Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rain, Rain and More Rain...

The September months here in Sicily have been wet to say the least, even if the temperature is still warm. The streets have been overflowing with water, Etna has shrunk to a vague gray form hidden behind clouds, and the streets are deserted as locals stay away, partly through choice and partly because the motorway had collapsed so no one could go anywhere. Or if they had gone anywhere, they could not get back.

Yet credit where its due. The few remaining Brits who have arrived on holiday to this period of inclement weather, have done themselves proud, especially when you consider that the weather back in the UK has been sunny. A beach side holiday is what they came for, and that is what they are getting. Whilst no self respecting Italian would be seen now within a mile of the beach, the Brits are there, in the sea, swimming, splashing, alternating between the shelter of sea front cafes or ice cream shops, and the sun beds as the showers come and go, sandals and shorts wet, but determined.

Of all the images that remind me of home, and make me nostaligic, it is this attitude of 'lets make the most of it' that I miss. Although you can't help feeling sorry for them as they get off their tour operator coaches to find themselves knee deep in a puddle of water... All that is mising is a wet bag of chips and a bus shelter and it could be my home town of Morecambe

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The train that goes on the boat .. Travelling from Sicily to Rome

Tired of late flights, luggage restrictions and eco-scare stories, I decided this weekend on my regular trip back to Rome that I would take the overnight train. An estimated journey of around 9 hours, instead of being hurtled through the air in just 45 minutes. The train arrived on time leaving at 8pm expected in Rome around 6am. With a ticket price of just 34 euros, I smiled remembering the cost of the train between London and Manchester (standard open fare last time I looked was £220). Basic to say the least, no beds, no restaurant, but I was prepared. I was in pjyamas, I had a pillow and a picnic of bread, brie, red wine and kitkats. I also had a compartment for 6 to myself as the train was almost empty. What more could a girl ask for?

When the train reached Messina, the point where it crosses to the mainland, we sat for an hour and a half with no explanation. But then the train left and went straight onto the boat, the whole thing! Up a ramp like a car ferry, but a train ferry. There were four trains on altogether, and we were allowed to get off, and stand on deck. I took my wine. A crossing of around 30 mins to the Calabrian mainland, clear and amazing views. I had some slight problems getting back on the right train, as you cannot naviagate between train carriages like you can between cars, and lets face it, trains all look more or less the same, and it took three attempts to come down the right staircase.

Reaching the other side, darkness was complete, so time for bed. The trains gentle rocking was just sending me to sleep, when suddenly the door flew open and the light came on. Opportune rapist? Drunk passenger in wrong carriage? no, the 3am ticket inspection. I kid you not.
Anyway, sleep eventually came (I was able to lie down over three seats which was a nice treat) and eventually the morning light woke me as we neared the coast just below Rome, mountains on one side and the sea on the other. Somehow I had slept through Naples.

Two and half hours late, tired but happy. Next time, I will do the journey in the daylight. But after the inhuman way the airlines treat passengers, they perhaps could rethink their luggage policies as imagine trying to board a flight with wine, picnic food (complete with little knife and corkscrew) and TWO bags. Form now on, at least in Italy where train prices are cheap, it is something I will do more in future

Friday, September 18, 2009

Images of Italy

Series of photos of Italy set to music - today pictures speak louder than words.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Top Ten List of Things that Italians do Better than Brits

Whilst the average Italian has a complete inability to stand in a queue, or understand that if it is raining Ferrari will lose, they are the masters of invention, innovation and style. I am not talking about Prada or Ducati here, but the little everyday things that they do so much better than we do in the UK..
  1. After washing dishes, you place them in the drainer, which instead of being on the sink, is magically hidden in the cupboard above it. Ingenious.
  2. Small jars of spices and herbs come equipped ready for use. Pepper has a built in grinder, nutmeg has a mini graters... you get the idea
  3. Toothbrushes have a plastic cover that protects it from germs. Think about it. Most toothbrushes are on display in the same room as the toilet.
  4. Bidets. Not only for hygiene but no more balancing over the bath trying to shave your legs.
  5. The lever in the kitchen for turning off the gas when you have finished cooking
  6. The extra lifeline on 'Who Wants to be A Millionaire' where you get to change question. Money is lower though, sweat your way to question ten and you are only guarenteed 20,000 euros.
  7. Motor Insurance Certificates have to be displayed in the car window (the only good thing to be said about motoring in Italy)
  8. When buses and trains are in the terminal, they leave the doors open so you can get on, trusting you not to play with the buttons or injure yourself
  9. Bus stops (at least in Rome) have a clear linear map visible from the bus so you know which stop you have reached and how many are left until your destination. Ingenious.
  10. Everything related to food and drink. As one of my students told me in horror: "I went to stay with an English family on a language exchange and they gave me 'orange food'! Seems he meant baked beans.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Medical Certificates, double pay and missed bank holidays

Now I am working in a real job at least for a while, I am becoming immersed into the Italian bureacracy that surrounds a work contract. Goods news is that although pay is laughably low, they do at least pay you 14 times a year instead of 12. Making almost enough of a difference to at least pay for an extra cup of coffee and cornetto every year (croissant in case you imagine that Italians eat ice cream for breakfast). They also quote your salary in net per month, so you always know exactly how poor you are.

In terms of sickness, if you are off work sick you have to get a doctors note. Unlike the UK where you are trusted to stay in bed and be ill for at least four days before visiting the doctor, here you need to go the same day. So imagine that you wake up full of flu, or some vomiting illness, you have to try and get an appointment with a doctor, go to the waiting room which is as efficient as the post office (see earlier post) and spend two to three hours waiting to see a doctor to get a certificate which you then need to fax to the office, so you also need to find a fax shop that has not closed for the afternoon.

This assumes you have a doctor of course which many expats do not. For this you need a residency certificate which requires a private healthcare insurance certificate (around £600 per year at the moment and it has to be Italian so you have no idea what you are buying), a european nationality (or a permanent contract for work if not european) and the time to visit the government office at least three times, fill out twenty seven forms, let them visit your house, and then wait four years for it to go through the system. You can visit a private doctors (I have done this once which cost me 80 euros which went into the back pocket of the doctor who write the prescription I needed in my boyfriend's name), costing more than the day's pay you will lose. You can instead opt to take it from the rather small allocation of holidays.

Speaking of holidays, Italy has more than its fair share of national and regional holidays where offices close as there is a saint for almost every occassion. Sadly they are on fixed dates, and if they fall on a weekend, then you miss out like the August 15th country shutdown this year, which was on a Saturday.

So next time you complain about a British bank holiday think about the wonderful Monday system so that even if it is raining, at least you are guarenteed to have a day off work!