Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Rosy the Reviewer Does Italy, Pt. 4: What I Learned

If you have been reading my posts over the last three weeks, you know that I went to Italy in May - specifically, Rome, Naples, Sorrento, Positano and the Amalfi Coast.

(If you need to get caught up, here are Part I, Part II and Part III).

Those posts show where we went, what we did and what we thought of the sights, but they didn't really go into some of the INsights I gained while traveling. 

I thought I would wrap up the trip with some things that I learned.

  • I learned that I love European style yogurt (the really runny kind), cappuccino in the morning and there is nothing more thirst- quenching after a day of sightseeing than a bottle of "frizzante" water (fizzy) - followed by some wine, of course. 

Trader Joe's is the only place where I could find the European style yogurt here in the U.S. (do you have some other suggestions?). I bought Hubby a cappuccino maker for Father's Day and sparkling water is a daily thing so I can continue to enjoy those little perks.

  • If you want to fly the "Friendly skies," it helps if you are friendly.
I mentioned this in one of my earlier posts but I can't stress enough the importance of being friendly to the flight attendants when you fly.  Remember, you are going to be sharing a flight with them for the next 10 hours or so (if you are flying overseas), and they can add to or detract from the experience depending on YOU. 

I make a point when I walk on board to flash a big smile, offer a greeting and say something fun or complimentary. The sad thing is that few people who fly do that, so you are remembered.  I'm not trying to get anything from them, though sometimes they do reward you for your good nature.  What I  am trying to do is make my own experience better by relating to those who are also sharing my experience.  For that short time, I and my fellow humans are having this experience together and it helps to relate to each person's humanity.  And you do that by just being nice.

  • I learned how to use a bidet (they are everywhere).
Well, sort of.  I learned that you are not supposed to wash your feet in it, store your underwear there or use it as a place to cool the wine.  Apart from that, I'm still at a loss.

  • May has become a  terrible time to travel.
We had always thought that May was the best time to travel, especially to Europe. The kids were still in school so you didn't have to deal with kids running up and down the aisles on airplanes or families adding to the crowds.  It's still not summer, so many people have not started their summer vacations yet and you can enjoy those long evenings of daylight. 

Well, I have this little saying that I say.  If I have discovered something, so has everyone else.  And this year it seemed like everyone had discovered May as the time to travel.  The crowds in Rome at the Colisseum and the Vatican were horrific.  However, this year the dollar is very strong so I guess that explains why there were a lot of Americans in Italy.  I had never encountered so many Americans in Europe before, but I can't blame it all on the exchange rate.  Remember when I said I thought we would avoid school children?  Well, for some reason the Europeans like to take whole classes of kids to see the sights in May.  So much for that.  It's going to be April or September from now on.

  • Only being able to speak English is embarrassing.
More and more as I travel to Europe, I feel embarrassed that "my hosts," the locals of whatever country I happen to be traveling in, must speak English in order for me to communicate with them.  Yes, I try not to be an "Ugly American" and I do attempt to say what few words in the local language I know, but when the person I am talking to realizes he or she can speak better English than I can Italian or French and they start speaking English because I am so pathetic, I realize that I really am an "Ugly American." Hubby always tries to reassure me by saying that English is the universal language, and I guess he is right, but I still feel bad.

We have had some interesting experiences witnessing that whole English as a universal language thing, though.  One time, we were in a bar in Stockholm in the Sodermalm neighborhood ("The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" fans will recognize that) and the bartender was Swedish but at the bar there was also a French guy and a Turkish guy.  When the bartender realized that, he started speaking English and the other two did likewise and they had a lively discussion.  I was so impressed with that. 

But at the same time, I still feel very inadequate that I can only muster a minimum of words in the language of the country I am visiting.  I studied some French in school but without the practice, I am still not very good.  I wish our country cared more about this and required that students become fluent in at least one other language.

  • Taking pictures is a pain but they serve as your memories, especially as you get older and remembering stuff gets harder!
I remember complaining to myself about having to haul out my IPhone every time a photo op came along.  I wanted to take the picture, but I also thought always having to pull out my phone to take a picture detracted from my enjoyment of the moment.  However, when I got home, I couldn't remember all of the details of the trip, but as soon as I looked at the pictures they all came back.

The Michael Jackson impersonator in the square in Rome.

The little dog in Naples playing with a plastic cup while we waited for our boat to Sorrento.

What the Amalfi Coast looked like from the boat coming back from the town of Amalfi.

In the old days, I used a regular camera (or remember those disposable ones?), got the pictures developed when I went home and then painstakingly put them in little albums.  We may no longer put our photos in albums but we create another form of album with our phones, our blogs and our postings on Instagram and Facebook.  Remember when we used to dread people inviting us over to see their travel movies and pictures?  Well now we are those people and have captive audiences!

  • Sharing the experience expands the experience.
As I reported last week, my Swedish cousin and her husband joined us for the Positano/Amalfi Coast portion of our trip.  And as I said in that post, choosing traveling companions who are generous, considerate, up for anything, and positive no matter what happens is very important.  My cousin and her husband are all of those things and more.  You don't want to get your knickers in a twist if your traveling companions are always late meeting up with you or are party poopers or complaining all of the time.  That would ruin your trip. 

But when you are traveling with friends and loved ones who are on the same page as you, it makes the experience that much more special.

  • You will enjoy yourself more if you try to look like a local
I have found that if you keep your mouth shut and try to blend in, you will really get a wonderful experience.  For the short time you are traveling, you can pretend to be a local. 

When we stayed in a small village in England, I went to the laundromat (or as they call it over there the launderette).  Many of them have attendants.  When I arrived, I noticed a sign on the door that said they only had cold water that day.  Many of the little old ladies there were miffed about that and stalked off.  The attendant tried to tell them that "In America, they use cold water all of the time."  They made some remark like "We're not Americans, thank god."  I enjoyed that little local interchange.  He eventually asked me a question and my American accent gave me away, and when he asked me if I was American, that resulted in a fun conversation too, but the less you give that part away, the more you will experience. So avoid looking like a tourist. 

Baseball caps with American sports team logos on them are a sure giveaway, likewise a jacket with same, even shorts can be a giveaway but all together?  And carrying a map as well, you don't have a prayer of blending in.

Picture of typical American tourist.

This is more like it.  This smart young lady could pass for a local!

  • In the same vein, the more you ACT like a local, the better experience you will have. 
Unless you are staying in a hotel that caters to Americans or you are in the UK, bacon and eggs for breakfast are rare.  Europeans eat small breakfasts, which could be why they are so slim.  Complaining about the Internet connection or the wimpy air-conditioner or the lack of ice in your soda will get you nowhere and just ruin your trip by the reactions you will get from the locals, not to mention the bad reputation you will give Americans. 

When we were heading home and in line to board our plane, we talked with some other Americans in line. The gentleman shared that he did not like Italians and had not enjoyed his trip.  He said they were rude, etc. etc. etc.  That was not our experience and I think you get what you sow.  This guy seemed to have an entitled chip on his shoulder and if you come after people, complain about things, especially on their turf, yes, the response might be one you would think was rude.  So the answer to that?  Realize you are not in the U.S. and enjoy the ride...and shut the you-know-what-up.

  • Being cheap will not only ruin your own trip but that of your companion
I have come to the conclusion that those who have bad trips (and I don't mean of the acid variety) are people who care more about how much something is costing than anything else.  And even if they enjoy themselves because they are "getting a deal" or their penny-pinching is part of the fun, I guarantee you, their companions are not enjoying it.  

If the almighty dollar is your guide as to whether you have fun or not or how you get along with the locals, then I see why you have crappy trips. 

Complaining about prices to the waiter, always trying to get a better deal from the locals or staying in really low-cost accommodation without a view because it's cheaper, will guarantee you a less than stellar vacation.  Penny pinch when you are at home but when you travel, you don't want to be complaining about how much it costs to buy a Roma Pass (which enables you to skip lines) or get gleeful when you save $10 to travel 2nd class on a crowded train when you can enjoy some amenities by upgrading to Premium Second class or deny yourself a view because it's $20 more. 

Thankfully, Hubby and I are on the same page with this, but we ran into some people who were having a bad time and I could tell they were not enjoying themselves because they were cheap complainers.  Often people who are cheap about money are cheap with good will.

  • Toilets are not easy to find.
One thing you will notice about Europe is that finding a toilet is not easy and even when you do find one, be sure to have some local currency handy because the toilet often costs money, even at train stations.  However, you can save yourself some grief by just popping into a restaurant or bar, order something and use the toilet!  It is not good form to try to sneak in without buying something and the locals will bust you so once again, don't be cheap! 

In Rome we were out on one of Hubby's marathon walks and I couldn't make it back to the hotel.  We spotted a little outdoor café that was still open and ordered a glass of wine.  It was a sort of art gallery cum wine bar so when I headed to the toilet I was treated by a little art show on the way.  And when the wine arrived, they also brought us some little cicchetti (snacks).  Well worth the toilet stop.  And by the way, they don't say "bathroom" or "restroom" over there.  Might as well bite the bullet and start saying "toilet."  It's not a dirty word, it's a universal one.  So like I said, don't be cheap.  A toilet and wine pit stop can be fun!

  • If you don't do your homework before you leave, you will miss out on things you should see and tips that would make your trip more fun.

If we hadn't done our homework, we would not have known about the "secret" door at the back of the Sistine Chapel that allows you to skip the outside lines to get into St. Peter's Basilica to see the Michelangelo's incredible Pieta.

If we hadn't done our homework we would not have figured out that it was a better option to go to Pompeii from Sorrento, rather than Naples to Pompeii. 

I was astounded to run into people who didn't even know some of the basic must-sees at their destination.  Flying by the seat of your pants might be fun up to a point, but I guarantee you will not only miss some important attractions, you will look dumb to the locals.  So don't be lazy.  Do your homework before you go.

Final wrap-up on that? 

Don't be cheap and don't be lazy.

Apart from all of the fantastic wisdom and insight I have gained from getting older (there has to be SOME upside to that), which I extol from time to time on this blog, on this trip I learned something else that surprised me:  that I don't have the stamina or desire to get up and go that I once had even two years ago.  If you are in Rome, you need to keep moving but on some days, the idea of the four hour walk was daunting.  I did it, but I have to admit part of me wanted to be home watching a movie with the wine guzzling poodle on my lap.  That was a scary feeling from someone who all of her life couldn't wait to set foot on European soil every year or so.

Maybe I am not the world traveler I thought I was.  Scary thought.

So what's different now?

Probably 20+ too many extra pounds and the fact that retirement is somewhat like a long vacation - a long vacation of your own making.  Kind of like "The Hotel California."  "You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave."

Yes, I volunteer, yes I still have some things I must do because I have made commitments but in general, if I want to lounge around all day I can.

When I was working a 40+ hour week, the thought of leaving work to go on an adventure in Europe was liberating.  I didn't think about long delays in airports or getting shin splints from too much stair climbing or a room so small I could touch both walls by reaching out my arms.  I looked forward to all of that, because it was a chance to get away from the worries and problems of my work day.

But now that I don't have those worries or problems anymore, I see that I have embraced a "me attitude," and doing something I don't want to do anymore has become the problem.  I get up when I want, I eat when I want, I take on commitments or I don't.  So there are now some things about a vacation that smack of commitments and walking around in the rain to see a sight because it's my only chance to do it started to feel like something I didn't want to do.

Don't get me wrong.  I am not going to let that rule me.  I am still going to travel.  I am just sharing that I had this insight about myself.  But thankfully self awareness is the first step to the road back.  Hopefully, this self-awareness will help me conquer not becoming a retired person who only wants to stay home and watch TV.

That's not how I want to think of myself. 

This is how I want to think of myself!


Traveling can be fun.  It can be educational.  But it can also be insightful.  When you travel, you are not only getting to know the world, but you are getting to know yourself better too.  You find out what you are made of and how you interact in that big wide world.

As for that "Hotel California State of Mind?" I don't want to "check out." I want to leave!

Now I know what I need to work on. 

...until that next trip!

See you Friday

for my review of the new movie 
"Inside Out" 

The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

and the latest on

My 1001 Movies I Must See Before
 I Die Project."


If you enjoyed this post, feel free to click on the share buttons to share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, email it to your friends and LIKE me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rosythereviewer

No comments :

Post a Comment