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It’s easy to believe all of these, until you experience it yourself.
Everyone loves Italy, right? It’s hard not to lend a wistful, slightly jealous smile when friends tells you of their upcoming plans to travel in Italy. While there seems to be boundless beauty, ancient history, mouth-watering cuisine and of course wines of all kinds, travel in Italy for tourists is not all la dolce vita.
Before you think I’m an ugly American bashing the land of romance and amore, you should know that I’m first-generation half Italian. When I travel in Italy (or just about everywhere!), I travel solo, meeting all sorts of people and situations along the way. Armed with just enough bits of the Italian language to be polite, informed and barely conversational, I’m okay.
To be honest, I have never spent more than one week in any place be it a city or village in Italy. That’s just not me to sit still. But I have spent over three months of traveling in, through and all around Italia, top to bottom, east to west, enough time to be able to tackle these myths.
If you’re planning a vacation to Italy, here are my 11 observations gleaned over time. I compiled this myth-buster list while aboard the sleek, ultra-fast Frecciarossa train as it zoomed between Florence and Rome, then Rome to Venice and beyond.
Here are the most common misconceptions about Italy, based solely on my personal experiences.
1. You don’t need to know Italian to visit Italy.
Sure…if you go straight from the airport to your hotel, eat meals at Hard Rock Cafes or sign up for English-speaking tours, you could probably get by little more than a cursory “ciao” or “grazie.” Little phrases like asking for the bill in a small, local restaurant, ordering an espresso at a coffee shop, or telling the taxi driver exactly where you want to go are easy to learn. Simply write down a few expressions on a piece of paper and carry along in your pocket.
2. It’s a slower pace.
Have you seen Rome at rush hour? Ever tried to board to a vaporetto in Venice when thousands of tourists are heading back to their cruise ship or hotel? Everyone is jammed up, elbow to elbow, along the Riva Degli Schiavone, the famous Venice waterfront promenade.
3. Everyone is so friendly.
Friendly, yes. Sincerely friendly? I’m not so sure. Of course, most shopkeepers want to sell you something so they’re usually cordial. Wait staff in restaurants in Italy don’t rely on tips, so there’s no incentive to schmooze with the diners. Most of the people you’ll meet on your trip to Italy are in some way providing a service; dining, touring, hotels, shops. Whether or not their smile is sincere is for you to decide.
4. There’s incredibly wonderful food in every restaurant.
Like any city in Europe, there are restaurants for tourists and restaurants frequented by locals. I’ve had out-of-this-world fantastic pizza in Roma in a local neighborhood and just so-so pizza in Naples when I went with a tour group. Avoid tourist traps and eat at smaller trattorias.
In Venice for example, some restaurants have menus for tourists and lower-priced menus they offer to locals. Be sure to ask for the locals menu. Find a restaurant away from the major landmarks. Look for places where Italian families are dining. Avoid restaurants adjacent to major touristic piazzas (like Piazza Navone) or across from the Pantheon.
5. You can almost set your watch by the train schedules.
Though Italy shares a border with Switzerland, it doesn’t mean their trains run on the same clock. If your travel connections require that you board a train mid-route, chances are it won’t be on time. If your train trip begins at a terminus, like Rome’s Termini Station or Venice’s Santa Lucia, most likely it will depart on time. It’s the en route delays, sudden train worker strikes and track work that can and will mess up your schedule. When planning your connecting train schedules, always allow for a 45-minute delay when booking your connections.
Read my next six misunderstood facts about travel to Italy, debunked!
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