4 Italian Cities by Plain and Train
One of our big trips while living in England was going to Italy. Italy holds a certain fascination with Americans. The long history dating back to the Roman Empire, the scrumptiously fine cuisine, the hand-made designer fashions, and the beautiful landscapes draw us in like flies to honey. I highly recommend venturing there if you have not already. You will not be disappointed. Italy delivers on the promise of a memorable vacation.
My wife has been to Italy before with her family as a young girl. She has many fond memories of climbing the Leaning Tower of Pizza, seeing the ruins of Pompeii, and taking in the landscape dabbled with Roman ruins. This was going to be my first trip. We also wanted to see parts of Italy together that were new to both of us. So, we booked a flight on Ryan Air to Trieste.
Ryan Air is Europe’s low budget no frills airline based out of Dublin, Ireland. When I mean no frills, I mean bare bones traveling. The planes are not crop-dusters, but are stripped down to the essentials. The Ryan Air fleet is comprised solely of 737’s, which made me feel better. However, they modify them for cost efficiency. Therefore, the seats are plastic (I kid you not), the cabin is sparse (but painted in the hideous standard Ryan Air yellow and blue), and the in fight service is non-existent (no meals, no beverages, no magazines, and bottled water only available upon request for a price). They even tried charging for use of the inflight toilet until the airline safety board luckily put a stop to it. To maximize fuel consumption, if the plane is not full, then they heard you into the center of the cabin for optimal balance. Ryan Air has a way of making you feel like cattle being transported in mass. The flight crew is notoriously rude and impatient. The good side is that the flights are very cheap. They will regularly give away tickets just to keep the planes as full as possible (you pay the tax on the ticket, however). You can fly from London to Rome for 20€! As a ritual, everyone claps when you finally land at your destination (a little un-nerving).
We survived the flight and landed in Trieste. I will admit, I was more than a little shaken by the approach and landing. Once on the ground in Italy, I quickly forgot my near-death experience and soaked in the Italian ambience. Trieste is in northern Italy on the Adriatic coast. It has the only city square along the water. Although it is not a popular tourist destination, I really love it. It is a relatively unspoiled part of Italy not crowded with tourists. Being on the sea is an added bonus.
After walking around for a bit, our stomachs began to beg for some authentic Italian cooking. In traditional Italian areas, restaurants do not start serving until 7:00pm or later. So, finding food is difficult. Only in America do we have 24/7 convenience. We were obliged to wait. The wait, however, was worth it. Our first meal in Italy was fabulous! Italians have a way with dining. Plan on being there for a while. We were served course after course: aperitivo (appetizer, but serving alcoholic drinks and small food items), antipasto (cold sliced meats, cheese, vegetables), primo (first course, usually pasta), secondo (second course, usually hot meat or fish), contorno (a vegetable plate), insalata (the salad), formaggi e frutta (local cheese and fresh fruit), dolce (dessert), caffé (Italian style coffee), and finally digestivo (more alcohol). All meals are served with local wines.
We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The slow, relaxed and friendly atmosphere is what makes dining in Italy a pleasure (of course the great food also). When we finished our caffé, we assumed that was the last part, until our waiter produced a frozen tall, translucent bottle filled with a clear liquid. I tried to explain that we did not order any more drink, but he insisted. With his very limited English, we understood that this was a gift from him to us as guests in his restaurant for the first time (we were indeed probably only a handful of Americans that every frequented his establishment). We thanked him in Italian, “Grazie!” He poured us two shot glasses of the Grappa. We each took a sniff and quickly determined that this was going to be a new experience. Neither of us drinks hard alcohol. I was daring and went first. The freezing liquid went down easy. It has a strong licorice taste. No problem. Two seconds later, my throat ignited on fire. By the waiters laugh and comment, “Stai bene?,” I assumed the expression on my face was priceless. Mish tried to back down politely, but Italian protocol required she show respect to our host’s gift and down it. I got to see what I looked like! We can proudly say we have tried Grappa.
We left Trieste by train for Venice vowing to return. In Venice we had a marvelous time. Venice is legendary for its unique water ways. The boys really wanted to ride a gondola, so we did. The rides are not cheap, but you cannot visit Venice without doing it once. The gondolier was very informative and funny and made the experience worthwhile. The Basilica of San Marcos is gorgeous. We walked across the famous Bridge of Sighs and did not even know it. You will find that Venice can be an intricate maze of alleys, canals, and buildings. Get a map! We were off season (which I highly recommend) so the crowds were non-existent. In the summer, Venice is extremely hot and humid and packed with tourists from around the world. In another post, I will go on and on about how marvelous Venice is. For now, let me just say it is a magical city.
From Venice, we continued by train to Florence. Florence is my favorite Italian city. It straddles the Arno River in a large valley at the foot of the Appenines Mountains. We took Rick Steves’ recommendation and stayed in the home of a nice lady who rents rooms. We shared one large bedroom with adjoining bathroom. Our hostess was fabulous and made the experience memorable. The climb to the top of the Dolma was exerting, but worth it. Plus, we needed to burn off all of the Italian food we were eagerly trying. The view of the land from the top is breathtaking! Inside is the equally breathtaking sculpture of David by Michelangelo. My wife really enjoyed the world famous leather market. She left with a great deal on a leather wallet.
Our last train stop was Rome. Rome is probably the most interesting city in all of Europe. Having been the capital of the Roman Empire for centuries, it retains enormous history. You can catch glimpses of its majestic past in The Colosseum, The Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Circus Maximus, the Forum Romanum, and more. Do not forget the Vatican! That is an all day excursion itself. Again, at Rick Steves’ recommendation, we stayed at a convent just a few blocks from the Colosseum. For families, it was an ideal location. I will do another post dedicated to Rome. We spent five wonderful days there, which was not enough, but too much to write about here.
The only negative part of the whole trip was that I needed to get back on Ryan Air for the flight back to England.