I have dreamed of visiting Italy since my first day of school, where I learned to count to ten and say ‘good morning’. I’m sad to say my Italian never extended beyond this, but boy did I good morning the shit out of everyone in my three weeks in Italy. Although our Italian never improved after that first class, we did get taught extensively about the culture, history, and geography of Italy (did you know it’s the shape of a boot!). After about ten years of making posters about Pompeii, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and gondolas, it ingrained a love for the country of pizza and pasta.
Then, when Lizzy McGuire set off to Rome, met Paolo, was mistaken for an international pop star and finally, sings with herself in a wig, my obsession grew. Finally, ten years later (the Lizzy McGuire movie came out TEN YEARS AGO!) I arrived in Italy.
Now having this high an expectation on a country that I was expecting to get given a large wheel of cheese and see myself in a brown wig as a pop star, was only setting me up for disappointment, right? Wrong. I loved Italy more than I had ever imagined. I loved the people, the language, the culture, the food, the architecture, the diversity between cities, the history and the romance. We ended up spending close to three weeks here and I could happily have stayed forever.
Our first port of entry was Bari, a small coastal town that is easily commutable from Croatia via ferry. We spent a rough nights sleep in diner chairs and arrived cranky and tired early in the morning. I had no idea what this small Italian town had to offer, but it was a fantastic introduction to Italy. The small cobbled streets of the old town weaving us around in circles past fruit and veg stands, smelly fish stalls and what felt like a coffee shop on every corner was just how I had envisioned Italy. At one point we came across some little old ladies sitting in the sun and hand making the most perfect, amazing looking pasta I had ever seen, chatting about in Italian. On the next corner, we found a group of young kids knocking about playing soccer on the footpath, now and then one of their mothers leaning out of their windows and yelling something at them in Italian, equipped with hand gestures.
The thing I loved about Italy, was each place we visited felt like a completely different country or culture. For example, I had heard so many different opinions about Naples but it was one of my favorite cities of Italy, the grunginess and underground feel of the city was a great counterpart to the glamorous town of Florence. I think it’s always important to see all aspects of a country you are visiting, the glamorous touristy side and the grungy side most people try and avoid.
And then there is the food. If anyone has ever tried to tell you that the food in Italy isn’t as good as Italian food in Australia, instantly delete their number, them off Facebook and stop all contact with them immediately.
They aren’t the type of people you need in your life. Food in Italy is on its own scale of deliciousness. I have always said that when I went to Italy I would be angry if I DIDN’T gain at least five kilos. I am quite happy to say, I definitely succeeded in this wish.
Agh, the pizzas. Large, sloppy margarita pizzas are available on every corner for as little as 2EUROS, warm, cheesy and amazing you don’t need to splash out on expensive restaurants to experience the taste of Italy. Pasta is a little more pricey, but simple tomato based pasta is enough to make your mouth water just at the smell. I don’t know what they do differently, but they do it right.
Then, there is the ice cream. I think I had a gelato every single day I was in Italy, just in case I missed the best ice cream shop of course. I tried every flavor I could fathom, and discovered pistachio gelato is actually the best flavor in the whole world, who knew? In the more touristy areas, you can pay excessive amounts for gelato. I realized only too late one day when I handed over 10EUROS to receive no change back… Pay no more than 2EURO and don’t be fooled to think the more you pay the better it is. One thing the Italians have right is you never order just one flavor, even a small size you are inclined to two delicious scoops of flavorsome gelato. My Italian friend was appalled when she ordered a small ice cream on holiday and wasn’t allowed to get two flavors.
If you are planning a trip to Italy, I can only suggest to give up ideas of dieting, take a pair of pants one size to big for you and order that extra serving of gelato.