Italy: What to know before you go

Italy has Western Europe’s richest, craziest culture. This is perhaps why I feel so at home there. It is also very diverse, stretching from their German- flavored Alps through hill towns to sun-drenched Mediterranean beaches. It was the cradle of the Roman Empire, bringing “civilization” to Europe by way of Africa, India, and Greece.

Here are CityGirl’s tips for having an amazing Italian vacation:

  • Go with an eye open to both the Italies of the past and Italy of the present. I say “Italies” because until the 19th century the peninsula was made up of independent city-states. So each region has its own distinct character and history.
  • Engage with locals. Italians are very social and want to connect with others. Show warmth even when you don’t understand everything and you’ll get a lot further. Embrace the melodramatic, go with it, use your hands when you talk. I live in New Orleans so this is a natural thing for me to fall into.
  • Exhibit la bella figura, a positive public persona/ appearance. Dress elegantly, miss the bus instead of getting sweaty running for it, always order the bottled water, never take a doggy bag, skip packing shorts or graphic tees unless you’re going to the beach.
  • Take part in the ritual evening stroll, the passaggiata. Put on a sophisticated outfit, dazzling accessories, gorgeous shoes, and go out… not for the destination, but for the journey.
  • Nowhere in Italy is more than a day’s journey away. There are 12,000+ miles of train lines and 4,000+ miles of autostrada, their expressway. Go explore.
  • Typical daily diet here includes two servings of pasta, a half pound of bread, and two glasses of wine. Just so you know the norm. You’ll be walking a lot, thank goodness.
  • Food here is not fast food, it’s slow food. Bought daily, prepared with love, enjoyed with friends and family. In season foods are the centerpiece and a three-hour meal is common. First comes the aperitivo (prosecco is a perfect choice), then the antipasto plate of cold sliced meats and veggies, then pasta (primo), then the meat entree dish (secondo), then salad, then dessert with coffee or a digestif. Pace yourself!
  • Italy is the number one wine producer of the world. Find out which wines are from the specific region you’re visiting, drink them. I love Lambrusco in Emilia-Romagna, Soave in the Veneto, Chianti in Tuscany, and Frascati in Lazio. Don’t order French wine!
  • Italians take a siesta called reposo or riposo. It’s a three-hour break from about 1pm. Shops will be closed, especially in small towns. Yes, even the post office. Use this time to do as they do; have lunch, socialize with friends and family, enjoy window shopping or walking the area.
  • Embrace il dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing).
  • Savor your cappuccino, walk aimlessly, imagine the past, ramble through the countryside in a rented Alfa-Romeo, dangle your feet over the ancient waters of the Venetian canals or interior rivers of Florence, Rome, or Milan.
  • Accept Italy as Italy. Savor the fine points. Don’t dwell on the problems. Enjoy!

 

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