An Australian perspective on Viterbo
By Brigid Cook, USAC student from Australia
When I first arrived in Viterbo, after a 21 hour flight and with a serious case of jetlag, I was nervous. I had no idea what to expect. I stayed at the Hotel Balletti on my first night and not knowing my bearings, I ventured down away from the entrance into the medieval town to explore. I felt a bit deflated, thinking that was it; the town was a strip of never ending shops. Where was the heritage? Where was the culture?
Luckily, it was only my sense of direction that had let me down. Hours later I changed course, navigating into the most beautiful town I had ever seen.
Who knew that all you had to do was walk through massive walls to get there?
Having come from a scorching summer, I was not dressed for Viterbo in early spring. One morning, as I hurried down the street to get a coffee to bring back to my apartment, I threw on a pair of open toe sandals. A man stopped me in the street just to point at my feet and say ‘it’s cold’. He was laughing warmly at me and it put a smile on my face.
Viterbo constantly surprises me. It is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. Growing up in Australia, it is rare to witness a place with such historically significant architecture. The town is stunning with cobblestone streets and a medieval wall spanning around the entire town. It looks like a movie set. The town is exactly what I had pictured Italy to be.
Within my first few weeks of moving into town, I was lucky enough to experience something that I have never experienced before in my life. One morning, outside my window, lily-white flakes drifted gently towards the ground. At first, they reminded me of cherry blossom flowers that fall from the trees at home. To my surprise though, it was snow lightly dusting the town of Viterbo.
Bundling up in my best wet weather gear; boots, two jumpers and a pair of jeans, I set out to experience the magic. Looking out from the Palazzo Dei Priori I was stunned by the beauty of Viterbo and the charm of the town. Standing there enthralled by the scene before me with wet feet ( my boots were not water proof) is a memory that I will never forget.
I’ve been told by a local that, at most, it snows in Viterbo once a year. It creates the most beautiful sight – the town looks like something from a fairy-tale. I am very grateful to have witnessed such a rare and spectacular phenomena.
Some readers may be puzzled by my reaction perhaps thinking, ‘it’s just snow and a very little amount,’ but I had not seen snow before. In Australia, snow mostly only falls in high mountain ranges away from the cities. You have to travel far from my home and equip your car with snow chains to see this kind of weather.
Recently, I achieved a small victory I had hoped for since I first arrived. I got to pat the dog I walk past every day on my way to school. Every day I gaze into a mechanic’s shop at a dog that looks just like ‘Bob’, my dog at home. I give her a smile and continue on my way. A week or so ago, the dog was outside of the shop going for a walk. Her owner gestured for me to come over and I finally got to pat the beautiful little animal and think of home.
Being someone who speaks very little Italian (and believe me, when I say ‘very little’ I’m actually giving myself too much credit), I sometimes have interesting encounters as I attempt to interact and bond with the locals. I’ve ordered hot cups of milk by asking for ‘latte’ when I really want ‘Café con Latte’, a cup of whipped cream instead of vanilla gelato and, of course, receiving a capsicum pizza with no trace of peperoni or salami when ordering a ‘Peperoni’ pizza. I think that one thing that makes Viterbo so special is that it does not pander to a heavy tourist trade and retains its own true culture and norms. I relish the opportunity for the mistakes I’ve made with the language; I have laughed and learnt from every blunder.
Overall, this town never ceases to surprise and delight me with its colourful and authentic personality. I highly recommend adding it to your own bucket list.