Already, this trip has been full of excitement. That excitement potentially began when we left over an hour late from Newark because someone unfortunately got sick on the plane! After that small hiccup, the rest of the trip was smooth sailing. When we first arrived in Milan and loaded on the bus, I initially did not see much of a culture change compared to the United States. It wasn’t until we got moving that I began to have some first impressions of Italy.
Although I was tired during the fifty-minute bus ride to our hotel, I couldn’t keep my eyes away from the window. Something I noticed right away were all the nice, small, practical cars sharing the road with our bus. Not a minivan or pickup truck in sight! Compared to the United States, the highway seemed more narrow and smooth running. When we went through the pay tolls, it was a stress and traffic free trip. I was also paying close attention to the street signs around me. I noticed that a lot of the signs were triangle shaped (whereas they tend to be squares and rectangles in the US.). They were also very picture oriented. For example, I saw a sign that did not list specific food locations coming up, but instead a picture of a giant fork and knife. There were also quite a few red SOS signs, perhaps indicating the same message as the yellow caution ones we have at home.
Something that surprised me along the way was a herd of goats and their babies on the side of the highway! That isn’t something I see every day at home. I also paid attention to the buildings and structures around me while we were on the bus. We crossed over a bridge that seemed to be inverted and modern. Many houses and apartments that we passed were brightly colored; there was a specific orange and yellow apartment that stood out to me. The vibrant colors strongly contrast with the everyday beiges I see in my own neighborhood.
After we made it to the hotel and dropped off our luggage, we walked to a lovely little restaurant called Quaranta. On the way there, I noticed several small motorcycles, making for easy traffic in the narrow streets. People drove around on the road casually without helmets, seeming to not have a care in the world. The streets seem much more laid back compared to the constant honking and craziness in the states. I also noticed the beautiful balconies decorated with plants and flowers of every kind. They give the city a lot of character and a romantic “Romeo and Juliet” like vibe.
Once we reached our destination, I was amazed by the food (and the duration of the meal; approximately two hours). To start off, we had bread with several different toppings including sweet onions, tomatoes, and an olive spread. Our appetizer (which I originally thought was the main course) was a delicious pasta. It differed from the pasta I’ve had in America because it was thicker and seemed to be more undercooked. After the pasta, there was a plethora of meat assortments, and I couldn’t help but think about how expensive that would have been back at home. Something else that was a change was that the water was served in plastic water bottles. It made it seem fancier, but I would rather have free refills. In addition to the food itself, I was paying attention to the people around me and how they ate their food. I noticed a couple eating their pizza with forks and knifes; definitely more formal than how Americans eat their pizza. Everyone seems to be much more sophisticated. I also tried my first Gelato! It was creamier than regular ice cream and delicious. I can tell that time and effort was put into the process of making it.
Another area in which the Italians have a higher sophistication is in their sense of fashion. This was one of the first things I noticed upon arriving in Italy. I am used to seeing people walking around in leggings, jeans, and athletic wear. One of the first items of clothing that caught my eye was a red shawl that a woman was wearing over a dress. I rarely see shawls, and it was a pleasant surprise. When I went on a walk later in the evening (wearing my Nike sneakers) I was amazed at the various high heels I encountered. No pain, no game is how Italian women seem to roll. Although these are just some of my first impressions of Italy, I am positive this amazing country will continue to surprise me.