What's Different in Italy?

People are people wherever you are - pleasant and helpful in general. Italy has a surprising number of people with dark hair and blue eyes and more height-challenged people than the US. Everyone we met was a delight.

The countryside is very varied. A lot of coastline, a lot of mountains and a lot of houses. The earlier settlers were the Etruscans before the Romans took over. They built their villages on hilltops, presumably for defense, and their sites have continued to be used and developed. There are hundreds of hill-top towns with very narrow cobbled streets and hundreds of ruined castles.

The roads are seven feet wide, cars are four feet wide and at all times there are three lanes of traffic travelling at 90 mph.

More seriously, the Autostrades are toll roads with two or three lanes each way, few shoulders but lots of turn-outs and rest-areas. Traffic usually flows at about 75 mph with quite a few light-flashing Mercedes at 100+mph and Fiat 500s at 45 mph. Lane discipline isexcellent and everyone pulls into the right lane as soon as they have overtaken. There are a lot of road-works. Frequently the two lanes will narrow to one and the one will cross the median.

The Autostrade rest areas always has a cafeteria and shop as well as gas. You pay (first) for coffee and then stand in line to get it. Everyone drinks Espresso (Caffe) or double Espresso (Doppio). They even have Decaf Espresso (Hag). Having drunk the thimbleful in ten seconds one runs out to get back on the Autostrade as quickly as possible. The exit from the cafe where you can usually get Paninis, Croissants and a whole variety of different sandwiches, has lots of food and toys - carefully arranged so one has to wind between counters stacked high with Salamis, Liqueurs, toys, food, etc., etc., etc.

The minor roads are generally beautiful, usually narrow and always full of corners. Half the time, the driver is looking through the side window to see where the road goes.

The roads in town are narrow, dirty, lined with parked and double-parked cars and completely crowded with scooters and cars all emulating Mario Andretti. Parking is never a problem, just stop anywhere and get out!

Road signs for speed limits, stop-signs and parking are everywhere and everyone totally ignores them - we were told that they were "merely suggestions".

The toilets are different. They tend to have a unisex wash area. The WC area is gender divided and has a door that is usually propped open leading to the stalls and urinals. Gender division signs are rather like the road signs - suggestions that can be ignored if the line is too long on the other side. But they are usually clean and frequently have an attendant asking for a 50 cent tip.

The restaurants are very similar to US restaurants and quite comparably priced. A good steak dinner for two with a bottle of wine - $60. A medium pizza with wine - $20. In Southern Italy the pizzas are EXCELLENT. A very thin crust, slightly blackened in a wood stove with cheese and tomato and possibly a layer of topping such as Prosciutto. Further North they are not as good.

The supermarkets are generally small with a superb meat/cheese/olives department. Most days we bought a selection of these with bread and beer for lunch.

The airports are, well, airports.

The trains and buses are everywhere. A typical ride involves getting a ticket at a tabacco shop, putting it into a time-stamp machine as one boards the bus and then one can ride for 45 minutes. The tickets work on any type of transportation - trains, subways and buses.

The hotels are very similar to those in the US with very similar prices except they hold a passport until they get paid. Apparently the police get the information every night.

Women's Dress was also different. Cleavages were deeper. The young adults wore exactly the same type of midriff clothes as the US, that is none. They also wore semi-transparent pants that showed underwear that matched the rest of the ensemble. BUT showing the bare leg was a no-no. Diane, of course, had taken mainly shorts to wear and, after having lots of men very obviously peer into the car to get a good look, decided to wear something different.

Houses were typically floored with marble because it is much cheaper over there and we rarely saw carpeting. The houses in small towns such as Santa Ninfa were usually four storeys. They often had a patio on the roof leading out from the upper kitchen-family room. The upper level was typically used in summer, the next level was bedrooms, the next level was typically used in winter and had yet another full kitchen to avoid walking up the stairs, and then there was the basement.

In the towns, the front door typically let out straight on to the sidewalk - no yard. The back typically had a concrete patio with pot plants. No room for serious gardening.

There was no real attempt at zoning. Many houses had a business going in the front room and had changed the regular window into a display window. I heard that they used to have a wonderful zoning system but then they were required to implement a Hansen software package to improve it. [inside joke for City folk]

The men had a very good social club going. They would gather in the mid afternoon and chat and ogle the women. We could never figure out where the women were unless they were home cooking

Continue on to the first leg of our trip - to England.

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