Anticipating and planning a trip to Italy for the first time is a bewildering experience as how to choose between the glorious cities of Florence, Rome, Milan and Venice? The Amalfi coast and Island of Capri leading down to the excitement of Naples, the Tuscan countryside, or the tempting island of Sicily, all beckon and invite. Read as much as you can before you head off on your travels and consider if you are going for the art and history, the shopping experience or to bask in the Italian sunshine in stunning towns such as Sorrento.
As well as reading travel guides indulge in some wonderful reading by Annie Hawes who offers some real insights into the Italian way of life. Look for both ‘Extra Virgin’ and ‘Ripe for the Picking’ to either read before you go or take along for the flight. Don’t forget to carry a phrase book with you and pick up a few words of Italian. If nothing else the ladies will need a few words to reject Italian suitors politely.
Italians are chic and well co-ordinated in their dress so aim for a simple but elegant look so as not to stand out as a tourist, the beacon for pickpockets and bag snatchers. Pay attention especially in the cities or around the railway stations for pickpockets who are skilled in their craft.
Italy is of course a gourmet’s delight and there are certain food rules which must be followed. The most important relates to coffee consumption and whilst the Italians may be adapting to travelers blatant mistakes whilst ordering coffee, it is preferable not to raise sniggers. Italians only drink coffee for breakfast or after lunch and dinner, believing anything else plays havoc with the delicate digestive system.
Thus if you do try and order an expresso at the wrong time of day at least remember to order a doppio, which is a double, so you won’t cause hysteria if you are tempted to order a second three sip full expresso. If you take your coffee standing up in a bar it will cost you far less than if you sit down somewhere for a coffee.
Italians delight in different courses when they dine rather than just one entrée: the portion sizes are smaller and healthier than American sizes and follow the order of appertizers, pasta, and then a meat or fish course. Cheese and fruit follow, and wine is taken with the meal but not afterwards. Try a grappa after dinner as an excellent digestive.
Take the opportunity to indulge in real Italian food such as truffles, prosciutto, focaccia, salami, and look out for the only cheese made from pig’s milk and unique to Italy, porcorino. Sample the rich dishes cooked with basil, oregano and garlic.
The summer months are the hottest time to visit Italy. The main cities such as Rome have less traffic to contend with in August when the locals vacation, but shoppers should avoid August as many of the designer shops are closed. Also during August the Venetian canals are known to be a bit smelly. Driving in Italian cities is not recommended for travelers not used to the Italian way of driving.
There is so much for the first time traveler to Italy to consider that it really does require the most meticulous planning to ensure that everything you want to see and try can be fitted into your visit. Italy really is one of the most beautiful, cultured and romantic countries, complete with wonderful food which travelers would be hard pressed not to fall in love with.