Love sign

Way back in the olden days at the turn of the millennium, my brother spent a year out in Italy as part of his uni course. As I mentioned on Friday, he returned this weekend to get married.

Over the course of the intervening 11 years since we all first visited him, we’ve been back many times. Italy is without a doubt our family’s most-explored European country and even as I type my ‘rents are somewhere down near Bari continuing their stay.

I thought I’d share with you a few of the things we’ve learned about Italy over the last decade or so should you feel like visiting yourself. And it’s a great excuse to show off a few pics, too…

Wedding sign

1. Translators are awesome, but if in doubt, wave your hands

We all know the Italians are terribly expressive people; they talk with their entire bodies, not just their hands, eyes or mouths.

My bro speaks fluent Italian, but only one other guest at the wedding did1, which meant communication with some of the staff and locals proved entertaining.

Most Italians have a basic grasp of English and if you studied romance languages at school (or Latin, like me) chances are you’ll be able to grasp a little Italian, too. With that combination, it’s largely possible to get what you’re after.

Except when I went in search of vodka and came back with a fork.

2. Eat the fruit

Fruit bowlItalian fruit is to die for. If it grows in Italy it tastes phenomenal.

The wedding itself happen in a Borgo2 – a kind of small, walled village – that had been entirely taken over by the celebration and its guests and all over the grounds there were vines and trees with some of the ripest, tastiest fruit I’ve ever eaten.

Bowls of it littered the patio in the dining area, were scattered around the reception area and main house and available 24-hours a day wherever in the village you were.

3. Driving is at once the most insane and the safest in the world

The road to Spoleto, Umbria
Sounds like a strange contrast, but this is a theory I developed while we were over there last year, born out again last weekend.

If there are two things people know about Italy it’s that Italians talk with their hands and drive like maniacs.

And they do. I don’t really know why Italian cars are built with indicators on, because I didn’t see any flashing orange lights except for the 3 sets of traffic signals we passed coming out of the airport.

Switching lanes without warning, cutting corners, driving several times the speed limit when others are driving several times below it; I have a pet theory that the speed limit is actually the maximum permitted closing speed on the car in front of you.

But perhaps because of all of this, as a Brit it feels like an incredibly safe place to drive because you’re always on your guard.

In the UK it’s easy to become blasé about the roads you’re driving on and the route you’re taking. For the most part (hello, London!) people know how to signal, change lanes correctly and generally avoid life-threatening situations.

In Italy, where absolutely anything can happen at any moment, you’re so aware of the unpredictability that you can’t help but drive with both eyes glued to the road and all the potential obstacles around you.

Granted I’ve never driven around a big city in Italy, but on their highways there’s a bizarre feeling of safety.

4. All Italians have two heads

A 'street' at the Borgo Della MarmottaI have never met an Italian who doesn’t come with interchangeable heads.

One minute they can be the calmest, most polite, most down-to-earth and friendly person, the next they are roaring, angry, gesticulating monsters who scream, shout and generally seem to bully their way through anything.

Then, point made, they switch their heads back to calm, polite mode and go about their day.

They can have the most amazing, stand-up, blaring rows and return immediately to normality not just with those around them but with the person they just had a shouting match with.

In England, grudges would be held for days if not years. In Italy, as soon as the volume is turned down, everything is forgotten.

I’m not sure if any of that is good or bad, but if you do get shouted at by an Italian, just remember he’ll be your friend again in 5 minutes.

5. Always travel with elasticated trousers

Prosciutto being hand-carved at the wedding
It is quite impossible to leave Italy with a waist the same size as when you arrived.

The food is so homely, warming, comfort-giving, lush, plentiful and many other superlatives that there is no way to escape it.

Long, late dinners of 4-5 courses are pretty much the norm, no matter where you are, coupled with copious amounts of wine, Prosecco or our personal favourite, Bracchetto.

You rapidly learn that the pace of life slows to glacial as the sun sets and rolling buffets, long dinners and relaxed evenings lull you into a feeling of hardly having eaten at all. Until you get dressed the next day.

A place to fall in love with

Italy, to us, is a place that is incredibly easy to fall in love with. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve always had Italian speakers with us, or just that I’ve never explored other European countries to the level that we have Italy, but it’s a beautiful, bountiful place.

If you’re touring Europe, or planning to visit from far-off places, I can’t recommend it enough.

And if my wife were writing here, she wouldn’t let me get away without mentioning the Gelato, which is hands-down her favourite of all things Italian.

*****

Are we missing out by being such regular Italian visitors? What European country would you recommend over all the rest?

Some other posts you might like:

  1. big up for Bruce, there, who consequently got roped into all kinds of assistant duties! []
  2. the Borgo Della Marmotta if you want to take a closer look or, even better, stay there yourself []