Category Archives: Destinations

When you are in Italy, NEVER EVER…….

Are you looking forward to your next trip to Italy?

Do you already imagine yourself sitting at a bar in the sun, sipping on your espresso or eating gelato and enjoying “la dolce vita”? 😉

Milano bar
Milano bar

In this case, and if you do not want to look like a truly unexperienced Italy-traveler, you should know just a couple of small little “don’t’s”.

When you are in Italy, NEVER EVER………

  • drink Cappuccino after lunchtime
  • ask what types of coffee they have in a bar (for any further information on this I recommend to read this POST)
  • try to pay for your coffee at the barkeepers, there is always a cash-desk where you can pay for your coffee before ordering it
  • order coffee and complain if you get an espresso
  • complain that the coffee is too strong
  • think “antipasto” is only cold meat and cheese
  • use cheese on fish (even if it comes with a pasta)
  • await a salad with dressing (you have oil, vinegar, salt and pepper on the table and two hands to help yourself)
  • await some sides with the main dish, if you want to have some fries you have to order them
  • ask for a doggy-bag
  • await an extensive breakfast buffet at hotels. Italians only eat sweet in the morning, so often you will have plenty of sweet dishes and not much choices for a salty breakfast.
  • eat spaghetti with a spoon
  • cut spaghetti with the knife
  • order pizza with pineapple
  • order ice-cream by telling how many scoops (or worse: balls) you want. There are just different sizes of cones or cups.
  • drink anything with milk after dinner
  • ask for the bill seated at a table and then split the costs
  • complain about the extra “coperto” costs on the restaurants bill. This can normally be seen as the “tip”.
  • take a seat at the restaurant without waiting to be seated
  • walk around in a city with sunscreen all over your body
  • wear flip-flops when you go out at night
  • wonder why Italians wear sunglasses even at night
  • wear Bermuda shorts in the evening
  • make mafia jokes
  • use random movements of the hands to speak
  • ask for indications by trying to translate every single word with a dictionary. Italians are not patient enough.
  • say “spaghettis”: spaghetti is already the plural word of spaghetto
  • say “gnocchis”: gnocchi is already the plural word of gnocco
  • say “tortellinis”: tortellini is already the plural word of tortellino, or better: tortello
  • say “expresso”: it is espresso. Or caffè.
  • say “ciao” to formally greet someone. Better say “buongiorno”.

And now… ENJOY!!! 😉

Typical italian breakfast
Typical Italian breakfast

Fall in love with Venice in Winter

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In 2016 Venice’s reputation as one of the most romantic cities on earth is unwavering. As Dean Van Es, the CEO of Fast Cover travel insurance who travelled to Venice in September said, “some 50 million people pass through Venice each year, though the majority appear to travel during the summer months.” Travel there in summer and you’ll spend a lot of time queuing. Travel in winter and you’ll get a rare experience of the beautiful city.

In winter the air is crisp and you avoid the odour you can get in summer from the stagnant waterways. Yes it can be nearly freezing (at its coldest in January the temperature can drop to around 4 degrees Celsius) but not having any queues to some of the world’s most famous sites is well worth it.

Numerous must-see sites are crammed into a small and easily navigated area in Venice. Saint Mark’s Basilica, where you can see dazzling gold leaf covered domes and mosaics, is right next to the spectacular Doge’s palace. Inside the towering Palace are magnificent paintings covering the walls and floors. The Sala del Maggior (Grand Council Hall), where hundreds of painted people in different scenes cover the walls, is sure to blow you away. Especially when there’s not a single tourist blocking your view.
Venice
Besides a gondola ride to see the waterways (which can be expensive- around 53 Euro/ 59 USD / $80AUD) you can explore Venice entirely on foot. Come during the Carnivale festival and every pathway will be covered in colourful stalls, with dozens selling beautifully decorated masks. You can walk from Saint Marks to the Rialto Bridge in about ten minutes. Santa Maria della Salute, where you’ll get a picturesque view of Venice, is another half an hour walk away. There’s no reason to be worried about the distance you’ll be covering during the day, as there’s amazing restaurants you can stop in to refuel.

There are various Italian delicacies to try while in Venice. During the day you can warm up with a thick, Venetian hot chocolate. And of course there are a wide range of different pizzas and pastas to try throughout the day, from creamy carbonara and risotto to fresh tomato and basil dishes. A tiramisu and a glass of prosecco is the perfect way to round off an evening meal. In winter you’ll also likely find outdoor bars where you can grab a cup of mulled wine or cider to warm up on your way to your hotel, bed and breakfast or hostel.
Travelling to Venice in winter is also significantly cheaper, as the costs of accommodation go down. Rather than going for the cheaper hostel option, you can treat yourself to a bed and breakfast which will provide comfortable rooms and a buffet each morning to start your day.

Many travellers only spend a day or two in Venice. However, this can mean rushing between historical sites. It is easy to spend three days exploring the city at a leisurely pace. With fewer people to contend with in the narrow alleyways through the city, you’ll find yourself completely lost in experiencing Venice.
Venice

The hidden Soul of Milan

Duomo di Milano - Dome of Milan, Stylized
Duomo di Milano – Dome of Milan, Stylized

A man dressed in a working overall rushes to the door of the train and wants to jump off while the doors close and the train departs. He did not make it in time to get off. I wonder if he realized too late that he is sitting in the wrong train, but then I see him going to an American woman, handing her ticket back and saying “è partito” (it has departed) with a sorry face. All is clear for me at this point: he wanted to jump off to stamp the ticket for her. In Italy you have to always stamp the train ticket before entering the train. If she had asked me I would have told her that all the stamping machines are broken on this track and I didn’t have the chance to stamp it too.

I keep thinking about this man, trying to help her to the point of risking to lose the train himself. This is part of the Italian hospitality. The American woman is a guest and he is at home here.

This is also why I rarely get to pay for my food when I invite someone for a business lunch or dinner in Italy. Even if I am the one inviting, I still remain the guest.

“In Milan I do not really feel like a guest” – I think while the train takes me away from the city where I lived for around 6 years to bring me to the airport.

View from dirty train window on the train to Milan Malpensa Airport
View from dirty train window – On the train to Milan Malpensa Airport

The city I loved and the city I hated. The city that embraces all the guests but can also be very cruel and give you the sensation of real loneliness.

I think I went away because of this feeling of loneliness. It felt like being with the person you love but who ignores you. I went away to make the point of my life. And it was the best choice ever. Sometimes you need to force yourself to leave the things you love in order to rearrange your relationship. I am not sure you can say this about a place where you live, but that’s how I felt.

Milano, Navigli Area - This is where I mostly feel at home
Milano, Navigli Area – This is where I mostly feel at home

I never lost my love for Milan and the enthusiasm to show the city to all visitors that come here with me, because Milan is often not very appealing for the guests coming for the first time without knowing the city. You have to know someone who makes you “live” the city, who explains the spirit to you. I had the luck to be able to show the city to many friends, and they all discovered a new face of the city – they all loved the city like me.

I am here often for work now and I always have mixed feelings when I arrive, but also when I leave like I am doing now. A mix of excitement and sadness.

Ok, maybe this post seems not to have much to do with travel but for me it still has.

It shows the feelings one can have for a city.

It shows how friendly Italians can be in regards to strangers.

And it has a recommendation: go to Milan with someone who knows the city and the Milanese lifestyle – you’ll love it!

Spectacular flight from Milan to Cologne, overlooking the Swiss Alps
Spectacular flight from Milan to Cologne, overlooking the Swiss Alps

Here are some hidden angles of Milan:

Rainy Navilgio Grande
Rainy Naviglio Grande

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House with banana-trees on the Naviglio Grande
House with banana-trees on the Naviglio Grande

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The new supermodern Milano Porta Nuova area
The new supermodern Milano Porta Nuova area

 

Feeling like an ancient Greek in Selinunte, Sicily

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Selinunte is one of the biggest archeological sites in Europe. The former name of the city was Selinon, which means wild parsley. It is located in the province of Trapani, on the south coast of western Sicily, on a high plateau about 30 meters above sea level – with a wonderful view of the Sicilian coastline.

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It has been founded by Greek colonists from Megara Hyblaea which crossed Sicily around 650 b.C.
The Acropolis has been built on a steep rock slope of the coast for defense reasons.

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The city center has been built above the acropolis, and offered accommodation for around 10‘000 inhabitants. 5 Temples have been built on the lower parts of the area – unfortunately only ruins are left over now. The few columns left are so impressive that one can easily imagine the incredible buildings of ancient times.

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Furthermore, you can visit 2 Necropolises and further 3 Temples.

The biggest building is the Temple G, which has been dedicated to Zeus. It is 110 x 50 meters long.

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The location is stunning: you can perfectly imagine how life could have been in Selinon in that era. Wonderful flowers are still growing in between big Aloe Vera plants that offer you some precious shadow. I immediately imagined myself sitting underneath this plants dressed with a Greek tunic, sipping on my drink, with a cool breeze from the sea, looking down to the golden beaches.

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But back to real life: The huge archeological area is too big to visit completely by foot (it is an area of around 1 km).

You can buy a ticket for the buggies which bring you from the Acropolis to the Necropolis and the Antiquarium. It is a hop on and hop off system that gives you the freedom to be as fast or slow as you want – and if you arrive there on one of the hottest days of August around midday (like me), they have an extra cooling effect thanks to the wind. You just have to trust the drivers’ sporty driving-style! 😉

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Caffè all’Italiana – Instructions Manual.

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There is nothing better than starting the day the Italian way: you go to the bar around the corner where you meet all your neighbors and have a traditional colazione (breakfast), which is a cornetto (Croissant) and a coffee, of course standing at the counter.

Italian breakfast: Cappuccino and croissant
Italian breakfast: Cappuccino and croissant

But coffee is not just coffee.

There is a big ritual behind this apparently easy way to have breakfast and I first noticed when I had some German guests with me in Italy. I observed this for a while and I noticed that tourists are often confused and intimidated, while baristas are often bothered by every kind of hesitation during the ordering ritual. I have come to the conclusion that there must be some kind of guide.

First of all: you can’t go to the barista straight away just ordering “un caffé”. If you do this (and I saw this quite often) he will look at you as if you were an alien.

You have to first go to the cashier to get your receipt. The cashier is usually sitting somewhere at one end of the counter or even hidden in one corner of the bar. After you have proudly managed to find him, you have to tell him what you want.
You go back to the barista with the receipt and again: you can’t just say “un caffé”. You have to know what kind of coffee. And please don’t ask him what kind of coffee he has to offer. Don’t even dare asking for a list. You just have to know.

First thing to know: if you ask for a normal “caffé” it will be an Espresso. But here again, I have been told by a non-Italian friend that she ordered just a “caffé”, expecting an Espresso but the barista automatically thought that – as she is a stranger – she surely wants a coffee in a big cup. Let’s consider this an exception. “Caffé” in Italy is an Espresso.

Espresso cup
Espresso Cup

The coffee in a big cup, which is a “regular coffee” in many other (especially northern) countries, is called “Caffé Americano” in Italy. You normally cannot expect a filter coffee, brewed with coffee in a filter and hot water. In most Italian bars “Caffé Americano” is brewed using the regular Espresso coffee machines, just using more water.

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But if you look around you in the bar, you easily notice everyone is ordering something different. There are at least 50 different types of Italian coffee. Here are the most common types:

  • Caffè Espresso, or “caffè normale” in Italy.
  • Caffè Americano – coffee in a big cup (in a cup Italians would use for drinking tea).
  • Caffè decaffeinato – decaffeinated Espresso coffee.
  • Caffè in vetro – served in a glass cup instead of the classical small porcelain cup.
  • Caffè corto (or ristretto) – is a very much reduced coffee, so called “short” Espresso since sometimes there are just some drops of very intense coffee left in your cup. It gives you the maximum of the coffee aroma and not too much caffeine. It is a very Italian way to drink the coffee; you hardly find it anywhere else.
  • Caffè lungo – is a long Espresso, created by adding some more water to the Espresso but still served in a small Espresso cup. Even if not so strong, it contains more caffeine.
  • Caffè macchiato caldo – Is a regular Espresso with a “spot” (macchia) of warm foamy milk.
  • Caffè macchiato freddo – is a regular Espresso, with a drop of cold milk.
  • Latte Macchiato – Is served in a big glass and consists mostly of milk (around 80%), with a small amount of Espresso coffee.
  • Caffè corretto, is an Espresso with some grappa or other liquor.
  • Cappuccino (so called “Cappuccio” in the Milan area) – I think I don’t need to explain that. Always remember: real Italian Cappuccino does not have cream on top but always milk foam.
    And please – please – don’t order a Cappuccino after lunch or dinner. Even if many restaurants are now used to “these tourists” ordering a Cappuccino after dinner… it remains something you only drink for breakfast in Italy!
    You can absolutely order an Espresso after dinner.
    If you can not make it without your Cappuccino, then order a Marocchino. That’s similar, just smaller.
  • Marocchino – Is often served in a small cup made of glass, it is like a small Cappuccino but with some chocolate powder.

    Marocchino
    Marocchino
  • Caffè d’Orzo – Barley coffee. You don’t use coffee beans in this.
  • Caffè Doppio Lungo – Double “caffé lungo” (see above)
  • Caffè Doppio Ristretto – Double “caffé ristretto” (see above)
  • Caffellatte – Coffee with milk. The difference to the Cappuccino is that it is served in a regular glass instead of a cup
  • Caffè alla Nocciola – Coffee with nut aroma.
  • Caffè al Ginseng – Coffee with ginger aroma.
  • Mocaccino – classical Cappuccino, but with some hot chocolate.
  • Caffè Shakerato – coffee and ice cubes shaked with a shaker.

One last thing: if you drink your coffee standing at the counter it will cost less than seated.

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Coffee1However, don’t worry too much. You cannot leave Italy without a real coffee in a bar. It is a great experience, not only for the taste of it!

 

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