Disclaimer: This is not a soapbox post
2020 is a year most of us would like to forget. However, a year of involuntary isolation has brought some much-needed truths to light that we should not forget. Related to travel – I have had three very strong, very contradictory, takeaways…
- I value my freedom and privilege to travel the world more than ever.
- Mass tourism was in fact a smothering hug, that was suffocating the places we love so much. (Although dolphins did not magically “return” to the Venetian lagoons)
- Many people and economies rely on mass tourism to survive.
Ugh – so what do we do with that? We resume travel (once vaccinated of course), but this time, we do it better. We travel in a way that is not only respectful of the places we visit, but results in more authentic and fulfilling experiences for ourselves. I said this was not a soapbox – and it’s not. Rather, it is my curated list of Italian to do’s for 2021, all keeping in mind activities that preserve the country I love more than anything on the planet, and support the culture, traditions, and people that allow me to enjoy it.
Take a night tour of the Loggia dei Lanzi and Uffizi Corridor
Have you ever tried to traverse Piazza della Signoria at noon in July? Did you enjoy it? Unless you are a career pick pocketer the answer is probably “no.” To see throngs of tourists packed into tight, ancient, delicate world heritage sights is to understand why mass tourism is damaging to the places we treasure most. To better enjoy my time in the center and reduce foot traffic, I personally opt for evening strolls. The temperatures are cooler and crowds have magically disappeared. The Loggia dei Lanzi, in particular, is basically a shadow box of fine art, accessible to all. So if you’ve ever wanted to break into a museum at night without actually breaking in or stealing anything – the Loggia dei Lanzi at 10 PM will absolutely scratch that itch.
Have a piazza panino picnic in Bologna
Emilia Romana is the land of meats and cheeses, and Bologna is at its heart. It is simply a sin to visit the region and eat a frozen pizza from a tourist trap restaurant. Rather, find an establishment that sources from the local farmers of the region. This year, I am fantasizing about a mortadella and provolone sandwich from a local deli, such as Pigro Mortadelleria, finding myself a comfortable step in the Piazza Maggiore, and catching up on some long-overdue people watching.
Spend the night in a Puglian convent
While hubs such as Florence and Rome attract tourists for a reason, there is so much to discover in less-frequented regions such as Puglia. Among my many canceled plans to Italy this past year was a stay in the Convento di Santa Maria di Constantonopoli, planned by my friend Meg, who has a nose for the best spots off of any beaten path. In fact, it is so off the beaten path that this trendy, repurposed, convent doesn’t even have a website, cell service or internet. Sold.
Watch the sun set over the Roman Forum
Man, do I love a good cityscape, and while Rome offers many terrazze with sweeping views, the Belvedere di Via Monte Tarpeo quite literally will plop you into a postcard. This is my favorite perch to watch the sun set in Rome. It is also my favorite means to view the Roman Forum without actually trampling on the ruins or elbowing through large tour groups.
Plow through a plate of pici in Cortona
What’s better than spaghetti? Thick, Tuscan spaghetti, topped with cheese and prosciutto. That is exactly what I plan to indulge in at the local Trattoria La Grotta in Cortona – a restaurant introduced to me years ago by one of my nearest and dearest friends and Cortona-phile, Shannon. If 2021 goes according to plan, hopefully I’ll be enjoying my pici and this picturesque Tuscan hill town with her.
Restock on Aqua Flor
Shopping as a social responsibility?? Twist my arm! It’s no secret that local businesses in Italy have suffered tremendously in 2020, and that my stock of perfume from Aqua Flor has run out. An errand to the elegant and historic profumeria will be at the top of my Florence to dos.
Quiet, cool, and dimly lit, popping into any given church offers instant relief from the busy and sweltering streets outside. Once inside, I’m almost always in awe of the art and architecture – sometimes even a surprise Michelangelo or Caravaggio. I personally have found a great deal of peace in the churches in Italy. Taking a moment to light a candle, and leave a small donation (a euro or two), gives me the opportunity to reflect, say a prayer, and give a little something back. The donations typically support the maintenance of the church, its art, and the social works provided to the community.
Ok, so I may be jumping the gun a bit on these resolutions, but I truly believe the light at the end of the tunnel is finally visible. Here’s to wishing us all a year that is safe, happy, and involves a plane ticket to Italy. Happy new year!