It’s so sad to leave Italy after our 54 day road-trip. Here are ten things we will take away, some significant some less so:
Late Autumn is a great time to visit Wherever we went we had attractions to ourselves and could easily park. And the weather was perfect; warm enough to miss the winter cold but not so hot we couldn’t keep going.
There is not one Italy We drove through 14 of Italy’s 20 regions and it’s probably true that the only thing that unites them is Italy playing in the soccer World Cup. The referendum demonstrated a divided north and south, but the regional loyalties go much deeper.
You can’t have a secular holiday in Italy The story and beauty of Italy is told in its buildings and art that worship the Roman Catholic faith. And it’s powerful still today, just stand outside a church on a Sunday morning.
There are lots of steps We like walking but you can’t get the most out of Italy without the ability to climb lots of steps. They are everywhere. Goodness knows what the infirm do here!
Is the passion being sucked out? We wonder if Italy is becoming more like northern european countries. We never saw road rage, arguments in the street, passionate embracing.
A poor country with rich people From the outside the houses look like near ruins, but once inside they are stylish and desirable. A perfect metaphor for how the world’s economists misread Italy; even if the banks collapse the Italians themselves will surely be fine.
Dogs are best avoided Italian dogs are best behind very high security fences. The trouble is many are not and often terrified us.
Don’t drive a British car without a passenger If you did it would be a simple nightmare at the autostrada toll booths or joining slip roads.
In cafes you get served by Italians We were never served by an East European or a migrant. In Italy, jobs are for the family or friends.
They don’t drink much tea Kettles seem to be rare in Italian kitchens; “I’ll just put the kettle on” doesn’t translate very well.
After eight days languishing unused in a Bologna car park, our trusty Mondeo refused to start. What to do?
Our Airbnb hostess sent out a little man on a moped, duly equipped with jump leads and a spare battery. After some minutes of trying, with sparks coming out of the engine, he gave up and said “Caputo”. This didn’t need translating.
So another call and a tow truck to take the car to the main Ford service garage in the city. There was a long queue of other cars in front of us, but we told them our plight and our hero, Davide, who spoke fluent English, told us to come back at 3pm.
And when we did the car was fixed, all it needed after all was a new battery.
In our hour of need, every Italian came to our aid.
We’ve been enjoying shopping in the market area of Bologna for our dinner tomorrow
The Quadrilatero quarter is the ancient Roman heart of the city and it was full of people buying their fish for today and meat for tomorrow. Lovely atmosphere – very different to a Tesco on Christmas Eve.
We were here in autumn 2015 and earmarked then Bologna as a place to spend more time. It’s an authentic, bustling Italian city – full of young people, off the main tourist trail, with heaps of filmic charm.
And the star is a vertigo-inducing climb up the iconic 97.6 metre TorredegliAsinelli. There are 498 steps up an exposed wooden staircase and what makes the climb so disconcerting is that the tower appears to get wider the higher you climb. In fact it’s not – it just appears to be as the walls are getting thinner.
At the top the view over the city is extensive. The main city square – Piazza Maggiore – and the world’s fifth largest Basilica – Basilica di San Petronio – are just below with Christmas shoppers bustling along the pavements. You can also see 4 km away on the hillside the Basilica Santuario della Madonna di San Luca which Hilary and our daughter later walked to.
It’s been a pleasure to see the presepe (nativity scenes) throughout our travels in Italy; in public spaces, shop windows and most unexpectantly in our accommodation. Far, far more than you would see back in Britain.
St Francis of Assisi apparently created the first nativity scene in 1223, attempting to place the emphasis of Christmas upon the worship of Christ – rather than secular materialism and gift giving. Not sure that succeeded in the long-term but at least Italy is trying its best to keep the Christian spirit alive. With trucks being driven into Christmas markets not so far away surely that’s not a bad thing.
Throughout Europe there has been calls to remove nativity scenes from schools and other public places – by secularists, other religions, the ‘easily offended’ and the diversity brigade. The battle for the soul of Europe in miniature.