Discovering Italy…With My Dominion Energy Work Buds!
by Cora Argotti
Anyone who knows me well knows that I cherish my Italian roots. Growing up next door to my Italian grandparents in Pittsburgh gave me a lifelong love for all things Italian—especially the homemade foods and wine that graced our table.
So when my long-time friend and Media Relations colleague Daisy Pridgen said she was considering a group tour of Italy, I jumped at the chance to go along. While I had always wanted to visit Italy, I’d never dreamed of going with a formal tour group or a coworker.
As it turns out, two other colleagues, Cindy Balderson and Anita Powell, wanted to join our adventure. So our Dominion Energy “girls’ trip” was born, along with a few ground rules to make it work.
Our first golden rule was to try our best to leave our work and “shop talk” at home so we could really enjoy our adventure. We also decided to book separate rooms so we wouldn’t be together 24/7. And while we didn’t expect any wild antics, we joked, “What happens in Italy stays in ltaly!”
We signed up for a two-week private tour of about 38 travelers that included another Dominion Energy friend and coworker, Charlie Donato, and his wife, Martha. They had taken the same tour in the past and gave us some great advice on what to expect.
By the time we set off in June, we were packed and primed to explore the beautiful sights, sounds and tastes of Italy.
Graced with sunny skies, our first stop was the Northern region, where we experienced a fantastic introduction to the local pasta, pizza and charming streets of Verona. While Daisy declared that this would be her favorite place in Italy, it was only the beginning!
Next, we were treated to a relaxing boat tour of Lake Garda with stunning views of the Alps. Then on to Venice, where we enjoyed boating, walking and glass-making tours, topped off with an unforgettable serenade by an opera singer on a gondola ride—Bellísimo!
Next, our tour bus wound its way to the picturesque Western town of Portovenere with panoramic views of the Italian coastline at every turn. We were ferried to the colorful seaside villages of Cinque Terre (Five Lands), explored ancient ruins and sweeping vistas, took a dip (some of us) in the frigid Mediterranean, and sampled delicious pesto dishes chased with locally made white wine.
Next stop was bucolic Tuscany, where we visited gorgeous hilltop towns and sampled at least five (I lost count) luscious wines at the scenic Castello D’Albola winery in Chianti. We also toured Sienna, where we learned how the ancient Etruscans accidentally discovered wine, and experienced the beautiful artwork, architecture and world-class shopping of Florence.
While Italy was more beautiful and interesting than I had ever imagined, it was definitely a challenge to keep up with all of the talking, eating and walking (5 to 8 miles a day)! There were times when I craved nothing more than a simple bowl of oatmeal or a quiet hour to read or sleep (which still wasn’t coming easily). It was great to have my work friends there to help navigate new surroundings, find the best shopping bargains, share pictures or just enjoy each day.
Together, we learned that a five-course dinner in Italy can stretch on so long it could be tempting just to doze off at the table. We also learned to sit at the front of the bus to avoid nausea; how to master the weird nuances of Italian plumbing; that “Mama Mia” is a safe substitute for swearing; how to spot the best gelato places; and how to decline food politely when you couldn’t possibly eat one more bite!
We also gained perspective on the history and culture of the Italian people, and we learned how centuries of war and upheaval literally shaped their lives and towns—built on hilltops within fortress walls hundreds of years old.
We tried our best to fully experience Italian life, whether that meant attending Mass at an ancient seaside church or tasting mountain snails in tomato sauce. We learned that Italy has many hills but few elevators—so it pays to always wear comfortable shoes and be ready for a climb. We also discovered that Italy has a treasure-trove of wonderful places to visit and passionate people who care deeply about preserving their history and way of life.
By the time we reached our final destination in the mountains near Rome, our tour bus was filled with happy, tired travelers and newly made friends. After a much-needed day by the pool, we conquered Rome (in a day) and visited beautiful mountaintop towns where time seemed to stand still. We also were treated to a final magnificent feast (with wine and lively dancing!) by our host’s Italian family at their mountainside farm.
After fourteen memorable days, it was time to re-stuff our luggage with souvenirs and head back to our loved ones in the states.
All in all, I had a great time exploring Italy and came away with a much better sense for the culture and history of the hard-working and creative Italian people. I am so grateful that I took a chance to travel with my Dominion Energy buddies. Because of them, I will always be able to treasure my Italian adventure.
An entourage explores Verona. From left, Anita Powell, Cindy Balderson, Daisy Pridgen, Cora Argotti and Charlie Donato.
The group cools off with gelato in sun-baked Cinque Terre.