Spaghetti with Clams - Le Marche
What a wonderful and sometimes intense set of responses from my previous post - The Italy Rules. I want to take a little time today to expand and expound on some of my thoughts and provide further insight into traveling in Italy.
1. Italy Guides - Here is my short list of who I would travel with and why in Italy.
The Rome Digest - This new and wonderful consortium of talented Rome guides includes my dear friend Katie Parla, who is my champion of all things Roman (pork, gelato, beer, wine, art, history, and life) If you are going to spend time in Rome, and you should, let the Rome digest draw a map for you
Venice - Row Venice Nan McIlroy is one of the most knowledgeable people in Italy regarding living life, eating well, and getting out on the water. Don't pay 200 euro for a snooze on a gondola. Pay less and get out there and learn to do it yourself. Easily one of the greatest experiences I have ever had in Italy
Tuscany - Judy Francini will cook with you and teach you what it means to truly experience life in Tuscany. Reach out to her. She has been cooking successfully for her Italian husband for years. She will teach you how to impress anyone.
Puglia - this is a bit biased but I can vouch for the unbeatable quality of Southern Visions Travel. Antonello Losito leads this superior company leading the most authentic excursions into Italy's tastiest region. From 1 day to 1 month, these guys are amazing
Le Marche - Mariano Pallottini - the best guides are sometimes not guides. For this truly under-the-radar region no one can show visitors the ropes like Mariano. Please tell him I sent you.
Travel for Teens - If you would like to send your son or daughter on one of the most amazing experiences to be had. I strongly suggest using Travel for Teens. Managed and operated by a group of passionate, intelligent, and experienced men and women, TFT is the leader in volunteer and cultural travel in Italy for students. Ask for Ned or Nick and your young adult will be blown away
For other Italian regions I have friends of friends and would be happy to do some research for you
2. Fashion - Italians for the most part are some of the finest dressers in the world. My initial post was not meant to imply they were not good as a whole. However, shitty fashion is a worldwide epidemic. I am guilty of lazy fashion choices more frequently than I care to admit. When Italians dress badly, they do it in typically grandiose furor. There is a store in Monopoli, Puglia called "Banana Store." I assume this is some sort of knockoff of Banana Republic as the clothes tend towards the tighter side, made for people with fine and youthful figures. However, the patterns are simply gaudy and the colors never really seen outside of an old Vegas casino. The parade of muffin-top women parading about in Banana Store attire, 2-3 sizes too small is rough on the eyes. I am confident that while conservative and boring in dress, those of us not up to the task of Valentino, Armani, Dolce and G, etc. can rest easy so long as the Banana Store is in business (and the many stores just like them in the bedroom communities up and down the boot).
[caption id="attachment_2138" align="alignnone" width="400"] The Castle of my Dreams[/caption]
3. Italian Driving - While the idea of driving in Italy scares the hell out of many American visitors, driving in Italy is actually about 20% less likely to result in a fatality than driving in the USA. Italians have very strict rules of the road for highway driving. There is absolutely no passing on the right and tractor trailers must drive only in the right lane and only at a lower speed than auto traffic (which is posted clearly on the back of the truck). While parking rules, signal regulations, and almost any rule inside a city zone are frequently fudged, the rules for the highway are followed in most cases and make for a much more predictable driving experience. I really enjoy driving in Italy and feel safer than I do driving in a place like Houston, for example. Italian bus drivers are simply extraordinary drivers. Watching them drive, gesture, smoke, chat, and flirt all without breaking a sweat taking a Pullman down a narrow alley or into the bowels of a vineyard is simply art.
4. Hope - Italy is in very desperate financial straits at the moment (like 20 years ago) and there is a grim light being cast upon the country in regards to its future. Many young people are jobless and without prospects for a decent wage. Government inefficiencies, crime, and corruption siphon enormous amounts of the country's GDP. Life goes on, and sometimes beautifully, in spite of this austere hell. My comments about this are not intended to suggest this is due to a lack of creativity in the Italian people. However, I will say it is up to the citizens of this important country to right the ship. Defeat is an ugly thing to witness when it comes at the hands of giving up. I believe in the Italians I know and love. I believe in the resiliency of this very talented people. I am an advocate for Italy when it seems there are few natives who are. Beat me up for my opinions on fashion, food, and driving, but do not accuse me of diminishing the chances of Italy because I describe life as chaotic. The Universe was born from chaos and so was the Renaissance. I return to Italy over and over not because I need a food fix, or a chance to play in the fields of folly and fantasy. I return to Italy year-after-year to experience living in a primordial space. I come to Italy to argue without offense, to dine with challenging people, and to grow as a person. I see the world more freshly every time I go and I have never lost my fervor for the peninsula in 20+ years of travel.
5. More Two Week Itineraries - This is where I am going to have some fun. Take a look at these if you want to explore some trips in the way of The Blissful Adventurer.
Piedmont/Liguria - surprisingly this tremendously rich and hard-working region is not always on the traveler radar. Stay in the towns near Alba and explore Italy's finest red wines in Barolo and Barbaresco. These guys eat unpasteurized cheese any time of day. They have amazing local cows whose grass-fed meat is a dream served raw, and the prices to stay in amazing places like Villa Tiboldi are wonderfully cheap. If one must see the Cinque Terre (thanks again Rick Steves) then why not hike through there, then finish with pure luxury in Piedmont.
Sicily - 2 weeks is such a brief time to experience the island which a friend once referred to as a "continent". Food: unreal, Wine: near the top on the planet these days. Weather: nearly tropical at times, People: alive and getting more alive with the growth of the economy (many would argue it is not growing but I believe it is really getting better). Land in Palermo and do the west. Go up to the Aeolian islands and sail out to active volcanoes. Make your way East and drink up the fine wines near Menfi or drink in the Tunisian culture in Mazara del Vallo. See the ruins of Selinunte and Agrigento before setting fire to it all on the slopes of Mt Etna. This is one of the greatest places on the planet to experience life.
Sardinia - another island where 2 weeks is hardly enough. The bets pork I have ever eaten was here. The most dramatic contrast in life and landscape exists from the interior mountains to the sea only 1 hour away. Buy a knife, drink wines from vines older than the state of Alaska, and dip it all up with crispy flat-bread and the charming sounds of the local dialects. Sardinia is an Italy few see beyond the glitzy port towns. Get inside the island and you get inside another century. Take a boat there. Flying is boring and being on the open Mediterranean is a real high. Cagliari, Orgosolo, Orosei, Alghero, and Sassari offer the visitor a different view of the world in each stop.
Puglia/Basilicata - I like to eat well and without blowing my entire bank account. I like to ride bikes through 1000 year old olive groves. I like grilled meats, pizza, and local beers. I like erudite nightlife and funky old towns. Puglia has it all. From the baroque of Lecce to the Sassi of Matera in Basilcata there is more to do and see along these southern regions than any guide-book can express.
These are my Italy rules expanded and I hope you continue to follow my Italian adventures.