Currently attempting to navigate the Italian culture and transportation systems. I can never decide if our European friends are more advanced or stuck in a rut well behind the Americans.
We left the Roma airport after being issued a Fiat Panda 4×4 Stick Shift Super Buggy. Good thing I brushed up on my manual transmission skills 5 years ago when I owned a Jeep that was completely unworthy of the road. Otherwise, I may have stalled out more than twice on the way out of the parking garage. And everybody knows anything more than twice is just embarrassing. After a little luck and a quick pit stop at Oreilly Auto Parts to grab a few extra clutches, we managed to climb the dirt path to our ancient castle hotel on a hill in small town Gubbio. (Here’s the photo gallery (all inst-worthy) for the impatient ones. The written portion continues below)
We were greeted by the Chef’s sassy sidekick, Rob the dog. I nearly shatted when he popped around the corner. Seems odd that the hotel’s welcoming crew is staffed by The Beast from the film Sandlot.
Day two in Umbria started in a bird cage on the side of mountain.
It boggles my mind that the ancient peoples of Italy were so determined to find the absolute most difficult place to build the world’s most incredible structures. Oh but they did. *pours out a beer for all the fallen donkeys of yesteryear.
It also boggles my mind that these people were so enamored with their priests. So much so that they would mummify them and post them up on a podium at the front of the basilica. Surely somebody whispered that this might be a little creepy, even for the Catholic Church.
Day Three – Assisi/Winery tour
I’m not sure when they built St. Clara’s Basilica? but if my memory serves me correct it was the mid 1200s.
Back to the Italians and their keen desire to build incredible infrastructure in insane environments. They built this city on
rock and roll the side of a mountain. And the chapels/churches/basilicas are made with more beautiful, durable, and intricate materials than anything we’ve seen post 1600s. I can’t get a cabinet crew to show up and install a few simple – and, sadly, mdf – cabinet doors, but these guys hauled thousands of tons of marble and brick up these steep cliffs and built a church that’s still standing today, and will still be standing the day the lights go off on this world. Meanwhile, back home in highly-advanced America, my house is slipping into the lake with a cracked foundation and a leaky roof.
And now we’re currently amidst the chatter of Italian men on a train bound for Venice. Allyson is in her natural state – asleep – while we roll through fields of gold. Lol jk. They’re fields of dirt – very lumpy dirt. I’m not sure I ever really understood how agriculturally dense Europe is. It makes sense, though. These people lived largely the same lifestyle for thousands of years until the last 150 or so – farm, church, war, repeat.
Now I’m writing after more than a month home… Not quite the same as writing while on the road, but I’ll try. *downs a Busch Light
Venice is both everything you would expect, and a lot of what you wouldn’t. The town is mostly just an afterthought of what it likely once was. There is hardly a trace of any commerce outside of tourist traps and shopping. We were very limited on time so we spent the majority of it near St. Mark’s Square. But the Square is worth the trip. I read a blog that said that the cafes around the square were vastly over-priced – and they were right – but that you should sit and enjoy and open up your wallet anyway – and they were right. We sat at a cafe, opened the menu, and began to bleed money. Wine, charcuterie, more wine, etc. I firmly believe that cities are best seen through the lens of a few elixirs. Much like Ernest Hemingway believed you should write (Write Drunk. Edit Sober.), foreign cities are best enjoyed with the mind at ease, and the experience is best digested on the trip home. After watching the sun slowly set and seeing the incredible colors of the of the sky paint themselves on the concrete walls of the buildings, we made our way back through the narrow streets and bounced around from cafe to cafe taking in more of the city’s cuisine and booze until finally crashing at our exquisite little priceline find.
We I finished the night on the balcony, sitting in the midnight air and trying to absorb as much of the unique aurora that is offered by such an ancient coastal town.
Had we made Rome our first stop like we had planned, we would have likely turned on each other and tainted the trip. Fate played in our favor, however, and my week-long practice behind the wheel of the stick shift super-buggy paid off. Rome is a traffic nightmare and madhouse in general. Numb to the anxiety that tried to cut us off at every roundabout, we got the car parked in a garage a few
too many blocks from our hotel. Lace up your Skechers. Thousands of years of history are packed into a few square miles, but don’t make the mistake of trying to see it all.
The Vatican was at the top of Allyson’s list, but unfortunately they were sold out of tickets to do the museum tour for the only day we were there. Nonetheless, we wanted to stand in awe of the incredible monstrosity that is the Vatican City, so we made our way to the front of St. Peter’s Basilica. As we approached, a smooth talking hawker promised that he had the tickets we needed to get in, but we only had 15 minutes to make it to the gates. 14 minutes, $150, and a 4 minute mile later, we were inside the museum portion of the country(?). Literally the last 2 people of the day to make the cut. Overwhelmed by the history inside the walls, we were guided by a young lady who spoke impeccable Italian. English was certainly not her second language, or third, or fourth… But we quickly downloaded an audio tour and made the most of our short time in the museum. Making our way through the halls in record time, we found ourselves in the Sistine Chapel just in time for the evening prayer. I must say that this was quite a blessing, and likely got me out of a few traffic tickets over the last month or so. Thank you nameless priest of Portuguese decent. Onward to St. Peter’s Basilica. Do not miss the opportunity to stand in the vastness of the Catholic riches. This cathedral is by far the most incredible exhibition of human architecture and decadence that I have, and likely will ever see.
We ended our trip with stroll through the cobblestone streets up to the bottom of the Colleseum, and topped it all off with a few last bottles of famous Roman vino at a cozy, modern cafe just beside the hotel. As the night faded we discussed how we’d had our fill of Italy over the last year, and how we’d do it again as soon as possible.