“The Creator made Italy from designs by Michaelangelo.” –Mark Twain
I don’t think there can be a greater compliment to a country or it’s artist.This was my first trip
to Italy and I had been planning it for over a year.Ofcourse,dreaming about it from when my dad travelled there and came back with books and stories about Pompeii and the Sistine Chapel.Needless to say, I was totally impressed.In this blog I am listing a few tips for the first time travellers , things which I found handy;
The travel modes available are metros(Euro 1.50 one way) ,which almost cover all important places and interestingly all stations are next to a Piazza or a fountain.
Apart from Metros you have the option of taking a bus or a tram(Euro 1 one way).Trams have limited areas they cover but reach places like Trastevere from Piazza da Navola(Rome),for which you have to take a cab otherwise.
Otherwise you can also take cabs,they have fixed fares from the airport(48 or 30 Euros one way to your destination)otherwise they go by meter.They are a slightly expensive mode of transport.
In Venice since it is a city floating on water,there are Vaporettos(water bus),something like a ferry in Mumbai.Which go port of boarding to another.There are fast lines and slow lines ,almost on the concept of Mumbai locals.If you have a map you will be able to figure it out easily.Also there are more private and expensive water taxis.Gondolas are just for tourist attraction and rides ,not really used for transportation.
Accomodation-It depends on what your agenda is ,whether your focus is history or general sightseeing or nightlife.Stay close to the Vatican in areas like Auerilla or Prati.If you are the kinds which like the nightlife ,which Rome has plenty of , then you should be in Trastevere.We stayed at Maison Candia Manor and were very happy with the place,location (close to the Vatican)and the hosts.You can read my review on the place on my review on tripadvisor.Good sites to book through are www.booking.com,www.hotels.com and airbnb.com.
Traveller’s card instead of traveller’s cheque work better and easier to use.Chances of losing it are a few,in case you lose it yo can block the card and it comes with a back up card which will get activated once you call them.It works exactly like a credit card and you can use it to the last penny ,unlike a traveller’s cheque.Icici bank for eg. issues traveller’s cards .
Phone-Always best to buy sim from the country you are travelling to.We initially were carrying a Matrix number and in 3 days we had exhausted all our limit ,luckily the matrix guys called us and informed us.That’s when we realised that the rates were crazy.Then we bought a pre-paid local number from ‘TIM'(there are other service providers like ‘Wind’) which we could not exhaust talking non-stop for the next 7 days.
Foreign Exchange-In a lot of places you will need to pay in cash and for that the best places to change your currency is definitely not at the airport or at the train station.Though it may seem they have better exchange rates,the problem is the fine print that has all hidden one time charges which ,if you are not careful in reading ,will make you lose a lot of money.The best way we figured out was to withdraw money using your debit cards from the ATMs or Bancomats.Credit cards are not advisable as they charge a lumpsum fee per transaction and you may lose all advantage of using an ATM for this transaction.
Clothes,Shoes and Weather-
I am specifying this because the Italians like to dress in basic colors.You can look at an entire street and still be only be able to find brown,beige,grey ,black ,white and navy.So if you want to gel in then you know what to wear or you can be like me and go all orange in style ;0)!
Shoes-Definitely comfortable and without heels as the roads are cobbled and it would get very difficult to walk with heels.Plus if you want to sightsee,uncomfortable shoes will kill it for you.Most locals wear boots or sneakers.Gladiators and floaters work well too.Do pack in a pair of heels also for that night out .
Another thing you will notice that Italians are not big on revealing clothes.So short skirts,shorts ,plunging necklines ,tank tops are things you will hardly notice.The dressing mostly casual and they are a lot into layering.This came as a big surprise for me ,especially since I was relating to Italy as the home of fashion.
Clothes–Jeans are a must, alongside with skirts. Match the bottom with classic tee or pretty blouse, and don’t forget a set of sweaters or light jackets for cold days and evenings and a waterproof outwear item, such as a light trench coat, for unexpected rainstorms. Light brogues or waterproof canvas shoes are essentials for this season.Also remember if you want to see religious places like churches and basilicas ,you will not be given entry in short,revealing clothes ,not even sleeveless.If you do want to wear them after and before entering the basilicas then just carry a shrug or a sarong for cover up.
Sunglasses- An absolute must specially if you are planning to sightsee a lot.
Local greetings-If you have to be in Italy for more than a week then you may learn it anyway.But Buongiorno! (bwohn-johr-noh) (Hello! and Good morning!) and grazie. (beh-neh grah-tsee-eh) (Fine, thank you.) ,with a little roll are two most common greetings that you should use with a smile in Italy.Others like
Ciao! (chou) (Hello! and Good-bye!) are good to know.I am adding a link which is called Italian greetings for dummies-thought might help ;0)!
One thing Italians are high on except wine is definitely food.Be it their house wines or their cheeses or pizzas or pastas,they are delectable and available in huge varieties .One thing to definitely is the historic pasta,which is in shape of basilicas and forums.Drinks to try out are Bellini,Grappa,Lemoncillo apart the regular wines . What is very convenient and useful is that there are pizzerias and bistros and bars and restaurants in every lane ,in every corner.There are enough vegetarian options but the Italians like all vegetarian toppings to be of large sizes,so if you prefer small size veggies ,be sure to tell the waiter in advance.
Aperitivo is a wonderful tradition you should not miss out on. Bars that offer anaperitivo buffet will charge you for the drink, but not for the food, which will range from simple chips and pretzels to sophisticated warm appetizers and parmigiano cubes sprinkled with balsamic vinegar. Buffet is all you can eat (but don’t forget the rules above!). Find a bar that serves an aperitivo buffet and head there between 6pm and 8:30pm, and you can skip dinner if you want!
Hospital for the tourists-Now this most people will not be aware of but all foreign visitors are entitled to exactly the same services as Italian citizens as far as free medical emergency treatment in public hospital. The Italian national health service is also part of the integrated European Union healthcare system (which also includes Norway, Switzerland and Iceland) for the total refund of health expenses incurred for all types of medical assistance in public facilities. However, to obtain free healthcare during your stay in Italy, ask your national health service for an EHIC form (European Health Insurance Card) before you leave.Pronto Soccorso (emercency service) available in every public hospital.
You can also go to a chemist’s where a doctor is always on duty and can provide useful advice or recommend over-the-counter medicine for common ailments. It is not unusual to find English speaking doctors In fact, in peak season, all the most important tourist resorts provide assistance to tourists at any time of day with multilingual staff .
My husband got a bad stomach flu during our visit and it was a Sunday,but the people we were staying with informed us of this facility and it was free of cost.We were so grateful to our hosts and to the government for such an aid to the tourists.Most places medical aid can cost you a bomb.
While writing this blog I happen to come across this long but helpful list of interesting facts on Italy from another blogger, do go through.More coming up on Rome ,Venice and Florence.Ciao :0)!!