2005 Letter from Italy on miscellaneous subjects: Before we go further, we need to make a few general comments about Italy and Italians. We already noted that talking is a National Sport. We stand by that observation. The fact is that we love Italy, though it does have some oddities. For example, as we walked through Florence on day two, we saw a hair salon and we stopped. Adelle needed a haircut. The sign on the door proclaimed that they were open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 1700 (5 p.m.). It was 10:30 a.m. We stopped in – but the young man cleaning the floor said to return at noon when the place will open! What did we miss?

Italians are very helpful. It wasn’t only the construction guy and the truck driver. When we bought a telephone card, we couldn’t get it to work. We looked at each other and at the incomprehensible message on the telephone. The man in the next booth came out, pulled out my card, broke off the correct piece and we were in business. When we are standing looking at a map, help is offered. When we can’t figure out anything, someone will step in. It’s a nice feeling.

The other thing about Italy is the amount of time we end up standing and waiting, and what seems to us to be irrational uses of time. We already mentioned the bus in Verona that came 70 minutes late. Why was it scheduled so early in the first place? After waiting for an hour in the campground, we still had to wait two hours before the performance began. In Bologna, the bus ran from the campground directly to the downtown area. Very convenient, except that it only ran every two hours. The trip in either direction took 20 minutes. What in the world did they do with the bus driver and the bus for the next hour and a half?

But people who insist on coming to Italy in August probably have no right to complain. There are unbelievable numbers of tourists everywhere. In fact, we hear many Americans talking as we pass them on the streets and in museums. Venice was loaded with tourists. Besides Americans there were tourists from Italy and every country in Europe. There are also large numbers of Asians – often in large tour groups. We’ve met people from all over – including Australia and New Zealand. When we originally decided to go to Italy earlier than we had planned, we were worried about the temperature. It would never have occurred to us to worry about the number of tourists because we had no idea how many people come to Italy for vacations. Although we have traveled a lot, we have never seen anything like this!

We think this will change next week – when people start to go home from vacation and children need to be in school. We’ll still be in Italy for a while longer. It will be interesting to see if the number of tourists goes down.

We’ve spent a lot of time looking for signs in Italy. There are rarely separate street name signs – just a little plaque on the side of the building. A not too obvious plaque that requires effort to find! Other street signs too are a bit too discrete for our taste. There are always signs indicating the presence of a campground, for example. But since it is small and inconspicuous, it is easy to miss. And there are no signs indicating a major museum that can be seen from across the square. You need to be right there to notice the building name in small print. The same is true of Tourist Information offices.

Actual highway signs, though, are terrific. They tell you what is coming up, and then warn you at 700 meters, at 500 meters, at 100 meters, etc. Arrows always indicate the number of lanes going to a particular destination. If a lane is going to disappear, the arrows on the sign will let you know. When necessary, city names will be indicated in large white letters on the roadway itself, so you know which lane to get into. If it wasn’t for the ubiquitous construction, we’d have no problem at all.

 

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One of the things that struck us both about Italy in general was that there are so few birds or other animals. We see pigeons and wrens, though not many, and don’t hear songbirds. But just as Adelle noted that there were no birds in the water, we walked back from the beach where there was a large area of brackish water on which were swans, several kinds of ducks and a few terns. It just goes to show that you should never make broad generalizations. But the fact is, we hardly see any animals – domestic or otherwise although there were some as we moved south. The farm landscape is nearly all crops.

So what conclusions did she reach from her observations from the café? First, that babies are adored by older siblings. It is a pleasure to watch them interact. The older children take care of the little ones, often kissing them. Second, that all those old stereotypes about elderly Italian ladies wearing black is a myth. There seem to be a lot of well dressed, swinging old ladies in Italy.

Before we left Italy, we had to buy some salami and a pannetone. That was the least we could do. There was a lot left to taste, but we couldn’t taste everything we saw because we just can’t eat fast enough!

 

After a short stay in Bologne where we had lunch in a trattoria that featured Tagliatelli al Ragu. ( Spaghetti Bolognese to you), and then caught the bus back to the campground.

The next morning we took off again. We got instructions from the man in the office about getting to the the ring road around the city since that was how we would get the autostrada. Only problem was that when we got there, a construction crew had just barricaded that entrance. Ron asked them where we could get the highway – and we were treated to a great Italian oration. The man was very expressive – and totally incomprehensible to us. It was an impasse. Finally he motioned to a man in a panel truck and explained the problem. That man opened his passenger-side door, said "follow me", and off we went. We drove for a while and then he stopped at an intersection (green light and all) and explained with the help of his arms that we needed to make a U-turn and then we’d be able to get onto the highway. We thanked him and drove on – only to find that we got onto that ring road going in the wrong direction. So we got off and after a short scenic drive, found the correct direction. We’re getting really good at getting lost. That is, at not getting nervous about being lost.

At exit one, just before the autostrada was a huge supermarket in a mall setting. Carrefour is one of the best, and we were all excited to find it – though a bit confused about where we could park since it had the unfortunate 2 meter high barrier. We drove around to the back and found a parking lot we could use. It required lots of stairs because the supermarket seemed to be at the top of a parking garage and a mall. Things are rarely what they seem. The sign was at the top, but once we got up there, we had to go down a different way to get a basket and then we found that the Carrefour at the top level was all clothing and household goods. We had to go downstairs for food. Confusion, confusion.

But we shopped and checked out. Went upstairs because there was no entrance to our parking lot from the supermarket floor, and then found we had to take the basket downstairs, walk up and across the mall to get to the exit we needed. By then we were cursing Italian mall designers, but we got to the car, unpacked the groceries and started to get back onto the highway. Don’t even ask. We followed all the signs but it must have taken us ten or fifteen minutes of driving just to get back onto the road. They kept routing us around and around – we have never seen such a complicated cloverleaf in our lives. Fortunately, we followed the signs and eventually, we did get onto the road to Florence.

That sounds a bit easier than it was. We were really glad we planned to go on the autostrada because we had to go through a whole mountain chain to get to Florence. There was a smaller road that also went there, but that would have been very hard on us and even harder on the Italian drivers in back of us! We were very glad to pay the toll. In fact, we were surprised it was so little. We must have gone through twenty tunnels!

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