Abandoned ghost towns begin to appear in the distance. Hoping it is just a mirage, the more miles I cover, the more unappealing these next two days could be. Prior to viewing the ghost towns in the distance, my excitement to see a new aspect to Italy, Promontorio di Gargano could hardly contain itself in the confines of the mini rental. Just like seeing Sardinia and Sicily for the first time, I had hopes Il Gargano would instill the same wonder, the same feeling of expectations being met.
The Promontorio di Gargano sticks out like a sore thumb on Italy’s Adriatic coast in the Puglia region. It wasn’t originally part of Italy, which explains why it juts out as a little bump in Italy’s boot heel. Il Gargano remains protected as a national park in an effort to halt creeping tourism, which explains the ghost towns when you drive in. Guidebooks and nearly every article I had read about this area promised all that I imagined, gorgeous coastline, colorful towns not littered with foreign tourists and even wispy forests. All of those promised wonders turned out to be just that, promises that wouldn’t be found, at least by me.
Driving into Il Gargano, abandoned Fascist looking buildings stand, with windows hollowed out as if there is a good view. Going from town to town in Il Gargano, I was quickly unimpressed. Italians and not a single foreigner may have surrounded me, but the kitschy feels of fluoresce and beaches right next to train tracks didn’t do it for me. Searching for a strip of sand that was not covered with Italian families or camper vans on every square inch was next to impossible. I had that feeling of wanting to shower to get rid of the grime, depressing architecture and brashness that seemed to be everywhere. I couldn’t find the breathtaking natural scenery either. Nothing jumped out or amazed me.
The strange aspect to Il Gargano is that everyone raved about the area. I was so shocked to find nothing written to be accurate. I was left with a dilemma. What do you do when the guidebook is completely wrong? Even my Italian host family in Florence, a couple I knew well, praised the area. What was I missing?
I think in the end we have to keep in mind that guidebooks are written by personalities. One person may be the type that finds kitschy beach life complete with tacky cafes appealing. Then again, maybe that person hasn’t seen the parts of Italy I have seen. When I read the Gargano coastline was “the most beautiful in all of Italy”, I quickly realized the problem. Travel is always in the eye of the beholder. When buying a guidebook, I often read the author pages first. I can then gage just how that traveler sees travel itself. Perhaps we need guidebooks and articles to come with a disclaimer of where the traveler has been before.
Traveling throughout Barcelona with Christine of C’est Christine, we were both encouraged to head to Park Güell. As we made the trek up, we looked at each other in puzzlement, wondering why so many loved this touristy park that lacked greenery. The city park did it for both of us, a park no one said we “just had to visit”. Clearly our travel personalities met on the same page and it wasn’t that of a guide.
Sitting in a strange hotel in the town of Rodi Garganico, “I can’t wait to get out of here” kept ringing in my ears with a deafening silence. Then again, a lesson was acquired, one of the meanings to travel. I would have loved to head out to Sicily or Sardinia, but I needed this moment of disappointment. I think we often expect travel to be a giant up-lifter, amazement with every turn. That is not always the case. There are the grand palaces, the natural wonders you can’t quite wrap your head around and the characters who make a place, but travel has to humble just as the rest of life does.
Il Gargano wasn’t for me. I couldn’t wait to leave. I had seen far more beautiful and wondrous places in Italy, but I needed this disappointment to bring me back down from my cloud of high expectations and greatness. Travel isn’t just beautiful places, but also ugly ones, those where you say “how can anyone live here”. Then again, another traveler’s trash is another traveler’s treasure.
Have you ever been disappointed in a place after hearing so much praise from guidebooks, articles and recommendations from others? How did you deal with the situation?