We almost had one of those catastrophes that can upend a long-planned vacation.
We overslept on Friday, and by the time we got to the lobby of our hotel in Sorrento, Italy, the breakfast buffet had closed.
But we are nothing if not experienced travelers, so we opted to walk a couple blocks down the main street of town and within a few blocks found a nice little place for Italian pastries and coffee.
You know, see a problem, solve a problem.
My wife and I are in Italy because we offered to help our 21-year-old daughter, Emma, pack so she could return home after spending a semester studying in Florence. Well, to be truthful, Emma didn’t need our help. We just wanted to go to Italy.
The three of us are in Sorrento now, but yesterday, we were on the island of Capri. A few days ago, we were in Rome, and a few days before that, we were in Florence. Tomorrow, we hop a train back to Florence and then fly home.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far about Italy. First of all, there’s the language. To quote the great Steve Martin, “It’s like they have a different word for everything.”
Fortunately for us, just about everyone here can speak at least a little English, which I don’t really think is fair. I mean, if an Italian family were to visit the United States, I’m not sure many of the people they would encounter would speak at least a little Italian.
Another thing I learned about Italy is that if you had a death wish, all you would need to do would be to go to Rome, rent a car and drive.
It would be over in five minutes.
Italians — at least, Italians in larger cities — tend to drive with a sort of restrained insanity. They weave in and out of traffic at incredible speeds, occasionally honking their horns or stomping on the brakes, sometimes backing up without looking or changing lanes without bothering to let the cars behind them know what they’re planning, all while somehow avoiding running over pedestrians and at the same time talking to their passengers in the backseat of their cars while gesturing with both hands.
They do this driving mainly on streets that in the United States would be considered one-way alleys but in Italy are busy, multilane thoroughfares.
It will get your attention is what it will do.
A few days ago, we hired a driver to take us up the Amalfi Coast. I’m still having nightmares.
Actually, the drive was wonderful once we got used to traveling on a steep, winding road so narrow that we could exchange phone numbers with the people in the cars heading the opposite direction.
Because there is only one road running up the coast, what happens if there is an accident? I asked our driver that.
“Problem,” he said.
“So everyone is stuck,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “But it’s OK.”
What our driver explained is that the only way to survive driving up the Amalfi Coast is to — I'm paraphrasing here — go with the flow.
While we’ve been in Italy, we have, of course, met a few people who may have fit that stereotypical Italian image of a person with a short temper who yells a lot. But mostly we’ve met smiling, friendly people who seem to enjoy just going with the flow.
Oh, one other thing I learned about Italy: The people here seemed to know a bit about food. And wine. And as an extra bonus for me, beer. While we’ve been in Italy, we’ve met many wonderful people but — at least for me — my newest, bestest buddy is a beer called Nastro Azzurro.
There is a lot to do and see in Italy. But for me, here’s the best way to enjoy the country: Find a table somewhere. Eat some pasta, sip some wine or beer.
And go with the flow.