Here’s what I remember of our 3 weeks in Italy in 1999:
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is silly.
The coastline south of Naples is so much better than the entire Amalfi coast that I struggle to understand why people go there.
Do not be a passenger in a car in Rome driven by my father.
Gelato is amazing.
Apricots fresh from the tree are amazing.
Cinque Terre is crowded.
All of Florence is crowded.
Venice is still terrible.
I get that Italy is beautiful and historic and beloved by everyone. And perhaps, had I not done the tourist circuit four years prior, I would have been more smitten with everything. But I had and I wasn’t.
Having someone from Jim’s childhood Sunday school class shout down to us from a rooftop bar in Florence pretty much typifies what Italy in the summer is like: you’re going to know someone because everyone is there.
Which is why out upcoming departure for a week in Italy is leaving me…meh.
The reason, of course, is not. My brother is getting married to an amazing woman that I am overjoyed to have as my new sister. But did it have to be in July?
Our itinerary is filled with eating, drinking, lounging, eating, drinking, and eating. Even were I not a smidge plumper than I’d like to be, this is not the kind of vacation we are accustomed to. I’ve decided to just go with the flow and try something I hear is popular on vacation: relaxing. But I can’t lie and say I’m not a wee bit sad to be spending 4 of our precious vacation days on a place we’ve both already been twice before and which neither of us is in love with.
Could there be a more first world problem than this?
We found that driving through the countryside proved far more stimulating than trying to figure out how to park anywhere near the walled city of Lucca. The evening we spent in Urbino, a charming old college town, was far preferable to the several days we spent in Camogli. With my parents. In the same hotel which happened completely by accident. Though we did get this picture and our family is terrible at getting pictures together.
We had an amazing stay in Rome, or rather the Queens of Rome. Rome is expensive for two not-yet-employed people trying to make their money last an entire summer, so we stayed outside of central Rome. This was way before AirBnb was a thing so I don’t even remember how we found this lovely, professional couple (he was a cop, she was a lawyer) who had a guesthouse they rented out. Yes, we had to take a decently long train ride into the center of town, but we had our own room with AC and with an apricot tree and a puppy for about $50/night. Try getting that near the Spanish Steps.
While we definitely circumnavigated the Amalfi coast, we were not blown away by it. That you have to take an elevator to the postage-stamp-sized beach was not really our thing. But, then again, we’re not really see and be seen travelers. We parked ourselves near Salerno, enjoyed a completely empty sand beach, went to a terrible yet amusing disco, and counted the prostitutes by the side of the road.
Our three weeks in Italy were capped by a delightful reminder that Venice is just the worst. Forget the fact that it smells, forget the fact that PEOPLE LET FILTHY PIGEONS LAND ON THEM, forget the fact that it is too expensive, the food is no good, and there’s really not much of actual interest to do or see, and Venice would still go in the terrible book because of this:
I had been in near constant contact with our hotel to let them know we would be arriving in the late afternoon. The reservations had been made months in advance. When we arrived, after parking our car in the usurious lot, we were shown to our “room.” I feel quite certain that Harry Potter’s under-the-stairs room was modeled after this one. It cost upwards of $70/night – making it the most expensive place we had booked, and still the least expensive option we could find in Venice. We took one look at it and said: no. We were told there were no other rooms. We said: great, see ya.
Got back on the boat to liberate our car and spent the night sleeping in it on the road to Trieste.
So now, 20 years later, we’ll be back in Italy at the height of summer. And apparently, Hell is Coming. Charmant. Or whatever the Italian word is for charmant. I confess, I’ve let my language study fall by the wayside. Voglio una bibita fresca. Con ghiaccio. Multo, multo ghiaccio, per favore.