Frommer's Italy (2015)
Terracotta roofs in Lucca.
This chapter provides a variety of planning tools, including information on how to get to Italy, how to get around, and the inside track on local resources.
If you do your homework on special events, pick the right place for the right season, and pack for the climate, preparing for a trip to Italy should be pleasant and uncomplicated. See also “When to Go,” p. 29.
If you’re flying across an ocean, you’ll most likely land at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport (FCO; www.adr.it/fiumicino), 40km (25 miles) from the center, or Milan Malpensa (MXP; www.seamilano.eu), 45km (28 miles) northwest of central Milan. Rome’s much smaller Ciampino Airport (CIA; www.adr.it/ciampino) serves low-cost airlines connecting to European cities and other destinations in Italy. It’s the same story with Milan’s Linate Airport (LIN; www.seamilano.eu). For information on getting to central Rome from its airports, see p. 55; for Milan, see p. 361.
FLYING DIRECTLY TO VENICE, BERGAMO, BOLOGNA, PISA, OR PALERMO
Carriers within Europe fly direct to several smaller Italian cities. Among the most convenient for Italy’s highlights are Venice’s Marco Polo Airport (VCE; www.veniceairport.it), Bergamo’s Orio al Serio Airport (BGY; www.sacbo.it), Bologna’s Marconi Airport (BLQ; www.bologna-airport.it), Pisa’s Galileo Galilei Airport (PSA; www.pisa-airport.com), and Palermo Airport (PMO; www.gesap.it), Sicily.
For information on getting into central Venice from the airport, see p. 147. For reaching Florence from Pisa Airport, see p. 148. Florence is also connected with Bologna Airport, by the Appennino Shuttle (www.appenninoshuttle.it; 348-9999-651). The direct bus runs 10 times each day and the journey takes between 80 and 90 minutes. Tickets cost 25€, 8€ ages 5 to 10, free ages 4 and under; book online ahead of time for a 5€ per passenger discount. Buses arrive at and depart from Piazzale Montelungo, close to Florence’s Santa Maria Novella rail station.
Several services connect Bergamo’s airport with Milan’s Stazione Centrale, including Orioshuttle (www.orioshuttle.com; 035-330-706). The service runs approximately half-hourly all day, a little less frequently on weekends Tickets cost from 4€ if you book online ahead of time.
For information on arriving in Sicily via Palermo’s airport, see p. 500.
Italy’s major cities are well connected to Europe’s rail hubs. You can arrive in Milan on direct trains from France (Nice, Paris, Lyon) by TGV, or from Switzerland, and connect from there to Venice or Florence or Rome (see “Getting Around,” below). Direct trains from central and Eastern Europe arrive at Verona and Venice. TGV services connect France with Turin.
Thello (www.thello.com) also operates an overnight service connecting Paris with Milan and Venice. After crossing the Alps in the dead of night, the train calls at Milan, Brescia, Verona, Vicenza, and Padua, before arriving in Venice around 9:30am. For Florence, Rome, and points south, alight at Milan (around 6am) and switch to Italy’s national high-speed rail lines; see below. Accommodation on the Thello train is in sleeping cars, as well as in six- and four-berth couchettes. Prices range from 35€ per person for the cheapest fare in a six-berth couchette to 275€ for sole occupancy of a sleeping car.
Book in Italy, or in advance with Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com; 800-622-8600) or International Rail (www.internationalrail.com; 0871-231-0790).
Much of Italy is accessible by public transportation, but to explore vineyards, countryside, and smaller towns, a car could save you time. You’ll get the best rental rate if you book your car far ahead of arrival. Try such websites as Kayak.com, CarRentals.co.uk, and Momondo.com to compare prices across multiple rental companies and agents. Car rental search companies usually report the lowest rates being available between 6 and 8 weeks ahead of arrival. Rent the smallest car possible and request a diesel rather than a petrol engine, to minimize fuel costs.
You must be 25 or older to rent from many agencies (although some accept ages 21 and up, at a premium price).
The legalities and contractual obligations of renting a car in Italy (where accident rates are high) are more complicated than those in almost any other country in Europe. You must have nerves of steel, a sense of humor, and a valid driver’s license or International Driver’s Permit. Insurance on all vehicles is compulsory.
Note: If you’re planning to rent a car in Italy during high season, you should book well in advance. It’s not unusual to arrive at the airport in Rome in June or July to find that every agent is all out of cars, perhaps for the whole week.
It can sometimes be tricky to get to the autostrada (fast highway) from the city center or airport, so consider renting or bringing a GPS-enabled device. In bigger cities you will first have to get to the tangenziale, or “beltway,” which will eventually lead to your highway of choice. The beltway in Rome is known as the Grande Raccordo Anulare, or “Big Ring Road.”
The going can be slow almost anywhere, especially on Friday afternoons leaving the cities and Sunday nights on the way back into town, and rush hour around the cities any day of the week can be epic. Driving for a day or so either side of the busy ferragosto (August 15) holiday is to be avoided at all costs. See www.autostrade.it for live traffic updates and a road-toll calculator.
Autostrada tolls can get expensive, costing approximately 1€ for every 15km (10 miles), which means that it would cost about 18€ for a trip from Rome to Florence. Add in the high price of fuel (averaging over 1.75€ per liter at time of writing) and car rental, and it’s often cheaper to take the train, even for two people.
Before leaving home, you can apply for an International Driving Permit from the American Automobile Association (www.aaa.com; 800/622-7070 or 650/294-7400). In Canada, the permit’s available from the Canadian Automobile Association (www.caa.ca; 416/221-4300). Technically, you need this permit and your actual driver’s license to drive in Italy, though in practice your license itself often suffices. Visitors from within the EU need only take their domestic driver’s license.
Italy’s equivalent of AAA is the Automobile Club d’Italia (ACI; www.aci.it). They’re the people who respond when you place an emergency call to 803-116 ( 800-116-800 from a non-Italian cellphone) for road breakdowns, though they do charge for this service if you’re not a member.
DRIVING RULES Italian drivers aren’t maniacs; they only appear to be. Spend any time on a highway and you will have the experience of somebody driving up insanely close from behind, headlights flashing. Take a deep breath and don’t panic: This is the aggressive signal for you to move to the right so he (invariably, it’s a “he”) can pass, and until you do he will stay mind-bogglingly close. On a two-lane road, the idiot passing someone in the opposing traffic who has swerved into your lane expects you to veer obligingly over into the shoulder so three lanes of traffic can fit—he would do the same for you. Probably. Many Italians seem to think that blinkers are optional, so be aware that the car in front could be getting ready to turn at any moment.
Autostrade are toll highways, denoted by green signs and a number prefaced with an A, like the A1 from Milan to Florence, Rome, and Naples. A few fast highways aren’t numbered and are simply called a raccordo, a connecting road between two cities (such as Florence-Siena and Florence-Pisa).
Strade statali (singular is strada statale) are state roads, sometimes without a center divider and two lanes wide (although sometimes they can be a divided four-way highway), indicated by blue signs. Their route numbers are prefaced with an SS, as in the SS11 from Milan to Venice. On signs, however, these official route numbers are used infrequently. Usually, you’ll just see blue signs listing destinations by name with arrows pointing off in the appropriate directions. It’s impossible to predict which of all the towns that lie along a road will be the ones chosen to list on a particular sign. Sometimes the sign gives only the first minuscule village that lies past the turnoff. At other times it lists the first major town down that road. Some signs mention only the major city the road eventually leads to, even if it’s hundreds of kilometers away. It pays to study the map before coming to an intersection, to carry a GPS device, or to download an offline GPS app for your smartphone. The strade statali can be frustratingly slow due to traffic, traffic lights, and the fact that they bisect countless towns: When available, pay for the autostrada.
The speed limit on roads in built-up areas around towns and cities is 50 kmph (31 mph). On two-lane roads it’s 90 kmph (56 mph) and on the highway its 130 kmph (81 mph). Italians have an astounding disregard for these limits. However, police can ticket you and collect the fine on the spot. The blood-alcohol limit in Italy is .05%, often achieved with just two drinks; driving above the limit can result in a fine of up to 6,000€, a driving ban, or imprisonment. The blood-alcohol limit is set at zero for anyone who has held a driver’s license for under 3 years.
Safety belts are obligatory in both the front and the back seats; ditto child seats or special restraints for minors under 1.5 meters (5 ft.) in height—though this latter regulation is often ignored. Drivers may not use a handheld cellphone while driving—yet another law that locals seem to consider optional.
PARKING On streets, white lines indicate free public spaces, blue lines are pay public spaces, and yellow lines mean only residents are allowed to park. Meters don’t line the sidewalk; rather, there’s one machine on the block where you punch in coins corresponding to how long you want to park. The machine spits out a ticket that you leave on your dashboard.
If you park in an area marked parcheggio disco orario, root around in your rental car’s glove compartment for a cardboard parking disc (or buy one at a gas station). With this device, you dial up the hour of your arrival and display it on your dashboard. You’re allowed un’ora (1 hr.) or due ore (2 hr.), according to the sign. If you do not have a disk, write your arrival time clearly on a sheet of paper and leave it on the dash.
Parking lots have ticket dispensers, but exit booths are not usually manned. When you return to the lot to depart, first visit the office or automated payment machine to exchange your ticket for a paid receipt or token, which you will then use to get through the exit gate.
ROAD SIGNS A speed limit sign is a black number inside a red circle on a white background. The end of a speed zone is just black and white, with a black slash through the number. A red circle with a white background, a black arrow pointing down, and a red arrow pointing up means yield to oncoming traffic, while a point-down red-and-white triangle means yield ahead.
Many city centers are closed to traffic and a simple white circle with a red border, or the words zona pedonale or zona traffico limitato, denotes a pedestrian zone (you can sometimes drive through to drop off baggage at your hotel); a white arrow on a blue background is used for Italy’s many one-way streets; a mostly red circle with a horizontal white slash means do not enter. Any image in black on a white background surrounded by a red circle means that image is not allowed (for instance, if the image is two cars next to each other, it means no passing; a motorcycle means no Harleys permitted; and so on). A circular sign in blue with a red circle-slash means no parking.
Gasoline (gas or petrol), benzina, can be found in pull-in gas stations along major roads and on the outskirts of town, as well as in 24-hour stations along the autostrada. Almost all stations are closed for the riposo and on Sundays (except for those on the autostrade), but the majority has a machine that accepts cash. Unleaded gas is senza piombo. Diesel is gasolio.
Italy, especially the northern half, has one of the best train systems in Europe with most destinations connected—the train is an excellent option if you’re looking to visit the major sites without the hassle of driving. The vast majority of lines are run by the state-owned Ferrovie dello Stato, or FS (www.trenitalia.com; 89-20-21). A private operator, Italo (www.italotreno.it; 06-07-08) operates on the Turin-Milan-Florence-Rome-Naples-Salerno high-speed line, and the branch from Bologna northward to Padua and Venice.
The travel times and the prices of the tickets vary considerably depending on what type of train you are traveling on. The country’s principal north-south high-speed line links Turin and Milan to Bologna, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Salerno. Milan to Rome, for example, takes under 3 hours on the quick train, and costs 86€—though you can find tickets as low as 19€ if you buy ahead and travel in off-peak hours. Rome to Naples takes 70 minutes and costs 43€ (walk-up fare) on the fast train, or you can spend 12€ for a trip on a slower train that takes just over twice as long.
Travel Times Between the Major Cities
The speed, cleanliness, and overall quality of trains vary enormously. Prima classe (first class) is usually only a shade better than seconda classe (second class), and the only real benefits of first class come if you’re traveling overnight or the train is overcrowded and there are seats available only in first class. High-speed trains have four classes (Standard, Premium, Business, and Executive); the cheapest of these is perfectly comfortable, even on long legs of a journey.
The Frecciarossa is the nicest of the nice and the fastest of the fast (Italy’s bullet train). It operates on the Turin-Milan-Florence-Rome-Naples line, and runs up to 300 kmph (186 mph). The Frecciargento uses similar hardware, but is a bit slower; it links Naples, Rome, Florence, Verona, and Venice at speeds of up to 250 kmph (155 mph). With a maximum speed of 200 kmph (124 mph), the Frecciabianca links Milan and Turin with Venice and cities down the Adriatic coastline as far as Italy’s heel. It also connects Rome and Genoa in just over 31⁄2 hours. They are all sometimes generically called Eurostar (ES) or Le Frecce. Speed and cleanliness come at a price, with tickets for the high-speed trains usually costing around three times the slower regional train. With Le Frecce you must make a seat reservation when you buy a ticket. If you are traveling with a rail pass (see below), you must pay a 10€ supplementary fee to ride them and reserve a seat.
Intercity (IC) trains are one step down, both in speed and in comfort, but are a valid option and are unlikely to provide any shocks. The slower Regionale (R) and Regionale Veloce (RV) make many stops and can sometimes be on the grimy side of things, but they are also ridiculously cheap: A Venice-Verona second-class ticket will put you back only 7.60€ compared with 23€ on the high-speed service. Old Regionale rolling stock is slowly being replaced.
Overcrowding is often a problem on standard services (that is, not the pre-bookable high-speed trains) Friday evenings, weekends, and holidays, especially in and out of big cities, or just after a strike. In summer, the crowding escalates, and any train going toward a beach in August bulges like an overstuffed sausage.
When buying a regular ticket, ask for either andata (one-way) or andata e ritorno (round-trip). If the train you plan to take is an ES or IC, ask for the ticket con supplemento rapido (with speed supplement) to avoid on-train penalty charges. The best way to avoid presenting yourself on the train with the wrong ticket is to tell the person at the ticket window exactly what train you are going to take, for example, “the 11:30am train for Venice.”
If you don’t have a ticket with a reservation for a particular seat on a specific train, then you must validate you ticket by stamping it in the little yellow box on the platform before boarding the train. If you board a train without the correct ticket, or without having validated your ticket, you’ll have to pay a hefty fine on top of the ticket or supplement, which the conductor will sell you. If you knowingly board a train without a ticket or realize once onboard that you have the wrong type of ticket, your best bet is to search out the conductor, who is likely to be more forgiving because you found him and made it clear you weren’t trying to ride for free.
Schedules for all trains leaving a given station are printed on yellow posters tacked up on the station wall (a similar white poster lists all the arrivals). These are good for getting general information, but keep your eye on the electronic boards and television screens that are updated with delays and track (binario) changes. You can also get official schedules (and more train information, also in English) and buy tickets at www.trenitalia.com.
In the big cities (especially Milan and Rome) and the tourist destinations (above all Venice and Florence), ticketing lines can be dreadfully long. There is a solution though: automatic ticket machines. They are easy to navigate, allow you to follow instructions in English, accept cash and credit cards, and can save your life by cutting down on the stress that comes with waiting on an interminably slow line. Note: You can’t buy international tickets at automatic machines.
Stations tend to be well run, with luggage storage facilities at all but the smallest and usually a good bar attached that serves surprisingly palatable food. If you pull into a dinky town with a shed-size station, find the nearest bar or tabacchi, and the man behind the counter will most likely sell tickets.
SPECIAL PASSES & DISCOUNTS To buy the Eurail Italy Pass, available only outside Italy and priced in U.S. dollars, contact Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com). You have 2 months in which to use the train a set number of days; the base number of days is 3, and you can add up to 7 more. For adults, the first-class pass costs $309, second class is $252. Additional days cost $30 to $35 more for first class, roughly $25 for second class. For youth tickets (25 and under), a 3-day pass is $206 and additional days about $20 each. Saver passes are available for groups of two to five people traveling together at all times, and amount to a savings of about 15% on individual tickets.
There are also Italy-Greece, Italy-Spain, and Italy-France rail pass combinations.
When it comes to regular tickets, if you’re 25 and under, you can buy a 40€ Carta Verde (Green Card) at any Italian train station. This gets you a 10% break on domestic trips and 25% off international connections for 1 year. Present it each time you buy a ticket. An even better deal is available for anyone 61 and over with the Carta d’Argento (Silver Card): 15% off domestic and 25% off international, for 30€ (the Carta d’Argento is free for those 76 and over). Children 11 and under ride half-price while kids under 4 don’t pay, although they also do not have the right to their own seat.
Although trains are quicker and easier, you can get just about anywhere on a network of local, provincial, and regional bus lines. Keep in mind that in smaller towns, buses exist mainly to shuttle workers and schoolchildren, so the most runs are on weekdays, early in the morning, and usually again in midafternoon.
In a big city, the bus station for trips between cities is usually near the main train station. A small town’s bus stop is usually either in the main square, on the edge of town, or the bend in the road just outside the main town gate. You should always try to find the local ticket vendor—if there’s no office, it’s invariably the nearest newsstand or tabacchi (signaled by a sign with a white T), or occasionally a bar—but you can usually also buy tickets on the bus. You can sometimes flag down a bus as it passes on a country road, but try to find an official stop (a small sign tacked onto a telephone pole). Tell the driver where you’re going and ask him courteously if he’ll let you know when you need to get off. When he says, “È la prossima fermata,” that means yours is the next stop. “Posso scendere?” (Poh-so shen-dair-ay?) is “Can I get off?”
For details on urban bus transportation, see individual chapters. Perhaps the only long-distance bus you will want to take while you are in Italy is the efficient Florence-Siena service and slightly more awkward Florence-San Gimignano run. See “Siena,” p. 204, and “San Gimignano,” p. 221.
These days, the only internal air connection you will want to make is to the island of Sicily. From Milan, easyJet (www.easyjet.com) and Alitalia (www.alitalia.com) connect Malpensa Airport with both Palermo and Catania. Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) connects Bergamo with Palermo, Trapani, and Catania. Multiple Rome to Sicily routes are operated by Alitalia, easyJet, Blu-express (www.blu-express.com), Meridiana (www.meridiana.it), and Ryanair. Alitalia, Volotea (www.volotea.com), and Air One (www.flyairone.com) operate direct flights between Venice and Palermo. Volotea and Air One fly Venice-Catania.
Area Codes The country code for Italy is 39. Former city codes (for example, Florence 055, Venice 041, Milan 02, Rome 06) are incorporated into the numbers themselves. Therefore, you must dial the entire number, including the initial zero, when calling from anywhere outside or inside Italy and even within the same town. For example, to call Milan from the United States, you must dial 011-39-02, then the local phone number. Phone numbers in Italy can range anywhere from 6 to 12 digits in length.
Business Hours, Banks & ATMs General open hours for stores, offices, and churches are from 9:30am to noon or 1pm and again from 3 or 3:30pm to 7:30 or 8pm. The early afternoon shutdown is the riposo, the Italian siesta (in the downtown area of large cities, stores don’t close for the riposo). Most stores close all day Sunday and many also on Monday (morning only or all day). Some services and business offices are open to the public only in the morning.
Traditionally, state museums are closed Mondays. Most of the large museums stay open all day long otherwise, though some close for riposo or are only open in the morning (9am-2pm is popular). Some churches open earlier in the morning, and the largest often stay open all day, though the last hour or so of opening is usually taken up with a service, and tourist visits are frowned upon. Banks tend to be open Monday through Friday 8:30am to 1:30pm and 2:45 to 4:15pm.
The easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine), referred to in Italy as a bancomat. ATMs are prevalent in Italian cities and while every town usually has one, it’s good practice to fuel up on cash in urban centers before traveling to villages or rural areas.
Be sure to confirm with your bank that your card is valid for international withdrawal and that you have a four-digit PIN. (Some ATMs in Italy will not accept any other number of digits.) Also, be sure you know your daily withdrawal limit before you depart. Note: Many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank’s ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than for domestic ones. In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee, although this is not common practice in Italy.
If at the ATM you get an on-screen message saying your card isn’t valid for international transactions, don’t panic: It’s most likely the bank just can’t make the phone connection to check it (occasionally this can be a citywide epidemic). Try another ATM or another town.
Customs Foreign visitors can bring along most items for personal use duty-free, including merchandise valued up to $800.
Disabled Travelers A few of the top museums and churches have installed ramps at their entrances, and several hotels have converted first-floor rooms into accessible units. Other than that, you may not find parts of Italy easy to tackle. Builders in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance didn’t have wheelchairs or mobility impairments in mind when they built narrow doorways and spiral staircases, and preservation laws keep Italians from being able to do much about this in some areas.
Some buses and trains can cause problems as well, with high, narrow doors and steep steps at entrances—though the situation on public transportation is improving. For those with disabilities who can make it on to buses and trains, there are usually seats reserved for them, and Italians are quick to give up their space for somebody who looks like they need it more than them.
Accessible Italy (www.accessibleitaly.com; 378-0549-941-111) provides travelers with info about accessible tourist sites and places to rent wheelchairs, and also sells or-ganized “Accessible Tours” around Italy. Disabled travelers should call Trenitalia ( 199-303060)for assistance on the rail network.
Doctors & Hospitals See individual chapters for details of emergency rooms and walk-in medical services.
Drinking Laws People of any age can legally consume alcohol in Italy, but a person must be 16 years old in order to be served alcohol in a restaurant or a bar. Noise is the primary concern to city officials, and so bars generally close around 2am, though alcohol is commonly served in clubs after that. Supermarkets carry beer, wine, and spirits.
Electricity Italy operates on a 220-volt AC (50 cycles) system, as opposed to the U.S. 110-volt AC (60 cycles) system. You’ll need a simple adapter plug to make the American flat pegs fit the Italian round holes and, unless your appliance is dual-voltage (as some hair dryers, travel irons, and almost all laptops are), an electrical currency converter. You can pick up the hardware at electronics stores, travel specialty stores, luggage shops, and airports.
Embassies & Consulates The Australian Embassy is in Rome at Via Antonio Bosio 5 (www.italy.embassy.gov.au; 06-852-721). The Australian Consulate-General is in Milan at Via Borgogna 2 ( 02-7767-4200).
The Canadian Embassy is in Rome at Via Zara 30 (www.italy.gc.ca; 06-854-443-937). The Canadian Consulate is in Milan at Piazza Cavour 3 ( 02-6269-4238).
The New Zealand Embassy (www.nzembassy.com/italy; 06-853-7501) is in Rome at Via Clitunno 44. The New Zealand Consulate General is in Milan at Via Terraggio 17 ( 02-721-70001).
The U.K. Embassy (http://ukinitaly.fco.gov.uk/it; 06-4220-0001) is in Rome at Via XX Settembre 80a. The British Consulate-General is in Milan at Via San Paolo 7 ( 02-7230-0237).
The U.S. Embassy is in Rome at Via Vittorio Veneto 121 (http://italy.usembassy.gov; 06-46-741). There are also U.S. Consulates General in Florence, at Lungarno Vespucci 38 (http://florence.usconsulate.gov; 055-266-951); in Milan, at Via Principe Amedeo 2/10 (http://milan.usconsulate.gov; 02-290-351); and in Naples, in Piazza della Repubblica (http://naples.usconsulate.gov; 081-583-8111).
Emergencies The best number to call in Italy (and the rest of Europe) with a general emergency is 112, which connects you to the carabinieri who will transfer your call as needed. For the police, dial 113; for a medical emergency and to call an ambulance, the number is 118; for the fire department, call 115. If your car breaks down, dial 116 for roadside aid courtesy of the Automotive Club of Italy. All are free calls, but roadside assistance is a paid-for service for nonmembers.
Family Travel Italy is a family-oriented society. A crying baby at a dinner table is greeted with a knowing smile rather than with a stern look. Children almost always receive discounts, and maybe a special treat from the waiter, but the availability of such accoutrements as child seats for cars and dinner tables is more the exception than the norm. (The former, however, is a legal requirement: Be sure to ask a rental car company to provide them.) There are plenty of parks, offbeat museums, markets, ice-cream parlors, and vibrant street-life scenes to amuse even the youngest children. Child discounts apply on public transportation, and at public and private museums. Prénatal (www.prenatal.com) is the premier toddler and baby chain store in Italy.
Health You won’t encounter any special health risks by visiting Italy. The country’s public health care system is generally well regarded. The richer north tends to have better hospitals than the south.
Italy offers universal health care to its citizens and those of other European Union countries (U.K. nationals should remember to carry an EHIC: See www.nhs.uk/ehic). Others should be prepared to pay medical bills upfront. Before leaving home, find out what medical services your health insurance covers. Note: Even if you don’t have insurance, you will always be treated in an emergency room.
Pharmacies offer essentially the same range of generic drugs available in the United States and internationally. Pharmacies are ubiquitous (look for the green cross) and serve almost like miniclinics, where pharmacists diagnose and treat minor ailments, like flu symptoms and general aches and pains, with over-the-counter drugs. Carry the generic name of any prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name. Pharmacies in cities take turns doing the night shift; normally there is a list posted at the entrance of each pharmacy informing customers which pharmacy is open each night of the week.
Insurance Italy may be one of the safer places you can travel in the world, but accidents and setbacks can and do happen, from lost luggage to car crashes. For information on traveler’s insurance, trip cancellation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, please visit www.frommers.com/tips.
Internet Access Internet cafes are in healthy supply in most Italian cities, though don’t expect to find them in every small town. If you’re traveling with your own computer or smartphone, you’ll find wireless access in many hotels, but if this is essential for your stay make sure you ask before booking and certainly don’t expect to find a connection in a rural agriturismo (disconnecting from the 21st century is part of their appeal, after all). In a pinch, hostels, local libraries, and some bars will have some sort of terminal for access. Several spots around Venice, Florence, Rome, and other big cities are covered with free Wi-Fi access provided by the local administration, but at these and any other Wi-Fi spots around Italy, anti-terrorism laws make it obligatory to register for an access code before you can log on. Take your passport or other photo ID when you go looking for an Internet point. Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport offers wireless Internet access for a fee. Florence’s discount Firenze Card (p. 173) comes with 72 hours of free city Wi-Fi included.
Internet Train (www.internettrain.it) is a national franchise chain with Internet points in Rome, Florence, Verona, Pisa, and elsewhere in Italy.
LGBT Travelers Italy as a whole, and northern Italy in particular, is gay-friendly. Homosexuality is legal, and the age of consent is 16. Italians are generally more affectionate and physical than North Americans in all their friendships, and even straight men occasionally walk down the street with their arms around each other—however, kissing anywhere other than on the cheeks at greetings and goodbyes will draw attention. As you might expect, smaller towns tend to be less permissive than cities.
Italy’s national associations and support networks for gays and lesbians are ARCI-Gay and ArciLesbica. The national websites are www.arcigay.it and www.arcilesbica.it, and most sizable cities have a local office (although not Venice). In Verona, the office is at Via Nichesola 9 (www.arcigayverona.org; 346-979-0553); in Milan, Via Bezzecca 3 (www.arcigaymilano.it; 02-5412-2225); and in Rome, Via Zabaglia 14 (www.arcigayroma.it; 06-6450-1102). See www.arcigay.it/comitati for a searchable directory.
Mail & Postage Sending a postcard or letter up to 20 grams, or a little less than an ounce, costs .85€ to other European countries, 2€ to North America, and a whopping 2.50€ to Australia and New Zealand. Full details on Italy’s postal services are available at www.poste.it (some in English).
Mobile Phones GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) is a cellphone technology used by most of the world’s countries that makes it possible to turn on a phone with a contract based in Australia, Ireland, the U.K., Pakistan, or almost every other corner of the world and have it work in Italy without missing a beat. (In the U.S., service providers like Sprint and Verizon use a different technology—CDMA—and phones on those networks won’t work in Italy unless they also have GSM compatibility.)
Also, if you are coming from the U.S. or Canada, you may need a multiband phone. All travelers should activate “international roaming” on their account, so check with your home service provider before leaving.
But—and it’s a big but—using roaming can be very expensive, especially if you access the Internet on your phone. It is much cheaper, once you arrive, to buy an Italian SIM card (the fingernail-size removable plastic card found in all GSM phones that is encoded with your phone number). This is not difficult, and is an especially good idea if you will be in Italy for more than a week. You can buy a SIM card at one of the many cellphone shops you will pass in every city. The main service providers are TIM, Vodafone, Wind, and 3 (Tre). If you have an Italian SIM card in your phone, local calls may be as low as .10€ per minute, and incoming calls are free. Prepaid data packages are available for each, as are micro- and nano-SIMs, as well as prepaid deals for iPads and other tablets. If you need 4G data speeds, you will pay a little more. Not every network allows tethering—be sure to ask if you need it. Deals on each network change regularly; for the latest see the website of one of this guide’s authors: www.donaldstrachan.com/dataroamingitaly. Note: Contract cellphones are often “locked” and will only work with a SIM card provided by the service provider back home, so check to see that you have an unlocked phone.
Buying a phone is another option, and you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding one for about 30€. Use it, then recycle it or eBay it when you get home. It will save you a fortune versus alternatives such as roaming or using hotel room telephones.
Money & Costs Frommer’s lists exact prices in the local currency. The currency conversions quoted below were correct at press time. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing, consult a currency exchange website, such as www.oanda.com/convert/classic, to check up-to-the-minute rates.
THE VALUE OF THE EURO VS. OTHER POPULAR CURRENCIES
Like many European countries, Italy uses the euro as its currency. Euro coins are issued in denominations of .01€, .02€, .05€, .10€, .20€, and .50€, as well as 1€ and 2€; bills come in denominations of 5€, 10€, 20€, 50€, 100€, 200€, and 500€.
The aggressive evolution of international computerized banking and consolidated ATM networks has led to the triumph of plastic throughout the Italian peninsula—even if cold cash is still the most trusted currency, especially in small towns and mom-and-pop joints, where credit cards may not be accepted. Traveler’s checks have gone the way of the Stegosaurus.
You’ll get the best rate if you exchange money at a bank or one of its ATMs. The rates at “Cambio/change/wechsel” exchange booths are invariably less favorable but still better than what you’d get exchanging money at a hotel or shop (a last-resort tactic only). The bill-to-bill changers have largely disappeared from touristy places, and anyway existed solely to rip you off.
Credit cards are widely accepted in urban Italy, especially in hotels and large establishments. However, it is always a good idea to carry some cash, as small businesses may accept only cash or may claim that their credit card machine is broken to avoid paying fees to the card companies.
Visa and MasterCard are almost universally accepted. Some businesses also take American Express, especially at the higher end, but few take Diners Club.
WHAT THINGS COST IN ROME (HOTEL PRICES ARE HIGH SEASON)
Finally, be sure to let your bank know that you will be traveling abroad to avoid having your card blocked after a few days of big purchases far from home. Note: Many banks assess a 1% to 3% “transaction fee” on all charges you incur abroad (whether you’re using the local currency or your native currency).
Newspapers & Magazines The “International New York Times” and “USA Today” are available at most newsstands in the big cities, and sometimes even in smaller towns. You can find the “Wall Street Journal Europe,” European editions of “Time,” the “Economist,” and most of the major European newspapers and magazines at the larger kiosks in the bigger cities.
Police For emergencies, call 112 or 113. Italy has several different police forces, but there are only two you’ll most likely ever need to deal with. The first is the carabinieri ( 112) who normally only concern themselves with serious crimes, but point you in the right direction. The polizia ( 113), whose city headquarters is called the questura, is the place to go for help with lost and stolen property or petty crimes.
Safety Italy is a remarkably safe country. The worst threats you’ll likely face are the pickpockets who sometimes frequent touristy areas and public buses; keep your hands on your camera at all times and your valuables in an under-the-clothes money belt or inside zip-pocket. Don’t leave anything valuable in a rental car overnight, and leave nothing visible in it at any time. If you are robbed, you can fill out paperwork at the nearest police station (questura), but this is mostly for insurance purposes and perhaps to get a new passport issued—don’t expect them to spend any resources hunting down the perpetrator. In general, avoid public parks at night. The areas around rail stations are often unsavory, but rarely worse than that. Otherwise, there’s a real sense of personal security for travelers to Italy.
Senior Travel Seniors and older people are treated with a great deal of respect and deference, but there are few specific programs, associations, or concessions made for them. The one exception is on admission prices for museums and sights, where those ages 60 or 65 and older will often get in at a reduced rate or even free. There are also special train passes and reductions on bus tickets and the like in many towns (see “Getting Around,” p. 545). As a senior in Italy, you’re un anziano or if you’re a woman, un’anziana, “elderly”—it’s a term of respect, and you should let people know you’re one if you think a discount may be in order.
Smoking Smoking has been eradicated from restaurants, bars, and most hotels, so smokers tend to take outside tables at bars and restaurants. If you’re keen for an alfresco table, you are essentially choosing a seat in the smoking section; requesting that your neighbor not smoke may not be politely received.
Student Travelers An International Student Identity Card (ISIC) qualifies students for savings on rail passes, plane tickets, entrance fees, and more. The card is valid for 1 year. You can apply for the card online at www.myisic.com or in person at STA Travel (www.statravel.com; 800/781-4040 in North America). If you’re no longer a student but are still 26 and under, you can get an International Youth Travel Card (IYTC) and an International Teacher Identity Card (ITIC) from the same agency, which entitles you to some discounts. Students will also find that many university cities offer ample student discounts and inexpensive youth hostels.
Taxes There’s no sales tax added onto the price tag of purchases in Italy, but there is a 22% value-added tax (in Italy: IVA) automatically included in just about everything except basic foodstuffs like milk and bread. Entertainment, transport, hotels, and dining are among a group of goods taxed at a lower rate of 10%. For major purchases, you can get IVA refunded. Several cities have also introduced an accommodation tax. For example, in Florence, you will be charged 1€ per person per night per government-star rating of the hotel, up to a maximum of 10 nights; kids under 10 are exempt. Venice, Rome, and several other cities and provinces also operate taxes. This tax is not usually included in any published room rate. Each operates slightly differently; see the destination chapters for details.
Tipping In hotels, a service charge is usually included in your bill. In family-run operations, additional tips are unnecessary and sometimes considered rude. In fancier places with a hired staff, however, you may want to leave a .50€ daily tip for the maid and pay the bellhop or porter 1€ per bag. In restaurants, a 1€ to 3€ per person “cover charge” is automatically added to the bill and in some tourist areas, especially Venice, another 10 to 15% is tacked on (except in the most unscrupulous of places, this will be noted on the menu somewhere; to be sure you can ask, è incluso il servizio?). It is not necessary to leave any extra money on the table, though it is not uncommon to leave up to 5€, especially for good service. Locals generally leave nothing. At bars and cafes, you can leave something very small on the counter for the barman (maybe 1€ if you have had several drinks), though it is not expected; there is no need to leave anything extra if you sit at a table, as they are probably already charging you double or triple the price you’d have paid standing at the bar. It is not necessary to tip taxi drivers, though it is common to round up the bill to the nearest euro or two.
Toilets Aside from train stations, where they cost about .50€ to use, and gas/petrol stations, where they are free (with perhaps a basket seeking donations), public toilets are few and far between. Standard procedure is to enter a cafe, make sure the bathroom is not fuori servizio (out of order), and then order a cup of coffee before bolting to the facilities. In Venice, the price of using a toilet is a little steeper: about 1.50€ in the major squares and parking garages, and they usually close at 8pm. It is advisable to always make use of the facilities in the hotel, restaurant, museum, or bar before a long walk around town.
Websites Following are some of our favorites site to help you plan your trip: www.italia.it/en is the official English-language tourism portal for visiting Italy; www.theromedigest.com, covers the best dining, drinking, and food shopping in Rome; www.arttrav.com is good for cultural travel, exhibitions, and openings, especially in Florence and Tuscany; www.summerinitaly.com/planning/strike.asp provides current details on the latest transport strikes; www.prezzibenzina.it finds the cheapest fuel close to your accommodations or destination; www.ansa.it gets you national and international news, partly in English; and, naturally, www.frommers.com/destinations/Italy, for more of our expert advice on the country.