August is over and people in Italy are getting back from vacation and back to work and school. Learn more about The Great Return.
In the past, we've written about the Italian holiday of Ferragosto. For Italians, this is much more than a one-day celebration; it signifies summer vacation, and people take several weeks off to head to the beach or the mountains.
Stores shut down and cities empty, and on the fronts of many small businesses you can see hand-written signs showing the dates they will remain closed, usually between two and four weeks:
Starting at the beginning of August, the mass exodus from cities begins. Though most Italians don't take the entire month off anymore, many still do go away for large chunks (at least a few weeks). This causes epic traffic jams that are considered a summer right of passage for most Italians.
The Ministry of the Interior publishes a traffic calendar which shows the days where they predict the most traffic congestion. The worst days are given the name Bollino Nero (Black Stamp). Bollino Rosso days are pretty bad as well.
Il Grande Rientro
All good things must come to an end, and for Italians the end of August means vacation is over. During the first week of September they slowly make their way back to the cities (controesodo), greeting each other with, "buon rientro" (welcome back), or asking, "sei rientrato?" (you're back?) This mass return to cities, work and school is called the Grande Rientro.
The Great Return isn't just the act of coming back home; there's an energetic shift and a change of pace that is felt everywhere. It's time to get going again, to catch up with friends, to open school books, to check emails and return calls. Some people even treat the Grande Rientro as a type of new beginning, an unofficial New Year.
Against the Flow
Now that I live in Italy, I've gotten used to the flow of life and adopted many of the customs here, however, due to the nature of my work I'm unable to participate in the long August vacation. One of our busiest months for tours at Tourissimo is September, so for us much of August is spent scouting, checking routes and confirming visits, and answering last-minute questions from our guests. Beppe and I usually do get way for August 15, the actual day of Ferragosto, to celebrate with family and friends, but other than that we're busy in Turin.
I quite enjoy going against the flow for Italian summer vacation. We usually take a week off in July, while most people are still at work and at home and the popular vacation areas are not full. We go away again some time in October or November once the tour season winds down. In August, Turin is quiet and uncrowded. While many of our favorite markets and restaurants are closed, we can find plenty of things to do. There's no traffic and we can get around quite quickly. And Turin is not a popular city for tourists, so while places like Florence and Rome stay busy throughout August with sightseers, we don't have to deal with that. Living in Turin in August is simple and peaceful, and we manage to get a lot done. I still recommend visiting Italy (including less-touristy areas like Turin) for vacation outside of the high-tourist season of August. You can read more of my thoughts on off-season travel in Italy in my recent blog. And you can read Beppe's thoughts on traveling to Italy during the summer months in his earlier blog.
September 2021 was a very special rientro for me, for all of us at Tourissimo and for so many Italians who have endured so much during the pandemic. For most of 2020 (and the first half of 2021), travel to and within Italy was nearly impossible for everyone, and we weren't able to run our usual lineup of tours or welcome our guests from across the ocean. When I write this blog, I was on a train to Trieste to welcome our first guests from the USA in almost two years! Travel was still quite complicated, and we were still practicing social distancing, but the excitement was palpable. Il Grande Rientro 2021 was not just for Italians, but for all of our guests who were able to make the journey. Buon rientro!
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