After the cooler temperatures we experienced in the UK arriving in northern Italy to temperatures in the high 20s to early 30s was very welcome! We were excited about our Italian workaway experience.
We have been based in the small village of Sorga’ which is about 40 minutes outside Verona, in the Veneto region. The area is flat and largely agricultural, farm buildings and homes dot the landscape. There are tree nurseries, tobacco fields, maize crops, sunflower fields and much more, some still growing and some already harvested. It is not unusual to encounter large farming vehicles on the roads. The area is famous for its rice “Vialone Nano”, the most well known dish is risotto with sausage ‘riso alla pilota’ but as we discovered this is not the only way to use this rice.
Immediately the routine of our new workaway began. The parents, Fabiola and Gerald leave for work at about 8am and the three children (Giulia, 12, Mattia, 8 and Anna, 5) were still on their summer break. Gerald (from Germany) comes home from work about 12:30 followed by Fabiola (who was born nearby) at about 1pm. A pasta lunch then begins, and yes it was always delicious! Gerald returns to work about 2pm and Fabi spends the afternoon with the children. We were made to feel at home in this family very quickly. To be honest I was somewhat intimidated at the idea of cooking in an Italian kitchen but Fabi was great at sharing ideas and in no time at all I was stirring pots and organising food. She and Giulia were both keen to learn new recipes and I soon found myself teaching them how to make a chocolate brownie, other recipes soon followed, hamburgers, chicken curry and more. In between times I was re-covering the dining room chairs and altering clothing. I also made Mattia a ‘Flash’ t-shirt. Mike worked on a building project and then in the garden, tidying and replanting, such satisfying work as you can see quite dramatic results quickly.
School for most northern Italian children is very different from our NZ schools. The school day begins around 8am and there are five 1 hour lessons with a short 10-15 minute break mid-morning. School ends around 12:30 and everyone goes home. The school week runs from Monday to Saturday, there is a 6 day break at Christmas and another few days off at Easter, other than that it is continuous school from mid September until mid June when school stops for 3 months. All extra-curricula activities happen outside of school.
Food is a big part of family life and it appears to be very healthy, people here seem to be fit and active, Fabi’s grandmother is 90 and she is still active and a contributing member of this family. Breakfast is small and usually involves some sort of bread with a cappuccino (definitely a morning only drink), lunch is pasta and then a meat and salad course, pasta is generally only served at lunch not at dinner. We saw very little snacking and water was the main drink. Gathering around the table for a meal is important to this family. We also ate with Fabi’s parents and grandmother during weekends which meant that at least 10 people were at the table. This was everything I imagined about an Italian family meal, delicious food, good wine, laughter and a lot of noise.
Summer is ending and autumn is making its presence felt, gone are the 30+ days and mid 20s are more the norm, the mornings and evenings are now cooler. People are wanting to enjoy the last of the good weather and lighter evenings. Each area seems to be having a feast/festival/saint day with activities and food available. We went to one and it is quite likely that we were the only ‘foreign visitors’ there. It was such a good evening and a perfect reminder of why workaway is a good way to travel and see an area. Another event like this was an evening in Mantova, a small and VERY beautiful medieval village near Sorga. We went on a Saturday night and wondered the streets taking in the sights, we meet with family friends for aperitifs then it was a pizza dinner in the main piazza. Such a good night! We had already been to Mantova for market day but it was even more magical by night.
Part way through our stay we went to Verona to see our friends Judy and Derek who came to Verona to spend time with us (how nice was that????). Verona is the ‘home’ of Romeo and Juliet, but really it is so much more. It is an old Roman town and has an amazing arena in its centre that now hosts many operas, musicals and concerts.
Like many other old towns the roads are narrow and there’s not a lot of traffic. Beautiful shops, very stylish people, terracotta roofs, sidewalk cafes, incredible history all around. We visited the Museo di Castelvecchio. What an incredible building with an amazing art display. The views from here were wonderful and the building itself is worth a look. It is Gothic in its style and has quite distinctive M shaped merlons (battlements) on its roof line and along the bridge.
We also visited churches, wandered lanes, crossed bridges and stopped on a regular basis to enjoy delicious food and drink. Mike and Derek may have a different view on all this, while all this activity happened Judy and I did not stop talking, so many months of news to catch up on.
We really have had a marvellous time staying with this Italian/German family, we will remember laughing over good food, sharing stories of family life and we are truly grateful for the opportunity to experience Italian life away from the tourist scene.
Next stop Germany to catch with friends we haven’t seen since 1991!