Taken 2 days after I arrived, happy as a clam in my home, before the covid-19 mess hit Italy.

Hello readers, it’s been a whirlwind of a month (rather, 2020 in general) and I feel like in a matter of days, my life has been flipped upside down- along with many others who work in the travel industry or anything to do with Italy. I feel like we have all gone through the stages of a breakup trying to understand what the hell just happened, and now I’m at the stage of acceptance and hope.

I started composing this post from the airport in Florence last week before the nationwide lockdown occurred, awaiting my return flight with a heavy heart and confusion over Italy’s long path ahead to recovery. I am fine/healthy, and am definitely practicing social distancing while laying low.

This post is intended to share my impressions/thoughts as someone who works in the travel industry, including resources from locals on the ground.

I was plugging away in Florence this February to set the stage for a robust 2020 travel season, taking on new collaborators and researching new tours.

It’s an understatement to say I’m devastated by how this trip evolved. I’m heartbroken on countless levels and my community of fellow writers, tour guides/leaders, teachers, operators and pretty much anyone who relied on international visitors in Italy for their livelihoods.

From my dinner crawl, I was so happy to lead while in town

I love Italy and it pained me to leave knowing it will be crumbling financially for the next few months. Being optimistic this will last just a few months! Words can’t express the sorrow for my friends left with uncertainty, financial peril and in isolation. I wanted to rush back the minute I landed in SF.

For the first time in years, I experienced culture shock being back in the US after a time in Italy. Everyone seemed happy go lucky and I feel I just came back from the future.

While in Florence, I was overwhelmed with happiness. Immensely enjoying my work, friends, old haunts (coffee and wine, especially) and in the matter of what seemed overnight, this beautiful dream came to a shattering halt.

Sunday feasting on gnocchi con spezzatino with my friends in Umbria the weekend of Valentine’s Day

It goes without saying how saddening it is for the people who have to suffer in hospitals. While these events have proven to be economically violent, I understand the restrictive measures are necessary in order to reduce the strain on hospitals, keep doctors/nurses safe and to make sure the most vulnerable populations to covid-19 remain out of harms way as much as possible.

If you can, please donate to the Italian Red Cross or directly to this link

Local photographer Francesco Spighi is selling prints of Florence during this time which will be donated to Florence’s Careggi hospital 

Of course not a medical expert, I hope we have empathy to those whose bodies will take a more brutal beating than others. One day we’ll all get a little older and maybe diagnosed with an underlying disorder or a weaker immune system. I hope the US will take this thing seriously also to not overtax the hospitals and healthcare industry with its workers.

While I’m grateful for what I do have, everyday is a challenge. I wake up to news about Italy, worry about my friends in isolation, stunned by accounts of healthcare workers on emotional/physical edge, while confused by sunshine and eerily empty squares or piazze.

I’m also concerned about the trickle down effect hit to tourism. It’s not just big tour companies, hotels, cruises, etc affected- it’s people like farmers, artisanal food purveyors, wine makers who work earnestly to safeguard their trade and ancient traditions and rely in part on the world to come and purchase/taste their products.

Pasta maker “sfogline” in Bologna I’m sure are feeling the hit in this economic tidal wave

Tourism has a limited window of months as you probably know. Consider the coronavirus event will have prolonged the “slow” season and perhaps impact the months when this panic is over. Billions of euros of losses have and will continue to strain the Italian economy.

If you are reading and want to support Italy, consider alternative options to experiencing Italy (detailed below!) The situation is fluid and changes constantly. While the countrywide “lockdown” period is technically until April 4th- who knows when travel will be permitted/advised. It’s impossible for me to advise when is a good time to visit or plan ahead. All I can ask is for you all to not abandon Italy forever.

Pity party thrown, now moving on to the rest

Got to squeeze in some time in wine country- can you guess where?

I’ll start with: thoughts on the coronavirus effects on Florence/Italy travel?  

Clearly, this is not the time to travel to Italy but I am confident the Italian government is doing its best to be rigorous in testing and protecting its citizens, and taking the measures necessary to stamp out the outbreak. When I arrived in Florence earlier in February, thermal scans were conducted on all arrivals. I truly believe the Italian government has been reacting as best as they can.

For a personal opinion, I wish the media and government been a little more realistic about the impact of covid-19 and why we need to take action. If they had said: “hey- this is not just “a flu”, have some empathy for weaker communities. While we don’t know much about this virus, and probably won’t kill everyone in its path but yes a select population is vulnerable which we need to care about because a. be a human and b. ultimately no healthcare system in the world can be prepared to care for all the people who would be severely infected. So while YOU might be okay, we have to think collectively as this might devastate someone else and overtax hospitals/clinics, and not to mention how inundated doctors/nurses will be, etc”

I wonder if reporters from the beginning focused on the logistic impacts and calmly reported the facts. If so, maybe people would have been a little more careful to avoid contracting/spreading and would understand the implications it would have not only on the populations most susceptible, but also on the hospitals (i.e. lack of respirators for those trying to recover, hospital beds, etc). Maybe we were all human, though. Not knowing how to best react to an extraordinary situation.

Not to sound righteous, as I too fought back against what I thought was an overreaction! I continuously defer to this experience as all the stages of a break-up: desperation for answers, denial, bargaining, relapse, anger, acceptance and eventually hope. Something I didn’t realize myself, was hospitals being overrun and overtaxed, and routine surgeries/procedures being postponed in light of these emergencies.

I gave my 2 cents to CNN on how covid-19 has affected tourism in Italy: https://app.frame.io/presentations/497cf8c6-4e7c-4765-bdd2-e910c6819b50

For constantly updated information from locals on the ground, these local bloggers did a great job of including reputable links, also links to donate to healthcare workers/red cross, updates, clarifying and shedding insight:

Girl in Florence has a great post with links/updates, An American in Rome also has tons of resources, etc

https://www.ciaobella.co/erica-firpo/2020/3/10/rome-in-the-time-of-coronavirus-iorestoacasa

https://www.regione.toscana.it/-/coronavirus

Wish I could go back to this moment with fellow writer Georgette Jupe and Italian culinary guru Elizabeth Minchilli- who I hope you follow and support as we all have been affected

Alternative solutions to visiting Italy while experiencing Italian culture/made in Italy 

-Purchase a gift certificate for future activities, gift boxes/wine clubs or from artisans who have online shops

-Check with your airlines, hotels and activity providers for refund/reschedule procedures if you had a trip planned for mid-April and on since the lockdown is until April 4th and if it continues, you’ll know how to act accordingly

-If you’re interested in learning Italian or an Italian topic, sign up for online lessons with teachers out of work in Italy. One of my friends/fellow food tour gurus in Venice (who have been hit from floods to now covid-19) offers online cooking classes: http://www.cookinvenice.com/

-My friends at Creative People in Florence did a wonderful job at rounding up all the people whose work you can support/buy online from: https://creativepeopleinflorence.com/2020/03/10/shop-florence-online/

-Visit Florence and as many places as possible in Italy in months you’d feel comfortable traveling. Tuscany will be one of the regions which will survive the quickest in my opinion, but consider the lesser-sung destinations who could really use some love.

– Check in on anyone you know who lives or relies on tourism or the hospitality industry. We need support from each other more than ever

-If you appreciate local bloggers/websites in Italy who are your eyes and ears for Italy- see how you can support them if they have contribution programs like PayPal or subscriptions, have written books, do any trip/travel consulting, etc.

Consider most bloggers in Italy have some work tied or is reliant on tourism whether its consulting for travel services/brands or leading tours of their own- booking their services, donating to their website or buying a gift certificate for a future activity they offer would be super helpful.

-If there are sites you know who have cookbooks consider one of their books either for yourself or as a gift.

I never thought in a million years one of my blog posts would come to this. I thank you in advance for reading up until this point.

Sometimes we take risks in following our passions. While I wonder what would life be like now had I selected a more lucrative career or made life moves with lesser risk, I still don’t regret a thing. If for some reason I am unable to continue on, I will live with the memory of having pursued the love of my life, and that is and always will be: Italia

In your hopeful trust,

Curious Appetite

1 Comment on Thoughts on covid-19 in Italy, experiencing it in Florence plus ways to help

  1. Paul Swortz
    March 12, 2020 at 11:34 pm (3 months ago)

    My heart goes out to you and your colleagues – the added economic uncertainty on top of the health threats and impacts are awful. Best of luck!

    Reply

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