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a gen x girl goes to italy...

Top Five Observations From My Trip

I was a little hesitant to plan a trip alone to Italy to visit my oldest son, a college junior who’s there for a semester abroad. But only a little. I’d be traveling there alone to meet up with him first in Courmayeur, a tiny ski town in the Italian Alps, and would then have lots of time alone later in the week in Rome, while he would be in class. But I was confident I’d be fine.

Despite the fact that I didn’t know Italian, didn’t like cheese or meat, dreaded long flights, knew nothing about the country and wasn’t sure how a woman alone with I wasn’t with him would be treated there, I powered on with my planning. (And also got the guidance of a fabulous travel agent!) I am so glad I went! Now that I’m back home, out of my jet lag and back to reality (how I long for a fresh Nutella crepe, and to see my son again), I am sharing my top five little observations from being there. Before I do, I acknowldge there are: a) much bigger problems in the world than this, and b) much more monumental observations one might have about Italian culture, sites, history, etc. This is not meant to be that.

1. I guess I took Kleenex for granted all my life. Used to always having nice Kleenex in hotel bathrooms throughout America, I assumed I’d have that in Italy. There was no Kleenex at the charming ski hotel, and just some very rough ones at the Rome one. I often get sneezing fits at night, so this was rough (literally – on my nose). I wished I’d brought a box. Days later, on my fifth hour of walking along the cobblestone streets of Rome, I found a place to go to the bathroom after having had bottles of water, and three espressos. I came upon a clean-looking café and descended down a narrow staircase, where it got really dark. I could not find light switches anywhere. I was able to make out the “Toilette” sign. I used my iPhone flashlight and navigated through. No toilet paper! Rummaging through my purse, I discovered I had a trusty pack of Kleenex buried at the bottom all along. I guess I’d put one in there before leaving home; my mom would be proud. Tip of the story: Always travel with Kleenex.

2. A “middle-aged” (ugh – I hate that term) woman traveling alone in Italy is treated differently than a middle-aged woman traveling alone in America is. Male transfer/taxi/uber drivers, tourist spot operators, hotel front desk workers, bar men and waiters always asked “just one?” and were always taken aback. When I was with my son (20), they seemed more at ease. Ridiculous. Tip of the story: Remember you have every right to be there, even if you are of the female gender!

3. You can prepare all you want, but in the heat of the moment, you may forget what you wanted to remember. Months before my son even left for Rome, I was researching what NOT to do in Italy, and filling him in on the little tips. “Don’t ever order a milky coffee, like a Cappuccino, after 11am there,” I warned and reminded him. I knew this. So, what did I do on my first afternoon in Rome? Coming upon an adorable corner café, I grabbed a perfect table outside at 2pm, got out my book, and ordered…a Cappuccino. UGH! I forgot! I must have looked like such a tourist. It’s easy to forget not-to-do’s when you’re in the moment. Tip of the story: Make a list of not-to-do’s in your phone before you go, and look at it, rather than try to remember everything.

4. Starting the day on a carb-only breakfast seriously made me feel ill. I know, there are worse things in the world than having freshly baked chocolate croissants for breakfast every day. But as a person who makes eggs every morning at home, so my blood sugar doesn’t crash, this was a challenge. The breakfasts there didn’t offer what I might expect – no hard-boiled eggs or omelet stations, no veggie sausages, etc. I knew to expect some typical European breakfast items I don’t eat – like sliced meats – but was shocked at the lack of egg options. One day, I skied for three hours on zero protein and felt weak and shaky. I’m just saying, if you are on vacation, these little things play a role! Tip of the story: Don’t count on protein for breakfast there.

5. Adults got gelato and enjoyed life in the afternoons there. I VERY rarely see an adult going into an ice cream shop at home without a kid in tow. In Italy, I saw groups of twenty-somethings, men and women alone, and couples of all ages happily heading into gelato shops. Watching them enjoy this childhood-like treat, I thought: Maybe we’re missing out on life… I mean, when was the last time you went into an ice cream shop, all carefree, without a kid? Tip of the story: It must be nice to keep some childhood wonder and treat yourself. I should do more of that.

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