July 22, 2012

Farewell Italia

For our grand finale in Italy, we headed from the Dolomites to the sinking city of Venice. It was not lost on us that we spent the morning in an alpine hut at 8,000 feet and the same evening cruising the Grand Canal. We traded one type of gondola for another…a very surreal moment.

Before we got to Venice, we had a little talk with ourselves that went something like this…“Dear Steve and Katie; do not be annoyed with Venice. Despite the horror stories of American tourists, pigeons, heat and stench, just take a deep breath and everything will be okay.”

 We had our expectations very low, but in the end, we didn’t find any of these to be a problem at all! By avoiding the tourist traps during the day – and taking full advantage of the city at its quietest moments in the morning and at night – we left with really good memories.

Stepping off the train for the first time in Venice, you walk 10 feet out of the station and you’re dumped right onto the Grand Canal. What an exuberant feeling to finally reach this incredible city.

Besides being bigger than we imagined, Venice is pretty much what you would expect. That’s not a bad thing, because it also means it’s everything you dream of.


Venice is one large island made up of 100 smaller islands built on top of wood pilings driven into a clay foundation. It’s laced together with 400 bridges and 2,000 alleyways. As my good friend Joe perfectly summarized, “Wheelbarrows are the only wheeled devices around”.

We saw ambulance, fire, UPS, garbage, and police speed boats.

With dueling orchestras, water seeping up through the drainage grates, and children chasing pigeons, St. Marks Square is the heart of the city. On our first night in town, I looked up at the square's Campanile Tower with a déjà vu sort of feeling. I knew I had seen it somewhere before, and then it hit me…Las Vegas. I felt a little jipped.

There are only half the number of Venetians now that there were three decades ago. In fact, city planners believe that eventually Venice may not have any local residents at all…it will essentially just become a museum.

In any other city, decay like this would be seen as run-down. In Venice it is charming and elegant.

There may be other cities in the world that are just as beautiful as Venice, but certainly no city exists that is as unique.


We have spent 28 days in Italy. It has felt like a long time, and I don’t mean that in a good or bad way. I just mean that we have enjoyed taking a lot of time to visit roughly 20 different cities and regions in a country the size of Arizona.

Italy is the land of accordions, church bells that ring whenever they feel like it, graves that look like flower gardens, and green shutters. It seems that 99% of Italian homes have green shutters…we have no idea why.

We’ve been to the South, to the North, and everything in between. In much of the same way that you’d compare New York vs. Texas vs. California, there are very different Italys.

There’s something so familiar – and then at the same time so unfamiliar – about Italian food. We felt fairly knowledgeable about pasta before coming here, but then we tried all of these: fettuccini, gnocchi, spaghetti, fusilli, ravioli, tortellini, tagliolino, pappardelle, penne, tagliatelle, rigatoni, trofie, pansotti, and lasagna. It’s been served in many different forms, including squid ink, pesto, and chocolate.

If there was one pasta that we were disappointed by every time, it was lasagna. You come to Italy expecting the best pasta on the planet, and the lasagna just always seemed microwaved.

The good news is that we were really surprised to visit grocery stores and see the same brand of pasta that we purchase back in the US! Now you can buy with confidence.

Several people have asked us where we had the best pizza. To be honest, we had so many that they all seem pretty similar in our memories (with the exception of Sienna, which was all together different). We've never met a pizza we didn't like. One surprising thing is that we never came across our favorite American ingredient, pepperoni. In Italy it's either salami or prosciutto.

Besides pizza and pasta, there have been other recognizable food groups, too: facaccia, pannini, bruschetta, caprese, risotto, spumante, limoncello, bellini, spritz, canole, and tiramisu.

Italian stomachs seem super human. While we gladly share a pizza, tiny women eating next to us finish off entire pizzas on their own. Then they might have a second course!

Italians deserve an award for the most appetizing ice cream displays. They spruce them up by throwing hunks of candy bars, vanilla beans, coffee beans and fruits into each bin. So if you can't read the flavor, you just look at what's been thrown on top.

We had fun trying chocolate chip, vanilla, coffee, nutella, lemoncelllo, nuts, chocolate, dark chocolate, honey, mint, nougat, cream, caramel, butter crunch, ricotta with figs, hazelnut, and toffee. Lots of towns also have their own special concoction like Crema Cinque Terre. Europeans love fruit flavors, but our American taste buds kept craving the candy bar flavors.

We’ve laughed that throughout the world, countries outside of the US do not seem to understand economies of scale…that is until we got to Italy. Italians understand it so well, that they’ve worked themselves right into an economic crisis. For example, the other day we could have bought a 33 centiliter beer for 3.50 Euros or a 66 centiliter beer (the same brand) for 50 cents less. Figure that out! We feel that we've done our part to contribute to the Italian bail-out. We managed to rack up $80 in toll fees on a 3-hour drive from France to Italy.

Biggies like Rome and Florence are places that you have to see once. But now that we’ve been there, we feel that we don’t really need to go back. The Roman ruins aren’t going to change much. If we ever visit Italy for a second time, it will be to some of the quaint water communities like the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre. But don’t take our word for it…go and decide for yourself!

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