Italy.  Milano.  Firenze.  Roma.  Venezia.  Those were the cities the misses and I visited during our trip during the summer of 2008.  There are many memories that come to mind when I reflect on that trip.  It certainly created a lot of memories for me/us as we had the privilege of going a country that I have always loved.  This time around, I was not on a coach bus on a tour, chasing the many wonderful parts of these cities like a group of cattle being herded by a tour director.  This time, we went on our own.  Booking flights, hotels, finding transportation, and all in all, being on our own to find sustenance.  I’ve written here before about our experiences with pizza and gelato,  but it’s this experience of traveling outside the confines of a set tour that has made a deep impression on what it means to be traveler and not a tourist.

The picture above was taken from the Ponte Vecchio of Florence along the Arno River.  A hot day in June, where the sun beat down on a city and its people with full intensity.  On most tours, you would be lucky to have seen the Ponte Vecchio from afar, let alone walking through it.  The fast pace whirl of visiting the Academia [Statue of David] take much of the day that many tours do not even take people into the Uffizi.  After the Academia, you would be whisked away to go shopping for leather goods and gold.  After which, you’re thrown back on the bus that take you to the outskirts of the city where you have a meal at the hotel and call it quits on Florence.

Through our travel through Italy, our friends F & E lent us their little Peugeot, a 2 door hatchback [above] that took us from Milan to Cecina [80km southwest of Florence where we stayed] to Rome and back.  With this little engine that could, we survived driving through most of Italy like we would have never been able to see on any tour.  That little car took us along the coast of Italy down to the Eternal City where once we were able to find our hotel, rested for a week before we took it all the way back to Milan.  This was the first time I/we had ever done anything like that outside the States and it made me/us more confident that in the future, we can do the same.  Driving through Rome with its thousands of scooters coming right along side of your car was both scary and exhilarating.  The city breathes its warm breath through the twists and turn of the streets that took us into the historic part of Rome along the Tiber River.

To travel is to do what all Nike commercials have been imploring us to do for years.  Just do it.  While I realize that for 99% of us, money stops us from doing everything we may want, doing what is within our means is worth all the pennies in heaven.  Our wild and crazy ride from Cecina to Rome, 278km of Italian roadway and countryside.  I know in many ways, we could have been more “reckless” in our travels.  We didn’t do anything crazy and we didn’t get in trouble.  I guess that’s not what I mean by “reckless”.  What I mean is to go off the beaten path, even if that path turns out to be a dud.  We certainly had our share of that on our trip.  We double backed on many roads and got lost many times.  We were tired, hot, thirsty, and just wanted beverages with ice.  But none of that mattered as we went through each city with open hearts.  We got to see and experience things that a tour could never have offered.  We spent over 1.5 hours in the Sistine Chapel alone.  At one point, we just sat there for about 20 minutes.  Taking in all of Michelangelo’s work, unencumbered by time.   We took our time in the Academia, totaling over 1.5 hour while many tours whisk you in and out in 25 minutes.  We sat at the Spanish Steps for about 30 minutes, resting from an otherwise tiring day of shopping and eating.  Many tours wouldn’t have even dropped you off to walk on the steps.

I know at some point in our lives, we will need to take tours and cruises.  No longer will we have the energy and vigor to double back and explore as when we were young.  But until that time I hope we continue to travel this way.  Getting lost in a city because it’s the best way to get to know a city.  And for that, I’m glad that little Peugeot took us to places along the way we never would have otherwise ventured.  It was sad to say goodbye to her when we returned to Milan.  She was good to us.  She was good for us.