Italy is my passion. Ever since I can remember, I have been giving impromptu tours to friends and friends of my family – and I am talking preteens! Having been born and raised in Italy, traveled extensively throughout “il bel paese” and now working in the travel industry has given me a unique perspective. I still enjoy giving people sound advice regarding how they can best benefit given their time frame to enjoy Italy. Mind you, I could write a series of book on the topic so here are just a few pointers that hopefully go beyond the obvious and what you will find in most guidebooks or websites for trip planning.
If this is your first time in Italy, you will most likely want to visit the main cities such as Rome, Florence and Venice and visit the main attractions such as the Vatican Museums in Rome, gli Uffizi in Florence and Piazza San Marco in Venice. I think that many people endure the lines mostly because they don’t want to endure people saying, “what, you went to Rome and you didn’t see the 16th Chapel?!?!”. I am not saying not to visit the standards, tip number one is to do it the smart way. Instead of standing in line forever, pay a little extra in order to get a VIP pass that will get you quick access. There are plenty of online sites that offer this service or you can use a concierge if you are staying at a 4-5 star hotel.
Tip number two involves one of my personal favorites and is usually the first thing that I do whenever I go to a city that I am not familiar with. Find the highest viewpoint (ex. the Duomo in Milano, the Gianicolo in Rome) in order to get an idea of the layout of the city. Besides the inevitable breathtaking view, you will be able to plan your itinerary.
Do a night tour as well as a day tour. It is amazing how different the experience is when seeing the monuments all lit up. It’s like, um, night and day! Italians are masters at lighting and creating impressive scenery. If you avoid the weekend crowds, you can even have a taxi drive you around for a 30-40 minute trip and it shouldn’t cost you more than 30-50 USD. I think that a night tour in Rome is particularly impressive. Check out St. Peters, the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and the Roman Forum at night and I think you will agree.
Another favorite thing for me to do when I am in a new city is to find a good place to people watch. Find a nice outdoor cafe’ (weather permitting) and just hang out for a while, perhaps even catching up on writing postcards, letters, or emails (emails with your mifi service from Cellular Abroad of course http://www.cellularabroad.com/italyRmifi.php). In Italy, unlike many places in the United States, they allow you to linger at a table as long as you want. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they will want you to camp out for a week but even a cup of coffee that takes a couple of hours to consume is not unheard of. Try to find a place that has a good crowd of people but is not strictly for tourists.
When it comes to dining, I always ask what the local specialty is. Even if you are in a town with a couple of thousand inhabitants, chances are they will recommend something local to them and either not available or prepared differently than the town down the road. Also, ask for the house wine if you want good bang for buck. The house wine is usually served in a carafe and is available in white or red.
A recent tip, that has personally occurred to me several times recently is to make sure that you have a good, non 800 number in case you need to reach customer service for important phone numbers – your travel agent, credit card, the airlines, etc. While many – not all – but many toll free numbers will work in Italy, even though they are not toll free, they may put you through the standard customer service number and it takes for ever to talk to a live rep. Furthermore, while many credit card companies have an international collect call number printed on the back of the credit card, they do not always work. Sometimes they are automated and the operator doesn’t understand what they are saying, sometimes companies only have a certain allotted amount of minutes they can use for accepting collect calls, and, as David Letterman would say, the number 1 issue is….do you know how to say, “I want to make a collect call” in Italian? It’s, “a carico del destinatario” by the way and 170 is the number of the operator.
That’s it for now but I plan on updating this page soon, so…arrivederci e a presto!