13th February
written by Randy

As a follow-up to last year’s goal of learning Italian, I began this year by spending 30 days in Italy, using the Italian I learned. This was also a big starting point for one of this year’s goals: visiting 20 cities in Europe.

I landed in Rome. Then, I visited Pisa, Florence, Milan, Turin, Genoa, Verona, Bologna, and Venice. From Venice, I took a short break and flew to Barcelona for a few days. Then, back to Venice, down to Bari, over to Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, and then back to Rome and home. Depending on whether or not you count Pompeii, that’s either 14 or 15 cities. For now, I’m going to call it 15, but I’ll aim for going over 20, just to keep things on the up-and-up.

I’m going to have to work for a while to pay for this trip, and to save some money for the next one. I probably won’t be doing another month-long trip this year, so visiting six more cities in Europe isn’t going to be as easy as it might sound in comparison to this one. But anyway, the goal is the experience, not the statistic.

Now, about Italy…

I was surprised to learn that Italy is very much not a modern country. It’s not at all what I expected. Hotels with internet access are hard to find. Televisions are old and often don’t work. In many cases, there is no heat or air conditioning, and when there is, it’s often inefficient.

Most businesses start closing between 5:00 and 7:00 pm, and after that, you’re lucky when you can find a restaurant or pub open… everything else is closed. Didn’t get something you needed? Oh well. Wait until tomorrow.

Life in Italy is extremely noisy. Italians talk very loud — so loud, in fact, that when I spoke to them in my normal voice, they didn’t even hear me. Their phones are loud. Their ringers are loud. The streets are filled with noisy scooters and mopeds and jackhammers, reverberating through the brick and mortar canyons created by large buildings and narrow streets.

Also surprising, and saddening, the country is in a sad state of disrepair. It’s not surprising that with so much there that is “old”, much of it is in need of maintenance. But what is surprising is how much of it was just covered in litter, dirt, and graffiti. From the moment you arrive in Italy, it is glaringly obvious that Italians just don’t take much pride in their environment.

Moreover, they don’t have nearly as much pride in themselves as I was expecting. There is a certain stereotype of the fashion-minded Italian, especially in Milan — one of the capitals of the fashion world — but the majority of people I saw were not dressed with any more care than anyone else, anywhere else in the world. And especially in Milan, I was surprised to find that most people had nothing at all in the way of fashion. Not that it matters, of course, just that it was a surprise.

I’ll just mention one more disappointment. The food. The typically “Italian” foods that I expected to indulge in turned out to be quite the opposite of my expectations. From Rome south, all the places with a food reputation turned out to be the places where I had my worst meals. Naples — birthplace of pizza — had some of the worst pizza I’ve ever eaten. In Rome, Naples, Bari, Sorrento, and Capri, the food seemed no better than an average boxed Italian dinner here in the US.

Of course it wasn’t all disappointments. There was also a lot to like…

From Florence north, I had some of the best meals of my life. I had amazing pizza in Genoa. The tortellini bolognese in Bologna was like something from a dream. And in Milan I got the most amazing serving of lasagne I’ve ever had in my life. Oh, and let me not forget that every dessert I had in the north was worth writing home about.

While the big cities were mostly dingy, decayed, and crawling with indigents, I found most of the smaller and/or less-popular cities to be beautiful, friendly, even magical places. In particular, if you ever want to die of a dreamy romantic overdose, spend a week in Verona followed by a week in Sorrento. Those are two of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, both filled with wonderful, pleasant people.

In fact, speaking of the people… Italy may have its defects, but the people are not one of them. Almost everyone I encountered during my month-long adventure through Italy was polite, friendly, and warm. You might not think so at first, because Italians carry themselves differently than Americans, but once you adjust to the cultural differences, you quickly find the Italian people to be the country’s best asset.

All in all, in spite of several complaints, I want to be clear that I really did come to love Italy, and I definitely enjoyed myself there. I will certainly return. And now that I understand how things work, and have seen such a variety of places there, I’ll know where to go and what to do next time, so I can enjoy myself much more.

Venice St. Peter's Square

Genova Bari

Tags: ,