Living in Italy, you tend to see a lot of tourists. I love Italy and I think it has a ton to offer. I also want people to have the best trip they possibly can. But it pains me to see SO many eat bad food, spend a ton of money, or just have an overall bad experience. That is partially why my wife and I started writing this blog. To help with that I set out to write this post to hopefully give you a little more insight.
Of course, everyone knows that Italy is iconic for its food. It is the most replicated cuisine around the world and for good reason! It’s the kind of gastronomic destination worth traveling to just for the food! However, that doesn’t mean that every meal you get while in Italy will without-a-doubt be spectacular. But it seems that it’s the tourists who suffer and here’s why: tourist focused menus in front of the Colosseum or Piazza San Marco with English menus and TripAdvisor signs are serving terrible versions of Italian food. These businesses would die if they relied on local and Italian support. They get away with making terrible food because their customers are always different and they have a very convenient location. Besides the fact that it’s also in many cases double the price.
“Pizza in Italy sucks.” I’ve heard this many times, and it probably did where you went. But every day I see tourists going to Italian cafes for lunch and are expecting food that wasn’t microwaved. It’s like going to Dunkin Donuts and expecting restaurant quality food. You may get food but what do you expect from a place that makes coffee.
If you want to know where to go and what to eat, ask a local. Or maybe walk a few streets away from the main attractions. It just takes just a little common sense or even a little searching online for great food in the area. I hate that these restaurants are able to make terrible food and not only stay in business but do extremely well. Let’s do something about it, and quit throwing our money away!
While we’re on the topic of eating, something that is also very common, especially in American culture is tipping. Although it is not wrong to be generous, 15-20 percent tips are unnecessary, and a bit culturally ignorant. In most cases, the service charge has been applied to the bill, but even then, you can leave 5-10 percent if you feel the service was exceptional. Still though, Italians don’t generally tip. (Don’t worry, the waiters and staff don’t rely on tips for salary, tips are only “bonus”.)
Renting a Car
I’m not here to discourage you to rent a car in Italy. In fact, having a car lets you really take advantage of so many of the small towns and country side that Italy has to offer. That being said, you should be aware of the pitfalls of renting a car. In Italy, like many other countries, they have speed camera that ticket you if you are speeding. The problem is you may never know during your trip, until 3 months go by and you have 3-4 speeding tickets from all over Italy in your mail. On top of having to pay the tickets, often times the rental car company will also charge you for sending the county your information. (I know it’s absurd!)
You may think it’s as simple as not speeding, which is true. But it is not always easy to know what the speed limit is, especially when you see seasoned Italian drivers fly past you. Another area to pay attention to is ZTL (zona a traffico limitato or limited traffic zone). They are everywhere in the cities, and they are restricted areas that will get you fined. Again, they are not always easy to understand, and I’m partially convinced some of these are posted in very touristy areas just to take money. But don’t worry, now that you know what to look for you’ll be more aware of your surroundings. Also, I encourage you to use an app like Waze that will warn you about this and guide you.
If you decide not to rent a car, then don’t worry, trains are affordable and even sometimes quicker to get around.
Get out of the CITY!
Ok, so you probably know this about us, but we are advocates of exploring the not-so-touristy things Italy has to offer. If you’ve been to Italy, or know someone that’s been, most likely they visited Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice. I hear the same itinerary everyday! I agree that these are must see places, especially Rome and Florence. I also think that the greatest charm of Italy is outside the big cities and people may be missing a truly Italian experience.
We always like to ask visitors if they are city people or nature people. The majority I’ve talked to from America especially, say they’re not really city people. This boggles my mind, because they will then spend 3 weeks in nothing but large metropolitan cities. It’s no wonder some leave dissatisfied. I’m here to tell you that spending a week in a place like Rome is not necessary. Now of course, Rome has so much to offer whether it’s art museums, historical architecture, tours, shopping and nightlife. I love Rome and I personally could spend a week just in the city and love every second of it. But if cities are not your thing, why not spend a few of those days in areas outside of Rome, or outside of Florence. It will make your trip that much better, if you understand this fundamental aspect of yourself.
On this blog we feature many small towns both in the mountains and on the coast, that are just outside the main tourist hubs. Check out some of these articles for inspiration!