Italy, slowly

A person can do a lot in two weeks in Italy. We, however, have not been that person. It was two weeks of sleeping in, long walks, short bike rides, and some drives along very, very winding roads.


We spent a few days in Sirmione, on the south side of Lake Garda. Settled since the time of the Romans, its most recent claim to fame is as a setting in the film, “Call Me By Your Name,” as they visit the Grottoes of Catullus. The Grottoes of Catullus are neither grottoes nor of Catullus, it turns out, but an enjoyable way to spend a few hours on a sunny afternoon.


Sirmione has a gelateria on every corner.


And thermal waters.


We took a quick side trip to Verona one afternoon. On the way, we gave the boys a very quick summary of the story of Romeo and Juliet. Turns out it’s a really grim tale when you tell it in under 5 minutes. It’s been a long time since I was last in Verona and it seemed like the ratio of tourists to residents had gone way up. But I could be remembering poorly through the haze of years.


From Sirmione we headed to the north end of the lake and stayed near the resort town of Riva del Garda for a couple of days.


We spent a beautiful afternoon at Lake Tenno.


Then we headed to Pieve di Ledro, on Lake Ledro, where we stayed for a week. It’s the end of the season, so vacation homes are starting to be shuttered, restaurants and shops have limited hours or are only open on the weekend, and we had the trails and bike paths almost to ourselves.


We climbed Monte Cocca.


We rode bikes to Lake Ampola.


We ate pizza.


It was lovely.


There’s a saying, particularly relevant to Bay Area residents, that goes, “You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.” As we travel around, and I whinge sometimes about how a particular city has become “so touristy!”, that saying keeps popping into my head and reminding me of the part I am playing. It makes no sense for me to complain about the silly tchotckes, hamburgers on every menu, and overpriced ice creams when I look around and see people just like me buying said items and in the process helping someone make a living. And we’re practicing an exceptional form of hypocrisy by mostly staying in Airbnb apartments, when there is mounting evidence that the Airbnb “experience” is a significant contributor to the loss of local residents in some European city centers.

However, it does seem like some cities and town have managed this process in a way that allows them to welcome and serve tourists while not turning into the Disney version of themselves. Porto, Bratislava, and Ljubljana come to mind. In all three cities, as in many others in Europe, they’ve instituted a limited “tourist tax”. In Porto, instead of using the money raised on investments into the tourism infrastructure, which is where the money goes in Lisbon, Porto is using the money to invest in “housing, cleanliness, and mobility” for Porto residents – partly to mitigate the rising cost of living that increased tourism exacerbates.

I don’t pretend to understand how places can both maintain a balance of cultural sustainability and take advantage of the revenues that tourism brings. But since we are spending this year as full-time tourists, I am curious.

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