Here is the second half of my list of 50 things I love about Italy. It is based on the discoveries and adventures I have had in Italy since I moved to Vicenza with my family six months ago.
The list is personal to me and my outlook on life. I would appreciate your comments and stories, so feel free to post them below.
Now, without further ado, here is what makes me happy to be living in Italy right now:
26. Pizza – having pizza in Italy is a whole new ballgame! It’s nothing like what they serve you as ‘authentic Italian pizza’ back home. It’s tastier and somehow it feels much more wholesome. I used to be one of those people who order as many toppings for their pizza as possible. Here in Italy I found out that it is not about the number of toppings, but about how well they go with each other and the dough. Hence, the simpler the combination, the better for me now.
27. Afternoon Siesta – yes, it takes some time getting used to the fact that all shops and businesses shut their doors for a three-hour long break every afternoon. Especially if you have moved to Italy from England where shopping is our God-given right at any time of the day and night. Six months later I have learned to roll with the afternoon siesta and actually enjoy the break it provides. It is especially useful on a hot day, when you don’t really want to be out and about at 2 pm. Better stay in, put the shutters down and switch off for a little bit.
28. History – Italy is a treasure trove for history aficionados. Every stone has a story to tell. Every day can be taken with expeditions to places of historical importance. From history of art through social and political to cultural history, Italy is a fertile ground for the study of human behaviour in all of its historical contexts.
29. Speck di Asiago – this is my most treasured culinary discovery since we moved to Italy! Imagine thinly sliced cured meat that is so tender that it melts in the mouth. It has a smoky flavour and it has been cured for five months. Comes highly recommended by me after months of extensive sampling each morning at our breakfast table. If you have a chance to try it, jump at it!
30. The Palm Tree in Our Backyard – yes, when we moved here I was super excited to see a palm tree standing tall and proud in the backyard of our rented flat. It was the final confirmation that we were in a much warmer and sunnier land than England which we had just left behind gripped by a cold August rain. People back there were wrapping up warm and in Vicenza we were wearing short-sleeved tops until the beginning of November.
31. Markets – the heart and soul of any Italian town. Huge marquees are erected early in the morning once or twice each week and then through the day throngs of customers descend on the market to buy fresh food, bargainous goods or simply to see what’s new this time. There are also specialised markets, like the antiques market which is held once a month in Vicenza and the Christmas markets that every self-respecting Italian town organises all through December.
32. Murano Glass – I have always loved the glass from the island of Murano. Shaped in beautiful vessels, stunning chandeliers and lovely jewels, it has always amazed me how the humble sand can be turned into something so exquisite. The history of Murano glass is not any less captivating. I love going to the island in the Venetian lagoon and feel ever so close to a tradition which spans many centuries.
33. Balconies Turned into Gardens – one of the very first things that made me fall in love with Vicenza was its balconies. They were decorated with plants that were so lush that the balconies resembled mini urban jungles. In my initial walks around town I admired the wild abandon with which the plants were growing and the attentive hands taking care of them and creating little hanging oases all over Vicenza. I am really looking forward to spring now when the balconies will awake from their winter sleep and let themselves grow wild again.
34. Gelato – definitely one of the things I was really looking forward to before we moved to Italy. Who can resist an Italian gelato – this pinnacle of frozen desserts? Certainly not me. I now enjoy it as often as I can, which means almost daily. What to do?! There are so many different flavours that a day missed is a flavour lost.
35. Shutters – you don’t know what you have been missing on until you have had your first sleep in a room with Italian shutters. They block out the light completely, so that you can enjoy some deep and unperturbed sleep. When you wake, you feel totally rested and at peace with yourself. I think when the time comes for us to leave Italy, this will be one of the things I will miss most.
36. Michelangelo’s David – perfection personified! He is so beautiful with his doleful eyes and strapping form that I am totally happy to simply sit and admire him for a very long time. It’s funny how when you see the copy of the statue in front of Palazzo Vecchio, you immediately know that it is not the real thing as even though it copies the original fully, it fails to raise the same emotional response.
37. Arcaded Streets – these are simply beautiful. And they also keep you away from the sun and the rain. Often they are also painted marvellously well and/or have a fabulous ceiling to look at as you walk underneath. Vicenza and Padova have some of the best arcaded streets I have seen and I am looking forward to discovering many more as we keep exploring Italy one place at a time.
38. Smaller Portions – no, food and drinks here are not served piled high in excessively large plates and cups. I remember ordering a starter and a main in a restaurant in London some years ago and having to cancel the main after the starter arrived, as it was simply huge. Nothing of that here in Italy. Portions are just the right size. Sweets are small. Coffee and cappuccino come in tiny for London standards cups. Yet everything tastes delicious, satiates you and you don’t feel like you need to keep stuffing yourself.
39. Castles – I love castles so much, I must have been a princess in my previous life! Joke aside, I am always happy to explore a castle or two and Italy has so much to offer in that respect. My favourite so far is the Castle in Monselice in the Euganean Hills. It is a veritable patchwork of a building combining several architectural styles in one. It has a fabulous armoury collection – second in size only to the armoury collection in the Doge’s Palace in Venice. It also has the most beautiful fireplace you will ever lay your eyes on. Take the tour around the castle. It is an amazing place!
40. Cakes for Breakfast – yes, it’s true! Italians start the day with a sweet breakfast, eating donuts, brioches and other delights. Now, calm down a bit! As a matter of fact, portion control is exercised and they don’t eat all of this at once. It’s more like one(!) chocolate brioche and a cup of coffee to give them a bit of a sugar-cum-caffeine high to start the day. As a diet it seems to work just fine, as 99% of all Italians I have seen are tiny in size.
41. Sicilian Cannoli – I really don’t know how the Italians stay so slim with Sicilian cannoli around. These resemble little tubes of fried pastry stuffed with ricotta-based creamy filling. For added delight, both ends of the pastry tube can be dipped in melted chocolate and, once filled, the open ends of the cannolo are then decorated with chopped pistachios, more chocolate or glace cherries. As we haven’t been to Sicily yet, the best cannoli we have had so far have been in Venice and Padua. In Monselice we found a proper Sicilian cannoleria – as you can imagine, this is a sweetshop specialised in cannoli – where they freshly fill the pastry shells as soon as you order. Yum!
42. Pavement Cafes – ah, how I love to sit at a small table placed directly on the pavement, sip my hot drink and watch the world go by. Leisurely taking your coffee or hot chocolate whilst being immersed in city life should be considered a form of art. The best thing is that in Italy no-one rushes you or makes you feel unwelcome after you have finished your drink.
43. Huge Umbrellas – a little drizzle from the sky and colourful umbrellas pop all around town. There is nothing shy and reticent about them. The umbrellas in Italy (or these parts of the bel paese that we have seen in the rain) are so big they can easily put a golf umbrella to shame. They are also incredibly sturdy and seemingly never get upturned in the wind or get poky as the fabric has gotten detached from the spikes. Add to this their many colours and patterns and rain in Italy is never the drab affair that befalls Britain on an almost daily basis. Here is my own big and bright umbrella almost covering the Roman amphitheatre in Verona.
44. Fabulous Street Lights – I love the whimsical and magical street lights that can be spotted in Italian villages and towns. So much more romantic than conventional designs, they emphasise the charm of old town squares and illuminate buildings which are centuries-old.
45. Minestrone – this thick soup is my failproof recipe on those days when I need some comfort food. I understand that there are many different variations of minestrone in Italy, so here is mine: 200 grams of shop-bought minestrone bean mix, one peeled and cubed potato, cubed selection of vegetables (whatever I have in the fridge, usually a carrot, some courgette, a bit of pepper or maybe even some broccoli and aubergine), a couple of thinly sliced garlic cloves, 50 gr of speck di Asiago torn in pieces, salt, smoked paprika, black pepper, fennel seeds, about 1.5-2 litres water. All this goes in random order in my biggest pot, which is then put on the hob to simmer for as long as it takes for the soup to turn quite thick and stew-y in appearance. Serve with freshly toasted, deeply-buttered bread. Enjoy!
46. The Pianist – every now and then, most unexpectedly a grand piano appears in Vicenza’s city centre, just opposite Palazzo Chiericati. A man sits in front of it playing the most emotional music all day long. As you pass by, you cannot help but stop to experience the magic of this concert under the open Italian sky. The pianist travels across Italy with his grand piano playing in the most beautiful locations. He also composes the music he performs. Music which always touches my heart.
47. Small Independent Shops – the high street in Italy is refreshingly different from town to town. Yes, the presence of the big multinationals is felt in the cities, but side by side with their stores exists a myriad of small independent shops. Delis with mouthwatering window displays, ateliers for tailor-made fashion, small cafes serving delicious breakfasts and snacks, herbalist’s shops selling some lovely cosmetics among other things. The small business seems alive and still kicking, which is rather a significant accomplishment considering the rapid advance of the big chains.
48. Wacky Vegetables – I love it that most times I go food shopping I come across a vegetable I have never seen before. Sometimes they look like they wouldn’t be out of place in a sci-fi film. There seems to be a never-ending supply of little known veg varieties that are still lovingly cultivated only in a particular region of Italy. There is nothing of that uniform vegetable selection that can be found in British supermarkets all year round. Here everything is seasonal and often unexpected and unknown species turn out to be the star of the meal.
49. Romance – oh well, what can I say?! Italy is such a romantic place. The gorgeous weather, the fabulous food, the lovely countryside, the magical towns and villages. It is the perfect spot on Earth to fall in love again with life.
50. The Feeling That The Best Is Yet To Come – I had lost this feeling for a number of years. Life seemed pretty predictable and at times rather grey and unexciting. I am glad that moving to Italy re-awakened my feeling of hope, my desire for exploration and my love for life.
These are, in a nutshell, the 50 things I love about Italy. What do you think?
Yes, on a day to day basis, there are hurdles and issues to deal with, but looking at the big picture, I feel that I am at the right place at the right time and I can only touch wood and hope that my love story with Italy will continue for a while.