Joshua Scott, guest contributor
Just a few years ago, God gave my mother and me a miracle trip to Italy with Adventures By Disney. We got to have an experience unlike any we have ever had and unlike any since.
In the first part of the Italy story, I wrote about being blessed by the surprise gift and some of our experiences in Rome, but I felt compelled to write about the rest of our amazing trip. I have so many memories and stories from my very short time in Italy, and I’d like to share a few more of them.
After our one-of-a-kind, Sistine Chapel experience, my mother and I got a chance to explore the city of Rome on our own for a bit. Every day our tour guides would escort our whole group through the city as we visited many places of interest. Our group did things like eat gelato sitting on the wall outside the Pantheon, throw coins into the Trevi Fountain, take pictures on the Spanish Steps, and enjoy real Italian pizza right beside the Colosseum. With several busy days planned meticulously, we were given one or two evenings to do whatever we wanted.
At our first opportunity, my mother, myself, another agency owner, and her daughter decided to find a street-side cafe to have dinner. Our guides were all bilingual, so we were used to having help ordering food or navigating the city. We hoped we could do it on our own and see what a more local Italian dinner might be like. We landed at a place called Mama Eat Roma Trastevere; a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant right off of a busy alley. If you are ever in Rome, give them a visit. Regardless of the language barrier, they were so kind and eager to feed the hungry Americans. And feed us they did. In Italy, a lot of dining places are more of a commitment than in the US. We are so used to fast service and a more in-and-out style of dining. This is a far cry from what I saw in Italy, where the average dinner length was around 2 hours.
They start off with bread, olive oil, and sweet balsamic at the table. After that, you order the Antipasto, the Primi, the Secondi, the Contorni, and finally the Dolce. In order, those are the appetizers, the first course, the second course, the sides, and the dessert. At our dinner, these were brought out about 15-20 minutes apart. This may sound agonizingly slow, but remember that in Italy eating out is more of an experience. A night out for dinner and wine is meant to be savored. We sat and talked and drank our coffee and wine between each course. We watched the locals walk their dogs or drive their mopeds, passing inches from the backs of our chairs. Everything we ate was amazing and the atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable. Take a moment and imagine yourself dining at the corner of a street in Los Angeles or in an Ikea cafeteria. I can assure you that Rome was not like either of those. There was no loud music or idling vehicles. The locals were all rather quiet, didn’t loiter with their animals and no one felt the need to shout over each other. Everywhere we went that was at least 90% locals, it felt like everyone had an unspoken agreement to respect each other and facilitate a comfortable environment. Just don’t be a loud, obnoxious tourist and you’ll fit right in.
After Rome, we all headed for the Tuscan countryside. We often forget how small Europe is, so the roughly 2.5-hour commute seemed short. We then arrived at my mother’s favorite place in the world, Orvieto. I can only describe this little city as a storybook village tucked away in the hillside. Every street, shop, cafe, and archway resembled that of a fairytale. Everywhere was quiet and peaceful, and it felt like Pinocchio may start singing from a shop window at any time.
Then it was time for my favorite evening of the trip. After getting lost in Orvieto for a few hours, we were all taken to a quaint hotel nearby in the Chianti region for a wine tasting and dinner under the night sky. Of all the wine I had during the trip, Chianti from Chianti was the most amazing. I have not been able to find one I like better since. Halfway through the dinner, 3 men wearing large wooden backpacks bounded out from the kitchen, singing and actually pumping wine from their packs into everyone's glasses. Around that time I would imagine most of the group’s memories began to get fuzzy.
The next day we were all taken to Fattorio Poggio Alloro, a farm and winery where we had the chance to see how the local wine was made and watch how they bottled it. They only bottle a handful of times each year, so we were very fortunate to get to see the process first-hand. We were then guided inside and greeted by a local chef who was going to teach us how to make pasta from scratch. Being gluten-free, my mother and I along with one or two others, got to make ours outside away from the rest of the group. I felt like I was on Master Chef as I made fettuccine, tortellini, spaghetti and ravioli. I still remember how to make it to this day.
Being only 17 at the time, I was more than excited to be able to order alcohol anywhere I went. My mother had me on a strict one drink per hour policy, but it was a fair compromise I thought. The next day, after traveling to Florence, we were told that we were on our own for the after. My mother and I found a cafe in a beautiful piazza and I of course went into the bar next door to order a drink.
No one there spoke any English at all, but we hadn’t had any issues so far and I was confident in my ability to order a lunch wine. I was looking for something lighter like a Pino or a Rose, but I didn’t see anything like that at the bar menu. The only English on the menu were subtitles under the categories; Whole, Smooth, Sweet, etc. I decided to order a random wine under the “sweet” section, and I was met with questioning looks from both the servers and the bartender. I knew I looked young so I assumed they were just cautious about giving an unattended teenager alcohol. I didn’t know what they were saying, but we all know the tone of “are you sure this is what you want?”. I nod my head and smile, so the man behind the bar shrugs and starts working. I head outside to wait with my mother, and when they bring me the wine I realize why they were all looking at me funny. In my stemless wine glass is quite possibly the strongest liquor I had ever tasted. My mother looks at me with an expression of “what on earth did you get?” and I go back to the bar to grab one of the menus. We look it up and find out that whatever I ordered was a high end Italian liquor and 180 proof. I did not manage to finish it, which I’m sure was a relief to my mother.
Tuscany and Florence felt so different from Rome, but similar in a lot of ways. Things are much farther apart outside of Rome, and the streets are far less busy, but the Italian culture feels very much the same. Whether I was at a busy coffee shop in Rome, an empty church in the Tuscan hills, or listening to live music in Florence, the culture and “feel” of Italy stayed consistent through all of it. The longer I stayed there the more comfortable and relaxed I felt. This sentiment was shared in our group as well. It’s hard for 20-something people to be together for so long and still get along, but in Italy it was easy. In Italy we learned to slow down, relax, take our time and be in the moment. Looking back I wish I had taken more pictures, but I’m glad I chose to experience everything with my eyes rather than a screen.