Italy: They Speak Italian There

Posted by Marlinee on Jul 8, 2010 in Travels |

My friend Judy was having a significant birthday ending in zero and wanted to celebrate it in Italy, so we gathered together a group of eleven people and rented an enclave of three villas in the hills of Umbria. In preparation, I bought a guidebook and toyed with the idea of learning some useful Italian phrases (up to that point, my Italian vocabulary consisted of ‘pasta’ and ‘pesto’), but I abandoned that idea with the rationale that even if I mastered how to ask simple questions like “Dov’è il bagno?” I wouldn’t understand the answer anyway.

Although I was sharing a villa with one of the birthday entourage, we were travelling separately and arriving on different days. She was going to pick up a rental car when she got to Rome and drive to Umbria, while I was going to make my way there on some kind of local transit. I scored a ticket to Rome on Air Canada points, and booked a train ticket from Rome to Perugia, with a change in trains in the middle somewhere. Rather than the downtown station, my connecting train arrived on the outskirts of Perugia which was actually closer to the highway that leads to Città di Castello, the nearest town to our villas. I Google-mapped the station, and sent all of the information about my arrival time to Judy, who was going to pick me up when I got there.

The flight was uneventful and although I had to figure out how to retrieve my pre-booked ticket from the kiosk and run to make my train, it was pretty smooth going. I mentally ticked off every successful leg of the journey: get to Rome, find the train station, find the train, get on the train, change trains, arrive in Perugia. As we got closer, there were fewer and fewer people on the train that appeared to be tourists, and many more locals travelling a few stops. I don’t think I heard a word of English after we entered the country-side outside of Rome.

By the time I got to Perugia, it was getting dark, pouring rain, and since it was October, not very warm. The station stop at the edge of town was barely larger than a bus shelter, and looked like something out of a movie set just after WWII. There was a wooden bench, an old fashioned wicket with iron bars, and what looked like a medieval map of the train routes in the region. I was pretty much on time, so I went out to look for Judy. There wasn’t much of a parking lot, but there were no cars in evidence at all, so I went back inside to wait. And wait. And wait. Two or three other trains arrived and left in the mean time. This is when I figured out that Judy was probably at the downtown station, but I had no way to contact her. There didn’t seem to be a way to get from my current station to the central one, and in any case, she would probably be gone by the time I got there. Meanwhile, it was getting darker and wetter, and all indications were that the station would be closing down shortly.

I decided the best approach would be to find a train to Città di Castello and figure it out from there. Small problem: I had no idea how to ask about the train. I got out my guidebook map, went up to the wicket and pointed to where I wanted to go. The ticket agent gave me a disapproving look, and after an incomprehensible speech in Italian, thankfully issued me a ticket for what I hoped was the right train.

Things were looking up: the train arrived about 15 minutes later, and there were lots of seats. It was time to plan how to deal with my next problem – how to get to the villa once I got to the next station. I had no phone number (but anyway, I didn’t have a phone) but I did have an address. Surely I could get a taxi. To corroborate this plan, I asked the nearest passenger (in English of course) if she spoke English. Apparently not. Neither did anyone else on my train car. And it was getting darker and wetter.

We arrived in Città di Castello, where of course the train station had already closed. I went to the café/corner store beside it, which was fortunately open. Luckily, ‘taxi’ turned out to be an Italian word. The man behind the counter was nice enough to call me a cab and I thought I was home-free, or at least villa-bound.

This is where I discovered that the address I have is the equivalent of RR1 Umbria – in other words, not much of a clue as to the actual location of the villas. We drove up and down several mountains in the pouring rain and pitch dark, stopping to ask anyone along the road where the villa might be. At this point I was thinking I might have to go back to Città di Castello, try and find a place to stay, and tackle the problem anew in the morning. However, by some miracle we found the villas and the gang that had already arrived fed me a much needed glass of wine. But no Judy.

Eventually Judy arrived, livid that I had not been at, what was in her mind, the right station, while everyone else marveled that I had managed to get to the villas under my own steam without being able to utter a word of Italian.

The moral of the story is two fold: apparently Italian is the most commonly spoken language in Italy – who knew? And, always have a plan B.

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1 Comment

  • Loco says:

    Your comment about only knowing the words “pasta” and “pesto” are resonating with me. When I went to Italy, the only words I knew (according to my sister anyway) were food words, mostly beginning with “p”. Pasta, pesto, panne, panini, pomodoro, prosecco. I left it to other people to worry about dove il bagno (and prayed it would be more than a hole in the floor).

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