Mauro Martino won our award for best Italian blog in August. This was our first in what we hope will be a series of such awards for best blogs. In this interview he tells us a little about himself and his travels.
Mauro, you won the prize for best Italian travel blog. Tell us a little about the blog and how it was conceived 12 years ago. What do you hope to achieve with this blog?
I think I was one of the first to exploit the Internet world, especially in Italy. I used email before the web was even invented and started ecommerce back in 1996. So it was straightforward for me to register my domain www.mauromartino.it and in 2002 create a blog ante litteram. At the time there was not much software for blogs so interaction was limited and posts passed via email. My original blog discussed about travels, of course, and life amenities such as gourmet food, wines, liquors, books, movies and the like. And shared photos of course when Flickr, Shutterstock, Snapfish did not exist yet. But I knew that life on the Internet is speed, constant update, innovation. My job absorbed, and still does, most of my time so I slowly turned my site into a more unidirectional window for travels, yet reacting to the comments I receive. Which I still update by hand by old-fashioned programming, struggling for finding the time to move it to a more modern look-and-feel. What do I want to achieve?
At the beginning I thought that personal web sites would have become common for everybody, but then Internet followed the social media track. I still believe that a personal blog gives the freedom that a social portal don’t and will never give. I can say whatever (legal) I like and no one can censor or ban me. Or put advertisement on my work. So let’s say it is an information repository with my second-life expertise. Now I am up to the project of listing the 1000 World Wonders. The new idea here is that I want to index and cover all the countries in the world. Still in progress, almost at half.
When did you start travelling and how has travel shaped your life until now?
Well, I started late compared to the average. My first travel abroad was at 16, a school trip to Greece. And I soon discovered that travelling was wonderful, not only for the school girls, but also for its way of feeding an inner need I discovered I had. Wandering, exploring, breathing, tasting, everything. After that my life changed, in the sense that, while still following my normal life and professional career, I constantly feel the need to take my time off, be it as low as 2-3 days, and go. I cannot say I am a competitive traveler, or one of the top rank in TBT, since I live a very normal and busy life and cannot afford say, one month off or a sabbatical period. I always have to find compromises with time, the most scarce resource we all have. I better think of myself as a constant traveler.
And let me add one thing. I discovered with TBT and other sites that this travel bug, that maybe for years has been pointed out as an eccentric attitude of yours, actually was common to many people from virtually anywhere in the world.
Tell us one great travel surprise that you had.
When I was younger any spot, any adventure was amazing. After some time experience will unavoidably smooth out the capacity to feel wonder, to look in awe. Yet, sticking to the literal meaning of the word surprise, there is one thing that I recall in a recent travel. I was in Georgia last year, almost at the border with the Russian Federation. I was in a viewpoint for a nice gorge (Dariali) while a car with 4 Alans stopped. They came from North Ossetia going to find some relatives. After some chat they took out some huge and still warm khachapuris (sort of cheese pizzas) and bottles of local liquor, all house made, and we ended up eating and of course, after a few drinks, singing and toasting together. Example of Caucasian hospitality.
Have you ever been tired or disappointed by your travels?
Yes, many times. It is when I see, from Brazil to Thailand, the same type of resort or hotel with the same type of entertainment and the same type of junk food. It is when I see, from Kenya to Australia, the same kind of stereotyped local souvenirs, often made in the same country. It is when I see, from Egypt to Japan, the same hurry and neglect in packing people in a van to visit a place. It is when I see, from Cuba to Red Sea, the same fatty boys, of whatever nation, longing to make the same banana boat ride in the same beach. And I can continue long. But this disappointment does not prevent me to continue to travel. You just have to know how the world has changed and where it is heading, and try to take the good part of it.
You are also an author. Tell us something about your books.
Thanks for asking. Despite some pressure from friends that knew my travel experience, I started writing only when I was sure I had something to say. My book is not a travel report, it is more an essay on the art of travelling, particularly in the modern times. I had the luck (or bad luck) of start travelling when Internet did not even exist. So I wanted to offer people like me, but anybody in general, the story of an experience. I wanted to help people that by nature are reluctant, or think they do not have the time or the money or the spirit to afford a travel, to overcome their fears or their laziness or they apparent bonds and be rewarded with a life worth experience. And in this I try to teach to be professional, even if you are preparing in the end for the entertainment: surprise does not mean improvisation.
We have noticed that there are much fewer Italian travel bloggers compared to, say, French or English, even though the countries have similar numbers of people. Why do you think this is the case?
I think this has much to do with the “national” character, if such ever exists. It’s like it made us to prioritize the “local” dimension to the global one. It’s the same with industries, we have I think most of SME (small medium enterprises) in EU and one of the fewer number of multinationals. Maybe this is good for inbound tourism, less for outbound. A second reason maybe lies with the traditional hurdles we have with foreign languages, that can affect both prospective bloggers and blog contents. Finally there is a problem of communications. Internet in Italy is still fragmented, the most important portals still belong to the main editorial and media groups and this industry is highly concentrated. So it is difficult for independent editors to go up the ladder. These reasons in my view would affect both the demand and the offer side in terms of travel blogging. I hope that progressing with the bridging of the digital divide, digital economy as a whole could develop.
If you could invite any four personalities (from any period of history) to dinner, who would they be and why?
That’s an intriguing question. I have in general no idol, but I do like to have conversation with outstanding personalities. To make the right mix I would invite Attilio Regolo, a consul of ancient Rome that died to respect his own word, Leonardo da Vinci, the epitome of universal genius active in all fields of the culture at the time, then Bertrand Russell, one of the most prominent philosopher and logician of all times, and finally Amelia Earhart, that in difficult times pursued her dream of flying the world and died for it.
What are your next travel plans?
There are some always ready that I can follow as soon as I see the chance. Aa to those more set, Easter I think will be the right time for a family trip to South England (Dover, Canterbury, Salisbury, Bath, Stonehenge, etc.). In summer we should go to the beachside in Italy, as usual to the beautiful Pescoluse of Salento. If time allows in August I am also courting the idea of a longer travel with my son: Namibia or Tibet are both up in the list.
Read more about the travels of Mauro in his blog www.mauromartino.it.