Dianne from Travelletto | First-generation Italian in Australia

Today on the blog I have a special guest with Italian roots who comes all the way from Australia! I am so pleased to interview Dianne who writes about her delicious travel adventures on her blog, Travelletto.

Ciao Dianne! Thank you for letting me interview you about your Italian heritage and learning Italian. Tell us a little bit about your Italian heritage. Where is your family originally from, and what brought them to Australia?

Dianne TravellettoMy father was born in Mestre, near Venice and my mother was born in Lioni, a small town in Avellino which is about two hours inland from Naples. They were around 10-11 years old when they immigrated to Melbourne, Australia in the 1950s, after WWII when lots of Italians immigrated to Australia. Both my Nonni (father’s and mother’s) had immigrated two or three years before they could afford to send for their families – they came with nothing but a suitcase. It’s so hard to imagine what that must’ve been like. They came looking for a better life. My mum tells me stories of how poor they were in Italy, she never had a toy or a doll, instead, her mother handmade a little dress from rags that was placed over a cob of corn, and that was her doll (the strands at the top became the doll’s hair). When I think about the suburban 3 or 4 bedroom homes my grandparents had, I can’t help but think they made the right decision to come to Australia. Dad says when he arrived in Melbourne after the two-month boat journey, my Nonno gave him a soccer ball and he was so happy, it was his first ball. Mum and Dad met in Melbourne as teenagers through a cousin and got married at 22 years old. Again, that’s hard to imagine these days!

That is an amazing and inspirational story how your parents immigrated to Australia. Did you grow up speaking Italian at home?

Yes and no. Yes in the early days – my parents only spoke Italian to me (I’m the oldest), but as soon as I started kindergarten as a 4 year old, I wanted to speak English like all the other kids. In fact, all I wanted to be was to be the same, ‘normal’  like the other kids so I rebelled against my heritage while growing up. I wanted vegemite sandwiches for lunch, not salami and salad, or (delicious) left overs! I would have a tantrum at the table if mum served pasta and I’d refuse to eat it. I was an idiot – but back then I felt different and wanted to be the same as the other kids. Mum and Dad eventually stopped talking to me in Italian (I think a teacher told them to stop), but my grandparents didn’t, they could only speak broken English.  One thing I did love was the huge veggie garden in the backyard that we had – freshly picked snow peas are the best!

It’s very natural to want to fit in with our peers. In the US, immigrants have even been pressured to assimilate by losing their native tongue. What is the attitude towards bilingualism in Australia?

Years ago in Australia it was similar – not so much nowadays. It’s cool to have a cultural heritage and I’m immensely proud of mine. Wasn’t until I was in my late teens / early twenties that I realised that being Italian is actually awesome. Being bilingual is seen as an asset by most Australians these days.

It’s wonderful that you’ve embraced your heritage. Tell us about your experience learning Italian. Where have you studied? Why is it important for you to learn Italian?

I grew up hearing all the Italian sounds in my family, so it feels very familiar to me. I’ve attempted to learn Italian several times, several ways. I did it at school – my first four years of high school and I don’t remember a thing. I don’t think I paid any attention – it was during my rebellious years.  I have done various courses at night – the first was six months before my first overseas holiday to Europe as a 23-24 year old. I did the same while I was living in London , and during the six years I lived in London, I spent as much time as I possibly could in Italy. I went to language school in Bologna for a week, which was difficult but a great experience. I wish I’d stayed there longer. I lived in Rome for six months trying to become fluent…as you know, expressing yourself in another language is very difficult, and it’s so easy to slip back to English when surrounded by others who either speak English or want to practice English, which was most of the people I surrounded myself with.

It’s important because it’s a part of who I am. I have an Italian passport – I’m so embarrassed to go to the Consulate because I can’t understand or can’t speak back to them when they speak to me in Italian.  My dream is to one day live in Italy 4-5 months of the year, and then live in Margaret River (south west of Western Australia) for the remaining year – chasing summer.

Dianne Travelletto

Perpetual summer…that is the dream! What are your favorite resources for learning Italian?

In Italy, it’s taxi drivers! Whenever I took a taxi, I would start a conversation and ask the driver to correct my mistakes. I saw each journey as a free language lesson. Same thing on trains when travelling in Italy. I have met some very friendly people who were very generous with me – and patient with my poor Italian. I used to buy Grazia magazine every Thursday when I lived in Rome and would sit in a cafe and read it, looking up every third word in my dictionary. Ah, that was the life…

Right now, I’m studying properly, finally, at University and intend to complete a Diploma of Italian Studies. It’s part-time and I’m fitting it around my work (I’m a self employed PR Consultant). University has some good resources – I’m only mid-way through semester 1 and I have improved so much already. Also, I watch at least one Italian film per week – I figure hearing sounds and trying to understand can only help. The Italian comedy series called ‘Mafia only kills in summer’ is hilarious and I can highly recommend it for entertainment value.

Film is a great way to get exposure to spoken language. I’ll have to check out that series! What has been your biggest struggle with learning Italian, and what has been your greatest reward?

Memory is my biggest struggle. Remembering which verbs are irregular, the pronouns, – and we haven’t even got to passato prossimo or reflexives yet! The reward is realising that I can actually say a sentence, correctly. Watch this space, there’s more to come!

You are a traveler after my own heart with a focus on food & drink. What was your favorite destination in Italy? And most delicious meal?

No! I refuse to pick only one! Impossible! {Agree! lol!}

Favourite city: Roma, bella Roma. It’s always Roma. For its history, its importance, chaos and beauty. It’s a living, breathing city and I love that around any given corner is something special – a tucked away church, a fountain, statue or an artisan shop. Every day I’m in Rome I find or see something that makes me laugh. I always eat spaghetti carbonara in Roma. Always. And Grom gelato – freshly made gelato in-house using natural ingredients – best ever.

Favourite region: This is hard, but right now it’s Sicilia. Sicilia is less affected by tourism and feels more ‘real’ and feels kind of raw, which I like. In places it’s a little dishevelled, like broken pavements, pot holes in roads, crumbling ruins, but it’s so beautiful. The food and wine there are probably my favourite in all of Italy. In Sicilia I always eat caponata – it’s an eggplant dish – sweet and sour almost and I can’t get enough of it. It’s served as an entree or side dish. I eat a lot of fish in Sicilia too – sardines, tuna (visit Favignana !) and sword fish…I get tired of eating sword fish after a couple of weeks though.  And cannoli, oh my God I love cannoli.

Favourite coast: While Taormina in Sicilia is beautiful, my heart sings when I see Positano. The Amalfi Coast is so amazing – but I have to admit that we were there last July and stayed in a very expensive and very beautiful villa close to the Duomo – I felt my experience there was spoilt by all the tourists (even though I’m one!). I felt the same about Venezia last time I was there – too many tourists! It’s hard to see the magic of St Mark’s Square when loud Germans, Australians, Russians and Americans are in your ear hole!  Stay in Treviso instead – 40 mins by train where you’ll eat better, have better and cheaper accommodation and just visit Venice for a day trip (or two). In Positano, I always have spaghetti vongole – it’s so good! And lemon gelato or lemon granita.

Favourite view: Positano makes my heart sing, but my whole body relaxes when I look across the lake to the mountains at Lago di Como. In the north, there’s no broken pavements, everything seems to work, everything is clean and tidy. And Lake Como is so beautiful. We found a little trattoria that served the best pasta e fagioli – we went there three time during our week-long stay. I’m sure pasta e fagioli can be found in many regions, but that version was delectable.

Favourite experience: It’s pretty hard to choose, but sitting on a boat at night, sipping Sicilian Malsavia (a kind of wine), watching Mount Stromboli erupt and spew up glowing red lava against the black night sky was something I’ll never forget. I’ve also hiked up that mountain – not recommended – stay on the boat and watch Mother Nature’s greatest show in comfort instead!

What I seek these days: After many trips to Italy, seeing so much of the wonderful country, I crave beautiful small places off the beaten track, where I can get a true Italian experience, not one manufactured for tourists.

Now, to the food… favourite meal:

Antipasto – caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella and really great olive oil, and freshly sliced prosciutto, and salami – the salami my Nonna used to make

Primo piatto:  spaghetti carbonara or spaghetti vongole

Secondo: osso bucco. Or porchetta. Or cotoletta. Or pesce con acqua pazza – fish cooked in crazy water – tomato, garlic or onion, white wine, parsley and fizzy water.

Dolce: tiramisu – I love a good tiramisu. It’s the perfect dessert. Or a gelato from Grom.

Thank you Dianne for such wonderful list of favorite places and food in Italy! Thank you for sharing all about your Italian heritage and experience learning Italian.

Dianne Travelletto

Read more from Dianne at www.travelletto.com



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Ciao, I'm Kelly!

Welcome to my adventures in learning Italian, often while cooking authentic Italian recipes and wine tasting! I love discovering the traditional regional cuisine of Italy and trying to recreate those dishes when I'm back home in the US. I'm also on my way to becoming an Italian citizen through jure sanguinis (by ancestry).

WSET Level 2 Certified Wine Blogger


Join me for a virtual "aperitivo chat" to get exclusive updates on my Italian progress, dual citizenship journey, plus food & wine adventures in the Bel Paese and beyond!

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Dianne 'Travelletto' Bortoletto

Thanks so much for featuring me on your gorgeous blog Kelly! I thoroughly enjoy following your adventures. One day we’ll meet in bella Italia x

Questa Dolce Vita (@questadolcevita)

This was great, I really love these interviews. I remember Cher of The Iceberg Project used to do similar interviews when she had the podcast but then stopped so I’m really glad you’ve got this series going because it’s just so interesting to hear other stories and strategies as well!

Sarah Mikutel
2 years ago

This is such a great story! I often wonder what my great-grandparents (Sicilian) who immigrated to America would think of me returning to the home country. As you guys talked about here, my family lost our Italian language skills because English was the priority in the new country. I’ve had a blast learning it myself, though.

Fran Norris
Fran Norris
2 years ago

Wow this is such a good read, thanks for sharing about your childhood rebellion as I can relate to it to a tee. While I was in Sicily this year (and sitting on the beach at Trapani) I wrote of my life growing up as a “half cast” Australian/Sicilian in the 60’s and 70’s and what lead me to learning Sicilian after 50 years. Maybe one day I’ll share it. Sicilia has si much to see, so many beautiful towns, my aussie husband has fallen in love with the island and we’re planning one day to spend 6 to 12… Read more »

2 years ago
Reply to  Kelly

Ciau Kelly I’m so sorry for this late reply. I’ve had to think seriously about sharing my story as it doesn’t have a pleasant start but I’ve been encouraged to share my journey of what has got me to this point. And one that I’m now quite proud of. So, yes, thank you I would love to share my experience with you. 😊

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