Ah, Italy…

The end of May always makes me think of Italy. The first time I went was in early May (I’ve been three times… I’ll try to keep the “obnoxious” down a bit.) I was 23, had never flown, and was totally on my own. I had just finished my undergraduate degree and had planned my trip for nearly a year, saving and scouting possible hostels and restaurants.

I bought a travel journal, a nifty little journal that I still have and use when I go anywhere. I got it at Barnes & Noble, and it was a great trip-planning tool. It wasn’t one of those that simply looks nice and has blank pages inside. No, this one had handy dandy tips from fellow travelers. It was slim with a band around it to hold receipts, passports, tickets, and it had quotes and spaces to write what I wanted out of this trip, why I wanted to go and to where. It also had plenty of practical details. And, lo and behold, in the back, it had books geared toward different areas of the world. Much as Savidge Reads likes to read books about or set in or by an author from the part of the world to where he travels, so do many people. I was planning on a short jaunt to Venice – I wasn’t planning on liking it as it seemed to me cliche- and the journal suggested The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan (I‘ll link to A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook if you want a thorough review). This book is about a couple vacationing in Venice, meeting another couple, and… let’s just put it this way, things go terribly, terribly wrong. I was horrified. I was petrified.

I proceeded to read everything I could about Venice before leaving, and each resource advised not to arrive after dark. When did I arrive? After dark. Alone, and for the first time on that entire trip, I was scared. I’ll never forget trekking up and down bridges, across narrow passageways, thinking I would never get out alive, peering down dark alleys and seeing lone, hulking figures. Finally, I saw the warm glow of an open hotel lobby and stepped inside. A young man, probably younger than I am now, took one look at me and asked what was wrong. To my utter humiliation, I began crying – the kind of hiccuping cry no one outside of yourself should ever hear – and he was so kind. He brought me water, got someone to watch the front desk, and walked me to my hotel, speaking soothingly in broken English and Italian the entire way.

I ended up loving Venice. The sound of the water lapping against the generations-old stone bridges and walks. The ever-narrowing passageways sometimes leading to nowhere. The flowers growing unbelievably out of cracks of stone and hanging from people’s balconies. The dogs scurrying around outside the open markets that dot the small town. Venice is surreal in so many ways, as is much of Italy. Since that trip, I’ve been back twice – both times with great friends. Although I loved those trips as well and will always remember them, that first exploration will remain with me always. In May, I break out my linen pants, which I wore almost daily in Italy (Italy just seems to call for linen), and dream of the grapefruit-sized lemons of Positano, of the view from a small monastery window looking down in the hills of Tuscany below Cortona, of small-town Italian festival, of an afternoon spent eating gelato and people watching, of walking through lush Italian gardens, and drinking unbelievably-good red wine or Prosecco.

Before I left the first time, people told me traveling abroad would be a life-changing experience. I hate cliches and fought against it, but Italy made me a new person. It made me appreciate the small joys and daily pleasures of life, so today I hope you too find something small in which to take pleasure. As for me, I may be found sitting on the front porch reading a book and just maybe, drinking a glass of Prosecco.


12 responses to “Ah, Italy…

  • NatalieTahoe

    Too funny — I would have reacted the same way and just started to cry! 🙂 My hat is off to you for going by yourself the first time, that is fantastic!! My husband got back from honeymoon to Rome, Italy in October of last year — we had both been there one other time prior to meeting each other, and we both just knew that we wanted to go there for our honeymoon. We even had a chance to meet and visit with his extended Italian relatives in Formia (about an hour from Naples, two hours from Sorrento), and it was the best part of the entire two weeks that we were there. Reading your blog has started my daydreams on moving to Italy!

    • pickygirlfoodfilmfiction

      Ooh… where all did you go? I love talking about Italy? I haven’t been to Formia, but I was in Sorrento and Positano and fell in love. If I could transport some of my favorite people there, I would move in a heartbeat.

  • NatalieTahoe

    We traipsed all over Rome, to all of the major sites, and spent the majority of our time in small neighborhoods, particularly the one by our hotel in the Cavour neighborhood– what a blast! We stayed for 2 weeks, and spent a few days in Formia/Gaeta and Sorrento, and we literally felt like we lived there, which was the best feeling! I’ve moved around frequently my whole life since i was a kid from overseas and in the States, and then moved around quite a bit after college, so I’m used to being far and apart from family & friends. I would move to Italy in a heartbeat — I just watched a House Hunters International show last night, and there were two teachers (high school teacher & piano teacher), who were able to afford a vacation home in Calabria, Italy! Apparently, it’s very affordable in this area-made me start to think about it! I mean, they bought a house for $137,000! In Italy!

  • Elyse/Pop Culture Nerd

    Ohhhh, this comment might be long because I love Italy! Your pictures are lovely. I MUST find mine, dang it.

    I’m impressed you went by yourself. I went for 2 weeks in 2003 with my husband. We did it as part of a tour group (the only tour we’ve ever taken because we like to explore on our own). We were suspicious at first that we’d be stuck with a boring group of tourists but we had a fun bunch of people around our age from all over the world and we bonded fairly quickly.

    We averaged 2 nights in each city and covered Rome, Florence, Venice, Sorrento, Capri (even got to see the Blue Grotto!), Assisi, Milan and even crossed over to Switzerland for 1 night to stay in Lake Lugano. There’s no way we would’ve been able to cover that much territory on our own.

    Some highlights from the trip: seeing the David in Florence, which made me cry because it was so magnificent; being serenaded by an accordion-playing gondolier on our gondola ride; taking my picture at all the places I’d seen in Roman Holiday, one of my favorite movies; standing in the middle of the street watching fireworks in Sorrento because it was a Wednesday and apparently fireworks happened on Wednesdays (that’s what my hotel concierge said).

    Anyway, this is turning into a novella. Thanks for sharing your experiences and letting me reminisce!

    • pickygirlfoodfilmfiction

      Don’t worry; I could talk about Italy all day. Let’s see, I’ve been to Rome, Pompeii, Florence, Venice, the Cinque Terre, stayed in Riomaggiore, Cortona, Pisa, Sorrento, Positano, Verona, Milan. Over three trips. The last two were unfortunately some repetition I could have skipped (Rome), but it’s hard when you’re traveling with others. Next time I go, I’m only going to small towns.

      The David certainly is incredible – huge! When I was in Venice the first time, I shared a hostel with a girl I’d never met from Minnesota. We hit it off and traveled together for a couple days. We met two guys who took us on their speedboat to Murano and Burano, where we had lunch. It was so incredible. Then, when I was in Verona having dinner, they were rehearsing an opera at the open-air Colliseum. Those things make my trips. Those small, fortuitous momentS that are just mine. Love it.

      So glad to know others with my obsession. 🙂

      Sent from my iPhone

      • Elyse/Pop Culture Nerd

        I forgot about Pompeii! My shoes got so dusty after touring that, my husband threw them out after we got home. And we stopped by Verona for the day but didn’t stay the night. When we go back, I’d like to rent a farmhouse and just stay in Tuscany, or visit Positano, which we didn’t get to.

        I think I’m having pasta for dinner tonight!

      • pickygirlfoodfilmfiction

        Yum. Pasta. I highly recommend Positano. I liked it so much more than Sorrento. It is very quiet and just…. Perfect. I’d love to live there. It smls like lemons everywhere you go, as they grow all over. It’s a hike everywhere but so worth it.

        Sent from my iPhone

  • NatalieTahoe

    Oh, Pompeii, yes! We went there when we were in Sorrento, and we loved every second of it!

    The one moment when I started to tear up was when I finally saw Caravaggio’s paintings in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. I am still so glad that I decided to see his paintings for the first time in my life in the actual church and not in the museum. It was an experience I will never forget…my goodness, all this talk of Italy is making me really want to pack the bags! Or at least pull out the guide books and reminisce!

    I was getting more and more comfortable with the language as well and I agree that visiting the smaller towns is the way to go!

    • leslie

      The David is incredible but for me the crying moment was when I saw The Moses.
      If you are not looking for it, you will probably never see it. It had been raining all day and we were searching for the little non descript church where he is tucked away. Since it was raining it was dark outside and darker inside the church. We started looking for him and saw nothing. We were told that he was in the back corner. We go back and see the outline of a hugh figure but it is very dark. My friends and I are like Wow, how disappointing and then…. another tourist comes up and puts some coins in a machine. The spot lights come on and you could have pushed me over with a feather! The tears just flowed. By far the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life.

  • Packabook - Books Set in Italy

    Oooh – I love hearing from people who have read lots of books set in particular place. What would you say was the very best book to give you a real feeling of Venice? The one that if you hadn’t gone, would have made you want to go there? I’d love to hear your thoughts and make sure I am carrying it on the list I have at the site. And the pictures are terrific – especially that one on the balcony. Looks like all you need is a book in your hand…


    • pickygirlfoodfilmfiction

      I really enjoyed Sarah Dunant’s The Birth of Venus (set in Florence) and In the Company of the Courtesan (set in Venice). The latter gives a good old-world view of Venice. I haven’t read any more contemporary fiction set in Venice other than The Comfort of Strangers, and I wouldn’t recommend it as a selling point for Venice. 🙂

      Also, A Room with a View, EM Forster. There’s another, but I cannot remember the title…

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