Bella Italia 2007: A Self Defining Trip of a Life Time... Part I of II
by Liza A. Desir

Italy or Bust! Fleace Weaver, has successfully completed Bella Italia, the 2nd annual all women's international trip to Italy. That's right! 53 beautiful, vivacious, African-American women from across the country had the opportunity of a lifetime to tour the southern-most region of Italy in 10 days. Destinations included: Rome, Naples, Pompeii, the Island of Capri along with Catania and Taormina in Sicily. Don't forget to view the pictures and video link at the end of this article.

For two years in a row, Ms. Weaver produced an exciting traveling sisterhood for women of color. The annual international tour was complete with private motor coach transportation between destinations, an Italian and English-speaking tour guide, city tours along with nightly mixers and parties.

This is the first of two articles about our 2007 Italian get-way. Please note that to protect the identity of the innocent (and not so innocent), all ladies will be referred to as "Bella" or in some cases Bella "nick name", which some of our ladies inherited over the trip duration. All opinions here in are strictly those of the author with some quotes from the Bellas. So sit back... relax... and prepare to re-live our Italy experience!

Italy is a place that many people only dream of visiting. But for 53 beautiful sistahs, it became a reality! The ladies ranging in age, background and profession, decided to "try something different" and treat themselves to a sisterhood journey full of rich history, food, fashion and wonderment.

Prior to departing the United States, Bella Fleace' ensured that all of us were well prepared by distributing weekly travel tips from international travel luggage requirements to local customs and traditions practiced in Italy.

A week before our departure to Italy, hosted a Bella Italia Bon Voyage party for the Los Angeles based ladies. We were greeted at the door with flowers for our hair. LA's finest was there to help us celebrate our departure. As the night progressed, we sang Dean Martin's, "That's Amore" with wine glasses raised in the air and swaying from side to side. There was even a Mambo Italiana contest! One of the ladies met a handsome Italian visiting the states from Naples. He even asked her to meet him for a date when she arrived in Naples. Already we feel the love of Italy... As the official Bella Italia t-shirt states ... I love Italy and Italy Loves me! Five days until departure and counting down. Ready or not Italy, here we come!

Departure day had finally arrived. Everyone was filled with excitement and anticipation as we proceeded through airport security. The ladies dressed comfortably but cute, as made apparent by the flirtatious comments received from the baggage claim clerks and at the security check points. (Sorry fellas...see you in ten days!). It was definitely a good way to start our Italian get-away.

After hours of laughter on the plane, we settled in for our overnight flight to Rome. Ahhh...we are awaken from our deep sleep by the sweet smell of buttery croissants and the early rising sun shining through the cabin windows. Finally! Touch down.

With a 9 hour time difference between Rome and Los Angeles, we are trying to orient to the new time zone while grabbing our bags to leave the airport. Immediately, we are receiving stares and compliments by on-lookers. So is the rumor true? Do Italian men really love black women? After reading these articles... you judge for yourself.

After a long day of traveling, the ladies were now able to unwind, meet the ladies from other cities, and enjoy our first meal in Rome. At our welcome/orientation lunch, Bella Fleace' explained our daily schedule. (Wow!... when are we scheduled to sleep?!?). After lunch, some of the Bellas went back to the hotel to relax, others decided to take the subway to shop and see sights like "Piazza di Spagna" (Spanish Steps) and Trevi Fountain.

As the sun began to set, the city began to glow. The street lamps that lined the walkways and fountains were now lit just bright enough to feel a hint of romance in the air. The street vendors paraded buckets of fresh flowers and showcased huge, sweet-smelling fruit stands that passerby's could not resist. A couple of the Bellas met Mellisa, a sistah from the states, now living in Italy, who shared a beautiful love story about how she met her Italian husband. "She was fantastic! Her story of meeting her husband was a fantasy come true", boasted one of the Bellas. It was also exciting to hear that Mellisa had heard about the tour all the way in Italy prior to our arrival. How cool was that!

That evening the ladies had a chance to mix and mingle and get to know each other more on a personal level over a few bottles... I mean... over a few "glasses" of wine (wink). The night was still young and some of us decided to roam the streets of Rome. Get it? ...roam Rome? Ok, never mind. Some of the ladies stayed behind to have an illustrious discussion on love and relationships, two of the Bellas went out to scout for parties with an Italian that one of them met from the previous year. Others went to a local bar called Benitos. At Benitos, one of the ladies had a blast celebrating her birthday "BIG" with Italian men that catered to her every need. Another Bella met a handsome motorcyclist, who gave her a quick spin around the city on the back of his Vespa while enjoying the moonlit city. Only our first day in Rome and already we're receiving lots of love from the locals.

It's Day 2 and today we go on our Vespa tour. We turn the corner of our hotel and lined down both sides of the street were 53 handsome Italian men on scooters. Each Bella was able to pick her driver. It was like picking candy from a candy store... they were all just so delectable! After getting paired up with our drivers, we were off to the center of Rome. We were 53 sistahs parading around the city on scooters being admired by all. It was marvelous! Although we were the tourists, we felt like celebrities since the locals stopped to stare and take pictures. We were definitely a sight to see.

After the Vespa tour, we enjoyed a free day exploring and shopping in Rome. Later that evening, we were off to the famous Supper Club restaurant/nightclub. This place was incredibly laid out with multiple rooms. The main room had two floors where the above floor overlooked the bottom floor with a D.J. spinning eclectic sounds. Each floor was lined with huge elegant mattresses dressed in all white with over-sized pillows. The atmosphere was relaxed with a mellow vibe... That is of course until we made our grand entrance! As our beautiful Bellas entered the room, we noticed that the Italian women that were there began to hold their men a little tighter. One black woman, who we believe lives in Rome, walked in with her Italian boyfriend, she looked around (as he also looked around), saw all the sisthas in the house and immediately grabbed him by the arm and left. All we saw were vapors where they had been standing. Hilarious! The club atmosphere was sleek and the music was hot! As the evening progressed, the crowd got loose and yes, the Bellas took over the joint! We started the electric-slide and after teaching the locals a few lessons (and having our toes stepped on) the entire club electric-slided the night away. It was a fun night.

It is now Day 3. Today we are scheduled to tour the Vatican. At 8:00 a.m. SHARP the bus left from the hotel for the Vatican. Bella "5 Euro" (because she always wanted 5 Euros if you asked her for anything...) and a few other Bellas, overslept and had to find their own way to the Vatican. Just as a side note... If you were not on time per the schedule, do not expect the bus or the tour to wait! As some of the Bellas found out along the 10 day trip, "Ms. Weaver don't play!"

While waiting in line to enter the Vatican, there were two solicitors selling beautiful scarves. Apparently, if caught selling without a license, it is a 10,000 Euro fine. That is a whopping $14,200 US Dollars. Wow! Some of the ladies did of course decide to buy scarves. All of a sudden... a pursuit was in motion! The female solicitor is now being chased across the street by a member of the Vatican police.

Now, to allow the reader to get the full affect, the female officer was a bit on the stouter side. Out of nowhere, she starts chasing this tiny (and fast) woman across the street with brute force. After about 10 paces however, she runs out of breath and stops immediately while the solicitor disappears out of sight. Witnessing this in person was just hilarious! Apparently, the female solicitor was in mid transaction before being chased off the property. Where was the other solicitor you ask? Well... he stuffed his goods in a bag and blended in with us like he was a tourist. Of course, not wanting our shopping interrupted, some of the ladies blocked him from view of the authority. So, I suppose that you can say that we were somewhat harboring a fugitive. Not less than 5 minutes later, the female solicitor reappears and without skipping a beat, she continued on with her transaction from where she last left off; remembering who still owed her 10 Euros. Too funny!

Doors are now open and we are on our way to witness the splendor of the Vatican City. We are greeted by our tour guide, the fabulous Valentina (or Valenteee-NA! as she pronounces it). She is fierce and unrelenting in showing her authority around the Vatican. A history enthusiast, Valentina is well known and respected by Vatican personnel and also known not to be played with. Where ever she went, it was like watching Moses parting the Red Sea. Everyone, including other tour guides AND the Vatican police got out of her way.

The Vatican church has the largest collection of fine art in the world. While exploring its grounds, we were overwhelmed by the masses of marble floors, decadent architecture and ornate walls with "real" gold trimming. The ladies also came across a bath of "holy water" that was blessed by Pope Benedict XVI. Although most were not catholic, we did reach out to touch the water with our fingers and made the sign of the cross. Words cannot explain the feelings of witnessing history in the present.

We also visited the Sistine Chapel, home of the famous frescoes created by Michelangelo. All who entered the chapel were asked to be silent as they took in the depths of being surrounded by frescoes. "It was somewhat of an effervescent spiritual experience," exclaimed one of the ladies. The most famous of them all is the "Creation of Adam" that adorns the center of the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. Just breathtaking!

Again, wherever we went, the Bellas were sure to draw attention. One gentleman asked where we were from. When the response was, "The U.S.",... he gleefully looked up to the skies and blew a kiss and said, "I thank the heavens for these lovely ladies." How sweet! After our half day tour, it is back to the hotel for a nap before dinner and big party at La Maison.

Its 9:00 p.m. and the bellas enter the hotel lobby dressed to kill! Hair, makeup and outfits; everything is on point! Dinner which was arranged by Bella Gioia who currently living in Europe, was at an elegant restaurant with seductive undertones called "ReD". The restaurant is lavish with red walls, decadent art and areas that were dimly lit to give a sense of allure. As we were seated, the ladies are greeted by dashing Italian men whom accompanied us for dinner. Bella Fleace' looked dynamite in her gold, sequenced dress. She gave a warm heart-felt thank you to the ladies for joining the tour. We were served a delicious three-course meal complete with dessert and wine. Each table was filled with conversation and laughter as the ladies enjoyed the attention and company of our male guests.

It's getting late (still early by Italian standards)! By 12:30 A.M. we board our bus and head to La Maison "the premiere club in Rome" to make our grand entrance. The clubs in Rome are known to open at midnight, and don't get "hyped" until well past 1:00 am. Once we arrived, we de-boarded the bus and walked to a magnificent bridge lined with beautiful angel statues next to Castel Sant Angelo, a huge castle/fortress like structure. Cool! The summer location for La Maison is at the base of the bridge. Because Rome is extremely hot during the summer and air conditioning is very expensive, most night clubs have summer locations that are outdoors. La Maison is packed and the ladies are ecstatic to get their groove on under the stars. We would like to thank Cami and Jobe at BLACKSOLO for making the arrangments.

Once in the club, the ladies took to the dance floor where we were instantly bombarded by Italian men. One Bella (dubbed Bella U.N.I.T.Y... I'll explain in the next article), was dancing on stage when she noticed a smile from the crowd below. As they touched hands, eyes were instantly locked as she pulled him onto the stage from the crowd. It was a match made in heaven. They danced, and talked the night away. Although his appearance looked Italian, he turned out to be Hispanic from San Diego. But that is ok; this Bella had the time of her life that evening. Another Bella (dubbed Corona Extra, again you will just have to read the next article to find out why) was whisked off her feet with a kiss from a charming and very attractive Italian. And yet another Bella, who met a fine (did I say fine?...sorry I meant...FINE!) Italian beau the previous night at the Supper Club, was spotted on the dance floor partying with him until club closing.

As some of us were leaving the club to hail a cab back to the hotel, we were encountered by two Hummers. Three Italian men in suits got out of the vehicle to greet us. The leader of this mysterious group, (only because he did all the talking), was a tall and broad shouldered gentleman. The other two just simply regressed behind him. The main gentleman was very suave and articulate in his speech. He suggested we should accompany him to the party at La Maison. However, the spokesperson for our group, (Bella U.N.I.T.Y), cunningly told him that, "the party was over as soon as we left." He then offered us a ride back to our hotel, but Bella U.N.I.T.Y was not having that! He then offered to have his driver drop him and his men off at La Maison and then return to take us back to our hotel. "You have my word as a man" he uttered to Bella U.N.I.T.Y.

So Hmm let's recap. These men were driving not one... but TWO H2 Hummers in Rome, Italy... where gas prices are about $6 per gallon, forcing most people to either ride a scooter or drive an tiny economical car. The men were all dressed in fine Italian suits and Italian shoes complete with dark glasses. And typically, when an entire crew would try to "holla", in this scenario, only one person did the talking while to others just waited in silence. Do you smell Mafioso?

After hailing a taxi and still joking about the possible Mafia, one of the Bellas, (still giggling about what had just transpired), turned to the cab driver and pointed to the Hummers as they pulled away and asked, "Was that really the Mafia?" The driver said "YES" while he solemnly turned to her shaking his head in confirmation. All of our jaws instantly dropped in disbelief. Was he serious or just pulling our "American leg"... we will never know for sure. As we are departing La Maison to head back to the hotel, we are joined by another Bella that was romantically whisked away on the back of a scooter with her hair flowing in the wind as she followed the cab back to the hotel. The party at La Maison was definitely a memory that we will never forget as being part of our last night in Rome.

Its 8:00 a.m. on day 4 and our private motor coach is waiting, next destination... Naples!

This concludes Part I. But don't go too far; this is only half the story of our Italy trip. Stay tune for more love stories and wicked fun in the next Bella Italia 2007 Part II. A Self defining trip of a life time!

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