Monday, May 23, 2016

FAQ about our Italy Adventure

Number 1 question we get is, "Who are those people with whom you are traveling and how did you get tangled up with them?" (Actually the question asked is "Are these friends of yours or are you on a tour," but we know what you are thinking.)

Yes, they are friends and, while not on a tour, we did have tour guides. Many years ago when Captain was an upstart fresh from college, he went to work at Texas Utilities in Dallas where he met Bill.

Through Bill he met Cindi. After Captain left TU, they lost contact for several years. About six years ago they reconnected. Bill and Cindi have a group of the most amazing friends with whom they frequently travel. Three years ago the group had an awesome trip to Italy. Sharing the stories and photos with us we were intrigued and said to let us know if they decide to do it again. They did and here we are. Truly they are a talented and fun loving group. Most of them were members of their church choir and have beautiful voices. At the mention of a topic they will burst into song. We are so happy they allowed us to join their adventure and made us feel part of the group.

"Did you drive in Italy?" Are you kidding? In a small country with narrow streets flooded with autos being driven aggressively, motorcycles and scooters squeezing into the tiniest gap in traffic, tour buses taking up more than half the road and where traffic signals and signs are a mere suggestion, I think not. We were extremely impressed and appreciative of our bus drivers whose skills were very well tuned.

"How did you pack for three weeks?" We packed for one week and tossed in some laundry detergent.

Every couple of days we washed clothes in the sink. Sometimes our hotel actually had a clothes line.

 (If you got bored seeing photos of us wearing the same clothes, just imagine how tired we were looking at each other!)

Here is a tip; choose to take clothes that are wrinkle free, place them in Ziplock bags, while sitting on the bags to squeeze out the air, zip the bags and you will not be packing air. It is kind of like vacuum packing. 

Since you don't speak Italian, how did you communicate and how did you manage to find your way around?" Tourism is one of the major industries in Italy, so most folks can speak some English and most signs are in Italian and English. Actually all one really needs to know is , buon giorno, a polite greeting meaning something like "good morning/day," grazie meaning "thank you,"  ciao, a term similar to "see you, later, etc." and toilette. If one can't remember an Italian term, I think all one needs to do is add a vowel to the end of the word in English. (Just kidding, but sometimes it seemed that way.)

"How did you get around?" The first couple of weeks we traveled in a minibus, the last week by train.

The first two weeks, in Cortona and the Amalfi Coast, were arranged by our friend, Cindi. After the Texans returned home, we stayed another week to see Venice, Florence and Rome. For the last week, we reverted back to our earlier travel days. With Rick Steve's Travel Italy we embraced the challenge of figuring out train schedules, staying in smaller, private lodgings, scheduling tours and searching out authentic Italian food. We did a lot of walking! Captain found the CityMaps2Go app on his iPhone to be a tremendous help.

How did you know what you were seeing? Tour guides! We made advanced reservations with Walks of Italy for the sights in which we were most interested. The groups were small, 6-15 in a group, and the guides were quite knowledgeable. Being with a guide we were able to avoid the long lines for tickets and, in some cases we could enter before the attraction opened to the public.

Did you find masses of other tourists? We were traveling in highly popular areas and there was no lack of fellow travelers. Knowing tourism is one of the major industries of Italy and we were traveling during the most popular season, it was about like we expected. For us, getting out early (a little tough for Captain), taking a break in the afternoon, and going out later in the evening, it seemed to be less crowded. Well, except for Trevi Fountain; it did seem that all the tourists in Rome gather at Trevi Fountain in the evening. From what we could see, it is quite a lovely fountain.

How was the food?  Hmm, that is a tough one. Sometimes it was very good, sometimes it was the same as eating pasta at home (only more salty and they used a lot of canned mushrooms.) The best was in Cortona (probably because our villa came with a chef that previously worked for a celebrity.) We ate a tremendous amount of starches; think pizza and pasta. And of course there was always gelato! (Which Captain agrees, it taste better than Blue Bell ice cream.) ABN enjoyed the strong coffee, especially with warm milk. We liked that fennel was used often in salads. We were pleased that the lemincello ABN makes taste very much like the authentic limoncello of Italy.  

What about security?
From what we had read, violent crime seems to be rare. We felt perfectly safe walking after dark in Florence, Venice and Rome.

On the other hand, we understand pick pocketing and petty theft is rampant. Following Rick Steves' advice we did not carry anything in our pants pockets. Well, for the most part; Captain insisted on carrying his cell phone in the zipper pocket of his cargo pants (which sometimes he neglected to zip.) He carried his cash, credit card and passport in zipped shirt pockets. ABN carried her cash and cell phone in a small, cross body purse which has a wire cable in the strap (to prevent the snip and run theft.) Not taking any chances, ABN kept her passport and credit card in a sleeve pinned inside her pants. (Yes, all of our hotels had safes in the room, but what if we ran into trouble and couldn't get back to our room???) Rick Steves advised that pick pockets typically look for elderly Americans distracted with bags or looking at maps. We can't help the "elderly American" part, but when Captain needed to look at a map, ABN assumed the responsibility for watching his pockets.

To help prevent identity theft and compromised bank accounts, we kept our passports and credit cards in RFID sleeves. Supposedly these sleeves will prevent information being read by electronic devices. Also we paid for everything with cash, except our lodging. On several occasions in the states we have had our credit cards compromised while traveling. While inconvenient, we could get new cards overnighted. Not sure how that works in a foreign country, besides it is a bit less expensive to use cash.

What differences did you notice with the Italian culture? Besides the language?

Food, they eat things we don't think about eating like octopus, wild boar, cured ham that wasn’t cooked and hog cheeks (yep, we ate those, too.)

They tend to eat heavier meals, first course or apertief; second course, pasta; third course, main dish (usually some kind of meat with a side dish;) fourth course, salad; and fifth course, dessert. After lunch they usually take a couple hours for siesta and dinner time is around 9:00 p.m.

Bathrooms, even the smallest, had bidets. To conserve water, toilets had a choice of flush, large or small.

Some of our hotels had linen towels instead of terry and no wash clothes (just lather up the hands,) While not the norm, we did encounter a number of non-gender public toilets--didn't seem to be much of a problem.

To conserve energy, in some of our hotels the electricity was initiated when the room key was engaged in a slot. In other words, when we were not in our room, the electricity was off. Forget charging the iPads while we were out touring.

To Captain's dismay, dessert spoons were often very tiny.

As for the people, we can't really say. Sometimes we felt welcomed and accepted; sometimes we felt as though we, as tourists, were tolerated because we were a needed part of their economy. With all the tourists, and there were thousands, the local folks cannot enjoy their country's treasures, like the islands, the fountains, their cafes, their museums. Although Americans, especially when traveling in groups, are loud, we did notice that most are very polite. Not always the case with Italians and travelers from other countries. It isn't our nature to push and shove. Perhaps it is a passive aggressive response to the dependency of tourism.

What was our favorite thing/place?

Now this is another tough one! There was the lip sync contest at Villa Laura; even though we were awarded the prize for the act that no one ever wanted to see again, there were some very good acts. And then there was the really fun evening at La Trattorria Antica in Sorrento with the Joe Cockerish mandolin player. And the 3 ½ hour Best of Florence Walk with Ishmael, our fantastic guide.. I think we would both agree, the most beautiful area is the villages along the Amalfi Coast and we totally enjoyed the Bar Tour with Alessandro in Venice.

Would you go back to Italy? Well, yes, if we had unlimited funds and we had many more years to travel internationally; we would go back to the Amalfi Coast and explore those wonderful little villages like Ravello. However, there are other places in Europe we have not explored, (Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, to name a few.) Chalk it up to age, but we really miss the comforts of our little cottage and The Wanderer. Living out of a backpack/suitcase is just not as appealing as when we were younger.

So, now we are home. Our souls have been fed with adventure, new friends and with the satisfaction of knowing we are still able to wander around in a foreign country.

Inspired by Tuscany, ABN insisted we stop at a favorite nursery on our way home from the airport.

Arriving home, we were greeted by Peggy Martin.

We were afraid we would miss her show this year and we almost did.

(So happy to have consistently fast internet again! And blogging on the computer is so much easier than on the iPad!)


  1. what a this synopsis!!! BUT....can't wait to see you and catch up and have a quick visit with Peggy before she leaves for the season!!! See you soon!