Nine things Italy has taught me (so far).

1.  The best places to eat are not found in guidebooks, but on side streets.

2.  While it may require waking up at 7AM on a Saturday, 3 buses, 1 train, and a near-death experience, you will be rewarded for seeking the road less-traveled.

3.  Forget foams, gelees, and canned soups that are made to fit in your car's cup-holder.  There is nothing more satisfying, for both the stomach and the soul, than a heaping bowl of lovingly hand-made pasta.

4.  Fruits and vegetables here are 56824 times better than in the U.S.  Case in point: luscious, deep red strawberries and tomatoes everywhere I look.

5.  No matter how much you plan or despite what the schedule says, there are no guarantees-- you are on Italy time.  That bus driver will come when he feels like it.  My best advice?  Take a deep breath, smile, and go with the flow.  Welcome to Italia.

6.  Gelato should be a food group.

7.  Menus are overrated.  You know you've found a hidden gem when you can count the number of dishes a trattoria/osteria/ristorante offers on one hand because those are the foods that they have and are fresh that day.

8.  When you are too overwhelmed by the options and you can't decide what to get, get one of everything and share it.

9.  And food inevitably tastes better when shared with others.