Traveling in Italy really is a different experience than traveling in other regions of Europe; an accepted fact among the traveling élite that I didn’t really buy into until now. I have toured the Colosseum and eaten gelato in Lake Garda, but I really hadn’t experienced Italy until we traveled to Cinque Terre. And it would eye-rollingly nauseating to talk to anyone who had had a unique Italian experience. It didn’t matter where else we had seen or experienced in Europe, the conversation would go:
“So then we got to go through these gigantic golden gates of the palace of the King of Belgium…”
“Oh, I’ve never seen anything as gold as these AMAZING sunsets in Italy. There’s absolutely nothing like sipping authentic Italian wine and watching the sunset…”
(To myself) “Then MOVE there immediately after this conversation!”
But now I get it …and feel free to roll your eyes at me while I explain. What makes this a unique experience is the Italian community’s absolute refusal to Westernize in many of the other ways the rest of Europe has. To explore rural Italy, you have to obey the Italian rules. Some of the best restaurants do not have the option to make reservations online, that awesome kayaking rental doesn’t have a number to call about the hours and expecting Wifi in a coffee shop is almost absurd. It’s not an Italian priority to cater to the tourist; Italy’s famed food, wine and beaches will continue to bring people whether or not the gelateria is listed on Yelp.
So to enjoy Italy, we had to be subservient to these truths and stop trying to make Italy accommodate for us. And when we were able to do this, it opened a door to experiencing this country in ways we hadn’t felt before. You don’t just see the sights, try the food and take dozens of selfies in Cinque Terre; you try on the Italian persona. To travel in Italy, you have to pack your Italian personality. This person is calmer, walks slower, drives crazier but laughs harder. This person takes more than 15 minute to eat dinner and drinks better (and more) wine. This person can see the beauty and want to stop to enjoy it, not stop to pose and hold up a phone. This person gets Italy.
It’s okay that this is not the person who sticks around after returning home. It’s even okay if this isn’t the person who wakes up in the car after the first 4 hours of the trip back. It’s more important that this person still exists within us and that we have the ability to pull them out and try them on for a holiday. While it’s an Italian fact that the seafood, olives, wine and pasta is all the best in Italy, I don’t think it’s any of these or the sights that make Italy unique (I may be lynched for writing this as I sit in a little nook of a café overlooking the Mediterranean eating amazing olives and drinking superb wine). Italy is an experience, not simply a county, that demands you to surrender your nerves and schedule to follow the sleepy rhythm of the Italian dance. And dance I will.