We don’t need many more reasons to want to visit Italy and chatting to Alexandra of the super blog ArtTrav has just made the list even longer! This lovely lady has a passion for art and her blog combines her both the art world and her life in Italy. We love it…
1. Could you briefly introduce yourself, your site and your experience travelling in Florence, Italy?
Hi, I’m Alexandra Korey and I write a blog called ArtTrav about life, art and travel in Italy (and beyond!). I’m a Canadian expat who has living in Italy for over a decade, over which time I have of course had the privilege of really getting to know this country through its people, art, and food. My goal is to encourage travelers to take a similar “slow” approach to travel through research to get a deeper knowledge of the culture they are visiting.
2. What made you choose this country and what were your first impressions?
I first came to Italy as a study abroad undergraduate student. I was studying art history and one of the best programs I could find was here. Actually I wasn’t particularly interested in Italian art before this, but I loved Florence as soon as I got here, and I soon switched the focus of my studies to this area and to its Renaissance art. I ended up pursuing both a Masters and a PhD in this field and moving to Florence permanently.
My first impressions of Florence as a young visitor are pretty fuzzy in my mind now. It was a moment obscured by excitement and youth. But one thing I will never forget is how good it felt to be here. Somehow I felt connected to Italy despite not having Italian roots. I immediately loved the language, the market and all those things that visitors appreciate here. Over time, what I love about Italy has evolved – living in a place is very different than visiting for a few weeks. Language and food have remain constants for me, as is of course my love of the art here, and the general attitude to life.
3. How much money can someone travel around Italy for? What are the greatest expenses? What things are relatively cheap?
You can visit Italy on a budget just as well as you can travel here and blow your life’s savings. For a traveler, the biggest expense is lodging. Hotel prices are a bit higher in most of Italy than they are in France, for example (in my personal experience). One of the best options is to stay in an apartment rental, or if you’re touring Tuscany or other regions, look for an agriturismo (farm stay rental).
The cost of eating out can of course also range depending on the type of restaurant you choose, but it’s entirely possible to eat a full, traditional meal with wine for 30-35 euros per person just about anywhere you go. The other really expensive thing here is petrol (currently around 1.68 cents a litre for diesel, 1,80 for gas), so when possible take the train.
What’s cheap? Fresh food is significantly cheaper in Italy than in the United States, for example, since there is a long local growing season. If you stay in an apartment with a kitchen you can enjoy seasonal foods for ridiculously low prices.
4. What is the local cuisine like? Did you find yourself trying new things or pining for the familiars of home?
A common chime on expat forums in Italy is people’s pining for peanut butter and certain junk foods. I have never felt this way. Italian food is unquestionably one of the most commonly known foods in the western world, so arriving in Italy nobody has culture shock when affronted with a menu that contains things like pasta or roast meat, making it a good country for your first European trip, or to take your kids.
Personally I can never tire of the staples of this cuisine – a starch of some sort (pasta, rice or bread), tomatoes, and mozzarella, which can be combined in more ways than you would ever believe. I enjoy the portion size (smaller than in America), the quirky order and separation of foods, the local ingredients and the clearly defined flavours.
5. What cultural activities and events would you suggest everyone seeing or taking part in while travelling in Florence and why?
This would be a blog post in itself, since Florence has a whole lot of art per square meter. Some would call the city a living museum, but we residents like to think it’s rather more vibrant than that! In Florence, I suggest planning ahead with a guidebook and blogs to figure out which sites you are personally most interested in visiting. I generally like to combine one museum a day with a few small churches, alternating with shopping, good food, and some wandering around to enjoy the town. As it’s a daunting task to organize a trip, especially if time is limited (and it always is, isn’t it?!), I modestly recommend my Florence 3 day itinerary published by Unanchor. I have set out an intense but pleasing three day visit that balances all the best things about Florence (in my opinion), with specific restaurant suggestions and travel tips.
6. What is your favourite thing about travelling this country? What is your least favourite thing?
One of the most fun things about Italy is also its most annoying at times: its absurdity. If I take a step back and try to explain a lot of parts of Italian life and culture to an outsider, I can see that many of them will come across as totally illogical. This can have negative consequences on the traveler, who might not understand the logic behind museum opening hours in small towns (these often change depending not only on the day but on the month, and always with a long lunch pause), or worse yet, the way that strikes take place for a few inconvenient hours at a time. But the very same factors that lead to the development of these kinds of absurdities also lead to wonderful things about this culture, and when taken the right way, they give us the opportunity to learn to relax, adapt, and just let it all slide.
7. What things do you focus on most when you blog about this country? Why do you choose these things?
My main interest, in life and in blogging, is art. Given my art history background, the blog actually started as a container for art historical information about Florence and Rome, particularly Renaissance art, famous museums and beautiful churches. I also do critical reviews of exhibits, which readers find helpful especially if they cannot visit them themselves, and recently have branched into a bit of contemporary art and design. But most of all, I blog about my life and travels, so when what I’m doing brings me to observe non-artistic things, I write about those too.
8. What’s one thing you can’t travel around Italy without?
A healthy appetite and a good camera. Everything else you can buy here.
9. What kind of response have you had to your blog about Italy? What post had the most interest?
I’ve been writing ArtTrav since 2004, so I’ve observed the move from a static site to a blog platform, to the possibilities of commenting and interaction on social media. While back then I had no idea what people thought of the blog, now I receive lots of positive comments and see my work shared on facebook and twitter. It’s really rewarding to know that you’re writing for someone out there! The posts that seem to attract people most are the most personal ones. A lot of my readers are fellow expats or Italy-lovers who wish they lived here, so I think people can relate to my personal experiences or enjoy living vicariously through them. My earlier posts were much more academic, and it’s hard to relate to a monologue about a work of art, as much as I try to make that material accessible. One favourite (both mine and my readers’) is this funny take on Driving in Italy.
10. If you could think of one thing you wished someone told you before you started travelling in Italy what would it be?
The danger of wanting to stay!
Thanks to Alexandra for a great interview. We’re booking our tickets to travel Italy right now!
For an interview of your own, contact us.