The appeal of Italy to American vacationers is one of the great
enduring phenomena of travel. Although it costs considerably more to fly
to Rome than to London or Paris, an awesome number of Americans will
soon make the trip. I can understand their motivations.
I was overwhelmed by my own first contact with Italy. I was so
affected by its visual sights that in a guidebook designed to deal with dry,
dollars-and-cents matters (as my Europe on $5 a Day was initially planned
to do), I grew lyrical in a chapter dealing with Venice. Arriving there by
night, I wrote that "little clusters of candy-striped mooring poles emerge
from the dark; the reflection of a slate-grey church bathed in a blue
spotlight, shimmers in the water as you pass by". I was literally turned on.
And the people! Unlike the laid-back, reticent, soft-spoken types
of northern Europe (much like us Americans), here were those who
wore emotions on their sleeves. I gloried in the sounds of Italy, in the
excitability of shopkeepers, the shouts of merchants and customers,
the warm embraces of friends meeting on the street, the happy
seniors playing bocce balls in parks and open spaces, the swaggering
fashionistas both male and female. I marveled at the giant Roman ruins,
the elaborate statuary more numerous than in any other country, the
resplendent churches with frescos by artists of genius. I loved the food,
the endless varieties of pasta, the chianti that accompanied the meals and
the expressos that ended them.
For the first-time visitor to Italy, there is a classic itinerary that can't
be equalled: Rome, Florence, Venice. While countless other areas,
cities, and villages are almost--that's "almost"--as compelling, it is these
three magical cities that outclass all others, that can be easily reached by
inexpensive train, and will never fail to excite. From Rome to Florence is
only two hours by express train, from Florence to Venice is another two-
or-so hours, and each city is an overwhelming touristic experience.
The highlights are, of course, legendary: In Rome, the Roman
Forum best reached by first ascending the Capitoline steps designed by
Michelangelo, the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Piazza
Navona, the Via Veneto; in Florence, the original of Michaelangelo's David
in the Accademia Museum, the Uffizi and the PItti Palace, the Medici
Chapels and the Ghiberti Doors; in Venice, the Piazza San Marco, the
Ducal Palace and the Rialto, a ride by vaporetto along the canals.
Now, on your return trip to Italy, you may well decide to branch
out to Milan and Bologna, Pisa, Siena and Lucca, Naples and the Amalfi
Coast, Sicily, Tuscany and Umbria. Italy can support a lifetime of travel,
and many avid travelers make countless repeat trips there. But for a first
trip, Rome, Florence and Venice seem just fine.