The day before hubby and I left for Italy, I was ripping out pages from one of Rick Steves’ travel books. It was the one about Florence and Tuscany, the land of Chianti, gelato and beautiful churches. I wasn’t going to throw the book in the trash mind you … just tape parts of certain pages in a little spiral notebook I would carry for eight days through Florence, Verona, Venice and the Dolomite Mountains. His books have great little maps of foreign towns, historical sites, museums and the “scoop” on the best gelato locations. Just the kind of information you want close at hand while strollin’ the streets of Florence trying not to get lost (we did anyway) on our way to see Michelangelo’s David. Rick Steves’ is probably the most famous for his PBS travel show. Next to two of my world-traveled children, the dude has been my greatest influence when it comes to traveling abroad. And his travel books are the best! Rick makes it look so simple you can’t help but utter under your breath, “I could do that.” And you really can. Hubby and I are a testament to clueless American gringos traveling in a strange land with a very limited Italian vocabulary. Basically, we decided all you really need to know is how to order bottled water (“acqua” no bubbles), as opposed to their other choice, yucky mineral water, and your top 10 gelato flavors. And as long as you have one good pointy finger, you are good to go with the gelato ordering. That would be pistachio, the green stuff, for hubby, and cioccatato, or chocolate, for me. Not to say we didn’t have our challenges. I think besides the rock-hard hotel mattresses, the trains gave us a couple of Advil headaches, although they are the absolute best way to travel. We got pretty savvy at purchasing our train tickets from the kiosks in the station. I mean … how hard is it to push a few little buttons and have a ticket spit out … right? I think it was traveling from Florence to Verona that a conductor came by our seats and asked to see our tickets. It wasn’t until after he scribbled all over them in red ink and mumbled something that sounded a lot like “stupido Americano” that the light bulb went off. We had forgotten to validate our tickets in the station’s yellow box before getting on the train. Never made that bloody boo-boo again. We moved on to much bigger ones … akin to perhaps a dislocated shoulder. In the middle of our amazing Italian adventure, we traveled from Verona to Venice on a day trip. I love Venice. It wasn’t until the stop for Vicenza was announced that I whispered to hubby, “I think that was our stop, but no one is getting off.” Something akin to beads of sweat appeared on our foreheads. It was then hubby realized we had not paid to go all the way through to Venezia (Italian for Venice) but to Vicenza. Too many towns with “V’s” if you ask me. Honest mistake, but we feared when the conductor came by being called a “stupido Americano” would be the least of our worries. Fortunately he didn’t … and we just got off in Venice, the amazing city that looks like it floats on water. Looking on the bright side, I think that mistake saved us 19 Euros. One day we even rented a car to drive into the Dolomite Mountains. We were visiting the sculptor who is carving some amazing art pieces for our church. He lives in a little village near the Italian/Austrian border. The village looks just like a picture postcard of a Swiss hamlet with immaculate chalets. Did I mention we named our GPS guide “Maria?” It was on our way back to Verona that Maria introduced us to roundabouts. Not sure how to describe these traffic nightmares, but it is a big traffic circle with lots of exits off it. “Enter the roundabout and take the fourth exit,” Maria calmly announced. Now clearly Maria did not indicate what the actual exit sign might have printed on it. So that would mean the navigator would have to accurately count. Anyway, I think we went too fast, lost count, and just randomly exited instead of going around again. We did that a lot. Not just in that roundabout. I’d say probably about seven more times before we slowed down and went around a couple of times before exiting. Basically, the meltdown started when we were both got tired of Maria saying “recalculating.” We changed her name to “Mud.” I think we finally got back to our hotel about five hours later than planned and just melted like warm cioccatato gelato into a little puddle on our hotel room floor. I am seriously going to write Rick Steves and recommend he should probably write a whole chapter about “roundabouts.” I think his travelers should be adequately educated before they perform the gelato meltdown. Dixie Frantz is a long-time Kingwood resident and newspaper columnist since 1996. E-mail Dixie with your comments at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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