As natives, there’s always a lot we can learn from foreigners who visit our country.
Sometimes, I come across people who seem to really, really love Italy – way more than I do, in some cases. Speaking with them is refreshing because for a moment I forget about all the problems my country has and just focus on the positive things. It is as if you are looking at your country with fresh eyes and you start seeing things you were not used to noticing anymore. And you fall in love with your country again.
The pure love for Italy is the thing that first caught my attention when I came across Ishita’s account on Instagram. I noticed her profile for the beautiful photos she shares but it was her words that actually conquered me. She shows a true and sincere passion for Italy and is so in love with the country that she keeps on returning. She fell in love with Italy years ago and now comes for a visit at least once a year.
The love she has for Italy and her travel expert status are the two main reasons that made me ask her if she was interested in an interview. Basically, I wanted to learn more about her passion for my country and know more about her experience as a tourist in Italy. Moreover, given the fact that she is a very expert traveler, I thought she might give you guys a lot of interesting tips to enjoy Italy at best. My approach is always that of a local, so I find it very interesting to change perspective and point of view every now and then.
Ishita Sood has a very popular Instagram profile – very aptly named Italophilia – where she shares photos from her frequent travels to Italy. She has a blog as well and a monthly newsletter. But it’s time to let her speak and see what she has to say about Italy and traveling in the country!
Hello Ishita! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. First of all, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your life and work?
Hi Cinzia! So happy and honored to be on Instantly Italy. My name is Ishita and I am from India! Contrary to popular belief, I don’t live in Italy. Haha!! I live in Delhi and I was born and brought up in Shimla – a mountain city in the North of India. I moved to Delhi about 10 years back during my Masters and have been here ever since. I worked in different industries and jobs in the past decade and took up full time freelancing a year back. Apart from being a Freelancer, I’d like to call myself a seasoned traveler.
When I first came across your profile on Instagram, I was moved by your sincere passion for Italy. You make me see my own country with fresh eyes and I love it. How and when has your love for Italy started?
Thank you so much, Cinzia. I am so happy when you say that but you are also not the first person to mention it. Lots of Italians have told me that thanks to my blog, they see the love of their homeland come alive. I am glad I can help in some way! Okay, so my love for Italy started in 2013 when I visited for the first time and was completely enamoured by the land! On returning, I felt this constant restlessness and urge to return. The rest, as they say, is history…I have been coming to Italy every year since then and sometimes more than once a year.
When was your first time in Italy? What was your first impression?
In 2013 when I first traveled to Italy, I was smitten by the food and the architecture of the country. I have always had a fondness for great architecture and I think I owe it to my hometown. Shimla was the Summer Capital of India when the British ruled our country and hence has always had a very striking colonial heritage and rich architecture. Also, the beauty magnifies because it is a mountain town. So when I stepped foot in Italy, it was the architecture that had me SMITTEN!
I usually ask this question to expats, but I think it is quite suitable for a passionate traveler like you: what is the biggest culture shock you experienced – if you had one?
Ummm…Quite a few… But the biggest would be the afternoon siesta. I mean it doesn’t bother me now because I’ve become used to it but the first two trips I couldn’t fathom everything shutting down (especially in smaller towns) from 13:00-16:00 or sometimes 12:30-17:00. I wondered when the people really worked??
Another point to mention that I still find shocking is the rarity of international cuisines. Even in big cities such as Rome, for instance, it’s not as cosmopolitan if I were to compare with Delhi where we are not only multicultural but very very international.
Speaking of cultural differences, what is the biggest difference between India and Italy? Is there something you still cannot get used to when you are in Italy and probably never will?
The only thing I’d like to tell my fellow Indians is to learn to slow down. This is the biggest quality we need at the moment. We are in this mad race to achieve, earn and live but we don’t savour the food, don’t take a break, don’t enjoy like the Italians. We are too caught up, too focused, too busy. We need to make time and live a little!
How many times have you been to Italy now? Can you tell us more about your trips?
7 I think…I am losing count. My trips are usually for around 3 weeks. I don’t try to do too much in one go but at the same time, since I am coming all the way from India, I also don’t take it for granted. I try to spend at least 3-4 days in a town and I almost ALWAYS return to the places I love. Small towns, in general, have my heart because the experiences are unmatchable there but I also love the bigger towns like Rome and Turin where I have friends. This makes my Italian journey more special.
It seems that you are an independent traveler. How do you organize your travels? Do you have tips for tourists coming to Italy for the first time?
Yes, very much so. I have been traveling solo all these years now. For first time travelers, I’d suggest not to pack too much travel for your first Italy trip. Although this goes for any country but I have to say for Italy it is particularly special. What I’ve noticed (also guilty of doing) is that people run from the South to the North of the country in the smallest amount possible to “tick off” places without having the chance to breathe! What they don’t realize is that Italy is the opposite of that. You need to savour every step of being there.
So my honest suggestion is even if this is the ONLY chance to see Italy in your lifetime, I suggest you to keep the number of cities to a minimum and see 2 or 3 places only. Since the Big 3 (Rome, Florence and Venice) offer so much, they can get overwhelming for a first timer.
Based on your great experience about the country, it would be great if you could name three experiences people must not miss to enjoy their Italian stay at its best.
Food Tours – I suggest them because I love them so much myself and they are a great way to know more about a region’s habits and culture. Since Italy is very regional, it is also fun to know which region has what wine, cheese and/or pasta. I am intrigued every time I visit and want to know more.
Local Festival – Another experience I would suggest is seeing a local festival. In 2015, I timed my visit in Umbria to see the Festa dei Ceri in Gubbio. Not only was it the most eccentric things I’ve seen in Italy but also turned out to be one of the most beautiful towns!
Relax at the beach – la dolce vita! There is nothing like visiting the Italian beach during summer.
Instantly Italy’s readers are big fans of books about Italy. Do you have recommendations for books about traveling in Italy or books that might be helpful to “get ready” for the experience?
Too many! I have a big section of Books on my blog but for starters, I’d recommend “Four Seasons in Rome” by Anthony Doerr, “La Bella Lingua” by Dianna Hales and “The Land where Lemons Grow” by Helena Attlee. I also suggest to read John Hooper’s “The Italians”.
What is your favorite place in the country – if you have one – and why? What is the place that is still on your wishlist, instead?
It is really too tough to pick one. I have a lot of favorites from the top – Trieste and Turin to central – Perugia and Rome to the south – Polignano and Modica. Every town/city has a charm of its own that is hard to miss. I still haven’t been to the Amalfi Coast and I would love to visit (possibly not alone) next time! Bologna is also high on my list.
You are learning Italian. Do you find it easier to travel in Italy with a knowledge of the language?
Yes, absolutely. I am so glad I took the decision to study Italian because of my love for Italy. Had this love not been there, I probably would have never studied it. Studying Italian has helped me know a side of me I did not know I had.
Regarding my travels, they have become so much more easier now. The language helps me befriend people who now stop speaking whatever English they know the minute they see that I know some Italian. The locals have always been a big part of my sojourns and their kindness and helpful nature always amaze me. I am happy that it shows them that I am interested to learn about their culture. It would be the same if someone from abroad would speak to me in Hindi.
Thank you so much Ishita for sharing your thoughts about Italy with us!
If you are interested in more thoughts about Italy, I have a whole section of interviews with expats. I have chatted with a Canadian living in Bergamo, a Polish girl in love with Rome, an American artist who lives in Umbria and another American who moved to beautiful Tuscany.