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Old 08-04-2006, 11:48 AM   #1
rye
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Hey all!

I have been lurking and love the vibe here. Hoping you all can answer some ?'s I have.

I am a 27 year old married lady, currently re-enrolled in school to finish a long awaited bachelors degree. I always regretted not traveling more when I was younger and unattached, and have recently expressed this to my unbelievably supportive husband. He has encoured me to go to Italy next may and june and live for 6-8 weeks in Florence (my dream.) I'm hoping to take an immersion course - learn the language, absorb myself in the culture, take some cooking classes, and eat as much food as I can! He's going to come out and meet me towards the end and we'll go explore more of Italy and head to Greece for a week or two (his dream.)

Not sure why I'm giving you my life story (other than that I am pumped!) and I want to start planning now so I can save enough.

My questions:

- Do you know of a reputable agency/website where I can find apartment rentals for a short period of time? (Is this common to do in Europe?) Would it behoove me to just stay in a hostel? I am low maintenance, but not really a partier anymore - so I would be looking more to have an environment where I could read and write and meet people - but in a low key way. As a (petite) female, I am also concerned about safety.

- How much of the language should I know before heading over? I have traveled before (Russia, Africa, Mexico) but have never been to Europe, and am culturally sensitive. I don't want to be the obnoxios American asking for bagels in a cafe! I plan on learning while over there, but just want to get an idea of how much English is spoken, and how to best prepare myself for a language immersion before going. Any suggestions on good audio programs to learn from? I am particularly interested in learning words and phrases to do with food and wine.

- Anyone have any first hand experience with the Universities, language schools, or cooking schools in Florence? I would love to hear any stories or reccomendations.

- After my husband comes out to meet me, we want to explore Tuscany and hit Rome and Venice, and then go South to find my roots in Palermo. Is it reasonable to think we could rent a car and travel the country? I know the trains are fantastic, but we really want to get a feel for the countryside and move at our own pace. I wouldn't want to have a car while in Rome and Venice, but love the idea of driving through areas I would not otherwise explore if I flew or took trains to the major cities.

Thanks for getting to the end of my rambling - I'm sure you are all well aquainted with the feeling of excitement I have right now - even though I have 10 months to go!

happy travels...
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Old 08-04-2006, 12:05 PM   #2
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First of all, CONGRATULATIONS! You are going to have a blast!

Well, I'm by no means an expert on these subjects compared to a lot of people here, but I will tell you what I (think) I know.

When I was in Italy, the people seemed to be really excited when I would attempt Italian, however disasterous the outcome, so I would say that you should learn as much as you can before you can go, but don't be stressed about being shunned if it's not much. Italians are friendly people! For teach yourself language programs, I've heard that the Rosetta Stone brand is the creme de la creme, though pricey.

For the car rental, I can't say that I rented in Italy, but I don't see why you wouldn't be able to. I did rent a car in Portugal, and I agree about being able to get off the beaten path and move at your own pace. It was one of the most enjoyable parts of my trip. You might even think about renting one with some fellow travelers and exploring before your hubby arrives.

And that's about all I got... But don't worry, I'm sure you'll get a lot more information here soon. T-punks love to help. Makes us feel useful
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Old 08-04-2006, 01:36 PM   #3
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I have only been to Florence for a couple days on one of my trips to the EU. I found the people very friendly and the food (especially gelato!) the best!

You can learn the food words and phrases from any good phrasebook. I suggest a Lonely Planet or Rick Steves as they are well layed out and easy to use. Any other Italian you can pick up is obviously helpful.

Enjoy!

Foo

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Old 08-06-2006, 06:57 AM   #4
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We have the Rosetta Stone CDs for German, and the kids and my husband like them a lot. I don't spend a lot of time with them myself, but they seemed good the little I did. Not the widest scope of vocabulary, but you can supplement that with guide books or menu translators. We actually inherited an Italian menu decoder when we moved into this house, and it's terrific if you have the time to really study it (or if you remember to bring it along with you...) By contrast, I had to learn to sound Italian for a play recently, and listened to a "teach yourself Italian" CD - I guess it was alright for accent, because everyone asked if I was Italian, but it was very strange - it was arranged by segment: "at the hotel", "in a restaurant", "at the station" and so forth, but the vocabulary seemed extremely random to me - in the restaurant section it taught me how to ask for a table, a chair, a fork, milk and a bottle of wine. Not my idea of the ideal meal, really. If you can borrow a couple of different discs from the library, that might be a good way of seeing whether they'd be of any use, before you spend oodles of money on something sub-par.

As far as accommodations, if you want your privacy, it might be best to look into renting an apartment, though I should imagine this would be pretty costly in Florence or any other main city. If you don't mind having other people around, you might be able to rent a private or double room at a hostel for a longer period at a discounted price. Or contact the city tourism office and get a list of people who rent rooms - you might be able to live in someone's house, which would give you a great opportunity to practice your language skills and would be an invaluable cultural experience. If you're taking a course through the university, they might also offer this as an option - my husband opted for the "homestay" option when he did a language course in Lithuania. They may also offer dormitory accommodations at the university - I'd begin by researching the course you want to take and see what options they offer, it might answer a lot of your questions right there.

You could certainly rent a car, and driving around is a fabulous way to explore the out of the way places in a country. It's good to know that Italians have earned their reputation as crazy drivers, and it's also helpful to know that the rules apply less and less the farther south you go. We recently drove from Germany to Naples, and found a clear difference between the Milanese, Romans and Neapolitans. We didn't make it any further south than that, but got a pretty good idea, I think! We also drove around in the north, just west of Venice, and that was beautiful and not at all traumatic driving. It's not a bad idea to get an international driver's permit before you go - it isn't essential, but it only costs $10 from AAA (even if you're not a member) and sometimes makes it easier to rent a car or deal with a policeman.

As for safety, I don't think you'll have a whole lot to worry about, if you stick to pretty obvious common sense stuff (don't walk down dark alleys alone at night, don't get hammered on your own, that kind of thing) though of course just about any woman is going to attract the gaze and possibly remarks of just about every Italian man - best course is just to completely ignore it.

I also paid attention to the way the Italian women held their purses - it seemed like over the shoulder and hanging on the side away from the street, often with a hand on the strap, was a common approach. I normally hold my purse that way anyway, so it's mostly just habit, but to date I've not had any problems with having it snatched, but I don't know if that's good planning or dumb luck.

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Old 08-08-2006, 04:31 PM   #5
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wow - thank you so much for all of your helpful replies! I am so excited about this decision, and getting such supportive advice really makes me think with a little planning and thought, I can do this exactly how I would like to!

I had not even thought to hit the library for language CD's - great suggestion.

Nice to be on these boards, it's clear there are many seasoned travelers here, which makes me comfortable taking this advice. I appreciate any further input.

All the best.

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Old 08-17-2006, 08:43 PM   #6
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I used "Unforgetable Languages". It is very simple, and I learned A LOT quickly. You can try samples on the website: http://www.unforgettablelanguages.com/frames_a19.html
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Old 08-18-2006, 09:56 AM   #7
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Hello hello, Welcome and congrats on this wonderful life new choice you have made in your life, I am sure you will have a fabulash time! Okie on the language matter I belive things have been pretty wide for you to chose from, but I would actually try and get a more feel right to it, go to your local trattoria or pizza place and talk to the people just so you can get a sense of how it is and to check the accents. By the way you never know, you might finish up getting Calzone ( I love the thing but why the hell would you call something you eat underwear?) for free.

Now, I'm not giving you the most accurate links but I'm giving you something so you can have an idea and do your reseach based on, also I would like to know what is your budget plan so I can give you a more detailed search.
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And on safety I have never had much issues on the past but that's me and I'm not a "petite" female, so I rather you get that info from another "petite" Tpunker!

Oh and give me some feedback so I can be of more help. God I feel useful!
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Old 08-26-2006, 12:23 PM   #8
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That is real cool. An immersion trip sounds like a great idea.
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