This country has many things of interest to us and to anyone interested in history and/or archeology. Ancient civilizations have lived
, and Romans
, most recently. And each has left physical evidence for more modern civilizations to examine
and wonder about. Etruscan leftovers can be seen up through the west coast, there are Greek ruins south of Sorrento and in Sicily,
and Roman ruins are pretty much everywhere. There is a large area in Rome, where you can walk among the ruins of the Forum in the
center of old Roman Rome. There you can see the the platform from which Roman leaders speechified. And there is the special uniqueness
of the visible ruins of two Roman towns, Pompeii and Herculaneum, in which visitors can see those Roman civilizations almost as they
And let us not forget Italy's cultural heritage that can be traced back to ancient Rome, and which flourished during the Renaissance
and spread from there to the rest of Europe. The Italian artists whose works we still love and admire include painters and sculptors,
writers, scientists, music composers and performers. If we were to list the stars in these various fields, we would have little room
for anything else. In any case such a list would be unnecessary because their names are so familiar. But you can see the works of
the many fine Italian artists in Italy's many museums. Most of these charge admission fees. And their sculptures can be seen in the
public squares of the cities.
Italy, particularly Rome, is the seat of the Catholic Papacy. To us that means St. Peter's Cathedral, the Vatican Museums and theSistine Chapel, all of which would be highlights of anyone's visit. In short, almost every place we visited seemed to be so transparently
linked to history that we do not see the need to include here a special section on historic places. They are everywhere
The food in Italy is certainly worth discussing, whether it is in the supermarkets or in the restaurants, and cafes. It is acknowledged
as excellent. Italians have a feeling for food and its preparation that is unexcelled. We are not singling out so-called gourmet or
high end cooking, but just the run-of-the-mill stuff you encounter in most places.
The pizzas are thin and crisp with a variety
of toppings. The almost thimble sized coffee cups are filled with a black and delicious liquid that has a wonderful restorative
effect on any tired traveler. Capuccino is made with steamed milk but regular is not served with either milk or cream.
You have to ask. Cream for coffee is not even sold in supermarkets, at least we were not successful in finding it. We
had to settle for plain milk. Antipasta is common everywhere--roasted peppers, and other vegetables, anchovies, sardines, all
in olive oil, with hams and cheeses--you find these even in supermarkets, each item wrapped separately. You select an assortment
and take it home. The bread is fresh and crisp generally. This seems to be true whenever you buy it, whatever time of
day. We did not particularly like the bread in Tuscany, however. It seemed to lack salt. But even Tuscan bread is
great when dipped in an olive oil and herb mixture which is commonly used instead of butter.
Pasta, freshly made and with many
different sauces is universal and universally good. In one campground we met a family from Bologna who advised us to be
sure to sample the signature dish of that city--tagliatelle al ragu, which is the model dish for what Americans call spagetti bolognese.
We did try it in Bologna. It was very good but not like the American version we know. It is much more meaty and less of
a tomato sauce.
When tomatos are in season in the US, they are very good. But even then, they do not compare to some of the tomatos we had there.
We had the good fortune of being in Italy when the tomato crops were in the stores. We bought one kind of tomato that we have never
seen here. They were shaped like grape tomatoes, but were huge, egg-sized, and they were almost as sweet as sugar. We bought a huge
box of them, and were very saddened when we ate the last. All these culinary delights mentioned here were simple ones, but grown and/or
prepared with great care.
Italian personality. This introduction would be remiss without mentioning some things we noticed about the Italians we encountered.
We found them to be very gentle, relaxed, intent on enjoying their surroundings, even when those surroundings include many, many visitors
like us. And in the high tourist season, Italy is extremely crowded with tourists. There were certainly enough of us to fray the nerves
of people in the tourist industry. But there were no signs of this. The people we encountered in the campgrounds (campers, owners,
and workers alike), and in the tourist attractions were always not only courteous but warm, and eager to talk to you and to help when
necessary. Instances of some of our encounters with Italians are described in the letters we wrote home.
But do not take this
to mean that visiting Italy's treasures is always a pleasureable experience. In the height of the season, there are very long
lines, and consequent long waits for everything you want to see. We will discuss this further when we discuss Florence and Rome,
One example of Italians just enjoying their surroundings is in the so-called "passagiata", which literally means
"go for a walk". In Verona in the evenings, after dinner, many people come out just to walk around, meet each other, talk,
perhaps stop by a street cafe for coffee or a drink or a sweet. You see them linked arm in arm, engrossed in themselves and
the city scene. It's a very nice thing to do.
Another thing we noted is that the Italian reputation for style is alive
and well. In the major cities, at least, people generally are very stylishly dressed. The men wear stylish suits and the
ladies are adorned in elegant dresses--well, outfits, anyway. Adelle muses in one of our letters that the little old Italian
ladies dressed all in black that she expected to see in Italy, based on movies we have seen, never showed up. At least not where we
Finally, we could not help but notice that there is a very special warmth in the relations among young siblings.
We would see them taking a walk on the streets with their parents, holding hands, occasionally hugging, the older ones paying adoring
attention to the younger ones, keeping them out of danger, and calming them when something disturbed them.
Italian History, Culture, Food, and Personality: Our Personal View