Remember the phrase from the Wizard of Oz, “Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore?” This is what it feels like leaving home, climbing aboard an airplane and arriving in a new country. For us, the clues began on our layover in Frankfurt, Germany where the airport was so large workers rode around on bicycles and the environment had militaristic precision and a cold air about it.
But, the journey continued beyond and we soon found ourselves in yet another culture that of Italia. What’s generally the case while traveling so far, is your body is exhausted from the time change and travel, but your mind goes on overload with all the new information it is taking in and trying to process. The following is what we collectively imprinted as our initial impressions of Italy.
- Chocolate for breakfast is embraced. We were reintroduced to Nutella (a chocolate, hazelnut creamy spread of the Gods). We were so tempted to buy a huge jar of it (vat really) when we saw it in a shop's window in Venice. We must applaud the Italians for finding no shame in starting the day with chocolate.
- Italy is definitely old world over new world. Buildings, cobblestone roads, church bells ringing late into the night and early in the morning. Rows of old Italian men gathering in the square just sitting and doing their version of people watching. Our Italian hostess, Cecilia, reminded us that antiques are celebrated and valued and anything new is hip and modern. However, often what is considered just old (somewhere between an antique and modern) is often discarded or destroyed. Her family owns a centuries old estate in Umbria. They have kept the old in place because as she puts it, it’s a link to the past.
- Animals look the same here, they are just called something different and instead of saying, "Hi puppy," you introduce yourself by saying "bonjourno." Our Umbrian villa came complete with a stray farm cat, who has benefited from a group of American animal lovers. It would not be surprising if this cat, Madska-- yes it’s been named, ends up accidentally in someone’s luggage.
- Beverages are a little different here. Coke is definitely winning the cola wars. All you see are Coke, Coke Light or Coke Zero with the occasional Fanta products. No Pepsi to be found. House wine is cheaper to buy in restaurants than both water or soda.
- Italian fashion is alive and well and is modeled by the citizens at all times. The airport looked like a Vanity Fair photo shoot. They seem to adhere to fashion over comfort and must mock the throngs of tourists that debark from the cruise ships on a daily basis with no fashion sense. Skinny jeans are not just for women in Italy or hipsters on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Italian men seem to have the legs for it and proudly wear skinny tailored pants it seems whenever possible even with their suits. Men seem more in touch with their feminine side (must be the Cassonova in them). When we purchased our Italian scarves the man selling them modeled one for us. Ro commented he looked very beautiful and he got a huge smile on his face.
- You walk everywhere! Medieval cities were not built for modern day traffic. It’s a healthier way of living and how we believe those Italian men can eat so much pasta and still fit in their skinny jeans. Putting ten thousands steps on the pedometer per day, although exhausting to the calves and feet, feels both like an accomplishment and is a great sleep remedy.
- Another insight, people are passionate about what they do, where they live and how they live. Observing Italians in everyday conversation, they are using their hands and their speech is so expressive you would think they were fighting with the person they are just telling a story to. They seem to gravitate more to the idea of not just tasting, but experiencing fully the mood, the surroundings, the food and drink and certainly the company they are sharing.
Being immersed into a new culture with unique sights, smells & tastes awakens the soul.