As we have said here before, and as many other tourist also note, the best places in a foreign country are away from other tourist. So while Venice was stunning, fighting the crowds didn't give you a real feel for the place as it was used by local people. The best things I enjoyed in Italy so far have been on the road and in the small markets of local towns. The two things that Italians love and are truly great at is driving fast and arguing with their hands.
In the local stores there is always a semi-argument happening with loud voices and gesturing - half the time jokingly, half the time in some minor dispute, or an aggressive inquiry that escalates. And whatever you do, do not challenge the middle-aged Italian women jockeying for goods or places in line. They are tough.
And as for the driving? Mama Mia! I would honestly say that they put everyone, including the Germans, to shame. And speaking of Germans, overall, I think southern Germany and Northern Italy must be the driving epi-center of the world. Between the two countries they have the hottest cars, most challenging roads, and the most fearless and skilled drivers.
So why do I think Italy is the best? Simple answer - guardrails.
The Italian highways that curve through the northern mountains (and over huge and steep gorges) also have no speed-limit (like Germany), but do have the most sturdy, triple-tiered guard rails I have ever seen - they must prevent the Alpha Romeo's from going over the edge when scraped at 180 kph.
Oh, that and how the Italians dominate Superbike and MotoGP motorcycle racing as well as F-1 motorsports. Race car drivers and motorcycle riders are legends here and are equal to soccer players. They dominate the sports page and the endorsement industries. Driving fast is in the Italian blood, be it in a car or on a bike, and it was very impressive.
And on a related note, when we were driving through Bologna, Suzanne told me the Ducati motorcycle offices and factory were there. So like many of our "almost" experiences, I tried to get in, but the morning tours were sold out and I didn't want to wait around for 5 hours for the afternoon tours to open up. Plus, the company store was closed on Mondays - double bummer. But, just standing by their hallowed ground and talking with bikers from all over the world waiting in line gave me the chills. Man, I do love motorcycles - and even though I've never owned a Ducati, I can tell you when one is approaching two blocks away - their sound is as unique as a Harley's.
And speaking of fun while driving, we did enjoy the occasional espresso and cappuccino at various gas stations and rest stops in Italy; all with NASA-looking laVasa espresso machine's and barrista's that put Starbucks to shame. Mmmmm...we're going to miss Italian coffee standing at a gas station.
P.S. Oh and scooters? More then Buenos Aires and with less people on them than India (where 3-4 people to a scooter was not uncommon). So many here in Italy and all going so fast. They love their Vespa's and it is a nutty and aggressive mode of transportation for all ages and both genders. A lot of those ladies arguing in the supermarkets leave on scooters. :D