After 10 days in Italy seeing Milan, Lake Como, Rome, Florence, and Venice, and starting the trip with a night in Fort Lauderdale, my husband and father and I had a LOT of unique experiences (in fact, just my notes during the trip totaled 37 typed pages)!  Here’s a list and description of my favorites.

Feeding the pigeons!

1) I Did Not Get Arrested in Milan: Walking along the Navigli in Milan, we helped an elderly lady.  She had gone down some steps to the canal with a cart full of bread to feed the ducks and pigeons, and somehow, she got stuck behind a gate that had been shut with metal wire.  She was trapped and couldn’t leave. Dad and I attempted to unbend the wire while the lady spoke in rapid-fire Italian. We kept saying, “English, English!” to her so she would know we had no clue what she was saying, but she just kept talking.  It was quite comical. We eventually got the gate open, but Paul was nervous that we may have just broken a law. I loved the idea: getting arrested in Milan for helping an elderly lady feeding pigeons get unwrapped from behind a gate! It turns out, as we experienced throughout our trip, the Italians are not too worried about most laws.

2) Get Naked!:  We had some young, loud female neighbors in Milan who spoke Italian.  We could hear them very well when we went into our bathroom. One night they’d had quite a party.  As the night went on, Paul heard them yelling at each other in English, “Get naked! Get naked!”

3) Crustaceans and Doggo:  In Rome, we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant around the corner from our room. Paul and I both ordered some kind of scampi, but it was difficult to tell what we were really ordering.  They brought out our lunch and there were these massive shrimp things.  Were they crawfish? Tiny lobsters? Some other mystery creature? They were tasty but intimidating.  While we were eating, a black lab wandered into the restaurant from the street. He stopped and looked around. The waiter said hello, and then after about 10 seconds the dog turned around and walked out as unhurriedly as he’d wandered in.  The wait staff laughed and it became a bit of a joke the rest of the trip.

4) Making New Friends:  I was fortunate enough to make two new friends on this trip!

Cecelia

Cecelia: In the security line in Miami, dad met a lady and struck up a conversation.  It turns out that she lives in Florence and is from Italy, and records Italian audiobooks for the blind.  When we got to the gate we sat and talked for hours! It was wonderful to meet her, and she gave some most excellent tips for our time in Florence.  

I messaged her when we got to Florence so we could meet for a coffee.  She showed up looking tan and radiant in a white dress with little flowers. She took us to a cafe at the top of a nearby museum and showed us an absolutely gorgeous view almost right by the famous dome of the Duomo!  We then walked to a library called Oblate because it was once a convent and a hospital that the nuns ran, and we found an Annunciation scene upstairs that was original to the 1400s. We walked around the city, and talked about history, cities, life, and food and had a very pleasant time chatting.

She took us to a bronze statue of a wild boar.  The tradition in Florence is that if you rub the nose of the drooling boar (he is a fountain), you will return to Florence.  The boar was quite dark, but his nose was like a shiny new penny. I’m so glad we met!

Clay: We had pre-arranged to meet with Clay, a friend’s nephew.  Clay is in Seminary and will be ordained a priest next year.  We had dinner, which was quite good, and had a great conversation. I felt instantly connected with him, and we had a great time discussing religion and other subjects.  His openness and his kindness are contagious. After dinner, we went for a stroll to his favorite gelato place (there was even a line, and it was so rich and creamy) and then to Piazza di Navarro to see a fountain created by Bernini.  The evening sky was blue and dark. The streets had tables outside with happy eaters, there was music on the street and couples spontaneously dancing. It was a very special evening, and I’m so glad Clay was part of it.

Clay

5) Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman is apparently quite popular here, and fun to watch in Italian.

6) Father’s Day was fun to celebrate out of the country with my father.  It was simple, but so memorable.

7) Cat Food and Leather: Paul bought a belt at a shop in Venice.  In the window, they had their products laid out:  umbrellas, belts, cat food, dog food, animal harnesses, and an ad for having shoes repaired.  Inside the shop was a jumble of cat foods, dog treats, display racks of leather belts, and a lady repairing the shoes.  Paul bought a belt for 33 Euro and the lady cut the leather to size. The belt will last for years, but so will the funny memory of buying it from a cat food shop. 

Crazy Cat Cafe

8) The Crazy Cat Cafe:  In Milan, I got to visit my first cat cafe!  Very exciting and I bought a shirt. The cats were not as excited about me as I was about them.  

9) Lynyrd Skynyrd Taxi Driver:  We got a taxi driver who spoke English well and asked where we were from.  When we told him Jacksonville, Florida, his first response was “Lynyrd Skynyrd!” That was definitely not a response we were expecting.  It turns out, he loves Southern Rock and says that he grew up on it. He spoke about the Allman Brothers as well, who are also from Jax. He then told us a fascinating story about how he couldn’t afford a guitar, and one day in a guitar shop, Larry Johnson, a blues musician from America who came to perform in Europe, saw him looking at guitars.  Johnson ended up buying him the guitar and hired him to do four European tours over six years playing with Johnson’s band. His band opened for ZZ Top, and Billy Gibbons told him that he played La Grange better than Gibbons did. He also opened for BB King! Our driver released an album in 2010 and was kind enough to play the CD on our way to the train station! I wish I had his name!

10) Small World:  The taxi driver knew about our home, but we also met a family from Gainesville and a woman who’s best friend lives in Jacksonville and works at UNF.  We met people from all over the world, but it was fun to be 5,000 miles away from Jax and still have that as a common connection.

The Statue of David

11) Statue of David:  I knew that seeing this statue in person would be amazing, but Paul and I went to the Accademia in Florence to see David.  We turned a corner and BAM, there it was. I really was in awe.  In person, you understand why this is such a treasure to the world. It is impressive just due to its size and of course you can go on analyzing the ratio of the hands to the rest of the body or whatever, but… Well, I read a sign and it said that David was graceful and I thought yes, that is the word: graceful.  David looks so innocent and effortless and beautiful and vulnerable in person. A huge and somewhat surprising highlight of the trip.  

12) Randy’s Cross: Our friend Randy had asked us to look out for a gold cross.  In Florence, we went over the Ponte Vecchio and there were so many jewelry shops.  The prices were too high, but we wandered into a very small shop called Gioielleria Frilli.  The owner, Bernardo, had significantly better prices.  On the wall behind him, he had two photos of the bridge (one from 1935 and one from the early 1900s). They both contained his grandfather. It turns out, Bernardo is a third generation jeweler, and I love that he is continuing on the tradition in the same shop as his grandfather.  We bought Randy’s cross from Bernardo and felt a special connection with him by the time we left.

13) Photoshoot:  I’m going to do a separate review of our photo shoot in Florence, but we had the most amazing time.  We got to meet know our photographers, Johnathan and Issac, and they were charming and kind. If you get a chance to do a photoshoot on vacation, please do it.  You’ll have wonderful photographs of everyone together to treasure for years, but you’ll also get to meet a local photographer and learn more about the people and places of the city you’re visiting.

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