Celia Rivenbark: Postcards from 'It-lee' where the bidets are plentiful and the food is fine

For a very long time, Duh Hubby and I have dreamed of going to “It-lee.” I have always pronounced it that way and did so on our recent trip until the tour guide literally covered his ears and screamed “Mamma Mia!” repeatedly. Drama queen.


This was a bucket list trip for sure. We did the research (opened a brochure that came in the mail), learned to speak Italian (from the Olive Garden menu) and watched Stanley Tucci’s wonderful series on CNN. Snooty pals rolled their eyes at the notion of us going with a group, saying we should explore on our own, rent a car and meet local folk up close. Are you crazy? We get lost in Walmart. Put us in Buc-ee’s and we’d wander until presumed dead.

Our group, meeting in Naples for the first time, was plenty congenial, probably because it was a UNC Alumni tour. Was it possible to “hate Dook” on another continent? Si, it was.

Following tour advice, I bought walking shoes but didn’t have time to break them in. By Day 3, I was crabby from all the hills and uneven cobblestones. The shoes, despite grand claims, had no useful tread so I basically spent a rainy day busting my Assisi.

“Is there, like, an asphalt shortage over here?” I asked the guide at Pompeii. “I mean, the whole city buried by volcanic ash thing is horrible but I’m sure if these sad, ash-preserved bodies could talk, they’d totally agree it’s time for some pavement.” I heard a deep sigh followed by a hushed “Mamma Mia.”

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You need to understand Italians are fairly serious about their history probably because there’s so dang much of it. You literally can’t round a corner, even an ugly one, and not see a 12th century cathedral filled with priceless art. It-lee is a glorious country filled with passionate people, beautiful sights and…bidets. Oh, Lord, the bidets. In Orvieto, we stayed in an ancient stone-walled inn with a bathroom slightly larger than a TJ Maxx dressing room. The shower was so tiny, I had to crouch to wash my hair but, thank God, they managed to crowbar in a bidet. Americans don’t understand bidets, so I just used it to hold the dirty towels and, once, ice down some Prosecco. McGyver!

Speaking of bathrooms, they charge you to pee. It’s true. I usually ordered a coffee (which is always 10W40 grade espresso) so I could use the café bathroom for free. Tourist hack! However…in Sorento, a cute city apparently named after my car, I finally had to break down. I didn’t really understand the Euro so, in a magnanimous mood, I tossed a small coin with a 10 on it to the attendant and said, “Keep the change!” Hmmm. Turns out that’s one-tenth of the amount needed. I shoved another, larger coin at him that made him very happy. I have no idea. In stores, I acted like a small child, holding out my palm full of coins and saying “I’ve got this many” while a weary clerk picked out what was needed. I may or may not have paid $15 for a pack of gum.

You probably want to hear about the food because, well, It-lee. And here is where I must sigh and say it was “fine.” In 16 days, we had four meals that were mind-blowingly good, the stuff of dreams. The rest were, yes, “fine.” I did try wild boar, which is HUGE in Umbria, and, well, I don’t have to do that ever again. That said, I greatly admire a country that considers a huge wedge of lasagne “the first course.”

I have more observations that I will share later. In the meantime, “Ciao!” and “!@#$%”. That last is something a Sorento cab driver yelled at me as I stood in the street to take a picture of a lemon tree. I think it means “Good day, friend!”

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Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist who can be reached at celiarivenbark@gmail.com. 

This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: Celia Rivenbark: My bucket-list trip to Italy