Of all the places I’ve visited in Asia and Europe, Italy still remains my favorite, which explains why I keep going back every few years. For any first-time traveler to Italy, my suggestion would be to concentrate on the highlights—Rome, Venice, and Florence with side trips to Sienna, Vinci, and San Gimignano if time permits. A second visit might include areas around the Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, and the Italian Riviera.
After that, consider the small villages of any region and for those of you whose ancestors emigrated from Italy, by all means find out where your ancestors came from and make that area the focus of your next trip. You won’t be sorry, I promise, especially if you go prepared with the names of family members and some photographs from long ago. Of course, Italy’s art, history, and dining options are legendary but there’s nothing quite like being wined and dined in the home of an Italian family, however distant the relationship or the result of a newly acquired friendship.
During our recent visit to Italy Hubby D and I were the fortunate guests of Cousin E and his wife L, in a renovated house that had belonged to L’s family. Over years of hard work and perseverance, E added on, remodeled, and improved the house, giving the three-story structure a stucco covering and all the amenities that spell comfort and convenience for a modern home. No air conditioning, not in these foothills of the Italian Alps, alleluia! No window screens either, and only an occasional house fly.
D and I slept in a large bedroom adjacent to the kitchen. Our bedroom had tiled floors and a door leading to a small balcony overlooking distant hillsides. At my insistence we slept with the balcony door open, to enjoy that feeling of being lulled to sleep by the sounds of night—cicadas and crickets like those we have back home. But some sounds of the night have a way of wearing out their welcome. I’m talking about the church bells from three villages that chimed every hour on the hour, not simultaneously but one after the other. And then there was the neighbor’s rooster that crowed at four-thirty every morning, followed by the chirping of birds that grew louder and louder until sunrise. On the plus side, there were no mosquitoes, unlike our stay on the River Arno in Florence where teeny tiny mosquitoes waited until we fell asleep before they sucked us drier than vampire bats.
One morning, over breakfast cups of hot latte and coffee for D and L, strong espresso for E and me, I commented about the cicadas chirping through the night. D translated to E, who didn’t understand what I meant until a series of hand gestures explained my inquiry referred to insects.
E shook his head, and said, “No cicadas.”
“Crickets?” I asked.
E shook his head again. He thought a minute, then curled his fingers into claws, spread his arms into flapping wings, and said the one word I didn’t want to hear, “Bats.”
Bats!?! Oh, no. Not bats again. Not after the bats at our Lake of the Ozarks retreat.
Bats make chirping noises at night, really? Bats in Italy, no wonder we hadn’t been bothered by mosquitoes at night or house flies during the day. No problem, I could take it, as long as these bats didn’t get a craving for human blood, American in particular.
That night D asked if I wanted the balcony door opened.
“Si,” I said in my best Italian.
I crawled into bed, pulled the covers up to my chin, and listened for the sounds of the night. Yes, I heard the chirping, only then realizing it was not quite the same as cicadas or crickets. But as long as the bats stayed on their side of the door and not on mine, I could live with their racket. I also heard the bells of those three churches, each taking their turn, every hour on the hour, none of which escaped my tired ears. The rooster and the birds told me when four-thirty rolled around, time for some serious shut-eye before my usual rise and shine—seven-thirty at the latest. Not that our gracious Italian hosts were pushing us. They were wonderful. As for the bats, at that bright and sunny hour they’d be fast asleep, huddled together under an obscure eave until it was time to resume their sounds of night.