January 3, 2005

Ritornato d’Italia

Yessir, I’m back from a week in Italy. I experienced the new year a full six hours ahead of my friends at home. Suckers.

The plane ride over was awful and turbulent the whole way. Many people around us spent the evening puking into bags and running for the bathroom. I joined them at intervals. We rented cars, since we had to drive out to the east coast on day two. Being in a new city, and a new country, we got lost trying to enter Rome and get to our hotel. By the time we got there, loaded into our rooms, and got ready to hit the city, we were left with about four hours in which to see Rome. We walked as fast as we could and kept our eyeballs wide open to take it all in. As you might expect, the city is breathtaking, and we only saw a small bit of it. We hit some biggies like the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain, as well as many nameless (to us) fantastic sites. It’s tough to look down at your map and identify everything you see when you are nearly sprinting through the streets.

At this point in the trip I proposed to my girlfriend Liz (file photo), and luckily, she said yes! Ahhh, Rome. She was helpless. We will wed sometime next year.

With heavy hearts, we set out early the next morning to drive across the country to Lanciano on the east coast. Italy is basically two coasts with a mountain range down the middle, so we got to climb high into the snow-covered mountains, on staggeringly high-suspended roadways. Italy is filled with a luscious countryside speckled with olive and grape crops, and small old towns perched on impossible mountains sides. How the hell do people get up there?

We made the trip in under three hours and arrived just after lunch. Lanciano is a small, but modern, town that lies about 20km off the coast of the Adriatic Sea. In days of old it was surrounded by a wall, but sections of it only remain in the older areas. We spent the remainder of our trip in there, which is a bit of a shame. Lanciano is a lovely town, but you could get all you need from it in a day. I wish we could have explored more of Italy, but it just wasn’t in the cards this time. We knew going into it that we were in for a family trip full of big dinners and planned events nearly everyday. I am not complaining because Italy is beautiful and there is much to be thankful for…

The food, dear god, the food. I have never eaten so much, or so well, before and I already miss it. The biggest meal (which is really saying a lot, because food is like a sport there) was a sort of third wedding celebration for my brother and his wife. The party started somewhere around 8pm and the eating began at 9pm. There were over 10 courses and the food didn’t stop until we left at nearly 3am. I ate so much that I started to think about starving countries and how big of an asshole I must be for consuming so much food. But. It. Just. Kept. Coming. We even tried to skip courses, but due to language barrier and the chefs not understanding what they could have possibly done wrong to make us not want their food, we just tucked it.

Everything just tasted better there. I can only imagine that Italy’s pizza makers benefit from some divine intervention, possible due to the close proximity of Vatican City. The cappuccino, the fruit (clementines!), the wine… it’s like there was a party in my mouth and everyone was invited.

The drivers were insane, about as bad as your average metropolitan cab driver, but with a city full of people driving like cab drivers, your have to up your game. Street signs and traffic laws (which I can only assume they have there) are entirely optional. If you are going too slow—”slow” being a relative term—you will be passed, even if there is oncoming traffic. We didn’t have too many language problems. Italians are very patient to even the most offensive attempts to communicate natively, either verbally or through your own crude sign language. The metric system rules. Everything instantly makes sense.

Though the weather was kinda crappy and rainy most of our trip, and we were all at each other’s throats by the end of it, we had a good time, and I still managed to take a few hundred photos. I am instantly attracted to old walls and long winding pathways through the tight cities. For your viewing enjoyment, I’ve rounded up some of my favorites into a new photo collection called Holiday in Italy.

Happy New Year to all and thanks to the kind folks who contributed to the first Guest Photography edition of this site’s Daily Photography section. There will surely be more in the future.

Commentary (41):

1. Greg says… jan 3, 2005 | 6:51 pm

Wow! Congratulations Jason! I’m not sure if I can say the same for Liz, she may have gotten the short stick out of the deal.

2. Jason Santa Maria says… jan 3, 2005 | 6:53 pm

Oh, that’s for sure, but now she’s trapped ;D

3. Dante Evans says… jan 3, 2005 | 6:59 pm

Wow. Say, do you think if I went around Italy speaking Spanish would anyone notice?

she may have gotten the short stick out of the deal.

Somehow I think that ended up sounder odder than was originally intended.

Good luck Jason. From what my sister tells me marriage rocks!

4. chet says… jan 3, 2005 | 7:03 pm

Funny you mention the food and the Italian drivers. That’s some of the stuff I remember best about Italy too. This one tratoria we went to just kept bringing out the food. And yes, the pizza is divine.

5. Jeff Smith says… jan 3, 2005 | 7:04 pm

Congrats Jason. Sounds like an excellent trip all ways around.

6. Biggest Apple says… jan 3, 2005 | 7:09 pm

Congratulations indeed!

The only place I’ve been to (Italy-wise) would be Venice and based on that I’d love to see much more of the country.

7. Pacey says… jan 3, 2005 | 7:13 pm

congratulations jason. i recently got married myself and i can safely say it was the best thing i ever did.

may god bless you and your wife to be.

8. Eric says… jan 3, 2005 | 7:30 pm

There’s some nice pictures in the bunch.

Congrats Jason.

9. Kevin Tamura says… jan 3, 2005 | 7:47 pm

Congratulations Jason.

10. kat says… jan 3, 2005 | 7:53 pm

Welcome back! You were missed. And many congrats to you both :)

11. Mike D. says… jan 3, 2005 | 9:04 pm

Congratulations on getting engaged, you sucker you! That is awesome, and I can’t think of a better place to propose than Italy. Nice file photo too, by the way.

Did you happen to notice how hard waiters and waitresses work over there? I worked in plenty of restaurants when I was in school and eat at plenty of them now and it always astounds me how servers are always complaining about having a “full section” at 5 or 6 tables. In Italy, often times one waiter will be serving the entire restaurant. I was at a Trattoria in Rome a few years ago and I swear the one guy had about 30 tables. He had a few helpers but for the most part, homeboy hooked it up. Food is a serious, serious business over there.

Also, in case anyone has a hankering for that superfresh thin-crust authentic Italian pizza, I’ve found exactly one place you can get it in the U.S. — Trader Joe’s Market. Beware though, part of what makes Italian pizza so great is they use animal rennet to make their cheese. This is the definition of animal rennet taken from Trader Joe’s site:

This enzyme is obtained from the stomach region of a suckling mammal, usually a calf or lamb. Animal rennet is the traditional rennet used to make cheese. Most European cheeses use animal rennet.

So if you don’t mind eating part of the stomach lining of a suckling mammal (I don’t), you’re golden!

12. Ben says… jan 3, 2005 | 9:36 pm

Congratulations, Jason! My wife and I went to Italy for our honeymoon, and I’ve been longing to get back there ever since. Ah, the food!

13. kadavy says… jan 3, 2005 | 9:59 pm

Congratulations! I had the pleasure of spending over four months in Italy, and not a day goes by when I don’t miss it. The food is incredible, any attempt to replicate it in the states is futile. I hope you tried some proscuitto e mozzarella.

14. Craig says… jan 3, 2005 | 10:03 pm

Congratulations on the engagement! sounds like you had a great trip!

15. Keith says… jan 3, 2005 | 10:46 pm

CONGRATS Jason (and Liz) — that’s f’n great. So when’s the bachelor party? Vegas? ;)

16. David says… jan 4, 2005 | 5:08 am

I also proposed in Rome, some 6 months ago. I’m getting married on August. It happens to be the most romantic city in the world :)

17. Colly says… jan 4, 2005 | 5:33 am

Woo-hoo! Congratulations on gettin’ hitched, Jason. I’d love to come to the wedding, but sadly I can’t afford the trip. Still, thanks for the invite.

Oh, I’m not invited. Oh well - I’ll drink gallons of warm English ale in your honour instead…

18. Rob Mientjes says… jan 4, 2005 | 5:53 am

Congrats Jason! Though I don’t know about Liz… ;)

19. David O’Hara says… jan 4, 2005 | 7:13 am

Congratulations on the great news. It will be the best thing that ever happened to you, trust me. :)

20. wayne says… jan 4, 2005 | 9:35 am

congratulations to both of you—two wonderful people who make a wonderful couple. as for italy, two and a half years later, and i can still taste the gelato…

21. Ray says… jan 4, 2005 | 10:10 am

I’ll add my congratulations to the bunch as well. How cool is that to be able to tell people “Yeah… I proposed to my girlfriend in Rome”? You, sir, are one lucky man. I’m jealous about all that great Italian food. I’d give my right arm and maybe a few years off my life just to have true Italian food for the rest of my life.

The pictures are astounding, especially the shots of the ocean. God, I’d love to stand there and see that in person.

22. Jason Beaird says… jan 4, 2005 | 11:10 am

Wow! Congrats Jason! I’m surprised niff hasn’t commented yet. :) I actually got a chance to stay in Italy for 6 weeks during the Summer of 02. This was before I was married, so Ames and I are trying to budget for a backpacking trip sometime in the near future. I think, most of all I miss:

1. One-Star Hotels
2. The Cooking - I think I’ll toss in another “Oh, the Food! …and wine!”
3. The Obsession with Football - towns literally shut down for it…Oh, and don’t try to challenge a group of Italians to a game of football, even if all of you played soccer in high school. They will win. Even if they’re out of shape.
4. Gelato…mmm Gelato.
5. Internet Cafes
6. Weird Telephones
7. The Small Towns
8. Florence - If we do get to go, we’ll be spending a lot of time THERE.
23. jpk says… jan 4, 2005 | 4:56 pm


24. beerzie says… jan 4, 2005 | 5:30 pm


25. Todd says… jan 5, 2005 | 8:59 am

Sorry I’m late to the party…Congratulations Jason! That’s a great way to propose…I asked my wife to marry me over morning oatmeal. That picture will make great blackmail material later on.

Let’s hit Delaware Ave for the bachelor party!

26. Jay says… jan 5, 2005 | 9:50 am

congratulations to the both of you, very euhm charming picture of you’re bride to be.

what a great way to start off the new year!

27. Sean Sperte says… jan 5, 2005 | 5:10 pm

Congratulations, Jason. Being married has been the best (no, I really mean it) thing to ever happen to me. Two pieces of [unsolicited] advice: 1) Switch sides of the bed every so often. It feels like you’re on vacation when you wake up on the opposite side. 2) Get TiVo or DVR or something. TV can wait … she can’t. Here’s to the new year, and a happy marriage.

28. giovanni says… jan 5, 2005 | 6:54 pm

In the last few years i have managed to visit the east coast of italy a couple of times a year. I usually just travel through the hill towns from bologna down to puglia. i love it all: the food, the wine, the people, the attitude, the bella vita! Spero proprio tu ritorni presto… ciao

29. Nathan Logan says… jan 7, 2005 | 11:46 am

Just wanted to throw my congrats into the mix. Best wishes to both of you in your new life together!

And now Italy is on my list of places to hit up.

30. Alessandro says… jan 7, 2005 | 7:43 pm

Hi there, nice to see you liked my charming country, my beloved Italia :)

Only a little complaint: you didn’t mention italian coffee amongst the delicious delicacies. And this is _definitely_ bad for a guy who calls himself “caffènero” ;)

Oh well, maybe next time, huh?

Greetings and congrats by an Eye-Talian web developer.

31. Alessandro says… jan 7, 2005 | 7:44 pm

Oh, I forgot: the post title should read “Ritornato dall’Italia”


Ciao, belli!

32. Jason Santa Maria says… jan 7, 2005 | 11:06 pm

Damn! My Italian is poor at best. I had my sister-in-law help me with the title. I actually didn’t see where to get coffee. I had a couple espressos (which were OK), and many cappuccinos (which made me weak in the knees they were so good). I would be opposed if you would like to send me beans ;D

I would love to read your site (coffee!), but I need to learn more Italian first!

33. Alessandro says… jan 8, 2005 | 3:20 am

Oh, don’t worry about your italian skills… I need to improve them as well ;)

Ok, let’s make it clear: when Italians say “coffee” they mean “espressos”. Cappuccinos are a wonderful thing, but try not to abuse them or you’ll find yourself running to the nearest toilet!

Illy makes one of the best coffee in the world.

And about my site… My new job requires me to know English better than Italian, so I think I’ll translate everything (sooner or later…) and use my site as a training tool ;)

BTW, this live-preview thingie is way cool.

34. Mirko says… jan 8, 2005 | 6:01 am

It is a delight to see how people love this country, that happens to be my country. Most of the time I don’t think of how lucky I am to live here. Thanks for reminding me!
And of course congratulations for the accepted proposal!

P.S.: I totally agree with Alessandro on the coffee, though I set for Lavazza instead.

35. SiMoStro says… jan 8, 2005 | 8:32 am

one of the thing that astonishes a friend of mine from Poland is that italian people always talk about food and all the stuffs around it.
I’m “a strange” italian guy (Alessandro knows, I’m T-total…) but in my opinion the best coffee is Vergnano. Not so “industrial” as Illy, but the “black pack” is “fuori scala”. Even for its price.

36. Jason Santa Maria says… jan 9, 2005 | 2:50 am

Mmmm… I am going to go down to the Italian market in South Philly to see if I can track down some of those brands.

37. Graham K says… jan 9, 2005 | 10:43 pm

”…it’s like there was a party in my mouth and everyone was invited.”

I just finished watching the Futurama espisode where Fry says “It’s like a party in my mouth, but everyone’s throwing up”. Haha.

38. Uncino says… jan 10, 2005 | 1:07 pm

I’m agree with Alessandro and Mirko about coffee (my top 3 is: 1.Illy 2. Lavazza 3. Segafredo).

Jason, a suggest for the next time: come to visit South Italy and its beautiful beaches ;)

39. Allen says… jan 17, 2005 | 4:30 pm

Great story and congratulations! :)

I proposed to my wife in Paris this past April (Woulda done it in Venice but tickets to Paris were much cheaper :) ). Like yours it was a whirl-wind trip but a blast and highly recommended. We hope to spend a week in Italy for our 1-year anniversary :yay:

PS: Great pictures, what camera/ process did you use to get that level of low-light detail?

40. Jason Santa Maria says… jan 17, 2005 | 4:41 pm

Thanks Allen! Most of the pics were taken with my Nikon D70 (including all of the night ones) and the rest were taken with my Canon Powershot SD20. The low-light stuff was done by finding somewhere sturdy to lean against (or prop the camera on) and leaving the shutter open for about 6-8 seconds.

41. Allen says… jan 17, 2005 | 5:25 pm

Thanks for the tips and pointers and congrats as well on the new job :thumbsup: