Italy feels like a big country. In comparison to South Africa it isn’t…that is in terms of actual land size.  Italy is just over 300 000 square kilometres and has just shy of 60 million Italians. South Africa is more than 1.22 Million kilometres in size and is occupied by 53 million South Africans..that we can count…excluding many illegal residents that don’t exactly fill in a census form.

But why I say that Italy feels like a big country is because of the sheer number of incredibly fantastic and very different options you have to visit here.  While the American exchange students use Milan (and the exchange portion of their degrees) to travel to as many European countries as possible, I feel like I don’t have enough time to fully explore everything just Italy has to offer before I’ll be heading back to Jozi. So far from my Milanese home base I have been to Turin, Bergamo, Rome, Venice, Cinque Terre (specifically 2 out of the 5 ‘terre’) and Portofino and yesterday a group of us headed off to Cremona on a day trip.

Cremona, like most Italian cities, is home to a beautiful Duomo, a number of old buildings that have escaped destruction over decades, and cobbled streets flanked by those pastel, Tuscan-style houses with window-boxes of bright flowers on the balconies and painted, wooden shutters that I love.  But Cremona is also the site for the first ever, and most famous, violin-making school.  Cremona is where the much-revered Stradivari family made and sold violins.

A short note on Stradivarius violins – the Stradivari family made these violins during the 17th and 18th century and about 650 of them survive today. They are voraciously guarded by collectors because they are worth millions of dollars. Stradivarius violins are so famous in the world of music that the word Stradivarius itself has become a descriptor of excellence in many fields.

In Cremona there is an amazing violin museum where we (four friends) explored the violin-making process and listened to pieces played on each of the many instruments on display.  I’m extremely poorly educated in classical music so I couldn’t tell you anything technical but the experience of seeing how much effort is put into the making of these instruments and listening to how beautiful and haunting they sound when played by the folks that know a thing or two was quite a special experience. Every three years the museum hosts a violin-making competition where instrument makers across the world vie for their works to win and then be bought by the museum’s Friends of Stradivari foundation so that they will be displayed to the world.

We climbed the bell tower in Cremona which holds a record for its height…and the higher you get the smaller the stone steps and then the more rickety the iron staircase gets…all the way to the top where we looked out on views of the Italian terracotta rooftops and fields already green in the arms of Spring. We then congratulated ourselves on the stair-climbing effort by buying chocolate (its almost Easter time and the Italians, being predominantly Catholic, love Easter and prepare accordingly) and sitting in the sun in the park eating it…while listening to a bad karaoke rendition by Cremonese local humans.