Italian Language Blog

Italian Curiosities – Part 2 Posted by on Mar 12, 2018 in Culture

Curiosity numero due … a haunted castle. It wasn’t the ghost that bothered us … but the cold!

Looking towards Il Golfo di La Spezia and Portovenere from il Castello di Fosdinovo. Photo by Geoff

How to get to the Castello Malaspina di Fosdinovo, taken from the official website:
Ricordiamo per chi viene in macchina che l’accesso al parcheggio è praticabile solo entrando dal lato nord del paese. Non entrate nel borgo finché non vedete un piccolo benzinaio sotto il castello. Da lì prendere la strada (ignorate il cartello di divieto), fate tre curve ed entrate nella porta medievale del paese, continuate salendo e tenendo sempre la destra, troverete il parcheggio aperto. In fondo c’è una piccola porta grigia, suonate il campanello custode/reception.
We’d like to remind anyone who comes by car that access to the car park is only possible when coming from the north side of the village. Don’t go into the village until you see a little gas (petrol) station below the castle. Take the road from there (ignore the no entry sign), take three curves and go in through the medieval village gateway, continue up, and keeping to the right you’ll find the car park open. At the end there’s a little grey door, ring the warden/reception bell.

Hmm, intriguing!

After a tortuous drive along narrow potholed roads we arrive from the north, but not on the road that the writer of the ‘how to get there’ piece had in mind, so everything is back to front. The gas station is so small that we fail to spot it (on the way back we discover that it was hidden behind a small truck!). We park, and head up the curvy road towards the borgo medievale.
We also fail to find the little grey door, so head to what seems to be the main entrance gate.

The castle seems to be closed, so we wait …
… nothing happens …
… we rattle and bang on the rusty ironclad door …
… nothing continues to happen …
Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, porca miseria!

The village seems quite deserted and the streets are piled with dirty snow. But wait, a figure approaches … is someone coming to open up the castle? No, she hurries by.

“Non aprono il castello oggi?” I call down to her
She pauses: “Boh! Non c’è nessuno? Ma oggi ci sono le elezioni … quindi … non lo so!”
“Okay, grazie.”

“Belìn!” I say to myself (It’s Genovese … look it up).

One of the main castle towers dominates the Lunigiana landscape. Photo by Geoff

Shortly afterwards, a minuscule elderly lady with an equally minute dog totters along the slushy street … and to our surprise (because we’ve almost given up hope) she calls:


Now she rummages through her pockets and handbag:

“Oddio, non mi dire che mi sono dimenticata le chiavi del castello … e se devo tornare a casa adesso … o posso chiamare mio genero … ma quante volte è successo! Quando i figli erano piccoli, tante volte li abbiamo dovuti far infilare da quella finestra lassù per aprire la porta da dentro.
Ma ora sono grandi, e non ci passano più …
… ah eccole!”

A disappointingly small key opens the heavy armoured door … and we’re in. But it soon becomes apparent that the little old lady and her dog’s sole purpose is to open the door and sell us our tickets. And now we have to wait for “il ragazzo che fa le visite guidate”.

“Speriamo che non sia troppo in ritardo … perché lui con gli orari …” the ticket lady informs us.

“Belìn”, I say to myself (looked it up yet?). I begin to feel the cold damp air. It’s rather bored because it’s been trapped in the castle for several days now and decides that it’s going to take it out on me. It makes its spiteful way through my several layers of clothing: due paia di calze, mutande più mutande lunghe, maglietta, felpa, maglione spessissimo, giacca felpata, sciarpa, cappello di lana e così via … belìn!

Outside, after days of ice, snow and freezing wind, the temperature had soared to a sweltering 8°C! But until the guide arrives we are stuck in the freezing dank gloomy entrance way/gift shop. I keep moving around, stamping my feet to delay the onset of frostbite.

Finally, “il ragazzo che fa da guida” arrives … accompanied by a minuscule dog (is it a Fosdinovo thing?). Meno male … now we can get a move on and warm ourselves up … can’t we?

Imbecille Geoff … warm yourselves up! This here ye olde castle, owned by I Marchesi Malaspina remains uninhabited during the winter months and has absolutely no heating. Ma che riscaldarsi!

Eddai Geoff, smettila di brontolare, adesso vedrai che sarà tutto molto interessante …

… except that “il ragazzo con il cagnolino che fa da guida” has an extremely mumbly low key voice (si mangia le parole come dicono)… and the vast damp unheated rooms of the castle act as perfect echo chambers, rendering unintelligible around 70-80% of the potentially fascinating information that “il ragazzo ecc. ecc.” is attempting to impart to us.

A Useful Instructive and Edifying Interlude.

Now, dear readers, I’m afraid I have to break it to you that being ‘fluent’ in a second language doesn’t necessarily mean that you perfectly understand everything that everyone says to you.
Far from it!
Your mother tongue will always be your first recourse. You’ll always switch to it in times of need. And your second language will always remain just that.
In your second language, however good your understanding of grammar or the extent of your vocabulary, you’ll need to hear everything perfectly in order to understand it. And whereas in your mother tongue you allow yourself to skip words or phrases that you don’t quite catch, in your second language you won’t allow yourself that luxury. You demand to understand everything.
But with unexpected accents, strange nuances, speech impediments, mumblings, echoey castle rooms, distracting background noises, or worst, a simultaneous combination of these factors, you’re doing well if you manage to understand 50 -75% of what’s being said.
Don’t beat yourself up about it, that’s just the way it is.

Looking towards the Mediterranean sea from the castle parapets. Photo by Geoff

So, after all that I’ve told you, I guess you’re probably not overenthusiastic about visiting this castle, right? Well let me save you the trouble by distilling all of the fascinating facts that I garnered during the one hour (yes, one whole long frigid semi-intelligible hour my friends) guided tour into a brief synthesis:

Siamo nel mumble jumble echo …….
mumble mumble echo ……. millecinquecento mumble jumble echo …….
mumble mumble echo guerra mumble jumble echo …….
cacchio che freddo … freddo … freddo … echo …
fu ucciso mumble mumble echo …….
mumble jumble echo fantasma echo mumble una bellissima ragazza mumbly jumbly
mumble jumble rhubarb echo ……. grazie ed arrivederci.

I realise that, rather like the incessant rain that’s beating on the roof of my little house here in the heart of Lunigiana (il ‘pisciatoio d’Italia’ as they call it), I’ve begun to rattle on somewhat …
… so it looks like there’ll have to be an Italian Curiosities Part 3. After all, I haven’t even told you about the ghost!

Spero di non avervi rotto troppo le scatole … a presto!

You can find part 1 HERE

Keep learning Italian with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it


  1. paolo:

    Una bella storia, tipicamente Italiano,

    Ma perché è chiamato “il pisciatoio d’Italia’”?

    • Geoff:

      @paolo Ciao Paolo, ‘il pisciatoio d’Italia’ = ‘The Urinal of Italy’ … because it frequently pisses down with rain. This beautiful verdant landscape comes at a price!

      A presto, Geoff 🙂

Leave a comment: