Travel Guide to Italy

Planning your adventure in Italy

Things You Will Not Find In Italy

10 THINGS THAT ARE THOUGHT TO BE ITALIAN BUT ARE NOT Sitting around in the winter sometimes lets us review some of the questions and thoughts our guests bring up during our tours.  Organizing Custom Vacations and Guided Private tours lets me share several insights and debunk misinformation guests pick up from TV or 2nd hand knowledge.     Below are 10 things or thoughts about Italy and Italians that are not true.  If you have come across any of these let us know.  Enjoy and hope to see you on an Italian Adventure sometime.        1. Caesar Salad. This is American, not Italian. Asking for Parmesan and croutons on a salad would get you quizzical looks in most places. Some tourist trap restaurants will serve it. 2. Rolling Spaghetti with a Spoon. Italians do not do this. You use a fork, that’s it. 3. Salad as Appetizer. Salads are a side dish with the second course. Having a salad as an appetizer is not common, Italians rather use it as a palate cleanser after eating the majority of their meal 4. Meat and Pasta on the same Plate. Italians do not put 2 courses on the same plate. Pasta is one thing - meat, chicken, meatballs are another: you will not see them mixed. Also, a good pasta dish doesn’t need to be drowned in sauce. Pasta is supposed to be colored by the sauce but not immersed in it. 5. Cappuccino after a Meal. Cappuccino is for breakfast. Past noon, Italians don’t drink cappuccino. So if you order it after a full meal, be prepared to get weird looks. Italians rather have a strong shot of espresso after a meal. 6. Oil and Butter with Bread in a Restaurant. Olive oil and butter are common ingredients in Italian dishes, but it’s not customary to eat them with bread during a meal. Restaurants will not put butter or olive oil on the table to dip bread in. Buttered or oil-drizzled bread might be afternoon snacks - requesting them at a restaurant would be weird. 7. Italians eat Pasta every day. Pasta is popular, but many Italians prefer rice or soup. The Italian diet is rich in vegetables, meat, and fish, which are present on the table every day. Pasta is more of a 2-3 times a week affair for many. 8. Italians eat big Dinners. In most cases, Italians eat more at lunch than at dinner. 9. Couples sitting side by side. Eating is a social event, so people prefer to be seated face to face. On a group outing or a double date a couple would rarely sit next to one another, allowing for more mingling. 10. Italians have large Families. Families with 4-8 children are a thing of the past. Italians not only get married later, they now also have one of the lowest birth rates in the world. As a result, the population is shrinking. Divorce is on the rise, and people often don’t start families until they’re well into their 30s. If you have any questions on travel to Italy send us an email or catch up on Social Media.  We offer travel planning and consultation online if you ever need to review your Vacation Plans.  

Need Help Planning Your Italy Vacation

Italy is one of the most diverse places in the world to visit but there is more to the country then Venice, Florence, Roma, Cinque Terre and a couple of other top attractions.  If you plan you days well and understand how to move around within the country you can a great cost effective vacation full of activity, history, culture, and great food and wine.  Contact us to get the insights to travel in Italy.  We offer: Travel Consultant- book time online for a web chat to answer your questions about traveling in Italy. Travel Planning - need help outlining and planning your adventure in Italy. Scheduled Tours - each month we lead a scheduled tour for those looking to join a small group to explore. Travel support:  Bike Touring - routes, bike rental, bag transfers.  Walking/Hiking Tours - routes, bag transfers. Booking assistance and suggested contacts.

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Read more: 10 Things That Are Not Italian

TIPS ON SELECTING A HOTEL IN ITALY

Hotels in italy, Vacation Guide Vernon McClure


Traditional Italian hotels tend to be simpler and have fewer extras than most American hotels. In Italy for example, few hotels below the moderate level will have TVs with an English channel, not even CNN or BBC, so do not expect Cable style TV or 100's of channels to select from.  But keep in mind, did you come all this way over to Italy to sit around in the room, a cafe in the square is a much more enjoyable way to pass your time.

Italian hotels tend to focus on cleanliness and friendliness over amenities. Many of the Hotels are old-fashioned, and worn around the edges, with small rooms and furniture that's functional, but not always the latest style, and you need to consider location, location, location above all else.

HOTEL RATING: DO NOT CHOICE BASED ON STARS

Italian hotels are rated from one to five stars (plus an extra "Five-Star Deluxe" category for places that really want to pad their prices).
As hotels get more expensive (four- and five-star), they get more similar to standard hotels in the US.

As far as the cheaper, more traditional Italian hotels, at the one and two-star levels, here are the "worst" of the differences you can expect to find.

The vast majority of the "complaints" about Italian hotels I read or hear about have little to do with the hotel, but expectations presented by the booking site and personal travel expectations.

You should not go into a foreign country expecting everything to work exactly the way it does at home. If that were the case, there would be no reason to travel in the first place. You will need to put aside your assumptions and expectations and learn to judge and value an Italian hotel on its own merits according to Italian standards, not American ones.

Read user reviews with a grain of salt, and keep in mind, there are always more complaints then praise, and remember that Hotel websites are paying for the photo-shop pictures that makes a room look grand.

HOW HOTELS IN ITALY DIFFER FROM U.S. HOTELS

One major factor you must understand many about hotels in Italy (all of Europe, actually) is space. In the US there is lots of space and rooms tend to be large, whether they are roadside chain motels or hotels in city centers. Even a cheap, grungy, off-brand motel in the States will usually have two double or queen beds in it, separated by an end table with a TV remote control so you can watch your "Free HBO!"

In Italy, most hotels—at least, most of those in the historic city centers and small towns tourists love to stay in—are converted from existing buildings, many of them hundreds of years old. Rooms were smaller back then, and it is often impractical (and, in many cases of historic buildings, illegal) to enlarge them.

Also, indoor plumbing is a recent phenomenon, Renaissance architects didn't plan for a private bathroom in every chamber of the palazzo.  So bathrooms tend to be small, modular units that are wedged into one corner of the existing room.

So, expect the following from hotels in Italy (hope for the best but expect the worst):

  • Rooms will be small. No, even smaller than you're thinking.
  • Bathrooms will be even smaller (and given to all sort of other "shortcomings")
  • Lobbies and rooms rarely agree. Never judge a hotel by its entrance; expensive hotels almost always invest heavily in the lobby, often skimping on the rooms, whereas cheaper hotels may just have a dingy desk in a hallway, but spotless, fine accommodations.
  • Beds are a bit narrower than in America. Also, a standard "double room" in Italy comes with a single double bed, sometimes a queen—never two queens side by side with an end table in between; you're thinking of an American motel. Even at that, "double beds" are often two twins shoved together under a single top sheet and blanket (or two twin sheets made up to overlap).  In really cheap hotels and many B&B's, the beds may have the old style bed springs, bowing deeply in the center , or bulging up and bucking every time you move.
  • Elevators are a nice bonus, not a given. (Medieval architects did not foresee elevator shafts when designing the buildings: just lots and lots of steep staircases. Look at it as a chance to get more exercise while you're on vacation.)
  • Walls will be thin. 
  • Breakfast will likely be light—rolls and jam with cappuccino at worst; more likely packaged pastries and cappuccino—and maybe some fresh brioche (lightly sweetened croissants). Sometimes you get a table laid out with ham and salamis, cheese, boiled eggs, yogurt, and fresh fruit. Occasionally muesli (a Swiss granola that tastes like slightly sweetened home insulation material) will make an appearance, but don't expect American cereals or omelettes and bacon.

Selecting a hotel for your vacation takes some research and it is best to deal with someone who has actually been in the location, not just review it on a computer screen or travel book. The wrong location can end up costing you time and money. Remember the good deals on the booking web sites are good deals for a reason.  Those places in Italy that provide great service and have a great location, are usually booked well in advanced. 

 

WHAT IS ITALIAN CAFE?

Italian coffee

As you travel in Italy, one of the best energy boosts, prior to tackling a major climb or last few kms of a hard ride, is to stop have a good expresso. In order to get your cafe fix  keep in mind that ordering a coffee in Italy is not quite the same as in the states.  The style and quality of the coffee is much different.  I have written a short guide to help you during your 'pit stop'.  Remember that at autostrada (highway) bars, and newer bars you must go to the cashier to order and pay, then you take your receipt to the bar to get your coffee.

Common methods of preparing caffe

Caffe - In Italy if you are ordering coffee the word "caffè" implies an espresso.·There is no need to specify “espresso” when ordering. You may get the question "lisco" which means plan espresso. You caffe will be served in a porcelain demitasse cup “Mazzini's” with its own saucer and little stirring spoon. Most Italians drink their caffe at the bar pay in a couple of sips and move on with their day. Caffe at the bar ranges from .80 cents to 1 euro, if the bar is asking more, I would move on along they are just ripping off the tourist.·If you sit at a table you might be asked to pay the "coperto", cover charge, most small bars will not charge this but be careful in the cities centers you may find yourself drinking a 5 to 10 euro caffe.·A true "caffe Oro".

Caffè Macchiato – ·In Italian, macchiare means to “stain” – and this espresso in a demitasse cup is stained with some hot milk, probably frothed, though no attention is placed on serving foam. This is not a mini-cappuccino.

Caffè Macchiato Freddo – An espresso served in a demitasse cup with cold or lukewarm milk on the side. It looks like a normal caffè next to a carafe of milk. It is! Many bars provide a communal container of milk on the bar, so often someone can just order a caffè and add the milk themselves. It’s best to order the caffè macchiato freddo and let the barman direct you. If you absolutely want to add the milk yourself, you can make sure to specify, “il latte a parte”

Cappuccino –Probably the most well-known coffee drink, it has a long history. Espresso and steamed, frothy milk added so that there is a clean layer of milk foam in a larger cup, a tazza. This is considered a morning drink for breakfast or mid morning snack.

Latte Macchiato – Milk “stained” with coffee, and served hot in a glass cup as shown or in a tall glass, larger than a cappuccino.

Caffè Corretto – An espresso with a “shot” of liquor of your choice. Mostly popular is additive is grappa, cognac, or rum.·This is an after meal drink to help your digestion, hence the name "corretto" correction.

Other variations of ordering Caffe:

These drinks are further variations on the coffee itself. Most of these drinks can have milk added to them but the important thing about ordering these drinks is specifying how it is brewed – doubled, water added, chilled, reduced!

  • Caffè Doppio – Two shots of espresso, served in a larger cup (tazza).
  • Caffè Americano – A shot of espresso with hot water added and served in the larger “tazza.”
  • Caffè Lungo – A setting on most espresso machines, more water is being run through the filter, resulting in a “longer” coffee. The consistency and strength is not the same as an espresso
  • Caffè d’Orzo – Espresso made from barley is a popular alternative to traditional espresso. It can be ordered as a single, doppio (double) or macchiato like a normal caffè. You can see this macchiato has some bubbles because the caffè d’orzo is not as thick as a regular ca
  • Caffè Freddo – Espresso is left to raffreddare or get cool, or is sometimes refrigerated and served cold or lukewarm.
  • Caffe HAG – This the most popular brand of decaffeinated coffee in Italy, it can also be a way to indicate a decaffeinated coffee when ordering. It can be ordered as a single, double or macchiato like a normal caffè.·

Not all bars are the same and there are various influences on the quality of the caffe;·

  • Brand of the caffe: ·Brand of caffe being utilized will be on the bar's outdoor sign or on the cups and bean grinder. ·Illy, Segafreddo, Hag, are a few of the brands found.
  • The ability to use the caffe machine's: ·I have found that tend to stop more at the local and more rustic bar's rather than many of the newer places. ·If there are a few old guys sitting around playing cards you can usually find a good caffe.

Out hiking or biking we tend to stop at bars to use the restroom.  It is more polite to at least buy a caffe during your stop. ·

Did you know that Trieste has been a major port for coffee import for several decades?

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 TELLING TIME IN ITALY

Risposo in Italy, Telling Time in Italy

Time and Opening Hours in Italy

As you travel around during your visit you do need to adapt to the Italian rhythm of life, it is still (luckily) not as fast and in the US.· Plan your day around these hours are you will get stressed out, remember to relax and slow down your pace, plus plan ahead. Sights, museums, restaurants, shops: When the are open, when they are closed, and when they take a riposo (siesta)

Open hours are posted at most Italian businesses, shops, and sightseeing attractions—sometimes helpfully in both Italian and English.· Note that almost all activities have a riposo period.

The riposo - Italy's midday siesta

You know how you naturally get sleepy in the middle of the afternoon? Well, Mediterranean (and Latin American) countries have always kept attuned to the biorhythms that American culture tries to ignore, and they've found a way to work around the body’s internal clock. You might know it as the siesta. In Italy, it is called riposo. During riposo, most museums, churches, shops, businesses—just about everything except restaurants—lower the shutters and lock the doors so that proprietors can either go home (or head to a local trattoria) for a long lunch and perhaps a snooze during the day’s hottest hours. This traditional early afternoon shutdown varies from business to business, but usually lasts about 90 minutes to two hours. It may begin anywhere from noon and 1:30pm and run until anywhere from 2:30 to 4pm.

At first this break can be extremely annoying to you at a visitor, especially if you’re on a tight sightseeing schedule, but after a while you get used to it. Learn to take the riposo and revel in it. If your time is short, make sure you know which sights (often churches) will be open during riposo and save them to visit at that time. I generally bicycle ride·go for a run·during this period since traffic is slower.

The World Economic influence is slowly forcing the rest of the everyone·to live and work according to US's hectic, stressful, and non-stop schedule. Increasingly, there are commercial centers in most·cities that are staying open through the middle of the day. It’s good news for shoppers, but bad news for the general pace and quality of life.

Typical open hours

Very broadly, here are the open hours for most things a·traveler will want to do in Italy. Keep in mind that these can vary dramatically. Some sights may only open from 11am to 1pm two days a week; other may be open daily from 7am to 11:30pm (in summer, major sights sometimes post such extended evening hours). Still, this will give you a ballpark.

Remember: churches—crammed with frescoes, oil paintings, mosaics, and sculptures—tend to be major sights in Italy. Also, I'm giving just the serving hours for restaurants; though the kitchen may close at 10pm, but the establishment could·stay open until midnight or later.

When it is  written "6:30am/8am" it means that a place might open anywhere between those two bookend times.
Since the precise hours of a riposo vary so much, rather than less multiple the times below with ranges for riposo, I have inserted the word [riposo] remind you that things are likely to be shut for a few hours in the middle of the day.

  • Museums & monuments: 8/9am [riposo] to 3:30pm (minor sights)/7:30pm (major)
  • Churches: 6:30am/8am [riposo] to 5pm/7pm
  • Shops: 8am/9am [riposo] 7pm/9pm
  • Non-retail businesses: 9am [riposo] 5pm/7pm
  • Restaurants (kitchen hours): lunch noonish/2:30pm, dinner 7pm/10:30pm (most Italians start dinner around 8pm–9:30pm)
  • Bars: 5:30am/6am [riposo] 7pm/midnight (an Italian bar is not only where you get a drink after dinner but also an aperitivo in the early evening, an espresso before work, and a cappuccino during your morning break).
  • Keep in mind that Italy uses the 24-hour clock—what we call "military time"—rather than am and pm. So if a posted hours sign says, say "Feriali 10–18, Festivi 11–13," that means "Open Mon–Sat 10am–6pm, Sun and holidays 11am–1pm." Ah, but what do "feriali" and "festivi" mean?

That's one more difference to note. Many businesses, museums, railways, and other places that post schedules dealing with days of the week don't use specific days, but rather something more akin to what we would term "weekdays" and "weekends." However, they don't divide the week up quite the way Americans do. Here's how to interpret signs, train schedules, and other places with posted hours:

  • If you see giorni feriali, simply feriali, or a symbol of a hammer crossed with a sickle (it's not Communist; it just symbolizes "work"), that means Monday through Saturday.
  • If you see giorni festivi, simply festivi, or a tiny cross, that means Sundays and holidays.

Typical closed days

Italian holidays when everything closes

  • Most offices and shops in Italy are closed on these public holidays: January 1 (New Year’s Day), January 6 (Epiphany), Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, April 25 (Liberation)
  • Most offices and shops in Italy are closed on these public holidays: January 1 (New Year’s Day), January 6 (Epiphany), Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, April 25 (Liberation Day), May 1 (Labor Day), August 15 (Assumption of the Virgin—much of Italy takes its summer vacation Aug 15–30), November 1 (All Saints’ Day), December 8 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception), December 25 (Christmas Day), and December 26 (Santo Stefano).

Christmas holidays

  • Most Italians' Christmas holidays last from December 24 though January 6

Saint's Days - Most of town shuts down on the feast day for its patron saints (though there's also usually an excellent procession and public festival happening).
Here are the dates (and saints) for major cities:

  • Rome, June 29 (Sts. Peter and Paul)
  • Venice, April 25 (St. Mark)
  • Florence, Genoa, and Turin, June 24 (St. John the Baptist)
  • Milan, December 7 (St. Ambrose)
  • Palermo, July 15 (St. Rosalia)
  • Naples, September 19 (St. Gennaro)
  • Bari, December 6 (St. Nicola—Santa Claus!)
  • Bologna, October 4 (St. Petronio)
  • Trieste, November 3 (St. Giusto)
  • Cagliari, October 30 (St. Saturnino)

Sundays in Italy

  • On Sundays, most shops are closed, as are many restaurants (though some will open for lunch).
  • Some museums are closed Sundays, and many others have curtailed hours (usually open mornings only).
  • Most churches will be closed to tourists in the morning since, though they are often among the biggest tourist sights in town, their primary purpose is as houses of worship. (You're welcome to attend the services, of course; just don't be a tourist about it: sit politely in a pew, don't wander about gawking at frescoes and altarpieces, and for goodness sake don't take photographs.)

Mondays in Italy

  • Mondays are worse. You're usually fine on churches and shops, but most museums and many restaurants are closed entirely.
  • (By law, most restaurants are forced to close at least one day a week—though, increasingly, many are finding loopholes to get around this—and the vast majority pick Monday.)
  • There are some other varied rules and habits (like the fact that most grocers in Vicenza close on Wedensday afternoons), but nothing that will impact your trip enough to worry about.

What to do about "closed days"

  • How do you deal with Sundays and Mondays? First, be sure Monday is not the only day (or one of your only two days) in a city or town filled with museums. Second, plan to do about half as much on Sundays as you would on a weekday.
  • Most importantly, find the sights and restaurants in town that are open on Mondays or on Sunday afternoons and save them for those times when everything else will be closed.
  • Chiuso means closed—Reading posted open-hours signs
  • Here's how to interpret closed signs posted at restaurants, shops, and sights. Since it will also be handy to know which days a particular shop is "chiuso per turno," there's a list of the days of the week in Italian in the box on the right.

The Italian week

  • Lunedí - Monday
  • Martedí - Tuesday
  • Mercoledí - Wednesday
  • Giovedí - Thursday
  • Venerdí - Friday
  • Sabato - Saturday
  • Domenica – Sunday
  • Chiuso per riposo - Closed for the midday siesta (noonish–3ish). Note: if it says chiuso per giorno di riposo (or any of the variants in the next entry), it means they're closed all day.
  • Giorno di chiusura, giorno di riposo, or chiuso per turno - The day of the week a restaurant or other place is closed for business.
  • Chiuso per ferie - Closed for vacation.
  • Chiuso per restauro - Closed for restoration. This is a state that can last for years.
  • Note: On Italian signs, the word "per" is often abbreviated "x"—which makes sense when you know that "per" (which can mean "by" or "for") is the preposition Italians use as shorthand for "multiplied by."

By remembering many of these simple tips you can reduce your travel stress.

Travel Planning,

AN ITALY READING LIST

Over the past years I have become a student of Italy History and Culture.  Italy has so many layers of history that has influnced each Region.  Inorder to fully understood the why and how things came to be I continue to read and study.  Below is a listing of books I have read and a quick rating.  Hope you find the list helpful.

Book Title

 
 

The Eye Witness guides are excellent for those who just like a guide overview of what they see.

 

 

James Morris

 

John Haycraft

The Dark Heart of Italy

Tobias Jones

Italy and its Discontents

Paul Ginsborg

The Death of Marco Pantani

Matt Rendell

Fallen Angel Fausto Coppi

William Fotheringham

Across the River and through the Trees

Hemingway

Farewell to Arms

Hemingway

The Great Betrayal (Story of the Fourth Crusade)

Ernle Bradford

The Gateway to the Middle Ages Italy

Duckett

The Twelve Caesars

Suetonius

Italia Romantica

Roderick Cavaliero

War in Italy

John Kegen

The Cardinal’s Hat

Mary Hollingsworth

A History of Venice

John Norwich

GomorrahItaly’s other mafia

Roberto Saviano

This is an on-going list and I will update as I have time.

Travel Planning,