Every now and then life surprises you with something unforgettable. Sometimes it’s that crazy night out on the town, a teacher that inspires you beyond your expectations, or even a word of profound advice from your folks that really sticks with you. My trip to Italy was one of those moments in time I will always look back at as a “wow” experience. It was one of those times when everything that could have gone wrong DIDN’T, and any expectation you had was so greatly exceeded you forgot you ever had it. It was one of those moments where everything just worked. From leaving my flat in East London (without forgetting ANYTHING) to leaving the Ciampino airport, the journey was pure enjoyment. Surrounded by quality people, an outstanding travel itinerary , comfortable accommodation, an aggressive new travel challenge and not to mention a “cool it” I almost wish the trip didn’t end…
Alexander Abrams, Michael Kaplan and I rented a car in Milan and journeyed South to Florence. On the way we stopped off in a lakeside town to grab a bite. Taking a car through this area is like the scene in the original Blues Brothers where they drive the car through a shopping mall. I actually took the car over a moat bridge and through a castle entrance. My first Italian meal was splendid, cheese and mushroom stuffed ravioli with a side of insalata mista. From there we made our way down to Florence, along the way I began to understand the principles of Italian drivers:
- There are no driving rules, only suggestions
- The speed limit is at least double whatever the sign says.
- ALWAYS flash your brights before passing someone
- NEVER trust any other car, just assume everyone else has no idea what they’re doing on the road.
- Parking is one big game of who can find the weirdest spot to put their car and “no parking” signs are almost always disregarded.
- Know how to brake with your engine on the down slopes, otherwise you could burn out your brakes.
- If you ever need to yell at a another car from your window, make sure everyone in your car rolls down their window and participates.
Many people told us we were crazy for renting a car and driving with all those crazy Italians. Now I completely understand why, and would agree most Americans probably shouldn’t do this, but if you’ve got the right people with you to navigate, and you’re confident driving a stick then by all means do it. Driving through Italy is one of the best ways to see the country.
This was my second visit to Florence so I took some time to explore some alternative destinations. The Boboli gardens, the Museum of Science (which is awful), and Michaelangelo’s look out. All in all it was a great day, with some exceptional food, great company and of course Gelato.
The Duomo in Siena
The drive to Rome was truly fantastic. We headed to Rome on a small mountainous road stopping at any interesting down we saw along the way. We even ran into a nice Israeli couple at one of the lookout points (what are the odds of that??). On our way to Rome, we decided to stop in Siena. Siena was one of those cities you just know is authentic. One of our oddest experiences occurred in this town. In the areas central park two cars rolled up and eight guys dressed in suits and large blue feathered caps got out and walked around the park singing songs and chatting amongst themselves. Before they returned to their vehicles one of the guys retrieves the largest bottle of vodka I’ve ever seen and they each take shots out of the “lotion bottle” style nozzle and they drive off. If anyone can explain this please do, it was one of the oddest scenes I’ve witnessed and the funniest part of it was no one else in the park seemed to care.
My time in Rome was filled with the usual tourist destinations. The whole city is one big museum. I had great time seeing the sights and my only complaint was the touristy restaurants that are difficult to avoid. I saw the pope speaking at the Vatican—Funny side story, while I’m making my way through the crowd a giant dog tried to jump at me and let out a mean bark. Prob smelled the Jew on me.
If you every find yourself in Rome, a MUST SEE is the Jewish museum. It’s an absolutely stunning temple and the restaurants in the Jewish Ghetto are some the best in the city.
So that’s my post for Italy, as always I try to keep it brief so I’ll leave you with the Italy hot list:
- Go to Siena, it’s lovely.
- Driving in Italy is a great idea, but bring a GPS and trust no-one on the road (see rules of the road).
- “Snack bars” are everywhere and serve some of the best espresso.
- GELATO, need I say more?
- When in Italy, talk with your hands.
- McDonald’s has an amazing sandwich called the Napoli, I know you shouldn’t visit Italy for fast food but believe me it’s worth it.
- DO NOT try to eat at a restaurant with more than four people if you intend on splitting up the bill.
- Restaurants in Rome will tell you anything to get you in the door, and their food normally sucks.
That’s all folks,