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TRAVEL

Ah,

Italia ‌

An inveterate traveller and former Global Publisher for Lonely Planet, Richard Everist has seen the check-ins and departure lounges of more airports than he cares to remember. But he also has an extraordinary collection of travel stories to share, and we are chuffed that he will be sharing them with you in each edition of the Business News.

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TRAVEL

T

here are three phases to every overseas trip – and each one can be both a challenge and a pleasure. There’s phase one – researching (dreaming); phase two – the trip itself (reality); and phase three – reminiscing (bragging).

Of course, dreaming and bragging don’t necessarily have a particularly strong connection to the reality of the trip… And nor should they. This column is primarily focused on the dreaming phase of travel – but the stories will reflect reality. This column is not a travel brochure, and bragging will be kept to a minimum. Nonetheless, the plan is to get you, the reader, sitting at your desk as a cold southerly blows down Moorabool Street, fantasising about your next holiday! One of the most common of dream destinations for Australians is Italy. And for good reason: if you were only allowed to go to one European country in your life, the choice would be absolutely clear. Italy. You want mountains? The Alps are superb. You want lakes? Lake Como is fairytale perfect. You want history? You can’t go past Rome. You want art and architecture - start with Florence and Venice. You want food, history and drama? You have to visit Naples. You want knockout coastal scenery and beaches? Don’t miss the Amalfi Coast. You want the dolce vita – the sweet life? Just pack your bags and go! And you can walk, ride, swim, eat, sight see, eat, drink, snorkel, drink, eat, ski, sail and shop in every combination you could possibly imagine. Or – and this is an Around The Sun favourite - you can just sit in a town square (piazza) with a coffee or an aperitivo and people watch. In Italy, life still happens in the street or the piazza – especially in the south where the weather is kind most of the year. In Pisciotta, a little village on the Cilento Coast south of Naples, Lucrezia, and I would watch for hours from a café terrace just above the piazza. A blonde Albanian barista, in skin-tight jeans, kept the café humming, and the customers loyal. Her smile was bright with gold teeth. Most mornings, in one corner of the piazza, there would be a group of women who came in from the surrounding farms to sell excess produce from their vegetable gardens. They sold tomatoes so rich and sweet you could eat them like a piece of fruit. The peaches they sold were so juicy they could not be eaten without disgracing yourself. Best to take them home and make a Bellini (dry sparkling wine with peach puree). In the corner of the piazza, directly below the café terrace, the very narrow two-lane road (wide enough for two Fiat 500s to pass comfortably… with 3cm to spare) became a one-lane road – just big enough for a delivery van to squeeze through. At some point in the morning, the road would inevitably be blocked by a carelessly parked van delivering fresh bread, or an oblivious young man astride a Vespa, smoking a cigarette and chatting with a friend; or simply by two Italian drivers who refused to back down and reverse from their bumper-tobumper confrontation. The local policeman would rouse himself and stride up and down blowing his whistle and flapping his arms. Chaos would prevail. The pure theatre of it! Tempers would fray, but only briefly. Eventually, the tangle of buses, cars, Vespas, and three-wheelers would somehow start to move.

Moroccan day labourers, with skin burnt dark by the sun, loitered like shadows on the periphery of the café’s tables, waiting disconsolately for one of the local farmers or builders to come by and offer a day’s work. Some mornings, a local padrone would park his new, black BMW, get out, carefully straighten his Brioni suit, then sit briefly in the café cracking jokes and receiving ‘respect’ from a cluster of apparently cheerful local businessmen. I guess it would have been foolish not to laugh at his jokes. Every morning, after the morning service, a knot of women would emerge from the technicolour interior of the church, chat briefly and then walk briskly off to shop for, and cook, lunch. The entire region shut down from 12.30 to 4.30 pm – to avoid the heat of the day and ensure that lunch (and a snooze) could be enjoyed properly. All the men over a certain age were cheerfully interested in the work of the devil. Their card games would go on for hours in shady corners of the piazza. After church, the women passed them, dourly, usually without acknowledgment. The piazza, and its surrounding village, is perched on a ridge, five hundred metres above the seductive aquamarine blue of a sparkling Mediterranean bay. After coffee, we’d walk down a steep network of stone steps, through groves of massive, thousand year-old olive trees to a small fishing harbour and a sandy cove. The warm, crystalclear water would lure us in for a swim… This scene, or something like it, is replayed in a thousand villages every day. The biggest problem with an Italian holiday is deciding where to go. The temptation is always to try to do too much which, apart from leaving you overwhelmed and in a fog of exhaustion, means there is little time for sitting in piazzas or lazing on beaches. Rome, Florence, Venice and the hill towns of Tuscany are must-sees; but if these cities are the only places you visit, haven’t really seen Italy. There is much, much more. Each of Italy’s twenty official regions could, in many ways, be considered a separate country. As one key marker of difference, even the spoken language varies substantially from one region to the next – to the point that someone from Lombardy will not understand someone from Sicily. The modern ‘Standard Italian’ language, now used as a lingua franca, was adopted from the Tuscan region after reunification in 1861, but it is still a second language for many. The country’s mountainous topography has defined the regions. Each region has developed thanks to a unique combination of isolation and connection. At the centre of the Mediterranean, Sicily owes as much to the Greeks, Normans and Saracens as it does to the Romans. And for centuries, Venice was more closely linked to Constantinople – its great Byzantine trading partner – than it was to post-Imperial Rome. Tourists have been visiting Italy for centuries and, in the most heavily trafficked parts, the locals can seem a bit weary and jaded. Fortunately, it’s easy to get off the beaten track – often to regions that are just as stunning as better-known counterparts, where you’ll find locals are downright grateful for your custom. Not surprisingly, the north has closer links to Western Europe, while the further south you travel, the closer you get to the

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TRAVEL Middle East and North Africa. The centre is perhaps the region most easily identified by foreigners as Italian – and certainly it was the heart of the Italian Renaissance, which has so crucially shaped Western civilisation. Often derided by northern Italians, the south is unquestionably poorer, more chaotic, more superstitious, and sometimes more dysfunctional. Rules and laws are viewed with a certain amount of ambiguity and are considered, in many cases, to be purely voluntary. Road rules, for instance, are definitely voluntary! For all its problems, the south has sights that more than match those in the north. You can dream of seeing the incredible Bay of Naples, with a teeming city at the foot of Mt Vesuvius, the stunning coastal scenery of the Sorrento Peninsula, Capri and the Amalfi Coast. You can dream of the extraordinary Roman ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the world’s finest surviving Greek temples at Paestum. You can dream of the unspoilt villages along the Cilento Coast (villages like Pisciotta). Or you can dream of Sicily. Sicily’s position as the largest, richest, and most strategic island in the Mediterranean, has made it the meeting place for every Mediterranean empire – a cultural bridge between East and West, North and South. Over the course of its history, Sicily has been controlled by Greek, Roman, Vandal, Byzantine, Muslim, Norman, Germanic, Catalan and Spanish empires. Everyone has left

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Ah,

Italia …

an architectural and cultural legacy; and the cuisine captures the island’s many and varied rulers. Tourism is less overwhelming in most parts of the south, so the people are warm and welcoming – to match the weather, which from April to November is superb. Southern life is simultaneously more relaxed and more intense. Everything closes for the lunch siesta, but everyone is awake in the relative cool of the evening until the early hours of the morning. For those on holidays in the south, la dolce vita is not just a dream!

Richard Everist Around the Sun www.aroundthesun.com Richard Everist started work in the early days of Lonely Planet, and spent his last five years with the company as Global Publisher. He has co-authored guidebooks to Nepal, South Africa, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Malta and Britain. He was the CEO of Peregrine Adventures, before moving to Geelong. These days, he runs Around the Sun travel with his wife, Lucrezia Migliore, organising trips to the couple’s favourite corners of the world.


Italia - with Around The Sun - by Richard Everist