This was my first recent visit to a Mediterranean country. Italy, although steeped in antiquity, is one of the world's newest countries, existing as a nation only since 1870. Prior to that, it was a collection of cities and provinces, each governed by local rulers. The monarchy that was created in 1870 fell when Mussolini came to power in 1922. In 1946, after the World War II defeat of the fascist government, the country became a republic. Italy has a population of 57 million, and covers 113,000 sq. miles, about the size of Georgia and Florida combined. In addition to the "mainland," it includes the nearby islands of Corsica, Sicily and Sardinia. Bordering countries are France, San Marino, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia.
I first visited Italy in 1977. The 7-day tour I took in September, 2001, covered only the central and northern regions of the country, from Rome to Venice. Along the way, we spent a few days in Florence, and we made stops in Pisa, Verona and Padua. Italy has a varied landscape. We passed groves of fig and olive trees, and fields of corn, sunflowers, and grape vines growing on stakes. In the north, we saw industrial areas. The Italian landscape has a definite Mediterranean look.
The Italians are a friendly, outgoing people. City traffic even slowed down and drivers motioned us to go ahead and cross the street on several occasions! The food I tasted was among the best I have ever eaten, and was unlike the fare offered by the typical American Italian restaurant, which modifies the recipes to suit "American taste." Our tour director told us that Italians don't use as much garlic as restaurants in this country put in food, and I found that to be true. Most dishes are cooked in sunflower oil, and dressings are usually olive oil, with or without vinegar. (I don't think Italians ever heard of what Americans call "Italian dressing.") We ate a lot of pasta and rice dishes, and also chicken. We also ate some seafood. I discovered that squid and octopus is definitely not to my taste! Of course, I also had my fill of pizza, which is traditionally thin-crust, with only cheese and tomato paste. Delicious! And then there is that great Italian wine. I sampled a number of varieties. Most of the time, I preferred the whites. And the desserts - yum!
My favorite Italian beverages, though, are espresso, and it's cousin, cappuccino, served in small cups, which were half filled. Believe me when I say that small quantity gives quite a jolt. I drank these at every opportunity, morning and night. Folks, this was the REAL thing, not the pathetic watered-down American varieties!
I want to thank fellow tourist Dave Clapp for providing some of the photos you will see on this site. My camera misbehaved rather badly on this trip, and I lost a number of pictures.
There were forty-some people on the tour. Here was out itinerary. Click on the thumbnail below to view a larger image.