Well. It finally came to an end. The first leg of my journey is officially over. Goodbye Italy, goodbye unlimited carbs and frizzante water. I love Italy, and I’m obsessed with Italy, if you can’t tell, so I wanted to compile a simple guide to my favourites, the do’s and the don’ts of the country according to me, and the tips and tricks I’ve learned throughout my time. I hope everyone has the chance to explore this beautiful country and I hope even more that I am able, in some way, to help you do it. So this is for you, future travellers, enjoy.
- Best Pizza: Gusta Pizza. Open 11:30-3:00 and 7-11:30. Closed Monday’s (learned this the hard way)
- Best gelato: Gelateria dei Neri (Via dei Neri, 9/11) & Gelataria Badiani (Viale dei Mille, 20 try Dolce Vita)
- Best gelato flavour to try: ricotta and pear, pistachio, buontalenti (it was once described to me as tasting like yogurt on steroids)
- Best caffe: Dolce Lab (Via de Macci, 38) they have awesome homemade desserts and filter coffee if you’re missing the tastes of home; ChiaroScuro (Via Del Corso, 36) for simple espressi or macchiati or a delicious chai tea latte
- Best sandwich: All’Antico Vinaio (Via dei Neri, 74) you can find it by the crowd outside and the line is worth it!
- Best Market: Mercato Centrale for all your food needs, Or head upstairs for coffee and lunch
- Apperativo: pay for a drink and get an appetizer buffet included. My recommendation is Kitsch (Viale Antonia Gramsci 1/5)
- Caffè corretto – Italians love their espresso, but also their sambuca. So why not put it together
- Pocket coffee: it’s a chocolate filled with espresso. It gives you a mid day pick me up and hits the sweet spot all at once. Can get at any tabacci or grocery store.
- Un shottino di cioccolato caldo – a shot of hot chocolate. Only in the winter, but this is shot sized and trust me a cup is too much; it’s so rich.
Second, sights: extremely brief here – tip: first Sunday of the month lots of things have free entrance
Venice (Venezia): bridge, bridge, bridge, not much more to say.
Milan (Milano): Duomo and go on the roof, Castello Sforzo and the park behind it, walk the streets by the Duomo and find your own hidden gems
Naples (Napoli): Castello Nuovo, Piazza del Plebiscito and try and walk between the horses blind-folded, via dei Tribunali, and ride the metro it’s new and beautiful. Eat Pizza at the busiest place you can find even if you have to wait an hour outside. Stay at hostel 6 Small Rooms.
- Cinque Terre: 5 villages along the coast make up the amazing National Park. Can day trip from Florence
- Pisa by the way – day trip max, not worth it
- Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius- 2 days…. Take your time
- Take a bus into some random little Tuscan village in Chianti and walk through the vineyards. My favourite is Grieve in Chianti
Tips and tidbits:
- lots of places don’t have toasters or microwaves and nobody has a dryer.
- heat only comes on from Nov 1 to March and generally only for a few hours per day.
- many businesses close between 2-3:30, and lots of places are closed on Mondays.
- don’t expect to get to take a bath. Tubs are very uncommon
- luxuries from the west: peanut butter, cheese wiz, filter coffee, salsa, salad dressing, oats, bagels, and sweet potato, are hard to find and will cost you.
Helpful points when travelling Italy:
– when buying fruit or vegetables at the grocery store, you need to get a bag AND put on a plastic glove provided next to the bags. Don’t touch the produce with your bare hands, that is just rude. Each produce sign has a number on it, you need to weigh and price your own food. Go to a weighing staton and click the number of what you’re weighing. It will print out a price sticker to stick on the bag.
– goeuro.com is a site that compares all of the available bus, train, and flight options for your travel details. If you have the time, bus companies such as Flixbus and Megabus are very cheap and comfortable, offering free wifi service onboard. Trains are generally a bit more expensive, unless you can find a promotion, but can take about half the time as a bus. Flights are flights. There are always cheaper options like Ryanair, but within Italy you have so many other options, and the airports are so far from the city centre, that it’s honestly not worth it to fly. That being said, it’s always good to know ahead of time where the airport, train station, and bus stations are in the city you are going, as they are generally not near each other… Learn from me.
– Validate your tickets! You have to validate your ticket before getting on the train. You can do this at the little machines attached to the walls all over the stations. It will stamp the time and date. If you forget to do this, find one of the train employees asap and get them to sign it. Same with bus tickets. You can buy local transport tickets (metro, bus, or tram) at the tabacci store, but you have to validate them as well. Metro you will have to validate in order to get into the metro, bus and tram you can validate once you are on.
– pack light! This is true for several reasons: first, you’re travelling, so leave your stilettos and fancy dresses at home, unless you’ve been invited to a grand ball. Then in that case, remember that I’m your friend and I helped you get to Italy :). Secondly, Italians re-wear their clothes over and over so many times because doing laundry is expensive and time consuming. You dont have to wear something new everyday, just pack things that are neutral and can be matched with all your over clothes (this means black…). Finally, stairs. Have I mentioned stairs? You will be carrying your bags up numerous flights of cement stairs with no lift in sight, dragging your bags on and off the train, trying to lift your bags into the overhead storage on the trains, not to mention the miles and miles of walking you will inevitably be doing after you get lost looking for your street, which doesn’t exist on Google maps.
– bring something warm. Okay, I’ve never been in Italy in the summer, however even in their mild fall and spring, and also quite mild winter, the houses are cool. They are cement with usually some sort of cement or tile flooring in every room. There is no carpet and like I mentioned earlier, heat is not always available. I would highly recommend a pair of slippers to wear around the house, you’ll thank me later.
– it’s not cheap, but if you do it right, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Stay somewhere that has a kitchen and buy your own groceries. You won’t necessarily get all your home food choices, but things like dry pasta, cheese, some meats, bottled water, alcohol, in season fruits, milk, bread, and yogurt can all be found at the local Conad, Coop, or Esselunga for a steal of a deal.
Finally, try the language. Good lord people you’re in Italy! Have you ever heard them speak? It’s like no matter what they’re saying all I hear is seduction. Learn a few words ahead of time. Here: ciao, grazie, buongiorno, stazione, biglietto, aiutami, per favore (hi/bye, thank you, good morning, station, ticket/note, help me, please). Once you get there, just take it all in. You’re in their country so have a little respect, try your best and stop trying to convert everyone to English. Of course nobody expects you to be fluent, or even to be able to get by without using some English. But even a few simple words show that you recognize you are no longer in your own country and that you are a guest in someone else’s. And relax! When you panic, your brain automatically reverts back to your native language and after you will be like, “darn, I knew how to say please and thank you because Jody taught me”.
Italy, for the most part is a safe country. I’ve been living here on my own, walking in the streets on my own, taking the bus on my own. However, that is not to say that things don’t happen. The further south you get, the more you have to be on the lookout for any crazy business or pick-pocketing. Anywhere you go, just be aware. Be aware of your surroundings, especially at night, and be smart. Don’t walk home on your own, especially if you don’t completely know the area. Don’t let anyone give you a drink unless you know them/get it directly from the bartender. Only let employees help you to purchase tickets at the train station. Don’t share a cab/let someone you don’t know drive you home (this part from Taken is definitely true). It’s fun being a tourist so embrace it, wear a funny “Italia” hat, join a tour group, take cliche pictures, have a giant map that you pull out every 30 seconds, just know there is a target on your back and be aware of that while you’re having fun!
Love, your previously ItalianArmstrong, now your Armstrong Abroad.