We all know that Italy is full of passionate locals (often coffee-dependent and pasta loving) and home to an abundance of impressive historic sights. But what you really need to know is a few essential tips to ensure a smooth-sailing trip through Italy.
Read on for the ultimate Italy travel guide featuring a handful of tips that I learnt after completing the 13-Day Bravo Italia tour.
Learn how to project (or even yell).
In a crowded airport, restaurant or bus you simply won’t be heard over the noise of the locals. It may sound like everyone is angry and having an argument, but don’t worry – this is just how the average conversation sounds.
Learn how to recognise the difference between still and sparkling water.
Italians love mineral water. The supermarkets and vending machines are full of it. Still water is referred to as ‘naturale’, and sparkling or mineral water as ‘minerale’.
Learn the difference or you’ll find yourself accidentally drinking bubbly water from a bottle.
Be willing to (politely) interrupt people.
Sometimes, it seems that Italians run their own time. In Capri, I stood in front of a counter for almost five minutes in a café waiting to purchase a bottle of water while two staff openly conversed in front of me. My Trip Leader came to the rescue, momentarily breaking the conversation in Italian, asking to purchase a bottle of water.
From then onwards I projected a firm mi scusi, combined with eye contact and a big smile (and an occasional wave when necessary) when moving through Italy.
Avoid taking a taxi but if you do, always confirm the price first.
Taxis in Europe are not always as regulated as in other parts of the world so it’s a lucky dip when it comes to hailing a cab. Be clear about your destination and ask for the price, before getting in.
While I’d heard about the questionable driving style in Italy, a taxi ride from central Rome back to the hotel confirmed all the stereotypes. Indicating when changing lanes? Of course not. Stopping at a red light? Who’s heard of such a thing. Speed limit? Nope, not in Italy.
Be quick when getting on and off transport.
In this context, nice guys really do finish last… if you’re not prepared to stand your ground, use your elbows for a gentle nudge and keep moving forward.
This is mostly relevant for peak hour travel and for when travelling in groups; the last thing you want is half to make it on a bus and the others not.
One evening on our trip, some of us decided to go to Positano for dinner. There was only one bus every hour from Sorrento to Positano, and our group was split in half with a full fifty-seater coach with people standing down the aisle, and there were still people that didn’t make it on. Thankfully our entire group did, with much encouragement from our Trip Leader.
Don’t be afraid to ask for parmesan. Or extra parmesan.
I was amazed by the amount of times I ordered pasta at a restaurant, and I had to ask for parmesan to be brought over after my dish had arrived and often not enough to my liking. I mean, the more parmesan the better, right?
I have no explanation for this – perhaps it was just a coincidence that these were the restaurants I went to? I’ll have to go back to gather more stats on this one.
While we’re on the subject of food, if you have any dietary requirements, do your research.
One of the best things about travel is tasting new foods, but travelling with dietary requirements can make this a chore. Being a carb-focused country, Italy is home to one of the largest ranges of gluten-free pasta I’ve ever seen in supermarkets, however this didn’t always translate to the same experience eating out.
When it comes to dietary requirements, walking in to a restaurant off the street can be very hit and miss. On one memorable group dinner the staff kept debating whether or not the gnocchi they’d served me was gluten free… eventually it was whisked away and replaced with rice. Within moments I had doused it in parmesan and hovered my fork over it, ready to strike.
And finally… Be patient.
Sometimes the only thing you can do is sit back, slow down and enjoy la dolce vita.