Living Abroad: 10 Things to LOVE About Italy
So there's no Target and a severe lack of clean, free public restrooms here. But honestly whatever, because my bank account doesn't need a store full of goodies to purchase impulsively, and as for the bathrooms, well, just drink your daily 8 oz of water in the security of your own home, eh? Italy is full of things that more than make up for these minor inconveniences. Here are 10 of them - some of them obvious, others you might not have guessed.
Obviously. But seriously. The Louvre may have Mona Lisa, but Italy has an impressive list of famous works spanning centuries. Everyone knows where the well known ones are; the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, for example, houses numerous Botticelli and Michelangelo works. But you can just as easily pop into an obscure museum or gallery in a small town and find something worth seeing, like Andrea Mantegna's Madonna and Child below. Bergamo and Padua both have impressive collections, and often times these smaller places will have works by famous names before they were famous. Sometimes, those are more interesting to see!
You'd be hard pressed to find a boring suburb with matching white fences and identical houses anywhere in Italy. No matter where you go, everything has a quaint, historical look to it. Nothing really matches, yet it all mashes together in some sort of architectural harmony. I found this especially true in Verona, where it was hard to tell if a building was from 1400 or 1900 and every colorful street corner is a photographer's dream. Here in Milan, Mussolini implemented hideous fascist architecture after WWI bombings destroyed much of the city, but there are still colorful facades and quaint little balconies to be found sandwiched between the stark grey 20th century architecture. Oh, and the cathedrals, of course.
3. Delicious pasta and convenient gelato
I've recently done a bit of complaining about the pasta situation here in Italy. By that, I mean I ranted on Facebook that I "CANNOT EAT ANOTHER CARB!" That referred more to the fact that the go-to meal here always involves some variation on white flour and starch. However, loading up on focaccia for lunch won't make the spaghetti at dinner any less delicious! I think the biggest difference between 'real' Italian pasta and the stuff at home is in the sauce. Here, it actually tastes like you're taking a bite out of a fresh, ripe tomato instead of one that grew under the watchful eyes of Prego food scientists. Another difference is that the pasta itself is almost always al dente. And if you like cheese on top, forget that weird powdered parmesan that comes in a shaker, and don't even think about getting a bag of pre-shredded cheese to save time. That stuff tastes like shreds of mushy sodium compared to the freshly grated cheese here.
As for the gelato, well that should be obvious. Going to get ice cream back at home meant hopping in the car and getting either a) a pint of Ben and Jerry's that you swear will last you a week, although you secretly know that 'week' means 'one night,' or b) hunting down an ice cream shop that's halfway across town. Here in Italy, it's as easy as walking a block or two. No matter where you start from, you're bound to run into a gelateria far, far sooner rather than later.
Which brings me to my next point; Italy has proven remarkably easy to get around. Every town I've visited has been seen by foot - I haven't taken public transportation once. Keep in mind I'm walking entire cities in the span of a few hours. Cities may look daunting on a map, but they're really easily accessible by foot. As for Italy at large, the train system is easy peasy. Milan Central Station has connections to practically anywhere, making travel really simple.
5. Not much of a language barrier
If an Italian moved to America with only very basic English skills, I think it would be a bit more difficult for them than it has been for me in Italy with, to start, basic Italian skills (I can proudly call myself intermediate at this point). Even if they were in a huge city like New York, they'd probably have to put in a little work to seek out fellow Italian speakers. But here in Italy, I've really been amazed at how many people know English. When I speak to someone, one of two things happens: 1) My Italian is alright, but my accent is obviously English and the person will just respond in English. 2) My Italian is awful and I resort to speaking in English, to which the person easily responds. Now, to be honest, this has been extremely frustrating at times. I'm trying to improve my Italian language skills, after all. But for any Americans visiting Italy whose "Ciao!" sounds like "CHOW!" it's sure to be a bit of a relief. Plus, you can always find someone looking to improve their English who will in turn help you with your Italian.
6. Leggings ARE pants!
America seems to have this constant debate about whether or not leggings are pants. That doesn't really seem to matter here. Leggings, ankle boots, and an oversized sweater or tunic seem to be nearly every young person's outfit of choice, and that is fine with me. Really, when it comes to fashion here, you can't go wrong. In Milan you'll see people dressed to the nines to get groceries, or people dressed casually eating out at a nice restaurant, but in either scenario, they look put together. To achieve both looks at once, start with leggings - they're comfortable and chic!
7. High quality, handmade goods
If you're looking for a souvenir to bring back for your friends and family, please please for the love of God don't buy a green "ITALIA" sweatshirt or "I LOVE ITALY" keychain. Spend a day strolling around the less touristy parts of whatever town you're in and you'll eventually happen across a little shop that sells handmade leather bags, handmade jewelry, handmade clothes, handmade trinkets... you get the idea. There are plenty of stores like that here, and they all sell beautiful, unique, well-made items.
So long, American happy hour. You're worthless. Here in Italy, everyone relaxes with apertivo. Between 8pm and 10pm, bars put out buffets of food, ranging from small snacks like olives and bruschetta, to entire dishes of pasta, meats, and desserts. The best part? You can eat as much as you want for free as long as you buy a drink. Depending on where you go, the cover cost of your drink will vary, but I've found they don't go too much higher than 10 euros. The pricier the drink, the better the buffet, and it still ends up being far less than you'd pay for a drink and a meal normally.
9. Things are sloooooower
Compared to America, where everything is go-go-go, Italy moves at the pace of a snail. This isn't so obvious in Milan, which is considered (by Italians) more of a business-oriented city. But most shops will still shut down between 1pm and 3pm for lunch, and if you go out for dinner it can be quite a long affair. People don't seem to have that "Oh my God I'm so late for work I have to rush out the door spilling coffee all over myself," mentality that we tend to get in America. They take their time with things, especially mealtimes, and they always find a moment to relax and just enjoy existing (or co-existing with a bottle of wine, I should say).
Plain and simple, Italy is beautiful. Here in northern Italy, mountains create a gorgeous backdrop for many cities, and as you go farther south the gorgeous coastline becomes the star. The canals in Venice, the hills of Bergamo, Lake Como... the list is endless! The landscape is breathtaking anywhere you go, and fortunately, there are plenty of medieval towers to climb from which to appreciate the views.