I’m planning a trip to Italy, and y’all are invited to listen to me moan about it.

romefakeexpediaad.jpgIt’s still a week away, but I’m already trying to get myself in the right mindset for my upcoming vacation. It’s a somewhat spontaneous trip to Rome, Florence, and Venice, prompted mostly by watching the last season of the HBO series in a two-week burst and then getting an e-mail reminding me my frequent flier miles were about to expire.

I say “somewhat spontaneous” because I made the reservations well over a month ago. But that’s spontaneous for me, because I’ve got the kind of overwhelming inertia that makes me have to fill out a list of pros and cons before I’ll leave the house even for groceries. I get… nervous when I’m separated from my computer and refrigerator for too long. The movie Into the Wild, about a guy who abandons all his possessions and hitchhikes through Alaska, is incorrectly labeled as “Adventure” and “Biography”. I call it “horror.”

But that’s negative thinking! This is going to be an adventure-filled trip to the birthplace of civilization. It’ll be great to get away from San Francisco, and visit a place with fascinating history, great food, interesting architecture, and a beautiful rolling countryside filled with vineyards.

That’s the other problem: it’s kind of hard to get all that excited about sightseeing when you start every day by driving over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County. There are plenty of things not to like about San Francisco, but “lack of scenery” isn’t one of them.

I’ve tried to get myself in the mood by watching La Dolce Vita and Roman Holiday and of course, Gomorra, but as soon as the camera stops showing the Coliseum or the Forum or gondolas or dudes wrestling in togas, my attention starts to drift elsewhere. I’m not even a little bit Italian, and I don’t drink wine or coffee, so there’s little pulling me there.

Of course, I’m not at all Japanese, and I’m not crazy about seafood, so there’s little pulling me to Japan either. The difference there: the place really does feel like you’re about to see a samurai or a giant robot (or both!) at any moment. The part of me that would rather stay in bed keeps telling me that Italy is just foreign enough to be inconvenient, but not foreign enough to feel like an adventure.

So my current plan is just to chill the hell out. I’m not going to think of it as a once-in-a-lifetime expedition to a land rich in history, but a vacation. I’m not going to make a list of 100 things I have to see in each location, but wander around and take pictures. If I feel like heading back to the hotel room and watching TV or just lying down, so what? I’m not getting graded on this trip, and if I miss anything important, that’s what the Travel Channel is for. I’ll just take advantage of two weeks of not doing anything of consequence, and more important: not feeling like I should be doing anything of consequence.

And testing my theory about how much prosciutto a human being can eat before his heart explodes. And chasing it with tiramisu.


  1. Chris Avatar

    I heartily recommend the pesto zucchini lasagna. Seriously. Have a great trip Chuck!

  2. Cory Avatar

    I dont think you will find Italian TV up to your standards Chuck. Nothing but Soccer, bizarre variety shows, and 80’s porn.

  3. Chuck Avatar

    Thanks, Chris!

    And Cory: Google Translate for my hotel’s website promised “a variety of bizarre 80s soccer porn,” which is the only reason I chose that hotel.

  4. Matthew Dessem Avatar

    I think you’re doing the right thing by leaving yourself some time to just wander around or relax, especially in Florence and Venice (Rome is kind of a urine-soaked tourist trap, if I remember correctly). You’ll see plenty of tourists with strict timetables, and they won’t be having a good time. And okay, wine and coffee are both great there, but it’s worth going just for the food. Eat at least one meal at a high-end place and at least one at a hole-in-the-wall as far from tourist areas as possible. Not to put those on a hypothetical list of things to do, or anything. I like food, wine, and coffee, so I’m envious.

  5. Chuck Avatar

    Well, now I feel like kind of an ass for going on vacation when people not far from there are having to deal with a disaster. (I can crassly observe that earthquakes are one more thing I don’t need to leave SF to get).

  6. Diduz Avatar

    Actually, I live in the Urine-Soaked Tourist Trap.
    It’s nice of you to rethink the trip because of the earthquake, but you won’t have practical problems if you visit Rome, Florence or Venice. Moral problems are a whole different matter, of course. 🙂

  7. Chuck Avatar

    Thanks for the info, Diduz. We residents of urine-soaked tourist traps gotta stick together.

    I figure I’m not being more helpful staying home than I would be over there; if absolutely nothing else, at least I’m putting a tiny drop of money into the tourist economy. As long as I’m not sitting on a tour bus snapping pictures while we’re blocking the road for emergency vehicles.

    But knowing it’s not directly affecting the cities I’m visiting will at least make my parents feel better.

  8. Diduz Avatar

    I know Florence and Venice aren’t touched by the eq.
    In Rome we’re still experiencing something minor, but I doubt (and I HOPE) this will last long. It’s not that frequent over here! The epicenter of the earthquake is in L’Aquila.

  9. Cory Avatar

    I found Venice to be way more urine-soaked.

    On the restaraunts, we learned that the bigger and prettier a place was, the worse the food was. The best meals we ate in Italy were at tiny places off of alleys with 3 or 4 tables in them.

  10. Chris Avatar

    I second Cory’s restaurant experiences. The pesto zucchini lasagna I had was in a tiny place that was only open a couple hours a day. It was also in a village of around 80 people. So if you have a rental car, I highly recommend getting out and away from the bigger cities for a couple days.

  11. Matthew Dessem Avatar

    I don’t think I had a bad meal the whole time I lived there, honestly. And while I second the notion that there are lots of tiny little restaurants with amazing food there, Rome and Florence each have a three-Michelin-star restaurant (La Pergola & Enotecca Piniciorri, respectively). I’d wager the food is not too bad at either place.

    Small towns, yeah, I recommend Siena if you can stand to leave Florence for a day. Have a great trip! And turn off your iPhone data plan…

  12. Chuck Avatar

    Yep, I’m scheduled to spend a couple of days in Siena after hearing people rave about how great it is.

    Thanks for the tips, and keep ’em coming. I’m probably going to be checking the internets (from hotels) while I’m out there. It’d be nice to think that I could turn everything off and really and truly get away from it all, but I already know that’s not going to happen.

  13. Bret Avatar

    We had a miserable time in Florence, but we were there in the heat of August, when all the Italians leave town on vacation because it’s just too damned hot. Throw another recommendation on the pile for Siena… We fled there from Florence and finally had the pleasant, relaxing vacation we’d hoped for. San Gimignano is a nice day-trip from there as well.

  14. Bret Avatar

    Oh, and on the off-chance you’re looking to stay out in the countryside somewhere: