We at Il Chiostro subscribe to the Slow Travel philosophy. Like the Slow Food movement, this means taking your time to appreciate all facets of the place you are exploring. This includes eating the local food, drinking the wine of the area and adhering to the timetable of the culture. Suggestions about hot to travel slow:
- Unplug – this might not be entirely possible given the electronically connected world we live in, but limiting your time on social media can help you enjoy your trip for yourself instead of constantly trying to interpret it for others back home. It’s important to
- Be where you are – the more you can let go of your own habits the more you will be able to recognize the cultural differences before you. Pay attention to how a day unfolds in this new place, listen to how people interact, watch what is happening around you without trying to take control. And always remember
- You are a guest in their country – learning a few courtesy words like grazie, per favore and prego can help in all social situations. Try to be polite when you don’t understand something and always assume that the native knows how things work in his country better than you do. “When in Rome…”
And if you are planning to spend a few days in Rome, either before or after your workshop, you might consider booking a personal tour with our friends Antonio and Paolo at Roam Around Rome. Whether this is your first time or you have been to Rome many times before, they will customize your visit around your interests. Il Chiostro clients are eligible for a discount.
Money, Money Money
The Exchange Rate: A vacation to Europe this year can be quite affordable. It’s all about the exchange rate, which is pretty favorable to Americans this year. Check out the Currency Exchange Rate to know how much your dollar is worth abroad. As you travel the rate can fluctuate. When you take out money from an ATM or pay with your credit card, you will be given the most current exchange rate that day.
Credit Cards: before you travel, get a card with No Foreign Exchange Fees. Capital One was the pioneer in this area, but now many other banks offer this service. It can really save you a lot of money when you get home and get those bills if there isn’t an additional fee tacked onto each sale made in Europe. In any case, make sure you call your credit card company before you leave home and tell them that you will be traveling abroad, so that they don’t put a stop on your card for security reasons. It can be embarrassing when you are about to buy that gold necklace on the Ponte Vecchio and your card doesn’t go through!
“Would you prefer to pay in Euros or Dollars?”: this is a question often asked when you are paying with a credit card in Europe. Although having the price immediately converted to a currency you understand ($$) sounds convenient, this option is rarely beneficial. In our own studies we have found that the exchange rate the store (or hotel or restaurant) gives you is not as good as the one your own bank will use. And paying in dollars doesn’t necessarily avoid the foreign transaction fees either. Best pay in the local currency (euros) and have your bank perform the exchange.
Getting Money: the easiest way is to use your ATM card in one of the many locations in towns and cities across Europe. Note: this is different than using your credit card to get a cash advance which comes with heavy interest fees. When you use your ATM card (don’t forget your PIN) it comes right out of your bank account back home, but in euros. No interest fees, no waiting in lines, and these are typically very secure.
Bringing Cash: this is a less efficient way to travel. Bringing American dollars is inconvenient: no one will take American dollars in Europe, so you will have to find somewhere to exchange them for euros. That means either waiting in line at a bank or using a touristy cash exchange office. Both of these will tag on hefty service fees and probably not give you the best exchange rate either.
Some people like to get euros from their bank before they leave for Europe. This is good in the short term, to ensure that you have some cash for a cab or a tip, but don’t buy a lot of euros in America. The exchange rate is not favorable and the bank will again attach fees for this service that isn’t worth it. There are ATM machines in most airports and train stations so that when you arrive you can immediately get cash in the local currency.
“Can I send my art supplies (heavy shoes, clothing, etc.) ahead of me?”
Obviously this will reduce the weight of your suitcase, but it will also probably reduce your painting time in Italy because most likely your supplies won’t arrive in time. What your shipping company in the US doesn’t tell you (perhaps because they don’t know) is that customs in Italy is very strict. They usually stop these shipments when they enter the country to determine if the goods are meant to be sold in Italy – even if the sender clearly states that these are personal materials for personal use. In order to clear customs they require a written statement from you, the shipper, declaring that you don’t intend to set up business in Italy with your supplies along with your passport information. All of this usually delays the materials beyond the start – or even end – of the workshop. On top of that, typically apply an import duty onto the materials over and above whatever the shipping agency has already collected. They will arrange for courier to deliver the goods to you, but require payment upon receipt. If you have already left the country they will not ship everything back to you.
So although in theory it would be more convenient to ship, in reality the materials probably won’t arrive in time and when they do there will be a hefty surcharge that would probably cover the cost of buying things in Italy (which I guess is their point, ultimately).
You can bring paints (not turpentine, which we will supply) on the plane in your checked luggage. A small quantity in 3oz. containers of paint can even go in your carry-on luggage.
Please Don’t Order a Latte
More than once I have witnessed the bewilderment on the face of an American when the waiter at a cafe delivers with a flourish a nice tall glass of milk. What they really wanted was a coffee, but latte in Italian means milk. Caffe latte would be the proper term for what they wanted. Coffee is a way of life in Italy with myriad variations. Herein is a partial list:
- The basic unit of coffee is un caffè (what non-Italians but no Italians call an espresso*)
- caffè ristretto – a caffè with only half the amount of water squeezed through the espresso machine, but through the same amount of coffee grounds
- caffè lungo – a long coffee – a caffè with double the water of an ordinary caffè
- caffè doppio – a double espresso with twice the amounts of water and coffee grounds
- caffè macchiato – a stained coffee – add a drop of milk to a regular caffè
- cappuccino – caffe hooded with milky foam
- cappuccino senza schiuma is literally a cappuccino without foam
- cappuccino chiaro – a light-colored cappuccino with less coffee and more milk
- cappuccino scuro – a darker brew with more coffee and less milk
- caffè e latte – a milky coffee with more milk than any cappuccino and no froth
- latte macchiato – a lot of milk with a stain of coffee
- caffè al vetro – if you should choose to drink your coffee from a small glass instead of a thimble-size cup
- caffè corretto – usually a normal caffè with a generous lacing of grappa or any other liquor of your choice
* NOTE: there is no “x” in the word espresso, no matter how they pronounce it at Starbucks.
Keep to the Schedule
The days in Italy, after centuries of evolution, are constructed differently than they are in America. The differences are subtle, but worth noting. Most Italians start their day early with a quick cappuccino and a coronetto at the corner bar (cafe). Then they go about their morning activities until around noon when they break for a good lunch. Restaurants keep specific hours and are rarely open throughout the day. If you arrive outside of those hours either they won’t serve you at all, or you’ll get whatever is leftover in the kitchen. In the later afternoon, around 5-6pm Italians enjoy what they call the passeggiata – a lively stroll through the streets with friends (usually arm-in-arm) for window shopping, a gelato, a glass of pro secco at a cafe. It is an activity that goes to the heart of Italian life: a time to dress with style, to see what’s going on and to be seen by people in town. It is a time filled with casual encounters, the latest fashion and joyful relaxation. After that the dinner hour starts, but most restaurants won’t open up until 7pm with the clients sauntering in around 8. Once you have a table no one will hurry you away – the table is yours for the night to enjoy your meal, your coffee and linger over a grappa or limoncello unhurried. Often the owner of the restaurant will drop by your table to see how things are going. Then it is time to head home and start the whole civilized process all over again.
If, as a tourist, however, you decide to sleep in and linger over a big breakfast, chances are that you will be out of step for the rest of the day. The shops or galleries you intend to visit will be closed by the time you get there. You’ll wander around frustrated until about 2 when you will search for lunch. Most places will be closed so you’ll end up eating a slice of pizza on the curb. After wandering around a little more you’ll decide you are tired and go back to your hotel for a rest before dinner. By the time you re-emerge for dinner the streets will be scattered with the last vestiges of locals saying “Ciao” after finishing their social passeggiata. You’ll arrive at a restaurant before the dinner hour gets going and leave when the locals are just settling in for a fun evening. Then you’ll get to bed early wondering “what’s so special about life in Italy??”