Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Myths, Facts and My Own Stupid Assumptions About Italy

One of the downsides of preparing to visit another country is the research. Not that doing research is bad, it's actually a fun way to get prepared and excited for your trip. But in the process of that research and in reading other people's trip reports and hearing people's stories, you have to work very hard to see past their perceptions, prejudices and things that in reflection, sound like outright lies.

Rather than write a standard trip report about my two weeks in Italy, I am going to share with you the myths, facts and my own stupid assumptions about it and what the realities were, based on our experience.


Myth 1- Italians are lazy. - Completely untrue. We found most Italians to be friendly, helpful and industrious. It's probably the pace that they do things at that gives them this unearned label. Italians live life to the fullest, enjoying long chats over coffee, lingering over multi-course lunches and dinners, appreciating good friends, good wine and good food. No one ever appears frazzled, is multitasking or trying to work at an "American" pace. But who says our pace is right? I would love to close down the office for a three hour lunch/nap combo. Wouldn't you?


Myth 2- Roman cab drivers will rip you off. - Just like New York City, if you get in a cab with purpose, confidence and act like you know where you are going, you are less likely to get taken. Big city rules apply in all big cities. We had no problems with this and we took a LOT of cabs.

Myth 3- They hate Americans in Italy. - This couldn't be less true. Everyone was polite, friendly and worked extra hard at communicating with us. Almost everyone in Rome spoke some English and seemed to appreciate our business.

Myth 4- Renting a villa in Tuscany is a beautiful, magical experience. - This is actually mostly true. However I think I over-romanticized the notion and was therefore a teensy bit surprised by the rusticity of the experience.

We stayed in a beautiful old, stone house in the hills of Tuscany. It was set deep within a nature preserve, where the chief protectants were deer and wild boar. Their presence was never seen but it was obvious that they were there, based on the five foot high wire fencing that surrounded the entire perimeter of the compound.

Getting to the villa was nothing short of treacherous. The 2 mile long road to the villa off the main road was a steep, winding, unpaved, single lane path lined with sharp gravel and ditches on either side. Every ride up or down was harrowing and caused the drivers tremendous stress and anxiety. And the bugs! Bugs would follow the car up the road in swarms, they would divebomb us in the pool and they were in the house and everywhere else. I soon realized that we were in their space and we either had to co-exist or go down fighting. The irony was that at night (when all the bugs come out at home), all the bugs went away and we could thoroughly enjoy the outdoors. Because of this, there were several moonlit dinners in the courtyard which we enjoyed with many bottles of wine. (The recycling that we put out was a shocking retrospective of our consumption.)

Myth 5- Rome is crawling with gypsies just waiting to rip you off. - There are definitely street performers and people begging for money all over the place. Again, NY City rules and savvy apply. Don't look like a tourist. Don't make eye contact. Don't be afraid to assertively say NO.
Fact 1- It is almost impossible to get a bad meal in Italy. - Everything is delicious, fresh and well seasoned. Italians don't fear salt and pepper, so every element of the meal is skillfully seasoned. I never picked up a salt shaker for the entire length of the trip. It is also a fact that they cook their pasta 'al dente'. Where I would give the pasta an additional minute, they really let it be toothsome.

Fact 2- Italians don't sweat/have amazing personal style. - Italians always look crisp and fresh, even on the hottest summer days. Men wear long pants and long sleeve shirts in the dog days of summer and there is nary a bead of sweat across their brow. Women ride bikes in the hot summer sun with their hair perfectly coiffed, wearing designer dresses and shades, looking runway ready. Maddening, really. And everyone wears linen and nobody wrinkles. What the hell is that about?
Stupid Assumption 1 - After studying briefly at home, I would pick up a few words of Italian in Italy. - Wrong and wrong. The thing about Italians is that they really know how to speak Italian, so they speak it fast. They don't have time for our Rosetta Stone, Berlitz-ed, Hooked on Phonics asses. If you want to pick up ANY words at all, go to a pre-school where the children are learning their colors and numbers. That's probably the only place that they slow it down.

Stupid Assumption 2 - I would not be able to find the supplies that I need in a foreign country. - Say it with me boys and girls - "Coop". Very good. Coop is a ginormous chain of supermarkets that rival anything we have here in the states. All the produce is local and spectacular, the meats magnificent and you can get artisan breads, cheeses and salumi amongst the Coco Puffs and Potato Chips. We cooked a couple of meals at the villa using ingredients from the Coop and everything was spectacularly fresh and of the highest quality. And Italians don't stand for any genetically modified produce, high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils. These things simply don't exist. Super win? You have to use a plastic glove to handle the produce. My germophobic heart sang when I read that!

Stupid Assumption 3- I am too jaded to be bowled over by the beauty of a city. - Wrong again Sparky! One look at Florence from the Piazza Michelangelo and I went weak in the knees (photos below). Florence sits in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains. It's a stunning, old city, built alongside a river and around its central landmark , the Duomo. Once inside the city, all the jewelry shops on the Ponte Vecchio also made me weak in the knees. Florence = art and shopping. A perfect balance if you ask me.

Bottom line assessment: I'm going back. That's all there is to it. I'm going back.

Now the pictures (In no particular order. We have 1300 pictures from this trip. I have no time for sorting and ordering.). . .


I forget the name of this temple, but it was a spectacular part of the forum. It was so cool to view the monuments from the bottom of the buried city.



Temple to my homeboys Castor and Pollux. Where my Geminis at?

Street view looking out from inside the Colosseum.

The Colosseum hasn't been the same since REO Speedwagon played in '78.

Then Pantheon at dusk. Nothing like a 2000 year old building to make you feel insignificant (And young! Win!).


The Trevi Fountain. Look! Over there! It's Marcello Mastroianni.

Even the smallest architectural details are stunning. A door in Siena.


My perfect cappuccino. Want to guess where I got it? Go ahead. I'm waiting. Nope. I got it at the gas station. I went in to the "minimart" to find a marble counter with delicious pastries and freshly made espresso and cappuccino. What? No beef jerky?
Nice knockers in Siena.
This was the side street near our apartment in Rome. Right out of La Dolce Vita.

The Villa from a distance. Not too many neighbors, unless you count the entire biting fly population of the Northern Hemisphere.

Yes, we made pizza in an outdoor wood burning oven. So cliche. So amazing.


Italians call this Roman monument the "wedding cake" (Monument to Vittorio Emanuel). It is generally despised for its lack of harmony with the other more historic structures in the city. It is actually quite stunning in person, due to its size and the way it rises up over the cityscape.


Florence is this beautiful and then some. . .



One of 1700 jewelry stores just like it in Florence.
That's all for today.


33 Your comments, banter and witty repartee:

knittergran said...

Haven't been there but it's on my list!
And your review is terrific! Fun!

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

Knittergran - I hope you go. It defies descriptiopn. I can't do it any real justice.

hokgardner said...

Maybe I can convince my mom (aka knittergran) to take me with her. It looks wonderful. Thank you for letting me live vicariously through you.

linlah said...

Swoon. A giant swoon with a side of beef jerky.

The Empress said...

Oh..oh...oh..

Weather's here...wish you were beautiful.

Take me with you, I'm little and frizzy haired like Diva...

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

Hokgardener - That explains where the mad knitting skills come from!

Linlah - Agreed.

Empress - . . .not even on your WORST hair day ar you as frizzy haired as the Diva. It's like a scrubee sponge.

Bossy Betty said...

Loved Italy! The tour guide left out the part about REO Speedwagon, but I had my suspicions....

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

B Bettty- REO Speedwagon is the downfall of society.

foxy said...

Wow. I am green with envy. How I'd love to walk those streets and see those old buildings.

AND... you said nice knockers. It made me giggle.

Lisa Page Rosenberg said...

Tutto questo sembra incredibile. SarĂ² anche portare la mia personale bug e gli zingari se posso andare. Ora.

That's a fancy-pants way of saying:
Me + There + Now + Please.

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

LPR - <3 <3 <3 - You responded in Italian! Trust me, they don't need any more bugs in Tuscany.

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

Foxy - I am just a middle aged female version of Beavis and Butthead. I can't allow too much culture. This is my trip, not the Queen of England's.

Noelle said...

It's beautiful! Your pictures are amazing!!!

Jen Chandler said...

I'm practically dying to go to Italy! I'm so happy you got to experience it! It looks lovely and your pictures are spectacular. Thanks for the myths vs. reality points. I'll remember these when I wander over one day :)

Jen

3LittleMonkeys said...

Wow...gorgeous! I would love, love, love to go to Italy. Thanks for the tips, facts, and "stupid assumptions"!

Gemini in the house!

Aging Mommy said...

Wonderful photos and a great post. I agree with you about the rusticity of the tuscan villa too - the bathrooms especially :-) I'm so glad you had such am amazing time.

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

Noelle - Thank you. Pictures don't quite do it justice.

Jen - I am sure that you would find it full of inspiration and spin it into a marvelous story.

3 LIttle Monkeys - Yay for Gemini. Both of you!


Aging Mommy - Yeah. Beautiful but rough around the edges.

Linda Medrano said...

This is the one country in Europe that I lust for but have not visited. Never mind. I'm going!

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

Linda - Your lust will be richly rewarded in Italy!

SPEAKING FROM THE CRIB said...

read it all and LOVED IT ALL. amazing the diva doll was not carried off by the bugs.

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

SFTC - What do you think would happen if two broads, (one from Cleveland and one from Long Island) took Italy by storm? Hilarity would ensue . . .

Sara said...

I'm so jealous I could vomit on my shoes.

I've never heard Italians are lazy, but definitely the thing about the difference in pace.

Also, the FOOD. GOD HELP ME, I WANT THAT FOOD.

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

Sara - Never disrespect a good pair of shoes. Not even for Italy!

Lin said...

WOW! What a wonderful trip!! I love your insights and your photos. I hope you will be sharing more with us. :)

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

Lin - I don't know how insightful it was, but I was definitely honest about what I saw. We really had to sift through those trip advisor posts and other reviews to read between the lines for what they were really talking about or if the review was written by some bitter princess out of princess and the pea. Ya know, some people just like to bitch for the sake of bitchin.

Mom of the Perpetually Grounded said...

I am spectacularly jealous! Great photos. I thought the one of the side street was really cool.

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

Mom of the Perpetually Grounded - Thanks. It was far more beautiful than any pictures I could take.

Wendi said...

Oh, my. I am soooo jealous, but I loved this post. Now I know where I want to go next.

The Blue Zoo said...

Oh my gosh! LOVE the pics!!

next time please shove me in your suitcase. Thanks... =)

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

Wendi - Like the infamous Jacqueline Susann said - "Once is not enough" and I agree with her on this one. I can't wait to go back, someday.
P.S. Could I be more of a child of the seventies with that reference? Practically no one here knows who she is, I am sure.

Blue Zoo - If I can fold you like a pair of jeans, you're in!

Amy said...

Nice Knockers in Siena...BAHAHAHAHAHAHHA!!

Beautiful pictures! I hope to travel there one day. When I do I will have to refer to this post...lots of good info here!

Allyson said...

So, I just have to stop and comment on this because it is for realz taking me back. When Neal was in Kuwait in 2007-2008, we went to Rome, Florence and Siena. It was totally amazing and since we bought our new townhome, I've moved everything I don't love to our on-base housing and starting fresh...beginning with my pictures from Italy. Our bedroom is awash in Colosseum and Duomo pictures. I loved, loved, LOVED Italy and their pace of life and had the most difficult time adjusting to American life. Seeing these photos and hearing about your experiences reminds me again of how they eat outside all the time (with wine and for hours) and they love to socialize. They are not lazy at all and we did not for one minute feel like they didn't like us. We did try to speak in Italian, which they appreciated so much. I am SOOO glad I'm finally having a chance to sit in my own courtyard with my laptop and diet coke and get caught up on all of the bloggers I adore the most. I would have been beyond sad if I had missed out on these posts. Now, on to the next one!

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

Allyson - It was magical. I love hearing that you had the same experience. I can't wait to go back.

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