Eight years ago, I married into an Italian family. A large, noisy, crazy, wonderful family. Coming from a more reserved Swedish background, it took a bit of time for me to absorb the shock of how these people related to one another. I would be talking to my husband, and out of nowhere, someone would interject, laughter erupting around the room. I would try to regain control of my sentence, but somehow it got carried away by voices all around me that were much louder than my own. I would hear them yelling at each other, and my instinctual fight or flight method would kick in. I’d think, “I need to leave quickly! These people are going to kill each other!” Then, as if nothing had happened, they would laugh and hug and move on with their conversation. Needless to say, it took some toughening up on my part to be able to hold my own in these family gatherings. I learned quickly that, yes, Italians do often have bold personalities, and can be quick to wear their emotions on their sleeves.

But as I drew closer and experienced some life with them, I could see that at the core of their hearts and lives is a fierce love, commitment, and loyalty to their loved ones. As a new member of this crew, I discovered a deep sense of security and belonging. A few years after getting married and one child later, my husband and I were presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. My father-in-law, Anthony, asked if we would like to go on a trip to Italy as a family. We jumped at the chance, and started planning right away. As a full time working mom at the time, I made the final decision to take our two-year-old son with us so we could enjoy the experience together. With excitement, as well as trepidation of our long flights with an active toddler, we set off on our journey.

I was prepared to be amazed by the beautiful ancient cities, rolling hills laced with vineyards, and mouthwatering food. I was not, however, prepared for the impact that the Italian culture would have on my whole perspective of life. If you have not had the privilege of traveling to Italy, I dare you to start making preparations to go, even if it takes a few years to save up or find the right timing in your season of life.

Here are my 5 reasons why you need to go to Italy (from a non-Italian perspective 😉):
  1. Going to Italy made me realize that life is not all about doing. Life is about being.Most days at home in Tennessee, I would wake up with a regimented schedule. There was little time for relaxing, because that was viewed as enemy territory. I barely had time to spend with my son, let alone friends and family. As an American, I felt the weight of work looming over me, vying to be the number one priority in my life. Right before leaving for our trip to Italy, my husband and I sensed it was time for a shift. My heart desired to be home with my son, to have more time, to be able to simply breathe and realign my priorities. As we entered the city of Venice on a small boat with the waves crashing around us, I looked at the face of pure joy as my son took it all in. My job felt like it was galaxies away, as if it’s significance dwindled with the miles we had traveled. After stepping off the small boat and onto the steps of our wonderfully quaint apartment, we slept for a few hours to combat the jet lag.

    Once we woke up, it was dinner time. We couldn’t have been more excited to partake of our first Italian meal. Our entire family (there were eight of us altogether) sat down in a simply decorated but beautiful little restaurant. We were warmly greeted by a kind waiter that spoke heavily accented English. We ordered course after course of delicious food, and were blown away by the delicious house table wine that was offered. We ate, we talked, we drank, we laughed, enjoying each others company. After about an hour, I started to feel that anxiety to keep moving creep back up, like rainstorms threatening a perfectly sunny day. I felt antsy, as though we should be wrapping up our dinner to go do something else. I suppressed the thoughts running through my head and did my best to enjoy the remainder of our time. One hour turned into two hours, then three hours. We proceeded to finish our meal with coffee, an Italian liqueur called grappa, and limoncello shots. At this point, I was sure we were becoming a nuisance to the waiter, but this seemed to be the typical scenario for him. I looked around and saw other families passing the time together in an unhurried way. Parents with small children were unhindered in their relaxation even though it was getting to be later in the night. As we traveled from Venice, to Florence, to the picturesque towns in the rolling hills of Tuscany, I found a common denominator that permeated the culture around us. Italians embrace the act of simply being. Taking a two hour break in the middle of the day to enjoy a meal with friends is not considered lazy or unproductive. I saw parents enjoying lively conversations while their children played contentedly, chasing pigeons around a piazza. They weren’t worried about their children making too much noise, running too far away, or contracting some sort of disease from the pigeons. They were present, enjoying the moment instead of rushing to so something else more productive or entertaining. As Americans, we can be so uncomfortable with the concept of being, because we are too familiar with constantly doing. By the end of our trip, I no longer felt guilty after spending a few hours doing nothing besides enjoying food and time with my family. My eyes were opened to a simple, joy-provoking, yet powerful concept- that life is meant to be enjoyed. Work is not life, it’s a part of life…a life that is lived in pursuit of quality time and relationships. If more Americans could learn and apply this simple truth that the Italian culture taught me, it could be revolutionary.

  2. Going to Italy showed me that recognizing the past is essential to appreciate the present.

I have never been much of a tourist. I tend to want to stay away from the areas that people flock to. This is partly just because the large crowds are frustrating, but also because I’m not very sentimental when it comes to historical monuments. This disposition changed when I went to Italy. As we entered the city of Rome, I noticed that all the typical sights and sounds of a bustling modern city were there. The shocking part hit me when we were walking around the city, and came to the remains of the Colosseum, standing there proudly. As we paused there, taking it all in, I couldn’t help but feel awestruck by the amalgamation of past and present. It seemed as though these ancient structures were making a statement to the newer buildings and loud taxis and cars rushing by- it was built thousands of years ago, but the history, stories, and architecture remain strong and intact. I could picture the city of Rome in it’s glory days in that moment. There were many beautiful, beneficial things that happened throughout the course of Italys’s rich history, but there were also terrible, unthinkable acts, some of which had taken place in the very place we were looking at now. It made me grateful to be able to live in this day and age, to have the freedom to enjoy life with my family without crippling fear. As an American, with a melting pot of many cultures, it can be easy to forget where we came from and what our predecessors went through to make a way for us to have a better life.

More than ever, we need to be reminded of the past. It unlocks gratitude and humility, and shows us what is truly important as we move forward in the future. We had the privilege of touring the Vatican, and witnessing the beautiful masterpiece of the Sistine Chapel. Our tour guide explained the history behind the hundreds of pieces of statues, sculptures, and paintings strewn throughout the Vatican. As a Christian, it was fascinating to hear more in depth details about the tumultuous past of the Roman Catholic Church and Christian faith. Although Rome is one of the most well known cities in Italy to visit for it’s rich history, I felt that every city we visited was a beautiful blend of modern and ancient culture. The very essence of Italy pays homage to the notion that the past, present, and future play equally significant roles in our lives.

~ Laura, Bella Owner’s daughter-in-law

Click here for part 2!