PRACTICALITIES - Abraham Lincoln - James M. McPherson

Rick Steves Rome 2016 - Rick Steves, Gene Openshaw (2015)

PRACTICALITIES

This chapter covers the practical skills of European travel: how to get tourist information, pay for things, sightsee efficiently, find good-value accommodations, eat affordably but well, use technology wisely, and get between destinations smoothly. To study ahead and round out your knowledge, check out “Resources.”

Tourist Information

The Italian national tourist offices in the US offer many brochures and a free, general Italy guide. Before your trip, scan their website (www.italia.it) for downloadable materials or contact the nearest branch to request information. If you have a specific problem, they’re a good source of sympathy (New York: Tel. 212/245-5618, newyork@enit.it; Chicago: Tel. 312/644-0996, chicago@enit.it; Los Angeles: Tel. 310/820-1898, losangeles@enit.it).

In Rome, a good first stop is generally the tourist information office (abbreviated TI in this book). Be aware that TIs are in business to help you enjoy spending money in their town. (Once upon a time, they were actually information services, but today some have become ad agencies masquerading as TIs.) While this corrupts much of their advice—and you can get plenty of information online—I still make a point to swing by the local TI upon arrival in a new town.

Even if they are overly commercial, TIs continue to be good places to confirm opening times, pick up a city map, and get information on public transit (including bus and train schedules), walking tours, special events, and nightlife. The TI’s call center has English speakers and can answer most questions over the phone. Dial 06-0608 (answered daily 9:00-21:00, press 2 for English, www.060608.it). While Italian TIs are about half as helpful as those in other countries, their information is twice as important. Prepare a list of questions and a proposed plan to double-check.

Many TI offices and kiosks are scattered throughout Rome. You’ll find them listed on here; www.turismoroma.it).

Travel Tips

Emergency and Medical Help: In Italy, dial 113 for English-speaking police help. To summon an ambulance, call 118. If you get sick, do as the locals do and go to a pharmacist for advice. Or ask at your hotel for help—they’ll know the nearest medical and emergency services.

Theft or Loss: To replace a passport, you’ll need to go in person to an embassy (see here). If your credit and debit cards disappear, cancel and replace them (see “Damage Control for Lost Cards” on here). File a police report, either on the spot or within a day or two; you’ll need it to submit an insurance claim for lost or stolen rail passes or travel gear, and it can help with replacing your passport or credit and debit cards. For more information, see www.ricksteves.com/help. To minimize the effects of loss, back up your digital photos frequently.

Time Zones: Italy, like most of continental Europe, is generally six/nine hours ahead of the East/West Coasts of the US. The exceptions are the beginning and end of Daylight Saving Time: Europe “springs forward” the last Sunday in March (two weeks after most of North America), and “falls back” the last Sunday in October (one week before North America). For a handy online time converter, see www.timeanddate.com/worldclock.

Business Hours: Traditionally, Italy uses the siesta plan. People generally work from about 9:00 to 13:00 and from 15:30 or 16:00 to 19:00 or 19:30, Monday through Saturday, although in tourist areas, shops are open through lunch. Many businesses have adopted the government’s recommended 8:00 to 14:00 workday. Stores are usually closed on Sundays, summer Saturday afternoons, and winter Monday mornings. Banking hours are generally Monday through Friday 8:30 to 13:30 and 15:30 to 16:30, but can vary wildly.

Saturdays are virtually weekdays, with earlier closing hours. Sundays have the same pros and cons as they do in the US: Sightseeing attractions are generally open, while shops and banks are closed, public transportation options are fewer (for example, no bus service to or from the smaller towns), and there’s no rush hour. Friday and Saturday evenings are rowdy; Sunday evenings are quiet.

Watt’s Up? Europe’s electrical system is 220 volts, instead of North America’s 110 volts. Most newer electronics (such as laptops, battery chargers, and hair dryers) convert automatically, so you won’t need a converter, but you will need an adapter plug with two round prongs, sold inexpensively at travel stores in the US. Avoid bringing older appliances that don’t automatically convert voltage; instead, buy a cheap replacement in Europe.

Discounts: Discounts are not listed in this book. However, many sights offer discounts or free admission for youths (up to age 18), students (with proper identification cards, www.isic.org), families, seniors (loosely defined as retirees or those willing to call themselves a senior), and groups of 10 or more. Always ask. Italy’s national museums generally offer free admission to children under 18, but some discounts are available only for citizens of the European Union (EU).

Online Translation Tips: You can use Google’s Chrome browser (available free at www.google.com/chrome) to instantly translate websites. With one click, the page appears in (very rough) English translation. You can also paste the URL of the site into the translation window at www.google.com/translate. The Google Translate app converts spoken English into most European languages (and vice versa) and can also translate text it “reads” with your mobile device’s camera.

Money

This section offers advice on how to pay for purchases on your trip (including getting cash from ATMs and paying with plastic), dealing with lost or stolen cards, VAT (sales tax) refunds, and tipping.

WHAT TO BRING

Bring both a credit card and a debit card. You’ll use the debit card at cash machines (ATMs) to withdraw local cash for most purchases, and the credit card to pay for larger items. Some travelers carry a third card, in case one gets demagnetized or eaten by a temperamental machine.

For an emergency stash, bring several hundred dollars in hard cash in $20 bills. If you have to exchange the bills, go to a bank; avoid using currency-exchange booths because of their lousy rates and/or outrageous (and often hard-to-spot) fees.

Exchange Rate

1 euro (€)=about $1.10

To convert prices in euros to dollars, add about 10 percent: €20=about $22, €50=about $55. (Check www.oanda.com for the latest exchange rates.) Just like the dollar, one euro is broken down into 100 cents. Coins range from €0.01 to €2, and bills from €5 to €500 (bills over €50 are rarely used).

CASH

Cash is just as desirable in Europe as it is at home. Small businesses (mom-and-pop cafés, shops, etc.) prefer that you pay your bills with cash. Some vendors will charge you extra for using a credit card, some won’t accept foreign credit cards, and some won’t take credit cards at all. Cash is the best—and sometimes only—way to pay for cheap food, bus fare, taxis, and local guides.

Throughout Europe, ATMs are the standard way for travelers to get cash. They work just like they do at home. To withdraw money from an ATM (known as a bancomat in Italy), you’ll need a debit card (ideally with a Visa or MasterCard logo for maximum usability), plus a PIN code (numeric and four digits). For increased security, shield the keypad when entering your PIN code, and don’t use an ATM if anything on the front of the machine looks loose or damaged (a sign that someone may have attached a “skimming” device to capture account information). Try to withdraw large sums of money to reduce the number of per-transaction bank fees you’ll pay.

When possible, use ATMs located outside banks—a thief is less likely to target a cash machine near surveillance cameras, and if your card is munched by a machine, you can go inside for help. Stay away from “independent” ATMs such as Travelex, Euronet, YourCash, Cardpoint, and Cashzone, which charge huge commissions, have terrible exchange rates, and may try to trick users with “dynamic currency conversion” (described at the end of “Credit and Debit Cards,” next). Although you can use a credit card to withdraw cash at an ATM, this comes with high bank fees and only makes sense in an emergency.

While traveling, if you want to monitor your accounts online to detect any unauthorized transactions, be sure to use a secure connection (see here).

Pickpockets target tourists. To safeguard your cash, wear a money belt—a pouch with a strap that you buckle around your waist like a belt and tuck under your clothes. Keep your cash, credit cards, and passport secure in your money belt, and carry only a day’s spending money in your front pocket.

CREDIT AND DEBIT CARDS

For purchases, Visa and MasterCard are more commonly accepted than American Express. Just like at home, credit or debit cards work easily at larger hotels, restaurants, and shops. I typically use my debit card to withdraw cash to pay for most purchases. I use my credit card sparingly: to book hotel reservations, to buy advance tickets for events or sights, to cover major expenses (such as car rentals or plane tickets), and to pay for things online or near the end of my trip (to avoid another visit to the ATM). While you could instead use a debit card for these purchases, using a credit card offers a greater degree of fraud protection.

Ask Your Credit- or Debit-Card Company: Before your trip, contact the company that issued your debit or credit cards.

✵ Confirm your card will work overseas, and alert them that you’ll be using it in Europe; otherwise, they may deny transactions if they perceive unusual spending patterns.

✵ Ask for the specifics on transaction fees. When you use your credit or debit card—either for purchases or ATM withdrawals—you’ll typically be charged additional “international transaction” fees of up to 3 percent (1 percent is normal) plus $5 per transaction. If your card’s fees seem high, consider getting a card just for your trip: Capital One (credit cards only, www.capitalone.com) and most credit unions have low-to-no international fees.

✵ Verify your daily ATM withdrawal limit, and if necessary, ask your bank to adjust it. Some travelers prefer a high limit that allows them to take out more cash at each ATM stop (saving on bank fees), while others prefer to set a lower limit in case their card is stolen. Note that foreign banks also set maximum withdrawal amounts for their ATMs.

✵ Get your bank’s emergency phone number in the US (but not its 800 number, which isn’t accessible from overseas) to call collect if you have a problem.

✵ Ask for your credit card’s PIN in case you need to make an emergency cash withdrawal or encounter Europe’s chip-and-PIN system; the bank won’t tell you your PIN over the phone, so allow time for it to be mailed to you.

Chip and PIN: While much of Europe is shifting to a chip-and-PIN security system for credit and debit cards, Italy still uses the old magnetic-stripe technology. (European chip-and-PIN cards are embedded with an electronic security chip and require a four-digit PIN to make a purchase.) If you happen to encounter chip and PIN, it will probably be at payment machines, such as those at toll roads or unattended gas pumps. On the outside chance that a machine won’t take your card, find a cashier who can make your card work (they can print a receipt for you to sign), or find a machine that takes cash. Most travelers who use only magnetic-stripe cards don’t run into problems. Still, it pays to carry euros; remember, you can always use an ATM to withdraw cash with your magnetic-stripe debit card.

If you’re concerned, ask if your bank offers a chip-and-PIN card. Andrews Federal Credit Union (www.andrewsfcu.org) and the State Department Federal Credit Union (www.sdfcu.org) offer these cards and are open to all US residents.

Dynamic Currency Conversion: If merchants or hoteliers offer to convert your purchase price into dollars (called dynamic currency conversion, or DCC), refuse this “service.” You’ll pay even more in fees for the expensive convenience of seeing your charge in dollars. If your receipt shows the total in dollars only, ask for the transaction to be processed in the local currency. If the clerk refuses, pay in cash—or mark the receipt “local currency not offered” and dispute the DCC charges with your bank.

Some ATMs and retailers try to confuse customers by presenting DCC in misleading terms. If an ATM offers to “lock in” or “guarantee” your conversion rate, choose “proceed without conversion.” Other prompts might state, “You can be charged in dollars: Press YES for dollars, NO for euros.” Always choose the local currency in these situations.

Damage Control for Lost Cards

If you lose your credit, debit, or ATM card, you can stop people from using your card by reporting the loss immediately to the respective global customer-assistance centers. Call these 24-hour US numbers collect: Visa (tel. 303/967-1096), MasterCard (tel. 636/722-7111), and American Express (tel. 336/393-1111). In Italy, to make a collect call to the US, dial 800-172-444. Press zero or stay on the line for an English-speaking operator. European toll-free numbers (listed by country) can also be found at the websites for Visa and MasterCard.

Try to have this information ready: full card number, whether you are the primary or secondary cardholder, the cardholder’s name exactly as printed on the card, billing address, home phone number, circumstances of the loss or theft, and identification verification (your birth date, your mother’s maiden name, or your Social Security number—memorize this, don’t carry a copy). If you are the secondary cardholder, you’ll also need to provide the primary cardholder’s identification-verification details. You can generally receive a temporary card within two or three business days in Europe (see www.ricksteves.com/help for more).

If you report your loss within two days, you typically won’t be responsible for any unauthorized transactions on your account, although many banks charge a liability fee of $50.

TIPPING

Tipping in Italy isn’t as automatic and generous as it is in the US. For special service, tips are appreciated, but not expected. As in the US, the proper amount depends on your resources, tipping philosophy, and the circumstances, but some general guidelines apply.

Restaurants: In Italy, a service charge (servizio) is usually built into your bill, so the total you pay already includes a basic tip. It’s up to you whether to tip beyond this. For more details on restaurant tipping, see here.

Taxis: To tip the cabbie, round up your fare a bit (for instance, if the fare is €4.50 fare, pay €5). If the cabbie hauls your bags and zips you to the airport to help you catch your flight, you might want to toss in a little more. But if you feel like you’re being driven in circles or otherwise ripped off, skip the tip.

Services: In general, if someone in the service industry does a super job for you, a small tip of a euro or two is appropriate...but not required. If you’re not sure whether (or how much) to tip for a service, ask a local for advice.

GETTING A VAT REFUND

Wrapped into the purchase price of your Italian souvenirs is a Value-Added Tax (VAT) of about 22 percent. You’re entitled to get most of that tax back if you purchase more than €155 (about $170) worth of goods at a store that participates in the VAT-refund scheme. Typically, you must ring up the minimum at a single retailer—you can’t add up your purchases from various shops to reach the required amount.

Getting your refund is usually straightforward and, if you buy a substantial amount of souvenirs, well worth the hassle. If you’re lucky, the merchant will subtract the tax when you make your purchase. (This is more likely to occur if the store ships the goods to your home.) Otherwise, you’ll need to:

Get the paperwork. Have the merchant completely fill out the necessary refund document. You’ll have to present your passport. Get the paperwork done before you leave the store to ensure you’ll have everything you need (including your original sales receipt).

Get your stamp at the border or airport. Process your VAT document at your last stop in the European Union (such as at the airport) with the customs agent who deals with VAT refunds. Arrive an additional hour early before you need to check in for your flight to allow time to find the local customs office—and to stand in line. It’s best to keep your purchases in your carry-on. If they’re too large or dangerous to carry on (such as knives), pack them in your checked bags and alert the check-in agent. You’ll be sent (with your tagged bag) to a customs desk outside security; someone will examine your bag, stamp your paperwork, and put your bag on the belt. You’re not supposed to use your purchased goods before you leave. If you show up at customs wearing your new leather shoes, officials might look the other way—or deny you a refund.

Collect your refund. You’ll need to return your stamped document to the retailer or its representative. Many merchants work with services, such as Global Blue or Premier Tax Free, that have offices at major airports, ports, or border crossings (either before or after security, probably strategically located near a duty-free shop). These services, which extract a 4 percent fee, can refund your money immediately in cash or credit your card (within two billing cycles). If the retailer handles VAT refunds directly, it’s up to you to contact the merchant for your refund. You can mail the documents from home, or more quickly, from your point of departure (using an envelope you’ve prepared in advance or one that’s been provided by the merchant). You’ll then have to wait—it can take months.

CUSTOMS FOR AMERICAN SHOPPERS

You are allowed to take home $800 worth of items per person duty-free, once every 31 days. You can also bring in a liter of alcohol duty-free. As for food, you can take home many processed and packaged foods: vacuum-packed cheeses, dried herbs, jams, baked goods, candy, chocolate, oil, vinegar, mustard, and honey. Fresh fruits and vegetables and most meats are not allowed, with exceptions for some canned items. As for alcohol, you can bring in one liter duty-free (it can be packed securely in your checked luggage, along with any other liquid-containing items).

To bring alcohol (or liquid-packed foods) in your carry-on bag on your flight home, buy it at a duty-free shop at the airport. You’ll increase your odds of getting it onto a connecting flight if it’s packaged in a “STEB”—a secure, tamper-evident bag. But stay away from liquids in opaque, ceramic, or metallic containers, which usually cannot be successfully screened (STEB or no STEB).

For details on allowable goods, customs rules, and duty rates, visit help.cbp.gov.

Sightseeing

Sightseeing can be hard work. Use these tips to make your visits to Rome’s finest sights meaningful, fun, efficient, and painless.

PLAN AHEAD

Set up an itinerary that allows you to fit in all your must-see sights. For a one-stop look at opening hours, see “Rome at a Glance” (here; also see “Daily Reminder” on here). Most sights keep stable hours, but you can easily confirm the latest by checking with the TI or visiting museum websites.

For Rome, if you want to see the Borghese Gallery, you must make reservations in advance (see here). It’s smart to reserve for the Vatican Museums (see here) as well. And you can buy tickets in advance for the Colosseum and the Forum (see here)—although there are also other ways to skip the line at those ancient sites.

Don’t put off visiting a must-see sight—you never know when a place will close unexpectedly for a holiday, strike, or restoration. Many museums are closed or have reduced hours at least a few days a year, especially on holidays such as Christmas, New Year’s, and Labor Day (May 1). A list of holidays is on here; check online for possible museum closures during your trip. In summer, some sights may stay open late. Off-season, many museums have shorter hours.

Going at the right time helps avoid crowds. This book offers tips on specific sights. Try visiting popular sights very early or very late. Evening visits are usually peaceful, with fewer crowds.

Study up. To get the most out of the self-guided tours and sight descriptions in this book, read them before you visit.

AT SIGHTS

Here’s what you can typically expect:

Entering: Be warned that you may not be allowed to enter if you arrive 30 to 60 minutes before closing time. And guards start ushering people out well before the actual closing time, so don’t save the best for last.

Some important sights have a security check, where you must open your bag or send it through a metal detector. Some sights require you to check daypacks and coats. (If you’d rather not check your daypack, try carrying it tucked under your arm like a purse as you enter.)

Photography: If the museum’s photo policy isn’t clearly posted, ask a guard. Generally, taking photos without a flash or tripod is allowed. Some sights ban photos altogether.

Temporary Exhibits: Museums may show special exhibits in addition to their permanent collection. Some exhibits are included in the entry price, while others come at an extra cost (which you may have to pay even if you don’t want to see the exhibit).

Expect Changes: Artwork can be on tour, on loan, out sick, or shifted at the whim of the curator. Pick up a floor plan as you enter, and ask the museum staff if you can’t find a particular item. Say the title or artist’s name, or point to the photograph in this book and ask, “Dov’è?” (doh-VEH, meaning “Where is?”).

Audioguides and Apps: Many sights rent audioguides, which generally offer excellent recorded descriptions in English. If you bring your own earbuds, you can enjoy better sound and avoid holding the device to your ear. To save money, bring a Y-jack and share one audioguide with your travel partner. Increasingly, museums and sights offer apps—often free—that you can download to your mobile device (check their websites). I’ve produced free, downloadable audio tours for my Trastevere Walk and Jewish Ghetto Walk, and my tours of the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, Roman Forum, Colosseum, Sistine Chapel, Ostia Antica, and Pompeii; look for the Image in this book. For more on my audio tours, see here.

Dates for Artwork: In museums, art is dated with sec (for secolo—century, often indicated with Roman numerals), A.C. (for Avanti Cristo, i.e., before Christ) and D.C. (for Dopo Cristo, a.k.a. A.D.). OK?

Services: Important sights may have an on-site café or cafeteria (usually a handy place to rejuvenate during a long visit). The WCs at sights are free and generally clean.

Before Leaving: At the gift shop, scan the postcard rack or thumb through a guidebook to be sure you haven’t overlooked something that you’d like to see.

Every sight or museum offers more than what is covered in this book. Use the information in this book as an introduction—not the final word.

FIND RELIGION

Churches offer some amazing art (usually free), a cool respite from heat, and a welcome seat.

A modest dress code—no bare shoulders or shorts for anyone, even kids—is enforced at the Vatican City (St. Peter’s Basilica and Vatican Museums) and at Rome’s major churches, such as St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, but is often overlooked elsewhere. If you’re caught by surprise, you can improvise, using maps to cover your shoulders and a jacket for your knees. (I wear a super-lightweight pair of long pants rather than shorts for my hot and muggy big-city Italian sightseeing.)

Some churches have coin-operated audioboxes that describe the art and history; just set the dial on English, put in your coins, and listen. Coin boxes near a piece of art illuminate the art (and present a better photo opportunity). I pop in a coin whenever I can. It improves my experience, is a favor to other visitors trying to appreciate a great piece of art in the dark, and is a little contribution to that church and its work. Whenever possible, let there be light.

Sleeping

I favor hotels and restaurants that are handy to your sightseeing activities. Rather than list hotels scattered throughout Rome, I choose hotels in my favorite neighborhoods. My recommendations, which you’ll find in the Sleeping in Rome chapter, run the gamut, from hotels with all of the comforts to less-expensive hostels and convents.

A major feature of this book is its extensive listing of good-value rooms—especially in Rome, where hotels are generally pricey, the cheaper hotels can be depressing, and the TI isn’t allowed to give opinions on quality. I like places that are clean, central, relatively quiet at night, reasonably priced, friendly, small enough to have a hands-on owner and stable staff, run with a respect for Italian traditions, and not listed in other guidebooks. (In Rome, for me, meeting six out of these eight criteria means it’s a keeper.) I’m more impressed by a convenient location and a fun-loving philosophy than flat-screen TVs and a pricey laundry service.

Book your accommodations well in advance, especially if you want to stay at one of my top listings or if you’ll be traveling during busy times. See here for a list of major holidays and festivals in Rome; for tips on making reservations, see here.

RATES AND DEALS

I’ve described my recommended accommodations using a Sleep Code (see sidebar). The prices I list are for one-night stays in peak season, and assume you’re booking directly with the hotel (not through a TI or online hotel-booking engine). Booking services extract a commission from the hotel, which logically closes the door on special deals. Book direct.

While most taxes are included in the price, a city tax of €3-6/person per night is added to all hotel bills, and must be paid in cash. The only exemptions are for hostelers and children under the age of 10.

Most of my recommended hotels have a website (often with a built-in booking form) and an email address; you can expect a response in English within a day (and often sooner).

If you’re on a budget, it’s smart to email several hotels to ask for their best price. Comparison-shop and make your choice. This is especially helpful when dealing with the larger hotels that use “dynamic pricing,” a computer-generated system that predicts the demand for particular days and sets prices accordingly: High-demand days can be more than double the price of low-demand days. This makes it impossible for a guidebook to list anything more accurate than a wide range of prices. I regret this trend. While you can assume that hotels listed in this book are good, it’s difficult to say which ones are the better value unless you email to confirm the price.

Sleep Code

(€1 = about $1.10, country code: 39)

Price Rankings

To help you easily sort through my listings, I’ve divided the accommodations into three categories based on the highest price for a basic double room with bath during high season:

$$$

Higher Priced

$$

Moderately Priced

$

Lower Priced

I always rate hostels as $, whether or not they have double rooms, because they have the cheapest beds in town. Prices can change without notice; verify the hotel’s current rates online or by email. For the best prices, always book directly with the hotel.

Abbreviations

To pack maximum information into minimum space, I use the following code to describe accommodations in this book. Prices listed are per room, not per person. When a price range is given for a type of room (such as double rooms listing for €100-150), it means the price fluctuates with the season, size of room, or length of stay; expect to pay the upper end for peak-season stays.

S =

Single room (or price for one person in a double).

D =

Double or Twin room. “Double beds” can be two twins sheeted together and are usually big enough for nonromantic couples.

T =

Triple (generally a double bed with a single).

Q =

Quad (usually two double beds; adding an extra child’s bed to a T is usually cheaper).

b =

Private bathroom with toilet and shower or tub.

According to this code, a couple staying at a “Db-€140” hotel would pay a total of €140 (about $155) per night for a double room with a private bathroom. Unless otherwise noted, breakfast is included, hotel staff speak basic English, credit cards are accepted, and hotels generally have a guest computer and/or Wi-Fi. Rome charges a hotel tax of €3-6 per person, per night, which must be paid in cash and is typically not included in the prices in this book.

As you look over the listings, you’ll notice that some accommodations promise special prices to Rick Steves readers. To get these rates, you must book directly with the hotel (that is, not through a booking site like TripAdvisor or Booking.com), mention this book when you reserve, and then show the book upon arrival. Rick Steves discounts apply to readers with ebooks as well as printed books. Because I trust hotels to honor this, please let me know if you don’t receive a listed discount. Note, though, that discounts understandably may not be applied to promotional rates.

In general, prices can soften if you do any of the following: offer to pay cash, stay at least three nights, or mention this book. You can also try asking for a cheaper room or a discount, or offer to skip breakfast.

Haggle if you arrive late in the day during off-season (roughly mid-July through August and November through mid-March). It’s common for hotels in Rome to lower their prices 10-50 percent in the off-season, although prices at hostels and the cheaper hotels won’t fluctuate much. Room rates are lowest in sweltering August.

The Good and Bad of Online Reviews

User-generated travel review websites—such as TripAdvisor, Booking.com, and Yelp—have quickly become a huge player in the travel industry. These sites give you access to actual reports—good and bad—from travelers who have experienced the hotel, restaurant, tour, or attraction.

My hotelier friends in Europe are in awe of these sites’ influence. Small hoteliers who want to stay in business have no choice but to work with review sites—which often charge fees for good placement or photos, and tack on commissions if users book through the site instead of directly with the hotel.

While these sites work hard to weed out bogus users, my hunch is that a significant percentage of reviews are posted by friends or enemies of the business being reviewed. I’ve even seen hotels “bribe” guests (for example, offer a free breakfast) in exchange for a positive review. Also, review sites are uncurated and can become an echo chamber, with one or two flashy businesses camped out atop the ratings, while better, more affordable, and more authentic alternatives sit ignored farther down the list. (For example, I find review sites’ restaurant recommendations skew to very touristy, obvious options.) And you can’t always give credence to the negative reviews: Different people have different expectations.

Remember that a user-generated review is based on the experience of one person. That person likely stayed at one hotel and ate at a few restaurants, and doesn’t have much of a basis for comparison. A guidebook is the work of a trained researcher who has exhaustively visited many alternatives to assess their relative value. I recently checked out some top-rated TripAdvisor listings in various towns; when stacked up against their competitors, some are gems, while just as many are duds.

Both types of information have their place, and in many ways, they’re complementary. If a hotel or restaurant is well-reviewed in a guidebook or two, and also gets good ratings on one of these sites, it’s likely a winner.

TYPES OF ACCOMMODATIONS

Hotels

Double rooms listed in this book range from about €65 (very simple, toilet and shower down the hall) to €500-plus (maximum plumbing and more), with most clustering around €150 (with private bathrooms). I’ve favored these pricier options, because intense Rome is easier to enjoy with a welcoming oasis to call home.

Solo travelers find that the cost of a camera singola is often only 25 percent less than a camera doppia. Three or four people can save money by requesting one big room. (If a Db is €110, a Qb would be about €150.) Most listed hotels have rooms for anywhere from one to five people. If there’s room for an extra cot, they’ll cram it in for you (charging you around €25). English works in all but the cheapest places.

Traffic in Rome roars. Thanks to double-paned windows and air-conditioning, night noise is not the problem it once was. Even so, light sleepers who ask for a tranquillo room will likely get a room in the back...and sleep better. Once you actually see your room, consider the potential problem of night noise. Don’t hesitate to ask for a quieter room.

Nearly all places offer private bathrooms. Generally rooms with a bath or shower also have a toilet and a bidet (which Italians use for quick sponge baths). The cord over the tub or shower is not a clothesline. You pull it when you’ve fallen and can’t get up.

Double beds are called matrimoniale, even though hotels aren’t interested in your marital status. Twins are due letti singoli. Convents offer cheap accommodation but have more letti singoli than matrimoniali.

When you check in, the receptionist will normally ask for your passport and keep it for anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours. Hotels are legally required to register each guest with the police. Relax. Americans are notorious for making this chore more difficult than it needs to be.

Hotels and B&Bs are sometimes located on the higher floors of a multipurpose building with a secured door. In that case, look for your hotel’s name on the buttons by the main entrance. When you ring the bell, you’ll be buzzed in. Hotel elevators, while becoming more common, are often very small—pack light, or you may need to take your bags up one at a time.

Assume that breakfast is included in the prices I’ve listed, unless otherwise noted. If breakfast is optional, you may want to skip it. While convenient, it’s usually expensive—€8-10 for a simple continental buffet with (at its most generous) bread, ham, cheese, yogurt, and unlimited caffè latte. A picnic in your room followed by a coffee at the corner café can be lots cheaper.

Chill Out

All but the cheapest hotels have air-conditioning. Because Europeans are generally careful with energy use, you’ll find government-enforced limits on air-conditioning and heating. There’s a one-month period each spring and fall when neither is allowed. Air-conditioning sometimes costs an extra per-day charge, is worth seeking out in summer (though it may be on only at certain times of the day), and is rarely available from fall through spring. Conveniently, many business-class hotels drop their prices in July and August, just when the air-conditioned comfort they offer is most important.

Most hotel rooms with air-conditioners come with a control stick (like a TV remote; the hotel may require a deposit) that generally has similar symbols and features: fan icon (click to toggle through wind power, from light to gale-force); louver icon (choose steady airflow or waves); snowflake and sunshine icons (cold air or heat, depending on season); clock (“O” setting: run x hours before turning off; “I” setting: wait x hours to start); and the temperature control (21 degrees Celsius is comfortable; also see the thermometer diagram on here). When you leave your room for the day, turning off the air-conditioning is good form.

More pillows and blankets are usually in the closet or available on request. Towels and linens aren’t always replaced every day. Hang your towel up to dry. Some hotels use lightweight “waffle” or very thin tablecloth-type towels; these take less water and electricity to launder and are preferred by many Italians.

Most hotel rooms have a TV, telephone, and free Wi-Fi (although in old buildings with thick walls, the Wi-Fi signal doesn’t always make it to the rooms; sometimes it’s only available in the lobby). Sometimes there’s a guest computer with Internet access in the lobby. Simpler places rarely have a room phone, but often have free Wi-Fi. Pricier hotels usually come with a small fridge stocked with beverages called a frigo bar (FREE-goh bar; pay for what you use).

Almost no hotels have parking, but nearly all have a line on spots in a nearby garage (about €24/day).

If you’re arriving in the morning, your room probably won’t be ready. Drop your bag safely at the hotel and dive right into sightseeing.

Hoteliers can be a great help and source of advice. Most know their city well, and can assist you with everything from public transit and airport connections to finding a good restaurant, the nearest launderette, or a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Even at the best places, mechanical breakdowns occur: Air-conditioning malfunctions, sinks leak, hot water turns cold, and toilets gurgle and smell. Report your concerns clearly and calmly at the front desk. For more complicated problems, don’t expect instant results.

To guard against theft in your room, keep valuables out of sight. Some rooms come with a safe, and other hotels have safes at the front desk. I’ve never bothered using one.

Checkout can pose problems if surprise charges pop up on your bill. If you settle your bill the afternoon before you leave, you’ll have time to discuss and address any points of contention (before 19:00, when the night shift usually arrives).

Above all, keep a positive attitude. Remember, you’re on vacation. If your hotel is a disappointment, spend more time out enjoying the city you came to see.

Bed-and-Breakfasts (B&Bs)

B&Bs offer double the cultural intimacy for a good deal less than most hotel rooms. Roman B&Bs are small—most have no more than three rooms, and the owner generally lives on-site. (Be aware that small hotels sometimes erroneously use the term “B&B.”) You’ll pay in cash rather than by credit card. Expect few services and no amenities such as public lounges, in-room phones, private bathrooms, and daily bed-sheet changes (though the basics, such as sheets and towels, are provided). After picking up your keys, you can come and go as you wish. When reserving, confirm what kind of breakfast is included—some less-expensive B&Bs simply give you a voucher for a pastry and coffee at a nearby bar.

Doubles with breakfast start at around €70, with prices increasing along with the number of amenities. Because of my large volume of readers and the small size of Roman B&Bs, it isn’t practical to include many B&B listings here. To find a B&B in Rome, start your search with a website such as www.bedandbreakfast.com or www.b-b.rm.it. You’ll get better prices, however, by booking directly with the B&B. Some websites connect you directly with the B&B owner, including www.gulliverslodge.com (see listing on here).

Many B&Bs come with thin walls and doors that can make for a noisy night. If you’re a light sleeper, bring earplugs. And please be quiet in the halls and in your rooms at night (talk softly, and keep the TV volume low)...those of us getting up early will thank you for it.

Making Hotel Reservations

Reserve your rooms several weeks in advance—or as soon as you’ve pinned down your travel dates. Note that some national holidays merit your making reservations far in advance (see here).

Requesting a Reservation: It’s easiest to book your room through the hotel’s website. (For the best rates, always use the hotel’s official site and not a booking agency’s site.) If there’s no reservation form, or for complicated requests, send an email (see below for a sample request). Most recommended hotels take reservations in English.

The hotelier wants to know:

✵ the number and type of rooms you need

✵ the number of nights you’ll stay

✵ your date of arrival (use the European style for writing dates: day/month/year)

✵ your date of departure

✵ any special needs (such as bathroom in the room or down the hall, cheapest room, twin beds vs. double bed, and so on)

Mention any discounts—for Rick Steves readers or otherwise—when you make the reservation.

Confirming a Reservation: Most places will request a credit-card number to hold your room. If they don’t have a secure online reservation form—look for the https—you can email it (I do), but it’s safer to share that confidential info via a phone call or two emails (splitting your number between them).

Canceling a Reservation: If you must cancel, it’s courteous—and smart—to do so with as much notice as possible (at least three days) especially for smaller family-run places. Be warned that cancellation policies can be strict; read the fine print or ask about these before you book. Internet deals may require prepayment, with no refunds for cancellations.

From:

rick@rick­steves.com

Sent:

Today

To:

info@hotel­central.com

Subject:

Reservation request for 19-22 July

Dear Hotel Central,

I would like to reserve a double room for 2 people for 3 nights, arriving 19 July and departing 22 July. If possible, I would like a quiet room with a bathroom inside the room.

Please let me know if you have a room available and the price.

Thank you!

Rick Steves

Reconfirming a Reservation: Always call or email to reconfirm your room reservation a few days in advance. For B&Bs or very small hotels, I call again on my day of arrival to tell my host what time I expect to get there (especially important if arriving late—after 17:00).

Phoning: For tips on how to call hotels overseas, see here.

Hostels

A hostel provides cheap beds where you sleep alongside strangers for about €30 per night. Travelers of any age are welcome if they don’t mind dorm-style accommodations and meeting other travelers. Most hostels offer kitchen facilities, guest computers, Wi-Fi, and a self-service laundry. Nowadays, concerned about bedbugs, hostels are likely to provide all bedding, including sheets. Family and private rooms may be available on request.

Independent hostels tend to be easygoing, colorful, and informal (no membership required); www.hostelworld.com is the standard way backpackers search and book hostels, but also try www.hostelz.com and www.hostels.com.

Official hostels are part of Hostelling International (HI) and share an online booking site (www.hihostels.com). HI hostels typically require that you either have a membership card or pay extra per night.

If going the hostel route, consider the ones I list in the Sleeping in Rome chapter (within a 10-minute walk of Termini train station), or check www.backpackers.it for more listings.

Other Accommodation Options

Renting an apartment or house can be a fun and cost-effective way to go local. Websites such as Booking.com, Airbnb, VRBO, and FlipKey let you browse properties and correspond directly with European property owners or managers. Airbnb and Roomorama also list rooms in private homes. Beds range from air-mattress-in-living-room basic to plush-B&B-suite posh. If you want a place to sleep that’s free, www.couchsurfing.org is a vagabond’s alternative to Airbnb. It lists millions of outgoing members, who host fellow “surfers” in their homes.

Apartments: Many locals rent out their apartments in downtown Rome, a great value for families or multiple couples traveling together. Rentals are generally by the week, with prices around €120 per day. Apartments typically offer a couple of bedrooms, a sitting area, and a teensy cucinetta (kitchenette), usually stocked with dishes and flatware. After you check in, you’re basically on your own. While you won’t have a doorman to carry your bags or a maid to clean your room each day, you will get an inside peek at an Italian home, and you can save lots of money—especially if you take advantage of the cooking facilities—with no loss of comfort. Most places are rented through booking agencies, the TI, or websites, such as the ones listed above, or you can browse through www.wantedinrome.com. Steve and Linda of The Beehive run a booking service for private rooms and apartments in the old centers of Rome, Florence, and Venice; rates start at €30 per person (see listing on here, www.cross-pollinate.com).

Convents: Nun-run places are common in Rome, offering cheap twin beds, little English, and an interesting experience. See the Sleeping in Rome chapter for listings.

Eating

The Italians are masters of the art of fine living. That means eating long and well. Lengthy, multicourse meals and endless hours sitting in outdoor cafés are the norm. Americans eat on their way to an evening event and complain if the check is slow in coming. For Italians, the meal is an end in itself, and only rude waiters rush you.

A highlight of your Italian adventure will be this country’s cafés, cuisine, and wines. Trust me: This is sightseeing for your palate. Even if you liked dorm food and are sleeping in cheap hotels, your taste buds will relish an occasional first-class splurge. You can eat well without going broke. But be careful: You’re just as likely to blow a small fortune on a disappointing meal as you are to dine wonderfully for €25. Rely on my recommendations in the Eating in Rome chapter.

In general, Italians eat meals a bit later than we do. Eating like a Roman means stopping at the neighborhood bar each morning for a light breakfast (coffee—usually cappuccino or espresso—and a pastry, often standing up at a café). Lunch (between 13:00 and 15:00) is traditionally the largest meal of the day, eaten at home, although work habits have changed this for many people who don’t want to spend time commuting. Instead, they grab a quick meal in a tavola calda bar (cafeteria) or buy a panino or tramezzino (sandwich). They eat a late, light dinner (around 20:00-21:30, or maybe earlier in winter). To bridge the gap, people drop into a bar in the late afternoon for a spuntino (snack) and aperitif.

BREAKFAST

Italian breakfasts, like Italian bath towels, are small: The basic, traditional version is coffee and a roll with butter and marmalade. These days, many places also have yogurt and juice (the delicious red orange juice—premuta di arance rossa—is made from Sicilian blood oranges), and possibly also cereal, cold cuts and sliced cheese, and eggs (typically hard-boiled; scrambled or fried eggs are rare). Small budget hotels may leave a basic breakfast in a fridge in your room (stale croissant, roll, jam, yogurt). In general, the pricier the hotel, the bigger the breakfast.

If you want to skip your hotel breakfast, consider browsing for a morning picnic at a local open-air market. Or do as the Italians do: Stop into a bar or café to drink a cappuccino and munch a cornetto (croissant) while standing at the bar. While the cornetto is the most common pastry, you’ll find a range of pasticcini (pastries, sometimes called dolci—sweets). Look for otto (an 8-shaped pastry, often filled with custard, jam, or chocolate), sfoglia (can be fruit-filled, like a turnover), or ciambella (doughnut filled with custard or chocolate)—or ask about local specialties.

ITALIAN RESTAURANTS

While ristorante is self-explanatory, you’ll also see other types of Italian eateries. A trattoria or an osteria (which can be more casual) is generally a family-owned place serving home-cooked meals, often at moderate prices. A locanda is an inn, a cantina is a wine cellar, and a birreria is a brewpub. Pizzerie, rosticcerie (delis), tavola calda (“hot table”) bars, enoteche (wine bars), and other alternatives are explained later.

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When restaurant hunting, choose a spot filled with locals, not the place with the big neon signs boasting, “We speak English and accept credit cards.” Restaurants parked on famous squares generally serve bad food at high prices to tourists. Locals eat better at lower-rent locales. Family-run places operate without hired help and can offer cheaper meals. Venturing even a block or two off the main drag leads to higher-quality food for less than half the price of the tourist-oriented places.

Most restaurant kitchens close between their lunch and dinner service. Good restaurants don’t reopen for dinner before 19:00. Small restaurants with a full slate of reservations for 20:30 or 21:00 often will accommodate walk-in diners willing to eat a quick, early meal, but you aren’t expected to linger.

When you want the bill, mime-scribble on your raised palm or request it: “Il conto, per favore.” You may have to ask for it more than once. If you’re in a hurry, request the check when you receive the last item you order.

Cover and Tipping

Before you sit down, look at a menu to see what extra charges a restaurant tacks on. Two different items are routinely factored into your bill: the coperto and the servizio.

The coperto (cover charge), sometimes called pane e coperto (bread and cover), offsets the restaurant’s overhead expenses—from the basket of bread on your table to the electricity running the dishwasher. It’s not negotiable, even if you don’t eat the bread. Think of it as covering the cost of using the table for as long as you like. (Italians like to linger.) Most restaurants add the coperto onto your bill as a flat fee (€1-3.50 per person; the amount should be clearly noted on the menu).

The servizio (service charge) of about 10 percent pays for the waitstaff. At most legitimate eateries, the words servizio incluso are written on the menu and/or the receipt—indicating that the listed prices already include the fee. You can add on a tip, if you choose, by including €1-2 for each person in your party. While Italians don’t think about tips in terms of percentages—and many don’t tip at all—this extra amount usually comes out to about 5 percent (10 percent is excessive for all but the very best service).

A few trendy restaurants don’t include the service in the menu prices—but will automatically tack on a 10 percent servizio charge to your bill. If a menu reads servizio 10%, the listed prices don’t include the fee; it will be added onto your bill for you (so you don’t need to calculate it yourself and pay it separately). Rarely, you’ll see the words servizio non incluso on the menu or bill; here you are expected to add a tip of about 10 percent.

Most Italian restaurants have a cover charge and include service in the menu prices. A few have just a service charge. Places with both a cover and a tacked-on service charge are best avoided—that’s a clue that a restaurant is counting on a nonlocal clientele who can’t gauge value. Self-service restaurants never have a cover or service charge, and in recent years some (especially less formal) cafés and restaurants with table service have stopped charging these fees as well.

Courses: Antipasto, Primo, and Secondo

For a list of Italian cuisine staples, including some of the most common dishes, see here. A full Italian meal consists of several courses:

Antipasto: An appetizer such as bruschetta, grilled veggies, deep-fried tasties, thin-sliced meat (such as prosciutto or carpaccio), or a plate of olives, cold cuts, and cheeses. To get a sampler plate of cold cuts and cheeses in a restaurant, ask for affettato misto (mixed cold cuts) or antipasto misto (cold cuts, cheeses, and marinated vegetables). This could make a light meal in itself.

Primo piatto: A “first dish” generally consisting of pasta, rice, or soup. If you think of pasta when you think of Italy, you can dine well here without ever going beyond the primo.

Secondo piatto: A “second dish,” equivalent to our main course, of meat or fish/seafood. Italians freely admit the secondo is the least interesting part of their cuisine. A vegetable side dish (contorno) may come with the secondo but more often must be ordered separately.

For most travelers, a meal with all three courses (plus contorni, dessert, and wine) is simply too much food—and euros can add up in a hurry. To avoid overeating (and to stretch your budget), share dishes. A good rule of thumb is for each person to order any two courses. For example, a couple can order and share one antipasto, one primo, one secondo, and one dessert; or two antipasti and two primi; or whatever combination appeals. Some restaurants serve a piatta unica, with smaller portions of each course on one dish (for instance, a meat, starch, and vegetable).

Another good option is sharing an array of antipasti—either by ordering several specific dishes or, at restaurants that offer self-serve buffets, by choosing a variety of cold and cooked appetizers from an antipasti buffet spread out like a salad bar. At buffets, you pay per plate; a typical serving costs about €8 (generally Italians don’t treat buffets as all-you-can-eat, but take a one-time moderate serving; watch others and imitate).

To maximize the experience and flavors, small groups can mix antipasti and primi family-style (skipping secondi). If you do this right, you can eat well in better places for less than the cost of a tourist menù in a cheap place.

Ordering Tips

Seafood and steak may be sold by weight (priced by the kilo—1,000 grams, or just over two pounds; or by the etto—100 grams). The abbreviation s.q. (secondo quantità) means an item is priced “according to quantity.” Unless the menu indicates a fillet (filetto), fish is usually served whole with the head and tail. However, you can always ask your waiter to select a small fish for you. Sometimes, especially for steak, restaurants require a minimum order of four or five etti (which diners can share). Make sure you’re clear on the price before ordering.

Some special dishes come in larger quantities meant to be shared by two people. The shorthand way of showing this on a menu is “X2” (for two), but the price listed generally indicates the cost per person.

In a traditional restaurant, if you order a pasta dish and a side salad—but no main course—the waiter will bring the salad after the pasta (Italians prefer it this way, believing that it enhances digestion). If you want the salad with your pasta, specify insieme (een-see-YEH-meh; together). At eateries more accustomed to tourists, you may be asked when you want the salad.

Because pasta and bread are both starches, Italians consider them redundant. If you order only a pasta dish, bread may not come with it; you can request it, but you may be charged extra. On the other hand, if you order a vegetable antipasto or a meat secondo, bread is often provided to balance the ingredients.

At places with counter service—such as at a bar or a freeway rest-stop diner—you’ll order and pay at the cassa (cashier). Take your receipt over to the counter to claim your food.

Fixed-Price Meals and Ordering à la Carte

You can save by getting a fixed-priced meal, which is frequently exempt from cover and service charges. Avoid the cheapest ones (often called a menù turistico), which tend to be bland and heavy, pairing a very basic pasta with reheated schnitzel and roast meats. Look instead for a genuine menù del giorno (menu of the day), which offers diners a choice of appetizer, main course, and dessert. It’s worth paying a little more for an inventive fixed-price meal that shows off the chef’s creativity.

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While fixed-price meals can be easy and convenient, galloping gourmets prefer to order à la carte with the help of a menu translator (see “Italian Cuisine Staples,” later). When going to an especially good restaurant with an approachable staff, I like to find out what they’re eager to serve. Sometimes I’ll simply say, “Mi faccia felice” (Make me happy) and set a price limit.

BUDGET EATING

Rome offers many budget options for hungry travelers, but beware of cheap eateries that sport big color photos of pizza and piles of different pastas. They have no kitchens and simply microwave disgusting prepackaged food.

Self-service cafeterias offer the basics without add-on charges. Travelers on a hard-core budget equip their room with a pantry stocked at the market (fruits and veggies are remarkably cheap), or pick up a sandwich or döner kebab, then dine in at picnic prices. Bars and cafés are also good places to grab a meal on the go.

Pizzerias

Pizza is cheap and readily available. Stop by a pizza shop for stand-up or takeout (pizza al taglio means “by the slice”). Some shops sell individual slices of round, Naples-style pizza, while others feature pizza rustica—thick pizza baked in a large rectangular pan and sold by weight. If you simply ask for a piece, you may wind up with a gigantic slab and be charged top euro. Instead, clearly indicate how much you want: 100 grams, or un etto, is a hot and cheap snack; 200 grams, or due etti, makes a light meal. Or show the size with your hands—tanto così (TAHN-toh koh-ZEE; this much). For a rundown of common types of pizza, see here.

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Bars / Cafés

Italian “bars” are not taverns, but inexpensive cafés. These neighborhood hangouts serve coffee, minipizzas, sandwiches, and drinks from the cooler. Many dish up plates of fried cheese and vegetables from under the glass counter, ready to reheat. This budget choice is the Italian equivalent of English pub grub.

Many bars are small—if you can’t find a table, you’ll need to stand or find a ledge to sit on outside. Most charge extra for table service. To get food to go, say, “da portar via” (for the road). All bars have a WC (toilette, bagno) in the back, and customers—and the discreet public—can use it.

Food: For quick meals, bars usually have trays of cheap, premade sandwiches (panini, on a baguette; piadini, on flatbread; or tramezzini, on crustless white bread)—some are delightful grilled. (Others have too much mayo.) To save time for sightseeing and room for dinner, stop by a bar for a light lunch, such as a ham-and-cheese sandwich (called toast); have it grilled twice if you want it really hot.

Prices and Paying: You’ll notice a two- or three-tiered pricing system. Drinking a cup of coffee while standing at the bar is cheaper than drinking it at an indoor table (you’ll pay still more at an outdoor table). Many places have a lista dei prezzi (price list) with two columns—al bar and al tavolo (table)—posted somewhere by the bar or cash register. If you’re on a budget, don’t sit down without first checking out the financial consequences. Ask, “Same price if I sit or stand?” by saying, “Costa uguale al tavolo o al banco?” (KOH-stah oo-GWAH-lay ahl TAH-voh-loh oh ahl BAHN-koh). Throughout Italy, you can get cheap coffee at the bar of any establishment, no matter how fancy, and pay the same low, government-regulated price (generally less than a euro if you stand).

If the bar isn’t busy, you can probably just order and pay when you leave. Otherwise: 1) Decide what you want; 2) find out the price by checking the price list on the wall, the prices posted near the food, or by asking the barista; 3) pay the cashier; and 4) give the receipt to the barista (whose clean fingers handle no dirty euros) and tell him or her what you want.

For more on drinking, see “Beverages,” later.

Ethnic Food

A good bet for a cheap, hot meal is a döner kebab (rotisserie meat wrapped in pita bread). Look for little hole-in-the-wall kebab shops (especially around Termini Station and Santa Maria Maggiore), where you can get a hearty takeaway dinner wrapped in pita bread for €3.50. Pay an extra euro to supersize it, and it’ll feed two. Asian restaurants, although not as common as in northern Europe, usually serve only Chinese dishes and can also be a good value.

Tavola Calda Bars and Rosticcerie

For a fast and cheap lunch, find an Italian variation on the corner deli: a rosticceria (specializing in roasted meats and accompanying antipasti) or a tavola calda bar (“hot table,” a point-and-shoot cafeteria with a buffet spread of meat and vegetables). For a healthy light meal, ask for a mixed plate of vegetables with a hunk of mozzarella (piatto misto di verdure con mozzarella; pee-AH-toh MEE-stoh dee vehr-DOO-ray). Don’t be limited by what’s displayed. If you’d like a salad with a slice of cantaloupe and a hunk of cheese, they’ll whip that up for you in a snap. Belly up to the bar; with a pointing finger, you can assemble a fine meal. If something’s a mystery, ask for un assaggio (oon ah-SAH-joh) to get a little taste. To have your choices warmed up, ask for them to be heated (scaldare; skahl-DAH-ray).

Wine Bars

Wine bars (enoteche) are a popular, fast, and inexpensive option for lunch. Surrounded by the office crowd, you can get a salad, a plate of meats (cold cuts) and cheeses, and a glass of good wine (see blackboards for the day’s selection and price per glass). A good enoteca aims to impress visitors with its wine, and will generally choose excellent-quality ingredients for the simple dishes it offers with the wine (though the prices add up—be careful with your ordering to keep this a budget choice). The area around the Pantheon and Piazza del Parlamento (popular with politicians and bureaucrats) has plenty of enoteche handy for a sightseeing lunch break or evening destination. For more on Italian cocktails and wines, see here.

Aperitivo Buffets

The Italian term aperitivo means a pre-dinner drink, but it’s also used to describe their version of what we might call happy hour: a light buffet that many bars serve to customers during the pre-dinner hours (typically around 18:00 or 19:00 until 21:00). The drink itself may not be cheap (typically around €8-12), but bars lay out an enticing array of meats, cheeses, grilled vegetables, and other antipasti-type dishes, and you’re welcome to nibble to your heart’s content while you nurse your drink. While it’s intended as an appetizer course before heading out for a full dinner, light eaters could discreetly turn this into a small meal. Drop by a few bars around this time to scope out their buffets before choosing.

Groceries and Delis

Another budget option is to visit a supermarket, alimentari (neighborhood grocery), or salumeria (delicatessen) to pick up some cold cuts, cheeses, and other supplies for a picnic. Some salumerie, and any paninoteca or focacceria (sandwich shop), can make you a sandwich to order. Just point to what you want, and they’ll stuff it into a panino; if you want it heated, remember the word scaldare (skahl-DAH-ray). If ordering an assortment of cold cuts and cheeses, some unscrupulous shops may try to pad the bill by pushing their most expensive ingredients. Be clear on what you want: “un tagliere (tahl-YEH-ray) da ___ euro, per favore” (a sampler board of ___ euros, please). For more on salumi and cheeses, see here.

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Picnics

Picnicking saves lots of euros and is a great way to sample regional specialties. A typical picnic for two might be fresh rolls, 100 grams—or about a quarter pound—of cheese (un etto, EH-toh, plural etti, EH-tee), and 100 grams of meat, sometimes ordered by the slice (fetta) or piece (pezzi). For two people, I might get cinque pezzi (five pieces) of prosciutto. Add two tomatoes, three carrots, two apples, yogurt, and a liter box of juice. Total cost: about €10.

In the process of assembling your meal, you get to deal with Italians in the market scene. For a colorful experience, gather your ingredients in the morning at a produce market; you’ll probably need to hit several market stalls to put together a complete meal (note that many stalls close in the early afternoon).

While it’s fun to visit small specialty shops, an alimentari is your one-stop corner grocery store (most will slice and stuff your sandwich for you if you buy the ingredients there). The rare supermercato (look for the Conad, Despar, and Co-op chains) gives you more efficiency with less color for less cost. At busier supermarkets, you’ll need to take a number for deli service. And rosticcerie sell cheap food to go—you’ll find options such as lasagna, rotisserie chicken, and sides like roasted potatoes and spinach.

Picnics can be an adventure in high cuisine. Be daring. Try the fresh mozzarella, presto pesto, shriveled olives, and any regional specialties the locals are excited about. If ordering antipasti (such as grilled or marinated veggies) at a deli counter, you can ask for una porzione in a takeaway container (contenitore). Use gestures to show exactly how much you want. The word basta (BAH-stah; enough) works as a question or as a statement.

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Shopkeepers are happy to sell small quantities of produce, but it’s customary to let the merchant choose for you. Say “per oggi” (pehr OH-jee; for today) and he or she will grab you something ready to eat. To avoid being overcharged, know the cost per kilo, study the weighing procedure, and do the arithmetic.

ITALIAN CUISINE STAPLES

Much of your Italian eating experience will likely center around the big five: pizza, pasta, salumi, cheese, and gelato. Here’s a rundown on what you might find on menus and in stores.

For a look at cuisine you’ll likely find in Rome, see the sidebar on here. For more food help, try a menu translator, such as the Rick Steves Italian Phrase Book & Dictionary, which has a menu decoder and plenty of useful phrases for navigating the culinary scene.

Pizza

Here are some of the pizzas you might see at restaurants or at a pizzeria. Note that if you ask for pepperoni on your pizza, you’ll get peperoni (green or red peppers, not sausage); request diavola, salsiccia piccante, or salame piccante instead (the closest thing in Italy to American pepperoni).

Bianca: White pizza with no tomatoes (also called ciaccina)

Capricciosa: Prosciutto, mushrooms, olives, and artichokes—literally the chef’s “caprice.”

Funghi: Mushrooms.

Margherita: Tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil—the red, white, and green of the Italian flag.

Marinara: Tomato sauce, oregano, garlic, no cheese.

Napoletana: Mozzarella, anchovies, and tomato sauce.

Ortolana: “Greengrocer-style,” with vegetables (also called vegetariana).

Quattro formaggi: Four different cheeses.

Quattro stagioni: Different toppings on each of the four quarters.

Eating with the Seasons

Italian cooks love to serve you fresh produce and seafood at its tastiest. If you must have porcini mushrooms outside of fall, they’ll be dried. To get a plate of the freshest veggies at a fine restaurant, request “Un piatto di verdure della stagioni, per favore” (“A plate of veggies in season, please”).

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Here are a few examples of what’s fresh when:

April-May:

Calamari, green beans, fava beans, romanesco (similar to cauliflower), asparagus, artichokes, and zucchini flowers

April-May and Sept-Oct:

Black truffles

May-June:

Mussels, asparagus, zucchini, cantaloupe, and strawberries

May-Aug:

Eggplant

Oct-Nov:

Mushrooms, white truffles, and chestnuts

Fresh year-round:

Clams, meats, and cheese

Pasta

While we think of pasta as a main dish, in Italy it’s considered a primo piatto—first course. There are more than 600 varieties of Italian pasta, and each is specifically used to highlight a certain sauce, meat, or regional ingredient. Italian pasta falls into two broad categories: pasta lunga (long pasta) and pasta corta (short pasta).

Pasta lunga can be round, such as capellini (thin “little hairs”), vermicelli (slightly thicker “little worms”), and bucatini (long and hollow), or it can be flat, such as linguine (narrow “little tongues”), fettuccine (wider “small ribbons”), tagliatelle (even wider), and pappardelle (very wide, best with meat sauces).

The most common pasta corta are tubes, such as penne, rigatoni, ziti, manicotti, and cannelloni; they come either lisce (smooth) or rigate (grooved—better to catch and cling to sauce). Many short pastas are named for their shapes, such as conchiglie (shells), farfalle (butterflies), cavatappi (corkscrews), ditali (thimbles), gomiti (“elbow” macaroni), lumache (snails), marziani (spirals resembling “Martian” antennae), and even strozzapreti (priest stranglers). Some are filled (ripieni), including tortelli (C-shaped, stuffed ravioli) and angolotti or mezzelune (shaped like “priest’s hats” or “half-moons”).

Most types of pasta come in slightly different variations: If it’s a bit thicker, -one is added to the end; if it’s a bit thinner, -ine, -ette, or -elle is added. For example, tortellini are smaller tortelli, while tortelloni are bigger. Most pastas in Italy are made fresh.

Here’s a list of common pasta toppings and sauces. On a menu, these terms are usually preceded by alla (in the style of) or in (in):

Aglio e olio: Garlic and olive oil.

Alfredo: Butter, cream, and parmesan.

Amatriciana: Pork cheek, pecorino cheese, and tomato.

Arrabbiata: “Angry,” spicy tomato sauce with chili peppers.

Bolognese: Meat and tomato sauce.

Boscaiola: Mushrooms and sausage.

Burro e salvia: Butter and sage.

Cacio e pepe: Parmigiano cheese and ground pepper.

Carbonara: Bacon, egg, cheese, and pepper.

Carrettiera: Spicy and garlicky, with olive oil and little tomatoes.

Diavola: “Devil-style,” spicy hot.

Frutti di mare: Seafood.

Genovese: Basil ground with parmigiano cheese, garlic, pine nuts, and olive oil; a.k.a. pesto.

Gricia: Cured pork and pecorino romano cheese.

Marinara: Usually tomato, often with garlic and onions, but can also be a seafood sauce (“sailor’s style”).

Norma: Tomato, eggplant, and ricotta cheese.

Pajata: Calf intestines (also called pagliata).

Pescatora: Seafood (“fisherman style”).

Pomodoro: Tomato only.

Puttanesca: “Harlot-style” tomato sauce with anchovies, olives, and capers.

Ragù: Meaty tomato sauce.

Scoglio: Mussels, clams, and tomatoes.

Sorrentina: “Sorrento-style,” with tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella (usually over gnocchi).

Sugo di lepre: Rich sauce made of wild hare.

Tartufi: Truffles (also called tartufate).

Umbria: Sauce of anchovies, garlic, tomatoes, and truffles.

Vongole: Clams and spices.

Salumi

Salumi (“salted” meats), also called affettati (“cut” meats), are an Italian staple. While most American cold cuts are cooked, in Italy they’re far more commonly cured by air-drying, salting, and smoking. (Don’t worry; these so-called “raw” meats are safe to eat, and you can really taste the difference.)

The two most familiar types of salumi are salame and prosciutto. Salame is an air-dried, sometimes spicy sausage that comes in many varieties. When Italians say “prosciutto,” they usually mean prosciutto crudo—the raw ham that air-cures on the hock and is then thinly sliced. Produced mainly in the north of Italy, prosciutto can be either dolce (sweet) or salato (salty). Purists say the best is prosciutto di Parma.

Other salumi may be less familiar:

Bresaola: Air-cured beef.

Capocollo: Peppery pork shoulder (also called coppa).

Culatello: Prosciutto made with only the finest cuts of meat.

Finocchiona: Salame with fennel seeds.

Lonzino: Cured pork loin.

Mortadella: A finely ground pork loaf, similar to our bologna.

Pancetta: Salt-cured, peppery pork belly meat, similar to bacon; can be eaten raw or added to cooked dishes.

Quanciale: Tender pork cheek.

Salame di Sant’Olcese: What we’d call “Genoa salami.”

Salame piccante: Spicy hot, similar to pepperoni.

Speck: Smoked pork shoulder.

If you’ve got a weak stomach, avoid testa in cassetta (headcheese—organs in aspic) and lampredotto—cow stomach that resembles a lamprey (eel).

Cheese

When it comes to cheese (formaggio), you’re probably already familiar with most of these Italian favorites:

Asiago: Hard cow cheese that comes either mezzano (young, firm, and creamy) or stravecchio (aged, pungent, and granular).

Burrata: A creamy mozzarella.

Fontina: Semihard, nutty, Gruyère-style mountain cheese.

Gorgonzola: Pungent, blue-veined cheese, either dolce (creamy) or stagionato (aged and hard).

Mascarpone: Sweet, buttery, spreadable dessert cheese.

Mozzarella di bufala: Made from the milk of water buffaloes.

Parmigiano-reggiano: Hard, crumbly, sharp, aged cow cheese with more nuanced flavor than American parmesan; grana padano is a less expensive variation.

Pecorino: Either fresco (fresh, soft, and mild) or stagionato (aged and sharp, sometimes called pecorino romano).

Provolone: Rich, firm, aged cow cheese.

Ricotta: Soft, airy cheese made by “recooking” leftover whey.

Scamorza: Similar to mozzarella, but often smoked.

Gelato

While American ice cream is made with cream and has a high butterfat content, Italian gelato is made with milk. It’s also churned more slowly, making it denser. Connoisseurs believe that because gelato has less air and less fat (which coats the mouth and blocks the taste buds), it’s more flavorful than American-style ice cream.

A key to gelato appreciation is sampling liberally and choosing flavors that go well together. At a gelateria, ask, as Italians do, for a taste: “Un assaggio, per favore?” (oon ah-SAH-joh pehr fah-VOH-ray). You can also ask what flavors go well together: “Quali gusti stanno bene insieme?” (KWAH-lee GOO-stee STAH-noh BEH-nay een-see-EH-may).

Most gelaterie clearly display prices and sizes. But in the textbook gelateria scam, the tourist orders two or three flavors—and the clerk selects a fancy, expensive chocolate-coated waffle cone, piles it high with huge scoops, and cheerfully charges the tourist €10. To avoid rip-offs, point to the price or say what you want—for instance, a €3 cup: “Una coppetta da tre euro” (OO-nah koh-PEH-tah dah tray eh-oo-roh).

The best gelaterie display signs reading artiginale, nostra produzione, or produzione propia, indicating that the gelato is made on the premises. Seasonal flavors are also a good sign, as are mellow hues (avoid colors that don’t appear in nature). Gelato stored in covered metal tins (rather than white plastic) is more likely to be homemade. Gourmet gelato shops are popping up all over Italy, selling exotic flavors. A chain called Grom is comparable to Ben & Jerry’s in the US.

Classic gelato flavors include:

After Eight: Chocolate and mint.

Bacio: Chocolate hazelnut, named for Italy’s popular “kiss” candies.

Cassata: With dried fruits.

Cioccolato: Chocolate.

Crema: Vanilla.

Croccantino: “Crunchy,” with toasted peanut bits.

Fior di latte: Sweet milk.

Fragola: Strawberry.

Macedonia: Mixed fruits.

Malaga: Similar to rum raisin.

Riso: With actual bits of rice mixed in.

Stracciatella: Vanilla with chocolate shreds.

Tartufo: Super chocolate.

Zabaione: Named for the egg yolk and Marsala wine dessert.

Zuppa inglese: Sponge cake, custard, chocolate, and cream.

Gelato variations or alternatives include sorbetto (sorbet—made with fruit, but no milk or eggs); granita or grattachecca (a cup of slushy ice with flavored syrup); and cremolata (a gelato-granita float).

BEVERAGES

Italian bars serve great drinks—hot, cold, sweet, caffeinated, or alcoholic.

Water, Juice, and Cold Drinks

Italians are notorious water snobs. At restaurants, your server just can’t understand why you wouldn’t want good water to go with your good food. It’s customary and never expensive to order a litro or mezzo litro (half-liter) of bottled water. Acqua leggermente effervescente (lightly carbonated water) is a meal-time favorite. Or simply ask for con gas if you want fizzy water and senza gas if you prefer still water. You can ask for acqua del rubinetto (tap water) in restaurants, but your server may give you a funny look. Chilled bottled water—still (naturale) or carbonated (frizzante)—is sold cheap in stores. Half-liter mineral-water bottles are available everywhere for about €1. (I refill my water bottle with tap water.)

Juice is succo, and spremuta means freshly squeezed. Order una spremuta (don’t confuse it with spumante, sparkling wine)—it’s usually orange juice (arancia), and from February through April it’s almost always made from blood oranges (arance rosse).

In grocery stores, you can get a liter of O.J. for the price of a Coke or coffee. Look for 100% succo or senza zucchero (without sugar) on the label—or be surprised by something diluted and sugary sweet. Hang on to your water bottles. Buy juice in cheap liter boxes, then drink some and store the extra in your water bottle.

Tè freddo (iced tea) is usually from a can—sweetened and flavored with lemon or peach. Lemonade is limonata.

Coffee and Other Hot Drinks

The espresso-based style of coffee so popular in the US was born in Italy. If you ask for “un caffè,” you’ll get a shot of espresso in a little cup—the closest thing to American-style drip coffee is a caffè americano. Most Italian coffee drinks begin with espresso, to which they add varying amounts of hot water and/or steamed or foamed milk. Milky drinks, like cappuccino or caffè latte, are served to locals before noon and to tourists any time of day (to an Italian, cappuccino is a morning drink; they believe having milk after a big meal impairs digestion). If they add any milk after lunch, it’s just a splash, in a caffè macchiato. Italians like their coffee only warm—to get it very hot, request “Molto caldo, per favore” (MOHL-toh KAHL-doh pehr fah-VOH-ray). Any coffee drink is available decaffeinated—ask for it decaffeinato (deh-kah-feh-NAH-toh). Cioccolato is hot chocolate. is hot tea.

Experiment with a few of the options:

Cappuccino: Espresso with foamed milk on top (cappuccino freddo is iced cappuccino).

Caffè latte: Espresso mixed with hot milk, no foam, in a tall glass (ordering just a “latte” gets you only milk).

Caffè macchiato: Espresso “marked” with a splash of milk, in a small cup.

Latte macchiato: Layers of hot milk and foam, “marked” by an espresso shot, in a tall glass. Note that if you order simply a “macchiato,” you’ll probably get a caffè macchiato.

Caffè corto/lungo: Concentrated espresso diluted with a tiny bit of hot water, in a small cup.

Caffè americano: Espresso diluted with even more hot water, in a larger cup.

Caffè corretto: Espresso “corrected” with a shot of liqueur (normally grappa, amaro, or sambuca).

Marocchino: “Moroccan” coffee with espresso, foamed milk, and cocoa powder; the similar mocaccino has chocolate instead of cocoa.

Caffè freddo: Sweet and iced espresso.

Caffè hag: Instant decaf.

Alcoholic Beverages

Beer: While Italy is traditionally considered wine country, in recent years there’s been a huge and passionate growth in the production of craft beer (birra artigianale). Even in small towns, you’ll see microbreweries slinging their own brews. You’ll also find local brews (Peroni and Moretti), as well as imports such as Heineken. Beer on tap is alla spina. Get it piccola (33 cl, 11 oz), media (50 cl, about a pint), or grande (a liter). A lattina (lah-TEE-nah) is a can and a bottiglia (boh-TEEL-yah) is a bottle.

Cocktails and Spirits: Italians appreciate both aperitivi (palate-stimulating cocktails) and digestivi (after-dinner drinks designed to aid digestion). Popular aperitivo options include Campari (dark-colored bitters with herbs and orange peel), Americano (vermouth with bitters, brandy, and lemon peel), Cynar (bitters flavored with artichoke), and Punt e Mes (sweet red vermouth and red wine). Widely used vermouth brands include Cinzano and Martini.

Digestivo choices are usually either a strong herbal bitters or something sweet. Many restaurants have their own secret recipe for a bittersweet herbal brew called amaro; popular commercial brands are Fernet Branca and Montenegro. If your tastes run sweeter, try amaretto (almond-flavored liqueur), Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur), limoncello (lemon liqueur), nocino (dark, sweet walnut liqueur), and sambuca (syrupy, anise-flavored liqueur; con moscha adds “flies”—three coffee beans). Grappa is a brandy distilled from grape skins and stems; stravecchio is an aged, mellower variation.

Wine: The ancient Greeks who colonized Italy more than 2,000 years ago called it Oenotria—land of the grape. Centuries later, Galileo wrote, “Wine is light held together by water.” Wine (vino) is certainly a part of the Italian culinary trinity—grape, olive, and wheat. (I’d add gelato.) Ideal conditions for grapes (warm climate, well-draining soil, and an abundance of hillsides) make the Italian peninsula a paradise for grape growers, winemakers, and wine drinkers. Italy makes and consumes more wine per capita than any other country.

Even if you’re clueless about wine, the information on an Italian wine label can help you choose something decent. Terms you may see on the bottle include classico (from a defined, select area), annata (year of harvest), vendemmia (harvest), and imbottigliato dal produttore all’origine (bottled by producers). To figure out what you like—and what suits your pocketbook—visit an enoteca (wine bar) and sample wines side by side. For tips on ordering wine, see the sidebar.

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In general, Italy designates its wines by one of four official categories:

Vino da Tavola (VDT) is table wine, the lowest grade, made from grapes grown anywhere in Italy. It’s inexpensive, but Italy’s wines are so good that, for many people, a basic vino da tavola is just fine with a meal. Many restaurants, even modest ones, take pride in their house wine (vino della casa), bottling their own or working with wineries.

Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) meets national standards for high-quality wine. Made from grapes grown in a defined area, it’s usually quite affordable and can be surprisingly good. Hundreds of wines have earned the DOC designation. In Tuscany, for example, many such wines come from the Chianti region, located between Florence and Siena.

Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Guarantita (DOCG), the highest grade, meets national standards for the highest-quality wine (made with grapes from a defined area whose quality is “guaranteed”). These wines can be identified by the pink or green label on the neck...and the scary price tag on the shelf. Only a limited number of wines in Italy can be called DOCG. They’re generally a good bet if you want a quality wine, but don’t know anything else about the winemaker. (Riserva indicates a DOC or DOCG wine matured for a longer, more specific time.)

Indicazione Geographica Tipica (IGT) is a broad group of wines that range from basic to some of Italy’s best. These wines don’t follow the strict “recipe” required for DOC or DOCG status, but give local vintners creative license. This category includes the Super Tuscans—wines made from a mix of international grapes (such as cabernet sauvignon) grown in Tuscany and aged in small oak barrels for only two years. The result is a lively full-bodied wine that dances all over your head...and is worth the steep price for aficionados.

Ordering Wine

To order a glass of red or white wine, say, “Un bicchiere di vino rosso/bianco.” House wine comes in a carafe; choose from a quarter-liter pitcher (8.5 oz, un quarto), half-liter pitcher (17 oz, un mezzo), or one-liter pitcher (34 oz, un litro). When ordering, have some fun, gesture like a local, and you’ll have no problems speaking the language of the enoteca. Salute!

English

Italian

wine

vino (VEE-noh)

house wine

vino della casa (VEE-noh DEH-lah KAH-zah)

glass

bicchiere (bee-kee-EH-ree)

bottle

bottiglia (boh-TEEL-yah)

carafe

caraffa (kah-RAH-fah)

red

rosso (ROH-soh)

white

bianco (bee-AHN-koh)

rosé

rosato (roh-ZAH-toh)

sparkling

spumante/frizzante (spoo-MAHN-tay/freed-ZAHN-tay)

dry

secco (SEH-koh)

earthy

terroso (teh-ROH-zoh)

elegant

elegante (eh-leh-GAHN-tay)

fruity

fruttato (froo-TAH-toh)

full-bodied

corposo/pieno (kor-POH-zoh/pee-EH-noh)

mature

mature (mah-TOO-roh)

sweet

dolce (DOHL-chay)

tannic

tannico (TAH-nee-koh)

young

giovane (JOH-vah-nay)

Staying Connected

Staying connected in Europe gets easier and cheaper every year. The simplest solution is to bring your own device—mobile phone, tablet, or laptop—and use it just as you would at home (following the tips below, such as connecting to free Wi-Fi whenever possible). Another option is to buy a European SIM card for your mobile phone—either your US phone or one you buy in Europe. Or you can travel without a mobile device and use European landlines and computers to connect. Each of these options is described below, and you’ll find even more details at www.ricksteves.com/phoning.

Hurdling the Language Barrier

Many Italians—especially those in the tourist trade and in big cities such as Rome—speak English. Still, you’ll get better treatment if you learn and use Italian pleasantries. In smaller, non-touristy towns, Italian is the norm. For a list of survival phrases, see here.

Note that Italian is pronounced much like English, with a few exceptions, such as: c followed by e or i is pronounced ch (to ask, “Per centro?”—To the center?—you say, pehr CHEHN-troh). In Italian, ch is pronounced like the hard c in Chianti (chiesa—church—is pronounced kee-AY-zah).

Give it your best shot. Italians appreciate your efforts.

USING YOUR OWN MOBILE DEVICE IN EUROPE

Without an international plan, typical rates from major service providers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) for using your device abroad are about $1.50/minute for voice calls, 50 cents to send text messages, 5 cents to receive them, and $20 to download one megabyte of data. But at these rates, costs can add up quickly. Here are some budget tips and options.

Use free Wi-Fi whenever possible. Unless you have an unlimited-data plan, you’re best off saving most of your online tasks for Wi-Fi. You can access the Internet, send texts, and even make voice calls over Wi-Fi.

Many cafés (including Starbucks and McDonald’s) have hotspots for customers; look for signs offering it and ask for the Wi-Fi password when you buy something. You’ll also often find Wi-Fi at TIs, city squares, major museums, public-transit hubs, airports, and aboard trains and buses.

Sign up for an international plan. Most providers offer a global calling plan that cuts the per-minute cost of phone calls and texts, and a flat-fee data plan that includes a certain amount of megabytes. Your normal plan may already include international coverage (T-Mobile’s does).

Before your trip, call your provider or check online to confirm that your phone will work in Europe, and research your provider’s international rates. A day or two before you leave, activate the plan by calling your provider or logging on to your mobile phone account. Remember to cancel your plan (if necessary) when your trip’s over.

Minimize the use of your cellular network. When you can’t find Wi-Fi, you can use your cellular network—convenient but slower and potentially expensive—to connect to the Internet, text, or make voice calls. When you’re done, avoid further charges by manually switching off “data roaming” or “cellular data” (in your device’s Settings menu; if you don’t know how to switch it off, ask your service provider or Google it). Another way to make sure you’re not accidentally using data roaming is to put your device in “airplane” or “flight” mode (which also disables phone calls and texts, as well as data), and then turn on Wi-Fi as needed.

How to Dial

Many Americans are intimidated by dialing European phone numbers. You needn’t be. It’s simple, once you break the code.

Dialing Rules

Here are the rules for dialing, along with examples of how to call one of my recommended hotels in Rome (tel. 06-482-4696).

Dialing Internationally to Italy

Whether you’re phoning from a US landline, your own mobile phone, a Skype account, or a number in another European country (e.g., Spain to Italy), you’re making an international call. Here’s how to do it:

1. Dial the international access code (011 if calling from a US or Canadian phone; 00 if calling from any European phone number outside of Italy). If dialing from a mobile phone, you can enter a + in place of the international access code (press and hold the 0 key).

2. Dial the country code (39 for Italy).

3. Dial the phone number (including the initial 0).

Examples:

✵ To call the Rome hotel from a US or Canadian phone, dial 011, then 39, then 06-482-4696.

✵ To call from any European phone number (outside of Italy), dial 00, then 39, then 06-482-4696.

✵ To call from any mobile phone (except an Italian one), dial +, then 39, then 06-482-4696.

Dialing Within Italy

If calling from an Italian mobile phone or landline (such as a hotel-room phone), simply dial the phone number, including the initial 0.

Example: To call my recommended hotel, dial 06-482-4696 (whether you’re calling it from across the street or across the country).

Calling from any European Country to the US

To call the US or Canada from Europe (either from a mobile phone or landline), dial 00 (Europe’s international access code), 1 (US/Canada country code), and the phone number, including area code. If calling from a mobile phone, you can enter a + instead of 00.

Example: To call my office in Edmonds, Washington, from anywhere in Europe, I dial 00-1-425-771-8303; or, from a mobile phone, +-1-425-771-8303.

More Dialing Tips

Italian Phone Numbers: Italian phone numbers vary in length; a hotel can have, say, an eight-digit phone number and a nine-digit fax number. Italy’s landlines start with 0 and mobile lines start with 3. Note that calls to a European mobile phone are substantially more expensive than calls to a fixed line. Off-hour calls are generally cheaper.

Toll and Toll-Free Calls: The country’s toll-free lines begin with 80. These 80 numbers—called freephone or numero verde (green number)—can be dialed free from any phone without using a phone card. Note that you can’t call Italy’s toll-free numbers from the US, nor can you count on reaching American toll-free numbers from Italy. Any Italian phone number that starts with 8 but isn’t followed by a 0 is a toll call, generally costing €0.10-0.50 per minute.

More Resources: The “Phoning Cheat Sheet” on the next page shows how to dial per country, or you can check www.countrycallingcodes.com or www.howtocallabroad.com.

For tips on communicating with someone who speaks another language, see here.

Don’t use your cellular network for bandwidth-gobbling tasks, such as Skyping, downloading apps, and watching YouTube—save these for when you’re on Wi-Fi. Using a navigation app such as Google Maps can take lots of data, so use this sparingly.

Limit automatic updates. By default, your device is constantly checking for a data connection and updating apps. It’s smart to disable these features so they’ll only update when you’re on Wi-Fi, and to change your device’s email settings from “auto-retrieve” to “manual” (or from “push” to “fetch”).

It’s also a good idea to keep track of your data usage. On your device’s menu, look for “cellular data usage” or “mobile data” and reset the counter at the start of your trip.

Use Skype or other calling/messaging apps for cheaper calls and texts. Certain apps let you make voice or video calls or send texts over the Internet cheaply or for free. If you’re bringing a tablet or laptop, you can also use it for voice calls and texts. All you have to do is log on to a Wi-Fi network, then contact any of your friends or family members who are also online and signed into the same service. You can make voice and video calls using Skype, Viber, FaceTime, and Google+ Hangouts. If the connection is bad, try making an audio-only call.

You can also make voice calls from your device to telephones worldwide for just a few cents per minute using Skype, Viber, or Hangouts if you prebuy credit.

To text for free over Wi-Fi, try apps like Google+ Hangouts, What’s App, Viber, and Facebook Messenger. Apple’s iMessage connects with other Apple users, but make sure you’re on Wi-Fi to avoid data charges.

USING A EUROPEAN SIM CARD IN A MOBILE PHONE

This option works well for those who want to make a lot of voice calls at cheap local rates. Either buy a phone in Europe (as little as $40 from mobile-phone shops anywhere), or bring an “unlocked” US phone (check with your carrier about unlocking it). With an unlocked phone, you can replace the original SIM card (the microchip that stores info about the phone) with one that will work with a European provider.

In Europe, buy a European SIM card. Inserted into your phone, this card gives you a European phone number—and European rates. SIM cards are sold at mobile-phone shops, department-store electronics counters, some newsstands, and even at vending machines. Costing about $5-10, they usually include about that much prepaid calling credit, with no contract and no commitment. You can still use your phone’s Wi-Fi function to get online. To get a SIM card that also includes data costs (including roaming), figure on paying $15-30 for one month of data within the country where you bought it. This can be cheaper than data roaming through your home provider. To get the best rates, buy a new SIM card whenever you arrive in a new country.

I like to buy SIM cards at a mobile-phone shop where there’s a clerk to help explain the options and brands. In Italy, the major mobile phone providers are Wind, TIM, Vodafone, and 3 (“Tre”). Certain SIM-card brands—including Lebara and Lycamobile, both of which operate in multiple European countries—are reliable and economical. Ask the clerk to help you insert your SIM card, set it up, and show you how to use it. In some countries—including Italy—you’ll be required to register the SIM card with your passport as an antiterrorism measure (which may mean you can’t use the phone for the first hour or two).

When you run out of credit, you can top it up at newsstands, tobacco shops, mobile-phone stores, or many other businesses (look for your SIM card’s logo in the window), or online.

Phoning Cheat Sheet

Just smile and dial, using these rules.

Calling a European number

✵ From a mobile phone (whether you’re in the US or in Europe): Dial + (press and hold 0), then country code and number*

✵ From a US/Canadian number: Dial 011, then country code and number*

✵ From a different European country (e.g., German number to French number): Dial 00, then country code and number*

✵ Within the same European country (e.g., German number to another German number): Dial the number as printed, including initial 0 if there is one

* Drop initial 0 (if present) from phone number in all countries except Italy

Calling the US or Canada from Europe

Dial 00, then 1 (country code for US/Canada), then area code and number; on mobile phones, enter + in place of 00

Country

Country Code

Austria

43

Belgium

32

Bosnia-Herzegovina

387

Croatia

385

Czech Republic

420

Denmark

45

Estonia

372

Finland

358

France

33

Germany

49

Gibraltar

350

Great Britain & N. Ireland

44

Greece

30

Hungary

36[1]

Ireland

353

Italy

39[2]

Latvia

371

Montenegro

382

Morocco

212

Netherlands

31

Norway

47

Poland

48

Portugal

351

Russia

7[3]

Slovakia

421

Slovenia

386

Spain

34

Sweden

46

Switzerland

41

Turkey

90

[1] For long-distance calls within Hungary, dial 06, then the area code and number.

[2] When making international calls to Italy, do not drop the initial 0 from the phone number.

[3] For long-distance calls within Russia, dial 8, then the area code and number. To call the US or Canada from Russia, dial 8, then 10, then 1, then the area code and number.

USING LANDLINES AND COMPUTERS IN EUROPE

It’s easy to travel in Europe without a mobile device. You can check email or browse websites using public computers and Internet cafés, and make calls from your hotel room and/or public phones.

Phones in your hotel room can be inexpensive for local calls and calls made with cheap international phone cards (carta telefonica prepagata internazionale, KAR-tah teh-leh-FOHN-ee-kah pray-pah-GAH-tah in-ter-naht-zee-oh-NAH-lay—sold at many post offices, newsstands, street kiosks, tobacco shops, and train stations). You’ll either get a prepaid card with a toll-free number and a scratch-to-reveal PIN code, or a code printed on a receipt; to make a call, dial the toll-free number, follow the prompts, enter the code, then dial your number.

Most hotels charge a fee for placing local and “toll-free” calls, as well as long-distance or international calls—ask for the rates before you dial. Since you’re never charged for receiving calls, it’s better to have someone from the US call you in your room.

You’ll see public pay phones in post offices and train stations. The phones generally come with multilingual instructions, and most work with insertable Telecom Italia phone cards (sold at post offices, newsstands, etc.). To use the card, rip off the perforated corner to “activate” it, take the phone off the hook, insert the card, wait for a dial tone, and dial away. With the exception of Great Britain, each European country has its own insertable phone card—so your Spanish card won’t work in an Italian phone.

Cheap call shops, often located in train-station neighborhoods, advertise low international rates. Before making your call, be completely clear on the rates (e.g., if there’s a charge per unit, find out how long a unit is).

It’s always possible to find public computers: at your hotel (many have one in their lobby for guests to use), or at an Internet café or library (ask your hotelier or the TI for the nearest location). If typing on a European keyboard, use the “Alt Gr” key to the right of the space bar to insert the extra symbol that appears on some keys. Italian keyboards are a little different from ours; to type an @ symbol, press the “Alt Gr” key and the key that shows the @ symbol. If you can’t locate a special character, simply copy it from a Web page and paste it into your email message.

MAIL

You can mail one package per day to yourself worth up to $200 duty-free from Europe to the US (mark it “personal purchases”). If you’re sending a gift to someone, mark it “unsolicited gift.” For details, visit www.cbp.gov and search for “Know Before You Go.”

The Italian postal service works fine, but for quick transatlantic delivery (in either direction), consider services such as DHL (www.dhl.com).

Tips on Internet Security

Using the Internet while traveling brings added security risks, whether you’re getting online with your own device or at a public terminal using a shared network.

First, make sure that your device is running the latest version of its operating system and security software. Next, ensure that your device is password- or passcode-protected so thieves can’t access your information if your device is stolen. For extra security, set passwords on apps that access key info (such as email or Facebook).

On the road, use only legitimate Wi-Fi hotspots. Ask the hotel or café staff for the specific name of their Wi-Fi network, and make sure you log on to that exact one. Hackers sometimes create a bogus hotspot with a similar or vague name (such as “Hotel Europa Free Wi-Fi”). The best Wi-Fi networks require entering a password.

Be especially cautious when checking your online banking, credit-card statements, or other personal-finance accounts. Internet security experts advise against accessing these sites while traveling. Even if you’re using your own mobile device at a password-protected hotspot, any hacker who’s logged on to the same network may be able see what you’re doing. If you do need to log on to a banking website, use a hard-wired connection (such as an Ethernet cable in your hotel room) or a cellular network, which is safer than Wi-Fi.

Never share your credit-card number (or any other sensitive information) online unless you know that the site is secure. A secure site displays a little padlock icon, and the URL begins with https (instead of the usual http).

Transportation

If your trip will cover more of Italy than just Rome, you may need to take a long-distance train or bus, rent a car, or fly. I give some specifics on trains and flights here. Buses are an alternative to trains (and may be your only option for reaching some small Italian towns), but they are generally slower and less efficient. Renting a car is great for touring the small hill towns of Umbria and Tuscany north of Rome. For more detailed information on transportation throughout Europe, including trains, flying, buses, renting a car, and driving, see www.ricksteves.com/transportation.

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TRAINS

To travel by train affordably in Italy, you can simply buy tickets as you go. Ticket machines are easy to use (see “Buying Tickets,” later), so you can usually avoid long lines at ticket windows. Pay all ticket costs in the station before you board, or you’ll pay a penalty on the train. For travelers ready to lock in dates and times weeks or months in advance, buying nonrefundable tickets online can cut costs in half. Note that the Italy rail pass is generally not a good value; but if your travel extends beyond Italy, there are various multicountry rail passes that might be worth checking into. For advice on figuring out the smartest train-ticket or rail-pass options for your trip, visit the Trains & Rail Passes section of my website at www.ricksteves.com/rail.

Types of Trains

Most trains in Italy are operated by the state-run Trenitalia company (a.k.a. Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, abbreviated FS or FSI). Since ticket prices depend on the speed of the train, it pays to know the different types of trains: pokey R or REG (regionali), medium-speed RV (regionali veloce), IR (InterRegio), D (diretto), and E (espresso); fast IC (InterCity) and EC (EuroCity); and super-fast Frecce trains: Frecciabianca (“White Arrow”), faster Frecciargento (“Silver Arrow”), Frecciarossa (“Red Arrow”), and the newest Frecciarossa 1000 or Freccemille (up to 225 mph). You may also see the Frecce trains marked on schedules as ES, AV, or EAV. If you’re traveling with a rail pass, note that reservations are required for EC and international trains (€5) and for Frecce trains (€10). Reservations are optional for IC trains, and you can’t make reservations for regional trains, such as most Rome-Civitavecchia connections.

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A private train company called Italo runs fast trains on major routes in Italy. Italo is focused on two corridors: Venice-Padua-Bologna-Florence-Rome and Turin-Milan-Bologna-Florence-Rome-Naples. Their high-speed trains have fewer departures than Trenitalia, but they do offer discounts for tickets booked well in advance. In some cities, such as Milan, their trains use secondary stations—if taking Italo, pay attention to which station you need. Italo does not accept rail passes, but they’re a worthy alternative for point-to-point tickets. You can book in person (look for Italo ticket offices or their red machines), by phone (tel. 06-0708), or on their user-friendly website (www.italotreno.it).

Schedules

At the train station, the easiest way to check schedules is at a handy ticket machine (described later, under “Buying Tickets”). Enter the desired date, time, and destination to see all your options. Printed schedules are also posted at the station (departure—partenzi—posters are always yellow).

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Newsstands sell up-to-date regional and all-Italy timetables (€5, ask for the orario ferroviaro). You can also check www.trenitalia.it and www.italotreno.it (domestic journeys only); for international trips, use www.bahn.com (Germany’s excellent all-Europe schedule website). Trenitalia offers a single all-Italy telephone number for train information (24 hours daily, toll tel. 892-021, in Italian only, consider having your hotelier call for you). For Italo trains, call tel. 06-0708.

Be aware that Trenitalia and Italo don’t cooperate at all. If you buy a ticket for one train line, it’s not valid on the other. Even if you’re just looking for schedule information, the company you ask will most likely ignore the other’s options.

Deciphering Italian Train Schedules

At the station, look for the big yellow posters labeled Partenze—Departures (ignore the white posters, which show arrivals). In stations with Italo service, the posted schedules also include the FS or Italo logos.

Schedules are listed chronologically, hour by hour, showing the trains leaving the station throughout the day. Each schedule has columns:

✵ The first column (Ora) lists the time of departure.

✵ The next column (Treno) shows the type of train.

✵ The third column (Classi Servizi) lists the services available (first- and second-class cars, dining car, cuccetta berths, etc.) and, more importantly, whether you need reservations (usually denoted by an R in a box). All Frecce trains, many EuroCity (EC) trains, and most international trains require reservations.

✵ The next column lists the destination of the train (Principali Fermate Destinazioni), often showing intermediate stops, followed by the final destination, with arrival times listed throughout in parentheses. Note that your final destination may be listed in fine print as an intermediate destination. For example, if you’re going from Rome to Orvieto, scan the schedule and you’ll notice that regional trains that go to Florence usually stop in Orvieto en route. Travelers who read the fine print end up with a far greater choice of trains.

✵ The next column (Servizi Diretti e Annotazioni) has pertinent notes about the train, such as “also stops in...” (ferma anche a...), “doesn’t stop in...” (non ferma a...), “stops in every station” (ferma in tutte le stazioni), “delayed...” (ritardo...), and so on.

✵ The last column lists the track (Binario) the train departs from. Confirm the binario with an additional source: a ticket seller, the electronic board that lists immediate departures, TV monitors on the platform, or the railway officials who are usually standing by the train unless you really need them.

For any odd symbols on the poster, look at the key at the end. Some of the phrasing can be deciphered easily, such as servizio periodico (periodic service—doesn’t always run). For the trickier ones, ask a local or railway official, try your Rick Steves Italian Phrase Book & Dictionary, or simply take a different train.

You can also check schedules—for trains anywhere in Italy, not just from the station you’re currently in—at the handy ticket machines. Enter the date and time of your departure (to or from any Italian station), and you can view all your options.

Point-to-Point Tickets

Train tickets are a good value in Italy. Fares are shown on the map on here, though fares can vary for the same journey, mainly depending on the time of day, the speed of the train, and advance discounts. First-class tickets cost from 30 to 50 percent more than second-class.

Frecce and Italo trains each offer several classes of service where all seats are reserved: Standard, Premium, Business, or Executive on Frecciarossa; Smart, Prima, or Club on Italo; and standard first and second class on other trains. Buying up gives you a little more elbow room, or perhaps a better chance at seating a group together, if you’re buying on short notice. Ticket price levels for both companies are Base (full fare, easily changeable or partly refundable before scheduled departure), Economy (one schedule change allowed before departure), and Super Economy or Low Cost (sells out quickly, no refund or exchange). Discounted fares typically sell out several days before departure. Fares labeled servizi abbonati are available only for locals with monthly passes—not tourists.

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Speed vs. Savings: For point-to-point tickets, you’ll pay more the faster you go. Spending a modest amount of extra time in transit can save money. For example, a round-trip ticket between Rome and Civitavecchia costs €15 on a Frecce train (45 minutes each way), but €5 on a regional train (1.25 hours each way). On longer, mainline routes, fast trains save more time and provide most of the service. For example, super-fast Rome-Venice trains run hourly, cost €76 in second class, and make the trip in 3.75 hours, while infrequent InterCity trains (only 1-2/day) cost €50 and take 6 hours.

Discounts: Families with young children can get price breaks—kids ages 4 and under travel free; ages 4-11 at half-price. Ask for the “Offerta Familia” deal when buying tickets at a counter (or, at a ticket machine, choose “Yes” at the “Do you want ticket issue?” prompt, then choose “Familia”). With the discount, families of three to five people with at least one kid (under 12) get 50 percent off the child fare and 20 percent off the adult fare. The deal doesn’t apply to all trains at all times, but it’s worth checking out.

Discounts for youths and seniors require purchase of a separate card (Carta Verde for ages 12-26 costs €40; Carta Argento for ages 60 and over is €30), but the discount on tickets is so minor (10-15 percent respectively for domestic travel), it’s not worth it for most.

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Buying Tickets: Avoid train station ticket lines whenever possible by using the ticket machines in station halls. You’ll be able to easily purchase tickets for travel within Italy (not international trains), make seat reservations, and even book a cuccetta (koo-CHEH-tah; overnight berth). If you do use the ticket windows, be sure you’re in the correct line. Key terms: biglietti (general tickets), prenotazioni (reservations), nazionali (domestic), and internazionali.

Trenitalia’s ticket machines (either green-and-white or red) are user-friendly and found in all but the tiniest stations in Italy. You can pay by cash (they give change) or by debit or credit card (even for small amounts, but you may need to enter your PIN). Select English, then your destination. If you don’t immediately see the city you’re traveling to, keep keying in the spelling until it’s listed. You can choose from first- and second-class seats, request tickets for more than one traveler, and (on the high-speed Frecce trains) choose an aisle or window seat. Don’t select a discount rate without being sure that you meet the criteria (for example, Americans are not eligible for certain EU or resident discounts). Rail-pass holders can use the machines to make seat reservations. If you need to validate your ticket, you can do it in the same machine if you’re boarding your train right away.

For longer-haul runs, it can be cheaper to buy Trenitalia tickets in advance, either at the station or on their website. Because most Italian trains run frequently and there’s no deadline to buy tickets, you can keep your travel plans flexible by purchasing tickets as you go. (You can buy tickets for several trips at one station when you are ready to commit.) For busy weekend or holiday travel, however, it can be a good idea to buy tickets in advance, whether online or at a station.

To buy tickets for Italo trains, look for a dedicated service counter (in most major rail stations) or a red ticket machine labeled Italo. You can also book Italo tickets by phone (tel. 06-0708) or online (www.italotreno.it).

You can’t buy most international tickets from machines; for this and anything else that requires a real person, you must go to a ticket window at the station. A good alternative, though, is to drop by a local travel agency. Agencies sell domestic and international tickets and make reservations. They charge a small fee, but the language barrier (and the lines) can be smaller than at the station’s ticket windows.

Validating Tickets: If your ticket includes a seat reservation on a specific train (biglietto con prenotazione), you’re all set and can just get on board. An open ticket with no seat reservation (it may say da convalidare or convalida) must always be validated—stamp it before you board in the machine near the platform (usually marked convalida biglietti or vidimazione). Once you validate a ticket, you must complete your trip within the timeframe shown on the ticket (within 6 hours for medium-distance trips; within 1.25 hours for short rides under 6 miles). If you forget to validate your ticket, go right away to the train conductor—before he comes to you—or you’ll pay a fine. Note that you don’t need to validate a rail pass each time you board (just make sure you’ve validated it before its first use).

Train Tips

Seat Reservations: Trains can fill up, even in first class. If you’re on a tight schedule, you’ll want to reserve a few days ahead for fast trains (see “Types of Trains,” earlier). Purchasing tickets or passholder reservations on board a train comes with a nasty penalty. Buying them at the station can be a time waster unless you use the ticket machines.

If you don’t need a reservation, and if your train originates at your departure point (e.g., you’re catching the Rome-Assisi train in Rome), arriving at least 15 minutes before the departure time will help you snare a seat.

On the platforms of some major stations, posters showing the train composition (composizione principali treni) indicate where first- and second-class cars will line up when the trains arrive (letters on the poster are supposed to correspond to letters posted over the platform—but they don’t always). Other stations may post the order of the cars on video screens along the track shortly before the train arrives. Since most trains now allow you to make reservations up to the time of departure, conductors post a list of the reservable and non-reservable seat rows (sometimes in English) in each train car’s vestibule. This means that if you board a crowded train and get one of the last seats, you may be ousted when the reservation holder comes along.

Baggage Storage: Many stations have deposito bagagli where you can safely leave your bag for about €8 per 12-hour period (payable when you pick up the bag, double-check closing hours; they may ask to photocopy your passport). Because of security concerns, no Italian stations have lockers.

Theft Concerns: In big cities, train stations are rife with thieves and con artists. Italy remains in economic straits, and unemployed people lurk around the station trying to skim tips (or worse) from unsuspecting tourists. If someone helps you to find your train or carry your bags, be aware that they are not an official porter; they are simply hoping for some cash. And if someone other than a uniformed railway employee tries to help you use the ticket machines, politely refuse.

Italian trains are famous for their thieves. Never leave a bag unattended. Police do ride the trains, cutting down on theft. Still, for an overnight trip, I’d feel safe only in a cuccetta (a bunk in a special sleeping car with an attendant who keeps track of who comes and goes while you sleep—approximately €20 in a six-bed compartment, €25 in a less-cramped four-bed compartment, €50 in a more private, double compartment).

Strikes: Strikes, which are common, generally last a day (often a Friday). Train employees will simply explain, “Sciopero” (strike). But in actuality, sporadic trains, following no particular schedule, lumber down the tracks during most strikes. When a strike is pending, travel agencies (and hoteliers) can check to see when the strike goes into effect and which trains will continue to run. Revised schedules may be posted in Italian at stations, and station personnel still working can often tell you what trains are expected to run. If I need to get somewhere and know a strike is imminent, I leave early (before the strike, which often begins at 9:00), or I just go to the station with extra patience in tow and hop on anything rolling in the direction I want to go.

FLIGHTS

The best comparison search engine for both international and intra-European flights is www.kayak.com. For inexpensive flights within Europe, try www.skyscanner.com or www.hipmunk.com; for inexpensive international flights, try www.vayama.com.

Flying to Europe: Start looking for international flights four to five months before your trip, especially for peak-season travel. Off-season tickets can be purchased a month or so in advance. Depending on your itinerary, it can be efficient to fly into one city and out of another. If your flight requires a connection in Europe, see our hints on navigating Europe’s top hub airports at www.ricksteves.com/hub-airports.

Flying Within Europe: If you’re considering a train ride that’s more than five hours long, a flight may save you both time and money. When comparing your options, factor in the time it takes to get to the airport and how early you’ll need to arrive to check in.

Well-known cheapo airlines include easyJet (www.easyjet.com) and Ryanair (www.ryanair.com), which both serve Rome. But be aware of the potential drawbacks of flying with a discount airline: nonrefundable and nonchangeable tickets, minimal or nonexistent customer service, pricey and time-consuming treks to secondary airports, and stingy baggage allowances with steep overage fees. If you’re traveling with lots of luggage, a cheap flight can quickly become a bad deal. To avoid unpleasant surprises, read the small print before you book.

These days you can also fly within Europe on major airlines affordably—and without all the aggressive restrictions—for around $100 a flight.

Flying to the US and Canada: Because security is extra tight for flights to the US, be sure to give yourself plenty of time at the airport. It’s also important to charge your electronic devices before you board because security checks may require you to turn them on (see www.tsa.gov for the latest rules).

Resources

RESOURCES FROM RICK STEVES

Rick Steves Rome 2016 is one of many books in my series on European travel, which includes country guidebooks, city guidebooks (Venice, Florence, Paris, London, etc.), Snapshot guides (excerpted chapters from my country guides), Pocket Guides (full-color little books on big cities, including Rome), and my budget-travel skills handbook, Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door. Most of my titles are available as ebooks. My phrase books—for Italian, French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese—are practical and budget-oriented. My other books include Europe 101 (a crash course on art and history designed for travelers); Mediterranean Cruise Ports and Northern European Cruise Ports (how to make the most of your time in port); and Travel as a Political Act (a travelogue sprinkled with tips for bringing home a global perspective). A more complete list of my titles appears near the end of this book.

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Video: My public television series, Rick Steves’ Europe, covers Europe from top to bottom with over 100 half-hour episodes. To watch full episodes online for free, visit www.ricksteves.com/tv. Or to raise your travel I.Q. with video versions of our popular classes (including my talks on travel skills, packing smart, European art for travelers, travel as a political act, and individual talks covering most European countries), see www.ricksteves.com/travel-talks.

Audio: My weekly public radio show, Travel with Rick Steves, features interviews with travel experts from around the world. I’ve also produced free, self-guided audio tours of the top sights in Rome. Most of this audio content is available for free through my Rick Steves Audio Europe app (see here).

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MAPS

The black-and-white maps in this book are concise and simple, designed to help you locate recommended places and get to local TIs, where you can pick up more in-depth maps of cities and regions (usually free). Better maps are sold at newsstands and bookstores. Before you buy a map, look at it to be sure it has the level of detail you want. Drivers will want to pick up a good, detailed map in Europe.

If you use Google Maps or Apple Maps on your mobile device, pulling up maps on the fly or looking up turn-by-turn walking directions requires you to go online—so it’s smart to get an international data plan (see here). In either app, it’s possible to download a map while on Wi-Fi, then navigate with it all day long without incurring data-roaming charges—though you can’t search for an address or get directions. A number of well-designed apps, including City Maps 2Go, OffMaps, and Navfree, allow you much of the convenience of online maps without any costly data demands.

Begin Your Trip at www.RickSteves.com

My mobile-friendly website is the place to explore Europe. You’ll find thousands of fun articles, videos, photos, and radio interviews organized by country; a wealth of money-saving tips for planning your dream trip; monthly travel news dispatches; my travel talks and travel blog; my latest guidebook updates (www.ricksteves.com/update); and my free Rick Steves Audio Europe app. You can also find links to follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Our Travel Forum is an immense, yet well-groomed collection of message boards, where our travel-savvy community answers questions and shares their personal travel experiences—and our well-traveled staff chimes in when they can be helpful (www.ricksteves.com/forums).

Our online Travel Store offers travel bags and accessories that I’ve designed specifically to help you travel smarter and lighter. These include my popular bags (rolling carry-on and backpack versions, which I helped design…and live out of four months a year), money belts, totes, toiletries kits, adapters, other accessories, and a wide selection of guidebooks and planning maps.

Choosing the right rail pass for your trip—amid hundreds of options—can drive you nutty. Our website will help you find the perfect fit for your itinerary and your budget: We offer easy, one-stop shopping for rail passes, seat reservations, and point-to-point tickets.

Want to travel with greater efficiency and less stress? We organize tours with more than three dozen itineraries and more than 700 departures reaching the best destinations in this book...and beyond. Our Italy tours include “the best of” in 17 days, Village Italy in 14 days, South Italy in 13 days, Sicily in 11 days, Venice-Florence-Rome in 10 days, the Heart of Italy in 9 days, a My Way: Italy “unguided” tour in 13 days, and a week-long Rome tour. You’ll enjoy great guides, a fun bunch of travel partners (with small groups of 24 to 28 travelers), and plenty of room to spread out in a big, comfy bus when touring between towns. You’ll find European adventures to fit every vacation length. For all the details, and to get our Tour Catalog and a free Rick Steves Tour Experience DVD (filmed on location during an actual tour), visit www.ricksteves.com or call us at 425/608-4217.