Whether you are a regular jet-setter, or nip off for an occasional novelty holiday; whether you are a busy itinerary sightseer, or a lazing by the pool type, going on holiday can always be a bit overwhelming.
We often think of countries within a continent, or next door to each other, as being similar in terms of social norms, weather and even language, but every country has its own fact file that we should know before booking a holiday.
That is why, after three holidays around Italy, I am here to give you some top tips for visiting one of Europe’s most popular destinations.
GETTING DISTANCES RIGHT
Italy is a large country, well, in European terms. And one of the annoying things is that many of the major cities or beautiful places are pretty far apart. Rome for example is in the bottom half of the country, whereas Venice or Verona are in the far north and Pompeii and Naples are in the south.
Because the UK is so small, we’re used to thinking something being kind of close by is about one or two hours away at the most. But in bigger countries, an hour away is next door. So in Italy, if you’re advised that somewhere is really close and you should book a train or bus journey there from wherever you’re staying, you should check, as close may mean a four hour bus journey one way.
So my advice is, you can’t do the main points of Italy in one go, unless you’re prepared to fly or have a lot of lengthy train journeys. So consider where you want to go before hand and be aware of distances.
Public transport in Italy can be a hit or a miss depending on not only where you are, but what you want to use. Taxis are well known for being extortionate in Italy, and the drivers often take you for a merry ride to gain a few extra euros.
Ferries are a great way to get around some of the small islands or the in the lakes and mountains district in the north. But Italy has a reputation for having very confusing ferry timetables. So the best thing to do is try and talk about your ferry plans with a representative from the ticket office, or even your hotel who can explain what the various times, ticket options and prices are and what they include, before you purchase anything.
On a more lucky note, the trains in Italy are excellent. They tend to be very well priced and frequent. And unlike our UK equivalent, if you buy a long distance ticket across the country on the day of travel, it doesn’t tend to be much more expensive than if you’d booked in advance. Train times are also easy to access online or on manual copies, and the times and destinations are easy to follow.
In Italy public toilets usually cost. This is because they have an attendant who cares and cleans them and keeps it all fit for use. Oddly enough, this person can often be found sitting down and quite literately shouting at their poor customers who desperately need a pee. Whether they’re trying to direct you to a specific cubicle, control the queue, or just seem to be throwing all their personal issues in your general direction, just go with it, it is usually the safer option.
So for a small fee, you can access Italy’s public toilets. Now, as unusual as this may sound to us, I really recommend using these toilets opposed to the non-paying ones. Why? Well because the ones you don’t pay for tend to be very questionable holes in the ground, covered in many things you don’t want to be around. So unless you can hold it in until you get back to your accommodation, pay up, or visit a cafe and spend €12 on a pizza and a pee.
Language is always an interesting one, as most of us rely solely on our rubbish foreign tongues when we go abroad. So unless you’re a real wiz at foreign languages, us Brits just stick out like poorly educated sore thumbs abroad.
Luckily in Italy, most of the Italians you’ll meet in hotels, cafes and shops, tend to speak very good English because of all the annoying English speaking tourists who come their way. So whenever you’re stressing out that you won’t remember the difference between “your food stinks and I challenge you to a dual,” or “can I have a taxi for 6pm,” they will usually be able to help you out.
But then again, it is always polite as well as educational to try and learn a foreign language. So while you flick through your English to Italian dictionary wondering which phrases to learn, it might be useful to know that in Italy, the words “thank you” is by far the Italian’s favourite. In the UK, we like our “please” and “thank you” to be used in the same sentence as much as possible, but in Italy, it is “thank you” and “you’re welcome,” that are coupled together.
It is also important to know that much of the northern part of Italy belonged to Austria until not too long ago. As a result, many of the occupants still consider themselves Austrian in culture and German in language. So when visiting this part of the country, it may be useful to get your Austrian German and German German vocab straight.
In the UK, we know that a five star hotel is the lap of luxury; somewhere we can pretend we’re a celeb with the giant bubble baths and yummy chocolates all over the place. We also know that one or two stars should be avoided if we can help it, and are reserved for our low cost back-packing holidays with friends.
However, in Italy their star ratings are a little bit different to ours. When I was a teenager and went to Italy, my Dad made sure he forked out so we could be comfortable on our holiday, and I got used to some pretty nice hotels. But now I am older, and have to pay for things myself, the reality of the situation has hit me.
I have found out from visiting a few hotels, that in the majority of Italy, four star equals the equivalent of our two star. Quite often the public areas like the bar, the pool and so on are up to scratch, but the rooms are not what you’d expect. So if you expecting four star quality for four star prices, then you may be disappointed.
However, this is not always the case in Italy, and you really can find some excellent hotels for very reasonable prices. It is just a case of doing some thorough research and not assuming anything about standards before you look at pictures and ready reviews.
In Italy, you’ll usually find a fantastic array of wines, beers and ciders for you to taste. If you’re very clever and go to part’s of the country that specialise in growing fruits and making internationally applauded wines, then you’ll be in for a right treat. Alcohol is also usually well priced and available at most hotels and eating places.
But be warned, in hotels, cafes and restaurants, soft drinks cost a fortune. Now, I get seriously dehydrated when I eat, so when I eat out, I tend to have two or three pints of soft drinks at about £2.50 each in the UK. But in Italy, a small drink can often go for €3-4 and water usually costs too. So if you’re like me and hate a dry throat during dinner, but don’t want to drink enough wine that you end up causing a scene, then it’s going to be an expensive night.
But on the plus side, soft drinks and water in shops tend to be about the same price as in the UK. So if you want to stock up on drinks for when you’re away from the dinner table and basking in the sunlight, then you’ll be fine.
THINGS TO DO
Italy is one of my favourite places to visit, as there is so much to do and see. They have beaches for those of you who like to sit around and bake themselves. They have incredible and diverse scenery for those who love to be inspired by landscape. And the piece de resistance, for those who want history and architecture, every city is full of religious, political and artistic wonders that are a must see.
So it goes without saying, that when booking your holiday, look up the best tourist attractions near you, but also take a look at the more understated and less crowded places that tend to very rich in natural culture.
Whether you were born and brought up in Scotland, or are a visiting student, you’ll certainly know we get very excited when the rare day, or hour, appears when we can go about in shorts and t-shirts. It’s no wonder then, that when we go abroad, we want to show off as much skin as possible.
Now as normal as walking around in the near nude is for us British tourists, there are some places where we are asked to cover up. If you’re like me, you will want to visit the wonderfully old attractions in Italy, all of which are full of ancient art and history. However, many of the buildings, especially those owned by the Catholic Church, ask that shoulders and knees are covered up by both men and women. So whether you’re going sightseeing or not, I recommend you carry a couple of extra pieces of clothing in your bag just in case you find a gem you want to visit.
Well we don’t need to ask what the weather is like in most of Italy, as we only need to look at their gorgeous olive tan to find out. Yes, the majority of Italy is very warm during the spring to autumn months and you will need to stock up on your sun tan lotion and bring your goofy sun hat.
However, not everyone realises that if you go to the north where Venice, Verona and the lakes and mountains are, the weather can be very different. Because of its geographical conditions, these areas can be prone to mist, cool evenings and even a lot of dramatic thunder and lightening. So if you are planning a holiday to this part of the country, just be aware that it may not always be bikini weather.