The End of Italy

Well, that’s it for Italy. That was a fast week. Half of it I spent trying to get onto a normal sleeping schedule. If I could do one thing over again, it might be to try harder to get adjusted European time from the get-go. Running on fumes in the middle of the afternoon was a bit challenging when we were trying to enjoy seeing the sites of Rome and Florence in the span of just a few days. A contributing factor to my jet-lag-that-just-wouldn’t-die was admittedly staying up late writing this blog. I won’t regret that, but I am now trying to write it when I have down time in the day, not deep into my allocated time for slumber.

The past couple nights I have gratefully gone to bed at a more standard time, but last night, our last in Florence (and in Italy) found us out late taking in the night beat in spite of having to start our train journey toward Nice, France quite early this morning. We set out from our glorious apartment (which we will miss) on yet another perfect Florence day at around 7:30. The heat of the day hadn’t yet kicked in, so it was a pleasant walk to the station. The lack of sleep meant we were both a bit wrecked, though, and we had a slightly convoluted commute from Campo di Marti station to Santa Maria Novella, where we eventually boarded a train back towards Pisa.

Once we reached Pisa, we found our platform for our train to Genova. As I write this, we have completed that journey and are en route from Genova to Nice. We must say our farewells to Italy, as we knew we would. This Europe trip will not take us back to this country that has been so good to us. We will have to settle for a return visit in the future. Allow me to take you through some of the treasures that we encountered during our time here. To reflect, many of the high points were food-related, which is to be expected. We found out what real pizza is, discovered that the Italian craft beer scene is in fact booming, and ate a magnificent lunch (likely the meal of the trip so far) that featured meat of remarkable quality, including Sushi di Chianti (the chef’s name for beef tare tare) during our epic scooter journey through the vineyards of the Chianti region, which had to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever ridden a scooter, or, indeed, even been lucky enough to visit. Flying through these winding roads and rolling hills took our breath away and enabled us to experience a state of mind that we’ll look to keep pursuing throughout the rest of our travels on this trip and those to come.

The warmth of the Italian people wherever we went (with the possible exception of a sullen young woman serving gelato across from San Gimignano’s Museo Della Tortura, but who could blame her?) I think will be an indelible aspect  we recall when we reminisce about our week spent here. Even though we barely managed to say the few Italian phrases we knew, the baristas, servers, and shopkeepers we encountered were by and large affable, helpful, and patient. That this will continue to remain with us as a significant part of our image of Italy reinforces how actually meaningful customer-facing work can be. Since travelers interact primarily with service staff, the character of these people inevitably forms a large chunk of the impression visitors to any place will carry with them for the rest of their lives, and, in turn, pass on to their social network back home. (This reminds me of the other side of the spectrum and the nasty cab driver we had from Kyoto station to our accommodation when my family visited last year. I hated him for his rudeness, not because it did much to ruin my sparkling image of Kyoto, but because I knew that for my sister and stepfather, this man represented their first point of contact in Kyoto. I don’t suppose that grouch really considered it his role to give people a positive experience in his city, but whether he likes it or not, his warmth, or lack thereof, will impact the impressions of Kyoto that countless travelers take home with them.) We will have nary a negative thing to say about the Italians when we go home.

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The booming beer scene was a highlight of Italy.

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In the end, even the supposed aggressiveness of the drivers turned out to be overstated. Actually I think drivers in Japan tend to be more egregious in their tendency to tailgate at speed and suddenly stop in the middle of the road, etc. My theory would be that Italians express themselves openly and without hesitation in most areas of public life, whereas Japanese, by and large, refrain from letting others know how they feel, until they get behind the wheel of a car… I digress. Italian drivers were not hesitant or overly courteous, but they were actually fairly predictable once you got used to their style. Once we got used to how to order and pay (in the correct order) in Italian caffe bars, too, the baristas were nothing if not incredibly genial and courteous. I guess knowing the rules and knowing a bit more of the language would have helped us get into the swing of things and move on to appreciating the little things sooner, but I suppose that’s always true. The saddest thing about leaving Italy now is that I felt like I was just getting acclimated to being there more completely and thus, had we another week here, I’d have surely been more thoroughly equipped to enjoy it. Next new country I go to, maybe I need to read up just that little bit more, or get more sleep upon arrival so that I am more ready to be a cultural and linguistic sponge during the day.

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Genoa, during our transfer layover. Sadly, just a half hour.

Incidentally, we’re cruising along and getting ever closer to the French border, which is exhilarating. The Mediterranean Sea is blurring by outside our train window, along with so many blue and yellow umbrellas, complimented by idyllic looking waterfront apartments with terraces. I’d gladly live in any of these little towns, just from the look of them. The city of Genova, too, was somewhere I would love to spend more time, judging from the view as you enter it from the main train station. The bar man at the little caffe we stopped into for a coffee and light lunch before boarding our next train was a perfect representative of his city. I do hope I will be back again with more than a half hour to pass there.

For now, I’m going to keep trying to adjust my ears from Italian to French by spinning some more songs by La Femme, a band I’ve just discovered, and who are doing a bang-up job of soundtracking the quaint scenery that keeps on flowing by my window. See you soon.

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France isn’t too shabby.

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