First of all, traveling is not for everyone. Even taking a short trip, close to home, can be exhausting and frustrating for some. When you travel a large distance to Italia, for example, it can make it even more so. But, with a little research, planning, and an open mind, it can also be a very rewarding experience.
I love Italia! I love traveling to Italia! I do so at least twice every year, for approximately four weeks at a time. I have been doing this now for around eleven years. I have learnt by making mistakes, in my planning my day-to-day routines, what not to do. Hopefully, the things that I have learned and experienced can help make your trip a better one.
Here are some basic guidelines:
Pack light! Underpack! Italy is not a Third World Country. It is possible to buy anything you might need there. So, if you only pack two pairs of shoes, and one dies mid-trip, it’s not the end of the world. It is fun to shop in Italia. Also, bear in mind that while the larger hotels and resorts do have elevators, some of the smaller hotels and B&B’s don’t. You may find yourself having to lug suitcases up two or three flights of stairs. It’s much easier to do that with a smaller bag. Trust me!
Try and adapt to Italian time and habits! This is something that will help immensely, especially if you are in a smaller town, and not in a major city like Roma or Milano. I had a friend traveling with me, not so long ago, who got angry that she could not shop between the hours of 13:00 and 17:00. Everything was closed for siesta, and it irritated her to no end. I explained to her that the shops would open back up, after the sun began to set a little. The afternoon hours are meant to be spent eating lunch, and then relaxing or napping, not running around in the heat, trying to get things done. But, she had a difficult time with it. Unlike in the States, most of the shops and public buildings close during the afternoon hours. It is not possible to do anything other than eat something, and relax. That’s it! And I find it to be a wonderful way to live!
Most restaurants will begin to serve lunch around 13:00. Dinner does not begin until 19:30 (for those who insist on eating early), most Italians going out between 20:30 and 22:00. Of course, in most of the larger cities, it is possible to find restaurants open earlier, which cater to tourists who like to eat a bit earlier, but these tend to be places that I wouldn’t recommend, as the locals avoid them like the plague. Also, while it is possible to have a quick dinner at some places, most restaurants in Italia take a slower, more relaxed view of dining. Dinner can last from an hour and a half, to two, or even three hours, depending on how many courses one is having. When one goes out to a restaurant in Italia, this is what you are doing for your evening. It’s not like in the States, where you go out to a place, grab a quick bite, and then go to catch a movie. No. In Italia, there are bars/cafés, and pizzerias if you want something quick and easy.
Eat and drink locally! Not only does every single region produce its own wine, but they each have their own traditional dishes as well. These change, not only from region to region, but from town to town, and people in each town will tell you that their particular recipe is the best! My advice — try them all! If you see something on the menu, and you haven’t had it before — order it! I’ve discovered so many wonderful plates that way.
Make sure that you have a cellphone that functions overseas! This is especially important if you are driving a car, while over there. Even with GPS, it is easy to get lost on the small, winding roads that lead to the towns. At least, with a phone, you can call, and get directions.
Always have some euros on hand, in addition to your credit cards! There are some places that do not accept credit cards. For that reason, cash is always good to have. There are ATMs all over Italia. You can either take money out from your account, back in the States, or you can take a cash advance on credit cards. Most places accept Visa and Mastercard. American Express is not as widely accepted, and you might as well leave your Discover Card at home, as it is basically useless in Italia.
Don’t overplan your days! I’ve seen so many people on holiday in Italia, barely able to stand up by the early evening hours — mainly because they’ve tried to cram too much into too little time. It’s impossible to see it all, no matter where you are, so don’t even try. You’ll see whatever it was that you miss the first time, when you return. This gets back to my first point about the siesta. Don’t push it! Try to get in one museum a day, if that’s your thing, and then spend the rest of the day exploring the city or town that you’re in. Maybe take a stroll through a local park, or a hike in the woods. Lay on a beach, or by the pool. Or simply lock yourself in the room for a quick cat-nap, before heading back out, refreshed and ready for whatever wonders the Italian night might have in store for you.
These are just a few little pieces of advice that might help you in planning your trip. Keep an eye out for my next post, with which I begin to take you around this beautiful and enchanting country!