was just as fantastic the second time around ... by luck or good
planning, we had a perfect trip. One week in Roma on foot, and one week
around the countryside and villages of Sicilia by car. A good balance,
great weather, Italy glowed. No detailed travelogue this time,
but several slideshows where pictures tell some sort of story. And some
general thoughts and observations:
- Driving in Italy is like being in a video game. Cars,
motorbikes, people, funny little vehicles, annoying massive vehicles
... anything can come at you, from any direction, at any time. You're
not allowed to get upset, you must just go with the flow (or stop with
it, depending). It helps tremendously to have great reflexes and nerves
of steel. Walking is no picnic either, but there is an interesting phenomenon.
No matter how fast the traffic, or how busy the road, if a pedestrian
wants to cross and steps off the curb, cars stop. It's a little hard
to trust this ... but it works! (One caveat: where there are
traffic lights, wait for those to change.)
- Is there a more magnificent, fascinating city than Rome?
It hits on all cylinders, for all nationalities. How great to just walk out our hotel door and have Rome in front of us ... the freedom to roam and explore on our own, with no chance of going a "wrong" way ... an incredible experience.
- Don't pack shorts when going to Italy unless you want
to be instantly pegged as uncool tourist and (most likely) American.
It could be August and 95º in Rome ... they don't do shorts. Despite
warm temperatures, we succumbed to the "pressure" to conform
this time around (ignorant on our first
visit) while walking miles around Rome. But in Sicily,
Peter said the hell with it, wanting to be comfortable. I put shorts
on also — it got downright hot on a few days.
- Sicily is beautiful, bountiful, diverse. Glorious mountains
(especially Monte Etna), wonderful medieval hilltop villages, Greek
ruins set in incredible locations, spectacular coastal vistas. Rich
soil that grows olives, grapes, lemons, oranges, almonds, pistachios,
prickly pear. Then there's the flavored honey, fresh seafood, colorful
ceramics ... it's sensory overload.
- We saw very few overweight (much less, fat) people among
Italians and hundreds of tourists from all over the world.
- Some people go to Italy for the food and enjoy relaxed,
sumptuous dinners. I was starving every day by 5:00. That presented
a problem when most ristorantes opened at 7:00 or later. (7:30 or 8:00
in more rural areas of Sicily!) Therefore, we ended up eating gelato,
pizza and/or panninis on the run almost everyday. In Rome we did find
places that opened earlier for dinner, thankfully. But the upshot: miles
of walking, light meals and regular hunger: three pounds lost on the
trip. That's my diet tip.
- When a tough-looking waiter in Palermo, Sicily tells
you to finish your anchovies and that you can't have cheese on your
seafood pasta, nod and go along.
- In Rome it was the cats. In Sicily, the dogs. Strays
everywhere we went. I'm a bleeding heart when it comes to animals and
had a hard time with this. At least in Rome, we saw the Torre
Argentina Cat Sanctuary. But the dogs, the dogs.
We would order food with the strays in mind, and fed the animals when
we could. It's a sad and terrible problem.
- Don't stand near the door in a Rome Metro car unless
you want to get shoved (hard) in the back by a commuter in a hurry to
- When we planned this trip in March, I was only focused
on using my frequent flier miles at the earliest possible date (Oct
15). Alas, in my single-minded state I didn't think about what we'd
be missing at home during that time. The playoffs and World Series.
But really, no big deal, right? What were the chances that this would
be THE year? After we arrived in Rome, we got the news that the Red
Sox were slaughtered in Game 3 of the ALCS by the Yankees. That's it,
we thought. But you know the rest. That never-surrender team came back
to win, and win, and win, and win. During their comeback, we desperately
watched the annoying scroll at the bottom of the CNN (Europe) screen
every morning waiting for the score. Then went to a nearby Internet
point to read Boston.com. In every church we visited, I'd say a little
prayer for the Sox. And at the Vatican, we climbed every step of the
448 feet to the top of St. Peter's dome — our offering for a victory.
And curse-defyingly, magically, miraculously — the Red Sox believed
in themselves ... and delivered a championship for all of us.
(p.s. Getting on the plane in Rome to come home, a fellow American saw
my Red Sox shirt and said, "You've never been able to wear that
this late in the season!")