Practical Matters – Living Abroad

Multa – Ancora!!! NO More Tickets!

Son of a &*^%(!  ONCE AGAIN our Fiat 500 L got a ticket.  Notice, I said the car got the ticket – not my Indy 500 wanna be speed demon husband.  Tickets are mailed to you two or three months after you zoom by an autovelox. Traffic cameras, autovelox, – which are bloody everywhere – clock your speed and grab your license plate number.  The autovelox, however, are not sneaky, smarmy cameras.  These are blatant speed traps. There are signs announcing them and most GPS devices have them listed. Beware of –

autovelox

Now, I don’t know where the car was out by itself speeding – because obviously no one in MY FAMILY would speed on an Italian road.  Or not see the SIGN.  The tickets come in the mail and you pay the fine at the ufficio postale.  This is the third one we have been SURPRISED to get.  The tickets go to the car – that is to the the person to whom the car is registered.  The car is in my name.  Hmmmmmmmmm.

Yikes, what if you are driving a rental?  The ticket gets mailed to the rental agency and then the rental agency – a few weeks or in our case months later – charges your credit card.  Watch out for that – because we also discovered that you can be charged and not have been driving the car that day.  Always ask to see the ticket and demand to know the date and time.

Here are some – Don’t get a ticket – hints.

speed-sign
My favorite Italian Attorney, Rossella Mancini, filled Jack and me in on the speed limits law – JACK memorize this –
The general speed limits are as follows (this is only valid for cars. The limits are different for trucks, buses and agricultural vehicles):
-130 Km / h on motorways, which are reduced to 110 in case of rain or poor visibility;
-110 Km / h on main roads outside urban areas (the ones with 2 lanes in each direction) which reduced to 90 in case of rain or poor visibility;
– 90 km / h on secondary rural roads (they are those with one lane in each direction);
– 50 km / h in built-up area (which can be the smallest of villages perched on the highway.)
lower or upper speed limits may be imposed in the presence of suitable signals present on the roads.
Thanks Rosella!  I am posting this in our car.

The speed on the local roads changes randomly.  Sta attento!  Pay attention to the signs!  We noticed that where the roads need repairs – and that is a lot of roads in a lot of places- the town, region or province merely lowers the speed limit on that road. Whoops, we’ve got a giant pothole – lets just lower the speed limit and go for a coffee.  The road washed away in the last flood, lets put up some orange plastic tape to narrow it down to one lane and reduce the speed limit.  A lot of Italian roads are in deplorable condition – not the Autostrada or the main roads but the local roads.  Lack of funds that has caused this situation.  The speed limits are posted so don’t drive and daydream about lunch.

If you are zooming along and suddenly all the cars in front of you slam on their brakes, slam on yours.    All locals know where the autovelox cameras are and slam on the brakes to drive 5-10 miles below the posted speed.  The slowdown lasts for a few hundred feet beyond the autovelox and then zooooooom the cars race off again. Since Italians always slow down for these camera boxes, drive like an Italian.

traffic-italy-sign

These signs are easy to miss!

Beware of Zona Traffico Limitato.  ZTL is a Limited Traffic Zone.  We are familiar with the one in Alghero, Sardinia.  In the historic center the roads are incredibly narrow and full of tourists. Driving there is limited to very few taxis and residents with stickers.  Hours may or may not be posted on the signs too.  Between posted hours cars are forbidden access to the ZTL. What will make you crazy is that all cities do not have the same rules.  If you are driving to a new city or village, take the time to look at a local map.   Car driving can cost you your vacation savings. Traffic cameras are everywhere and take a picture of your license plate. As I said earlier, the rental company will get the ticket and will forward the expense on to you. Probably with a service fee.  Do NOT drive in a ZTL.  Park outside the zone and walk in.  On foot you see more anyway and meet all kinds of interesting folks. If you are staying in a B&B or hotel in the ZTL and have a car – ask them what to do.  Some hotels can issue a temporary pass.  The fine is huge!  Better to spend that money on great olive oil to bring back.

2017 – new rules – Highway Code in 2017

Don’t text, talk or play with your cell phone!  Italians can now loose their licenses if caught.  The fines are incredibly steep – 161 euro to 646 euro!  Now that is one hell of a ticket.

Our Fiat 500 L misses us and we will soon be back driving around Pontelandolfo.  Since I don’t want my insurance to become so astronomical that I can’t afford to go out to dinner, I will become the car nag.  My nagging will be done with love….

Ci vediamo!

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Categories: Practical Matters - Living Abroad, Travel Comments | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Pronounce Those Endings!

Hmm, I wonder where the forks are?  “Dove sono le forchett….”  Le forchettE sono lì.   LE FORCHETTE!  Errrrrr how embarrassing to have my pronunciation corrected by a five year old in a fancy hotel breakfast room.  Of course we were in Tuscana the birth place of the Italian language.  Learning Italian has been challenging for me. It has also provided the entire village of Pontelandolfo with comic relief.  From school children to shopkeepers to old men playing scopa – everyone corrects me and giggles.  Some also roll their eyes and wander why they have to repeat a word 5 million times in order for me to remember it.  Yes, it does take a village to teach this old dog new tricks.  Hmm, that adage, “You Can’t Teach an Old Dogs New Tricks,” has really never resonated with me.

First of all – DEFINE OLD!  Go on – I dare you.  Secondly, learning a new language keeps the brain young and active.  Thirdly – well – I started to learn Italian when I was 50.  It has been 17 years and I’m still learning.  I hear you – why didn’t she listen to her grandmother?  Why didn’t she learn Italian as a child?  Why?  Because growing up in rural agrarian Somerset County, New Jersey I never heard Italian.

86950-PH-GFB1-034 Unlike the kids growing up in urban pockets of Italian families, I never heard Italian.  Not one of the five Italian families in Flagtown, New Jersey spoke Italian within my ear-shot.  My grandmother, aunts and uncles – all born in Italy – spoke unaccented standard American English.  I thought that was the norm.  I didn’t know that some kids grew up in duo-lingo Italian American families.  DUH!

When I was older I asked Zia Caterina why not one member of our family spoke Italian to us.  There were two reasons – one was survival.  They needed to assimilate to get jobs and not be picked on.  Aunt Cat recalled the taunts of dumb dago or wop and the smack she got on the head from her first teacher in Dundee Lake (Passaic County) because she had just arrived and didn’t understand English. Simple, they had to be American so they had to learn English. The second reason infuriates me.  I was born just after World War II – that period of time when Italian Americans were put in interment camps.  Yup, just like the Japanese.  Fear of Mussolini’s ties to Hitler and Fascism ignited the ignorant and Italian immigrants – many of whom had sons serving in the American military were whisked from their homes and locked up.  No one talks about it. Italo-Americano refer to it as  Una Storia Segreta – the Secret Story.  Italian Americans couldn’t have a wireless radio.  They had curfews. My Uncle Nick, who was too old to be naturalized with my grandparents, was threatened with deportation.

I’ve seen a few documentaries on this period and they incite me.  Today, when I hear politicians talk about opening up interment camps and building walls I wonder how many Americans know their history and understand what that means?  Not every person of a race or a religion is evil.  Hell, my family wasn’t evil.

enemy

My family took the signs to heart and “spoke American.”   Actually, they spoke English better than lots of folks I have known.  They were so good at it that Italian may be in my DNA but it isn’t embedded in my cervello. Studying Italian is a challenge that grounds me in my past and opens doors to new beginnings.  In New Jersey, I study with other Italophiles at Dorothea’s House in Princeton.  For total immersion in a fabulous ocean front city, I head to Alghero, Sardegna and Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera.

Learning the language has introduced me to parts of my heritage that I have embraced and history that has both saddened and intrigued me.  My Italian – as rough as it is –  has helped me research my family tree, become part of the fabric of the village and make new friends on both sides of the Atlantic.  I figure, I am not too old to learn and if I wasn’t learning and exploring my brain would turn to mush.

Ci Vediamo!

 

Categories: Practical Matters - Living Abroad | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Americans Living Abroad Need to VOTE!

Those of us who are able to split our time between an adventure in a foreign country and the United States are incredibly fortunate.  Living in another country, we still need to remember our obligations as American citizens.  Every American living abroad needs to vote!  Vote in the primaries.  Vote for the local candidates.  AND especially vote during the presidential elections.  Those of you who know me and have followed me, know that I was born into a family of staunch Democrats and frankly, have never had a reason to become anything else.  That said, I’m not going to use this platform to tell you who to vote for.  I am going to ask you look at the video provided by Democrats Abroad that tells you just how easy it is to get that absentee ballot and VOTE in this presidential election.

AND MAY THE BEST WOMAN WIN!!!

Ci vediamo!

Categories: Any Day in Pontelandolfo, Practical Matters - Living Abroad | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Genealogy Hints – Naturalization of your Ancestors

richedit2Our resident genealogist, the charming and smart Rich Venezia of Rich Roots Genealogyhas returned with more helpful hints on discovering our individual stories.  Many of you of Italian descent, have e-mailed me about obtaining Italian Citizenship.  Rich is the expert .  Here he talks about the first and most important step – naturalization of your ancestors.

Dear Readers of Nonna’s Mulberry Tree,

This month, we’ll be tackling a question I am asked all the time: How do I know if I qualify for dual citizenship?

While there are lots of rules and regulations – it is the Italian government, after all! The most important question you have to answer is the naturalization question.  Just when did your ancestor become an American Citizen?  If your Italian ascendant (say, your grandfather), naturalized prior to the birth of their child/your American-born ascendant (say, your father) – well, then the Italian bloodline was not passed through, and you’d be ineligible. However, if the Italian ascendant never naturalized, or naturalized after the birth of your American-born ascendant – well, we may be in business!

What?  You don’t get it?  Simple – we’ll use Midge as an example.  Her Grandfather, Francisco Guerrera became a naturalized American Citizen after Midge’s dad, Giovanni Francisco Guerrera, was born.  Even though her dad never understood that he was an Italian citizen until Midge started researching – he was!  The Italians don’t care where you are born if at the time of your birth your parents – or parent  – is an Italian citizen, then you are too!!!  Midge’s story.

So, the first step to citizenship – start looking into your parent’s or grandparent’s (great grandparent’s, etc.) naturalization. Here are some places you can survey –

The best place to start is by searching census records. These are accessible in various places online – notably Ancestry.com (check if your library has a subscription). Censuses starting in 1900 have a citizenship status column, and censuses until 1940 are available. (1950 becomes available in 2023.) If your grandfather immigrated in 1913, you should be able to find him on the 1920 census. Usually, one of four things are listed in the citizenship column:

NA = Naturalized

PA = First papers submitted (usually, a declaration of intent [to become a citizen])

AL = Alien (i.e., unnaturalized)

NR or blank = No record; it’s possible immigrant provided the info or know

Biagio Camperlino - 1920 census - Ancestry.com

Thanks to Ancestry.com – we see the PA and AL on the right.

So – if you find Grandpa in 1920, and he is listed as AL, and then you find him again in 1930, and he listed as NA – you can surmise that he probably became a citizen between 1920 and 1930. (Now – let’s just hope your father was born in 1919!)

The thing about censuses is that they can be very inaccurate, so it is unwise to take this information as completely factual without corroborating with further research. I have seen people go from being listed as “NA” in one census to “AL” in the next census, or people list “PA” for 30 years running! Do use the censuses as a guide, but just a guide! You’ll want to corroborate your information, especially for something as important and complex as obtaining dual citizenship.

World War I draft registration - FamilySearch

World War I Draft Registration from FamilySearch noted he was an alien.

If your male Italian ancestor was here in 1917 and/or 1918, and was “of fighting age” – that is, born between about 1873 and 1900, he should be included in the World War I draft registration card database. Note that all eligible men had to register – these cards don’t just exist for men who served in WWI. These registration cards can be found on websites like Ancestry.com or Fold3, as well as for free on FamilySearch. Most of these cards have a question relating to citizenship status – whether the registrant is a natural-born citizen, a naturalized citizen, an alien, or having declared intention. If your ancestor’s citizenship status matches that on the 1920 census (remember there were 2 or 3 years in between), you are one step closer to the truth.

Now that you have a timeframe in which your ancestor may have naturalized, what do you do next? The age-old answer: It depends. Naturalization records are held at different repositories, and each state and county may hold their records at different places. In New Jersey, most county clerks hold the naturalization records for their county (for instance, Middlesex County and Hudson County records can be found in those counties.). By calling the Office of the County Clerk, you can determine if they hold these records. However, in Monmouth County, for instance, their records are held at their County Archives – which has a searchable database online!  It is worth the phone call to see if you can do the research from the comforts of home!

Michelle Tucker Chubenko of Jersey Roots Genealogy is a colleague and friend of mine. She wrote a blog post that might be helpful on finding records in the NJ district courts.

In Pennsylvania, records are *generally* held at the Prothonotary’s Office, but this differs from county to county.

This is Midge, I had never in my life heard the word “prothonotary.”  What the hell is that?  According to the source for all – Wikipedia: The word prothonotary is recorded in English since 1447, as “principal clerk of a court,” from L.L. prothonotarius (c. 400), from Greek protonotarios “first scribe.”  Who knew?!  

If you are having trouble finding the records, keep in mind that some state archives, local or regional libraries, or genealogical societies may also hold these naturalization records. The New Jersey State Archives, for instance, holds a vast collection of naturalization records – for some counties, into the 1940s and 1950s! (Union or Sussex County ancestors, anyone?)

Another complication is that the naturalization laws changed in 1906 – and a lot of Local Courts lost their ability to naturalize citizens.  Now the search gets a little sticky!  Just what court naturalized our ancestor??

If a US District Court existed in the city or county where your ancestor lived, it’s extremely likely they would have naturalized through this court. In Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, for instance, after 1906, all naturalizations occurred in the US District Court of Western Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh. In New York City, many immigrants would have been naturalized at the US District Court of New York (Southern District) if they were Manhattanites or from the Bronx. Queens, Kings, and Staten Island residents likely naturalized through the US District Court of New York (Eastern District). In New Jersey, there were District Courts in Newark, Camden, and Trenton. The records of the US District Courts are generally held by their regional branch of the National Archives (NARA) – NY and NJ at NARA New York, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia at NARA Philadelphia, Ohio at NARA Chicago, etc.

Citizenship Frank

My nonno was naturalized in a Local Court.

The good news is that a lot of these records can be searched online (at least up to the 1930s or 1940s). Italian Genealogical Group has indexed the records of the NJ and NY District Courts. The Pennsylvania District Courts’ records are on Ancestry.com up till 1930. FamilySearch also has a large amount of naturalization records available online for free – both District Court and Local Court records. You can also order a search with NARA for a nominal fee – National Archives.

If you have lots of time to wait and not a lot of time to do the research – this may be the option for you. It requires a little less detective work but a long waiting period .  Just pay the fee and order an index search from US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). They hold all naturalization records from 1906 onward. A search can be ordered here: US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The current waiting period to receive the results of the index search is anywhere from 6-8 months.  That doesn’t seem so bad.  However, then factor in another 6-8 months to receive the record if one has been found using the index search. I generally find it a little easier to verify naturalization by other means. However, you should be able to use the results of the index search to determine your eligibility. A date of naturalization is usually listed on the index search, so you can determine whether this was before or after the birth of your American-born ancestor.

A USCIS index search would also come in handy if you believe your ancestor never naturalized. There will likely be an AR-2 (alien registration form) for them if they were alive in 1940. (Midge here -Why is it that alien makes me think of ET Phone Home?)  Even if the USCIS search is negative – no naturalization for grandpa – you may subsequently request a letter certifying the non-existence of a naturalization.  If this were the case for your ancestor, the Italian Consulate would require such a letter for your dual citizenship appointment.

The bottom line is – no matter how you find your ancestor’s naturalization record, the date that they were granted citizenship to America is key. It must be after the date of their child, your American-born ascendant. The concept of dual citizenship jure sanguinis, through bloodline, only works if the bloodline is unbroken – and until 1992, Italian nationals could hold only one citizenship.

In boca al lupo. May your search be swift and uncomplicated, and may you be eligible for a beautiful red passport!

Rich Venezia is a professional genealogist based in Pittsburgh, PA. He specializes in Italian, Irish, and immigrant ancestry, and NJ/NYC and Pittsburgh-area research. He also assists clients with dual citizenship applications. He has worked on two genealogy TV shows (including PBS’ “Genealogy Roadshow”) and is available for client research and speaking engagements.  His website can be found at richroots.net and he can be reached at rich@richroots.net. He adores Midge and her blog, and is so thrilled to be visiting with her regularly. A presto!

Categories: Finding My Family, Practical Matters - Living Abroad | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Voted Early – NJ Primary From Italy

I loved the age old mantra – heartening back to Tammany Hall I think – or was it a “Chicago- style politics” slogan – “Vote Early and Often!” Using the Federal Voting Assistance Program, Jack and I voted on April 22nd for the June 7,2016  Presidential Primary.  Now that is early!  Don’t be silly! I’m a Rooseveltian Democrat I didn’t vote in the Republican Primary.   Earlier, I had posted that Jack and I had initiated the process before we left New Jersey. Here is how it worked.

It is really simple.  Go to the Federal Voting Assistance Program website.  Fill out the forms.  Print them, scan them and se-mail them to your local election official.  On the website they give you all the information you need.

The Fabulous Stephanie, Somerset County Clerk’s Principal Elections Clerk,  sent us PDF’s of a NJ Democratic Ballot, An Electronic Transmission Sheet, Waiver of Privacy and a cover page.  You need to know that if your vote electronically from abroad everyone knows how you vote – that is the waiver I had to sign.  Hell, I didn’t care.  I tell people anyway.  The Transmission sheet is like a FAX cover sheet that has been pre printed with my New Jersey and Italian information.  I printed it all out, marked my ballot, scanned the documents and e-mailed them back from whence they came.  What – the e-mail address bounced back!  I carefully typed the address from the original  Transmittal Cover Sheet again.  FxxxxxxxxnxxxA – Bing a bang it came back.  Damn, I am going to vote.   Using the number that was on the Transmittal Cover Sheet, I called the County Clerk’s Office – yes from Italy and got voice mail.  I left a smarmy message about calling from Italy, about voting and when would be a good time to call again and get a real person.  I left my Italian number knowing that no one would call me back.  What’s a determined Democrat to do?????

I looked at the original e-mail from Stephanie and noted her direct number.  I dialed, she answered and deserves a raise for dealing with me.  She was happy to hear that I got the ballot, sad to hear about my problem and then gently asked me where I had sent the ballot.  Why back to the County Clerk’s Office.  Midge, it goes to the Board of Elections – that address is on YOUR transmittal cover sheet – you used the address from our Transmittal sheet!!!!  ERggggggg.  All those lectures to my college students about reading every page of everything before you do anything came bounding back into my head.  Maybe the professor should do as she says!!!  We both laughed at my stupidity.  Sure enough the federalvoter@co.somerset.nj.us worked.

Then I read all the instructions and realized we might be in deep do do.  It says that you not only have to e-mail the PDF you have to snail mail it as well.  Now I have mailed birthday cards a month in advance from Pontelandolfo and they have gotten to the folks two years later.  My landlord sent me a Christmas Card in November and I got it at Easter.  The instructions said you had to airmail the packet immediately.  Oops.  Monday, April 25 was a national holiday in Italy.  Il Ufficio Postale will be closed.  We had processed the ballots on Friday night our time.  Ooooops.  Tuesday the 26th was the best we could do.

The post office here is the local bank, Bill paying station, and sells stuff.  There is always a line.  I brought a book, sat and waited my turn.  It is civilized. We do have seats.  I explained that I needed to send the documents rapidly.  What type of services did they have that would expedite an envelope to the USA.  The clerk didn’t have a clue.  She asked her boss. They waded through boxes and looked in files.  Now, I could send a box – but that seemed absurd with 6 pieces of paper.  Finally, since apparently airmail is a thing of the past – I mean all mail is airmail so why the hell is that on the instructions????  Hmm maybe they remember the slow boat to China???   It cost me 9.05 euro to send a quasi registered letter to the Somerset County Board of Elections.  I hope they get it.  I hope they get it this year.

Question.  If they do not receive the paper ballot do they disqualify my e-mail ballot?  On May 6th I sent them an e-mail asking them if they got the e-mailed ballot. The Board of Elections responded promptly – yes.  I didn’t ask if they needed to have my hard copy too.  Does my vote count without it??  I’m going to wait until the middle of May and call and find out.  It does say to “find out the status of your ballot contact your election official.”  I’ll keep you all in the loop.

Ex-Pat Pals – No Excuse –  Vote Early!

Ci Vediamo!!!

Categories: Practical Matters - Living Abroad | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

25 Aprile- Festa Della Liberazione

It started with me looking out the window, and wondering if the post office was open today. Why am I wondering? Because it is a national holiday here – Festa Della Liberazione.  Over the weekend, Jack and I both voted absentee in the June 2016 New Jersey State Presidential Primary. After emailing a PDF of the ballot to New Jersey, the rules say we must immediately  airmail copies of said ballad. (Does that mean I’m voting twice?)

Since things close here when there are no holidays and some are open when there are holidays – no I haven’t figured out the system yet – I wondered if the Ufficio Postale would be open. It was freaking pouring buckets of freezing rain and I didn’t want to go to the post office if it was closed. The Ufficio Postale web site didn’t have a list of hours or holidays.  Many Italian websites are difficult for me to explore – it isn’t the language barrier – it is the – who the hell designed this – barrier.  Maybe the hours are buried somewhere – or maybe the hours change from region to region or province to province.  The province of Milan had its own easy to use website and list of post office hours. La Provincia di Benevento did not.  Bo!

The temperature dropped to close to freezing, the rain turned to slush and I decided it would be more interesting to find out what Festa Della Liberazione was all about then to walk down the hill to the post office in the pouring rain to find out if it was closed.

partigiani-640

Men and Women Partisans – We Honor You!

Thanks to Giorni-Festivi.it, I got the story –

L’anniversario della Liberazione, conosciuto anche come Festa della Liberazione, è un giorno festivo italiano nonché festa nazionale. Essa è conosciuta anche come anniversario della Resistenza, o semplicemente “25 aprile”. 

The anniversary of the Liberazione, also known as the Liberation Day is an Italian public and national holiday. It is also known as the anniversary of Resistance, or simply “25 April”. The day honors those partisans  who, during World War II, opposed the fascist government of Mussolini and German occupation by Hitler’s Nazis.  It is a symbolic date.

My favorite source of information, The Pontelandolfo News, has a full story and you can – on my computer anyway – read it in English.

There are celebrations in big cities – particularly the north where citizens eagerly joined the partisans to help kick out the Nazis.  Jack and I celebrated by going to Don Peppino in Campolattara.  When I think about it – we were thinking and talking about partisans (including the briganti)  who suffered for freedom – while we gorged on great artigianale food – hmmmmm.  Is that like having a beer blast at the beach on Memorial Day?  Our hats are off to all those brave men and women who fought for freedom then and continue to fight for freedom now.

PS – we drove to the piazza and the Ufficio Postale was closed.  So was the bank, edicolo, tabacchi etc.  Guess what was open???

Ci Vediamo!

 

 

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Train Travel Hints

Class counts!  If you can swing it – go to the head of the class! Our business class seats on Frecciarossa between Milan and Rome had all the bells and whistles. Imagine, electric leather seats that accommodate a butt of substance and can slide into an almost sleep mode. Wifi that works was a plus as were the electric outlets.  All the seats had tables for two or for the working team or card sharks, seats and a table for four.  Each seat arrangement had a cute little clear plastic wall that separated the chosen few from the folks walking down the aisle.  Hey look at me – walking down the aisle to the clean and large bathroom.

First class seats are not leather and may or may not move – depending on the train.  They too have mostly four seats configured around a table with places to plug in.  But they were a wee bit more squished than business class.  I hate sitting near the window – great view but I have to climb over someone to get out.  That means they have to unplug their laptop, move their stuff and get up – ugggg.

The stewards come around in both first and business classes offering the included prosecco, caffè, tea, water and juice.  Both have a choice of snacks and my favorite – little packets of wet style wipes to clean up your yucky travel hands.

H’mm other differences?  I think it is just the size of the seats. Oh yeah, in both classes, the steward also offers newspapers and will take orders for the food available in the snack bar car.  Wow – a rhyme – I’m sure there is a classier name than snack bar car though the bar was stocked.  Adjacent to our business class car was a real dining car with menus, linens and comfy seats. We didn’t try it but plan to on another adventure.

Stop pouting. We’ve taken the slow poke regional trains too.  The too many hours in a hot sweaty car kind of trains that didn’t have enough seats – you know like New Jersey transit’s old diesel war horses during the commuting rush.  The regional train from Rome to Boiano can be standing with your suitcase room only.

Trenitalia offers the super speedy Frecciarossa family of trains.  Intercity and regional trains connect big cities and pokey little towns along the way.

Italia Rail offers background information on the train system. I just discovered at that web-site that Trenitalia and a private French rail company combined forces to create Thello (pronounced tell-OH), which operates overnight long-haul trains between Paris and Italy!  How glamorous to take  Thello through Switzerland and wake up in Paris!  Rats, what would I wear???

IMG_2280

Marta waves bye-bye from the Benevento Train Station

Train Hints

  1. When you are on line or in line figuring out which train to take from point A to point B make sure you look at the duration of the ride.  What?  It takes ten hours from here to there? Rats – is there a connection too?  Changing trains when you don’t speak the language can be a real adventure or a night mare.  Keep looking at the schedules.  Wait, look this train is only 4 hours – how could that be?  One is a local/regional train which may have a connection and one is a super duper fast train.  The fast trains cost more but….
  2. My good buddy Nicola looked at Jack and I and asked why we were taking the fast train to Venice.  He said we were pazzo! A flight from Naples on a budget airline was half the price of the train ticket and got there in an hour.  So check out other transportation options.  Here are some of the budget airlines – Easy JetRyanairMeridiana (Meridiana also has cheap flights, but I’m told uncomfortable unless you are a size 4, from New York to Italy.)
  3. When your get to a station use your train number to identity what track – binario – your train is on. My cousins had first class tickets from Rome to Benevento but didn’t realize it was the fast train to Lecce with a quick stop in Benevento. They inadvertantly got the slow boat to Benevento with the pigs and chickens. No one looked at their tickets and when the train poked along they panicked.  I panicked too when the didn’t disembark at the appointed time. Lesson learned – use the train number on your ticket to identify your train.
  4. If you are going to change trains – we do that from Milan to Benevento – it is super important at the station to look for the train numbers.  For example, the fast train from Milan to Rome that we take really goes further south.  If I didn’t look for the train number I’d get on the wrong train.  In Rome, the train we take to Benevento ends in Lecce.  We always look for the train number.
  5. Especially for the regional trains, make sure you go up to the box near the track and validate your ticket.  Sometimes you have to look for the boxes.  I tried to do this once with an e-ticket that I had printed and folded to fit.  It wouldn’t work, the train was coming, I yelled bad words in a lot of languages and stomped off.  So I stopped trying to validate  an e-ticket and  I haven’t gotten a fine.  Though I could – but hey, I’m a middle aged plus woman with a great smile. If you have a ticket make sure you stick it in the slot at the bottom of the box and get it stamped.  This is also important on buses and subways.
  6. When you find the binario – track – that the train is on you then have to find the right train car.  For the fast trains, your ticket has a carrozza – passenger car – number on it AND the seat number.  Don’t be fooled by the big number painted on all the cars – look for the smaller numbers near the doors. The signs will give the car number and what seats are near that door – cars have doors at both ends.  Even the regional trains are labeled.  We made the mistake of getting in a first class regional car – that looked as dumpy as the rest of the cars – and paid an up-charge.  PS – not all regional trains are dumpy.
  7. The train app – Info Treno- is helpful.  I like to follow my travels and get a handle on what stops are coming up.  You can use the application to help you pick trains too.  Following your train with the train number, however, is easier than trying to figure out what train to take.
  8. Luggage is a pain in the butt.  You have to schlep it.  I’m sure there must be porters but I’ve never seen anyone hustling for our bags.  The platforms are not all level with the trains.  There are steps up into the train.  That means you have to haul a suitcase up.  We only take small carry-on luggage when we take the train.  Even when we fly into Milan and train it to Benevento we send our big luggage on ahead. (Mail Boxes Etc.)  Business and first class trains have slots behind the seats for luggage. I tried to explain that to Jack as he was hernia bound lifting a bag onto the overhead shelf.  The big hint – was the picture of a suitcase in the space between the seats.  At the front of some cars on all trains – note the word some – there are shelves for luggage.  Luggage is a pain in the ass.

These hints are not meant to dissuade you.  We love the take the train.  The views are incredible.  I get to talk to all kinds of people and we sit back and relax.

Choo Choo!!!

Ci vediamo!

Categories: Practical Matters - Living Abroad, Travel Comments | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

USA Citizens Vote While Overseas!!

With all the lunacy of the primary elections spinning and whirling around me, I knew that Jack and I had to be able to vote in this year’s New Jersey primary election.​  Since we will be in Italy in June and the mail from the United States to Italy is notoriously slow – I didn’t want to risk a mail-in absentee ballot. What is a political junky voting citizen to do?  

My pal George, who lives in The Netherlands, said that he goes to the American Consulate. Hmmm, do I have to go Naples?  Being a politically savvy chick, I knew just who to call – the Board of Elections!   What – I’m wrong?  I have to call the County Clerk?  Done. I called the Somerset County, NJ clerk’s office and discovered that U.S. Citizens who are out of the country can vote electronically!  Who knew?!

First stop –  Web site : FVAP.gov  Federal Voting Assistance Program 
A quick trip to the web site made me realize that it was not only possible but probable that I would be voting this June from Pontelandolfo!  Go Democracy – huzaah! 

Here is how it works – 

1. You must register and request an absentee ballot in your state of legal residence. Right – you can’t vote  in Oregan and then vote absentee AGAIN from Europe. You complete what is called the federal post card application – it looks nothing like a post card.  

Hmm, I thought, filling it out online looks pretty simple. POP, up came a privacy statement – click – I accepted the privacy act statement. That means people get to see who I vote for. Who cares – ask me who I voted for and I’ll tell you. 

The form took forever because once again the big zip code data base in cyberspace would not recognize my zip code. Flagtown has had its own zip code long before Hillsborough coalesced into a quasi community with a post office and zip code. I fought the system and then hung my head and used the Hillsborough zip code.

2. Print and finish your federal post card application. Easy. 

3. Next from wherever you are mail the form set to your local election office. This part was a little Squirrley.  You can only send it back on USA sized 8 1/2 by 11 paper. Then mail it in a number 10 envelope. Now, if you’re in Europe where the hell do you easily get the paper or the envelope. The directions say that using European standard paper you need to print the document at 96% of its normal size. On the website they then give you a template to make your own envelope.  You also need to note that you cannot have scotch tape on the envelope. So I’m confused, if you’re going to download an envelope and make an envelope do you have to find a recipe for paste?

Since we are still in New Jersey we will be hand delivering our 81/2 X 11 postcard. 

My ballot will be emailed to me. I hope I can email my response back. The county clerk office said I could. Wouldn’t it be great if all of us could vote electronically. 

But if you don’t get your ballot what can you possibly do? Guess what you can go online and using the federal rights in absentee ballot you are able to vote or you can pick up a hardcopy version from your nearest US Embassy or Consulate location. I got bored reading about it and hope we don’t have to do this. Apparently there are a number of questions that you’ve got to work your way through. Ugh. 

I am confident that I will get my ballot. I will do my dad proud and vote in the Democratic primary. I will do my home country proud and vote in the general election. 

Huzaah!

Categories: Politics - Quirky Aside, Practical Matters - Living Abroad | 8 Comments

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