When we think of Italy our imagination conjures vineyards, art and ancient ruins. The catacombs, the Coliseum, Michelangelo’s Pietà and David, are all hallmarks when one says ‘Italy’.
Those sights were on our list to be sure along with pasta and wine; but my sister and I were also interested in another benchmark of Rome, Italy and that, we had heard, were the scores of feral cats apparently roaming about the streets in unchecked numbers. Naturally we had thought we would meet a good number of them.
Ah, the best laid plans….
Let’s start at the beginning. Traveling can be a learning experience if one is open to new things and I did learn a few important facts. Michelangelo’s David is breathtaking in real life. A picture does not compare, does not do it justice. It is a stunning creation! The Coliseum is smaller than I thought, but I didn’t realize it had once been covered in white marble. What a beautiful piece of architecture it must have been in it’s day and so in contrast to what went on inside the walls. The coastal park of Cinque Terre is a vertical experience like I have never seen, and I’ve been in some fairly vertical places. And in all the cities we visited (Rome, Florence, Assisi and four of the five cities of Cinque Terre) we discovered seniors walking, without the usual accompaniment of walkers, canes, and seats with wheels. They were slow, but doing it on their own. A testament to what can be done when there is no alternative.
We headquartered in the heart of Rome for the first week, which was in easy foot distance to many of the places of interest and we did enjoy walking rather than cabbing it through the narrow and somewhat dangerous streets, plus, we were hoping to meet one or more of the feral feline citizens running wild through the city.
My sandals have miles and miles of wear on cobblestone streets but nary a cat did we find on our way to somewhere. Well we spotted two kittens about 5 week’s old hiding in the shade. Not exactly the out of control situation we had anticipated. We had to go to a ‘cat sanctuary’ to see the hoards, which was actually a cemetery that appeared to be more of a huge botanical garden. There was a cornucopia of flowering plants, beautiful cool shade and about forty cats, though we only saw two. Both were very well fed I’m happy to say. In Florence we would go out to the courtyard in the afternoon, sip some wine or cappuccino (cappuccino is always served with cookies!) and there we did have a daily visitor who lounged among the jasmine and got milk from us. That was the extent of our feral cats…a little disappointing since I have more in my back yard.
But as I say, traveling can be a learning experience. We discovered that ‘no parking’ signs are to be ignored, double parking and parking on corners is normal and if you, as a pedestrian, decide to cross the street it is imperative to make one of three decisions before entering traffic. One, make eye contact with the driver and take a step into the street…this is a bit risky, so be forewarned. Two, since stop lights are only a suggestion of what one should do, ignore them, they don’t mean anything (really, they don’t). Three, move into traffic when a herd of locals decides it’s time, or wait until some locals come by, then make your move like you’re a native Italian.
We also learned not to order a glass of wine at mealtime, just order the bottle. You are going to drink that much anyway, so why not beat the cost and save some time on the refill. Pasta should be lightly dressed and preferably eaten at every meal (forget the no-carb diet). The famous tiramisu comes in many different forms; all extremely edible (We tried five different kinds). And Chianti wine has a lot rules in order for it to BE Chianti (wine tasting class).
Italians also must pay the government 500 Euros for hitting a deer with their vehicle. (Some people I know would be broke by now if such a law was implemented in our area.) If you own property in Italy and accidently uncover a piece of ruin like a block of old whatever while digging a bed for the new rose bush, the government now owns that particular spot and can possibly ‘confiscate’ your home. (This is information from some of our tour guides.)
I also learned a few personal lessons. My sister is terrible at directions, but so was I and we got lost several times. Though I always thought I was fast when it came to getting ready to depart the hotel, I discovered I was woefully slow. I almost went in reverse! Who Knew?
And of course, the best lesson; going on vacation with someone you are in tune with makes for relaxing, wonderful travel… even if you never find those untold numbers of feral cats.