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Trip Report We Didn't Drink ALL the Vino! Maitaitom's Italy Uncensored

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Although we managed to trash one rental car (a precautionary tale of stupidity from the first part of our trip) and seriously impair dozens of brain cells along the way during our 22-day journey, we have successfully returned from another wonderful trip to Europe. No Italian animals, pedestrians, priests or nuns were injured during the making of this trip report (scared, yes; harmed, no), which will describe the hill towns of Umbria and Tuscany, the beautiful cities of Firenze, Venezia and Roma, and all the sundry details I can remember.

I devoured enough pasta and miscellaneous carbohydrates that poor, dead Dr. Atkins has already turned over in his scrambled eggs. My cholesterol count is undoubtedly so inflated from that over-indulgence that not even an intravenous drip of Lipitor could make a dent in it. Since I've been home, I wake up screaming in the middle of the night for ravioli stuffed with ricotta, Pecorino and spinach, drizzled with olive oil. Yes, I am now a full-fledged Pastaholic.

For those who might have been concerned by an overwrought poster a few months ago who incongruously perceived that Italians were taking turns laughing at her on the streets of Rome, let me first allay those misguided fears she felt. Although given ample opportunity to do so, Italian citizens neither laughed at nor mocked us throughout our three-week stay (at least to our faces).

Tracy and I traveled with another couple (Kim and Mary) that we have known for years, and, I am happy to report, the four of us remain on speaking terms today. We hooked up with another couple (Dan and Linda) for a night in Florence and the last three days in Rome. Between the six of us, we took 1,500 pictures (more if you count Dan's camera, now resting comfortably at the bottom of a Venice canal).

Following are the facts and nothing but the facts. The story you are about to read is true. No names have been changed, because no one is innocent. This is "Italy Uncensored."

DAY ONE AND TWO - ARE WE THERE YET?

For those who hate airline stories, this is your chance to skip to Day Three, although if you are reading this on October 13, it hasn't been written yet, so that could be difficult. Confusing? Yes. Much like our flight plan to get to Rome.

Tracy and I had converted most of our frequent flyer miles to go first class (once before I die, I thought). Because you are at the airlines mercy when it comes to FF awards, we were booked to go L.A. to N.Y, N.Y to London (six hour layover at Heathrow) and finally (mercifully) London to Rome. Basically, the only thing slower than our trip to Rome would be FEMA's response to a disaster.

Upon checking in about two hours before our Thursday, 1:15 pm flight to New York, Tracy and I decided to take advantage of the American Airlines Admiral's Club (I never met a free drink I didn't like). Upon entering the lounge we were greeted with, "You must be Mr. and Mrs. Your Flight Is In Peril But You Don't Know It Yet" (not our real last names).

At first we thought, "How nice. They know our names." Then came word that bad weather in the east had caused a four-hour delay in our flight to New York, meaning we would miss our connection to London. Not to worry, they said, and they re-booked us on a 6 pm L.A. - London non-stop. We'd already dropped off the cats and taken the limo (OK, it was a Lincoln Town Car) to the airport, so we were not going to spend a fortune to go back home and come back again. This was one time we wish we had some unemployed friends to come pick us up at the airport.

Let me say that the American Airlines' people were terrific. They notified us that our luggage had been rerouted to our new flight and to relax for the next six hours in the lounge. A few drinks and a few hundred peanuts later, we boarded our flight to London.

First Class Baby! It is the only way to travel. I inadvertently turned to the right when I got on board, but the flight attendant, realizing my error, quickly turned me to the left toward first class and there before us lay a world I did not know existed. Nobody reclines their seat into your knees and makes your legs lose all feeling twenty minutes into the flight. There is champagne when you board and free-flowing French wine while awaiting dinner. Our movies were brought to us on a silver tray. The seats recline all the way to form a sleeper bed. I looked to the rear of the plane at the sad faces of cramped, uncomfortable passengers and could only think, "Oh, the humanity!"

Dinner consisted of smoked salmon with crème fraiche, onions and capers, a salad with baby lobster tail followed by a delicious steak. Tracy and I stretched out for about five hours only to be awakened by the smell of breakfast. "I wonder how the other half lives?" I thought.

At Heathrow, reality was again with us as we waited five long hours for our final flight to Rome on British Airways. Heathrow is huge, and the trip from Terminal Three to Terminal One was made even more exciting by a herky-jerky bus driver who must have just received his learner's permit that morning. Plus, the guy was driving on the wrong side of the road (yeah, I know)! The BA lounge had finger sandwiches, cocktails (my first Campari of the trip), a lot of Internet points and showers.

We arrived in Rome at 9:30 p.m. Friday night after a 2 hour and 15 minute flight from London (nothing special) and walked to the Rome Airport Hilton, where we would spend the first night. If you like a good sauna, the walkway between the airport and the Hilton reminded me of one. All the weight I gained on the plane was shed during the five to ten minute walk to the hotel.

I remember reading a post by a guy who said that the Rome Airport Hilton was overpriced. Well, maybe it is, but the shower and late dinner of a ricotta and basil ravioli with julienne zucchini hit the spot just fine (the two martinis didn't hurt either). For a couple of weary travelers, the hotel epitomized the phrase "location, location, location", so we were just fine with it and we got to sleep in no time.

The next morning, I would pick up the soon-to-be infamous rental car before our friends arrived, and then it was off to Umbria.

COMING UP: THINGS GO BETTER WITH SPELLO

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