Travel Primer:

First Trip To Italy, What You Should Know

Italian Flag

Going to Italy? You've made a good choice. More than forty million people can't be wrong- that's how many people go to Italy every year.

The Italian Big Three

Rome, Italy

If you're going to visit only one Italian city let it be Rome. Let it be the city that once ruled the Western world. From one point of view, a trip to Rome is a trip to two worlds: the world of the ancient Romans and the heart of the Catholic world - the Vatican. Even if you're not Catholic or religious the Vatican is worth seeing: it has been the repository of art for thousands of years.

Venice, Italy

Cities with imperial ambitions have amassed so much wealth that they've built things worth seeing. Long after the Roman Empire reached it's zenith, the city of Venice carved a maritime Empire centered on the Meditteranean. Unfortunately, it was the same sea-based adventurism that brought the plague to Europe. All that history has to be seen, so we recommend Venice as the second city in your Italian list. Go take a look at the Grand Canal, the Bridge of Sighs, and the Doge's Palace.

Florence, Italy

Rounding out the big three, go see Florence. What used to be the Republic of Florence was the seat of the Medicis, political overlords and immensely wealthy aristocrats, yes. But also major patrons of the arts. Among many others the Medicis supported Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello. If you can support the Mutant Ninja Turtle's you've gone big time. Seriously, Florence is the only city I've heard about where somebody suddenly saw a staircase and had to fight back tears of admiration because the stairs where so breathtakingly beautiful. Stairs. Prepare for an artistic tour de force.

Where To Stay In Italy

This need not be a hotel only trip. Apartments are surprisingly popular because the rooms can be as nice as hotel rooms for less cost.

Getting Around Italy

You'll go by air, ferry, train, bus, or you'll rent a car.

Just like everywhere else Italy has it's expressways (autostrada) and back roads (stradi local).

The trains too are of two kinds. Older, slower ones (regionale) and high-speed (alta velocita).

Have your transportation tickets stamped or validated. If you don't, no worries, just be prepared to pay a small fine.

Some trains have male and female segregated compartmments unless you book a private compartment.

You don't hail cabs in Italy, you call or go to a cabstand.

Communicating In Italy

buongiorno means "good day".

buena sera means "good evening".

English is spoken in or around the main cities but everyone will appreciate it if you at least try to speak Italian no matter how haltingly. So bring a phrasebook and use it. Once you try out some Italian, the Italians will know that you're not a native speaker, they will perhaps correctly guess that you speak English, and, if they are proficient, they'll switch to English. But make no mistake, your respectul attempt to speak Italian is duly noted and appreciated.

Alternatively you can ask "Parla l’Inglese" (do you speak English?)

Eating In Italy


Some tips for eating in Italy

Here is your chance to find out if pizza really does taste like that.

Restaurants have a service or cover charge (coperto). But not all them. If they don't consider leaving a tip. The coperto will be indicated in the bottom of the menu.

Bad restaurants have someone up front with a menu inviting you to come in and eat. You've been warned.

The locales know where the good food is.

Wine may be cheaper than water in some places.

You may be offered house wines. They may be good, they may be bad. Here's one way to think about it: You can only get that wine in that place, it is, in that sense - exclusive. Why not give it a try?

Insalata verde is just a bowl of lettuce. Beautifully minimalist. You have been warned.

Most restaurants open 7pm onwards because dinner in Italy is typically between 7:30 to 9:00pm.

Pasta and bread are typically served together. Ironically, not in Italy. Bread goes with your appetizer.

After you've finished your meal say 'il conto' and they'll give you your bill.

Miscellaneous tips for your Italian trip

  • If the crowds start getting to you, try going to places very early in the morning or late at night. Also, the farther you go from the urban centers the lesser the crowds, so you might want to veer your itinerary into more a 'visiting the Roman countryside' sort of thing.

  • You will not see or do everything you want to see or do (or eat) in the time you've allotted for this trip. It's just how it is.

  • Rejoice exercise lover! An Italian trip is a walking trip.

  • Aside from money changers, money can be exchanged through ATMs.

  • Most shops close from 1:00pm to 4:00pm in the afternoon - a siesta tradition.

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