Saturday, 16 January 2016

Little things I love about Italy

I'm always feel sad when I have to leave Italy. It is by far my favourite country that I have ever visited for so many reasons. I'm in love with the language, I'm in love with the landscape, I'm in love with so many aspects of the culture. It can be hard to remember, as I board my plane and leave it all behind me for another few months, how incredibly fortunate I am to have been there in the first place.

As I begin to write more about travel, I'm sure that my love affair with the Bel Paese will become more apparent. To get things started I thought that I would write about some of the country's little quirks that may not be so obvious to people who have never visited. As you read, try to remember that Italy is a very diverse country, and each region is fiercely proud of their own unique culture and traditions. These points hold true to my experience of Italy, which I'm sure is more limited than some of you reading. I spent six months last year living, working and traveling around Northern Italy (mostly in a town called Padua), and have since then been back to visit three times... so far. These are some of the little things that I wanted to express my gratitude for, following my most recent trip.

Spremuta - Not a fan of coffee? Can't quite handle your caffeine? Replace your macchiato in the morning or afternoon - let's face it, any time is coffee time in Italy - with a freshly squeezed orange juice. So refreshing and zingy, and will quench your thirst better than that espresso ever could.

Street music - It's a foggy, brisk evening and you're walking to meet your friends in the piazza. You're sauntering down a narrow, cobbled street. You turn the corner only to be faced with a man playing Silent Night on the harmonica. Yes this really happened, and yes it did feel like I was walking through a film set.

Fruit and veg - Great quality fruit and vegetables are so easy to come by in Italy: the local market and even supermarket are bursting with fresh, juicy produce. The culture surrounding food in Italy is so very wholesome and good. It's something special to see. I've seen small children sitting at the table, as happy cracking open a peanut as they were with the chocolate bar they were munching on five minutes ago. Would I have even known how to crack open a peanut at two years old? Probably not.

Porta Cittadina - Italy has a wonderful way of mixing the contemporary with the historic. I often wonder whether the Italians realise how incredible that is: popping to the supermarket and passing stunning architecture with a lifespan and experience that surpasses any human's. This is something that is epitomised for me by the porte cittadine (city gates). Not every town has them, but in those that do they rarely seem to be separated off for the tourists. You find them next to your favourite bar, by the side of the road... Modern Italy has grown with and around them and they are integrated into its everyday life.

Sunday evening - Where I come from this means a cosy evening in. Some of the brave ones may venture out to the pub, but for me Sunday evenings have never been associated with being particularly sociable. This is not so for the Italians. While I can't speak for everyone, and Sunday evenings certainly aren't as bustling as Friday or Saturday evening, you'll still be hard pressed to find a parking spot near the centre. Many of the restaurants that are still open are full, bars are serving, and the little street food counter on the corner is open and in business until late.

Dinner parties - There's a time and a place for house parties, going out to dance and sipping a spritz in the piazza. Other than the latter, these are things we're probably all fairly familiar with. However when it comes to social events, there is one that Italians know how to do much better than us: the dinner party. For me there's nothing nicer than a small group of friends getting together to have some good food, and maybe some good wine too. Whether it's planned several weeks or just a couple of hours in advance, there is nothing pretentious about it. Although the fact that Italian cuisine seems to always be top notch without them even trying must take some of the pressure off.

It seems to me that Italian culture has understood the art of making the most out of what you've got, and enjoying every ounce of it. Bella vita, indeed.

Do you agree with these? Have you been to Italy? What did you love most?

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