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.
Macchina is another word Italians use when referring to their car. Sure, they say auto too, but most people seemed to use the word macchina (MAK-eena). Even in the Godfather, when Michael tells Fabrizio to get the car (just before Apollonia gets blown up), he uses the word macchina. Macchina also means machine. Sure. Makes sense. You have to examine the Italian psyche to figure out why they think of their vehicles as machines.
I think of how they drive. With abandon. Seemingly fearless, not afraid to die. They will pass you on a blind curve with a cliff on one side and nothing on the other. They will pass you on a straightaway but wait until there is a car in the opposite oncoming lane so they can pass in between both cars. Towns like Naples or Bari don't have stop lights where you think they'd be, and even when there is a red light, the driver commands his machine to ignore it--and the cross traffic.
Is it bravado? Is it too much wine? Perhaps it's just that they trust their car more... their macchina. Think of the expression "a well oiled machine". Consider the Italian race driver who trusts his car more than his wife. Consider the little, treroute (three-wheeler) which is seen hauling everything from grapes to cement to olives to hay to furniture or cases of wine. The slow-poked three wheeler will be seen on unpaved farm paths, the streets of Rome, and even the Autostrada. It might be taking a bride to her wedding, hauling trash or rigged out to sell gelati.
Lucas and a dreamy Vespa.
Supercars in Italy from Top Gear.
The neat and tidy Rome caribinieri--posing.
The end of parallel parking as we know it.
Also consider the even smaller macchine--scooters. I've seen priests, old ladies, 300+ pound men, cool teens and 30 something, chic businesswomen (texting as they drive) driving these things as if they were dirt track racers. The same holds true for 50cc mopeds... their high pitched whine can be heard racing teens all over Italy. But again, it's a macchina--a tool just the right size for the job. Going from point A to point B... a practical, cheap people mover.
And when you actually get someone with a proper supercar, stay clear! They will pass you faster than you can even notice them pulling up in your rear view mirror. EEeeeeooowww...
And you have to check out how the police pose proudly next to their own macchine. They keep them as neat and tidy as their pretty uniforms. And then just sit there as the supercar flashes past. It's perhaps a sign of respect. I never saw a caribiniari pull over a speeder--a very common sight here in the U.S. (I never really saw police doing much of anything except standing and talking to each other... and looking pretty, but that's another story.)
A Google Earth capture of the teeny concrete parking hanging over the cliff in Amalfi.
Then you have the tiny cars... the CinqueCento (Fiat 500), the Pandas, the Puntas, the Smart ForTwo and those one person cycle-cars. Americans buy cars because of the emotional feeling it gives them... cars gives us a persona. Not the Italian driver. He is more practical, seeing his vehicle as a machine--macchina--a tool to get things done. Sometimes la macchina does specific tasks, other times more like a multi-tool or a Swiss Army knife--the treroute again. Small means you can park anywhere--literally--anywhere. Small means you can drive down the white line like a scooter. Small means you'll never get stuck in a ultra-narrow street in a small village. Small means you can have a parking space in your home, even if it's a tiny little platform hanging over the edge of a cliff--or on your roof, or in a small cave (I saw all three types on the Amalfi Coast.) One was a concrete pad hanging over thin air with barely enough space to fit a teeny Fiat Panda with the sea below. Check out the photo on the left.
Paul Simon sings, "Cars are cars. All over the world." Not so, Paul. Not so. In Italy they are machines. Tools. Macchine. Even the Pope has his PopeMobile... a very specialized tool.
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The Pope is the PA-pa, while to Lucas I am pa-PA. Important distinction in the Italian language. It's all in the accent. Another difference: Lucas' paPA doesn't stand up in the car!
Before we traveled to Italy, I researched about all sorts of things... especially how people scam and cheat. There are lots of warnings online about taxi cheats. I just wanted to report that after having used car services, radio taxis, taxis from a taxi station and even hailing a taxi that we spotted with his roof light on (free), we have not been cheated.
The radio taxis always show up on time with the help of their sophisticated gps unit. The car service I used costs barely more than a city taxi and is very professional. (transfercruiserome.com) If you see a taxi with its roof light lit, try hailing... as long as you are standing where they can pull over without blocking traffic (in other words, not on a narrow side street). There was one time I tried hailing a taxi on a crowded side street... one with barely any sidewalks (a common thing in Italy). The driver looked at me like I was crazy. Sure... he had no place to pull over. Lesson learned.
And just in case, always look at the meter for the "tarrifa 1" to be lit up. Within the city walls "tarrifa 1" is the correct lower rate. If you see "tarrifa 2" or "tarrifa 3" lit up for a trip inside the city limits of Rome, beware... you've got a crook trying to double or triple the rate. Tarrifa 2 and 3 are used for trips outside the walls, into the suburbs or to the airport.
In general, I've found the drivers to be talkative, friendly, helpful and responsive when you at least try to speak some Italian. I'm sure they are more used to tourists who don't attempt even the most basic Italian words and expressions. Looking back, I wish I had taken photos of the drivers... I still remember their faces and smiles. By the way, unlike in Manhattan, every taxi driver was actually an Italian.
Before I got to Italy I did research about driving on Italian roads. I figured it wouldn't be all that different from here in the States and I did fine in France years ago, so no big deal. Many signs are very understandable, but some are unique to Italy or need some explanation. Don't stop reading until you see the STOP sign...
The sign at the left is a YIELD sign. It's shaped just like ours but never has words on it. Of course, Italians ignore this sign completely. They just sort of roll into traffic and the traffic is expected to brake and let the car into the traffic flow. This is fact. This is how it works everywhere in Italy (even more so around Naples and other big cities). The drivers on the main road or street are the ones expected to do the YIELDing. The other signs might be confused with yield signs, and they are really are more like MERGE, except they are used for all sorts of intersections too. Just remember that the other the Italian drivers behind you will hug your bumper expecting you to just roll right into the intersection and the other drivers will YIELD and MERGE for you. If you "wait for your turn" the cars behind will simply pass around you. Need more convincing? Watch the video below:
OK, now the signs above DO matter. I found out the hard way on the narrow road I took up to the town of Fiesole above Florence when cars coming down the hill acted like they expected ME to back up and let them go. I got a little hot because it seemed that all the cars coming down the hill toward me were driving overly fast, and then cursed me when we were suddenly in a door handle-to-door handle situation, nearly scraping each others' cars.
It's because I failed to see or understand the sign at the right (red arrow right side) on the way up the hill. That sign meant that oncoming traffic had the right of way. The big red circle should have been a giveaway--red for STOP. A red arrow on the left means that oncoming traffic has to stop and let you go. Oncoming cars would be expected to pull over or even back up. I had to back up several times. You often see these signs on narrow roads and ones with tight, blind curves (like this one), although I don't recall ever seeing them on the Amalfi Coast road.
The unbelievably narrow Fiesole road, on Google Earth: In this stretch, I would have the right of way.
This sign means no passing allowed. The red car on the left means no passing for you. Red on the right would mean you can pass. Sounds backwards a bit. Just think of it this way: If you ARE allowed in the passing lane (to your left) then the car on the left side of the car would be black on the sign. Of course, Italians pay little attention to these also. They pass wherever they want to.
No Standing - No Parking
The two signs pictured on the above are extremely important for foreign drivers. The sign on the left (red circle and X over blue field) means NO STOPPING OR STANDING, the same as the NO STANDING ANY TIME signs we have in the States. In other words, even if you are just dropping something off at the Post don't do it--don't stop--even if you see locals doing it. They may have special permits.The sign pictured to its right means NO PARKING.... ever. You will normally see these signs on very narrow streets, especially as they pass through an urban town.
Finding a Place to Park
We found lots of legal and free parking all around Italy. Some (especially in a small town's shopping district or the local piazza) allow parking for 20 minutes or one hour. Of course the parking sign is very recognizable--the blue and white P sign (photo on right). They might have arrows directing you toward parking lots or garages (fairly affordable in Italy).
The next photo at the right shows a parking sign with restrictions: The crossed hammers mean the restrictions apply during the Monday - Friday workweek. If you see a Christian cross, that means the restrictions are for public holidays or Sundays. The words "dal 15/03 - al 15/11" mean that the regulations are in effect from March 15th until November 15th (the day comes before the month when Italians write dates.) The "1 ora" means that you can park for one hour (often village centers have time limits). The "Disco Orario" means that when you park, you need to have a Disco Orario placed in your front window with the dial turned to the hour you started parking. You can pick these up at most Bar/Tabacchi for a Euro or two. If you return too late, you might find a ticket waiting when you return home--or six months later.
And if you have a handicapped placard, by all means bring it to Italy. We found that it is accepted pretty much everywhere. Look for handicapped spots when available--they are painted yellow in Italy (photo on right) with some are marked with a sign. Do NOT park in one of these if there is a number stenciled on the ground or printed on the sign--this would be a handicapped spot for a specific local handicapped person.
But also discovered that you can park for free at pay parking spots--parking lots that use parking kiosks--as long as you display your placard. And you can ask to park for free at public pay lots. Take your ticket and have it authorized by an attendant (if any are around). That's one thing Italy (and Europe on the whole) gets right... treating handicapped people with respect and allowing lots of leeway for them. (To be honest, perhaps it is to offset the lack of elevators and escalators, ramps and wheelchair accessible public toilets in the many, many hilltowns which must make handicapped people feel housebound.)
Our but dusty, but trusty Fiat 500L parked at a handicapped spot
No Man's Land: the Dreaded ZTL
This sign is perhaps the most important one you will come across. Any sign with a red circle surrounding a white field is the basic symbol for NO CARS ALLOWED and is used to mark Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL) areas. These are areas where you cannot drive into for fear of getting an expensive summons sent automatically to you back in the U.S. Most towns and villages have ZTLs. They are camera controlled. You will never see a policeman. You need to realize that there are all sorts of qualifying times and restrictions along with some ZTL signs. Before you go to Italy, take the time to look at ZTL signs, read websites that talk about the ZTL and even put the language on the signs into Google Translate to learn how they restrict the ZTLs. There are many that you are allowed to go through IF you are doing so during the permitted hours of the day, or permitted day of the week. (For instance, small towns might have ZTLs only active on one market day each week).
The sign shown on the right basically means NO ENTRY. You will see these on one way streets, some dead ends and other streets that for whatever reason you are not permitted to drive into.
No Through Road
T is Not Just for Tabacchi
No, this is not the sign for a tabacchi shop (although they look similar--see the sign below it). Tabacchi shop signs hang on a building. This is a street sign. It means NO THROUGH ROAD, although you may think of it as meaning DEAD END. Many Italian streets in small towns might go into two or three little streets but don't come out anywhere else. You would have to turn around or back up to get out, especially if they are like the incredibly narrow ones that I've experienced. You might also see a worded sign like the one below, which translated literally means, "Street Without Exit"--No Through Road.
Tobacco products and snacks
Watch That Speed Limit!
Speed limit signs might be colored with a red circle or plain black and white or even blue. They might be square or rectangular. You have to keep in mind that Italy doesn't really function as one country with each province obeying the same standards and laws. Each region of Italy has separate deals with the national government, some are more independent than others and many set their own regulations.
So, if you see a number on the side of a road that looks like a speed limit, it most likely is, even though the sign might look a bit different than in other areas you've traveled through. This one (photo right) is pretty typical for most areas. Be aware of the difference between MPH and KPH. A posted 50 KPH means the limit is around 31 MPH. You'll see this going through local towns (or even slower). On the autostrada you will typically see 90 (55 MPH) or 120 (68 MPH). We set our TomTom (we called him Tommy) GPS to MPH and the rental car's speedometer was set to KPH, a good method to gauge your speed and learn what local speed limits translate to in terms of MPH, along with the feel of your speed on the road.
Autovelox automated speed sensor and cameras ahead
Do NOT follow the speed of local drivers! They know where the cameras and speed traps are, or might be leaving the upcoming speed zone before the end of the averaging zone. You see, many speed zones sensors average your speed going through the entire zone and only take a picture of your license plate/tag number just after you leave the last part of the averaged speed zone. Many towns in Italy have such zones as a large regional road passes through their main street. Be careful and don't speed up, even if a local road hog is driving on your rear bumper.
There is also this sign (at the right). The END SPEED ZONE sign. You will see this sign coming out of towns to let you know you can speed up again.
Step on the gas, drive safely and enjoy the road ahead, that is, until you see the sign that we all recognize...
The STOP sign.
Unless you are Italian, of course... Then you simply ignore it.
Update 3/31/16: One of my Facebook amici offered an amusing way to remember the two basic types of signs in Italy:
"I triangoli sono di pericolo, I rotondi sono di divieto" The triangles are of danger, the buttocks are of prohibition --Francesco Catalano
Copyright, 2016 - Jerry Finzi, Grand Voyage Italy - All Rights Reserved
If you want to get a good feel for what Rome looked like about 2000 years ago, check out this wonderful animation with architectural recreations of the city... some things look remarkably like the Rome of today while other things will surprise and delight you. Click the video to travel back in time...
(ANSA) - Rome, June 30 - Italy is sweltering after a heat wave hit the peninsula on Tuesday.
The temperature is forecast to climb to up to 37° celsius (98 F ) in parts of Sardinia and the city of Bolzano, although the perceived heat will be as much as 40° (104 F) because of high levels of humidity. The worst-hit areas are predicted to have temperatures around 6° higher than the average for the time of year.
For Thursday the health ministry has put the cities of Bolzano, Brescia, Milan and Turin on orange alert for the heat, the second-highest on a scale of three, especially for the elderly, children and people suffering certain illnesses.
Basilicata in the south remains a bit cooler than the rest of the country, with some rain expected to give relief from the high temperatures.
Italy’s main zoo in Rome offered gelato to its orangutans with a choice of flavors, including fresh fruit and vegetables, or dried figs topped with eggs and insects.
The last major hot spell in 2003 caused an estimated 70,000 deaths in Europe, and Portugal has already recorded around 100 deaths over the normal mortality rate since temperatures rose at the weekend, its health authority said.
Keeping cool in a Frigidarium
Ancient Rome and Heat Waves:
The Romans were no strangers to the summer heat. In fact, the modern term: "the dog days of summer”" actually comes from the Latin 'dies canincula', the Roman term used to describe the stuffy, hot period of weather between July and mid-August. The name comes from the fact that Sirius (the dog star) rises with the sun at this time of year, –and Romans thought it was responsible for the increase in temperature.
Romans had a secret weapon to beat the heat... The frigidarium. This was a large cold pool at the Roman baths where Romans went to cool down. For the Romans, a daily visit to the baths was an essential social event as much as it was an exercise in personal hygiene.
The cold water of the frigidarium was a great place to freshen up after a hard day's toil and was also considered a good way to close your pores after bathing. The waters of the frigidarium were kept chilly in the summer months thanks to the addition of snow and ice that had been imported from the Alps.
Romans had another trick up their sleeve that continues in modern Italian culture today... The Ancient Romans did not do a nine-to-five day. In fact, the average Roman only had a six-hour workday, from sunrise until noon. This stopped them from having to labor during the hottest part of the day and left them with plenty of time to go to and sit in the frigidarium with their friends. Sound familiar? The Italians call it riposa... the Italian siesta... the three hour lunch.
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Reaching to the heavens in Italy often manifested itself in the design and construction of free standing bell towers, defensive towers and privately owned towers built by successful merchants and aristocrats as a sign of their status and a protective measure in times of siege. The bell towers are known as campanili.
But some perhaps reached too high and built on sandy and clay soils or in areas frequented by earthquake. This resulted in some towers leaning, and even collapsing entirely (many were lost this way). Still, many are still with us... as the uber-famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. But there are other leaning towers in Italy...
The Island of Burano, in the Venetian lagoon, is a contrast from the drab colors of Venice, having multicolored houses. The kaleidescope of colors is this island's main appeal, but it also has a leaning tower, the bell tower of the 15th century San Martino Church. The island is also known for lace making.
The Torre delle Milizie --Tower of the Militia--is a medieval tower in Romelocated near Trajan's Market in the Imperial Forum. It is said to have been built between 1198 and 1216. An important medieval monument in Rome, the Torre delle Milizie measures 10.5 × 9.5 m at its base. The original height of the tower is unsure (it was taller when originally built), but following an earthquake in 1348, the top floors were removed as a safety measure, reducing the structure to the current height of 160 ft. The 1348 earthquake also resulted in the slight tilting of the structure to make it one of the many leaning towers of Italy.
Built in 1536 by Greek Orthodox refugees fleeing from Turkey during the rise of the Ottoman Empire, San Giorgio dei Greci has thin white bell tower. The tower was built in 1603 but it began to sink into the Venice lagoon from day one and still today has an pretty serious lean toward the canal.
Between the 12th and the 13th century, Bologna had as many as 180 towers but less than 20 are still standing today. Two of the most interesting are simply called the Two Towers, the taller named Asinelli is 318 feet tall and the shorter one called the Garisenda is 157 feet tall. They have become the symbol of Bologna. Both built in the early 1100s, Garisenda leans much more than Asinelli but being so close together, the effect of leaning is enhanced.
The imposing Church of San Pietro, was established in the 7th century. It has an obviously leaning bell tower (built by Codussi in 1482), and was the Cathedral of Venice from its origins in eighth century.The present building was built at the end of the 16th and in the first three decades of the 17th century. It contains the Throne of St Peter, a 13th century seat cut from a funeral stone and inscribed with words from the Koran.
Built in the 1100s, The Church of San Michele degli Scalziin Pisa has a Lombard Romanesque bell tower measuring 75 feet tall. The city of Pisa is built on soil that is barely above sea level and is composed of an unstable sand-clay mix which caused not only the famous Leaning Tower to lean, but also San Michele deglie Scalzi's tower to lean toward the River Arno.
The late Renaissance bell tower of San Stefano in Venice, built in 1544, is tilted more than 7 feet from vertical. Its leaning is caused by problems in cellars under the tower - the original wooden pilings are in bad condition, and it was built on sandy lagoon sediments. Hopefully this beautiful bell tower will not follow the fate of the original St. Mark's Campanile which collapsed in 1902.
North of Lake Trasimeno in Perugia outside of the town of Vernazzano is a unique leaning tower. This tower is a remnant of an ancient castle built before 1089. Vernazzano was an important defensive unit along the ancient road that led from Perugia to Cortona and was inhabited from the 13th to the 16th centuries. It was abandoned by the 18th century when rocky mountain under it moved after a strong earthquake. This leaning tower is frequented by hikers, Driving to Vernazzano, parking and walking along a wooded path to the dangerously leaning tower. This tower is being held up by an installation of steel girders and cables.
The Cathedral of Modena boasts its own tilting tower known as Ghirlandina, taking its name from the two rows of garland-like balustrades which crown it. It is viewed by the people of Modena as the symbol of their city. Ghirlandina did not only have the religious function deriving from its status as cathedral tower, but was also a defensive tower used to store important civic documents and charters. It reaches upward next to the cathedral nearly 290 feet tall. It is a combination of two architectural styles: the original square base is in Romanesque style, while the octagonal and pyramidal upper parts are Gothic. Work on the upper part began in 1261 and was completed in 1319.
Dating from the 11th century, the Campanile of the Cathedral of Santo Stefano in Caorle, just east of Venice, is a wonderful example of Romanesque style of architecture. It stands a proud 148 feet tall and sports a conical spire above its cylindrical shape. It was more than likely built as a watchtower or lighthouse for this small port town before becoming a bell tower. The tower is tilted nearly 1.4 ° east-Southeast, around about 1/3 the lean of Pisa's famous tower.
Do Leaning Towers Ever Fall?
After the collapse of St. Mark's tower in 1902
In a word--Yes. As far as we know, Venice’s famous St. Mark’s Campanilewasn't even leaning before it collapsed. During its 500 years it had been repeatedly struck by lightning, burned and damaged in several earthquakes. It might have been best to scrap the whole thing and start over after having suffered so much damage. Instead, they simply rebuilt the damaged parts, occasionally adding more height (and more weight) to the tower that was originally constructed sometime between 1148 and 1157. That wasn’t the greatest idea, given that the tower’s foundation consists of no more than vertical oak pilings driven into a bed of clay in the lagoon, then filled in with sand.
It took 10 years and $88,000 to rebuild St. Mark's tower.
It’s no big surprise that the tower finally collapsed on July 14th, 1902. A large crack formed in the morning, rising diagonally across the main corner buttress. Falling stones within the bell chamber prevented any fatalities by warning bystanders that something was amiss. A new tower, with a much sturdier iron foundation, was built in the lost tower’s image. That is the tower we see today.
Many other towers have also fallen throughout Italy's history. In a country so geologically active, it's inevitable. For example, in 2012, the 13th century Torre dei Modenesi in the town of Finale Emilia (the name is rather foreboding), was partially collapsed by an earthquake that also killed six people. Following an aftershock, it collapsed completely. In keeping with the Italian spirit, it proudly stands today, rebuilt by its stubborn residents.
Some collapsed towers aren't meant to be rebuilt, it seems. Such is the case with the Torre Civica of Pavia which collapsed without warning in 1989. The reason for its collapse is still not known--perhaps the reason it hasn't been rebuilt.
So, the next time you're in Italy and want to climb one of these towers, you might want to pause and imagine what it would feel like if even a small earthquake shook underneath your tower... Perhaps carry along a travel-parachute?
And if you're in Bologna and stop dead in your tracks, gasp and look up at the leaning Twin Towers, just make sure you're not standing in the direction of their lean...
Copyright, 2017 Jerry Finzi/Grand Voyage Italy, All rights reserved
When booking an airline flight, which seats don't recline, which seats are too close to the lavatory, where the baby bassinet is located, the best seats for legroom, the type of in flight entertainment, where the power outlet is... Well, TripAdvisor's SeatGuru helps users book flights, pick seats, and even monitor the flight status. There is a website and an app with over 700 seat maps from over 100 airlines along with reviews.
Using the site or the app is pretty straightforward... enter the airline, flight number, and date of your upcoming flight, and it'll give you seat recommendations. You can discover which seats have extended legroom, a power outlet, or if they have a restricted recline, like the seats in front of the exit rows. The app is a free download for most hand-held devices.
In addition, SeatGuru has all sorts of helpful articles about all aspects of flying... favorite airports, advice on electronics, airport guides, traveling with pets, best airport lounges, etc. And their new tool is very helpful: flight booking with built-in seat recommendations.
All in all, this is another great tool for making your travel plans easier.... and your flight more comfortable.
Experience the Italian lifestyle, heritage, cuisine, art, music, language, traditions, and take your own Grand Voyage to Italy ...even if you've never been to Italy! Andiamo, take a Grand Voyage with us...