Bella Italia, Act 1

With a flight from New York to Venice, Italy, the international portion of our adventure officially began.  Well, getting the flight itself was actually part of the adventure…

We arrived at JFK airport last Monday, intending to board a flight we booked to Milan, just to find that Delta had no record of our reservation.  We booked the flight online a couple weeks prior and still don’t know why it wasn’t in Delta’s reservation system.  It might have been a glitch in their system or might have been a “user error.”  In any event the flight was full, we didn’t have a seat, and there was nothing the ticketing agent could do about it.

Fortunately a friend of Jared’s buddy happens to work at Delta, and happened to owe said buddy a favor.   Less than 24 hours after our originally not-quite-scheduled flight, we were sitting on a plane to Venice, in business class, eating filet mignon and sipping prosecco.  Things could have been worse.

The next few days were a whirlwind.  Looking back, for nearly a week straight we never awoke in the morning and slept at night in the same city:

Monday: Awoke in Vegas, slept in New York

Tuesday: Awoke in New York, slept on a plane (kinda)

Wednesday: Awoke a plane, slept in Venice

Thursday: Awoke in Venice, slept in Verona

Friday: Awoke in Verona, slept in Genova

Saturday: Awoke in Genova, slept in Sardinia

Venice was beautiful – there’s really nothing else like it in the world, although we’ve ironically seen two of the world’s attempts to imitate in just the last couple of weeks (one in L.A. and one in Las Vegas.)

It’s a city build on a lagoon, supported entirely by ancient wooden pile-ons.  Amazing, construction began in the 5th to 8th century AD by Romans trying to avoid repeated attacks by the Huns and Goths.  It later became the headquarters of the very wealthy and powerful Venetian empire.  As you can imagine it has a ton of history, and more marble and art per square kilometer than just about any place on Earth.   Walking, vaporettos (motor boats) and gondolas are the only form of transport – there are no cars in sight – which makes it incredibly quiet and romantic.

Although one can easily spend a week wandering the streets and canals of Venice, eating pizza, sipping Italian wine and admiring its art, we only stuck around for 24 hours given the high-priced food and accommodation.  That gave us enough time to see all the major sights though:  the Basilica di San Marco, Palazzo Ducale, the Rialto bridge.  We also browsed some Murano glass shops, took a vaporetto through the Grand Canal, toured the fresh food market, and ate some fantastic pizza, pasta, panini, and gelato. The food is at least 30% of the Italian experience – Jared’s friend Alessandro argues 50%.

From Venice we took a train to Verona, most famous for its very well-preserved Roman arena and as the setting of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliette.”  The arena was built in the 1st century AD and is still in use today, mostly as an opera house.  Over the years it’s seen countless gladiators, plays, operas, and concerts.

Apparently Italians are just as shameless as Americans when it comes to building tourist traps.  There is a house in Verona dubbed casa di Giulietta (Juliette’s house) where you can pay 4 euro to walk to the balcony.  Never mind that Shakespeare’s play was completely fictional.  We walked by the house and it was packed with tourists… we didn’t have the heart to tell them.

It was a pretty little town, and Lauren studied there for a semester during college so was anxious to show Jared around her old stomping ground.  We made an attempt to visit a bar owned by Lauren’s Italian ex-boyfriend, which appeared to be closed down much to Jared’s delight.

From Verona we boarded another train to Genoa, a “gargantuan port town with a seedy underbelly” as our Lonely Planet guidebook says.  Like most tourists who find themselves in Genoa, we were just passing through.

It was our intent to just to eat a quiet early dinner and go to bed, as we had a 10AM ferry departure the next day.   However as sometimes happens during travel, we had a surprising fun and eventful evening.

While looking for a restaurant we stumbled upon a festival sponsored by the Italian Democratic Party.   We were surely the only foreign tourists there.  Our first of order of business was to find dinner, and fortunately Italian fair grub is much different than the American staples of corn dogs, cotton candy, and funnel cake.  Our dinner consisted of zuppetta di cozze con crostini (mussels with toast), testaroli al pesto (a flat bread-like pasta with pesto sauce), baccalà al forno con porcini (baked cod with mushrooms) vino bianco (white wine), and acqua minerale gassata (sparkling mineral water.)  It was served informally but as delicious as you’d find at any fine restaurant.  Even at fairs, the Italians take their food seriously.

Dinner was served in a giant tent, so packed with Italians that tables had to be shared.  We were seated next to a local Genovese couple around our age, Daniela and Paolo.  Neither of us speak much of the other’s language, but we managed to communicate decently well between broken English, broken Italian, and a few Spanish and Portuguese words thrown in for good measure.

Daniela and Paolo welcomed us warmly to their city and even walked us around for a couple of hours after dinner.  Only afterward did we realize that they showed us about every main attraction in the city, including the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and several magnificent cathedrals and palazzos (palaces.)  Now we’re all Facebook friends.

We’re writing this post from the beautiful Mediterranean island of Sardinia, where we’ll probably stay put for the next week or so.  After traveling non-stop for the last several weeks, we’re both looking forward to this little vacation from our vacation.

In our next post we’ll tell all about our activities in Sardinia, which may be quite few.  In the meantime you can enjoy this video titled “Bella Italia, Act 1”

4 Comments

Filed under Italy

4 responses to “Bella Italia, Act 1

  1. marty and terri lang

    Hi Jared and Lauren!
    How exciting! … the words and video really bring to life the adventure! … thanks for sharing and keep on blogging! … Your’re off to a great start, but glad you’re thinking about “slowing down” in Sardinia … as one must really slow down to catch the essence of the italian culture … as I’m sure will be the norm, your experience with Daniela and Paulo will be repeated that it’s the warmness of the people that will be carried with you as your fondest memories of italy … looking forward to seeing you soon in Castello delle Forme
    Marty and Terri …

  2. Mom & Dad

    The time in Italy is underscored by the wonderful friends, food, and wine you have enjoyed along the way. We are thrilled that you can experience and appreciate the culture. Enjoy your time and “take in the essence of Italy” like Marty and Terri said. Keep us posted and we look forward to your next blog. In the meantime, we are enjoying Italian wine here and thinking of you both.

  3. poppy

    I am really enjoying your communications, also especially the emails fromLauren. What a great experience you both are having. Your Nana would have “quelled”.
    Poppy

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