All too often, I hear people describing their travel experiences using the verb “to do” – e.g. “After the Colosseum, we did the Vatican Museums….”; “Last summer we visited Italy and we did Rome, Florence and Venice”; “After we visit the Uffizi, we are going to lunch and then we are going to do David.” The implication of “doing” cities, museums and works of art, I imagine, has nothing of the biblical sense to it… The objective, rather, is that you can check that particular location or work of art off of a theoretical list of not-to-be-missed sites. Of course, you then need visible evidence that you have “done” these famous sites by aggressively maneuvering through the throngs in front of famous works of art in order to take a photo of the work, or, more likely, a “selfie” in front of it. The photo must then be immediately posted on social media. You then spend the rest of your visit checking your phone to see how many people “like” your photos, all the while oblivious to the other great masterpieces that surround you. All of this simply to prove that you did not waste your money and/or your time organizing a trip to a destination that did not include a visit to an iconic museum, location, or work of art.
What is lost, of course, in this frenetic race to check all of the “must sees” off of your list, is any true interaction with or appreciation of a place or work of art. You “did” the Birth of Venus, but did you really “see” it? It is sort of like going to a wine tasting where you try so many different labels, that you can no longer distinguish between them. In fact, very often I receive messages from friends or clients asking me to identify works of art that they photographed on their trips but do not recognize.
In both my programs and tours in Italy, I advocate a “Slow Travel” philosophy. My objective is to eliminate the verb “to do” from travel vocabulary. I strive to give both participants and clients the luxury of time in a single city – Florence, Rome, Venice – or region Northern and Southern Italy – or for a specific event – the Palio in Siena. I do, of course, include visits to all of the famous locations in these places, but go to great lengths to transform these visits into one-of-a-kind cultural experiences. Whether it is an exclusive, after-hours visit to the Sistine Chapel in Rome or the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, or an exceptionally long visit to the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, or the front row exclusive terrace in Siena from which we watch the Palio horse race, or exclusive luxury boats on the Amalfi Coast, these experiences become extraordinary and indelible memories.
I also strive to transform my programs and tours into authentic learning experiences. Whether I am teaching about the art, architecture and history, or a premiere sommelier or chef is explaining wine and/or food, or an art restorer, glass maker, jockey or veterinarian is explaining the nuances of their trades, the cast of experts that I carefully arrange to address my groups provide profound and enriching expert knowledge.
In reality, your life-changing cultural journey begins long before you arrive in Italy. By listening to my podcast series – Rebuilding the Renaissance, or reading my blogs about Italian art, history and culture, or watching my video lecture series – Italian Masterpieces, or documentary – MEDICI: The Art of Power, you will arrive in Italy with proficient knowledge about the art, history, food, wine and customs of all the places that we visit.
So, let’s start slowing it all down, and instead of trying to do it all, let’s try to do it right!