I just got back from a month of traveling in the UK and in Italy. What follows are some miscellaneous thoughts about traveling, Italian culture, and Italian cities.
Public toilet seats
It turns out that Italians have what I would describe as an insane fear of public toilet seats. This causes people to stand on the toilet seat to use the bathroom (I'm not making this up), which ends up breaking the toilet seat. Eventually the maintainer of the bathroom stops replacing the toilet seat, which means most public Italian bathrooms in restaurants, bars, etc do not have toilet seats.
Note that a few Italian bathrooms actually do have proper squatting toilets. I don't love squatting toilets, but I think they are preferable to having normal toilets with broken toilet seats in which you have to squat. The latter use case is not what the instrument was built for.
The Italian garbage system is complicated, and particularly complicated in places like Venice. Recycling is collected every other day. Food waste is collected every other day - the complement set of the recycling days. Normal garbage is collected every day. No garbage is collected on Sunday. Why couldn't you just have one day for collecting garbage?
The answer seems to be that the trash bags used are so small that they need to be frequently taken out. This relates generally to a lack of space, and certainly to a lack of space for garbage. I'm a fan of using less space, but not of having to remember complicated garbage rituals. Also, the use of small and somewhat weak trash bags invariably means getting trash on your hands, which is hardly a charming experience.
The only place we stayed that had enough hot water for us to take a shower lasting longer than about 8 minutes was in a mansion maintained by the British. In Venice, this was understandable, but it was harder to rationalize at the two different places we stayed in Rome.
If you are traveling as a couple, this means that in practice you end up taking showers at very different times of day.
The food is really good. People had told me before that pasta was different in Italy and they were correct, although in ways that are hard to explain. I think the best I could do would be to say that pasta in Italy is way less starchy, and that has profound implications for how it tastes. I left feeling like pasta in America sucks and we should stop serving it to people and acting like what we're doing is okay.
Food was also, generally speaking, very cheap - though considerably more expensive in Rome. Also, this didn't warrant a longer section below, but I had the best pasta Carbonara of my life in Rome. I did not realize you were expected to drown the pasta in pepper but boy, did it make for an amazing meal.
I don't know what's going on in the Prosecco market these days but even while we were in England shops were basically fighting to give us cheap Prosecco. I think the average price we paid for a glass of Prosecco was probably something like 4£/€ and there were quite a few places in which it was cheaper.
I drank a lot of Prosecco.
I also did not realize how huge Campari / Aperol spritzes are in Italy - you see people drinking them everywhere, particularly Aperol spritzes.
Everyone seems to wear clothes that actually fit them. I don't think this is a consequence of stores selling clothes of many sizes, but rather think this is a consequence of living somewhere where it is simply an expectation that you will have your clothes tailored.
Regardless of the ultimate cause, it makes Italian people look much better dressed than their counterparts in the U.S. and U.K.
Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, I try to act like mosquitos don't actually exist until one gets trapped in my bedroom. This is, unfortunately, not an option in Italy.
For some reason Italy has not adopted the use of screen windows, so if a window is open then it is a potential attack vector for mosquitos. The Italians compensate for this somewhat by aggressively using electric mosquito coils, which do an okay job of remediating the problem, but not great.
We purchased some of these mosquito sleeping bag liners from REI before going and they made a huge difference at night (though I did have one nightmare scenario where a mosquito was trapped on the inside of the liner and bit my legs about 5 times).
While I was obviously aware that most of Venice's transport happens by boat, I was not aware that there are literally no roads for cars in Venice.
The mail, and packages particularly, are seen being carted around by people using dollies everywhere. If you order a package through Amazon.com, it will arrive by boat, be loaded onto a hand cart, and someone will walk that cart through the streets of Venice until they arrive at your home.
The lack of roads also means that custom machinery ends up being used that can either (a) move along Venice's narrow streets or (b) be completely dis-assembled, transported by boat, and re-assembled at the destination. As construction obviously takes place in Venice using modern means, we saw examples of both of this - the former on the renovation work at the Rialto bridge, and the latter at various construction sites.
One of the interesting implications behind both of these is the level of additional expense that must be layered onto all logistics activity in Venice - no standard logistical infrastructure can be used, so everything ends up being a custom solution that the Venetians have come up with for the task at hand.
In general, I was a fan of Venetian chiccheti. I was a particular fan of the local way of serving sardines - in oil, with raisins and grilled onions. It sounds like a bizarre combination but it works together very well - a savory dish with a slightly sweet tone.
There are a lot of touristy restaurants that both can and should be avoided. The best and most interesting meals we had in Venice were ones that were somewhat off the beaten path and in some cases came recommended by locals.
Venice is stunningly beautiful. It's basically impossible to point a camera at anything and not have the photo come out looking gorgeous.
While the more touristy parts of the city happen to include some of the most exceptionally beautiful parts, I really loved the quieter neighborhoods like Castello, Dorsoduro and Cannaregio as well. There isn't as much to "do" there, but they're no less beautiful than the more central parts of the city.
Do not drive in Rome. I do not know what they make Roman drivers out of, but it is harder stuff than is available over the counter in the United States and I cannot recommend it. Roman streets have no lanes, they just have cars doing whatever they feel like and miraculously not experiencing consequences.
It took me a while to figure out why central Rome seemed somewhat austere at times and I eventually nailed it down to a combination of low amounts of graffiti coupled with an almost complete lack of advertising billboards. The latter has a pronounced effect but takes a while to figure out, and you don't really notice it until you leave and start seeing advertisements everywhere again.
Unlike Venice, which is uniformly beautiful, Rome is divided into somewhat unattractive buildings and works of extreme awe and majesty. As you walk around central Rome the frequency with which you encounter awesome works goes up until you are constantly looking at works of such grandeur that your mind cannot really comprehend it. Photographs do not work so well in these circumstances - there is, for instance, no real way to take a photograph that captures the scale of the Altare della Patria, nor the fact that the Roman Forum lies immediately behind it.
One of the things that occurred to us as we were walking around Rome is that being surrounded by buildings of this sort would undoubtedly contribute to a shared sense of manifest destiny. It's not hard to imagine how the literal structural environment of Rome could have contributed to the 20th century rise of Italian Fascism.
I don't have a conclusion for this post.
Italy was nice. I recommend it.