“Il Camping” in Italian is not an activity, but a place – what we would call a campground in English. And the linguistic difference is just the beginning. The most apt way to describe it is that camping in Italy is a far more civilized experience than back home in Oregon, for better and for worse. When I think of camping, I invariably form a mental image of numerous trips to Waldo Lake with my parents, or in any case, a classic US Forest Service campground. These are usually furnished with the following facilities: a pit toilet, drinking water, and for each campsite, a picnic table and a place to build a fire. All of it is built of wood and stone, and is usually constructed to fit in with the surroundings. Of course in a campground like this, you get a lot of space to yourself. Generally, everyone is happier if you don’t have to see or hear your ‘neighbors’ too much. All of this contributes to a spartan, “back to nature” experience where one can “get away from it all”, enjoying the woods far away from the intrusions of the modern world.
Compare this with campgrounds in Italy (and I suppose it must be the same in much of Europe). In the tourist season, in some spots you barely have space for your tent, let alone a nice wide open space under the trees. Naturally, being Italy, there is always a ‘bar’ (cafe) / restaurant / store where you can get a pizza if you don’t feel like doing your own cooking, or if you need to buy something you forgot at home. But the most important thing of all – and I can’t emphasize this enough – is hot showers. What a difference a hot shower makes after a day of hiking or other sports. It’s the difference between crawling into a grimy sleeping bag still wearing the day’s efforts, or going to bad fresh and clean.
I think the thing that really drove home that things here are different was evening in camp. To my mind, those words evoke images of keeping warm around a campfire and chatting, then turning in early to get a good night’s sleep, or at most having a beer or two from a cooler while listening to the crackle of the fire and the stillness of the night. However, since everywhere in Italy is near somewhere, and it’s possible to find a bar anywhere, our first night out we drove up to Cortina d’Ampezzo (the somewhere we were camping near) in the evening to have a drink. Which was made doubly strange because Cortina is a very chic town, so everyone is dressed up, which put to rest any remaining notions of being far away from the rest of the world in the mountains.