General Italian Travel Guide Stuff: As soon as you get into the country find out if there are any planned strikes, strikes are pretty common and can affect your plans with closures of both museums and transportation. Also, many things are closed on Mondays. This will help you in planning what you are doing on different days.
House wine is a good cheap option if you like wine but aren’t super picky. If you don’t like red normally, try it anyway, it isn’t like red in the states, no preservatives.
Expect to pay as much for a coke in a restaurant as a 1/4 carafe of white wine! Oh and for that matter no free refills. You will also have to ask for ice, but soft drinks are usually served cold and with a lemon in Italy.
If you are eating at a true Italian restaurant, they will never rush you once you have sat down it is your table. They will also not bring your bill unless you ask for it. They do not expect tips, you can round up the bill to the nearest Euro or leave a Euro or two but they do not expect a tip to be given, neither do Taxi drivers or any other service that would be tipped in the US.
Don’t give the Gypsy’s money and watch your bags if they are around. You can spot them, they usually have long skirts, their hair braided and a headscarf. Though if you can move over to the side of an area and watch them work a crowd it is pretty interesting. We managed this in Florence it was funny.
Pizza – If your pizza comes with a thick crust, square or cut you are at a tourist joint. Italians eat thin crust (except in Sicily it is thicker but not much) and they eat with a knife and fork starting in the middle and working out towards the crust. Pizza in northern Italy is harder and crunchier the farther south you go the softer they are.
Transport – Cabs are expensive, but buses will take you to all the tourist joints. Plus you get to see the locals! You buy bus tickets in advance don’t expect bus drivers to have them. Look for a bar or newsstand near a bus stop. You can buy passes for usually 1 or 3 days in most cities. You only stamp them once to verify the starting date. If you do take a taxi be prepared for Italian style driving! and don’t worry about tipping, they don’t expect it.
Maps – I love the “Pop Out Maps” they are very helpful and small so you aren’t walking around with this huge map out. Also, there are tourist info offices in every city and they will give you a free paper map usually. A digital tip is to download the Google Map for the city that you are going to. That will allow it to work without service, but you won’t be able to have it tell you where you are, you will just be able to read it like a paper map.
Bathrooms – If you need to use the bathroom and you are not near any tourist sites, pop into a bar. Yes ideally you should buy a coke or a café but they can’t stop you using the toilet and usually won’t so just ask where it is or look around, use it and walk out!
Coffee – cappuccinos are for the morning. Most Italians don’t drink them anyway! They drink Café which is espresso. No milk but they do add sugar if they want. At most coffee bars you pay first at a little cashier then take your receipt to the bar, sort of gently push your way up close then give the receipt to the barista and the tell them what you want. Don’t wait to be asked, you’ll stand there forever!
Breakfast – In Italy is nothing like the US. It will be mostly ham slices, cheese slices, toast that looks like a giant crouton! Or brioche/croissants.
Dress Code – Make sure all your shirts have sleeves and no shorts (capris are okay) if you are going to be heading to a place with churches. You won’t be let into churches or some museums without sleeves or longer pants. There is usually someone nearby who sells scarves to cover up with. Though if you bring your own that works as well.
Gelato – Eat lots of Gelato! Do not eat the kind that is piled up very high, it has preservatives in it. Look for the sign that says it was made by the proprietor and the gelato is barely over the edge of the metal tray. This will mean it is made with fresh products and will be tastier! Again like with the bars you sometimes pay first, get a receipt and then order your gelato. Expect two flavors at least. If you get any size other than small you can ask for three flavors, this is the norm.
Receipts – Speaking of receipts you will receive one for everything that you buy. This is a law in Italy. There is a special police force who deals with financial crime and they can theoretically ticket you if you don’t have your receipt. Though I have never heard of it actually happening.
Pasta – Each city in Italy has its own special pasta, a fun thing to do is to try it in each city. Also, there are very specific pastas that go with specific sauces, don’t be surprised if you ask for a pasta and sauce that Italians don’t think match and you get a funny look.
Is the website of a friend who has selected these hotels personally.
Monastery Stays Another fun thing to do in Italy is to stay at Nunneries and Monasteries. My parents and I stayed at several wonderful ones in Rome, Assisi, and Florence. They can be cheap and very nice places to stay.
Venice – Go to the islands of Burano (lace) and Murano (glass). Buy a 3-day pass or for however, you are long you are there on the public transportation. The public transport are boats. I have never done the proper Venice gondola boats but other folks have, they are very expensive. Venice is very easy to get turned around in, but that is part of the fun. One thing I will say though is if you see something that you like, buy it because you may never be able to find your way back!!!! 🙂 Mestere is a two-minute train ride from Venice and the hotels are much cheaper.
It is worth spending a few minutes in the main Piazza, San Marco, and experiencing the Pigeons! It is worth going up in the bell tower.
In Venice, if there are tables outside of a bar it means that you can use the bathroom for free.
Piazza San Marco
Tell them Cary sent you and eat the Mushroom Strudel and if you like steak, Tagliata. Make a reservation, when you get to Florence, just to be safe.
This is the restaurant of a friend of mine and frankly, one that I found it was the best Italian food I had in Italy. If you eat there more than once you will not be disappointed. Also if you tell them the kind of foods you like they will pick something for you and it will be yummy! The owner, Gianni and a few employees are also Sommeliers so this is a good place to try wine. Say hi to Kush and Luccia if they are working.
Gianni is also a trained guide. Please let me know if you want to know if he is available on the dates you are there and you want to use him. Or just pick his brain when you are at the restaurant. He can also arrange wine tours.
This is the best place for granita (Sicilian ice- kind of like shaved ice) in Florence and just down the street from the Ristorante Accademia
Best gelateria in Florence is Gelateria il Sorriso. You can get a bus (#31 or 32) from the center out to the shop just get off at the big COOP store you can’t miss it. Then Sorriso is across the street. Be prepared for huge portions. http://www.gelateriailsorriso.com/en/to-contact-us/
Uffizi – Book tickets online on busy weeks. At least then you don’t have to wait in line. Make sure you get their early so book early, you will want time. You might want to go back but you can book another set of tickets later.
Piazza Signoria – is worth a walkthrough.
Ponte Vecchio – (the bridge) worth a walkover, though the gold is expensive.
Palazzo Pitti – worth a look.
Santa Croce – is where all the cool folks like Galileo are buried.
Skip the inside of the Duomo but worth going up the dome if you aren’t afraid of heights and have good knees! There are loads of stairs and no other ways to get to the top.
Pizza Michelangelo – above Florence is worth a visit (1 hour) you can get a bus up and down. Or you can walk up the stairs from Porto San Niccolo.
This is the parent of a former student of mine, who paints at the top of Pizza Michelangelo.
The main market is San Lorenzo and the one near the Ponte Vecchio with the wild boar statue, il Porcellino. Put a coin on his tongue standing up and let it roll off. Be sure to rub his nose so you will come back to Florence.
I know someone with a horse cart in Florence. His number is 1 and his name is Luca. I taught with his wife Maggie. These aren’t cheap but you get a tour as well as a nice ride around town.
If you’re there Easter Sunday go see this, though you might want earplugs!:
Lucca is a walled city an hour from Florence, lovely worth 1/2 a day, you can walk around the whole city in about 2 hours. We spend two nights at the Albergo Diana in 2002 and I would look it up again if I went back.
Siena is a day trip from Florence, cool city has a great history ask about the Palio di Siena (July and August).
San Gimignano is a city between Florence and Siena that is full of 14th century towers. Very cute town but only needs a few hours.
Pisa is literally 2 hours after you get off the train from Florence (1.5 hours). Nothing else to do in Pisa except seeing the tower.
Go to Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain– all can be done in 1 day. Pizza Navona is a great spot for some sculptures.
Forum and Coliseum – It is worth joining a group outside to tour the areas or getting the audio guide if you like them. They will walk you around and tell you the main points, but you can then hang about and take your time in places.
Eat Dinner at L’Eau Vive this is near the Pantheon so you can do that before dinner.
Via Monterone, 85
Make reservations for upstairs. Be sure to make a reservation, for upstairs, as soon as you get into the country, don’t wait until you are in Rome. PS they sing Ave Maria at 9, but you do not have to participate!
Vatican – Get up early and go to the Vatican (Be at the gates at 8:45 am). If you want to see Sistine Chapel without anyone in it, you need to march through the museum and not stop to look at anything, just skip it all if you don’t you will be in the Sistine Chapel with loads of people and you won’t see it as well. You can always go again the next day for the museum or ask if you can go back through.
After the chapel, you are free to go into St. Peter’s. Be sure to stand on one of the brass circles in the piazza. The columns all line up it is very cool. There is one on each side.
Porta Portese Market- open on Sundays, 6.30am-2pm
This is the main flea market in Rome held at the back of Trastevere quarter. Here you’ll find a bit of everything (including the occasional stolen item), though you won’t find a real bargain. Of course, you should haggle, if only for the pleasure. (watch out for pickpockets!) This is a good place to get knockoffs from the Africans. If you buy from the Africans watch out for cops first!
Sardinia is sometimes a bit difficult to get to but it has some real gems!
Tempio Pausania – Tempio is a mountain town that has most of its buildings made out of granite. Warning: it is up very winding roads, so not the place you want to go if you get car sick easily.
Costa Esmeralda – Costa Esmeralda has absolutely beautiful water and beaches.