Italy is an wonderful country to visit. I'm in Iceland now, but I miss Italy. While it's all still fresh in my mind, here are ten tips for those traveling to Italy.
Airplane Mode is Your Friend
When I board the plane at Toronto's Pearson airport, I put my phone on airplane mode and leave it there until I return. While abroad, airplane mode is your best friend and will ensure you don't get any unhappy surprises from your telecom vendor. Most accommodations will include wifi as will many restaurants / bars in Italy.
Airbnb for Accommodations
We didn't stay in a single hotel or motel during our stay in Italy. Instead, we scouted and booked rooms via airbnb.com with great success. Be sure to read the reviews and book a room in the heart of the city within walking distance of the main attractions.
TripAdvisor Offline City Guides
For every city we visited, excluding Cinque Terre, we downloaded an "Offline City Guide" app from TripAdvisor. This app, available for both iOS and Android, will not require a data connection and will help you scout and locate the best attractions, restaurants and gelaterias (see below!). They're awesome.
Always Leave Room for Gelato
I had gelato every day I spent in Italy, except for my time in Cinque Terre. You'll learn the best gelaterias from the aforementioned TripAdvisor app and you'll find amazing flavours available for €1-€2. Some gelaterias will even let you combine two flavours. Never order dessert in a restaurant, always walk to a nearby recommended gelateria instead.
Beware the Service Charge
Many restaurants will charge a service charge per person. This is typically €2-€2.50. This is in lieu of tipping. All the food in Italy is amazing, by the way, but you already know that! This pizza fan is still smiling...
Crosswalks are Suicide
Rome in particular is full of dangerous drivers and motorcyclists. They don't signal, they drive fast and they ignore crosswalks. If you treat the crosswalks in Rome as you do crosswalks in Canada and wait for cars to stop, you'll be waiting forever. Wait for a chasm and run before you get run over. Good luck!
Beware the Euro Sharks
In the touristy parts of the big Italian cities you'll find many people with one agenda: to suck Euros from your wallet. They'll do this in a variety of ways: by giving your girl a "free" rose or silk, by "helping" you and then demanding payment or even by posing for you in a gladiator outfit. If you're naive you'll think they're being kind to tourists. They just want your money.
You Don't Need to Know Italian
In the places I visited (Rome, Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre and Milan) you can get by perfectly fine without a stitch of Italian, but it 's fun to try. My most used Italian words were: grazie, buongiorno, ciao, si, prego and scusi.
Italy is Safe
In my experience, Italy was very safe. I walked the big cities both day and night and never felt unsafe, but it's wise to remember pickpocketers thrive in busy tourist areas. Be aware of that unfortunate fact and don't give your safety a second thought.
It's Okay to Get Lost
You'll have your TripAdvisor app and a good old fashioned paper map, but you'll still get lost, and that's okay. We got lost so many times in the beautiful labyrinth that is Venice but it all becomes part of the experience. Be prepared for long walks because your mapped out 12km route could easily become 15-20km by the time your day is done.
I've been visiting Cinque Terre, five villages along the Italian Riviera that seem almost untouched by modernization. They are:
- Monterosso al Mare
We stayed in Riomaggiore and took the train into Corniglia where we walked the Sentiero Azzurro path through Vernazza and Riomaggiore. The path between Riomaggiore and Manarola and Manarola and Corniglia is currently closed due to flooding.
I've seen some beautiful places in my lifetime, as recently as last month when I visited Banff, but I've never seen any place as stunningly gorgeous as Cinque Terre, and walking the path was just awesome.
Photos don't do it justice, but if you want to see a bunch, I've got them all here.
Walking around Florence, there are some great knockers. I snapped a few pictures of these amazing door knockers to give you a taste.
Just like Rome and Venice, Florence is gorgeous and full of amazing food. Here are a few pictures I've taken.
I'm keeping every photo I take in Florence in this handy Flickr photoset.
Venice is like a crazy beautiful labyrinth. I can't tell you how many times we got lost today. But damn, is it pretty.
I'm keeping every photo I take in Venice in this handy Flickr photoset.
Rome reminds me of Paris in that there's something photo-worthy at every turn. It's also warm and sunny, as I remember Paris, and nothing like the cool rainy days in Amsterdam.
Here are some photos I took yesterday.
We're walking to Vatican City today. I hear Pope Frankie make a great pizza.
If you'd like to see all of my photos from Rome, they're here in this handy Flickr photoset.
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