Friday, September 7, 2012

Reflections on Small Towns in Italy

Being the scared and apprehensive American tourist that I am, I tend to find comfort in the familiar, but who doesn't? That's why we eat at McDonalds in Europe and Appleby's in NYC. When we travel to a place that is completely foreign and unfamiliar, I am a bit on edge because I never know what to expect. Then again, that's what travel is all about, embracing the unknown while searching for adventure, and adventure is exactly what we love.

When R was planning this trip, which for the record she always does an amazing job, there were times when she was operating in the dark because she didn't know anything about the places where we were staying. TripAdvisor helped a great deal, but even with the internet, there were places that were obscure to the American tourist, i.e, these were places where only Italian tourists go, and we ended up in two of them.

We were caught a little off guard because our stay in Pienza (at Santo Pietro) was much easier, everyone spoke English, and it was filled with English speaking tourists. When we left (sadly) Pienza, we ended up driving through central Italy (Umbria) and ended up first in Saltar, which is in the province of Urbina, then from there, we traveled to Serrungarina, which is even smaller than Saltar, but only about 20 km away. What was really cool is that the proprietor of the casa, Casa Di Mi, said we were the first Americans to stay there. How cool is that?

Either way, it can be daunting traveling to a place where nobody speaks English, and they won't make any effort to. It really comes down to you trying to speak the native language or simply not communicate, but the process of trying is often highly entertaining. It helps when people are friendly (and the kids get a huge kick out of playing with the local cat/kitten population).

That was the case in both places, and as much as I was daunted at the prospect of trying to speak Italian, my incompetence was not an issue. They were very understanding. The two places we stayed were both small and family run, and even though they were in the process of trying to figure things out and maybe didn't quite have the drill down, they were so nice that you only wished the best for them. Plus, both the places, The San Martino Country House and Casa Di Mi, were clean and beautifully decorated. The fact that Italians like to go there and vacation is not a bad thing, kind of like ethnic restaurants where people of that ethnicity like to eat.

Both places were in small towns, and though it was a challenge communicating, it was a blast getting to know the locals and even attempting to talk to them. At Casa Di Mi, we were totally lost and couldn't find the B&B. I asked an elderly man for help and he stopped what he was doing, changed his shoes, and walked us to the center of town to help us find the place. Nobody knew where this place was, and recommended that we get back in our car and drive up the road. I ended up asking a guy across the street, and he said that we were at Casa Di Mi. It just so happened that his daughter spoke a bit of English, so we were saved. The food at Casa Di Mi was amazing.

All in all, we're getting the most of our authentic Italian adventure. Now I understand why people go to Disneyland or go on a cruise or do Club Med, everything is conveniently taken care of and there are no surprises or challenges, but you sure can't beat the local experience when it's beating you over the head. You just can't put a price on these moments, and it sure makes for a great story.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

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