Sunday, December 4, 2011

No more luggage fees when I visit Florence Italy

Do you drag too much luggage with you on vacation or trips?   After you purchase all those wonderful treasures, do you find there is no space in your bag to bring them home?    And the fees to fly with an additonal bag can be very costly.  I was recently told if my bag was over the weight limit it was 100 euros to bring the second bag!

So, in addtion to traveling with throw away clothing (items I no longer need I leave in the charity boxes in Italy at the end of the trip)  I discovered the wonderful people at Mail Box Etc in Florence Italy.
The location I use is a few blocks from the train station on Via della Scala  13.   I can leave my bag there while I travel all over Italy,   I have had them ship my bag to my next city destination so that I could stop in small towns (that do not usually have luggage storage) and when I arrived at my hotel, my bag would be waiting for me!   And when i finish my trip in Florence I have MBetc mail my extra items to my home in the USA.
My package arrives the week I ask for and has never had any damage or loss.    A very easy way to avoid the excess baggage fees AND dragging that heavy bag through the airport.

Oh and they store your luggage while you travel around Italy or Europe.

Visit my friends at Mail Box etc  they will make traveling a breeze.

MBE 0212
0.86 kmVia della Scala 13 / R 
Tel: 055/

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The human Zoo

I have been Home to Italy for only three weeks this year.   But I am still targeted as a tourist even if I do not speak and carry my shopping bag.   But I am targeted by the homeless and those asking for money.
Perhaps I notice them more this year since I am traveling in November and there are not as many tourists
walking the miles of lovely streets and alleys. 

But after saying no or nothing endlessly over the past weeks it struck me yesterday that the homeless, beggars, street beggars and disabled asking for money often try to out do each other with their pleas or needs.  But watching others (including myself) pass by without taking any notice, the needy could be  exhibits in a human zoo.   The more unusual or unique zoo resident gets more attention.

The idea of a human zoo stuck me with such force that at once I felt the Italian Catholic guilt heavy on my back.  It would be impossible to give to all of them and if you say no they do not harass or press their case.   But I saw a server at one of the cafes today push a "Gypsy" away from the entrance.    I don't know what the woman was asking the patrons for.  She was  eating a paninni or a sandwich so it was not for food.  But the  emotional brutality of the pushing (not physical) was a shock. 

I wonder if Italy has shelters or food banks for the needy.   Does the church help them?  There are enough churches in each town to cover the small town in New Jersey I live in when I am not Home to Italy.  When the tourists leave, who will care for the human zoo?

this years adventure to Italy, solo

I try to return Home To Italy every year.    With our employment situation in the USA today it has become more difficult each year.   But my sister reminds me "I could be dead next year" so I find a way to continue my  yearly adventure in Italy.

This year I found a 1/2 price sale on the only ship going east from NYC and arrived in Great Britian 7 days later.   A separate post will share with you how a "back packing train rider fits in on a luxury cruise ship".  

I had not be to London in many years and thought it would be a good begining to my Italian adventure.
Fast forward to arriving by plane in Florence Italy.  I had no idea the air port was so close to the city.
Within 1/2 an hour i was back in the city where all my adventures started more than 30 years ago.
Yes Florence is still a tourist destination and very busy but it is also a medival city if there are no cars.  The buildings are old palazzos converted for current uses.  But I am always amazed at the intense blue of the sky as I peer up between the grey stone canyons.

You come alive when you live in Italy.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Italian song in Italia


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Help to find your family roots in Italy

Home To Italy:  Now there is help to find your family village or town.

During the past two years on my trips home to Italy, I tried to find and visit the village where my grandfather and great grandparents were born.  During the three months I lived in Sorrento I did not feel comfortable with the bus system to attempt the trip to the small mountain town of Petina, south of Salerno, Italia.

So before I took off for my most recent adventure I sent email requests to all the language schools in Salerno and Sorrento to find someone who would be willing to translate for me.   I did find a car service which had been in business since the 1940's who agreed to drive me to Petina.  But this is not about the great visit to Petina I made in October, it is to tell others Italian Americans who may be looking for their family towns, that I have set up a small network of Italians who are available to help you.

In Sorrento, Italy, Peppe Fiorentino was an "angle" to me while I lived in Sorrento.  I wanted to try to live as an "Italian" and rented an apartment in a town where I only knew Mr. Firentino.  He was always there to help me with any problem or a friendly chat when I walked by his wonderful store, Cumo Lucky Store  .     The store has been in business since the 1800's and has wonderful items.   

Now Peppe will be able to help travelers, Italian Americans and tourists with finding their home villages,
Contact Peppe by email at:

My next contact to help you find your Italian roots is Maria Lavergat, in Salerno.   Originally from Britain, Maria visited her Italian grandmother every summer and has lived in Italy for almost 25 years.   

I met Maria  when I sent a request to the Leonardo Accademy, a language school in Salerno, asking if any of the instructors would be willing to translate for me. 

I was incredibly surprised to find that Maria was willing to go with me to Petina (see our separate story) and assist me in obtaining my grandfather's birth certificate,  a requirement to apply for dual citizenship with Italy. (dual citizenship to be in a future blog)

After helping me with the required paperwork, she and her photograper husband, found out that there might be decendants in the next town.   We did find a possible relative!   After more than 100 years since the family had left for America, a possible distant relative was living in the next town!   (home to Petina blog in the next few weeks) 

, Maria has agreed to help other "searchers" find their Italian roots.  You can expedite your search by having Maria research Italian data bases that we do not have access to.   

Don't take years trying to locate your family village.  Speak with Peppe or Maria and begin your search now. 
Please contact Maria at

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How much to use the bathroom?

While on my adventure to Italy this past year I visited Burano. This is an island outside of Venice that is an easy ferry ride from the city. However, when there are an extra 100 tourist at the stop in Murrano who want to also visit, the ferry is PACKED and everyone is hanging on as we hit the waves.  A quiet visit to this charming village becomes a massive tour group.  It makes you wonder what it is like to really live there.

Burano is a disney world-like village with multi pastel colored houses along a small canal. I expect tourism is an important part of the economy and many of the regular home fronts had tables set up with handicrafts or souveniers for sale. I would have been happy to speak with a resident and share a coffee for a fee!
Who needs another plastic gondola?

 But to get on to my story: It is often difficult to find public bathrooms while traveling. there are limited fast food restaurants so you can not always expect to find a McDonalds.   I have been told by Italians that they usualy use the facilities at a bar (cafe) after ordering a drink. But I find Americans do not like to ask "where is the toilet".

So I was pleased to see signs in Venice for WC. The European symbol for bathroom. I expect with the millions of tourists in Venice, they had to do something! Of course you have the facilities at the train station, near the tourist office in St. Marks Square (this is a two story one!!!) and signs in the maze of streets leading from St Marks to the Rialto bridge. I felt like I was a live piece in a monopoly game following the sign for the WC, sent to dead ends, down dark alleys that I would NEVER take in any city in the USA.

There were stickers attached to the pavenment in Burano saying WC !  Yeah.  I followed  ! Only to find this handmade sign delaring this the MOST expensive bathroom I found in Italy.

 A euro at the time was between $1.37 to $1.45.
But there was no other alternative.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Italian Nonna Wanted to Rent!

I need a Grandmother in Italy!  As an Italian American I had a glimpse of daily Italian life in an American contex. Visiting my grandmother during summers, the cousins would learn to paly cannasta. One day Nonna showed us how to make one type of pasta. .    But since I have lived in Italy twice for periods longer than a vacation, I realize I need a nonna.

Italians are wonderful, gracious, kind and will help you whenever they can.  But I noticed as an outsider in a town of 17,000  I was not accepted.  Everyone planned their days around their family.  Dinner was at home with the family. Someone without a family did not fit in.

So I need to rent a Nonna.   Do you have anyone you think would be interested in applying for the job?

I would walk Nonna to the market to select fresh fruit and veggies.  I would learn how to pick the best zucchini, how to chat with the vendors at the cheese stand and ask about their families.   I would carry the shopping bag back to Nonna's apt; Then we would cook!   I would learn how to make the perfect pasta, how the vietello should be cooked and so much more.

And Nonna would tell me stories of life in Italy when she was young.  I would know about the festivals and what special foods they had for easter and for Christmas.    Oh I NEED A NONNA. 

Please apply.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Villa Rental in Umbria

Many, many people have read or heard about Under the Tuscan Sun. by Frances Mayes.

Have you dreamed of staying in a villa in Italy,  enjoying a meal outside overlooking the rolling green hills?  Living the life of an Italian where you enjoy your food, enjoy conversations with your neighbors and the intoxicating smell of the countryside?

Then you need to visit Villa-Fondo Le Teglie  Click now. 
You will find your dream villa in Umbria in the countryside not far from Todi.    And you can plan your next vacation in the Italian countryside.

The vision behind Villa-Fondo Le Teglie is an American woman who transformed a former barn into an incredible villa, a villa that you can rent for a week or longer to fullfill your dream of Living in Italia!

Susan Evans is an amazing woman who I met on my adventure to Italy in October.  I found Susan through a friend of mine who knows of my love of Italy and my goal to live there.    Susan's information was forwarded to me and within days I was learning about   
 Il Gusto del Paese   
 A portion of Susan's introduction best explains her philosophy and services:   "small, privately owned company focused on making your vacation experience in Umbria special. The right property for you and a level of service tailored to support your desire" 

Read Susans story and come back for my impressions on this incredible villa rental on a future blog.   

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Now that I no longer take vacations, I have adventures!

going home to Italy every year is something I look forward to every year.
I always visit Florence, the city that convinced me to return for a semester abroad while at Syracuse University.   As all college students I had gone through the shock of moving away to a town where I knew almost no one, but I was not very prepared to go to a city where I KNEW NO ONE and could not even speak their language.

For years after that event I visited Italy, England, Alaska and the far east as a tourist or on buiness.  But now I try to NOT go as a tourist on vacation by as an explorer on an ADVENTURE.  Yes my adventures are small.  I don't walk across the desert alone, I don't take a canoe to explore the Amazon or  climb mountains.  My adventures are traveling solo and meeting as many people who are willing to speak with me.

This does not always work.   I still remember the shop clerk in Venice giving me the shoulder shrug (that said who the h--- cares) after I explained how difficult it had been to find a sweater in large American sizes.  She also refused to let me purchase an item on "display" in the window.    After all these months I still wish I had walked out of the store.    But I have a wish necklace and it you are granted 3 wishes than I shall wish that she age gracelessly and become large............

Adventures can be small or large.  When you are going outside your comfort zone often a small adventure can be a great accomplishment.

Where   do you go on adventures??

Some of the interesting people I met on my last trip

This is Frank.    A very kind customer service rep. who never lost his temper or grace when clients were rude, loud and not very nice.  Mr. Frank translated something I had found in Spain, so that I could understand the lengend of the "ringing of the bells"

 I do not know this kind woman's name but I see her every year.
When I visit Florence each year I stop in the large central market.  Sometimes for a great cappucino at the stall that all the market workers visit.   They always know I am a tourist but treat me the same as everyone else.  

Most visits I stop at this one stall where you can purchase pannini's.  the owner always understands my requet for turkey and swill.  She always has a smile even when i am the last customer after her 8hr day.   This trip we exchanged emails and i shall send her photos of her stall.  

:While lost in Venice exploring the hundreds of narrow street on my way from St Marks to the train station.   I stopped in a small glass bead store.  There are many, many of these and there was no particular reason to stop here.   But while buying strands of her mini glass beads I had a lovely chat with the owner.   Her daugher uses the internet but
she was still not "ready" to join the email revolution.

Who have you met on your adventures that made a mark on you?   I keep writing about how surprised I am that the people I meet mark my life but I dont make any impression on them..   Perhaps because they meet so many more people than I do.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ron Knows Rome

From a previous post at ItalianAmeriangoingHome

I try to fly in or out of Rome on every trip Home To Italy.

There is so much to see, you could visit every year and never see it all! It would be a dream to have an apartment in the center of Rome and wake early and walk the streets of Rome with the vision of Roman women and men in togas going about their daily business on the stone streets and along the river to the Colosseum or the forum. And late at night when the crowds thin you can see the lights of modern Rome glowing on the 7 hills.

Even if i can not live in Rome I can visit and explore a new area each year. Some places I like to visit repeatedly: St Peters, the Vatican museum (if the line is not too long) The neighborhoods where all the Italians live, walking through the local markets, visiting the small shops that sell one particular product: cheese, pasta, veggies. Shopping is an adventure not a trip to the supermercato.

But I am here to tell you about Ron in Rome! Ron has the job I want. He is the authority on Rome. He has a fabulous resource web site. Great details on the things a traveler needs to know. The train station, arriving from the airport by train. My favorite is the Bus. The bus in Italy scares me. I have been left in places (always during the 4 hour lunch) with NO WAY TO GET BACK or to my destination. My adventure on the bus with 35 teenagers getting out of school was like one of the horror movies that keep you up at night.

But I have had a very kind lady continue to tell me we had not arrived at Fiesole every time I tried to get off the bus. Or the bus driver who i asked to tell me when we got to Fuggi (yes i was speaking Italian but with my skill level, he may have thought I asked him to tell me when his birthday way) arrives at a stop where everyone got off including the driver! Guess we are here. Of course it was lunch so i could not ask: Dove sono? where am I?
The bus is easier WITHOUT LUGGAGE. It is crowded enough without dragging 2 bags with you and having other riders trip over you. Now I use a backpack, a small bag and ship the rest ahead.**

**see my blog on Mailbox etc. to be posted soon.

Back to Ron in Rome. Read his story on how he got started. Now he posts features on different
parts of Rome, challenges for travelers and MY FAVORITE: The many, many markets in Rome.

Before my next trip home to Italy, I shall be printing out many of Ron's articles so that I don't miss anything.

I sent him an email recently asking if Rome has a map of public bathrooms? My favorite thing from the tourist office in Firenze is their map of the public bathrooms in town! How great is that???

In Rome it is a little more difficult for me to find them. Some of the best and cleanest are at St Peters Square (right and left of the center)

The train station has many locations, but they charge and last year it was .80 e or about $1.00 + in 2010 it was up to $1.30.

Anyone familiar with Roma, please email me where you found a rest room in Rome. There is one dept store on the main shopping street that has a rest room and of course the McDonald's near the Spanish Steps but there have to be more............

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tell Rick Steves you need more than 3 pairs of underwear on a trip!

I love Rick Steves and take his books with me when I travel to Italy.   But I have to tell Rick that you NEED more than 3 pairs of underwear on a trip longer than a week!   

I packed carefully for my most recent trip Home To Italy this October.   Everything coordinated and everything could be used with 3 or more items.   The trip was for 4+ weeks in Italy and a return to the USA by ship for 14 days.  

So Off I go!

Well even in October in a heat wave in Rome, quick dry underwear washed out every night does NOT dry overnight!   The heat is not turned on in Italy until November.   However I had planned a week at an apartment in Spoleto (Umbria) that had heat and a washing machine.  But until I arrived there on week 2.5 I had to manage.  So off to the local markets to buy throw away clothing.   I usually bring worn out clothes from home and as I progress on the trip, I toss away items I don't want any longer.  At the end of some trips I leave items at the charity box found in most cities.       Socks were easy to find and I had a contest with my friend in Florence, how little I could pay for sweaters in the local markets.  Florence was cold without the heat turned on.  I was staying at a wonderful convent hotel but only had a quilt in the room!    3 Euros was the best price I found!   

Later I found suitable warm clothing for 10E, 8 E and 12 E!

Once I arrived in Venice the convent hotel had heat!  They were surprised when I called and asked if the heat was turned on, the staff member just said,  this is VENICE!.

So I plan to take more than 3 pairs of underwear when I travel.   Maybe I can get away with only 5.......

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Artist in Sorrento

 While traveling to visit my family's village in Petina Italy this October, I stopped in Sorrento .  

After spending 3 months there on a sabbatical 2 years ago it was difficult to return. This is a small city with a truly small town heart. I walked all the streets I remembered, noting the stores or businesses that had moved or changed.   In October there were visits by cruise ships and the groups of tourists that visit all the shops in the main area.
I headed to the park at the overlook to see the incredible view That I took for granted on the 89 days I was allowed to live in a perfect city.

While on one of my walks I stopped in at an artist gallery I had seen before. Being on a "sabbatical budget" did not allow me to shop, but this trip I visited Sepe Vetri D'Arte on Via Giuliani, 19. This is one of several east/west streets that will take you to the sea.

I had a wonderful conversation with Yvonne Adriaens the artist/owner of the shop. Besides art, business and Sorento, we spoke about life and how at a "certain age" you finally become free!

You can visit her shop at Many of her creations are in the photos attached.

More later on the special items she made me and how I used this to "pay it forward"

The written before about my fascination (have to be careful, I sono stati Told I repeat myself) with the concept of "do we change or effect the lives of the people we meet while traveling or do they only change us?"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Do you take fewer trips so that you can go first class?

Would one trip at first class hotels and good restaurants be better than taking MORE or LONGER trips and spending much less on hotels and food?

An interesting comparison. What do you think?

Monday, January 17, 2011


Once I stopped taking trips to beach locations, I found much more time to visit other cities in the USA and other countries. Since many American only have 2 or maybe 3 weeks vacation a YEAR (those that still have jobs) it is difficult to juggle how to spend the few free days you have every year.

But now I am so in love with Italy that I find it difficult to travel anywhere else!
I have actually had great trips to other locations: Alaska is amazing, Montana allows you to expand you horizons, drive up the coast of the USA and visit all the small towns. But the big trips are still out there: China, Australia, Nepal, S. America.......will there be enough time?

Where do you want to go before they won't let you travel solo again??