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Random Wednesdays – a Travel Philosophy Discovered in Italy

In our case, being students on a budget, we found that vacation was expensive, travel is cheap, exploration was almost always free, and those memories were truly priceless.

By: Thomas Bacon + Save to a List

Two years ago I was fortunate enough to explore Italy, in random, every Wednesday for 3 months. Well not just myself, but along with 2 close friends. And it didn’t quite happen randomly as stated above. My classmate Nermala and I had signed up for a study abroad program for a quarter the following year in Italy, where we met another future close friend in my roommate Thailer. 3 months in Rome, a dream trip for many presumably. In our case being students on a budget, we found that vacation was expensive, travel is cheap, exploration was almost always free, and those memories were truly priceless. Like walking through a castle from the 13th century.

As a quick prologue to how the term Random Wednesday was coined; Tuesdays and Thursdays, we had formal sculpture and travel writing for most of the morning through mid-day. Wednesdays we had Italian from nine to ten in the morning, leaving the rest of the day more or less wide open. Most of the class tended to make big weekend plans, trips to other countries, and just like the rest of us left our assignments for Sunday and Monday. Fridays and Saturdays were usually spent at the bars and the clubs. Isolating the remainder of those random Wednesdays to be free for our exploratory little hearts to splurge. After class, Thailer, Nermala, and I would head to Termini (the train hub of Rome), buy a cheap train ticket for 10 euros or less (and a cheap drink) and go somewhere where we had little to no information on. We didn’t want our adventures spoiled by superficial opinions of the passerby. So we didn’t listen to anyone on where to travel to, we just traveled to wherever the train took us that day. Call it luck, or maybe the bias of the vagabond writing this travel guide, only one time did this philosophy not work out and that was more or less due to the torrential downpour we rode into on a train that would not come back to Rome for several hours… but that is a story for another article. So I guess the philosophy + a rain shell = 100.

This philosophy of travel arose from several trips like the one you will read about, visits to mega tourist destinations, and both first hand and second hand accounts from various destinations in Europe. 1. Travel with no expectations, expectations tend to lead to disappointments. 2. Don’t spend more than a third of your time traveling en route. In other words don’t try to fit too much in (there’s always next year). And 3. Vacation is expensive, travel is cheap, exploration is almost always free, and the memories are inevitably priceless. 

Number 1 – Tagliacozzo

The nature of travel philosophy number one; having no expectations often leads to better experiences and surprising discoveries. After all, if you never knew about what you might find (things that have obviously already been discovered) couldn’t you say that you’ve discovered the findings yourself? Now obviously it’s impossible to have no expectations, but for the spirit of the philosophy we require a moratorium on Googling. Furthermore the train is a rather failsafe means of travel as it is safe to assume that many of these towns with a train station must have some episode in history or something of tangible significance, not to say that towns that don’t have a train station do not have such. Which is where our destination comes into the story and speaking of history and significance, upon further research after our trip, there was once a great battle that took place there in the 13th century relinquishing German control of what was once Sicilian territory.

A wholesomely beautiful town semi-hidden among the Central Italian country side was the first random destination our expedition of three discovered. Decided on in Termini purely because of the name and alphabetical order it appeared to us via our not so intricate game of selecting a random destination from the ticket machine (this Wednesdays search query started with the letter “T”), and the way the silent Italian G rolls off the tongue was impossible to resist. Tagliacozzo was found on a cloudy day in the middle of January, with no prior knowledge of what the town looked like, or what must see landmarks existed there. Now my intention for writing this piece is not to send the masses to Tagliacozzo, but simply to add evidence to why our travel philosophy works.

Tight knit windy roads connected the whole town on the hillside into one large neighborhood. The classic Italian cobblestone lined the streets in patterns created centuries ago. Houses and buildings all unique in their own architecture and masonry, some with a crème brulee colored plaster, some with a contrasting red. Several produce stands at the base of the hill seem to drive a part of the local economy. The 6pm late winter color of the clouds in the sky didn't pour a single drop of disappointment on the day. The birds in the air seemed to tell us where the extent of town lied, and a few local cats strangely seemed to not follow us, but lead these lost humans to the treasures we would later find. I call attention to the weather because I couldn’t help but think of this place if we were to see it on a postcard (which I’m sure we could have) with the sky blue and sunny, and how my expectations would be disappointed if I had seen the hypothetical Instagram-post-style-picture first and now see it gray and gloomy as my first impression. Again, expectations often lead to disappointment, but Tagliacozzo did not disappoint. Think about how many great hikes, climbs, and places you’ve wanted to see purely based off of a photo online. What about that photo calls you to go there?

On the top of the highest hill South of the town in a seemingly recent hibernation was Chiesa di Santa Maria del Soccorso which doubled as a memorial of Dante. A cathartic moment for Thailer was imminent as he was about to have a tangible connection with his favorite philosopher. An eerie spread of 3 crosses stood on the hill just behind the monastery. None of us really knew what to think or say. All 3 of us coming from different religious and or scientific upbringings, the site was something to behold. Not 2 seconds after our bandwidth freed up a bit from the scene on pseudo-Calvary Hill, our attention turned to the castle on the hill, Castello di Tagliacozzo; fairly large in comparison to modern mansions – but realistically small in comparison to the child hood medieval castles we had pictured in our minds. 

We marched up the hill with exploration in mind, and curiosity under our feet. It was a symmetrically built stronghold that was crumbling almost evenly on all sides. Kind of an ironic statement when I write it down, but that’s what it was like to see in person. It certainly made me appreciate the architecture and those who constructed it, for it was obvious that it had stood the test of time for a long time, until recent years. No sign posting or fencing prevented us from trotting around the grounds, and gallivant we did once we got up there. Some doorways and arches were still intact. The millions of stones mortared together had such an innate strength to them. Panoramic views of the Central Italian Mountains, orchards on opposite ends of the grounds still seem to be alive, I wonder who used to live here, and what does the listing look like on Zillow? We explored the keep until dusk started to settle in. Afterwards we headed back down to the valley to find what else we could explore until the last train back to Rome arrived.

Tagliacozzo is one of those towns that is so small and fairly secluded you wonder what the townspeople do every day? I wonder what their society is like. And while not many of the townspeople seemed to be active up on the hill, down in the valley the night life started to bring people out wave by wave. Almost like the scene from Spirited Away when the ghosts first came out to embark on the bath house. Walking past locals who most likely pin pointed us as Americans and no doubt wondered how or why we ended up in little ol’ Tagliacozzo still greeted us with a “Sera”. We stopped into a bakery where we all had 2 or 6 pastries (not ashamed to admit I had 6), which quite frankly after an afternoon of walking aimlessly felt quite deserved. For dinner or cena we happened upon a small mom and pop restaurant on the ground floor of a building in Piazza dell’Obelisco. Ran by a sweet couple that didn’t speak more than a few words of English. In this restaurant that may or may not be found on Google Reviews, I had the best ravioli I’ve tasted to date. Served with the mushrooms and the sauce it was cooked in, so creamy, so al dente, I ended up ordering this as my second entrée of the night after trying Thailer’s. We finished our meals and wine, and made our way back towards the train station exploring one of the coolest graffiti tunnels I encountered over there. 

Part of me looks back at this place and wonders was it truly that great, or was it great in comparison to the places and landmarks that disappointed me. The Trevi Fountain for example felt like I was making my way to the main stage at a Travis Scott show how densely packed with tourists it was. And on top of that you are hounded by hecklers who want to sell you anything and everything. A place where a first impression was made based on doctored and staged photographs on postcards one might see, only to arrive and find it nothing like how it was imagined. Regardless, Tagliacozzo left an impression on me that couldn’t possibly be tainted in any way. 

Travel rules 2 and 3 coming soon!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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