What are your favorite nontraditional, nontouristy, alternative, culturally-insightful things to do in or near Venice, Florence, and Rome? I mean the deeper anthropological kind of culture, not museums, opera, etc. I'm not looking for the usual must-see tourist destinations or the things that epitomize a city. I want the fascinating little finds you accidentally stumbled on and loved, but which few or no tours would have found because they aren't "sights". If it can give me a glimpse of how contemporary Italians see the world, to appreciate a bit more what it's like to be them, that's a turbo bonus. No points off for plain old fun activities either.
posted by Askr to travel & transportation (12 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I've read every Italy thread on here and haven't quite found what I'm after. My parents invited me on a guided package tour of Venice, Florence, and Rome next week and the following week. Italy's not high on my list of travel destinations and I'm not a package tour kind of guy at all, but it's free, foreign, and family, so I'm going and am sure I'll have a good time. I'd like your help in reducing that touristy malaise feeling and replacing some of it with interesting insights and experiences.
There is a lot of the usual museum/monument time on the itinerary. I'm not a museum/monument kind of guy. Paintings paintings paintings, churches, aaagh! Don't care! Don't wanna take all the same obligatory pictures everyone has taken for a century or follow a guide around the whole time as they tell me about this or that set of ruins. For me, travel is about learning about how the world looks through other cultures' eyes. I know some of this can be informed by their history or past cultural products such as art or architecture, but what I want is to get glimpses of what life is like for ordinary people there right now to the degree I can in a very short time - what their big issues are, what their worldview is and how it differs from mine. Optimism, cynicism, assumptions, prejudices, filters, priorities, norms, oddities. A guided package tour of sights is not a great way to do this but it's what I have to work with.
So I want to break away from the tour group at least once per city and go do my own thing - - interesting, educational, insightful, off the beaten path kinds of things, especially any that help me understand what life is like for normal contemporary Italians. I don't want to see sights (I'll already see plenty, e.g. David, Sistine, etc.); What I want is some hint of contemporary cultural anthropology. It could be anything - some interesting local custom, some political event, some unique civic activity, some un-famous piece of history that influences the present in a fascinating way, some cultural fixture (e.g., I wish there were some soccer games during my stay). What have you found in or near these three places that was your special find that people wouldn't normally find on a tour, and which enriched your experience and understanding of Italy and Italians?
One hurdle is that I speak almost no Italian, not having planned to go there. So it would need to be something observable absent language or there would need to be English speakers or literature, a tall order. Below is the itinerary, including what I'm considering skipping. There are a fair number of free afternoons and evenings built in. What is nearby that's not on this list, that you loved, that isn't a "sight" but was a great find? Not looking for restaurant/bar recommendations unless they happen to deliver what I'm looking for. If you don't have anything in the sort of cultural anthro insight category, yeah, just list anything fun or interesting or unusual that's not a major tourist sight. For example I keep seeing recommendations to go to Siena near Florence. But why? What do people like about it?
No need to focus on these knowns in your reply:
-This is a very short time to develop any real cultural insight
-Art and architecture and ruins and history are important
-Don't discount what you can learn from quality guides
-Not speaking Italian limits your options
Nov 12-14: Venice
-backstreets walking tour (also planning on "getting lost")
-St. Mark's Basilica & Doges' Palace
-Accademia art museum. SKIP THIS
-a free afternoon
-2 free evenings and 1 planned dinner
Nov 15-17: Florence
-Accademia Gallery w/ David
-"Renaissance walk" - Duomo, Baptistery, etc. SKIP ONE OF THESE TWO
-Oltrarno area - walk/talk re Roman, medieval and 19th century Florence. SKIP ONE OF THESE TWO
-Uffizi art museum. MAYBE POP IN FOR AN HOUR OR TWO. (I know it's huge)
-2 free afternoons
-2 free evenings and 1 planned dinner
Nov 18-20: Rome
-Vatican Museum, Sistine, St. Peter's.
-Some free time in Vatican area for crypt, dome, whatever.
-Forum, Colosseum, Pantheon
-Free afternoon near area of Palatine ruins, Mamertine prison, etc.
-A few free hours in heart of city
-Evening stroll through historic heart of city.
-2 planned dinners and 1 free evening