I wanted to take some time to give you my unvarnished opinion of Italy, and add a little note on why I think all writers should do this kind of trip. I spent fifteen days in Italy. During that time I visited Venice, Naples, Rome, and Florence. For the most part we made our own accommodations through Air B&B and Booking.com. It is overall cheaper and we had more control over where we were staying by not using a travel agent. Plus I object to the role of a travel agent in our digital age. With the exception of the train trip from Rome to Florence, we rented a car when we needed it. Believe it or not, car vs. train is mostly a wash. Car being a little more expensive, but it’s far more reliable than the Italian train system. Now you know the basics, so here we go.
There have only been a few times in my life that I was actually depressed when I had to leave a place. Venice is one of those places. There is something magical about it, which is not really describable. My advice is to go off season, when the regular tourist season is at it’s low point.
You wake up to the sounds of Venician school children making their way to school and real people going out to do their real tasks, versus the stage-managed world most tourist locations give you. Real life unfolding!
Spend some time walking and learning to use maps of Venice. You will get lost, but ultimately you will find your way back to your accommodations. It’s a wonderful city. People are hugely friendly and love their city. Learn to eat as the locals do and you’ll be fine. The mist that occasionally pervades the city will remind you of the best noir stories you have ever read or watched on the screen. And no, we didn’t take a gondola ride, but there are plenty to be had.
In Venice, art and the beauty of the world surrounds you. Once a month (usually full moon) the city floods. They have specially built walk ways to get around the cities which they put out only for the flooding. They just carry on like nothing happened. It’s brilliant!
I was sad when we had to leave. I could have spend far more time there. Just being …
Let me start off by saying that Naples is a really big ghetto, punctuated by terrifying streets. But I’ll also say that you should definitely go. Pay attention to the traffic and if you are traveling with kids, keep em really close. The people of Naples are crazy drivers.
Amid the squalor that is Naples, the people are hugely friendly. Ready to smile and will help you out even if you didn’t need it. If they speak to you in English, (English is quite common, btw) stop and chat. You’ll get a sense of how intensely proud of their city they really are and how glad they are you made it out to see them.
There are some interesting sights to see in the area. Pompeii and Herculaneum, but Naples also has crypts which are fascinating. If you’re into the macabre, this is a must see. Also, I had the best pizza of my entire life in Naples at a little place just outside of the church we visited which is also the entrance to the Catacombe di San Gaudioso. It was pretty amazing. Seriously, the pizza is almost worth the plane ticket!
I’ll be honest, I wanted to love Rome more than I did. We saw tons of Roman ruins, and cool Christian sites, but what really bothered me was the rampant street beggars/street sellers selling ‘selfie sticks’ and ‘umbrellas’. Many of them (operating illegally, btw.) go out of their way to stop you and pester you. I had to yell at one of them to leave my children alone at one point.
Also, I’m not a fan of large crowds and Rome has way too much of that. I could literally find no place to grab a few moments of solitude. Even at night, the building we stayed in was kind of loud. The Colosseum was nice, but I really was ready to leave by the end of our stay in Rome.
Here is the interesting thing about Florence. It is really small. I mean, as far as tourist destinations go, it is postage stamp sized. But I actually really enjoyed it. Tons of wonderful things to see and lots and lots of interesting architecture and paintings everywhere. The streets are clean and the people are friendly, but it was also very commercial until you get off the beaten path. We stayed in a little neighborhood just North of the train station and it was excellent. The local restaurant, which became a favorite, was friendly and amazing (see photo to drool).
Do yourself a favor and try to stay outside of the city center. Look for places where you are forced to eat and drink as the locals do. You won’t be sorry. It may cost you some taxi money or bus fare, but it is totally worth it.
The people of Florence will be the first to tell you how Tuscan they really are. And insist you try some of the local wine. It was truly amazing.
An unsung hero of Florence is the Galileo Museum. Back when the Medici family could still have you killed, (maybe they still can) and make you sleep with the fishes, they started a collection. It focused on scientific instruments and the arts. The Galileo museum features the best of this collection of scientific instruments. They are not just brilliant, but brilliant works of art in their own right.
Take some time to just wander into the little churches you will find spread out everywhere. They are interesting and some have lot of amazing works of art. Pay special attention to the funerary monuments (think that look like coffins) inside the little churches. Sometimes they were done by some very famous sculptors for a family friend. And no one even knows they are even there.
Why Every Writer Should Take a Trip Like This
If being a writer was as easy as just writing words on a page we would all be Shakespeare or Hemingway. When it comes down to it, it’s all about life experience. A trip like this is steeped in life experience. You’ll see another side of the world that is exciting and frightening, but also exhilarating and rewarding too. I can honestly say it has added to my literary arsenal of world observations. No matter if it is Italy, Germany, the desert Southwest of the US, or Canada, a trip like this expands your horizons and can only make you a better writer.
So, on the Balance
Venice was my favorite! But a trip like this is special in many ways. You get to spend lots of time watching the world move around you. You see people of every sort interacting in every sort of way. Even my experience with the street urchins trying to hock counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags had their impact on the way I look at the world. They will certainly end up in a book someday. If only the be a victim for a serial killer who is tired of people trying to sell them selfie sticks when all he wants is a truly great piece of pizza.
-Your Humble Servant, Bryan the Writer