Category Archives: Travel

Little Known Italy

The Italian Flag

Bandiera Italiana

The canonical destinations for tourists traveling to Italy are well known: Florence, Venice, Rome, the Cinqueterre, Umbria. The slightly more experienced may have found the Amalfitan Coast, Sicily, the Lago di Como, the Italian Riviera. But there is much, much more to Italy than these well-known destinations. I would argue, in fact, that the true Italy, unspoiled by the tourist presence, is more readily found in little-known middle-sized cities and out-of-the-way places that have maintained their cultural and historic identity aloof from the tourist tide.

Examples abound. The Byzantine treasures of Ravenna, the Renaissance gems of Ferrara and Mantova, the liveliness of Padova, the casual gayety of Rimini, the transcendent serenity of Montecassino, the majesty of the Monastery of Padula, the timeless ruins of Paestum, the eclectic beauty of Monreale… the list is truly endless. Charming resort towns like Nettuno, Maratea, Gallipoli in the South, alpine beauties such as Cortina in the eastern Alps. And more and more. And everywhere you find art and history and the Italian lifestyle!

In the next few posts we will explore some of these little-known treasures. Perhaps on future trips, once Florence and Venice have begun to pall, you will want to venture further afield and get a taste of a more pristine Italy.

The Vesuvius and Pompeii

Vesuvio in eruption

Depiction of Vesuvio in eruption

Today we go to Naples again, we have been away entirely too long. Naples is of course on the sea, and it snuggles up against the Vesuvius. To this proximity to a dangerously active volcano many people attribute many of the character traits that Neapolitans are supposed to have: their fatalism, their penchant for living in the “now” rather than planning for the future, their many religious practices which center on rituals for the dead, their ability to “make do” under adverse circumstances, their irrepressible joyfulness and zest for life. The Vesuvius and its history of eruptions have marked this land and this race indelibly, even as the volcano provided, century after century, the “tufa” out of which the city was built and the volcanic ash that enriched the soil and made it among the most fertile in the world.

The most famous eruption by the Vesuvius, and by far the most lethal, was the one that occurred in 79 AD and that buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. These cities lay for centuries under meters of compacted ash, utterly lost to posterity for a millennium and a half, until accidentally rediscovered in 1599. For many decades they were forgotten again, then finally excavations began in earnest (though even later they proceeded by fits and starts.) Even today Pompeii is not fully excavated, and new discoveries are being made all the time.

Some DO’s and DON’Ts of Italian travel

Map of Italy

Italy

1. DO fly a European carrier if possible.  You will have many more choices of final destinations if the second leg of your trip originates in Europe.

2. DO get some euro’s at the airport, as soon as you arrive.  Their exchange rates are competitive.

3. DON’T deal with banks if you can avoid it.  Generally you have to have an account at a bank to have them do anything for you at all.

4. DON’T take much cash with you, and DO use the ATM’s.  They are plentiful and the fees you incur are well worth the peace of mind.

5. In restaurants, forget the 15-to-20% tipping rule.  Ten percent is plenty, and then only if you think you have received good service.

6. DO tip your porter after he has taken your bags to your hotel room.  Figure one euro per bag.

7. DON’T, if you are over eight years old, order a glass of milk or a cappuccino with dinner.