10 Things We Learned About Italy

7 Oct

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Italy was incredible. It was the country that most made us feel like we were truly in another world*. Venice proved to be the most relaxing three days of a vacation that we’ve ever had together. Rome was incredibly stressful at first, but we had two ideal days taking in the wonder of the ancient city. We could have predicted most of that before we went. Here are 10 things we did not expect.

*Exactly! Zack hit the nail on the head here — whereas every other city felt like a big city with unfamiliar words posted on street signs, both Venice and Rome felt special and totally unique.

1. They don’t slice their pizza.

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I guess they invented it, so who am I to complain, but I kinda missed sliced pizza. It wasn’t that hard (for me)* to cut it with a knife and fork, and Italian pizza often is so soft that it requires it. Still, it would be nice to have it sliced or have a pizza cutter at our table. I was less surprised about this, because Germans don’t cut up their pizzas, either, so I’d seen this “here’s a whole round cheese-and-bread delight” situation before.

*He has to specify here because it is actually quite difficult for me to cut something, we learned. I’m blaming it on the fact that I am a vegetarian and therefore rarely (if ever) eat anything that requires cutting up. I got the hand of it by the end of the trip, though.

2. The dogs and people have ratty hair.

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Not all dogs and humans, but most dogs (especially the endless strays in Venice*) and most fashionable young men looked absolutely ridiculous with their haircuts all over Italy. Get those dogs a bath and tell those Italian dudes they look turrible. There really was some bad, bad hair in Italy. This boat kid was hardly the worst offender we saw, but we felt it summed up the Venice vibe too perfectly.

*Endless strays? Maybe I’m misremembering but I don’t remember a whole lot of strays. I do remember a whole lot of shabby looking dogs on leashes, though.

3. Venice is one big hustle.

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I love that this rose selling guy is framed with a garbage can, because he is trash. Every city we went to felt like it had its own identity, culture and life outside of tourism. Not Venice. It felt like the entire area was set up to squeeze tourists out of every dollar. There were the restaurants that charged 7 Euro ($10) for a glass of Coca Cola, when you could get a bottle just down the street for 1-2 Euro. There were the guys selling toys that shot up into the sky and lit up or balls of goo that squeaked, but nothing was worse than the rose guys. They hound you and hound you, shoving roses with horns on them in your face. The worst. You might think to yourself, “Oh, you must be over-exaggerating, surely you can tell these gentlemen that you are uninterested and continue walking.” Nope. The guy in the photo above is actually in Rome, and although the rose hustlers were way more abundant in Venice, he was actually the most aggressive we came across. He literally shoved a rose onto me, making contact with my body. Like, dude. You’re not doing a good job selling if you have to TOUCH ME. (Don’t ever touch me.)

4. Rome is cheaper than Venice – and has better quality goods.

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The food was better and cheaper across the board in Rome. The pizza and pasta were noticeably better at every restaurant. Not only was it better, it was a better vibe and noticeably less expensive. And it was easier to find places that weren’t tourist traps. And even places across the street from big landmarks were tasty and not a total rip-off. Rome’s food was astronomically better. I don’t believe we had a bad meal in the place, ever. As much as I loved how quaint, small and navigate-able Venice was, now that I have some distance from it, I can say with certainty that I’d be much more excited to head back to Rome and save the canals for much later in life, when Zack and I are the age of the folks we saw in endless tour groups (except we’ll never do one of those old-people tour groups. We value our independence and control of our schedules, thank you!)

5. It’s not as confusing to navigate as you’d imagine.

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OK, it’s not fair for me to talk about how easy it was to get around, since I just walked where Caitlin told me to walk, but it did seem easier. They have signs everywhere that point you in the right direction. Take it from here, Caitlin. Absolutely. Venice in particular was the easiest place to get around I think I’ve ever been to. So the signs Zack is talking about are basically at the beginning and end of each street corridor, and they’ll be two: one with an arrow pointing to the left and saying which huge landmark lies that way, and one with an arrow to the right letting you know which landmark is that way. Typically the landmarks are going to be “S. Marco” for the square, and Piazzale Roma, the big bus terminal. Even if you want to go to one location and somehow accidentally walk in the direction of the other, Venice is basically one big loop around, so eventually you’ll get back anyway. The only time we ran into trouble was when I was trying to retrace our steps toward a Beatles store and we kept turning down dead-ended side streets, but that lasted all of five minutes and then we got back on track (and found the store!)

6. They have the worst pastries.

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Paris – best pastries. Germany – great, but not mind blowing pastries*. Italy? Don’t waste your time. We got some macaroons that looked good, but sure didn’t taste like the ones we’d gotten used to. I had a chocolate croissant that was barely edible. Caitlin found a couple passable donuts, but for the most part, seriously, don’t waste your time. I agree. Even though my doughnut, above, was solid, you can even tell by my expression that it was hardly worth writing home about. It basically tasted like what you’d get from Dunkin. Now, that said — by the time we made it to Rome we just assumed all Italian pastries were bad Italian pastries, so perhaps Rome would’ve done better.

*Totally disagree. I’m STILL dreaming about my fresh-cherries-and-cream-cheese breakfast pastry from Freiburg.

7. Their drinks are all great.

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I loved Moretti and every other beer I came across. We found a few wines we really adored.  I  loved the coffee and espressos.  But most of all, we loved this fizzy red wine that we found at a chocolate shop. We had a bottle of it in bed two nights in a row in Venice as we watched terrible/awesome Italian TV. It was perfect. I’ll let my expression in the photo above speak for my feelings about this sparkling red wine.

8. Not a lot of people speak English.

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There were a few times where the no English hurt. When our cabbie didn’t speak any when we were stranded in Rome. When we wanted to ask follow up questions in shops, etc. None of it ended up affecting us too much, but it was noticeably more difficult than in other countries. Another thing about this is, people will just continue to speak to you in Italian with little English words thrown in, even when they very much understand you do not speak Italian. Maybe they were hoping that tone of voice/context clues would get us to some understanding?

9. They have the best shopping.

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Maybe it’s because shopping is all there is to do in Venice, but there really was a lot of lovely shopping in Italy. I found a great sweater and Caitlin got some awesome pants and a few other adorable things in addition to sunglasses and a necklace. It’s no Paris mall*, but there’s a lot of good shopping here. Especially if you love fancy glass or masks. Yes, there’s a lot of tchotchke shopping for those who like to fill their homes with tons of dust-collectors, but as Zack said, there’s also fun stuff for the clothes horses and jewelry lovers, too. Some of my favorite finds were at a shop called Bijou Brigitte, because they were super cute and very reasonably priced. The most special items, though, were a watch I got for myself and a beautiful heart-shaped necklace Zack bought me that both featured the Morano glass that came from the island of Morano there in Venice.

*Har har.

10. They have palm trees.

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We expected a lot of beauty. We pictured canals and ruins and we knew about the gardens we hoped to visit, but palm trees? We didn’t expect to see those and they were really gorgeous at the Giancolo and Pincio areas we went to in Rome. I didn’t know the weather would support palm trees, but it was just another lovely Italy surprise. I noticed these on our first dark night in a taxi in Rome, and somehow even though we were lost and homeless for a chunk of the night, the presence of palm trees calmed me down a bit. That’s all I can say about that because Zack’s pose in the photo is cracking me up too much to go on.

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One Response to “10 Things We Learned About Italy”

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  1. 10 Things We Learned about Each Other | rockloveaustin - October 8, 2013

    […] already gone through the 10 things we learned about Germany, Paris and Italy and now we move on to what we learned about each other. After nearly three years together […]

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