Sunday, July 30, 2023

The Silent I in Italian Words with Soft C and G

Animal names showing hard and soft C and G sounds
Animal names showing hard and soft C and G sounds

I was reading the book Parlare Scrivere Comunicare Meglio (2010) by Roberto Tresoldi and had an ah-ha moment about how the pronounciation of some Italian words. (Yeah, every so often reading a grammar book can be fun.) In the book, I saw this section about how the letter I works in front of C and G. Later that evening, I went to say something about the sky (cielo) and pronounced the I as in “ci – el – o" and it should be “cie – lo”. An Italian friend cringed and corrected me. How could I’ve have been so wrong for so long?

I’ve always had this nagging doubt about whether to pronounce the I in some words, in particular those where the letter I follows C and G. In short, you don’t pronounce the I if it follows C or G.

It's all albout understanding why the I is used and that is to soften the C or G sound. 

Soft C and G

  • cesto, gesto, circolo, ceci
  • gelato, giro, giglio
  • NOTE 1: Add I to soften, but the I is not pronounced.
    • cialtrone, ciocca, ciurma, ceci, ciao, ciò, ciuco
    • giostra, gioco, giacca, giù, giuramento
Hard C and G
  • cane, cosa, culla, crisi, cacao, cucù, cocco
  • gatto, goccia, guerra, gusto, gas
  • choc, frac (hard at the end of words with exceptions)
  • NOTE 2: Add H to harden the sound when C and G followed by E or I.
    • chi, che, parcheggio
    • ghianda, ghetto, ghiro

NOTE 1: This was where the ah-ha moment happened. The letter I in these words is not pronounced. Using the letter “I” indicates that the C or G is softened when C and G are followed by A, O, or U.

C and G followed by E are already softened by the letter E so the letter I is not needed. Of course, there are exceptions, see NOTE 3.

NOTE 2: To harden a C and G followed by the letter E or I, add the letter H.

NOTE 3: Exceptions where the letter I appears after C or G but still is not pronounced:
  • Words with a Latin origin: efficienza, effigie, igiene, superficie, specie and derived words.
  • Subjects that end in IERA or IERE: crociera, paciere, raggiera, pasticciera.
  • The words: cielo and cieco.
  • Plural of nouns ending in CIA: cieliega/ciliegie, camicia/camicie, valigia/valigie.
  • Plural of nouns ending in CÌA or GÌA (last syllable stressed): farmacia/farmacie, bugia/bugie.
What I wrote above is simplification because we just talk about hard and soft sounds and it’s a little more complex thatn that. But it should be enough to get you thinking about it. Here are some more resources: C dolce, G dolce, C dura, G dura, International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), Voiceless velar plosive (hard), Voiced alveolo-palatal affricate (soft).

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Three Days on Karpathos Island, Greece

Preface ~ The Trip ~ Epilogue ~ Photos

Agios Ioannis path to beach - Karpathos, Greece.Agrilaopotamos Beach with view of Kasos Island.Votsalakia Beach, Karpathos Greece
Left: Agios Ioannis path to beach - Karpathos, Greece.
Center: Agrilaopotamos Beach with view of Kasos Island.
Right: Votsalakia Beach, Karpathos Greece

This post is about 3 days we spent on Karpathos. This is not a travel piece to entice you to go to Karpathos. In fact, after reading this you might think twice about going. Most writing you’ll find on Karpathos gushes about visiting this Dodecanese Island. And while it's s special and beautiful place, we won’t gush about it. 

We write this to leave a record so that someday we may look back and marvel at how we traveled.


Looking back, our short stay on Karpathos feels like a hazy hot dream. Temperatures soared on Karpathos while relentless hot winds blew day and night. We were in a hot spell, and it isn’t always like this we were told.

A fire on the neighboring island of Rhodes caused mass (tourist) evacuations and some concern if the same could happen on Karpathos. News about how hot the world is getting reached us in dribs and drabs on our cell phones as we went in and out of reception driving around the island.

A week earlier we were in Merano, in Northern Italy, and temperatures there were off the charts. We traveled to Merano in a friend’s car. And as it goes with car travel, we felt obliged to take whatever we thought we might need. And one of those items was a fan. Really. And boy did it come in handy in a no-air-conditioned apartment. Air conditioning is generally not needed in Merano we were told. Maybe that’s about to change.

Back to Karpathos: the world can seem apocalyptic these days, and yet we continue to travel as if nothing is wrong.

As we drove around Karpathos in a rented Suzuki with its squeaking timing belt (because it’s new we were told) and canvas top flapping in the wind, we cringed at the thought that we were contributing to the climate problem. And as if to remind us, the gas tank assaulted us nonstop with the smell of gas. We joked that it was so hot, the gas was vaporizing.

Even the radio in our rental Suzuki was on the fritz. The plaintive sounds of Greek and Turkish traditional music came and went like gusts of wind. Koyaanisquatsi could have been the soundtrack of this trip.

There are limited ways to get around Karpathos. Driving is the main option and a choice we rationalized as justified. There were few buses and boats (or any form of public transportation) that we saw and we were out during the weekend and weekday. 

The Trip

We promised ourselves earlier in the year that we wouldn’t travel during high season in the summer (roughly July 15 – August 30), and here we are doing it because I friend asked us to come along and we couldn’t say no. Two years ago, we had a longer, calmer, and saner visit to Crete – a neighboring island. We used the car but had many days of no car as well. And, that trip was in September, well after the summer rush. See 12 Days in Create and We Barely Scratched the Surface.

Karpathos (accent on kar) is the narrow backbone of a mountain that gently rises in the south to steep slopes in the central and north part of the island. The island is at its widest 12 km and at its narrowest 3.5 km. The geography of the island is such that you are driving mostly north-south and occasionally east-west. And while the island is just under 49 km long, it takes time to get around.

The vegetation of Karpathos is Mediterranean maquis, which can be quite pleasant and is one of our favorite biomes. (Doesn’t everyone have a favorite biome?) Some parts of the island are bleak, and seemed even more so in the withering heat. Some parts of the island are not quite but almost lush, those being the sections of forest of Turkish pines (Pinus brutia). We are sure that if we were to visit Karpathos in Winter or Spring, we might fall in love big time, but not on this summer trip. This time: just a fling.

The average visitor doesn’t go to Karpathos for the biome now do they? No, it’s all about the beaches. And for some folks, the more remote the beach the more cachet it has. That’s where the Suzuki comes in. We were planning to go to beaches on dirt roads and needed the confidence to do so without getting stuck. Just like lemmings.

Some specifics of our trip:

* We arrived on Karpathos from an AeroItalia, directly from Bergamo. The enticement to visit this island was directly related to the existence of the direct flight.

* We stayed for 3 nights/3 days. In that time, we covered a significant part of the island as shown in a image in this post. We visited over 20 restaurants and points of interest (beaches, cities, landmarks). That was all done by car.

* If you are driving, get the standard tourist map of the island that shows where gas stations are.

* We stayed above Amoopi Bay in a simple apartment. Breakfast was at the pleasant Skala.

* In terms of a no-car trip there, you can certainly stay in a place like Amoopi Bay or Pigadia and take a taxi from the airport to your hotel. From your hotel, you can walk to beaches or maybe take a bus or boat. (We saw few buses or boats during our stay.)

* The village of Olympos (Olimpo in Italian) in the north of the island is typically on many visitor checklists. It’s an hour drive from Pigadia on a winding road, which at times is filled with rocks and boulders that fell from above. There are no gas stations along the way. It’s a pretty and desolate drive. We saw one bus arrive at Olympos so there must be options for bus or boat/bus combo to get there. So, you could get there without car.

* Olympos has one main street (a walkway really) that winds up through the town. (There are other small alleyways but are not obvious at first.) The main street is a shopping bazaar of sorts with interesting places to eat along the way. You’ll see Frida Kahlo’s (Mexican) face staring at you from much of the merchandise of the shops along the way. Um, why? Maybe most tourists think she's Greek?

* Besides the precarious way Olympos sits on a ridge, the next thing you’ll probably notice are the windmills, or better yet what used to be windmills. We couldn’t find much explanation at all about these. To grind wheat we think to make the local makarounes pasta. But where is the wheat grown? Why aren’t any windmills restored and working? Seems like a lost opportunity to educate visitors. For more information, see Olympos Windmills.

* Where we stayed in Amoopi Bay it was generally hotter by 5 – 10 degrees Celsius than the other (west) side of the island. Also, be careful of weather predictions as they may be from the airport weather station and that is far south of the island and might not have much to do with temperatures you experience elsewhere on the island.

* During our 3 days we swam 8 times in the ocean, at different points around the island. And while the water was clean – as far as we could tell – it wasn’t exactly chock full of sea life. The best underwater life we saw as at Votsalakia Beach just south of Amoopi Beach. And to see some fish we had to swim out a bit.

View of Olympos, Karpathos, Greece.A woman sitting in Olympos - Karpathos, Greece.Olympos Cathedral, Karpathos Greece.
Left: View of Olympos, Karpathos, Greece.
Center: A woman sitting in Olympos - Karpathos, Greece.
Right: Olympos Cathedral, Karpathos Greece.


We are never sorry to spend time and money travelling. Or if you like, “taking a vacation”. (Consuming and polluting to do so: we are always aware of and try to find the least impactful ways.) We are glad to have had the opportunity to visit the Island of Karpathos. For us, the more interesting question when we travel is if we would we return to a place. The answer in the case of Karpathos is probably no. And that “no” has to do with a few factors:


From the moment we landed to the moment we left, we consumed petroleum in one form or another. 

We used gas to fuel our rental car. We used a lot of plastic water bottles because we couldn’t drink from the tap - we were told. The air conditioner running nonstop in our apartment was likely powered by burning oil. (We did see some wind turbines and solar on Karpathos but not in numbers to make a big difference. See this report.)

The constant consumption didn't feel good. Sure, next time, don't rent a car, travel around the island less, take a big water bottle and refill it. This would help a little.

We realize that some people might see sitting at the beach under umbrellas as purely relaxing and a necessary recharge from work. We think that idea is somewhat manufactured and at the scale occurring during the summer (European) vacation season, it hardly seems sustainable when you think of resources consumed.  (See this article from the NYT, which I found after writing this post: Is This the End of the Summer Vacation as We Know It?)

The landscape is not well-cared for

Unfortunately, a lot of the landscape on Karpathos looks like someone had an idea but didn’t finish it. Half-built houses. Houses with rebar sprouting from the top of them for the maybe-someday second story. Empty lots filled with debris or building material – as if someone dumped the material after a project or brought it there for a future project.

From a distance, the Karpathos landscape looks magical. Up close, less so. We did see similar "scenery" in other parts of Greece, so it's not just a Karpathos thing. Maybe we need to look carefully or change our idea, but all to often the landscape looked messy.

The only crisp and well-kept areas are those around churches, be they in a town center or in remote locations. An idea entered my mind: maybe all the energy went into maintaining these churches and people got tired after that?

Beachgoer culture = boring for us

We hate sitting at the beach. We are not beachgoers. I know, what are we doing here!?

We do love swimming in the ocean. (And the ocean around Karpathos was clean and we enjoyed it.) We try to go swimming in the morning or late afternoon.

Given the statistics for other Greek islands, we guess that 30 – 50 percent of the visitors to Karpathos are Italian. Also, many wait staff had a pretty good command of Italian, which leads us to believe they are often serving Italians. In fact, this vacation felt like it could have been in Italy. That's all to say that Italians love to park themselves at the beach. Italians are beachgoers in spades. See Abbronzatissima: Notes on the Allure of the Suntan in Italy.

Our Karpathos trip reminds us of our 2019 trip to Elba (see Elba - A Poem for a Vacation) and a 2021 trip to Porto Venere (A week in Porto Venere, Liguria – Life along the lungomare) where we ended with a similar feeling: ambivalence. We enjoyed some parts (swimming, nature) and not others (beach life, unsustainability). Stay tuned for next year's vacation and lament.      


A bus stop in Lefkos, Karpathos, Greece.Vananta Ag Anargiroi - Karpathos, Greece.Karpathos locations visited during 3 days in July 2023.
Left: A bus stop in Lefkos, Karpathos, Greece.
Center: Vananta Ag Anargiroi - Karpathos, Greece.
Right: Karpathos locations visited during 3 days in July 2023.

Salt cedar Agios Ioannis Beach.Echinops spinosissimus - Karpathos, Greece.Carlina tragacanthifolia - Karpathos, Greece.
Left: Salt cedar (Tamarix) at Agios Ioannis Beach.
Center: Echinops spinosissimus - Karpathos, Greece.
Right: Carlina tragacanthifolia - Karpathos, Greece.

Makarounes in Agios Nikolaos, Karpathos Greece.Breakfast yogurt and coffee at Skala, Lakki, Greece.Appetizer at Finiki Mama Cusine, Karpathos, Greece.
Left: Makarounes in Agios Nikolaos, Karpathos Greece.
Center: Breakfast yogurt and coffee at Skala, Lakki, Greece.
Right: Appetizer at Finiki Mama Cusine, Karpathos, Greece.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Hike to the Source of the Arno River and Lago degli Idoli (Lake of the Idols)

A view over the Casentino Hills in Tuscany Italy.Beech trees near the source of the Arno River on Monte Falterona.
Left: A view over the Casentino Hills in Tuscany Italy. Right: Beech trees near the source of the Arno River on Monte Falterona.

Length: 13.2 km
Duration: 5.33 hours, includes stop for lunch and looking at plants
Elevation: 600 m gain
Location: Italy, Tuscany, Arezzo, Casentino Hills


The Casentino is one of the four valleys in the Province of Arezzo, Italy. The Casentino valley runs approximately northwest from Arezzo. This hike is on the southern slope of Monte Falterona at the northern end of the valley, on the edge of the Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona, Campigna, a national park in Italy.

There are many possible paths to reach the source of the Arno and the nearby Lago degli Idoli, or the peak of Monte Falterona. Here are two:
The most convenient starting point is at the Chiesa Madonna di Montalto, where there is parking. We were staying nearby at the Agriturismo Borgo Tramonte.

The year prior, we hiked around the Monastero di Camaldoli and Hermitage di Camaldoli, which had a similar feel to this hike. On that trip, we stayed at Borgo Romena.

Lago degli Idoli (or Lake of the Idols) is interesting because the Etruscans threw a lot of stuff into this lake like money, little statuettes, ex-voto with anatomical shapes, and weapons. Most of the booty disappeared over the years as the site was unprotected from looters from its discovery in 1838 onwards. 

Start of the trail near Madonna di Montalto.Lago degli Idoli, where Etruscans threw in little bronze statues.The source of the Arno River with plaque commemorating Dante's visit to the spot.
Left: Start of the trail near Madonna di Montalto. Center left: Lago degli Idoli, where Etruscans threw in little bronze statues. Center right and right: The source of the Arno River with plaque commemorating Dante's visit to the spot.

The Arno

The Arno is the 8th largest river in Italy – by length. (The Po River is the longest.) The Arno is 241 km (about 150 mi) long and originates west of Florence in the Casentino area of the Apennines, where this hike is. After passing through Florence and under the famous Ponte Vecchio, the Arno River continues westward toward Pisa and eventually empties into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

We spent 9 months living in Florence in 2007-2008 (blog posts). We crossed the Arno many times during our 9 month stay. We lived on the shady side (southern) of the Arno, called the Oltrarno and we typically crossed the Ponte Vecchio and especially the Ponte Alle Grazie a few times a day. One thing we remember are the many signs pointing out the high-water mark of the disastrous 1966 flood of the Arno. The flood had a lasting impact on the city of Florence, killing over 100 people and destroying masterpieces of art and rare books.

The Capo d’Arno means the “head of the Arno” or sorgente (“source”) and is located at 1,358 m on the southern slope of Monte Falterona, which rises to 1,654 m. Dante – born in and most famously associated with Florence – visited the Capo d'Arno and there is a commemorative plaque with words lifted from Dante’s Purgatorio, Canto XIV

"…. quel fiumicel che nasce in Falterona e cento miglia di corso nol sazia”

Dante’s Purgatory is the second part of Dante’s Divine Comedy, following the Inferno and preceding the Paradiso. Dante’s purgatory is an island-mountain divided into three sections: Antepurgatory, Purgatory, and Earthly Paradise. In Canto XIV, we are in the second terrace of Purgatory, where the envious are punished. It’s in this context that the Arno River is mentioned and that it flows in lands (Casentino) where people are not virtuous. (So judgmental to their neighbors up river those people from Florence!)

Trail under beech forest on southern flanks of Monte Falterona and trail signs on the way to the source of the Arno River.Trail under beech forest on southern flanks of Monte Falterona and trail signs on the way to the source of the Arno River.Trail under beech forest on southern flanks of Monte Falterona and trail signs on the way to the source of the Arno River.Trail under beech forest on southern flanks of Monte Falterona and trail signs on the way to the source of the Arno River.
Trail under beech forest on southern flanks of Monte Falterona and trail signs on the way to the source of the Arno River.


The area around the headwaters of the Arno and the Lago degli Idoli is beech forest (Fagus sylvatica). In fact, this hike and the forest we were walking in are just outside the zone of the UNESCO designation: “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe”, a transnational serial property comprising 94 component parts across 18 countries. Nearby Sasso Fratino is the heart of the UNESCO designation in the Casentino forest.

The beech trees create a complete canopy so that you are mostly walking in shade. This is in contrast to the start of hike – at Madonna di Montalto – where it it's pine and oak trees and sunny openings.

It’s been a while since we’ve been out to identify plants, but here we go:

[Family] Genus species - Common name

[Boraginaceae] Echium vulgare – Viper's bugloss
[Caryophyllaceae] Silene flos-cuculi – Ragged-robin
[Convolvulaceae] Convolvulus arvensis – Field bindweed
[Crassulaceae] Sedum acre – Goldmoss stonecrop
[Fabaceae] Ononis spinosa – Spiny restharrow
[Fagaceae] Fagus sylvatica – European beech
[Hypericaceae] Hypericum perforatum – St. John’s wort
[Lamiaceae] Prunella laciniata – Cutleaf selfheal
[Malvaceae] Malva moschata – Musk mallow
[Orchidaceae] Anacamptis pyramidalis – Pyramidal orchid
[Orchidaceae] Dactylorhiza maculata – Heath spotted-orchid
[Orobanchaceae] Orobanche rapum-genistae – Broomrape
[Ranunculaceae] Helleborus foetidus– Stinking Helleborus
[Rosaceae] Rosa arvensis – White-flowering trailing rose

[Boraginaceae] Echium vulgare – Viper's bugloss[Caryophyllaceae] Silene flos-cuculi – Ragged-robin
Left: [Boraginaceae] Echium vulgare – Viper's bugloss
Right: [Caryophyllaceae] Silene flos-cuculi – Ragged-robin

[Convolvulaceae] Convolvulus arvensis – Field bindweed[Crassulaceae] Sedum acre – Goldmoss stonecrop
[Convolvulaceae] Convolvulus arvensis – Field bindweed
[Crassulaceae] Sedum acre – Goldmoss stonecrop

[Fabaceae] Ononis spinosa – Spiny restharrow[Hypericaceae] Hypericum perforatum – St. John’s wort
[Fabaceae] Ononis spinosa – Spiny restharrow
[Hypericaceae] Hypericum perforatum – St. John’s wort

[Lamiaceae] Prunella laciniata – Cutleaf selfheal[Rosaceae] Rosa arvensis – White-flowering trailing rose
[Lamiaceae] Prunella laciniata – Cutleaf selfheal
[Rosaceae] Rosa arvensis – White-flowering trailing rose

[Malvaceae] Malva moschata – Musk mallow[Malvaceae] Malva moschata – Musk mallow
[Malvaceae] Malva moschata – Musk mallow

[Orchidaceae] Anacamptis pyramidalis – Pyramidal orchid
[Orchidaceae] Anacamptis pyramidalis – Pyramidal orchid

[Orchidaceae] Dactylorhiza maculata – Heath spotted-orchid

[Orobanchaceae] Orobanche rapum-genistae – Broomrape[Ranunculaceae] Helleborus foetidus– Stinking Helleborus
[Orobanchaceae] Orobanche rapum-genistae – Broomrape
[Ranunculaceae] Helleborus foetidus– Stinking Helleborus

Random shapes and textures. Left: a fluffy seed head. Center: Amata phegea - Nine Spotted Moth. Right: Oak tree.