Posts Tagged ‘travel in italy’

Travel in Italy: the Weather and Mother Nature

February 23, 2010

Tuscan Weather? Not Always...

As a person who can be a bit of a geek, I have always looked up weather patterns and historical averages before traveling anywhere and then checked the 10 day forecast on MSN the day that I am doing my packing.  It wasn’t until I moved here and posted a few of my Winter weather gripes (knowing full well the weather conditions in the winter prior to moving) on my Facebook page and had friends respond that I realized that my standard weather research is not normal.

The above photo, taken in San Gimignano, a lovely walled town in Tuscany known for its Vernaccia wines, is the weather most people expect when they travel to Italy, Tuscany in particular.  Wine tasting outdoors in that kind of weather with that kind of scenery is what most people dream of when they think about vacationing in Italy.  Intensely blue skies dotted by white puffy clouds will welcome you throughout most of the high season, but:

  • Rainfall occurs throughout the year here.  While the rainy season is predominantly in the winter, generally not more than a couple weeks will go by without some rainfall.
  • Winters are definitely cooler than most tourists expect…even in the generally temperate central and southern regions of the country.  Snow-capped peaks are typical every winter in Tuscany, and this year we had a snowfall that actually stuck for days just before Christmas this year.
  • The climate varies significantly from the north of the country to the south.  If you will be traveling along the length of the peninsula: for instance, Venice, Florence, Rome and Sicily, you will very possibly encounter a large variety of weather.  Remember the northern end of the country is the Alps and the southern end is on the same latitudes as North Africa.
  • August is hot.  August is boiling hot.  Unless you are accustomed to living in a sauna only travel to beaches or mountains in August.  If you ignore this sage advice and you melt, you have had ample warning and your heirs may not sue me.  There is a reason the majority of the country shuts down for the month.

If you do happen to travel here in the winter do remember to pack full foul weather gear and shoes or boots that can handle the weather.  Most good hotels will have umbrellas available or there are always enterprising young men who brave the rainstorms to sell umbrellas to those who are caught unprepared.  In the summer it will be hot virtually everywhere except high in the mountains.  Packing tips for spring and fall will follow…they need their own post.

The more prepared you are when you arrive here, the even more enjoyable traveling to Italy will be for you.

Buon Viaggio!!

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Grocery Shopping in Italy

February 22, 2010

Sooooo, you are coming to Italy and you’ll be staying a while.  You love food and want to learn more about it or you are simply a student who needs to feed herself while studying and soaking up Tuscan ambiance.  You’ve rented an apartment in Italy and you a ready to stock up that kitchen.

But, you don’t stop to think that the grocery store could be a different experience here…I sure didn’t.  Of course, I knew about the markets in Italy and had been there when I had traveled before, but the grocery store experience was slightly new and different.

So, we have an entrance to exit guide of a typical trip to the grocery store using my local Esselunga as a roadmap:

  • Parking. Don’t. Walk.
  • If you want a basket they are by the front door.  If you want a cart you will have to “rent” it with a single euro coin.  Have your coin ready before going to the store.
  • Produce can not be touched with bare hands…yes I know you are supposed to wash it when you take it home…just use the supplied gloves if you don’t want to be cussed out by an 80 year old 4’10” woman who probably could do you bodily harm.
  • You must weigh and tag your produce before leaving the produce section…they do not do this at the register in most stores.
  • Stocking is done throughout the day…many times at the busiest times of the day…if you do not see something ask…it very well could be on its way out “fra un po.”
  • If you are looking for ethnic items it is best to try to find and ethnic store…remember tortillas are ethnic food here.
  • The deli section…Godsend to those who can cook and those who are learning.  Fantastic meats, cheeses and prepared foods in most of the larger stores…do not freak out on the whole pig legs on the shelves…or the heads.
  • Meat sections…everything is pretty much the same except for the fact that there will be some items Americans don’t usually run across.  Pigeons, quail, rabbit, tongue, tripe and liver are standards here…I have seen a girl lose it over the poor bunny that was on display.
  • Checkout…unload in an organized way…you have to bag those groceries yourself, into bags you either bring with you or bags you buy there…and you have to do it fast…that same 80 year old woman will bag her groceries faster than you and she will yell at you again…and she can probably trek down the sidewalk faster than you, while carrying four bags of groceries and smoking a cigarette.

Remember your conversions. One kilogram is 2.2 pounds, a liter is about a quart, un etto is 1/10 kg…the dollar and euro conversion…well, sorry that one changes a lot.  Basically produce is usually cheaper, milk is always more expensive, meat is roughly the same and the quality on all tends to be high.  Be prepared to run a shopping cart obstacle course…don’t question it, it’s just like parking a car here.

Do try to head to the local markets here…they really are a don’t miss…the quality and freshness of the produce is amazing, you will find only fresh in season goodness and…perhaps it is just my prejudice… but I really believe the produce tastes better.  Then head home and let the creativity begin.

Wine: seriously, you have never seen so much good quality, reasonably priced wine. Ever. In your life.