Many little moments happened during our trip to Italy this year, which made us feel we need to take a step back, slow down and concentrate on what is most important in life.
Project deadlines looming, summer queues at the gelateria and a 900-mile bike ride in the pipeline made for quite a hectic build up before setting off on our holiday. To paint you a little picture of this madness, Murray was running around the house half naked, sweating and frantically packing thirty seconds before our taxi arrived. To which I might add, I’d called to push back the pick up time by fifteen minutes. Our journey to the airport wasn’t without a little self-induced stress along the way. Late as usual, we only took a glance at the train platform board whilst running through the gates. The train we were meant to catch wasn’t stopping at Gatwick. After hurriedly asking three train attendants, all of whom told us to get on the train not stopping at Gatwick, we went with our hunch and lucky for us boarded the right one. Now, anyone who knows us will agree that we are late people, but this was cutting it super fine. Arriving at the South terminal 10 minutes before the baggage drop closed was do-able, but we needed to be at the North terminal – of course. Two large suitcases and a bikepod to transport (re: earlier mention of 900-mile bike ride to train for) made for an interesting airport run. I have to admit, with my new trainers on and the bike pod in hand I felt very athletic. Little did people know it wasn’t my bike and I wasn’t actually an olympic champion. I can dream. Chance on our side, the non-existent queue meant that we made it. We even had time for a spot of lunch in the departure lounge, albeit rushed.
We landed in Rome. And so it began. The Captain “ We’re very sorry for the delay. I’m not sure what has happened, but our allocated parking space has now become unavailable and we are waiting to hear from the Italian authorities where we can park the aircraft’’ Fifteen minutes later, and counting. ‘’OK, we now have a parking space, but it is on the other side of the airport, this is due to staffing issues’’. It was a Sunday evening in Rome, what do you expect? Benvenuti in Italia.
We were extremely apologetic to our taxi driver who by this point had been waiting a very long time. He didn’t mind – “Don’t worry, it happens”. He drove us to our destination, seatbelt off and phone in hand the entire way. A large people carrier meandering the tiny winding roads of the Trastevere district was probably not the best means of transport. A few scratches on the car and two or three knocked up Vespa’s made for an eventful drive. But people didn’t mind. It wasn’t a big deal.
Once more, late on arrival, we were very apologetic to Fabio, the guy who was meeting us at our apartment to check us in. He didn’t mind either. He just apologised for his beachwear and proceeded to give us a detailed explanation on where the best places to visit were as a nice young couple in love.
We were ravenous and worried we were too late for dinner. It was around 10 o’clock, if we were in the UK we’d be heading for last orders. The cobbled streets of Trastevere were buzzing. We approached the restaurant we’d planned to visit and there was no sign of them closing up. Our first pizza on the table and an astounding locally brewed pale ale in hand, we began to realise yet again, how much we fit in with the Italian way of life.
The following day we saw a mass crowd gathering on the main roundabout in central Rome. Italy was playing in the World cup. Murray and I witnessed the moment the road shut down operation took place. Well, actually it wasn’t an operation at all, a police officer dragged a barrier into the middle of the road, held his hand out telling the cars not to pass him. Horns were beeping and cars were screeching to a halt, but within 5 minutes drivers accepted this and took an alternative route. After all, what is more important than Italy playing football? So what if Piazza del Republica shut down in rush hour unannounced. Health and safety what?
A few days later and we headed further South to Puglia. On one of our first days at the beach, we happened to sit next to THE most beautiful couple, I mean, really hot. They were so toned, tanned and just, beautiful – a real picture of health. We spent most of the day staring at them. Lunchtime came and I loved what I saw. The girl tucked into a mammoth sandwich full to the brim of meat and cheese. No bikini-fad diet in sight. They continued their afternoon with kissing and showing each other lots of affection, even sharing a sun lounger. Murray and I, pale and wobbly lay on separate sun loungers both reading our books. How very British.
It wouldn’t be summer in Italy without a festival. That word in England (I’m generalising here) conjures up thoughts such as wellies, booze, music, raucous behavior, and probably more booze. In Italy a festival is an event where all ages come together to celebrate the summer and their town. They involve a lot of food, music and dancing with community spirit at the heart of the occasion. Our slack timing meant we left the house after ten each night. On route to these festivals there was always a slight worry that maybe we were just too late and we’d missed out on all the best bits, that being mainly the food. Parking up the car in a pitch-dark village with no noise or gathering in sight, it was still a bit of a mystery whether or not this event was taking place. And then we hit it, thousands of Disney-esque lights lined street after street, with hundreds of people all walking in the same direction leading to the main square.
It was Pizzica night. A festival dedicated to the ancient folk dance of Salento. The live music was loud, the atmosphere pulsating with people of all ages dancing the deep-rooted dance of the South. The band finished their set and as the cheer of the crowd faded out, a faint sound of a drumming tambourine could be heard. And before we knew it we were in the middle of a private gig. A small circle had formed and people were appearing one by one out of the crowd as if by magic, each holding an instrument. A guy began to sing and that’s when the real party started. The spontaneous band, audience and dancers had an age range between 5 years old and eighty years old. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t any alcohol being consumed, there was some red wine being passed around in plastic cups, but it was the tiniest amount.
We could of partied until the early hours, but we had guests arriving. We left around one o’clock. On the way home we found ourselves, along with lots of other Italians, eating Rustico Leccese (pizza pastry pie). I love Italy.
The last day and the last pizza. Rosito’s Pizzeria in our family’s village is a very special place. It serves the most incredible pizza that you eat off a sheet of cardboard whilst sitting at the outdoor plastic tables and chairs. It’s self service so when you’ve ordered at the till you then grab a table and await your number. Our friends had joined us by this point, another nice young couple. When we went up to collect our pizze the pizzaiola was looking at us with a huge smile on her face. We looked down to see she had made our pizze into the shape of hearts. I filled up with warmth and it confirmed to me that Italians really do love, food, family and love.
I felt guilty not posting for the whole summer and I could write a long list of excuses, but I think one will do – it’s summer time and I have Italian genes.
10 tips on how to be more Italian and less British = more relaxed and fun
- Be late (it’s OK)
- Don’t worry if your car gets a scratch or knock
- Take time over your food (a lot of time)
- Ignore most health and safety laws
- Get a tan
- Kiss your boyfriend/girlfriend in public
- Drink coffee (it’s OK)
- Eat bread after 10pm (it’s OK) and preferably deep-fried
- Hang out with young and old people at the same time
- Break the rules