Posted by Cheryl Alexander – Italian Excursion
People often ask me how I got involved leading small group tours in Italy. There’s a simple answer and one which is more complex. I simply fell in love with life in Italy after my first trip there and wanted more exposure to the country. The complex part of the answer was how to have more time there, continue to work full time, care for my family and friends in the US while fulfilling a dream of travel in an intriguing country far from my home.
My first trip to Italy was more than fourteen years ago and was a combination of “normal”, see everything you can in three weeks and “slow travel”, spending a week in an apartment in Rome. I don’t think it would have mattered just how fast or slow I got to know this amazing culture because I knew from the moment I stepped off the plane that I would be back to wander about and learn as much as I could about Italy. This first trip took me from Milan to Capri with many stops in between. Actually, getting just a taste of the many different regions from north to south gave me a reason to return and explore more deeply this multi layered phenomenon. The friends accompanying me on that first trip were artists and had experienced Italy many times. They were more than amused at my reaction and exclamations of wonder encountering the findings of art, culture and history around every corner. My previous travel experience was limited to Asia, quite a contrast to Europe.
And of course, I began planning my next trip back to Italy on the plane ride home! Since then I’ve made the trip two or three times a year, staying for two to four weeks at a time. By the second year of traveling there I began making friends in a little town not far from Orvieto, which is in Umbria but borders Tuscany and Lazio. Having discovered a wonderful website for independent travelers called slowtravel.com, I learned about the joy of renting houses, villas, apartments for weeks at a time which reduced my costs for lodging and made my stays feel like I was “home”. It seemed important that I experience as many of the different regions as I could, since the foods, local customs and history are all a bit different, but I kept returning to the little town of Bagnoregio where I ended up buying a small, beautiful property set up on a hill overlooking a lush farm valley.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten “lost” driving in the countryside looking for the next undiscovered place. And I’ve found many of them. If I’d not slowed down, unabashedly asked the local folks in the area for their help in directing me, I would never have found some of the restaurants that are hidden away in someone’s living room miles from any main road or a partially unearthed archaeological dig over 3000 years old. One of my earliest lessons in “slow” came during a two week stay in Lucca when I discovered the traditional passaggiato, the afternoon stroll that many Italians in every village and town take between the lunch and dinner meals. It was fascinating for me to see several generations of a family taking a leisurely walk around the piazza or park, arm in arm, chatting, visiting with neighbors and friends. Not sure I could find such a thing back home where I live. With my background in social work I’m quite interested in the dynamics of family and relationships. Obviously, this culture values family, children, elders are respected and teens are included as a natural recourse. Being intellectually curious, I had yet another reason to continue my Italian excursions.
Slow travel allows for an experience that seems to bend time. At least that’s how I look at it. A twenty four hour day in Italy, with slow intentions, feels more like three days than one. It’s easy to be present and “in the moment” if one isn’t rushing around. There are no quick greetings with neighbors or local merchants but long, meandering conversations. There is a depth and richness to every experience that leaves a memory to savor for later, when I’m home going about my life. This sort of “slow” leaves in my mind the most vivid colors of nature, the most real sense of taste and smell, when recalling foods or wine, than any photograph can replicate.
I’ve yet to tire of sharing my love of all things Italian with friends, family and tour guests. It’s really no different for me than having guests in my own home. And there’s always something new to add to one of my tours. Slow travel has increased my enthusiasm and decreased my pace. Being a part of a group like slowtraveltours validates and lends support to my viewpoint that slow travel rocks!!!
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Cheryl has been traveling to Europe, particularly Italy, for more than fourteen years. Her interest in Italy, its history, art and rich culture led her to purchase property near Orvieto, allowing her to spend more time there. Cheryl’s exploration of Italy include the regions of Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, as well as the areas around Venice and south towards Sorrento. She continues to travel into Italy’s less traveled regions, and enjoys sharing her discoveries with others. Relaxed, leisurely tours are her specialty with an emphasis on the comfort of her guests.
Cheryl spends the rest of her time near the beach in San Diego, cavorting with her two small grandchildren. She’s an avid reader, health advocate and community volunteer. Her career as a social worker brings an understanding of people’s needs to the tour business.