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Buying a coffee in Italy

Getting coffee in Italy is easy. There are usually coffee spots in every block. Of course, coffee in Italy is different from coffee in the USA. In Italy you never get a bottomless cup of drip coffee as is most common in the states. All the coffee comes out of an espresso machine. The coffees you might order include an espresso, a cappuccino, a latte, a macchiato, and an Americano. I’ll describe these in a moment.

Two Cappuccinos and an EspressoFirst though a few notes about getting a coffee. The most common place to stop for a coffee is a small store with a BAR sign. Unlike bars in the USA, Italian BARs are like candy stores with liquor and an espresso machine. (Note – most bars also have a toilette.)

When you walk in a bar look around, you might see three things. One – you’ll surely see a counter with a barista ready to serve. Two – there might be chairs and tables. Three – there might be a cash register (cassa) with a cashier.

If there is a cashier, you go to the cashier first, order your drinks, pay, and take the receipt to the barista who will make your drinks. If there is no cashier, you walk up to the bar and order.

Busy Roman Coffee Bar

Often there is a higher price for your drinks if you plan to sit. If you want to take a table tell the cashier or barista, “per tavolo” – for table – before you order. They will then either charge you accordingly, or ask you to sit for a server to take your order. As far as I’ve seen there is no way to tell about table service, so, I just always ask “Per tavolo?” and do as I’m told.

If there is no cashier, the barista, or table server, will bring the requested drink, and not expect you to pay till the end. If you’re ready to go, and no one is offering a check you can ask “Il conto?” – the check?

Coffee drinks are as follows –

Espresso – (also called “caffe”) shot of dark rich coffee in a tiny cup
Cappuccino – shot of espresso with foamed milk
Caffe Late – shot of espresso with more foamed milk often served in a glass
Macchiato – shot of espresso in a tiny cup “marked” with foamed milk
Americano – an Espresso with extra hot water to approximate a drip coffee (actually better than it sounds)

On a long day of touring and sketching, it is refreshing to stop every few hours and sit with an espresso. An espresso at the counter usually costs about a Euro, so it is the same cost as using public toilettes, and you get a coffee.

Though tipping in Italy is not mandatory, as in the US, it never hurts to leave a bit. “Il resto” – the change – is commonly left with your empty cup. I find that a 5% tip is greeted with gratitude. Anything over 10% is greeted a little suspiciously.

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Sketching Orvieto

We only spent one day in Orvieto, but most of the day we spent sketching. We spent a couple of hours in the Duomo, had lunch, then sat on a back street cafe for our last sketch session.

Sketching enhances you trip in three ways –

First, it causes you to pause, to take the time in a place longer than it takes to snap a photo and move on.

Second, it makes you observe more fully. When you sit with pen or pencil on paper, you are forced to look at details you would have missed. How many panels are on the wall behind the altar. How tall are the stained glass windows. How are the shapes repeated throughout the installation.

Finally, and most obviously, it enhances your sketching skills. Just like anything, the more facility you have with an activity, the more enjoyment you’ll have.

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Tickets on public transit in Rome

Tabbacchi Sign, Rome
There are three types of public transportation in Rome; Metro, Tram, and Bus. All three use the same tickets. You can purchase individual tickets at Tabacchi (tobacco / candy shops located all around Rome) or at Metro stations.

You can purchase unlimited one-day, three-day, one week and one month tickets at Metro stations in person or through a machine. For now, I’ll just talk about the one-ride tickets available at all these locations.

A single ride ticket gives you 100 minutes of unlimited riding on any city bus, tram (street car) or Metro (underground subway). The 100 minutes does not commence until you validate it on your first ride, so, the ticket can be in your wallet for days or weeks ready for use. If you do plan to use mass transit, I recommend you purchase a few tickets and have them in your pocket. It is sometimes hard to find a place to purchase tickets, especially late at night.

Metro Turnstile - RomeYou enter the Metro by inserting your ticket into the slot on the turnstile. Thus validating it and beginning your 100 minutes of use. It pops out of the top of the turnstile, you should pocket it to prove you’ve paid, and to have in case you transfer to a bus or tram and want to prove you have a validated ticket,

You can get on busses and street cars through any door. If the ticket you hold has not been validated, insert it into the orange machine bolted to one of the handrails. It will stamp a validation and return it to you. Pocket it. for the next 100 minutes you can ride any bus or tram without pulling it out, but it is there incase a transit inspector asks you to produce it. You only have to process it again if you enter the subway using a pre-validated ticket. Bus Validator - Rom

At the end of the 100 minutes, the ticket is worthless. You might as well throw it away, or save it for your travel scrap book.

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Buying Produce in Italy

Weighing Produce in an Italian Grocery
Don’t forget to weigh your produce

I hope you’ll buy your produce own  produce while visiting Italy. You’ll either visit a vendor or street cart, or maybe go to the Coop or Conad Grocery. If so, there are two ways to handle your selection.

In a grocery store –

All bulk produce is labeled with a price, and an item number. You are expected to arrive at the check out stand with your produce “pre-weighed” and labeled. Select your produce and put it into the plastic bag provided. Make note of the item number. Find the scale, like the one pictured here. place your bagged produce on the scale and press the item number that matches your produce. A printed label will come out of the scale which you attach to your bag.

If you’re like me and you don’t want to use all those individual plastic bags, you can weigh your items individually, print the labels, put all your produce in one bag, and attach multiple labels. The check out person will scan each of your labels on the single bag.

At a produce stand –

At a produce stand you don’t weigh your own produce. If fact, you don’t touch your own produce. You ask (or point) the the amount you want, and the proprietor will weigh and bag it for you. It is considered rude to handle a vendors produce yourself.

Remember, produce comes in Kilos, that’s a lot of potatoes. A good word to know is “Etto” and etto is a 10th of a kilo, or a bit less than a quarter pound.

Ask for “un atto” if you want that amount, Due, Tre, or Quattro etti for more. Like most Italian words, where the singular ends in “o” – Etto, to make it plural you switch it to “I” – Etti.