Weekend Essentials; Traveling to Italy

This weekend was spent mostly on a plane.

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Well, about a 45 minute drive from our hotel in Rome to the Leonardo Da Vinci airport, just under four hours at the airport, 10 plus hours on the plane and finally two hours spent going through customs and waiting for our bags at JFK back in New York.

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There was definitely a lot of waiting around on this trip, but that was the only downside. On the flip side of the coin there was outrageously fresh, delicious food, a never-ending flow of wine and prosecco, the best espresso I’ve ever had available in every place I could imagine, insanely beautiful scenery and architecture that transports you back to a time so, so far away.

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Italy is incredibly, breathtakingly beautiful and I’m glad I got to see so much of it in such a short amount of time and I’m glad we took the risk of breaking away from the standard tour groups and exploring on our own.

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Sure, we got scammed once or twice, found ourselves in quite frightening, seedy situations, but in the end nothing was stolen from us, we stayed safe and had the experience of a lifetime. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

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We did the tours for the Vatican only and to be honest, I was miserable. It’s difficult for me to spend more than a day traveling only to be herded through schools of never-ending crowds and spend even more time waiting on lines, waiting on lines. Dan has been to Italy before so he knew where all the sites were and he’s a big time history/architecture buff so strolling the streets of ancient cities with him was like having my own personal tour guide.

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Plus he’s so passionate about the culture and all the ancient sites and ruins. The way I feel at the ocean-whole, connected, small and alive is how he feels walking through the Roman Forum. I’m so glad I was there with him because his passion ignited mine for something I may not have otherwise felt so connected to.

We stayed in Rome and that was by far my favorite city. I’m not quite sure what it was but something about that city felt so peaceful. My favorite part was The Pantheon. The best thing was sitting at a cafe staring out to this massive, 3,000 (I think?) year old structure feeling this awe inspiring connection between past and present that I’ve never felt anywhere else. I’m someone who carries the past wherever I go so perhaps that’s why I was drawn to such a place. Rome respects the past like nowhere else I’ve ever seen. I was quite blown away by the fact that the reason they have no underground parking is because every time they start to dig they uncover something else. It’s cities on top of cities on top of cities and they respect every last layer.

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Of course, I have to talk about the food. If I could describe it in one word that word would be fresh. At the end of the trip Dan and I noticed two things: 1, our skin was flawless by the end of the week; dewey, fresh and not one breakout on either of us. 2, we had no stomach issues. No gas, no pains, no discomfort and never felt overly full. And it’s not like we ate exceptionally healthy either. Our meals consisted of way too much coffee and nowhere near enough water, pizzas, pastas, wine and of course a daily gelato or two. At the end of the trip we didn’t feel bloated or like we gained weight. We also walked an average of 6-8 miles a day which I’m sure had a lot to do with that. Really though, I think it’s the balance of the two.

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The portion sizes there are exactly what our portion sizes should be and the ingredients are outstandingly fresh. You caste the difference in the freshness, mostly in the aftertaste…or lack thereof. No matter what I ate I never tasted any funky or off putting aftertaste. Nothing ever tasted “metallic” or “chemically” which I think are common descriptors for many foods and drinks here in America.

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The pizza dough was literally paper thin; it was more akin to a cracker than bread. There was a minimal amount of cheese on top but it was so fresh and incredibly rich that no more was needed. I don’t know if it was something in the wine or the air but we never felt hungover. And believe me, we drank plenty enough to be. The pasta was always perfectly al dente, never, ever soft in the slightest.

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Usually on vacation my face starts to look a bit puffy by the third or fourth day. This is usually from a combination of the dehydrating effects of alcohol and the high salt content of the plethora of restaurant food. In Italy we ate every meal out and not one day, even at the end of the week, did I feel like my face looked puffy. Nothing tasted overly salty.

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To get to different cities we opted to take the high speed trains instead of arranging for city tours and taking the tour busses. We just felt like between the plane and bus to the hotel we’d had enough of it all. The bus to Florence was three hours while the train was 1 hour 20 minutes. Done. We had read up about the creepiness and scamming that goes on at the train terminals but honestly, it’s no different than the seediness that goes on in the NY subway system. Growing up used to NYC’s public transportation, I felt that I was perfectly capable of holding my own in Italy’s terminals. The biggest thing to look out for are people hovering over you, assessing whether or not you’re a tourist. We had people watching us at the ticket machines to see where we were traveling to. They’d walk up to us and offer to drive us to our destination for a cheaper cost and they were relentless. Dan would say no then they would follow me and try to get me to agree to a ride. We just ignored them and made our way briskly to the train and kept our heads down. Again, no different than NY.

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To be honest though, knowing that I was a target was a bit unsettling. I did try my best to dress in a certain way and try to blend in. Most days I didn’t carry a bag or anything except for my phone (which didn’t even work but I used it as a camera because I didn’t want to make myself look EXTRA obvious by lugging around my giant Nikon) and when I did carry a bag it was a small clutch that I tightly tucked under my arm. At the end of the day though, I was in a foreign country that I’d never been to before…no matter what I did, I was going to stand out as a tourist.

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At one point I did say to Dan, “if these kind of things happen in New York too, how come I never see them?!”. To him, the answer was obvious and it was because we live here. When we walk to work we walk fast, keep our heads down and know exactly where we’re going. We’re not walking slowly, looking up at buildings and street signs. We move fast and head straight to our destination without deviations. Whereas in Italy, we’re looking at everything. Whether we’re looking at signs to see where we are or we’re looking up at the buildings to admire them-that’s what makes us obvious. Like I said though, it’s an uncomfortable feeling to know that people may be preying on you and I did have to focus on not letting that bother me. It was a feeling I didn’t want to keep in the foreground of my mind because I didn’t want it to taint the experience, but I also had to keep it in my head somewhere to keep myself safe and on guard. It was a balance I never quite mastered and because of it there were times where I felt bitter.

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Overall, though, that was such a small dot on an otherwise wonderful trip. In hindsight, that’s the part that I will forget and only the good will stand out. I just wanted to mention it on the blog for anyone reading who is like me. I went here bright eyed and bushy tailed, all my guards down, excited to immerse myself in a new place. With my guards down I would wander off from Dan and find spots secluded from the crowds to take clearer pictures or just be.

taking photos in a secluded area of Florence, behind a shop stand

taking photos in a secluded area of Florence, behind a shop stand

I did this at the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and Dan noticed two men following me. Nothing ended up happening. Dan told me, pointed them out and we made our way away from them. It opened my eyes and made realize that I couldn’t really “let go” and that made me a bit sad. Living and working where I do, I always have a guard up and during vacation I like being able to let loose and let that go a bit. So, be cautious but don’t let it sour an otherwise amazing time!

I’ll be back with more updates throughout the week!

xoxo