Trip Report - Italy

Pazzi Chapel (Jody Pritchard) More photos below.

By Jody Pritchard

When our friends Eric and Jen announced their destination wedding in Tuscany, we grabbed my college art history books, a fresh stack of Post-its, and went to work on our Italy trip itinerary. We were thrilled to be included in their special day. So were twenty of our closest friends, and we spent the first week all together in a seventeenth century villa. The following week was spent seeking out the art and architecture we had only been able to appreciate from the stacks of books in our living room.

This was supposed to be a plush “front country” trip for a couple of seasoned backpackers, but adventure found us minutes off the plane in a Pisa rental car lot. Our wagon was a stick (we had reserved an automatic), it was pitch black outside, and the directions to the villa soon had us lost in a maze of nameless Tuscan dirt roads. Although the dashboard sported a warning in English, “Driving on Unpaved Roads Prohibited”, Matt and I did our best Bo and Luke impressions as we flew around rutted corners and left dust clouds to settle under the stars. Our midnight arrival was straight out of The Amazing Race. Our friends and their family were nothing short of shocked that we had managed to find them. We were rewarded with the first, of what would be countless, glasses of vino consumed during our stay and a hike up eighty steps to our lofty bedroom.

Tuscany looks just like the pictures on wine bottle labels. Bullet shaped Cypress trees outline hilly paths to hilltop villas perched like little terracotta crowns. We were a bit drunk on the vista, but managed to grab our cameras and stagger out the door nearly every morning. The first day we traveled by car, boat, train, and trail winding through the five coastal villages of Cinque Terra. We discovered the best pesto we’ve tasted to date in small café on a hill in the third village, Corniglia. I was immediately thankful the dress I brought for the wedding was stretchy and would forgive the gastronomic tour this vacation was turning into. The following days were spent touring Florence, Volterra, and San Gimignano. Each night we returned home hungry and wander down the path to our poolside family-style dinners. We even made our own wood fired pizzas one night and our friend Jeff demonstrated his mad pizza tossing skills to our Italian hosts.

This was supposed to be a plush ‘front country’ trip for a couple of seasoned backpackers, but adventure found us minutes off the plane in a Pisa rental car lot.

Eric and Jen were married in San Gimignano on May 4th within the frescoed walls of Dante’s Hall. Their wedding was an epic day capped with a Tuscan sunset, dancing, and loads of romance. Oh, and a ridiculous amount of mozzarella. A few days after their ceremony, we said goodbye to our friends only to see them a few hours later at the Pisa train station. We all scrambled to make alternate plans during a rail strike and Matt and I battled our way onto a crowded bus destined for Florence.

Exploring Firenze was like walking through the projection screen of an art history presentation. Matt patiently listened to my excited narratives about how Brunelleschi developed the Duomo’s design and history of the Baptistery doors. We were both speechless though as we stood wide eyed in front of Galileo’s telescopes and an original Antonio Stradivarius viola. Could more history and beauty possibly be squeezed in any other city’s limits? We doubt it. Each corner in Florence was a photo ready to be captured and we wandered between sights armed with cameras. One afternoon we walked to Piazza Michelangelo determined to find high ground and take home pictures of the entire cityscape. We waited out a thunderstorm hoping for good light, but returned to our shoebox sized room with soaking clothes and a case of the shivers instead. Fortunately, the food and wine of Florence equal the quality of the art. Just a few glasses of Chianti were all we needed to warm up and savor the moment.

Soon we were in a first class rail car destined for Rome. We shaved some Euros from our trip by staying in a “B&B” that was really just a second bedroom in a neatly decorated apartment. Breakfast took the form of vouchers for the corner café. From our neighborhood digs we delighted in the familiar sights including the Coliseum, Pantheon, and Sistine Chapel. We also discovered some lesser known places like San Clemente. The tunnels below this basilica revealed at least four layers of structures dating back at least 2000 years. We used to think the 50’s era strip malls in South Lake Tahoe looked “old”, but a walk through Ancient Rome quickly recalibrated the word for this pair of suburban-raised kids.

A more contemporary tour completed our time in the capital city. We lounged on the same Spanish Steps where Audrey Hepburn played a rogue princess in Roman Holiday and nursed a couple of Cokes. It proved the perfect spot to join in one of Italy’s favorite pastimes – people watching. From here, we strolled down Via Condotti, the Rodeo Drive of Rome, and I lusted after $400 pairs of sunglasses and designer clothes. This type of city stroll also led us by some tasty eateries. If your biggest challenge in a day is saving room for gelato, you are living “la vita dolce”. Matt always managed to make room for Stracciatella and I never missed a chance to order the cioccolata e cocco combo. It was a good thing we walked at least 15 miles during our short stay. But spending so much time on the noisy streets had us ready for some down time. We found it several hours north in Italy’s Lake District.

Gaze at a map of Lake Como for a while, and you’ll start to see the shape of a woman standing with two long legs. They call the affluent town of Bellagio “The Pearl”. I don’t think I have to describe where it’s located. We stayed near the phantom lady’s lower back in a gem called Bellano. Having crashed in relative dives during our travels we classed it up our last few nights in a two-room suite with a balcony overlooking the water. Between the down linens and incredible view, it’s a wonder we ever made it outside. But we had to eat. One evening our hosts made reservations in the neighboring town of Varrenna and we dined in a restaurant with only four tables. The wine menu had five pages. Bellisimo.

Sadly, like all vacations, this one had an end. Something about the jobs that help pay for them… We did salvage a day in Sienna before heading home though. Our time there felt a bit like knocking back the last drops of a cocktail before being kicked out of the VIP lounge. But we’re crafty coyotes and we’ll figure a way back in someday. We were already planning our next Italian itinerary on the flight home. And we’re making allowances that next time we’ll likely have some little ones in tow.

Questions or comments about this trip report? Let us know.