We had stopped in a small town just outside of Vicenza to stock on snacks and drinks for a day trip to Treviso, when the most unexpected scene unfolded in front of our eyes.
Up the street, about fifty meters away from where we were standing on the kerb by the local shop, all of a sudden a huge flock of sheep came rushing down, stopping traffic in its tracks.
The sheep rolled one after the other, five-six rows deep. Little lambs scurried, frantic not loose their mums. Among them all, half a dozen of donkeys trotted down the street. Two shepherds skillfully herded the flock, helped by two large dogs.
Cars, cyclists and pedestrians patiently watched it all unfold. It was like one of those postcards which you see in souvenir shops in Scotland and Ireland – a flock of sheep rushing down a narrow cobbled path with a caption underneath ‘Rush hour in (insert the name of the respective country)’. The difference being that we were in the middle of one of Italy’s most industrialised regions.
Eager to see where the flock was heading to, we jumped in our little red car and for a moment veered off our plan to see the large Escher exhibition currently held in Treviso plus the colourful parade for the last day of the Carnival. The flock continued for a little while further down the street and then it poured into a large green field on the side of the road.
The sheep spread out, eager to do breakfast on the fresh grass. The little lambs toddled following their mums’ encouraging baa-baa’s. The donkeys munched on too and the loyal dogs stood on guard.
It was both a surprising and an amazing scene. In the Northern region of Veneto, which we currently call home, it is only too easy to come across industrial estates housing offices and production plants. And even though the region is famous with its cheeses (most notably my favourite Asiago and Grana Padano), so far we had found it very difficult to actually glimpse any livestock.
A few times, whilst exploring around the nearby towns of Nove and Marostica, we had spotted from afar a couple of dairy farms with large buildings painted in black and white cow patches, but the cows themselves were nowhere to be seen. They must have been either inside, sheltering from the strong afternoon sun, or in the fields behind the buildings, shielded from the exhaust gasses of the passing cars.
It was nothing like Germany, which we had traveled across last summer, on a road trip from England all the way back to Italy. Herds of serious cows and huge bulls grazed by the roads. Their bells rang in the Bavarian morning mist. As we sped by in our little red car, we could see the long and narrow buildings where the animals sheltered at night.
And the smell. The smell of manure was prevailing and overpowering. I was often grateful that the week we spent in Germany coincided with a sudden drop in summer temperatures, so we didn’t need to open the car windows too often.
No such thing in Veneto where we had often joked about the invisible cows and sheep whilst purchasing yet another huge slab of Asiago cheese.
And right now here they were! At least some of them. The flock grazed and their bells rang. It was now ten in the morning and Treviso beckoned. We piled back in our little red car and drove off. Sheep, Escher and a bit of a Carnival flair on the same day?! Only in the surprising Italy.