My sister Bethany and I did something very smart on the flight back from Italy. I took out my laptop, and we flipped through our photos and catalogued what we did on each day -- where we went, who we met, what we saw and ate and drank.
It surprised me. For a very relaxed vacation, we did a hell of a lot. Bethany put it well when she said that traveling with each other was like traveling alone with company -- I felt the same way. I'd expected that we would split up some days to do different things because we're both pretty independent travelers, but we didn't. She sneaked out early some mornings to explore while I slept in (because I slept SO well there), but otherwise we just wandered together, happy to find what we found.
And you know what I love about Italy? My tourist-level conversational skills are just enough to understand someone who speaks slowly to me. I can ask how to get somewhere and understand the answer. But when I'm in a crowd, and people are talking with their friends, I can only catch flutters of the conversation, words here and there. And this, more than anything else, calms my brain. I don't have to listen. My day job (911) is all about listening as hard as possible to other people. My heart job (writing books) is all about listening to my own voice. In Italy, when I don't write, it's just . . . quiet. Which is hard to find.
(New goal: to find that quiet at home.)
Here are a few highlights from the trip so that in the middle of the night, when I need to remember, I can come back here and find that feeling again (because isn't that what vacations are for? For stockpiling the relaxation?).
I like the scale of things in Europe. See this gorgeously huge over-the-top chandelier?
Those chandeliers were FLYING all over this cathedral in Rome (Church of the 12 Apostles). Look at them up there! Gah! I LOVE THE BIGNESS. (I have a problem or two with the church, but I sure like some things, namely the reverence the grand scale inspires.) (And no, thank you, this is not the place to try to convert me. I prefer Twitter for that conversation. Heh.)
Click for embiggening.
In Rome, we stayed at a B&B in Trastevere which couldn't have been nicer. Marco was the soul of kindness. (If you ask me whether or not he gave me his own migraine medicine when mine failed? I would tell you no, of COURSE he didn't do that. *Big exaggerated wink.*) And the best part of staying with him was that he was so excited about the city which he loves. It absolutely rubbed off on us.
Lovely breakfast room.
There were, of course, accordion players (no, not IN the hotel, but THAT would have been something, huh?):
And there was a twilight stroll or two across the Tiber to our favorite part of town, Trastevere (where we stayed).
Because we'd built time into our schedule for unplanned stops, we stayed an extra day and night in Rome, because we loved it. Then we took the train to Orvieto, purely based on reader Krista's recommendation and the extremely exciting fact that it had a funicular.
Putting the FUN in funicular
It's a quiet hill town.
In Orvieto, I had a fail-moment with my Italian skillz. We walked through this monastery/religious house, poking our heads into vast empty rooms and going up a marble staircase, eventually finding a short, squat, jolly man who agreed to rent us a room after a long conversation through which I thought I navigated well. We wanted nothing but a view. And maybe wifi. Aspetta, he said.
He looked up from the book with joy. Yes! I could have the room! No view! No wifi! WAIT A MINUTE WHAT JUST HAPPENED. Downstairs, I broke it to Bethany that I thought we were going to have to take whatever room he gave us, because I might have already agreed.
In the stairwell.
It was the strangest place, supposedly "full," but we never saw another soul. We heard people in the great room, toasting and drinking as jovial monks are wont to do, and we saw the detritus in the morning, wine bottles and dirty plates covering long wooden tables, but only ever saw the stout fellow bumbling about. Never saw another guest, not once. And I have to state for the record that I have never slept on a narrower bed (just a touch wider than I am, with the bonus of both sides angling down so steeply that falling off was guaranteed -- when I did, I noticed that the marble floors were cleaner than any I'd ever seen. Under the beds! So clean they were reflective! It was the strangest place).
In Orvieto, we also bumbled our way into THE hot ticket for dining. La Palomba opened at 7:30pm and we were there at 7:29. The sign said Completa - reservations were full, no tables available. I found some chutzpah and went in anyway. We smiled and entreated and smiled even bigger and were finally seated (to the utter annoyance of others who were turned away) by the owner who seemed delighted by us (as opposed to the waiter who was like, great. Another freakin' table).
And I ate PIGEON. Piccione. Even the waiter was surprised when I ordered it, and called me brave. It was delicious! (Anything would have been, smothered in that much divine olive-garlic tapenade.) Bethany had boar, which was also very tasty and reminded me somehow of a stew Mom used to make. (Really, Mom?) The place filled up with locals and tourists with the skills to make reservations, and we had a ball.
Sexy like a boar.
Then we tried to get to a seaside town (just south of the Cinque Terra) called Lerici that reader Patoonia had told us about. It wasn't easy. Going solely on the word of one thing I'd read online, we got off the train in a town called Sarzana which was industrial and bleak and, on a Sunday, completely closed. It was raining. We couldn't find the bus to Lerici. When we did find the bus, we were told that contrary to what the station agent had told us, we couldn't buy tickets on the bus. All the shops that sold tickets, though, were closed, and we couldn't find the supposed machine which might sell them.
I tripped and fell and skinned both knees and snapped at Bethany when she tried to tell me it would be okay. We went back to the train station where we'd seen cabs, and for $20, got a ride to Lerici. Best $20 we spent.
Once in town, we walked past a schmancy hotel, Michelin-rated. We knew we couldn't afford it. But Bethany said, Let's just ask. Jerry hooked us UP with a two-bedroom suite (two balconies!), at a rate well within our budget, with this view. I'm still not over it.
We took the room for two nights, and on both nights we had picnics on our balcony like this:
We walked around (NO other tourists) and took pictures.
There was knitting, with spritzes.
There was, alas, that food poisoning I mentioned that we think we picked up at the hotel breakfast (because it was the only thing we ate that was the same that day) so that rubs a bit of the sparkle off our Lerici memories, but I think as our stomachs get stronger (we still feel a little queasy, a week later), our memories will go bright orange and happy again.
After Lerici, on to Venice! My city! Where we spent the first two days in bed (and by "bed" I mean "bathroom"). Bethany laughed at this progression of my face:
OHMYGOD I'M HERE I'M HERE I'M HERE!
OH BOY. My stomach hurts but I'M FINE. I'LL GO TO THE STORE! [Bethany was by now in the apartment, very sick.] I'LL GO GET A DRINK! I'M FINE!
I'M SO FINE JUST SHUT UP.
Bleah. Bleah. Bleah. (This was on my walk/crawl to the pharmacy.)
We had had two days in Trieste scheduled, but broken-hearted about losing the time in Venice, we cancelled the Trieste stay and extended the time in our apartment, which was the PERFECT thing to do. Venice wooed Bethany as she does, staying cold and drizzly as we geocached (Venice must be the hardest city in the world in which to geocache -- no good signal, confusing streets, SO FUN), until the sun broke through in the most glorious way.
When Venice sparkles at you? You're doomed to lose your heart forever.
We had prosecco at the Gran Caffe in Piazza San Marco and watched the rain.
And this turned out, again, to be my most useful traveling scarf:
For fashion . . .
and for warmth.
I've just had fun culling through the photos, adjusting some and putting more on Flickr, but it's taken so long that I think I have jet lag again. Thanks for being along for the ride, my friends. Ciao, ciao, salve, ciao. Thanks, Little Mama, for sending us. And thanks, kiddo, for being an amazing traveling partner and all-around fabulous person.