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Remember your first time?


A friend of mine has just won an all-expense-paid trip to Italy, including a week in a cooking school in Tuscany. This will be her first trip to Italy and she's adding an extra week of travel after her class ends. She's very excited; but I think I may be even more excited, because I know what wonderful sights await her!

This has reminded me of my very first trip to Italy, which was extraordinarily short and occurred entirely by accident. Still, that brief glimpse, which was of Venice, utterly hooked me on Italy, an addiction I haven't been able to shake (not that I have even tried.)


My initial taste of Italy involved only a handful of days in Venice, and was unplanned, utterly unorganized but magical.

I had been on a business trip in Europe and had planned to spend several personal days at the end in Paris, before flying home from there. However, my work in Germany took a sharp turn, and on the final day of my business, I found myself with two colleagues in the Veneto, only about an hour north of Venice. When our work finally wrapped up that evening, my colleagues and I decided that it made the most sense for us to go down to Venice for the night and make travel arrangements from there.

Some contacts arranged a van to drive us down to Venice and also booked three rooms for us in a hotel very near the train station (definitely not an area that I would now pick!) However, this occurred almost 10 years ago and at that time Italian internet connections were iffy, my web-surfing abilities almost non-existent and so there weren't really any options. Besides, who cared -- I was going to Venice!

It was probably about 10 p.m. when we arrived at Piazzale Roma, the closest point to Venice itself that our driver could reach with his van. He gestured roughly in the direction of the train station and took off, leaving us with a heap of luggage, including various laptop computers, briefcases full of files and suitcases packed with business clothes. Talk about over packing! But when we set out two weeks earlier, no one expected we'd be schlepping our luggage over so many bridges of Venice.

Off we went. The night was black, but the lights twinkling off the Grande Canal were breathtaking. So were the three or four bridges that we crossed enroute to finding our hotel. We followed the signs directing us along the Grande Canal and finally over what must have been the Scalzi Bridge. I was so disoriented, yet so utterly amazed and thrilled to be in Venice, that I barely remember how we found our way to the train station and a minute past that, to our hotel. Adding to the confusion, as we slowly made our way into Venice, we encountered wave after wave of teenagers bearing musical instruments of all types. They must have all been participating in some kind of brass band festival earlier in the evening. The effect was pretty surreal.

Eventually we found the hotel, dumped our luggage very quickly and dashed out to find a nearby pizzeria which was just closing, but agreed to feed us. It was almost directly across from the train station -- again, not a restaurant I'd now pick. Still, at that time it didn't matter. The pizza was glorious and the wine perfect, as we sat at a table on a terrace beside the Grande Canal, under the stars. I was enchanted.

After we ate, my colleague Dan turned in while Aileen and I decided to walk for a while. It was well past midnight and the streets and bridges deserted. I had never been in a city without vehicle traffic, too-bright street lights, and noise. As we walked, whispering because it was so dark and silent, I was amazed at how mysterious Venice seemed to be.

The following morning I woke up late, and rushed to my window. I will never forget that sensation of my first daylight view of Venice. The sight of hundreds of red-tiled rooftops, so characteristic of Italy; the sound of church bells and people chattering on the street below stopped my heart. My tiny window looked down on the street and towards the train station, not a particularly incredible view. But it was first real vision of Italy and I was (and remain) completely smitten.

I decided to stay a second night and see a bit of Venice. I found a cheap flight from Venice to Paris, where I was expected to met a friend...in hindsight, I realize that should have cancelled my Paris plans and stayed on in Venice. But that didn't occur to me at the time.

I spent that wonderful day in Venice wandering the streets -- no map, no travel guide, no idea where I was or what was going on. But none of that really mattered. I couldn't believe my luck in suddenly landing in Venice! I followed twisting calles, totally lost, peering in windows, dodging crowds, stopping in shops, always marvelling at the lack of motorized traffic and the remarkable age of the streets and buildings.

Two things that I knew about Venice and that I wanted to see for myself: the Rialto Bridge (I remembered The Merchant of Venice: "Many a time and oft on the Rialto....." and I also wanted to see San Marco. Alas, the magnificent St. Mark's was under scaffolding, so I comforted myself with a gelato.

But I found the Rialto and it left me gobsmacked. I had never before seen a bridge such as this -- so wide, that it held shops! Right on the bridge! People really could do business, right on the Rialto! Over the Grande Canal! What a wonderous thing. By the way, the first photo shown here, courtesy of Concierge, shows the view from the Rialto; the second, looks towards the Bridge of Sighs which links ancient prison cells to interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace.

To this day, I remain addicted to the beauty and wonder of Italy.

Anyone else recall their first trip to Italy?!

Comments (16)


That is "Post of the Day". You have made my evening. Best thing I have read all day.


Oh Sandra, you've opened up so many memories for me! Let's see, first trip to ... which city?? They all hold such indelible memories. In Florence, when I walked through Piazzale degli Uffizi with no one around except the statues of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Petrarch et al with church bells pealing on Christmas Day; in Venice, the smells of an August day from a 5-year-old's perspective and losing my straw hat in the Grand Canal; Rome, getting totally lost but "suddenly" finding the Colosseum...the list goes on and on.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, what a beautiful recollection of your first time in Italy. And it was especially awesome that it was in Venice!

Although it was a whirlwind experience, my first time to Italy was on a group tour. I do remember the incredible detail and wonders of the Duomo in Florence, I remember the absolutely stunning beauty of Venice, I remember the hard to imagine lean of the Tower of Pisa and I remember the incredible history and grandness of the Colesium in Rome.

And although my "whirlwind trip" brought me to other countires like France, England, Austria Switzerland and Germany ---it was Italy that I fell hopelessly in love with!

Thanks for the great walk down memory lane and for reminding me of my "first time"!

Have a great day!


Hey Sandra,

Thank you for sharing my excitement. Not to mention all the advice and tips. You rock, girl!

Sandra - what a lovely post. We all have our fond memories of that first glimpse of a place that captureb our hearts but few of us could write about it as well as you. Thank you so much for sharing!

Oh - I hope that you friend is bringing you along with her on the trip.


Thanks Leslie -- I'd be curious to hear about your first trip to Italy!!!

Vicky, you have some great memories. Imagine "stumbling" upon the Colosseum, you must have been gobsmacked! And I love all of the statues around the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, it's such an beautiful city!

Kathy, isn't it amazing how Italy captures one's heart. And Florence's Duomo is awe-inspiring. I wonder if Spain will do the same for you this fall?

Nim, you're so lucky to be on brink of seeing Italy for your first time!

Jerry, my friend Nim will be travelling right after I return from Italy so alas, the timing wouldn't have been right for me to join her (rats!) I'm expecting she'll return from the cooking school with some incredible recipes and insist on cooking something fabulous for me!

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, it would be cool if it did. I guess I'll find out in 91 days! :)

How wonderful to actually win a trip - congrats to your friend!

Another"gobsmacked" one here (I love that term!). I'd been to Europe several times but not to Italy and I really wanted to go. So five members of my family and I booked a group tour. We were supposed to leave on Sept. 14, 2001 and then 9/11 happened, so we didn't go until Sept. 2002. It was the right decision and we were unanimous about postponing - none of us felt safe traveling then.

Anyway, I loved every single place we visited, from Milan on down to Rome but it was Venice that captured my heart. And the group tour thing - well, it wasn't Slow Travel but it ended up being a good way to travel with a family group plus I really liked the other people on our tour.

And I haven't been any where else but Italy since that trip. :)


Ah yes, I remember it well...March 7 2006, our feet hit Europe for the first time at Marco Polo airport. We took bus from the airport to Piazzale Roma, then rode the vaporetto along the Grande Canal in the early morning to our hotel just near the San Stae stop. Mom and I were, as you, utterly and completely smitten with Venice at first glance. We too strolled around on our first evening. The magical, mysterious, milky hush of Venice on a March night, with barely another tourist in sight is a memory that still makes my heart swell...


Kathy, I'll be so interested in hearing about your first impressions of Spain!

Annie, it's funny how Venice can get to you -- I'm always a bit shocked by people that dismiss it as too crowded or chaotic.
On my very first, planned trip to Italy, I landed in Rome on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 and it took me a few days to figure out just what had happened. (No English-language TV or newspapers around my hotel.) I felt really bad for the American tourists who very much wanted or needed to get home and were stranded. You were wise to wait!

Anne, I'm glad that you have such happy memories of your first visit to Italy -- and to Venice, no less! The vaporetto ride in the early morning must have been so beautiful!

The first sights of Venice are truly magical. Thanks for sharing your first taste of bella Italian with us. May you have many more magical visits!

I finally have time to respond!! Great post and great comments!!

I also remember it well. 1999, the 40th anniversary of the eurail. Anyone born in 1959 got 40% off a ticket. That was what finally got me to go to Europe.

My itinerary, Nice, 2 weeks in Italy, Austria, Amsterdam, and then Paris. Although I enjoyed every stop, Italy won my heart.

My first stop was Vernazza (Cinque Terre). I was amazed at the beauty. Next stop was Lucca, loved it! Next stop, Siena. The first sight of the Campo brought tears to my eyes (I have tears just remembering this)! Next was Florence. Awe struck! More tears when I first saw the Duomo. Next stop, Venice. Again, amazed when I stepped out of the train station and experienced my first sight of the Grand Canal. And finally, Verona. Seeing the ampitheatre - more tears! I also met Katia & Guido and Francesco & Irene on this trip. Many special memories and first sights I will never forget.


Thanks Palma, I'm certain that you and I both will!

Girasoli, what a great memory of your first trip. Wow -- you really picked all of the right spots in Italy to visit for your first trip there. I hadn't realized that your friendship with Katia and Guido began on that first trip; it must have been a fantastic experience!

What a lovely read, Sandra! You are such a great writer. Thanks for sharing. I was 12 when I went to Italy the first time. I remember having a great time and thinking that the sights were beautiful, but it wasn't until I went back at 18 with some friends that I really fell in love with the country. A week in Rome, a week in Puglia, on almost no money... just awesome!


I really enjoyed reading your posts and the comments from others.

My first "trip" ti Italy was during my honeymoon, when we were spending three weeks traveling around France. We were in the alps, and my husband (aka Larry the Geek) wanted to drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel, just for the hell of it. So we went to Italy for lunch. We had no lira, and found ourselves in a tiny town in the Aosta valley. We had lunch. Man, did we have lunch. Then, we had to hang out in a park until the banks reopened, so we could get lira to pay the toll to get back into France. I remember the silence of the afternon, the knots of people talking, the sheer difference from France in architecture, food, atmosphere, even though we were just on the other side of the mountain.


Thanks Chiocciola, I suppose 12 might be just a bit young to fall in love (even with Italy!)

Amy, what a wonderful, romantic idea your husband had, to drive to Italy for lunch! I can only imagine what a contrast there must have been between the cultures of Italy and France, as physically close as they are.

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