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Storm: The glory of Italy: Pizza, pasta and fascinating history

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The Colosseum in Rome is a jaw-dropping sight.

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Ardent fan that I am of ancient history and carbs, it seems a bit odd that I never considered visiting Italy until this year. I suppose I was just waiting for a window of opportunity to visit the birthplace of pizza.

That window opened when my younger sister, Nancy, got a job in Naples. Suddenly Italy offered me a welcoming home away from home. I began making travel plans and looking for pants with an elastic waistline.

Italy is the sort of place that inspires dreams. It’s the romantic backdrop for movies and books, the basis for many chefs’ culinary creations and the subject of study for countless archeologists. That’s a lot of hype to live up to, but I’m happy to tell you that Italy is up to the task.

I’ll admit right away that I wasn’t able to scope out the entire country. I explored the area around Naples — including the lost city of Pompeii — and spent several blissful days in Rome. That was enough of a sample plate to sell me on the country as a whole. 

Here’s the important thing to remember about Italy: The people are friendly and almost everything around you is beautiful, fascinating or delicious. Sometimes all three.

Let’s go with beautiful first. Italy has long been the home of artists, and their work is everywhere. Paintings, sculptures and even buildings are dazzling enough to make you gasp. I could have spent a day gazing at the gorgeous Trevi fountain in Rome, or the artwork on display in the Vatican Museum. People were packed in to view the stunning ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but I was just as impressed by the elaborately painted Room of Maps. Honestly, there’s so much to see that it almost becomes overwhelming. I spent the final day of my trip in a happy daze, drinking it all in.

Beyond it’s beauty, however, Italy is fascinating. I loved walking through the excavated streets of Pompeii, getting a sense of the way people lived almost 2,000 years ago. It was thrilling to climb the steps into Rome’s Colosseum, marveling at the engineering needed to build such a massive structure. Visits to the Forum and the Pantheon in Rome sparked a similar sense of awe. I went on a three-hour walking tour that revealed some tidbits about the city, but really you could spend decades there studying its rich past.

What else? Ah yes, I was going to mention the food. I can sum up my experience with one phrase that I repeated over and over: “This is the best (fill in the blank) I ever ate.” Pizza/? Oh, yes, the best ever. Pasta? Beyond compare. Pastries? I’m woozy just recalling how good they were. Gelato? I could have finished a gallon drum.

While on the walking tour, our guide told us the best way to get the attention of a server in a shop was to catch his eye and greet him by saying, “Ciao bello,” the Italian way of saying “Hello handsome.” I tried it in a gelato shop and it seemed to work — the smiling server waited on me right away. He seemed to enjoy his job, as most of us would if we were being told we were attractive all day every day. By the way, the phrase works on ladies, too. Just say “Ciao bella.”

The amount of walking I did in Italy seemed to offset some of the damage done by my meals’ overall deliciousness, but even so I was happy that I didn’t pack anything too form-fitting. Italy works better without the constraint of skinny jeans.

My advice to anyone waiting for a window of opportunity to visit Italy is this: Open the window yourself and crawl through it. While you’re there, toss a coin into the Trevi fountain, climb the steps of the Colosseum and greet friendly natives with a hearty ciao bello (or bella). Also, try the pizza. Heck, try everything.

Just don’t forget your elastic-waist pants.

Contact Janet Storm at jstorm@reflector.com or 252-329-9587.

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