I’ve had a somewhat tumultuous relationship with Italy for years. It started out as a serious crush and became a full-blown thing with my first trip to Italy. After a while, it turned sour and then we broke up. I moved on. As years went by, I found other places to love. Then we decided visit Italy again. I finally had an opportunity to discover Italy in a brand new light. It was a wonderful experience and made me forget the past. We have now made up and will have a future together. Kind of.
That time we lived in Italy
Years ago, Alex and I lived in Italy for almost two months. As his family has property there, we were fortunate to enjoy their hospitality. This allowed us to discover Italy by train, car and bus. As a history student, I was beyond excited at the opportunity. After all, nothing beats experiential learning and when you visit Italy, that is what you get. That and Italian food. Someone give me some pasta!
Being in a foreign country for an extended period allows you to discover its many quirks. You experience local culture at a deeper level than when you’re just passing through. I never thought Italy was that different from what I was used to until I got there. Part inexperience, part hilarity, it was definitely an education.
That time I thought I was going to die
I have always lived in large cities. That is all I am comfortable and familiar with. And there is a reason I say this. In Italy we stayed at Alex’s mom’s house in a small town. The going-ons of small towns were not familiar to me. Also, nobody filled me in with that knowledge as they assumed this was the norm for me.
I was sleeping like a champ, enjoying the fact that I was now in Italy. Then it happened. Out of nowhere came a horrible sound that made me jump awake in my bed. It sounded exactly like the siren alerts in war movies before the bomber planes arrive. Puncturing that sound was a man yelling on a megaphone. The only logical explanation was that we were getting bombed and I was going to die. The man was yelling for us to find shelter. What else was I supposed to think?
Turns out, it was just a guy who sold fruits and veggies on the back of his truck. He used the megaphone to alert everyone that he was there. Like come on. How was I supposed to know that? I’ve never heard of such a thing. But I was ready for him the next time.
Hello I’m a tourist
There is nothing more embarrassing than making a faux pas in a foreign country. You ruin any chances of being mistaken for a local. We managed to make such a misstep when we were visiting the beautiful Lake Como.
It was a gorgeous evening and the lights around the lake shimmered like fireflies. We have just finished dinner with Alex’s cousin and a bunch of his friends. My belly full of Italian food, I thought it was a great time to have a cappuccino and suggested that we ordered some. When the waiter came to take our order Alex did just that.
It was like a scene out of a movie. I swear I heard a piece of cutlery drop as the room went dead silent. Everyone stared at us in shock. I didn’t understand what was happening. Apparently, you don’t drink cappuccino in Italy after 10 am. Right. Everyone laughed at us, but we got our drinks. So if you’re tempted to have cappuccino other than in the morning, they will make you one, but will laugh in your face. True story.
Another trip to Italy
When you go on a trip to Italy you can’t miss a stop at the beach. We were very committed to fulfilling that task and spent three whole weeks visiting beaches between Calabria and Alba Adriatica. That year I sported the best tan I have ever had in my life. Italians take beach holidays very seriously and found that we had no problems adapting to this lifestyle. Yes please!
So far we have visited Capri, Calabria, Sardinia and the north-east part of Italy to sample the different flavours of Italian beaches. All of these places were awesome and there are so many more of them to see. I feel like we have just got started. Definitely a reason to plan a beach adventures on our next trip to Italy.
Italian history, art and culture
When you discover Italy, you find yourself surrounded by rich history and culture. Not to mention the amazing art and iconic architecture. It seems even the smallest towns have impressive buildings and history. You can stumble upon history on every corner. I think one of the best ways to see Italy is by car. There is nothing better than a road trip through picturesque towns, along coastal highways and stunning views.
Italy’s history goes way back, before there was Italy. The Romans made their mark here by building their vast empire that ruled the Mediterranean for centuries. The Roman Catholic church has also left a mark here, with Vatican as its seat of power. Various city states fought each other for dominance until the unification in 1861. Although they are no longer competing with each other, there are cultural differences that can be seen and heard in different regions of Italy.
Needless to say, when you visit Italy it’s like stepping into a magnificent candy shop. That is if candy=history and the kid in the store is you. Between visiting Pompeii, Paestum and Rome, I was able to go back in time to the glory of the ancients.
In Pisa, Florence, Urbino and Venice I experienced the magnificence of the Renaissance. Places like Lake Como, Sardinia and Sicily showed me Italy’s natural beauty. Although I have seen a lot of this country, I think this is just a drop in the ocean. A mere scratch on the surface that is really insignificant.
Venice can be quite overwhelming for first time visitors. Lena’s three-day itinerary is a good place to plan your visit to this magical place.
When you visit Italy, you need to pay homage to its masters. It’s not as daunting as it sounds. The work of Italian masters can be found pretty much everywhere. Cathedrals, churches, monuments, museums, galleries, palaces and gardens all have roots in the golden age of Italian art.
Sometimes, these once illustrious buildings are in disrepair. Sometimes you find them abandoned and boarded up. Despite this fact, there are many marvels to be found. Visiting Palermo was a bit like that. The local government has made an effort to fix up some of these places so my hopes are high for the former glory to make an appearance.
Visit the Vatican, the Uffizi in Florence or the Ducal palace in Urbino. Take a walk along Venice’s many canals and visit residences of the influential people who once lived in them. It’s truly spectacular.
Italian culture can be quite amusing. Having been exposed to it for so many years I am used to it now. Yes, Italians place a huge emphasis on family, but they also enjoy drama. From opera to literature to movies, they certainly have a flair for passion. I once sat through a very heated argument between Alex’s mom and her sister as they differed in opinion about who was a better actress – Sofia Loren or Gina Lollobrigida. It got pretty heated. Go figure.
Italians love watching game and quiz shows. They go on for hours. The hosts, guest and participants are all dressed to the nines, glammed up and fabulous. Those beautiful people are watched by equally dressed up audience who seems enthralled by what’s happening. I don’t get it.
As Italy is a young country, many Italians put more emphasis on their identity as it relates to their families, towns, villages and regions before the country. Those in Sardinia are Sardinians, just as Sicilians are Sicilian before they are Italian.
From festivals and celebrations to carnivals and family dinners, Italians throw a party. Any event is also a great reason for spectacular fireworks. They Italians love their fireworks. And they do it so well.
Every trip to Italy involves an element of gorging on Italian food. Be that pasta, pizza, gelato and everything in between. Italian food is popular all over the world, but it tastes the best in Italy. Every time we come here, I have a different dish each day. Some days I love a good risotto. On others days it’s all about pasta. Then there are pizza days. I consider gelato as Italian food and usually consume vast amounts of it. Don’t judge 🙂
When it comes to Italian food, there are many flavours that vary between the regions. The fish and seafood specialties of the north are complemented by buttery risotto, polenta and meat dishes, including one of my faves – fried zucchini flowers. We can’t forget the delightful tiramisu and a range of fine wines.
The cuisine of central Italy is considered simple and hearty. An extension of the peasant diet, based on olive oil, tomatoes and beans. Here you have your hams, salamis and game in rich sauces and lots of flavours. Let’s not forget the mushrooms, truffles, lemon tort and cheeses.
Southern Italian food is versatile, depending on the region. Here we can’t forget the Neapolitan specialty – the pizza. The food in this region involves olives, fish, cheeses and stuffed pasta. Sun-dried tomatoes, ricotta cheese and artichokes are often incorporated into cooking. Cannoli anyone?
I think I can write a book dedicated to Italian food and the different flavours that come with it. Maybe that’s a project for another day. 🙂
When you visit Italy
There are many things about Italy that I love. However, the times I was able to visit Italy showed me parts I didn’t like so much. What I was surprised at how rude and ignorant Italians were. For a country that heavily relies on tourism, it was appalling how they treated tourists. Quite often we were given wrong direction on purpose, were talked down to and ignored. I struggled with the appeal of the place and the rudeness of the people. We were not the only ones.
Back in those days, when it came to the mid-day siesta, everything was shut for hours. Forget finding food or drink. Literally nothing was open. Nobody spoke English and they purposely pretended not to understand us. It was frustrating as Alex is fluent in Italian and they were more interested in correcting him and not helping us out. I was not impressed and refused to go back.
It’s been a very long time since those original visits and much has changed since then. On our recent trip to Italy, we went back to Rome and discovered that it has changed for the better. People were more helpful and considerate. Few even spoke English and didn’t feel the need to correct us when speaking Italian. More places stayed open during the day and I felt more welcome. It was a totally different experience.
Italy in my future
If you’ve followed my blog and social posts, you might have noticed that I’ve alluded few times to Italy in our future. This year, we’re making some changes in our lives and Italy is a big part of that. I am super excited and looking forward to spending more time there. I can’t wait to share more details with you about this adventure when the time comes.
Despite my love-hate relationship with Italy for a several years, I’ve come to a realization that this country has become a part of me. It’s a place where I am comfortable and happy. Writing this post has made me realize just how familiar I am with Italy and how much knowledge I posses about it. As they say, sometimes the most obvious things are in front of us the whole time.
A trip to Italy
Whether you’ve been to Italy or are planning a trip there, you won’t be disappointed. There is pretty much everything for everyone. Italian food, beaches, sights and shopping will make any trip to Italy a success. Let’s not forget about fashion. Italy oozes in it. That again could be another post.
Italy has played a very influential role in European history. For that reason alone I find it fascinating.
How about you? Have you been to Italy? Did you like it? Let me know 🙂