I wrote these entries as an addendum to a web page I prepared for family and friends accompanying us on our destination wedding in the fall of 2011, to help prepare certain travel expectations, in hopes everyone arrives relaxed and anxious in a "good way".
I think you'll find your trip planning a breeze, even if this is their first European adventure. :-) ...I promise, it will be a GREAT one!
Once your done reading these bits and pieces of trivia & information, head over to our "Itinerary Suggestions"; to learn more about our own plans for the week; and view more specific details, pertaining to other popular regional attractions. - M.H.
:: The Best Italian Itineraries, are ANY Italian itinerary ::Keep your plans simple... This is a very small country, compared to the U.S.; this country is no bigger than one of our own medium sized states. So don't fret a complicated "game plan".
The Big Picture:
An hour and a half (1-1/2) train ride will take you clear across one region of the country; from one major city to the next. (And no, these are not "Bullet Trains".) A three (3) hours train ride will take you from Northern Italy to central Italy; and another, from Central Italy to Southern. Therefor, you will never likely travel further in one day than it would take you to drive from Dallas to Austin; and those occasion will be rare.
In most cases your day will simply consist of you and your fellow travelers enjoying which ever wonderful and historic city, you have chosen to spend several days in. And during those stays you will likely just be walking the beautiful sidewalks, intentionally visiting a historic site or two, enjoying a wonderful meal, and from time to time visiting a lovely little local store.
Speaking the Language:
Knowing Italian is never a necessity when visiting this fine country. All major attractions and cities abound with staffs and folks which also speak English. This is a country which earns over 48 billion dollars in tourism revenue a year. It is the fifth most visited country in the world, and yet it is no bigger than the state of Arizona! The locals are very, VERY use to guest. Don't ever concern yourself with knowing their language, unless you plan on becoming an Expatriate. In which case, please ask me to visit often! ;-)
Lay of the land:
Like most Medium sized States in the U.S., there are only a hand full of major cities in Italy. To the North West there is Milan. To the North East there is Venice. In the North Central Region there is Florence; the South Central Region has Rome. Further to the South is Naples. And even further South still is the Island of Capri and the beautiful cliff-side city of Sorrento; not to mention the amazing, frozen in time, ancient, excavated city of Pompeii.
Northern Italy is the wealthiest most prosperous Italian region. The people are educated and cultured. They are use to millions of visitors a year, enjoying their beautiful geography and exceptional attractions, restaurants and shopping.
We have purposely chosen to visit and enjoy this country at a time which is not considered a "peak travel season". Traveling to Italy during the Fall, not only reduces many of the flight and lodging expenses, but also allows us to avoid heavy crowds and better enjoy our guest and the many attractions we hope to visit with them.
This time of the year is a better use of all of our time and money; and yet the weather will be at the country's most pleasant throughout our entire stay. Italy has VERY hot summers; whereas we will be enjoying it's absolutely beautiful fall weather; which will be in the mid 70's during the day and lower 60's at night. (Bring a good jacket, or light layers for your evenings out.)
As far as transportation is concerned once you have arrived; I have personally driven over 30 days in total across the Italian country side and throughout all of it's major cities during my various visits. I don't know what I was thinking the first several times I toured the country using my own, personal, rent car? But NO MORE! :-) I have learned the hard way! So from now on, I depend almost solely on the trains; which are by far, the best, most cost effective, safest and virtually stress free way to vacation throughout Europe.
Texans like to drive cars everywhere they go. Italians like to run over any visiting Texan's, who thought they needed to rent a car while vacationing there. Unless "aggressive, freestyle driving" is your middle name; stick to using the incredible, European Train System, as your mode of transportation during your entire visit to any and all regions of Italy and Europe. (The only exceptions being a few ferry rides across Lake Como, or out to the Island of Capri if you head that far South.)
:: THE FINE PRINT ::General Touring Info:
- Serious crime is rare, however pickpockets and purse-snatchers are common in large cities. Just keep things hidden and locked; and by hidden, I don't mean in a fanny pack.
- Not all places allow picture taking. Museums, especially, often retain sole rights to photograph their works. Flash photography is especially frowned upon as being disruptive.
- Public toilets are available only in a few small towns. You can always use the toilet in a public bar however ( they have to give you access by law ).
- Banks are open weekdays 8:30 am to 1:30 pm and sometimes for an hour in the afternoon. (However, with prevalent ATMs, it is doubtful you will ever need a bank.)
- Most churches are open from early morning until noon, when they close for three to four hours before reopening again, and close at 6 pm. A few major churches, such as St. Peter's in Rome, are open all day.
- Many museums are closed one day a week, often on Monday.
- Italy may be very tourist-friendly and known for fashion, but it is generally considered rude to walk around town in beach attire, short shorts, and/or skimpy outfits. Many historic and certainly religious attractions, will not allow visitors in shorts, or lady's in tank tops.
- Italian tap water is sometimes heavily chlorinated, so it is best to drink bottled water. Also mineral water is available in all flavors: gassata (bubbly or "with gas"), naturale (non-bubbly), and semi-gassata like Ferrarelle (somewhere in the between).
- Italians usually take their food as it is listed, seldom making special requests, such as "hold the mayo."
- Spaghetti, virtually the national food of Italy, should be eaten with a fork rolled against the dish. Use a spoon if you must, but cutting your food up into little pieces is considered tacky.
- Cappuccino and 'cornetto' is the standard breakfast in Italy - forget sausages and eggs, and etc .
- Don't wait for the check, you must ask for it.
- Tipping is usually done with cash; usually 'servizio' is included but a small tip is always appreciated.
- Nice sit-down restaurants usually expect one to order two courses, not counting dessert.
- If you want a quick bite, stop at a pizzeria.
- Breakfast is usually served from 7-10:30 am, lunch from 12:30-2:30 pm, and dinner from 7:30-10 pm. Peak lunch and dinner hours are 1 and 9 pm, respectively.
- If you get traveler's diarrhea, don't necessarily blame it on unsanitary conditions. Olive oil and wine are heavily used in Italian cuisine, and as natural laxatives, can cause problems for those with sensitive stomachs.
Just in Case:
- If there is an emergency, dial 113 or 112. They are the Italian equivalent of America's 911 or UK's 999. (But don't live in or travel with fear; nor with persistent thoughts of requiring such info, life is way to short!)
:: That's Amore ::You have nothing to fear about taking a trip to Europe, but fear itself. :-)
Enjoy yourself, and do your best to soak it all in! Italy is an absolutely wonderful place to stop and smell the coffee, or cappuccino!