First random thoughts
When you hear things like Ō because itÕs ItalyĶ, itÕs true. The guidebooks, maps, photos, and movies youÕve seen and read are fine and dandy but they seldom touch on ItalyÕs most valuable treasures. Not the artifacts nor art nor architecture but the people. Daily life goes on regardless of oneÕs location and the Italians take in stride – along with everything else. Things are just as they are regardless of whatÕs expected or what society, any cultureÕs society, dictates. The peopleÕs fascination with life goes beyond what we expect in the US or Japan, the cultures IÕm most familiar with. Perhaps itÕs more a fascination with thinking and dreaming. There is an art to doing nothing, which my friend Mel in Honolulu tells me about. IÕve given it some thought and find it extremely difficult to do nothing or think nothing. The Italians have perfected it with the exception of communication. Communication in Italy is the other treasure. The language does not matter when the desire is there. As a tourist, there are advantages to learning the hand gestures. They can say more than words and a warm smile works wonders.
There are many roads and signs, none of which make sense to me. The signs with arrows pointing in the direction of a town are often off kilter enough to send you on a 30-mile detour. I know how I feel when tourists stop in the middle of the road in Hawaii and I have to slam on the breaks. If they did it here, there would be many fewer tourists. The space between you and the car behind you is about enough to let though a sliver of light.
This goes on for 5 miles until there is space to pull two tires off the road so that the car can pass into oncoming traffic and hopefully get back in time to avoid a head on. I learned to drive with a manual transmission but our Fiat Punta has gears of itÕs own.
Usually start the car in 2nd, down shift to 1st then have to jump into third.
Learned this the hard way when it kept dying when I started in first or when I forgot and the tollgate came back down barely missing the rear end of the car. There were more than a few ticked off locals in small towns when the car died as soon as the light turned green and I tried to go. I didnÕt learn Italian swear words but did hear more than a few.
All roads may lead to Rome but only if you go in the right direction and don't follow any of the signs. Every town has a Via Roma, which I fear may end up in New York.
A great city to be sure even at 3 times the cost of Tokyo. IÕm not thinking in dollars, just euros and, for the sake of comparison, occasionally yen. When I took the time to figure the cost of an average lunch at a caf away from the tourist areas, compared it to dollars and even figured it at 1 to 1, it was still frightfully expensive. Lets say $60.00 for a big bottle of water, coke cola, spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and a plate of proscuitto. We had some truly wonderful meals and could taste types of cheese and meats that are served nowhere else in the world. It was worth the experience. I have to chalk it up to the cost of sustainability. Something we in the US need to learn about, especially in Hawaii. After almost a month here IÕve feel like IÕve done my part to support Italian farmers and agriculture.
Being pick pocketed on the Milan subway is something IÕve heard about a number of times as well as those who have lost bags, suitcases and a wide variety of personal objects desired by others. Perhaps having once been accustomed to a big city I could avoid many of the pitfalls and was ever vigilant in watching those around me. It was not enough. After a long day of visiting a friends Italian cousin, back and forth to Genova and the home of Columbus, a little pregnant gypsy girl who managed to get the cash from my wallet and pass it to someone else before being noticed by another passenger on a very crowded subway. ItÕs one of those live and learn experiences. Window shopping in Milan, visiting the Last Supper and making a lot of friends at numerous restaurants were great but what IÕll remember was the smirk on the little pregnant gypsy girls face and the forlorn look and wave goodbye of the girl passenger who saw her snatch the cash. My wallet by the way was chained to my pants.
The other great thing about Milano was meeting Aimee from the celiac forum and being able to get a gluten free pizza.
Note to Bill Marriott:
You have the best staff of any hotel IÕve stayed at anywhere – but I left there feeling cheated at 16 euros for a 24 hour period to access internet. The free instant coffee in the
Lobby was also great since only OPEC sheiks can afford the 10 euros a cup in the restaurant.
A truly memorable experience complete with a better than classic gondola ride, fantastic gluten free lunch at an out of the way place Aimee recommended. Having been the focal point of millions of novels and movies over thousands of years I didnÕt know what to expect in Venice. The first picture I took was of a guy changing the light bulbs in the street lamp in front of the station. I was still grounded in Milano city life. Walking over the bridge by the station early in the morning, it hit me that I had to explore; I had to do something the average ugly American didn't do. Having glanced only briefly at MargyÕs map, I took off at a rapid pace with Margy, Taka and Misako following. Nope, I donÕt want the map; itÕs a tiny island, how lost can I get? I have to say I did try to get us lost but it was next to impossible, at least in Venice proper. The stores, street stalls and Rialto Market was a delight for the senses, perhaps mostly the 6th sense. It was a feeling and hard to describe in any language. Interesting shops with a lot of history but I could only remember my grandmothers stories of Venice in the 50s. Perhaps it was being transported back to that time and the images she took that I have distant memories of. The Doumo, bell tower, canals and even the food were all memorable but for me it was the walking on streets that I could not get down if I gain any more weight. Over bridges, large and small, that I can remember from James Bond movies or I Spy TV show. Bill Cosby stood here; the Russian agent was knifed over there. These memories were superceded by the touristy gondola ride give to the 4 of us by a 5th generation boatman whoÕs name we never got (plenty of photos though) but who I call Paulo for no particular reason. He just seemed like a Paulo. I did spend some money in Venice, for lunch about $400 and $250 on real Venetian masks. There were hundreds of cheap masks painted on ceramic that may have come from Taiwan or the Philippines but I wanted something real. I was about to give up while walking back to the station when I spied a small shop with someone painting masks in the back. This was on one of those tiny streets where tourists don't usually go. I couldnÕt resist. These were the real thing on paper mache that they make in Venice and the two girls who have the shop, paint and hang all over the walls and windows. I bought two and headed back to Milano.
This was MargyÕs day, as she wanted to see the Uffizi Gallery and its collection of famous paintings. She had a list of 6 or more must see places within a fairly short walking distance from the station. First train from Parma and last train back was the successfully carried out plan. The day was her treat that I fear she will pay for over the next 7 years. Visa will make more than the gallery or any of the merchants. Getting to the gallery through the beggars was not that hard and seeing the statues and art was much more interesting than I would have imagined. The lunch at the place she had picked was excellent with a great staff. I went outside to smoke and stood with the chefs doing the same. Got a peak into the kitchen and had fun communicating with them about food and hula. The scenes, buildings and river were an incredible distraction from dodging the gypsies with their plastic cups begging for money.
As a kid growing up in Chicago, bologna (which I can spell thanks to Oscar Meyer)
Was thought to be a cheap piece of meat after salami and ham. The city seemed to be the cheap place with things ½ of Milano cost, ¼ of the ambiance and a 1/10th of the interest.
The saving grace was the small alley with fruit markets and a nice lady who for some reason I gave a set of posters too. Didn't do the Doumo, just walked by the towers but did stop in a bookstore and bought a book in Italian on avocados. Good book with interesting info and 30 of my pictures lifted from Internet with no permission and not credited to me although they did say they were copy written by the company. A few friends here suggest I contact a lawyer. I wrote the company but of course received no reply. Should I sue them? I hope they do reply and offer more books that I can give to the slow food university library.
Mommmmmma Mia & Genova
A day trip from Milan to Borgetto Borbera to visit the ancestral place of MargyÕs friendÕs relatives. We were met at a station close to there by Maxi, short for Maximiliano. Great guy slightly over shadowed by his 78 year old mother whoÕs smile and every other word of momma mia (she threw her arms in the air each time she said it). It was darling and she was as sweet as can be. Maxi is an environmental biologist for the prefectures government and takes pollution readings at factories and of rivers. After a walk around their small village and lunch he drove us to Genova for a few hours to see what was supposed to be the home of Columbus. A still thriving port town the city was alive with weekend attractions and hordes of visitors including a Japanese tour group we would later see in Parma. The architecture of Genova seemed to be a mix of classic Italian, Roman and Spanish influence. It reminded me more of Barcelona and the other Italian towns we visited.
GypsyÕs, roses and bracelets
ItalyÕs tourism downfall will come from the hordes of panhandlers, gypsies, thieves and street hustlers. CNN Europe had a number of stories on the gypsies or Romas as they are called. In Chicago, New York and LA there are numbers of panhandlers too but nowhere to the degree there are in Italy. Getting around the Doumo in Florence required something of a square dance to sidestep the virtual rows of them mumbling something with the hands out holding a plastic cup. Many take a hint but most don't give up and stay with you for a few steps hoping youÕll give in and give them a few coins just to be rid of them. This is the same in most restaurants at night with the Pakistanis pushing roses.
One after another, every 5 to 10 minutes another pulls up on a bike, gets off, comes to the table, mumbles something in broken Italian and puts a rose on the table even after you say no for the 3rd time. It is a serious nuisance that eventually will cause some tourist to crack and slug one of them. At least the Pakistanis always smile and are trying to offer something even if the sell is way to hard. The gypsy beggars are either tiny young girls like my pick pocketer or ancient looking women. One friend told me that gypsy men are to busy driving around in their BMWÕs and BenzÕs to bother with begging for small change. There are many other stories here about gypsies and the discrimination they face. Yeah its Italy and the Italians are remarkably tolerant of the constant incessant begging. While the tourists are hit upon, so are the locals who often give in, perhaps more than the tourists. The last part of the underbelly is the Africans selling either their colored string bracelets or books on Rwanda or other places of atrocities on their continent. While the tourist areas of Milan are filled with them, they generally take no for an answer the first time. I did watch a few amusing scenes where they would give them away to unsuspecting visitors then expect money after the fact. The hustle is that it's a gift but please give me money for it. I guess its better than another spam mail about my great uncle in Lagos who left 18 million in an account that I cant get out of the country.
Just remembered one more, the reformed drug users collecting money to fight drugs.
They are kids from around Europe in big cities with a petition to sign and then ask for money to support the cause. They do have official looking tags giving them permission to do this while the other street hustlers don't have them. Musicians, artists, mimes and performers abound even in small towns with hopes of making a few euros in order to afford their own BMWÕs.
A small town with a delightful atmosphere and ancient arena. Along with the SaitoÕs we trucked around visiting the street stalls, arena and of course Romeo and JulietÕs supposed balcony. Makes for a good day trip from Milano or Venice.
Maurizio, Clara and Cremora
One of the few things I really wanted to do here was to visit Maurizio who has the most incredible web site for passionflowers and is known in passiflora circles for the hybrids heÕs developed. He and his wife met us at a station about 20 miles from their house. This was one of the major highlights for me. WeÕve talked for about 5 years online, or so I thought. It turned out that his wife was typing the English and he was somewhat worried.
That was short lived when lingua botanica took over. When we got stuck Clara who is just a fantastic person took over. The four of was had a wonderful time driving and chatting at their house, a great dinner and a tour of Cremora town that was very nice. It also included the best gelato IÕve had yet. We hope they will visit Hawaii soon.
Parma and Pallazo Della Rosa Pratti
This was a great place to stay regardless of the lack of and inconsistent housekeeping services. The manager/owner of this pallazo or mansion Vittorio is really a great guy as is Mattie his staff. Both of them are helpful and friendly to the extreme. Margy says heÕs a lot like me and I agree, as did he. We could have been brothers. Like me, he always works and has some project heÕs attached too which takes a back seat some other project that comes along every few hours. He has tons of ideas for everything under the sun, as do I, and we enjoyed talking about all of them. IÕm sure there will be future communications and commiserations between us.
Parma was a delightful small town although I always felt it had a seedy underbelly, which made me feel constantly on guard when walking around. I think that itÕs only because of once being accustomed to a place like the Southside of Chicago. There were old women and kids walking around everywhere, evidently not worried about a thing so why should I worry. Perhaps as an American IÕm just not used to seeing groups of men hanging out in front of a store drinking beer and speaking Arabic, or some African dialect. It didn't bother me but it did cause me to be on guard. Walk fast and look like you know what youÕre doing and where your going was the key although not always easy when Margy hap maps and guidebooks out. I learned how to say I don't understand in a number of languages to avoid being hassled to give money away for nothing. People, usually the Africans and occasionally gypsies would start a conversation then just say do you have money to give me.
The streets and shopping areas were filled with locals and tourists, street musicians and enough panhandlers, street musicians and hustlers equal the population density. The prices were about has high as Milano. None of the tourists weÕve talked to could figure out how the Italians could make enough money to live in Italy!
We took the 540something am train to Asti, changed trains to Bra, then a 20 minute bus ride to Pollenzo, the home (in a converted castle) of the University of Gastronomic Sciences part of Slow Food. I met with Nicola and Carlo there in order to give them some fruit posters they could have on display on campus there and in Colorno, a branch campus a few minutes from Parma. The almost 4 hours to get there for a 20 minute meeting was not bad. If I do come back to Italy when school is in session, they want me to give a series of lectures. I would love too to it, perhaps in return for taking some other classes. On the way back we stopped first at the Slow Food headquarters in Bra to give them another set of posters. After calling around to see who wanted to bother with the Americans, they found one working in the Bio-diversity office. Linda was great. She took us out for coffee and we had a great talk. I could get the lowdown on what to do with Hawaiian products what we may want to work on to protect under various Slow Food programs. She also gave us an idea on the difference between Italian and American approaches to the different SF programs. We got a ride to the station in Bra in time to catch the train for Asti and head back to Parma. With an hour to kill in Asti, Margy could get her wish to drink Asti Spumonti in Asti, Two glasses each and a very brisk walk back to the station. The little wine bar we stopped at was very nice. The momma put out some crostini and asked why I wasn't eating. When I explained about celiac she hobbled back to the kitchen to prepare a plate of meat and cheese senza pani (without bread) so that I could try the local specialties.
Never had much of an interest or palate for red wine until I started cooking again and making various reductions with figs and Okinawa raw sugar. I can taste the difference here and started to enjoy various regional reds. IÕm not sure what the difference is but red wine is to Italy what coffee is to Kona. MargyÕs sweet sparkling white Spumonti would be enjoyable if it wasn't so damn sparkling.
This was a nice town situated at the highest point in Tuscany. The winding tiny streets filled with touristy type shops were enjoyable to walk though and the views of the surrounding countryside quite nice although it could have easily been in Napa or other grape producing locations with rolling hills. What really sets Italy apart are the old castle towns and bell towers. Put up a few of those in the states that look like they were built in the 1200s and you would not have to suffer from jet lag. The drive there was not too bad, with the exception of every other car on the road that had a person behind the wheel who wanted to drive 2 cm from the rear of our car. They were SO damned close that I was afraid to slowdown enough to pull off on the side so they could pass. Heard a few more Italian swear words when I did pull over.
Stopped at Castle on the Lake town on the way back so that Margy could have lunch. My stomach was iffy enough where I didn't want anything except some water. I did order a small plate of cheese that I couldn't even finish. It was not good and the cheese in Parma spoiled me. The road along the Lake (which could have been any road in Michigan or a hundred other places in the world with hills in the background) reminded me of summer vacations with my grandfather. The only thing different was again, the old castle, church and bell tower on top of the hill behind the town.
I guess I must be the only person in the world almost totally unimpressed by Italian foods. Granted I canÕt eat like I used too with no bread and no pasta. I suspect, to some extent, IÕm also jaded by knowing and eating with the best chefs in Hawaii. We have, so far, eaten everyplace from corner dives to 5 star Michelin places and IÕve yet to have a truly memorable meal. The roasted cold veggies with fresh soft sheep cheese was very nice but IÕm equally happy with what I can prepare at home. What does stand out is the quality of the different meats and cheeses and the freshness of the veggies. The olive oil and balsamic are also outstanding. What lacks is presentation, paring and in many cases overall ambiance. The gluten free pasta when they have it, all tastes the same. The sauces are somewhat different from what IÕve prepared for myself at home but still lacking in creativity. The students at our culinary school often do better. The home cooking at the Agtourismo is ok but also less than imaginative. Margy would not eat last nightÕs venison killed by a friend of RennatoÕs. It was ok but not when compared to what my friend Lynn produces commercially in Kansas. They do make great roasted potatoes with fresh herbs from the garden. I have had some good meals and good times at restaurants. DeguÕs in Milano was a great place where I could sample extremely rare types of cheese and meat from around the entire country. This was pared with wines and accompanied with various condiments like a memorable onion marmalade. The gluten free pizza in Milano at Be Bops, AimeeÕs favorite place was ok. I should have chosen a different type though. The fancy place in Florence was good but just so-so when compared to MavroÕs or Merrimans in Hawaii. As for the famous Italian coffee, give me KONA! At least at the Agtourismo place I can get a large size cup and pump pot of so-so but better than the average US restaurant coffee after 8am that is.
I think what makes people here marvel at the pasta is what is mixed with it. They donÕt ladle on a gallon of tomato sauce and you can taste the pasta. Even the gluten free pasta, which is pretty good compared to the GF ones, I buy at home. Still, I prefer my own recipes to what I have here. Overall I must really be jaded to feel this way about the foods weÕve had so far but I do. Perhaps during harvest time rather than the middle of summer I would feel differently. The fruit here is better than what you would find in stores in the US but the peaches were not as good as the farmers market in Sebastopol I visited last year. The kiwi is from Chile; the tangerines from Spain and the figs were marginal compared to what we grow. Plums were great with e number of types IÕve not seen before. The pears also look like they will be good—when ripe.
Graffiti is an Italian word!
And, itÕs everywhere. If youÕve never seen the mini series Rome, itÕs worth it just for the opening credits where the graffiti comes to life. On trains, ancient walls, trees, dame near everywhere you look, someone has painted, scratched or marked some phrase in Italian or a dozen other languages. Some of it is rather good but for the most part itÕs an eyesore.
This was a delightful old Etruscan town on top a mountain partially hollowed out with caves that we could tour with an English-speaking guide. The short but reasonably priced break from walking on the streets in the very hot sun looking at one ceramic shop after another was interesting. The first caves date back to pre Roman times, about the same time the first Marqueseans sailed to Hawaii. The Romans took 2 years to capture the town although itÕs unclear why they wanted it so badly. Guess they just wanted everything. There were some great views of the countryside from the town. Had some great side dishes at lunch. The drive to and from was not so bad too. Rather enjoyed the rolling hills while driving the little Fiat that I could imagine being an Aston Martin while I down shifted around a bend. Many of the towns we passed though looked like they could have been in some 50s WWll movie and I kept thinking I should be aware of Nazi snipers in the bell towers.
We visited a few other towns around Citti Della Pieve. The names escape me just now. With one exception being yesterdayÕs restaurant and lunch the towns were just a tad sleepy. Citti Della Pieve the major town near the Agtourismo does grow on you. The internet point inside the game room/pool hall / slot machine parlor was just seedy enough to be interesting and fun. The gelato place had rice milk gluten free chocolate which was great and the farmacia ordered a number of GF goodies for me to keep going for a few days.
Ancona and final days
Driving from Citti Della Pieve to Ancona on the Adriatic was not so bad considering trying to get through Perugia was a total pain in the ass capped by a flat tire which Avis says they will charge 20 Euros for to fix. It remains to be seen as I dumped the car at the Ancona airport before they opened. Ancona itself was a busy port town with large ferry boats headed out to exotic ports throughout Greece, Turkey, the Dalmatian Coast and Spain. Had a great meal at Osteria Teatro something restaurant that was listed in the Italian celiac guide. Nice place, great food and atmosphere. Sat next to a couple with their celiac son. Walked briefly around the port area and then back to the hotel. It was going to be good to leave.
The final rip off
Leaving was something I was looking forward too but I couldn't do until getting screwed one last time. Alitalia decided to check in our bags, put the tags on them and send them on the belt after which, saying we had to pay for some excess baggage. Back at the ticket counter we were told the cost was 632 euros, over $1000.00 to get our extra kilos sent on the plane with us. More than the cost of the tickets to Munich.
This was going to happen again when we headed back to Milan . I just bent over and took it. Margy says she will write some letters but I know there is nothing they will do.
It was good to finally leave.
1st night – Whole bottle of wine with dinner, which I needed to forget the drive from Parma, at least the last 4 hours of the drive which was only 25 miles of driving in circles.
Here it is 325 am – sitting out on the 2nd floor terrace trying to write by computer light and WIDE-awake. 3,28 now that is if the computers clock is accurate. Not sure since there is no net access. 332 now, Note to myself – drink a whole bottle tomorrow. ½ doesn't do it. CanÕt sleep because I don't like swimming in my own sweat. If I get up to relieve myself I either hit my head on the TV mounted not high enough on the wall or slip on the tile in the bathroom which feels like its covered in talc. Have not showered here yet as to do so you have to sit on the toilet. Yes the shower and toilet are in the same room and you pull the curtain around the toilet around the toilet to shower. Doors from the room open to this 10 sq meter (IÕm forgetting feet and yards) fantastic terrace (were on the 2nd floor) If I open the doors of the terrace at night to help sleep as there is a nice cool breeze then the noise from farm dogs on the next hill makes me wish dogs were to mythical Italian cuisine as cats are to Chinese. I suspect that the kids in the building across from ours are asking mom if they have an elephant here too. MargyÕs allergies cause the trumpeting effect every 30 minutes or so when she wakes to blow her nose.
339 now. Day 3 – well its already day 3 and 4am now. Our 32nd year of being together, 31 of them legal in the eyes of not so modern western society.
549pm – still no sleep but we did have a nice day in citti Della pieve. Good lunch at a boutique hotel there. Margy had her chicken while I had a generous portion of soft sheep cheese surrounded by grilled veggies of all sorts. Nice coffee break with a nice couple from the UK who are staying below us who we ran into while walking in town.
Dinner at 8 tonight. I gave momma here at the Agtourismo the bag of gluten free pasta that Aimee gave me. Hope they come up with something special.
Not sure what night it is but its not been long enough to think about the joy of leaving.
Computer says 344am. I really like the people here, both the owners and guests weÕve met but I am board out of my *%)**^$ mind! The bed has got to be the most uncomfortable thing IÕve ever been in so I slept 2 or 3 hours a day at the most. IÕve always known Agtourism is not for everyone, either as a host or as a guest. My hope is that by putting up with this and not offering a flimsy excuse for checking out early, I can come up with a way to help other Hawaii Agtourism operations what to do and what not to do. For one, make sure the rooms have Internet for us insomniacs. Offer choices for the foods making sure that at least it does not seem like leftovers. 352 AmÉ
410am remembered we are supposed to go horseback riding at 11 this morning. Something Margy always said she wanted to do here although I think sheÕs having second thoughts, as itÕs been 25 years since either of us has been on a horse. Should make for some good photos if nothing else and perhaps provides some laughs for Rennato.
506am. Less than a week to go before heading to Germany. I just keep kicking my heels together and think of Dorothy. 522am
6pm and still no sleep and no food today other than rice milk gelato. Was not bad considering. The best flavor IÕve had here was the chocolate orange with Aimee.
IÕve come to the conclusion that Agtourismo is not for everyone. There are some major differences between Italy and what we offer in Hawaii. As the Italians have mastered the art of doing nothing, (according to the guide books and Margy), often there is nothing to do. This morning was the exception when we asked Rennato for horseback riding. It was fun considering neither of us has been on a horse in 25 years. After 30 minutes we were, so to speak, back in the saddle, literally and figuratively. We rode around and between two different corrals, over a tiny bridge and back and serpentine through a number of 55-gallon drums. Afterwards we went to town for the gelato and Internet only to find both places closed. I had forgot the places shut down on Sunday and Monday or Monday and another day. Back to the room and board again although I can watch the rain come down in the distance. Reminds me of Waimea and the Waikoloa road.
Wednesday the 30th – I think 6 am
One full day to go here in the environs of Citti della Pieve. Must be rather obvious IÕm as anxious to move on, as the hosts seem for us to move on. DonÕt get me wrong, they are friendly and considerate and will try to communicate on a rudimentary level but that's the extent of it. Any detailed communication attempt is brushed aside. Perhaps it is the confusion in the mix of languages although that's not been a problem elsewhere even in non-tourist locations. IÕve always said that when the desire is there to communicate, language is not a problem. During this farm experience we have been shown the lack of desire about 80% of the time. The other 20% was a little too self-serving for my tastes.
ItÕs now 412am on the 31st, about 2 hours until the sun comes up and we can hit the road to drive to Ancona. If I knew then what I knew now we would have only stayed here 2 days and driven the rest of the time ending up in Munich. So many mixed feelings about the Agtourism experience, Perhaps it would have been different at a different place, perhaps different during a harvest season although I suspect not. I would not do it again here for more than a night, perhaps not at all.
I suppose this type of Agtourism is fine if you like to sit by the pool, walk around a vineyard and olive orchard and commerserate with nature without any hands on experience or guide. Right now at 607pm itÕs more about listening to thunder, watching rain and lightning. Dinner is included in our plan here and is at 8. This type of environment is also fine for city people who want to get out of the Rome, Milan and Florence rat races and to enjoy the rolling hills and winding roads.
In Hawaii, the visitors I speak with are more interested in trying the diversity of things growing that they can sample, seeing the sites and most importantly, hands on experience. That seems to be frowned on here. Offers of help are rejected not because itÕs not wanted or needed but because we are clients and should only be Ōdoing nothingĶ.
Part of this could be reflected in the season and lack of anything to harvest. ItÕs unclear if when the grapes or olives are ready to pick, if outside help would be refused. IÕve seen some U-Pick ads in magazines here from different seasons but only for strawberries.
Italian and Hawaiian Agtourism have a lot to learn from each other. We are equally enchanted with each others location although the average Italian feels Hawaii is out of reach economically. The state needs to promote Hawaii Agtourism in Europe with emphasis on the low cost when compared to European prices. With the Euro at an all time high, it would be a good time to do so. As many Italians are aware of Slow Food and their bio diversity programs, out Hawaiian diversity and regional cuisine should also be stressed. The people IÕve met know quality and expect it. They know the quality of a lemon or orange but have no idea as to the number of varieties there are. They know only 3 bananas and a few more types of figs. They were pleasantly astounded and shocked to see the banana and fig posters as well as our big fruit poster.
I would guess that in the Agtourismo environment that the hosts are not used to American or Japanese guests. The services weÕve experienced are inconsistent and often marginal.
Clean linens, towels and replenishing toilet paper are performed with any regularity and we've yet to figure out the system, if any. Consistency of service is something they can learn from us, especially if they want to build US and Asian markets. IÕve never experienced this type of inconsistency in other parts of Europe on numerous trips.
A question of choices is something else we seem to offer more of too. Mealtime can be a crapshoot. The other non and in some cases Northern Europeans complained, in one case bitterly about the lack of quality and choices. This was especially true and although this person had been to Italy from the US and stayed in a number of Agtourismo facilities, said that she had never enjoyed good bread or outstanding meals. She and other guest from the UK mentioned that they no longer get a dinner plan as they would rather drive the distance to a good restaurant and take the chance of driving back after a few glasses.
We need to learn better in-room decoration, landscaping and walkways. Having meandering paths though trees with frequent benches to rest is very desirable.
We also tend to be more transparent as to pricing and exactly what a customer gets for it.
ItÕs generally a guess here and in many ways just like Hawaii with its Kamaaina rate, Kamaaina referral rate and the high tourist rate.
We may need to learn more of the art of relaxation and doing nothing from the Italians but only as an option.
WhatÕs offered at any Agtourism attraction has to be geared towards potential clients if it has to be successful. Americans, Japanese, Northern Europeans and Italians seem to expect different attractions as well as qualities of services. IÕm sure class structure plays a part in this but those who visit a farm have to have some idea of what to expect as they would in Hawaii or Japan. We has hosts need to be patient with visitors and make sure all questions are answered fully. Sometimes it just takes time. What is obvious and transparent to us may not be to others. More so when there are language differences.
IÕve stayed at enough places in Europe and Asia to know that this experience or lack of experience on the farm was not due to it being Europe. To some extent I felt that I was invading the hosts personal space. It was not a lack of feeling welcome as much as a lack of feeling. IÕve never felt that way at any other location. Although not Agtourism, the experience in Parma was the opposite where we felt extremely welcomed and made to feel that we had become a part of their day. Not because it was a chore or by obligation but by desire. The minshuku and ryokan in Japan as well as boutique hotels and B&BÕs in Spain, Germany and the UK where IÕve stayed in the past always made me feel welcomed to the extreme.
For Agtourism operators in Hawaii, we need to develop a sense, even a 6th sense on what our guests expect. It doesn't matter if it's a day trip, overnight stay or a 1-hour tour. We need to give more than is expected and leave our customers with the dream and desire to return.
The other travelers.
Couple from Belgium at Botanic Garden
While waiting for ParmaÕs Orto Botanica to open, already an hour after the posted time, we struck up a conversation with another couple who were not surprised no one showed after an hour. Its Italy they said. Walked back to town center with them and dragged them over to see the Pallazo where we are staying. They came from Belgium and were driving around Italy for a few weeks.
At dinner that night a man across from us kept writing notes between bites. He was from outside of London and bicycling the length of Italy. MargyÕs looking forward to buying his book.
Couple with kids from Netherlands
Dinner the next night in Parma we sat next to a couple with 2 almost teenaged kids.
Since Margy and I seldom drink the same wine I offered him the remainder of my bottle, which was gladly accepted. Nice folks.
Brits from outside of Oxford at Agtourismo
The memorable and very nice couple sat with us on our anniversary and at breakfast a few times. Hope they show up in Hawaii one of these days.
Couple from Tokyo at ceramic shop
What a small word it can be at times. A couple were looking at ceramic dishes in Orvieto when I instinctively asked in Japanese if they had noticed anything with ichijiku (fig) on any of them. They looked up and were visually surprised to see a big white guy speaking Japanese to them. Turned out they live in Sengoku 4-chome, just a few blocks from the old Otsuka office. We exchanged meishi and hope to meet again when IÕm back in Japan.
The Saving Graces of Italy:
People & the joy of communication attempts
Art & Architecture
Canals and bridges of Venice
Plums and peaches with flavor
Old B&W Italian postwar movies
Sitting outside for morning coffee in Parma
Sitting outside in Citti Della Pieve with gelato in the afternoon.
Sitting outside at Degus in Milano for dinner.
Arriving in Munich was a breeze and the first 3 days here have been wonderful thanks to my pal Rolf and his ex Brigitte. Munich – Munchen is a fantastic city even with only its relatively short, for Europe, 850 years of history. One look at the sky and you know why the Bavarian colors are blue and white. People seldom think of Germany and Munich as a tourist destination, especially in the same breath as Italy but if I ever have the choice again Germany will be the first choice.
Headed to the Alps today, Last minute shopping and packing on Tuesday then off to Chicago.