Things We Have Learned (2010)

The first bunch of 2010’s Things We Have Learned will apply to Italy because that’s where we’ve spent nearly all our time so far.

1. In the US, having a university in a town tends to do good things for the town’s ambiance. The same is true in Italy.

2. Gothic facades on Italian churches usually date from the mid-19th century.

3. Some oranges are a deep, dark red. This can be disconcerting.

4. When checking in, ask whether the amount of electrical service varies from one part of the campground to another. 

The reason it took us more than two years to learn this is that we never had this kind of problem until we hit the campground in Florence this year.

We’d read that the place supplied only 3 amps of 220-volt power: OK, we’d gotten by with that little in other campgrounds. But this time we kept blowing the circuit breaker every five minutes or so, even when Rover was completely shut down.

We asked the attendant. “Oh,” he said, gesturing toward the jungle of campers’ cables at the post where we were plugged in. “There is only 2 amps there. Would you like more? There,” he said, pointing fifty feet away, “there is 10 amps.” (That’s right: TEN %@#! AMPS !) “But you will need a long cord to get there.”

We would, and we didn’t have it. So we moved Rover the requisite fifty feet to a small pitch near the new post with its own jungle of cables, plugged in, and sure enough, had no more blown circuit breakers.

(It is not clear how a campground can think it is providing minimally adequate service to patrons while failing to ask at check-in, “Would you like electricity? If so, HOW BLOODY MUCH do you want? You may select either 2A or 10A.”)

5. If you’re in the right lane on a divided highway and a car approaches from behind, shifts to the left to pass you, afterwards returning to the right lane, all without ever getting its right-side tires completely into the left lane . . . the odds are 100-to-1 that its rear license plate will read “I” for “Italy.”

6. To banish the stresses of the day, cheap wine works as well as expensive--maybe even better, if you believe the low price gives you license to drink more of it than you otherwise would.

7. The Giro d’Italia, the three-week bike race through this bicycle-crazed country, isn’t on TVs in Italian sports bars.

8. It is considered good etiquette in grocery stores to slip on a plastic glove provided by the management before selecting fresh fruits or vegetables.

9. Many campers fill their RV water tanks from a spigot located only a few feet away from the pit where they have just dumped their black water (an RVer euphemism for sewage).

10. And they use the same water hose in both operations.

11. "Italy doesn't have a service economy," someone told us. This explains a lot.

12. Parts of Italy are so beautiful, and the wines and foods so good, that the effect of the previous eleven comments/complaints becomes insignificant.

13. Lots of people drive really fast in Austria, too.

14. At a campground, the longer the login password, the less powerful the internet service.

15. Throughout Europe, the recreational bicyclists we’ve seen ride in full team uniforms: shorts, jerseys, even team-colored helmets (which they wear less frequently than in the US). The serious cyclists have a fine disdain for bike paths, and drivers always give way to them.

16. Cheap Austrian wine isn’t as cheap as cheap Italian wine, which isn’t as cheap as cheap French wine. 

17. No matter how many tourists there are, on Sunday afternoon the stores in town will be closed . . . except in Rotterdam.

18. No matter that the stores are closed on Sunday afternoon, the tourists will be walking down the shopping streets.