The Voice Behind The Blog – The Iceberg Project Interview


La Maestra Maldestra

La Maestra Maldestra

You’ve been reading this blog for almost three years now (grazie!) but at times I’ve refrained from getting too terribly personal. (To read all about my pseudonym, click here). Now, here’s your chance to put an actual voice to the words behind this blog.

How? Well, awhile back, the lovely Cher Hale from over at The Iceberg Project contacted me to ask if I’d be an interviewee on one of her Learn Italian Podcasts. I was flattered and onorata, so I jumped at the chance to answer her queries. (Not that I’m an expert, by any means, but I try to be helpful.)

Cher and I had a great time chatting away about our shared passion: all things Italian. She asked me about my favourite Italian books and movies, my favourite Italian words and phrases, my experiences working in Italy and immersing myself in the language, and some fun anecdotes from my 10+ year relationship with Italy.

How-Sarah-Mastroianni-Made-Siena-Her-Italian-Hometown-and-Built-a-Career-Around-Italian

Click here to listen to the podcast (scroll down to the bottom of the page) and let me know what you think!

Why I’m “Too Tall To Be Tuscan”


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"When I first started this blog, I wrote under the pseudonym “Too Tall To Be Tuscan”. You couldn’t find my real name or my face anywhere. Over the past (nearly) 3 years of blogging, I’ve put my name and my face out there, yet every post I write still gets posted by this person called “Too Tall To Be Tuscan”. Have you ever wondered why?

Coming in somewhere just north of 5’9″ (175 cm), or closer to 5’10″ depending on the type of hair day I’m having, there’s no mistaking that I’m tall.  But I’m not an amazon. Not by anyone’s standards.

Except for maybe Italy’s.

I’ll never forget the looks I would get from my coworkers who saw me standing up for the first time (I was usually sitting in front of a computer). “Sarah, you’re so tall for a girl!” “Sarah, amazza sei alta!” Yes, it’s true that I tower over many Italian women and men, but I couldn’t believe all the comments I got (and continue to get) regarding my height.

I know Italians are in tune with footwear, both women and men, but I feel as if I get a disproportionate amount of looks at my feet in Italy. Sure, people just might be checking out the shoes I’m wearing, but I think they’re also looking to see if I’m really as tall as I am, or if my height has been helped by heels.

But the best height-related anecdote happened in the Questura, when I was being fingerprinted for my Permesso di Soggiorno. (I recounted the whole experience here.) The guy asked me how tall I was, and not being used to telling my height in centimetres, I checked my driver’s license and said “centosettantacinque” (175) with gusto.

Non può esse! It can’t be!” the police officer who was helping me cried and bounded to his feet, where he came eye to eye with this Canadian girl who is surely Too Tall to be Tuscan.

tallsarah

Practical Italy: 5 Things to Consider When Planning a Trip to Italy


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"Before you know it, “travel season” will be upon us. Planning a trip to Italy? Before you book, make sure you take a look at these things to consider when planning a trip to Italy. Keep in mind that Italy doesn’t work like Canada or the US or England or really, like anywhere else, so the more thought you put into your trip, the better.

1. When are you planning on going? Your experience will differ depending on when you travel to Italy. I’d say anywhere between May – September would be considered high season. Prices of everything will be at their peak, lines will be longest, temperatures will be warmest, and beaches will be the most crowded, especially in August. For many things, it would be extremely wise to book ahead (everything from tickets to the Coliseum to hotel reservations) and pay the small booking fee that accompanies such things in Italy. Trust me, the few euros you spent booking your tickets is so worth it when you pass by all the poor schleps standing in line under the blazing Roman sun to get a glimpse at the Coliseum. With your pre-reserved tickets, you’ll breeze right by and into the Emperors’ playground senza problemi.

Looking for a calmer time? Try October or April, but be sure to avoid Easter.

Cinque Terre-10

The Cinque Terre beaches in August.

2. What are you planning on doing? Italy offers something for everyone, in my humble opinion. But I’d say it’s best (especially if you’re travelling in high season) to figure out exactly what you want to do and where you want to do it, in order to make sure you have the best Italian experience possible. I’m not saying jam-pack your trip full of things and run around with a never ending ‘To Do” list, but have an idea of what there is to see and where you can see it. Don’t go to Florence if you think you want Roman ruins, and don’t bother with the Cinque Terre if you’re looking for the Renaissance.

Then, if your top thing to do in Florence is “sample as much gelato as possible”, there’s no need for heavy planning, except for maybe mapping out a few gelaterie. But if you just have to get in to see the David, and walk the Vasari Corridor, and take a painting class, and visit Santa Croce, and catch a game of Calcio Fiorentino, you need to get your organizational skills out and do some planning.

Many things are closed on odd days of the week and can have interesting hours, reservation policies, dress codes, etc. Best to do your homework in advance, then there won’t be any surprises eating up your precious time in Florence.

The Boot

The Boot

One more piece of advice: Don’t go somewhere just because you’ve heard the name.  If you’ve heard of Pompeii but you don’t know (or care) what happened there, then don’t go! The Travel Gods will not thunder down upon you. This is your trip, and the only person you have to please is yourself. Who cares if all the guidebooks say to go there? If you don’t have any interest in a place, don’t waste your time and money on it.

Detto questo (that said), don’t forget to be open-minded too. 

3. How are you getting around? Oh, you’ll just rent a car in downtown Rome (horrible) and go for a toodle up to Tuscany (hilly) then drive over to Venice (islands), maybe through the Alps (scary roads) and swing ’round to the Cinque Terre (carless), zip down to the Amalfi Coast (horrifying roads) and land back in Rome, all in your little Fiat 500.

Will you? And it’ll go well for you?

No, it won’t.

Well, at least, probably not.

IMG_1687

Italian cities and towns are home to many a Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL) or traffic limited zone. That means you, cruising around in your cinquecento, are going to be collecting a lot of traffic tickets for driving where you’re not allowed to drive. That’s one thing. And they chase you at home with those traffic tickets. (On a recent trip to France, I got two, so I should know!)

Now add the fact that most Italian cars are equipped with a manual transmission (you’ll probably pay a premium for an automatic), and are much smaller than our North American counterparts, and you’ve got a couple little speed bumps that you weren’t really counting on. I’ve seen families have to change their rental cars because all of their heaps of luggage doesn’t fit. People stall out in parking garages and roll down those rolling hills of Tuscany because they thought they could easily master driving a manual car in one go. And forget parking – it’s like an Olympic sport in Italy. You won’t get a spot close to where you need to be, and many hotels in city centres don’t have parking because of the blasted ZTL.

Loaded with luggage

Loaded with luggage

Solution? If you’re going from major city to major city, use the train. Italy is much better connected than Canada (and I assume the US) when it comes to trains, both high speed and milk run. They often come right into the centre of town (where you’ll likely be staying) and can be fairly comfortable. A car in any major city centre (and some smaller ones too) will only cause you extra headaches. I promise.

That said, there are some parts of Italy (the extreme south) that are just better visited with a car. I understand that. It will just take more planning on your part to make sure you don’t run into (m)any disasters.

La Stazione, Milano

La Stazione, Milano

4. How fast are you moving? My dear friend and I did a whirlwind 6-city-8-day trip around Italy a few years ago. Even though we were in our early twenties, hitting up beaches and taking the train, it was exhausting.

I advise you to take it easy and add in lots of leeway for things to go wrong (which they almost always do in Italy). Trains don’t run on time, reservation times are really just a suggestion, you will get lost in Siena’s labyrinthine streets and a disgruntled Venetian waiter will point you in the wrong direction when you’re lugging your suitcases around in the blazing July heat. (More about that later).

Travel guru Rick Steves always says to plan your trip as if you’re sure you’ll be back so as not to pack your schedule too tight. That way you can have the time you want to do some of the things you want (not all), but you’ll do them well and be satisfied with the experience. The last thing you want is to have a meltdown at a museum because the long line means you’re running 20 minutes behind your colour-coded schedule.

Additionally, try to minimize your one-night stops in places, and mix in easy days of staying in town with longer days of side-trips and excursions. Plan time just to walk around, nap (there’s no shame in it) or just lounge around reading a book and sipping prosecco. This is all part of the Italian experience too!

5. What’s your budget? I’m all for thrifty travel, but penny-pinching has its downsides too. High-rollin’ it all the way around The Boot might not be your best option, either. The moral of the story? Be realistic about your budget expectations. With the Internet, information about what pretty much everything costs is at your fingertips. Again, do your research so you won’t have too many surprises. You can find meals, accommodation, transportation and things to do in just about every price range, if you dig around a little.

A final word to the wise about money: If you’ve gone all the way to Italy, do the things you need to do (and therefore spend the money you need to spend) to enjoy it. It’d be mighty disappointing to want to climb the cupola of St. Peter’s in Rome but not do it because you think it costs too much.