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Oh, Italia.

There's the bottle of Incantate red wine on my sideboard, the Venetian mask resting on top of my dresser, a few Euro coins mixed in my jewelry box,  and a linen wrap dangling from my closet door knob -- nice little reminders of an unforgettable trip to Italy

My bags may be unpacked and I may have returned to work and the day-to-day routine, but much of my heart and thoughts remain dedicated to the fine occupation that is travel.

A co-worker told me before I left for two weeks in Italy with my mother that she loves travel for the perspective, to know that there are other places out there, with customs, languages and landscapes that are so different. I found that in two weeks, traveling tested me - my routine, my expectations, my tolerance for crowds and noise, my tastebuds -- and I loved it.

First admission: this trip was on a tour with 31 strangers and my mom, via the Globus tour group. We ate together, took guided tours where we shuffled along to hear local experts tell us all about Pompeii and the Roman Forum and the Vatican Museum,  and rode in a large coach bus with a seat rotation requirement (so no one complains about their view) and an emergency-only bathroom that was only used once (you have to alert driver Antonio, who pulls over into the far right "slow" lane and drives at a slower speed so you can do your business in the "toilette" thank you.)

I expected to merely "tolerate" the tour dynamic - before the trip, I envisioned myself livin' it up with my mom and 30 Bluehairs and older men who wore supportive knee socks and suspenders. It wasn't like that at all - families with young children and even a few 30-somethings like myself (Hello, Hawaiian friends -- I will come and visit, I swear to you!). Our guide Federica was amazing --knowledgeable, diplomatic, and so very Italian. You haven't lived until you've seen a sassy Italian argue with hotel staff over their bungled room bookings. The gestures alone are spectacular, not to mention the volume of voice.

From Rome to Montecatini to Florence to Venice, then Assisi and the Isle of Capri, with stops in Pisa, Pompeii, Sorrento and Positano on the Amalfi Coast, it was a Mambo Italiano of antiquities, gorgeous mountain and valley landscapes peppered with Umbrella Pines and tall skinny Cypress trees, fast cars and faster Vespas, and culinary marvels.

My wonderful mother is to thank for these travels - she turns 65 on May 25, and Italy was her birthday gift. Not too shabby, right? She's a wonderful mother, fabulous travel companion, and a friend like no other. Dear Mother Margaret, Ti Amo!

Oh yeah...the food. Well, there was antipasti.

Food is expensive, as is most everything in Italy, but it is very fresh, and they take their time to prepare and eat it. There's very little salt used, especially in the bread, the portions are smaller, and you will not find a big carafe of American coffee. Mom had a hard time with that concept, but who can complain with machines in hotels that offer up caffè macchiato and cappuccinos at the push of a single button

Oh, the coffee in bars or "Tobacci" shops, where you paid extra if you sat down. So you'd linger at a counter, and sip and swoon. No Folgers or Starbucks there, and "to go cups" are no such thing...

Tuscan "agriturismos," or farms/vineyards that cater to visitors. We toured the grounds of Il Poggio to see olive trees and grapevines, and enjoyed tastings (free pours galore!) of their wine and cured olives before feasting on their bruschetta, cured meats, homemade pasta, and grilled meats and vegetables. We topped off the meal with shots of grappa, a clear brandy that is a sure cousin of North Carolina's Moonshine. Needless to say, this is the night most of our dear tour mates got sloshed.

But not my dear mother...she's always the epitome of grace.

Venice was my favorite, a city of canals, little islands, bridges, and gondolas, water taxis, and barges. No cars to be seen, you'd walk and cross a bridge, walk a little more, and cross another bridge, then another. as our tour guide told us, "You'll get lost, but you'll enjoy it."

On our one dinner out on our own in Venice, Mom and I joined three other tour mates and discovered Ai Tres Archi, with outdoor seating by the canal and epic pasta and pizza. I had penne with shrimp in a slightly-spiced tomato sauce and Mom enjoyed an unbelievable artichoke and Parma ham pizza. This lady wanted her pizza fix, and though we hoped to make it to Naples for the real deal, Venice did not disappoint.

Venice, I'm coming back, I promise, with my city planning husband, too. He'd love your winding ways, canals and bridges.

There were enormous lemons in Capri, Naples and Sorrento, all the better to make ass-kicking Limoncello with:

And all along the roads coming back from Positano, you'd see artichokes, orange trees, and other delights nestled in gardens as you drove past on the unbelievably curvy roads. The fruits of these gardens were commonly on display in the cities:

Italy is beauty and pleasure -- you see it in their art, their food, their coffee and wine, the gelato shops on every street, their buildings, their rolling and verdant landscape, the language, and the people. Italians slow down and savor the moment. It was wonderful to experience, and I know I want to see it again.

As Federica our guide would say, "Andiamo"...let's go!


  1. Laurie, you would love it. Capri, especially. It's Italy's equivalent of Carmel!

  2. Lovely summary! Fred and i are remembering our italy trip now over some gelato and limoncello.

  3. Lovely post...enjoyed the read

  4. Oh my goodness what an awesome birthday gift!! The pictures are just beautiful.


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