Now that the holidays are over, I finally had the time to write this! And it helps that I am snowed in with nothing to do!
After almost two years of planning our Italy trip, it was done and over with in a blink of an eye. Now I am dreaming of going back. But while I am dreaming and scheming on how to get back, I thought I would put together a post on things I learned from Italy.
1. Planning two years in advance was a wise thing to do. Lots of museums and sightseeing sites tickets sell out quickly. I advise (and so do lots of guidebooks) to buy your tickets a least a month in advance. I also advise to buy your tickets through your hotel, if all possible. Otherwise, when you buy online, you can sometimes pay a hefty reservation/conversion rate. I advise to start planning your trip at least 8 months to year in advance. Especially if you are going during the high season.
2. Guidebooks are essential, at least in my opinion. They helped me plan out our itineraries and they were very helpful for picking out restaurants. Also, I read a lot of forums – Rick Steves and Trip Advisor are the two I referred to the most. Maps are important too, they helped me plan our days efficiently. Most guidebooks come with maps – we also bought a gazetteer, which saved us more than once.
3. If you rent a car, rent the smallest car possible. There is a reason why cars are smaller there than here in the states. Because all the roads and parking lots are tiny! You will be grateful for a small car when you are trying to fit the car into a three foot by three foot parking spot! 😉
4. Learn a little bit of the language. You don’t need to be fluent, just learn key phrases. We learned Italian through Rosetta Stone and Rick Steve’s phrase book. Pretty much everywhere we went, people spoke English. But they appreciate it if you try to speak Italian first, they like for you to try to make an effort. (Just like with our gondolier, he was unfriendly to us until we starting talking in Spanish.)
5. When it comes to packing, pack as little as possible. I am glad I didn’t pack much because the things we brought back took up a lot of room! Also, I am glad I had a back pack. It was a lot easier to move around in the cities and trains. I used an Osprey pack from REI. Much easier than toting a wheeled bag on those uneven cobbled streets. We packed a lot of clothing made up of wicking material and SmartWool socks. And this is a given, but pack comfortable shoes. We walked over 110 miles in Italy, an average of 10 to 15 miles a day!
6. Italy is known for pickpockets. I read some terrible stories about people getting pick pocketed and it scared me a little. So to ease my mind, I ordered a pac safe purse. This purse is amazing! It was large enough to carry all our maps, tickets, passports, water bottles, etc. And it was safe, which made me feel better. Now we didn’t have any problems, no one bothered us. But you do need to be aware of your surroundings. Just watch people and don’t let your guard down and you will be fine. But if you want a little peace of mind then I suggest getting one of pac safe’s purses or bags.
7. Download Rick Steve’s App. This app saved us a ton of money! We downloaded all the tours that he had regarding Italy. By doing this, we were able to have audio tours for free for most places. Most sightseeing places offer an audio tour for an additional fee, they ranged from 10 to 20 euros per person. Plus, Rick Steves’s audio tours are very entertaining. I found myself smiling or laughing through most of his tours. They also come with handy maps, which you will need to download before leaving your free wi-fi at your hotel. (Unless you can afford an international data plan!)
8. Most restaurants/cafes in Italy charge a cover charge to use a table. If you want to save some money, just order your food to go or drink your espresso at the bar. Most Italians do this. One of my favorite lunches in Italy was in Venice. We ordered some sandwiches and wine to go and we ate along the canal. We sat on a low wall – along with all the locals. It was so much fun! But there were times we were so tired that we just had to sit down and recoup. Sitting at a table costs about 5 euros, which when you are exhausted, isn’t so bad.
9. Some advice on restrooms. In a lot of cities in Italy, they do not have public restrooms and if they do, you have to pay to use them. Try to use the restroom before you leave your hotel. But since you are out all day, drinking wine… you will need to go. So you can use the restroom for free at museums and restaurants (as long as you are a customer). Sometimes, in some restaurants, there is only one unisex restroom, but most places have separate restrooms.
10. Hotels, as you know, are different in Europe than they are here in the states. Most of them are very small and do not have some of the accommodations that we are use to. But I feel like we were very lucky in our hotels. I did a lot of researching on hotels and found some of the best places. We chose to stay in B&Bs, which were about the same price as a normal hotel. Rome was a normal hotel but it did offer a continental breakfast (which was croissants, meats and cheese). So all of our breakfasts were already taken care of (one less thing to worry about). But you will have to find hotels that suit you and your personal tastes. B&Bs are more of what we enjoy and we loved everywhere we stayed.
11. Espresso is amazing in Italy! I do not like espresso normally, but now I am in love with it now! It is so smooth and not at all bitter. In Venice, our B&B had the best espresso! Davide (the owner) showed us how he made it and what kind of beans he used. He used a mocha pot and lavazza ground coffee. Randy ordered both of these on amazon during our trip so it was waiting for us when we returned home. If you want to make some espresso at home, get these two things! It makes some pretty good espresso! Oh, do not order American coffee! It is not good! It is basically watered down espresso!
12. And my final bit of advice, don’t be shy. Get out there, meet people and make some new friends! You will find that most people are more than willing to help you or just talk to you. We met some of the most interesting, nicest people on this trip. The people we met were the highlight of our trip – they made the beautiful culture of Italy come alive.
I know this is a lot of information at once, but it was stuff that we learned before and during our trip. I hope it will help you in planning your next adventure! If you have any questions or want to share your experiences, please feel free to do so! Any advice will be helpful for the future!
I would love to return to Italy someday… *sigh*. It was the best trip I have ever taken. Italy is beautiful, filled with beautiful scenery and people. I sometimes day dream about our trip and going back. But next time we go to Europe, it would be nice to visit another country. I was thinking London would be fun or maybe Paris or Belgium! Anyone been to any of those places?