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Siena, Italy

Siena is a medium size town in the Tuscan region. It has a great piazza in the center and several beautiful churches. The piazza is where Italians and tourists meet to sit and talk or have a gelato. There are restaurants and bars around the edge of this piazza. It is a large piazza.

On July 2 and August 16 the famous horse race is run (il Palio), There are 13 Contrade or city wards that compete but only 10 of the 13 get to race. Ten horses and ten men race bareback around the piazza’s edge three times. The winner holds the honor for a year. The edge of the piazza is transformed into a dirt horse track. The center has areas for people of each Contrade to stand and watch as horses race around them.


– George

Categories: Bars, BLOG, Eating Italian, Enoteca, Europe, Food, Gelato, General Travel, Il Palio, Italian, Italy, Italy BLOGs, Ristorante, Romance, Shopping, Siena, Small Towns, Tuscany, VLOG, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Two Important Large Cities of Italy

Two great large cities in Italy are Rome and Florence. This doesn’t mean Naples, Bologna and Milan are not great or important. Italy has four categories of city that we love:

  1. Large cities – These are Milan, Bolgna, Florence, Rome and Naples
  2. Famous smaller cities – Venice, Verona, Capri, Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, Salerno, Palermo
  3. Mountain Towns – There are so many of these from good size cities to very small towns that we could not begin to list them.
  4. Seaside Towns – Again way too many of these as well. These are towns that are on the sea and not in any other category above.

Today we look at two of the large cities in Italy that we have VLOGGED on:

Rome

Roma is the capitol of Italy and is a very cosmopolitan city. Roma has subways (the Metro), busses, and taxis. Driving in the historic central is difficult and illegal without a pass. If you are staying at a hotel in the center you can get a pass. Streets are crazy. One ways going against where you want to go. We once mapped walking to a place in Roma but had the GPS on driving by mistake. It took much longer to drive it than walk it.

Roma has everything a tourists needs:

  • Great restaurants (Bars, Ristorante, and Trattorias)
  • Museums
  • Architecture – Roma is one big outdoor museum
  • Parks
  • Shopping

Walk with us in our video below and see the famous sites of Roma. Walk the small narrow streets and see the wide large avenues. Roma is to be studied slowly with a glass or two of wine. Study it, observe its people, enjoy its sites, marvel at its museums and pay attention to its fashion. Place your hand into the mouth of truth if you dare (Bocca della Verità).

Florence

Firenze is another very modern cosmopolitan city with all the forms of transportation as Roma. The museums are unreal (the renaissance started here). A visit to Firenze is incomplete without a visit to the Uffizi museum. Learn about how the Medici leaders travelled in secret from their offices (Uffizi Museum today) to their palace (Palazzo Medici Riccardi). Climb the stairs to a vista overlooking the city central and walk across the Ponte Vecchio bridge. See Saint Peter’s Basilica and Vatican City (An independent country not part of Italy where the Pope is President). Come walk with us and see all of this and more in the video below.

Be Romantic! Visit Italy!

– George

Categories: Bars, Beach Resorts, BLOG, Bocca della Verità, Bologna, Capri, Driving in Italy, Eating, Eating Italian, Europe, Florence, Food, General Travel, Italian, Italy, Italy BLOGs, Metro Travel, Milan, Mountain Towns, Museums, Naples, Planning a vacation, Ponte Vecchio, Positano, Ristorante, Romance, Rome, sea, Shopping, Small Towns, Sorrento, Spanish Steps, Taxi, Towns, Trains, Traveling without a tour, Uffizi, Vatican City, Venice, Verona, VLOG, Walking, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Buying a Place in Italy

We decided to do a series of BLOGs on our experience in buying a house in Italy. We are not saying that the way we did it, will be for everyone. It did work for us and we are very happy with the decision. Many books talk about the horrible red tape in dealing with Italy but we had a very smooth ride through the whole process. Things do go slower in Italy which is really good for your health and blood pressure. The main advice is to remember things are done differently there than here. So relax and enjoy the experience …

We started looking in Tuscany (as all Americans do) but the prices are just too high. We wanted it all, a Seaview, a mountain view, a nice place with modern conveniences, a real Italian city void of tourists and the right price. Impossible right? Well we got it all and at our budget. We saw a place that was in a newly constructed building (a rarity in Italy) and it had fantastic mountain and a Seaview. It was a few kilometers from the beach. When we saw the price we thought it must be a time share but it was to purchase. It is a building with 4 units per floor and two main floors. There was a penthouse occupied by one of the owners children and two more units in the basement opening out onto the yard.

We actually put a non refundable down-payment on it without seeing it in person. We walked the city it is in on Google Earth and the beach towns near by but never went to see it first hand. Finally iin May of 2013 we were on the Amalfi coast on our honeymoon and met the realtor and made the 1.5 hour trip south to the small town of Velina. We saw it for the first time. It is VERY small but the views are to die for. No kitchen or closets which are normal in Europe. We loved it.

Over the next 6 months we had a kitchen installed, a bed and a table with chairs. We then went to stay in our place for the first time over Thanksgiving. We bought a love seat and wo chairs which can be used inside or taken out on to our deck to enjoy the views. Having wine and cheese out on the deck was what it was all about. We couldn’t wait to explore the area.

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Our beautiful new home

We had to get closing money from dollars to Euros and from our American bank account to an Italian one. At closing you need the equivalent here of a certified check (actually two – one to the people you are buying from and one to the person doing the closing and covering taxes etc.). This was quite a chore! First, as I have said in this BLOG, exchange rates were high when we bought. Banks tack on 4-10% extra on a transaction. If you are getting $1,000 to $2,000 for vacation it is bad but too bad. If you are moving $100,000 plus it really hurts. I investigated how to get around this. I found a company in the UK that lets you wire dollars to them (no bank fees at this end) and buys Euros for you. They deal in billions of Euros so they give you the World Bank Rates (no extra fees added on) for large sums of money. We did not yet have an Italian bank account because our country requires foreign banks to only open accounts for Americans if they are present. The UK firm held the money and we departed on our honeymoon to Italy.

We were scheduled to open an Italian bank account in Positano the second week of our trip. Then I would text the account number to the UK and our money (in Euros now) would be transferred. After meeting with the bank manager in Positano, he informed us that we can not open an account at his branch because we did not live in Positano. He suggested going to the branch near our new home in Agropoli (1.5 hours away). We were scheduled to go and see the new place on that Wednesday but closing was Saturday in Rome. Not much time for error. We went to Agropoli and had no problems opening an account. I wired the UK the account number and they transferred the money instantly. The catch is Italian banks don’t always deposit wired monies instantly. Thursday came and no money yet. Friday showed our money. So we did it with no room for error.

Now we had to go back to the branch in Positano (where we were staying) to the manager that had rejected us and get the required certified checks. To our amazement he did it quickly and with no problems. The next day Saturday we drove to Rome (about 3.5 hours). We checked into a hotel for one night (we had a morning flight back to the states on Sunday). At closing we met the owner and his family and the man doing the closing. Our realtor was our translator. All documents were in both Italian and English. The family we bought from was Gina Lollobrigida’s family (her cousin). The closing went well. We were asked questions and owner stipulated our parking spot and the fact that we could use the common property. Everything was written in the official document describing the property. Monies were paid and we were given a set of keys. After closing we all went to a bar for a coffee. È normale!

The saddest thing for us was getting on a plane back to the States with a set of keys to an Italian house we had never used.

There is no kitchen or furniture in our new place. It would be like camping out with a bathroom to stay like this (Jo is not a camper – She has always told be camping is staying in a Hilton with only one bathroom). So we look for a kitchen. Kitchens come in modular form with cabinets, sink, refrigerator, stove and cook top. You can also get a dish washer at the expense of cabinets. We decide on not getting a dishwasher. We did not like the kitchens in the other units of our place. Our condo manager (the owner’s daughter) helps us remotely. We look at kitchen places in Rome but delivery is way too expensive. Maria manages to find a wood cabinet (dark stain) kitchen with everything we want.

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We have a new kitchen

She negotiates a kitchen with a table and 6 chairs for the price of the kitchen. We then decide to get a bed (mattress and frame – Italians do not use a box spring) from the same place. They come and install the kitchen and setup our bed. We are not ready to come back to Velina without camping out.

We find online that our Home Land Security requires a form documenting any foreign deposits over $50,000. If your account had $50,000 or more, even for a day, you must declare it. This is NOT an IRS form. So I download the form and fill it out. The fines are huge if you are caught without doing this. We are now ready for our Thanksgiving in Velina Italy.

As we get familiar with our town, we keep staring at the views all around us. We look like tourists that have never seen a beach or mountains. The views are so spectacular here. The weather is tropical and always great. Some mornings we wake to see snow on the mountains around us. We are interested in buying some furniture to sit on in our unit. We want some that can be taken out on the deck as well as be inside. There are many furniture stores around us (called Mobili in Italian which literally means furnishings). We find a store with very interesting furniture next to our supermercato. It is closed but we window shop and make a note to return after 4 pm when everything reopens. This store has everything. In Italy they don’t like to turn the heat on in the winter. The manager of the store greets us (Buon Giorno) with a heavy coat on. It is actually much colder inside these thick walls than outside where it is mild. We look at bedroom sets as well but decide to buy these at a later time. We do find a wicker set that has two chairs, a table and a love seat. It’s a perfect size for our small apartment.

I ask the man if they take credit cards (carte di credito). But he says only cash (solo contanti). We have an Italian ATM card for our Italian Bank Account and we know there is an ATM in town. He loads the furniture onto his truck without any payment and follows us into town. We stop to get the cash and he continues to follow us up the hill to our place. He unloads all the furniture and carries it up to our unit refuting any help. He waits for us to arrange it and sit on it and smile. He then accepts the payment. Why are we so shocked when people act so kind?

After taking all the wrappings off the pillows and seat cushions, we arrange the furniture about 5 times. It fits perfect and looks great.

The Condo and the Mountain beyond

It provides us with ample seating inside to relax and when we take it outside we can have some wine and cheese while we take in the views. This is Italy! Life moves at a slower more enjoyable rate. We can feel the tensions drain off after a few days. We are Italians while we are here. We shop only for today and maybe tomorrow morning. We buy only what is grown or made fresh. Italians take a lot of pride in their food and will only buy what is made in Italy. This very small place seems adequate and almost spacious as we settle into Italian life. Life is good.

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The New Furniture

The furniture is portable so we can move it out onto our deck to enjoy the views.

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Categories: Amalfi Coast, Banking, Beaches, Campania, Casal Velino, Cash, Cilento, Closing a property in Italy, Europe, Food, General Travel, Italian, Italian Banks, Italy, Mountains, Owning a home in Italy, Shopping, Small Towns, Southern Italy, Traveling without a tour, Velina, World Bank Rates | Tags: , | 6 Comments

Positano, Italy

It is true that I left my heart in Positano! It is a city of much beauty. There is something special about this wonderful place. Every time I return, I feel I am returning home again. When you see it first from an overlook on the Amalfi Coast Road or from the sea on a ferry, you realize it is a city built on the side of a steep cliff. How could they have done this? There are two roads and one is the Amalfi coast Road that skirts the town. The other is a one way road that starts high up on the cliffs at the Amalfi Coast Road and winds its way down into the city and then out to the Amalfi Coast Road again.

This is a seaside city of great shops and restaurants. It has views at every turn. There are two beaches (the small and the large). The large beach has ferries to Naples, Capri and to many towns along the Amalfi Coast. This is a relaxing town designed to spend time in and enjoy. Shop the small stores, eat in the wonderful restaurants, spend time at the beaches. The most important thing is to be romantic and enjoy yourself. Buon viaggio…

– George

Categories: Amalfi Coast, Beaches, Campania, Capri, Church, Europe, Ferries, Food, General Travel, Italian, Italy, Lemoncello, Mountain Towns, Mountains, Planning a vacation, Positano, Ristorante, Romance, Shopping, Small Towns, Southern Italy, Travel Guides, Traveling without a tour, Trottoria, Walking, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rome, Italy

The eternal city! Ancient Romans believed that no matter how many wars or new civilizations came about, Rome would go on forever. Rome is the capital of Italy. It is both a modern and an ancient city. Although Rome is a large city, it feels like a small one with its small narrow streets. There are large streets as well that are 5-6 lanes wide. Walking around Rome is amazing. You can not help but marvel at its architecture. You know immediately that you are in an old and special place.

Whenever they dig for a new building, they run into ancient ruins that have to be preserved. Usually the ruins become a part of the new structure.  A sunken area that can be viewed by visitors. Rome protects its ruins and its history. Roman is an amazing city but it is also a living museum.

Rome is to be enjoyed. Sit at a bar or a trattoria and enjoy the life around you. Come walk Rome with us in our YouTube video VLOG below.

– George

 

Categories: Coliseum, Eating Italian, Europe, Food, Gelato, General Travel, Italian, Italy, Lazio, Metro Travel, Museums, Pantheon, Romance, Rome, Saint Peter's Basilica, Shopping, Spanish Steps, Traveling without a tour, Villa Borghese, Walking, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Alberobello, Puglia, Italy

Alberobello is the best known and most touristy of the Trulli home cities. There is a large section that consists only of Trulli homes. The city is divided into two parts: 1) the main part of the city with its white buildings and the cathedral and 2) the Trulli section. The city is walkable as is the Trulli area. The Trulli area consists of small narrow streets that are pedestrian and moped only. This is a fairytale land worth spending time in.

Come see this enchanted city and walk with us through the Trulli homes. If you enjoy these VLOGs, please like it on YouTube and subscribe.

– George Febish

Categories: Adriatic Sea, Alberobello, Bari, Cooking, Europe, Food, General Travel, Italian, Italy, Puglia, Shopping, Southern Italy, Traveling without a tour, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Isle of Capri’s Anacapri

Anacapri is the other city on Capri Isle. It is smaller, quieter and less hustle bustle. You can drive, hire a car or taxi or take the bus from Capri. We chose the bus. Near the top of the funicular is a bus station with busses to various attractions on the isle. The bus to Anacapri leaves from here and winds up a mountain to reach this city. Along the way are many wonderful vistas. You can sea the sea, the large marina far below and in the distant Mount Vesuvious. You get off in the center where you can catch a bus back to Capri.

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Anacapri

Walk the small streets and look at the restaurants and bars. Try to decide what to have for lunch in an hour or two. Look into the ceramic shops. We bought a very large spaghetti dish and they packed it for travel. We placed it in our suitcase and hoped for the best. It survived perfectly. The ceramics are made in this town and hand painted. They are all unique and beautiful.

One of the streets from the center leads down through these stores and restaurants to a small piazza with a church. Walking here is like mediating. It is quiet and peaceful. Enjoy this time before returning to the hustle bustle of massive tourists in Capri. This street has many tourists but beyond the piazza with the church are mostly locals.

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Someone house and the center of town at bus stop

On the way back to the center, we decided to eat lunch. We had seen a small restaurant/bar on the way that served food out a window to you on the street. We got two panini, a drink and a fabulous desert. The owners talk with you at the window. Everything is made in front of you and is very delicious.

Finally we were on the bus back to Capri with our dish in hand. The ride down is less dramatic as you are mostly on the mountain side of the road and not the cliff side. We arrived back at the bus station and began our stroll through the beautiful city of Capri once again. You could hear many different languages being spoken, Music, laughter and the clang of dishes at the restaurants and bars. This is what I love about Italy. It is always alive and full of life and fun. All you have to do is place yourself in it and enjoy it.

This is an Isle that is easy to be romantic. You feel it everywhere. You see couples in love all around you. Hold hands with your partner and enjoy your life.

Next BLOG will talk about why you want to spend the night in Capri.

George

 

Categories: Anacapri, Bars, Cafè, Campania, Capri, Ceramics, Eating, Eating Italian, Food, Funicular, General Travel, Italian, Italy, Mount Vesuvious, Mountain Towns, Panini, Romance, Shopping, Small Towns, Traveling without a tour, Walking | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Walking Rome

When Jo Anne and I were in Rome (Jo’s first trip to Italy but I had been there many times), we wanted to really experience the city. There is no better way than walking! Rome has excellent metro and bus services that will get you anywhere you want but walking lets you be a Roman. You experience this great city first hand. All the important sites are walkable if you can walk a few miles.

We stayed centrally at Hotel Trevi just around the corner from the Trevi fountain. This is a hard hotel to find even with some cab drivers but worth a stay. It has been getting more popular and the price is going up. From Trevi fountain you can easily see:

  • Spanish Steps and shopping by the steps
  • Villa Borghese
  • Pantheon
  • Trastevere
  • Vatican City
  • Castel San Angelo
  • Forum
  • Old Rome
  • Coliseum
  • Piazza Navona
  • Basilica San Clemente

As you walk to these wonderful tourist attractions, take in the buildings, architecture, streets and people around you. Stop in a bar for a coffee or glass of wine. Hear the motorcycles and scooters all around you. Listen to the music of the Italian language. This is Rome! This is Italy! It must be enjoyed on the streets with the people.

Never stop in a tourist restaurant (any place very close to one of the above attractions). Seek out small family run trattoria that are full of locals enjoying their meal. People eat later in Italy than in the states (except large cities like New York).

Breakfast is usually at a bar on the run. You have a coffee and sweet roll or cake as you catch up on gossip and sports with friends. Lunch is at a pizzeria or trattoria and is taken around 1 or 2 pm. Dinner is much later around 8 or 9 in Rome. Farther south dinner can be as late as 11 pm. Restaurants will open for tourists around 7 or 7:30 pm. The terrible tourist only places stay open all day.

I love strolling these ancient streets, meeting modern-day Romans and partaking in their ancient customs. Let Rome take you away. Enjoy it fully. Don;t be afraid of it. There are pick-pockets everywhere but violent crime is very rare. As you return to your hotel, review what you did that day. Relive each important moment. These are memories you will enjoy for the rest of your life.

Be Romantic …

 

George

 

Categories: Bars, Coffee, Coliseum, Eating, Eating Italian, Europe, Food, General Travel, Italian language, Italy, Metro Travel, Pantheon, Pastry, Pizza, Planning a vacation, Romance, Rome, Shopping, Traveling without a tour, Trevi Fountain, Trottoria, Walking, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

8 Reasons to Travel to Italy

I never feel I need a reason to go to Italy but for those that have never been there here are some reason to plan a vacation there:

  1. Food – I speak a lot about the food in Italy but it is truly amazing. It is mostly organic, healthy, tasty and delicious. Italians do not like to mix a lot of different flavors together. The flavors are subtle and make you want more. It is NOT the same as Italian food in other countries. We think of spaghetti and meatballs as Italian but it is NOT! You can find it in tourist areas but not in real Italian restaurants. Rule: Do not eat in tourist areas. It will not be the real thing and will be more expensive. Get out of these areas and discover the real food of Italy.
  2. Wine – Again, I speak a lot about the wines of Italy. Try them! Other a carafe or 1/2 carafe of the local red or white wine. They are light and delicious. Go to an Enoteca and taste several wines while enjoying some small plates of food. Bars serve local wines as well. Rule: Order by the carafe not by the bottle.
  3. Museums – Italy has more museums than anyone could possibly visit. While in the major cities, see the well know museums. In smaller cities seek out their museums. I was once in a small town that was famous for its mushrooms. They discovered that the people who died and were buried did not decompose. There was a museum with real bodies you could see and touch if you wanted to. Rule: See the important museums but don’t miss the small ones.
  4. Churches – Italy has so many churches and bars. Each city usually has one dominant church usually a Duomo (Cathedral) and several smaller churches. Go inside the churches and look at the walls, ceilings and floors. That are true works of art. Go into the basements and crypts, If you can go onto the roof (Duomo in Milan) do it! Rule: Do not pass by churches! They are often the best museums around.
  5. History – Italy is for you if you are a history buff. Many battles were fought here. Before Italy was united into a country it was many warring cities. Don’t be afraid to visit the small cities you see from the road. Stop into the local bar for a coffee and paster or a sandwich. Walk the streets and see the church. The Romans had a major influence on our world. Were better to study this than Italy. Rule: Get out of the major cities to see the real Italy.
  6. Shopping – This is Jo Anne’s favorite part of Italy. There are small mom & pop shops everywhere that still sell quality items for a fair price. The chains are coming but not that prevalent yet. Rule: Give your business to the small shop owners.
  7. People – Italians are very friendly and want to communicate with you. If you don’t know any Italian say Buon Giorno when you pass people on the street during the day. From sunset on you say Buona Sera. Buona Notte is only used for the last time when you are retiring for the night. When you reach out to Italians they will respond back to you. Rule: Try to communicate to people and they will try to communicate back.
  8. The Countryside – Italy is truly beautiful. Its mountains, volcanos and seaports are majestic. You will see small villages built high up on a mountain or on a great beach. No visit should be done without a visit to the countryside. If you are going mostly to Italy’s major cities, take a train, bus or car out into the countryside. Rule: Get out into the countryside and explore. There are treasures here.

Italy is to be enjoyed. You will love it if you go there knowing you are visiting a foreign country that does things different from elsewhere. Don’t compare your country to Italy. They are different. Don’t look for food from home. Eat Italian. Be polite and Courteous. You will enjoy your visit so much better.

Buon Viaggio …

George

 

 

Categories: Bars, Beaches, Duomo, Eating Italian, Enoteca, Europe, Food, General Travel, Italian Facts, Italy, Mountain Towns, Museums, Ristorante, Shopping, Small Towns, Traveling without a tour, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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