Monday, August 30, 2010

Fiat 500 Touring Club

My cousin came across this really cute site that organizes tours from Florence through the Tuscany area. This is sooooo ideal! First of all, you get to ride and drive in one of their classic Fiat 500s... The cutest car ever! I love this car and would pick it over a Mini Cooper or Smart any day. =) I mean it's as Italian as you get. =) Secondly, you get to have the experience of riding and driving in a car in Italy, through the mayhem and through the beauty. Thirdly, what is an Italian getaway without experiencing the beautiful Tuscan Hills and going wine tasting and such?

I think this is a great idea and so much better than the huge tourist groups and impersonal charter buses. You can still do those since these tours cover only 1 1/2 to 4 hours of the day but undoubtedly will be the highlight of your day and/or trip.

Check it out!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

To Kiss Kiss or To HUG?

Lately, I have been thinking about my trip back to L.A. and how great it is going to be to see my friends and family again. When I picture finally seeing them, I see myself giving them the biggest hug ever. The tighter the hug, the more I missed them dearly. Hugs make me feel better when I have a bad day, are the most comforting gestures from a loved one, and are simply important to me.

Then that made me do what I love to do best... compare and contrast. Here in Italy, you greet someone with a kiss on the cheek to the right and then to the left... Kiss kiss... Pretty simple and cordial, right? Actually, when I first came here it was out of the norm for me. I felt it to be so intimate to actually go cheek to cheek with someone you barely met. I was so cautious at the beginning - advancing slowly to avoid having a cheekbone collision or suffer from beard prickles. Believe me, not common for Chinese people. =) American traditions call for a simple handshake on first encounter and for good friends a hug, a kiss, or a kiss and a hug combo.

Oh and I can't forget about that huge decision to kiss or not to kiss for someone who is an acquaintance that you have met before and now meet again after not seeing them for a while. Some would kiss, some would not.... It's great when I have someone right before me to make the call, but does this really need to be a huge decision? For Americans, if they aren't close friends, then a simple wave and "hey" would suffice... but here, it's like I don't want to make an.... a derriere... of myself.

The funny thing is, my outlook has completely reversed. I now feel the kiss kiss to be less intimate than a hug. I miss meeting my friends and family after a long time of not seeing them and just giving them a great big bear hug. Then when I come back to Italy after not seeing my family here, I have this urge to just hug them but hold back and give them the normal kiss kiss.

So what's more intimate? What do you prefer? What are you more comfortable with? I guess it is all relative and depends on what you were raised with as are many things... just another hole in the culture shock belt. =)


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Palio di Siena

The Palio di Siena is a horse race held twice a year on July 2nd and August 16th in Siena, Italy. I had the great honor of learning about it while studying abroad in Siena. It is one of the main things Siena is known for, along with it's medieval traditions, tuscan landscape, and chianti wine. Siena is separated into seventeen "Contradas". The contradas are all distinct areas of the city and are represented by certain colors and a mascot. If you visit, you will notice that each area has their contrada flags up and many trinkets are sold all around of the flag, handkerchiefs, keychains, etc. What I loved most is the pride that every contrada had and really put everyone in the competitive spirit. It is almost the equivalent we have for our different schools and sports teams but much more intense as they are all living next to each other. =) True rivalry!

The palio is held in the Piazza del Campo. This area is normally a great spot to relax, have a drink, and people-watch but on these two days, turns into an arena packed with spectators. At each of these two days... only ten of the seventeen contradas compete. They are chosen through a random draw of their "ball" that represents them with their colors. The jockey and horses make three rounds around the Campo and the race lasts no more than 90 seconds. One thing to note is that the race is won by the horse and not by the jockey. So if the jockey were to ever fall off the horse, the horse can still finish the race on its own and win.

For whatever contrada wins, they earn ultimate bragging rights for the year, the craziest celebrations and parades around the town. In fact, there were many times that I would be awaken by contradas marching by, singing and beating their drums and other instruments. A true spectacle!

One of my best memories was when we were invited to a contrada party. We were given one little ball which we handed over to be given a ceramic mug. With this mug, we could drink as much wine as we wanted. Just had to get it refilled every time. It was such a great time. Not just because we drank liters and liters, but the atmosphere was filled with laughter, unity and traditions. It was definitely an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget.

My contrada when I lived there was Nicchio. The fighting shell! =) Okay, so it might not sound so fierce, but do not underestimate the strength and pride!. It was great to be part of such great history. Unfortunately, Tartuga won this last one... =(

Siena is truly a unique town and I hold it dearly to my heart. If you ever decide to visit Tuscany, do not miss it.

P.S. To more easily identify with it, it was also shown at the beginning of the 007 movie Casino Royale.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ferra-what? Ferragosto!

Ferragosto is an Italian holiday celebrated on August 15th of every year. Basically, it's a celebration of the middle of the summer and the end of hard labor in the fields from picking tomatoes, fruits and tobacco. Religiously, it is to commemorate the Virgin Mary. This day is spent with family eating away and going on vacation. Typically, Italians take from one week to the whole month of August off around Ferragosto. If you decide to come to Italy during this time, you will find that many stores, bars and restaurants completely close to go on holiday. Great for them, not so great for those not on holiday and needing those places. =)

Personally, I don't mind planning my holidays around Ferragosto to avoid inflated prices and traffic. However, for Italians, this is the perfect time to get away to avoid losing any major business and to escape to the mountains or beaches for some nice cool air. It's a great idea but definitely not something I am used to in the states. Can you imagine a store closing for a month? We have been meaning to re-do our kitchen bar area and now that we decide to move forward with it we can't because there are no local hardware stores open to help us! Yay or Nay on Ferragosto? Good for those who finally can take a vacation, bad for those who want to still be productive. Another reminder from good old Italy to just forget about it and enjoy life. =)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Love Letters to Romeo...or Prince Charming or Bob or hot guy passing by....

So I was sitting and talking with my mother-in-law about the old days and about how a lot of women of her time and before didn't know how to write. And I was absolutely flabberghasted. I am aware that times were different back then, but just the idea of not being able to read some of the most amazing books out there or even to write and express yourself in words seems so suppressing.

She then continued to say that the reason why was because woman were not allowed to go to school in the old days because the men didn't want them to know how to write or else they would write to their lovers. That fact doesn't surprise me but it still makes me shake my head. But it also makes me smirk a bit to see that it was more about men's insecurities than it was about inadequate facilities. I think we would do a lot of good to experience a lot of the simplicities life has had back then and sometimes I wish life could be that simple but let's keep plowing forward with sexual equality. ;)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Random Fact of the Day

Toilet Plunger - 2

Okay, this is as the title says... random. The normal Italian kitchen does not have a garbage disposal. Although this may seem like a frivolous fact, it is also something that is normal for us Americans. I actually miss being able to throw any foods down the drain without having to dump it in the trash and leak and such. Oh wells.... The funny thing is that more Italian families use their plunger in the kitchen rather than the bathroom. They use it to suck up any food that does clog up the drain. On that note, there was one time when we just moved in and our toilet got clogged and we didn't have a plunger. Our neighbor came over, got a mop and stuffed it in the toilet and totally unclogged it with one swift push and pull. Talk about new experiences... =)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Italian 101

Okay folks, don't get confused by my last post... That was "Italy 101" and this is "Italian 101". So I have not lost my marbles... hehe. My good friend, along with anyone else traveling to Italy, should at least know some basic words to help you get by. I think the majority of you can get by with just English since it is the universal language and all major cities are accustomed to the occasional lost tourist, but it is always good to get the basics down... if not for use, but to be more "worldly" and experienced. =)

Italian 101

Who - Chi (kee)
What - Che (keh)
When - Quando
Where - Dove (doh-veh)
Why - Perche
How - Come (koh-meh)

Where is the bathroom? - Dove toilette/bagno? (doh-veh twah-leht/Bah-ngo)
Train - Treno (treh-noh)
Bus - Autobus (ow-toh-boos)
Airplace - Aereo (ah-eh-ree-oh)
Airport - Aeroporto (ah-eh-roh-por-toh)
What time is the train/bus? - A che ora il treno/autobus?
Baggage/Luggage - Bagaglia/Valigie
How much? - Quanto costa?
Hi/Bye - Ciao
Goodbye (formal) - Arrivederci
Thank You...very much - Grazie...mille (grah-zee-eh ... mee-leh)
Excuse me - Scusa
Please - per favore/pia piacere
Help - Aiuto (ai-yu-toh)
Where is Hotel...? - Dove albergo...?
Go - vai
Platform (for train station) - binario (bee-nah-ree-oh)
Straight - Diritto (dreet-toh)
Right - Destra (deh-strah)
Left - Sinistra (see-nee-strah)
Meters - Metri (meh-tree)
Kilometers - kilometri (0.62 miles) (kee-loh-meh-tree)
Euro - Euro (eh-uh-ro)
Sir - Signore
M'am - Signora
Miss - Signorina
Welcome/You're welcome/Enter - Prego
I need... - Ho bisogno di.... (oh bee-sogn-ngo dee)
ATM - Bancomat (bahn-koh-mat)

1 - uno
2 - due (dweh)
3 - tre (threh)
4 - quattro
5 - cinque (cheen-kweh)
6 - sei
7 - sette
8 - otto
9 - nove
10 - dieci (dee-eh-chee)
11 - undici (oohn-duh-chee)
12 - dodici (doh-duh-chee)
13 - tredici (threh-duh-chee)
14 - quattrodici (kwah-tor-duh-chee)
15 - quindici (kween-duh-chee)
16 - seidici (say-duh-chee)
17 - diciasette (dee-chuh-set-teh)
18 - diciotto (dee-choh-toh)
19 - dicianove (dee-chah-noh-veh)
20 - veinti (vain-tee)
30 - trenta (thrain-tah)
100 - cento (chen-toh)

Okay, I don't want to make this too long or it will be too overwhelming... but I hope this will help you with the basic language to get you through your trip and hopefully you won't be in any dilemma to use it. =)

Buon viaggio!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Italy 101

So I am uber excited because one of my closest friends will be coming to Italy and visiting me! It's the first time anyone will have seen our home in Southern Italy and see my life here! One of my sisters and cousin came but unfortunately they saw my life in Siena but never got to see our home or my family here in Campania. =( So, I hope to make this trip great for my friend and make sure she is taken care of and making it as less stressful as possible being the first time for her in Europe. So as I was thinking of what she needed to know, I figured it would be great to list all the basic stuff that tourists need to know in regards to customs and the norm here.


1. Tip and service charge is normally covered on the bill under "Coperto" and you are charged between 1€ to 3€ per person. However, some restaurants have started charging you a percentage of the total. Keep a lookout for these on your bill. If these are covered, you are not required to pay tip but it is always nice to tip them if they were good to you. Of course, in the larger cities, they do expect us "Americans" to be tippers and many have caught on to that and do try to capitalize on tourists.
2. There is no tap water. You can order bottled water, either flat or sparkling -> "Naturale" or "Frizzante/Gassata".
3. Italians do not use ice! Well in their homes in the summer... but do not expect any of your beverages to come with ice and please do not ask for ice either.
4. Doggie bags do not exist! It is frowned upon to take home any food you did not finish. Normally, you finish it up or you leave it. Frowned upon... I don't think I have even seen a to-go box here with the exception of the Chinese restaurants. Go figure...
5. If you want to get a coffee at the bar, you have to pay the cashier first and then take your receipt to the bar area for the barista. Here, you can ask for a glass of water at no charge IF you ordered a drink there.
6. If you want to order wine, their table wine (Vino da Tavola) is usually good if you don't want to get the more expensive bottles. You order these in half liters.... either half liter (mezzo-litro - listed as 0,5 L) or liter (un litro - listed as 1 L).

1. If you do choose to go in a supermarket, you will see that you are required to put 50 cents, 1€ or 2€ to use one of their shopping carts. You can push the coin out again when you return the cart from where you got it. (Definitely makes it unnecessary to have cart guys and people pushing them blocks and blocks away.)
2. You will notice that the cashiers all have seats. Although it makes sense for them not to stand, it was very weird for me since we are so use to seeing our cashiers stand.
3. They will almost always ask you for exact change and coins even when they have a cashier full of change! And then if you don't have change, they almost sneer at you with irritation.
4. Sometimes they round up or down a couple pennies so they won't give you your exact change. Mind you it is only one penny here and there, but it's also not right because it is still money.

1. In any of the large cities, remember what your mom ingrained in your head. Always look both left and right before crossing! Doesn't matter if the light is red for the cars or there is a pedestrian walkway, proceed with caution!
2. You have to take notice of how creative Italians get with their parking. Up a curb here, slanted there, it's an art...
3. If you drive, which I highly suggest you don't unless you are in rural areas, note that Italians are great at driving defensively but also do not obey the rules of the road. You will almost never see them drive within their own lane and honking comes as second nature to them.
4. Don't worry, they drive on the same side of the road as us. But, the United Kingdom doesn't... So don't forget to read the sidewalks to remind you to look right or left.
5. The freeways here are called "autostrada" and they are like toll roads to us. You need to retrieve a ticket to enter and pay when you exit.

1. If you are in line to buy a ticket, or buy bread or something of the sort and there are a lot of people and no number tickets to pull, be certain you will have someone who will cut in line like it's nobody's business. Drives me crazy!

1. Items listed on price tags are the price you pay. Taxes are already incorporated into the listed price so you don't have to account for another 9.25%.
2. Pricing is listed differently than in America. Let's just say commas are used instead of periods, and periods are used instead of commas. For example, $5,678.50 here in America would be written in Europe as €5.678,50 .... just in case you get confused.

Okay those are just a few I could think of at the top of my head. Italy is a beautiful place and there is no doubt you will have a great experience but like in any foreign place, the customs are different and tourists must always be cautious and on guard. Just a general rule of thumb for anyone who travels. Hope this helps a bit! Feel free to ask me any random questions you may have. =)