What to do in Italy
Help me plan an important vacation.
Hey all! I’ve got some cool pods rolling out next week — a whole series about using less Russian oil and gas by, gasp, using less oil and gas — but in the meantime, my mind has been consumed by an upcoming vacation. (If you don’t care about my vacation, and there’s no reason you should, feel free to delete and move on.)
My older son is graduating high school in June and heading off to college in September. I wish I could say I was accepting it gracefully and feeling philosophical, but in reality I’m just very sad and dreading it. I know parenthood isn’t ending, but something is ending, and it’s something I’ve loved more than anything else I’ve ever done. The day-to-day of parenting my two boys, washing their clothes and collecting their dirty dishes and just being all up in their business, has kept me anchored in the world when my natural tendency is to drift out of it, into my own head. We spent over an hour tonight standing in the kitchen talking about the relative merits of different Batman movies and it’s easily the most fun I’ve had all week.
Anyway, we want to celebrate his graduation — and the fact that he’s going to a relatively cheap in-state school not too far away, thus saving us oodles of money — with a big blowout vacation this summer. We’re worried about Covid and the war in Ukraine and our greenhouse gases and everything else, but we’ve decided to just go for it anyway. We haven’t had a proper vacation in years, it’s a big transition for all of us, and it deserves a memorable experience.
We’ve narrowed our destination down to the northern half of Italy, from Rome on up. None of us have ever been and it seems like the kind to stuff one ought to see before the world ends. Also we all really love pesto.
If you know much about Italy, you know that doesn’t narrow it down much. You could spend months there and not see everything. We’ve got 18 days to work with (late June, first two weeks of July), but still, some difficult prioritization has to be done.
Any vacation must solve a difficult equation. You want to see as many things as possible, but you also want to move slowly enough that you leave room for relaxation and random surprises — you don’t want to fill your schedule up too much with hectic travel days, packing and finding train stations and hotels and unpacking. Especially in Italy (!), wandering around aimlessly and eating too much are key to vacation success.
That said, here are things we’d like to see:
Siena and/or Florence and/or Lucca
Genoa (for pesto!)
It is theoretically possible to see all those things in 18 days — I’ve got an itinerary to prove it — and we could probably pull it off. We’re a high-functioning vacation unit. But it would involve a lot of travel, with two or three days at most in any spot. What’s more, a lot of this would involve renting a car. You could do it all on a train, theoretically, but it would take much longer (believe me, I’ve checked). It would be a madcap Italian Vacation with the Griswolds.
The better part of valor here is probably to prioritize. One option would be chopping off the Dolomites and Venice and maybe even Bologna. We could spend more time in Rome (which begs for an extended stay) and then just hang around Tuscany, eating and looking at old stuff and eating. Cinque Terre is likely to be more tourists than Italians in July, but walking those cliffs between villages is supposed to be an unforgettable thing.
Another option would be chopping off Cinque Terre and Genoa and getting to the Dolomites quicker. I’ve heard so many good things about them.
And people keep telling me I’ve got to at least lay eyes on Venice before the ocean reclaims it, no matter how touristy and hot it may be in the summer.
It’s a dilemma! A bunch of dilemmas.
People have asked what we want — nature? history? architecture? food? — and the answer is that Mrs. Volts and I are easily impressed by all those things and are likely to be pleased with whatever we encounter. (We feel like we’ve been locked in the house for two years, so literally any novelty will be a delight.)
As for the boys, they’re pretty agreeable, but ultimately they prefer activities to looking at pretty scenery. They would love any opportunity to swim or get in hot springs, ride scooters or segways or golf carts around, take guided tours, see animals, climb on stuff, make/eat good food, or just generally engage. The 16-year-old has a weird thing with swords right now, so any sword-related activities would be a particular hit. Surely they have swords in Italy.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about the past few nights, and I must say it’s a nice respite from thinking about the end of the world. I would love to hear any thoughts, tips, or advice you may have, either broadly on where to go or more specifically about where to stay and things to see/do/eat in particular places. And I’d just like to hear your stories about Italy, which are so much nicer than stories about the end of the world.
Also — don’t tell my family I said this, they will kill me — but if there are particularly interesting clean-energy people/projects/features in the northern half of Italy, let me know. I might be able to finagle something. (Feel like I should use a burner phone.)
The only thing I ask is: don’t recommend things that aren’t in the northern half of Italy. I’m already struggling with decision paralysis and the last thing I need is more variables in the equation.
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Thanks for reading Volts and for your patience as I deal with my stupid wrists (yes, this post was mostly, awkwardly dictated). Some truly nerdy pods coming up in the next week or two — it’s gonna be fun. More later.