Italy in a Nutshell
Essential facts and information about Italian accommodation, festivals, language, restaurants, tipping, weather, transportation and currency.
Italy Travel Destinations - Travel Planners to Italian Cities
Italy's Big Three Travel Destinations
Everyone knows them: Rome, Venice and Florence. While you're in Florence, you'll want to make your way to other destinations in Tuscany. One of the big mistakes travellers make is to try to see this triumvirate in 10 days. While you can certainly travel to each of them within ten days, you won't really get to experience any of the depth of these diverse and interesting places. If you only have a very short time, we recommend a tour, one that whisks you from place to place efficiently. You don't want to spend your time waiting for trains if you've only a short vacation.
Italy in a Nutshell - Essential Facts for the Visitor to Italy
Accommodation in Italy
The hotels in Italy are rated by a government system that does not take into account the "charm" of a place. The ratings on the outside of the building are based on an objective 'facilities and services provided' assessment and are not in any way related to ambience, charm or other subjective criteria.
Tip: It is a good idea to check out a room before you accept it.
Italian Festivals and Sagras - always a way to see more than the average tourist sees, find a sagra (a blessing of such things as porcini mushrooms) and just dive in. You're likely to find great food served in the open air at communal tables, a great way to meet the locals.
The Language in Italy
The language spoken in Italy is Italian, obviously! However, you will often hear local dialects spoken, which is why your High-School Italian seems irrelevant sometimes. English is widely spoken in areas heavily populated by tourists.
If you only learn one word of Italian, let it be this one: sciopero . Pronounced "SHO-per-o" meaning "strike." Labour issues in Italy are often brought to public attention by short strikes, often lasting a day or less. If you see notices hastily posted onto walls or windows of a train or bus station, look for this word. Since they are of short duration, strikes seldom cause too many problems for tourists who are flexible.
Transportation in Italy
Italy is served by an extensive rail system. Buses sometimes duplicate the rail routes, and many small cities in Italy have access to the larger cities close by through a twice-a-day bus trip. Bus stations are often found near the train station.
Trains and buses are subsidized, making Italian transportation slightly cheaper than most of the rest of Europe. Train passes may not offer much advantage over just buying a ticket at the station. Since local trains are subsidized so that workers can get to their work destinations cheaply, be aware that there are often fewer trains on weekends and holidays.
You can often avoid queues at the ticket window by buying a ticket at train station kiosks using your credit or debit cards.
ES, or Eurostar Italia denotes the fast trains of Italy. Besides the cost of a ticket, a reservation fee is charged. Here are some typical travel times:
Milan - Reggio Calabria: 11h
Milan - Venice: 2h45
Rome - Turin: 6h11
Rome - San Remo: 6h39
Rome - Venice: 4h33
See www.trenitalia.com for major routes and information.
Tiickets for local buses can usually be bought from a tabacchi (tobacco store) or sometimes at a news-stand.
Weather In Italy - When to Go
Italy enjoys a moderate climate. In the south, rain is infrequent in the summer. In alpine regions impromptu thunderstorms are frequent, even in summer. At or near sea level the average low temperature seldom dips below freezing (remember, that's average. It does freeze occasionally in winter).
Summer can be extremely hot! In August Italians head for the beach and stay there. Autumn is a wonderful time to visit Italy, when porcini and truffles are in season. It can be quite cool at night with rain in comparison to summer.
Eating Out in Italy
In the summer, hotels serve lunch from around 12.30 with last orders around 14.00. Lunch ( pranzo ) is often the main meal. Stores close between 12.30 and 16.00 and many shopkeepers and shoppers alike flood to local restaurants. Dinner ( cena ) is usually served from 19.30 onwards.
A small trattoria may not have a wine list but will always have a house wine ( vino della casa ). Water is safe to drink but Italians prefer mineral water ( acqua minerale ).
Generally a service charge is included in the bill. There is often a small charge for coperto (table cloth, napkins etc). It is customary to leave small change for a tip or up to five percent of the total bill if the service is good (some say 10 percent in a more sophisticated ristorante where the service is impeccable).
When ordering a coffee at a bar it is customary to leave a small coin for the person who makes and serves your coffee.
Most Italians enjoy a cappuccino or espresso while standing at the bar. Breakfast is a social time for most Italians. A croissant or brioche is the usual accompaniement. You should expect to pay around €1.50 - €2.00 in total.
Be aware that it's more expensive to sit down to enjoy your drink or snack. Sometimes it's acceptable to pay after you have ordered but often you pay at a kiosk before hand. From around 19.00 you will find bowls of savoury snacks and olives to accompany an aperitvo (before dinner drink). If you prefer not to drink alcohol you can order a red or white bitter or a crodino (my personal favourite) which is made from extracts of vegetables and orange in colour.
I've seen how frustrated and critical many American and English people become in restaurants when their Italian dish appears to be different from how it is in Italian restaurants back home... This is because you are in Italy! So when in Rome...
Pizza and salad is an Anglo-Saxon invention and only offered here in some places to please tourists. Portions of meat may seem less generous than in America and England for example but this is because Italians usually eat meat as a second course ( secondo piatto ) Vegetables and salad are served separately as contorni because they are marinaded differently from the sauce in which the meat is cooked.
Ice-cream ( gelato ) is usually bought from a ( gelateria) and eaten while walking up and down with friends 'seeing and being seen'.
Italians usually finish a meal with coffee (without milk) which helps to digest a meal. Digestives such as the delicious and popular limoncello (40% lemon liqueur) are served after coffee.
This brings us neatly to the subject of the evening promenade which is fundamental to Italian culture. This is an opportunity for Italians to show off and to get a butchers at the way others dress (including us poor tourists!). The passeggiata usually takes place during late afternoon, before and after dinner in the main street ( corso ) and it doesn't matter how many times Italians walk and down looking in shop windows or at each other... they just love it!
Currency in Italy
The currency in Italy is the Euro, pronounced Ae-OO-roh. At the time the Euro was adopted, its value was set at 1936.27 Italian Lire.