Thursday, January 17, 2013

Things to Think About Before Travelling

This is me panicking on the gondola ride up Mount Etna...I have a real fear of heights.

Over in the world of Wordpress (another blogging site) I started following Jen at Wander One Day.  Her blog today contained a list of, as she called it, Crisis Containment Plans.  I thought it was a good list and one that should be shared, so here it is (with a few comments from me between the ***):

Crisis Containment Plans:
   Have a list of emergency contacts and their phone numbers.
(written on paper in case you are unconscious, someone else can access them) ***I would also keep them in your phone***
   Have a form of health insurance in place that will cover you while traveling.
(even if they bill you up front, having it in place will allow you to get reimbursed) ***Emergency care is free in Italy, but beyond that you have to pay***
   Be aware of emergency resources in foreign countries.
(what is the equivalent of 911?) ***In Italy it is 112***
   Be aware of your surroundings.
(don’t wander around with your headphones on, oblivious to the world – keep an eye out for suspicious things around you) ***And in Italy, crazy drivers***
   Know where your country’s embassies are located.
(if a war breaks out or even if you just lose your passport, your embassy can help you get home – don’t forget to email yourself a digital copy of your passport for this purpose) ***Closest Canadian consulate to Sicily is in Naples - not sure about other consulates***
   Have prearranged meeting locations if you are traveling with others.
(if you get separated, arrange to meet up at a specific hotel, restaurant, or other easily found public place – also have a photo of the others in your group in case you need to provide it to authorities if the other person gets lost)
   Don’t keep all of your money and important documents in one place.
(keep spare money hidden somewhere it can’t be pickpocketed, keep a copy of your passports in an email account, etc)
   And this one is more minor, but equally as important: Alert your bank in advance that you will be traveling in certain countries.
(you don’t want to run out of money and have your credit and debit cards to be frozen on a weekend when you can’t call your bank to unlock the accounts)
***This last suggestion is mine - Use a travel agent rather than buying your tickets online and keep his/her phone number and email handy. Besides the fact that your TA often gets better deals than the ones online, if there is some emergency and you need to quickly change your flights, a quick email or phone call to your TA will usually get you the help you need.***

Many of you are experienced travelers, solo and in groups. Do you have anything to add to the list?

Thanks to Jen for giving me permission to reblog her list!!!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

More Pictures!!! Feedback needed...

Scott sent us a few new pictures of the terrazza and the kitchen and I would love some feedback.

This is the new tile on our terrazza off the kitchen.  I love it!!!

Our new countertop being installed!  So much work space!

Scott asked if we like this colour stain.  While I like this colour, I think a darker stain might make the countertop pop more.  What do you think?  I would love some input!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

La Bella Figura - Part 2

[La bella figura] basically means that you don't want others, be they strangers or friends, to have a negative impression of you. .... they must always think you are the tops.  This means bringing for example, cookies to someone's house if you're invited over for just coffee...that's putting on a bella figura.  It means kids always saying please, thank you and not being wild when visiting others ... this is bella figura.   It means helping or offering your help to neighbours even if they don't ask for it...that is bella figura.” Expats in Italy

Rosaria, our friendly landlady, insisted on changing clothes and putting on a touch of make-up
before she  had her picture taken.

I believe that anyone who lives in or visits Italy experiences la bella figura in one way or another.  Perhaps the only exception to this might be those who, after landing in Rome or Milan take a taxi to the most North American or British style hotel their travel agent could book for them, eat only in the hotel restaurant, and take guided tours of the most famous sites.  Then, they cab it back to the airport, fly home and tell their friends about their wonderful or not-so-wonderful holiday in Italy.  Yet even these people may have been touched by la bella figura (even though they haven’t realized it) in their dealings with the hotel staff, the taxi driver, and the tour guide.  It’s a shame that these tourists don’t understand the concept of la bella figura as they most certainly make “la brutta figura” – a bad impression.  These are the tourists that you can hear saying things like “This pizza/coffee/pasta isn’t like what we get back home in Chicago/Toronto/Manchester!”  How sad to come to Italy and not make the most of the experience.  Once, when we were visiting Roma, outside the Colosseum, we saw a group of Americans who were being guarded on all sides by what were obviously members of the secret service.  I have no idea who these people were but I thought to myself what a restricted view of Italy these people will go home with!

“I definately see most people doing their best to be kind, thoughtful, gracious, polite, and helpful.” Expats in Italy

My husband, my daughter and I have all been grateful recipients of la bella figura.  In 2010 we visited Nick’s family in Sicily.  


We drove a windy road up to Capizzi and went into the town hall where Mimma, Nick’s cousin, worked as the town clerk.  This started a wonderful, whirlwind day.  We were introduced to the mayor of Capizzi, treated to a delicious seven course meal with family members that Nick had never heard of before.  We were toured around the town and visited all the churches, saw the home that Nick’s dad had grown up in, and were invited into the homes of distant relatives.  He was surrounded by people who came to tell him that they remembered his father or his mother from 55 years before.  And every person treated us with kindness, delight, and joy.  We felt completely and totally welcomed.

Mimma and Jackie at lunch

At the end of a huge lunch

Nick's father grew up here.

Friendly neighbours who came out to see the "Capizi boy from Canada".

Nick with two of his elderly cousins.

Nick and I are active members of Couchsurfing.  In 2010, we couchsurfed our way from Sicilia to Milano.  We were welcomed into so many homes and treated to so many wonderful experiences.  In Agrigento, Marilena and her mother, Giovanna, took us to the family farm where we picked fruit fresh off the trees.  

Giovanna picking fresh vegies.

Marilena and her mother Giovanna

In Catania, Nello toured us through museums and took us to a jazz concert and later we picked bananas in his garden with his father. 

Nello and his dad picking bananas.

In Puglia, Elena and Paolo put us up in a beautiful trullo and included us in their community and celebrations for their son’s birthday.  Luca, who hosted us in his house in Padua, gave us one of our best days in Italy, touring us through all the wonderful backstreets of Venice.  And Matteo in Bergamo treated us to an evening of laughter with his friends in a pub way out in the middle of farmers’ fields.  Every host we had went out of their way to make our stay with them memorable.  Each, in his or her own way, was the embodiment of la bella figura.


Last summer, in Cianciana, we witnessed la bella figura every day.  In the evenings, people dressed their best and did passeggiata (a slow stroll) up and down the main street.  Bars placed tables and chairs on the sidewalks and they were filled all night as the visitors and Ciancianese alike watched the unofficial parade fill the street.  More than once we were invited for coffee or a drink because in Cianciana they say, “the visitor never pays”.  

Gaetano invited us for a coffee at the Antico Bar Trieste as we watched the passeggiata.

A youth group entertains the people strolling along the street.

Over and over the people in Cianciana treated us with grace, kindness and helpfulness.  When we told our friends and coworkers in Canada that we were planning on buying and renovating a house in Sicily, so many of them told us we were crazy and that we would be cheated out of our hard earned money.  Instead we found a realtor and a contractor who were honest and transparent in all their dealings with us. 

Please don’t misunderstand me.  There are things that that are annoying and frustrating in Sicily too.  When Nick and I made our bank account we had to sign a stack of papers at least an inch thick.  As I mentioned in several earlier posts, driving can be hair-raising.  Gas is ridiculously expensive.  People crowd together on beaches and yell back and forth.  But for every difficult moment there are ten joyful ones. 

Researching and writing this post has been a real learning experience.  Nick and I have been such grateful recipients of la bella figura that we both  want to make sure we make la bella figura ourselves.