A to Z of useful tips for travelling in Italy
Banks & cash machines:
Opening hours vary, but approx. 08.20-13.30 & 14.30-16.00 Monday to Friday. Most towns will have a cash machine outside the bank where you can obtain cash on cash cards and all Visa/MasterCard Credit Cards with your PIN number. If you wish to change money in the bank, you will be asked to show your passport.
Bars and Aperitivo time:
Most bars offer free nibbles (aperitivi) with drinks between 18.00 and 19.30. They are usually laid out on the bar for you to help yourselves and there is no limit to what you can take.
Public transport is relatively cheap in Italy. Bus tickets cannot be purchased on the bus, but must be bought from a tabac/tabaccheria. A one-way ticket is ‘solo andata’ and a return ticket is ‘andata e ritorno’
Coffee and Brioche
The price of a coffee, cappuccino or brioche is set by law in each area. So if you stand at the bar to drink/eat you will pay a lot less than if you sit down (as this is not regulated). For example, in Lombardia (Lake Como), a coffee at the bar will cost you only 90 cents. If you want to drink a longer, weaker coffee, ask for a cafe americano. All coffees are served black in Italy unless you specify otherwise e.g. ‘con latte’ (with milk). Cappucino is usually served luke-warm, so that it can be drunk quickly. If you prefer it hotter, simply ask for ‘multo caldo’.
Driving in Italy:
Always carry your passport and all documents relating to the car. Indeed always carry your passport with you as a form of identification. It is compulsory to carry an emergency triangle and a high visibility jacket in your vehicle.
The speed limit on Italian motorways is 130km/h, 110km/h on most dual carriageways and 90km/h on normal roads. Check the road signs carefully, as fines are heavy. Seat belts are compulsory both front and rear. Italy has stricter drink driving laws than the UK, only allowing 0.5 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood (UK 0.8). Headlights
All vehicles are required to keep their low-beam lights on at all times on motorways and four-lane highways. Scooters and motorbikes must keep their headlights on at all times and on all types of roads. High-beam headlights can be used only outside cities and towns and when no vehicle is approaching; otherwise use only low-beam. When a stationary vehicle is not clearly visible, parking lights must be kept on. Mobile phones may only be used if the phones are equipped with an earpiece. Important note – if an Italian driver flashes his lights at you, it is not a signal for you to go ahead. It is rather a warning that he is coming through and wants you to keep out of his way. If you are travelling to a ski resort in winter, it is obligatory that you carry snow chains.
112 – local police station (Carabinieri).
113 emergency helpline – police, ambulance and fire
116 ACI (Italian Automobile Club) for roadside assistance
Many hire car companies have very high collission waiver damage charges. If you hire cars regularly, you can save money by taking out an annual policy instead and paying a yearly fee of around £70. Also, many hire car companies charge you extra for the use of their high visibility jackets (even though it is law that you carry them). So save money and bring your own..
Being a member of the EEC, you can obtain NHS-style treatment free of charge In Italy, on production of your European Health Insurance Card, which is available on-line from www.dh.gov.uk. You must take this with you to avoid being charged at the hospital. You may be asked to pay a percentage of the charge, as not everything is 100% recoverable.
If you loose anything whilst in Italy and need to claim back from your insurers, they will ask you for a police report. This is obtained from your local Carabinieri (police station) and is called a ‘denuncia’. You will be required to make a statement and show your passport.
As long as your phone is GSM it will work in Italy, but you may need to ring your service provider before leaving the UK in order to activate it. You will often pay substantial roaming charges to make and receive phone calls and texts when abroad.
There are tolls on all motorways, except in southern Italy from Salerno south, so it is useful to carry small change with you. Tolls can also be paid by credit card (use the Viacard lane). DO NOT use the Telepass lane as this is an automatic barrier for drivers with an automated device.
Paying by credit card:
When paying by credit card it is normally preferable to pay in the local currency, rather than let the shop/restaurant convert it back into your own currency. This way you pay the bank rate applicable on the day the transaction is processed by your bank, rather than a rate applied by the seller (which is usually less advanatgeous). If your credit card does not have your photograph on, you may be asked to show some other form of identification e.g. passport or driving licence.
Do not assume that a driver will stop if you step out – the black and white lines are purely for decoration in Italy – or so it seems!
Many drugs (including antibiotics) can be bought over the counter without a prescription. Basic medication such as aspirin can ONLY be bought in pharmacies and not in supermarkets.
Stamps (francobolli) can only be bought in the post office or in the ‘tabac/tabaccheria’. Normal mail to the UK takes approx. 7 days to arrive in the UK, but there is also a faster version for urgent mail (2 days) – called ‘Priorita’, which costs a little more. You can also send things recorded delivery (quite expensive) – ‘raccomandata’
The power supply in Italy is 220 volts, so you will need a 2-pin adaptor. Most domestic properties run off a 3 kilowat supply, so if you are staying in a private home or renting a villa or apartment, you will not be able to use your hairdrier and a large appliance at the same time e.g oven, as this will trip the system. The ‘salva-vita’ or trip swich is normally located by the front door, and will require pushing back up, if it does trip. If this does not solve the problem, then it has tripped at the main power box, which can normally be found outside in a grey cabinet labelled ‘Enel’.
Do not expect Italians to wait in an orderly line for anything – it’s every man for himself!
You are required by law to get a receipt for everything that you purchase, even a loaf of bread or a coffee. The Guardia di Finazia (finance/tax police) have the right to stop you and fine both you and the proprietor if you leave a bar, shop, restaurant etc. without a receipt.
A typical Italian meal would consist of Antipasto (mixed meats etc), pasta course (primi), and a meat/fish main course (secondi). Portions do therefore tend to be smaller than in the UK/US and the main course is not normally served with vegetables (they are ordered separately as a ‘contorno’). Steaks are traditionally served rare, so if you like it ‘well done’ ask for ‘ben cotto’ or ‘sensa sangue’ (without blood). Always look out for the cover ‘coperta’ charge on the menu as this is an extra per person cost. Some restaurants will charge an extra percentage on top of the menu price for sitting outside (can be as much as 20%), so check the small print on the menu displayed outside the restaurant.
Many restaurants in tourist locations will offer a menu turistico (tourist menu) consisting of 2 or 3 courses, often including wine and coffee, at a set price. In all locations, you will also find menu di lavoro or workers menu. This is available to all and is usually like a tourist menu, at a set price (usually under 15 euros) and is available to all. There will usually be a separate part of the restaurant designated for this, without fancy table cloths and glass ware.
Petty theft is on the increase in Italy, particularly in cities and in the airports, so never leave valuable items in your car and be very careful with your handbag/wallet. Thieves often work in twos with one distracting you while the other relieves you of your suitcase/wallet etc. Another favourite trick on motorways, is for a car to come along side you, signalling you to pull over and indicating that you have a problem, so that when you pull over, one of them can steal your belongings from the vehicle, whilst the other points out the ‘problem’ on your car.
There is a wide variety, ranging from corner shops to large hypermarkets. Wine, alcohol and cigarettes (only available from tabac/tabaccheria) are generally much cheaper than in the UK, and as you are purchasing them duty paid, there are no limits on quantities (as long as they are for your own use). Larger supermarkets are at their quietest at lunch time (12.30-14.30). Smaller ones will close during lunch time.
Swimming pools and lidos:
It is essential to wear some form of swimming hat. These can usually be bought locally in the lido itself. Some pools will not allow men to wear loose, baggy short-style swim wear
Some are coin operated but most take phone cards available from newsagents, cigarette shops (tabaccheria) and post offices. Remember to tear the corner off before use. To dial the UK simply prefix the number with 0044 and omit the first 0 of your number.
Tipping in restaurants is not essential in Italy, as a service charge (coperto) is usually added to the bill.
Train travel is relatively inexpensive and quite reliable. There is 1st class and 2nd class travel. On EC trains (faster, more luxurious trains), you need to book a seat either online or at the ticket office. A one-way ticket is ‘solo andata’ and a return ticket is ‘andata e ritorno’ Remember to validate your ticket in the yellow machine at the beginning of the platform, prior to getting on the train. Not to do so would incur a fine. Sitting in 1st class with a 2nd class ticket is also a fine-able offence. Thieves operate on trains, so keep a close eye on your belongings, especially your passport. Timetables and online bookings can be found on http://trenitalia.com/homepage_en.html. Remember to use the Italian names for your destinations e.g. Firenze instead of Florence.
It is worth remembering that Italy is very much a Mediterranean country in terms of attitude as well as geography; therefore don’t expect your telephone/central heating/car/plumbing to be repaired immediately. It is rare for things to happen immediately, domani (tomorrow) is possible, but dopo domani (the day after tomorrow) is more likely. Therefore patience is very much the keyword.