That’s the Italian word for the phrase “Let’s go!” – and that was pretty much the mantra of my recent trip to Italy.
We andiamoed all over the boot.
My wife and I decided on Italy as the destination for a belated honeymoon after our wedding in May and the actual planning of the trip taught me that compromise is an important part of a successful marriage. You see, my wife wanted to book at tour – a big fat tour – two weeks, 16 cities, with 43 of our closest personal friends that we had not yet met.
I had never been on such a tour but somehow knew that I would hate it. I don’t really have control issues (no, really) but I don’t much like being told what to do and when to do it. I had more in mind a smaller more intimate kind of trip. In the end, we compromised and booked the big fat tour.
What? I want to stay happily married for a very long time.
And to my pleasant surprise, the tour was not the least bit awful and it gave us access to so many unique opportunities we would have never had on our own.
I am now, of course, an expert on Italian tours and will share with you some important keys to having a positive tour experience. Prego. (You’re welcome.)
First – make sure there are lots of Australians on your tour. This is essential. “Aussie” is apparently universal slang for Most Fun People on the Planet. Seriously. We had 13 Aussies on our tour – ranging in age from 15 to 70+ and there wasn’t a dud in the bunch.
The folks from the land down under are a joyous lot and we closed the bar with them most nights. Actually, they let us hang out with them until we fell over and they closed the bar down. Apparently, Aussies also have hollow legs, allowing them to hold greater quantities of spirits.
And then there are those fabulous accents. They told us that they hate that Crocodile Dundee is the image most Americans have of Australians. I told them that we have similar fears, namely Honey Boo Boo.
They even made me a little Aussie dictionary, on a cocktail napkin, of course, with a bunch of their fun sayings. They call vacation “holiday” and all candy is a “lolly” – cute, right?
The next key to a great tour is a great tour director and we scored on that one big time with our guide, Muris, a handsome and charming Italian man – but then again, aren’t they all?
Muris is in his forties and has been a travel director for over 20 years. He was the perfect dispenser of interesting information without being professorial, enthusiastic but not perky. But what I loved most about Muris was how much he loves his country. He talked about Italy in the way you would talk about a beautiful woman and he wanted us to fall for her, too. And we did.
He spoke English lyrically with a sexy Italian undertone and would woo us with phrases like “hid-in treazure” when a surprise stop was upcoming. And he threw in some very special touches along the way – like popping bottles of Prosecco and offering a toast when we disembarked after our gondola ride in Venice.
Most of us – men, women, and lesbians – were in love with him by the end of the trip.
Another key to enjoying your tour is to prepare yourself by letting go of the following three things:
1. Sleep as you know it
2. Trying to not look like a tourist.
3. Fear of the bidet.
Allow me to elaborate. On most travel days, your bag has to be outside your hotel room door by 7:00 A.M. Yes, it’s rough, but nothing three Advil and a double espresso can’t cure.
You just have to admit it, Europeans are cooler than us. Period. I don’t care how suave and sophisticated you think you are. And they are impervious to all weather conditions. The first few days of our tour, the weather was unseasonably warm. One afternoon in Capri, we were sweating like Italian sausages in a skillet surrounded by impossibly gorgeous Italians sauntering around with scarves draped artfully around their necks.
Just surrender and clutch your Rick Steves’ guidebook with confidence.
Okay, the bidet. You have to face it – literally, because it’s in every hotel room just staring at you as if to dare you to engage. Australia doesn’t have bidets either and the fascination with this fixture became a running joke with our Aussie posse. One morning, I greeted them at breakfast with a hearty, “Bidet, mates!”
So be bold and seize the bidet.
I did have a few low moments on the tour when I hit critical mass with the pack and I sat out some optional excursions to just chill out and soak up the local culture or as I call it, wine.
Sometimes it was just too much talking. And those damn radios. Every stop along the way we had a local expert telling us everything they thought we needed to know. Near the end of the tour in Florence, we were viewing the magnificent statue of David and I pulled my earplugs out to just gaze as our guide kept filling us with factoids.
My ever attentive wife looked at me seriously and mouthed, “She’s still talking.” I mouthed back to her, “I don’t care.”
I could have sworn David smiled at me.
But all in the all, the tour was a magical experience. Most of our traveling companions were also celebrating special events – milestone birthdays, anniversaries, a grandmother’s gift to her granddaughter, and so on. And there was something very sweet and intimate about sharing a group dream come true.
Maybe that’s why on our final ride to our hotel in Rome on our last night together, there wasn’t a dry eye to be found when Muris cued up his iPod and we heard the romantic tenor of Andrea Bocelli serenading us.
Con Te Partiro.
Time to Say Goodbye.