Last month I spent eight days in Italy with one of my best friends in the world. We squeezed three cities (Venice, Florence, and Rome) into those eight days. We stayed in fancy hotels. We took taxis instead of the subway. We joined paid tour groups to wander the ruins in Rome and the Vatican Museums. For the first time in many many years I was not a traveler at all, but just a tourist. We had all of the hotels booked in advance. We had luggage, not backpacks. We never wandered around a new city stumbling into different hostels, unsure of where we might land. And it was OK. Don’t freak out, I’m certainly not done being a traveler. I still thrive on the uncertainty and the excitement. And to be honest, I love staying in hostels. Fancy hotels just remind me how poor I am. And I like getting lost a little more than I like taking a taxi directly to my pre-arranged accommodation.
But there was something to be said for the ease and luxury of this trip with one of my favorite people on the planet. (Side note: this particular person doesn’t care for subways, hostels, or getting lost). We drank wine, we ate pasta, we drank more wine, we wandered around the streets with only a hint of a destination, happy to be lost in a meandering way (once we were safely checked into our hotel, of course) in a country where every alley you stumble down is as charming and rich with history as whatever touristy square you meant to find. It was an easy trip without worry or incident and I think that is exactly what we needed.
I think Venice is the easiest city in the world in which to get lost. Even the locals don’t know how to find anything and every corner and bridge you pass you swear you were just there five minutes before. All directions when spoken sound like this: “Well, make a left and then a right and then go over a bridge and then a right and then a left and one more bridge and you’re there!” The one afternoon we tried to go back to the room for a nap at three p.m. we didn’t make it back until after two in the morning. Naturally, every time you realize you’re lost again you stop in a cafe and drink a bottle of wine. This helps you find your way. We spent two days wandering the narrow alleys with as much aim as we could muster and feeling grateful we got to see this amazing city before it gets swallowed by the sea.
Italy is a place I could live. I know that. It was a country made for me. Wine, bread, cheese, cured meats, pasta, and pizza are the food groups that make up my personal diet pyramid. The locals were the friendliest I have met in any country save for Cambodia. People were beyond helpful and far surpassed any normal expectation of hospitality you could ever have. So we each drank six bottles of wine a day (seriously). We stayed in touristy neighborhoods and went to the touristy squares and took pictures of almost every building we saw. We stopped in every cafe that looked charming or inviting and we bought many things made of leather. So we did the tourist’s version of Italy and I don’t have a single regret about it.
p.s. The one touristy thing we did not do was to ride the gondolas as they wanted to charge us €80 and weren’t into the whole haggling thing. However, the gondolas passed just under the window of our hotel room so we got to experience much of the charm gratis.