Anticipating this second move to Italy is so thrilling and has had me thinking back to our first time there and all the fun trips we were able to take… and some of the lessons learned in those early travels! Since I didn’t end up doing a blog back then, I thought I’d share some of my favorite memories and some that we now laugh about!
Our actual first ever trip anywhere in Italy was to the island of Ischia, just off the coast and a quick ferry ride away from our new home. A friend who Chris worked with had suggested a long weekend checking out the island and we were game. On the ferry, we ran into a different friend who was on his way over too, and he had his very own boat docked on the island! We were all invited to go hang on his boat the next day. How cool! It was early November, so swimming was out of the question, but the weather was still warm enough and the sun was shining. It was GLORIOUS! Here we were riding around a gorgeous island in the Mediterranean Sea on a boat! How did this happen?! The friend with the boat had lived in Naples for several years and had married a lovely Italian woman and was not planning on leaving - ever. I remember him standing on the boat surveying that sapphire blue water, Capri over in the distance, Mt. Vesuvius on the horizon in the other direction and he said, "Why would I leave? This does NOT suck!" My sentiments exactly! Chris and I have reminisced about this moment many times over the years because it was really the beginning of our love of boat days and Ischia. The island of Capri gets all the attention, but Ischia is a dream and we spent many idyllic summer days boating around that magical island. It felt so glamorous and special, even just in our day rental boats and plastic glasses of wine and prosecco!
For the first wedding anniversary we celebrated in Italy (which was our 4th total, practically still newlyweds!) we (read: Tyler) chose to go to Florence. We took the train up from Naples and didn't arrive until well into the evening when it was already dark. I had planned a few things for us to do on the trip, but it was early on in our time there and I was not yet at the height of my planning and research skills, so I didn't know what to do that first night except try to get our bearings by walking around. We decided to aim for the Duomo (the main cathedral of the city) and go from there. I suppose I must have seen pictures of the Duomo before, but I didn't remember much about it. Nothing prepared me for turning a corner and looking up from Google Maps to see this enormous, brilliant, white structure standing out against the black sky. It took my breath away. The building is lit up at night and the contrast is stunning! We stood there just staring, mouths agape. I've never forgotten that exact moment, even all these years later! The photos I took, with which ever iPhone I had at the time never did it justice. But seeing them always makes me smile.
Also while in Florence we had a somewhat less awe-inspiring situation occur. We stayed at a small, local hotel where our room had lots of big windows and extra tall ceilings. It wasn’t fancy but it felt very Italian, which was still new to us, so we were content enough. It was the end of May so the evenings were nice, but it was warm during the day and the room was a little stuffy. After being warm the first night in the room, we decided to open all the windows while we were out during the day and evening to just air it out. No big deal, right? Well, after being out for hours and not returning until we were ready to settle in, it turned out that the room had become absolutely infested with mosquitoes! I had noticed, of course, that there were no screens on the windows. (Screens are not common in Italy!) And I knew that Florence is on a river – but we weren’t super close to it. And we had not been bothered by any insects while walking around the night before. We never thought we’d come back to such a nightmare. When we got in touch with hotel management to see if we could change rooms or if they had any kind of repellant or anything, we were basically told that we shouldn’t have left the windows open, so too bad! The customer is NOT always right in Italy! LOL So hubs pulls out a t-shirt and starts whipping it at them. He was slapping it against the walls and leaving little bloody dots all over the wallpaper! It was a massacre! But however many he would kill it didn’t seem to make a dent. We ended up sleeping with the covers pulled up all the way over our heads and huddled under the sheets! Lesson learned: be very wary of leaving your windows open, stuffy room or not!
A quick, somewhat embarrassing, note on Florence. When I began planning the trip I kept seeing the word “Firenze” everywhere. And at first I really didn’t know what it meant. It took me longer than I’d like to admit before I realized it was the Italian version of Florence!! *face palm emoji* *blushing emoji* *ashamed face emoji* It’s so odd because I knew Naples was Napoli, Rome was Roma, Milan was Milano, Venice was Venezia. But I had just never heard Firenze up to that point. At least not in a context that I remembered!! I add this to say, don’t beat yourself up if you mess up, miss something, or just don’t quite catch on to something at first. We’ve all done it in some capacity, at some point in our lives!
One just absolutely bananas incident, that I now very much enjoy retelling, happened as we were returning home from a trip to the mountains outside of Torino. This was with a group of friends and it had been a really fun, easy time. Torino (English: Turin) is a city in northwestern Italy, near the Alps, and was the host of the 2006 Winder Olympics. It was an easy, if long (6 hours or so) train ride from Naples. Once in Torino you can access lots of little mountain villages for all of your favorite winter sports. We stayed in Sauze d’Oulx (No, I cannot pronounce that correctly!) and I could not recommend it more! The morning we were leaving one of the other ladies on the trip woke up with hard core food poisoning. Ugh, did I feel bad for her. We had that 6 hour train ride home and she and her husband had their infant with them too! We made it from the mountain village to one of the train stations in Torino and there happened to be a McDonald’s. We all decided to grab something quick and greasy to eat before the train took off. (The trip may have included a LOT of après ski cocktails, even for those of us that didn’t ski!) Hubs and everyone went to the counter to order but I stayed with the friend with food poisoning (truly, it wasn’t just a hangover, poor thing!). It was pretty busy but we found a few open spots at a community-type high top table and I sat down across from her. She looked so miserable. After a couple of minutes an elderly gentleman came over and sat one seat away from her. He looked like he maybe wasn’t in the best health, physically or mentally. Then, the next thing we see is him popping his fake eye out and putting it on the table like a foot away from my friend!! I have never seen anyone turn green so quickly! How she didn’t spill all her cookies right there on his eyeball I will never know!! And honestly, it gets a little blurry after that. I don’t remember if we walked away immediately (probably, right?!) but I do remember telling everyone that they would never believe what just happened! Like, why would anyone do that?! At a McDonald’s?!!? In a train station!?!?! How dirty was the table?!!!? Was he just going to put it back in?!?! And the day only went downhill from there. We all ended up getting on the wrong train to take us to the main station where we had pre-purchased tickets for a specific time to go back to Naples. We didn’t get super far before we realized we were going in the wrong direction, but it was far enough to have us all freaking out! We got off the train and checked the schedule but decided that we should try to take a taxi to the main station because we couldn’t risk the next train not being on time! We made our way with winter luggage, snowboards and a baby to a little shop where the best Italian speaker tried to call a taxi while the rest of us stayed outside looking for one to drive by. Eventually we flagged one down and insisted the couple with the baby and still green wife go first and make that train time! At our insistence to get them quickly into the cab they left most of their luggage behind! So now the rest of us had to find more taxis that would fit us and all the bags! I was already mentally preparing for us to have to buy more tickets and wait hours for the next train! But somehow we made it, literally in the nick of time! We truly cut it so close! But all that to say, I’ll never forget that man popping his eyeball out at a table at a train station McDonald’s in Torino in front of my food poisoned friend– you just can’t make that up!!
Finally, the moment my husband and I probably love to reminisce about the most, happened in Assisi (as in St. Francis of). We were there during a fall holiday, maybe Veteran's Day, so it was a little less busy than during the normal high tourist season. Our second night there we found ourselves at the coziest little wine bar, planning to do just a simple wine tasting before dinner elsewhere. We were the only ones there so the owner, who was a delightful and very knowledgeable woman, lavished us with her attention, and wine, and Prosecco and perhaps limoncello and many delicious snacks… but not enough to soak up all that alcohol! We never even made it to dinner! After who even knows how long we left feeling very good! As we made our way back to our hotel we passed St. Francis's Basilica (another gorgeous, white structure perfectly lit against the dark sky), and walked down through its piazza. It was late and dark and no one else seemed to be out. The piazza is pretty large and shadowy around the edges. Seemingly out of nowhere a figure appeared, kind of an unusual shape, very flowy, moving slowly. I pulled closer to Chris because I have literally been scared by my own shadow before, so I was immediately alarmed (and a little tipsy)! But we kept walking and finally realized that it was a monk in his traditional robes. Whew! As we passed each other he said in English, "May Peace Be With You". Chris replied with something like, "You too, brother". Then we just looked at each other like, "Did that just happen?", "Were we just blessed by a monk in Assisi?"!! We're not Catholic, but I'm pretty sure that's probably NOT exactly how monk blessings work!! Or maybe it is! Either way, it felt very exciting and special to us and continues to be a favorite remembrance.
Well, thanks for taking that little walk down memory lane with me! I hope to have many more of these types of special moments to share with you over the next few years. Even the uncomfortable, embarrassing, bananas ones, which we are sure to continue to have! I’ll knock wood that we have more of the former and less of the latter, but either way they usually end up making pretty entertaining stories! Ciao for now friends!