Every once in a while, something, or someone, comes along with information about Italy that makes me realize how little I really know about the country. (That's a bold confession from a travel planner specializing in travel to Italy!) Recently, it was the book 100 Places In Italy Every Woman Should Go written by Susan Van Allen.
If you are content in only seeing the major sites in Italy, then stop reading now and click to another post. This book is not for you. However, if you are like me, and enjoy getting off the beaten path, learning the back-stories behind the places and sites you're seeing, and take delight in experiencing life as a local, then this book is a MUST for you!
For example, did you know that Raphael's biographer claims that Raphael died from too much sex? Or, did you know that the Virgin Mary wore a girdle, and that girdle is safely locked away in a chapel in Prato? (I won't tell you how it got there...you'll have to read about it in the book!) What about the treasured Ste. Catherine? Did you know that her body is enshrined in a Roman church while her head is in Siena and a foot rests in Venice? That's a story worth reading!
But that's not all. Would you know where to find the ooh-la-la lingerie worn by those sleek sexy Italian women? Or, would you know how to find the nearest yoga retreat? (That chapter made me wonder how to say "Downward Dog" in Italian!) And, if shoes are your thing...just turn to page 235! From cities to churches, beaches to beauty parlors, and adventures to Italian crafts, Ms. Van Allen takes you into the Italian culture where few travelers dare to go.
To the traveler (whether you're planning your first trip to Italy or your 10th): 100 Places In Italy Every Woman Should Go is an excellent supplement to your standard guidebook. It will inspire you to go beyond the main attractions and taste a little of the local life.
To the travel agent and travel planner: Susan Van Allen's book is a tremendous resource that will help you encourage and design more meaningful vacations for clients. You will take them to places they would never discover on their own. My copy is already tagged and highlighted for not-to-miss places on my next visit!
EDITED TO ADD: Contest has ended. Thank you for your entries. The winner is announced in the comments below.
And guys, if you think this book is only for the girls, then let me set you straight. My husband was grabbing it out of my hands before I could finish the final chapter! So, I hope to see your entries, too!
Contest rules: This contest will be open until 12 pm, August 21. You are allowed ONE entry per person. One lucky winner will be selected via a random number generator and announced here on this site.
Let's say you have successfully purchased a train ticket and feel confident you know how to read the information on it. What now? Now, you must be able to decode the train schedule!
In Italy's train stations, you will find posters that represent the daily train schedules -- "Arrivi" are the arrivals and "Partenze" are the departures. Arrivals are usually on white paper while departures are usually on yellow or gold. Once you find the "Partenze" schedule, you can locate your train.
Trains are listed in order by their time of departure FROM the station you are in. The poster is sectioned off by hour in a 24-hour clock time (it's OK if you have to count on your fingers to know that 18:00 is 6 PM -- I do it all the time!)
In my example above (and I apologize for the fuzzy photo -- this poster was behind plexiglass), the outbound train is departing from Roma Termini at 11:05 AM. It is the first train departing after the 11:00 hour. You also find the train number, the final destination and arrival time (good information to know if you're destination is BEFORE the last stop). All other stations listed are the stops made in between. The times following these stops are when the train is scheduled to depart from those stations.
On the far right in the blue circle is the platform (Binario, or BIN) the train is scheduled to depart from. Once you've identified your train and its platform, you are on your way!
So you see, taking the train in Italy isn't as scary as it seems. Trust me, one ride and you'll be hooked!
I thoroughly love riding the trains in Italy. It is an easy and inexpensive way to travel the country. However, I remember the first time I chose to take the train from Rome to Florence and how intimidated I was by the process. I quickly learned that half the battle in navigating the train station is knowing how to read your ticket.
Being the ultimate planner that I am, I purchased my tickets and reserved my seats in advance by using RailEurope. It cost a few dollars more than purchasing tickets at the station, but I find comfort in having tickets and assigned seats in hand prior to reaching the train station.
From the photo above (and you may click on it to enlarge it), you can decode the mystery of all the relevant information. The other gobbledygook really doesn't matter.
That's all there is to it! The next challenge: reading the train schedule....but, I'm saving that for the next post!
If you have ever stayed in an Italian apartment, you have probably seen a funny-looking little gadget used to make coffee--the Bialetti Moka. No Italian home is complete without one.
For years, Italians generally consumed their coffee publicly. Coffeehouses dominated the coffee trade from selling to roasting and consumption. Alfonso Bialetti changed all that in 1933 when he crafted the aluminum stovetop espresso coffee maker. This "Moka Express" eventually found itself in most Italian homes, thus changing the essence of the Italian coffee culture.
For visitors, the Bialetti Moka contraption appears complicated and archaic to use. In fact, when used properly, it makes the most devine (and stout) cup of espresso! My first experience with the Bialetti Moka was in 2002. I decided to forego the luxuries of a hotel and rent an apartment. Along with the normal kitchen conveniences, I found a Bialetti Moka. After several mornings of drinking "mud" (or, on one instance, it was more like "stained" water), I swallowed my pride and asked for help. At dinner, I asked my restaurant server to show me the proper way to use the machine. I was prepared for ensuing instructions at the table. But, no! He urged me into the kitchen for a hands-on demonstration. (I so love the Italian way!)
Unfortunately, I can't pull you through the pages of this blog to give you a hands-on demo, but I can do the next best thing with this video from the Italian coffee maker, Illy. You can find the original Bialetti Moka and newer models at Bialettishop.com.