Difference between revisions of "Italy"
Revision as of 23:34, 20 January 2009
Italy (Italian: Italia)  is a large country in Southern Europe. It is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites - art and monuments are everywhere around the country. It is also famous worldwide for its cuisine, its fashion, the luxury sports cars and motorcycles, as well as for its beautiful coasts, lakes and mountains (the Alps and Appennines).
Two independent mini-states lie within Italy: San Marino and Vatican City. While technically not part of the European Union, both of these states are also part of the Schengen Region and the European Monetary Union.
Italy is situated on the Mediterranean Sea, bordering France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia. The country, which is a boot-shaped peninsula, is surrounded by the Ligurian Sea, the Sardinian Sea, and the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west, the Sicilian and Ionian Sea in the South, and Adriatic Sea in the East. Italian is the major language spoken by the majority of the population, but as you travel throughout the country, you will find there are several distinct dialects corresponding to the region you are in. Italy has a very diverse landscape, but can be primarily described as mountainous including the Alpes and the Apennies mountain ranges that run through it. Italy has two major islands as part of its country: Sardinia, which is an island off the west coast of Italy, and Sicily, which is at the southern tip (the "toe") of the boot. Italy has a population of 59,619,290, and the capital city of Italy is Rome.
The climate of Italy is that of typical Mediterranean countries. Italy has hot, dry summers, with July being the hottest month of the year. In the north, they experience cold winters, as compared to mild ones in the south. Some regions in the south of Italy can experience no rainfall for the whole summer season. The long mountain ranges in Italy impact the weather significantly, as you can experience very different weather going from town to town.
Non-Guidebooks about Italy or by Italian writers.
The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone - a biography of Michelangelo that also paints a lovely portrait of Tuscany and Rome
Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King - a compelling story of one of the greatest structural engineering achievements of the Renaissance. The story of the building of the immense dome on top of the basilica in Florence, Italy.
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes - An account of a woman who buys and restores a holiday home in Cortona, Italy. Full of local flavor and a true taste of Tuscany.
The Sea and Sardinia by D.H. Lawrence - It describes a brief excursion undertaken by Lawrence and Frieda, his wife aka Queen Bee, from Taormina in Sicily to the interior of Sardinia. They visited Cagliari, Mandas, Sorgono, and Nuoro. Despite the brevity of his visit, Lawrence distills an essence of the island and its people that is still recognisable today.
Italian neighbours and A season with Verona by Tim Parks - Two portraits of nowdays life in Italy as seen by an English writer who decided to live just outside Verona.
Winter Stars by Beatrice Lao - poems born between the Alps and the Tyrrhenian by the oriental poetess, 988979991X
The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo - stories about China by the Venetian traveller
North - The North of Italy is the country's most populated and developed portion. Cities like Turin, Milan, Bologna, Verona and Venice share the region's visitors with beautiful landscapes like the Lake Como area, impressive mountains such as the Dolomites and the Italian Alps and first-class ski resorts like Cortina d'Ampezzo and others.
Central Italy breathes history and art. Rome boasts the remaining wonders of the Roman Empire and some of the world's best known landmarks such as the Colosseum. Florence, cradle of the Renaissance, is Tuscany's top attraction, whereas nearby cities like Siena, Pisa and Lucca have much to offer to those looking for the country's rich history and cultural heritage.
Southern Italy - Bustling Naples, the dramatic ruins of Pompeii, the romantic Amalfi Coast, laidback Apulia and stunning beaches of Calabria, as well as up-and-coming agritourism help making Italy's less visited region a great place to explore.
Italian islands - Sardinia (Sardegna) and Sicily (Sicilia), the large island located to the south of the Italian peninsula (the "ball" to Italy's "boot") also Capri, Ischia, Elba, Procida, Aeolian Islands, Aegadian Islands, Tremiti and Pantelleria
There are hundreds of Italian cities, here are nine of its most famous:
Italy is a member of the Schengen agreement, so all visa laws that apply to other member states apply to Italy. Keep in mind that, like other Schengen member states, the 90-day counter begins once you enter the Schengen area and is not reset by travel outside it.
Most of mid-range international flights arrive to the following Italian cities:
Italy borders on France, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia. Austrian, French and Swiss borders are open, but cars can be stopped behind the border for random checks. Switzerland is now part of the Schengen zone, and they lifted systematic identity checks for travellers on land borders from 2008 December 12.
With Eurolines .
Every major city has a number of local museums, but some of them have national and international relevance.
These are some of the most important permanent collections.
The Italian rail system has different train types: TBiz, EurostarItalia, Eurostar Italia AV (for Alta velocita or high speed with the ESAV logo), Eurostar City Italia, IntercityPlus, Intercity, Espresso, Interregionale and Regionale, Eurostar Italia and TBiz being the classiest. Generally speaking, for a given distance each tier costs from 40% to 100% more than the one below it. The train cars used by the TBiz and Eurostar Italia services are far newer than those used by the other types, but are not necessarily more comfortable; however many of them provide power sockets which may be useful if you plan on working on the train. On the other hand the cars used by Intercity trains might be split up into distinct, six-seater compartments, which is really nice when you're travelling in groups. A new level has been introduced recently. It is called Intercity-plus and it is just a way to have passengers pay more than the intercity fares. Recently, many of Interegionale trains have been classified as Intercity.
The main practical difference between train types is reliability. Intercity services are generally reliable, but if you need to catch a flight, for example, it might be better to pay extra for the Eurostar Italia. Interregionale and Regionale are less reliable, and stops in many more stations along the way. The other big difference between TBiz, Eurostar Italia, Intercity Plus and Intercity with Interregionale, Regionale and Espresso services is that on the best ones seating reservation is compulsory, where every passenger has a seat allocated to him/her. This means that the train will never (theoretically) be packed with an impossible number of people, but it also means you will need to purchase tickets in advance. Actually, many passengers with tickets for other trains that take a wrong one will have to pay the cheap fine for not having a seat reservation. As a result, on major routes or peak hours, expect to find your seat taken, in this case usually a brief discussion is enough to get your seat. During commuter hours, on major north-south routes during the holidays, or before and after large political demonstrations, trains on the lower train types can become extremely full, to the point where it gets very uncomfortable, in which case you could find yourself sitting on a tiny fold out flap in the hallway, where you'll have to move for everyone passing by.
The pricier train types are usually faster, but there is not a consistent speed difference between trains. The main difference being the number of stops made along the same routes. On some routes, the Eurostar will cut the travel time in half, but on others all trains go more or less at the same speed, and taking the Eurostar Italia might be a waste of money. Just check the Trenitalia website or the printed schedule, usually located near the entrance to each platform, to see how long the trip will take.
On long routes, such as Milan - Rome or Milan - Reggio Calabria, Trenitalia operates special night trains Treni Notte. They depart around 10pm and arrive in the morning. Depending on the train, you may be able to choose between normal seats, couchette and sleeper cabins of different categories. Seats are cheapest, but even sleeper cabins are not prohibitively expensive and are a very relaxing way to travel long distances. Also keep in mind some trains do not provide air conditioning so bring your own water bottle during the hot summer months.
On the train schedules displayed at each station, every train is listed in different colours (i.e. blue, red, green). The arrival times are listed in parentheses next to the names of each destination. One thing to watch out for is that certain trains only operate seasonally, or for certain time periods (for example, during holidays).
The lines to buy tickets can be very long, and slow, so get to the station early. There are touch-screen ticket machines which are very useful, efficient, and multilingual, but there are never that many, and the lines for those can be very long too.
You can also buy tickets online on the Trenitalia website; you will receive a code (codice di prenotatione (PNR)) that is used to pick up the ticket from a ticket machine in the station ("Self Service"). For some (but not all) trains you can also choose a ticketless option, where you print out the ticket yourself. See also below at Trenitalia Ticketless. You can also choose an option to have a "proper" receipt printed on the train, should you need one. By default the site will only show the "best" (usually more expensive) connections - you may select to "show all connections" to see if there are slower but cheaper connections available.
Eurostar trains can fill up, so if you're on a tight schedule you should buy those tickets in advance. In general, you should buy the tickets before boarding the train. The Italian Rail recently (end of 2007) started a campaign against fare evasion, and introduced heftier fines (starting at 50 Euros). If you're really running late and you have no ticket, it's probably best to directly talk with the conductor ('il controllore or il capotreno) outside the train when boarding.
Remember that you must validate the ticket before boarding, by stamping it in one of the yellow boxes (marked Convalida). Travelling with an unstamped ticket is technically the same as travelling without ticket. It is quite important not to forget to validate your ticket as the conductors are generally not tolerant in this particular matter.
The cheapest way to travel in a region is to buy a zone ticket card. A chart displayed near the validating machine tells you how many zones you must pay between stations. To buy a zone card for the next region you would have to get off the train at the last station and because the stops are so short you would have to board the next train (usually in about 1 hour).
As of January 10, 2005 a smoking ban in public places went into effect in Italy. You will be subject to fines for smoking on any Italian train.
There are special deals offered too...some of them are reserved to foreign tourist and others are available to locals. Some deals are passes that allow travel during a chosen period, while other special offers are normal tickets sold at decent prices with some restrictions. Before you choose to buy a pass, check first if it is cheaper than buying a normal ticket (or better, a discounted normal ticket, if available).
If you are travelling a lot, and you're not Italian, you can get a TRENITALIA PASS: you buy a number of days of travel to be used within 2 months, however you still have to pay a supplement on the compulsory reservation services, i.e. TBiz, Eurostar Italia, Intercity Plus and Intercity which will between EUR 5.00 and EUR 25.00 depending on the train type. Details are on the Trenitalia website , and also on RailChoice website at .
Trenitalia's Ticketless option is only available for single direct trips when booked online. You can book a combined trip comprising more than one train, but then the only option is Self Service, meaning you must pick up the printed ticket from a machine.
A workaround is to book each train segment separately and choose the Ticketless option for each - the total cost is the same.
The Self Service option requires you do perform steps:
Step 3 is not required for legally getting on the train, but without a receipt you will not be able to claim expenses from your employer or from any tax authority.
Keep in mind that sometimes: the machines are out of order; the queue at the counter is very long and slow moving.
Italy has a well-developed system of highways in the northern side of the country while in the southern it's a bit worse for quality and extension. Every highway is identified by an A followed by a number on a green backdrop. Most of the highways (autostrade) are toll roads. Some have toll stations giving you access to a section (particularly the tangenziali of Naples, Rome, and Milan, for example), but generally, most have entrance and exit toll stations. Don't lose your entrance ticket, for if you do, you will be charged for the longest distance (example: if you are on A1 Milano-Napoli at the Milano toll station you'll be charged for the entire 700km distance). All the blue lanes (marked "Viacard") of toll stations accept major credit cards as well as pre-paid card (Viacard) you can buy at tobacconist, Autogrill, or gas stations.
Many Italians uses an electronic pay-toll device, and there are reserved lanes marked in Yellow with the sign "Telepass" or a simply "T". Driving through those lanes (controlled by camera system) without the device will result in a fine and a payment of the toll for the longest distance. Due to agreement with other countries, if you're foreigner, you'll pay also extra cost for locating you in your country.
Even if speeding is very common on autostrade,(although lot less than in the past) be aware that there are a number of automatic and almost invisible system to punish speeding and hazardous driving, also italian Highway Patrol (Polizia Stradale) has several unmarked cars equipped with speed radar and camera system. If you don't know the road very well you should probably keep a reasonable speed.
A good clue of a nearby check system is when cars around you suddenly reduce speed. If you see a lot of cars keeping themselves just under the limit and nobody overtaking, you'd better do the same. Driving outside an autostrada, when cars coming in the opposite direction are flashing lights to you, you're probably driving towards a speed check.
Note that common use of flashlights may be different from your country. Flashing lights may be meant either as a warning to give way or as an invitation to go first, depending on the situation: so, please, be extremely careful in order to avoid any problem.
Speed limits are:
Italian laws allow a 5% (minumum 5 km/h) tolerance on local speed limit. Fines are generally very expensive.
Motorbikes should drive always with the headlights on, for other vehicles that applies only outside cities and on autostrade.
Drunk driving is a controversial issue. The tolerated limit is 0.50g/L in blood; being above this limit punishable by a heavy fine, licence revocation and jail time, but you'll find that people of every age are not significantly worried about drunk driving.
Anyway, after several deadly accidents involving drunk drivers the checks are becoming more and more frequent and at the date of january 2009 the governement is planning to reduce the limit to 0.20g/L or even to 0.0g/L.
All passengers are required to wear their seat belt and children under 10 must use the back seat. Unless clearly posted on the road you are using, you are supposed to yield to any vehicle coming from your right from another public thoroughfare. Signposts used in Italy are patterned according to EU recommendations and use mostly pictograms (not text) but there are minor differences (example: highways directions are written on green background while the white stands for local roads and blue for the remaining).
Avoid using the blue roads for long distances. While autostrade may be expensive, they significantly decrease the time it takes to travel from one place to another, as blue roads often obligates you to drive through several cities and villages.
As can be expected, fuel is considerably more expensive than in North America and Japan, but on par with most of the rest of western Europe. Expect to pay about €1.45 per liter for fuel.
Many tourists report that they got fined (about €100) for entering a ZTL (zona a traffico limitato; Limited Traffic Zone) unknowingly. ZTLs are restricted areas in many Italian cities where vehicles are not permitted except for limited reasons between certain hours. The entrance to a ZTL is marked by signs and cameras, which can easily go unnoticed by tourists driving a car.
Buy bus tickets before boarding from corner stores and other shops. The payment system for most mass transit in Italy (trains, city buses, subway) is based on voluntary payment combined with sporadic enforcement. Specifically, you buy a ticket which can be used at any time (for that level of service, anyway) and when you use it you validate the ticket by sticking it into a machine that stamps a date on it. Once in a while (with varying frequency depending on the mode of transportation) someone will ask you for your ticket and if you don't have one you get a fine, and theoretically (sometimes happens) you can be asked to present to the Police for a formal report. Usually line enforcers aren't very condescending, especially in northern Italy. In almost every city there's a different pricing scheme, so check in advance ticket formulas and availability.
For tourist may be very convenient to buy daily (or multi-day) tickets that allow you to travel as much as you want in a single (or more) day. Every major city also has some type of City Card, a fixed-fee card allowing you to travel on local public transportation, visit a number of museums and giving you discounts on shops, hotels and restaurants.
Check for both these possibilities at local Tourist's Office or on city's website (which is often of the form www.comune.cityname.it as for example www.comune.roma.it).
Hitchhiking in Italy is related with the hippies and "on the road" kind of culture. Therefore, it is considered out-dated and useless. You will rarely find Italians hitchhiking unless there's a serious problem with the bus or other means of transportation. Hitchhiking in the summer in touristy areas works okay because you'll get rides from Northern European tourists, and it works okay in very rural areas as long as there is consistent traffic (because you're still playing the odds), but hitchhiking near large cities or along busy routes is extremely frustrating. Hitchhiking is not recommended for women travelling alone. Hitchhiking along expressways and highways is forbidden. Off the Autostrada things are also a bit difficult: Italians are generally very friendly and open people, but they're less likely to pick up hitchhikers than anyone else in the world. It is easier to hitchhike out of the Bronx than it is to hitchhike in Italy.
Approaching Italy by sea can be a great experience and is a good alternative to traditional onshore “tours”. A yacht charter to Italy is a fulfilling way to experience the country. Although the yacht charter industry is smaller than one would expect for this incredibly popular tourist destination, there are many reasons to choose a yacht over a more conventional onshore approach. The Italian coast, like the French coast, attracts luxury yacht charters of the highest standards. “Touring” Italy from a private yacht is surprisingly convenient and comfortable. Italy’s dramatic coastline is best appreciated from the sea and the Italians know it! You may take a swim whenever you like, and many of the most famous sights are within easy reach of the seashore. Cruising on a private yacht also offers you a certain relief from the crowds and traffic that are traditionally unavoidable in Italy’s most popular destinations. There are major distinct nautical regions in Italy: Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Sardinia and Sicily. Each has its own flavor and focus. Be sure to plan your itinerary carefully as each region is rewarding in its own particular way.
Not surprisingly, Italian is the language spoken by the vast majority of Italians. The northern part of the Trentino-Alto Adige region (South Tyrol) is predominantly German speaking with Ladin, a Rhaeto-Romance language related to Switzerland's Romansh, also spoken by a minority. There is a small French-speaking minority in the Valle d'Aosta region and Slovene is spoken by a minority in the Trieste-Gorizia area. There are several small pockets of Greek-speaking communities in the southern regions of Calabria and Puglia.
Local dialects are widely spoken as second language, often its accent is also maintained while speaking Italian. There is a big variety of dialects, often viewed as a result of centuries of division (Italy was not fully unified until 1871) with small difference of accent even in adiacent towns.
English is spoken fairly commonly on the well-travelled path, expecially in touristic areas where is widely spoken by sellers and tourist operators. German, French, Japanese and Spanish are often spoken in these areas as well, but a few less.
In the cities you can often speak English with younger people, aged between 14 and 35: almost everyone had to take English in school since the 80's, though the result depends on the person. At least the most basic phrases usually stuck, and normally there's at least one per group who with a decent level of English. On the other hand, senior citizens rarely know English, but they'll try to help you anyway with gestures or similar words. Spanish is spoken by a considerable number of people but not widely, anyway it's very similar to Italian language and they can be understood if the speakers communicate slowly between them. German and French is known by some persons but could be hard for you to find them.
But you'll want a good phrasebook for anything remote although even this may not help for the smaller towns and villages as many areas still speak dialects that you won't find in any phrasebooks.
Italy is part of the Eurozone, so the common currency of the European Union, the Euro (€), is legal tender in Italy.
Italy is quite an expensive country. It has many luxury hotels and posh restaurants. It may cost €40.00 a day if a person self caters, stays in hostel, avoids drinking and doesn't visit too many museums. However, staying in a comfortable hotel, eating out regularly and visiting lots of museums and galleries, may cost a person at least €100-150 a day. Hiring a car may double expenses, so one should visit with enough budget.
All the bills include the service charges, so tipping is not necessary. Tipping the taxi drivers is also not necessary, but a hotel porter may expect a little something.
If you plan to travel through countryside or rural regions you probably should not rely on your credit cards: in many small towns they're accepted only by a small number of shops (particularly restaurants).
Unless it says otherwise the price includes IVA (same as VAT) of 20%. On some product, such as books, IVA is 4%. If you're a non-EU resident, you are entitled to a VAT refund on purchases of goods that will be exported out of the European Union. Shops offering this scheme have a Tax Free sticker outside. Be sure to ask for your tax-free voucher before leaving the store. These goods have to be unused when you pass the customs checkpoint upon leaving the EU.
Italian fashion is renowned worldwide. Many of the world's most famous international brands have their headquarters in Italy. The two key areas for high-class shopping are Via della Spiga and Via Montenapoleone (and surroundings), in Milan and via Condotti in Rome, but you'll find flagship stores in almost every major city.
Italian food inside of Italy is different than Italian in America or western Europe. Italian food is based upon a few simple ingredients and Italians often have very discriminating tastes that may seem strange to Americans and other visitors.
For instance, a sandwich stand might sell 4 different types of ham sandwiches that in each case contain ham, mayonnaise, and cheese. The only thing that may different between the sandwiches is the type of ham or cheese used in them. Rustichella and panzerotti are two examples of sandwiches well-liked by Italians and tourists alike. Also, Italian sandwiches are quite different from the traditional Italian-American “hero”, “submarine”, or “hoagie” sandwich. Rather than large sandwiches with a piling of meat, vegetables, and cheese, sandwiches in Italy are often quite small, very flat (made even more so when they are quickly heated and pressed on a panini grill), and contain a few simple ingredients, rarely, if ever lettuce. The term panini may be somewhat confusing to travellers from Northern Europe where it has erroneously come to mean a flat heated sandwich on a grill, in Italy the term is equivalent to "bread rolls" (plural) which can be simple rolls or sometimes with basic filling. However instead of a sandwich why not try piadinas which are a flat folded bread with filling which are served warm.
Americans will notice that Italian pasta often has a myriad of sauces rather than simply tomato and alfredo. Also, Italian pasta is often served with much less sauce than in America.
Structure of a traditional meal: Usually Italian meals for working days are: small breakfast, one-dish lunch, one-dish dinner. Coffee is welcomed at nearly every hour, especially around 10AM and at the end of a meal. At the weekends and in restaurants (for other occasions), they typically consist of the sections described below.
A traditional Italian meal is separated into several sections: antipasto (marinated vegetables, etc), primo (pasta or rice dish), secondo (meat course), dolce (dessert). Salads often come with the secondo.
Like the language and culture, food in Italy is extremely different region by region. Pasta and olive oil are considered the characteristics of southern Italian food, while northern food focuses on rice and butter(although today there are many many exceptions). Local ingredients are also very important. In warm Naples, citrus and other fresh fruit play a prominent role in both food and liquor, while in Venice fish is obviously an important traditional ingredient. As a guideline, in the south cuisine is focused on pasta and dessert, while at north meat is king, but this rule can be very different depending on where you are.
A note about breakfast in Italy: Breakfast in Italy is very light, often just a coffee with a pastry (cappuccino e brioche) or a piece of bread and fruit jam. Unless you know for certain otherwise, you should not expect a large breakfast in Italy. Cappuccino is a breakfast drink; ordering one after lunch or dinner is considered highly strange and considered a typical "tourist thing".
Another enjoyable Italian breakfast item is cornetto (pl. cornetti): a croissant or light pastry often filled with cream or nutella.
Lunch is seen as the most important part of the day, so much that they have one hour reserved for eating and another for napping. All shops close down and resume after the two hour break period. To get around this businesses stay open later. And, good luck trying to find a place open during the so-called "pausa pranzo" (siesta time). This may not apply to the city center of the biggest cities or to shopping centers.
In Italy cuisine is considered a kind of art. Great chefs as Gualtiero Marchesi or Gianfranco Vissani are seen as half way between TV stars and magician. Italians are extremely proud of their culinary tradition and generally love food, and talking about it. However they are not so fond of common preconceptions, like that Italian food is only pizza and spaghetti. They'll also distaste "bastardized" version of their dishes that are popular elsewhere, and many Italians have a hard time believing that the average foreigner can get even a basic pasta dish "right".
You should consider that Italy's most famous dishes like pizza or spaghetti belong to southern regions cuisine, and eating in different areas can be an interesting opportunity to taste some less well known local specialty.
When dining out with Italians read the menu and remember that almost every restaurant has a typical dish and some towns have centuries-old traditions that you are invited to learn. People will be most happy when you ask for local specialties and will gladly advise you.
For a cheap meal you may like to track down an aperitivo bar (somewhat similar to the concept of tapas) which in the early evening (about 5pm) serve a series of plates of nibbles, cheese, olives, meat, bruschetta and much more, all this food is typically free to anyone who purchases a drink but is intended to be a premeal snack.
The tradition of Aperitivo is particulary felt in Milan. There you can often make a dinner out of it.
Almost every city and region has its own specialities, a brief list of which may include:
Cheese and sausages
In Italy you can find nearly 200 kinds of cheese, including the famous Parmigiano Reggiano, and 300 types of sausages.
If you want a real kick, then try to find one of the huge open markets, usually on Saturdays, to see all the types of cheeses and meats in action.
Italian restaurants and bars charge more (typically double) if you eat seated at a table rather than standing at the bar or taking your order to go. There is usually small, very small print on the menus to tell you this. Some menus may also indicate a coperto (cover charge) or servizio (service charge).
Traditional meal includes (in order) antipasto (starter), primo (first dish - pasta or rice dishes), secondo (second dish - meat or fish dishes), served together with contorno (mostly vegetables), cheeses/fruit, dessert, coffee, spirits. Italians usually have all of them served and restaurants expect customers to follow this scheme; elegant or ancient restaurants usually refuse to make changes to proposed dishes (exceptions warmly granted for babies or unhealthy people) or to serve them in a different order, and they absolutely don't serve cappuccino between primo and secondo.
Sequence of dishes: When eating with a friend or a partner, agree whether you want primo (pasta or rice dishes) or secondo (meat dishes - if you want vegetables too look under contorni and order them as sides). When pizza is ordered, it is served as a primo (even if formally it is not considered as such), together with other primi. If you order a pasta/pizza and your friend has a steak you will get your pasta dish, and probably when you've finished eating the steak will arrive. It's slightly frowned upon to ask them to bring primo and secondo dishes at the same time (or "funny" changes like having a secondo before a primo). They may well say yes...and then not do it. Bad luck if you're doing the Atkins diet...
Restaurants which propose diet food, very few, usually write it clearly in menus and even outside; others usually don't have any dietetic resources, as Italians on a diet don't go to the restaurant.
Smoking: Italian restaurants are completely non-smoking or have a non-smoking area which is well separated from the smoking area; even if Italians have a friendly approach to laws and rules, this particular law is respected almost everywhere, though. Better anyway to precisely ask for an effective smoking or non-smoking area. When not available, it's normal to step out the restaurant door to smoke, you will find many people doing so and this is often a good moment to meet new people too.
When pets are allowed (not a frequent case), never order ordinary dishes for them; in particular, never ever order meat for your pet, this would seriously upset waiters and other customers. In case of need, you might ask if the chef can kindly propose something (he usually can).
Better to leave tips in cash (not on your credit card).
Pizza is a quick and convenient meal. In many large cities there are pizza shops that sell by the gram. When ordering, simply tell the attendant the type of pizza you would like (e.g. pizza margherita, pizza con patata (potato), pizza al prosciutto (ham), etc.) and how much ("Vorrei due fette - two slices - per favore"). They will slice it, warm it in the oven, fold it in half, and wrap it in paper. Other shops also sell by the slice, similar to American pizza shops. Getting your meal on the run can save money--many sandwich shops charge an additional fee if you want to sit to eat your meal. Remember that italian pizzas have a thinner base of bread and less cheese than the foreign sold ones.
Bars, like restaurants, are non-smoking.
Italians enjoy going out during the evenings, so it's normal to have a drink in a bar as pre-dinner. It is called Aperitivo. Within the last couple years, started by Milan, a lot of bars have started offering fixed-price cocktails at aperitivo hours (18 - 21) with free, and often a very good buffet meal. It's now widely considered stylish to have this kind of aperitivo (called Happy Hour) instead of a structured meal before going out to dance or whatever.
While safe to drink, the tap water in some paeninsular parts of Italy can be cloudy with a slight off taste. Most Italians prefer bottled water, which is served almost exclusively in restaurants. Make sure you let the waiter/waitress know you want regular water or else you could get frizzante (or fizzy club soda water) water. The exception to this is Rome where they have exceptional pride in their quality of water. This goes right back to the building of aqueducts channeling pure mountain water to all the citizens of Rome during Roman times. You can refill your drinking containers and bottles at any of the constant running taps and fountains dotted around the city, safe in the knowledge that you are getting excellent quality cool spring water - try it!
Italian wine is the most exported all over the world, and names like Barolo, Brunello and Chianti are known everywhere. In Italy the wine is a substantial topic, a sort of test which can ensure you respect or lack of attention from an entire restaurant staff. Doing your homework ensures that you will get better service, better wine and in the end may even pay less.
The vino della casa (house wine) can be an excellent drinking opportunity in small villages far from towns (especially in Tuscany), where it could be what the patron would really personally drink or even produce. It tends to be a safe choice in decent restaurants in cities as well. As a general rule, if the restaurant seems honest and not too geared for tourists, the house wine is usually not too bad.
Italians are justly proud of their wines and foreign wines are rarely served, but many foreign grapes like cabernet sauvignon are finding use.
Although wine is a traditional everyday product, beer is drunk as well, particularly when going out for a pizza with friends.
Beer does not belong to the Italian tradition as wine does: even if pubs serving beer are very common they tend to have both little choice and quality. If you are looking for good beers you won't find any problem, you just have to look around a little bit more. First of all, Italian beer market is dominated by international brands and their local belongings, which is fairly comfortable if you are a casual drinker, like most Italians are. Major Italian beers include Peroni, Moretti and Raffo. Instead, if you are serious about beer drinking, you'll probably be better to find one of the many micro-breweries around the country. They often are run by local beer enthusiasts turned brewers, running small breweries with a pub attached. Their association is called Unionbirrai .
In major cities and touristic areas you can find a good variety of accommodations, from world-class brand hotels to family-managed bed & breakfasts and room rentals, but hostels are really few. Camping is a good way to save money and they're usually well managed, but especially during summer, managers tend not to accept last-minute groups of young people (given the high chance of problems that such groups of Italian guys tend to cause), so you'd better book in advance. Farmstays are an increasingly popular way to experience Italy, particularly in rural areas of Tuscany, Piedmont, Umbria, Abruzzo, Sardinia and Apulia. They provide a great combination of good and healthy food, wonderful sights and not-so-expensive prices. If you prefer self-catering accommodations, it's quite simple to find them on the wonderful Amalfi Coast and, generally, near the sea.
For English-speakers looking to study in Italy, there are a few options. In Rome, Duquesne University, John Cabot, Loyola University Chicago and Temple University maintain campuses. Right outside of Rome the University of Dallas maintains its own campus in Marino. Penn State University has a program that sends architecture students. St. John's University has a graduate program in Rome for International Relations and MBA.
It depends on how you want to learn. Are you interested in studying in a huge touristy city like Florence or Rome? Or, are you interested in learning from a small town on the Italian Riviera. The smaller cities have better opportunity to learn Italian because there's not a lot of English going around. No matter where you decide, Italy is one of the best spots geographically to travel while you're not studying.
Think about learning what the Italians are best at: food, wine, Italian language, architecture, motors (cars and bikes) and interior design.
Work in Italy is very competitive. Unemployment rate is considerably high, compared to other major European countries, and mostly made up of young adults and female. There's a huge underground black market though, where you'll find most of these individuals working. This doesn't mean working in some kind of obscure crime syndicate: most "black" workers can be found in small business as bars, pubs, small shops or construction workers. Although this kind of jobs are illegal (but legal consequences are most on the employer) they're probably the easier thing to find if you're looking for a temporary job.
If you're thinking about establishing a small business be sure to get in contact with local Chamber of Commerce and an accountant and they will help you sorting out the mess of Italian laws, and such.
Like most developed countries, Italy is a very safe country to travel. There are few incidents of terrorism/serious violence and these episodes have been almost exclusively motivated by internal politics. Examples include the 1993 bombing of the Uffizi by the Italian Mafia. Almost every major incident is attributed to organized crime or anarchist movements and rarely, if ever, directed at travelers or foreigners.
Petty crime can be a problem for unwary travelers. Travelers should note that pickpockets often work in pairs or teams, occasionally in conjunction with street vendors. The rate of violent crimes in Italy is considered "moderate," and while a portion of violent crimes are committed against travelers, it is normally not a problem. However, instances of rape and robbery as a result of drugging are increasing. Travelers should be careful when going out at night alone.
Travelers should also be sure to ask for prices before making transactions with most vendors. Taking pictures with jovial, high-spirited costumed mascots will be followed up with a demand for payment. Some other examples are when gelato is purchased or a shoe shine is desired, prices should be asked for beforehand, since reports of extreme price gouging has occurred.
Beware of being tricked on prices even in restaurants, bars, and hotels. If they see you are a tourist, it's somewhat common to give you a higher bill than you're supposed to pay, and you MUST complain to get the right price or even getting your change back!
Out of the restaurant, you might occasionally be asked to show your bill and your documents by Guardia di Finanza agents (a police specialized in tax subjects - sometimes in uniform, sometimes in civilian clothes); whatever they show you, ask for the badge, and if uncertain, immediately try to call #113 (similar to America's 911 - English spoken) and ask for policemen in uniform to help you, as it could be a trick to pickpocket you. This type of tax agent activity is frequent (they want to know if the owner regularly recorded your payment) and completely legitimate, but pickpocketers find it a good excuse to approach their victims. Call 113 or enter the first shop.
There are many bars in Italy that cater to tourists and foreigners with "home country" themes, calling themselves such things as "American bars" or "Irish pubs". In addition to travelers, these bars attract a large number of Italians who, among other reasons, go there specifically to meet travelers and other foreigners. And while the motivation for the vast majority of these Italians is simply to have a good time with new friends, there can be one or two petty criminals who loiter in and out of these establishments hoping to take advantage of travelers who are disoriented or drunk. Traveling to these places in groups is a simple solution to this problem.
For emergencies, call 113 (Polizia), 112 (Carabinieri), 115 (Fire Department), 118 (Medical Rescue), 1515 (State Forestry Department), 1530 (Coast Guard).
Italian hospitals are public and offer completely free high standard treatments for EU travelers. However emergency assistance is granted even to non-EU traverels.
The US Center for Disease Control recommends two vaccines for people traveling to western Europe: Hepatitis A (even though Americans are not at an increased risk) and Hepatitis B.
When engaging in sexual intercourse, adoption of normal means against STD is recommended. HIV/AIDS/HBV rates are similar to those of EU countries.
Prostitution in Italy is not illegal though authorities are taking a firmer stance against it: brothels are illegal and pimping is a serious offence, considered by the law similar to slavery. In some areas, it is an offence even to stop your car before a prostitute to contract.
Italy has a small incidence rate of "Mad Cow" (bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)) disease--about 14 cases per million head of cattle. Since 2001, when Italy had its high of 48 cases of reported BSE, the reports have dropped to 38 (2002), and 29 (2003). Travelers concerned with this should visit the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) website for information on how to limit their exposure.
Italians are generally open and friendly; if you use the regular politeness you will have no problems.
Southern Italians often use their hands to gesture frantically while talking, and it's not considered rude at all in southern Italy. This spontaneous attitude toward hand gestures is usually very funny and surprising for strangers, and there is a real gesture language standard that differs radically from other countries and from what is shown in films.
Italians, especially those in the North, are very different from the stereotype of "pulcinella, pizza and mandolino" seen in American "B" movies (and you won't find roads full of Fiat 500's). Not surprisingly, for many people this stereotype is quite offensive, also considered the small but quite frequent hostility of north inhabitants to southern Italians. The same goes when talking about the stereotype of Italians and the Mafia.
During WWII, Italians had a difficult time under the dictator Benito Mussolini, especially after the infamous alliance with Adolf Hitler fell and the Germans turned into enemies. After 60 years this still is a very sensitive subject and you should simply avoid it, unless you want to seriously discuss. Avoid jokes on the subject too. All Fascist symbolism is prohibited by law and it is well enforced; punishments extend from fines to several years in prison. Just like in Spain and other former-Axis countries and Axis-occupied areas, foreigners are not exempt from this law.
Italy has a very high population of senior citizens, and it is wise to be respectful. Do things like offering your seat on a bus if the situation arises. It will be absolutely appreciated.
Italians are almost open to discuss everything but the wages, they never speak about their salary and asking it is considered impolite.
Religion is a sensitive topic, but usually young people are more open minded and willing to discuss it.
Talking about politics and complaining of politicians is nearly a national sport, and if you criticize something about the Italian government you will surely find someone who will agree with you. On the other hand, since you're a foreigner, you might be considered ill-informed and you could embark on an endless discussion aimed to correct your 'wrong' beliefs that may be embarassing. However, asking someone directly their political belief can be considered rude. Soccer is the national sport and is taken very seriously, even more than politics.
Taking pictures in Italy is not a problem, but you may find people not willing to be photographed, just ask before. One should always get permission before taking photographs of people, especially of officials. Do not be surprised if they refuse. It's not recommended to take photo of children: Italian parents can get very upset with it.
Consider that Italians and French people have a great opinion and mutual respect for themselves but they have a developed rivalry for commerce, arts, tourism, culture and sports (a friendly hate-love).
Important travel warnings:
The Italian government has recently passed a law requiring all public-access internet points to keep records of web sites viewed by customers, and even the customer's ID. Hotels providing Internet access are not required to record ID's if the connection is provided in the guests room, meanwhile if the connection is offered in the main public hall then ID's are required.
Publicly available wireless access is forbidden unless the provider has a special government license. This has caused only major phone-like companies to be able to afford that, so wireless access is generally expensive.
There have been several people recently who have been the victims of elaborate scams through Amazon.co.uk as the media agent. The scam involves using Amazon standard reply to the buyer which requests a MoneyGramme to be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org Catrin Mora, Via Mosca 58, Rome, 00142, Italy.
Avoid trading with this person/email address as you are likely to end up being a statistic with little or no backing from either Amazon or the Police.
The telephone system is well diffused in all parts of Italy. Both the wire and mobile systems are widespread.
Telephone numbers used to have separate prefixes (area codes) and a local number. In the 1990's the numbers were unified and nowadays, when calling Italian phones you should always dial the full number. For historical reasons you can still hear of prefix and local number. The number of land lines start with 0. The number of mobile lines start with 3. Numbers starting with 89 are high-fee services. If you don't know somebody's phone number you can dial a variety of recently-established phone services, the most used are 1240, 892424, 892892, but nearly every 12** combination has a different service. Note that most of them have high fees.
To call abroad from Italy you have to dial
To call Italy from abroad you have to dial
The Italian calling code is 39. To phone another country, dial 00 followed by the calling code and subscriber number.
In case of emergency call the appropriate number in the list below. Such calls are usually free and calls to 112, 113, 115, 118 can be made from payphones for free without the need of inserting coins. 112 (standard emergency number in GSM specification) can be dialed in any case for free from any mobile phone (even if your credit is empty or if you are in an area covered by a different operator)
Note: this list is not complete (please help us to expand it) Always bring a note about the address and the number of your embassy.
If you are in an emergency and do not know who to call dial 112 or 113 (out of major towns, better to call 113 for English-speaking operators).
Payphones are widely available, especially in stations and airports. The number of payphones has consistently reduced after the introduction of mobile phones. Some payphones work with coins only, some with phone cards only and some with both coins and phone cards. Only a limited number of phones (just a few in main airports) directly accept credit cards.
Mobile phones are heavily used. The main networks are TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile, part of Telecom Italia, formerly state controlled), Vodafone, Wind, and 3 (only UMTS cellphones). Note that cellphones from North America will not work in Italy, unless they are Tri-band. Nearly all of the country is covered by GSM signal, and the most part (2007) is covered by UMTS signal. A convenient way, if you are coming from abroad and you are going to make a consistent number of calls, is to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card and put it in your current mobile (if compatible and if your mobile set is not locked). Please note that you may incur in subscription fares. Please note that, as a measure to counter crime and terrorism, you are required to give a valid form of identification to be able to use the SIM card. Subscription-based mobile phones are subject to a governative tax, to which pay as you go contracts are not subject. Sometimes hotels have mobile phone for customer to borrow.
Costs for calls can vary significantly depending on when, where, from and where to. The cost of calls differs considerably if you call a wired phone or a mobile phone. Usually there is a difference in cost even for incoming calls from abroad. If you can choose, calling the other party's land line could be even 40% cheaper than mobile. Beware of premium rate calls (prefix 892, 899, 12) which can be very expensive. Many companies are shifting their customer service numbers to fixed-rate number (prefix 199), this numbers are at local rate, no matter where are you calling from.
According to national regulations, hotels cannot apply a surcharge on calls made from the hotel (as the switchboard service should be already included as a service paid in the room cost), but to be sure check it before you use.
Calls between landlines are charged at either the local rate or the national rate depending on the originating and destination area codes; if both are the same then the call will be local rate. Note that local calls are not free.