New rooms opening, a valuable collection finally on view, compelling exhibitions, and, alas, a price increase: here’s what’s new at the Uffizi for 2018.
Let’s start with some not-so-good news: peak season ticket prices (March 1 through October 31) are now €20 (an increase of more than 50% since they previously cost €8). (If you travel in the low season - November 1 to February 28 - then the cost drops to €12.) But hey, art is priceless, and the art contained in the Uffizi even more so.
And now there’s even more incredible art to see there, thanks to the opening of eight new rooms devoted to Caravaggio and 17th-century painting. Painted in a bright cinnabar red meant to evoke the fervor of that century, but also a color that was often used in fabrics and wallpapers depicted in paintings at the time, the rooms contain such Caravaggio masterpieces as La Medusa, Il Bacco and Il Sacrificio di Isacco, alongside works by Annibale Carracci, Guido Reni, Gherardo Delle Notti, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Artemisia Gentileschi, in a confrontation between Florentine and Italian art with European art.
More welcome news comes with the recent opening to the general public of ...
The early 2016 news that Cinque Terre would be imposing caps on the number of tourists allowed to access the picturesque towns was "just a provocation," admits Patrizio Scarpellini, director of Cinque Terre National Park, but “it had reached a point that we had to do something.”
That something — a dramatic statement to the press by the park’s president, Vittorio Alessandro — has raised awareness of the problems faced by this UNESCO Heritage Site, but the solution is much more complex than closing a door. Cinque Terre is a stretch of particularly rugged coastline in the Italian region of Liguria, halfway between the busy ports of Genova and Livorno. Day-trippers from the cruises that stop here stream into the five towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso, which grow up from the sea into a steep hillside that has been transformed, over the centuries, into terraced parcels of agricultural land.
Tourism in Italy boomed in summer 2017, with an increase in visitor numbers expected to continue throughout the colder months. In total, almost 50 million people spent the night at an Italian hotel during June, July, and August this year.
The exact number was 48.3 million, according to figures shared by Italian hotel trade association Federalberghi and the Cultural Ministry, and represented a two percent increase compared to last year.
On top of that, a further three million spent the night at an Airbnb accommodation, a huge 20 percent increase year-on-year. Seaside resorts reported a dramatic rise in visitors, with 16 percent more people visiting beach resorts this summer than in the same period in 2016.
But tourists were also attracted by culture, and museums saw a 12.5 percent increase in visitor numbers, with Puglia leading the way.
Italy is in the middle of the worst heat wave to hit the Boot in years. It is expected to only get hotter in the coming weeks as Ferragosto (the Italian vacation season) is set to begin on the 15th.
Yesterday, 16 Italian cities reached the rank of Bollino Rosso (a Red Alert), expected to rise to 24 major cities in the next few days. Every major city center is affected except for Genoa in the northwest part of the country. Temperatures are expected to break all past records, with some temperatures reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the south-central region!
I pity the residents and tourists in Florence with scorching temperatures rising to 107F. And people trying to escape the heat in the mountains of Abruzzo were disappointed when temps rose to 104 F... very unusual for an altitude of 2500 feet above sea level. Even in Potenza--huddled in the mountains of Basilicata--the temperature equalled body temperature... 98.6 F, offering no relief. The worst is in Naples where it rose to 116 F... and if anyone thought they would cool off by taking a ferry to Capri, the heat there wasn't much better--111 F! Water temperature in Capri is a un-refreshing 82 degrees. One blogger living in Naples said that her pool felt like someone had "drawn me a warm bath".
This is the fifth heat wave to hit Italy this summer.
If you want to know how to stay cool while Voyaging in hot, hot Italy, check out THIS POST.
Check out this fantastic article by Veronica Di Grigoli on The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife blog that I came across. It profiles a wonderful Easter festival in Sicily where a fantasy village is built out of bamboo and artistic panels and decorations all made out of bread. Well worth a look! Loads of great photos...
Loafing around in Sicily’s Gingerbread Village
The people of San Biagio Platano, a village in south-western Sicily, have celebrated Easter every year since the 1700’s by decorating their streets with arches and towers made of bread. The entire community spends three months turning the place into a gingerbread village… yet Hansel and Gretel never come!
In a land ravaged by earthquakes, floods and volcanoes from time to time, it's no wonder that in Italy, one will occasionally discover one of the many Ghost Towns...
Perched high on a rocky outcrop, with buildings precariously built under overhanging cliffs, is the beautiful remains of Pentedattilo, a village in southern Calabria. (The look of this village--tucked under dolomite cliffs--reminds me of the twin villages of Pietrapertosa and Castellmezzano we visited in Basilicata.) The village is a 45 minute drive from Reggio-Calabria. It got its name from the Byzantine word Pentedáktilos, which means five fingers, a reference to the five deep valleys surrounding the mountainous village. First inhabited in "Magna Graecia" period and then the Romans, Pentedattilo offers a wonderful view of the sea.
Being one of the oldest Ghost Towns of Italy, the town was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1783, which led to large parts of the population moving to the nearby seaside port town of Melito Porto Salvo. Today a modern-day with the same name of Pentedattilo was built on another hilltop a bit closer to the sea. The residents still attend Catholic services in the restored Chiesa dei Pietro e Paolo (Church of Saints Peter and Paul) standing proudly against the threat of Nature under the cliffs in the old town.
After some restoration in the 1980s, the old village today has a few new residents, although many ruins still sit without roofs, windows or doors just waiting for the Voyager with camera to capture its haunting beauty and solitude. Oddly enough, the village becomes the site of the International Pentedattilo Film Festival... with appropriate their motto, "Don't be a Ghost".
Italian fireworks are very special and well known for two main reasons: their exemplary quality and the intensity of their colors.
Around 1292, when Marco Polo was alive and actively trading European goods for Eastern merchandise, he brought back with him a mysterious black powder. This powder could somehow miraculously explode when ignited, so (as you might expect) it was immediately put to military use throughout Europe. The Italians, however, found a much more creative use for this extraordinary powder and created the first European fireworks with it. During Europe’s Renaissance (approximately 1400–1500 AD), the Italians further improved and developed their fireworks and turned chemical explosions into a consummate art form.
First of all, New Year's Eve is called Capodanno in Italy... and Fireworks are called Fuochi d'Artificio...
In 1830, advances in science and a much better understanding of chemistry in southern Italy made it possible to create flammable powders that would burn in different colors. For the first time, fireworks could be red, green, blue or even yellow! Ongoing research during the 19th century by both the Italians and Germans made newer and more vibrant colors possible, and it has continued ever since. During the last decade, pyrotechnic chemists have even gone one step further: they have managed to make pyrotechnic chemical reacts so they explode in colors as unusual as magenta, orange, aquamarine, lemon-yellow and even turquoise!
As for the shells that deliver these chemical wonders: In Italy the cylindrical shell is the most popular. (The Chinese and Japanese prefer spherical shells). Unlike spherical shells, however, cylindrical shells don’t have to be categorized as multi–break shells, even though they may contain a single-effect, like a willow, peony or a peony with reports.
Reports and salutes play a very important role in Italian culture–particularly during their religious festivals. Unlike may other parts of the world, daylight shows are very popular there, and they are filled with single-effect and/or multi-break shells. Color, of course, plays a much more important role during the evening displays; whereas the daylight displays are all about rhythm, and those rhythms are created using a variety of salutes, reports and colored smoke shells.
Italian shows generally contains three parts: the opening (apertura), the show itself (with the “fermata” shells), and a pré–final (the “giapponesata”) with the final happening immediately afterwards. Timing is critical for both the evening and daylight displays. The final is somewhat comparable to the way a train starts off slowly but increasingly gains speed, power and intensity.
As you might expect, most of the major competitions and displays are fired during religious feasts and festivals to honor local saints who protect the villages, towns and people living in each city. Generally, most of the larger competitions and festivals take place in southern Italy. Some locations and dates of some of the bigger festivals:
Cicciano in the province of Naples, Sant’ Antonio Abate, in January .
Cimitile in the province of Naples, San Felice in Pincis, in January .
Rapallo in the province of Genua, Santa Maria Del Campo, in July .
Scorrano in the province of Lecce, Santa Domenica, in July .
Vibonati in the province of Salerno, Sant’ Antonio Abate, in January .
Adelfia in the province of Bari, San Trifone Martire, in November .
Trecastagni in the province of Sicily, Festa di Sant’ Alfio Filadelfo e Cirino, in May.
During these fireworks competitions and religious festivals, several different companies (sometimes six or more) compete in the daylight festivities and then again during the evening competitions. If you want to see large multi-break shells and admire professionalism and exquisite artistic technique–southern Italy is the place to see it! Of course, there are a myriad of other magnificent shells (particularly characteristic of Italy’s pyrotechnic arts) displayed here as well.
The Real Deal on Italian Fireworks by Jerry Finzi
The video below is about Molfetta, where my father was born. This illustrates the typical News Year's Eve in Italy... local ordinances tend to ban fireworks but people buy them anyway and set them off on the streets of their towns--not on their own properties in rural areas (like here in the U.S.), but right on the streets of big and small cities alike. It's mayhem and chaos with explosions everywhere. Check out the video of Naples above and notice that the fireworks are going off everywhere--not in one organized, permitted location. I'm sure if you could look at the whole of Italy from space at midnight on December 31st, you'd see pulsing lights going off all over The Boot.
Over the past four years, illegal fireworks have resulted in four deaths and 1,950 injured. Last year, 561 were injured, including 76 children under 12 years of age. The animal rights groups claim that each year about 5,000 deaths of animals are caused by stress or accidents arising from fireworks.
As is typical for Italy, the laws vary from town to town and region to region. In general, no one under 18 can buy fireworks. They also are not allowed to be set off in public spaces, but it's obvious that the police are lax in their enforcement of the laws.
So, if you are in Italy this Capodanno (literally, the Head of the Year), be careful. Fireworks will start going off all over the city or village you are in... and we're not just talking about a few small firecrackers, either. I've seen videos of the type of rockets meant to go skyward shooting across a large piazza at ground level into a crowd!
Stay safe and Felice Anno Nuovo!
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While La Bafana, the good Christmas Witch is something only found in Italy, Santa is really the same all over the world, but in Italy, his name is Babbo Natale--Daddy Christmas. Babbo Natale is who we call Santa Claus in the States, or Saint Nick or more formally, Saint Nicholas, but his roots are in many European countries' traditional folklore. To the French, he is Pere Noël (Father Christmas), Father Christmas in England, Julenisse (Christmas Elf) in Scandanavia , Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, and Sankt Nikolaus or Weihnachtsmann in Germany.
All children know that Santa Claus comes from the North Pole, is bearded and overweight and that on Christmas Eve brings presents to children around the world traveling on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. They also know that he is magic--the reason why he can pull off this time-stopping feat, somehow getting into each and every house, whether or not it has a chimney. But the idea of Santa Claus was really born on the shores of the Mediterranean, evolves later on in Northern Europe and assumes its final form (Santa Claus) in the New World as an advertising gimmick.
Santa Claus, as we know him today in American, was made popular throughout the world by Coca Cola ads and Clement Moore's story "A Visit from St. Nicholas" ('Twas the Night Before Christmas) so there are many similarities. They all are kind and give presents. Most wear red. Some are fat and short, others are thinner and taller.
Santa has a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer, and so does Babbo Natale. Their names are a bit different, though: Cometa, Ballerina, Fulmine, Donnola, Freccia, Saltarello, Donato, Cupido (in place of our Comet, Dancer, Dasher, Prancer, Vixen, Donder, Blitzen, Cupid).
In reality, in the beginning there was St. Nicholas, a greek born around 280 AD who became bishop of Myra, a Roman town in the south of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Nicholas earned a reputation as a fierce defender of the Christian faith in the years of persecution and spent many years in prison. None of the early representations of St. Nicholas look fat and jolly. As recently proven by forensic anthropological studies of the saint's actual remains resting in a cathedral in Bari, Puglia, Nicholas was an thin, old man, with olive skin, a broken nose with a beard and gray hair. So much for that jolly, red nose and rosey cheeks.
Still, the legend lives on all around the world, with Santa Claus and Babbo Natale representing the Christmas Spirit--Spirito di Natale. His jolly, kind, all-knowing face is a sign of love to children... a reminder than in fact, they are loved... by God, by Santa and by their parents and siblings. He is a symbol of what Christmas is all about--the Good Life that God gave us.
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Even in Italy, Santas have been scaring kids for over a hundred years. Sleep well, kiddies.
Each year at Christmastime, inside the church of St. Isidore Agricola in Palermo, an ancient brotherhood of bakers creates a Presepe di Pane (Christmas Nativity of Bread) made entirely of bread, and they've been doing so since 1991.
The Presepe of artistic bread is baked and displayed in the beautiful ChiesaSt. Isidoro Agricola (...of the Bakers). St. Isidore was built in 1643, belonged from the beginning to the Society of Bakers.
The Presepe is made completely out of bread, a representation of the importance and symbolism of bread to Catholics... Bread is the Christ. All the characters are made painstakingly by the skilled hands of the bakers.
The Presepe di Pane is on display from December 9 to January 6 hours 9: 30-12: 00 16: 00-19: 00
Here is a video (in Italian) that profiles the Presepe di Pane....
In the next video, a baker-artisan works his magic and creates a detailed human figure. If you bake, this is well worth watching!
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We came upon these beautiful grapes near San Gimignano
Chestnuts are a really big deal in Italy
In September and October (depending if you are in the North or South of Italy), the hanging bunches of grapes swell and beg to be picked. Flocks of wine aficionados go to Italy for the sole purpose of taking part of this miracle, vising wineries, walking through vineyards, taking part in the harvest and of course, paring the wines they discover with the amazing food of Italy. When to harvest is a tricky thing. It depends on the variety, the weather (rain, cold, frost, hail and wind) and the ripeness of the fruit on the vines. Wine makers have ways to measure the sugars, acid and tannin levels in their grapes. They look for a perfect time to send their pickers out to the fields--when the grapes reach the perfect ratio of sweetness and acid. Some fields are harvested in August, others in September while still others wait until October. Believe it or not, much of the grapes are still harvested by the old fashioned way--a mano (by hand). It costs more than harvesting with machines, but many vintners believe it helps them produce a superior product in the end. Hand picking allows the human hand and eye to selectively pick the grapes that are at their peak. At any given time there might be grapes that are not even close to being ripe, some that are perfect while others are mushy and moldy or rotten entirely. Hands and eyes can pick and choose--a mechanical harvester cannot. Grapes harvested by hand need a lot of sorting afterwards by humans--which costs more time and money.
A good example of harvest time.... in Chianti at the end of September, the fields will be full of people picking grapes from the vines. They fill plastic milk-type crates up with grapes, then carry them to the end of the row and dump them into a big open container that is pulled by a tractor or a three-wheeled Treroute. You'll see many rigs driving down the roads loaded with grapes on the way to the fattoria. You will probably smell the fermenting process when driving by some vineyards.
Truffles, Truffles and more Truffles in Alba
Another reason to Voyage to Italy during harvest time is to enjoy the many various types of sagre (festivals) at this time of year. There's a lot more being harvested than just grapes. Local festivals are held for wine, cheese, bread, nuts, pumpkins, chocolate, mushrooms, sausages.... you name it, and there's a festival for you--some for food, some for history, all in the colorful autumn Italian countryside. Here are just a few...
Lucca: Festa della Esaltazione della Santa Croce - September 13, La Luminaria procession. The streets are illuminated with candles during the Luminara di Santa Croce, the principal event of the year in Lucca and part of a series of festivals during September. A wooden crucifix figure is carried along the streets of the old town center illuminated by thousands of small candles. There is also the "Mottettone" concert inside the cathedral and fireworks on the banks of the river.
Panicale: From Sept 8th to 11th, Panicale holds their Festa del l'uva - grape harvest festival, an interesting event dedicated to wine in Umbria. You can taste local dishes at the tavern and, of course, the excellent local wines.
Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Tuscany: Gran Premio Nuvolari - one of the most prestigious Grand Prix of classic cars in Italy, the Grand Premio Nuvolari (named after Tazio Nuvolari, one of the greatest drivers in the history of car racing), which takes place every year from 18th to 21st September. Over 500 drivers, in 250 classic cars start out from Mantua, driving over 1000 km through many towns in Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Tuscany. For instance, on September 20th the cars will parade through the Piazza del Campo in Siena from 12:00 am to 2:30 pm. More info HERE.
Aquaviva: The Viva Rock Festival will be held from September 7 through 11 in Acquaviva, a few kilometers from Montepulciano, featuring rock, world music, electronic music and reggae, admission is free for all the concerts.
Siena: There seem to be festivals going on all the time in Siena. In September you might visit Siena and see a procession of hundreds of people dressed in medieval costumes or red devil costumes.
Chianti: The olive harvest takes place in November. There are farm rentals (agriturismo) where you can actually take part in picking the olives. A perfect time to buy some oil.
Chianti: The chestnut harvest takes place between the middle of October and the middle of November. Chestnut flour is available a month or two after harvest. Chestnuts are grown in many parts of northern Italy.
Marradi: Northeast of Florence in the town of Marradi is the The Marradi Chestnut Festival, running every Sunday in October
Pisa: Within the province of Pisa, the prestigious International Market and Fair of the White Truffle at Corazzano.
San Miniato: In San Miniato, one of the more important truffle towns, you’ll have the chance to taste and buy one the most prestigious food products you’ll ever find on the first weekend in October. This is a "preview" of the main San Miniato market and fair that takes place every weekend in November.
Asti:Festival Delle Sagre is a one day event with food and wine from 40 villages in the area. It’s only 45 minutes from Turin. Sample tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms, frittata with chickpea and herbs, fried frog and cured donkey meat. Processions and live music entertain the large crowd throughout the day and into evening. www.festivaldellesagre.it
Alba: In October there is the Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco--a festival for the Tartufo biano, or white truffle, is a veritable celebrity in Alba and the month-long autumn festival devoted to the famous fungus is a must-see. Last October, Prince Albert of Monaco made a royal appearance at the opening ceremonies, a fanfare fitting for one of the world’s most sought-after delicacies. www.fieradeltartufo.org
Caluso: 20 miles outside Turin in the small town of Caluso, every September droves of wine enthusiasts celebrate the locally harvested grapes at the Festa dell’Uva. www.festadelluva.tn.it
Negroamaro: In Puglia, the Negroamaro Wine Festival is held in Brindisi every November.
Gubbio, Umbria:“Il Mese del Tartufo” (the Month of the Truffle) from November 19-20 and November 26-27, with events centering around different truffle-related products and other Umbrian specialties.
Piegaio: The Festa della Zucca (Squash Festival) is held in early October in Piegaio, a small town near Lucca. Growers from across the region head to the village to show off their biggest and best produce. There are also stalls brimming with squash-based dishes (as well as local honey, meats and cheeses) and even dolls made out of the fruit.
Montalcino: Beekeepers Week in Montalcino, Tuscany is held in early September. Honey tastings and all sorts of foods made with honey.
Bra: The Slow Cheese Festival happens this year from September 18-21 in Bra, Italy, a town in the northern Piedmont region, which is also the birthplace of Slow Food movement.
Buonconvento: In early September the walled town of Buonvonvento hosts a beer festival.
Verona: The Tocatì, the International Festival of Street Games in Verona, is an interesting opportunity to check out games, sounds and flavors of the past. Sept 15-18.
Greve: In Greve in Chianti there's the Expo del Chianti Classico celebrating the ubiquitous Chianti wine. There's music, lessons on wine and food sampling. There will be over 60 wine producers attending. In 2016 the event will be from the 8th to the 11th of September.
Milan & Turin:The MITO music festival takes place in September in the cities of Milan and Turin, and lasts throughout the month.
Ciminna:San Vito's day is celebrated in Ciminna, near Palermo, Sicily during the first week of September. There is a large parade where scenes from the life of the Saint are re-enacted. A livestock fair is also organized.
Florence: One of the oldest September festivals takes place in one of Italy's best known and most beautiful cities, Florence--the Feast of the Rificolona.
Pienza: The Pienza Pecorino Fair and "Cacio al Fuso" takes place on the first Sunday in September. Pienza is known for the pecorino (sheep cheese) in Italy and a wide range of excellent cheeses is available to be tasted and bought during this fair. The Cacio al Fuso is a cheese rolling competition--contestants roll a round of cheese to see how far it goes.
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When I was planning the southern leg of our Voyage through Italy, one of the pins on my Google Earth map was at Paestum, an archeological site in Campania about 25 miles south of Salerno and the Amalfi Coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea. We opted to leave Salerno and drive a more direct route to the rocky villages of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa--villages that remind me of Machu Picchu clinging to rocky precipices. If we had driven to Paestum first, we would have had a more arduous, long mountainous drive to bring us toward Basilicata and Puglia.
In hindsight, I wish we had at least done an early morning side trip to Paestum. It's located in the part of southern Italy known as Magna Graecia, which used to be settled by the Greeks long before the Roman Empire. The ruins of Paestum are famous for their three Greek temples with massive, intact Doric columns dating from about 600 to 450 BC. All structures are built from the local bedrock--travertine. Also intact are the foundation walls of many parts of the ancient city, an amphitheater and paved roads as well preserved as the Appian Way in Rome.
Both large temples at the site are dedicated to the goddess Hera
Nearby Agropoli, an ancient Greek port city
The site is open to the public, and there is a modern national museum within it, which also contains the finds from the associated Greek site of Foce del Sele. Founded by Greek colonists under the name of Poseidonia, it was eventually conquered by the local Lucanians and later the Romans. It has been known by several names... Lucanians dubbed it Paistos, with Pesto being another variation. The Romans changed it later on to Paestum. During early Christian times, the town was ruled by a Bishop but then abandoned and forgotten by the Middle Ages. It was rediscovered in the 18th century.
The modern town of Paestum, just south of the archaeological site, is a popular seaside resort, with long sandy beaches where many Italians spend their Ferragosto summer holiday in the month of August. However, if you want to relax and enjoy the flavors of this region, make your hub in the beautiful port town of Agropoli... a seaport just to the south, with its town hugging the cliffs above. The town is definitely worth more than just an overnight stay. Some might call it a romantic getaway. Another important aspect of the area is the raising of buffalo to produce the famous mozzarella di bufala. You may visit local farms to see the prized buffalo being massaged and pampered, as well as see how the fresh cheese is made.
These magnificent beasts produce amazing mozzarella
Heracles kills Alcyoneus
Aerial view of the site
If you go:
By Train Catch a train from Salerno or Naples to Paestum station. Buy a two-way tick if you need to return. I have read that the ticket machines in the Paestum station rarely work. By Boat There are ferrys during summer months from Salerno, Naples, Positano, Amalfi
By Bus Buses run throughout the Campania regions, especially in Avellino province, picking locals up for various points and taking them to the site for €9 return.
Paestum Tickets You can buy separate tickets for the archaeological site and the museum but if you're visiting both it is cheaper to purchase a combined ticket (about €6.50). There are various categories of discount. This is an Italian national monuments. Check for free entry for seniors and handicapped. The open air site is open daily; the museum is closed on the first and third Mondays of each month.
Step One: Don't be a tourist! Ok, I know that we fell into this trap ourselves when we traveled throughout Italy, but I'm telling you all to "Do as we say, not as we did!" You shouldn't spend all your time waiting on unimaginably long lines just to get into must-see tourist sites. There's real life out there away from the tourist throngs. I would suggest allocating only about 20% or less of your time trying to get into the "must see" sights that every other tourist is trying to see and 80% actually experience the Italian way of life.
As difficult as it is, try not to go where every other tourist is going. I know this is hard for the first timer to Italy--it was for us--to decide not to see the Sistine Chapel or Michelangelo's David. We spent a nightmarish, sweaty, stuffy, exhausting morning being enveloped and shoved by throngs of cruise ship tours in the Vatican Museum (Sistine Chapel included) and St. Peters--and believe it or not, this was a so-called "private tour" with our own personal guide! Sure, it was great seeing the Sistine Chapel, but as museums go, the Vatican Museum is not up to world standards in terms of comfort, proper care of the art displayed, lighting, cleanliness or how it handles the huge crowds they stuff into the place. And speaking as an artist, there was no opportunity to sit and admire Michelangelo's creation properly. (Read about our Vatican tour HERE.)
Lines at the Vatican Museum
The second part of this tip is to s l o w d o w n... You can't possibly see everything in Italy. When I first started planning our trip ten months before we left, every time I zoomed in to a different part of Italy on Google Earth I kept finding more and more outrageously wonderful things that I added to my pin map. I still have those Google maps saved in case we go back to Italy. Even when we were in one region, like Puglia, for example, I had dozens of things pinned in the area that we never got to see--that we just didn't have time to see. Still, I looked at it as having a list of options for a given area we happened to be in, knowing that we'd never get to see all of them.
There are 46 million tourists swooping down on Italy every year with the "high season" getting wider and wider (we went in October... I can't imagine how much more crowded the tourist sites are in late spring or summer!) But you have to remember, that almost anywhere you go in Italy, in every region, there is a plethora of art, palaces, aqueducts, museums, vineyards and great food everywhere! Even the smallest villages we passed through were worth a stop, a picnic and offered great subjects for photography. Castles... they are everywhere. Hill towns?--Where aren't there any? Roman ruins? Everywhere you look. Great architecture and churches? Fine art? Great wine? Yes, even in the small villages and towns. Great food? Pick a cuisine--any of the 20 regional cuisines in Italy!
So, take your time and by all means, slow down, and plan on savoring each and every bit of Italy and you'll find a higher degree of appreciation and satisfaction for La Bella Italia. Don't rush through anything. If you find that the lines are way to long, consider getting out of line and walk the other way... find something else around the next corner, in the next piazza or in the next village.
There's nothing like an Italian smile--Our Hot Air Balloon pilot, Stefano and one of his pups
One last part of this tip: Smile at locals and try to talk to them... Learn at least a little Italian before going to Italy. Talk to the ladies in the alimentari when buying your picnic supplies. Point a lot... smile a lot. Try talking to taxi drivers. I found them to really open up when you talk to them and ask about their lives. Learn basic phrases like Questo or Quello (This one... that one), Come si chiama? (What is this called?), Dove ___? (Where is found ____?), Grazie (thanks) and Per favore (Please).... and of course, Grazie (thanks--and say it properly: grat-zee-EH). You might not understand everything they say back to you but you will be experiencing the people of Italy. Take their photograph to remember their smiles. Give them your smile in return.
Remember, you are going to Italy to see, to smell, to taste and to feel... and to take home souvenirs... in the literal sense of the word... memories. Your goal should be to come back home with a part of the Italian lifestyle as part of your soul. Italia will never leave you...
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OPINION: There should really be a tiered level of visits to the Vatican Museum, sold through lotteries. Those proving some art credentials--like academics or students of art--should be allowed a different time of day where they can spend a decent amount of quiet contemplation--something that isn't an option today. To stop the wear and tear on the museum itself (the patterned floor tiles are getting worn through!), the general tourist public should only be allowed to visit a smaller section of the museum, with a limited number of people accessing the Sistine Chapel at the same time. Or, as they have done with other fragile tile or mosaic floors in other churches in Italy, put raised walkways so tourists' feet never touch the tiles. Also, no children under 10 should be allowed. Visitors should also be expelled whenever they break the rules of the Church, like men wearing hats. ---JF
Copyright 2015, Jerry Finzi/Grand Voyage Italy - All Rights Reserved
We came across these men in Castelmezzano during passaggiata.
When we Voyaged around Italy, we kept seeing men in the piazza or in their storefront clubs playing cards. The cards were very fancy looking, something like French cards I saw years ago. But what is this game that gets the men so absorbed they rarely look away from the game? When it seems sudden passions arise and they forcefully slap cards on the table--with a kind of macho panache. We saw it played in the north, down in Basilicata, in Molfetta and most small towns. I discovered they were most likely playing one of the two most popular Italian card games: Briscola (literally, Trump) or Scopa (broom, or Scopare--to sweep).
The cards are very beautiful and interesting. A deck of Italian cards consists of forty cards, divided into four suits: coins (Denari, often looking like sunbursts), swords (Spade), cups (Coppe) and clubs (Bastoni--not the same as our clubs. Theirs are actual clubs or bats.) The number value of the cards range from one through seven (not up to ten like our cards). There are also "picture cards" in each suit: Knave (Fante), Knight (Cavallo), and King (Re). The Knave is man standing. The Knight always has a horse somewhere. The King wears a crown. Count the symbols for the number value of the cards. The Ace (Asso) of Coins is a bird with circle in the middle, and other Aces always have one of their symbol.
Briscola is also played in Croatia, Libya, Spain and Portugal, Malta, Slovenia. and even Puerto Rico, its poularity more than likely spread by sailors who played the game in various ports and aboard ship. It is played by two to six players played with a standard Italian 40-card deck. The game is said to originate from an older Dutch game, evidenced by the word cappotto yelled when one team wins--very similar to the Dutch word "Kaput" meaning to be defeated (though capotto means jacket in Italian).
Basically this is a trump following game, although the rules allow the trump to be suddenly changed by players, making it a bit more unpredictable. The four and six player versions of the game are played as a partnership game of two teams. Each card has its own point value-- Ace 11, Three 3, King 10, Knight 4, Jack 3. A deck has 120 points total. To win a game, a player or team must get more points than any other player.
Game Play After the deck is shuffled, each player is dealt three cards. The next card is placed face up on the playing surface, and the remaining deck is placed face down, sometimes covering half of the up-turned card. This card is the Briscola, and represents the trump suit for the game. Before the game begins if a player has the deuce of trump he may retire the briscola. This move may only be done at the beginning of the game or first hand. Before the first hand is played (in four player game), team players may show each other their cards. Dealing out cards and the players turns go in a counter-clockwise direction. The player to the right of the dealer leads the first hand (trucco) by laying one card face up. Each player subsequently plays a card in turn, until all players have played one card. The winner of that hand is: if any briscola (trump) has been played, the player who played the highest valued trump wins; or if no briscole (trumps) have been played, the player who played the highest card of the lead suit wins. Players are not required to follow suit, that is, to play the same suit as the lead player.
The winner of a trucco collects the cards he just won and places them face down in front of him. Each player maintains his/her own pile. Then each player draws a card from the remaining deck to replace the one previously played, starting with the player who won the trick, proceeding counter-clockwise. The last card collected in the game should be turned up and become the new Briscola (trump). The player who won the trucco plays the first can. During the game and only before the next to the last hand is played, a player who draws the card with the seven (7) of trump can take the briscola. This may be done only if the player has won a hand. Before the last hand, people in the same team can look at each other's cards. After all cards have been played, players calculate the total point value of cards in their own piles. For multi-player games, partners combine their points.
Scopa is the other popular card game played in Italy. Scopa in Italian means broom, and the game is one when a player sweeps all the cards from the table. It is an easy game to learn but difficult to become really good at it. It's a game of both skill and luck. Again, this is an excitable game, with body language, hand gestures and a bit of cursing being the norm during play. It is also played with the 40-card deck of cards, either with 2 players or partnerships from 4 to 6 players.
Members of the same team sit opposite each other. Only one player deals the cards and hands out 3 cards to each player, and then deals four cards face up on the table in front of him. A table card may be dealt before the deal begins, immediately after dealing a card to one player, but before dealing to the next player, or after dealing all players all three cards. The first player (going counter-clockwise again) decides from one of two options: place a card on the table, or play a card to capture one or more cards.
A capture is made by matching a card in the player's hand to a card of the same value on the table, or if that is not possible, by matching a card in the player's hand to the sum of the values of two or more cards on the table. The card from the player's hand and captured cards are then placed face down player and considered out of play. If the player captures all cards, this is called a scopa, with additional points awarded at the end hand.
After the players have played all three cards, three new cards are dealt to each player, with the new play starting with the player on the dealers right side. That player then begins play again. No additional cards are dealt to the table. This hands are repeated until no more cards remain. In the last hand, the player who most recently captured is awarded any remaining cards, and points are calculated for each player or team.
When calculating scores, each scopa (sweep) nets one point. Then a player or team gets one point if he took the highest total number of cards, the highest number of Coin suit cards, the seven of Coins (called the settebello). Calculating the primiera (prime), is also usual. To award the primiera, each cards is given a value. You sum up the points for each card and the highest total is the primiera. The primiera is worth one point towards the total score.
There are many variants to the traditional game of scopa, just like in poker. One of the most popular is the Asso piglia tutto (ace wins it all). The player that plays an ace can take all the cards on the table. This can count as a sweep or not, according to the variant in use.
The next time you see men playing on their little table in the piazza, stand for a while and watch. See if you follow the play. Just don't make any side bets...
Buy Italian Playing Cards on Amazon... click the photo above.
Last year, we went to the Hoboken Italian Festival and enjoyed the waterfront views, the food and the nostalgia. I thought I would post this story again because the 2016 Festa is coming up again... Festival Dates for 2016: September 8th – 11th
The 800 pound statue of the Madonna dei Martiri procession runs through the streets of Hoboken on Saturday, September 10th. As you read my article, you'll discover that there's more than the Festival itself to make the trip worth it...
One of the 22 or so pizzerias within the one square mile of Hoboken
This is what the Sagre used to look like
My Mom and Dad both grew up in Hoboken, with many other Italian immigrants, many families (like my Dad's) were from Molfetta. In Molfetta in early September they have a feast to honor the Madonna dei Martiri (Madonna of the Martyrs). When I was a boy I went to the "feast" (as we called it) many times with my Parents, Uncles, Aunts and Grandmother... there was a grand procession, where young and old men would carry the hefty statue of the Madonna through the streets. There was usually a raised stage set up on a corner with Italian singers, dancers, and even dramatic short plays from the old country. Then there was the food. You name it and it was there. All manner of Italian delicacies... spaghetti dinners on long tables set up at curbside, meatball or sausage and pepper sandwiches, deep fried calamari, zeppole, pastries and much more.
Most of the old Italians have passed on and their children have moved away from Hoboken during its years of gentrification and revitalization. When I was a kid, Hoboken had some very iffy neighborhoods and some decent ones. It's a small town-only one mile square--but has a lot going for it, especially nowadays--if you can afford to live there, that is. You see, Hoboken has become essentially an upscale neighborhood linked so tightly to Manhattan that you almost don't notice the mile and a half wide Hudson river flowing between them.
Of course, in the old days the town's fame came from it's most popular and well known product--Frank Sinatra. My Mom went to grade school with him (and said that all the girls didn't "go" for him because he was so skinny). There is a wonderful waterfront park and promenade named after old Blue Eyes--Sinatra Park, which is where the Italian Festival is held.
Nowdays, he has been replaced with the newcomer, Buddy Valastro, of Carlo's Bakery and TV's Cake Boss fame. But Hoboken has a lot more going for it than its Italian heritage, Sinatra or Buddy's overpriced fondant covered cakes. We rediscovered it's charm and beauty while going to the Italian Festival last weekend. But, there is both good news and bad what we discovered there...
First of all, we tried to park. Most free parking spaces are taken up by residents with parking permits on their windshields. There are also lots of those new style computer parking kiosks--if you can find an empty parking space at all. Hoboken always had a problem with parking--when I was young, dodging double parked cars on its narrow city streets was something you just had to put up with. Not much has changed today. In fact, we couldn't find a spot so decided to park in a newer indoor garage in one of the many newer apartment buildings that line the east side of town... for $30! That's Manhattan prices, alright.
MozzaRepas... oh so Italiano
Guatemalan Zeppole Lady
Then there was the festival itself. We went down to Sinatra Park to where the food concessions were. There were the prerequisite offerings of sausage and pepper sandwiches, zeppoles, pizza, and a Cake Boss tent with a nearly sold out batch of cannoli, but there was also Greek souvlaki, Mexican food, the "MozzaRepas" corn cakes, Argentinian meats and zeppoles made by a nice, but very un-Italian, Ecuadoran lady. There was a Spanish guy that had a wood fired oven on a trailer rig so we got one, but it was very bland--nice crust, but no spices in the sauce. The sausage and pepper sandwich was just not authentic. The Italian pastries in another tent looked like they were purchased at a supermarket. And even though the procession carrying the statue was supposed to be down near this area while we were there, we never saw it. Perhaps it got tied up in the awful Hoboken traffic. The only music was some old guy singing lame versions of Sinatra songs to pre-recorded MIDI Karioke tracks. Lordy... where's the mozzarella to stuff my ears?!
Ok, so the old style Italian Festival is virtually dead and gone. It's a lot different from the Festa of the Madonna dei Martiri when I was a kid. After all, when you look at the faces in this town all you rarely see one under 30 years old. I wonder how they can afford to live in Hoboken.
Wood oven pizza! (I should have given them my sauce recipe)
It used to point straight down to the seedy bar, now it points around the corner to the fancy new place
But now the good. If you want to visit Manhattan, don't go there, go to Hoboken. This town has evolved into the liveliness of the way Greenwich Village was in the Sixties. There are bars, clubs, restaurants of every cuisine you can imagine, chic shops, cool gritty shops, specialty food shops, coffee, cheese, even hand made cigars. This place is cool--if you're under 40, that is.
And that's not the only thing. When I was a boy, my Dad would take me down to the Hoboken waterfront to tell me about his history. He and his brother Peewee had a "three legged horse" (merely lame) they used to sell fruit and veggies to the sailors coming from the many large ships that docked along the waterfront piers. There were many bars in Hoboken (every other storefront, as he tells it) and houses of ill repute. This was a rough, tough and seedy seaport town. The famous Clam Broth House served raw bars in just as raw an atmosphere with clam shells tossed onto the tiled floor into the sawdust. (Now it's moved around the corner and is a fine dining establishment). Whenever my Dad took me in there I couldn't stand the smell of beer and iffy clams.
Sinatra's mother, Dolly (as my Mom told it) performed abortions in the back room of the family's bar. Dolly became politically active because of her inside "connections" to all the local political bosses. This was--and still is--a very "connected" and perhaps corrupt town, but the fruits of these politicians and developers have left something positive: The new waterfront.
This is the gold that Hoboken offers to visitors. The revived waterfront is every bit as good as the promenade down in Battery Park City--but with obviously better views looking back on the Manhattan skyline. From a single viewpoint, you can see the towers clustered in midtown and the newer towers clustered around the Freedom Tower down at the tip of the island. You can see all the way north to the George Washington Bridge. The river is alive again with lots of boat traffic and ferries going into many stops around Manhattan. And the best thing is the way they developed the waterfront itself. Paved paths, green spaces, trees and even a curved walkway that leads you from the shore onto a man made island park complete with a playground for the little ones.
Name a cuisine, any cuisine
Inside the new Carlos Bakery
The best view of the Big Apple
The best part of our little sojourn was sitting on a bench, cooling off with some Mr. Softee ice cream cones, listening to a really good street singer right at the water's edge, and soaking in that amazing view of our old home--Manhattan Island. Lisa grew up in lower Manhattan and I lived and worked in my studio there for 38 years. Having done a lot of boating around these waterways, I loved seeing New York from river level once again.
We also had a chance to walk over to Carlo's Bakery (our second time there) thinking we'd pick up some pastries and see how their new renovation looked. Though over a block long like the first time we went there a year or more ago, the line inside was still long. We took a ticket. We were #77 and they were "Now Serving 44". Yikes. A quick calculation of 33 people at 4 minutes average apiece meant we'd be waiting over an hour and a half to be served. They only had 3 people behind the counter! So at best, 30 minutes to wait? To be honest, the last time we got cake from Carlo's we didn't think it was all that great... you see I grew up in Hudson County and have had Italian pastry and cakes from many great bakers in the area. Carlo's ranks 2.5 on a scale of 5 to me. So we left. Sorry, Buddy.
One more little detour was to take Lisa and Lucas down a few blocks to the old Erie Lackawanna Railroad Station--and old world gem, sort of a smaller version of Grand Central Station in Manhattan. It was beautiful, and is still a functioning train station. You can see its beauty in various films, like the train station scene in Julie & Julia (2009). Lucas noticed the fancy staircase right away and said it reminded him of that scene in the Untouchables when Elliot Ness has a shootout while trying to catch the baby carriage rolling down the stairs. It was like stepping back in time to the 1920s or 30s.
So, while the "Feast" was a bust for us, the day was a joy. We had fun, enjoyed the river views, saw a few funny dogs being walked, and filled our bellies with a sack of Guatemalan zeppoli on the ride home... Not bad, but why the holes in the middle?
If you enjoyed this post, please tell your friends about Grand Voyage Italy... and keep coming back. Ciao!
The contents of this article are copyrighted material. Copyright 2015, Jerry Finzi - All rights reserved
Italy is hot--nearly tropical-hot. Pretty much all over the country, too. It's a real task to stay cool in Italy--a country where ice cubes in a drink are thought to give a mal di stomaco, causing tourists to ask for ice in their warm glasses of soda; air conditioning is rarely turned on, or when it is on, is set to 75 degrees (when it exists at all, that is); where a 68 degree evening is considered cold; where Italians don their puffy jackets and scarves when most Americans are in T-shirts and shorts; and where people eat such large, heavy lunches during summer that they need to close up shop and go home to take a nap for a few hours with their shutters drawn against the midday sun.
Before we took our trip to Italy, I researched the weather extensively... or so I thought. I had all sorts of long range forecasts, histories of statistics of previous years' weather and temps, and even got first hand personal advice from Italians and travelers on the many online travel forums I frequented at the time. Nothing prepared me for the heat and humidity we encountered... and this was during three weeks in October! We saw many days in the 90s, usually with high humidity.
This got me thinking of my niece and her son... they are taking a tour of Italy and Greece in July. July! OMG! I don't know if I could do all the things we did in Italy in the heat of summer. Even in October, Pompeii was roasting us (thank the Lord for those fresh water fountains that were there), Amalfi made us sweat more than we thought our bodies could, and the Vatican Tour exhausted us beyond belief due to the extra BTUs produced by the throngs of tour groups pressing bodies like cattle trying to get through those narrow, un-airconditioned, stuffy, humid palace halls.
Curiously, in the southern province of Puglia, it seemed cooler than up in Tuscan or Rome--the sea breezes kept us more comfortable. Walking the streets of Rome we found especially grueling (like Manhattan, big cities hold heat), but not as awful as I imagine it must be to deal with the summer heat in Italia. In fact, summer temperatures in Rome can reach as high as 104F!
So I would strongly recommend when planning a trip to Italy that you plan it in the shoulder season months in early spring--March, April, May--or the fall during late September, all of October up to the first 2 weeks of November. After that, the rainy season comes to most of Italy.
But in case you have to be in Italy during summer, I've put together some tips on beating the heat when in Italy during the hottest months... especially helpful for those of you traveling with very young or older people susceptible to overheating and exhaustion.
Lines at St. Peters
Sweltering crowds at the Uffizi in Florence
Avoid Long Lines When Possible:
There are many things to see in Rome, Florence and the rest of Italy that don't require standing on long lines. Think out of the box. Even if you throw away your "must see" list of the top tourist attractions, you will still enjoy yourself and get a good taste of Italian life. Don't plan anything that requires long lines. I know this rules out things like the Vatican, the Uffizi in Florence, but believe me, I witnessed the long lines in October and can't imagine how much longer they get in the high tourist season. The lines at the Vatican can be three hours long unless you have booked a private tour, and even though St Peters is free to all, everyone has to go through the long lines for a security check... up to 3 hours in high season. You can try going either early (before 9am) or later in the afternoon when the tourist groups are gone. They are open until 7pm, so if you get there for 5pm you'll have shorter lines and still have some time to walk through. On Sunday's if you want to attend mass, again, the earlier the better.
Drink Water, Lots of Water:
You should bring a refillable bottle and trust the fountains for refilling your bottle unless it says "non potabile". Buying water bottles or sodas at tourist snack wagons will begin to add up, so refilling your own will help hold down costs. (I recommend this Thermos brand bottle. With some ice it keeps drinks icy cold for hours). Select a travel bag with a large enough drink bottle pocket. You won't always find a vendor or bar when you need one, but you will find water fountains... many times, ancient Roman ones with brass faucets sticking out of them. Consider bringing a bandanna that you can wet and tie around your neck, or fold and soak it and put it under your kids' caps. Lucas loved this technique for keeping cool.
Both light in color and light weight. I brought some travel shirts that were fine, but even on the hottest days they still held sweat. Lighter colors will reflect the sun. Lighter weight fabrics are also easier to pack. Bring a small spray bottle both for a cooling mist and for spraying wrinkled clothing--hang them on a travel folding hanger and the the wrinkles fall right out.
Wet Ones Singles:
These little packets of coolness are the best thing for cleaning a sweaty brow or neck, keeping your kids cool under pressure and wiping on your arms and legs for some refreshing evaporation. And they really don't take up much room at all. Buy a pack of 144 Wet Ones Wipes and stuff them in your luggage. Easy to stuff a handful in your day packs when doing the tourist thing.
Think Like an Italian and take a Riposa:
Italians don't go out in the hottest part of the day. They take long 3 hour lunches called a riposa--a siesta, if you will. Most go home for lunch. Think like an Italian and don't plan a lunch in small towns after 12 noon or you won't be able to find a restaurant open for lunch (in larger cities like Rome or Florence this isn't a problem). But in most other towns, look for bars--in Italy, a bar is a place to get snacks, pastries, sandwiches and espresso. Plan picnic lunches and a rest period in the middle of the hot day. Sit under a tree, have your lunches, dangle your feet in a stream or fountain, or plan to visit a cool church. It's a bit cooler inside old castles and churches with their thick walls and marble floors. When you can, get out early to get your tourist things done, relax back in your hotel of rental apartment like an Italian, then go to museums and such after 4pm when most of the tour buses and cruise ship crowds are long gone.
Don't Walk During Midday:
Do your long walks in the morning and late in the day when the sun is low. Plan indoor things for midday... or even plan on spending restful time in your air conditioned hotel room until later in the day. You won't miss anything... Rome, Florence, Pisa, Amalfi, Venice... they're all still there later in the day and in the evening--and less crowded.
This is especially important if you're prone to sunburn and to keep your kids from getting overheated. Don't worry about the non-cap wearing Italians who spot you for the tourist you obviously are. They can spot us anyway, even without a Yankee cap. Soak your kids' caps in fountains and slap them back on their heads to keep them cool.
Yes, I'm serious. If you're traveling with a few little ones, pack a couple of small, good quality water pistols and let them shoot each other to their little hearts' content. They will have less tantrums and meltdowns if they're getting cool by getting wet. (On occasion, I'd sprinkle some water down my boy's neck to cool him down). If you're tight on space, pack a couple of kitchen sized plastic hypos. They can suck water up from a fountain and shoot pretty far with these things.
Rent a Car:
Not in the big cities, but if you want to explore the Italian countryside, by all means, rent a swagger wagon and crank up the air conditioning. Some cars, like the newer Fiat 500L (they call it "the Large" in Italy) even have a glove box cooler that works fairly well for a water bottle or two.
Aqualandia water park
Italian Water Parks:
Yes, they have water parks in Italy too. Beautiful, big ones. Personally, I think this would be something a family might want to do only if they are staying for an extended period of time in Italy... after all, it's not like you'd experience anything about the Italian culture in a modern water park. But if you are staying in a hub location for three weeks or more, you might want to take a break and treat the family to some wet, cool fun at a local water park.
For example, just to the east of Venice in the resort beach town of Jesolo is Aqualandia, a large seaside water park 2 huge lagoon sized pools with a tropical island and other water slide attractions. One of the oldest and most famous water parks is Aquafan in Riccione one quarter of the way down the Adriatic coast side of the Boot. Again, I'd only recommend this for long term stays in Italy when your family needs a break from all the typical tourist activities and just wants to let loose and cool down. Personally, water theme parks are not my thing... I'd rather hit the real beaches in Italy...
Try Walking Sandals Instead of Sneakers:
If you decide to try this, find a good quality walking (hiking) sandal and wear them a while before your trip. Make sure that you will not develop any blisters on longer walks. If you find the right pair, they will save space (no sneakers) and save your feet from sweating on the hottest days.
Shady Side of the Street:
Only "Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun"--that's what Noel Coward said. I'm sorry to say that my wife hasn't a clue as to what side of the street to walk on when it's hot and sunny. Lucas and Lisa might get miffed when I turn a corner and abruptly say "let's walk on the other side". They don't notice the broiling sun on one side and the shade trees on the other. Maybe I notice because I'm a lot older than both of them put together, I'm carrying more weight than ever before, and have that little balding spot that burns way too easily when I forget my cap. Perhaps the other reason is because light is my science--being a professional photographer. I pay attention to light and shadows. Walk on the shady side and stay 15 - 20 degrees cooler. Some walks in Rome, for instance, are on very long, sunny boulevards. If you're lucky enough to be walking in a town like Bologna, you can walk for 0ver 40 miles of arcades and stay out of the sun.
Pack a Portable Fan:
A battery operated fan can be useful in many situations when traveling in Italy during the summer. You can use it on a train, especially regional lines whose air conditioning or ventilators might not be operating properly. You can put it on your table during meals pointing right at your face and neck. You can use it in hotel rooms where the A/C isn't up to snuff. If you've just endured a long walk up to the Centro Storico of a hilltown, you can find a shady place to sit, pop out your portable fan and cool down for a few minutes until your body temperature comes down a bit. Hint: Wipe your face and neck with a Wet One and enjoy the cooling evaporative effect as you point the fan at yourself.
Lucas, about to wet his head and put a wet cloth under his cap up on Palatine Hill
Take a Head Shower:
When you are at your body's limits on how much heat you can endure, look for a public potable water fountain and hold your head under it... wetting your hair and all. If you're sweaty and worn out looking anyway, who cares about how your wet hair will look... just think about how refreshing it will feel. This type of head shower will work especially well in the public fountains in places like Pompeii or towns like Lucca.
Taxis and Car Services:
By all means, learn how to get a taxi in the large cities. Most cities like Rome have taxi stands where taxis wait on the cue (the one in front is the next one to take a fare). You don't hail a taxi in Rome unless they have a legal place to pull over. They are very affordable and will save both your feet and your sweat glands. Take a taxi up to a city center and then meander casually back to your starting point. In case your driver doesn't have his air conditioner set cool enough, ask "il condizionatore d'aria...piùfrescoper favore?" (the air conditioner... cooler please?)
Besides taxi stands, ask your hotel for the numbers of the best radio taxi services. They work like Uber--call them, tell them your location (more often, you need to do this in Italian!) and they will show up within minutes. The taxi meter starts running when the taxi driver starts out toward your location. You can also try Uber in Rome and Florence.
In places like the Amalfi Coast, use a car service instead of using the bus. The buses are not always on time and you might find yourself waiting for a long time standing in the bright sun on the side of a very narrow, busy, curvy road.
One Word... GELATO:
That's right. One of the easiest ways to cool down is find a gelateria (which won't be too hard as they are everywhere and pretty much are always open) and ask for a scoop (or two) of your favorite flavor. I'm sure you'll even find flavors that you didn't know were your favorite! And don't worry about gelato spoiling your kid's appetites. Gelato, although having less air makes it taste richer than ice cream, is far lower in fat and sugar than ice cream. Have gelato at 5 or 6pm before the 7:30 Italian dinnertime starts. And there's a lot more than just gelato... granita, semifreddo, sorbetto, grattachetta, shakerato (ice espresso). Check out my blog post Frozen... to learn more.
Close the Shutters:
If you are staying in a hotel room or apartment or villa, they will most likely all have shutters. In the U.S. shutters have devolved into being only a decoration, screwed in the open position. In Italy they actually work and are a necessity. Close shutters in your rooms before going out for the day and your home away from home will be cooler when you get back. This is especially important for the midday period. There are a lot of family lunches and naps going on behind all those drawn shutters in Italian towns.
After getting down to this beach on Capri, you've got to come up again! Stop and take rests.
Take Rest Stops on Steps and Inclined Walkways:
There are lots of steps and sloped walkways in Italy. Hilltowns are everywhere. If you are driving, most parking lots are outside the lower party of hilltowns--you aren't permitted to drive in the historic centers (centro storico). There will be a lot of walking uphill and lots of steps. For example, in Positano (on the Amalfi Coast) there are over 2000 steps that many climb to get high above the town to see the amazing views of the sea. On the Isle of Capri there are steep switchback paths that you need to walk to get down to the beach. Many towns in Italy have similar paths that used to be used for donkeys but are still used for getting from one place to another.
Air conditioning in Italy isn't the same as here at home. First of all, Italians don't like drafts and might keep the air conditioning turned off completely or the temperature set at 78F (25C) instead 68F (20C). I even ran into one hotel that had a master control... you had to call the desk to have them turn it on, and they couldn't change the thermostat. It was one set temperature that definitely wasn't refreshing at all. If their system is broken down, chances are it won't be fixed during your stay.
The best air conditioning I've found is in the bigger cities and from "split duct" systems... the kind where you see a big bulky air handler unit mounted high on one wall. The radiator-looking systems barely cool at all. You might inquire about they type of air conditioning before booking an apartment, especially if you're planning a longer stay. Even in shops, restaurants and museums, I found most air conditioning systems to be way under par from what we're used to in the States. When you do find a very cool setup, savor it... you may not find it again.
One of my favorite beaches... Polignano al Mare, Puglia
The Italian Coast and Beaches:
There are 4722 miles of coastline in Italy, some of it are rugged and rocky, but most of it are beaches... everything from fine snow white sand to pink, to black to pebbles to rocky. You can take your pick from the chic Lido beaches of Venice to the Italian Riveria to the miles of pristine sand and rocky cove beaches of Puglia. Some beaches are packed like sardines with Italian families on their August holiday, many are overbuilt and crowded, while much of the Italian coastline (including Sicily and Sardinia) have mile after mile of some of the most unspoiled beaches anywhere in the world. And the great thing is (as in Puglia) many are just there for the taking. Free. Mother nature's gift to the tired and overheated traveler. If you want a natural beach experience, check out the Maremma in Tuscany (A Tuscan Beach Vacation: The Maremma). Don't forget to pack swim suits for summer travel!
Head North to the Italian Alps:
For nature lovers, trekkers, bikers and even skiers (at higher elevations), there is a great opportunity to stay cool in the Italian summer--the Italian Alps. With over 300 sunny days a year and much cooler temperatures than the rest of Italy, the Italian Alps, with its mix of Italian and South Tyrolean cuisine, is a wonderful way to beat the heat. The food here very different--there might be risotto, lardo (an paper thin-sliced herbed, cured lard) fonduta (Italian style fondue), Canederli (a sort of Matzo ball dumpling in broth), fontina and goat cheeses, sausages, wines and of course, beer. But the real star of the show up north is the world famous, UNESCO World Heritage Dolomites--amazing, jagged pinnacles jutting up from the top of Italy's boot. While there, you can ride cable cars up from the valley or enjoy adventure sports like paragliding, zip-lining, mountain climbing, river rafting and glacier trekking.
Gassata or frizzante... bubbly and refreshing.
Forget the Soda and Drink Gassata:
First of all, American style sweet sodas might taste the same in Italy, but can be very costly, especially when purchased at street vendors in tourist areas and in restaurants. Another thing on sodas... you will not find diet soda. I didn't see one brand of diet soday in all of Italy when we were there. Instead, order large bottles of "gassata" or "frizzante" (both mean sparkling water). Order one large bottle with meals. If you want plain water, order a bottle of "aqua naturale". Add the word "fresci" or "freddo" to ensure that the bottle they bring has "fresh" or "cold" come from a fridge. Local alimentari (grocery stores) will have large bottles of gassata in their cooler or you can buy a large bottle to bring back to your hotel fridge. The only other soda I'd recommend in Italy is Fanta Aranciata (orange). It is different in Italy--and better--made with natural orange juice... a light, refreshing, sparkling orangeade. Personally, I find the Sanpellegrino orange and lemon sodas way too acidic.
So, if you insist on going to Italy during the hottest time of the year, please stay cool and slow down. You might even have to knock some things off your list, but you'll have a much better time and stay healthier.
Stay cool, or as Italians put it, mantenere il sangue freddo! (Keep your blood cool)
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In Italy, Internet service is rare, sluggish and prone to weather-related problems (most services are satellite based systems--easier to install with all those stone walls). But soon there may be another option to get connected while visiting your favorite tourist sites. Even though Italy is short on cash, in 2017 it is going to start providing high-speed internet access at major tourist attractions, including all of its UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Also in the plan to get connected: seaside resorts, historic cities, airports and train stations.
But is this just a scheme to get Italian Big Brother watching and following even more people? The Italian government in fact wants to create a nationwide WI-fi network, which users can access via a single personal login, but according to La Repubblica, such a system will allow data to be collected on where tourists are spending their time, and perhaps it's own citizens.
Officials claim that the system would make it easier for people to enjoy Italy's natural and cultural attractions. According to Antonello Giacomelli, from the Economic Development Ministry, "We need to integrate services as much as possible because the digital element is part of the complete visitor experience."
Really? My son Lucas, my wife and I just used our imaginations and our own senses to delve into the history and majesty of the Colosseum when we visited--I had no desire to get on my smart phone to do some surfing. We already have Google tracking us like this. If I even look at a camera I'm interested in, I will then be barrages with camera ads on virtually every site I go onto that uses Googles data. I wouldn't want that after visiting historic sites in Italy (or the Taj Mahal, for that matter... apparently, this is a worldwide effort linking public WiFi with data mining and advertising).
Italy has more World Heritage Sites than any other country--51 at this writing--from Pompeii and Herculaneum, to Palladian villas, the cave city of Matera and Sicily's Mount Etna.
This project is odd when you consider that Italy has a problem with state funding for the upkeep of its historic sites and have already used corporate moneys to restore the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and more. Perhaps it's a scheme to sell the data from such a national WiFi system to pay for their maintenance.
As for me, I don't need WiFi when visiting such sites and soaking in the historic significance and culture.
Turn off your smart phones and just feel the history beneath your feet!
You would think rock doesn’t make for the ideal natural element where to build a town. Yet, the following Italian villages have been able to transform a hostile environment into a uniquely charming place to live.
Carved into the rock and often perched on a hill or plateau, the 20 'borghi' below, selected by search engine Skyscanner as Italy’s most spectacular, all offer stunning views of the sea or surrounding countryside. Have you visited any of them?
When I first heard of the concept of Jus Sanguinis, I was intrigued by the concept of having dual citizenship. I wondered why someone--especially an American--would want this. Were there any downsides? Benefits?
So I looked into it a bit. There are definitely benefits to having an Italian passport:
Live, work, retire, go to school, and travel freely in 27 European Union (EU) countries
Reconnect with your cultural background and strengthen the fabric of your heritage
Travel safer abroad
Pass on the lifelong gift of Italian Dual Citizenship to other members of your family--One of the most basic reasons why Italian dual citizenship is beneficial is the fact that you get to pass it on to your children (and their children and their children's children in perpetuity) in an unbroken line of Italian citizenship.
College education is available for Italian citizens in state supported universities for as little as 1500 Euro per semester. As long as Italy is a member of the EU, you can also attend EU universities in other EU countries as well.
Access financial investment rights available only to EU citizens
For the uninsured or under-insured, healthcare in the U.S. can be expensive. As an Italian citizen, you are entitled to apply for your tessera sanitaria to receive Italian healthcare which is world class and much more affordable when compared to healthcare in the U.S.
Seek health care/drug treatments that may not be available in the United States.
Access educational benefits, including potentially free higher education
Leverage tax shelters and benefits
Benefits when purchasing property in Italy. Having Italian dual citizenship entitles you to much less paperwork and legal hassles when buying or renting property.
According to Italian law, a qualified person can claim their Italian citizenship through Jus Sanguinis, the Right of Blood. The basic principle is that Italian citizenship is passed from father (or mother, only since 1948) to their children, even if those descendants gained citizenship in another country (such as in the U.S.) simply by being born there. The key is that the ascendant born in Italy and who immigrated to the US must have been an Italian citizen (i.e. not been naturalized as a US citizen) when his or her child was born. Italian women did not win the right to pass on citizenship to their children until 1948. Therefore, people born prior to Jan. 1st, 1948, can only claim citizenship from their paternal line, while those born on or after Jan. 1st, 1948, can claim from either their maternal or paternal line.
There are many circumstances under which a descendant of an Italian citizen can qualify, but it might be difficult to provide the dates and many documents to satisfy the Italian regulations. Many people who have attempted to get their Italian citizenship have reported the process can easily take a couple of years and well over $1000 in fees to research and gain copies of documents, and in hiring a representative in Italy to act on your behalf in obtaining all the required Italian documents.
The Legal Principals
Jus sanguinis is Latin for "the Right of Blood", a legal principle of nationality law in which citizenship is not determined by place of birth, but by having one or both parents who are (or once were) citizens of the state. Children at birth may automatically be citizens if their parents have (or had previously) state citizenship or national identities of ethnic, cultural or other origins.
The nationality law of Italy bestows citizenship jure sanguinis. There is no limit of generations for the citizenship via blood. However, the first citizens of the modern Italian state were alive on 17 March 1861 when the state was officially formed, and for this reason all claims of Italian citizenship by jure sanguinis must stem from an ancestor who was living after March 16, 1861. Each descendant of the ancestor through whom citizenship is claimed jure sanguinis could pass Italian citizenship to the next generation only if this descendant was entitled to Italian citizenship at the time of the birth of the next person in the line. So if any person in the line lost the Italian citizenship and then had a child, that child did not inherit Italian citizen jure sanguinis, except if the child could inherit the citizenship from the other parent.
Cases of dual citizenship were possible, which is to say, for example, that a person in the line could have had Italian and Canadian citizenship concurrently. Minor children of Italian citizens were at risk of losing Italian citizenship if the child's parent naturalized in another country, unless the child was subject to an exception to this risk—and children born and residing in a country where they held dual citizenship by jus soli were subject to such an exception since 1 July 1912.
Until 1 January 1948, Italian law did not generally permit women to pass on citizenship. Persons born before that date are in most cases not Italian citizens jure sanguinis if their line of descent from an Italian citizen depends on a female at some point before 1948. On several occasions, this limitation of deriving Italian citizenship only from fathers before 1948 has been successfully challenged in court.
A typical picnic lunch for my son, Lucas and myself... at a local Pennsylvania lake--very Italian.
Picnics are thought of as an All-American invention, but in truth, the word began life in France. A 1692 edition of Origines de la Langue Françoise de Ménage is the first time the word Piquenique was ever seen in print. In French, the word piquer means to bite, pick or dip. Nowadays, in both France and Italy the word picnic is commonly used, although in Italy you may go on a scampagnata--an outing.
The published use of the word outside the French language was in 1748, but picnic was rarely used in English prior to 1800. Even still, "picnic" was not used in America, either as a word or a concept. Around the same time in England, the word "picnic" was used to describe a social event for the upper classes similar to a pot-luck gathering, but was not held outdoors.
As time passed, the outdoor element became more and more a part of what a picnic is today... not necessarily a gathering of people sharing food they all contributed, but a casual meal held outdoors in a peaceful, natural location. For most, the location of the picnic is as important--if not more so--than the food they are going to eat.
Curiously, in France (in my opinion) the piquenique has de-volved into merely a necessity when traveling. I can't tell you how many times when traveling 3000 miles throughout the French countryside I saw cars pulled over alongside of the ugliest, dirtiest, un-scenic stretch of highway--with cars buzzing past--with lunches set up on folding tables (with chairs) pulled from their trunks. Entire traveling families chomping down their quick meal--all without the slightest regard for the aesthetics of the location. Weird.
Now, contrast that with Italians... They choose a place with a view. It might be as simple as church steps having their bread and cheese and watching people walk by, or spreading a blanket at the side of a vineyard and having a simple feast while just gazing down at the wonders of nature and man, or sitting at the edge of an old castle wall atop one of the countless hilltowns across Bella Italia. Workers will spread their handkerchiefs out to hold their bread, cheese, perhaps a Tupperware lunch from home that the wife made and afterwards lie down under a shady tree for a nap. Remember, lunchtimes are hours long in Italy. Once I saw some workers sitting on top of their scaffolding having their boxed lunches picnic style, while enjoying the view of the valley below from their bird's nest perch.
To me at least, it seems that the picnic really started in Italy... long ago with the Romans. They knew how to enjoy simple foods barely a step away from nature itself--and they knew how to keep cool. After all, that's what alfresco means in Italian: cool... fresh. When Romans ate outdoors under the shade of a thousand year old olive tree, it was more than likely done in the heat of the day--to keep cool as they feasted. All over Italy during harvest times of the year (different times for different crops), rural farming families and neighbors still throw a sheet or blanket on the ground in the shade, gather together bread, wine, olives, cheese and sausages from whoever brought this or that... and they have their picnic. Except they don't think of it as a picnic. It's just a way of life. A way of refueling the body and soul with good food, good neighbors and family... and wonderful views of nature, which thankfully in Italy are just about everywhere you look.
So, the next time you think of having a picnic, think of the Romans... think of the Italians... and bring together not the most complex foods, but the simplest. A great piece of cheese. Some ripe fruit. Crusty bread and wine---and olives. Some of your favorite sausage... and a knife, and some simple glasses or plastic cups. No fine crystal here. Just look for a place with a view of the sky, some water, some beautiful inspiring architecture... drop a bandanna on your lap or a sheet on the ground or just sit on a bench. Then add a friend or two, your children, your lover... and eat. Slowly. Taste each bite and then use your eyes as you would some wine in your mouth to mix the flavors and heighten your senses.
I've taught Lucas to put a morsel of your food in your mouth, chew a bit to release flavors and then (and only then) sip a bit of wine to mix with the flavors... and a new, complex flavor is born. It's like that with picnics. Mix what you see and feel in your surroundings with your food... and find some new flavors in your entire spirit.
If you enjoyed this little picnic with use, please tell all your friends to stop by Grand Voyage Italy. Grazie!
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