Our first destination in Italy was an old walled Etruscan town, Orvieto. It sits high above the Umbrian plains and offers beautiful views of the countryside surrounding it. This was another stop that made you feel as though you travelled back in time; not much has changed here from ancient times. The roads are narrow, stone, and there is very little vehicle traffic. One of the most beautiful buildings here is the cathedral.
From Orvieto we made a day trip to Rome. This far exceeded my expectations. The scale of the ancient buildings is massive. It is hard to imagine how these buildings were created and so elaborately sculpted and decorated. There are runes and sculpture everywhere you look. There were statues and columns lying in the street gutters - it's as if there is just too much to even know where to put it. In Rome we stuck to the traditional tourist sites, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, and the Roman Forum. I probably spent the day with my jaw dropped open, it was just amazing to see. While in Rome we also visited Vatican City and ventured into the Vatican. There was actually a funeral taking place in a section of the Vatican when we were there. It felt so odd to me to be wandering around inside with that happening. It felt so disrespectful, we didn't spend much time there.
Our next destination was Siena, in Tuscany. We wandered around the piazza Il Campo and I was fascinated by the fact they ran horse races there in the summer. The city is very picturesque. The Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia were the buildings that were most memorable for me here.
Our last destination in Italy was the Cinque Terre area on the Italian Rivieria. This region consists of five villages; Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The land of the these villages is all terraced and you are able to walk trails (Azure Trail) along the coastline from one village to the next. The views along the coast are beautiful. As you hike between villages you are traversing through gardens and vineyards; I think you need to be half Billy goat to live here. We only had time to hike one of the trails - I wish we could have done them all. We spent a day on the beach while here. The beaches, particularly where sand meets water, are more pebbles than sand and is a bit hard on the feet.
All in all Italy was fabulous and I would love to get back and spend so much more time here.
My father's side of the family is 100% Italian. I grew up surrounded by my Italian relatives. On one side of our house lived my grandparents; on the other side lived my great grandmother and one of my great aunts. My great grandmother was from Naples and came to the U.S. through Ellis Island. Just about everyone in my father's family spoke Italian. I'm pretty sure my father knew more than he let on, but I never heard him carry on a conversation in Italian. As for me, I know some words (but not the kind you use in polite company). The language was something I was very accustomed to listening to, although I never understood what anyone was saying.
One of the most difficult parts of traveling to other countries is not being able to speak the language. I know absolutely no German and found it very challenging to ask questions and communicate. It was a lot of words and gestures trying to get someone to guess what you were trying to say. So after spending several days in Germany, I was looking forward to moving on to Italy, at least the language was familiar even though I couldn't speak it. At one point we were waiting in a train station and there were two older Italian men sitting on a bench arguing with one another. I started to giggle; I felt like I was at home. That's how my Italian family communicates; they always sound like they are yelling. Very rarely are they angry; they're just loud and animated. Listening to those two men put me at ease; it was the first time on the trip that I didn't feel like I was in a foreign country.
I think my great grandmother was with me on this leg of the trip. She used to have this thing; it was so embarrassing. She would go to the grocery store and instead of buying the generic product that was on sale she would buy the name brand. When she got to the register and the clerk would try to tell her she had picked up the wrong product, she suddenly couldn't speak English. She "No understand." They would get so frustrated that they would just sell her the name brand product at the sale price. We wouldn't be out of the store five minutes and she would be laughing. She knew exactly what she was doing! Well, at one point we got on the wrong train and we needed a transfer ticket that we hadn't purchased. The conductor came around punching tickets and tried to explain this to me. I pulled a Michelina, "I no understand." He wasn't happy, but he didn't make us buy the transfer ticket. I'm sure she got a laugh out of that!
My great grandmother also had a habit of going to the grocery store everyday. She would almost always only buy three things. I often would ask her why she didn't get all of her groceries at once, "ayehee" was generally the response I got. It wasn't until I traveled around Italy that I understood why she did that. I never saw a grocery store anywhere I went; there were however small stores selling specific items (a butcher shop, a pastry shop, etc.) and many stands for produce. You went to these market squares and you bought what you needed for the day. Everything was always fresh. It was how she was raised and she never changed. It is hard to argue with this method; I bought a bag of cherries from a stand one day, they were the best cherries I have ever eaten. To this day, I have never found cherries here that could even come close.
I think one of the things I enjoyed the most about Italy were these connections to ancestry, and my great grandmother in particular. I came to have a greater understanding and respect for "her way" of doing things.
I love to travel. For me it is an escape, sometimes a reawakening, often enlightening and inspiring. I hope you enjoy the stories of "my adventures." If I inspire you to have some of your own - all the better. Bon voyage!
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