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Lost in La Vita Bella

Updated: Nov 2, 2019

We can spot the classic tourist in a second: he or she is not dressed like the natives and probably wearing a tacky shirt, shorts, and high black socks with white tennis shoes. They’re looking sunburned and disoriented, sporting a fanny pack, blocking the sidewalk trying to capture one more blurry selfie with their camera, struggling with too many bags, and holding their itinerary in hand with the day planned down to the minute. They’re exhausted, but up early to beat their fellow tourists as they rush to be first in line for the most popular sites and eventually jam-pack into line queues. They’re excited, yet stressed, while herding their bumbling group which is hungry, tired, and grumbling for a cheeseburger and fries. But, hey! There’s no time for accidentally getting lost, venturing off the beaten path, or taking unscheduled breaks as tourists have to maximize their time to get to five more top destinations before the day is over. Before the trip is over. This is their one time here to see and do all.the.things, even if it is more like work and not exactly pleasurable when operating at such a grueling pace.

Phew! I have been the classic tourist, and may even concede that there is a time and a place for such efficiency. By contrast, let me remind you of a different way: experiencing another culture, country, or city as a Traveler with a minimal agenda.

Like a local with the locals.

Chef Brendon recently shared the best moments of his two week trip to southern Italy and we realized that we are both enamored with this laid-back approach to travel. And so, I remind you of ways to live ~La Vita Bella~ while on vacation, illustrated by his personal photo highlights of the trip. I assure you that we both strive to incorporate this Italian philosophy and hospitality into our work back home for you to experience as well!

The Tourist might be looking for his familiar favorites from home. Where’s the tv-dinner style lasagna and the “authentic Italian” spaghetti and meatballs? "Why can’t we find a Bud Light instead of all this wine? Is Peroni an IPA?" "I *hope* there are Pop Tarts for breakfast because the house breakfast sausage is unfamiliar to me!" “Let’s only go in places with a menu in American English posted out front,” they say, “to play it safe.”


In contrast, a Traveler asks or researches where the locals eat. He or she opts for the traditional meals as they are served. Breakfast in Jamaica: callaloo and saltfish. A German breakfast spread: brötchen rolls, salami, ham, cheese, and spreads to include pâté. In Italy, it might simply be espresso (Illy and Lavazza are favorite brands) and a croissant. Enjoy the flaky butteriness melting into coffee with welcome bitter notes ~ masters making traditional foods with the best ingredients the way they have for centuries. Friends don’t let friends ask for the Captain Crunch cereal (sadly, it will still be in your cupboard awaiting your return)!

One of the best parts of Italian culture is food and famiglia, of course! Chef Brendon and I agree that the food in Italy is excellent, but also served with great pride -- which is not always the case or focus in the US or other countries. Italians actually ENJOY cooking and treating you like family, just like you’re at Nonna’s! The staff are happy to be there and are personally invested in their small restaurant or shop. We’ve been to Michelin-rated restaurants as well as cafes with minimal signage that you’d pass right by and never find on TripAdvisor...and yet, we’ve never had a bad meal. Dining is even better when surrounded by such endearing hospitality and conviviality!

So what was Chef Brendon feasting upon with his family for two weeks as they “traveled like locals” through the outskirts of Rome, Ischia Island, and Naples? Drinks first! One of the nicest treats in life is ordering just a beverage and then receiving complimentary snacks. The small plates might be foods you’d never think to order off the menu, local favorites and specialties that you had the privilege of sampling...on the house! (Similarly, always feel free to give up your preconceived notions about a menu and trust Brendon to guide your catering selections). Who doesn’t enjoy relaxing with a refreshing drink in hand after hours of meandering, to kindly be offered a few bites to munch on while people-watching?

Negroni made with campari, gin, and vermouth.  Garnished with Rosemary Shrub, Orange Twist, and Amarena Cherry
Brendon's Negroni with rosemary rubbed on the rim, orange twist, and amarena cherry garnish is a cheery feast for all the senses!

When it comes to the main courses, one can never go wrong with these favorites, some of which are in the slideshow below:

  • Grilled Octopus with pureed potatoes,

  • Napoli Pizza with just the essential cheese, fresh cherry or sliced tomatoes, and olive oil,

  • Prosciutto e Melone, shaved to order,

  • Bucatini all'Amatriciana with tender Guanciale,

  • Beef Carpaccio, or

  • Grilled Branzino Fillet.

A Traveler also has time to leisurely explore in between the incredible dining opportunities. To meander without a schedule of timelines and deadlines -- after all, isn’t that what vacation is for? Try matching the local rhythms of life as the day unfolds. Strike up a conversation with local people and take their recommendations (friendly locals have prevented many a bus/train schedule complication and pointed out places we’d never have found).

Avoid tourist traps and opt for less well-known destinations or surrounding areas, such as Sarah Murdoch, a professional tour guide, suggests in “Off the Rails, But in a Good Way." Look for Underrated Italy or other Tourist Alternatives.

Enjoy just one planned sightseeing experience per day, or none at all. Serendipitous surprises might stop you a few times on the way from point A to B ~ take advantage of them with gusto. And if that little museum off the beaten path was closed? Enjoy the architecture instead with a gelato in hand. Flexibility is key to reducing stress. Check down the hidden alleyways for shops and anything you’d like to explore. Create your own adventure! Get lost...andiamo!

Lose yourself in the moment, the food, the experience you couldn’t have planned if you tried ~ like being invited for a private house-made amaretto tasting with a local restaurant owner. Have the time of your life wandering downtown, getting lost in conversations, and being caught up in the magic of being a Traveler instead of a tourist! You just might find “la vita dolce!”

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