By Debra Benton
It rained our entire trip with the exception of one magical day; but it didn’t matter, we were in Italy! No matter where you were born or your ancestry, going to Italy feels like coming home. Maybe it is the natural beauty or the familiar artworks, maybe it is the comforting food and delicious wines, maybe it is the loving people, or maybe it is just the sense that you could stay here and live happily.
This was a quick trip, starting in Milan. My previous trip to Milan had left me with the impression that it was just another big city, not too different from any other. This time felt different. It could have been sharing it with someone I loved or the fact that we let Italy set the pace. Instead of focusing on the commercial aspects and tourist busyness, it revealed its hometown life.
We visited the Duomo, enjoying the incredible architecture and exterior statues from a nearby cafe, while watching Italians going about their daily commute oblivious to this amazing structure that is just part of their routine. Wandering aimlessly through streets, we discovered a beautiful courtyard restaurant tucked among the residences, where tourists were clearly unusual. We walked to the unassuming church, which is home to the The Last Supper, and were surprised by how awestruck we were standing before this familiar work of art. Despite studying it and seeing hundreds of pictures, we still had a physical reaction to being in its presence — an undeniable realization of the creative genius of this spiritual work. Walking back, we enjoyed the contrasts of tree lined residential streets next to a castle filled with tourists. Stopping at a cafe in a
church plaza, we soon were witnesses to a child’s birthday party and a wedding party taking pictures after the ceremony. Real Italian life played out in front of us, reminding us that Milan is a hometown and making us feel at home too.
We drove out to Varenna, a small town on Lake Como. This quaint town looked like a mystical postcard shrouded in the fog and rain from our hotel on the hill. Our view obscured, it was pointless to take the ferry tour of the surrounding scenery so we choose to sit instead at an outside cafe overlooking the lake, protected from the rain savoring our lunch and
wine. It felt so right to just sit and enjoy “being” — being present, being Italian for the moment, being peacefully happy. Perhaps that was the message of the rain — just relax and enjoy life — so we did. We meandered through the town, hiked up the hill when the rain let up and didn’t mind when we got lost, stopping to ask directions in very broken Italian. We admired the scenery, enjoyed the unexpected religious symbols in unusual spots, and appreciated the privilege of travel.
As we left the area, we visited Bellagio across the lake to shop a little and have lunch before heading to Bergamo. Our day trip in the pouring rain to the upper city was amazing as we viewed incredible architecture, streets that had clearly been trod by Roman soldiers, and the most exquisite church interiors with every inch filled with an outpouring of religious fervor in art. To dispell the chill of the rain, we stepped into a nearby cafe for something warm to drink. Again immersed in Italian culture of the small cafe, my hot chocolate turned out to be more like a warm pudding, so thick, so rich, and so delicious that I savored every spoonful just as a good Italian would.
Our final destination was Verona, a town steeped in history and love’s magic. Here the real history of a
Roman arena still used for entertainment, but with concerts, not punishment now, is contrasted with the fictional site of Juliet’s balcony filled with tourists and selfie sticks. Stately Plazas where you can still promenade in the evening as did the knights and ladies are connected by streets filled with shops selling Italian goods and familiar brands like Disney. Despite another soggy evening, we enjoyed
walking through the streets and walking up hundreds of church steps for an incredible view of the city. The rain added a magical shine and the mist softened the lights to put the city in soft focus as we looked over the river and city walls at the church steeples and castle turrets. We found a small wine bar serving local favorites and enjoyed a private dinner as the only customers, listening to the “Italian” music of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.
As always when I hear Sinatra, my dad comes to mind and I knew if they played his song that he was watching over us from above. So when it inevitably started, it seemed appropriate to ask if he could see about getting us some sun the next day. I was delighted in the morning to walk out on our own Juliet balcony to a sun-drenched Plaza waking to a beautiful day. As we enjoyed the day wandering the busy streets and driving back to Milan, we were again struck by the contrasts of this country — the ancient buildings reminding us of a long ago life amid busy streets filled with real people living a modern lifestyle. Yet despite a modern fast-paced lifestyle, the modern Italy still has a passion for life and its many possibilities, a desire to savor life with all the senses, a life powered by the undeniable magic of love.