Wow, I just got back from Italy for the first time and I can’t wait to share with you everything I learned. (Yes, there will be travel ‘hacks’!)
I just got back from Italy for the first time and I learned so much while I was there about the people and the culture and the travel tips, that I wanted to share it with you in a series of Travelogues, which is a smart word I just invented with that is a combination of “travel” and “blog”.
When traveling to Italy, the most important thing you have to do is book a flight to Italy. This is doubly important if you’re living in America and triply important if you’re living in America and afraid of boats or ocean. Interestingly, “booking” a flight has nothing to do with books. You just have to give the airline money and they give you a ticket for the plane. Once you’ve _booked_ your flight (i.e., got your ticket), you can get to the airport, get through security, and then it’s time to find your gate.
To find which gate your flight is departing from, you can either:
Look at the big board that tells you where your gate is, or
Wander around the terminal to try and find it yourself.
I always choose Option A because it’s a fun way to have an adventure before the adventure. This can take some time, which is why I like to get to the airport at least one whole day before my flight departs. Some other quote-unquote “experts” say you should get there one whole day before your flight starts boarding, but to me that is overkill.
Since you’re flying international—in this case, from Los Angeles—you’re going to be flying out of the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Nobody knows who Tom Bradley is, but also nobody seems to care, so don’t worry about it. Either way, here’s why I love the international terminal:
You know how whenever you need a squirty-top water bottle, oversized Toblerone, pre-wrapped egg salad sandwich, replacement set of earbuds, replacement set of tweezers, replacement bottle of Kahlua, and a diamond tennis bracelet, you have to drive around to upwards of ten, eleven, or even twelve different shopping malls? Well, not at the airport. At the airport, the global economy is at your fingertips. The world is your oyster. I came up with a word for it: “single-stop-mall”. The price of the ticket is worth the gasoline alone.
As you’re bouncing around this global marketplace, you should keep an eye out for your gate. One sign that you’re in the right place will be that there are a lot of Italians just milling about waiting to fly to Italy. This shouldn’t surprise you because you’re also flying to Italy.
Before too long you’ll be settled in your seat and ready to take off. But not before the flight attendant lifts your sleeping mask and removes your earplugs to tell you that you’re in somebody else’s seat and that this plane is flying to Buenos Aires, not Rome like your ticket says. You’ll explain to him or her—but in this case a her—that she is wrong and that you saw a bunch of “Italian types” waiting to get on this plane. She’ll tell you that most Argentines have some degree of Italian descent and that she knows this not because she’s from Argentina, but her mother’s best friend is and loves to talk about it. You’ll tell her that you believe her, but also point out that they shouldn’t have let you on the plane in the first place with the wrong ticket. At that point, they’ll have no choice but to throw you out because you were so right and totally owned them in public. That is the main reason why people have such a problem with racial profiling at the airport.
At any rate, you didn’t want to go to Argentina anyway, so this is good. By the time you’re back in the terminal, an airport employee will actually drive you where you’re supposed to be on a golf cart. So actually the joke is on the airline and the flight attendant and the golf cart driver and the kid who’s seat you sat in. All roads may lead to Rome, but, take my word for it: all flights do not!
Once you’re on the correct flight, you better buckle up, because it’s gonna be a long one. Seriously, that’s one of the rules for flying: you have to buckle up. If you can’t remember how to buckle up, do not panic. They teach everybody how to do it on every flight. It’s just one of those funny things where, no matter how many times you’ve done it, you just can’t help forgetting how to do it—like playing tic-tac-toe, or rock, paper, scissors.
After chuggin’ a few sleeping pills—roofies if ya got ‘em—you will finally land in glorious Rome. More specifically, you will have landed at Leonardo da Vinci International Airport in Rome. Wow. Just… I mean, what a name! Surely, there cannot be a more impressively named airport on the planet. It’s the kind of place that makes you forget all about Tom Bradley and whatever the hell he did to get an airport named after him.
But the Italians, as you will soon come to learn, are a modest people. Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most accomplished humans and his name is one of the most recognizable on Earth in any language. Yet, the Italians almost never invoke his name at the airport. Instead, they opt for the less flashy: Rome–Fiumicino International Airport. Most non-Italians have a hard time pronouncing Fiumicino, but that’s part of the modest Italian charm.
You find this out as soon as you deplane, not onto a some tehcnologically advanced jetway that’s already connected to the airport terminal, but instead right onto the airport tarmac. Here, you will wait with everyone else on your flight (regardless of class of ticket!) in the heat or the rain until enough buses arrive to shuttle you a the significant distance across the tarmac to customs. Don’t worry about buckling up for the bus ride because it’s standing room only, baby.
People these days love to “do it for the ‘gram”, but real big time globetrotters “do it for the customs stamp”. There’s no sensation like filling the pages of an entire passport booklet with cute, little, colorful stamps marking the time of your arrival. Each one is unique, intricate, ornate, subtle, and gives a slight nod to whichever amazing country it represents. The Italian customs stamp is no exception. It harkens back to an older time, an ancient time, you might say. In fact, it simply is time itself. Literally, it’s just the date in red ink. It takes you out of this world and to the bygone era of libraries and the stamps they used to check books in and out. Such a powerful artistic statement.
When you’ve collected your things, you’ll find a cab and be spirited off to your hotel. Inevitably, you will pass through Piazza Venezia. This is the central hub of Rome and home to a mountainous monument of blinding white marble, that, depending on who you ask, either looks like a giant typewriter or a giant wedding cake. Personally, I thought it looked like a giant cake in the shape of a typewriter. Nevertheless, it is VERY impressive and beautiful.
Such an ostentatious monument may seem out of character for the modesty of the modern Roman. And it is. So, to balance things out, not only do Roman citizens never audibly compliment the thing, they go out of their was to tell everyone how grotesque and distracting it is. How they hate it and wish it never existed. How it’s a hollow symbol meant to represent Italian unity. So brilliantly ironic.
By the time you pass by this monstrosity (when in Rome!) you will have discovered that the entirety of Italy’s traffic laws captured by the words: live and let die. I absolutely love it. Have you even been in the front of the line to get a Kindle Paperwhite when they open the doors to Best Buy on Black Friday? Traffic in Italy is just like that except all the people are in motorized vehicles and have no padding. It. Is. A. Thrill! It’s as if each car is part of its own high tech chariot race. It’s not clear who is racing whom, but it’s very clear that everybody is racing somebody.
You might also notice that there are lines painted on the roads that appear to offer some guidance as to how drivers should behave, but they don't actually mean anything. As far as we can tell, they are just more remnants of a bygone era. Their meanings are completely lost on modern man.
In America, you’ve heard people admire the efficiency of New York city’s grid system. More commonly, Washington, D.C. is lauded for adopting a foolproof system of circles and diagonals. But, as you’ll soon find out, nothing compares to Rome. Forget your grids and your circles. Roman roads forego the concepts of geometry altogether. Because the city is so old, nobody knows how how, if, or why they these streets were planned the way they were, but leading historians believe a young child scribbled on a newspaper with a Crayon and the city planners used that as blueprints. Allegedly a BLUE crayon was used to draw the maps and this is where the term ‘blueprints’ originates. That last part sounds like bit of a stretch to me.
As a general rule of thumb, meals in Italy last no less than an hour longer than you'd like them to. Your server will seat you immediately, promptly take your order, and have your food ready before you can TBW.
But it can be strangely difficult to get your waiter to bring you a check. At times it feels like you can’t pay them to ask you to pay them! Some people think this is a product of laziness. Other people think it’s rude. I’ve heard some speculate that Italian waiters hesitate on bringing the check because they generally appreciate your patronage and do not want you to feel unwelcome or rushed out the door. This, of course, is all nonsense. The fact of the matter is that you will gorge yourself on so much food that after these people see how violently you chow down, they will be genuinely afraid to approach your table again.
This not to say that your meals will not be enjoyable. On the contrary, your meals will be phenomenal, really some of the best meals you’ll ever have. You’ll want to stay there for the rest of your life. But there is an inevitable moments during every meal when your body is so taxed by the burden of mozzarella cheese that you simply must get up and walk it off.
When you finally lure the waiter over, get the check, and thank them, they will respond with a humble, “prego, prego.” This is Italian for “pregnant”, which is what you will look like to them at this part of the meal.