This time last year my then fiancé (now husband) received the job offer which set the wheels of our long-dreamed-of move abroad in motion.
After a series of interviews he flew back to the UK bringing me a pack of brightly coloured pasta shaped like famous Italian monuments and the news that not only he got the job, but that he was looking forward to our relocation to Vicenza.
Phew! It only took me five years to convince him to embrace the expat life in the sun.
We celebrated by cooking the pasta and posting a picture of our Italian meal on Facebook with the caption: ‘It’s official! We are moving to Italy.’. Three months later we did and nine months down the line we still love it here, enjoying the dolce vita to the max.
It is funny though how you think that you know a country based on previous visits to it, but it only starts to reveal itself to you once you decide to make it home. In spite of my previous seven or eight visits to Italy, I realised that before I had just been scratching its surface overwhelmed by museum visits, town hopping and endless cups of gelato.
Now that we live here, I have much more time to delve in deeper.
So, based on events and happenings from the last nine months, based on daily observations of a beautiful and complex country at work and at play here are my 50 facts about Italy I learned only after moving to live here.
The facts are presented in no particular order, so browse through them and enjoy! Also don’t forget to let me know what you would add to this list based on your own experiences in Italy!
- Cappuccino is only taken up to 11 o’clock in the morning. Italians consider it too heavy to drink after a meal or at any other time of the day.
- Typical Italian breakfast consists of coffee and a brioche or even a slice of cake.
- Italian butchers and supermarkets sell horse meat.
- Dogs are allowed into shops in Italy.
- It can take up to a month for a shell cameo to be hand carved from start to end. Plus Italy is renowned as the place with the finest shell cameo hand-carving technique.
- An Italian Renaissance architect called Andrea Palladio who died in 1580 is renowned as the Father of American Architecture.
- Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza houses the world’s oldest surviving stage set still in use today.
- The world’s first travel blogger comes from Vicenza. Antonio Pigafetta was Magellan’s diarist and took detailed notes describing the first circumnavigation around the Earth.
- In Ancona on the Adriatic coast is the only museum in Italy and one of few in Europe encouraging its visitors to touch all its displays and collections so as to sense art.
- The original story of Romeo and Juliet was written by Luigi da Porto – a noble citizen of Vicenza.
- Italians are devoted cyclists. They cycle everywhere with babies and toddlers strapped in plastic seats on their bicycles. Children get their first bicycle as soon as they can walk and families spend blissful weekends cycling through the lush Italian countryside.
- Health and safety is not a national obsession. Just a little fact of Italian life: Cyclists seldom wear helmets, prefer black clothing so that it is a real struggle to see them in the dark and carry an open umbrella above their heads when it rains leaving the other hand free to steer the bicycle.
- The biggest square in Italy and the second biggest in Europe is Prato della Valle in Padua at 90 thousand square meters.
- Not all olive oils taste the same. If you attend an olive oil tasting you will discover a myriad of flavours and will start seeing this green gold with new eyes.
- There are only 425 licensed gondoliers in Venice.
- Italian children are actively encouraged by their parents to greet each other on the street. Every time a child passes by the buggy of my little daughter, I can hear the parent saying: ‘Salutala!‘ (Greet her). I have started doing the same.
- The huge Roman amphitheatre Arena di Verona is older than the Colosseum in Rome.
- No-one knows the names of the two women who bore the daughter and the son of the Italian poet, scholar and humanist Petrarch. Even more – no-one knows for sure who Laura – his greatest love and muse – was. The names of his male friends and benefactors though are preserved.
- Romeo’s castle overlooks Juliet’s castle on a dewy green hill above Montecchio Maggiore in the Northern Italian region of Veneto.
- One of the most copied buildings in the world is Villa Capra La Rotonda on the outskirts of Vicenza.
- Italian cakes and sweets are epic and quite cheap often costing less than an euro per piece.
- Plastic bags in Italian supermarkets are not free.
- The only Museum of Jewellery in Italy is in Vicenza – a city where one fifth of Italy’s jewellery is made.
- The summer Opera Festival held in Arena di Verona attracts over half a million visitors each year.
- Nowadays dogs are used to hunt truffles. The originally used sows were retired from this task, as they would eat the truffles when they found them.
- Fiori di cappero taste really good. If you have a chance to try them, seize it with both hands.
- Italians announce the arrival of a new baby by hanging a cluster of ribbons on their doors. Pink for a girl and blue for a boy.
- Even if it is 25 degrees Celsius in February or March, the Italians wouldn’t venture out of the house without a thick coat and a warm scarf fashionably knotted around their neck. It is still winter, you know!
- Ticket machines are used everywhere to manage queues – from supermarkets and council buildings down to market stalls. Apparently queue jumping and queue rage were quite the norm prior to this.
- The world’s first anatomical theatre is at the University of Padua.
- Venice is awash with sellers of selfie-sticks.
- You can buy a close to 10 kg crate of juicy tangerines grown in the South of Italy from your local fruit and veg shop for about 5 euro.
- Instead of making cold calls, the Italian utility companies send a real person to ring your bell and try to get you to switch to them face to face.
- The Italian word for ‘butter’ is the same as the Spanish word for ‘donkey’ – burro.
- It is extremely difficult to find baby-changing facilities in Italy. So far I have found two in Verona (both free of charge) and one in Padua (but you have to show a ticket for the City museum in order to use it). Venice fares the best with baby-changing facilities in all public toilets, which cost 1.50 euros to use and are few and far in between.
- Italian mums breastfeed in public and don’t use a blanket to cover their baby’s head.
- You can circumnavigate the medieval town of Cittadella by walking on its defence wall at 14 meters of height (going up to 30 meters at certain points).
- If you visit the Seven Churches Sanctuary in Monselice and you are Catholic you will be granted the same indulgencies granted to the pilgrims visiting the seven main churches of Rome.
- The stone slabs used to cover St. Mark’s Square in Venice come from a quarry in Monselice just off Padua.
- Take-away pizza in Italy is better than all take-away pizzas you can have in the UK.
- Frittelle are balls of fried dough with different fillings such as custard, jam and pastry cream. They are made during the two-week-long Carnival season and are very tasty.
- Flamingoes don’t live only in Africa. They can also be seen in the delta of the River Po and in the Venetian lagoon.
- If you mix ground pistachios, virgin olive oil and sugar, you will get a tick spreadable paste which tastes better than Nutella.
- If you go to the A&E department of an Italian hospital with a problem which is not deemed urgent, you will be treated and issued an invoice to pay.
- There is a political movement trying to achieve independence for Veneto from the rest of Italy.
- During the clear-up of the rubble after British and American bombings of Vicenza in the Second World War the preserved gallery of a Roman villa was discovered several meters underground.
- The German poet Goethe embarked on a grand Italian journey in the throes of a deep mid-life crisis.
- Food festivals dedicated to local specialties are held all throughout the year.
- The famous opera singer Maria Callas used to holiday on the shores of Italy’s biggest lake – Lago di Garda.
- Turtles, rabbits, hens, roosters and ducks roam free the green pastures of a park in Vicenza unperturbed by foxes, people and dogs.