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How to Make Friends When Traveling

Christmas Lights are Everywhere

Christmas Lights are Everywhere

Reflecting on our trip to Paris, I must tell you it was one of our best vacations, although it was not our first time there.  I think there are several explanations why we had such an enjoyable time. Because it wasn’t our first visit, we could focus on things that we had missed on previous stays. We were, for the most part, out of the tourist mode and more into the relaxing/really get to know you mode. We rented an apartment, we shopped locally in our neighborhood and ate most of our meals in restaurants in the neighborhood too. There were not many Americans, if any, to be found in the places we liked best. The French people were most polite, helpful and actually acted like they enjoyed us as much as we were enjoying them. This was especially noticeable in the restaurants. The key to starting off on the right foot, for me, is trying to fit in. I start with the language.  Knowing some words in their language can go a long way. Trying to carry on a conversation in their language takes you even further. Learning words to be polite, like please, thank you, and your welcome should be the bare bone basics in any language.  Where is, also comes in very helpful along with the word for bathroom. Ha! Another good reminder: things are not going to be the same way as I am accustomed to in my home, in a different country.  Isn’t that the reason I travel? If my new surroundings were not going to be different, I might as well stay at home.  So be prepared for different.  Look for new ways of doing things.  Try new foods. Go with the flow, but be prepared. I study every day on Duolingo, sometimes for as little as an hour sometimes more.  It is a free App and internet sight, that is fun, and can be studied with as little or as much time as you want to take for it. I am on my 110th day studying French and before that I studied Italian on Duolingo, after I came back from Italy where I took a full immersion language course at Il Sasso. I didn’t want to lose my skills. Through Duolingo I have met friends, asked a bazillion questions to French speakers and others, learned something about their culture and translated articles. It has been so valuable to me. So to me this was a stepping stone that made my time more enjoyable on my vacation. I think it also made a huge difference to the people I interacted with. With that said, here are my four favorite eating spots in Paris during our stay this time. Practice those language skills!

Camille, right around the corner from our apartment in Paris, was the closest and had the most delicious traditional french food and pastries. It was packed with locals at all hours. I would highly recommend it. Like any great Parisian food spot the tables were small, very close together and you had to move the table or climb over other guests to get to the table.  A great conversation starter!

Les Philosophes, was the restaurant wine bar, coveted by locals and especially young people. Located on a very busy walking lane, the people watching was excellent.  Sitting outside under the big umbrella heaters, enjoying a wine and salad for hours, made me feel like I was part of the neighborhood. Everyone talked with everyone! We spent one enjoyable evening in conversation with a couple from Hong Kong.

Les Philosophes

Les Philosophes

Sorza Restaurant and Bar, on Saint Louis-en-L‘ile, was one of the most romantic and charming spots with a fabulous selection of food. We had the best pasta dishes here, but what set it apart from the other restaurants was the sorbet! The best I have ever eaten!  The lime was so fresh and fruity with bits of lime peel. Other flavors were raved about too.  I crave that sorbet now that I am at home!

King Falafel Palace in the Jewish Quarter, is an Israeli restaurant famous for their falafels.  There were long long long lines daily just to get a carry out. I had never tasted a falafel and had never even heard of one, but I couldn’t wait to try it. One evening we got into the tiny tiny restaurant and were seated under the Israeli flag draped on the wall. I had the biggest pita sandwich ever! I am not sure what the contents were, but it was meat and sausages with fresh vegetables and some kind of sauce, all plumped and over flowing in that pita. It was delicious and well worth the wait. Also I had the best pomme frites in all of Paris I am sure! I sat and watched a server/helper slice pitas, hundreds of pitas. Each individual pita  was slit open with a box cutter and stacked to be prepared for the falafels. That was his only job and he had a hard time keeping up!

The Falafel

The Falafel

Finally, as one of my blogger friends pointed out, http://www.delightfullyitaly.com, it is also good to know hand gestures ( a form of communication) and what they might mean in another country.  I think you will find this video most helpful when planning to visit Italy. Something to be aware of before you make that hand sign!

For more interest see:
Duolingo, Language Studies, http://www.duolingo.com
Il Sasso, Premier Italian Language School, Montepulciano, Italy.  http://www.ilsasso.com
Camille, 24 Rue de Francs-Bourgeois, Paris, France.  See TripAdvisor
Les Philosophes, 28 rue Vieille du Temple, Paris, France.  See TripAdvisor
Sorza Restaurant and Bar, 51 Rue Saint Louis-en-L’ile, Paris, France, http://www.sorza.fr
King Falafel Palace, Specialités Israéliennes, 26 Rue des Rosiers, Paris, France, See TripAdvisor.

Il Sasso A Day at School

Acquacheta, an Awesome Eating Experience!

Acquacheta, an Awesome Eating Experience!

Day One
I had to take a test.  After finishing one third of a page on page one, I was whisked away for the oral section of the placement testing. I could hardly speak. I was placed in the Beginners Class which was fine by me.  I was in that class for ten minutes when I was whisked off to the second floor and placed in a class with four men and one other woman.  My first thought was “I have been demoted to lower than the beginners class, ” but as it turned out there were so many beginners we were separated into two classes.  I could hardly call my classmates beginners. Two of the men knew a great deal of Italian, but wanted to be more comfortable speaking it at random, in different settings, off the cuff.  A great deal more complicated then practicing from a book. We would get plenty of practice doing that.  We had two teachers a day, each for two hour periods.   Day one we learned the alphabet and how to pronounce it.  Who knew that an A is not an A.  A would be Ahhh.  I would be EEEE. It was a wonder I could say anything in Italian. R was erra.  S was esse. We would have worksheets to do, all the while the teacher speaking and teaching in Italian.  If you did not understand something the teacher would look at you and say, do you understand?  The reply and phrase I knew very well the entire time of my studies was Non lo so.  I don’t know.  She then would try to show by writing pictures on the chalkboard or explain it over and over until you got it.  The teachers had the patience of saints and a very good sense of humor. One morning after studying the mercato and all the fruits and vegetables we could buy there, the afternoon teacher came in and in groups of two, the students went to the front of the class to do a skit.  One student was the buyer and one student was the vendor and we bought and sold practicing our hellos and how much do I owe you and everything in between.  It was fun, practical and nerve-wracking all at the same time. This was our routine everyday. With compiti almost every night.  Homework, not a lot.  Just enough to remind you to think about what you learned or would be learning the next day. So the classes consisted of work from a workbook, working with a great deal of extra printed material and speaking either in small groups or in front of the class. And of course answering the questions the teacher asked you, in Italian.  It was challenging, fun, practical and I met several new friends from all over the world and in different levels of education. Many business and governments send their employees to Il Sasso to learn or perfect their Italian skills. The second week all but two students had finished their course and Andy and I moved up to Elementary 1 Level and joined other students.  New teachers, new students and new material to learn.  We learned a great deal, there was no loitering and we moved along at a fast pace.  After the morning classes,  there were options of private tutoring or field trips.   Cooking classes, tours of the historic towns, and walks in the countryside were just some of the many choices to make your stay memorable.  In the evenings the students would meet up at the local restaurants, trattorias, osterias, enotecas and bars, so we became good friends and learned from each other. The third week I had my third set of teachers.  I liked having the rotation. The teachers were fantastic, humorous and very caring.  They wanted you to succeed and have a good time.  It was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life and keep me studying Italian. To all my Italian classmates and teachers, ciao, ciao!!!

On the next to last evening the class went to Acquacheta to dine.  A small osteria, family owned that specializes in steak served family style. Steak cut to serve.

 

 

The Owner at Acquacheta Preparing the Meat

The Owner at Acquacheta Preparing the Meat

The Owner Showing the Steak for Approval

The Owner Showing the Steak for Approval

The Steak Closeup

The Steak Closeup

If you would like more information about Il Sasso, Scuola di Italiano contact:

http://www.ilsasso.com

Via di Gracciano nel Corso 2

1-53045 Montepulciano, Italy

Facebook:  Il Sasso- Italian Language School

If you would like more information about Osteria “Acquacheta”

http://www.acquacheta.eu

Via del Teatro, 22, Montepulciano, Italy

Montepulciano, the First Day

The Pottery shop

The Pottery Shop

The Handmade Leather Shoe Shop

The Handmade Leather Shoe Shop

My Walk to School

My Walk to School

Cats Are Everywhere!

Cats Are Everywhere!

Walk to School

On Walk to School

On My Walk to School

On My Walk to School

The Town Bus only Stops at the Bottom and the Top

The Town Bus only Stops at the Bottom and the Top

My Favorite House on Hill# 2 #64

My Favorite House on Hill# 2 #64

Not My Walk To School!!!!

Not My Walk To School!!!!

Montepulciano is a hill town in Tuscany in three layers.  There are three hills to walk up.  The first hill is for the tourists, the second hill and plateau is filled with fine craftsmen making pottery, jewelry, mosaics, leather products and woodcarving items all by hand as their ancestors have done for hundreds of years. Dotted between these shops are the clothing shops, great restaurants, wine shops and small grocery stores.  The buildings are huge and people live above the shops. At the end of the second hill is Santa Maria dei Servi Church, one of thirteen Catholic churches in Montepulciano. This is where Politian Palazzo is, on the former grounds of the monastery/church. The crown hill is for the Cathedral, the Fort Museum, the Town Hall, the Duomo Hotel and the Torture Museum. Il Sasso, the Italian Language school, is located between the first and second hill.  I am so glad I don’t have to walk all the way to the bottom of the hill everyday! My first introduction to the school was an evening wine social on the Sunday before school started.  There were forty to fifty students who gathered to have a drink and hors d’oeuvres.  Our hostess was an energetic woman who spoke fast and furious Italian.  Well it sounded like that to me.  The students drifted out to the terrace and I got up the nerve to ask a fellow student if she spoke English.  I think I was in such shock with everyone speaking Italian I must have looked like a deer in the headlights.  What had I gotten myself into? I loved it.  I came home so excited to start school the next day!

The Front Door of Il Sasso, Italian Language School

The Front Door of Il Sasso, Italian Language School

My Favorite House on Hill #3

My Favorite House on Hill #3

Even Cats Go to Mass Here

Even Cats Go to Mass Here

Appetizers

Appetizers

Pear Salad

Pear Salad

Torte

Torte

Dessert

Chocolate Dessert

La Bella Lingua

Taking the Ferry to Menaggio, Italy

Taking the Ferry to Menaggio, Italy

View from the Apartment on Menaggio, Italy

View from the Apartment on Menaggio, Italy

View from the Apartment on Menaggio, Italy

View from the Apartment on Menaggio, Italy

The first time I went to Italy I knew I wanted to speak the language.  The Italians were so lively, loud and always in full swing. The language was fast paced and musical.  I loved watching the men and women talk, so after I returned home the search was on to learn Italian.  I love learning and knew I could do a computer course. I could go at my own pace.  I thought about Rosetta Stone.  I did a trial course and although I learned many words I was frustrated that I did not know what I was saying, until several lessons in when it would dawn on me what the pictures were trying to teach me.  There is no English in the course, just pictures that I could interpret several ways. I also didn’t learn how to put the words together into sentences. The program was just random words to me.

I looked up some folks on Slow Travel to see if they had any suggestions for learning the language. One man suggested Fluenz with Sonia Gil and I was off to the races. Fluenz Italian 1, started right in with Sonia, an American, teaching the basics that made sense to an American speaker.  All the words were translated in both languages or you could turn then off altogether. You began day one speaking entire sentences.   Fluenz offered tutorials so you knew why you were learning certain structures and how they added to what you had already learned from the previous lesson.  There were writing skills, reading skills, listening skills, recorded speech practice and pictures too. At the end of each lesson was an Italian tip of something to read or something of interest in the Italian culture.  I loved it and couldn’t wait each day to study. I spoke perfect Italian.  In my living room.

Menaggio, Italy

Menaggio, Italy

Off to Italy I went with two years of Italian under my belt. My husband would say to me, “Now you get ready to speak to them.” That right there put me in a tailspin.  I was at the ferry station buying tickets.  I wanted two tickets to Menaggio on the hydrofoil. The woman behind the counter said something I did not understand. It was rapid Italian with an Italian accent to boot. Sonia was so much easier to understand!  As I looked completely perplexed she asked in English did I want return tickets also?  “Ah, what was the Italian word for that?” I asked her.  She told me and I wrote it down.  I would need that phrase again  and again.  As the vacation went on I realized for the most part I could get the jest of what people were saying.  Still in my mind I had to take in the Italian words, translate them in English then convert them and speak the words back in Italian.  By the time I had thought all that through the Italians were speaking about something else. I did better at the restaurants.  I could order and read the menus.  The young people waiting on the tables realized I was an American, so halfway through my sentence they would interrupt me and speak in English. Was I too slow or were they being helpful and wanted to let me know they spoke English?  I think it was both.  They wanted to practice English as much as I wanted to practice Italian.  Finally, I would tell them, ”No, no let me speak Italian. I am practicing.”  Only one waiter rolled his eyes, so I felt I was on to something. I learned very quickly to size up the people I thought I could speak to.  Trying to talk to busy waiters and the ticket counter personnel with long waiting lines was not the place to practice Italian. The twenty minute bus ride from the mountain down to the harbor in Menaggio was perfect. One bus came all the way to the top twice a day, where we were staying . The bus came by very early in the morning to go down the mountain and there was a return trip up the mountain in the evening.  If we were not up and at it for the early bus we had to walk down the mountain to the next little town and catch the bus there. That was a blessing.  The Italians in the mountain village got up early and walked along the road. They were older and in no hurry, so I would Buon Giorno them all.  It was a start.  At first there wasn’t any eye contact and I would just get the nod. Riding the bus was even better.  We were the only Americans on it and the elderly women who road the bus were nonne. (grandmothers) .  Buon giorno, buon giorno I would say to everyone on that bus. We road that bus for a week before we had the weekend driver who asked us if we had a ticket.  “No, we just paid the driver in euros at the end of the ride.” The driver had been so polite he never told us to go find the ticket office and buy a ticket.  I think we became the novelty for the ride down to Menaggio. The women and the driver got used to us, we showed up every day, no ticket and all.  On one occasion returning to the dock at the end of the day it was raining heavily and we had missed the bus back up the mountain. My husband went into the lake side resort hotel, Hotel D’ Lac, and asked the gentleman behind the counter if he could call a cab. That is another story entirely.  (We weren’t even sure there was cab service. We had never seen a cab.)  A Mercedes station wagon pulled up and was I in luck.  The driver spoke no English! Wow I could really practice speaking with him.  We took his card and called him everyday to come get us at the dock.  Eventually we didn’t even have to call him, he would be waiting at the dock for us.  And all the way up the mountain we talked! Then it dawned on me that the early morning walkers probably didn’t speak English and were just as nervous as I was that we could not communicate. So the next morning I just started a conversation in Italian with everybody on the road and on the morning bus.  Just keep on talking and they would come around.  By the end of our stay the taxi driver told me how much my Italian had improved. I just beamed!

Boats Docked in Menaggio, Italy

Boats Docked in Menaggio, Italy

Now I want to say here another great way I practiced speaking Italian.  One of the first things we noticed going up the mountain were all the different colored trash bins along the tiny road.  One for paper, one for glass, one for trash.  They were everywhere. The bus stop, a little down the mountain where we would walk to, covered three things.  The stop was at the corner of the mountain, beside a set of three trash bins and the hairpin curve.  In order to go up the road further and make the curve you had to go slow, stop your vehicle, inch forward turning your wheels, back up and repeat about 30 times and then you were good to go the rest of the way up to where our apartamento was.  This was why the bus only made two trips a day up to our place. So the rock mountain/trash bin area/bus stop was the meeting place for the locals. While you waited for the bus you read the beautiful obituaries, up-coming marriage banns and local festival plans that were plastered on the face of the rock.  You could also talk with the women who waited in long lines in their small cars bringing trash to the bins.  It was a regular hen peck.  There was no trash picked up at the home they had to haul it to the roadside bins.  Here they greeted their friends, caught up on the news of the day and spent a great deal of time taking care of business. It was their town hall. I could talk to the bin ladies while waiting for the bus. Awesome!  No one was in a hurry and they didn’t speak English.  Perfetto!!!

Now I am ready to make another trip to Italy.  This year I started my third year of Italian with Fluenz.  Right off the bat there was no Sonia.  Now there was an Italian woman speaking like a bat out of hell.  I knew the words, but was convinced she wasn’t saying them. I had to go over Lesson 1 many times, boy did I cuss and complain. I thought I would never get it!!!!  But she sounded just like the Italians speaking. (Fast and just skimming over some of the little words) I plodded on.  Eventually my ear was trained to their language.  I am slowly not hearing Italian words, translating the words to English and then translating back. I am hearing the spoken Italian. So I decided to jump in the deep end of the pool.  I will be attending a language school in Montepulciano, Tuscany. (Il Sasso) for almost a month.

No English. Italian only, complete immersion. It is a small town with locals, who don’t speak English. I have been there on vacation so I know the area. It’s really laid back. The administrator has answered a truck load of questions from me. She suggested lodging, was helpful with train schedules and found Verio Neri from the Cucina Povera cookbook for me. (earlier post about that) The students who have attended the school have raved about it. Bring it on. I am ready.

For more information look up Fluenz Learning Languages, I just think it is THE best! and………..the school
Scuola di Italiano il Sasso, Montepulciano Italy (a Tuscany hill town)
internet: http://www.ilsasso.com or Facebook: Il Sasso Italian Language School

The apartamento near Menaggio, Italy, Apartment Le Eriche, Villa per Barna, Plesio, Italy. It is Italian owned and our neighbors were Italian. They own a B&B also, but we stayed in the private apartment!

War in Val D’ Orcia

The Road to La Foce

The Road to La Foce

This will be my last review of books I read as part of the Travel Prep for Italy.  In 2009 my husband and I spent a week in a monastery outside of Montepulciano.  Surrounded by olive groves and grape vines this was our home base as we discovered the hill towns of Tuscany. It was ideal and everyday we jumped up and were ready to explore. At night we returned to visit with the other guests and compare notes over dinner.  Driving in Italy can be very hectic, the Italians I am sure get tired of the slow pokey tourist moving as slow as a snail so they can see everything.  One of the highlights of the week was our day trip to La Foce.  La Foce, bought in 1924, is a large estate with a sixteenth century farmhouse,  and the home of Iris Origo, an American, who with her Italian husband, Antonio, restored the  baked barren olive green landscape, neglected by soil erosion and wars between the Italian states, back to life. Fifteen years of hard work produced one central fattoria (farm), where the Origo family lived surrounded by fifty farms of one hundred acres each with each farmer sharing all produce with the owner,  but depending on the owner for a home, equipment and capital.  This was the mezzadria system of farming similar to sharecropping in the United States. Here Antonio Origo introduced modern farming techniques and managed the estate while Iris (the Marchesa) set up a school for the children and adults (eighty percent illiterate) and a hospital for their growing farmstead, eventually six thousand people in all. Then came World War II.

La Foce

La Foce

The Gardens of La Foce

The Gardens of La Foce

La Foce

La Foce

Gardens of La Foce

Gardens of La Foce

War in Val D’ Orcia, An Italian War Diary, 1943 -1944 written by Iris Origo is the story of La Foce and its inhabitants during the war and the build up to it.  It describes their life under the fascist administration of Benito Mussolini, who came into power in 1922, their move to La Foce and then their everyday life during the war,  trying to survive.  I think the most important fact for me was that Iris decided not to edit any of the pages she had written when the book was published, in 1948. Her papers were originally written  as a personal journal during her pregnancy, as a pastime, in the middle of domestic isolation and boredom. When the war came to the Val D’ Orcia, her writings became a way to concentrate and clear her mind by writing each days events as she had heard or witnessed them first hand. She left it as it was written, sometimes in scribbles, sometimes lengthy, written in the cellar, or in her children’s nursery, hiding the papers among the children’s books because she didn’t think anyone would look there and eventually burying her diary in the garden. Good or bad they did what they thought at the time was the right thing to do. Coulda, woulda, shoulda times and more.  Sometimes those decisions turned out for the best and sometimes not. She tells it all.

The road we took to La Foce was a two lane paved highway, surrounded by plowed olive green fields ( I have never seen a field that color before or since) bordered by the tall skinny plane trees, that everyone thinks of when they think of Italy. We zigged-zagged down that road and on the crossroads found La Foce,  a bright yellow cheery pallazzo, surrounded by beautiful gardens and a  pool flanked with lemon trees in big terra cotta pots.  We took the tour with an English speaking guide, walking through the gardens and learning about Iris Origo’s  garden design, statuary and the choice of flower variety for her garden. The estate was so beautiful, restful  and peaceful. During the tour, the guide mentioned that the marchesa had written several books. I looked them up when I returned home and was pleasantly surprised that one of her books, the War in Val D’ Orcia, was written in English. So I read the book after returning to the United States. Little did I realize, before reading the book, that the beautiful home of La Foce  and the families that lived there had seen so much hardship.

The Dirt Road

The Dirt Road

When we left La Foce, I thought I would give the Italians a break from driving an inch from my rear bumper and then speeding around me on the curves.  We took a dirt road.  I don’t think I ever saw a marking for any road except upon leaving the  North-South  A-1 corridor to and from Rome.  After you got off the A-1 you were on your own. Even with GPS in the car it was nearly a day before I realized that the beautiful sounding Italian voice was actually speaking English. English with a very heavy Italian brogue. Seena? Does  she mean the turn off for SI EN NA is this one?  See what I mean?  She pronounced cities that I was sure were not even on my map.  Anyway, the dirt road seemed like a good choice at the time and we were not that far from Montepulciano.  How bad could it be?  The juts in the narrow dirt road seemed to get deeper and deeper and larger and larger.  Sometimes I had to come to a complete stop and creep across them, the rental car bottoming out.  In the middle of nowhere we came to four or five houses and an old castle.  There was even one streetlight.  Who lived out here?  We stopped to look and to give the car a break.  When we started up again that dirt road seemed to go on and on. It was getting dark when we pulled into a farm lot.  The road had ended.  There were clothes hanging on the line and a tied up barking dog going crazy with our arrival.  The farmer (plaid shirt and everything)  came out in total disbelief that we were in his barnyard. Loudly in case we were deaf, but in rapid Italian and gestures he told me in no uncertain terms to turn around and go back.  I did.  We finally did find our way back to Montepulciano, but I want to find that road on my trip this time, because now I know after reading the book what it was.

Leading Up to the Castle

Leading Up to the Castle

I never thought of soldiers from many countries being prisoners of war in Italy. There were seventy thousand of them. Early in the war the Fascists in compliance with the Germans informed the Origos that their home would be used to house the P.O.W.s.  A high ranking official came to look the place  over and decided he would be more comfortable at the castle up the hill.  The Origo family and their tenants would be in charge of feeding them, and caring for them. The peasants kept them alive and helped them escape. General O’ Connor wrote after the war, “ I can only say the Italian peasants and others behind the lines were magnificent.  They could not have done more for us.  They hid us, escorted us, gave us money, clothes and food – all the time taking tremendous risks.  Without their help it would have been impossible for us to live and finally escape.”

Iris had the hospital, meager supplies and the only nurse. This is not to say she helped only the Allied forces, but also young Italians, who took up arms against the regime and joined partisan groups, (she hid them in her forest, fed them and reported movements of troops from either side). She also cared for wounded German soldiers stranded from their units.  Yes, she tells all about that castle and what went on there.

When Genoa and Turin were bombed and seeing heavy fighting the city dwellers begged  those people who lived in the country to take in their children.  The children would be safe, in the middle of Italy, so far away from the fighting, or so they thought.  La Foce  and Iris Origo took twenty-six children in, in addition to the two she had of her own by then. Eventually, when the American forces landed near Rome and moved north, the war came to her doorstep literally. As the war raged close to  La Foce, she walked the children to safety in the hill town of  Montepulciano, as the shelling went on all around them. The children were tied together so they would not get lost, and many of the children so accustomed to the bombing and planes thought they were playing a new game. After the war many men, from different countries, wrote her and told her they had survived the war thanks to her kindness.  I am sure the children, who for the most part were re-united with their families felt the same way.  There is a great deal to be learned of strength, determination and courage from Iris Origo.  She shares her life, simple acts of everyday life during a war, with the hope of human kindness. Her book is a must read.

P S   I hope I find that farmer too.  I have studied Italian for two years and will be learning more in Montepulciano.  Maybe we can discuss the weather!

The converted monastery  we stayed in was:  Sant’ Antonio/The Country Resort, Via della Montagna 6/8, Montepulciano, Italy.  Web site:  http://www.santantonio.it

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