So, we have now been in Italy for just over a year. I thought now was a good time to share the good and bad things that we have experienced during the last year.
This has been mainly good, as the Spring starts earlier and the Winter later in this part of the world. However, this year we have had very little rain, which has caused a massive drought in Northern Italy. Many of the rivers ran dry in the middle of Summer, and since this is the main growing region of the country, it caused huge difficulties for the farmers. Many of the crops failed or the yield was reduced, and harvesting times were brought forward.
We also had two months of a heatwave here in Italy, where some days the temperature was reaching 45 degrees and not dropping below 28 at night. This part of Italy is also very humid, so it made for an uncomfortable night’s sleep!
Food, wine and culture
Safe to say this has all been good! The food here is amazing, and it is the pork capital of Italy. Anything and everything that can be made from the pig is on offer! My previous blog posts have concentrated on the salamis and other cured meat products that are available here, and like any other part of Italy, they are fiercely proud of their food heritage.
One of the things that I’ve developed a taste for is cavallo, or horse in English. The thought of this may turn a few people’s stomachs, but it is a specialty here and it’s genuinely delicious. It has the taste of beef, but more ‘gamey.’
The local wine here (Gutturnio and Ortrugo) is fantastic, and dangerously drinkable! In one of my previous blog posts I talked about the difference between the two, and the fact that Piacenza is sat in the valley surrounded by mountains where there are a lot of vineyards. The only drawback is that the local producers are situated in remote parts of the mountains, and since we don’t have a car at the moment, we can only access areas covered by public transport. That may be something that we’ll consider later next year, but as we will only need a car for weekends, perhaps hiring a car when necessary will probably be the most sensible option.
I’ve also blogged earlier about the Aperitivi culture in Italy. There can be nothing better than sitting outside on a balmy evening relaxing with a glass of wine or an Aperol spritz, while plate after plate of food is provided. The Italians have a more relaxed attitude to life than us Brits, and take time to savour their food and socialise with their friends and family. It is an attitude that I had no trouble in adopting very, very quickly!
It also won’t come as surprise that the coffee here is amazing too. I’ve always liked an espresso in the morning, but it has even converted my wife, who has always been a hardened Nescafe drinker!
The Local Area
As Piacenza is in Emillia Romagna, and has excellent transport links, we’ve been able to visit many different places in Italy when I have not been working on a weekend, which so far have included Milan, Verona, Cremona, Florence, Bologna and Rome. There are other lovely little villages round here that we’ll start to explore once we have a car or hire one for the weekend.
One of the things we’ve loved about living here is the architecture as both my wife and I are avid amateur photographers. Our favourites so far have been Bologna and Verona. Bologna is commonly known as “La Dotta, La Grossa, e La Rossa.” This translates to, “the learned, the fat, and the red.”
The learned refers to the Università di Bologna and the influence it has had on the city. Bologna is home to the oldest university in Europe.
La Grossa, or “the fat” is pretty straightforward. Bologna is considered to be the food capital of Europe! I can agree with that, as I tasted some of the most delicious food on my trips to Bologna.
Finally, Bologna is nicknamed “la Rossa” or “the red” for its aesthetic beauty. And of course because almost every building maintains a tingy, red/orange color that truly makes the city look spectacular when it is viewed from on high.
Now onto the sort-of-bad points. Italians speak very, very fast! I’m not one of those Brits who go shouting at people in English whenever I’m abroad, and I always make an effort to learn a little of the language before any trips, even if it is a short weekend break.
However, because I’m working in an English school, and most Italians want to practice their English when they detect my accent, my Italian hasn’t improved as much as I wanted it to. I try to practice my Italian as often as possible, and can order food and drink without a problem, but my vocabulary and grammar definitely needs improving! I can also understand some general conversation by picking up the important bits and then making an informed guess about the rest of the sentence. However, when a local thinks that you’re understanding them, they then start speaking at full speed again, and it just turns into white noise! There have been many times I’ve had to ask them to slow down by saying “piano per favore!”
An added problem is that, while Italian is the main language here, each region has its own dialect, and many inhabitants of Piacenza and the surrounding province still use Piacentino. This is totally different from ‘standard’ Italian, and completely unintelligible to me!
After living in Vietnam for a while I was used to bureaucracy, but Italy is in another league in Europe. There seems to be a form for everything, and even getting something as simple as an Italian sim card takes the best part of an hour to resolve! As we’re now staying in Italy, we’ve started the process of trying to get our residence and identity cards, and this has been a painfully slow process. They seem to do the process back to front, and check your residence first by asking the police to come to your house to check you’re living there, and then asking you to come for another appointment to get your identity card a month later.
As my wife doesn’t pay taxes in Italy they have asked her to get our marriage certificate translated into Italian, which from the quotes we’ve had so far will cost approx €100! However, hopefully by the end of December this should be sorted out and we will officially be ‘legal!’
So, those are my impressions of our first year in Italy, and the pluses far outweigh the negatives. Now we’ve found our feet here, the rest of 2017 will be great and 2018 will be even better!