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KayTKay May 22nd, 2014 03:46 AM

"We are not in the States anymore, y'all." An Italian trip report.
We returned - just last night - from another trip to Italy. Jet lag has me awake and thinking that time's a wastin' this morning. I was absolutely, positively not going to write another report because this was a fairly typical trip to Rome, Tuscany, and Venice.

However, we went with friends and I had this vacation super organized and chock-full (perhaps too full) of tours and activities - perhaps if I focus on those it will be helpful for someone else.

My typical trip report uses a lot of statements such as, "we wandered around all afternoon", or "we sat and watched the world go by." Not so much this time because I was planning not only for myself and family, but also for two of our friends who had never been to Europe before, I felt as if I couldn't just let the days plan themselves the way I tend to do!

It ended up being a great trip. Busy, but fun. The players were my husband and me and our two friends who I will call D and P. We are all southerners from the US, but from different states - they have quite a thick drawl and this was noticed at times by the Italians. My husband and I are in our early 50's. D and P are in their early to mid 40's. We are all in the same empty nest life stage.

I wish I could tell you about all the troubles we had getting along because that would make for a much more interesting report, but it would also be a fabrication. As D said the last night, "there aren't many friends who could spend this much time together and not get sideways with each other even once." True. We just knew when we had had enough togetherness and would go our seperate ways. It worked well.

I speak Italian fairly well. Definitely into an intermediate level. I studied quite a lot before this trip and studied via Skype with an Italian woman. This helped tremendously to train my ear. Comprehension has been my bugaboo. I can memorize and use verb tenses all the day long but not have a clue what is being said in response to my nicely complicated sentence. Haha. After all that studying - it seemed as if I needed Italian less than ever while there.

Once in Venice the group asked me to ask a shop proprietor how late his store would be open. I walked over and asked in English! My group laughed at me, "um, we could have done that." I responded that no matter how well I asked the question in Italian he was going to respond in danged English so I might as well cut to the chase.

Our agenda was simple: fly into Rome (we all arranged our own transport) and spend 4 nights there. Drive to Tuscany and spend 4 nights near Pienza. Drive to and drop the car in Venice and spend 3 nights there and fly home from Venice.

As far as the title of the report? It became our group saying whenever something just so wonderful and out of our realm of normal was happening. We used it while sipping an aperitivo alongside the Grand Canal, or when stepping back in time in a completely untouristed medieval walled village, or when the restaurateur in rome showed us the Roman baths they had discovered while renovating his restaurant...and then there was that one time...that day when things didn't go so well. But, I'll get to that.

Thanks for listening. Hope I'm not driving you crazy with another one of these. Be back soon with the things we did in Rome.

Dukey1 May 22nd, 2014 04:49 AM

I suspect the Italians were absolutely delighted that you afforded them the opportunity to hone their own English conversational skills and weren't the least bit offended, either.

scotlib May 22nd, 2014 05:15 AM

You've got me hooked, KayTKay; looking for more :-)

raincitygirl May 22nd, 2014 07:39 AM

Yay, another fun trip report by KayTKay! Waiting for the next instalment.

tom18 May 22nd, 2014 07:47 AM

Hoping to get to Italy this fall/winter, so am looking forward to hearing about your trip. In addition, I am also studying Italian, and, as you say, comprehension is also my bugaboo. Would you mind sharing with us the contact information for your Skype teacher? Thanks.

annhig May 22nd, 2014 07:54 AM

I walked over and asked in English! My group laughed at me, "um, we could have done that." I responded that no matter how well I asked the question in Italian he was going to respond in danged English so I might as well cut to the chase. >>

lol, Kay, how often has it happened to all of us that we think out our carefully crafted sentence in french/italian/german, only to have them reply in english. How do they do it? Rome, and Florence surprisingly enough, I found to be better places for italian practice than Venice, and Sorrento was great, as quite a few shopkeepers etc did not speak any english, especially in the smaller places.

LowCountryIslander May 22nd, 2014 08:44 AM

Sounds like a trip I want to read about...jumping in to follow along! :-)

LCBoniti May 22nd, 2014 09:51 AM

As am I!

Flame123 May 22nd, 2014 10:00 AM

Great start. Can't wait for more!!!

joan May 22nd, 2014 12:07 PM

Enjoying this. Can't wait to hear about the drive from Tuscany to Venice, as we are going to do this too...

thursdaysd May 22nd, 2014 03:14 PM

Signing on...

mainetrvlgrl May 22nd, 2014 05:24 PM

Looking forward to your Rome suggestions as we are heading there soon!

tomarkot May 22nd, 2014 06:40 PM

Following along and enjoying your report!

Dai May 23rd, 2014 08:45 AM

Oh how I can relate! I too am at an intermediate level. I too can speak/write better and easier than comprehending. (although if one speaks slower and clear, I do understand) That is the main reason why I wanted to go to Puglia. It's off the beaten path and I am sure that I will have the opportunity to speak mostly in Italian. It is the same reason why I chose Sardinia and Sicily the last time we went. It is aggravating to study the language daily and not have the chance to communicate in the language while there. I have had people compliment me on my pronunciation, my grammar skills, be surprised that I never lived/studied in Italy, all while telling me this in English!

Your trip report already sounds like a lot of fun...carry on :-)

annhig May 23rd, 2014 10:39 AM

Dai - have you thought about a language school? I've been three times now [unfortunately for 3 separate weeks which is less than ideal] and it has really helped my listening and comprehension skills.

as for Puglia for practising italian, I've not been that far south but a friend who has a house there says that she finds both the accent and use of italian [lots of the subjunctive for example] pretty difficult. and if you are travelling as a tourist, it can be surprisingly difficult to engineer opportunities to speak italian over and above the odd "buon giorno".

Dai May 23rd, 2014 11:02 AM

Hi ann. Yes I've thought about it but not seriously. It sure would be a lot of fun though!

Back in 2003 while traveling in Sardinia, I had no problem at all communicating. In fact my husband thought he had a detached retina and so we had to be treated by a specialist ASAP. It just so happened that an eye doctor who taught in Sassari, Monday through Thursday opened his office in little Castelsardo on Friday's (his home town). We were so fortunate that we were right there on Friday. I figure if I was able to understand everything he had to say regarding something off the wall like an eye problem, I'll be fine. Not only that I have improved so much over the last 11 years.

I studied Spanish in high school and in college, which gave me a clear understanding of Italian once I began to learn it. It's been 18 years that I have been learning Italian. I use the future, conditional and subjunctive when I speak too. Whenever I am out and I hear Italians speaking, I always speak up and carry on a nice little conversation without having to resort to English. (I only get the chance a few times a year) People had warned me about the Sicilians and the way they speak Italian, but again, I had no problem at all whatsoever. I would get into long conversations.

Once we were on the train to Palermo and I got into a really long conversation with a railroad worker who was done for the day, and a businessman about places to stay and places to eat, and then more in depth about us, and life in Sicily. It was great. One of them bought me a caffè. Then as the businessman left for his stop he told me to "Parla bene della Sicilia". It was really memorable and fun. I have already written letters to B&B's and a driver in Italian. Only one gentleman who speaks 6 languages wrote me back in English. Va bene per me. Io sono pronta!!!

annhig May 23rd, 2014 11:10 AM

It's been 18 years that I have been learning Italian. I use the future, conditional and subjunctive when I speak too.>>

brava, Dai. it takes me a week or so to get into the swing of using all the tenses and by then it's time to go home. I too try to find opportunities to practice but I've still got quite a long way to go til I reach your standard, hence the language schools! [i think that unless you were at a large school or had 1:1 lessons you would find that you were too advanced for most schools as they largely teach beginners and those with slightly more experience].

Dai May 23rd, 2014 11:20 AM

Grazie, Ann. My husband loves hearing me speak it so much that when we go to <i>any</i> Italian restaurant here in the states, he always asks, "Do you speak Italian? Because my wife speaks Italian" Being in southern California we are much more likely to get a Spanish speaking waiter. I'll whisper to him, "Honey his name is Miguel", to which he'll usually reply, that's OK..."She speaks Spanish too!!! Talk to him in Spanish!" But I always feel silly doing that because I am sure that their English is better than my Spanish. He says that I don't give myself enough credit. Since I am not able to be an interpreter in either language, I think he is right. Nevertheless, I really do get a kick out of conversing in Italian. Non vedo l'ora!

annhig May 23rd, 2014 11:27 AM

Nevertheless, I really do get a kick out of conversing in Italian.>>

anch'io Dai. we had our italian class end of term dinner last week and by chance there were two italians sitting nearby, so it gave me a real kick to be able to chat to them in italian. I even understood [mostly] what they were saying to me in reply. we don't get many italians in cornwall, and even fewer Spanish. We do get a lot of germans however, so I do get a chance to practice my german!

Dai May 23rd, 2014 11:36 AM

Oh that's fun! Good going! When we were in London, there was an adorable young man at a coffee shop and I just knew with his accent that he spoke in Italian, so I seized the moment by asking "Sei Italiano? After a few moments of speaking with him, I had my high for the day. :-)

I am sorry KayTKay for the hijacking of your thread! Aspettiamo per te...

jent103 May 23rd, 2014 12:27 PM

Following along, Kay! I'm from the South too - on my last trip to Italy in 2011, my Arkansan traveling companion never even tried to pronounce Italian words correctly (she's charming, with a stronger accent than mine, so it works for her).

annhig May 24th, 2014 06:23 AM

my Arkansan traveling companion never even tried to pronounce Italian words correctly (she's charming, with a stronger accent than mine, so it works for her).>>

jent, we met some mexicans in a restaurant in Rome once and they just shouted at the waiters in spanish, which seemed to work for them.

jent103 May 26th, 2014 10:02 AM

Ha! Less charming, perhaps, annhig, but I guess whatever works. :)

KayTKay May 30th, 2014 05:39 PM

Sorry for starting a trip report and then promptly disappearing. Perhaps I was a little optimistic starting a report the day after our return. Jet lag, being behind on my work, and the post vacation blues conspired to keep me too tired and too busy to write.

Thank you to everyone for your encouragement!

Tom18 - I used Monica Cesarato for my Skype lessons. She also does some tours in Venice.

joan - the drive from Tuscany to Venice is very easy. You won't have a problem with it.

annhig and Dai - love the conversation about the language! Not a hijack at all. I love learning Italian and enjoy talking about learning Italian. My original plan for this trip was to leave before the rest of the group and attend a week of language classes at Il Sasso in Montepulciano. Unfortunately, I had to rearrange due to some work conflicts. I was terribly disappointed! One of my dreams is to spend a minimum of a week, preferable two, immersed in the language.

Of all the places I've been in Italy, Venice is the one where I was the least likely to need to use my Italian skills. I was actually told by a Venetian that this was because most Venetians speak Italian as a second language. Venetian first, then Italian. She said that they would just as soon speak English. I'm not claiming to know the veracity of this statement. It is strictly an anecdote.

jent103 - I'm an Arkansan. However, my accent is not that strong. I've always been a city girl and that makes a big difference. What I can't seem to control are the sayings and colloquialisms. They just come out of me. Willy nilly I will "bless your heart" or complain that "it's cold enough to hang a hog in here." (even though I've never hung a hog in my life.) And y'all is the best all purpose word ever.

Our friends D and P are from Alabama and, have mercy, their accents are strong.

KayTKay May 30th, 2014 06:47 PM

Flights: We all arranged our own transportation as D and P were using frequent flyer miles and we live in different states. All legs of all flights for both couples went well arriving and departing. How often can you say that?!

We flew Delta and had a direct flight from Atlanta to Rome. Very nice. The flight arrived 30 minutes early at 7:00am. Bags came out quickly and we were at our hotel well before 9:00am. Quickest turnaround I've ever experienced.

The disadvantage with arriving so early is having to stay up all day long. Everyone has to learn how to handle the time change in a way that works for them...our way is to not sleep. If we nap we are off track for days, so we power through the tiredness. Makes it a lot harder to stay up when you arrive in the morning.

Rome: My favorite city. I love it - warts and all. I get quite defensive when people complain about it. It calls to me in a weird way that other cities don't. I feel at home and comfortable there. Strange for a woman with absolutely no Italian heritage, but absolutely true.

Albergo del Senato: Great hotel. It certainly isn't perfect, and it's over priced, but that location! The Pantheon is my favorite structure in my favorite city and to wake up next door to it - well - it's a wonder, a daily revelation. We stayed on the 6th floor and had two of the rooms with the little balconies. I only took about two thousand photos from that balcony. I would stand there looking out on the massive pillars and that ancient dome, the ever-changing square, the rooftops of Rome with their gardens and church spires and satellite dishes and feel...grateful...elated and grateful.

Tazza D'Oro and Sant' Eustachio - two of the best known coffee shops in Rome were minutes from our hotel. Of course our hotel room was not available that early in the morning so we stashed our bags and went in search of rejuvenation. Tazza D'Oro was our first stop for our first cappuccino of the trip. Then it was over to Sant'Eustachio coffee shop for our second cappuccino of the trip. We are definitely Sant'Eustachio fans. The battle wasn't even that close. One sip and we knew that we had found our coffee place.

We arrived back at the hotel just as D and P pulled up. Yay! We had all arrived safe and sound and the vacation was officially beginning. Quick trip to the ATM and back to Tazza D'Oro for D and P to have a coffee. My husband and I each got a granita di caffe. Oh. My. Word. These things are delicious. Please try one.

We were all together and well and truly caffeinated and ready to take on Rome.

kybourbon May 30th, 2014 07:35 PM

>>>>jent, we met some mexicans in a restaurant in Rome once and they just shouted at the waiters in spanish, which seemed to work for them.<<<

annhig - That's what the xray tech did to me at the hospital in Siena except he was yelling at me in Italian. I understood what he was saying (I can understand more than I can speak). It was funny later when I was no longer in pain.

>>>Our friends D and P are from Alabama and, have mercy, their accents are strong.<<<

Vacationed at Lake Martin in Alabama when I was in middle school. Couldn't believe how much slower they talked than us (didn't think that was possible).

jent103 May 30th, 2014 09:32 PM

Being a city girl does make a big difference! I grew up in Knoxville, but my mom is from a rural county in southern Middle Tennessee, and I sound completely different from my cousins who grew up there. Most people tell me I don't sound like I'm from Tennessee at all, although I can if I want to (and my accent comes out more the closer I get to my grandmama's holler).

I'm glad you're back - I miss Italy and am excited to hear about it from your perspective!

annhig May 31st, 2014 02:20 AM

ky - it seems as if it's not just the british who think that if you shout at someone in a foreign language, they are more likely to understand you!

Kay - thanks for the link to Monica. do you mind if I ask what her Skype lessons cost?

LCBoniti May 31st, 2014 05:45 AM

Isn't it lovely about Rome - my sisters and I had the same reaction. It still calls to us, even though we have not been back since 2008. We have been Romesick ever since.

TDudette May 31st, 2014 05:48 AM

Wonderful start and I love Rome the same way, KayTKay. On our last trip to Rome, DH and I both remarked about how we felt like we were home. Yes, it's hard to explain.

And, oh my yes, listening is not the same as speaking! I finally learned to speak slowly so the Italian person "got" that I wasn't fluent and didn't respond in a torrent of unrecognizable words. My husband could hear it but not speak it so we got along OK. Although he ordered two biscotti to Rome at the train station one time.

Looking forward to more and to some photos, please.

tom18 May 31st, 2014 07:48 AM

Kay - Thanks for the link! Too bad Fodors doesn't have a European Languages Forum!

annhig May 31st, 2014 10:20 AM

Although he ordered two biscotti to Rome at the train station one time>>

did he order some coffee to go with them?

KayTKay May 31st, 2014 12:08 PM

Thanks to everyone for your comments. Love hearing how many of you can relate to my feelings regarding Rome!

annhig - she charged 18 Euros per hour of instruction.

The lessons varied considerably. Sometimes we just talked, she might give me a prompt of something to discuss, sometimes I would be given a writing prompt to do for homework and then when we met I would read aloud what I had written and we would go over my mistakes. Sometimes I had a reading assignment for homework and we would discuss what I had read. Occasionally I read a shorter passage aloud during the hour and she would ask questions to test my comprehension and then we would go over any parts that were giving me difficulty...just trying to give anyone interested an idea of what a lesson might entail.

KayTKay May 31st, 2014 01:24 PM

Rome on our Saturday arrival day was teeming, crawling, swarming with school children, hordes of them in brightly colored matching T-shirts or hats. They were accompanied by harried looking teachers and parent-chaperones and I couldn't help but to be happy that I wasn't the one trying to shepherd the children from place to place in the crowds.

We found out later that Pope Francis had invited all of Italy's school children to a celebratory audience with him at St. Peter's square. There were 300,000 children, teachers and parents in attendance. I heard it was a mob scene in the square and the surrounding streets - but what a lovely thing for those children!

We stopped by Armando al Pantheon and secured a lunch reservation for 12:30 and then strolled in the direction of Piazza Navona. We stopped in San Luigi dei Francesi so that D and P could see their first Caravaggio in situ. Actually, I think it was their first Caravaggio ever. You never forget your first Caravaggio. :)

Duly impressed with the church it was over to Piazza Navona where we walked the loop and examined the fountains and went inside Sant'Agnese in Agone. It was my first time inside of this church - all those martyrs!

Next was Campo De' Fiori where the market was in full swing. Gorgeous flowers, a few nice vegetable stands...but many of the stalls seemed more touristy than ever. Some were selling this yucky looking stuff in bright neon pink and calling it limoncello. Gross.

Forno: While at Campo de'Fiori I convinced everyone that even though our lunch reservation was only an hour away they needed a snack. I told them they could thank me later. They did, of course. This is the stuff I dream about when I return home. To me their pizza bianca is superb. Sublime. Bread and olive oil and salt - how can something that simple be so good? Is it the bread which is chewy and cruchy, but somehow light? The olive oil? Magical salt? All I know is that it is pure perfection.

We popped briefly into the Pantheon before lunch. I love saying that - we popped into the Pantheon. Let's all pop into the Pantheon before lunch, shall we? :)

We arrived at Armando al Pantheon about 10 minutes before their opening and our reservation time. P tried to go on in and was mildly scolded for interrupting the lunch of those about to serve us. I was secretly (just a little) glad. I mean, I did spend an hour one day composing an email that I sent to everyone about what to expect in Italian restaurants. I even think I specifically said "don't expect a restaurant to open early just because you are standing outside." Oh well, some of us have to learn by experience.

LowCountryIslander May 31st, 2014 06:57 PM

I am really enjoying your report, I feel exactly as you do about Roma. The minute I step off the plane I feel like I'm arriving home. :-)

LCBoniti Jun 1st, 2014 06:06 AM

"Some were selling this yucky looking stuff in bright neon pink and calling it limoncello." Sacrilegious!

And love the last paragraph. :)

annhig Jun 1st, 2014 10:19 AM

she charged 18 Euros per hour of instruction. >>

thank you Kay, that sounds very reasonable for what you describe. I could definitely do with some help with my listening skills. [some might say that applies to when I'm speaking english too!]

After the build-up I was waiting to find out what you ate at Armando's. After the "mise en bouche" we deserve the main event!

KayTKay Jun 2nd, 2014 02:27 PM

Thanks again to all who commented. And yes, I did rush out in the middle of the story. Sorry about that. Life keeps expecting things of me.

Armando Al Pantheon: I can't believe I hadn't ever eaten here before! Great restaurant in the middle of one of the most touristed areas of Rome. We thought it was the perfect first meal in Italy. We started with the bruschetta al tartufo nero and an artichoke which came sitting in a small pool of olive oil. The artichoke was one of the specials that day, not always on the menu. Both were good, but the bruschetta was perfect.

For a main course I had abbacchio a scottadito - which means something like lamb that'll burn your fingers. It is basically a lamb cutlet, on the bone, much heartier than the lamb I've gotten in the US. D had the carbonara, and P had cacio e pepe, my husband had one of the specials which was a chicken dish in a red sauce with bell pepper and onion.

We all shared tastes of the food at every meal which I'm sure appalled the Italians. But, but, how else were we going to be able to declare a winner? Not that we are a competitive group or anything. ;) Everything was good, but the carbonara won the prize. Hands down.

We had the house red and white which were served in half? bottles. The red was ok, the white was better. If I were going to get red there again I would select something from the wine menu.

For dessert we had tiramisu all'Armando con frutti di bosco. It was light and delicious. I highly recommend it!

Chip and pin card: We have a credit card from USAA which we switched to a chip and PIN before we left. At Armando's we were asked for the first time to enter a PIN into the little machine they bring to the tables and it wouldn't work. Whoops. Tried again. No go. Finally, on a whim, I suggested to my husband to try my PIN with his card. That did it. The credit card company had somehow mixed up our PIN's. After that one occasion we were never again asked for a PIN the entire trip. So I would say that these cards are still unnecessary in Italy.

Finally we were able to check into our small, but wonderful room at the Albergo Del Senato for a heavenly shower (why does flying make one feel so grungy?) and a quick minute to put our feet up before our 5:00 wine tasting at Vino Roma.

Judy Jun 2nd, 2014 02:33 PM

We were in Rome last week at the end of a trip. We stayed at Albergo Del Senato and had our first dinner at Armando al Pantheon.

We enjoyed dinner so much we asked if they could accommodate us the next evening. The weather forecast was for 90% chance of rain and a quick dash to dinner looked good. At first they said they were fully booked but, at the end of the evening, our waiter said if we would eat at 7 and be gone by 9 we could have a table. We jumped on that and enjoyed our second dinner there in the rain!

LowCountryIslander Jun 2nd, 2014 06:17 PM

You are hitting all my favorite places in Rome...the del Senato, Armando al Pantheon, Tazza d'Oro (for the granite di caffe con panna - "to die for"!) and VinoRoma. Loving this report! :-)

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