December 2013: Italy
Escape Monthly is a vacation-themed subscription box. Each month, one subscriber is randomly chosen to "win" a trip to the themed location! The subscription rate is $49.95 a month, but if you use the coupon code "YOURESCAPE" your subscription will be 20% off each month.
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This month Escape introduces its first international vacation with a "trip" to Italy. A small part of me is disappointed - Italy is such a beautiful and diverse country that I wish the box focused on a specific city, like "Rome" or "Florence" or "Venice" - but Italy is also one of my favorite countries, and I can't wait to see what will be included in the box. When I visited Florence a few years ago, I loved the exquisite soaps created at the Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella and exotic gelato flavors like sesame, rose and rice. I know that there won't be gelato in the box, but I hope something tasty will remind me of my time in Tuscany. Plus, I'd love some sort of little trinket - it could be a cheap keychain or even a magnet! - that reminds me of all that great Italian art and history.
Now, as you may remember from my previous posts, Escape Monthly lists a retail price for each item in the box, which initially seems great - but my personal research has often turned up very different numbers. To simplify things, I'm going to use the following system: Escape Monthly's price will be listed first, in italics, followed by my price in bold.
Moon Handbooks: Living Abroad in Italy: This is a different sort of travel book from the ones that have been in previous boxes. Rather than covering the major tourist sites and how to plan for a short visit, this book is geared more toward actually moving to Italy and figuring out how to rent and buy homes, cultural adaptation to a foreign country, and planning fact-finding trips. Moving to Italy is little more than a dream for me, so part of my really wishes this had been a more traditional travel guide. $19.95 / $19.99
Province of Terni, Umbria: Atmospheres & Characters: This book was not listed in the travel brochure, but it looks like it might be one of the freebie guidebooks that you can often get at travel agencies to help promote a particular area or trip. Given that the book was published by the Province of Terni, I'm not going to assign it a dollar value because I suspect the tourism bureau gave them to Escape Monthly for free. But for what it's worth, the short descriptions of the towns of Terni and the photographs in the book definitely make me want to visit this region of Italy next time I go there!
Rigoni di Asiago Nocciolata - Organic Hazelnut Spread - Organic Nutella? Sign me up! One of the things that I loved about Italy was that hazelnut was such a common flavor, rather like peanut butter is all over the place in the United States. I'm super excited about this jar, and I look forward to eating it on toast once I finish my current jar of hazelnut spread. $8.35/ $6.09
Isiciliami Passione Paticcera Mennula Traditional Almond Paste Cookies - Each of the cookies is individually wrapped for maximum freshness. The almond paste cookies are almost too sweet, since they have a strong almond flavor and are dusted with sugar, too. You really need something bitter, like coffee, to counterbalance it. I couldn't find a place in North America that sold these online, but the manufacturer's website lists the price for this package of cookies as 2.99 euros. That translates to roughly $4.15. But I don't know what the price would be with shipping and any import fees tacked on. $9.00 / $4.15
Mug O' Love Hot Cocoa - When I saw this hot chocolate packet, my first thought was "What the heck does this have to do with Italy?" As it turns out, nothing. When I e-mailed customer service, they told me that the hot chocolate packet was a substitute for the Perugina Baci chocolate that was meant to be in the box. An American hot chocolate is not the same as a "rich dark chocolate and carefully-chopped hazelnuts" truffle! I was very disappointed. Escape Monthly could have least included a notice in the box to explain the substitution instead of leaving me to figure it out on my own. No idea how to value this one, so I'm just going to mark it -$2.00 since that was the supposed retail value of the missing truffles. $2.00 / -$2.00
Castelvetrano Olives - Olives, huh? I was honestly quite surprised to see these. I've never actually eaten an olive before (those thin black slices on pizzas don't count) so I didn't know what to expect as I bit down on one of these green balls. It's extremely salty, a little buttery. At first I thought the olives too briny for my tastes, but they quickly grew on me. Escape Monthly values these at $9.00, but a quarter pound of these olives from Olio&Olive would only cost about $2.15. $9.00 / $2.15
La Civetta Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Olive oil is the only kind of oil I use for cooking - not out of snobbery, it's just the only oil I keep around the house! This little 60ml bottle will be used up pretty quickly. $2.50 / $2.50
Skin & Co. Roma Truffle Body Gel - Ah, truffles. Truffles definitely make me think of Italian and French cuisine. I had the most delicious truffle ravioli at a cafe in Florence... But even though I've always associated truffles with food, I have to admit, this shower gel smells pretty good. Does it really have anti-aging properties, I wonder? $11.00 / $9.00
Skin & Co. Truffle Body Milk - Body lotion in the same fragrance as the shower gel. I'm into it! $11.00 / $11.00
Well, if I'm completely honest, I found this box rather disappointing. The items in the box never really came together to form a complete portrait of Italy. It's such a large and diverse culture - Northern and Southern Italy have completely different cuisines - that I don't think a few randomly selected foods can capture it. Plus, a huge part of visiting Italy is its culture and history - this is the land of Romans and the Renaissance! There's absolutely nothing alluding to that glorious history in the box, so it doesn't feel like a complete "vacation".
When it comes to assigning a value to the box, I found this month's Escape to be especially challenging because one of the items I was supposed to have was missing, and some of the items didn't have a source so I couldn't be certain of how much it would cost to have that item brought to the US. But based on my experience with the box, I think that Escape's estimate of $72.80 is extremely generous. My own calculations (and my deduction for the missing truffle) give this a value of only $54.88, although that doesn't include the bonus Terni guidebook. There's definitely some good stuff here, but I don't think it was the best representation of Italy's awesomeness.
Next month: Colorado!