Going Home

Written By: Kim - Aug• 28•11

Our last day in Italy was one we would not forget.

Given our less than stellar ability to navigate between Rome and Praiano in the normal three hours it takes between the two areas, we left at 5 am for an 11 am flight out of Rome. Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport was our goal. I had asked my husband if we should top off the gas tank on Friday. He answered no. This will end badly.

We could drive the Coastal Almalfi road at this time of the day about as fast as you can drive a windy road with hairpin turns. Unlike American gas stations which might be open 24 hours, the ones we found are not open at 5 am. When we finally found a sign for gas, we pulled off the coastal highway and ended up at a gas station that only took it’s company credit card. None of the directions were in English, so we put € 20 in the machine. The pump we picked did not work. As we continued to panic about our gas situation, I walked around to other pumps and began pressing the buttons. One of the pumps came on. We were once again on our way to Rome.

Connor, me & Abigail on the ride home. ©Mike Howard

Since we did not completely fill up the tank, a second stop at a Shell gas station was necessary about two hours later. On the Autostrada we saw a sign that said “Aeroporto Ciampano” and I told Mike not to take that exit because we were headed to Fiumicino. Surely there would be a sign for our airport, too. Not. After another hour on the Rome beltway, we pulled over and found out we had to turn around. Of course, the person who told us to do that seemed unsure of himself. We were on the north side of the beltway. The airport is on the southwestern side of the city. Sigh. Did I mention that I will never rent a car in another country for as long as I live?

We finally pulled in to the airport garage where Avis was located at 9:15 am. The British family beside us was already out of there car and their young son had gotten sick all over himself. I quickly asked my kids to give them the bottled water we had left to help clean him off. Poor kid and parents. At least we didn’t have that to contend with.

Of course famous Italian customer service yielded another time waster checking in the car. The Avis employee never came over to us, so we went to the office. The office told us he should have checked us in but he just stood at his station. Send that guy back to basic training because he sucks.

After winding our way to the main terminal, we found it to be packed with travelers. Saturday is one of the busiest travel days for pleasure. We read the boards to find out which check in counter we needed: 500. Well, the counters only go to 499. What the hell? We turned around to see a sign that said, “To check in counters 500+” so we walked outside the main terminal only to get on to another bus. The bus, as was every single Italian bus we were ever on, was already packed. We managed to squeeze on with our 11 bags.

Please don’t judge us. This total included all carry ons and we’ve already got a new plan for our next international trip: same size suitcases for everyone so that each of us only has one suitcase and one carryon. Major lesson learned there.

We waited almost 10 minutes while the bus driver finished up his conversation with an attractive United Airlines gate agent. Yes, flirting stops for no one in Italy; even passengers trying to make an international flight out.

Luckily, there was no one in line at United Airlines. We checked our bags and proceeded to security then to customs where I experienced, yet again, an Italian’s famous “me first” attitude. As I was retrieving my passport, a male passenger was being escorted by an airline employee. I am sure he was running extremely late for his flight since he had a personal escort. In his haste to hand the customs agent his passport, he knocked mine to the ground. He never picked it up nor offered an apology. Who does that?

I will say this for Fiumicino Airport: It has extremely nice duty-free shops. High-end stuff if you want it, tax free. It was lunch time and we all wanted to grab something to drink and eat.

Our flight was delayed by 30 minutes and the gate personnel loaded us late so we missed our spot in the departure queue. Another 40 minutes strapped in to our seats on the tarmac and we were finally on our way home to Washington, DC.

I have dreamed of visiting Italy for years. But, when we landed in the USA, I was so glad to get home. I would not trade our vacation for anything. If I never travel out of the US again, I am content with our experience. Traveling is a privilege and we do not take it lightly. But there is something extremely special about coming home.



Cultural Differences: We Are Definitely Not in America Anymore

Written By: Kim - Aug• 11•11

After spending two weeks in Italy, there were some cultural differences that I noticed that are worth documenting.

Europeans are more efficient and effective at dressing.

If you ever have the opportunity to travel to Europe, leave the sloppy dressing at home. No gym clothes, track suits, running shoes, pjs or slippers in public in Italy. The only people I saw with running shorts on were, well, actually running. Not shopping, eating lunch or running errands. No one here wears chinos. I swear. I did not see one pair on either the men or the women.

The women dress sexy. I do not mean tacky. Italian women wear clothes that American women generally view as “inappropriate.” Clingy dresses, high heels, fitted suit jackets and right-at-the-knee or above-the-knee skirts. Even flowing skirts are sexy because the women pair them with sexy tops, belts and earrings. They are definitely not afraid to show themselves or their cleavage off. This dress code spanned across generations. Think Sophia Loren and you get the picture.

Italian diva Abby shows off her local style. Scooters are a common form of transportation and yes, the women drive them to work. ©Mike Howard

And the Italian men? Well, they are generally appreciative of this approach to women’s clothing and return the favor. The men wear fitted suit shirts and narrower cut trousers, whether casual or work. Maybe because it was summer, I did not see any jeans on the locals as either. And definitely no prison baggy pants, track suits, gym shorts or tee-shirts. They have nice bodies and are not afraid to show them off.

The type of food that is available, even in carbohydrate central Italy, was fresh and healthy. Italians don’t eat chips with their panini and you share your panini. There are no convenience stores with aisles of candy, Slim Jims and Big Gulps. Processed foods en masse are not available. The portions served to us were completely appropriate. There are no “all-you-can-eat” places in Italy. Meals are prepared and you take time to sit, wait and talk while the chef cooks. You linger in between courses and don’t rush to ask for the check.

There are no paper cups or travel mugs to put your coffee in. According to my husband, the Italian coffee he drank was better than any he’s tasted. It’s simply too good “to go.” You stand at the coffee bar counter and drink it. Their baristas don’t give you 25 options for your coffee: it’s either coffee, cappuccino or espresso. Coffee is served black, cream, sugar or both. No half shot of this, light whipped that. Americans have too many options. Just ask anyone waiting in line at Starbucks trying to simply order a black coffee.

Take the color of cars. There were really only three colors of cars that we saw: black, silver and white. Occasionally you would see a blue or red car. Why do Americans have to have so many car colors to choose from? Does it make our life better? Nope. For the record, my car is black and so was its predecessor.

Those patterned bags by designers like Vera Bradley? No where in sight. I could get used to looking at all of those lovely Italian bags and shoes. The only tennis shoes I saw were sleek and designed more like a casual walking shoe. No bulky heeled white running shoes except on tourists. But not our family. We wore comfortable sandals during our trip.

During our week at the beach on the Almalfi Coast, bikinis were the dress code for Italian women. I wore a tankini and felt like I was wearing a blanket. My suit just screamed tourist. Even older local women wore a two-piece to the beach. They were so common that they had me brainwashed in to thinking I should get one next summer. Almost. And you know those women’s magazines that tell American women to do the “tug test” on our bathing suits? Italian women don’t care. In fact, the more behind you show, the more you fit in. They simply are not worried about showing off their bodies. That said, their bodies are definitely worth showing off.

Italian drivers are aggressive. You take your own life in to your hands when you walk across the street. They simply do not care if you have the right of way. They just forge ahead.

And, if you drive, please note that the lines between the lanes are simply there to employ the government workers. Drivers don’t really pay much attention to them, weaving in and out without using a signal. Ever.