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I decided a long time ago that Italy is a place I had to visit one day.

I think it was the food that initially got my attention as a young girl, then it was the language that intrigued me. Then there was the enthralling history, stunning scenery, the art, Italian design, among many other things.

Coming up to 2 years since we moved to London, I was surprised we hadn’t made the trip across to Italy yet, so we got planning and that’s exactly what we did –  man, I love living in Europe!!

We saw a lot of these...

It was a quick trip, just a taste really, as there’s so much to see in Italy and we certainly didn’t have time to do it all at once. The experience was particularly special as we stayed with a friend of mine, Simone, and his family (Simone lived with my family while he was at school in NZ for a semester) and it was so incredible to stay with an Italian family and experience real Italian cooking (more on that later!).

Lake Como

We spent our first few days in the Lake Como area, staying at Simone’s family home in a small town close to the lake. Because we arrived in the middle of the night and drove straight up from Milan, it wasn’t until the morning that I got my first proper glimpse at our surroundings. I had butterflies in my stomach when I saw the stunning snow-capped mountains surrounding the town full of houses built in the typical Italian style that’s so often imitated.

There’s something amazing about arriving somewhere like this – it’s as if someone has brought you there with a blindfold on and then removed it so you experience it all at once. Amazing!

Walking downstairs for breakfast, I met Simone’s mother for the first time – she doesn’t speak English, so as you can imagine our ‘conversation’ ground to an awkward halt fairly quickly. She did give me a big hug and thank my family and I for making Simone so at home during his time in New Zealand, so sweet :) Then she offered us fresh orange juice, coffee and breakfast – which was the most divine fresh Apple Torte.

I could definitely get used to this…

The most amazing light in their kitchen - wish I knew where to get one!

We had a fantastic time staying here, it was so relaxing and I felt so at home with Simone’s family (despite the language barrier we managed to share lots of laughs). Most of our days started with a walk down by the lakeside, followed by a beer and yummy snack in the town of Colico, a home-cooked lunch (more on that later…) and then more sightseeing in the afternoon before heading out to dinner with Simone and his girlfriend Claudia. She also doesn’t speak any English so we had to be quite creative in trying to communicate with each other (along with Simone’s help as translator of course!) – it’s amazing how much you can get to know someone when you only speak a handful of word in each others’ language, but we had a great time all hanging out together.

Colico on Lake Como

During our time there we took a boat trip to the gorgeous little town of Bellagio (which inspired the Las Vegas hotel) – a beautifully picturesque little place on the edge of the lake with narrow cobbled streets leading you up through the town. We spent a few hours wandering the streets, taking photos and browsing the stalls. Then we spent some time sitting at a table outside at the lake’s edge drinking an Italian hot chocolate, watching the boats go by in the fog.

I knew I would like Italy, I was right.

The streets of Bellagio

Bellagio on Lake Como

Milan

The next part of our trip was spent in Milan, such a gorgeous city. My highlight was actually a surprise that Simone organised – going to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper which is painted on the wall in the monastery of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Milan. I originally tried to book tickets to visit the painting (yes, you actually need tickets) but you generally need to book at least a month in advance and we didn’t book our trip that far ahead. So when we arrived and Simone told us he’s managed to get tickets I was so excited!

It was amazing to see the painting in person and it was one of those giddy moments you have when you’re travelling and you want to pinch yourself (the Eiffel Tower was another one of those moments!). We had 15 minutes in the room with The Last Supper before being moved along for the next group, and obviously you weren’t allowed to take photos so I just tried to take in every detail and commit it to memory. I’m far from an expert when it comes to art but it’s something I have a huge appreciation for and I always find it such a breathtaking experience when I get the chance to visit art galleries or see well-known pieces during my travels.

The rest of our time in Milan was spent exploring the main square where the incredible Duomo di Milano Cathedral stands. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed inside to see it as I was wearing shorts, as you can see in this picture. Amateur mistake, I know.

Duomo Cathedral

The rest of our time in Milan was spent wandering the streets, looking in the stores (looking not buying, sadly!) and more eating of course.

The Food

OK, this deserves an entire write-up itself as it was a highlight of the trip. Our first meal in Italy (after breakfast) was the most delicious veal in sauce with risotto rice, vegetables and of course red wine.

The next day’s lunch was cooked by Simone’s mother and it was absolutely divine. It was orecchiette pasta with tomatoes and bacon – that was literally about all the ingredients and it was probably the best pasta I’ve ever tasted – I don’t know what she did to it but it was amazing. I’d say it was the local, fresh ingredients plus her Italian passion for food that made it so good :) After lunch it was a snack of Melon and Parma Ham – so so yummy.

In the evenings we went out to restaurants for dinner and I was sure to sample both pizza and pasta dishes so I could experience as much Italian food as possible and it was all absolutely delicious. I think my favourite dinner I had there was the pizza on the first night which had Bresaola on it, which is a really tasty, dried beef in very thin slices.

I can’t talk about Italian food without mentioning the Gelato (I tried the Mint and the Stracciatella flavours) in Milan on our last night there – I can’t even describe how good it was. Coming from New Zealand, I’m used to fresh, delicious ice cream but this was completely different – much much creamier.

So that’s it, our first (and definitely not our last) Italian adventure – I think Rome is next on the list!

And on a crafty note, I’m frantically trying to finish last year’s Learn Something New Everyday album so I can start my 2010 album on September 1st (and stick to goal #4) so I shall be posting pics of my completed album on the weekend.

Until then, have a great week!

Nat x

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