Golden gap year: A year in Italy

The words "Gap Year" did not occur to my partner and I until nine months into our year away. We had flown from Milan to London for ten days before boarding a cruise of the Baltics and Norway. The passport control officer was asking about our travels and after telling her of our adventures she said "Oh, so you are having a gap year!"
It was a year between finishing work and retirement, so yes, I guess that is a gap year.

We had dreamed about having a year in Italy after a holiday there seven years before.
It was daunting leaving the comfort of home and family to go to a country where we could not speak the language. I had an understanding of Italian - enough to buy an Espresso and Brioche - as my heritage is Italian, my grandparents having immigrated to Australia after the First World War. My Italian was not good enough though for ordering meals without a menu - we had some memorable meals from me not translating correctly!

I have relations in the Veneto region, and in Milan so we spent many happy times getting to know my "family away from home". They were warm, welcoming and very generous in including us, especially in wonderful get togethers for any occasion. The food was always very traditional and absolutely delicious!

The advice I would give anyone thinking of having a year in another country is to "House Sit" (not swap). We were lucky enough to be chosen for two house sits. The first was for a week only in the southern region of Abruzzo. We house and dog sat in Calazzotto, a small village, in a region where there are three major pasta factories. They say the pure water bubbling from the springs here was the reason for the best pasta in Italy!

Eddie the dog proved that Italian dogs are no different to Australian dogs. He could play "catch a frisbee" for hours! The house was remote, up in the hills - an absolutely fantastic experience. It was an hour from the east coast of Italy, so we took the opportunity after the house sit to spend three weeks travelling back up the beautiful coastline which was uninterrupted by overseas tourists.

The second house sit was for 5 months in the rural village of Monteveglio, 30 minutes from the city of Bologna. We looked after the house and property and had no pets. This gave us the freedom to travel around the region. Bologna is a beautiful medieval city, the capital of the food bowl of Italy. The region is the home of Spaghetti Bolognese, Lasagne, Parmesan cheese, Parma ham, Balsamic vinegar, Ducati and Ferrari (up the road in Marenello).

We joined the gym and shopped at the village weekly markets. We explored Bologna by catching the local three carriage train into the city, spending days shopping, eating or going to the cinema.

The cafe at our local train station was where a little Italian lady yelled at me for not speaking Italian - or so I thought. I finally worked out that it was not because I couldn't speak the language, it was because I kept using what I thought was a change machine for train tickets, when, in fact, it was change for the poker machines in the cafe! Odd place for poker machines!

We had so many wonderful experiences and the year was over in the blink of an eye. My advice to anyone contemplating a gab year is go for it and make it happen. Along the way we learned so many things. We learned to drive on the 'wrong' side of the road in our leased/rented cars. We drove everywhere - through the centre of Rome, Florence, you name it, and we did it! We learned how to communicate more effectively as the year went on and gained so much confidence from it.

Ultimately we learned that the more organised we were, the more spontaneous we could be - it may not make sense at first, but it's true!

Denise is in her mid-50s and is now working towards her next 'grey nomad' adventure.

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