With the Italy trip fresh in my mind, I thought some travel tips might be helpful to the 3 or 4 Americans who have not yet traveled there. The rest of you, shame on you for getting there ahead of me, turning all of the Italians against us, and giving them an inflated idea of what their stuff is worth. If you haven’t read the previous post, “I Waited 47 Years for That?” you should include that valuable reading as part of your trip prep.
Learning the Language
This is very important. About 30 days before your trip buy an Italian phrase book, chuck it in your suitcase and forget about it. Then start practicing your ability to speak very simple English words, but at about twice the volume at which you would normally speak. If you use these things you have practiced you’ll find that they immediately label you as American, the Italian turns away in disgust and luckily you are saved from having to communicate. Also, hand gestures, critical; if you can point at something and say, “quanto costa,” (how much) you know 90% of what you need to know.
Vowels, the Italians love their vowels, and they pronounce them all. Here is a partial list of the towns we rode our bikes through on the trip: Figazzano, Monteguerra, Locorotondo, Mozzabrucio, Alberobello, Pietrapertosa, Laurenzano, Marsicovetere, Campomaggiore, Castelmezzano, Montescaglioso, and the winner with 7 vowels, Buonobitacola. I’ll bet you wouldn’t even know if I made some of those up.(1) By the way, this does not even include town names made up of two or more words.
When you come up on an Italian, never say “Buon giorno.” Don’t even grumpily say “Giorno” in a gravelly undertone like they do. This gives the Italian the false impression that you speak Italian, so that after he or she has spoken about three totally non-nonsensical sentences, wasting both your time and his, you have to break in saying, “no speeka di Italian.” At that point you are both left frustrated, depressed and at a loss as to what to say next.
Buy some Euros from your local bank before you cross the pond and plant the idea firmly in your brain that a Euro is worth approximately 1.5 times what a US dollar is worth. That way it will take at least 24 hours to forget there is a difference, and it won’t be until the second day that you are happily spending Euros as if they were the same as dollars. You’ll breeze in and out of restaurants and retail establishments congratulating yourself on the wise decision you made to travel to this country where everything seems to cost about the same as in the US. This works really great for as long as you are actually in Italy. When you get home, however, and review your credit card and bank statements, ouch!
What to buy
If you want Italy to be around for a return trip, buy anything and everything that looks vaguely interesting. The Italian economy is just barely grinding along, so your efforts are important. Don’t concern yourself with cash versus credit, because Italians don’t pay their taxes anyway. The tax laws there are merely suggested giving levels.
Seriously, great things to buy to give as gifts or just for personal use: linen items, leather goods, jewelry and clothes. If the Italians have one thing it’s style sense, so on this kind of stuff you can’t hardly go wrong. I bought a purse for The Princess at a store where the bag they put the purse in was better looking than most purses you see women carrying here in the US. I’m not kidding. The Princess gives her stamp of approval to all Italian gifts in aforementioned categories. Finally, from this most catholic of nations be sure to buy plenty of saints medals to assure a safe trip home and to ward off the stuff that scares you most going forward. If something frightens you, there’s a saint for it. For example, The Princess is afraid of being attacked by loose dogs. No problem, St. Vitus protects against among other things, animal attacks. Here’s a photo of a statue honoring this great saint.
What to see
Italy is just full of really old stuff. Make sure you see a lot of it. I don’t just mean the buildings. As we rode the Italian countryside our group probably saw a million olive trees. They all seemed kind of short and squat with incredibly thick, gnarly trunks. I asked our Italian guide how old the trees were, and he said it isn’t unusual for the trees to be 200 to 300 years old, with a few still yielding fruit after 900 years! That makes my mind spin.
The men are really old here too. The typical Italian village square, or piazza, contains a war memorial, a fountain and about a dozen old men loafing about. Here’s a photo of two such men.
I blew the doors off this guy as we climbed the hill leaving town, but some of the others weren’t so easy to beat.
Bring a couple of things with you that you wouldn’t think to bring along on a trip in the US: a few small packages of Kleenex, some good quality toilet paper, and a nice, big bar of soap. In Italy there will be no Kleenex in your room, soap bars the size of postage stamps and a grudging amount of TP that is so thin, it’s transparent. I’m pretty sure that the toilet paper thing relates to the bidet thing. They figure that if you’re washing your hinder in the bidet, why do you need all that toilet paper? But come on, it takes time to get used to those things. I kept banging my back side into the faucet, shooting water all over the room, and still ended up needing the TP. Sheesh! The tiny showers, well they’re just impossible. How small are they? In one of them I dropped the soap, and there was simply no way I could pick it up without allowing my dripping butt to go out the shower door into the bathroom.
Without much explanation, I’m going to insert a gallery here, with just some brief captions. You can click on any you want to enlarge.
Just in general, we rode over 400 miles from the Adriatic Sea on the east coast to the Tyrrhenian Sea on the west coast and through the Italian states of Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria. (2) I swam in both seas, rode up and down mountains, visited ancient cities, ate fabulous food and drank a lot of wine and cappuccinos.
One funny thing, that first photo, “My Motivation,” depicts the rocky beach in Polignano, and I didn’t know this until I got closer to her, but a beautiful woman in a bikini. She was in the water by the time I approached her, but I asked her whether the water was cold. Although obviously not American or English, she did speak English and said, ” You just need some motivation.” I thought well what more motivation do I need and headed back to the hotel for my swimsuit. On the way to and from the hotel, the thought went through my mind, why not just bag this crazy bike trip and spend two weeks here with her. I was in high spirits with a spring in my step as I hustled down the stairs that led back to the beach. Alas, when I made the turn and the beach opened up before me my “motivation” was gone. It wasn’t easy, but I eventually ducked my head under the icy water, as frigid reality set in.
I hope these travel tips serve you well on your trip to Italy. Whether you follow them or not, it’s almost impossible not to have a great time over there.
Thanks for reading.
(1) OK, you probably guessed, the one I made up: Mozzabrucio, named after my now favorite cheese, mozzarella, and my namesake coffee drink, the Brucio (an Americano with an extra shot of espresso.).
(2) Yes, that’s the same Calabria where the Pope just excommunicated mafia members who said they were good Catholics. You go Pope!