It’s been a month since we left Italy and I’m still digesting it. For the most part being an ignorant American armed only with English was not an impediment to enjoying the country, and indeed managing the business of buying food, navigating the bus system, or haggling over purse prices.
But despite all my reading/preparation ahead of time, there were the times when I was curious about what I was seeing and no one to ask. I’m pretty sure the poster we saw in the Cinque Terre was a notice about an upcoming referendum on legalizing prostitution. But in the villages of the Cinque Terre?! Seemed so improbable.
Also, why do the Italian municipalities insist on charging to use a toilet? The only free toilets are in museums and restaurants. Even train stations and bus stations charge. Long distance busses do not have toilets on board, though trains do (in this case, free). I guess I’m spoiled, but nothing makes me madder than paying for peeing.
Why do you pay more for your coffee if you drink it sitting down? I did know this ahead of time, but still could not get over people gulping down their brew and running off. This goes against all my beliefs about savoring my morning cup at a leisurely pace. And it is the opposite of the Italians’ practice of spending hours eating dinner. We only got caught once on our first day in Venice after walking for four hours. After that I made my own.
People ask me about my favorite city. That’s easy, Venice. Part of it’s because the city is so intimate with its narrow canals, its many squares too small to be called piazzas, and its roof-top gardens. Part is that we stayed in an area where real people live. I felt that I was seeing the authentic city, especially when we rubbed elbows with locals in the Rialto fresh market (the only place we saw horse meat for sale) and then cooked with real Italian ingredients (not horse meat!).
We saw the rhythm of everyday life whether it was the street-sweepers early in the morning or boats delivering goods to local shops. We learned the value of getting up early and walking to the popular sites before the tourists arrived, and enjoyed them unfrazzled and serene.
We also arrived in Venice before the summer heat settled over Italy, and the apartment was the only one where we didn’t have to climb stairs. Ahhh.
And my least-liked city? That is also easy – Rome. It wasn’t like the other Italian cities we visited where we walked everywhere. Venice had no cars and the others limited city-center traffic to delivery, police and emergency vehicles. Not Rome. Six lanes were common, and no one stayed in the lanes anyway, choosing to make their own paths. Vespas darted dangerously among the cars and trucks, and I feared for the people in the little teeny cars who looked as if they could be crushed at any moment. People parked cars wildly, even on the sidewalks and crosswalks.
The important sites are scattered widely, requiring a taxi, the metro or extreme walking stamina to reach them. And once there, it was easy to spend two or three more hours walking within the sites. I lost 10 pounds in Italy, despite the daily dose of pasta, though much of that might have been sweat – Rome was experiencing record-breaking heat.
History was everywhere. Our flat was only two blocks from the Colosseum. That thrilled us at the beginning, and we so enjoyed Walks of Italy‘s VIP Colosseum at Night Tour, seeing the underground and arena floor. But by the end of the week it was just another building in the neighborhood – almost ho-hum.
Most of my Rome pictures are of vistas – very few intimate moments. And on some of the tours where intimacy was present, we had to make due with taking pictures of postcards we bought, like in the crypts.
Okay, I loved the Sistine Chapel – stunningly beautiful in person. Michelangelo painted it in just four years: 1508 – 1512. (I didn’t know that the woman behind God in the fresco of Adam’s creation was Eve.) But the rest of the Vatican and Rome was just too much. Of course in hindsight, I see that it was my fault. I came in as a tourist trying to do too much. Maybe I should give Rome another try some year.
And what was my favorite moment? The Lemon Garden in Riomaggiore keeps coming back to me in moments of quiet reflection. It had the perfect combination of discovery, adventure (trespassing), authenticity, knock-you-out fragrance, and views of the large yellow lemons in the trees and in bags ready for market. The early morning sun was just warm enough to kiss the lemons and help release that intoxicating smell. It was reassuring to think that I might see these very lemons in the market bins in the village, later that day.
That moment was the only one I chose to seal with a purchase – lemon soaps sold in several of the shops in Riomaggiore. Now they release lemon fragrance in my small bathroom and take me back to the Lemon Garden any time.
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Other essays on the Trip to Italy:
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