Tuesday, July 07, 2015
Tips for travel to Italy.
Here are my tips for travel to Italy. Some are specific some are general. I reserve the right to add as I think of more.
Choose Wisely when scheduling your trip. Italy in the summer can be a crowded, hot experience depending of course on where you are headed. We like the "shoulder seasons" of Sept/Oct or especially May. Not everyone can go in May, of course, but it is good tip to keep in mind.
Plan Ahead. "Choose wisely" goes hand in hand with plan ahead. If you simply show up at the Vatican Museum be prepared to stand in line. A long line. Same with the Colosseum.
If you are not on a rigid guided tour and making your own way then get on the Internet and check ahead even before you leave the US. Once we found they had just opened tours to new, previously unopened areas of the Colosseum and bought advance tickets while we were still home. This allowed us to bypass the line and go right in. Also schedule visits like Borghese Gallery at the frond end of your visit if possible rather than the back end. Because anything can happen, like a strike for instance.
Beware of the sciopero. Strikes in Italy are more common place than churches and are just as prolific. They can be anywhere and anytime. There may be 10 cabs waiting outside St Peters with the drivers standing by and smoking cigarettes but they ain't goin' anywhere if there is a strike. It's just part of Italian life. A good example is the Colosseum ticket above. On the scheduled date we arrived at the Colosseo only to find locked gates. Later at our apartment (because I did not have an Italian Phone on that trip) we found there was a strike and contacted the company that sold us the tickets and we rescheduled.
Bring an "unlocked" GSM cell phone and charger. It's a little complicated but worth not getting a Cell Phone bill that needs to be expressed in scientific notation (3.4 x 10 to the 4th power) or comes in a large box when you get home. This can easily happen if you leave data roaming on (which is uncommon BTW). An unlocked phone is one not limited to use on a single carrier. If you have an unlocked GSM phone you can purchase a SIM card it Italy, perhaps right in the Airport like I did in Roma last year at the TIM kiosk . If you purchased your phone through a US provider like AT&T, chances are that it is locked and forced to operate only on AT&T's network even if the phone fully belongs to you. AT&T has a web page where you can unlock up to 5 phones per year. Your phone also needs to be compatible with Italian phone networks. Again, this a little complicated but suffice it to say your old Verizon phone won't work since it is CDMA Here is a handy list of CDMA vs GSM carriers in the US if you have a phone on the CDMA carrier it won't work in Italy. Why would you need an Italian phone? If you are outside of WiFi range and want to post the beautiful picture you just captured of the Trevi Fountain with no one but you in the frame (pictures of unicorns are more likely BTW) the only way to do it is to use a cell data plan. You can just stick to Free WiFi which is everywhere in Italy these days, but if you are addicted like I am to posting 24/7 waiting for WiFi just won't cut it.Also, we found some free Wifi hot spots (Alba Adriatica) expected that you register with an Italian sms-text. Admittedly this is rare but was well worth it.
Check your papers. Make sure ALL your documents are up to date. This may sound silly, but last year my NJ Drivers license was expired and it nearly wrecked our trip. Have separate credit cards from your spouse - otherwise if you cancel one, you cancel the other if you share a number. Make copies of your passport and credit cards - front and back and keep them. I usually scan mine to cloud storage like Dropbox.
Dress conservatively: Italy is still a largely Catholic country. Do bring trousers even if the forecast is Sunny and 39 C (trust me, that's hot and you'll figure it out). If you want to get in Churches, then most likely you will need conservative dress. Don't wear tank-tops and other shoulder bare-ing type dress if visiting the Vatican and such places. I found this as a nice guide. oh and yes, you will stick out. There is no way you are going to look like an Italian in your Yes Concert shirt (3 August - Camden!) and cargo shorts.
Besides, your eyeglasses are going to stick out like a stripper pole in Mecca since the Italians are very particular about their eye-wear.
Do visit the churches.We found San Celemente in Rome was an interesting diversion one afternoon. Just go find some churches and visit even it it's to cool off in the dark.
Parlare. Learn at least a little of the language even if the sole purpose is to entertain the Italians. They thought it was a hoot when I would say "grazie mille" (thousand thanks like "Thanks a Million" but without the inflation).
Don't be afraid of taking public transportation. Go in any tobacco store and buy a bus ticket or biglietto. Take the Metro in Rome. Don't be afraid of that 60 Minutes episode you saw on the 64 bus in Rome. Oh, be prepared (no wallets, fanny packs etc.) and watch your surroundings but go and explore - especially with the trains.
* Fear not VRBO. Rent a house or apartment rather than get a hotel room. We had the best time living in an Italian neighborhood in Prati in Rome in 2011. Get to know the butcher, the pasta shop and local bar. Take the bus. Sure people will stare at you in your Yes Concert shirt. The bar by the way is not like a dark and depressing US bar at all but more like a pastry shop/coffee and convenience store and they are everywhere.Think microscopic Wawa. Also, don't settle for the first thing that pops up on vrbo. We found this place last year after searching weeks.
Coffee Up. Speaking of bars, go in and stand at the bar and order an espresso everywhere you go. It's usually cheap and very Italian. Get the glass of water too.
Eat. It is not possible to get a bad meal in Italy. I've tried. Popo is octopus BTW. Try some Lonza
Walk This Way. Be prepared to walk. and walk. and walk some more. Oh when you are not walking it's because you are climbing many, many stairs.
Climb. Go to every rooftop or dome-top you can. It's worth the climb.
Speaking of luggage, be prepared to have some lost. The best picture I ever took visiting Italy was the one of our luggage at the airport before leaving. It wasn't much composition wise but it was lot easier to say "like this" when they ask "what did your luggage look like?" (BTW they are all black). Also have a change of clothes in your carry-on. This will avoid the unpleasant experience of finding out Zara has nothing - and I mean nothing - in your size (Oldest son took us there when I need a set of emergency trousers. He politely asked if they had any in my size and the clerk said "No" - not maybe, not let me look, just no).
Also, my baggage carousel experience at Rome's Fiumicino has not been good over the years. I've spent more time than I'd care remember jet-lagged and bleary-eyed and waiting for our luggage to show on the carousel only to be bitterly disappointed. If possible, have some Euro coins in your pocket for when you arrive and need a cart for the luggage in the Airport.
Visit a Mercato and wander around looking at the squid.
Rome 2011 Pictures
Italy (Furore on the Amalfi Coast, Alba Adriatica on the Adriatic and Taormina Sicily) 2014 Pictures