Note to Readers: Our winter 2013 trip to Italy to close the deal on our villa was going to be the subject of this week’s blog. I’m going to delay that post a week however because that trip is also part of the first installment of a 12-part series that will start Saturday in the Ottawa Citizen Travel Section. This week I’m going to talk one of Abruzzo’s strongest points - its people.
My wife and I decided to open a tour company and inn in Italy’s beautiful and authentic Abruzzo Region for many reasons.
The place is unselfconsciously real. You don’t feel like you are a tourist here largely because there aren’t that many. It feels like it’s off-the-beaten path. I like that.
Abruzzo’s geography is varied and gorgeous. There are mountains, beautiful coastline, rolling hills, and high plains. It’s filled with picturesque towns, and there are loads of cool things to do and see. Italian vacations here, but very few foreigners have discovered the joys of Abruzzo yet. I like that too.
All of these aspects of Abruzzo contributed to our decision to dump our professional careers in Ottawa to move here. And all will be subjects of upcoming blog posts.
But, today, I'm going to expound on another thing about Abruzzo we love: its people.
I find people all over Italy to be mostly friendly and helpful, especially when you get away from the big tourist areas of Venice, Rome and Florence. These qualities rise to extreme levels in people from Abruzzo though.
The Abruzzese will drop everything to help you. I know this because I’ve seen it many, many times.
I think these traits stem from Abruzzo’s historically isolated geographical location. Until as recently as about 50 years ago, they were cut off by mountains on one side and hemmed in by the sea on the other. For thousands of years, it was a really hard place to get into or out of until modern tunnelling machines poked highways and train tracks through the rugged Apennine Mountains.
Alone in the world, they had to take care of each other and these helpful traits still run deep today.
Neighbours take care of neighbours, and people help strangers. When Abruzzese people ask you “Tutt’ a posto?” (Is everything alright?), they really mean it. They fully expect an honest answer, wait for that answer, and then follow up with suggestions or offers of help if there are any concerns.
At first, this took me by surprise and I think sometimes people were confused when I simply said I was fine, when they knew all wasn’t fine, and moved on with something else like you would in North America.
Over the years, we’ve seen this helpfulness displayed time and again. A lady in Bisenti offered to feed five of us in her own home or give us meat from her fridge when the butcher was closed. Another guy drove four of us 20 kilometres home after I put gasoline in a diesel car. (Yup, I did that.) A guy in Bolognano dropped everything to give us a guided tour of his town. Actually, this has happened in several towns. Five people also once stopped to help our nephew with a flat tire.
Then there are the countless people who have listened politely as I’ve butchered their language asking directions to something or other. Also, there’s always a seemingly endless supply of garden veggies and other food stuff depending on the season that arrive on our doorstep almost daily. It comes from our neighbours, who have all been extremely welcoming to us.
I’m not saying every last person in Abruzzo is a great person. However, I can say the welcoming and helpful nature of the Abruzzese is a trait that my wife and I love and sometimes depend on.
It really is an endearing quality. It makes you feel good to know that no matter what jackpot you end up in, there is going to be somebody to help you.
It’s also a trait that helped convince us it was possible to quit the North American rat race, move to Abruzzo, and open a tour company and inn.
The fact is, people make you feel comfortable here, and, if you come, I’m pretty sure it won’t take long for you to experience the Abruzzese caring spirit first hand yourself.
Next blog: I promise it will be on doing to Italy to close the deal on our villa.