Globe-trotter Franci Neely is on a trajectory to fulfill her lifelong dream of visiting every country in the world by 2025. And as she gears up to conquer the approximately 20 countries she has left to achieve that ambitious objective, she reminisces about the country that has beckoned to her the most. Neely admits she fell head over Fendi heels in love with Italy.
“Italy is one of the countries I’ve been to most frequently. This is partly because I would love to speak Italian fluently,” Neely explains. “I’ve studied it for years, but I am still shy about speaking it.”
Neely says she wouldn’t mind living in Italy after she finishes her mission of stepping foot in every nation on the planet.
It’s hard not to fall in love with the country that brought us the Renaissance, Sophia Loren, and pizza. Rome is one of the most visited cities in the world, with approximately 10 million tourists flocking there annually to see the Colosseum, toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain, and pore over the Vatican.
Italy Is an Eternal Masterpiece of Art, Food, and Culture
Italy has always been a top European vacation destination, but never more so than over the past couple of years. Celebrities have been spied frequenting the land of pasta, fine wine, and impeccable fashion. People magazine reports Neil Patrick Harris was spotted in Instagram pictures enjoying a boat ride on the Amalfi Coast with his husband. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were snapped frolicking in Capri, and Billie Lourd was seen dramatically posing for photos by the Colosseum in Rome — a neighborhood near and dear to Neely’s heart.
“The main reason I love Italy is because it has always been welcoming to me,” Neely explains. “A case in point: The first time I went to Rome, I actually drove into the center of the city. I was terrified and clueless about where I was going other than to the ‘centro,’ the center of the city. Miraculously, the Colosseum appeared in front of me. That was ‘centro’ and near the hotel where I was booked.”
The adventuresome vagabond was amazed to find a parking spot in the bustling cityscape — and luck was on her side.
“And what should I find almost in front of me? My hotel!” Neely marvels. “I jauntily approached the reception desk. Everything was going my way.”
Not so fast. Neely hit an unexpected speed bump — but one doesn’t make their way around the world without mastering the art of compromise and learning to go with the flow. Neely found out her reservation wasn’t until the next day and there was no room at the inn.
Employing her laid-back philosophy, “Instead of panicking, I strolled around nearby streets, enjoying a gelato and hoping that a room would become available,” she continues.
As she meandered, a boutique specializing in unique jewelry designed around archaeological stones and coins caught her eye. She fell in amore.
Franci Neely makes it a habit to travel lightly and stock up on meaningful souvenir accessories during her many sojourns. While she has a notable hat collection foraged from far-flung realms, she’s also fond of picking up jewelry from area artisans.
“There [are] some interesting clothes and accessories that you can find that will remind you of your trip,” she recommends. “Take less than you think that you need to.”
Little did Neely know, designer baubles created by an artisan named Pepe weren’t the only treasure she uncovered in that chic shop. While John, the proprietor, was wrapping her purchases, he asked where she was staying in the Eternal City.
“When I told him about the booking mishap, John said with finality, ‘Don’t think another thing about it. You’re staying with me and Pepe.’ And I did.”
A Room With a View
Neely could never have expected a day that started with mishaps and missed cues would end with her gazing at the Colosseum from her guest room window. The Colosseum isn’t only the largest ancient amphitheater ever built, but it’s still the largest standing amphitheater today. Despite damage from earthquakes and stone robbers, it continues to be a top attraction for Rome. It’s one of the New Seven Wonders of the World alongside the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Taj Mahal in India, and “Christ the Redeemer” in Brazil.
“My room overlooked the Colosseum. How about that for a room with an incomparable view? Over the next several days, John and Pepe showed me the town, including the impressive Villa Giulia, commissioned by Pope Julius III in 1551-1553 and now housing a magnificent Etruscan art collection,” Neely describes. “This explains why Italy is one of my favorite countries in the world: It showers good fortune on me.”
Benvenuto a Roma
The well-dressed travel buff also appreciates partaking in the local cuisine wherever she journeys — and where better to do so than in the Italian metropolis? “Go and explore and find things that you might not have otherwise found,” she advises.
For those seeking an Italian getaway, venerable travel guide Frommer recommends booking from April to June and mid-September to October instead of August, when temperatures are higher and many Italians take their vacations.
And while in Italy, consider other stunning locales. Florence is beloved for cultural icons like the Uffizi Gallery, a world-class art museum overflowing with 300,000 paintings and sculptures by Sandro Botticelli, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Caravaggio. Bologna is also a head-turner, thanks to its picturesque Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca nestled in the hills of the northern Italian burg. Stroll along the ancient Via Clavature, a road that dates back to 1377. There, savor the historic Mercato di Mezzo, a popular covered market, or sample some fresh charcuterie at Osteria Broccaindosso nearby. Then it’s off to Turin for some of the most decadent chocolate on Earth and a jaunt through the National Museum of Cinema and the Museo Nazionale della’Automobile, the national automobile museum near the spot where Fiat, the famed Italian motor brand, originated.
No matter where one roams in the boot-shaped nation, there will be delights to enhance all the senses. But for Franci Neely, the primary reason she returns time and time again is la gente.
Franci Neely admits the Italian people are why she will never say “arrivederci Roma.”