When is a vacation more than just a holiday from routine? What is there that allows it to rise to the level of life-changing? The answer lies in people.
Cultural travel allows us to escape the ruts worn between Rome, Florence, and Naples by thousands of ‘tour groups.’ For most, an Italian holiday is a captive holiday. Faces peer from bus windows, and are poured out into the crowded streets to join thousands of other visitors to gawk at the stunning architecture and enjoy the great food and wine. The real wonders of Italy, though, remain hidden from them.
To begin to know a place you must meet the people who live there. Italians are happy to share, and are among the most hospitable people on earth. If you are planning a visit, take the time to read first, and understand the history that has shaped their world-views, and their culture.
My first visit to Italy. happened in 1995. It was an eye-opening cultural exchange that did truly change the course of my life. It’s something that could happen to you, if you allow it. It unfolded because of one man who had lived in both Italy and the United States.
George Fortunata DeLuca had served in the US Army during WWII, and fought his way from Monte Cassino in the south, to the Gothic Line in the north. Hand-to-hand combat against Nazi and Fascist forces drew him and his companions closer together, along with the men of the elite Alpini mountain troops of the Italian Army. In 1995, the 50th anniversary of the Liberation brought those men together again, most for the last time. It was an emotional experience.
Tens of thousands of Americans and Allies died in liberating Italy. She has never forgotten. Today those events are commemorated in a way unimagined by outsiders. If you go, take the time to understand what you will see. Visit a war museum or a cemetery. Honor those who fought for freedom. Talk to the Italians about it.
Then, as you travel, escape the hotel routine. Travel to small towns and villages. Stay in an agriturismo, a working farm. Walk through a vineyard or a field of dazzling yellow rape-seed flowers. Pick wild poppies along a roadside. Slow down to the pace of Italians. You will soon begin to understand better the amazing place that is Italy, and you will come home a changed person.