When you think of Italy, you think of summer. Sunny Italia. The Amalfi Coast, bella Tuscany, and La Dolce Vida. These are what bring the crowds.
Late autumn in Italy is closer to the onset of a Northern winter. The crowds are gone. The stone streets of Florence, the Spanish Steps in Rome, are quiet. There’s no line to see the Statue of David. The vibe is more Antonioni than Fellini. It’s not Rick Steves’ Italy, that is for sure. You trade the sunny picture postcard for a quieter, more accessible visit. Just bring your overcoat.
In my “French” overcoat and scarf, I wandered through this country from the relative warmth and frenzy of Rome and Naples to Renaissance-centered Tuscany and modern, fashionable Milan — where even the cops wear Dolce & Gabbana. I must say I preferred the Roman south, the great culture and structures rising up before me in Rome juxtaposed against the vibe on the streets over a city weekend, twentysomethings double-parked in little Fiats and Smart cars, dressed like magazine models for a late night out. The wonderful sense of impending doom in Napoli.
But I lost the sun at Pompeii, and the Renaissance seemed more like the dark ages in Florence until finally giving way to snow in Milan. The pockets of the old coat are worn through now, but I keep going.
Favorites: The Roman Forum and Colosseum, Pompeii, Tuscan dinners, the San Siro, modern Milan.
Disappointing: Roman tourist food, the Vatican, and not-so-sunny Florence and Siena. In general, the weather.
Best food: Florentine dinners for pasta, red wine, and amazing main courses. Di Ricci Roma for pizza. Il Sabatino in Napoli.
Best art museum: Borghese Gallery, Roma.
Best other museum: Museo Archeologico, Napoli.
Best day: Roma, Colosseum and Forum. Honorable mention: Sforza Castle, Milan.
Surprises: Train rides, cafeteria food, Napoli. The Etruscan ruins at Cerveteri, outside Rome. The bus driver who gave me a free ride back to Rome from there because he couldn’t sell me a ticket. Inexpensive wine. Francesco Hayek’s paintings.