As the windows of the train car grew colder the further we left Florence behind, we gathered we were going the wrong way.
Slightly-tipsy confusion had resulted in boarding the northbound train rather than the express back to Rome. The next stop on our errant journey was Parma.
At the ticket booth, I asked the agent if there were any good restaurants nearby. He looked up from his terminal and with a wonderful shrug, said “E Parma!.”
Yes, it was Parma. Throw a rock and hit five or six wonderful restaurants. That night, we enjoyed one of the most delicious meals of our trip.
This is an argument for serendipity. It’s hard to go wrong in Italy. Take a chance and find your bliss. Here are some ways to encourage happenstance:
- Ditch the Car Italy is a small, crowded country. Gasoline is expensive and parking is nightmarish. Even in small towns you’re usually better off walking, taking a cab, or availing yourself of the generally effective (and cheap) mass transit systems.
- Talk to Locals Some of my best memories of Italy came from encounters with locals who granted me a view inside their colorful world. Though Italy isn’t quite as Anglicized as Germany, you’ll find many Italians capable of conversations in English. It’s best if you know at least a pinch of Italian (a phrasebook helps), but you might end up not needing it.
- Follow your Nose Italy is Disneyland for foodies. The scents of basil and olive oil fill the air. Don’t be afraid to follow scintillating aromas. They might lead you to restaurants that don’t show up in guidebooks.
- Indulge Your Interests See a sign for an interesting attraction that might not be on your itinerary? Check it out. Chances are it’s inexpensive and will create some wonderful memories. I still celebrate stumbling upon the Pasta Museum in Rome.
- Go Native The point of a trip to Italy is to indulge your senses in another culture. Make a point to visit the open-air groceries. Take a walk to enjoy an after-dinner digestif at an open-air cafe. Live the bella vita.
- Follow the Right Crowds If you stay with your own kind, you’ll likely return home wondering what the big deal was. Stretch a bit. If you see a crowd of locals taking in a street performance or outside an all-night bakery waiting to get the freshest bigne, stick around to see for yourself.
Italy rewards the traveler willing to take the road less traveled. Zig, don’t zag.