History proves our own smallness of scale in the greater schematic of life. As we leave the comfort of our small towns and busy homes for a bigger world, the human tourist often realizes that our individual struggles and victories mean very little to a city like Rome. Most travellers shrink from the fear newly created by the realization that their role as head cheerleader in high school or that new car in the garage is meaningless to civilization; a very few answer the call of the road and find that there is supreme comfort in understanding how little we matter as individuals, but that we can become greater by communing with what is best about human accomplishment. Rome is a city that calls to you in your sleep, it is the lover you always want to go back to, and it is a city where the foundations of civilization were laid and then laid to ruin.
Rome exemplifies three major concepts: 1) the importance of real, honest food 2) that beauty can be hidden or found in a wide variety of shapes 3) stone will outlast glass, wood, steel and flesh. During our brief journey to Rome this March, we did our best to commune with the bustling city in all of its forms, but surely it is a place where life piled upon life would never be enough to learn even a few of Rome’s secrets. One way that we tried to learn a bit more about Rome was to take a Trastevere food tour on our first night in Rome.
Florence is a city of private loves. Its streets creep like tendrils in the shady garden, enrapturing to the point of complete ecstasy those who follow its paths. Our stay in Firenze was spent just near the train station in a lovely AirBNB condo unit.Our nightly meals were either gnudi, gnochetti or charcuterie from the local grocery store or we would visit the nearby osteria, L’e Maiala, which often left me feeling like I was learning how real Italians eat when they are with friends. During the days we usually took tours out into the Tuscan countyside to learn more about the Italy beyond Florence’s walls.
From the train station, one can easily meet up with Walkabout Tours for a small bus excursion to a variety of places. We decided to book one tour, The Best of Tuscany, to see San Gimignano, Siena and Pisa, and then a second, Cinque Terre Trek, to visit the romantic vistas of these five small, coastal towns. While these are not private tours, they are a nicely balanced approach to getting to see major areas without needing to deal with all of the hassle of transportation, accommodation and navigation. The guides were professional and except for a few American teens “studying abroad” with hangovers, we really enjoyed the day tours. I learned about history, cultural manners, and we were able to cover areas that I was happy to visit but would not wanted to have stayed more than a few hours in. Tours like this provide a taste of an area so that you can make informed plans the next time you visit Italy.
Our third tour from Florence was a Grape Tours program called Super Chianti. In a small Mercedes van a group of eight people travelled through the Chianti region of Italy between Rome and Florence. I truly love taking wine tours to learn about the area where wines are created, their terroir and to meet winemakers from different parts of the world. I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting Napa Valley in California, taking a small tour from Paris to the Champagne region of France, and on our most recent visit to France we took a private day tour through the Beaune/Burgundy region. How did this compare? It was more similar to the Champagne tour than the Burgundy tour, in that we learned a fair amount but also enjoyed the day being surrounded by a few nice people. The wine was lovely, the food offered was brilliant, and our guide spoke with an accent that made me feel like Jamie Oliver was guiding us through Chianti. For the money, I highly recommend the experience. Did we get to meet the Mad Butcher? No, but the food offered to us there was such a delight, and the wine and grappa flowed like water. I also was able to meet a count whose family also rents out beautiful villas to tourists, which may be part of our next visit to Italy. Is Chianti a new favourite wine? No, I find it too light for my tastes, but paired with the right Italian foods it will make a wonderful addition to garden meals in the spring and summer.
Italy reminds me of the permanence of the world, while demonstrating how brief my time in it will be. Terrifying as it is, life for the individual ends and all that remains are the things we create and the people we leave behind to carry forward the pieces we leave behind. Like a dream that we awake from, a journey can be as beautiful and life-changing as we allow, but we do not need to travel across an ocean to make more from what remains to each and every one of us.