This page is divided into two sections. The first section contains general information about Italy, like history, description of culture, currency, visa, travel to and in the country and crime / safety. The second part contains information about all the cities I have been to.
General information about Italy
Italy is a country in Southern Europe. Together with Greece, it is acknowledged as the birthplace of Western culture. Not surprisingly, it is also home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. High art and monuments are to be found everywhere around the country.
It is also famous worldwide for its delicious cuisine, it's trendy fashion industry, luxury sports cars and motorcycles, diverse regional cultures and dialects, as well as for its beautiful coast, alpine lakes and mountain ranges (the Alps and Apennines). No wonder it is often nicknamed the Bel Paese (the Beautiful Country).
Italy is, for the most part, a peninsula situated on the Mediterranean Sea, bordering France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia in the north. Italy, which is boot-shaped, is surrounded by the Ligurian and the Tyrrhenian Seas to the west, the Mediterranean and Ionian Seas to the South, and the Adriatic Sea to the East. Italy has a very diverse landscape, but can be primarily described as mountainous, including the Alps and the Apennines mountain ranges that run through the vast majority of it. Two major islands are part of this country: Sardinia, which is an island off the west coast of Italy, and Sicily, at the southern tip (the "toe") of the boot.
Two independent mini-states are surrounded entirely by Italy: San Marino, which is situated lose to the Adriatic coast in northern Italy and Vatican City, which is surrounded by Rome. While technically not part of the European Union, both of these states are also part of the Schengen Area and the European Monetary Union (EMU). Apart from different police uniforms, there is no evident transition from these states and Italy's territory, and the currency is the same. Italian is also the official language in San Marino and is commonly spoken in Vatican City whose official language is Latin.
Italian is the official language spoken by the majority of the population, but as you travel throughout the country you will find that there are several distinct Italian languages and dialects depending on the region you're in, many of which might be completely incomprehensible to each other but practically all native Italians can speak the national standard. Standard Italian is based on dialect in Tuscany even though some chanhes has been made from the dialect. French is spoken in the northwest and German in the northeast.
If you want to know more about the Italian language you could check out the video below. The intention of the video is to give feedback of the Latin (aka "old Italian") used in the Netflix-series Barbarians, which takes place in year 9 AD. The end of the video the dialects in modern Italian is compared to each other and to Latin.
A good phrasebook will be very useful if you're going anywhere remote, while in most big cities you will find many people understanding English, Spanish or French. But even in those areas Italians will be happy to hear you trying to speak Italian or the local language and will try to understand you even if you are making many mistakes. If you want your errors to be corrected to help you better learn the language, don't forget to ask before starting a conversation. Italians will rarely correct you otherwise as they consider it very impolite to do so. They also appreciate your efforts to speak their language, even if you do it badly, and won't make too much fuss about your mistakes.
English is widely spoken at varied levels of proficiency in the well-traveled touristic areas where it may be used by shopkeepers and tourist operators. Outside of that, you will find that most Italians are not conversant in English, a relatively new subject in schools (first introduced in the 1970s instead of French). While most younger Italians have studied English.
Nevertheless, the most basic words and phrases usually stick, and there is often at least one person in a group of younger people who knows enough English to help you out. Senior citizens rarely know English, but they'll try to help you anyway with gestures or similar words and they will most surely assume you understand Italian. If you are going to speak in English, it is polite begin the conversation in Italian and ask if the person understands English before proceeding. Speaking in a foreign language while assuming it will be understood might be considered very arrogant and impolite by many Italians.
Spanish, French and Portuguese are not as widely spoken but as they are similar enough to Italian that people might be able recognise some words, thus making yourself understood; note however that trying to address people in Spanish - or confusing Italian with that language - is considered rather annoying by the locals. Among the three, especially in interaction with older people, French is probably your best bet. In the northwesternmost Valle d'Aosta region there is a Franco-Provençal speaking minority.
Every region in Italy has a distinct native Romance dialect (which is, sometimes, a language) in addition to Italian that may or may not be the native language of the locals depending on the area: in areas like Rome or Milan the spoken language is nowadays mostly Italian with slight local influence, whereas in rural areas the local language is more common; though people are usually bilingual.
Italy as we know it today is a very young state. It became unified in 1861 and new parts where aded as newly as after World World I. Italy, in return for entering World War I on the side of the Allied Powers, had been promised substantial territorial gains, which included the former Austrian Littoral and western Inner Carniola. Italy therefore annexed the city of Trieste at the end of the war, in accordance with the provisions of the 1915 Treaty of London and the Italian-Yugoslav 1920 Treaty of Rapallo.Because of the relatively young age of the country being suplemented with more areas many Italians feels a closer connection to the region they live in rather than to Italy itself.
Due to its vibrant history, until very recently, the concept of an "Italian people" would have sounded like little more than a geographical connotation to the everyday Italian. Italy has been for centuries the host of dozens of kingdoms, principalities and marquisates, often separated by mountain ranges and at times under the wield of foreign powers, each with its own history, custom, coinage and language and much of these divides are still kept to this day. It is not uncommon for an Italian to identify first with his/her hometown or region and only secondarily as an Italian.
However, over 150 years of (at times reluctant) unification process, especially after the diffusion of mass education and tv culture, today's Italians have acquired a common denominator of Italiennes that not many are willing or interested in challenging. Albeit independentist movements have appeared through time (the most vocal one being the Northern League) they have rarely managed to mobilize great masses and have mostly subsided after a while.
Humans inhabited the Italian peninsula for at least 200,000 years; Neolithic civilizations flourished in prehistoric Italy but were either wiped out, or assimilated, around 2000 BC by a group of Indo-European tribes, which are collectively known as the Italic peoples. These were more or less closely related to each other and comprised tribes such as the Latins, Etruscans, Umbrians, Samnites, Sicels, Ligures, Oscans, just to name a few. The Etruscan civilization was among the first to rise in the 6th century BC and lasted until the late Republican period; it flourished in what are now northern Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany. In the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Greek colonies were established in Sicily and the southern part of Italy: The Etruscan culture rapidly became influenced by that of Greece. This is well illustrated at some excellent Etruscan museums; Etruscan burial sites are also well worth visiting. Rome itself was dominated by Etruscan kings until 509 BC, when the last of them - Tarquinius Superbus - was ousted from power and the Roman Republic was founded. After a series of wars, the Romans sacked the nearby Etruscan city of Veii in 396 BC; this triggered the collapse of the Etruscan confederation and the Etruscan people themselves began to be assimilated.
The Celts settled in what is now Northern Italy, where their civilisation flourished, in the 1st millennium BC and began expanding further south; they made the mistake of sacking Rome in 390 BC and the Romans, hell-bent on revenge, waged wars against them until they were conquered and their people assimilated.
Ancient Rome was at first a small village founded around the 8th century BC. In time, its primitive kingdom grew into a republic - which would later evolve into an empire - covering the whole Mediterranean and expanding as far north as Scotland and as far east as Mesopotamia and Arabia. Its steady decline began in the 2nd century AD, and the empire finally broke into two parts in 285 AD: the Western Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire in the East. The western part came under attack from various Germanic tribes; Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 AD and their Vandal fellows would follow in 455AD. The Western Roman Empire finally collapsed in 476 AD, and the barbarian chiefs divided the Italian peninsula among themselves; after this, Italy plunged into the Dark Ages.
From the 13th century onwards, Florence became the main cultural hotspot of the peninsula: not only it was home to poets such as Dante Alighieri and Petrarch but hosted also writers of the calibre of Boccaccio. Indeed, their works formed the basis of a standard form of the Italian language (which is itself a mixture of Florentine grammar and Roman pronunciation). People looked to strong men who could bring order to the cities and this is how dynasties such as the Medici in Florence developed. In turn, these families became patrons of the arts, allowing Italy to become the birthplace of the Renaissance, with the emergence of men of genius such as Leonardo da Vinci, Bramante, Tiziano, Raffaello, Michelangelo and many others. After the heir of Frederick II was killed in battle in 1268, the French ruled the south; they were however expelled from Sicily in 1282 after a popular uprising, the vespri siciliani, during which thousands of Frenchmen were slain (opera buffs will certainly recognise one of their favourite operas!).
In the late 14th and 15th centuries, Italy was home to some of the richest states in Europe; however, they were often at war with each other and only the diplomatic skills of Lorenzo il Magnifico prevented the many petty kingdoms from warring each other. Predictably, when Lorenzo died in 1492, the Italian states plunged into chaos; the King of France took advantage of the situation, crossed the Alps and reclaimed the Kingdom of Naples for himself. He succeeded, but was forced to return to France. Only then did the Italian majors realise the danger, but it was too late: after a futile victory at the battle of Fornovo, in 1495, the peninsula came to the attention of its European neighbours and suffered a series of invasions from the French and the Spanish. The north eventually became dominated by the Austrians.
The discovery of the New World damaged the already declining Italian economies and most of Italy's states came under foreign domination: and despite the artistic, architectonic and literary developments, life in post-Reinassance Italy became pretty miserable. The Counter-Reformation, while it did succeed in restraining most of the clergy's "earthly" excesses, further plunged the peninsula into a not-so-happy era. This situation, further aggravated by the Italian Wars of 1494-59 (during which Rome itself was sacked by the German mercenaries of Emperor Charles V) became even worse in the 17th centuries, when the foreign powers fought each other in a series of mostly useless wars over the dynastic rights on the Italian states. The 18th century, while (relatively) more peaceful than the one that preceded it, was, culturally speaking, not-so-grand; on top of that, the Austrians ruled the North with an iron fist and the once-prosperous South had the misfortune of being governed by a particularly backward and obscurantist ruling class.
Eventually, the French revolution was "exported" to Italy and revolutionary movements popped up almost everywhere. These ideals had a lasting impact on the future of the peninsula (the Italian flag dates from 1797); a Partenopean (Neapolitan) Republic was proclaimed in 1799 but was crushed by the royalists supported by the British fleet commanded by Horatio Nelson. The advent of Napoleon Bonaparte and the adoption of the Napoleonic Code set the basis for the Risorgimento, or "Resurgence", of Italy: after the Restoration - particularly after the Revolutions of 1848 - the notion of an Italian nation-state became popular; in 1849, the people of Rome, Milan and Venice rebelled against their oppressors but were soon crushed (the current Italian national anthem was composed in this period).
In that same year (1849), the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont - ruled by the House of Savoy - became the fulcrum of the movement that advocated the unification of Italy. A disastrous war against the Austrians did not stop the cunning Piedmontese Prime Minister, Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour, and King Victor Emmanuel II from becoming the people behind the unification process. With the help France, and after the first two Wars of Italian Independence (which ended in 1859), Austria was finally defeated: Lombardy was ceded to Piedmont-Sardinia. At roughly the same time (1860), Giuseppe Garibaldi led an expedition in order to annex the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (the so-called Spedizione dei Mille or "Expedition of the Thousand"); his volunteer army, the Redshirts, landed in Sicily, defeated the enemy troops despite being outnumbered 20:1, conquered the island and set forth to invade the rest of the Kingdom. Once this process was complete, the people of the Grand-Duchy of Tuscany - which was ruled by a cadet branch of the Hapsburg dynasty -, Umbria and the Pontifical Legations (provinces) of Emilia and Romagna - which belonged to the Pope - revolted and requested the annexation to Piedmont-Sardinia, a request that was duly granted.
If you want to know more abou tthe unification of Italy you should check out the video below.
Italy, in virtue of the defensive pact of 1882, did not join World War I immediately. Many Italians wished however to regain the so-called terre irredente (these were provinces inhabited by an autochtonous, Italian-speaking majority and were once part of past Italian states; by 1915, these had been Austrian possession for little more than a century). Hostilities began on May 24, 1915 and ended on November 4, 1918. After three years of bloody fighting all over the Alpine arch, more than a million Italian soldiers lost their lives but Italy managed nevertheless to win the war; the Entente, however, disregarded some of the treaty's provisions and Italy was awarded just part of the territories it claimed.
In October 1922, a small National Fascist Party led by Benito Mussolini attempted a coup with its "March on Rome", which resulted in the King forming an alliance with Mussolini. A pact with Germany was concluded by Mussolini in 1936, and a second in 1938. During the Second World War, Italy was invaded by the Allies in June 1943, leading to the collapse of the fascist regime and the arrest, flight, eventual re-capture and death of Mussolini. In September 1943, Italy surrendered. However, fighting continued on its territory for the rest of the war, with the allies fighting those Italian fascists who did not surrender, as well as German forces.
In 1946, King Umberto II was forced to abdicate and Italy became a republic. In the 1950s, Italy became a member of NATO and allied itself with the United States. The Marshall Plan helped revive the Italian economy which, until the 1960s, enjoyed a period of sustained economic growth. In 1957, Italy became a founding member of the European Economic Community. In the 1950s and early-1960s, Italy experienced a period of rapid economic growth and industrial production, called "il boom", which saw the country's rise from a poor and weak nation, to a powerful one. During this period, also, cities such as Rome returned to being popular tourist destinations, expressed in both American and Italian films such as Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita.
However, despite a productive and successful period which lasted until the mid-early 1960s, from the late 60s till the late 1980s, the country experienced an economic crisis. There was a constant fear, both inside and outside Italy (particularly in the USA), that the Communist Party, which regularly polled over 20% of the vote, would one day form a government and all sorts of dirty tricks were concocted to prevent this. From 1992 to the present day, Italy has faced massive government debt and extensive corruption.
Travel to Italy
Italy is a member of the Schengen Agreement. There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Foreign military entering Italy under a Status of Forces Agreement do not require a passport and need only show their valid military identification card and travel orders. Their dependants, however, are not exempt from visa requirements.
All non-EU, EEA or Swiss citizens staying in Italy for 90 days or less have to declare their presence in Italy within 8 days of arrival. If your passport was stamped on arrival in Italy, the stamp counts as such a declaration. Generally, a copy of your hotel registration will suffice if you are staying at a hotel (i.e. a copy of your passport ID page will be retained by hotel staff and they will complete the paperwork for you). Otherwise, however, you will have to go to a police office to complete the form (dichiarazione di presenza) yourself. Failing to do so may result in expulsion. Travellers staying longer than 90 days do not need to complete this declaration, but must instead have an appropriate visa and must obtain a residence permit (permesso di soggiorno).
Italy has a national airline, Alitalia based in Rome. The country is one of the main battlegrounds for European low cost airlines several routes to/from and within Italy are offered. The larger airports are, of course, served by the major European airlines. There are several international airports in Italy and choose the one thats closest to where you are destined to go.
Direct connection by train with eastern Europe (Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia) no longer exists. The only way to reach Italy by train from these countries is via Vienna or Villach; it's also possible reach by train Nova Gorica (in Slovenia, then cross the border by foot and take a train in Italy in the railway station of Gorizia.
Italy borders on France, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia. All borders are open (without passport/customs checks),except for the Swiss one, with customs checks and random passport checks.In the other borders cars can be stopped behind the border for random checks.
Eurolines has are regular buses between Ljubljana, Slovenian coastal towns and Istria (Croatia) and Trieste (Italy). These services are cheap and from Trieste onward connections with the rest of Italy are plentiful. There's also a bus that goes from Malmö, Sweden via Denmark, Germany and Switzerland to Italy.
There are several ferries departing from Greece, Albania, Montenegro and Croatia. Most of them arrive at Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi. Check this article @ Wikitravel.org about ferries in the Mediterranean.
Travelling within Italy
Trains in Italy are generally good value, frequent but of mixed reliability. There are different train types: high-speed trains (Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, Frecciabianca, Eurostar Italia), Intercity, regional trains (Regionali, Regionali Veloci) and international trains (Eurocity, Euronight). High-speed trains are efficient and very comfortable, travelling up to 300 km/h and stopping only at major stations. On long distance trains there are 1st and 2nd classes. A 2nd class ticket costs about 80% the price of a 1st class ticket. On high-speed trains you can also choose between basic, standard and flexible tickets.
The queues to buy tickets can be very long, and slow, so get to the station early. There are touch-screen ticket machines which are very useful, efficient, and multilingual, but there are never that many, and the queues for those can be very long too. You can also buy tickets online on the Trenitalia website; you will receive a code (codice di prenotatione (PNR)) that is used to pick up the ticket from a self service ticket machine in the station.
In Northern and Central Italy there's a well-developed system of motorways (autostrade), while in the South it is a bit worse for quality and extent. Every motorway is identified by an A followed by a number on a green backdrop. Most motorways are toll roads. Some have toll stations giving you access to a whole section (particularly the tangenziali of Naples, Rome, and Milan, for example), but generally, most have entrance and exit toll stations; on those motorways, you need to collect a ticket upon entrance and your toll amount will be calculated upon exit depending on the distance covered. Tolls depend on the motorways and stretches; as a rough estimate, you should expect a toll between €0.06 and €0.12 for each kilometre. Don't lose your entrance ticket, for if you do, it will be assumed you have entered the motorway at the farthest station from your exit, thus you will be charged the maximum toll possible. All the blue lanes (marked "Viacard") of toll stations are automatic machines accepting major credit cards as well as pre-paid cards (called Viacard) that are for sale at service stations along the motorway or for instance at several tobacconists' in cities. If you have problems with the machine (eg, your credit card can't be read), press the assistenza button and wait for an operator to help you - be prepared to have to pay your toll in cash if problems persist. Do not back up to move into another lane, even if you might see other locals doing it, unless the personnel or the police clearly instruct you to do so; backing up in toll stations is considered equivalent to backing up on the motorway and very heavily fined if you get caught.
Buy town bus tickets from corner shops, bus company offices or automated machines before boarding (on some systems, tickets might be bought on-board from an automated machine). Buying tickets from the bus driver is generally not possible. The payment system for most mass transit in Italy (urban trains, city buses, subway) is based on voluntary payment combined with variable enforcement. Tickets are bought before boarding and validated on an on-board machine; inspectors may board the vehicle to check the passengers' tickets and issue fines to those who do not have a validated ticket. Bus company inspectors are generally recognizable by some item displaying the company's logo. When issuing a fine inspectors are allowed to ask to see your documents, and they have to give some sort of receipt with date, time and location. They are never allowed to directly collect the fine (which generally can be payed at a post office). Assaulting an inspector during his work is a serious offense.
Approaching Italy by sea can be a great experience and is a good alternative to traditional onshore “tours”.
Places to sleep
In major cities and touristic areas you can find a good variety of accommodations, from world-class brand hotels to family-managed bed & breakfasts and room rentals, but hostels are really few. Camping is a good way to save money and camping sites are usually well managed, but especially during summer, managers tend not to accept last-minute groups of young people (given the high chance of problems that such groups of Italian guys tend to cause), so you'd better book in advance. Farmstays are an increasingly popular way to experience Italy, particularly in rural areas of Tuscany, Piedmont, Umbria, Abruzzo, Sardinia and Apulia. They provide a great combination of good and healthy food, wonderful sights and not-so-expensive prices. If you prefer self-catering accommodations, it's quite simple to find them on the wonderful Amalfi Coast or the less commercial and more genuine Calabria coast.
Money and banking
Italy is part of the European Union and the Eurozone. Because of this Euro have replaced the local currency Italian Lira. If you want to exchange money, you can do so at any bank where you can also cash in your traveller's cheques. Currency exchanges, once a common sight, have all but disappeared since the introduction of the Euro. Credit cards are well accepted in Portugal. Most ATMs will allow you to withdraw money with your credit card, but you'll need to know your card's PIN for that.
Vaccine and health
Italian hospitals are public and offer completely free high-standard treatments for EU travellers, although, as anywhere else, you may have a long wait to be served. Emergency assistance is granted even to non-EU travelers. For non-emergency assistance, non-EU citizens are required to pay out-of-pocket, there is no convention with US health insurances (although some insurance companies might later reimburse these expenses). Nonetheless, a requirement for a Schengen visa is that you have valid travel insurance which includes emergency expenses covering your entire trip anyway.
Water in southern Italy might come from desalination and sometimes may have a strange taste, due to extended droughts. If in doubt use bottled water. Elsewhere tap water is perfectly drinkable and very well maintained. Or else, a "NON POTABILE" warning is posted.
Italy is a member of the Schengen Agreement and there are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. Airports in Europe are thus divided into "Schengen" and "non-Schengen" sections, which effectively act like "domestic" and "international" sections elsewhere. If you are flying from outside Europe into one Schengen country and continuing to another, you will clear Immigration and Customs at the first country and then continue to your destination with no further checks. Travel between a Schengen member and a non-Schengen country will result in the normal border checks. Note that regardless of whether you are travelling within the Schengen area or not, many airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport. The non-EU/EFTA visa-free visitors may not stay more than 90 days in a 180 day period in the Schengen Area as a whole and, in general, may not work during their stay. The counter begins once you enter any country in the Schengen Area and is not reset by leaving a specific Schengen country for another Schengen country, or vice-versa. However, New Zealand citizens may be able to stay for more than 90 days if they only visit particular Schengen countries. If you are a non-EU/EFTA national, make sure that your passport is stamped both when you enter and leave the Schengen Area. Without an entry stamp, you may be treated as an overstayer when you try to leave the Schengen Area; without an exit stamp, you may be denied entry the next time you seek to enter the Schengen Area as you may be deemed to have overstayed on your previous visit. If you are unable to obtain a passport stamp, make sure that you retain documents such as boarding passes, transport tickets and ATM slips which may help to convince border inspection staff that you have stayed in the Schengen Area legally. Travel in the Schengen zone is an informative article which provides aditional informastion.
Violent crime rates in Italy are low even compared to most European countries. If you're reasonably careful and use common sense you won't encounter personal safety risks even in the less affluent neighborhoods of large cities. However, petty crime can be a problem for unwary travelers. Travelers should note that pickpockets often work in pairs or teams, occasionally in conjunction with street vendors; the usual precautions against pickpockets. Instances of rape and robbery are increasing slightly.
You should exercise the usual caution when going out at night alone, although it remains reasonably safe even for single women to walk alone at night. Italians will often offer to accompany female friends back home for safety, even though crime statistics show that sexual violence against women is rare compared to most other Western countries.
Prostitution is rife in the night streets around mid and large towns. Prostitution in Italy is legal though authorities are taking a firmer stance against it than before. Brothels are illegal and pimping is a serious offense, considered by the law similar to slavery. In Italy, it is an offence even to stop your car in front of a prostitute. Due to the ambivalent situation regarding prostitution, a lot of prostitutes fall victim to human trafficking. In general, being the client of a prostitute falls in an area of questionable legality and is inadvisable. Being the client of a prostitute under 18 is a criminal offence, even if you claim to be unaware of the prostitute's age.
There are four types of police forces a tourist might encounter in Italy. The Polizia di Stato (State Police) is the national police force; they wear blue shirts and grey pants and drive light-blue-painted cars with "POLIZIA" written on the side. The Carabinieri are the national gendarmerie; they wear very dark blue uniforms with fiery red vertical stripes on their pants and drive similarly colored cars. The Guardia di Finanza is a police force charged with border controls and fiscal matters; they dress fully in light grey and drive blue or gray cars with yellow markings. Finally, municipalities have local police, with names such as "Polizia municipale" or "Vigili Urbani". Their style of dressing varies among the cities, but they will always wear some type of uniform and drive marked cars, which should be easy to spot.
After leaving a restaurant or other commercial facility, it is possible, though unlikely, that you are asked to show your bill and your documents by Guardia di Finanza agents. This is perfectly legitimate (they are checking to see if the facility has printed a proper receipt and will thus pay taxes on what was sold).
Policemen in Italy are not authorized to collect fines of any kind and have no authority to ask you for money for any reason (unless you are pulled over in your foreign vehicle and fined, see Get around|By car above).
Possession of drugs is always illegal, but it is a criminal offence only above a certain amount.
While the motivation for the vast majority of these Italians is simply to have a good time with new friends, there can be one or two petty criminals who loiter in and out of these establishments hoping to take advantage of travelers who are disoriented or drunk. Traveling to these places in groups is a simple solution to this problem. Alternatively, if you are alone, avoid getting drunk!
When entering with a car into a city, avoid restricted, pedestrian-only areas or you could be fined about €100.
As in other countries, there are gangs known for tampering with ATMs by placing "skimmers" in front of the card slot and get a clone of your card. Check carefully the machine and, if unsure, use a different one.
Travellers in search of employment in agriculture,either permanent or seasonal,should be aware that abuse in this industry has increased exponentially especially in Southern Italy and Sicily. There are numerous reports of people who had their passsports taken away,forced into slave labour with long hours without pay and even sexual abuse with little or no reaction from the local authorities.
Read up on the legends concerning tourist scams. Most of them occur regularly in bigger cities such as Rome, Milan, or Naples.
A particular scam is when some plainclothes police will approach you, asking to look for "drug money," or ask to see your passport. This is a scam to take your money. You can scare them by asking for their ID. Guardia di Finanza (the grey uniformed ones) do customs work.
A recent scam involves men approaching you, asking where you are from, and begin to tie bracelets around your wrists. When they are done they will try to charge you upwards of €20 for each bracelet. If anyone makes any attempt to reach for your hand, retract quickly. If you get trapped, you can refuse to pay, but this may not be wise if there are not many people around. Carry small bills or just change, in your wallet, so if you find yourself in cornered to pay for the bracelet, you can convince them that €1 or €2 is all you have.
When taking a taxi, be sure to remember license number written on the card door. In seconds, people have had a taxi bill risen by €10 or even more. When giving money to taxi driver, be careful.
Cuisine and drink
Italian food inside of Italy is different to what is called "Italian food" in other countries. Italy's cuisine is truly one of the most diverse in the world and, in any region, or even city and village you go, there are different specialties. For instance, it could be only misleading to say that Northern Italian cuisine is based on hearty, potato and rice-rich meals, Central Italian cuisine mainly on pastas, roasts and meat, and Southern Italian cuisine on vegetables, pizza, pasta and seafood: there are so many cross-influences that you'd only get confused trying to categorize. And in any case, Italian cuisine, contrary to popular belief, is not just based on pasta and tomato sauce - that's only a tiny snippet of the nation's food, as in some parts of Northern Italy, pasta isn't even used at all, and rice, potatoes, lentils, soups and similar meals are very common in some parts of the country. Italian food is based upon so many ingredients and Italians often have very discriminating tastes that may seem strange to Americans and other visitors.
Pizza, risotto, arancino, polenta, gelato and tiramisù are some of the most famous Italian dishes. In Italy you can find nearly 800 kinds of cheese, including the famous Parmigiano Reggiano, and over 400 types of sausages.
Like the language and culture, food in Italy differs region by region. Generally speaking, pasta and olive oil are the staples of Southern Italian food, the Central Italian cuisines rely on pasta, meat and olive oil/butter while northern food focuses on rice and butter (but today there are many, many exceptions). Local ingredients are also very important. In warm Naples, citrus and other fresh fruit play a prominent role in both food and liquor, while in Venice fish is obviously an important traditional ingredient. As a guideline, in the south cuisine is focused on pasta and dessert, while at north meat is king, but this rule can be very different depending on where you are.
For instance, a sandwich stand might sell 4 different types of ham sandwiches that in each case contain ham, mayonnaise, and cheese. The only thing that may be different between the sandwiches is the type of ham or cheese used in them. Rustichella and panzerotti are two examples of sandwiches well-liked by Italians and tourists alike. Also, Italian sandwiches are quite different from the traditional Italian-American “hero”, “submarine”, or “hoagie” sandwich (which by the way mean nothing to any Italian). Rather than large sandwiches with a piling of meat, vegetables, and cheese, sandwiches in Italy are often quite small, very flat (made even more so when they are quickly heated and pressed on a panini grill), and contain a few simple ingredients with rarely, if ever, lettuce or mayonnaise. The term panini may be somewhat confusing to travellers from Northern Europe where it has erroneously come to mean a flat, heated sandwich on a grill. In Italy the term is equivalent to "bread rolls" (plural) which can be simple rolls or sometimes with basic filling. However instead of a sandwich why not try piadinas which are a flat folded bread with filling, which are served warm and are typical of the coast of Emilia-Romagna.
Despite the stereotypes mentopned above, your average Italian's meals consist of a small breakfast, a one-dish lunch and a two-dish dinner. Coffee is welcomed at nearly every hour, especially around 10:00 and at the end of a meal, unless that meal is pizza. At the weekends and in restaurants (for other occasions), a meal typically consists of: antipasto (appetizers: marinated vegetables, mixed coldcuts, seafood, etc), primo (pasta or rice dish), secondo (meat or fish course) often with a side-dish known as contorno, and dolce (dessert).
A note about breakfast in Italy: this is a very light meal, often just a cappuccino or coffee with a pastry (cappuccino e cornetto) or a piece of bread and fruit jam. You should not expect a large breakfast. In Italy, it is not customary to eat eggs and bacon for breakfast - the very thought of it is revolting to most Italians. Additionally, cappuccino is considered something you'd have for breakfast; ordering one after lunch or dinner is considered an oddity and a typical "tourist thing". An ordinary coffee is considered much more appropriate. Another enjoyable Italian breakfast item is cornetto: a croissant or light pastry often filled with jam, cream or chocolate.
Lunch is seen as the most important part of the day. In the past, many shops used to close down and resume after the two hour break period and to compensate for this, businesses used to stay open later than in most other European towns, often until 20:00. However, this is no longer the case and now the business hours of a typical Italian day are comparable to those in the rest of Western Europe but still a lot shorter than in North America or Asia. Good luck trying to find a place open during the so-called "pausa pranzo" (lunch break), when visiting a small town, but this is not the case in the biggest cities or shopping centres.
Dinner (i.e. the evening meal) is generally taken late, usually around 20:00. In summer, if you are in a restaurant before 20:00 you are likely to be eating on your own, and it is quite normal to see families with young children still dining after 22:00.
Cuisine is considered an art. Great chefs like Gualtiero Marchesi or Gianfranco Vissani are seen as half-way between TV stars and magicians. Italians are extremely proud of their culinary tradition and generally love food and talking about it - however, they are definitely not so fond of common preconceptions, such as that Italian food is only pizza and spaghetti. They also have a distaste for "bastardized" versions of their dishes that are popular elsewhere, and many Italians have a hard time believing that the average foreigner can't get even a basic dish "right".
A note about service: do not expect the kind of dedicated, focused service you will find in American restaurants. In Italy this is considered somewhat annoying and people generally prefer to be left alone when consuming their meal. You should expect the waiter to come and check on you after your first course, maybe to order something as second course.
You should consider that Italy's most famous dishes like pizza or spaghetti are quite lame for Italians, and eating in different areas can be an interesting opportunity to taste some less well known local speciality. Even for something as simple as pizza there are significant regional variations. The pizza of Naples has a thick, soft crust while that of Rome is considerably thinner and crustier.
When dining out with Italians read the menu and remember that almost every restaurant has a typical dish and some towns have centuries-old traditions that you are invited to learn. People will be most happy when you ask for local specialities and will gladly advise you.
In Northern Italy at around 17:00 most bars will prepare for an aperitivo especially in cosmopolitan Milan, with a series of plates of nibbles, cheese, olives, meat, bruschetta and much more. This is NOT considered a meal and should you indulge yourself in eating as if it was dinner, you would most likely not be very much appreciated. All this food is typically free to anyone who purchases a drink but it is intended to be just a snack before the main meal. An interesting piece of trivia mostly lost on tourists and locals alike, is that the tomato did not make its way into Italian cuisine until well into the 17th century. The tomato plant is native to South America and as such, was not "discovered" by Europeans until its introduction in the late 1600s and early 1700s. No, Da Vinci didn't eat pizza with tomato sauce and Michelangelo didn't dine on it either.
Pizza is a quick and convenient meal. In most cities there are pizza shops that sell by the gram. Look for a sign Pizza al taglio. When ordering, simply point to the display or tell the attendant the type of pizza you would like (e.g. pizza margherita, pizza con patate (roasted or french fries), pizza al prosciutto (ham), etc.) and how much ("Vorrei (due fette - two slices) or (due etti - two-tenths of a kilogram) or simply say "di più" - more, or "di meno" - less, "per favore"). They will slice it, warm it in the oven, fold it in half, and wrap it in paper. Other food shops also sell pizza by the slice. Remember, getting your meal on the run can save money but some touristy sandwich shops charge an additional fee if you want to sit to eat your meal. Also, in many parts of the country pizzas have a thinner base of bread and less cheese than those found outside Italy. The most authentic, original pizzas is found in Naples - often containing few ingredients (tomato and oregano, or tomato and mozzarella). The Neapolitan one is the only traditional Italian pizza. You can eat it in Naples, of course, but you can also find some few pizzerias in other big cities which make a pizza quite similar to the real Neapolitan pizza.
The traditional, round pizza is found in many restaurants and specialized pizza restaurants (pizzerie). The "Ristorante-Pizzeria" is very common in Italy: it is basically a restaurant that serves also handmade pizza. Until a few years ago, it was rare to find a restaurant that serves pizza at lunchtime, nowadays it is not so and pizza at lunchtime is quite common (sometimes it is better to ask to a waiter if they do that before ordering).
If you want a real kick, then try to find one of the huge open markets, which are always open on Saturdays and usually during other days, except Sunday, as well. You will find all types of cheese and meat on display.
Places I have been to in Italy
I have made this map in Google My maps that displays sights, museums, places to eat, shops, meeting points, public transportation, police, ER, hospitals etc in Rome. I have added lots of extra places on the map that is not mentioned in this article. It is possible to view this map on your computer, tablet and telephone. If you seesomething that you think should be here, please send me a message.