This was my fourth trip to Italy. It’s the first time I’ve taken a vacation to Europe and stayed within one country. I do wish I had some more variety on this trip (even though the destinations were all fairly different within Italy). But I’m also of the view that its good to double down on winners. And the trip served an intended purpose of helping me hone in travel techniques and judgements to find the ways I like to travel. This trip cemented my preference for trains, if for no other reason that the cost of time and money to go to the airport and back is high. And travel is also good for honing judgment skills, particularly for couples:
- how do you handle mismatches in expectations of a destination?
- how do you make spending decisions?
- how do you handle travel snags?
- how well did you prepare yourself and your partner?
- but above all, how do you allocate scarce time and money (and calories)
So obviously I have enjoyed Italy. But it’s also a pretty hilarious place to visit. There are the ordinary collisions of how things are done in the US and (not) done in Italy, like ticket counters for museums that close an hour before the museum closes. Being asked by cab drivers not interested in accepting credit cards whether I could stop by an ATM on the way to the airport. But some moments stand out:
- bartender in a chill bar in Trastevere started pouring prosecco in my Negroni, only realizing afterwards the error
- ordered a margherita pizza in Turin, and had to return to ask them to add basil (me: “anche basilico” him: [puzzled look, then a reluctant obliging look] “si”)
- in a downtown cocktail bar in Turin, my friend Schmudde asked for an Old Fashioned, and was offered a variety of scotches (and Jameson)
- saw a sign in an upscale cafe in Bologna next to the counter for a “la maria” espresso drink, and when I pointed to it and requested it I got a puzzled look (I get that maybe the issue is my Italian)
- in the same cafe, the server cheerfully and breezily filled glasses with seltzer anywhere between half and full of seltzer
I guess there is something odd about an American instructing Italians on what goes into a negroni or a margherita pizza. But maybe it’s not so surprising Americans are customer-centric, and Americans execute. We are intolerant of variability: even if you think a McDonald’s burger is repulsive, that is because you are confident it is reliably so. But for all its variance, Italy reliably has wonderful food. Some of my favorites from this trip:
- carbonara in Rome (crispy *and* juicy guanciale)
- Indian food in Bologna (local eggplant, my first elaichi lassi)
- fresh pomegranate juice in Palermo (after days of tagliere piles of meat and cheese I could feel the vitamins hit my bloodstream and I almost caught a buzz)
- “giallo” melon in Monreale, outside Palermo (like honeydew meets cantelope)
- espresso in most places (I had bad luck in the past, but maybe I’m better at picking places, see above on honing judgments)
And thanks to the Italian people for indulging my halting Italian. I’ll get better next time.