You’re going to Italy?! Buonissimo! Italy is the birthplace of some of the best things in the world: pizza, pasta, gelato, aqua-ducts! And, it is a country with something for everyone: beaches, mountains, old stuff, lots of wine… It’s an easy country to travel. That being said, there are some things I wish someone had told me before I arrived. Here are five things to know about Italy before you get there
1. Know some Italian!
There are a few places you may travel in Europe where English is commonly spoken. I have gotten by in many European countries knowing none of the native language. Italy is not one of those countries. The first thing we did when we landed in Rome was go for a piece of pizza and a beer, and neither of us knew how to order it. The woman working didn’t speak a lick of English, either, so it was an awkward exchange! Know some basic Italian before you arrive. Here are some key words and incredibly important phrases:
Ciao (chow): hello AND goodbye!
Grazie (grat-see-uh): thank you. people will respond by saying, “prego!”
Per Favore (pear fahv-or-ay): please
Uno (oo-no): one
Due (doo-way): two
Tre (tray): three
Possiamo avere due bichierri di Prosecco per favore: Can we have two glasses of Prosecco please?
2. Carry Euros, credit/debit cards are not used universally
Italy is a place where you will want to bring cash. Supermarkets, most hotels, and most tourist places (museums, etc.), will accept credit card, but as you travel out of city centres, out of tourist areas, and into more local spots, cash is the name of the game.
3. It is expensive, but you can do it on a shoestring.
Italy is an expensive place, there is no doubt about it. In July and August, prices skyrocket! That being said, you can find cheap stuff. A few tips to save some Euros. Make your own lunch! Having a picnic is the best. Pack some prosciutto, pecorino, bakery fresh bread, and a small bottle of wine, and find a bench to sit on! Some of my favourite Italians were the ones we met working at the deli counter, they often give you free samples! Stay in an AirBnB with a kitchen. It will absolutely have a little coffee pot and you can make your own cup. Even when an espresso is only €2, if you plan to be in Italy for two weeks, it can really add up! And when looking for inexpensive restaurants and cheaper eats, go outside the city centre. Use apps like Foursquare, Tripadvisor, or Google to filter restaurants by top rating AND cheap eats.
4. On that note, don’t eat at a place that has pictures of the food on the menu.
Chances are, you have stumbled into a tourist trap! These are the places that have stereotypical Italian food, but also serve things like “American breakfast” or “British fish and chips.” Unless you are really hankering for an egg and bacon breakfast (which you could cook up in your Airbnb kitchen for a third of the price), steer clear of these places. The experience you will have will probably not be authentic, and you will pay far more than it is worth. When you arrive at a restaurant, stick your head in and listen. Are the patrons speaking Italian? Grab a table and enjoy! (I wrote a story about the best meal I had in Florence! Read it here).
5. Don’t eat mounded gelato!
This is probably the most important piece of information there is. I thank my mother for this tidbit of info. Don’t eat mounded gelato. In the display case of a Gelateria, you will see ice cream piled high, drizzled with syrup, adorned with fruits and chocolates. These mountains of gelato will be enticing— they look beautiful!— but that ice cream is not cold enough. Real gelato is meant to be served super duper cold, and when it is displayed in big mounds, the ice cream is not being kept as cold as it should be. When you see mounded gelato, keep walking and wait until you see the stuff that is flat in the container.