Category Archives: Italy

A Recap of my 2012 European Vacation

All this thinking about World War II over the last few days of the trip naturally brought to my mind how for the entirety of this trip we were positioned in areas that would have been clearly behind enemy lines.  Germany, of course, is now clearly remembered as the primary villain of this war.  Munich, of course, was the heart of it all.  Hitler’s first gatherings, first speeches, and primary residence for most of his life were all in Munich.

Italy was also considered one of the axis powers in World War II.  Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini formed an alliance and fought side by side until September 1943, when Italy kind of just gave up.  Their ”pact” was actually announced at the Brenner Pass at the Italy/Austria border, the very pass we rode the train through last Friday.  After Italy’s capitulation, the nation remained a war zone, with the northern part of the country being occupied by the Germans.  This area of occupation receded over time from South to North, meaning that Florence and areas further north were occupied longer than Naples and Southern Italy.

Austria was not officially an enemy, but they seemed quite willing to cooperate with Hitler, potentially out of fear.  When German expansion is discussed, the term used for their entrance into Poland (which started the war), and later France, etc. is “invasion”.  This implies an attack, and some kind of a resistance, albeit in the case of France, Belgium, etc. an insignificant one.  For Austria, the term used is “annexed”.  Germany annexed Austria.  There also seems to be no documentation of an armed conflict.   This suggests to me that Austria went without a fight at all.  While nowhere in Europe would be a travel destination during World War II, these three countries were clearly enemy nations.

Furthermore, before the World Wars the borders of many of these nations were not even the same as they are today.  And, it was not long before that when Italy and Germany were not even unified Nations yet.  They still had independent city-states and regions.  That’s why many Italian Americans still think of themselves as Venetian, Roman, Tuscan, etc.  However, today we seem to think of national borders as being mostly constant, not really any threat of changing.  This is especially true of Americans.  It feels as if the wars of the 21st Century are not even fought over territory or borders they way they were in the past.  Sure, there are disputes over Taiwan, and the Sea of Japan (East Sea from the Korean perspective), but they have yet to erupt into any kind of armed conflict.  Our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq last decade were not to annex their country or parts of them.  They are fought over influence.  This trend started with the cold war.  Poland was never part of Russia, but part of the USSR, which Russia dominated.  So, it appears to many that the movement of National borders is a thing of the past, and never needs to really be thought about.

This trip helped reinforce my views that that we should not take our National borders for granted.  This is not only due to the WWII stuff, but also the historical image of the Italian peninsula prior to Italian unification in 1871, the Napoleonic wars, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The world is a fluid place and nothing lasts forever.  The U.S does not seem to be the kind of place in danger, or on the verge of a major change, but it can’t be ruled out.  We’ve already had a civil war over cultural and economic differences, many of which are still in place today, just in a slightly different form.  We’ve also had recent open talks of secessions recently, most notably in Texas, but also in Vermont and California, which are likely from a completely different ideology.

Of course, the Americans that are most likely to share my view that we should not take our borders for granted are those paranoid about the “reconquesta”.  This theory states that, through immigration, Mexico is attempting to take back the region lost in the Mexican American war in the 1840s.  This region includes California and most of the Southwest.  This group of people tends to be ardent supporters of border security and even support further restrictions on legal immigration.

I do not share this view.  I have always viewed the people coming here to be looking for a better life.  People who came here from Mexico most likely came here for something Mexico could not provide for them.  Why would they desire to turn the area they have come to back into a part of Mexico?  Seems to me that would make their dangerous illegal border crossing into a futile measure.  From a sociological point of view, I have a much greater concern for the possibility that the different regions of the U.S., with different cultures, values, and politics, cannot remain as a part of one Nation with increasingly insufficient Federalization.

I do, however, understand what is at the heart of the objectives and fears of the minutemen crowd; preserving our culture, heritage, and way of life.  It is human nature to avoid/resist change when what you currently have is functional, enjoyable, and desirable.  Those wishing to stem the tide of immigration, both legal and illegal, genuinely love America the way it is (or was).  They fear this influx of people will fundamentally change this.

In Europe everything is closer together.  So from an American perspective, I find it fascinating that all of the places I visited over the past two weeks have maintained their separate regional identities as well as they have.  On one side of the Brenner Pass, they spoke Italian, the other German.  Restaurants still open (or reopen) later in Italy than Austria and Germany.  Italians still have different food and drink options at most of their restaurants.  On our arrival in Innsbruck we got a tall (0.5L) beer, something rarely found in Italy.  I joked that the wine portion of our trip is over, and the beer portion had begun.  The rest of our trip confirmed this statement.

Anyone that has traveled around the United States knows there is a certain level of homogeneity throughout the nation.  One of the most major differences I have noticed is the complete change in building design when crossing the border from West Texas into New Mexico on a storm chase.  Regionally, there are differences across the nation in food, lifestyle, and cultural/religious values.  But there are some things that are similar throughout the country.  You can’t find a place in the U.S. where nobody eats cheeseburgers, nobody drinks coffee, and nobody follows football- except maybe a hippie commune.  That’s probably why I am so astounded by Europe.

America is one of three or four countries in the world where we have the option of completely ignoring the rest of the world.  There are almost no activities, aside from riding a functional rail system that we NEED to travel elsewhere for.  That is possibly why we come off as smug to the rest of the world.

I know I am supposed to come back from this type of trip with a new more “worldly” attitude.  At least that is what a standardized life script indicates.  But I am still just as understanding of what romantic “worldly” liberals refer to as a “typical American attitude” as I was before the trip.  Traveling to another country, especially one that does not speak your native language involves going outside our comfort zone.  Americans have an option of not doing this.  Many of us refuse to go outside our comfort zones in other areas of our lives, like talking to new people, going to a new kind of restaurant, changing careers, etc.  Who are we to criticize others for not going out of their comfort zone and traveling internationally?

Speaking of going outside your comfort zone, I definitely believe our first destination, Rome, was furthest outside our comfort zone of all.  The city’s layout is the most confusing and the most unlike ours.  As the trip progressed, it feels like each subsequent destination brought us “closer to home”.  Munich is by far the city I could feel most at home at- of the ones we visited.

Still, America is my home, and I am glad we live here.  I really enjoyed visiting all of the areas of Europe on this trip, but there are a number of things I like better in the USA.  On top of my list is the address system in Chicago and many other US cities.  We have a lot more streets like Western Avenue, which maintain the same coordinate for it’s entire duration, and the same name.  If I am given an address on Western Avenue, I automatically know the East-West coordinate of the location.  In Europe, and especially in Rome, street names change more frequently, sometimes every block.  That’s a lot more road names to remember.  Also, the numbering of our addresses tells you the other coordinate.  If someone tells me to meet them at 4006 N. Western, I know the establishment is just north of Irving Park Road, and on the west side of the street it is on.  European streets often have both even and odd numbers on the same side of the road with no numerical distinctions of blocks.

I also like the supermarkets being open later.  Most shops in Italy, Austria, and Germany close at 6 PM.  If we wanted to save money by not going out to eat, we had to decide this ahead of time.  I really enjoy being able to come home from work and decide on the spot whether or not to eat out.

I have always said it is great to respect and participate in other cultures, but that you should still live in your own.  I am American and I love American culture, but that did not stop me from enjoying all of the activities I did over the past few weeks.  I tried to order strange local food to get the full experience while here.  Italian food is not that different here.  Some items are more common, seafood, salami, and the sauce tends to be made differently.  Austrian and German food can be found in the US, but less frequently.  We’re kind of more into their beer, as a country.  But I did eat a lot of their local food and enjoyed it.  I love encased meats!

Also, everyone that we came across and dealt with was very friendly, especially the proprietors of Hotel Perseo in Florence, the Poggerino winery in Chianti, and everyone at the Laimer Hof in Munich, this includes the other guests who engaged me in conversation Tuesday night.  This makes me happier that we chose the places we chose.  Even the (likely) drugged up woman in Austria was friendly to me.  I just kind of feel bad for not learning the language.  After all, we did go to their county- not the other way around.  I’m grateful to all that accommodate us by knowing English.  In North America- heck, in all of the Americas, you can get by in over 80% of all places by knowing two languages- English and Spanish.  If you know four, English, Spanish, Portuguese and French, you can get by in over 99% of all places.  So, we generally learn fewer languages than our European counterparts.

I also wonder why they accommodate us like that, and whether or not they resent it in some way.  There has to be some kind of economic factor.  I mean, I know of other places where they are less accommodating.  And, it is not like I feel like everybody needs to accommodate me, like some kind of self-absorbed asshole, but if someone out there does accommodate us and is friendly, well, why not give them business and tourism money?  But, I bet some of the mare worried that we are trying to Americanize the world.  The band Rammstein’s not as famous (as Du Hast) follow up “Amerika” is about exactly this.

I really have no desire to Americanize Europe, or anywhere else for that matter.  There are some places in trouble that would benefit from American ideas, but I am under no delusion that our way is the only way to do things.  In fact, our differing geographies (US more spread out) and histories (Europe being older and more culturally different) dictate that we must be different.  On that note, those that want to Europeanize America are just as misguided.  Sure, I would love to be able to drink a beer on the street without worrying about open container laws, and I would love to have the train system Europe has.  But, maybe not at the expense of European tax rates and gas prices.

We travel to various destinations for various reasons, sometimes for work, sometimes to visit people.  Sometimes, we travel to visit a specific destination.  When we visit to go to a specific place, we visit them because in some way they are different from where we usually are, our homes.  Suburbanites come into the city; Chicagoans go to the Dells, heck, even a Pennsylvanian taking their family to Disney World all share something in common.  In all of these cases, something is different about where they are going.  That is why I look on with wonder as I see the Medieval looking town of Radda, where I can literally imagine knights riding up and down the rolling hills.  Or in Rome, at Circus Maximus, I imagine chariot racers jockeying for position.  History, culture, heck, even the future comes to life in special places at special times when we take a break from our day-to-day lives that so often consume us to the point where we don’t even realize how much time has gone by (The theme of the Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime).

On my travels I saw various places that took me back to various times in history.  I also saw places that put me on a train of thought that lead me to wonder things about myself and the culture we all live in.  Are we really selfish?  Do we really need to crowd retail malls on Sunday, and what happened to spending that time with our families?  Is this why our families seem so dysfunctional these days?  Are some places destined to be wealthier than others?  Is it natural for mountainous places to be outdoorsier and health conscious?  Can we really be no more than a couple of bad elections from millions suffering they way they did?  Why do the European exit signs make it look like you are trying to make an escape, from like a mugging or something?

Really, the list could go on for pages.  And the list is different for everyone.  What matters more than the answers or even the questions is that we keep asking them-even if it is only to ourselves.  And that we keep visiting new places, whether they are geographical, sociological, or situational, and coming up with new questions based on new experience.  Of them includes international travel, and I am privileged to have traveled to a wide variety of new places in the spring of 2012.

Train Ride from Florence to Innsubruck

Today was mostly a travel day as we moved on from Tuscany and headed for Innsbruck.  It started with another phenomenal breakfast at Poggerino, but that now seems to feel like it happened like three days ago!  Ever notice how while on vacation, or during special events time feels like it is going faster while things are happening, but in retrospect more time seems to have gone by?  I’ve had times at work where I mistook a Tuesday lunch conversation for a Wednesday one, but the start of this trip feels like weeks ago.  Maybe it is that we perceive time in the present tense based on our awareness of time’s passing (i.e. inversely related to how involved we are in what we are doing), but in the past based on the quantity of memorable experiences in our lives.

The train rides started off kind of dull.  Florence to Bologna was like 80% under tunnels.  Bologna to Verona, at least until you approach Verona, is flat.  I saw irrigations and felt like I was in the Kansas of Italy.

After Verona things got interesting as we headed into the Italian Alps.  We kind of missed the Dolomites, but the mountains were quite nice.  Plus, the railroad tracks followed a river valley, so we got to see the scenery (as opposed to being under tunnels).  I read up a bit on Trento and Bolzano while we passed though this area.  It seems as though this is the outdoorsiest part of Italy.  There were bike trails (most likely the same one) along the river valley for much of the journey, and I saw plenty of riders.  Finally, we went thought the Brenner Pass, exiting Italy into Austria.

Innsbruck is exactly as I imagined it; an Austrian looking ski town.  The mountains came right up to the town and watch over it in all directions.  We could probably walk right up to one from the Weisses Kreuz, our hotel, which is right in the center of town.  There is a shopping district that seems to cater to both skiers and Austrian type people with bars and beer gardens.  Like I said, EXACTLY as I imagined.

We had a nice dinner at Ottoburg, at the recommendation of the hotel desk.  There, I decided to dive right into the local culture, and got the most traditional Austrian dish that did not seem scary.  It was phenomenal.  While there, we encountered a group of five guys in their 20s.  It was crazy because, other than speaking German, they looked and acted exactly like you’d expect a group like this in America.  Oh, except they were at a fancy restaurant together.   Groups of guys, for one reason or another, don’t do that in America.  But, their behavior, their interaction indicates one of two things; there really is not that much different amongst different types of people, or that the German influence has manifested itself in the heavily German Midwest (especially WI and NE) in the form of drunken Friday nights.  I’ll let you be the judge, but either way I had my first conversation with completely random people in Europe- awesome!

My Last Day in Italy

It was our only full day in Tuscany, and our last full day in Italy.  Tomorrow, we’ll take the train straight to Innsbruck, Austria.  I already begin to wonder if I have seen enough of Italy.  However, John, the guy, one of the organizers of this B&B informed us that our train route tomorrow will go through the Dolomites north of Verona, so I guess I will see more of Italy.

Before this trip I knew I wanted to make Italy a part of this trip.  My family heritage is 50% Italian, and I had always considered that a part of who I am.  Mostly, to explain my lack of patience sometimes I would say: “I have about the level of patience you’d expect from an Italian-American New Yorker”.  However, I’d never known about the culture, beyond the basics.  Now, I kind of understand, or feel like I understand it more.  From now on, those maps of Italy put onto pizza boxes in America will mean more to me.

Today we went to the town of Siena, after an amazing breakfast cooked by the staff here at Poggerino.  Siena, like Florence, “grew up”, in the Middle Ages.  For a few centuries (1000 to 1400-ish), these cities were constantly in conflict with each other over supremacy and influence in the region.  Florence, more or less, eventually won this battle, and Siena was “vanquished” to smaller status (still true today).  This was around the time the Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance.   It is probably no coincidence that Florence became the city in Italy most associated with the Renaissance, attracting thinkers/inventors from all over Europe.

In a way every place we visited has an associated time period.  Rome- the Roman Empire, Siena- The Middle Ages, Florence- The Renaissance, The Tuscan Vineyards- now, as it is currently one of the wealthiest and best known parts of Italy.  So, given the small allocation of time, I think I did well and learned a lot about Italian culture and history, about my history in a way.

Finally, I was wayyy excited to have purchased salami, cheese, bread, soda, and an orange from a local shop in Radda, and eaten at home.  It was only 8,64 Euro, so we saved between 25 and 50 (Euro), and we ate at 6 PM (after all, we are American), and did not have to drive unlit roads in rough terrain at night like last night.

Staying at home allowed us to witness a casual fire around 8 PM.  This week’s weather has been warm and dry.  I’ve already gone though all of the short-sleeved shirts I brought.  Today though was windier, making it seem like textbook wildfire weather.  This fire was actually on Poggerino property.  It appeared as though the wind ignited a fire among a pile of dry leaves and wood pieces.  We were worried, and even tried to contact the proprietors of this establishment.  But, noting came of it, and the fire died around 10 PM, when the wind calmed down.  Maybe I am a stupid city slicker.  Or, maybe we got lucky and I need to learn to be more self-sufficient.

Relaxing in Italy’s Wine Country

Today we left Florence for Chianti.  To get to our winery/ bed and breakfast we needed to rent a car.  Since driving in downtown Florence is restricted, we had to take the T1 tram to the Hertz rent-a-car.  The T1 tram is the Brown line of Italy, slow and seems to have too many unnecessary turns.  On top of that, it was kind of hard to get tickets.  We spent ten minutes just looking for a place to buy them- and eventually bought them at a newspaper stand.

The drive to Poggerino B&B, near Radda in Chianti took about an hour.  We took the scenic route, which had some great views.  We actually climbed to near the top of the mountain (both in Palzzano and near the B&B).  After today, I feel like I have seen many different parts of Italy; Rome, a big city, Florence, a more moderate sized city, and the Tuscan countryside, with small towns and rural areas.

Overall, today was a more relaxing day.  Abby was a bit stressed driving in Florence, but after that it was relaxing.  People often forget to relax on trips.  They often forget that a vacation …well… is a vacation.  I find that Americans see vacations as being in two groups

1.  Vacations to relax, to places like beaches, or even to stay home

2.  Vacations to travel, see places, and do things, often with ambitious itinerary

When a vacation belongs to category two, people can sometimes return more worn out then when they left.  We have a lot to see on this trip, and had done a lot the last few days.  So, today it was time to relax a bit, enjoy the weather, the sun, and the view (which is really nice).

The only thing we did do was go into town (Radda) for lunch.  We also went out for dinner.  Lunch was unexpectedly the best meal I’d had so far.  It was this flat pasta with salami ragu.  A good portion too.  American portion sizes have become ridiculous, and not only at the Cheesecake Factory.  Some places in the city have scaled back to more reasonable sizes.  Buona Terra, our favorite Italian place is not too bad.  But, still you’re far more likely to get way too much food than not enough.

Rome to Florence

Today started with a ride on the fastest train I have ever ridden: The high-speed train from Rome to Florence.  It topped out at 250 km/hr (155 mph).  Traveling at those speeds did not feel too different than traveling at 60, 70, 80 mph as I commonly do in my car.  However, it was definitely noticeable that the scenery was going by faster than what I was used to, and that we were moving much faster than all the cars we saw on an adjacent highway.  There are also a lot of moderate size mountains in Italy.  I think we spent about 25% of this trip underground, in tunnels under mountains.

Our hotel in Florence was much nicer.  Mainly, it was a lot bigger, our hotel in Rome was really kind of small, but I guess that is what to expect in such a crowded area.  Luckily, our hotel room was ready for us when we got there, which was before 11 AM.  So, we were able to drop off our bags and go straight to the Galileo Museum.  This museum is actually not very well known, but it was our choice to be unique and go somewhere different.  This paid off for us, as the place was much less crowded than many of the other sites in town.  The museum itself was a really good deal, for only 4 Euro each, and it is quite stacked with ancient scientific instrumentation.  The museum also contained a historical narrative of the history of science.

After visiting the museum, my mind was fixated on the Renaissance.  Specifically, why it happened.  Why was it that people suddenly became interested in this stuff after nearly a millennium of seemingly not caring about any of it?  From sometime in the 1400s onward, there’s been a cascading of scientific discovery and invention; new instruments to measure the weather, directions, proof the Earth is round and not the center of the universe, observations of other planets, electricity, the steam engine, etc.  All of this made our lives much better than those that lived 1000 years ago.  But, what triggered it all?  There seemed to be an interest in navigation after European Nations discovered and started colonizing the new world.  But that was discovered in a quest to find trading routes.  So, was it all just a quest for cheaper cooking supplies, and spices in the aftermath of Marco Polo’s epic journey to the East?  Or, was it a new “age” of sorts, as explained by both Western and Eastern Philosophy/ astrology where humanity undergoes cyclical trends both long term and short, where thinkers like Aristotle and Socrates lead the emergence, or Renaissance out of the previous dark age (in the aftermath of the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization), and Galileo and Copernicus leading the emergence, or Renaissance being discussed here.

Florence is a beautiful city.  We went out ourselves exploring it, after going to the museum and eating lunch.  First, we climbed some outdoor stairs to the top of the Michelangelo Garden.  Then, we climbed the indoor stairs in the Duomo.  That is where we encountered the most annoying American tourists of the entire journey.  This family was climbing the stairs (there are a lot of them) to the top of the Duomo.  The mother and the oldest son were behind us, and the father and the younger daughter were in front of us.  The mother in the back was getting claustrophobic and kept complaining- over and over again.  On at least six occasions, she threatened to turn around and go down.  The last one was after the father/ daughter had informed her that they saw the top!  The only one in that group I respected was the little girl.  She was like 6 years old maybe, and she actually taunted everyone else.  The older son kept asking the Mom is she was okay.  I bet she had expected climbing this Duomo to be exactly like going to the top of the Empire State Building, with a nice fancy elevator.  These people probably give American tourists a bad name.

The Arzo River, all day long, was filled with rowers.  No other water activites were going on.. NO … NINE!  No boats, no cruises, only rowing.  It is like a local law.  Also, the tops of the buildings looked like Mexico/ New Mexico (red clay).  We kind of enjoyed walking around here more than Rome.

Finally, at the end of the evening I got to try two Italian beverages.  Grappa, which I thought tasted like a combination of Vodka and bread.  The beverage is drank by Italians in a similar way that that one beverage in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you know, the tall one that Ian’s parents get drunk on, is drank by Greeks.  Also, Martini, a sweet vermouth beverage.  I enjoyed this one very much.  Both of these beverages were given to me for free.  How’s that for Italian hospitality.

Touring Around Rome

How important is it to preserve our history?  It is obvious that different cultures at different time periods have answered this question differently.  Today was our main day of touring around Rome.  We saw all of the sights of ancient Rome, including the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and Circus Maximus.  Throughout the viewing of these buildings a common theme showed up.  Apparently, between the mid 4th Century (when Rome converted to Catholicism), and around 1800, these historic buildings were not only left to rust, but often their metal was raided for the purpose of making weaponry, or to build the Saint Peter’s Basilica.

A Spanish-speaking tour guide engaged her students in a discussion before viewing the Roman Forum.  I listened in on it, as we were waiting for our English language tour to begin.  She discussed with her students about how Rome has two histories; a pagan one and a catholic one, each with their own point of view.  The Catholics viewed much of the pagan history with shame, as evidenced by the abandonment of the Colosseum and it’s inhumane fight to the death Gladiator games.  This is probably why they so readily let these buildings get destroyed.

The one ancient building preserved through the ages is a building called the Pantheon, which was built in the year 120 AD.  This building was preserved because it was converted into a church to serve a Catholic purpose during the 8th Century.  It is Rome’s oldest still in use building.  After viewing the Ancient Roman buildings, we went to this building.  After that, we decided to just “Roam around Rome”.  We went over the Tiber River on the cheesiest bridge we had ever seen, the San Angelo Bridge.  Then, we literally stumbled on the Vatican.  Previously, we had absolutely no plans to visit this place, but since we were like right there, we went to look at it.  While there, I actually wondered whether nearby Catholics went to the Vatican on a weekly basis for mass, the same way any other Catholic would go to their nearby church, but the nearest one just happens to be the one the Pope speaks at.  That would be crazy.  Finally, we ate at Campo di Fiori, a really nice area, with somewhat of a nightlife feel.  But, today overall was a tiring day.

Today was another first for me.  I rode Rome’s subway system.  It was the first time I had ever ridden a train outside the United States.  The train cars themselves looked quite a bit like the ones in New York, but the system overall reminded me much more of DC’s (multiple levels of Subway, and the design of the train stations and entrances).  Oh, and Piazza de Navona was also kind of cheesy.

The First Day of my European Vacation

Today was the day I embarked on my first European vacation.  In fact, this is the first foreign country I have ever visited besides Canada.  And most people don’t think that Canada really counts as a foreign country.  In fact, Homer Simpson called Canada “America Junior”.

Our trip began with a flight from Chicago to Rome.  We actually flew into Zurich, Switzerland first, and then into Rome, as the best deal we could find was on Swiss Air.  When we arrived in Rome, I was kind of overwhelmed a bit.  I definitely deserve credit for going outside my comfort zone.  Firstly, the baggage claim at the airport was really slow.  A frequent European traveler at the baggage claim verified that this is one of the slowest baggage claims in the world, at least the world he knows.

We had arranged a shuttle bus ride from the airport to the hotel, as we knew we would be tired after the long flight(s), and would not want to wander all over the place with our luggage.  The bus driver was really friendly, but did not speak any English.  In addition to that, all of the roads were so much different than the roads I am used to.

To tell you the truth, I immediately felt kind of bad about having not learned the language before coming here.  I mean, it is their country.  Adding to my confusion, Italian sounds kind of like Spanish, a language I know fairly well (used to know better).  So, I spent the whole day kind of paralyzed in a way.  I did not say anything, because I was afraid I would accidentally spew out Spanish words and sound like an even bigger idiot than I already sort of seemed like.

Rome is the most confusing city I’ve ever navigated.  So many short, narrow roads.  The address system is weird to me.  We went and saw the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and a few monuments.  In a directional triumph, I did not get us lost once!  Our hotel is right in the middle of the touristy area so it is safe here, but crowded.  I probably could not live here because it is so crowded.  Traffic did not seem as crazy as the city’s reputation, but it is Sunday, so we’ll see tomorrow.  Also, there is almost no green space here (parks, etc.).  I am also surprised to see the occasional palm tree.

We had Italian Gelato, which was amazing!  There are like 9 gelato places within a 5-minute walk of our hotel.  Also had pasta here- it was good- got linguine with fruitti de mare.

The whole time today I kept thinking about two things….

1.  How Rome was once the center of the world.  How Mussolini tried to bring those glory days back, you know with those models of the ancient city in his basement and such.  And how much older this place is.  There is more history here than in any other place I have ever been before.  The closest I have been are places like Annapolis (Maryland), and Plymouth Rock (Massachusetts), which date back to like the 1600s, not even close.

2.  Having much of my heritage from Italy, but being four generations removed, how much can I really identify with this place?  I remember traditions as a kid that were distinctly Italian, but the culture here still seems so foreign, so different than what I know.  Still it’s a part of my family history