When I first wrote about this odd looking Crosswalk to Nowhere, I thought it was just that--a crosswalk that came from nowhere and went nowhere. There was an older house on the other side of the old wall. On the other side of the road was an impenetrable hedge with a field beyond. This whole installation must have cost tens of thousands of Euros. It has its own solar powered street lamp, signs on posts, speed bump and fancy reflective painting. There are no intersections here. A straight road behind and the curve up ahead. Vineyards and farmland. The location was just outside of San Gimignano.
But recently I discovered (while looking around on Google Earth) that I was all wrong about what this was. You see, this is a speed bump, usually installed in pairs in the rural countryside to warn drivers that they are coming into a tiny hamlet--of which there are many in Italy. One is installed on either boundary of the hamlet warning drivers to be alert for the possibility of pedestrians (farm workers, mostly) crossing the road ahead. In other installations, only one is in the middle, with wide white bars painted on the roadway from either direction leading toward the speed bump.
I thought this was a waste of money, but now that I know their real use, I think it's a sensible idea. If I lived in a tiny borgo like this, I wouldn't want drivers speeding through at full speed, either.
Learning Italian should be easy for me. After all, I'm full blooded Italian. Well, my parents never spoke Italian at home. I remember them telling me that when they got married back in the Thirties, they wanted an "American house"--English speaking. So I never learned my mother's tongue--Neapolitan--or my father's tongue, southern dialect from Molfetta. Sure, I learned a few words here and there... mostly slurred curse words or Americanized words used by Italian-Americas, like bakhous, meaning outhouse or bathroom or moppine, meaning dishcloth. But I was determined I would learn some real Italian before I left for Italy. We all needed to learn some. Initially, we had two options. Lisa picked up the Italian Rosetta Stone software and we already had Pimsleur CDs.
Rosetta was expensive--when we purchased the disc set it was nearly $400! For that money I expected to do the whole course, whether on the computer or on my android device. And consider that the mobile version is often dumbed down. It really made it impossible to use the mobile version of Rosetta while I was taking my weekend baths. (A great place to practice a language).
Another small annoyance was that Rosetta at times had trouble recognizing words as we spoke (on the PC we used a headset with microphone). I mean, I know that I'm saying something simple like "bambino" correctly, but sometimes it asked me to repeat 2-3 times until it understood what I was saying. I had a very good headset on a high end computer with decent sound card, so that wasn't the problem.
There was also a third way we studied Italian: Google Translate.
As long as you are signed into your Google account (Gmail) you're good to go, with a phrasebook (the favorites Star needs to be clicked) to save all you're more important words and phrases. There is a small star that when pressed will save the translation to your very own custom phrasebook. I kept adding phrases that I thought I would need. For instance, I did sections on cursing and fending off potential crooks, health, food, and general conversational stuff. etc. Lisa and I would sit with our Kindles at night and test each other from the phrasebook lists. You can even have Translate speak to you so you can hear how the word or phase is pronounced, although the voice is always the same woman, albeit a bit over-enunciated.
You can get a translation either way... English to Italian or the other way around in case you've come across some Italian that you needed translated (click the reversing arrows in the center). In fact, often I would research Italian web sites that Google didn't list a "translate this page" link (a pretty handy thing by itself), or when the translation tool wasn't functioning. I'd copy the full text from an article, paste it into the Italian side of Translate and presto! English. Ok, so the translations for full bodies of text were not that great, but at least I got the gist of the article I was reading. The best thing about Google Translate is the price. Free.
In the last year or so, I've been using yet another tool to hone my Italian skills... Duolingo. This is a fantastic online tool to help learn many languages--not just Italian. You can set your level when you begin, then take a quick test before you sign up for an account so you--and Duolingo--can track your progress.
I just love this program--especially the mobile app. I love the way I can work on lessons on my PC and switch to my tablet or phone and never lose track of the progress I've made. It helps if you have a microphone on your PC, or you have the option of skipping the pronunciation questions if your mic isn't hooked up. There are photos to match to words and vice versa. There are English words and phrases to translate to Italian, and also in reverse. When Italian is spoken to you, you can click to have it repeated. When you have to speak a phrase or word, it will give several tries for you to say it correctly. There are so many types of methods used, you never get bored. I can't recommend Duolingo enough... and get this: It's FREE.
In the end we all learned some Italian--enough to get by in restaurants, while traveling by train, and even enough to have basic conversations with people we met during our Voyage. Lucas was a bit shy but spoke perfectly when he did speak Italian. Lisa remembered a lot but face to face had a hard time coming up with the right Italian words. I did better, perhaps because I had learned some French years ago and wasn't afraid to dive in and sound Italian (I think my accent is pretty decent. Pat pat, on my own back.) Of course there were times it was difficult to have in depth conversations but I still managed to talk to a lot of different kinds of people... young, old, shopkeepers, artisans, etc. Learning a language is a skill that I wish they would push a bit more in our schools. Many Europeans know some English, but very few Americans know enough practical French, Italian or German. In fact, I was disappointed when I discovered that our school district doesn't even offer French or Italian--both were options when I went to high school. Too bad... Dommage... Peccato.
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Record high temperature are expected this summer in Italy! Please SHARE this meme with your favorite travel pages on social media.
First of all, there is no 911 in Italy. There is 113. There are other emergency numbers too, but there is also a language problem. Also, the word for HELP is Aiuto! (AYE-oo-tow).
When you're in a traffic accident, or in the middle of a medical crisis, it's often difficult to say things correctly in English, no less in another language. I remember one time when calling 911 for a small fire in our house, I stumbled over the address a few seconds. It can happen to all of us.... so when traveling in Italy or especially when planning an extended stay there, a little emergency planning is well worth the effort. First off, here is a list of emergency numbers. I suggest programming them into your mobile phone before leaving for Italy, with a description of each. Or simply create a list and print it on a business card to place in your wallet.
Useful Numbers in Case of Emergencies
Who You Are Dealing With: Polizia or Caribinieri?
The Fire Brigades
The Vigili del Fuoco, literally the Firewatchers, (official name Corpo nazionale dei vigili del fuoco or CNVVF), Italy's institutional agency for fire and rescue service. As a national service it is under the oversight of the Ministry of the Interior. Much of Italy (depending on which region you are in, and what deal they have with Rome) have nationally funded fire brigades. There are also volunteer fire fighters at the local level. In general, in case of fire, call 113 to report a fire and say:
"Vi è un incendio _say the address_"
("There is a fire at _address_", Click the link then click the speaker icon for pronunciation).
Emergency medical services in Italy consist primarily of volunteer organizations providing ambulance servicea, and by physicians and nurses who perform all advanced life support procedures. The emergency telephone number for emergency medical service in Italy is 118. Emergency medical services are under Public Health Authorities control in each Italian Region; the ambulance subsystem is provided by a variety of different sources.
The method of delivery can vary considerably from one location to another. In some locations, responsibility for the provision of EMS has been undertaken by the local hospital, while in others, services may be provided by a range of volunteer organizations, such as the Italian Red Cross (Croce Rossa Italiana), ANPAS (National Association for Public Assistance), Confraternite di Misericordia, other associations commonly known as "Cross" (Croce), usually followed by a color (White Cross, Green Cross, Yellow Cross...), or by private companies.
In a life-threatening emergency, such as a heart attack or serious accident, call the free public first-aid number 118. State clearly where you’re calling from and the nature of the emergency, and give your name and the telephone number from where you’re calling. Don’t hang up until the operator asks you to. The appropriate emergency service is sent to you. Provided you call in response to a genuine emergency, you won’t be charged for the use of the emergency services. Two basic phrases to say:
"Ho bisogno di aiuto medico!"
("I need medical help!" Click the link, then click the speaker icon to hear the pronunciation).
"Sto male, aiuto!"
("I am hurt, help!" Clink the link then click the speaker to hear it spoken)
Spelling on the Phone in Italy
In Italy there is some help, albeit a bit confusing and new to the American traveler. When spelling on the phone in Italy they use the alfabeto fonetico—the Italian phonetic alphabet. It is similar to the U.S. military method of spelling.... such as, "Alpha, Bravo, Charlie" (A B C), or when speaking to company service representatives to avoid miscommunication when speaking on the phone. The only thing is, Italians use names of Italian cities--some you might not have heard of--Ancona, Bologna, Catania, etc. To spell my last name, I would say "Firenze, Imola, Napoli, Zara, Imola"... F I N Z I.
A come Ancona
B come Bologna (or Bari or Brescia)
C come Catania (or Como)
D come Domodossola
E come Empoli (or Enna)
F come Firenze
G come Genova
H come Hotel (acca)
I come Imola
J (gei or i lunga) come jolly (the joker in Italian card games) (or Jugoslavia)
K (kappa) come Kursaal
L come Livorno
M come Milano
N come Napoli
O come Otranto
P come Palermo (or Padova or Pisa)
Q come Quaderno
R come Roma
S come Savona (Sassari or Siena)
T come Torino (Taranto)
U come Udine
V come Venezia (Verona)
W (vi/vu doppio) come Washington (Wagner)
X (ics) come Xanto (xilofono)
Y come ipsilon (York or yacht)
Z come Zara (Zurigo or zeta)
Or, believe it or not, an easier way is to simply practice saying the Italian alphabet... the way the Italians do. Learn it. Sure it will take a little practice, but it's very helpful when in Italy. I had to spell my name several times when I was there and never resorted to the military style above. Really try to say each letter with an Italian accent. Here is an excellent video which will teach you not only about how to say the names of letters in Italian, but will teach you what sounds the letters make when used in words:
Words and Phrases
And for more, here is a link to a more comprehensive list of phrases to use in emergencies...
So, there you have it, a little primer on how to call for help in Italy. I hope and pray you won't even need this stuff, but it pays to be prepared (and I was never a Boy Scout!).
Rimanga sicuro... Stay Safe!
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Copyright, Jerry Finzi/Grand Voyage Italy, 2017 - All Rights Reserved
When visiting Naples, Sorrento, Capri, the Amalfi Coast and Salerno you should definitely allow a bit more budget for traveling by ferry. These are not the smaller water taxis, which run shorter distances on small open cockpit boats from one town to the next, but rather are much larger, more stable boats that carry people from Naples all the way around the Amalfi Peninsula to Salerno. You can plan a trip around these ferries, staying in Naples for a few days, then Sorrento for a couple of nights, then a week on the Amalfi Coast towns in a villa high above the sea. The ferries are convenient, fast (very fast with the hydrofoils, but at a higher cost) and leave virtually every hour. You can leave from Naples and arrive in Capri in 1 hour 20 minutes, or cut that down to 50 minutes with a hydrofoil. Most coast towns have ferry ticket kiosks at their port.
Piazza dei Miracola, Pisa
Most people spend about a hour visiting the Piazza and taking their iconic "hold up the Tower" photos. If you would like to spend more time in Pisa, it is a beautiful town, looking similar to Florence as you stroll the banks of the River Arno. You can also buy timed tickets to climb to the top of the Tower. But a better plan would be visiting the Leaning Tower in the early morning or late afternoon (when cruise ship tours are not there) and plan a day visiting nearby Lucca. If driving, there is a pay-parking lot a block from Piazza dei Miracola.
St. Peters Square & Basilica, Rome
If you want to visit the Basilica, it's free because it is a functioning Church, but you will have to wait on very long security check lines--often three hours! Bring water in hot months. It's a magnificent--if overly opulent--piece of architecture and the seat of Christianity, but if you are going to pray, you might not find peace here. It is very crowded, noisy and there are signs warning of pickpockets. If you want to visit for religious reasons, do so on Wednesday mornings when the Pope has his Papal Audience and addresses the faithful in the Piazza. There are free tickets for seats that you should obtain well before your trip and then you should arrive 1-3 hours before the Audience. Bring water, sunscreen and perhaps an umbrella--the Piazza can be very hot. Tickets do not guarantee a seat, but there is standing room for 80,000 people in the Piazza.
Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museum, Rome
Don't expect to have a personal experience in the Sistine Chapel where you can sit and ponder the glorious creation of Michelangelo. Years ago, people would lie on the floor with binoculars and spend hours looking at the details. Those days are gone. Large tour groups are hustled in--and out--along with "private" tour groups (we had a private tour). They allow about ten minutes, and most of this is spent sweating, listening to the cackling crowd, with Oriental tourists donning hats, unaware that they should be removed when in a Catholic chapel of worship. And just try to get a seat on one of the side wall marble benches. If you want to savor the Sistine Chapel in both high resolution detail views and in 3-D, click HERE.
Spanish Steps, Rome
The Steps are in a chic shopping district where you might not be able to afford their offerings. There is poet John Keats' home above, an English tearoom nearby, a beautiful Fountain of a Roman Galley below and lots of tourists taking the load off their weary feet. I don't see the attraction.
It's easier to buy your tickets at the entrance up the hill slightly at the entrance to Palatine Hill. The 2-day tickets are good for the Hill, the Forum and the Colosseum. I suggest making your visit to the Colosseum in early morning (stand on line at 8am) or 1-2 hours before they close. Avoid the middle of the day, especially in summer--there is no shade.
One of the best and most interesting times to visit would be in the middle of a rain storm... the rain falls to the marble floor from the 27 foot occulus above making a beautiful sound. High noon would be best to see the sun shine straight down. Beware of pickpockets inside this functioning church! The piazza outside is lively and worth a visit. To avoid crowds, early or late in the day is best.
Piazza San Marco, Venice
Stay clear of Rialto and San Marco--that's where most tourists flock. Instead, check out San Giorgio Maggiore, the island just across from San Marco. Enjoy the views looking back at the Campanile. The colorful island of Burano is also worth a visit. Wander the back streets and alleys of Venice to avoid the crowds. Later in the afternoon when the cruise ship groups have gone is much more calm.
Trevi Fountain, Rome
Very early in the morning, or late evening is best, otherwise you will have to wait your turn to get close to the edge of the Fontana to ensure your return to Rome by the traditional coin toss.
Cortona (of Under the Tuscan Sun fame)
There are many other amazingly beautiful Tuscan hilltowns worth visiting other than this over-hyped, buss tour destination town. Try Pienza, for instance.
Vatican Museum, Rome
Almost nothing helps avoid the crush of people and the large tour groups. If you book a Private Vatican Museum Tour, talk him into getting you to the Sistine Chapel ASAP, if you want to savor it without throngs of disrespectful tourist groups, otherwise, the rushed tours will eventually swallow you and your "private tour guide" up.
Juliette's Balcony, Verona
Skip it entirely. Consider that Romeo and Juliette are fictitious characters. No one named Juliette ever lived here, and there is no evidence that Shakespeare ever stepped foot in Italy. Bus tours dump throngs of people off here to pay an entrance fee to a house that has nothing to do with Juliette, and they grab and polish Juliette's bronze boob on the statute below. Teens write love notes and post them on the wall with chewing gum. Get tickets for an opera in Verona's Roman arena instead.
Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Very early in the morning (8am) or late in the afternoon (5pm) will be less crowded.
Michelangelo's David - Accademia, Florence
Accademia tickets are to be reserved (by scheduled time) way ahead of your visit. Later in the day is best to avoid crowds.
Shopping in Florence
Save your shopping for the Oltrano district, on the other side of the Arno River and avoid the tourist counterfeits and shoulder-to-shoulder crowds. You will find authentic craftsmen for leather, jewelry, ceramics, clothing and more in the Oltrano.
Gondola ride in Venice
Try to get a gondola ride later in the afternoon when the tour buses have left to avoid a traffic jam on the canal.
Ischia beach, Naples
This is where locals go--way too many of them. The beaches on the mainland due north of Ischia are much less crowded.
Driving the Amalfi Coast Road
The roads are extremely narrow with enormous traffic in the high season. Large buses, motorcyclists, bicycles and tandem 18-wheelers make it terrifying to some. The town of Amalfi is a tacky tourist trap. Go to Atrani, Cetera, Minori or Maiori instead. Head to Vietri sul Mare for the best ceramics. If you do drive, rent a small car!
Pompeii Archeological Site
Buses dump off large tour groups from cruise ships. Late afternoon visits are best. Bring a refillable water bottle and use the many fountains around the site. There is an Auto-Grill on site for lunch. Wear comfortable shoes--walking on uneven, 2000 year old paving is rough going in Pompeii.
La Bocca della Verita
Grand Voyage Italy's mascot, the Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth) is well worth the visit. It's very close to the Roman Forum and across from the Temple di Vesti. It's worth the ten to fifteen minute wait on line to test your truthfulness by placing your hand in the Bocca's mouth. If you leave with your hand intact, you're a truthful person. The chapel inside is worth a visit, too.
Copyright 2017, Jerry Finzi/Grand Voyage Italy - All Rights Reserved
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Copyright, Jerry Finzi, Grand Voyage Italy, All rights reserved
Click the image above for a
VERY high resolution map of the City of Pompeii