Taking A Break, Italian Style
Ferie d’Agosto (Ferragosto) is an Italian national holiday on August 15th when all stores are closed and most people head to the coasts or the mountains.
The actual date happens to coincide with my best friend’s birthday so it makes it easy for me to remember. I was actually shocked and surprised my first year living in Italy that nearly ALL of Italy closes for August. I don’t mean all of August, just that almost ALL Italians take a holiday in August somewhere.
I’m certain that this is due to the heat and the fact that schools are closed. I did a little investigative research the first year I moved here by asking my Italian friends where and when they were going. What I got was all over the world that included Thailand, Mexico, the coast, Sardinia, Sicily, U.S.A, France, England ~ just about anywhere actually.
Most Italians take a couple weeks of vacation from 10 days to as much as 60. Well, I took 58. Does that count? I’m also known to go overboard. Unfortunately, airline prices rise accordingly making the high season tickets double the low season fares.
I live just outside of Bologna which is an hour north of Florence, and a couple hours by train or car south of Venice and Milan. It’s considered northern Italy, although I feel like it’s quite centrally located. I remember reading somewhere that ninety percent of trains in Italy pass through Bologna.
In August, the streets become suddenly empty. All of the stores pull down their rolling metallic doors to lock them up. The newspaper prints an article on the stores that are OPEN instead of closed. Transport is limited or toned down. Car traffic is pretty grueling.
Where to go?
My favorite getaways in Italy are Venice, Florence, Assisi, the Lakes and Cinque Terre. A lot of people like to go up to the mountains to get away from the heat. I lived a year in Florence and that city still is on my top beautiful cities in the world together with Paris and San Francisco.
Maybe you have heard about Stendhal’s syndrome?
What happens is this: you are walking through one of the most magnificent historic city centers in the world when all of a sudden a small square opens up to reveal the big beautiful cathedral called the Duomo with its glorious cappello designed by Brunelleschi. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, but for me and my friends it was a jaw-dropping experience.
I felt I was looking at all of humanity’s compassion and ability wrapped in pretty tri-colored marble ribbon. Don’t get me wrong, there is no bow or ribbon on the Duomo; it’s just a metaphor to describe a pretty present left to posterity. One word of caution, though: one year while walking around Florence in August, my girlfriend refused to come with me. Too hot, she said. She might have been right.
Wherever you decide to travel in August, I like to remember that it’s always nice to get away, yet it’s always nice to come back home too.