Part Three of our Travel Special!
Part One: Flying the Friendly Skies
Part Two: London for Singletons
Next week: Road-Tripping For Love!
Italy for Couples:
Travelling as a Dinamico Duo
or, Come direste "Venuto vi sedete nel mio giro"?
by Daphne Uviller
Last summer, my boyfriend Sacha and I went to Italy for our first extended,
far-flung vacation together. Forget Paris, forget Vermont. Italy trumps both
of them for romantic ambience. Along the way we collected the usual items: photos,
memories... and a lot of experience travelling together.
Here's a myth: Travelling with your significant other is a good indicator of
the strength of your relationship. Not true! Most couples will have a great
time on vacation no matter what's going on at home. The circumstances under
which you interact on trips are so different from your daily life that a foundering
couple may actually gain a false sense of confidence about their relationship.
I can think of at least three couples who waited too long to split up because
they kept going on great getaways. (Not a bad ploy if you just want to postpone
the inevitable, but, uh, why would you?
At very least -- you should have the decency
of good timing when you do the deed.)
However, if a bad couple can have a good time away from home, a good couple
can have a great time. You become a team, a "we" in the eyes of the strangers
you meet. Travelling lets you leave the laundry, computer crashes, and grouchy
work days behind, and become a distilled version of yourselves. The best parts
of both of you can shine through, sweet and clear.
Let me inject this disclaimer, however: if you and your co-adventurer have
wildly different travelling styles, you have a different problem on your hands.
If one of you wants to spend a week lying on a beach, doing nothing more taxing
than lifting an umbrella drink to your lips, and the other wants to trek ancient
trade routes in the Himalayas, well... you probably never got past the bookstore's
travel section. On the successful couple-journey, you need to have a similar
pace; if you're willing and flexible, you can find great pleasure in discovering
that pace together.
started in Rome, whose warm yellows and golds -- the buildings, the sun, the
food -- immediately revived our dulled New York City senses. Between his Spanish
and my French, we found our way to our hotel in a neighborhood called Trastevere.
After naps and showers we headed out for a long walk and late dinner. We immediately
started adopting the same balance between rest and adventure; we didn't force
ourselves outside, but neither did we hole up for the night.
This was made easier by another travel trick: giving yourself a mission. In
our case, I had read about fried
artichokes in the Jewish quarter and we agreed it was a priority to eat
some as soon as possible. If you both have the chance to choose a few specific
sites or activities before the trip, you get two benefits: each of you will
feel like you are getting to do what you want, but you don't always have to
be leading the way.
Food motivated most of our adventures (appropriately, I think, considering
where we were). In Trastevere, we dutifully sampled the pizza for which the
neighborhood is known. In Umbria,
the province abutting Tuscany to the south,
we sought out wild boar, a regional delicacy. Together, we developed methods
for expanding our appetites so that we could eat four or five courses at both
lunch and dinner. We recommend jumping into cold water before meals, the theory
being that it speeds up the metabolism. And even if it doesn't, it gives you
something to talk about.
Another way to improve two-person travel: when you find something that both
of you enjoy, go ahead and make it a ritual. Sacha developed an insatiable and
rather pricey penchant for truffles, and once a day -- with the discipline some
people dedicate to taking vitamin supplements -- we ate gelato.
On our second day in Rome, we hit the town hard, covering every inch of the
Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica. We took a tour of the Vatican gardens,
a hilly area so vast that a bus drops you at the top and you spend two hours
meandering back down to the basilica. It was here that I had an unexpected and
sweet relationship moment.
Sacha, who's an ecologist, came to the rescue when some other tourists had
a question about the garden's flora. An Irish woman whispered to me, "Does he
know this because of a hobby or a job?" Answering her, I realized I knew stuff
about him! We could answer questions about each other! Sometimes, it's nice
to see yourselves as a pair in other people's eyes and everyone will certainly
see you that way when you travel.
From Rome we drove to Todi, where we stayed for a week. We had the best meal
of the trip in Perugia (home of Perugina chocolates), napped on the church steps
in Orvieto and reached new heights of couple-ness when we
purchased pottery together in Deruta.
Of course, many co-travellers recommend spending some time apart
during your trip. This will give you a much needed break from each other, as
well as letting you experience a little solo travel. When you do meet up again,
not only will you have fresh stories to share with each other, but you'll also
appreciate the help that your partner can give you on the road.
Before we left for Italy, we talked about taking these breaks. I had imagined
that during those times I would sit in cafes writing in my journal while Sacha
wandered around a town. But in fact, we never found ourselves actively needing
that space and time apart. First of all, don't underestimate the benefits of
reading. Even when you're not travelling, it's essential to any relationship
because it offers mental escape without physical absence.
But even when we weren't engrossed in our separate books, we were by no means
constantly talking. If you find that happening, don't worry. You couldn't fill
every minute of your trip with conversation and you wouldn't want to. Just enjoying
the experience together is a reward. And you can learn a lot about another person
during the silences. For instance, I learned that Sacha interprets Italy's lack
of speed limits as an invitation to race. He learned to wait until I fell asleep
before he passed other cars at 90 miles an hour.
left Todi and headed for Sienna. Do your relationship a favor and avoid driving
into Sienna. This walled city is situated at the top of a hill, and is virtually
impossible to enter without misreading a map and sparking an inevitable squabble.
Successful travellers will learn to forgive and forget quickly, though, so you
can get back to enjoying the trip asap. We wandered from our hotel to the Church
of San Domenico. Like most Italian places of worship, this church doubles as
a shrine for a holy body part. Here, St.
Catherine, Italy's patron saint, gives a permanent thumbs-up to the world
with her detached digit.
We ended our travels in Cinque
Terre, a region with five fishing villages nestled on a rocky coastline,
where you can hike from one town to the next and jump into the bath-warm sea
upon each arrival. On our final night, we sat under a full moon, the Mediterranean
lapping near our feet, and talked about our future. We were only thinking about
the coming year, but as we discovered back at home, others were thinking in
bigger terms for us. If you travel together unmarried, be ready for your friends
and family to lay bets on whether you got engaged. (If you feel the need to
get back at them, just tell them yes, you did... and that you also had a lovely
wedding and your two beautiful children are now in boarding school but they'll
be back for the holidays.)
In truth, having travelled together, you'll have much subtler memories to look
back on. Beyond all the history, facts, and maps, you'll have learned, say,
that your companion so loves the sight of a wheat field that he'll rise at 6
a.m. just to photograph it in the warm glow of an Italian dawn. And that's a
trinket brighter and more precious than any diamond.
Daphne Uviller is a regular Big To Do contributor who last wrote about
legal touch. She discovered that if you can say
"Aloro" and "Va bene" frequently, you've mastered most of conversational Italian.
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