Monday, January 6, 2014

10 Things to Know Before Traveling to Italy

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy” Giuseppe Verdi


Every day there is something new that I learn about #Italian culture that amazes me.  For everything I knew about #Italy before moving here, there are a million things I didn't know and that I wished someone had told me.  Here is a list of my top ten things to know before coming to Italy as a tourist, for a long stay or permanently.

1. I hate hate hate to start with a negative but it is the first thing you need to do after you arrive at the airport.  Watch your belongings, don't leave your purse in the seat next to you while you wait for your bags, don't put your sunglasses at the table in the coffee bar, and be specially vigilant if taking public transportation (train station, subways and buses) and in crowded places.  It will be better once you arrive to walk with a copy of your passport and leave the actual passport in the hotel's safe.  Don't put all your money in your purse, but put some around in ever pocket in case your purse gets snatched.  It happens everyday.

2. Ok, now that we got that out of the way, let's talk about breakfast.  Italian breakfast consist mainly of a shot of #espresso coffee and a crescent shaped pastry called "cornetto".  The cornetto can be plain or filled with jelly, chocolate or cream.  Breakfast is also something you do on the go: stop at the bar, take your shot of coffee, eat your cornetto (all of this standing at the bar) and off you go to continue with your day.  Most hotels offer with their breakfast buffets a bigger selection including cakes and some fruit but you will not commonly find eggs, bacon nor anything savory.  If you go out in the morning and decide to sit at a table in a coffee bar and expect the waiter to come and ask you what you would like to order, you will be paying triple the price!  An espresso costs around 80 cents to 1 euro, 2 euros if you are downtown at a fancier place or if you ask for one after a meal at a restaurant.  The cornetto goes for less than 2 euros, so your breakfast should be less than 5 euro per person.  Oh, and no Italian would ever ask for a capuccino after 10 am.  Why? because it has milk and milk is only for the mornings.  Nobody orders a capuccino after lunch, like people usually do in other places of the world.  Sometimes they won't even serve it to you.

3. Now that your belongings are safe and you had breakfast, let's talk a little bit about lunch.  There is no such thing as "spaghetti with meatballs" there is no pasta Alfredo, there is no pasta with chicken legs on top and despite popular belief, Italians do not eat spaghetti with a fork and spoon.  An Italian meal is divided into five coursesAntipasto, is your appetizer.  Primo is your pasta dish, mostly without meat, sometimes with seafood.  Your Secondi is your meat dish but it doesn't come with side dishes which are called "contorni".  After your secondi you can order "dolce" which means sweet and is your dessert, and lastly your coffee, of course.  The great thing about eating in Italy is that you are supposed to take your time at the table, enjoy your company, laugh, talk and eat with pleasure.  Nobody will rush you, you can stay for hours at the table.  The waiter won't bring the check until after you've order your coffee.  Take advantage of being here, lower the RPMs and enjoy the Bella Vita!  Of course you can order only a pasta dish and the check, but you can still take your time with that.

Pizza Al Taglio
4.  You may be in the mood for a lighter lunch or not have much time as there is so much in your itinerary that you prefer to get a pizza.  Pizza is another thing Romans do on the go.  Most pizza places offer #Pizza al Taglio (pizza by the slice, which is square).  These places look like a take out spot and consist of a counter with many rectangular pizzas with different toppings.  The person behind the counter will ask which flavor you want and will place scissors in about what consists on one serving, if you want more than that, move your hand signaling a bigger (or smaller) piece, and he or she will then cut your piece, weigh it, warm it up if necessary and give it to you wrapped in a piece of paper or on a paper plate.  When I first came here I would order several squares of different flavors, I wanted to try them all.  Think sun dried tomatoes, artichoke and brie pizza, yummm!!  So remember, Pizza al Taglio (pizza by the cut).  Try different flavors, they are all good!  My favorite neighborhood place is Ippo Pizza which will sell you a meter of margarita pizza for 10 Euro!  My kids love it.

5.  Waiters here receive a salary, they don't work on commission.  There is no need to leave a big tip.  If you had a pasta lunch and wine, a one euro tip is very acceptable.  If you were with a group of friends and had the waiter coming and going, you can leave a bigger tip but not necessarily a percentage of the bill.

6.  Outside of the downtown area, stores close from around 1 to 3:30, and times are not set on stone, if they say they open at 3, the clerk may be showing up at 3:20 and not in a rush, be patient and plan around their closing time.  I don't ever attempt to go to any store until after 4:00 pm. 

7.  It's getting late and you are ready for dinner at 6:30 pm, well.... you won't find restaurants open that early.  The earliest I've seen them open is 7:30 but even then, they may not be ready to serve you yet.   6:30 is really time for the "Aperitivo", basically happy hour.  The restaurants that offer them offer also finger food, so you can last until after 8:00, when it's still early but OK to head to a restaurant for dinner.

8.  There is no parking.  That's it.  If you rented a car leave it in the garage or wherever you parked it and walk.  There is no parking, and locals double and triple park because there is no parking.  If you are the lucky person who found parking, white lines on the street mean it's free parking, blue lines mean that you have to pay for parking using the parking meters, get the ticket and put it in your car, on the windshield so the guards can see it (some cities sell parking cards in the Tobacco stores and you have to scratch the date and hour of your ticket, they look like lotto cards).  Yellow lines mean handicapped.  Again, there is no parking in big cities.

9.  Many Italians own dogs and dogs are taken everywhere: to restaurants, to malls, with them on trips, everywhere.  I saw a dog in a shoe store, shoe shopping I imagine. Nobody picks up after their dog.  Watch your step.

10. Lastly, a word that you need to know because it is something to watch for: "Sciopero".  It means strike.  There are many transportation strikes in all of Italy and they mostly happen on Mondays or Fridays but not necessarily.  As buses and metro are required to run during rush hour they mostly stop during off peak hours which affect the tourist principally.  Check for "scioperi" as soon as you have dates for your trip.  I check #WantedInRome, an English language portal but you can go directly to the Italian transportation authorities if you speak the language.

So there they are and I may post some more in the future.  Arrivederci for now.

1 comment:

  1. Check more beautiful photography of my Italian days at