Be like a local in Italy – some coffee do’s and don’ts

cappuccinoWant to be a local? Then there are some definite do’ s and don’ts to learn about Italian coffee etiquette. Melbournites are easily identifiable when they front the bar and order a latteand look surprised to see a long glass of hot milk placed before them. Worse still they think the barman has got it wrong… when he thinks they must be sick!? Hahaha!

But they are not the only foreigners who get caught out, so broaden your request to caffelatte and you will get what you are after.

Cappuccino’s can be another struggle; served with little froth and often with no cacao  which the barman seems to have hidden as if it’s as precious as gold. Don’t be afraid to ask for it though. Locals only drink them for breakfast and never ask for one after 12 noon. From then on it’s espresso – those black, miniscule, throw down, pick me up slugs that can be enhanced with just a slurp of milk (hot or cold) caffe macchiato, spiked with liquor (grappa, Sambuca, brandy) as a caffe corretto, or even more intense and minute as a caffe ristretto. Following pasta or pizza with a cappuccino is a definite no no!

Froth Leunig

Michael Leunig kindly gave permission to publish his cartoon

If you’re dreaming of a super size frothy cappuccino Leunig style, you’ll have to wait till you get home.

And there’s more to watch out for – coffees come lukewarm! Cafés cater to the morning tea-time rush when cappuccinos and caffe lattes slip quickly down as Italians stand at the counter and then return to their shops, bank, or post office job to serve you. Besides there is nothing worse than burnt out beans. But then you can do the same and pay half the cost, as stand up coffees cost less (in fact the price is regulated and displayed) even if you are in the most plush café in San Marco’s square in Venice. Try it and see. Otherwise learn to ask for a “cappuccino caldo if you want to sit over it and savour the view in the best seat in the square for an hour or two. And be warned, skinny milk cappuccinos are non-existent and soya milk ones are rare.

Cappuccino takeaway

Michael Leunig kindly gave permission to publish his cartoon

Don’t even think of asking for a takeaway either, as we don’t do Starbucks style here, and eating and drinking on the street is not done much unless it’s a gelati. Besides it saves on rubbish, which is a major problem in Italy and there are no shortages of cafés.

Oh my, is this Italian coffee adventure turning into a total disappointment?

A caffe Americano could be what you’re after, even if you’re not American, which is an espresso with hot water served in a big cup, that can turn into a classic flat white if you find the milk jug.

Capuccino French style

I hadn’t realised how addicted I was to a good Italian cappuccino till I went on holidays in Provence, France and the few cappuccinos I ordered came with disgusting coffee and canned spray cream! Ugghhh!

In the end I gave up asking and on the drive back home stopped at the first Italian café for a well earned cappuccino.

Italian coffee

Real Italian coffee with my sister-in-law




Buon cappuccino!




And for those of you who don’t know Leunig’s work, check him out here. He’s a long standing  favourite of mine.




Sun, surf and sunflowers

SunflowersSummertime, and the livin’ is easy….and the Italian Summer is finally here. It’s been a slow to start this year, spoiled by unexpected rainy days that had us pulling out jackets and raincoats. And the forecasts predicts more to come so we are soaking up the sun when we can and outdoor concerts and festivals continue with fingers crossed.Tuscan vineyards

Fields of sunflowers begin to droop their heads, giving way to lush green vineyards dripping with grapes. The colour contrast is striking.

Even politicians still seem to be working, unlike other years when at this time paparazzi splashed them across the newspapers  with overweight bellies bursting out of Hawaiian style shirts, holidaying on fancy yachts in exotic places…probably at tax payers expense! Not a pretty sight and so far not to be seen this year, thank goodness. Our PM had warned that holidays should be brief , as there was lots of work to be done, and advised them to keep a low profile.Rough seas

At the beach, waves crash over the rocks to the delight of kids playing ‘catch me if you can’. Other babes stretch out on the pebbles letting the waves lap over their squealing bodies tugging at their bathers as the tide pulls back. Vernazza beachManarola leap








At Manarola Tarzan hollers  mean another kid has leapt from the rocks heedless of the warnings. And why not, in front of such a crowd of skimpy clad femme fatales, it will be his hero moment!

Manarola marina


The sound of a band wafts up in the still air from Corniglia so I can be lazy enough and enjoy it sitting on my terrace without going down.Pizza al pesto


The minute bar near the waterfront in Vernazza overflows at happy hour time as locals get together, sitting on the steps amidst  the tourist crowds. To eat in peace means waiting for the second sitting when the tourists have left the restaurants and ‘us locals’ move in for a more leisurely meal and natter and the waiters begin to relax and even smile knowing the rush hour has past.Beach relax

In Florence the outdoor program is bouncing with all sorts of events for young and old. Of course my favourite is dancing salsa under the stars near Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking the city lights – such a romantic setting. I may risk a few squashed toes from some of the high flyers, but it’s worth it.Ponte Vecchio

We have even been blessed with free Musem entrance once a month , an offer which some courageous tourists have taken up only to find themselves waiting in a queue for more than 2 hours. The news reporter did comment that the queue was mostly Italians, which is a sign of the crisis.

In typical Italian fashion, people just hang out in the piazza, group up near the clubs or best gelati shops and wander the historical centre till the air has cooled a little and it’s time to go home.

Vernazza eveningIt’s my favourite time of year.





Patron Saint’s day in Vernazza

Vernazza marketIt was Patron Saint’s day in Vernazza on the 20th July and the day began like many others. A morning market  with lots of ticky tack, pots and pans, custom jewellery and food – surprisingly Tuscan – porchetta ( whole roasted pig) and typical Tuscan sweets of brigidini (aniseed chips) and toffee nut slice.Vernazza market

Vernazza market

Take me hiking?

Colourful socks, not for serious hikers and Balinese style beachwear. Not quite the tradition of years past and only the flags decorating the street gave the idea that the day was the Festa di Santa Margherita.

In the past the women had spent their time baking cakes – the buccaletto or the typical Rice cake and cleaning the house in preparation for the festivities later in the day. Vernazza cake

Now tourists (Italian and non) soaked up the sun instead, leisurely caught up on the news and absorbed the hubbub going on in the little port. Few of the residents were left at home cleaning and still baking.

A group of elegant clad Italians; click clacked around in heels, swishing their glitter about in readiness for the confirmation in the church while tourists looked on from the café as they enjoyed a late breakfast or indulged in a pre-lunch aperitif. Even the cat seemed unaware of the masses milling around.Cat sleeping

Others scanned the sea from the Dorian tower for pirates, that didn’t show. Perhaps Johnny Depp had them working on a new film!? Some years back they did have pirates leaping from their boats onto the port brandishing swords, menacing anyone within reach, swaggering Vernazza toweraround in eye patches and colourful garb. And they used to build a bonfire on the rocks where anything old and no longer useful was tossed, which was a rather practical way getting rid of unwanted goods!

Today things are different and locals jealously guarded the boxes of Fireworks and the cannons set up ready to fire away later that evening. A rather more sophisticated closure to the festivities.Fireworks ready



In the afternoon local kids competed in a sports event till the rain swamped them out and a wary eye on the sky warned of further rain and possible storms, so the fireworks unfortunately were removed to dry storage and deferred until August.BandSunset Vernazza




Church cross



As sunset fell, the band gathered outside the church warming up their instruments and the three large heavy crosses appeared with iron men bearers ( surrounded by a support group, just in case!). The priest appeared in all his finery proudly holding Santa Margherita before him and the procession began across the main square, with the band in full swing, much to the surprise and amusement of tourists crowded in the restaurants. Vernazza residentsPriest Priest + Baner Bearing Cross





Band playing

Residents were already gathered at the opposite end of the village in waiting, and started to sing gently as they met their Saint and accompanied her back to the port and into their beautiful ancient church to guard over them for another year.Religious procession

Church Vernazza

Santa Margherita church







I was touched by the simplicity of the event, as were many, and reminded that despite the world being here on holidays Vernazza still keeps its heartfelt traditions.Vernazza