Brooke's Journey Back travel blog

my size 10 clodhoppers ensconced in their beloved black boots

Oh Italy, It’s Not You, It’s Me

Dear Italy,

You’re really warm and beautiful, you cook delicious things for me and show me a great time. Your men are handsome and flirtatious, your women are kind and motherly. I really like you a lot, but you need someone who loves you the way you deserve to be loved, and I just can’t give you that right now. I’ve been swept off my feet by the spectacular, my heart belongs to New Zealand and Norway. Cara Italy, it’s not you, it’s me. So many people love you, you’ll be fine and maybe you and I can try again in a few years when I’m in a better space. But when I do come back, I will not rent a car, because, dearest Italy, you are a horrible driver.

With love and fondness, wishing nothing but the best for you,


I know that I’ve been a little grumpy with Italy so far, well mainly since I left sweet Alessandra, so I figured I would get all my gripes into one blog, then just let it all go and concentrate on the good stuff, which is plentiful.


I wish I had a Go-Pro strapped to my head, so everyone could see what it’s like driving here. The police seem to respond only to accidents, people drive no differently around them, zooming past them on the autostrada at least 25 kph faster than the 130kph that is allowed. I have to pay constant attention in 360 degrees, because they go so fast, you’ll look in the rear view to change lanes, see a car way, way, way back, you look in front of you, to make sure all is good, then that car that was so far behind you is suddenly next to you. I can’t count the times on the autostrada, (where 80mph is the slow lane), that I leave one safe car length between me and the car in front, and someone comes into my safe space at 80mph and slams on brakes. Or does that so they can take the exit, instead of getting into the vast, empty space behind me and waiting the extra nano-second to take the exit. It’s a good thing I don’t have road rage tendencies.

In the cities, you can’t see any lines painted on streets but they would be pointless anyway, because when they are visible, no one pays the slightest attention. They crowd at lights, sometimes three abreast at the front of the line, they’ll creep up the sides or go in front of the first car in line, into the crosswalk area. Motorcycles are particularly tricky, especially in the city, they appear out of nowhere, straddling the imaginary and elusive line between the lanes, weaving in and out of traffic. I need to google organ donation stats for Italy, it’s hard to believe they don’t have more donors than the average country with the way they drive.

In Calabria, (Mafia central), I was behind a truck, we were all stopped due to roadwork, and some guy pulls up next to me to go around the whole line of stopped traffic behind me. My jaw dropped, I just crept up to block the teeny tiny little space between me and the truck, looking at him and his wife and shaking my head. I was able to stop him from getting in front of me, for a minute, then as the traffic started to move and he was still cutting me off, I made a space for him, waved my hands in a “go ahead, king of the world” gesture, then blew him a kiss.

A few minutes later, I thought I saw him in front of me and he was slowing down. This is the conversation I pictured in my head.

Husband: “I think I should shoot her, she was very disrespectful.”

Wife: “Honey, you know how messy and time consuming that is. I promised Mama we’d be on time for lunch today.”

Husband: “Well, OK, I’ll let this one slide, but next time…”

Wife: “The next time a tourist blows you a kiss, I’ll shoot her myself.”

After that, I just let them do whatever they wanted and tried to keep me and Blacky unharmed. It’s tougher driving here than it was on the narrow lanes in England, on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car, shifting gears with the wrong hand. And I won’t even go into parking, that’s a whole other blog. If Michael were still alive and driving with me, he would have had at least eight heart attacks by now if I was driving, or gotten into twice that many fist fights on the road if he were driving. I actually think that he would fit right in driving here, he drove a lot like the city Italians- zooming up to stop signs, then slamming on brakes with the car halfway out into the intersection, hanging right on someone’s back bumper so that he would be ready to pass when there was an opportunity, yellow lights mean go faster. Yes, I think he somehow picked up all the horrible driving habits of the Italians, yet he never got in a wreck and I trusted him completely, which is much more than I can say for the drivers here.


Another thing that I can’t quite figure out, and find slightly annoying, is the whole restaurant, café, bar, pasticcheria, rotisserie, label thing. I know these names mean something, they imply a different menu, or specialty, therefore, different hours of operation. Some restaurants only open for lunch, exactly from noon to 2pm, others only open from 7:30pm to 11pm, some only serve coffee and pastry in the morning, some don’t serve pizza in the afternoon even though it’s on their menu, while others only serve pizza at night. I just can’t seem to figure it out, and as far as I can tell, there must be some unwritten rule about such things, I’ve never seen any signs in writing even in Italian writing, that say, “No pizza until 7:30,” or “No pasta served in the evenings.” It’s so confusing, so I’ve learned to pick at least two choices from the menu, so that if the first isn’t available, I can quickly switch to the second choice. And don’t even get me started on the primi, secondi, carne, etc sections that are on the menu. It’s just a mystery to me.


There is one other thing I find hurtful about Italy. Most of the women are tiny, I feel like an obese giant here. They all have the thigh gap, apparently that’s a thing, where you can see daylight between a woman’s thighs when her legs are together. I have no gap, I have overlap, both in the thigh area and this new development that happened when menopause started. While everything else on me seems to be slowly sinking, my belly fat is rising so that it now hangs over the top of my pants, the dreaded muffin top, only mine is more like a loaf-of-bread-top, not cute like a muffin. In the States, I am an average sized woman, size 12 pants, a Large in shirts, but my feet are ginormous, a size 10. In Italy, that translates to a freaking size 48 pants, and XXL shirts, which almost no one has, and size 41 shoe. I mean, that’s just rude. Why would they make an average size woman like myself have to try on size 48? My bra size is the real kicker…in Europe I’m a 75F. Come on. Isn’t that what Dolly Parton is in America? I’ve seen Italian women here that are much larger than me. Where do they shop?

I have been traveling since August with two pair of shoes- ankle high black leather boots, and hiking boots. I wear the black boots 95% of the time, they are flat but cushioned and I can walk for miles and miles in them. But it’s Spring now, and while I could wear my winter uniform for the rest of my life and be content, it doesn’t work when it’s 75 degrees and warmer. Trying to find a pair of sandals that aren’t high heeled or butt ugly is like trying to find a parking spot in Rome-impossible. Then throw in the fact that only certain shoes are made in size 41, which is a size ten here. The salespeople literally laugh in my face when I ask if something I like comes in 41.

“Ha ha-no signorina, no have for-tee-wans,” they scoff, as they stare at my freakishly large feet, encased in their scuffed and worn, beloved black boots. Some of them have pity in their eyes, but most are just like the Rodeo Drive blonde bitches who didn’t have anything in Julia Roberts’ size. Where is Richard Gere when you need him?

I used to be timid and embarrassed when I went in, but now I hold my head high and walk in, loudly proclaiming, “Buongiorno signora, avete delle scarpe taglia quaranta uno (do you have any shoes in size 41)?” I don’t look first, I don’t want to get attached to anything, because they usually just say no, or point to a pair of neon orange sneakers. Which actually are quite the rage here. Can’t do it, I’m pretty sure I’m over the neon sneaker age limit.

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