This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

A Sense of Place

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Well, I'm back from a bit of traveling: England, Scotland, Ireland, Texas and New Mexico. I'm ready to resume my blog articles for you. But, I'll be working my way in slowly with a short article today.

Her response: “Now you tell me!” Well, yes, now she knows.

This week I'm just letting you know about a change I've made to my list of blog articles, and why I've done that.

Last Thursday, I was visiting with a friend who had just returned from Italy. She expressed a bit of disappointment in some of the restaurants they chose in Venice. I let her know of my Italy Our Italy blog and the fact that it contains personally evaluated and recommended restaurants, hotels, and other helpful information on certain places within Italy. Her response: "Now you tell me!" Well, yes, now she knows. And I want you to know, too. That's why I've made changes to my list of blog articles.

What I have done is to take the Index of Blog Articles to another level by creating another series of headings in the right-hand column (which is labeled, "By Subject"). You will now find three new subheadings for 'places' within Italy -- specifically 'Places: Venice', 'Places: Amalfi Coast', and 'Places: Tuscany'. This will give one a greater sense of these wonderful places.

Now, if you are traveling to one of these fabulous places of Italy, you will have all of the resources that I have previously published about those fabulous places in one place. 

That about sums it up for today's very short article. 

Ciao for now,



The Results Are In -- Part 12

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This one's kind of a big deal!

I am excited to let you know that I have been asked to participate in a large, international art show starting October 6th. This is a show that is held in a varying international venue every two years. This go-around is called the Berlin Foto Biennale. As you can undoubtedly tell, this current showing will be in Berlin.

This one’s kind of a big deal!

I was asked to participate because of my first place award in the 7th Annual International Pollux Awards. You may remember seeing that announcement back on July 14th of 2015. If you missed it, here is that announcement

The promoters of the showing provided an invitation for me to send to those who might be interested. Here is that invitation, which includes my three photos that will be featured in the Berlin show. 

If you happen to be in Berlin during October, consider this your invitation to attend so you can see this show featuring photographers from 41 countries. 

The photos that I will have in the show have been printed as 24"x36" prints, mounted on diBond. 

A just-returned-from two-week trip to the UK and Ireland prevent us from attending the opening vernissage and artists reception, but we will be there in spirit. [To save you the trouble of pulling out a dictionary, the term 'vernissage' refers to the night-before-opening showing of the photos for the artists' benefit]

As a regular reader of my articles, I thought you would like to know.


Ciao for now,


p.s. Well, at least one of the photos was taken in Italy! I'm sure you can guess which, by process of elimination.

Rome Tunnel Composite

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I am on vacation at the moment in an undisclosed location (maybe my Instagram feed to the right will give it away). Meanwhile, here is a simple and kind of pointless composite of a couple of photos taken in Rome.

This tunnel attracted my attention as we were going to the Trevi Fountain in the evening. The tunnel is nice and gritty, just like a good bit of Rome.

This snazy sports car was captured outside their hotel by our traveling companions on this trip, the Kennedys.

Just for a bit of fun, I decided to put the car into the tunnel. 

I accomplished this with a bit of motion blur to give the car a speed boost (from 0 to 60 in an instant). Then did some color toning to duplicate the ambient light of the tunnel. And as one shouldn't drive at night with headlights off (yes, even in Italy), I added headlights and light beams.

Here is the result.

Kind of goofy way to kill time, but that's it for today. And if you need me to turn on your headlights, just let me know.


Ciao for now,



Covering for Friends

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I'm happy that friends have asked me to cover for them. I did. And it was fun!

I’d be glad to cover for you too, should you need it

I'm talking about book and CD covers, by the way. My friend an author, Diana Armstrong asked me to do the cover art for her new book, "A Winding Path to Umbria: The Silent Bridge of Time". As well, my nephew, Ben Johnson, asked be to do the art for his CD titled "Handcrafted Peace" an album of piano music that he composed. Here's the story of each.

A Winding Path to Umbria

Diana G Armstrong is a gifted friend and author who lives in both Denver and Italy. She and her husband David have a beautifully charming home in Lubriano, Italy. Much of that charm comes from the fact that their abode is part of a converted, 400-year-old monastery. In her first book, "Somewhere South of Tuscany: 5 Yeas in a Four-Cat Town" (2010), Diana tells the story of how they came upon, purchased, and renovated their home is a sleepy, four-cat town. 

Diana's second book is a bit of a departure, in that it is a story of historical fiction; the historical part having a very close tie to her past and her Lubriano home -- both of which she learned were intertwined. 

Here is a photo that I took from Diana's window, where she often sits to write. 

That little village, isolated atop a table of rock, is Civita. Note the pedestrian bridge leading to Civita...this bridge plays an important part in the story that she writes.

Diana had admired her view for years before she found out the significance to her family. Recently, she uncovered the fact that her South African father, 70 years earlier, was here, too. He fought with the allies in this Calanchi Valley against the mighty German war machine. How could an author not write about such a connected event!

When Diana first asked me to do the cover art for her book, my thoughts went to the intrigues of battle and dark nights, where allies crept up on Germans ensconced in this hill top fortress. So, I began my book cover imaginings there...with a paperback cover of the traditional size.

I cropped the photo that I taken from Diana's window into a format that I imagined for a paperback novel. Here is my first imagining. 


As I was imagining a night-time scene, here is where my imaginings took me.


Operating in the dead of night could be risky in the days before night vision goggles, so we needed a moon to give our troops a bit of maneuvering light.

I can just see them sneaking through the trees, ready to scale those cliffs, can't you?

I created a bit of moonlight reflecting off of the rooftops.

All we need now is some text for the book title and author's name.

Ahhh, not to be.

When I woke up from my imaginings and actually met with Diana to discuss the book and its book cover, it turns out that the bridge leading to Civita is a central figure in the artifact that just had to have prominence on the cover. So, it was time for me to change my imaginings and it was back to the drawing board. We needed a completely different view of Civita.

Here is a photo that we settled on that would give the town prominence, while also showing the Calanchi Valley through which the allies operated, and all the while, showing the bridge to Civita front-and-center. 

We worked through several iterations of color, artistic effect and cropping..."should we show this much of the bridge? or this much? or how about this much?"

I began to use my 'digital brushes' to create various artistic, painted effects.

With about two-dozen images to chose from, here is the final result that satisfied both Diana and her publisher.

And here is that photo, sitting right, smack, dab on the cover of Diana's new book. 

If you click on the cover of her book, you will be taken to the Amazon website, where you can order either a paperback version, or a Kindle version. Go ahead...give it a try.

Understand that all proceeds for this book and Diana's previous book go to underprivileged African children. Funds go to both her daughter's mission that now works with Living Hope Charities in East London, S.Africa, and also to a Hospice for Children (mostly born with Aids) in Durban South Africa. Diana says that money from the US makes a huge difference in Africa.


And here is the link to Diana's previous book about her lovely, little community, "Somewhere South of Tuscany: Five Years in a Four-Cat Town". 


Oh, one more you like to eat? or cook? Then you will just love Diana's first book -- its a cookbook. It is called "Cooking for My Friends". I know that she knows what she is writing about, because we have been fortunate to be friends for whom she has cooked. 

Handcrafted Peace

On a gentle, musical note, my nephew Ben Johnson, is a very talented piano player and composer. Ben's aim is to create music that is just plain peaceful. Saint Benjamin (his new moniker -- not a saint of the dead variety, but a saintly work in progress) wanted to create something that you can listen to that will a release you of all of the negative thoughts of the day. He succeeded. 

When Ben contacted me, he had spent time looking at photos on my alternate website, Steve Burkett Photography. He felt that certain photos in the Winter Solace gallery met his vision of 'peaceful'.

Here is the original photo that he asked me to work into the cover art for his CD.

I took this photo in the spring of 2013 in eastern Colorado as I returned from a trip to Virginia. 


After just a bit of work to add contrast to the image, I arrived at this next iteration.



Obviously, a CD cover-insert needs to be in a square format. And, as Ben wanted something in the black & white vein, we settled on this photo for his 'Handcrafted Peace' CD.

If you click on the CD cover photo, you will be taken to Ben's website, where you can listen to his peaceful music, and even purchase a copy if you wish. 


Ben's latest project is creating music that conjures up visions of the emojis you've seen in your texts. Want to hear what an emoji sounds like? Go here to hear his drafts, including this emoji for a slice of pizza. Who would have thought?



So, that's how I've spent a bit of my time -- covering for my very talented friends. I'd be glad to cover for you too, should you need it.


Ciao for now,


Please, Thank You & Where's the Bathroom

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Don't let your fear of the Italian language keep you from going to Italy! You will be able to converse. You will be able to eat and drink. You will be able to get around. 

Today let's talk about the language barrier that might be keeping you from visiting Italy. When it comes to traveling to Italy, this should not worry you one bit. Really...don't worry about it. 

They can usually peg you as American pretty quick and give you an appropriate menu

I have heard a lot over the years about how we in the USA don't speak several languages like the nice folks in Europe. But, I say...we don't typically need to, and they do. Within a 700-mile radius of the geographical center of the United States (located just outside of Lebanon, Kansas), you will be well contained within the borders of our large country. Make a circle of a 700-mile radius from Vienna, Austria, and you will encompass around 35 countries, virtually every country in Europe (except far-flung Norway and Finland), along with their varied languages. Well, that's my excuse anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

So, don't feel guilty about not knowing Italian...just get there, anyway. There are several reasons that I say this, all based on our experiences.

They Speak English

First, in the 6 trips we have made to Italy, we have run into only 2 people who did not speak English! One was in a little gift shop in Varenna on the shores of Lake Como, and one was in a wood-carver's shop in Venice in the dead of winter (i.e. it wasn't the 'tourist season'). If you don't stray too far from the beaten path, you will have no problem with communication.

I've asked many Italians why they speak English so well, and most give me two reasons. One is that it is the language of the tourist -- its a matter of doing business with those traveling within Italy. The second is that they love our movies and television shows, which are often projected and broadcast in English. Witness the posters to the right plastered in Capri. Italians are big on celebrity...think about the origin of the word 'paparazzi'! 

After listening to an Italian-language CD for several months and studying up on vocabulary, on our second trip I tried to get checked into our hotel using my well-rehearsed Italian. The desk clerk's first words after I went through my routine were, "You want to try that in English?". 'Nough said.

Dual Signage

Nearly everywhere you go, you will see signs in two languages -- Italian and English. Here are some examples.

Waiting to catch your train...

...notice that each of the salient words in Italian are echoed in English?

Here is a sign in Florence for the Accademia gallery where the David statue is housed.

Whatever it says in Italian, it also says in English.

Need to take a vaporetto (water bus) in Venice?

Dual language, once more.

Ordering from a printed menu...

...often has an English translation with the Italian, like this menu from La Taverna at the Banfi winery. They probably have menus like this in at least French and German, also.

Often the menu is just in English. They can usually peg you as American pretty quick and give you an appropriate menu, like this one from La Pergola in Rome (make your reservation at least four months before your departure -- and be sure you have a sufficient balance on your credit card). 

[Just a note about the menu shown above: this is the man's menu...the woman's menu has no prices...don't you just love those Italians?!]

Here is a menu board at a small restaurant on Campo di Fiori in Rome. 

I don't think you would have any problem at all ordering breakfast, do you?

Nor, would have much problem with liquid refreshment, either. Just ask for 'vino rosso' or 'vino bianco', or say 'coco-cola light, per favore'. And speaking of wines, we have found the house wines, often served by the pitcher, to be delizioso. Ask for, 'Vino rosso della casa' for instance, if you would like red house wine. You probably figured that out on your own, didn't you?

Bottled water is everywhere. You just need to decide on 'senza gas' (no carbonation) or 'con gas', with carbonation. Your waiter will ask, and you will usually just need to say the words, "Yes", or "No". It's pretty simple.

At the Market

There are fresh-produce and seafood markets throughout Italy calling out their freshness. Now, there isn't much need for signage interpretation on most items, as they are obviously sitting right there in front of you for you to see. But you may need a bit of 'translation' on the Euros and kilos.

See those nice Italian pears? Based on my calculations (and today's value of the Euro), I'd say they cost about $1.95 in dollars-per-pound. Multiply the Euro-price-per-kilo by about 0.55 to get the price in U$D-per-pound...maybe round to 0.5 or 0.6 to get a rough estimate. 

These squash blossoms are sold by the 'mazzo' or bunch/bouquet and would cost you about $1.11 at today's conversion rate, which is a fabulous rate...excuse me whilst I go online to make a plane reservation!

OK, I'm back.

Sometimes you do actually need to know a bit of translation. Want some of this salami?

Grab a bottle of wine and a link of this salami for your picnic this afternoon. But, I didn't know that you like donkey! What you don't know probably won't hurt you.


Here is where you need to learn a bit of signage...but it is mostly graphic in nature these days. Your rental-car agreement will probably have a brochure included, as does almost all guidebooks. Be sure to know what the no parking sign looks like if you want to avoid hefty parking fines...and they will catch up to you here in the good ole USA, won't they, Scott?!

How about directional signs, like these?

Do I need to translate the arrow symbol for you? I thought not. And the mileage in most of Europe is in kilometers. To convert to miles, multiply the distance in kilometers by 0.62...just round to 0.6 and you will be OK. Siena is roughly 12 miles, isn't it? Close enough.

Common Sense

Often, you have no problem translating words from Italian because you can use your common sense. Take the photo to the right, for instance. Can you guess to what this ticket would give you admission?

Some of the words or phrases that are used in Italy actually come from the USA. We were in a glass shop on the Piazza San Marco purchasing some nice glassware. The radio was playing. The announcer was speaking lots of Italian that we could not understand, and then all-of-a-sudden, we hear worked in, "...Top 40 Weekend..."  Some things just don't translate well, evidently. 


Friendly People

Italy is absolutely full of friendly people.'s the friendliest place we've ever been. Have a problem finding something? Just ask. Need help ordering? Just ask. Lost? Just ask.

Here are just a few of the friendly people who have helped us over the years (I'll share more in a future blog).

Even the police in Rome will give you a hand when you need it.

Web Research

Obviously, when you go, you will be doing some research on the web. There are scores of sites that focus on Italy...and many of those are Italian sites. But, don't worry -- most have a way to get an English language version -- other than using Google Chrome hit-and-miss translation. 

Here are a couple of examples.

Here is the site for museums in Florence. See the row of flags under the words 'Florence Museum'? Click on the British flag (they speak English pretty well there, too) and you get the English-language pages served up to you. Sometimes its the Stars-and-Stripes. This site was very thoughtful in their tourism-directed information to provide information in eight different languages. This is rare.

Though it is rare to find that many language version for a website, many have Italian and English versions, like the two that follow.

This one for La Terrazza del Principe overlooking the Boboli Gardens in Florence...a beautiful setting for beautiful food and beautiful people just like you (park on the sidewalk, by the way)...has the flags of Italy and Britain to guide you.

This website for the vaporetto service in Venice has a drop-down box for you to select from Italian or English. 

And on some sites, you see just abbreviations like "It" and "En" on which you can click.

The Universal Languages

And then there are two other, more universal languages with which you are already familiar. 

A pat on the back for man's best friend says, 'Good doggie!'...

...and the universal language of music needs no translation...and you will find it on almost any piazza or campo in the evening.

Sometimes, Just Give Up

As I say, sometimes, just give up. Here is one of those instances. 

This poster recognizes that an election is approaching. As we can't vote, there isn't much point in being able to read all it says. But, I just wanted to show you this poster because of the political parties...there are twelve represented here, along with their slate of candidates. Thank goodness for the two-party system...I guess.

Having Said All That...

Yes, it is fun to learn something new, and Italian is no exception. Go to almost any guide book and you will find phrases for various situations (e.g. ordering food, taking a taxi, getting emergency help, asking directions [women only, please], etc).

Go to your local bookstore, or order on line, and you can use CDs and books to learn a bit more. I haven't learned all of the conjugation and tenses, but I could use the bit of wording I know, plus some charade-like pantomiming, to get my point across if it came to that. And, I believe it shows a bit of respect for the host country to use their language, if at all possible.

But again, its not essential for all of the reasons I've outlined above. And for sure, don't let your lack of the Italian language keep you from heading to Italy, and then enjoying yourself while there. As they say, 'A life lived in fear, is a life half lived' -- and we want to live life to the fullest -- so pack your bags without apprehension and just do it! 

If you need some help, and you happen to see me there, call me over and we can surely get something worked out.


Ciao or now,


ps: By the way, it's 'per forvore', 'grazie', and 'dove il bagno'.