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Sunday, August 14, 2016

What I Learned In Italy

Italy has so many things to see. In Rome there’s the Coliseum, the Forum, Palatine Hill, the Vatican, the Pantheon and so on, and not too far from Rome is Pompeii, which is a heck of lot bigger than I ever imagined. In Florence there’s David, the Duomo, the Uffizi Gallery, and the Ponte Vecchio bridge (and Pisa’s not too far away). And Venice? Well, to quote Indiana Jones, “Ah Venice.” However, insights such as these are not earth shattering; they can be found in any travel guide. What follows are some of the things I “learned” during our recent family trip to Italy (Paris insights will follow shortly).

Restaurants: Only eat at restaurants that open after 7 or 7:30 (at least in Rome and other large cities). They thrive on their (usually deserved) reputation for offering high quality food and don't have to open early in order to attract unsuspecting tourists. By contrast, poor restaurants have to open earlier in order to attract customers. To be sure, new restaurants probably have to open earlier because they have yet to build their reputation, but new restaurants probably represent a small proportion of restaurants from which you can choose.

Gelato: Only purchase gelato from a place where the gelato looks like in the picture above and not like in the picture below. Why? Because when gelato is piled high, it almost certainly contains preservatives that keep it from melting. It may look prettier, but it probably isn't the best on the block.

Grappa: An after-dinner drink similar to brandy, except that it’s made from grapes. I learned about it while reading a Donna Leone Commissar Giuseppe mystery (which are set in Venezia), but I’d never tried one until arriving in Roma. I can’t say I’ll continue to drink it, but if it's good enough for Commissar Giuseppe, then it's good enough for me.

Craft Beer: It's tough to find craft beer in Italy. Like most European countries, the beer market is dominated by traditional lagers, most of which won't satisfy fans of craft brews. Nevertheless, craft breweries are popping up here and there that are quite good. For instance, Brewdog brewery, which is based in the U.K., has opened breweries in Roma, Firenze, and Venezia. The one in Roma is conveniently located near the Coliseum, which can be a welcoming site if you’ve been standing in line in the hot Roman sun in order to see the Coliseum, the Forum, or exploring Palatine Hill.

Lodging: In Roma, Firenze, and Venezia we stayed at apartments reserved through VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner), and it was definitely the way to go. No more expensive than staying in hotels or bed and breakfasts, they all had kitchens, washers and dryers (which came in handy with the hot weather), and were centrally located.

That’s all for now. Maybe I’ll update this post as (of if) I remember more…

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