Impressions of Italy, 2014 Edition

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(Beginning a long bike ride at the top of the Basilica of St. Frances in Assisi.)

I was in Italy last week for a wedding. It was my third time to the country. What more can one say about Tuscany? It’s a stunningly beautiful part of the world. A few general impressions:

  • Food. I’m trying to minimize bad carb intake. This makes Italy challenging. I ate more pizza in a week than I have in a long time. Italian pizza has few toppings on it — bread, bread, bread — but on the plus side, it is cheap. For one dinner we ordered 23 different pizzas and it cost less than 200 euros. The pasta and mozzarella was delicious, per usual.
  • Driving. For the first time, I drove a bunch on Italian highways, from Rome airport through Umbria and eventually to Florence airport. Italian drivers are, as the stereotypes suggest, quite aggressive. The tailgating is insane. One of the funnier things we noticed while driving was that there were frequently signs on the road that showed the name of the city you were leaving – crossed out.
    • The 20/euro/day fee for a GPS device from Hertz in the car was well worth it, given that I didn’t want to turn on data on my U.S. phone.
  • Electric bikes. I biked 6.5 hours from Assisi to Bavagna in central Italy. It was an amazing ride; it was mostly on custom built bike paths that were well marked. Highly recommend biking in the area. A special novelty for me: electric bikes! Felt and rode like a regular (albeit slightly heavy) bike. Pull a button as you pedal and the back wheel accelerates. This made treacherous hills accessible, and allowed us to cover more terrain in less time.
  • “Free” healthcare. An old, rusty fence slashed my leg on a hike and I went to the hospital in Siena to get a tetanus booster. The emergency room experience was a delight. Best of all, it was totally free! I signed a short form, they took my passport number, I got the shot, and left. Thanks, Italian taxpayers.
  • Side of the road prostitutes. Prostitutes advertised their services in the most random of back roads. Given that the trade is illegal in Italy, I suppose they’re optimizing for roads that see traffic but are not frequently visited by the police.

Bottom Line: Tuscany is Tuscany: one of the most beautiful, pleasant places in the world. And as is the case for a lot of Europe, when I’m there, I feel like I’m living in a museum.

12 Responses to Impressions of Italy, 2014 Edition

  1. Italian pizza, on the plus side, is delicious. What about Italian fruits? And vegetables? And the many different ways they cook them?

  2. Derek says:

    My first Pizza was in Rome and I haven’t found one that is better. Sad really as that was 40 years ago !! Maybe I should return to Rome :)

  3. Derek Scruggs says:

    Thought experiment: will there ever come a time when the US feels like living in a museum? Given all the historical landmark designations, perhaps in 500 years?

    Lately I’ve been trying to imagine what the world will look like in a thousand years, ten thousand years, even a hundred thousand years from now. When thinking on those time scales Star Trek doesn’t seem that far fetched.

  4. Sounds like you had a great time. Yes, I agree Tuscany is beautiful, especially in the late Spring. Italy offers so many different experiences for travelers. Next visit, I suggest the Lake Como area. Wonderful hiking and biking trails, excellent accommodations for budget travelers (I recommend In Riva Al Lago in Como – clean rooms, excellent buffet breakfast June – September, and best of all economical for young travelers.) But, the thing I like best about Lake Como is the stunning scenery, the alpine lake and breathtaking views. I love Como so much, we moved there in 2011. Happy Travels!

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