Prior to our first trip to Italy I was clueless about the country. My knowledge was limited to Italy has great pizza, pasta, wine, shoes and leather. It’s home to Rome, the Pope, the sinking city of Venice that everyone must see before it’s too late (only partially true), and it’s the country that looks like a boot…
As the Executive Vice President of Travel & Entertainment for this outfit, people would ask me where we were planning to go and all I could say was, “I don’t know yet,” or, “Everywhere!” Then they would tell us, “Oh, you must go to St. Peters, Burano and ‘Banaza’. I would nod my head and say, “yep, okay, we’ll do that.” And then I’d quickly write down what they said. Thinking to myself, “Was that Murano or Burano? Did I spell that right? Are they one in the same? Are they cities, islands or a drink I should try?
And Banaza – never found Banaza on the map or in any google searches on Italy. St. Peters Basilica, okay, I got that one, in Rome and home to the Pope. But is it part of the Vatican and how do you get in there? It’s it’s own city, right?”
I had lots of questions putting together this trip. And, as you can read in Where to go In Italy, we did go everywhere. In fact, we covered 17 Cities in 17 Days and every inch of it was magical!
What’s In a Name?
Planning a big trip is half the fun of going on them as far as I’m concerned, and getting tips from people who have been there is key to getting the inside scoop. In our case, I talked to a few people who were from Italy and I quickly learned that they knew a whole lot more about where to go and what to do than I could have ever found online. But! It would have been helpful if I could have understood what they were saying regarding where to go and where to stay. You see, a true Italian has a bit of an accent and the letter V sounds a lot like the letter B. To quickly translate what this meant, the city I couldn’t find on the map, Banaza, was actually Vernazza! Vernazza happens to be one of the five cities in Cinque Terre. We were planning on visiting Vernazza all along but didn’t know it. Just as we didn’t know the individual names of these five cities in the Parco Nazionale Delle Cinque Terre.
We also learned that in Italy, they use the Italian version of their names, so Milan is Milano, Naples is Napoli, Venice is Venezzia, and Rome is Roma. Could you imagine someone trying to put together a trip to the United States if every town and city were named differently than what you knew them to be? Texas would be Texano, Denver would be Denbar and Minnesota would be, well, Minnesnowta. Try googling that!
Because the city and town names are all different in English compared to their Italian roots, mapping out a our trip using the great European Trains became exponentially difficult as we needed to know the Italian names for each city, town and train station to look up the schedules. That said, we had a lot to learn. If your going to plan a trip to Italy, do some homework on the train station names and towns. You don’t need to purchase tickets in advance, but you do want to know the right names so you can use the ticket kiosk vs the manned ticket booths, which have really long lines.
Check out the photo galleries throughout this post (They look like collages). Click on the images to view them larger and read their captions.
Before and during our trip, we had a lot to learn about Italy. Here’s a list of our top 11 things that we learned in Italy, or would that be Italia?
Top 11 Things We Learned in Italy
#1 – Walk!
Italians walk A LOT and there are stairs everywhere! It’s good incentive to keep yourself moving. And if you ever want to go to Italy, GO NOW while you can still do the stairs! There’s something to be said for the fact that the Italians aren’t FAT! Stairs, maybe?
#2 – No Carb Left Behind!
Don’t be afraid of the pasta! Italians are NOT afraid of carbs! It’s not an evil demon lurking at their lunch table, it’s a decadent delish way of satiating hunger and providing energy for all that walking! Get CARB-onated!
#3 – Viva Italia!
Live life to the fullest! Clearly no one in Italy or all of Europe for that matter has gotten the memo that smoking is bad for your health. The point IS NOT so much that all Italians seem to smoke, but more that they live their lives to the fullest regardless of the consequences. They don’t need energy drinks in Italy, they drink Cappuccino all morning and then Espresso all afternoon, loaded with sugar. And when they’re ready to come down, they simply switch to a nice bottle or two of wine.
#4 – Meep! Meep!
Bigger is not better! Little cars in ancient cities are a must, the smaller the better. Smart-cars are actually smart when parking is a premium. Check out the first photo below, a smart car was backed into a motorcycle slot. We learned how tight parking could be when we, not by choice, got the ‘upgraded’ Fiat 500 rental car, which in the US is no bigger than a grasshopper. When we arrived at the Hotel California in Positano, they said to us, “Oooh, you got the big car, may not have room in the garage for you!” Luckily, they fit us with millimeters to spare on each side.
#5 – Public Transit Rocks (Most of the time)
Public transportation is everywhere! Trains, boats, private cars, regional planes, buses you name it. You can even take the train across borders into other countries. Wake up USA, we have a lot to learn here! We had a plane cancel between Venice and Naples and it was no big deal, we just jumped on the train and got there the same day. Travel disaster averted. Oh, and a helpful hint here when riding trains in Europe, they leave on time! And, although all hot flashes are created equally, not all trains offer the same experience.
Also, I’d like to mention that not all airlines are equally bad. Meridiana Airlines not only changed our flight to an earlier day, they did so with no change fees and then assigned us seats, again, with no additional fees. Fly Meridiana Airlines! Unlike Easy Jet who left us high and dry and unable to fly to Naples because of a strike (though they did refund the cost of our flight).
P.S. Watch out for striking public transit workers. It can seriously mess with your itinerary if you’re not prepared.
#6 – Easy Money!
Money was easy! In multiple ways: accessing it through ATMS was easy, but more importantly, how they use it was EASY! All prices are listed with taxes included and rounded to the nearest Euro. So $2.00 was $2.00. Even at restaurants, the bill was rounded to the nearest Euro so there was minimal change to deal with and certainly no pennies. Which means, “When you find a Euro, pick it up and all the 100 days, you’ll have Good Luck.”
#7 – Ahhhh…
Take a Bath! We loved the deep, European soaking tubs. There was something about the shape of their tubs that made them quick and efficient to fill with no wasting of gallons. We were up to our necks in hot, bubble filled, water that was perfect to soothe our travel weary bodies. European Luxury to the point that we actually fell asleep in the tub one night. Oh, the hardships we endured!
P.S. There’s a string in every tub and shower “In Case of Emergency” if you fall or hurt yourself. Why don’t we have these in America? It’s a brilliant idea! That is until someone’s teenager (yes, you, JS) has to test it just to see if it works, and the hotel staff comes running!
#8 – Sleep Tight!
Hard beds can be comfortable. There are times when we would check into a hotel room and fell the hard bed and we were certain our back and hips were in for a ride; and not a fun, youthful ride, either! We’re old! Which means hard hotel beds leave us crippled for days, often making the what used to be a sprint to the bathroom more like a an Army obstacle course in terms of body maneuvering. That said, we were fearful of some of the hard beads we encountered in Italy, yet pleasantly surprised by how comfortable they were. Even with a long night sleep, they did not create bead sores. Or, maybe it was the Italian wine. A theory we must go back to prove someday!
#9 – No Preservatives Added!
Fresh means fresh! We noticed that even the packaged food was minimally processed. The packaged potato chips had “potatoes, oil and salt”. That’s it. Likewise, our salads tasted like they just came from the local garden. Fresh, crisp and flavorful. And here’s the most amazing thing, there were no dressings to choose from! When we ordered a salad, we received a bottle of oil and balsamic vinegar to accompany it. “Ranch” in Italy still means a cattle farm.
Speaking of food, if you missed Cinful Cindy’s Taste of Italy Month recipe posts, be sure to catch up here!
#10 – Don’t be picky!
When was the last time you walked into a bar or restaurant in the US and said, “We’ll have two beers” and they bring two beers without the server replying, “Which kind? Here is our 3000 page beer menu for you to choose from.” or, “We have 101 beers on tap, let me impress you with my memorization skills and read them off alphabetically.” (This happens A LOT in Colorado–Micro Brew Capital of the World.) Even when bars and restaurants in Italy have multiple beers on tap, when you order a beer (Birra) you get a beer, whatever they pour. Same holds true for ordering red or white wine. Don’t over think it, just order it and take what you get. It’s all good!
#11 – Seize the Day!
Go there! Of all the places we’ve visited on earth, not that we’ve visited any outside of earth but there’s still time; Italy was magical beyond our imagination in every way! Travel cheap or go in debt, take the time, make it happen, go to Italy sooner than later! And, by all means, eat the Gelato! You can diet anytime.
There you have it, The Top 11 Things We Learned in Italy. Now, be sure to visit our YOU TUBE CHANNEL to see more of these awesome videos! While you’re there, subscribe for updates!
Every Yin has it’s Yang
We presented all the great stuff we learned in Italy and overlooked the things that made us raise our eyebrows. So to be fair, here is a glimpse of the three things that were not as pleasant:
#1 – Toilets
Lets just say, having a toilet vs a hole in the ground is a new requirement. Having a toilet with a toilet SEAT is a bonus. Having a toilet that flushes is pure luxury. Now I know why they invented Bidets, to clean off my ankles after the hole in the ground toilets. BTW, toilets in the hotels were fine.
#2- Like a Rat In a Maze
Big cities means big tourist traps. Prices were 3-10x higher in the main attraction cities such as Venice and Rome. About 1,000 people an hour move through each room at the Vatican. Plan accordingly, buy your tickets in advance and enjoy the nuts to butts experience of getting through the Habitrails. Although crowed, it was worth it and the big cities were worth the extra expense. That said, buy your pick-pocket-proof clothing in advance as Rome is the 2nd in the world for pick-pocketing – and they’re professionals at it. We found a great travel companion in our ScottEVest Quest Vest! Besides, it also doubles as a great drink holder!
#3 – Mind if I smoke? Care if I die?
EVERYONE smokes! OMG it’s like we got in a time machine and landed on a movie set back in the 50s or at the very least, the set of Mad Men! Good luck finding a seat outside at a restaurant where you don’t get a free nicotine puff or 100 with your meal. Smoking is allowed in many places where it is now banned in the US. It’s part of the culture of Europe and Italy is no exception. Although I am not advocating smoking (read: BAD FOR YOU), I must say there is something to admire about people who just throw caution to the wind, smoking and drinking and carb loading their lives away happily; while the rest of us live in a haze of paranoia over every little thing our bodies take in, ingest, digest, soak up and absorb!
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