Bars, Bars, and more Bars …

Bars in Italy seem to be everywhere. Some blocks have more than one. No matter where you are staying or where you are going, there will be a bar nearby. In the smallest mountain towns that have seldom seen a tourist, there are bars. They are part of the Italian culture. Yes they do sell alcohol but they are NOT about drinking! These establishments are typically open all day and do not close for the afternoon break (usually between 1 pm and 4 pm).

So why are they so important:

  1. Is it the breakfast and coffee they serve all day?
  2. Is it the sandwiches and sometimes pasta they serve at lunch with a glass of wine or a beer?
  3. Is it the snacks or sandwiches they serve in the early evening?
  4. Is it the drinks they serve (always with some small amount of food)?
  5. Is it the gelato (ice cream) that most serve?

It is all of these things and one big additional item that is important to Italians. It is a place to socialize. You may have a small breakfast and coffee at home but you will stop for another coffee and maybe a pastry on the way to work. It is a place to meet friends and talk politics or sports or any other topic that comes up. Mid morning you need a break from work. Do you go to an office coffee station like in America? No, you head for the bar for another coffee and chat.

Lunch time sees hordes of Italian workers heading for their respective bars. They get a sandwich (panino) and a beer or glass of wine. They usually eat standing up and talking with friends. Are you beginning to see the social value of bars in Italy?

After work everyone heads for the bar for Happy Hour. Here they do have a drinks (wine, beer or an aperitif). The bar will always serve some small food items to go with the drinks. It is considered bad form to drink without eating in Italy. Then everyone heads home to be with the family. Some venture back out to a bar to meet friends before dinner.

As a tourist the bars are very important to you:

  1. If your hotel does not include breakfast, head to the nearest bar and get a coffee and pastry. The food is great and you will enjoy the Italians around you.
  2. Lunch at a bar is the cheapest way to have something delicious. Italian panini (sandwiches) are great. Try a few!
  3. If you have been spending too much on that great Italian clothing or shoes, eat at a bar and have a sandwich or a plate of pasta and a glass of wine. It will be very inexpensive but delicious.
  4. Before going out to dinner stop at a bar advertising Happy Hour and have a drink and some appetizers.

On your next trip to Italy, don’t ignore these social bars. Stop in and become part of Italia. Enjoy Italy as an Italian. These are some of the small things we love watching tourists enjoy that is hard to get on a big formal tour.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Bars, Eating Italian, Europe, Italy, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is a good vacation in Italy

First and foremost DON’T try to see all of Italy on one trip unless you are there for a year! The single worst mistake a tourist makes is to try to see too much. The second biggest mistake they make is to join an organized tour group. The third mistake is people have funny feelings about bars.

Italy is good so more of Italy is better RIGHT? WRONG! If you haven’t been to Italy pick a large city to be your center of focus:

  • Venice – for the unusual city it is. The canals instead of roads. The food and the history.
  • Florence – for the museums and history. The Renaissance started here.
  • Rome – because there is no other city like it in the world. The history the architecture and the food.
  • Naples – because many Italian-Americans came from here. The food and the pizza.

These cities are all great in history, food, wine, architecture and people. Pick one and enjoy it. From there you can do small trips out to see smaller cities or sites like the Alps. All of these cities have airports but with the exception of Rome, you will have to make a connection somewhere in Europe.

Organized large tours are not fun. They feel safe for some and that is why most people join them. I hear excuses like: “I don’t speak the language”, “I will get lost”, “I might miss something import” or “Where will I stay”.

  • I don’t speak the language – If you learn simple phrases like Buon Giorno, Buona Notte, Grazie, Quanta costa, etc you will do fine. Most of Italy’s large cities have people who speak English to some degree especially in the tourist areas.
  • I will get lost – With todays smart phones and GPS you can’t get lost. Program in your hotel’s address so you can always get back. Look up each attraction you want to visit in a day and place addresses into the GPS. Now simply look at your map to determine where each is relative to the others. Pick your first attraction and go. Then the next and so on until you are done. Then select your hotel and return to it. For longer distances you can take a bus or subway. They are safe and fast. Your hotel can help you select the correct line and understand how to get a ticket (biglietto).
  • I might miss something important – There are many tour guide books at your local book store or online. Pick one that is for the city you have chosen (not a general Italy book). Some list top ten attractions and then top ten things to see at each attraction. You will see more than any organized large tour and you can spend as much or as little time at each place as you like. This is important since we are all different. You never know what will attract you until you are there.
  • Where will I stay – Hotels are everywhere! Go online and search for deals. Make sure you get one in the city near the attractions and not at the airport. Get one with a private bath. Size shouldn’t matter (at least with hotels). Hopefully you are there only to sleep. Get out and enjoy the city and the life within it.

Italian bars are NOT like American bars. They are not places to get drunk in (although you can). They are family places. In the morning you get your breakfast here (if it was not included in your room). Coffee and a sweet roll. At lunch you can get a panini (sandwich) or sometimes pasta and a soda, beer or wine. Most bars have gelato as well. In the evening you can have a cheap meal r sandwich and a glass of good wine. Italians do not believe in drinking without food. It is bad form. Happy hours serve drinks and small plates of food to be eaten along with your drink.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Italy, General Travel, Trains, Eating Italian, Regions of Italy, Europe, Wine, Gelato, Phones, Tour Groups, Bars, Museums | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Autostrada’s of Italy

The Italian Autostrada is much like the German Autobahn. They are high-speed roads with at least 2 lanes but many have 3 lanes each way. There are tolls on these roads. Toll plazas can be at exits/entrances or across the entire highway. The main north-south highways are labeled A plus a one or two digit number. Connector highways that can go in any direction are labeled E and have two or three digit number. These roads are easy to navigate. A few driving rules exist:

  1. Never hog the left lane! Use it to pass and then move back into the middle lane. If a car is approaching from the rear, move over. I can not stress this enough. Italians roads have speed limits by lane. The left is the highest, the middle a little less and the right lane is for slow-moving vehicles.
  2. Use your turn signal to indicate lane change.
  3. Lane lines are just a suggestion in Italy! You will see cars driving on them and right next to you. This is normale (normal)!
  4. Use your GPS device or smart phone to get directions and distances. We use the Tom-Tom App on our iPhones.
  5. Auto Grills are rest areas on these highways. They have good food, restrooms and all kinds of tourist junk. Take a break from driving, stretch your legs, eat something and have a cafè.

The main Autostrada’s are:

  • A1 – Milan to Naples
  • A2 – Old Rome to Naples but now it is part of A1
  • A3 – Naples south to ferry to Siciliy
  • A4 – Turin to Trieste
  • A5 – Turin to Monte Bianco
  • A6 – Turin to Savona
  • A7 – Milan to Genoa
  • A8 – Milan to Varese
  • A9 – Lainate to Chiasso
  • A10 – Genoa to Ventimiglia

The list goes on and on. See a complete list on Wikipedia.

Get out and rent a car and see the real Italy.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Auto Grills, Autostrada, Car Rentals, Driving in Italy, Europe, Italy | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Northern Italy Cuisine

Northern Italy and southern Italy have two very different cuisines. The south was influenced by sunny weather and Greeks and Arabs while the north had influences from France, Germany and Switzerland. The north has a cold climate so the food was more “stick to the ribs” type food. The north uses more butter and dairy than the south. It has great foods like white truffles and polenta.

White Truffles – Are from the mushroom family but taste nothing like a mushroom. They seem to stink to those that have never had them but the smell can build appetite to those that know these little delicacies. Truffles are the second most expensive food by weight (second only to saffron). They can be $5,000 a pound but a pound of truffles can season food for a small army. You can get a small to medium truffle for around $100. It is grated over pasta, eggs or risotto to add flavor and very thinly (paper-thin) sliced over veal. If you haven’t tried a white truffle you need to go to northern Italy around October to November. No other region in the world has been successful in cultivating these small wonders. France and southern Italy have black truffles which are good but not as good as the white ones.

Polenta – Corn meal that can be made in a pot and served like a thick soup or stew or it can then be poured into a baking disk and cooked into a bread consistency. Then you slice it into small squares. At the base of the alps it is served in all the local bars. After a day on the slopes or walking around in the snow, a drink and slice or two of polenta will warm you up.

Each region in the north has its own local cuisine. Italians make simple but delicious foods. They will only use fresh ingredients to cook their dishes. Time is still spent making wonderful regional dishes the same way their grandma or  great-great grandma did.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Cooking, Eating Italian, Europe, General Travel, Italy, Polenta, Regions of Italy, White Truffles | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Italian Language

About.com says that the Italian language is from the Romance group of the Italic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. It is a direct offspring of latin. There are many differences from English (which also has its roots in Latin):

  1. Nouns are singular or plural just like in English but they also have gender (masculine or Feminine). This gender has nothing to do with a man or woman. It is a definition all nouns have. You must memorize it.
  2. Italian verbs indicate which person they represent (first, second or third, singular or plural – I, You, He; she; it, we, you, they). In English we need the pronouns to indicate what we are talking about but in Italian it is implied usually in the verb itself.
  3. English is not pronounced as it is written but Italian is always pronounced as written.
  4. Italian is a musical language (which is why most words and syllables end in a vowel. You can feel a rhythm as you speak it or listen to it. Just listen to Andrea Bocelli sing an Italian love song.
  5. Italy has many dialects that can sound like whole other languages. Italy was made up of a bunch of independent states that were unified. After the unification, Italian became the formal language of Italy.
  6. Word order is different between English and Italian. In English we say “I have a red house” but in Italian they say “Ho una casa rossa” – literally I have a house red.
  7. Some English and Italian words are very similar in look and meaning. Others are totally different. Take the Italian word “ape”. It looks like ape in english but it means bee (like bumble bee) in Italian.
  8. Italian has both formal and informal ways of saying things. Formal is for strangers, people in authority and older people. Informal is for children and friends. In english we say How are you. In Italian Come stai (literally how are you) is informal and would be an insult to a stranger. You would say Come sta (how are he). In the south they get even more formal and say Come state (literally how are you [plural]). It sounds strange in English but it is a basic practice in Italian. Ciao is informal for hello or goodbye but buon giorno and arrivederci are formal for hello and goodbye.

Try to learn some basic Italian when going to Italy. Even the basics will impress your Italian acquaintances. A great book that explains the Italian language is Rick Zullo’s Talk like an Italian. Jo Anne says the most important sentence to learn in Italian is “Quanto costano le scarpe?” or How much are the shoes?

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Europe, Italian Facts, Italian language, Italy | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great Beaches in Italy

Beaches in Europe compete for the coveted “Blue Flag” status. This status is given to beaches that:

  • Clean & Safe bathing area
  • Environmental Education
  • Water Quality
  • Environmental Management
  • Safety

The beach must pass 32 points on the above topics to be awarded the Blue Flag status. The link, at the top of this BLOG, shows all beaches in Italy that were awarded this status. The link directly above shows all the criteria for the award.

Italy has some of the best and most beautiful beaches in the world. They take pride in their beaches and the environment around them. They even build National Parks to protect the beaches and surrounding areas. These parks can contain cities but prevent the building of resort style hotels near the beach. Cilento National Park is one such park.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Beaches, Blue Flag Beaches, Europe, General Travel, Italian Facts, Italy | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adventure by Train!

Italy has a great train system. Major cities and points outside Italy are connected by high-speed efficient trains. Most small towns and areas are connected by a local train. Local trains can be crowded and slow. They also make a lot of stops but they will get you to your destination. Traveling south from Naples to Sicily is an adventure worth the experience. The train travels south through Campagna along the beaches. You have a great view of the water most of the way. Remember that Sicily is an Island and you are on a train. How will you make the trek? The train actually drives onto a boat (long barge). The trip across to Sicily is only about half an hour. You can remain on the train or get off and take in the views. Once docked at Sicily, the train drives off the boat and continues its journey in Sicily.

You can go almost anywhere in Europe by train. If it takes an overnight trip, get a sleeper car. It is a comfortable and scenic way to travel in Europe. in the morning someone will be near your door with a cup of espresso.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Campania, Europe, General Travel, Italy, Naples, Sicily, Trains | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Regions of Italy

Italy is divided into 20 regions. Each has its own regional government. Regions are divided into Provinces and Provinces are divided into Municipalities.

italy-regions

18 of these regions are on the mainland part of Italy. One is the island of Sicily and the last is the island of Sardinia. Italy’s main cities and there Regions:

  • Milan – Lombardia
  • Venice – Friuli Venezia Giulia
  • Bologna – Emilia Romagna
  • Florence – Toscana (Tuscany)
  • Rome – Lazio
  • Naples – Campania

Each region has it’s specialty olive oils, food and wine. When going to a region, read up on all it has to offer and try its specialties.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Campania, Eating Italian, Emilia-Romagna, Europe, Florence, General Travel, Italian Facts, Italy, Milan, Naples, Regions of Italy, Rome, Venice | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weather in Europe

Europe in general is having some weather related problems. Italy is mostly under a warning now.

Italy Weather 11-6-14

Yellow being a warning, gold a stronger warning and red the most severe warnings. All but a small part of northern Italy is under warnings for rain, lightning and in some areas hail. If you are going to Italy in the winter (rainy season and snow season in the north) check the expected weather conditions. Dress appropriately.

Rain doesn’t ruin a vacation, especially to Italy. On bad days plan your museum trips and be inside. Normally you will have days that are not raining or times in each day that are not raining. adjust your planned schedule to accommodate the weather. This is another reason big tours are bad. If it’s raining hard and you are headed to Tivoli Gardens, you will be outside in the rain.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Hail, Museums, Rain, snow, Weather in Europe | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Italy Buck List Trips

“My Itchy Travel Feet” BLOG posted two bucket list trips:

  1. Northern Italy
  2. Southern Italy

Italy is romantic and beautiful both north and south. Food changes, fashions change and dialects change but Italians are Italians. They love Americans, their food and their wine. They are a romantic people. I have always said on this BLOG, that you need to see the big cities and their museums and monuments but afterwards go to the small beach and mountain cities.

How to plan your Italian trip:

  1. Decide if you will go on your own or in a formal tour. Italy can easily be enjoyed on your own or with small private tours like ours. The big Italian tours are not as fun. They often stop in touristy restaurants that are not the same as real Italian restaurants. They can’t go to really small mountain towns with big tour buses. You are usually locked into tour parameters. When on your own, you can change your mind and stay in a beautiful city for additional days.
  2. Decide what you want to see. Are you going to the big cities of Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples or small cities.
  3. Pick an area of Italy like Campania or Abruzzi. Don’t try to do all of Italy in 7 days. It doesn’t work!
  4. Decide on mountain or beach towns or both.
  5. Pick which cities to spend your nights in. Look up hotel prices, accommodations and availability on the Internet.
  6. Decide if you are going safe and will lock in hotels with a credit card or play it by ear and decide when you arrive in a city.
  7. Look up history, sites to see and local food specialties.
  8. Plan your trip with a small tour or rent a car and drive. If you will drive make sure you have a good GPS program on your smart phone. Plan your travel routes by how long it will take. Give your self extra time for delays, traffic, lunch and dinner and sightseeing. Remember Italy closes its stores in most towns from 1pm to around 4 pm.
  9. Learn some Italian to say Buon Giorno (good day but used to say hello to a stranger as well), Grazie (Thank you) and Prego (Thank You). Most of us have been to good Italian restaurants in America that list the food in Italian. We are familiar with the choices like Carne (meat), Pesce (fish), Insalata (salad) and Dolce (dessert).
  10. Plan your flights on a non-stop flight if possible. Some stop overs can be as long as 8 to 10 hours. We prefer after a long flight to be driving in the Italian countryside to waiting another 8+ hours at an airport.
  11. Don’t forget to try Italian gelato (ice cream) and chocolate!

Once you arrive, forget about your worries and troubles and enjoy Italy. Be respectful and courteous. Most of all enjoy your trip and the memories it creates!

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Air Fares, Beaches, Campania, Car Rentals, Driving in Italy, Eating Italian, Europe, Flights, Gelato, General Travel, GPS, Hotels, Italy, Mountain Towns, Regions of Italy, Small Towns, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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