As is no surprise to any of my faithful readers, I’m rather fond of going off the beaten path when it comes to traveling.
‘Touristy’ seems like a dirty word to me, even though it doesn’t have to be a bad adjective. Highly advertised restaurants in overcrowded piazzas make me shudder, and any time I see a street performer I can only think of pickpockets.
My favorite restaurants are little holes-in-the-wall, family-owned places with more personal memorabilia on the walls than pretentious modern art, places the menu may or may not be in English, but you go with it and butcher the pronunciation anyway. My favorite things to do are usually activities I had no idea existed until I got there, and my favorite places to go are landmarks or monuments I wasn’t really aware of until I see them for myself.
I love things other people don’t usually do.
Luckily for me, my family loves those kinds of things as well. When I was (finally) reunited with my mother at the Roma Tiburtina train platform, our discussion of plans for our next 24 hours in Rome went something like this:
“What would you like to do while we’re here?”
“I have no idea.”
“Well, we can do some touristy things, but you’ve already seen most of them, and we weren’t really planning on doing every tourist attraction.”
“I’m good with just the highlights. And the food.”
And so, traveling through Italy with my family is far from the average Grand Tour.
There’s aunts, uncles and cousins to visit (and dine with, of course), winding roads to travel up leading to fields and horses or mountains and snow. There’s endless plates of prossutto, formaggio, pane, carne, pizza and insalada to pick through. There’s a loving aunt always telling you that you eat too little while heaping more food on to your plate. There’s trying to understand your relatives with your rudimentary Italian and succeeding, but only to realize you can’t possibly contribute to the conversation with your rudimentary Italian.
There’s winding mountain roads that never look the same leading up and down through dozens of tile-roofed villages built long before cars, electricity, internet or telephones. There’s laundry hanging out on lines, even when it’s snowing. There’s ski schools open even in April and trips to cities turned into ghost towns by tragedy. There’s visiting castles, ruins and monuments to wars not so long ago.
There’s realizing a quarter of the town has the same last name as you because there are only about 10 names to go around. There’s hiking and enjoying the natural beauty of a place that was fortunate enough to be declared a national park long before Big Box Stores and iPhones. There’s seeing the tallest mountains in Italy and realizing how small you really are.
There’s wandering the streets, finally being able to put places to the stories your grandparents told you of growing up in a place like this.
There’s a lot of things.
But somehow, it’s all perfect together.
My dad’s family is from a small village that clings to the Magnola Mountain in Abruzzo called Ovindoli. It’s well-known for being a giant ski resort town. Some of my family has moved far away to the United States. Others have moved to cities in Abruzzo where there is a bit more variety, and still others have moved to places like Rome where there is always an abundance of things, people and places.
After spending a few days visiting everyone respectively, I can sit on the anniversary of Liberatzione and understand why Italy was and is so important to my grandparents, my dad, and all of his relatives.
Even if we might be off the beaten path a bit, it’s still a perfect vacation from the sometimes-hectic pace of daily life. And, of course, eating a great meal at all hours of the day doesn’t hurt either.