Italy is not nearly as expensive as you might expect, especially if you avoid the hotels and make your own lunches.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
I visited Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco in Naples which was fascinating. It’s a church built originally for the worshipping of souls in purgatory. The church has recently banned the practice but still a few people will show up to worship.
In particular, there is a skull called Lucia which is well regarded and is adorned with a crown. She is worshipped as the patron of brides and mothers. People will worship to assist the souls while they are in purgatory with the hope that once the souls reach paradise, they will return the favour in kind.
Like everything else in Naples, looking at the church from the outside gives you no idea of what treasures lie within.
Describe a typical day:
Italy is all about art, either in a museum or a local church or piazza. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to see great art, just try walking into a local church and you will be amazed. I often start with a simple breakfast then a morning walk. I usually seek out a place to relax during lunch hour like a piazza or public park. A snack of pizza or panini and perhaps a coffee and then I will take in an afternoon museum such as the Uffizi in Florence or the National Archeological Museum in Naples.
Late afternoon is a photographer’s dream here in Italy. The light makes for some fantastic scenes if you climb up a hill to overlook a town so I usually take a walk around that time.
Italians eat a late dinner so if I want to go somewhere fancy, I go early – around 7:30 – to avoid the need for reservations or around 9pm if I’m going to a small local shop. In all cases, the food is fantastic.
Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:
I have had a number of conversations with Italian business owners, particularly in Rome. The frustration and exhaustion they express at their political corruption is stronger than the local coffee.
One young man went do far as to say that he “hoped the recession was the worst ever so that we can destroy the foundation and build up again”. In conversations with young business owners around Italy, one can taste the venom they have for the situation they have been put in but also the optimism that, if only they could drown the corruption, maybe a beautiful and prosperous country could emerge.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
My wife and I have always been welcomed by our host country but it is often with a smile and a handshake. When we arrived in Rome, it was literally to a hug, open arms and an invitation to join at the family dinner table. Never have we felt so warmly welcomed by the people.
That said, I have never seen the social and economic devision between store owner – those selling pizzas and suit jackets – and street vendor – those selling sun glasses and knock off designer handbags – so strikingly clear.
I don’t judge anyone or any country but it seems clear that more needs to be done to address the separation which is played out on each street corner in Italy. I fear that the economic recession will only apply more pressure to this cauldron and can not possibly lead to positive things.
Describe a challenge you faced:
While I was sitting at a bus stop, an old italian man pulled up in a car and jumped out as quick as he could to ask me for directions to Venice. In Italian.
I don’t speak italian and after a few minutes of hand waving, iPhone pointing and map circling I think I pointed him in the right direction. It wasn’t easy trying to describe the various turns and bends he needed to take. I hope he got there correctly.
What new lesson did you learn?
First, remember that you don’t have to leave your own country to be in a strange and unfamiliar place. Second, iPhone maps are not universally understood. Third, no matter where you are going, a smile and patience will get you there every time, regardless of language, culture or age divisions.
Cape Town and a southern African safari.