At the end of September, I took my first major vacation in over a decade and my first international trip with the Fiancee. We spent two weeks puttering around Italy, learning a great deal about the culture, ourselves and what we look for in a travel experience.
|La Tavola Marche as seen from the road to mushrooms.|
The best part of the trip was definitely the week we spent sitting on a farm in the Apennine Mountains. We stayed at La Tavola Marche, an agriturismo and cooking school housed in a 300 year-old farm house. It’s 4 km down a dirt road from the main highway and about 10 km from the nearest village and that is exactly how we like it. We made the mistake of booking four days in Florence for the week after we went to Marche. We thought, “Florence, birthplace of the Rennaissance... it’ll be a great cultural climax to the trip!” Boy were we wrong. After the week in Marche, Florence felt like Disneyland (in the fake touristy sense, not the fun rides sense).
|Fine examples of Florentine "culture"|
Full disclosure, one of the farm’s owners is a high school friend of mine, whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade, so the catching up certainly enhanced the experience. However, despite my admitted predisposition to like La Tavola Marche, our time there still exceeded my wildest expectations.
A Perfect Basecamp
|The door to our apartment in Marche|
The fiancee and I both use a similar strategy when we travel. We like to set up a base of operations and then set out for adventure from a position of strength. Marche was ideal for this sort of thing. Though the farm is certainly remote, it is a quick half-hour to hour drive out to diverse and fascinating locales. We made day trips to the seaside town of Fano on the Adriatic, the close and walled-in Urbino, the pottery-laden Gubbio, which clings to a rugged, pine-speckled mountainside, and even a ruined medieval village perched on a hilltop across from the farm. The combination of isolation and adjacency made La Tavola Marche the perfect jumping off point for experiencing the “real” Italy.
|Fiancee in Urbania|
|Fano. Notice, the Speedo matches the umbrellas!|
When we visited Florence and, to a lesser degree, Bologna, I didn’t feel like we were experiencing authentic Italian life. The everpresent tourist had oxidized it, eroded away the culture until the culture became a sort of caricature of itself. Yes, the duomo in Florence still holds services, but its primary role has become that of a tourist site. The leather school trains fine leather workers, but many of its rooms are dedicated to teasing open the pocketbooks of affluent foreigners. The culture and purpose of the city feels tarnished, lessened by the constant interaction with tourism. It is not longer the cradle of the rennaissance thought, it is a place to take pictures of the leftovers.
|Stay classy, Florence|
|The tourist throngs on the steps of the Duomo|
Out in Marche, however, things felt different. Though many of the places we visited get some tourists and contain shops with the usual tourist schlock, they are not primary destinations. They are not yet coated in an all-encompassing Americanized patina. Shopkeepers and restauranteurs don’t immediately switch to speaking English when they hear you speak in a lolcats-worthy Italian pidgin. The experiences I enjoyed the most were the ones where I was forced to struggle to understand, where I was being treated as a person, or a curious foreigner, and not a Tourist.
In my next post, I'll get into some of our specific adventures.