Italian Iter | Prologue

In the Roman Forum

John and I last traveled abroad for vacation in 2014. In three years, I forgot how much work it is to be a European tourist. How incompetent I feel mumbling unfamiliar words, re-orienting myself again and again, visiting historic sites and wondering how a person with 19 years of formal education can know so little. How bound by the limitations of my body, always needing something: food, bed, drink, a sit-down, the bathroom. One need met and another supplants it. Forever in a desperate search for a toilet with a seat. Truly, we had a wonderful trip, but it provoked much more self-reflection than I anticipated.

I didn’t come back from Italy refreshed. I came back from 2 weeks of walking about 12 miles a day thoroughly exhausted and as relieved as Frank Capra’s George Bailey to be back in my comfy old life: Hello, graffiti on the metro! Hello, ugly office building! Since returning, I’ve made three vows:  to go out more in my own city, to eat my dinners in courses at home whenever I have time to make more than one dish, and to increase my daily level of activity (I thought I was in shape, but the walking and no space for stretching really beat me up). Yet as happy as I am to be home, I’m already scheming for the trip back. The trip where we correct our mistakes, like concluding the journey in the most vibrant, intense place (i.e. Rome) when we had so little left to give. Next time we’ll have a SIM card so we can look up bus schedules instead pounding our feet into numb filets! Next time we’ll make it a habit to buy our breakfast the day before (I’d take cold pizza over a honey-brushed croissant any day)! We’ll make our dinner reservations in advance! We’ll limit ourselves to only two sites per day!  We’ll bring mosquito repellent and anti-itch cream! Dress only for comfort — who cares if Italians don’t wear shorts! There was so very much to learn.

In the next three posts, I’ll share our favorite sites and food spots in Venice, Florence, and Rome along with a recipe for each city and tales of restroom misadventures and social encounters. But first, an aside:

View from the plane

The Flight Saga

On the journey over, everything that could go wrong, went wrong. So maybe an Icelandic volcano didn’t erupt, but an endless parade of little problems dogged our trip to Venice. The first flight is delayed due to air traffic control, then mechanical difficulties, then a disabled passenger who requires assistance disembarking. Airport staffers take three wheelchairs down the jet bridge, but the man really only needs one, his own. Finally boarded, our plane misses its spot in the take-off queue; then turbulence forces us to stay below 10,000 feet; then the landing has to be delayed, just because. At last in Newark, we run to the people mover bus. Every time the bus starts to pull out, a straggler appears and the driver lets him board. This goes on until passengers begin yelling they have connecting flights. The driver decides — at last — to roll on toward Terminal C. He stops for every pedestrian crossing the tarmac and dutifully slows to a crawl when a golf cart pulls in front of us and leads the rest of the way. It would be faster to get out and push. Eventually in Terminal C, our gate is the absolute furthest possible gate at the end of a cul-de-sac of gates. We sprint with the other crazed passengers and arrive just in time to board with our group. John gets shin splints and I spend the flight with a squeezing, searing upset stomach that happens whenever I’m really anxious. But we feel so grateful to have made it. And when a faulty jet bridge in Venice impedes our exit from the plane, we laugh.

Continue reading: Venice