During my trip with the family to Italy, I was more or less volun-told that I would be driving us around the country. I didn’t mind the task, but I am really keen on snapping photos, and that’s a little hard when driving anywhere let alone Italy.
So after doing the normal tourist traps in Rome we picked the ol’ Peugeot family station wagon, a GPS and high hopes that the Italian roads would be kind. The highways were extremely kind, going anywhere at about 180km/hr will make the time pass and there are lots of signs and usually clearly marked. Usually…
Things went a little south once we got off the highway in Naples. I very soon realized that in Italy they don’t like street signs, and really, why would they need signs? The streets are more like sidewalks, in terms of width and the fact that people are all over the roads. Italians don’t like looking for parking so they just park anywhere and throw a real money-wrench into the whole situation. Lastly, our Italian rental agency doesn’t like to update the GPS. You see all of this, compounded with the fact that in Italy there are pretty much no road rules and you’re guarantee to be a stress bag by the time you reach you destination.
I’d estimate we came within one kilometre of our hotel and that’s when shit went south like Palermo. The GPS says turn right, there is no street, it says exit, there is no exit. I’m not one for violence against woman, in fact it sickens me, but if I hear one more female voice say “recalculating”, I WILL smack a bitch. When there was a street that the GPS didn’t mess up on, I make the turn and boom, a sea of mopeds, or closed for construction. Sometimes it was a one way and you guessed it, it’s the opposite way I need to go.
By this time I’m actually getting used to driving in this crazy place. I am adopting the aggressive style and squeezing through cars and streets with ease, I just don’t know where I’m going. So you can imagine my deafening sigh of relief when we find ourselves at the front doors of the hotel. We unload our gear, grab the keys and I head off to park in the garage.
Who’s ready for some irony?
It’s slightly similar to a soldier that goes to war for years, returns home, then slips on some ice in his driveway and dies. I put the car in reverse, seeing as it’s manual and on a hill, it rolls forward and bangs this van in front of me. I made it through the city for god knows how long, and I go to park and hit the dude in front of me. Are you kidding me?
Here is the “entertaining” part that I mentioned above. When I hit this van, I look up and see this African-American looking man, with big hipster specs staring at me. He then starts losing his mind in Italian. It caught me by surprise, so I started laughing, but he wasn’t! I get out and he doesn’t speak a lick of english, and all the italian I know is “scu-zee”. My family went to relax in the room so at first I was on my own, but a lady who witnessed came to my defence. Turns out she runs a tour group and soon enough her entire tour group comes to my defence. The only way I can describe the scene was an “Italian flash-mob of interpretive dance”. Limbs were flying, back and forth side to side, expressing their words and feelings with every ounce of themselves. From what I understood, they were telling the guy it was no big deal, but he wasn’t having it.
Finally my brothers wonder where the hell I am and come down to the lobby and find me. They react quickly and grab the hotel manager who can translate. I sit back with my brothers and watch the madness ensue, and lucky for me the hotel manager had some scratch doctor and buffed it out. The tour group let the other driver have it for getting all freaked out over a scuff, we toss the hotel manager some euros for his troubles and bibbity-boo (thats the best italian I got) problem solved.
This was actually the worst part of the trip. But If I can give one piece of advice about Italy, get out of the cities and into the countryside. Here is a briefing of my time in Italy.
Get in, see, get out. There are so many tourists and we were at the end of high season. It’s hard to see the Colosseum and Vatican with nine thousand of your closest strangers and appreciate it. But you see the sights, get it out of the way, check it off your list.
Pizza, pizza, pizza! As much as my car accident left a sour taste in my mouth, the pizza replaced it with happiness. We had one pizza, and then murdered another four afterwards. It was that good. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can ever order pizza at home and enjoy it after eating pizza in its birth place. So go to Naples, get your pizza, and keep it moving.
Ruins, ruins, ruins…
The history is rich and if you’re a history buff you’ll love it. You can kill a half day there and just sit in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius among the pillars and walls that crumbled from its eruption. It’s a good stop through, check it off.
One of 2 stops that I REALLY enjoyed. We stayed at a b’n'b with a super Italian mama and her cat I named “Zoro”. Her home was right up in the mountains and she was so hospitable and accommodating. She didn’t know any english but thanks to my mama and the little bit she knew we got along just fine. We ate at really rustic styled kitchens and restaurants that were a walking distance through the hillside village, and they might have been some of the best meals of my life. One place we ate makes their own wine and cheese, and almost EVERY ingredient they used was being grown on premesis. That’s good eating!
The whole area from Sorrento to Amalfi it beautiful. The bed and breakfast had zero tourists which I loved, but Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi have gaggles of them, but worth it!
We rented a villa in Montespertoli which is in the Chianti and Tuscany region. Rolling hills woven together by olive trees and vineyards, with an adorable family of cats and chickens walking around. No big deal.
But it is! Scenic and serene, great markets, fresh food, CRAZY GOOD WINE! The only down side is it’s a sleepy area (everything closed monday = lame) so plan ahead and find where you’re going and what you’re doing so you don’t starve or as we almost did..run out of gas! However, with these unreasonable closures, I found what seemed to be a true Italian vibe. We found a ton of people hanging out in the town square sitting and talking, garage and rummage sales, kids selling and swapping toys on a beautiful day. We also toured a medieval town called San Angelo where I ditched my fam for some wandering and tasting of the local cheeses and wine. This area was what I wanted from Italy, not Rome, not Naples not squares and churches crammed with tourists. THIS was it.
Is Pisa, what more can I really say…
Last but not least, Venice…
When you get to Venice, walk in the opposite direction of tourists! Venice is a unique and romantic city; once you start darting down the secluded alleys and canals. You’ll find yourself alone and it feels like a time warp. Or you can go to the board walk like everyone else and pay an arm and a leg for garbage food and scenery. Its a no brainer.
For me, the food and landscapes saved the trip. Over-hyped tourist traps kill my soul, but it’s still an experience nonetheless. One thing I also learned was that service in Italy, or anywhere in Europe, is atrocious. Several times we almost fell asleep at our table waiting for the bill and had to really try and find someone to help us, but a cappuccino in the morning and a glass of wine every night ain’t a bad life at all. Much like any place in the world, you have to get out into the open and away from the crowds, and see how they move and operate. The massive cities are rich with history but you also want to feel connected to a way of life that exists now, not thousands of years ago.
I see myself going back to Italy someday, to places like Tuscany, most likely with a significant other and just tasting wine, having great food and enjoying a slow pace of life. Once you get all the sights out of the way, this is the way to see and live Italy.
For more photos click here!