161. Italy v. Britain: Compare and Contrast

Anyone who knows me knows that putting me on a long haul flight that doesn’t terminate in Italy is wasting my time.

That said, my husband should get his way at least some of the time, so a week ago, we headed to London, for some hiking in the British countryside and so that he could attend a day of tennis at Wimbledon. This gave me the chance to compare the two countries head-to-head. I will leave to the experts whether Rome or London has contributed more to Western civilization and culture, and whose empires did more to advance or subjugate the world around them. Mine is simply a traveler’s perspective, and a pretty biased one at that.

Hiking: Italy 2, England 1: This trip, we spend a few days hiking in the Cotswolds, a beautiful agricultural region about 90 minutes from London. We made our way through green waves of grain and within a few feet of grazing sheep, and through villages that appear to be right out of a movie from the 1930s.

The fields near Chipping Campden

Just beautiful, but no match for the fields of Tuscany, with that golden light and the poplar trees.

A vineyard in Montepulciano

We then proceeded to the southeast coast, to hike along what are called the “Seven Sisters,” a series of white chalk cliffs along the sea. They were just spectacular, but the gale force winds and the challenging ups and downs made it a grim ordeal. On the plus side, the government provides lounge chairs at the halfway point, and you get to walk through a little band of ponies.

My hair tells the story

But I give Italy the edge for its coastline Cinque Terre and Amalfi hikes, plus you are likely to find a wonderful restaurant along the way.

Cinque Terre
The beautiful Amalfi Coast

Goofy ceremonial uniforms: tie

Credit: © Rostislav Glinsky/Shutterstock.com

Love of dogs: England 2, Italy 1. In Italy, an American is struck by the presence of dogs everywhere in daily life. In England, you can multiply that times fifty.

At London’s Gay Pride parade
YoYo enjoys a spot of tea
Patient dog in a trattoria in Bari

Unlikely place to find a great sandwich: tie When I tell people I love the sandwiches at the Italian highway rest stops, they think I’m nuts.

Sandwich display at the Autogrill on the Italian Autostrada

Likewise, they think I’m crazy when I rave about the pre-wrapped sandwiches you can get everywhere around England, including the pharmacies.

Can you imagine buying a great lunch at CVS?

Cuteness factor: England 2, Italy 0. England leans in to the cuteness at every opportunity, whether justified or not. They give people, places and things cute nicknames, but also verbs and adjectives. So it’s brekkie for breakfast, luvvies for actors, and natter for talk. Even the real names for their towns sound straight out of Beatrix Potter, with Chipping-Campden, Wigglesworth, and Painswick and many others. Amazingly, two out of the three hotels we stayed in featured stuffed animals in our rooms.

Giraffe in honor of the first to arrive on British soil, given by the Pasha of Egypt to King George IV in 1827
In case seeing hundreds of live sheep isn’t enough
The Queen’s corgis celebrating her Jubilee

On the other hand, Italy is all about style and sophistication. Even on London’s high end shopping streets, a good proportion of the fancy shops are Italian designers. In Italy, they wouldn’t understand cuteness as a value that adults resonate to, with the possible exception of Pinocchio, a series of beloved children’s books, quite different from our Disney version.

Hot beverages: Italy 2, England 1. When I first started going to London in the 1990s, you couldn’t get a real cup of coffee. Restaurants would offer you powdered instant and some boiling water. They were all about tea, famously so. Now, there’s at least one coffee bar on every block, offering the full range of Italian espresso drinks: Nero, Costa, Starbucks, Joe and the Juice. Tea is barely listed, if it’s offered at all.

One of several coffee bars in Victoria Station, London

There’s nothing like a cream tea pick-me-up, with English breakfast, a scone and clotted cream. But those days are waning; I predict in a decade, it will be a thing of the past.

The real deal

Good food: Italy 2; England 1.5: I surprised you there, didn’t I? No question: Italy has the best food on the planet, as is evidenced by its popularity around the world. But England’s reputation for terrible cuisine — overboiled, underseasoned — is based on stereotypes that long ago stopped matching the reality. High-quality local ingredients and a diverse population through immigration have resulted in food so good it would be a reason to visit.

Traditional fish and chips with mushy peas
Excellent pub offerings: Fish pie and a burger

Animals you’re likely to run into: England 2, Italy 1: The English hiking paths criss-cross the country, through farms that we would consider private property here. The animals are so accustomed to human trespassers that they barely bat an eye.

In Sicily, cars come to a standstill. Sheep? Goats? Who knows?
Sharing the English hiking paths with sheep and ponies

The intangibles: Italy 5; England 3: I find Italy endlessly wonderful. No matter how many times I go, I never tire of it, and I’m always scheming to figure out how and when I can get over there again.

Final Score: Italy 13; England 12.5: By my unbiased calculation, Italy wins in a squeaker. What would your calculation be?

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