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A few thoughts from Italy [Aug. 15th, 2014|10:32 am]

1. Italians love their dogs. We saw dogs everywhere. Including in restaurants and shops. In Venice, many of them weren't even on leashes, just walking with their owners (no cars, no worry of being hit). And they were almost all well-behaved; only a couple of barking incidents. Most of the dogs were mutts, clear crossbreeds often involving dachshunds someplace. Seeing people in the grocery store with their dog in the cart or on a leash was pretty awesome.

2. Italians don't work out. The entire time we were there I saw three joggers, all of them tourists, and one gym, which was empty. Yet the people were all pretty fit. I believe there are two reasons behind this. First of all, there was almost no fast food (though McDonalds were dishearteningly ubiquitous), so most of the food these people eat is fresh and unprocessed. Secondly, they walk everywhere. Even in the areas of Rome where there were four lane, main thoroughfares there was relatively little traffic. But lots of people on their feet on the street.

3. All the amazing sites in Rome are actually pretty easy to get to on foot, once you get a lay of the land. We stayed in an apartment off the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps), and it took us a couple of days to realize, but everything was pretty much within a mile or two. The map of Rome that we were provided was all but useless to us because it was so small as to be almost illegible and kind of resembled a plate of spaghetti. But on the evening after we visited Eataly (a sort of death march for which I take the blame because I didn't just follow my first instinct and say, "We go this way!"), when we took a cab to a restaurant that had come highly recommended, and then tried to find a Metro station that was noted on Google maps (inaccurately, curse you Google) (but at least we were wise enough to leave Ferrett's mom, Patricia, with Amy seated comfortably in a nice piazza), we learned from a waiter (whose restaurant was in the very spot that the Metro wasn't) that the closest Metro stop was Piazza di Spagna. (He was quite baffled when we let out a cheer instead of expressing dismay). And then the cab ride took us right up to this large castle, which he told me was San Angelo, and past some impressive palace looking thing, then half a mile later he was dropping us off and I raced to the map to see what this thing was that was so close by and, oh look, The Vatican. At that point I had an idea of scale and realized that the Pantheon was easily within walking distance. And, after having spent a confused hour trying to locate it the first day we were looking for it, we ended up at Trevi Fountain by accident at least twice.

4. While Venice is decidedly smaller than Rome, though, it is much tougher to navigate on foot. The water bus is awesome, because it takes you all around the island and also to the other islands. But once you are on foot, you are in a maze. A lovely, fascinating, picturesque maze in which you stumble upon delights regularly. But still a maze. We quickly developed a sense of how to get to shopping areas and restaurants and churches from our apartment--and more importantly, back. But attempting to walk across the island, even though it really isn't very far, was pretty much a no-go. We were on the outer shore, very convenient to the water buses, but a long way from San Marco square. So on our last day we rode over to San Marco square and began making our way through the streets, thinking to work our way to the Grand Canal, and then bushwhack with the aid of the map back toward our apartment. After a couple enjoyable hours of shopping, though, it was getting hot and Pat was getting tired, so we decided to ask about where we were.

We were 5 minutes fro San Marco Square. We had very determinedly walked in a circle. Despite taking only right turns and trying to go straight. So we returned to the square and took the water bus back. I am thinking of the place as a Venice Fly Trap.

6. Venice makes the best meringues in the world. And they are the size of your head. I only indulged in one. But I wanted more.

7. On our last night in Venice, I decided to get adventuresome with the local cuisine. So I started my dinner with sweet and sour sardines and then had cuttlefish in black sauce. The sweet and sour sardines were delicious. Everyone at the table enjoyed them. The cuttlefish in black sauce was...well, I appreciated that I had tried something so very different. And that other people at the table were willing to share a few bites of their dinner so that I didn't go hungry. But it made me happy. Because if I don't occasionally have something that I don't like, I am not really challenging my palate.

8. A woman in the restaurant on that last night was carrying on a lively conversation in French with a little boy. Then her phone rang and she rattled along in Italian. Then she spoke to me in decent English. I was embarrassed by my lack of local literacy. Erin had a similar incident in Eataly when she was waiting behind a couple to whom the clerk was speaking in Spanish, in which she is moderately fluent, then turned to her and spoke in Italian. She sort of froze, unable to summon any language, so he tried again in English. We really are bumbling around the world trying to speak SLOWLY AND LOUDLY ENOUGH.

10. Still, people were indulgent with the tiny bit of Italian we attempted to speak. And for the most part incredibly friendly. A few times I felt like they were refraining from patting us on the head or pinching our cheeks and telling us how adorable our atrocious attempts were. But we got through, and had fun.


[User Picture]From: mplsindygirl
2014-08-15 03:44 pm (UTC)
That sounds delightful! Most of my visits to Europe involved lots and lots and lots of walking. A good thing, too, because the food is (mostly) delicious. I accidentally ordered liver and onions in Germany because I recognized the words on the menu, but had forgotten what they really meant. It was a bit difficult to eat much of that.
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[User Picture]From: blessed_oak
2014-08-15 10:18 pm (UTC)
I love your description of Venice! I remember being in Rome - we had a hotel on the outskirts of the city, and we took a bus into the old city and walked everywhere. Back then I was so in awe of the Vatican, but my favorite part was the ruins around the forum.
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[User Picture]From: jumpinfool
2014-08-16 05:47 am (UTC)
Regarding language...the whole "monolingual = American" thing is both sad and sadly true. But from my one experience in Europe (France, Germany, Switzerland), my impression is that effort is of paramount importance. Make a genuine effort to at least start communicating in the local language--basic greetings, please/thank-you equivalents, and not much more than that gleaned from a tourist phrasebook--and the world is your oyster. I think it's the real-world equivalent to knowing where your towel is in HHGG; once you've shown the effort to communicate in the local language, the other party will go to great lengths to bridge the gap, despite the obviously outrageous difference in your vocabulary and fluency in each other's languages. Unless of course they are being cantankerous for some other reason (see Ferrett's quest for the Fashionable Italian Suit).
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From: anonymousalex
2014-08-16 01:51 pm (UTC)
Agreed. I am woefully unskilled with languages, but even in Paris (which I had been warned might be a bit unfriendly to non-French-speaking Americans), I found that if I began the conversation with my stumbling French attempt at "Hello, I'm so sorry, but do you speak English?" I was almost universally greeted with friendly helpfulness.

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From: serakit
2014-08-16 03:05 pm (UTC)
I just got back from South Korea and the only word I managed in Korean was "thank you" (because Korean is much harder to learn from a tourist phrasebook than European languages, seeing as they don't use our alphabet). But they'd just get so *delighted* whenever I used it-- I'd get a big bright smile and usually a little laugh. Of course, they could also tell just by looking at me that I was Most Definitely Not a Local.
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From: anonymousalex
2014-08-16 01:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing these insights. I am now a bit wistful for my last visit to Italy.

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From: caudelac
2014-08-18 02:47 pm (UTC)
My husband has the mutant ability to successfully navigate Venice on foot, which is kind of amazing, as it is the one place in the world I have been where my sense of direction simply failed. We didn't use a waterbus even once, because everything was 15 minutes away from our hotel on foot, and he... just didn't get lost.
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[User Picture]From: kagomeshuko
2014-08-20 01:49 am (UTC)
Aw! Dogs!!!
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[User Picture]From: tormentedartist
2015-06-03 09:31 am (UTC)
Hmm, I notice that you don't like taking pictures...Or at least post them. Rome is like being in King's Landing. I remember wishing I had a bigger memory card when we went. LOL. If you did take pictures I'd love to see them.
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