are putting your hope in the hands of things outside of your control. Our tour was a little rushed (to get all the sights in on schedule) and it didnâ€™t help that one woman was consistently late for every bus ride which pushed everything back and ate into our free time.
Also, we had the Doc Rivers of tour guides. He was a nice guy, everyone liked him, he knew Italy, and he did his best. However, he wasnâ€™t organized enough to give us a clear direction, he was inconsistent in how he made decisions, and when bad things happened he literally threw his hands up in the air (I mean, he is Italian after all) and was slow to compensate and adjust.
All in all, I would not recommend Trafalgar because the hotels were all outside the cities, thus limiting your ability to spend free time wandering around at your own pace (youâ€™d need to get transportation to go out after dinner). However, a better tour guide might have made the trip a lot more enjoyable.
The Other Tourists: So, were you with, like, a bunch of old people? Well, yeah. About half the group was about the age of my parents and another quarter of the group was kids (most of which didnâ€™t appreciate what they were experiencing). However, we did hang out a lot with two couples that are about our age. One couple was from Philly (Mike loves quoting Will Ferrell and Amy puts up with him constantly quoting Will Ferrell, so sheâ€™ll be up for sainthood in about a year) and the other was from Austraila (they were on their honeymoon so they got lots of perks and they enjoyed laughing at the stereotypes that Americans have of Australians).
A Three Hour Tour: We had one notable adventure returning to the mainland from Capri. There was a landslide blocking our bus from getting to our hotel on the coast so our tour guide (in a good effort) arranged for a boat to take us up the coast. The trip was supposed to take 50 minutes. Of course the boat ran over a fishing net which destroyed the propeller and we had to be towed back to shore. As they were docking the boat, they didnâ€™t seem to consider the laws of physics and let our boat crash into the one towing it. Then we started drifting towards the rocks and my wife was seriously considering making a jump for it. We boarded another boat and after 3 hours we finally arrived at our hotel, happy to see land again.
On the other hand, we did get to see a lovely procession of red candles being paraded all throughout the streets of several towns for Holy week. Very pretty view from the water.
Random Desserts: I know Iâ€™ve talked food to death already, but I canâ€™t leave out these two desserts that you should look into if you are a chocolate lover. One is a gelato creation called â€œtartufo.â€ It is chocolate gelato crusted with chocolate shavings, topped with whip crÃ¨me and there is a cherry, but instead of being on top, it is hidden in the middle of the gelato as a sweet surprise. The other is a hot chocolate concoction that I have no name for but the best description is hot pudding. Sooooo good.
Sweet Farewell: One last very, very pleasant surprise was the trip home. For the 9 hour leg of our flight home, we got bumped to business class. Talk about living the good life. â€œWhy yes, Iâ€™d love a hot towel.â€ â€œLets see, Iâ€™ve already watched 2 movies, why not one more?â€ â€œMaybe Iâ€™ll rest my eyes for a bit, while I stretch out all 6 feet, 5 inches of my lanky body in this recliner, call up some Chopin on the headphones, and put on the complimentary eye patches to block out the sun.â€ That was the first plane ride that I actually didnâ€™t want to end.
So that was our wonderful Italian vacation. So many sights, so much good food, so many good times, a few frustrations, more good times, and more good food. I highly recommend getting to Italy if you have a chance. It is now up there on my list with Ireland and Scotland as my favorite European countries.
Once again, thanks so much to everyone that helped out with the blog during my vacation. You guys did a great job and I love that the community has grown so much that I can go away knowing the blog won't skip a beat. God bless everyone.