Saturday, December 29, 2012

Italy in Winter

Thanks to a comment from Annette I began to think if anyone else plans a trip each year Home to Italy in the winter? 

A quiet moment in Como, 11/12
If you do, is it to see family?   To enjoy the holiday season?   Because work prevents travel other times? 

Or are the best values and no tourists at this time of year your motive?

Even early in the morning Sorrento is quiet, nothing like the spring and summer when the street are packed with tourists


Please share.......

My trip this month resulted in a bout of the flue, no heat at a convent hotel (after 4 hrs) and the unexpected HUGE crowds shopping on Saturday in Rome.

I will be posting my 'observations' as a guest post on Browsing Rome.   Thank you so much for the invite....

Italian Letters to Santa: Babbo Natale

More Italian Christmas Traditions:  Babbo Natale

Do you remember writing a letter to Santa and sending it to the North Pole?

The tree may be more than 15 feet high and 1/2 covered with letters to Babbo Natale

I do not know if Italian children send letters via mail to Babbo Natale but they DO hang them on a Christmas tree!    

This was a delightful surprise when I arrived in Rome.  The main train station is NOT the best place to find holiday cheer but this tree with children's letters was very enjoyable.

Some were short
Others were more detailed.......

Do you remember writing to Babbo Natale???


Friday, December 28, 2012

Italian Xmas Traditions: FOOD


The heart of the family, the heart of the household, the heart of the town is FOOD.  And at Christmas special foods are created that you may never see at any other time of year

Left:  Rombi

Biscotti or cookies for Christmas might be a universal treat but the Italians know how to do this right!   Wile visiting Luca a pastry artist in Lecce I spent some moments gazing at the huge array of biscotti.  Some looked familiar even if the names have changed.   But perhaps you remember these treats and can share the names your nonna used for each one.

This is the honey covered treat served every Christmas.   Did you have it at your house?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Italian Christmas Tradtions 2012

What 5 traditions do Italians  share with Italian Americans?

I just spent the 4 weeks before Christmas in Italy.    This trip's goal was to visit Italian Christmas markets and find what traditions crossed the ocean when our relatives emigrated to the United States.......

I was not prepared for all the surprises that I found.

From Lake Como in the North to Lecce in Puglia in the South the universal Christmas tradition was the incredible Lights in the Streets.

My first night in Como was a wonderful surprise as I exited the hotel that evening.    Only after the sunsets can you appreciate the glow of the hundreds or thousands of white lights reflecting off the cobble stones and the shop windows.
Some towns had simple lights and some more intense.   In Florence each street had a different style light while Sorento had the same lights on all the main streets.   I found no one who could tell me if the town/city decided on the style of the lights or if individual neighborhoods selected the style of lights they wanted to use......
 I did not see ONE inflatable santa, not ONE inflatable snowman.   Decorations were elegant and tasteful!   Simple colors and designs.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Learning to taste olive oil!

Taurino's Olive Farm

I have been to oil tastings before where great bread is cut into small pieces and you dip it into the saucer of oil.   Nothing to it, si?  
After visiting Azienda Agricola Taurino and meeting Donato Taurino and Valentino Valzano I have a NEW appreciation for the benefits, properties and true beauty of Olive oil.

As you drive the few miles (11 km) north from Lecce, the land becomes green with trees and as you approach the olive 'farm' the trees stand end to end for miles.   More than 60,000 olive trees sway in the winter wind today.  They are storing their energy for the wonderful oil they will produce next year.

The hectors and hectors of olive trees, a sea of green

olives are picked in the traditional way, shaken from the tree and  carried into the pressing facility
sorted, washed

olives go into the pressing machines

Oil can have a yellow or green tint
Oil is stored in the lower level at the correct temperature in HUGE vats.   It is pumped to the room where each bottle of oil is filled by HAND t insure complete quality.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Italy, shopping the market for lunch with momma anna

This is day four of my adventure in Lecce, Italy and I want to introduce you to Momma Anna.

We went to the market to purchase items for lunch.  Don't miss her video on home made pasta!

I will be featuring Momma A every month.   Soon we will have skype calls with Momma where you can ask all the questions about Italy that are not in the tour books.

Why do men live at home until the are in their 30's?
Do you cook lunch for everyone EVERY day?
Momma, how do I remove red sauce from my table cloth?
Start saving your questions for Ciao Momma, coming soon.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Florence Italy Central Market: see Clara

No they are not called delis in Italy but they carry the products you would find in the 'Italian Store" in the USA.   I remember going every week to buy cold meats called cold cuts, cheese and the great bread they had fresh each day.

Whenever I am in Florence I visit the food market near San Marco.    I have my regular stands that I visit:  for cappucino, for fruit, for a cornneto.  But if I need a pannini I see Clara.

what a surprise to find that she has expanded to a seating area where you can have your lunch!   An after s few moments, she even remembered me.   I only come once a year but I have 'friends' in Firenze.   Or I am so very odd, asking questions, taking pictures, that it is difficult to forget me!

And Clara is thinking outside the box!  She has totes that advertise her stand!   What a kind woman, she gave me one of her totes!  So be sure to visit Clara when you are in the market in Firenze.

An Italian Secret during December

I am in Italy to visit the Christmas markets and discover how Italians celebrate this holiday.   There are many surprises even for an Italian American who thought I was practicing ITalian tradtions for all these years. 

I didnt do enough researc or I would have know that the REAL holiday buzz starts on December 8 and continues to January 6.   So I am early for some of the markets and events but I can still enjoy all the lights in the streets and the incredible displays in teh cafe's, candy stores and bakeries.

Not your average cup of hot chocolate!
What I was NOT prepared for is this:   liquid chocolate with whiped cream as thick as you have on scones in England.  Travel is so GREAT.

I should have asked his name, but if you are in Florence

 stop and say HI and ask for the best chocolate in town.
After asking a very kind barista at the Davinci Museum if he could make hot chocolate, he suggested I go to the BEST chocolate store in town.   Well I have the 30 second rule (maybe longer in a foreign language).  I was ignored and 3 other women were served without the owner even looking up!

Well i could find HC somewhere else.  I knew the cafe on the Piazza Repulica served the frothy brew but I was warned it was $14.00.   Prior to tasing I was not sure I wanted to spend the equivalent of a hotel upgrade to a 4 star!!!!

So I stopped in one of the oldest cafes in Firenze, across from the Duomo. 

They were busy but not too busy for the woman collecting your money (you pay FIRST, then order)   to explain that is was the BEST in town, did I want to take my HC at the bar or at a table.  Some things are universal and not difficult it both parties try to communicate.

Fortunately when you pay, your ticket says what you are ordering!  Makes it simple.   So I am standing at the bar and again THREE WOMEN come in.   Yes attractive Italian woman are noticed everywhere and a frumpy tourist is just 'chopped liver'.  But I want to give credit to the barman.  He said I was next and started to prepare the MOST INCREDIBLE CUP OF LIQUID CHOCOLATE I HAVE EVER HAD.     Of course it was topped with 700 calories of whipped cream or panne.

In very poor Italian, as usual, I said 'I am in heaven'.  This got a grin out of the barman.  I continued to drink every drop.......  I hope this is available in Rome, Lecce and Sorrento.......   It shall make the trip so enjoyable.......

Italy Train Tickets: I will be back in a moment...


While exploring Pistoia last Sunday several events occurred that made me laugh   Previously I posted that I had gotten off in Prato and didn't discover my mistake for an hour!   When I finally arrived Pistoia I decided to purchase my return ticked, just in case the ticket office was closed later in the day.

The sign indicates the clerk will be back soon.

Since there was only one man in line I decided not to try the ticket machine, which can be a challenge.  And both machines had signs on them, that I could not read...  not unusual.... 

As I waited several other customers joined the line.   Some tried to speak with me without success, my fault not theirs. 

The line grows.

The crowd gets impatient.

Trains are scheduled to leave. 

My very favorite part was that another train employee came by twice and continued to tell all of us there was nothing he could do, with the most wonderful shrug that is only found in Italy.


Now the line is out of the building and trains will be leaving in moments!    I take out my camera to snap the above shot and tell the woman next to me I write for a travel journal.   They almost cheer, telling me to be sure I tell everyone what is happening.


But my favorite comment was the man near the end of the line with his mobile phone out yelling, call the police!   Only here?

Perhaps not.

Another surprise was the public bathroom in Pistoia, near the center of town, offers showers.....very interesting.
The center of town is an easy walk from the train station.   There is an inner ring road that is pedestrian only and it hugs the center square with the Duomo and Baptistery.   An extra treat this day was visit from the Bishop.
I thought this was just a sleepy town that was closed on Sunday but around 4 or 4:30 the ENTIRE town came out with strollers and family members to walk and greet the neighbors.  Even when it started to rain they were not deterred.

I must visit again during the OPEN hours.

Italy by Train from Florence

When taking the train in Italy I count the number of stations before I must get off so even if I do not see the station name I will be at the correct stop.
So on Sunday when i took a short day trip (1/2hr) from Florence to one of the charming medieval towns to the north, I counted 4 stops.

What a surprise to find there was a Chocolate festival int eh main square......yummm.
One of the many counter of chocolate....

But a bigger treat was to meet Marta Benini.   Marta was working at the tourist office on Sunday morning and even though she was scheduled to close for the day she continued to chat with me about the project I am researching on this trip:   Italian Christmas Traditions.


I am sure there are many surprises down the old lanes of this town..

What a nice surprise to find that Marta also does translations and gives lessons in Italian.    With a short hop on the train outside of Florence, you can experience a lesson within the ancient walls of Prato.    The town is easy to walk around with many pedestrian only streets.  Although everything was closed (Sunday) it appeared to be a very good shopping hub.

My only problem was I had planned to go to Pistoia!   There was an extra stop in Prato (2 train stations).  Never mind, once i found the train station I continued on my quest for Pistoia.

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?