Sunday, May 29, 2011

And just like that, it's over..


Hi All!  I'm back from vacation and anxious to catch up with everyone.  I'm also anxious to catch up the laundry, mail, email, etc., but those pesky nuisances can wait a little while longer.

So, how was the trip?  In a word, incredible.  I'm a traveler and student at heart, so the past three weeks have been completely inspirational for me (and totally exhausting I'm afraid for dear hubby).  I won't bore you with the minutia but hope you don't mind me sharing some highlights with you as I have time to edit pictures (around 3000) and review my travel diary.  Yes, I am a nerd...but you knew that already, right?

Quickly, here's a nutshell:

Italy is captivating.  It is chock full of the best, greatest, most unique, oldest, rarest and most precious treasures the world has ever seen.  If you are into art, history, religion, architecture, literature, romance, mystery, comedy/drama, music, food, wine, photography, cooking, collecting, biking, hiking, sunbathing, etc., Italy is for YOU.  I love(d) it all - seriously.  For me, it was the total hedonistic experience. 

Italy is also chock full of tourists from every corner of the world.  More on that later.

Best things I did before the trip:
  • Set up a savings account (like a Christmas club) and saved (for years) for the trip
  • Lost weight - (like, a lot of weight)
  • Learned basic Italian
  • Packed an empty carry-on (for souvenirs, gifts, museum books, etc.)
  • Studied street maps of the major cities we were visiting
  • Used Rick Steves' website as a tool to plan the trip

Stupidest things I did:
  • Planned a three week, six city vacation to a place I'd never been instead of using a travel agent
  • Packed six pairs of shoes (I know, I know...)

What I wasn't prepared for:
  • Nerve wrecking noise levels in Florence and Rome
  • Encountering fellow tourists who were having a miserable time because they (multiple choice/fill in the blank): were having trouble communicating, couldn't understand the menu, had to walk too far, had to wait in line too long, wanted something in another size or color but it wasn't available in that size or color, etc.
Why do people go to foriegn countries on vacation and expect it to be like EPCOT?  Come on people!  You are in ITALY!  They speak ITALIAN here (many also spoke English very well).  And, SO WHAT if you had to walk half a mile to see the basilica of St. Peter?!?  On several occasions, I found myself feeling angry at the B.A.Ts (bad attitude tourists) and feeling sorry for Italians who put up with them day after day after day.  The longer we were there, the more empathetic I became.  While I was hesitant (nervous) to use the little bit of Italian I had learned at first, I quickly learned that ANY Italian was better than none at all and was GREATLY appreciated by the locals.  

Imagine being a waitress in a small cafe in your hometown.  You serve coffee and sandwiches for 12 hours a day.  Now imagine that of the 1200 customers you will serve today, 800 of them will not speak a lick of English and probably half of those will get upset AT YOU for not understanding exactly how they want their coffee and sandwich.  And you do this 6 days a week in order to barely scrape by.

One thing I noticed right away was the eye contact.  I'm big on eye contact.  When I'm having a face-2-face conversation with someone, eye contact is essential to me.  If I'm not given eye contact in return, it honestly hi-jacks my train of thought.  I can't carry on a conversation without it.  I don't know why.  Can't explain it.  I carry on phone conversations just fine.  But in person, I need you to look at me if we are going to have a conversation.  So, what I noticed was many of the waiters, clerks, and hotel staff did not make or sustain eye contact with tourists.  It struck me as peculiar - maybe a cultural thing..maybe not...  I watched.  It was definitely a pattern.  Then what I discovered, quite by accident, is that the instant I began to sputter my broken Italian... Boom ... Eye Contact!  They would look up from their order pads, key pads, cash registers, and smile at me!  And talked to me in their best English.  I'm sure my childlike language skills were amusing to them but honestly, I didn't care.  By trying to learn their language in order to communicate clearly, what I had done was found a way to connect to a people who are overrun, daily, with thousands of visitors from every corner of the globe who don't speak a single words of their language. 

I had a lot of fun trying out my Italian everywhere~ even in the gift shop where the two teenage clerks talked about how I had touched everthing in the store and probably wouldn't buy anything (yes, directly in front of me).  I continued to browse quietly for a few minutes, then, in my best Italian, said "Do you take credit cards?  I would like three of these in blue, please. They are gifts for my family back in the US.  Will you wrap them?  Thank you."    The girls looked horrified.  One dashed off to the stockroom, never to be seen again.  The other couldn't have been more humiliated.  She turned red, called me 'madam' about a dozen times, threw in a couple of freebies and gift wrapped every thing very nicely.   :-)    As I was leaving the shop, I threw in a "You have a great day", just for good measure.  Big self-satisfied smile, exit, stage right.  Wished I knew the word for 'darlin'. 
I hope this doesn't sound horrible.  I wasn't mad at the girls. They were just being kids.  I was just terribly pleased with myself.  :-))

Other than shopping, and eating, and visiting churches, galleries and museums, we walked, a lot.  In three weeks of pasta, pastry, cheese, wine and daily gelatos (plural), I lost five pounds.  Okay, so I was a little OCD about getting up early and beating all the tourists to the best places for the best picture taking opportunities.  Many mornings, I would get up and out before 6 o'clock and run around all over the historic districts in order to get a few unhurried shots.  This was one of my favorite things to do and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves to photo-document their vacations and isn't on a fixed schedule.  By 9:00 am., in Venice, Florence, and Rome, you were shoulder to shoulder with a million other tourists.  You've been warned that pickpockets abound and traffic (in Florence and Rome) is a nightmare, so stopping in the middle of the street or bridge or evening making your way across a plaza to take a picture was not easy, if even possible.

If I haven't gushed enough for you to tell, I loved every minute of it.  Except maybe toting my luggage off and on countless trains.  I didn't love that part.  I hated that part.  I hated that part enough to think to myself, Why didn't I just book a bus tour?  Then I'd just have to get my luggage from the room to the bus.  Easy breezy, lemon squeezy.  But nooooo...We had to be 'independent travelers'.  Just two tourists, a train pass, six cities and increasingly heavy luggage.  Yes, that part sucked.  I'm sure my chiropractor will have a full blown fit when he gets a glimpse at what I've done to my back - but, what the heck, I may never get to see Italy again, so it was worth it!

That's enough for now.  I'm off to the laundry room.  

Here's hoping you and yours have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

Let the SUMMER begin!!! 


  1. Sounds like a wonderful time! So jealous! Italy is on my "to go" list. I'm glad you had such a fun time. Attempting the language is huge! I learned that when I went to France. The old french men loved me!

  2. Bravissima! I LOVED your story about the shop girls talking and you speaking to them in Italian - what a hoot!! :sigh: sounds like a trip of a lifetime.

  3. I just loved reading your observations on your vacation!