Monday, July 18, 2011

"Viva Italia!" - Our Summer Trip to the Land of Sun, Style (and gelato!)

"You may have the universe if I may have Italy." (Giuseppe Verdi)

Though summer seems like it should be a time filled with lazy lounging, sunny siestas, berries and BBQs, and fooling around in flip flops and shorts, my summers always seem to also include at least one grand adventure.  And this year the adventure was unforgettable.  Deborah and I had the chance to travel to Italy - the homeland of her ancestors (thanks to her very, very generous Dad!).  We recently returned from our wonderful 10 day trip, and there were so many unforgettable experiences and memories that we shared that I just had to record them here!  It'll probably take me a few entries to cover all of them, so stay tuned! :-)

"Buon Viaggio! - Our Trip Begins

"I feel about airplanes the way I feel about diets. It seems to me that they are wonderful things for other people to go on."  (Jean Kerr)

It's hard to describe how excited we both were about taking this trip.  Though I have been overseas a number of times, it had been 7 years since I had last gone to Europe.  And this was Deborah's first trip abroad.  Work and school had kept us both so busy that we really hadn't seriously thought about the trip until the final week before we left.  Then it hit us - "OMG!  We're going to ITALY in 4 days!" - which triggered a madcap, anxious week of packing, repacking, and scurrying to get the house, our pets, and everything else ready before we left.  Deborah read list after list of "What to Wear in Italy (if you don't want to look like a tourist!)", and counseled me accordingly:  no shorts, no sneakers, no baseball hats; For her: lots of dresses, no bare shoulders in churches, etc.  I tried to act "non-chalant" and "know-it-all" (being the "world traveler" that I was), but I worried a little too - especially about "packing light" - since we wanted to carry on all of our bags - not wanting to trust them being lost in the "catacombs" of some airline.

And so our trip began.  It began - as do all trips to Europe from the West coast - VERY EARLY!  Up at 3 am on Friday July 1st - no time for coffee - just grab our bags and head to the airport for our transcontinental, then trans-Atlantic flights:  Portland to New York to Rome.  I remember the first time I flew some 20 years ago, and how I thought it was such an adventure.  Now, flying seems to have become something to be endured:  waiting in long lines, take your shoes off, put your shoes on, show your passport, your boarding pass, "Did you pack your own luggage?  Has it ever left your sight?", ad nauseum.  All for the "privilege" of being crammed into a metal tube with 200 other anxious people for hours and hours - not to mention the "fun" of eating mediocre meals, "crocodile-arms" style and barely being able to cat nap... Ah well, the price to be paid for an adventure!

Our flights that day were thankfully uneventful.  The highlight (at least for Deborah) was boarding the Alitalia flight in New York and being greeted by the pilots.  It would be the first (and not the last time!) I heard my beautiful wife say, "Oh my God!  I LOVE Italian men!" (thankfully she married a kinda tall, not so dark, but romantic, German/Finn!).  On Friday morning, we were in the "City of Roses" - on Saturday morning, we landed in "The Eternal City", Rome.

Culture shock slowly seeped in as we walked through Rome's airport.  We were definitely "no longer in Kansas anymore".  We were hungry, thirsty, and we had two hours to kill before our shuttle from Perillo Tours would be there to take us to our hotel.  So, dragging our bags, we schlepped around the airport to find an ATM machine to get Euros, and then to find a seat somewhere, anywhere (a recurring theme later in our trip!) and order something to eat.  We finally found a deli-style cafeteria, and a friendly waiter, who spoke English, and had our first meal in Italy:  a prosciutto panini, Caprese salad, Coke (for Deborah) and uno vino bianco for me.  Mange!  As we ate, we began to see other Perillo tour groups starting to show up ("Perillo-istas" we would call them), so we knew we were in the right place.  But we waited, and we waited.  Periodically, I would get up and walk around looking for our shuttle - this is what I would see.

Dozens of shuttle drivers, all holding signs, waiting for groups and individuals - a whole "cottage industry" connected to tourism in Italy.  

Finally, our tour guide appeared.  His name was Raffaele D'Arino:  a middle-aged Italian, dressed stylishly with sunglasses on top of his head, who with a musical voice, summoned us all and led us to our waiting bus.  "Allora", he said, "Follow me.  We will walk slowly, slowly to the bus.  This way, follow my newspaper", which he held high over his head as we walked.  And so the thirty of us, tired and benumbed travelers straggled along behind him, like a group of school children, eager to find our new home in Rome.

We arrived at our hotel in central Rome, the Hotel Cicerone.  It was a beautiful hotel, 1/2 way in between the Vatican City and ancient Rome - perfectly situated.  Raffaele encouraged us to take a little walk around Rome before we collapsed into our beds for a nap, and gave us directions for a nice walk to see our first sights in Italy:  the Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps.  After unpacking, Deborah and I groggily, but eagerly set off on our first hike.

Deborah and the Tiber River

Our adventure had begun!
(and so had our love affair with this beautiful city!)

The story will continue... come back for Chapter Two!

Entering the Piazza del Popolo

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