I cannot sing enough praises about visiting Italy – or any country, really – in the quiet months between tourist seasons. Our hostel owner in Florence a few weeks ago told us how in the summer, the piazza in front of the Duomo will be shoulder to shoulder with visitors, and it can take half an hour to get close to Michelangelo’s “David” once you wait the three hours in line to get into the museum itself. This weekend, my friends and I went to a picturesque region of the Italian Riviera called Cinque Terre, in what was decidedly the off season. It was almost literally a perfect trip. We got rooms in a beautiful bed-and-breakfast for less than a third of what we’d likely pay during the summer, complete with porches and a view of the town below. The towns were definitely sleepy, with about half of the restaurants and shops closed until mid-March or remodeling, but I didn’t feel that it negatively affected our trip.
In the restaurants we did go to, we were usually one of a handful of customers that included a few locals, American college students on weekend trips like us, and European couples in hiking attire outfitted for a serious backpacking trip. The slow traffic meant that we had more opportunity to talk with waiters and shopkeepers, which was undoubtedly one of the most rewarding parts of the trip. We were also able to see aspects of life in Liguria that we probably wouldn’t have seen in the height of summer, like restaurant owners varnishing their tables and chairs in the mild Mediterranean winter air or fishermen sitting on the edge of the dock repairing their nets.
It almost appeared to me like the tourist season is part of a huge theater production, and what we witnessed over the weekend was the endless hours of rehearsal and preparation that goes into the final product. Yes, if we’d gone more towards May or April we could have laid out on the beach and had a larger variety of gelaterie to choose from, but we probably wouldn’t have heard from the one restaurant owner how he produces his own wine on a family vineyard. We might not have listened to the stories of one shop owner about how his daughter married an American man and lives in New York City, but still comes back once a year to make hand-knitted products to sell in his store.
Much in the way that the behind-the-scenes tour at Disney World chips away at the glittering illusion presented in the tour books, a visit in the off season reminds us as travelers that these beautiful locations aren’t merely a playground for those on their dream trips. The towns are full of real people, with a deeply held connection to their land, and that it is important that we seek meaningful interactions in the places we visit beyond trying to take the perfect new profile picture.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Elizabeth Benz is a lifetime upstate New York resident who never takes the snow brush out of the back seat of her car. Originally from Buffalo, NY, she is a senior Music Education/Violin Performance major and Italian minor at Ithaca College. These three passions were intertwined on a life-changing trip in 2006 to the International Suzuki Method Conference in Turin, Italy, where she not only saw the communicative power of music across young artists from many nationalities, but also fell in love with the language and culture of the country. Eight years later she is fulfilling the promise she made to herself to return to Italy, after completing her senior student teaching practicum. She is particularly interested in observing the emphasis and importance placed on youth music and arts programs across Europe, and returning with ideas to inspire and support her own program at a future teaching job.</span></p>