We’ve been living the Italian life for ten months. Steve took a brief trip back to the US over Thanksgiving, but I’ve been in Italy the entire time. That means unless people have traveled here, I haven’t seen friends or family in almost a year. Last week brought the arrival of the first of our family visits when Steve’s oldest son Matt and part of his family came for a visit.
An Eighteenth Italian Birthday
We have four grandchildren and years ago we decided that when each of them turned 18, we would take them on a trip to Italy. After all, they’ve been hearing about Italy, seeing pictures of Italy, and eating food rooted in Italy their entire lives. Four years ago, we took our oldest grandchild, Hunter, on the inaugural Anthony 18th Birthday Italian Pilgrimage Extravaganza. It was a great success and now Hunter loves Italy, and especially Anghiari, as much as we do.
His younger brother, Hayden, turned 18 in 2020. Poor kid. Much of his senior year in high school was remote. Long-standing rituals that define this important coming of age experience were modified or suspended. The pandemic changed the way we went about our lives and in this case it meant that this much anticipated event – a trip to Italy with your grandparents – had to be delayed. Since then, we moved to Italy so his parents decided to combine their own trip with Hayden’s 18th birthday gift. That means we get a bonus – three family members instead of just one. Our hearts are as full as our house.
First Order of Business – Pizza
They are only here two weeks, so we have to make the most of their time. Two weeks is a long time for Americans to take for a vacation. But it’s not a long time to get that must see list accomplished. After giving them a day to try and recover from the jet lag and general travel fatigue, we started the grand tour of Italy by driving to Venice for a night.
But before we did that, we took them for their first Italian pizza (one of the things Hayden has been looking forward to the most) and gelato (another thing Hayden has been looking forward to). Both were pronounced mighty fine and so we began our Italian family reunion with two thumbs up.
Jumping into Italy
Venice is one of those places that people either love or hate. It’s unlike any other place on the planet and impressions about it are very personal. We took the Romans there and the weather really colored their view. The Anthony’s really wanted to visit, so we loaded up and went to Venice for a quick overnight trip.
This time, the weather was great. The crowds, however, were enormous. We walked down the narrow lanes of Venice with hundreds of other tourists. I won’t say the crowds made it unbearable, but it was certainly unpleasant. We hit some of the highlights, had a water taxi ride down the Grand Canal and the lagoon, then had a nice, long, nap. We went to a restaurant near our hotel and had a great meal in a small piazza. Places like Venice, Cortona, Assisi, and Florence – all the big tourist destinations – are mobbed with people during the day, then in the evenings they become these beautiful oases of tranquility.
That night after dinner, we took a stroll by the Grand Canal and the cutest gondolier asked us if we wanted to be his last tour of the night. We had decided not to do a gondola ride because of the expense, but he convinced us that we should and we piled into the glossy black gondola and had a wonderful experience. Darkness was descending on Venice as we snaked through the canals and under the low bridges. The only lights were from the windows, reflections dancing on the water in shiny ripples. The first time we ever went to Venice we arrived at night. I remember going down the Grand Canal in the darkness. It was eerie and magical and wonderful – and I’ll never forget it. This gondola ride was much like that. Being on the water, seeing the magnificent buildings from that perspective in the near dark, is an experience that transports you back to the 13th century. So little has changed – replace the electric lights with candles and the rest looks the same.
In addition to our gondola ride, Cristoforo (our gondolier) gave us the inside scoop on the best gelato in town. He even let us out near it and gave us precise directions. Soon we were licking our cones and enjoying the cool evening as we made our way back to the hotel. This is one of the things that happen in Italy. Something you were not planning on that comes your way and changes the way you see things. Italian magic.
One of the great joys in life is watching someone grow up. You’re there when they’re born, see them through childhood, take deep breathes during adolescence – all the time wondering what they’ll evolve into. Hunter’s great interest when he was here was watches. We didn’t pass a watch shop that he wasn’t pressed against the glass looking at the offerings. Four years later he is a watchmaker in Connecticut.
Hayden’s interest is in all things motorized. Well, he’s come to the right place for that. On the way back from Venice, we stopped near Bologna and toured the Ducati museum. I can’t really say that much about it because I stayed outside with Millie, but all who toured said it was good. Now if we could figure out a way for him to drive a Ferrari, I think he would be one happy young man.
Once when Hayden was little, maybe about five, we took him and Hunter to a dinosaur show where they had these almost lifelike dinosaurs tromping around. They were big into dinosaurs at the time and we wanted it to be a surprise so we told them we were going on an adventure they would really like. Hayden tried to guess where we were going and the one thing he kept saying over and over was that he just knew we were going to Italy. To his five year old brain, Italy was a place that we could go to in an afternoon, like a museum or a movie. I don’t think he was disappointed in the dinosaur show, but I hope he’s reveling in his first trip to Italy – the one he’s waited so long for.