Things we learned...

...and might do differently next time, for surely there must be a next time.

Pack what we need

We liked the idea of travelling as light as possible and getting a cheap suitcase over yonder to bring stuff back in. For many reasons, it didn't work out. First there was the problem with liquids and gels. We would have to seriously cut down on toiletries to be able to fit everything into a one-litre bag. Second, because Firenze was our first stop, and there's where we did most of our shopping, we had to buy the extra bag there (inexpensive ones near the railway station), which meant we had it with us in the car and on the train. And finally, I at least am just not that good at not having the clothes and accessories that I want. Firenze and Roma are stylish places. Although it's practical to dress very simply, I'm just not that into looking like a tourist. OK for Rick Steves, maybe, but not for me.

The same idea (with liquids somehow taken care of) might work better in the summer. As it was, we had to accommodate a wide range of weather phenomena. Spring is a very changeable time of year.

Parlo un po 'italiano

I imagine you can go pretty much anywhere in the world and get along at least to some extent without knowing the language of the place you're visiting. But it really helped us to know at least some Italian, thanks to Duolingo. Sweetie had quite a bit, and did quite well. I reached beginner Italian, and I had to settle for small victories of asking questions and getting answers, of understanding and being understood. We also did pretty well reading signs.

For whatever reason, I find that I really like the sound of Italian and the feel of it in my mouth. I want to keep learning. And use it again.

There weren't any horrible linguistic cock-ups, and only one teaching moment that I can remember. That was when, at the end of a long day, we ordered a pizza and a salad with the intention of sharing them. Sweetie told the waiter "per due," or something like that, intending to convey that the order was for both of us. Two salads and two pizzas arrived (which I'm afraid went down pretty easily). We used Google Translate to look up a word that remained important for the rest of the trip: condividere (to share). Google Translate isn't perfect, but it's pretty handy.

City mice

A lot of people, including many of our friends, would probably love to stay in a Tuscan farm house for a week or two. There is certainly some appeal in that, and we enjoyed the days when we got out into the country. But we are urbanites. We made full use for our three days in Firenze and could have used at least a day more. We could easily have used two more days in Roma. There's just more stuff happening in cities. I will say, however, that some of the best food we had was in Levanto, which although not tiny is by no means a city. So sometimes you will find great restaurants where you least expect them.

TripAdvisor is friend

We got some excellent restaurant advice from our hosts in Firenze. We said we wanted cusina tipica, and they directed us well. It turned out that they knew about the place that we stumbled upon (and went to twice). They simply hadn't thought that we would be likely to head in that direction. In Levanto, our host gave us a list of restaurants, but without much information. TripAdvisor definitely helped us there. And in Roma, our host suggested one place that was great and one that served us one of the least memorable meals of the trip. So we shall keep in mind that our host might not have the same taste in restaurants as we do. It was through TripAdvisor that we found the excellent restaurant where ate on our last night in Roma as well as the awesome panino place.

Speaking of TripAdvisor, it's definitely a better idea to consult first rather than post a bad review later. The trouble is, you probably need wifi to check it. Bar Due Ponti seemed like a reasonable lunch stop. It promised free wifi. The food was nothing special, but that's true of the little bars. But although the panino was only a little pricy, the beer cost almost €8 and a large but not that large pop cost even more. We were stunned! And the wifi barely worked. If we'd been able to check, we would have found dozens of reviews from people who had had very similar experiences there and who also wish they had checked TripAdvisor first. So be warned: do not go to Bar Due Ponti! And it's probably best to be careful of anywhere that's in the tourist areas.

For the love of money

Visa is lovely, but cash is still king. There are restaurants where you want to go that don't take credit cards. There are shops where the Visa machine is on the fritz. There are plenty of reasons to have euros in your wallet. Fortunately, we never had a problem using ATMs. The exchange rate was what it was and couldn't be helped, and the "ding" from our credit union wasn't bad. At least when you're getting it from an ATM, you can kind of keep track of your spending.

My left foot

The car we rented was a Fiat 500. It was smaller than our Subaru, but it held quite a lot of luggage in its hatch. I found it comfortable to drive. It was a five-speed standard, and I hadn't driven a standard since we sold our Honda Accord in 2002, but after one stall and a few times forgetting to clutch before I turned the key to start the car, I had no problem. I am glad, however, that I never had to hold it on a hill. I'm not sure how that skill has held up! The problem now is that even after more than a week back my left foot keeps wanting to find the clutch.

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