img_0555Before I had ever been to Italy I honestly thought it would be overrated. People always hype up certain places, but sometimes it’s for good reason. Italy is charming without a doubt, but the sheer beauty of the cities and the cliff sides of the Mediterranean are stunning. Everything they say about this country in regards to its beauty is true, and more. But looking past the winding alleys, steeping churches, and tranquil gardens lies something much more deep. There is a pulse to Italy and it’s beating hard. Maybe that’s why many people call it the country of romance.

img_0331Something that you should know about Italy: it’s not all one in the same. There are many regions of Italy, and each has a distinct influence and vibe. Many people visit the standards. Rome, Venice, Milan and Florence, but there is plenty more to explore here. There are gem’s everywhere. Take a road trip around Italy’s south coast (the end of the boot)! Try hiking between the villages of Cinque Terra. Try transiting the French/Italian border on Mt. Blanc, deep in the Alps.img_0539

My point is that just when you think you’ve seen all that Italy has to offer you round another curve on the seaside road you’ve found… cats?

Yeah they’re everywhere and the surprises don’t end there. You can visit hidden bakeries, and off the beaten path museums that would make most other “museums” cower. We’re talking about a country that was at the forefront of modern civilization on both culture and art. And if you don’t believe me, go see for yourself– hint, hint.img_0348


 

 

ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

  • Italy is on the Euro. I’d recommend paying in cash for pretty much everything except nice sit down restaurants and hotels although you’re going to need a chip enabled card. ATM’s are pretty easy to find and if you can find a bank which your account provider is partners with, you might be able to cut part of the fees out of the equation.
  • Italy is a pretty safe country and violent crime is very rare. This comes with a few exceptions. Some people have had issues in Sicily, Naples and a few other cities, mostly in the south. Just use your common sense and never let your valuables stray. Also, in the tourist areas, there are plenty of gypsies. Although most of the Roma are very kind and are more likely to joke around or beg, a few will try to snatch what they can. It’s a cultural thing, where the Roma believe that if you’d let something be taken willingly, it shouldn’t belong to you (or so I’ve heard). Be mindful of groups of children that may surround you as a distraction while one goes into your pockets or bag. I however, never had any issues and never felt uncomfortable. Don’t always believe the stories you hear, but do keep your wits about you just in case.
  • Dining out in Italy might be a bit different than where you are from. “Normal” dinner hours begin around 20:00 (9:00PM), and it’s taken much more as an experience. Also, a “coperta” dining fee is generally applied to your bill. This covers things like bread and possibly a small glass of house wine, but depends on the establishment. You might be able to talk you way out of this one if you tell them you don’t want the bread and such before hand, but I say take the Italian dining experience for what it is and enjoy. It’s some of the best food in the world.
  • Try the Lemoncello, it’s everywhere and is a very tasty liquor. It’s made from Lemon Peels, Sugar and alcohol of course and is usually sipped straight up, inside a chilled glass though sometimes served on the rocks. I will advise not to drink too much of this stuff though as it’s one of the worst hangovers I’ve ever experienced.
  • English is spoken by some of the youth, and is very common with those in the tourist industry, however your average Italian will know only little if any from what I’ve found. Italian is such a beautiful and defined language, can you blame them? Not that you should ever expect someone in any foreign country to speak your language, but I’ve specifically run into barriers when dealing with people in transportation in Italy. Rail offices, may not speak much so unless you’re stranded on Easter weekend (like I was) the electronic ticket kiosks might be your best bet. Learn the basics and you’ll be fine.
  • Drinking in Public is legal in most places and I highly recommend grabbing a bottle of wine (€5 wine bottles are great) and taking it to the park. Even a walk in the streets with a glass in hand wont get you in trouble unless you’re causing a scene. That said, areas in Venice such as around the monuments, especially in St. Mark’s Square have open alcohol off limits. Other cities have certain areas restricted as well, but they are not that common. These laws are mainly to curb the trash that picnics and public alcohol consumption creates, but I’d just stay clear drinking in these areas in general, our of respect for the history.

COSTS / SAVING MONEY

  • Along with all of the amazing art, and culture comes a price, and that price can be steep. That said, Italy can certainly still be done on a budget. Cities like Florence, and Bologna are a little less expensive than Rome and Venice so keep that in mind while planning your trip.
  • Pizza is incredibly tasty and also can be a great deal. Some places sell by the slice or offer tiny pizzas, sometimes for only a couple Euro.
  • You will probably need public transit in cities like Rome, however Florence and Venice are very walk able unless you’re staying outside the center (or on an island in Venice).
  • Wine is cheap, and this accounts for the quality stuff to. Sure, you could spent a fortune on an amazing Italian wine, but most of us, by Italian standards will be impressed with even a €5 bottle. These are sold all over and the quality is amazing. We’re not talking about “2 Buck Chuck” (you Americans know what I’m talking about).
  • Picnicking is one of the best ways to eat and save money. There are so many beautiful sights in Italy. Why not make a meal of it, and hike up above the city and sit down to a nice self-prepared meal. You can also buy pre-prepared sandwiches that consist of Ham, and Cheese at pretty much any convenience store or grocer.