I Left My Heart and My Shoes In Italy
Ciao Bella! I am back from Italy and here’s what I’ve decided— the astonishing thing about Italy is the vibrancy of the people. It’s the almost unbearable beauty of the land, of the melting sherbet colors of the homes built into the sides of the hills. It’s the architecture, the intricate statues found in the piazzas and carved into the facades of buildings that are thousands of years old but look completely untouched. It’s the—okay fine. It’s the food and the wine. Who are we kidding?
It was the trip of a lifetime for M and I, our first trip to Europe together! We started in Rome, with a 9 am tour of the Vatican on our first day there, after a huge latte (they don’t do the half skim half soy extra shot run through twice…stuff) and prosciutto and mozzarella with fresh basil on crusty bread. What? Yes an entire sandwich for breakfast, you’re allowed to do that over there. We met our guide and a very talkative couple in the piazza for a two hour guided tour that our travel agent forgot to tell us was really a four hour guided tour. Thank God I ate a little something first
So I’m not going to try and describe the Vatican to you. There are no words and it is something you need to see for yourself. Same with Michaelangelo’s David. Same with the Spanish Steps and the Coliseum and the Pantheon and… well the list goes on. So this post will not have weak descriptions of indescribable things in it. I will just tell you about other important stuff like the bread with the perfect crust that you dip in olive oil and balsamic, served with every meal and the prosciutto sandwiches that I became addicted to. Literally I would wake up in the morning and think about where I could get them and how many I would need through the course of the day. These are things you need to know about.
One thing I do need to warn you about is that when you go to a restaurant whether it be a tiny pizzeria or a more high end place with cloth napkins, the tables are very close together, like you are pretty much sharing a table with the people on either side of you. This is fine if you are like M, who loves to share food and conversation with total strangers, as in people you don’t know, people that want to show you pictures of their Bichon, Muggles, who is home with their daughter and son-in-law in Des Moines—mind if I try a bite of your lasagna? Of course not, may I try your bruschetta? By all means, please do!
Not so great if you are like me, who just wants to take my plate of truffle risotto— real truffles not just the oil mind you— and inhale every bite while facing a wall where no one can see me. Basically, I’m not a sharer, whether it be pleasantries or risotto. Around the third night or so I told M, “Don’t you dare make eye contact. Don’t. You. Dare.”
After Rome we headed to the Amalfi coast which is breathtaking beyond belief. Really there are no words so I will just tell you about the shopping. Now this is where things get dicey because there is cute little shop after cute little shop but they all carry the same things. And each time you walk into a different one it’s like you are seeing the olive oil dispenser covered with hand painted tomatoes with fresh eyes. Around the fifth cute little shop you finally ask yourself, “Now isn’t this something I need? I mean I love olive oil. I bet this keeps it nice and fresh plus it’s so pretty. Pretty and functional! Of course I need it.” And you will go home and pour your Publix EVOO in there and then put it on the counter and forget all about it until the neighborhood yard sale in two years. But yes. You absolutely need it as do your best friend, your dog groomer and your mom
I had an experience like this with dresses. We were walking arm in arm down the picturesque narrow streets and there was a store with these pretty, long gauzey dresses in the window. This is what I need! I thought. I can just see myself wandering the streets of Italy in this dress with a straw purse and a big sun hat picking out ripe tomatoes and eggplants. (For what? To bring to my hotel room? An evening snack?) And of course I buy one. This is THE perfect thing to wear tomorrow as we stroll through Capri after the boat ride to the infamous Blue Grotto. Long, flowy, Italian-y. Perfection. And wait signora! Prego! Throw a scarf in the bag too! I must have a scarf! Everyone wears scarves. You can’t go wrong with a scarf. Am I right?
Right next to the dress store was a hardware store with metal stove-top espresso makers and ironing boards in the window. M went in there for phone charger and came out with a nautical bell the size of a soccer ball. Because, we need one. We’ve obviously been looking everywhere for one of those.
Anyway, the next day was our day trip to Capri. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, the land of famous movie stars, Sophia Loren’s house, the stunning beach, and mostly, the Blue Grotto. For months all we could talk about was the boat ride we would take to the Blue Grotto where you lay down in the boat and enter these low caves, then coming into the Blue Grotto which is supposed to be well…pure magic. And I was of course doubly excited because I had the perfect outfit…my new dress and scarf. I pictured myself on the ferry over to Capri, blue gauzy dress and scarf blowing in the wind. I had to forgo the straw purse for a fanny pack though. M insisted as I had already lost my phone twice and left my passport on a table in the airport before we had boarded our first flight.
Still—totally killin’ it in the gauze.
The ferry ride from Sorrento to Capri was lovely, and we were lucky enough to have a group from the local elementary school sitting in the seats behind us. So cute! They were just laughing and screeching and running all over the place. I wanted to say, “Why can’t you guys go to the aquarium like normal kids?” What kind of kid goes to Capri for a field trip?
We disembark at the shoreline where there were these colorful little fishing boats tied up and it was just as I imagined Capri to be except for the men running up to us with pizzas begging us to come sit down and the used luggage store guy waving us in with a torn Samsonite. Other than that, just how I pictured it.
We of course immediately make our way to the Biglietti booth (That’s tickets in Italian you know) where we will purchase our Blue Grotto boat ride!
The woman at the window says, “Ciao Signore” and M says, “Ciao. Can you tell me how long the Blue Grotto ride is?” and she says, “Ah, si, it is about-a three hours, quite-a beautiful. Goes around the whole island-a, you see-a everything.”
M looks at me and we smile. “Yes. That’s what we want. We will take two tickets.”
“Ah signore, no, no, not today. The boats-a they not go today. The tide, it is, how you say… too high.”
Sorry folks. Grotto closed.
Nothing else to do but sit down, order two pizzas and a sandwich and check out the center piazza which looks a lot like other piazzas. By now my gauzey dress is almost dragging the ground because it is very hot at Capri this day and gauze gets heavy when soaked with perspiration. Also, just so you know— I unfortunately found out this out a bit too late— that gauze is see through. Like totally see through. I don’t know what the big deal was but apparently Italians are not used to seeing middle-aged women in high waisted jockey underpants and upper body Spanx underneath their gauze dresses eating prosciutto sandwiches in the middle of piazzas.
Also, my scarf was choking me. It ended up a sweaty ball in my fanny pack.
The next day we went to Tuscany and toured a very old winery and stood on a hill drinking local prosecco looking out at endless fields of vineyards with grapes hanging off the vines. I loved it. Now THIS is Italy, I thought. We had a course on Chianti…I don’t remember much about it though other than I really, really like it.
From there the following day, we took a high speed train to our final destination of the trip. These trains are great, they go 200 miles per hour and you get a free water. Now heads up, boarding these trains can be tricky especially if you are carrying three suitcases and a bag full of hand painted olive oil dispensers plus a large bell that is clanking all over the place. So you may want to pack light.
The train is very relaxing. I just sat there gazing out at the passing landscape munching on my sandwich which as we now know is a necessary travel item, when I began to notice it was getting rather warm in the high speed train. And I said to M, “Are you hot?” and he said, ‘Yeah it’s getting hot,” But all the Italian people seemed fine chatting away and drinking their waters. However, M and I are Jewish and our people get very nervous when there are issues on trains. Finally there was an announcement and I could make out the words, meccanico and problema and I decided that if they stopped the train and herded us all off into a field we were going to make a run for it. But, they just gave us another free water and we continued on minus air.
We spent the last few days of the trip in Cinque Terra or the “Five Towns,” and here is a true paradise. Our hotel looked out at the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, and each night we had a cocktail at a little table on the beach before strolling the streets in search of another sumptuous meal. Spectacular. Romantic. Perfect.
Of course, we checked in at home from time to time and while we were in the town of Monterossa, M. decided to check in with his daughter who said, “OMG Cinque Terre is my favorite place in the world. Did you do the hike?”
At this M perks up, “Hike?” he asks.
“Yes the hike between Montarossa and Vernazza. It’s amazing.”
“Is it a rough hike or more tame?
“Oh no, it’s easy. We did it after drinking a bottle of wine.”
So M. decides we will do it. A nice easy hike to start the day and then we will continue on to see the other towns.
And I tried to tell him I did not have the shoes for it. I had a pair of platform Michael Kors sneakers and one pair of beachy slip ons. And he said its fine, it’s an easy hike, the kids did it after drinking a whole bottle of wine.
I said M, they are in their twenties. I don’t want to tell you the things I did in my twenties after drinking a bottle of wine, including getting my toe stuck in a vacuum cleaner. Even that was easy after drinking a bottle of wine.
But he was sold on it.
So the next morning we set out on the hike, each holding a bottle of water and me in my cute little beach slip ons, moving along at a nice brisk clip. This is not so bad, I thought, as we made our way along the stunning coastline. It’s really rather pretty. Look at me! I’m hiking! In Italy!
And then we came to a mountain of stairs. I could not see the top of them. And I got a little bit mad at M at that point but there was nothing to do but climb. And Climb. And Climb.
About an hour in, we past a gypsy couple playing the accordion off to the side. See?That’s what I love about the Italian people. They are so expressive, so in love with their creative side, they had to stop half way into the hike and just break right into song. I tried to signal them with my eyes, “Please send help,” but they just kept playing away smiling into space. We moved on after dropping a two dollar coin into the cup during an uplifting rendition of “Volare.”
Two and a half hours later we entered the town of Vernazza like war torn soldiers coming to liberate a country after weeks of hard battle. Tired, beaten, thirsty. We were brought back to life with bruschetta topped with tomatoes and anchovies and limoncello spritzes. From there it was a spectacular day and that evening we enjoyed our last meal in Italy, the bread with the perfect crust, a bowl of salty olives, pasta with fresh fish and a plate of lasagna. And those were our appetizers.
The next day after buying a ton of truffle pasta in the duty free shop we took our ten and a half hour flight home during which I consumed my final two prosciutto sandwiches with intense sadness.
Of course, in every battle there are casualties. Unfortunately, the cute beachy slip-ons did not make it back. We had to say our arrivederci’s after the hike, the poor little soles worn completely through and a blob of tomato permanently congealed on the right toe. Farewell my trusty comrades.
Needless to say, what happens in Italy stays in Italy. Mainly because there is no way to replicate the taste of freshly made mozzarella, of fish taken directly from the sea and set before you minutes later perfectly prepared, of lemons the size of footballs, of wine that is so clean you taste nothing but the grape. The olive trees that line the roads and the rock formation that looks exactly like the Virgin Mary and the cliffs that have steps worn into the sides from thousands of years of people living their lives there will stay in Italy.
The prosciutto sandwiches, though. The memory of the crusty bread with the dusting of flour on the top and the salty oily prosciutto mixed with the clean taste of freshly picked basil and the cool milky taste of fresh mozzarella.
That forever, stays with me.