Italy is in the spotlight on this week’s indie travel challenge at Bootsnall. Bella Italia is definitely my most visited country in Europe other than Germany. While there is a mainline loop of places that are must-sees, there is enough “normal” Italy to go see away from the tourbuses. I like slow travel anyway, but it seems to be even more in style in Italy. So my prime Indie Tip for Italian Travel : Do it Slowly.
Bologna is my top choice for Indie Italy
Coming to Germany I wanted to learn another language so I started on Italian. After six months I really got into it and one of my first vacations was a week language school trip to Bologna. I feel in love with the city and have since gone back several times. It has a very old university so the town has both a historic demeanor and tons to students to keep it young and happening. Although I haven’t made it south of Pisa, Bologna is still my favorite Italian city by far.
You know, pasta with meat-sauce? Called Bolognese Sauce all over Europe? Yup, that is from Bologna. The city is also well known for tortellini of all shapes and sizes. This makes it a cool smallish (walkable) student town with great food. Although you certainly can find upscale things, heading into the student quarter or just asking around can net you cheap eats too. Or do a round of apertivos drinking and sampling as you go.
Do a language class for a week or two “instead” of the vacation lying at the beach. You see more in depth and learn something at the same time.
Ferrara was a surprising visit for me. I had never heard of it before I booked my train ticket. I was there visiting a friend I had met playing games online on my way to Croatia. The cool part of this was that we were there during the yearly Busker Fest. This was awesome. Even without the musicians, Ferrara is a great little “unknown” city in Italy. It has a castle and a cathedral and is also a university town.
I got to hang out with a group of Italian gamers for two days. Practice my Italian and realize I can definitely follow along. It warm enough in the day to see how Italians deal (rest in the shade and drink minty green things apparently). The evenings saw lots of buskers doing their thing in the streets, I saw a man with a digital recording thing play a symphony on a single carrot. Below my hotel window were these two guys that played saxophones and danced and had a comedy routine that was hilarious.
Seek out the festivals and be willing to stay ina place off plan to enjoy them. This busker festival had huge crowds, but it was so worth it.
Avoiding the crowds
My favorite places are those without a lot of people, but there are a lot of places in Italy that draw crowds. Start with movies set there and the romantic notions they inspire. In the summer add the tour buses of students and adults alike trying to find the Italian lifestyle in 2 weeks or less. Finish off with thousands of postcards highlighting specific sites and you get a recipe for crowds of people in small corners of a city ignoring the rest. Despite the crowds these places are still worth seeing: the tower at Pisa for example.
My tip on this is to take your postcard pic, do your tourist thing and then get out of that area. Or just get a slightly different perspective and laugh at the hundreds of people holding their hands up in the air near the leaning tower. Most people will go to Pisa and just go straight to the tower field and ignore the rest of the town. This is a shame, Pisa was a pretty cool place to wander. We got away from the field and their souvenir markets and found good cheap food as well.
As another comment in this vein, take a look at nearby sights that are not the main one. We spent a week enjoying stuff near Cinque Terre and only a day in the 5 towns themselves. This was a great trip and as so many people crowd into the “main sights” the nearby ones are less crowded.
All of my answers for the challenge can be found under the category Challenges.