I remember very clearly late last fall the moment when I called my mom and said, “you know… there’s never going to be a good time for us to go to Italy together. So let’s go soon.” That was all it took – no arm twisting, no persuading – just a simple invitation and she was happy to oblige. After a lot of careful planning and consideration, reservations were made, plans were set, and off we went!
While my mom is Italian by marriage rather than blood, she has a serious case of Italian fever. Years ago her casual study of Italian evolved into in-depth study, including noncredit and credit courses in Italian in the USA as well as a few trips to Italy to study at schools there. She now speaks so well that during the course of our trip, nearly every Italian she spoke to complimented her Italian, asking where she was from and where she learned the language. Several seemed surprised to hear that we were American.
We flew directly from Philadelphia to Rome, and immediately took a train to Florence, where we spent the first two nights. When we first planned the trip I told my mom – who’s been to Italy quite a few times – that I hoped to see “a city, Venice, a quaint town, beautiful countryside and the sea.” By the time we arrived in Florence I’d already seen beautiful countryside on the train, and was excited for some city time.
We stayed in a quiet residential neighborhood a short walk from the center of the city, in a small apartment rather than a hotel. Right outside our door was this charming quiet garden. Who would have guessed that in March it would be sunny every day and in the 70s? Not me, but I was happy to have it. Great weather for shopping. I couldn’t stop staring at the architecture looming over this open air market. A little different than what we see in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. My first lunch was so very good. I originally planned to order a panino or pizza, but instead went with coccoli, a fried dough served with soft cheese and prosciutto. We also shared bruschetta, which shockingly came without tomatoes. Considering I once had to be told to “get a grip” by a dear friend when a sandwich I ordered arrived without tomatoes, I think I handled it pretty well. Of course, even without tomatoes it was delicious. The gorgeous skies called for many silhouettes. Our second day began with a trip to the Boboli Gardens. They’re huge and we could have spent all day there. We saw these little lizards in our garden, too. And then later saw them in Cinque Terre and Tuscany, too. There were lots and lots of bathtubs of varying sizes throughout the gardens. Time for a rest…But, not much rest… next stop was the walled town of Lucca. Lucca is one of the towns where my mom had previously visited when she came to study. On that visit, she stayed with a vivacious Italian couple who graciously had us over for dinner our first night in Lucca and prepared a wonderful meal. They didn’t speak English, so I had the pleasure of really getting to hear my mom’s ability to communicate in Italian – and test my ability to comprehend. I’ve only studied a teensy bit of Italian, but with the benefit of context, sharing DNA with my mom, and knowing a good bit of Spanish, I was able to understand a good deal.
This is the Piazza San Michele in Lucca. There’s a carved head above each one of those arches. The detail on all the Italian architecture – everywhere – is so intricate and amazing. I loved, loved, loved riding a bike around Lucca! At first I thought I’d just ride around the wall, but then found it even more fun to ride through the streets. We spent part of a day visiting Cinque Terre. This is a series of five small coastal towns, connected by a cliffside path so that you can walk from the first town to the fifth. At least, you could in the past – but tragically, a horrible landslide and flood devastated the area last October, so now several of the trails are closed. However you can still reach each of the villages by train. Our first stop was Riomaggiore, and from there we walked to Manarola. The views along the path are stunning. We then took the train from Manarola to Vernazza. Vernazza suffered the worst of all the towns – every structure on the main street was severely damaged. All the stores were still closed, but there were three restaurants open. Our waiter said that they are working diligently to reopen the whole town before the height of tourism season in June. If you’re thinking about going – go! Even with the damage to the town, it’s still very very beautiful and worth the trip. And with the strong Italian work ethic, I am sure that they will be back in business on schedule. We were there on a Sunday and there were many crews hard at work on the buildings in town.
The area filled with rubble here previously was a beach.
After Cinque Terre we took more trains (I wonder how many trains we took on the whole trip – 20?) to Venice. Another beautiful sunny day there. An unforgettable moment… there we were in beautiful picturesque St. Mark’s Piazza, when a young Italian man approached, handed me his camera and asked me to take a picture of him and his girlfriend. And then he added quietly to me, “also, I am going to propose.” What?! I quickly snapped a few photos, naturally trying to cover as many angles as I could (and wishing I could be using my camera!). She was very surprised and happy and immediately said yes. Below, they’re the couple embracing toward the left. Dinner in Venice – mini gnocchi with meat sauce in a Parmesan shell. So good!I ate a gelato. On this particular day, I might have had two. Might have. We took a 40-minute ferry to the small island of Burano. One of the scarves from this rack came home with me. After Venice… time for the quaint town and more beautiful countryside. We rented a car and drove to a little town called Panzano in the Chianti area. The pool at our B&B, a little place called Fagiolari. Rows and rows of vines were everywhere. Gorgeous! We spent the final night of our trip in a little town called Lido de Ostia near the Rome airport. Just so happened there was a chocolate festival a block from our hotel. I’ve always been more of a fan of looking at chocolate than eating it, so this was the perfect festival for me. Check out these amazing works of chocolate art! Yes – these are all chocolate! Last one: my mom, looking out at the Mediterranean. I’m so glad that we were able to take this trip together! And I have to thank my dad and my husband Matt for their willingness to take care of the homefront while we were gone and let us have this extraordinary adventure. I’m so grateful! It was such a joy to be able to see firsthand everything that my mom loves about Italy – and to directly share it with her too. Grazie mia madre!