No Wonder My Italian Grandpa Is So Nice: eat. pray. LOVE.

20 Apr

LOVE.  As if EAT and PRAY didn’t sum up this trip well enough, LOVE is going to do the trick.  The amount of love I felt this week was unreal.  Love coming from both the local Italians and my travel companions as the entire 12 days were filled with this great virtue.  Let me first start by telling you the numerous stories of how we felt loved and cared for by the many local Italians we met on our journey.  They often say it’s not about what you saw but who you met.  I couldn’t agree with that more as the stories I am about to tell you will always hold a special place in my heart.

After arriving by train to Venice, we had some struggles getting to our hotel.  We had the simple instructions of take bus 10 from right outside the train station all the way to the hotel.  Easy enough right?  Well we waited for the 10 bus for a long time and we finally tried to ask for help but it was hard because we couldn’t speak Italian.  We finally got instructions to walk about 15 minutes to a different bus stop in which when we finally arrived we had to wait almost an hour.  When we finally got on, and thought we were well on our way, the bus driver informed us that we were actually going the wrong direction so we had to get off and wait for the other bus. Finally, we got on the right bus but the driver told us we have to get on another bus in a couple stops…WHAT??  So we asked a guy who knew decent English for help.  He didn’t know where our hotel was but he knew that if we got off in front of another hotel in the town we would be pretty close.   We seemed to be driving out to the boonies. It didn’t help that our new friend mentioned that the literal translation of the town we were staying in meant “place of no laughter” Yikes!  We finally got to the town and were relieved to find it to be a very cute and quaint place to be. However, when we asked for directions at another hotel, the lady was so helpful and made a phone call to  get us directions.  Despite her kindness, she came back with some bad news…we were 5 km away!   So we started our hike.  We didn’t make it very far until we decided we needed better directions so we stopped and asked some guys standing outside of a restaurant.   They were so kind to us and gave us great directions and even drew us a map!  Needless to say we finally arrived.  Despite our struggle getting there, we were truly able to experience how kind-hearted all the Italians were. We had already met three incredible Italians and we had only been in that glorious country for 12 hours!  Little did we know that this would be the first of many times the locals would treat us so kindly.   In fact, later that night we were in for an extra special treatment of Italian kindness.

 If you recall from my EAT part of the blog, in Venice we ate at that small restaurant and got served microwavable meals.   Despite getting not-so-great food, what the place lacked in culinary skills it made up for with good company.  As we walked in, an older lady heard us speaking English and practically leaped from her seat to come greet us and help us order.   At first we were a bit taken aback because she butted right into our conversation and started telling us all kinds of facts about Italy. Needless to say, we ended up sitting down at the table next to her.   After she helped us order our food, we got to talking.  Sandra, or Sandy as her American friends call her, told us all about her life.  As it turns out, she used to live in Florence and worked at a Jewelry Store that had a lot of American customers which explains why her English was almost flawless.  When we informed her that our next destination was Florence she got really excited and started telling all the best places in the city: where she worked, the best gelato, where to get the most delicious pastries, the best places to shop, she went on and on.  She was so excited that we were going to be there that she promised us that if we came back the next day she would prepare a list of everything for us to do in Florence.   We were a bit reluctant to say yes because we had plans of spending the whole day in downtown Venice and we really didn’t want to pay for another microwave meal.  I mean we are in Italy…I could have cooked that meal in 5 minutes at Purdue.  However, we just could not turn down this sweet lady so we promised we would be back.  But before we left, she asked if she could have our address so we could write to each other in the future and bought us all a rose! How sweet!  

After a full day of touring the waterways of Venice, we were all so exhausted but set back out to go find Sandra.  As promised, she was sitting at the same table waiting on us.  She greeted us with a hug and surprised us all when she remembered each of our names.  Of course, she had her long list of unique Florentine places and activities for us to visit.   We stayed and talked to her for a while.  This time the topic mostly concerned cooking.  She told us the secret to making a delicious meat sauce as well as gave us warnings sign for low-quality food.  She even promised to mail us an Italian cookbook so we could cook authentic Italian food at home!  How many random people do you know would be willing to pay international shipping fees to send a book  to group of college students you just met?  Only in Italy!  The only thing I couldn’t figure out is if she was such a food expert why she returned to this bad restaurant night after night.  I think she just liked the people and enjoyed the company.   We said our goodbyes and made a vow to find as many of Sandra’s recommendations as possible.

When we got to Florence, we did just that.  The entire trip was like a giant scavenger hunt trying to find Sandra’s recommendations.  We even went into her jewelry shop and said hi to her old co-workers.  Of course, they all welcomed us with open arms and said how much they all loved working with Sandra.   We took pictures everywhere that we found and are going to print them and send them to her as a thank you. 

In Rome, we were not sure what to expect from the people.  We thought maybe they wouldn’t be quite as friendly seeing as Rome is a huge metropolitan city.  However, to our surprise Rome still had that small town charm that all of the other cities possessed.  Of course, the people there treated us wonderfully, especially on my birthday( yes I was lucky enough to celebrate my 21st birthday in Roma).  When we went out to dinner, the waitress brought me an adorable birthday cake with a candle and everything.  I had no idea they did this outside of the States!  But that was nothing in comparison to what was to come.  After, we went to get gelato (yes I ate two deserts that night…come on it was my birthday and it was Italian desserts.  Why not?)  When my friend mentioned that it was my birthday the worker said,  “It’s your birthday?  You know what that means?  You have to come and scoop your own gelato!”  COOL!!  So I went behind the glass case and pretended I was a local working at a gelateria.  No big deal.  The real workers let me try any flavor I wanted…and there was a lot.  They told me to watch them scoop first so I could “learn”.  I was thinking…pssh how hard can it be?  To my surprise when I finally took the scoop in my hand, I don’t think I could have looked less skilled.  The hazelnut creamy confection was going everywhere besides in my cone.  They noticed I was struggling and thought an employees hat might help, so he gave me his hat.  Unfortunately, the secret was not in the hat and I had to resort to them to help me get my cone to look normal.  When I tried to give the hat back, they told me to keep it!  I now am a proud owner of an authentic Roman gelateria hat. Of course, the next day we went back.  Our same “ gelato friends” were working…hatless I might add.  This time after we sat down with our ice cream they suddenly came out with a little birthday cake and candle and start playing “Happy Birthday” in Italian over the speakers.  It wasn’t even my birthday anymore!  How sweet of them!

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The Italians were so nice to all of us.  I understand now why my Italian Grandpa is so giving and kind(and why he is always trying to feed us).  It’s his Italian genes!  Although this trip allowed me to LOVE all Italian people, it also gave me time to LOVE my travel companions.  Spending 12 days with any one group of people can be tough especially if there are any strong personalities in the group.   However, instead of getting on each other nerves as time went on, we all got a lot closer.   I cannot tell you the number of times we had really deep conversations about each other lives over dinner or on our balcony overlooking Florence.   Every conversation led me to love these people I was spending time with more and more!  I especially was grateful for how they all treated me on my birthday.  I was sad that I couldn’t talk to my family for the first time on my birthday but they did everything they could to make my day perfect.  First they all chipped in and bought me a gorgeous shirt that I had been eyeing when we were in Venice but couldn’t afford it.   They bought it when I wasn’t around and carried it with them all week!  How sneaky!   Then they took me out for dinner and paid for everything!  I really have some great friends.  I have heard you never know who your true friends are until you travel with them…well I would say all of my friends passed the test with flying colors. 

LOVE….what a great way to describe my Italian trip.  I LOVED the people. I LOVED the sights. But most of all I LOVED the experience.    Italy was everything I imagined plus more.  EAT. PRAY. LOVE. ITALY 2012!

 What do you think?  Next big Academy Award winner?

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2 Responses to “No Wonder My Italian Grandpa Is So Nice: eat. pray. LOVE.”

  1. boileradmin April 20, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    These three posts were more interesting to me than the movie was.

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