Suggestions for tourists in Rome and Italy from an English Speaking driver-guide in Rome

Tours of Rome - Trips all over Italy
Suggestions, hints, advice, stories and more for travelers to Rome
I'll be adding more anecdotes, so you may want to come back to this page from time to time...

A lot of the visitors who tour Italy, from non-European countries, really don’t come prepared. I decided therefore to add this new page to my website. A page where I want to write my anecdotes hoping they could help the average tourist, and especially those coming from overseas, to enjoy Italy more. My wish is that visiting my website to see what tours I offer, one could be intrigued by a button saying “anecdotes” and click it.

If you did, my beloved tourist, click on the buttons of this page read my anecdotes. Please click and read!

Today everybody's always in such a hurry that they can’t take the time to read about a country before visiting it. They just go. "We travel to learn, so we’ll learn when we get there!" They say. Who, these days, would have the time to go to a library, borrow books about Italy and read them before coming here? And those visiting more than just one country? Take cruisers for example; they’re practically in a different country every day! How in the world can they be  expected to find the time to study about the ten different countries they’ll be visiting during their ten-day cruise? So, most people just hop on a plane and go, without even taking a look at a map to see where they’re going before they go. After all, think of all the things one has to do before leaving for a vacation: book the flights, hotels, ground transportation, instruct the person that will be taking care of the business during the absence, find someone to go to the house to feed

Fido, someone to keep Pussycat, etcetera etcetera… No time to read travel books or look at maps. They're going to to do a tour with a guide at each place, so why bother? They'll ask their guide and he'll tell them!

One question I was asked recently and that almost made me pass out is the following:“ Did the Tsunami do a lot of damage here in Italy?” Maybe if they just took a map of Europe to the bathroom with them instead of sports page of the local paper…

I thought that if my clients could learn from my website things like: "Why do you get pizza with capsicums when you order “pizza-with-peperoni” in Italy?", then I wouldn’t have to explain it during the tour and we could make a better use of our touring time.

Pizza with Pepperoni
What you get if you ask for "Pizza with Pepperoni" in Italy  

The other day I went to the hotel Excelsior in Florence to pick up my group for our tour of the city. We had already spent a few days together, they had arrived a few days earlier at Rome’s airport and we had driven from there straight to Positano. After spending a couple of days in the area, visiting Pompeii, Capri and the Amalfi Coast, we drove to Rome and spent a few days exploring the “Eternal City” and its surroundings. We finally arrived in Florence the day before after visiting Orvieto and Sienna on the way. Now we were bound for a full day tour of the city of Florence with the help of a local guide for the tour of the Accademia and the Uffizi museums. While we waited for the guide to arrive we chatted about this and that and, I don’t recall why, I started to talk about how the meaning of the exact same word varied depending on the country where it was used.

I brought up as an example the fatidic “Pizza with Peperoni”. I started to explain that in Italy we call “peperoni” peppers, capsicum. In the USA instead, you call that a spicy hot “salame” sausage that we generally here call “salame piccante”, piccante meaning spicy hot.

Pizza with pepperoni! Michelangelo's David in Florence

But is called different names in other parts of Italy: “pezzenta”, “secondigliano”, “ventricina”, “salamella” etcetera. So I continued to explain that often you see Americans ordering “Pizza with Peperoni” at a restaurant and getting pizza with peppers. They inevitably end up arguing with the waiter thinking he messed up with their order. Now in almost all the pizzerias they keep en Italian-English dictionary just so that they can leaf through it and show the customer that he actually ordered pizza-with-capsicum and he shouldn’t complain because that’s exactly what he got.

As I was telling my story I noticed that my clients started to look at each other looking embarrassed and, as I finished one of them asked me: “Where did you have dinner last night?” I didn’t understand right away what this had to do with the story I just told, but I explained that I was friends with the family of Maria Elena, the guide that was about to meet us for the tour and we had diner together at their place the night before. “Why?” I concluded. “Well,” My client said “we thought you had dinner in the same restaurant where we had pizza last night, because the story you told is our own story. I other words what you just narrated is what happened to us yesterday. You should have seen Joe’s face when the owner of the restaurant showed him the dictionary!”

Yellow, red and green peperoni.
"Latte" in Rome
What you get if you ask for "Latte" in Italy.

She flew into Rome's airport very early in the morning. When she finally got to the hotel she booked near Piazza Navona, one of the most beautiful and evocative squares in Rome, the receptionist told her he wouldn't have her room ready any sooner then 12.00 noon. She wouldn't have gone to bed anyway, but it would have been nice to unpack and take a shower before starting to walk the streets of Rome. She had already decided to stay up at least until 10.00 pm. She was told that it was the easiest way to catch up with the time difference and reduce the discomfort of jetlag to a minimum. The hotel was going to keep her luggage in storage until her room was ready, the concierge said.. She freshened up in the restrooms downstairs, she got directions from the concierge on how to get to Piazza Navona and off she went. Not too many people around at that early hour and that made the place even more enjoyable. The air was nice and fresh, the water spilling from the fountains sounded like a carillon. Some delivery trucks eventually entered the square and the noise from their engines disturbed the delicate atmosphere a bit, but they were soon gone. All of the restaurants and coffee shops had their tables and chairs out already, she picked a place on the sunny side of the piazza and sat down.

She was tempted to order some of the pastry she saw displayed on the counter as she walked to her table, but she decided they looked really fattening. "Maybe tonight after dinner" she thought. The waiter came with the menu and tried to hand it to her, but she gestured she didn't need it and just said: "Latte!" The waiter was surprised to hear this attractive, well dressed, American lady speak Italian and automatically replied: "Caldo o freddo?" At home, when she ordered "Latte", they served her a nice cup of hot coffee with milk and that was exactly what she needed after that long flight and the coffee she was served on the plane.

She didn't speak any Italian, but she liked to pretend she did and the first one of the two words the waiter spoke sounded like "Cold". She didn't want her "latte" to be cold, she tried to repeat the second word the waiter spoke. She was thinking that "caldo" must have meant cold in Italian, it sounded so similar, than the other word the waiter spoke must have obviously meant cold. So she said to the waiter: "No caldo, fresno." "Freddo" quickly the waiter corrected her. "Freddo" she repeated correctly this time. Seconds later the waiter returned with a nice glass of cold milk, he put it on her table, smiled and walked away. She looked at the milk and thought it was strange that in Italy they would serve you a glass of cold milk before bringing your "Latte". She just sat there for a while staring at useless glass of cold milk and patiently waited for her "Latte" to come. Noon was still far in time and she was in no hurry but she wanted her "Latte" and it wasn't coming. She stopped the waiter as he walked past her on his way to serve clients at another table. "Latte" she said to him again. "Latte" he replied pointing to the glass of cold milk on the table. "Freddo" She almost shouted. "Freddo" repeated the waiter and, knowing no English at all, he tried to say her by gesticulating that he brought her exactly what she asked for: a glass of cold milk! She couldn't catch sleep on the plane, she was tired from the trip and consequently a bit nervous.

She really couldn't see why it was so difficult for the waiter to understand what she wanted, after all "Latte" is an Italian word! "No" she said accompanying the word with gestures, "No-cold" pronounced distinctly "No-cold, latte-no-cold, latte HOT!" "Ahhh! HOT!" the waiter said. Finally he heard an English word he knew. "Latte no-cold, latte HOT! OK! Subito! (right away)" Seconds later he returned with the same glass of milk which he had wormed up. She was ready to scream and she did: "COFFEE!" "Coffee?" The waiter asked smiling because "coffee" was another one of the few English words he knew "No milk? Coffee?" "Yes," she shouted "NO-MILK! COFFEE!" The waiter took the glass of milk from the table and walked away. Two minutes later he returned with this tiny little cup filled by one third of thick stuff that looked like mud.

Just a few steps away my friend Guido was opening up his "shop". He sells paintings right on the square. He sells paintings he does himself and paintings done by others. He has a license to sell on the square, a license which is hard to get and he's lucky to have. For what I know he still has all the pictures he painted and he makes his money from selling the good

ones made by the real painters who don't have the license they're required to have to sell them in public spaces. Guido likes women. We call him "Centipede" because a girl he dated once called him that. She said he was all over her that night, like if he had many more than just two arms and legs. She felt like if she had one hundred limbs on her, like a centipede in fact. Guido speaks good English and has girl-friends in all of the English speaking countries, including New Zealand.

He noticed that girl sitting there just as he arrived and while he was unpacking his stuff he was thinking of an excuse to go over to her table and talk to her. When he heard her shout at the waiter it was like music to his ears, it was obvious she was in distress and she couldn't make herself understood. "Can I help you?" he said once he'd come close enough. She explained what the trouble was and Guido, while he told the waiter to bring the lady a "Caffellatte" and an espresso for himself, sat down next to her and explained that what he just said "Caffellatte" was what she really wanted. "Caffellatte?" she asked. "Yes" Guido

said and then continued "in case you want more coffee and less milk in your drink you can ask for Cappuccino". In the meantime Guido was keeping an eye on his Moroccan employee who wasn't happy to do all the work of unpacking and displaying the paintings alone while his boss was having coffee with a beautiful lady. Guido took his time and explained further: "Coffee shops in America, like Starbucks, have "Caffé Latte" on their menu and that is wrong, the real name of the drink is "Caffellatte", all together in one word.. In America, and in all of the English speaking countries in general, people like to shorten names, so that's why "cafféllatte" became "latte". It obviously had coffee in it, so why bother pronouncing the word for coffee in a foreign language? In America it works. ... in America!

Guido explained: "Caffellatte" obviously means coffeemilk the name is a combination of caffé (coffee) and latte (milk) so if you only say "latte" you ask for milk, and milk is what you get!

The lady loved her caffellatte and asked for another one.

Guido loved the lady and asked for more coffee.

They kept conversing until the Moroccan walked over to their table to tell Guido some clients were asking for him. Before leaving the table Guido asked the lady out and she told him she was going to be with her husband that night.  He was going to arrive later in the day from Germany where he had spent a few days for his business. "Too bad" Guido said as he was leaving her "Thank you for the coffee. Ciao." He walked toward his clients slowly and in the meantime he was checking the tables of the other coffee shops to see if any other interesting ladies where sitting anywhere near...