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Praying angels shine in the window of Ceramiche Larry SKG in Nove, Italy, a small town about 40 minutes northeast of Vicenza, known for its ceramics factories.

Praying angels shine in the window of Ceramiche Larry SKG in Nove, Italy, a small town about 40 minutes northeast of Vicenza, known for its ceramics factories. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)

Praying angels shine in the window of Ceramiche Larry SKG in Nove, Italy, a small town about 40 minutes northeast of Vicenza, known for its ceramics factories.

Praying angels shine in the window of Ceramiche Larry SKG in Nove, Italy, a small town about 40 minutes northeast of Vicenza, known for its ceramics factories. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)

American servicemembers and families are frequent and welcome visitors to the ceramics factories in Nove, Italy, as evidenced by these patriotic pitchers at Ceramiche Larry SKG.

American servicemembers and families are frequent and welcome visitors to the ceramics factories in Nove, Italy, as evidenced by these patriotic pitchers at Ceramiche Larry SKG. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)

One of the rooms in Ceramiche Larry SKG ceramics factory in Nove, Italy, where a shopper can get personalized plates, signs, bowls and piggy banks.

One of the rooms in Ceramiche Larry SKG ceramics factory in Nove, Italy, where a shopper can get personalized plates, signs, bowls and piggy banks. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)

Traditional Italian pottery is one of many, many choices of tableware at La Ceramica VBC.

Traditional Italian pottery is one of many, many choices of tableware at La Ceramica VBC. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)

A Thanksgiving platter at La Ceramica VBC cost 7 euros in December 2015.

A Thanksgiving platter at La Ceramica VBC cost 7 euros in December 2015. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)

La Ceramica VBC is one of the largest and best known Nove's 100 or so ceramics factories.

La Ceramica VBC is one of the largest and best known Nove's 100 or so ceramics factories. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)

Piggy banks at Ceramiche Larry SKG could hold all the money saved from a shopping trip to Nove, Italy, where prices at its many ceramics factories are half or a third of retail.

Piggy banks at Ceramiche Larry SKG could hold all the money saved from a shopping trip to Nove, Italy, where prices at its many ceramics factories are half or a third of retail. (Nancy Montgomery/Stars and Stripes)

For decades, Americans at U.S. military bases in Germany have been climbing on MWR buses for a nearly 400-mile, six-hour drive over the Alps and into a small, northern Italian town intent on a little wholesale therapy and home improvement.

They still make the trip to Nove, famous for centuries for its ceramics factories. And all manner of plates, platters, bowls, cake stands and other pottery can be bought for a fraction of the price they bear on the shelves of Neiman-Marcus, Macy’s, Anthropologie and other retailers. Ansbach Morale, Welfare and Recreation is offering the trip in April.

I drove to Nove on a foggy day shortly after Christmas. From Vicenza, it took about 40 minutes.

I could quickly see why people are willing to travel vast distances to shop there. So many dishes, so little time.

We arrived about 2 p.m., just as the factory shops were re-opening after the typical Veneto region’s long riposa, or siesta, that shuts almost everything down for three hours or more in the middle of the day. We had four hours until they closed for the evening.

We started off at a tiny shop, more gallery than factory. Pieces there were unique and priced accordingly. We bought a small, glossy turquoise plate for 20 euros (about $22) and a 2-foot-tall vase for 80 euros. Regrets? I had a few, once I saw the prices at one of the largest factories in town.

Next we went to Ceramiche Larry SKG, famous for personalizing its ceramic wares, and met its genial proprietor, Larry. In addition to plates featuring the likenesses of people like Gregor Mendel, Larry’s also has a significant collection of Christian-themed items. Like most of the factories, Larry’s welcomes Americans and accepts euros, dollars and Visa. But cash is best; some places give a 10 percent discount.

It’s at one of the biggest and most well-known factories — La Ceramica VBC — that one can really begin to go a little nuts. There, a Lennox “Butler’s Pantry” plate that retails for $22 in the U.S., according to an advertisement posted on the rack, cost five euros. A snazzy, seafood-themed $89 platter was 25 euros; its companion soup tureen was 50 euros instead of its $199 retail price. And so on. With the euro equaling $1.09 the day of my visit, my wallet hand began to itch.

There were rows and rows and rows of dishes — complete sets including finger bowls — pitchers resembling plums or chickens, myriad salt and pepper shakers, spoon rests and decorative ceramic cauliflowers. There were dishes that looked like leaves, or sunflowers, or lace, dishes painted with olives or lobsters or lemons. I found a giant Thanksgiving platter with a painted turkey that was kind of ugly — but at 7 euros, tempting. I was reminded of the time I spent $200 on four hand-blown, signed Italian glasses from Anthropologie only to find them available later while in a Tirrenia restaurant for 10 euros each. I considered buying a set of dishes for numerous relatives or buying the entire seafood-themed set for some future beach house on Key West. Then I came to my senses.

montgomery.nancy@stripes.com

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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