Well we’ve been in Italy for almost 3 weeks now living out of our suitcases and adjusting to our surroundings. Everything is new and exciting! There are so many beautiful sights and interesting food to try. Despite not having a vehicle yet we have been able to explore quite a bit with the help of our sponsor, his wife, and public transportation.
First off the food here is amazing and unlike anything you will find in the states. Restaurant dining is top notch and meals are leisurely served over several courses. The Italian grocery stores are phenomenal! Almost everything is fresh with very little convenience food to be found. I honestly have no idea what some things in the produce aisle are, but you can bet I will be cooking with them soon! They have freshly baked breads, wheels of cheese, gourmet deli meats, and homemade pasta. The yogurt aisle is my favorite with unique flavors like pistachio, hazelnut, and stracciatella. Some things in Italy are going to take some getting used to. The Italian version of coffee is very strong and bitter like espresso. Also going out to eat can require a bit of patience. Restaurants do not open for dinner until until around 7:30pm, because Italians tend to eat a late dinner. As I mentioned earlier, meals are prepared fresh and served over several courses meaning that dinner could last a couple hours or more.
Our first week in Italy was quite an adjustment. Jet lag after ten hours of flying and a seven hour time difference is no joke. Between that and all of the things we had to do for in-processing we spent most our off time catching up on much need sleep. By the time our first weekend came around we were able to attend a bazzar with vendors from different countries selling food, arts, and crafts. We purchased some cheese from Holland and some glass liquor dispensers from Germany.
On our second weekend here we visited Asiago, Italy. As you may have guessed, this is where authentic Asiago cheese is made! The town of Asiago lies at the top of a huge mountain near the base of the Alps with some parts covered in snow. In fact, Asiago hosts one of the closest ice rinks and ski resorts in the area. The road snakes up the mountain and gives gorgeous views of the valley beneath. Once you reach the outskirts you will see rolling green hills of farmland. The downtown area has many boutiques, restaurants, and produce stands to enjoy. It is a beautiful town to take a stroll in and of course try some cheese!
We attended a GIANT chocolate festival in downtown Vicenza on our third weekend here. They had samples of every type of chocolate you could think of. In addition to filled and barred chocolates, they also had chocolate covered fruit, chocolate liquors, and chocolate spreads. We purchased enough chocolate to last an entire year! We also had our first gypsy encounter at the chocolate festival. While we were tasting chocolates a little kid bumped into me. At first I thought it was just someone’s kid not paying attention, but then I realized the woman next to the kid was holding out her hand for spare change. I’ve read about gypsies sending in children to slip their hands into pockets and purses. Thankfully all of our money was inside of my money belt under my shirt.
The downtown area of Vicenza is all cobblestone streets, statues, churches, ornate buildings, and balconies with flowers cascading over them. It is surreal to be standing in the middle of something I thought I would only see on the travel channel. The chocolate festival was hosted in the main square called Piazza dei Signori. Nearby is Teatro Olimpico, which is the #1 attraction in Vicenza. It is free to enter the courtyard of Teatro Olimpico, but it does cost to go inside. We also walked through a beautiful church called Tempio di Santa Corona. This church was built to house a thorn from a supposed relic of the crown (corona) of thorns. The amount of artwork, marble, and stained glass in this church is incredible!
In other news, I am slowly learning my Italian with the help of Rick Steve’s Italian Phrase Book and Dictionary. I probably sound like a cave man to the Italians, but they seem to understand me. The Italian language is very similar to Spanish, which makes word recognition a bit easier for me. Also we signed a lease on a beautiful house to live in near the foot of a mountain area surrounded by vineyards. The town has some shops, restaurants, supermarkets, a meat butcher and most importantly a gelateria! There is even a bike path that runs alongside the mountain and through the nearby small towns. We recently received word that our vehicle has finally arrived in Vicenza. Now that we have a car, we will be able to explore even more of what Europe has in store!