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Differences between Italy and the Usa: an Italian viewpoint

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I'm an Italian traveller, and after three months spent in the Usa, I'm going back to Florence, where I live. I think that it might be interesting, for those going to Italy for the first time, to know what I found different from Italy, in the Usa.
a) transportation. without a car in the Usa you can't see different places, unless you travel from town to town. Italy is an easier country to visit without a car. You can still rely on trains, which are quite cheap and stop also in very little villages, and local buses.
2) cars. We found cheaper than in Italy anything related to cars. Here to rent a car is cheaper than in Italy, and - very important - gasoline is much cheaper than in Italy. We calculated that the US price is 1/3 of the Italian one. Finally, the highways are free (or cheap) here, while in Italy you always pay for them, and pay quite a lot.
3) food. We found wine expensive here; in Italy you can get a good bottle of wine for 3-4 $ at the supermarket; in the restaurants you usually have to buy a whole bottle as they don't serve just glasses of wine. Americans have dinner earlier than Italians. You can't actually go to a restaurant at 6.30 or 7 pm. It's normal to go to the restaurant at 8/ 8,30 pm.
In this period, whit a strong dollar, you'll find eating in Italy quite cheap. Fish in Italy is expecially expensive though.
4) shopping. Shops in Italy are not open all day long and week-end long as in the Usa. They may close for lunch (1pm to 3/4pm), and at 7,30 /8 pm. They are usually closed on Sunday. Grocery shops and supermarkets also have another afternoon off during the week. It changes from place to place. In Florence is wensday afternoon.
Hair stylists are closed on monday.
5) markets. A nice place to buy food are open air markets. They are cheaper than supermarkets and sell very good fruit and vegetables. But you also find clothes and shoes in some of them. In Florence you can visit the Mercato centrale, and the Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio, which are especially full of life and crowded on saturday morning.
6) Cigarettes and garbage. The smokers-not smokers cleavage is not so deep in Italy. You can reserve a seats in the not smokers sections of the trains, but most restaurants don't have tables for not smokers. Finally, we don't recycle as much as the Americans do, which is a pity.

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    Good afternoon, Anna
    Viva Italia, is it were not because of
    its wonderful people, places and food, it would too much like here and no tourists would come.
    Richard of Hickory Hills,Il.
    A non-italian visitor since 1971

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    Dear Anna,
    Thanks for the thoughtful insites.
    My wife Jane & I will be going to Tuscany for three weeks in Oct 1999.
    It's our first trip to Italy.
    We are both third generation Italians, our grandparents came to the USA at the turn of the century. My wifes maiden name is Rofrano and our married name is Ercolani.
    We will be going to Florence, Lucca, Modena, Parma. Our trip will revolve around food and Italian culture, we both love to cook and grew up in the kitchen with Grandma. Any suggestions on where to stay, what to see, what to do would be greatly appreciated.
    We are traveling with another couple and want to rent either apartments or a house with 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, a fully equiped kitchen and a living room with a view. We will be renting a car for the entire 3 weeks. We will probably stay in the Chanti region for a week, the Parma region for a week and are not sure about anything else. Any information would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks, Vince

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    Anna, I am a US citizen who worked for 18 months in Trento in the Trentino in the early 90's in two trips. The first time we lived within 400 meters of the Trento train station, which was incredibly convenient. Trains are cheap, so much so that when I got a little bored on the wekend I'd go down to the station and book a round trip north to see the mountain scenery in an Interegionale (the cheapest train). Or take a little diesel train over the mountains to Bassano del Grappa (more incredible scenery. $12 or less round trip.

    I didn't even have a car, I didn't need one. I'd walk to work or take the bus.

    The markets were wonderful. I'd buy a lot of food there. Supermecatos were closed Sunday, Saturday afternoon, and Monday morning in Trento. I could eat well on very little in Italy. $8 for a nice plate of pasta or a pizza, perhaps another $1.25 for a bottle of San Pellegrino water. Cheaper than McDonalds in Bolzano was!

    The regional bus system wasn't particularly convenient, because the last bus was typically no later than 7 pm, sometimes 5 or 5:30! This is no good for visiting a place a long way from the railroads, because one might spend 2 hours each direction and have little time at the destination. A car would have been VERY nice to see the mountains better. I think the same applies to Tuscany, Umbria, and particularly to the Marche. One can reach the cities via train or bus, but to see the rural areas you still need a car. If you aren't pressed for time you can wait for the bus of course.

    If you look outside of tourist areas to neighborhood trattorias and osterias you can eat very well for a bargain. In Trento I'd get pizza, mineral water, and a quartzo of vino della casa for 23,000 Lira (about $13). The pizza was wood-oven baked and superlative, the wine good, and the water the best I've had anywhere. For a little more we could have a real meal, perhaps even 2 course. In Trento one could dine as early as 6:00 pm most of the year. In summer 7 might be the opening time. Eating outdoors in Italy is a great treat. Restaurants take pains to make a nice garden to dine in.

    The wine is excellent. We usually ordered house wine, which was invariably good until we visited Naples and Sicily. It is a matter of pride in the north to serve palatable wine, but the house wine in Naples and further south was very bad. I could buy good wine (Frascati or Chianti) on sale at the grocery store for as little as $2 a bottle, though $3-4 was more usual.

    Another thing to look out fir is the olive oil in Italy. Oil from different regions have a different character. I particularly enjoyed the oil from Tuscany and from Puglia (we had Pugliese friends who made sure we had it).

    I found Italians somewhat more socially aware than typical americans, though perhaps this was an artifact of living in Trento. The University of Trento was the center of the Red Brigades and is still considered quite leftish. There was a store in centro selling all manner of handicrafts and food from the thrid-world, and the massive street fairs held 2 or 3 times a year had many booths and players from South America. Cuban vacations were in fashion when I was there, though I don't know what Cuba gave that you couldn't get in North Africa for half the price!

    Trento had great newstands. I could get he Sunday NY Times there (3 days late). I couldn't even get that when I lived in Rotterdam in 1991!

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    Dear Vince,
    three weeks in Tuscany and Emilia Romagna it's a good amount of time to see things. And in these two regions art and food are wonderful. You can probably find all you need to know in the guide books sold here in the States. My opinion though is that there are nice places in Italy not very much known by foreigners.
    In Tuscany, for instance, Chianti is beautiful, but very known and full of tourists. With a joke, we call the Chianti region Chiantishire, because many anglosaxon people have decided to live there. The area around Siena is another nice one. Be sure to take the local train - or drive - across an area south of Siena known as Le crete. The panorama is wonderful: sweet hills with cipressi and old Tuscan houses.
    If I were you I would spend a couple of days in Maremma, the part of Tuscany around Grosseto. Over there you will find not only beautiful ancient towns (such as Pitigliano), but a very genuine cooking, different from what you may get in other areas of Tuscany.
    With regards to Florence, I suggest you a very special lunch. Go to the Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio. Outside there is the market with fresh fruit and vegetables, inside there is the market for meat, cheese and so on. Look for the inside little restaurant, you will have the most genuine Tuscan food for a little price!
    If I were you I would not use the car in Florence. It's a nightmare and you are not allowed to enter the center by car.
    In Parma try the prosciutto crudo. And if you rent a house make sure to buy and cook Porcini mushrooms. October should be the right time to find them in the markets.
    In Tuscany try La ribollita, a special soup made with bread and, of course,
    the pappa con il pomodoro....
    In Florence you can have the bistecca alla fiorentina (a grilled steak). It will be expensive and probably not so good as American meat (we were impressed by the Us meat)
    Buon divertimento e buon appetito !

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