Sunday, December 2, 2012

Posts from the Past

When I took my sabbatical to Sorrento in 2008, I wrote a few short travel entries on a site that has actually kept them this long.

I am posting them here to keep my entire story at one location but shall comment on them at a later date to compare what I have learned about going Home to Italy as an Italian American.

Some things like the bus have never changed, but as soon as I land in Italy, either by plane or ship, I immediately feel different and it is STILL difficult to explain.



Does the bus stop here? solo traveler attempts to live "Italian" in Italy!

Written by: lee laurino

After working 30+ years and planning a sabbatical it finally may happen!
Questions to be answered:
Will I like a quiet village after years in a large city?
Can I live without chain restaurants?
Will I miss the evening news?
Will I become tired of the bello men that I can watch while sitting in the cafe over a REAL cup of coffee?
All to be discovered as a second generation Italian tries the bella vita.

This is not a vacation trip, but it will be relaxing.

This is not the yearly convention business trip, it will be longer than 5 days.
This is a test for 3 months to find out if I can live in Italy, solo. 
This is a time to learn Italian, to search for a place I can settle in and not just be 'the American who lives in the apartment on via Barci.

And this is the time to learn to ride the BUS


The bus does not come until Tuesday?


Flag of United States , Georgia,
Apr 25, 2007
I am scheduled  to leave on Tuesday but a business "situation" is keeping me in town.
Same thing has happened for the past 3 years but this year is a go or else.

So far no ticket, no hotel, no worries.

I found an English instructor (Italian woman) who will meet me mornings in Rome and teach me "survival Italian".  How to find a public bathroom, how to ask directions, where to go to find hair mouse and how to ride the bus.

Most of my colleagues know the story of my venture to Fuiggi 2 years ago to attend the Remax Italia convention:  Taking the train to the wrong station (talking too long to the lovely man in the seat next to me) and getting off in suburbia with a suitcase.   In my poor Italian I bought a bus ticket and asked where to board the bus, what number etc.

I can count to 10 (in Italian) but write that number down and I can go to a  milione (million).
Got the ticket, headed to the bus area to find 20 buses and 20 busmen taking their break and 1,000 school children waiting to go home.   I would not go near that situation for anything in the USA but I forge ahead to ask "where is the bus" to Fiuggi? 



Interesting thing in Italy.  I lived there during college, have visited another 4 or 5 times and suddenly there is an age when i am invisible!  this has never happened before.  So it took some time to acertain which bus was for Fiuggi. 

Found the busman, interrupted his smoke and think i was told,  bus left in 10 minutes, the number and a hand wave for the location.

I forgot what the hand wave meant in Italy.  I had the wave for my entire life at home.  From dad, uncles and Nona (grandfather) and it always meant GO AWAY.

To shorten this and bore you less:
The bus gets ready to leave from a totally different area, I run with a giant suitcase and lap top bag to the bus and am the last to board and as I am doing so, I fall on top of the suitcase on the steps.

Next there is nowhere for the suitcase so I take two seats and anger the next paying customer who wants a seat.  I believe you are to put the suitcase under the bus but of course the driver did not tell me this, nor would I have understood it.....no let's leave the stranger to make a fool of herself.

Through the villages and over the moutain with NO signs for where we are and no one willing to talk to me.   Upon reflection, the ride showed me parts of Italy I shall never see from a train.
Finally, the bus pulls into  a town with no people present.  I had asked to be told when we stopped in Fiuggi.   However, the driver gets off the now empty bus and goes to lunch at the cafĂ©/bar we are parked in front of.  

Guess I am in Fiuggi during lunch (3 hours) and everything is closed.

Not very interesting but shows the peril of the bus when you can't ask when to get OFF.

Having an orangatta cold drink when I arrive is another story

Does the bus stop here?



             
May 4, 2007
Well the clients have done it again.  Trip was pushed back a week but this will allow me to find a hotel to stay in!
Have located a list of convents and monasteries that are available for overnight guests.

Will try one of these if the booking agent can confirm it for me.   I can see the charming stone edifice on the top of the hill overlooking the valley.  There will be 78 steps to the entrance and no alternative to arrive at the front door.  Dragging 40 pounds of "essential" equipment for an American traveling abroad I may have a heart attack before I arrive!

This has to be better than the questionable $100 a night B&B's in Rome!  But after an all night flight, anything looks good.

So the adventure is delayed a week but it will not be cancelled. 

Rome in a heat wave


Finally found a flight, of course it was full but there were no crying babies.  Good omen for the ride over.

Rome is having summer weather, it is May and it must be in the 80s.
What part of do you have air conditioning is not clear?
They discovered America, have buildings older than entire countries but they are not bothered by the heat.
As I was sweating my way across town to explore an area I have never seen before,  the man  at the newspaper stand was wearing a sweater!

What is that!

My passport was wet in my secret money belt that everyone sees when you buy anything,
my mission is to find all the public bathrooms in Rome.

I have to keep 70 cents in Euros available to pay for the use of the facilities in the train station.
that is over $1.00 just to stop and go!  (In 2013 it was up to 1 E or $1.40)
This one was amazing.  There are automatic gates that keep you out unless you pay.  The entire stall was lite with black lights!   An interesting experience.  (I have been back here every year but the unusual WC is not longer there.  But there are constant changes in the main station.  They move the tourist info. frequently and now they no longer give you a map!)

Since this trip, Rome has added a number of pubic facilities.  They are often marked on a map or there are signs in the street (very difficult to follow).  The locations are often underground so I limit these stops to daytime.    Actually, I keep track of where you can find a WC when  you are a tourist.
Of course most train stations, museums, the free one (LARGE) in the forecourt of St. Peters cathedral,  near the Colosseum there is an info office and a free WC tucked away across the mini patio.   My biggest surprise was to find one INSIDE the church of St Peter in Chains.


Maybe, because  I am staying near the train station or keep my mouth closed,  5 people stopped and asked me for directions!  3 were Italian!   I think I will fit in just fine.  just don't speak, and say only simple words.

Older Americans are in town.   This is early in the season and the younger, Americans with money are not here yet.  Just a large number of middle aged folks,  some tours,  a percentage of Asian travel groups and the never ending school trips.  The herds go on and on.  You can't cross the street until they graze by, don't try to buy ice cream, a bus ticket or water  when they are near.  

There is something about a herding group that is all powerful,  takes on a life of its own.  My favorite crowd to watch is at St Peters.  The line for bag security check is endless but moves at a good pace.
Have always wondered why they do not offer a 'catholic' line.  There are countless clergy who visit daily and I should expect they are easily recognized. 

water  
all prices, all places.  walk around with a half gallon if you can manage it, or stop at all the locations.
The grocery stores or what ever they call the small 'we carry everything' stores often have bottles of water at a fraction of the cost of vendors you find near all the important tourist stops.    Off the main street and the prices plummet. 

.

Today I TOOK THE BUS, BY MYSELF
And to be sure I did not walk home I purchased a day ticket and took 3 buses.
Oh no, I sat in the handicapped, pregnant women, war hero seat and got dirty looks.

A bus in Rome drives like a bat out of hell.  Get out of the way. I did not think that the bus bouncing over cobble stones (they need to discover  asphalt)  would make me so  nauseous.  So I am on the bus, watching for each street sign trying not to throw up.

am on the wrong bus.  but with another 1-2 mile walk I arrived at my destination.

Shoes
A perfect town for old lady shoes.    can see why.  the stones will kill you with heels.
next time i will tell you about my $16.00 band aids.  yes $16.00...............   what an adventure

can be old in Italy because they make lots of low shoes for old people.
And the ONLY way I have been able to cross the 8 lane street in the center of town is to WAIT for a 'mature' woman to step out into the street.  I jump out right after her.  EVERY car and bus stops for her but whizzes by as soon as she passes.  I am her shadow until we get to the next sidewalk.  If it was not such a near death experience, I would be laughing.

 I have a week in Florence and will try to force myself to go to hill towns each day.  But the buses stop at  certain hours may need to bring a change of underwear in case i have to spend the night at the bus station.   Where is the bus station?




It is very hard NOT to be a tourist.  
Perhaps it will be easier in a smaller town.

next episode
The bus to Fiesole!  (a small town in the hills above Firenze)

the bus never stopped here


I am behind in my notes because of so much to do so little time and the cost of internet is very high
(most of the Internet cafes were closed by my 2013 visit.  There is one very modern Internet point near the market area but I have little hope for it's survival)

After dragging 20 lbs of computer and accessories with me for 10 days and NEVER being able to connect I am shipping that home with anything else i don't need.  Try lifting 30 lbs of luggage and a 20 lb computer (in a back pack) up the steps of a train.  The train platforms are lower than the modern trains and you need to carry the bags up as many as 3 narrow steps.

So I left all the stuff in Florence and am traveling with only a small bag to the interesting small towns in Umbria.  See my post on the women at MBE in Florence.  They store or ship your bag.

The past 2 days I have spent in Orvieto, an ancient town on top of a cliff. You take the funicular to the town from the lower valley where the train is.  The air and the breeze is wonderful here.  I leave the window open and enjoy the cool nights.  Bugs don't fly this high.  (perhaps I can start a window screen business in Italy)

locked in the garden
Today I took the under ground cave tour.  What was I thinking?  It is under ground and thousands (maybe not that many) of caves.

I got through the first one ok, then 54 steps straight down into a small opening had me turn around and leave.  the guide was glad to get rid of me since I had joined the Italian tour and she told me to go with the English one.  I told her in my fabulous Italian that I under stood half of what she would say.  I ended up understanding only 10%.  Interesting that NONE of the Italian tourists spoke to me.

When I crawled out of the hole (54 steps)   I started to leave but had to sit and catch my breath.
When I got to the gate we came in, it was locked.   A herd of people are on the other side and no one made a suggestion how to get out.   I waited  for my 'tour' group to emerge but they must have taken another exit.
So I  hoofed it around the castle walls (we are talking 500 to 1000 feet above the ground and several miles around) looking for an opening.   Nothing.   Then I saw a few cars and knew they had to get in some how.  Yes another gate, this one 8 feet high but found the secret button that opened the gate to the PRIVATO garden.


off to assisi tomorrow to stay with the nuns in a convent in town.  It is a good way to be near town, good food and safe.  we will see how much prayer is necessary to escape.   have been in every church in Orvietto and that is many, many, many.  who cleans these places  never see anyone in them.  tomorrow in Sunday so will find out if the locals actually go in them.




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