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Best Advice When Traveling in Italy
7 Must Do's
Jeffrey and I are in Rome having already experienced Tuscany, Bologna, and Florence. Here are some quick tips…
1. Rent an Italian. 1-800-ITA-RENT
Pretend he’s your son and he will talk his way into any restaurant. You and your family will have the best window or outdoor table.
It’s handy having an Italian wherever you go. Jeffrey and I met up with our daughter, Samantha, and her fiance, Ercole Bonavita (not his real name) a Bolognian. (Bologna-boy? Bolognese?) The four of us “inspected” (Italian’s say this instead of “view”) venues for their future wedding, then Jeffrey and I had our own time to explore Italy and celebrate our anniversary.
Here are some benefits of leasing an Italian:
a. We rented a car and along the Tuscan highway Jeffrey forgot to take the toll ticket. Voices from all passengers erupted simultaneously. “You’re supposed to take the ticket… Why didn’t you…? What the—?” I knew that with our handy Italian all would be fine. I told Ercole “When we get to the exit, just tell the toll taker that your stupid American in-laws didn’t know what to do when the ticket spat out of the slot, that the US doesn’t have toll tickets, and that we’ve actually abolished cars to help the environment.”
After several miles, we ended up in the line that didn’t have a toll taker. The voice eruption happened again, “The toll guy is over there… Why didn’t you…What the—?” I knew our handy Italian would smooth things over. Ercole hopped the barriers, squeezed between cars, and reeled off something in Italian to the Toll Taker, who glanced at us, the carload of Americans, and threw his head back in a knowing gesture. “Ah Americano.” The gate lifted and we were free.
That number again: 1-800-ITA-RENT
b. Have your Italian make dinner reservations under his very Italian name. Jeffrey and I headed off on our own to Florence and Ercole booked a reservation for us ahead of time at his favorite very-busy restaurant in Florence renowned for their rare (as in cooking style not scarce) T-bone steak. Jeffrey and I arrived at Trattoria Mario where the owner stood outside turning people away who didn’t have a reservation, a la the soup Nazi. (If you haven’t seen Seinfeld I can’t help you.) “No reservation? Go, go. Move aside-a.” When Jeffrey and I approached the meat Nazi he scanned the pages of reservations and couldn’t find us. “No, no Steefel. Go, go.” I chimed in with Ercole’s last name. The owner instantly knew the name. “Oh! Bonavita. Yes, yes, Ciao! Come inside-a.”
That number again: 1-800-ITA-RENT
2. Rent an Italian family. It’s more expensive than just one Italian for lease but it’s a wonderful option. We spent time with Ercole’s parents and sister. We met his uncle, aunt and an old family friend who owns a distillery. While all were very gracious and spoke English for our benefit, there were times when they got excited about a story and switched to Italian, which left Jeffrey and I in the dust of the tale, trying to decipher a word in between conjunctions.
Here are a couple of examples of what to do in that situation:
a. When amongst other Italians who are talking and laughing, laugh with them. If an Italian asks you a question just say, Si. (Yes.) I learned this technique when my daughter was six years old and attended a French school. When I picked up my twins one afternoon, the teacher spoke in rapid French to my son, Dylan, who hadn’t yet grasped the language. Samantha leaned into him and whispered, “Just say, ‘Oui.’”
b. Discover a new bonding experience with your partner. If Italians in your group speak rapidly and guffaw with gusto, you and your partner will bond over this situation since you are the isolated Americans who don’t speak a second language. You will eye each other in commiseration and chortle authentically at the position you find yourselves in.
There was one point I laughed when I wasn’t supposed to, and everyone looked at me. I got the elbow from Jeffrey as the Italians moved on to their next juicy story.
“What? He said ‘bagel.’” I whispered.
“No he said, ‘bagalle.’”
“’Bagalle?’ I think that means ‘baggage.’ I hope he’s talking about a suitcase.”
Numbers 3-7 below, Jeffrey and I opted out of renting an Italian once Ercole and Samantha left town. After all, we have a
friggin wedding to plan in Italy. The following is more advice for any tourist…
3. Everyone thinks they are an Ansel Adams iPhone photographer (iAnsel™). Selfie sticks were sold on the street along with silver bracelets. Here’s my advice: Take pictures of things that no one else will think to do. This will surely impress your friends.
4. It couldn’t hurt to do a little historical homework before your visit. You will impress your partner. Or, read a plaque on the sly. Examples:
a. At the Neptune Fountain, Piazza Della Seniora, Jeffrey said, “Bonfire of the Vanities happened here.”
“You mean they filmed the movie here? I bet Tom Hanks had a personal water spritzer for those hot days on the set.
“No. It was an event. In 1498 some Friar demanded all paintings and books burned. A year later he was burned at the stake at the same spot.”
“Wow, honey. That’s some good Italian trivia. I never read the book. Did you?”
“Bonfire of the Vanities. It was big in the 80s.”
5. Be yourself. After seeing a thousand paintings and artifacts from the 1500’s it’s okay to be disappointed when a vase is from 1815. I literally said, “Oh, this is nothing. It’s only from the 1800s.”
Eye candy is everywhere. Not just the marble-ous Duomo, and all the other antiquities but Italy has the most famous fashion houses. At one point we were in another piazza, I forgot which one there are so many, and Jeffrey pointed to a statue and said, “Michaelangelo to the left.”
I said, “Valentino to the right.”
There it was. A Valentino store opposite a great sculpture. I drooled at the shoes displayed in the window and followed Jeffrey like the fashion-starved Lisa from "Green Acres." (Popular TV show in the early 70s.) Lisa must have been really bored on that farm. Though I think she managed to wear Dior while plowing.
6. Buy Cut-The-Line Tickets for the museums. Jeffrey and I wondered if the line for Cut-The-Line would be long. Maybe we missed the Cut-The-Cut-The Line ticket. For another 7 euros security might unhook the rope and let us in. Turns out, the Cut-the-Line ticket for the Sistine Chapel and Vatican museum was hella shorter than the base price tickets and we paid maybe $5 more. That line wrapped around the fortress-like walls of Vatican City.
7. Take home one impressive piece of trivia to your family and friends.
Tondi Donni is the most expensive painting in the Uffizi Museum, Florence. Why? Because it’s the only framed Michelangelo painting. (Everything else he painted was on a wall or ceiling.) Oh, and of course he designed the frame himself. The canvas and frame are round (Tondi) and Donni is the family who owns the painting. The Donni descendants allow the Uffizi to house their priceless masterpiece.
(In all honestly, I could have sobbed when we entered the Sistine Chapel but instead thought of something goofy, like, Roberto Bernini. I was ready to convert.)
Would you buy a hot priest calendar?
Would you rent an Italian? But you have to return him by midnight.