Tuscany 2017: For the “I don’t speak Italian” Traveler

I am in the bad habit of saying “merci!”, “gracias”, “gracias muchas”, when I want to be flippantly thankful. And si signor/signorita when I am feeling playful.

I learnt Swedish as an young adult. A process that stretched my patience, my self esteem & my intelligence to their thinnest. In my learning exhaustion, I have been very resistant to learn any new language in adulthood.

San Mignano wineryImagine my pleasure then, when I decided during this Tuscany trip that I will learn Italian! Even if I just manage to learn the basics, I will learn Italian.

It is not that Italians don’t speak English. Most Italians speak lots of good English. But; every day, we found someone who spoke very little English; like the little restaurant where we had the most wonderful quiet breakfast on our last day in Florence. The husband was totally dependent on his wife to listen to us & translate for him. It was a young-ish couple too!

Computer says No - Old Man
Foooor F#¤k’s sake!

We had booked a retreat to Diecimo Pescaglia in the Borgo a Mozano province. It is a nice hidden oasis hidden in the hills just 20-30minutes from Lucca. We arrived at the Diecimo-Pescaglia train station to find an abandoned station with an empty office. An old man was was approaching us at snail speed. Slower than snail speed. We were glad to wait because we needed to ask him if we could order a taxi or something to take us to Borgo Giusto Hotel. He eventually arrived. We said a jolly gracious Buongiorno! Buona sera! He answered back. In Italian.

We were so impressed with ourselves we looked at each other proudly. We then remembered why we had been waiting for him.

“Scusi signor, can we ask you how to get to Borgo Giusto?”

He stopped kindly to look at our printed booking, and read the address.

He said “I don’t know. I don’t recognize that. I cannot help you. Bye bye.” In Italian.

We, in unison asked “taxi?” we got kindly head shakes and finger wiggling.  “oh no. no taxis here. if you walk up the street there, you may find someone who speaks your language & can help you”. In Italian.

We turned in the direction he pointed & saw a man unloading his bags from the trunk of a red car. A Volvo. I am convinced that one of us said “oh! another tourist! we can ask him!” We dragged our 3 bags – we were 2 adults – towards the car. By the time we got to the car, the man had gone into the building. We thought it was a B&B so we were relaxed. There were 2 men standing outside, one quite old, another middle aged.

Scusi, can you help us call a taxi, call the hotel, or something to get here? – we were pointing at the print-out of our booking. Both men of different ages poked their noses into the paper, got into a long dialog with pointing wiggling fingers, head shakes and nods. “We don’t really know, but, it must be behind the hills. Far. And there are no taxis to take.” In Italian.

We: “English?” in english

Middle aged gentle man: “Non. a little French or German.” In Italian

What the holy f£$€!

Me a little edgy: “telefono” pointing at the telephone number to the hotel.

The gentlemen spoke among themselves a little more. heads shaking. laughter.

We were stamped. The oldest gentleman pointed at the younger man and says a lot. “he will drive you. That’s his car.” more pointing. “if anyone can find it, he can. He is great, fantastico, the guy pf the month!” In Italian.

Middle aged gentleman took our 3 bags to the car. We are young, we help out.

snaky circling roadWe had no idea what kind of contract we had signed or how much it would cost us. Trust in the lord. Or not. We needed to go places and someone was willing to take us there in any language. We got into the car.

Middle aged gentleman made a call on his mobile, spoke to a friend. In Italian.

“hola Montalbano! do you know where Borgo Giusto is!? two idiots I have to drive there! they seem nice, but totally lost. Can’t speak Italian either! Who doesn’t speak Italian??! Morons, that’s who. haha! siiiiii, round the bend? turn by the big oak? I know which one! oh ja, the yellow ones? they smell nice!” In Italian

For 15 minutes he spoke on the phone. We drove through a small village or market. I felt relieved. There were people here, behind the big hill. He hang up. And kept driving. Turned right into the bushes, by the big oak tree, on a winding road.

I am brought up in Africa. I am trained to depend on & trust other people’s kindness. Ubuntu. We are one, you live, I live, you die, I die. The wars for crude oil, land & other resources continue to rage in total disregard for ubuntu. My Swedish travel partner is brought up different. I have no idea how. He was fidgety, wondering if we really should trust this which we couldn’t understand. I kept my hand on his hand. To transmit calmness and trust.

Borgo Giusto ViewAfter 25-30 minutes drive, around the bend, after the old fig tree, we saw the hotel parking lot. A wonderful view, worth paying for. We were here. Since we didn’t know how much we agreed to pay, we gave our gentleman a note. It was not too big & not too small.

“no. it was my pleasure. I am glad we found it & that you are safe. Shall I help you with the bags?” In Italian.

We are Swedes, I say, My name is merry-traveler-1 and this is my person, calm-traveler-2, do you want to join us for a drink? In English. All is lost in translation. He drives off with a smile.

Weddings.
A couple taking photos in Florence. After their wedding I suppose. It is a universal language, isn’t it? the language of declaring eternal love to another person in all sorts of ways.

I am amazed at how much we can communicate with others without words. I am so happy to find that my childhood trust in basic kindness is intact. We are so humbled & thankful that with all the changes and online-lives, someone in Italy is still concerned about the safety of young people traveling in the unknown.

This happened to us so many times, I could write a story for every day. Not always someone driving us somewhere, but someone helping us out in Italian. Gladly, kindly & memorable.

Byron Lord.
I wonder if Lord Byron learnt Italian? […] But I have lived, and have not lived in vain:   My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire,   And my frame perish even in conquering pain;   But there is that within me which shall tire   Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire;   Something unearthly, which they deem not of,   Like the remember’d tone of a mute lyre,   Shall on their soften’d spirits sink, and move In hearts all rocky now the late remorse of love.
Tips:

  1. Dont need help
    Ask for help! you will need it. We all need help sometimes.
  2. Relax! I believe if you only ever speak with people who understand you on the first try, you never really learn patience or appreciation of the simple truths.
  3. Plan some margins in travel. That way, even if you are a little delayed by language hitches, you still have time to listen in another language. It is part of the experience.
  4. If you are even a dot of the control freak that I am, you need to relinquish control & trust in basic human kindness. All is well if you find one person who is willing to listen & reply; even in Italian.

Safe travels!

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Tuscany 2017: Street Art, real Art & Train Travel

I am back to the daily life, work and 460 mails to trudge through after 2 weeks away. Business as usual. It takes longer to get down to writing but I plan to be done with the Tuscany series before end of June.

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Preparations

Know yourself & what kind of traveler you are! It will help you pack & prepare to reduce stress.

For me, a neurotic home leaver, the best & worst part of traveling is packing before the trip. I love having all of my crap & shit around me. In case I need it. Mostly though, it is the shoes packing that gets me going off the hook. I want to pack, among other nice useless things; two pairs of pumps – red & black. In case I have to attend that very nice dinner that always happens when I am away and I always end up feeling under-dressed. Because of the shoes.

I also want to pack: all my other nice shoes except the training shoes. Nail polish. 3 colors of lipstick including a nude. All my jeans. All my nice tops. All my pretty dresses. All my nice pretty shorts. 3 kinds of sunscreen – 15 for cooler days, 30 for sunny nice days and 50 for hot scorching days. Just in case. All my hair brushes & combs; plus, my partner in travel laughs that I always want to pack my 2 hair dryers & 4 different sizes of flat irons. Who knows what to expect when away from home? right?

This time, I got away with loafers. I think I will keep to the loafers from now on. Easier to pack and easy to wear even on light walk days.

The thing with touring for us is we walk a lot. A lot! You know; because, & don’t go judging now, we can’t always find the places we are looking for at first try, OR, we can’t be bothered to have a plan so we just kinda:

 

Roam without roaming services.

Rest.

Eat.

Rest.

Take a cold bear or something in the middle of the day.

That kinda gets you tired so we:

Rest.

Roam a bit more and oh! hallelujah!

we always, many times, find something we always wanted to see.

Just like that.

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Art, Architecture & Obsessions

We are both street art interested. Graffiti.

We are always photographing that shit and cooing over how talented graffiti artists are. Even when traveling, we still can miss the Dome and see all this street art everywhere we walk & we walk A. LOT.

The featured image is a painting by Barbara Marchiori that we found in a gallery in Pistoia. That was a perfect, easy day trip while we were in Florence. 30 minutes on the train on a hot day, to the most wonderful lunch we had in Tuscany.

We wanted very much to see the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral & the  Il Duomo built by a “a buffoon and a babbler” as described by the guys who later hired him, Filippo Brunelleschi. We had watched a documentary about Brunelleschi before we left Stockholm and were looking forward to the Dome. We did not see it from the inside. At all. We saw it several times, from all angles, from the outside. And then we saw the drawings & designs of the dome at the Il Duomo Museum.

Brunelleschis Il DuomoBefore the trip, we were just interested, like “oh, how interesting is that!?”

Now, we are freaking enthusiasts. Dome lovers. We must go back to Florence to see this F#¤%&¤#G dome. It is beautiful & fascinating.

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Traveling in History to History

I think my grandfather’s stories have influenced my brain during travel. “Where you find water, you find people with plenty” he said. “Where there is water, there is enough for all so there is less animosity from the locals. And, they are used to travelers just ricketing in on rickety boats”. He reasoned. All ancient settlements that have formed our present lives were built near water. Wars fought, empires built, love found & made. The beginnings & ends of fantastic adventures on rickety boats.

My grandfather was an epic wanderer. Disappearing for months on end in a time without mobile phones and Facebook. Wandering through Africa. Taking the rickety boats to India or whatever place the boat would ricket to. Some times, we thought he could have died on one of his adventures. But then, he would wander right back to our home with all sorts of friends and stories.

Boy, did he tell stories about these escapades?!

So the first walk for me always is “let’s find the river/lake/sea!”

In Rome, we stayed to the east of the Tiber. To the west of the river, you find the Vatican. Just a walk by the Fiume Tevere is a walk very close to most of the places you want to see first. Looking at the Tiber is looking at the history of Rome.

We arrived to Florence on a hot afternoon,  so we found the Arno and walked by it in search of a good gelato. Plus, we really wanted to see the Ponte Vecchio where trade, all sorts of trade, has been ongoing since the middle ages. Some things should never change.

Find the bridges on the  map is my tip. Fiume=River. Ponte=Bridge.

Then you know when to cross & re-cross to wherever. If you have goals. If not, think a zigzag movement with the river as the middle point. Otherwise just go with the flow.

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Tips & Survival Tactics

We took the train to Firenze SMN Stazione (Santa Maria Novella) from ROMA Termini. That is so easy, you need no tips or heads up. Just go to the train stations with your credit card or some Euros and buy the ticket. Trains left on time & the trips were easy & pleasant with beautiful views of the Tuscany country side.

Tip: It is hard to see a country if you fly everywhere. Driving takes your focus from the fun outside. Take the train or the bus. Sit back & enjoy that someone else is taking you there. Close your book & look out the window.

Mindfulness. Mindfulness. Mindfulness. Mindfulness. Mindfulness. Mindfulness.

Unlike Rome where we stayed at the Massimo D’Azeglio hotel, in Firenze we stayed at the Le Stanze del Duomo B&B. Both highly recommended. Since both are quite central, we could walk all day and come home in the evening exhausted, fed, fed up, drunk, happy, pissy; basically anything without any problems. Both are also very close to regular supermarkets with late closing hrs (22:00) so we could buy bites, water, wine etc to take away to the room when we couldn’t be bothered with the “Go out & eat” farce.

Tip: Find your go to places for essentials such as water, aspirin, sun screen, wine, beer or whatever rocks your rickety boat.

We had a map with us, which I can read to 70% proximity, and a red pen to mark places, of course. My partner’s eye rolled almost every time I said “we turn right!” My map reading can spice the walking a great deal. He is good with the “well done! you are a life saver! what would I do without you?!” part when I get it right though.

Tip: A supportive travel partner is essential; otherwise, go it alone if you want to enjoy the trip.

I lied, I had my training shoes with me. For all the walking. Asics in black, red & white bought in 2015.

Tip: Take your trainers or comfort shoes with you! They will save your life.

Next entry: Tuscany 2017:  For the “I don’t speak Italian smile smile” Traveler