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Italy for Dummies 102

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Italy for Dummies 102

Q. When flying into Italy, is there any way to avoid the large airports like Rome and Milan? We often find it so stressful to travel through the major hubs?

A. Italophiles can rejoice: travelers to three of Italy’s most popular regions Sicily, the Amalfi Coast, and Emilia Romagna will be spending a lot less time in airports from now on. Recently, Italian carrier Eurofly began direct, regularly scheduled service from New York City to Naples, Bologna, and Palermo. Last summer when I was in Napoli, my cousins told me about this new small airline. Even for Italians, this carrier is a welcome addition. Eurofly is the first non charter airline in decades to serve these cities nonstop from the US. At this time, Eurofly offers three flights per week on wide body Airbus jets to Naples (that route is quickly selling out) and Bologna, and one New York Palermo flight per week.

The last time I checked, Eurofly’s prices were a competitive with other airlines, but considering that you can now fly nonstop to these cities you will not only save time, but also the connecting flights fare. You’ll have to book directly through Eurofly (, or call 8004590581 from 95) to get on these flights, as the airline has yet to sign up with Expedia or other online travel agencies.

Q. If I only can get away for four or five days to Italy and this will be my first time there, which is the one city or region I should go and visit.

A. I believe every country has a starting point of entry for “beginners”. Imagine someone from Europe or Asia asked that same question about America, where would you suggest. My answer would be New York City. Similarly, the Italian experience begins in Rome. It is a where it all began over 2000 years ago. It is a city and culture where a first timer can relate to and feel immediately at home and at ease. Rome has all the familiar sites that we as Americans can visualize and have dreamed about: The Roman Coliseum, the Fountain of Trevi, The Spanish Steps, the Roman Forum and of course, St. Peters Cathedral and the Vatican.

The food, as compared to other regions of Italy, is also familiar. Italian food in America is more closely related to the cuisine of Rome (and also my hometown, Napoli) than anywhere else in Italy. Rome is a walking city, as most of the centro storico (historical center) is closed to car traffic and now an area pedonale (walking zone). And now, the air is fresh and clean and the you can now “hear” this wonderful city again: the kids joking in the streets, the baker yelling across to his neighbor, the fruit vendors bartering with customers, or the old men sitting on the park benches talking about their youth. The Roman dialect is also very understandable, so if you know even the basic Italian words you can get by, and the Romans are very cordial in helping if you don’t speak Italian.

Rome does not take its wealth of tourism for granted and welcome visitors with open arms. They know that this is their legacy and the entire city is one giant living museum. Without tourism there is no economy other than the government sector. True Romans have this calm, confident elegance about them. Everyone claims to be descended from the Caesars and no matter what their calling is in this life “all roads lead to Rome” and they are very proud to be a part of this history. Rome is called the Eternal City and for good reason, so by all means, begin your journey in Rome and you’ll be planning your next trip to Italy before you get back home.

If you happen to be in Rome on a Wednesday or a Sunday and don’t mind a long wait and a little crowding, head to St. Peter’s Basilica to enjoy the blessing of the pope. You’ll need some patience too, as the times he appears is not set in stone and often the blessing can be canceled for a variety of reasons. Piazza San Pietro is not only the scene of large papal audiences but also special commemorations, masses, and beatification ceremonies. When he is in Rome, the pope makes an appearance every Sunday around 11 AM at the window of the Vatican Palace, which is just to the right of the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica. He addresses the crowd and blesses all present. The pope holds mass audiences also (and less crowded) on Wednesday morning about 10 AM (at 9 AM in the hotter months). I’d suggest asking for current information at your hotel as this new pope may begin a new routine and change the already tentative times. He will speak in Italian and Latin, but also says a few words in English. When he is about to give the blessing, you will see many people holding up specific articles they want blessed, including their small babies. I held up my crucifix in 1984 and still wear it today. Also, while the pope is vacationing at Castel Gandolfo in the Castelli Romani hills outside Rome, he gives a talk and blessing from the balcony of the papal palace there.

Rich Pepe brings to this column his expertise in the Italian food, wine and travel industry. Pepe is the creator of Pèppoli at Pebble Beach, Little Napoli in CarmelbytheSea, PEPE TALK Cooking Classes and Vino Pepe.