It's been a month since we returned from Italy.  I've been going through all the photos and when I look at them, I am reminded that I really was there.  One conclusion I've drawn is that often photos do not do justice to the actual experience.  The scenery was much more vivid than any photo can reflect, the cathedrals and ruins much more expansive, and the sculptures and paintings much more dramatic.  That said, it has become obvious that I am much more appreciative of beautiful scenery than anything else.

One part of the experience not reflected much in the pictures is the food.  In Italy, that meant pasta and pizza.  I should have expected it, but I was surprised that every restaurant served pizza and most were advertised as "pizzerias."  I enjoyed the pasta – the best was the lasagna I had in Venice.  I guess I'm too Americanized for the pizza – being accustomed to a "meat lovers" in the U.S. I found a lot of the Italian pizza to be lacking in "toppings."  And then there was the wine – much too dry for Judy's taste, it was okay by me.  They did have a light beer that was served nearly everywhere – Peroni.  It was interesting that the places we ate had little choice in beer – usually just two ("Nastro Azzurro") … and often just "birra" listed on the menu. 

Of course, the most inviting food option was the gelato.  I had heard so much about it, but I thought it was just a fancy name for ice cream.  I discovered there was a difference.  I found the gelato to be much creamier and perhaps sweeter.  (I was amazed to find out that the Italian gelato actually used less cream and more milk than American ice cream!)  Every "gelateria" had many varieties to choose from – and it seemed like there was a "gelateria" on every block.  My favorite was the rum raisin in Venice and the cheesecake in San Gimignano.

As with most trips to major metropolitan areas, I had to get over my aversion to crowds.  I guess we were traveling during the height of the tourist seasons, so there were lots of people everywhere we went.  To me, it even seemed crowded in Pompeii where our guide said we were lucky because it was a very light day.  Of course, the crowds were worst in Rome, especially at the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel.  It diminished the experience of viewing the ceiling at the Sistene Chapel and the Pieta at the museum.  But if you want to see these things, you must endure the crowds – there's no other option.

One event the crowds did not diminish was our visit to the Colosseum.  The opportunity to be on the stage and view 360º of the interior seating was spectacular.  Even our guide, Valentina, expressed that the stage experience was special. 

When we previously visited Paris my reaction had  been a little bit of disappointment because of the crowds and the busy streets – I had expected the tranquility usually portrayed in the movies.  On this trip my expectations were a little more realistic.  But I did find Rome to be even more of a bustling metropolis than Paris.  But maybe that's part of the charm.  In America, we are astounded when we view something 200 years old.  Here, you have things 2,000 years old right in the midst of this modern city.  I found the Circus Maximus especially strange.  In the middle of the city, it now looks like an abandoned oval field.  It isn't very impressive unless you can imagine what it was like 2,000 years ago.  But there it is, with traffic buzzing by on both sides.

And therein lies my affliction.  I have a hard time viewing relics – I guess my imagination isn't good enough to visualize what they must have looked like in their prime.  Artist's illustrations help (some of our guides provided those) but I probably enjoy it more when I see restorations – such as some of the castles we saw in Germany and France.  Or even the many cathedrals, although I usually suffer from sensory overload with those.

The exception to the relics problem was Pompeii.  For some reason, the mere size of the site made it more real to me.  The streets with their "stepping stones" and the shops (including the bordello) and homes seemed more real to me that the Rome Forum or the Greek temples.

So it's been four weeks.   It took at least a week to get over the jet lag.  While our flights were pleasurably uneventful, it was a long one from Rome to Chicago (my dislike of flying is akin to my antipathy for crowds, but again, if you want to experience Italy, you have little choice) .  And although as noted above, the food had been a satisfying part of our Italian adventure, McDonald's was an immediate destination at O'Hare.  Ironically, the end of the trip provided the only disruption – over an hour delay waiting for our bags to be unloaded during an electrical storm at Eppley.

It was a fantastic vacation – worthy of our 50th anniversary.  And perhaps the thing that made it most worthwhile was the people who shared our journey.  It was a fine group.  And of course, we'll be forever grateful to our fearless leader, Pastor Brown (I guess that's the last time I can refer to him as "Pastor").  Thank you to all of our fellow travelers.  To finish my look back, I now present my top ten experiences from "La Bella Vita Italy 2018" – do you agree with any of them?

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