Guest Post by Agata Mleczko
I am going to tell you my story here: the real adventure I experienced in Italy. No extreme activities were involved, however this adventure changed me forever. I spent in Italy almost 6 years. First as a student, then as a researcher, and finally as an immigrant. I moved to Italy because I fell in love with this country from the first sight. And I have never regretted it. I feel so lucky and privileged to get along with Italy quite well. Here is my story of a lifetime friendship.
Although it is impossible to share every detail of my stay in Italy I will tell you about a process of getting into a deep relationship with Italy and the Italians I met. The moment I arrived in Italy I knew I needed to find a common activity if I wanted to get closer to the people, their culture and language. I was very lucky to have amazing neighbors: two ladies in their seventies with lots of time and willingness to spend it with a foreigner. For me a common activity took the shape of cooking with them. This was one of the most profound experiences of my life.
Learning By Doing
Here we are: my two wonderful neighbors and me – a total stranger who struggles to get closer to the new country. At the beginning we were just meeting at the stairs or in a hallway, exchanging some general views on the weather and current activities. The food – just like the weather – is always simple to talk about so at some point we discovered that I liked cooking and they liked to share their skills. It was their idea to invite me to their homes and to share their knowledge. It was their generous invitation that allowed me to spend time on getting into rich local tradition and history. It was important to me not to only get pure knowledge, but most of all skills. I was shown what the perfect pasta looks like, how soft it is when you touch it, what is the taste of it. You can’t learn it from a book. When all senses are involved the learning process is pretty straight-forward. PLUS: they were endlessly patient with me!
Not Only Food
Cooking lessons were not limited to the cooking skills, though. Quite naturally, both my teachers started to share their memories from childhood and the local stories. Old habits were mixed with traditional recipes, stories about poverty were accompanied with local product’s cultivation. Along with the skills acquisition I got used to the local dialect these two ladies were speaking. What a journey into their own past! Their lives, personal struggles, successes and failures. I got so much more than just Italian recipes! I received a complete picture of Emilia-Romagna, how it once was and why things were as they were. I think that a certain age allows you to be honest and generous and I was the lucky one who benefited from it. Absolutely priceless experience! Not only did I learn how to prepare traditional Italian dishes, fresh pasta, snacks and sweets but at the same time I made lifetime friends and got to know things I have never imagined I would.
Not all are as lucky as I was. I know you can’t count on such friendship when you visit Italy for just a short time, but what you can do is participate in a cooking lesson. I would like to recommend it to everybody! Every time I prepare cappellacci or lasagne I remember my dear friends and everything I received in Italy. This experience changed my way of traveling, making friends, and getting closer to the culture and language of the country I visit.
Do you want to experience any country for real? Go beyond! Beyond the ordinary travel routes, tourist spots and catalogue activities. And DO something instead of just WATCHING.
It is now possible to join Agata! This September 2014 her new initiative begins. It is called “I love Ferrara” and it provides a one week stay in Ferrara with personal guidance of Agata, cooking lessons, wine tasting, bike riding and much more. Visit I Love Ferrara and book today! Or stay tuned for the 2nd edition in May 2015!
About the author: Agata Mleczko is founder and editor of the Null&Full travel blog (Nullnfull.com) focused on off-the-beaten-track destinations. She currently lives in Poland, but had lived in Italy for more than 6 years and has traveled to more than 20 countries all over the world. Agata recently visited New Zealand for the first time and became fascinated with this island. She enjoys reading travel books, jogging, trekking and cooking. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.
Wonderful post, Agata. What a great experience you had to live in Italy and very lucky indeed. One of my travel dreams is to take a cooking class in Italy. I can just imagine all the delicious food you helped prepare.
Thank you Mary for these kind words. Yes, I know how lucky I was. And, yes, the authentic Italian food from Emilia – Romagna is fabulous!
What a wonderful inspiring story Agata. Thank you for sharing your personal story. It is clear what a passion you have for Italy.
You’re absolutely right Mergie! I still visit Italy every 3-4 months. I can’t live without it. Mainly to meet my friends and visit favorite places but also to bring a huge cargo of parmiggiano or garana padano and wine. It’s so easy to fall in love with Italy, isn’t it?
What treasured experiences, Agata! And it is interesting to see how cooking classes for visitors are really taking off now- such a invaluable way to immerse yourself in a country.
Although I am pretty familiar with the theory of adaptation in a foreign country this experience went far beyond of what I expected. I knew doing things is better than just watching but there was so unbelievably more than simply cooking! The stories I’ve heard in the local dialect are priceless!
You got it right: the best way to have a real adventure is to get closer to the people there!
I just feel like I had second family in Italy including two grandmothers. Amazing!
Lovely story, Agata! Our family took a pizza-making course in Sorrento a couple of years ago and it was so much fun – especially for my daughters! I would love to return to Italy for some more in-depth cooking lessons.
You’re right Lisa – this is an excellent idea for so many reasons! I would love to learn how to prepare the real Italian pizza and I think that next time I go there I’ll try to spend some time with pizzaiolo 😉
Sounds to me Agata that you were really blessed to make the acquaintance of these woman. It’s amazing how the kindness of strangers – who later became friends – influenced your outlook on the country as a whole.
And what fabulous skills you learned that you can take everywhere with you now.
No more words needed. I was truly blessed.
This is a dream of mine to learn how to make real Italian dishes. I wouldn’t feel like a tourist just breezing through a country, but actually getting my hands full of flour. Loved your story.
Thank you Neva. I know what you mean – before I lived in Italy I was visiting countries in rush. I don’t do it anymore. I prefer to stay longer in one place to get the real feeling of it.
This was incredibly moving and inspiring, Agata! Isn’t it amazing how cooking and food can cross so many language and cultural boundaries and bring a common joy? This was so much fun to read and thank you for sharing! 🙂
Yes, I was surprised too! There are probably other ways to get closer to people: voluntary job, charity, local celebrations etc. but cooking is tasty 😉
You might actually find this article of mine inspiring: I participated in organization of palio and was a photographer once. This was also a memorable experience as well.
Palio di Ferrara
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Great post! Sounds like such an amazing experience that you’ll keep with you forever.
Yes, it is amazing resource of not only traditional Italian recipes but most of all strengths in every day life. My two teachers always expect me there, in Italy, so every time I visit Ferrara a dinner at their place or lunch in city center is a must! Love to get back!
Such an inspiring story!! And you certainly were blessed in finding two angels to show the way!! I love stories like this!! Nicely done Agata!
My Dear Friend! I’m so glad you like it! I totally agree with you: these were and still are my angels 😉
I love Agata’s story, Cathy, and couldn’t agree with her more: The best way to learn about a place is to engage. Most travelers want to have the time to do that but unfortunately, in our fast paced world, we rarely get the chance.
Thanks for the reminder, Agata & Cathy!
OH I just love to read stories like this!! Traveling is about the journey and the people you meet along the way and your experience is testament to my philosophy!! What I wouldn’t give to share an experience like yours!! You are truly an inspiration Agata! Thank you!
Don’t spoil me Jeff 😉
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