It’s been ten days since we’ve been home from Italy and to say we miss it is an understatement. Mike’s already talking about buying a vacation home there. I went into this trip like I do with all our trips — with open arms and no expectations. I’m not big on planning every last minute of a vacation. Once my hotel and flight are booked I don’t worry much about the details and this trip wasn’t much different. In fact, we didn’t nail down our hotel for Rome until two weeks before we left. Mike actually had more preparation to do for this trip than I did since he had to learn how to drive a stick shift, but more on that later. I have a few posts planned that will take you more in depth into a few of our favorite parts of the trip like Rome, Sorrento, and climbing Mt. Vesuvius, but I wanted to start off with a more general post about how Italy made me feel.
In short, it was incredible. The other night we were on a long drive home from a family reunion and Mike said something that really resonated with me. He said, “Whenever I think about Italy I instantly go back to how relaxed and calm I felt there. It helps me realize how great life is and I don’t worry so much about things that used to stress me out.” It’s so. freaking. true. We were happy in Italy. Not that we’re unhappy at home in Jersey. But Italian life taught us so much about being fulfilled. We stayed with our friend Laura’s family for most of the trip so we truly experienced everyday life with a close knit Italian family. We went to the local cafe for breakfast. We walked to the neighborhood seafood stand to buy mussels for lunch. We drove through the bustling town and looked in awe at the beauty and simplicity of it all. Like most Americans Mike and I are hustling, bustling doers, and we didn’t have to do much in Italy to feel content. Our friend Joe (Laura’s husband) tried to describe the feeling you get when you’re there and as soon as we arrived we instantly got it. Even after 17 days it was so hard to snap back into everyday life. It’s the first time I didn’t feel ready to come home.
Laura’s family were the most gracious hosts we could have asked for. There’s truly nothing like Italian hospitality. As someone who loves to entertain and have things just so it was refreshing to be in a culture where family and food were the main focus. It was unpretentious, casual, comfortable and warm, and we felt like members of the family. Food was dutifully prepared using time-honored recipes and ingredients were fresh, local and simple. Wine was delicious and savored. One of Laura’s uncle’s (who was visiting from Rome) told me the key to enjoying wine is to never let your glass be too full or too empty. Mealtime was relaxed and relished. Some of our lunches (the main meal of the day there) stretched over the course of two hours, and each time I tried to start helping clean up Nonna would motion to me to sit down and relax. What a foreign concept for an American. What a necessary lesson.
Italians seemed mystified by America. It was so funny and humbling to experience. I lost count of all the American-themed clothes and goods we came across in the little seaside town of Bacoli. Shirts said NEW YORK or BROOKLYN and they even had an American-themed pizza with french fries and sliced up hot dogs that was all the rage with locals (topped with mayo, no less). We were floating in the Mediterranean Sea one afternoon and a young boy heard us speaking English (which was not at all common in Bacoli) and he just started staring at us in amazement. His mother said to Laura in Italian, “I’m sorry for my son, but he’s never heard people speak English in person before, just in the movies.” He had an instant rapport with Mike and they struck up a conversation about American traditions with Laura translating. I remember them bonding over a shared love of “bistecca.” He said to us, “Isn’t the American dream having a single family home with a pool in the backyard and an SUV?” In this idyllic town on the shores of the Mediterranean he was dreaming of America, and all I could think of is the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. All the while we were dreaming of Italy.
Farm to table isn’t a concept there, it’s just life. We woke up each day to the sound of roosters crowing and chickens squawking and knew that’s where Nonna gets her eggs. Fresh produce, meat and seafood were all accessible within a short 10 minute walk from the house, in addition to a little market and a cafe which were the hub for daily life in the town. You shopped for what you needed that day and there was nothing in the house that didn’t have a purpose. The simplicity of everyday life in Italy amazed me and it’s something I hope to emulate. They work to live while we live to work and life flies by before our eyes. I am so incredibly thankful we were able to have this experience at our age because I know it will have an impact on our outlook on life and work in such a wonderful way, and I’m so grateful.
What experiences changed you while traveling? Have you ever visited Italy and, if so, where? What did you think? We’ve certainly been bitten by the travel bug and can’t wait to plan our next trip abroad.