Falling in love with northern Italy

Background

Husband & wife team Fiona and Mat lived in Mogliano Veneto a town and comune in the province of Treviso in northern Italy for a tumultuous 6 months with Fiona blogging about her expat experience

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When we moved to the Veneto region of Italy we tried to set aside one day each week for a sightseeing trip but as work and money problems began to take their toll and we both settled into the daily grind, this initial enthusiasm to ‘see everything’ waned. Having visitors for a week gave us a fantastic reason to get out and explore this beautiful corner of northern Italy once again.

Zoe and Mike flew in to Treviso so it seemed sensible to take them directly from the airport into town for a brief sightseeing trip and a coffee. We immediately hit a stumbling block as we couldn’t find our way into the city and found ourselves stuck on the one way ring road travelling endlessly past the same part of the city wall without being able to get inside. Eventually we managed to find a parking bay only to be completely defeated by the ticket machine. Even a friendly local couldn’t make us understand how to operate it so we all piled back into the car and set off on the one way circuit once again.

A few hours and a coffee later, we unanimously agreed not to bother taking anymore visitors to Treviso as, parking aside, it didn’t really have a wow factor – or an obvious central square which was a bit disconcerting and very unusual for an Italian town.

In our home town of Mogliano Veneto later that night we treated them to the joys of freshly made Italian pizza, people watching in the local piazza and …. the long drop toilet….! Like France, many restaurants and public toilets in Italy seem to be oblivious to the fact that it’s the 21st century and still expect people to squat over a hole in the ground. Zoe’s face as she emerged from the toilet of an otherwise very nice and respectable bar is something I will never forget; I doubt she’ll forget the experience either!

Pizzeria in Mogliano Veneto
Pizzeria in Mogliano Veneto

Living as close to Venice as we do, the first full day trip was inevitably to this beautiful city. Having visitors with us, one who had never been to Venice before made us slow down and see things afresh. We deliberately walked into the Rialto Bridge via the back streets, which whilst a little run down, I hope gave a truer impression of the city away from the tourists. As luck would have it, Wednesday is market day so we experienced the full force of the Venetian fish and vegetable markets. The vibrant colours, smells and sounds of both markets (situated just off the Rialto Bridge) was a joy to behold and we left, after seeing the many sights, feeling very pleased with ourselves and with more than a few photos of the amazingly colourful produce.

Rialto food market
Rialto food market
Rialto food market
Rialto food market

Despite knowing that St Mark’s Square was ludicrously expensive, (an average cappuccino costs €15!) we still fell for its charm and stupidly ate in a tourist restaurant just one street away. The four of us tried not to appear alarmed when our starter sized main courses arrived with a bill of €100 accompanying it! However, the people watching potential of having lunch in the open air was unrivalled; it’s amazing how many nationalities do live up their stereotype. We saw loud and brash tourists; snap happy families, tour guides with umbrellas and a flock of visitors running in their wake and many, many stroppy teenagers.

Gondolier taking a break
A Gondolier taking a break

Mat and I have obviously visited Venice many times whilst living here so the next day we decided to visit a town that none of us had been to before. I have to say that I was eagerly anticipating this trip as my desire to see as much of Italy as possible during our 12 month stay had been reawakened by Zoe & Mike’s visit and their reception to Venice.

We chose the town of Chioggia, about 40 minutes from Padova. It is called ‘Little Venice’ locally so we decided it was fair to assume that it would be a beautiful day out. We weren’t disappointed. Chioggia has a great buzz to it; it is a colourful and vibrant working fishing harbour however the canals, bridges and beautifully ornate buildings give a node to its more famous neighbour. Our visit once again coincided with market day which obscured our view and appreciation of the town initially but after a lazy lunch in a side street adjacent to the canal, we re-emerged into the main street to find the market gone and the towns’ beauty exposed once more.

Chioggia is now on the ‘visitor’ list and all future guests will be taken to this bustling fishing town. For the record, the lunch was outstanding, very filling and a fraction of the cost of our meal in Venice. We all opted for fish as we reasoned that it would be freshly caught and we weren’t disappointed. The restaurant, Al Buon Pesce is definitely getting a return visit from us.

Chioggia
Chioggia

For the final full day of Zoe & Mikes visit, which coincided with Mat’s day off, we opted to get away from the cities and visit Lake Garda. Mat had visited the town of Peschiera previously and enthused about the New Zealand like beauty of the scenery surrounding the small but beautiful town, so off we set. A traffic accident turned our 90 minute journey into a 3 hour marathon but upon arrival in Peschiera we weren’t disappointed.

Mat had summed it up beautifully. The town sat lakeside with beautiful vistas over the distant mountains to the north of the lake. Despite being out of tourist season, the town was busy with a mixture of locals and foreigners creating a cosmopolitan feeling. The hot sun only added to the feeling of being on holiday, which I suppose for that day we all were.  Following a drinks break on a pontoon owned by a local restaurant we explored the maze of small shopping streets. However, as the town is very small we had soon exhausted its possibilities and faced the prospect of heading home less than 2 hours after arriving.

Peschiera del Garda
Peschiera del Garda

A quick consultation with the map showed that the town of Sirmione was only 10 minutes further west. None of us had heard of it, or knew anything about it but decided that as we had come this far, it would be silly to go home again so soon.

And thank goodness we did carry on for Sirmione was quite stunningly beautiful. The whole town, sitting at the end of a causeway, is built within fortified walls; it is a labyrinth of small streets, ancient buildings, simple churches, clock towers and gift shops all overlooked by the magnificent Sirmione Castle. The castle is picture perfect and resembles something that as a child you would draw when told to paint a castle. Unlike many castles, from the outside at least, it appears to be totally undamaged and complete. We didn’t venture inside as the number of tourists was a little off putting but soaking out the atmosphere from outside the massive front door was enough for us.

Castello di Sirmione
Castello di Sirmione

Yet another town now on the ‘visitor list’!

Zoe and Mike gave us a well-timed, if unintentional, kick up the rear and jolted us out of our Italian lethargy. We have now vowed that we will strive to visit somewhere new each month and remember how lucky we are to experience living life in a foreign country – even if the trials and tribulations can outweigh the positives on occasion!