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Travel Tips about Italy

Whether you are going to Rome, New York or Rome, Italy, preparation is the key to getting the most out of your vacation. This is especially true when you are an independent traveler. Whenever and wherever you travel, it is important to learn at least a little about the places you are going to visit. It will make all the difference in getting the most out of your vacation. The best travel tip we could give you is to read, read, and read. Pick up at least one guide book, watch movies in Italian settings, visit the Italian Tourism web site. Preparing for your vacation is half the fun! Make it even more enjoyable by sharing it with your traveling companions.

We've put together a small list of travel tips in hopes that you find some of them helpful.

You shouldn't need to exchange more than $100 before leaving for Italy. Check with your bank or call American Express, who will deliver Euros to your door. Traveler's checks are not as popular as they once were, are reluctantly accepted and you will find the exchange rate is very poor. We only suggest buying them if you feel better bringing them. The best rate of exchange is at the BANCOMATS, the equivalent of ATMs. You will find them everywhere. Not all ATMs will take your card though, but not to worry, as you can usually find more than one on the same block. Just look at the back of your ATM card and match the affiliates with the BANCOMAT machine. Most popular are Cirrus, INTERLINK, NYCE and +PLUS. Check with your bank before leaving and make sure you have a four digit PIN number. After ATMs, the best exchange rate is cash but avoid currency kiosks as you will pay the highest exchange rate. Opt for a bank instead. Italy's currency is the euro, symbolized as €. The coins are released in denominations of .01, .02, .05, .10, .20 .50 and 1 and 2 euro. The bills are 5, 10, 20 , 50, 100, and 200.

Banks are open from 8:30 - 1:30 Monday through Friday. In larger towns and cities they will reopen from 2:30 to 3:30, but play it safe and exchange in the morning hours. Entering a bank is very different from what we are used to in the US. When you approach the bank door, you will see that it leads into a small vestibule. You need to open the door and when that door closes the red light in front or above you will turn green at which time you can then open the other the door in front of you. You exit the bank in the same way. I guess it would make it hard for someone to make a quick getaway, but it is a little odd first time you see it. Banks do limit the amount they will exchange, usually 500 USD.

Cash is always the payment of choice, but more and more stores are accepting credit cards. You will get a very good exchange rate with a credit card as the credit card company is dealing on volume transactions each day. However, call your credit card company before leaving to see if they charge you a fee and/or a percentage of the sale. Some credit cards are adding an additional 1 to 3 % to the final amount converted. Even with a fee, your exchange rate should still be very good.

Here are a few formulas that will help make some conversions easier for you. Please keep in mind that we have used approximate figures on most of these, as we are on vacation!

1 meter = 3.28 feet or 1.09 yards
A house that is reached by a 200 meter white road is 200 x 1.09 = 218 yards
A swimming pool that is 10 x 5 meters is 10 x 3.28 and 5 x 3.28 = 32.8 x 16.4 feet

1 square meter = 10.7639
An 80 square meter apartment is 80 x 10.7639 = 861 square feet

1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds
453 grams = 1 pound
In Italy, a gram is called an etto. The plural is etti. They order by the one hundred gram, or etti. If you are looking for a half pound of proscuitto, it's easier to ask for either 200 or 300 etti.
A little note: If you study your numbers from one to one hundred, shopping will be a breeze!

1 liter = 33.8 ounces
3.78541 liters = 1 gallon
If gasoline costs 1.30 Euro per liter x 3.79 liters = 4.93 Euro per gallon or approximately $6.40 US

1 kilometer = .6 mile
If your destination is 10 kilometers from the house x .6 = 6 miles
If the speed limit is 100 km per hour x .6 = 60 miles per hour

To convert Celsius to Fahrenheit
Celsius x 2 - 10% + 32 = Fahrenheit
20 degrees Celsius (x 2) = 40 (-4) = 36 (+32) = 68 degrees Fahrenheit

To convert Fahrenheit to Celsius
Fahrenheit - 32 / 2 + 10% = Celsius
68 degrees Fahrenheit (-32) = 36 (/2) = 18 (+1.8) = 19.8 degrees Celsius

Italy is 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and uses military time 1:00 to 24:00 when reading train schedules, etc.
Central Europe Summer Time - CEST (Daylight Savings Time) begins the last Sunday in March at 2:00 and ends the last Sunday of October at 3:00.

If your family needs to call you in Italy, they must dial the International long distance number and the country code, 011-39 followed by the area code (city code) and finally the number. NOTE: Don't drop a zero if it is the first number listed! 011+39+ area code+ number

If you want to call your family in the US from Italy, you start with 00 then the country code, (1) and the area code and number. This is actually the same way you would call intra state calls at home, just add two zeros before dialing the 1 + area code + phone number

If you want to call the restaurant down the street from your rental home, you still must dial the area code. The same as you would if you were dialing anywhere else within Italy.

Confused yet? Let's make an example of the procedures using the phone at your rental home.

Your family in the United States needs to call you in Venice:
The phone number listed on your voucher is: 041-73-12-34
041-73-12-34 041 is the area code for Venice, and the other numbers are the house phone numbers.
011-39-041-73-12-34 The number you need to give your family: The International code (011) and the country code for Italy (39) followed by the area code for Venice and the house phone numbers.

Now you need to call your family in the United States from your home in Venice:
00-1-610-440-2000 You just dial the international code (00) the country code (1) the area code (610) and the number. In reality, it is just like calling intra-state in the US with an additional two zeros preceding it.

You need to call the restaurant down the street for dinner reservations:
041-73-99-99 You need to dial the entire number including the area code.

You need to call a restaurant in Siena, Tuscany from Venice, Veneto to make reservations for the following week:
055-22-67-00 Dial the entire number, including the area code, just as you would when you dial the restaurant down the street from your home in Venice.

You have many options to pay for these calls.

  1. Phone cards - These seem to be the most popular among Italians that don't have a cell phone but can only be used on pay phones. Purchase them at the Tobacco store.
  2. International phone cards - Dial the access number on the back of the card and punch in the scratched off code. These cards are good if you have a phone in the rental home or hotel. However, to use it at a pay phone, you have to have a regular phone card to dial the access number. Purchase at the Tobacco store.
  3. Buy an International phone card before you leave the US.
  4. Use your long distance company and phone calls will be billed to your account. Remember to get the access number before leaving the US.
If there is a phone in your home, you can use it for local calls, but use an International card or your US long distance carrier to call overseas.
The phone in your home is metered (scatti). Upon arrival, the host will call a number to get a reading on the phone and when you leave, they will call that number again. This way they can immediately let you know what your charges were before you leave at the end of your stay.

Pay phones are available throughout Italy although they are becoming harder to find due to the convenience of cell phones. If you can not find a pay phone anywhere in town, we suggest you try the post office or train station. Calls made from a pay phone require euro coins or a pre-paid card called a scheda telefonica (SCHKAY da Tel e Fon e ka) which you can buy from the a tabacchi (tobacco store), post office or newspaper stand. These come in different denominations.

Pick up the receiver and wait for the dial tone which will be a series of beeps. Many people mistake this for a busy signal. Break off the perforated corner of your telephone card and insert it into the telephone, arrow first. The display on the phone will show you how many Euro are available on the card you purchased and will continue to show you its deduction for time used. When you hang up, the card is returned to you. If your card is about to expire while you are on the phone, it will beep and then allow you to insert another card when the original card expires, without losing your connection.

If you buy a long distance calling card, don't use them for calls within Europe, but strictly for calls outside of Europe. (i.e. to The United States).

Be careful of 800 numbers that you may see on some pay phones. They look very professional but are very expensive calls to make. If you are paying with an international calling card or your credit card, get the correct number from the company that you are getting billed from. You will see American long distance access numbers in USA Today and International Herald Tribune.

If you're going to be in Italy for more than one week, or you plan on returning to Italy again, you might consider buying a cell phone. Yes, sometimes buying a phone in Italy can be cheaper than renting one in the US. It depends on the amount of phone calls you will be making. Some rentals will charge you up to 1.99 per minute for outgoing and incoming calls on top of the weekly rental fee and shipping charges. In Italy, you can buy a phone for 100.00 and pay 10 to 25 cents per minute for local and international calls respectively. All incoming calls are free. So do the math, and call us if you have any questions. We will be happy to recommend a store in your area.

12 Phone Directory Assistance
112 Carabinieri ( Federal Police)
113 Emergency Police Help
115 Fire Department
116 Italian Auto Club, A.C.I. for roadside assistance
118 Medical Emergencies
176 International Operator

The Vigili Urbani or municipal police, wear blue uniforms and white helmets. They are most often seen in the streets regulating the traffic.

The Carabinieri are the military police; they dress in red striped trousers and deal with a variety of offences from theft to speeding.

The Polizia (the state police) wear blue uniforms, with white belts and berets. They specialize in serious crimes.

If you are in need of urgent medical attention, call 118 or go to the Pronto Soccorso (Emergency Room) of the nearest main hospital. Dentists are expensive in Italy. Airports and many train stations have medical teams and first aid facilities. If ou have a chronic illness or allergy, carry a special note from your physician certifying in detail treatments in progress or those that may be necessary. Pharmacies generally follow local shop hours but large cities have some open around the clock. Italy has a night rota (servizio notturno) and Sunday opening rota posted on their doors. Medicines can only be obtained from a pharmacy, no matter if it is by prescription or over the counter drugs. Italy has no medical program covering U.S. citizens and we recommend trip insurance which covers medical emergencies. Please call us for details.

If you plan on renting a car, do so before you leave for Italy. It is always less expensive to rent before you go. We have always received excellent service from AutoEurope and find them to be not only competitive in their pricing, but their customer service is outstanding. We use them ourselves, and highly recommend them. They have always handled our reservations efficiently and professionally and there is never a cancellation charge. AutoEurope finds the best rate from all the major rental agencies, so you could be picking your car from Avis, Budget, Euro Car, etc.

We suggest you always get a receipt for your fill up before returning the car. Many times a check out consist of parking the car and handing over the paperwork, never having a representative look at the car. We have been charged many times by the rental companies for returning the car without filling the tank. If you send AutoEurope proof that you have filled the car before returning it, they will credit you without question.

I am sure you have heard horror stories of driving in Italy. I've run into so many people who are afraid to drive there, and it really makes me sad that they haven't explored the countryside on their own. Even though public transportation is efficient and inexpensive, you will be missing a lot of things between point A and point B. If you are renting a house in the country, you have to rent a car, so here is a little insight into the Italian highways.

Driving in Italy takes all of your attention as it does anywhere. I think Italians are excellent drivers. Okay, so they tend to be a little creative, like making a U-Turn where you'd least expect it. I've even seen two men in Rome make their own parking space by moving a garbage dumpster to the sidewalk and pulling into the space they created.

If you understand the rules, it can make all the difference in your driving experience. First of all, the US has always required that the left lane is for passing only, yet you would never know that law even exists. In Italy, this is the law of the land. It is important to stay out of the left lane if you are not passing. If you fail to follow this rule, you will find that from out of nowhere a car will have appeared in your rear view mirror and is inches from your bumper. It's even scarier looking up and seeing him barreling towards you, headlights flashing like lights in a dance club. Every time I see this scenario, I imagine the game of chicken. Do these Italians have that much courage or are they so confident the other car will get out of the way? Whatever their reason is for not taking their foot off the gas, the Italian guy always wins.

Besides remembering to stay in the right lane except for passing, make sure you use your turn signals every time you need to switch lanes. On Italian highways, you always know the intention of the driver.

You will also find that the highways are sometimes overcrowded with trucks, as it seems that everything moves that way these days. Pass cautiously when you see a caravan, as one is always passing another. Trucks are not allowed on the highways on weekends, but you will see a few. By Sunday evening, it seems that they are all heading somewhere at the same time.

There are a lot of tunnels in Italy. Keep a pair of your prescription glasses handy if you are wearing sunglasses. Some of these tunnels are very long and very dark.

It is law in Italy to carry an International Drivers Permit. This International Driving Permit (IDP) is a document that provides important information from your driver's license in eleven different languages, including English. This document came into existence by virtue of a treaty signed in 1949 by the United States and other foreign countries. As an official document, the IDP is recognized in over 150 countries today. Carried in conjunction with a regular driver's license, the IDP can help break down language barriers when traveling in non-English speaking countries. In addition, the IDP provides an additional source of identification. The IDP is valid on when carried in conjunction with and acts as a translation of a driver's license. If you are traveling in a foreign country and were to be stopped by a law enforcement officer, your U.S. driver's license and IDP should be presented to the officer. There has been a lot of discussion about carrying an International Driver's Permit, but rental car agencies are now being asked by the Italian Government to require it along with a valid driver's license. You can apply online for your International Drivers' Permit.

Plan your trip before you head out of for the day. Directional signs post to the next major town. As an example, if you going from Perugia to Venice you will have to follow the signs to Florence when you set out and then to Bologna and on to Padova where you'll start seeing signs for Venice.

A description of the roads:

  • Autostrada - Toll motorways that are 4 lanes. Look for the green signs with an A proceeding its direction and designated by a bold double line on your map. Make sure to take your ticket when you enter the highway and keep it in a safe place, otherwise you will have to pay for the entire stretch of highway.
  • Superstrada - Non-toll primary roads that are either 2 or 4 lane roads that can connect you from town to town faster than a state road but not as fast as the Autostrada. They are designated by blue signs marked as "SS" or "ss", designated by bold red lines on maps.
  • Strada Stratale - State roads that are usually 2 lanes. Although in good condition, they can slow you down if there is a truck or other slow moving vehicle in front of you. Blue signs also marked as "SS" designated as fine red lines on maps.
  • Strada Provincial - Secondary routes, signs are preceded by a "Prov", can be very windy. Although it will take you longer to get to your destination, these can be very scenic drives. Marked on maps as a yellow line.
  • Strada Bianca - "White Road", that is unpaved and often have no number or sign. Can be very bumpy, but quiet and often leads through some beautiful countryside. The downside is that you have to go very slow, and it's possible to get lost. If you have a very good map, such as the Atlante stradale d'Italia 1:200000 your chances of getting lost will decrease dramatically. This map shows as much detail as you will ever get, down to almost every strada bianca. I never leave home without it. Available at Autogrills and Italian Touring Club of Italy offices/stores.

These are similar to our "rest areas" along major U.S. highways - a combination mini market and diner, only Italian style of course, and much better. Perfect for taking a break from all that driving, to fill up the car, get a bite to eat, use the phone or the restrooms, and stock up on necessities before you arrive at the house. There are different sizes of autogrills, some have complete restaurants and others have just bars with sandwiches. All of them have something for the pantry. Look for the sign with the crossed fork and knife.

Gas is expensive in Italy, but the cars are very efficient. If you are lucky enough to get one of the few diesels, you will go even further. Service stations are open from 7AM to 12:30PM and reopen at 3:00PM to 7:00PM. Closed on Sundays. Except for the autostrada, which are open 24 hours, even, I found out, when they are striking. I am starting to see self-serve at some stations. Usually you have an attendant, where you will ask him "piena per favore" a full tank, please. You will also need to know if your car takes diesel, "gasolio", or "verde" unleaded. Unleaded is really senza piombo, however, Italians are used to saying, verde, (green) which is the color of the pump that dispenses unleaded. It is also customary to tip your attendant .50 or 1 Euro.

If you see a sign that says it is open 24 hours, which means that they have a self pay pump which will take denominations of 5 Euro. Of course, it is best to watch someone do this before you attempt this yourself. Also, check that the nozzle will fit into the gas tank before putting your euro into the pump. I once had a German car and after putting my bill into the required area in the gas pump, found that the nozzle wouldn't fit. I was lucky enough that the guy who pulled up behind me "bought" my gas. These machines do not have a return and some shut down after three failed attempts.

ALWAYS check your rental agreement for the type of fuel your car needs.


Speed limits can vary from 50km/h outside the city to 130km/h on the autostrada. Since the cars seem to zip by faster than the 130km/h, remember to stay in the right lane unless you are passing.

You will find a cardboard clock in your rental car called a disco orario. It looks like the type of clock you use to teach children how to tell time. This is used for limited or metered parking. You will either see a sign stating the number of hours you are allowed to park there, or a blue box with a big P on its side. This box may not be right in front of your parking spot but is shared by the entire street or parking lot. If the parking spot has blue lines or the curb is painted blue, you must find the parking meter, insert the required money in the box and put the receipt on your dashboard along with the disco oriario stating what time you arrived at the parking spot. You've just created your own parking meter, and must return to the car when your time runs out.

There are strict dress codes when visiting churches; please respect the churches as houses of worship before houses of fine art. Arms must be covered and shorts are not allowed and you may be refused admittance. If you are touring in the middle of summer, we suggest keeping a scarf in the car to use for covering your arms. Some churches now charge an entrance fee to help with the expenses. Many churches are dark, so make sure you carry plenty of small change for the automatic lights that illuminate the artwork.

I think a reason "oldies" have always been so popular is that it can bring you back to a moment in time. The sounds, smells and feelings of those times so long ago put you right back in the moment when you hear a song popular at that time. I found that it is also a great way to remember a trip. I always bring along a few CD's that I know I will enjoy. I play them whenever possible, the house, the car, while eating dinner on the terrace with a spectacular view in front of me. A Beautiful Life, Cider House Rules, Dangerous Beauty, and Gladiator are just a few of the CD's that bring me right back to Italy, even when I am sitting at my desk. Every song holds a memory, so bookmark your memories with a soundtrack or two.

Lunch is served from 12:30 to 2:30; dinner is served from 7:30 to 10pm.

Tipping - You will usually see a cover charge - "coperto" for the linen, a bread charge - "panna", along with a service charge, "servizio". This usually covers more than the normal gratuity, but if the service was good, leave a few coins - a euro or two- on the table. Check you menu and your bill as some restaurants are removing these charges in which case you would tip your waiter accordingly. There are no "doggy bags" in Italy. A fact shown in the expression of the Italians if you ask for one. In taxis, round up to the nearest euro, i.e. if the fare is 8,60€ round up to 9,00€. For guides and other service personnel such as the cook or maid, a small tip is always appreciated and appropriate if you feel they were exceptional. For a half day guide, we recommend no more than 20 €.

I love shopping at the small "alimentare". The name means grocery store, but its original definition is "to feed or to nourish" which is a truer definition for me. Being in the restaurant business for so many years, my senses come alive with the sights and smells of these little shops. The alimentare is a must and I enjoy to each specialty shop, the butcher, the baker, the local green grocer. But if you need to stock up for a large group, a trip to the supermercato is a treat for anyone who loves to cook, or eat! It is convenient and interesting to cruise the aisles looking at everything Italy has to offer. I am always in awe of its simple surroundings filled with all the specialties we find at a Dean and DeLuca or Balducci's. When you arrive at the supermarket, make sure you have a 1 Euro coin ready to release a shopping cart from the others that are chained together outside of the store. You will retrieve that euro when you return the cart and lock it back to the others. I always liked this idea. It's so civilized! I think it would solve a lot of runaway carts in our own supermarket parking lots.

You will need to bag your groceries yourself and if you don't bring something to carry it home in you will have to ask for a bag or "borso". You will be charged for these plastic bags, but you can reuse them at home for garbage bags.

Store hours vary, but can be closed Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday. So it's best to stop for essential before you arrive at your house. Hours are changing throughout Italy and it is now possible to grocery shop at some large supermarkets Saturday afternoons and Sundays.

Try not to get too carried away on your first trip to the supermarket. As for me, I feel like a kid in a candy store and find it hard to control myself. I always buy more than we could ever use and end up leaving it behind for the next guests.

Remember that consumables are not included in the rental. We suggest you stop on your way to the rental property for the basics, milk, bread, water, dish soap and toilet paper.

Your lap top can be used in Italy. Check with the manufacturer to see if you need a converter, as most lap tops are now dual and can differentiate between the two currencies. You will need a two prong adapter to plug it into the wall as your outlets most likely will not have a ground plug. We also recommend surge protector just for safety measures.

As for the internet, you will have to have a phone in the home you are renting and you will then have to ask your ISP if it offers service in Europe. Make sure to download the access numbers for Italy and any other instructions you may need.

If you are only dragging your computer to check your email, your best bet is to go to one of the many internet cafes that are springing up all over Italy. For about $6.00 an hour you can check all of your email and surf the net if you are experiencing withdrawal. But if you need your computer for work, God forbid, then feel safe bringing it along and plugging it in. Of course, always check with the manufacture before leaving!

It is Italian law that each merchant must give you a receipt. It is also a law that you must hold on to your receipt and present it should the Guardia Della Finanza (Finance Guard) ask for it. These Finance Guards are similar to our IRS, but are uniformed and found walking on the street. Their job is to make sure that the merchants are reporting all of their sales. They will fine not only the store owner, but the customer.

  • At least one good travel guide
  • English/Italian Dictionary or Phrase book
  • Alarm Clock
  • Umbrella
  • Lightweight Rain jacket with hood
  • Electric converter
  • Book light
  • Flashlight
  • Matches
  • Sewing kit
  • Calculator
  • Slippers or thick socks
  • 2 CD's
  • Bug repellant
  • Ziploc plastic bags
  • 13 gallon garbage bags
  • Coffee bags - For those of you who miss your American cup of coffee, and a cafe Americano just doesn't help. These coffee bags that look like big tea bags will do the trick. Try Folgers or Maxwell House's Cup of Coffee; seal them in a Ziploc plastic bag, they take up hardly any room.