Roberta Padroni has got to be the biggest fan of Colombia I have ever been fortunate enough to know. Originally from Italy, but living in London, Roberta moved to Colombia this year after falling madly in love with the country during a recent trip. Now she’s spreading the message about the country to people in Italy via her website InColombia.it. She is the sweetest and most passionate Colombia-enthusiast you’re ever likely to meet and I am incredibly excited to interview her for the Expats in Colombia series.
Name: Roberta Padroni
Country/city of origin: Cagliari, (Island Sardinia) Italy
Where you live in Colombia: I’m a nomad! Right now in Bogotà
Can you let me know a little about yourself and how you ended up living in Colombia?
I am a 34 years old Italian traveller, dreamer and wanna be digital nomad. Three years ago I barely knew where Colombia was, until a night when I met a Colombian guy in London. To not look silly in front of him, when I came back home that night I googled “Colombia” and started to read blogs, articles, stories and look at images and documentaries about it. I was so attracted to this country, the culture, the colours and the variety in the landscapes that I started to dream about visiting it. Last year my dream came true and I came on a three-week vacation, with a lot of worries and paranoia about Colombia. But I found what I was looking for: beautiful landscapes, amazing people, fantastic food! When I came back to Europe I decided to open a blog in Italian, to show to my country the reality of Colombia and invite them to travel in this beautiful place.
Then, how I ended up living in Colombia?
Eight years ago I moved from Rome, where I was living that time, to London, to do a three month English course as I couldn’t speaking a single word of English at that time! I ended up stay there working in the retail and hospitality industry, and being very unhappy and unsatisfied with what I was doing. After my travel to Colombia last year I decided to change a few things in my life: I cut a huge part of my social life to save money, I started to study digital marketing, and make plans to leave my sad job in London to travel to Colombia and get to know better the country and the people. My plan became true in January of this year and I am now so happy to live here!
What were your first impressions of Colombia? And did they match your expectations?
I read a lot about Colombia and I heard a lot of stories (nice stories) from Colombian people that I met in London. However, when I came here last year, I was worried that all the stories that you read in the news and watch in the movies were true. Instead I found much more that what it was in my dream and imagination! There are few things I will never forget of the first moment I step out from my flight arriving in Colombia: the mountains of Bogotà (which I love!), the loud salsa music everywhere and the altitude sickness (I wasn’t ready for that!).
You have a blog all about Colombia written in Italian. What inspired you to create this blog?
After I told people I was going to Colombia people were looking at me shocked and asking me “Are you crazy? It’s dangerous, they will rob you/kill you/kidnap you/drug you/extort you” and obviously nobody had ever been to Colombia neither read about it! So, considering Italian people think Colombia is a third-word country without washing machines and where cocaine is sold at the supermarket (sadly yes, some people believe it!), I decided to start my blog to show and tell them the reality of the country! When I was planning my first trip to Colombia I found a lot of information, including blogs, in English and Spanish, but nothing in Italian. These blogs (like Sarepa’s!) truly helped me a lot to give me an idea about what to expect as well as inspired me and helped me with practical information. This is where I found inspiration for my blog!
What’s your favourite Colombian plato tipico?
It’s really difficult to choose one, but I can live eating only pan de bono and almohabanas! Then I love the arepas that they sell on the street in Bogotà eaten in the morning with eggs, cheese and ham! I love the empanadas that just “cut” your hunger at 11 am and 5 pm! I go crazy for marranitas which is a ball of platano filled with chicharron (pork) and they are typical from Cali, as well as the champus, which is a drink made with lulo, mais, pineapple juice and God knows what else! And finally I love the tamales from La Puerta Falsa!
What’s one of the more challenging aspects of living in Colombia?
Finding a gluten free pizza. I have an intolerance to gluten, and pizza is one of my favourite dishes (yeah, I’m a very Italian clichè!). Even though there is a good amount of Italian restaurants (I found out Colombians love the made in Italy!) none of them sell the gluten free dough. And to be able to find it in a supermarket is a just a dream. They have gluten free pasta though, and I am very happy as I can impress my Colombian friends with my Italian cooking skills
What’s your favourite arepa?
My favourite arepa is the one they make fresh in the morning in the streets of Bogotà filled with eggs, cheese and ham! And my second favourite is the arepa cundi-boyacense, typical of the regions of Cundinamarca and Boyacà,this one is filled with cheese. I love it so much that I learnt to do it!
What has been one of your favourite destinations in Colombia and why?
My favourite city in Colombia, so far, is Cali. Why? Because “Cali es Cali y lo demas es loma”!
First of all for the caleños, they are the most friendly people in Colombia, and they really make you feel as a member of their family. Then because every opportunity is good to dance salsa, even at the supermarket there is always a salsa going on! I love the smell of pan de bonos coming out from panaderias in the early morning, the chontaduro with salt and honey and the fields of sugar cane around the city! Cali is changing every day, and there is a lot of beautiful places to see like La iglesia de la Ermita, el Cristo Rei, el Parque del Gato (a park with a lot of statues of cats super cool!). And then there is El Cierro de las tres cruzes: it is a mountain and there is a 45 minutes trekking trip to get to the top, and when you arrive the view is just breathtaking! Ah, and there is also an outdoor gym, just in case the trekking session wasn’t enough exercise for you!
Do you have any tips or advice for people wanting to follow their travel dreams to Colombia?
Don’t be fooled by stereotypes or whatever people who have never been to Colombia say. Get your information from the right sources: bloggers, travelers and locals. And try to get in contact as much as you can with local people, they are the most beautiful part of Colombia.
How can people find out more about you and follow your projects?
If they would like to learn and practice a little Italian, people can read my blog : www.incolombia.it. They can also have a look at all the beautiful pictures I post on Instagram following @robyincolombia or they can read about all my personal experiences on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/incolombia.it and also follow my daily updates on twitter: @robyInColombia If they want to be directly in contact with me they can drop me an email anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to get in touch.
Are you an expat living in Colombia? Or know of someone who is? Be sure to get in touch so we can spread the word about them. And don’t forget to give Roberta a visit and say Hola!