Ahhh, Italia, sun-soaked land of wine and fabulous cuisine, also, the poster child for why Socialism doesn't work, and the land the toilet seat manufacturers forgot.
In 2008, I visited for the first time and fell in love with this zany laid-back heel of Europe. Two years later, coming from Germany, I wondered what I saw in it the first time. Compared with Deutschland Italy looks like third-world chaos. Laziness and corruption are an accepted part of life in Italy, with Rome being the centerpiece of all that is wrong with Italy.
We spent a day in Rome to see the Vatican, which we'd missed out on the previous trip. Big mistake. This happened to be the day after Italy lost their match with Slovakia, putting them out of World Cup contention. Apparently the rail workers and metro employees decided to hole up in their beds and make love to a bottle of grappa rather than cope with daily life...trains and metro lines were shut down due to strikes, and we were gouged by taxi drivers as a result (what is with us and taxi drivers? my kids will have no college fund once they are finished with us!) We finally saw the Sistine Chapel, a lifelong goal of mine, and I have to give Michelangelo credit, his ceiling frescoes are far superior to the wall painting by his contemporaries in the chapel, and painting was only his secondary medium! The guy was a genius, and I'm grateful for the chance to appreciate the tender beauty of his depictions.
Next, we spent two days on the beach in Tirrenia, and this was probably the highlight of the trip for me. Sitting on the sand next to a gorgeous Mediterranean, doing absolutely nothing. My kind of vacation. We enjoyed sea kayaking and Breck fell in love with boarding. The view was quite interesting, with gorgeous Italians prancing up and down the beach, doing their ocean version of the piazza passeggiata (stroll). They love to see and be seen, it seems. I don't think my kids even noticed any of the breasts on display, since there were so many Italian men sporting speedos, flowing locks, and huge pectorals, gender was a thin line.
We revisited the Cinque Terre and Tuscany for old times sake, and to introduce Joel's parents to our favorite places in Italy. Cinque Terre remains one of the best spots in Italy, unspoiled riviera towns with gorgeous views of houses clinging to the cliffs above the Med. I did notice a lot of tourists this time, and I'm afraid too many Americans have discovered this area, but I'd still go back for the chance to do some diving off those huge boulders in the ocean.
San Gimagnano and Volterra remain favorite hill towns in Tuscany for us. This region has everything you want from Italy: the best local cuisine, the most perfect red wine from the Sangiovese grape (Brunello), and beautiful poppy and cypress tree littered vistas. This is the land of vineyards and friendly wineries, the land that has inspired so many artists and authors.
Italy really is lovely, in spite of its inefficiency, terrible traffic, and alas! disdain for toilet seats (have I mentioned how much this bothers me?). On our drive down, we stopped over at Lake Lugano on the border of Switzerland and Italy for some picture-postcard views out of our windows at the charming Hotel Caroline (Brusimpiano, IT). The entire drive down through Switzerland was like a postcard photo, and I finally understood Richard Wilbur's rapture when he wrote, "the slightest shade of you valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes." All these lovely vistas, they really are worth all the minor travel headaches it took to see them. As the ebullient Italians say, "Ciao bella! Grazie! Ciao!Ciao! Grazie! Ciao!"
Once is never enough :)