Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Things Italian...

Yes it's spectacular   There are, however, some unique ........  features – 

TRAINS: train travel is fast, really affordable, especially if you pre buy before you go over, and very efficient- they are always on time so don’t ever be late. Not all are created equal. The fast track ones even offer first class - pretty cool. Cloth seats, air, even a lovely attendant that goes by and offers hand sanitizers (good to have) snacks and coffee and wait for it..... Clean washrooms. Don't be fooled... there are different standards.
The smaller the towns you are traveling between, the more the standard falls: No attendant. Plastic seats, no place for your luggage (that's easy to use) and the washrooms- just hold it-- really!    Even the yucky trains run on time though. In any case be very very prepared to walk down a lot of stairs in order to cross under the platforms and walk UP A LOT of stairs to the platform you need- remembering you are on your own with your luggage. Be wary of nice young men at the platforms offering to help you with your luggage.  After they have helped you it’s made very clear they want money and get quite cranky if you don't pay. Other than in the major cities, don't expect to find 'staff' or ‘info counters’ to help you read the schedule. There is usually an equally confused fellow tourist, or even helpful local, to confer with. 

PUBLIC WASHROOMS are not their strong suit. Often no paper – ladies, there is even less chance you'll find an actual toilet seat - low dirty bowl and sometimes (like the ones on Mykonos in Greece) a hole on the floor.   The ones you have to pay to use (1 euro is common) are usually very presentable. Good value for that euro! Always have a couple of coins in your pocket handy so you aren’t caught off guard.

The AUTO GRILL – Italy may not have the corner on the market for these but they are fabulous to come across.  Located along the busiest of highways, an Auto Grill is a huge gas bar, tourist info, maps, clean washrooms (pay one euro), Macs or 7 Eleven on steroids for pop and junk food AND They also have a huge buffet restaurant – usually suspended over top the multilane highway so it can be accessed from either direction. You walk through – (1) see what you want – (2) line up to pay telling them what you are going to get, and (3)then go back through to get your food – mac and cheese and pastas of many varieties, pizza, sandwiches’, soups, great salad bar options, burgers, I even think I remember seeing fried chicken once. They are very clean and very well staffed.  Usually have picnic area/tables to use as well.

Smoking and Cell phones – everyone does it and has one – and do both – EVERYWHERE.

BEDS –small, hard but very clean-even two star. - In my experience. 
HOTELS – 2 -3 STAR Small, simple and usually clean, but in my opinion – their average standard and ours are quite different.  One of my travel buddies called it, “relaxed”.  4 star come quite close to our Best Westerns or Sheratons but the beds are still small and hard. Usually offer an above average continental breakfast – we always had fresh fruit, fresh waffles or omelettes made upon request.

COFFEE:  Oh they do that sooooooooo well.   Cafe Americano is close to what you expect from home only top notch beans. Many hotels have self serve machines in their breakfast rooms (which are common) with all the options: cappuccino, Latte, espresso, Americana - even the basic places make good coffee.

OLIVE OIL at every meal even if you don't ask for it. You always have to ask for (and may not get) burro (butter).  Get with the program- use olive oil. It is as detailed and defined industry as wine making. Almost every winery& wine shop sells many varieties of olive oil.  Most wineries farm their own.

WINE – well –that’s a whole other Blog. It is as superb, as available and even more affordable than you could imagine.  ‘Geographica Typica’ means the ‘wine of the region’.  Making that choice is a great rule of thumb to follow and always a safe bet if you’re not sure what to order.  The least expensive house wine is usually fabulous.  A couple of times we would make our choice and the waiter would say, “ That’s too expensive – try this one instead – it’s even better” –they never led us wrong.  YUM!

Overall – the Italians are welcoming and helpful.  If I had to choose only one adjective to describe them and their beautiful county it would be PASSIONATE!

They are passionate about the coffee they drink, the wine they make, the clothes they wear, the conversations they have, the music they listen to, the work they do and they way they play.  We could take some lessons from them on enjoying life to the fullest.

 When the going gets "Tough"...just call me.

Susan Tough