Monday, April 22, 2013

iFAQs

Stumped? I'll try and answer some of the questions about Italy that we had, too. If you have questions not answered here, get in touch with me at ForTheLoveOfItaly@att.net... I'll get back to you!

Knowing the answers to italian Frequently Asked Questions (iFAQs) makes you a better traveler!

Q: Will I need a passport?

You betcha! I highly encourage all people to have a passport ~ even if they aren't considering international travel. I once missed out on a last-minute business trip to London because I didn't have a passport so the following week I got the ball rolling to get mine. Also know that unless you pay a lot of money, you cannot get your passport at the drop of a cowboy hat. So allow a few weeks to get yours. The single official passport office in Texas is located in Houston, so if you're in a time-squeeze and have to travel to get an expedited passport, book your next meal in Houston.

Another tip is to keep your passport updated! If you have less than a year left on your passport, get it renewed in advance. Did you know there are actually some countries that require you've had your passport a certain amount of time in your hands BEFORE you leave for travel and some countries that require you have a certain amount of time on your passport BEYOND your return travel date? I didn't. These rules are loosely referred to as "entrance requirements" for countries. Don't assume your U.S. expiration date shown on your passport means you can travel at will across the globe up to - and including - that date.

Fun Fact: I had a big scare in '08 when my passport was expiring 9/1/08 and my return travel was 7/14/08. The Houston Passport Agency told me I'd need to get my passport renewed for travel to Italy because my passport was expiring within 90 days of my return travel date. This sent me into a complete tailspin as I heard of this knowledge nugget just two days before I was leaving for Italy!

Still true
to this day:
Phone calls from the Italian Embassy in D.C. and the Italian Consulate in Dallas went unreturned, so I resorted to prayer beads, trouble dolls, garlic and insane amounts of wine to work my issues out. Subsequently, I interrogated US Airways and called the Passport agency multiple times and was reassured this was not correct according to their information. Misinformation is out there so always recheck your sources if it doesn't feel right! Despite reading posts that argued the expiration matter back and forth, I am telling you from personal experience I traveled without issue.

Regardless, raise your right hand, cross your heart and repeat after me: "I promise to keep my passport updated at least a year in advance of return travel and I'll enjoy life free and clear." Passport renewal costs about $75 plus the mental olympics associated with successfully completing the renewal form. I promptly renewed after my '08 close-call and surprisingly received the new passport 10 days from when I sent it in. But don't assume only 10 days! Online Renewal Information Here. Enough said!

Q: I don't speak Italian. Should I be concerned?

Only if you don't try to speak Italian! Italians are incredibly forgiving of foreigners who attempt to speak the language. If you just yammer to them in English, be prepared for the same to be returned. But in Italian.

If you know Spanish, you're halfway there, as the Italian language resembles a fine blend of Spanish and French and seasoned with lots of hand gesturing.

The best book we found is the Rick Steve's Italian phrase book. It's compact and well-organized. We later took two semesters of Italian at SMU and this helped make our most recent trip much easier (less fumbling with the book).

Q: When's the best time of year to travel to Italy?

If you're doing things in or around water, you'll want to plan on summer travel. It'll be hot, but who wants to swim in cold water? I've been 4 times in June thru September and the weather is typically hot, like Texas. Inland cities like Rome, Florence and Milan were really hot. If you're around coastal cities, the wind will treat you to breezy breaks from the heat. My travels to Liguria were in April and it was like San Francisco weather ~ chilly at night (sweater weather) and shorts during the day.

Spring was my favorite time to go because I wasn't so pre-occupied with the heat.

Q: What travel agent did you use?

Me! All six times.

There are several online resources and websites that will make planning and customizing your trip an easy thing to do. When booking online, be cautious to allow enough time for connecting flights - especially if clearing customs in Italy with a connection thereafter. We lost luggage twice on two separate trips in Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport because of tight connections and the "French Factor".

A Rule of Thumb: I learned that hotels can be nice, but B&Bs offer more intimate service and a short- or long-term rental can be a very cost effective, authentic way to stay. For recent travels, we booked a villa rental using the ParkerVillas.com and I'd recommend them to you in a snap.

So don't be afraid to book your own trip! It's during this experience you'll learn more about what you want to do and in the process, how easy it is to do it yourself! If you're time-starved or nervous, email me @ ForTheLoveOfItaly@ATT.net as I'm happy to help outside all the tips on this site for a reasonable price and custom service from me to you.

Q: Where and when did you go?

Here's a list of the places we visited. The blue links will take you to individual posts where you can read more about that location. I have many more posts to complete (a good sign)?

2006 ~ NaplesCapriPompeiiRomeFlorence


2008 ~ Naples (Part II), HerculaneumCapri (Part II), IschiaProcidaSorrentoConca dei MariniAmalfiPositano and the awesome village of Ravello.

2009 ~ More beautiful Italy!


2011 ~ We tipped our hats to MilanVeniceMuranoBurano, Verona, Lake Como (Bellagio, Menaggio, Varenna, Cernnobio)... even St. Moritz, Switzerland!

2012 - 2013 ~ This adventure was a life-changing long-term stay that brought rich insight on Italian living. You can read the posts entitled "A Tuscan Holiday" for more detail ... and more posts are still coming!

Q: What about tour groups? Do you suggest them?

Personally, I'm not a fan of organized tour packages where you spend your entire trip with a group of people visiting a pre-set list of things to do... maybe if I reach my golden years, where strength in numbers will be important when traveling.

In the meantime, I am a fan of "a la carte tour grouping" where you pick and choose when to use tour groups. Tour groups help you leverage the Italian smarts of a tour guide as well as prioritized line position, but only for a limited portion of your trip, when you decide it's right for you. See my post on Rome where I mention how tour grouping expedited seeing The Coliseum and The Vatican Museum.

Q: OK, I've booked my trip. Got any packing tips?

Take what you need and need what you take. There's nothing worse than carting around pounds of unused items. Our first year we were advised by a friend to dress up not down and we spent most of our trip wishing we had packed more shorts. So unless you're going to the Vatican, inside a church or fancy restaurants, plan on shorts for the summer and jeans/sweaters for the winter. For the Amalfi trip in Summer 2008, I took one pair of jeans and never wore them. Sweet!

Must-take items include: Your itinerary, passport, toiletry essentials and any medications. Your favorite translation book. A journal for writing down the wonderful things you experience. Also after being separated in customs one year, we now activate our phones for international calling emergencies or just to help with ease of use (See the FAQ "What About Phones?" below).

Optional items you'll want to consider taking include: headphones for the transatlantic stretch (airlines are now charging ~$5 for these). Noise-canceling headphones are a plus! Suntan lotion (if you're picky about what you use).

Common items we've forgotten include: A corkscrew, the iPod, our international power converter and portions of our itinerary. One year we didn't take a charger and we stocked-up on lithium batteries. But if you're going to be activating your phone internationally, you'll need a way to recharge it, unless it's being turned on for emergencies only.

Perhaps my greatest of tips is for you to read my Pisa post where you'll learn a very valuable lesson about international travel.

Q: What about phones?

There are several options to fulfill your need for a telefono. You'll want to balance cost with convenience when making your choice.

#1. Calling Cards: These are easy to purchase at local "bars" and a great option if you don't need to be reached, but plan on calling others when you're ready to talk. You can get cards in small amounts like 5 Euro, so this is probably the cheapest option.

#2. Rent or Purchase A Throw-Away: You can purchase a phone in Italy that is pre-loaded with minutes and use it as you need to. Don't expect fancy features but it's probably cheaper than option #3 below. Again you'll need to let your friends know your new number.

#3. Activate Your Phone: This is a great option if you want to make it seamlessly easy for folks back home to find you. They would simply call you as they usually do.

To activate, our carrier (AT&T) offers an international plan that is about $6/month to turn-on plus a per-minute usage (about $1 per minute). You can turn off the plan when you return from your trip. You'll need to ensure your phone is able to handle the international wireless network. We have internationally-friendly Blackberrys, so this wasn't a problem for us. If your phone isn't already pre-wired to accept the international network, you can also purchase an International SIM Card.

Before you leave, make sure and get the "4-1-1" from your carrier on your "new" European phone number. AT&T told us we'd had a new number and our friends said they were able to reach us from Dallas simply by calling our regular, 10-digit Texas-based number. Go figure.

Q: What's the best way to get Euro cash?


We avoid money-changing stations. For us, the most convenient way is to let your credit card do the work for you. You can obtain Euros from "bancomats" (Italian ATMs) and the conversion rate in effect for that day will automatically post to your bank account. Your bank can let you know if there are any conversion fees involved, which is likely. This is huge: Make sure you call your bank before your trip and give them the dates (and countries) of your travel. Regardless, one year, my credit union turned off my credit card "for my protection," which almost ruined the trip. That credit union is now my former credit union! Always have a "Plan B" especially when it comes to money!

Q: What's up with these city names? Roma? Firenze? Napoli?


Most cities and villages in Italy have two names: 1) Their original, given, Italian name and 2) The name foreigners give them (I think it's because we "dumb" 'em down).

So when in Italy, "Rome" is really called "Roma." "Florence" is "Firenze." And "Naples" is "Napoli." There are exceptions, like "Capri" is still "Capri," so just be on the alert. I had a melt-down at the train ticket kiosk in Naples when I was looking for a ticket to Florence and only saw Firenze. At first I thought I was going to miss my train until I poked my own finger to head. "Duh, I get it... now!"

Q: What are common ways to get around within Italy?

Airplane: You might need to transfer from one international city (Milan) to your final destination city (Naples), depending on your itinerary. Flying direct rocks, but it's pricey.

Train: If you haven't heard the 4-1-1 about the European train system, it rocks! Trains will help connect you from large cities to quaint villages. Check out Rail Europe for maps and ticket reservations. You can get an a la carte ticket for one destination, or a pass valid for several days. Train Tip: Avoid the train pain ~ remember to validate your tickets before boarding the train or else you could get fined! Tickets are not usually dated when purchased so must be validated by you prior to boarding.

Bus: Very common in larger cities. These are great ways to get around at an affordable price. When my luggage was delayed from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, I spent 3 € getting back to the Genoa airport via bus. On the way back via taxi? $40 €. The difference? Ouch!

Car: In the Italian countryside, a car rental will make total sense. But I'd avoid driving in big cities, like Naples or Rome. The Italians are very aggressive behind the wheel. You'll notice several missing side-view mirrors because of how close to each other they drive... and fast! The Italians use their horns as frequently as we say y'all.

Taxi: Yeah, they have those, too! Great for shorter distances when you're on the run and maybe traveling with luggage (like to and from the airport).

Vaporetto: A "water bus" will be your most affordable way of travel in Venice and its surrounding waterworlds. As you board the floating platform for the next arrival, don't expect it to be *the* boat, like I did. It's a safe haven until the buoyant bus approaches. Next stop? Adventure!

Hydrofoil: This isn't something you cook with, folks. It's a boat that rises up on the water when it reaches fast speeds. We took a hydrofoil between Naples and Capri.

Funicular: Think of a funicular as a slow-moving train that goes up or downhill.

You'll find funiculars in the "steep" parts of Italy and they are a form of public transportation you'll want to acquaint yourself with (unless you enjoy walking up and down hills).

Tip: Watch-out though for the folks issuing funicular tickets while on Capri ~ I've been there twice and short-changed twice. Make sure and count your money before leaving the ticket counter!

Lo Scooter: Believe it or not, I learned to scooter on the Amalfi Coast... which is not suggested for first-timers, unless you're a joy-seeker.

Scooters are a great option if you like to stop on the fly at scenic spots, traveling in hilly inclines too challenging for mere mortal walking or for jet-setting on small distance trips. Check out my post on Conca dei Marini where I mention how a scooter rental saved my life... and made the trip awesome!

Q: What about the gypsies? Are they a problem?

We read about the gypsies and it was pretty much all false. In all our travels to Italy, we've only encountered gypsies one time: in Florence, standing in line outside the Duomo. Personally, I think Italy is safer than walking to my corner liquor store. But it doesn't hurt to take reasonable precautions, like keeping your wallet in your front pocket to prevent any pick-pocketing.

One other place we encountered unsolicited folks was in our recent trip through Milan's central train station where two strangers literally pushed me away from the kiosk so they could help me purchase my tickets (for money, of course).

Never fear. I prevailed.

Q: How's the pizza?

Um, it's really good. And not like "meat lovers pan pizza from Pizza Hut good!" Italian pizza is simple. Thin crust. Basic and good toppings. Less is more. And you'll love it.

Italians don't usually slice their pizza unless you're buying it solely by the slice, which is something I think they do solely for clapping tourists. So make sure if you take a pizza to go, you ask your server to slice it for you before you leave. Molto bene!

Q: Bidet, Mate!? (a.k.a. What's a bidet?")

Every hotel, B&B and rental we've been to in Italy has a bidet. It's like a European toilet's side car. You'll see. I don't understand them, but just go with the flow; stick to the toilet and you'll feel almost at home, on your familiar throne away from home.

Q: Is it true what they say - "A Gelato A Day...?"

Yes, it's true. Have gelato
*at least once* each and every day.

You will be better for it, look Italian, smile while having the lick of your life AND lose weight. If you don't have a gelato each and every a day, you'll probably gain weight and lose your popularity.

Seriously.
; )

Proof: I ate 2 gelatos a day in 2008 and lost 8 pounds on my trip. Shazam!

You'll find gelaterias (the place you get the tasty stuff) a-plently while in Italy. Indulge in the presentation of fruit atop the creamy stuff. Want a bigger gelato? Click the pic up above and enjoy!

Q: I want to look Italian on the beach. What do I do?

Have a tan, for the love of Italy!

If you're thin and a minimalist, you'll fit in, "just like flin." Satellite-sized sunglasses a plus.

Searching for an Italian mankini or the female derivative while in Italy? I purchased my Colmar mankini in Ravello and wore it with pride, despite the fact I have >10% body fat.

When in doubt, suck it in, patriots!

Q: What are some important phrases to remember in Italian?

1. Parla inglese? (means "do you speak English?").
2. Scusi, parlo l'italiano un puo.
("Excuse me, I speak little Italian").
3. Accetate carte di credito?
("Do you take credit card?")
4. Ho i fianchi larghi! ("I have large hips!")
5. Metterò una gonna aderente per l'occasione. ("I'll wear a tight skirt for the occasion.")
6. Sono indignato! ("I'm outraged!")
7. Con o senza ghiaccio? ("With or without ice?")
8. Scherzavo! ("I was kidding!")
9. Che giornata! ("What a day!")
10. Devo fare un prelievo, c'è un Bancomat?
("I have to withdraw money, is there an ATM?")
11. Grazie per l'aiuto.
("Thanks for your help.")
12. Con affetto. ("With love.")
13. Ho bisogno di un antidolorifico. ("I need a painkiller!")

Q: If I live in Dallas, what can I do to bring Italy closer?

Eat like an Italian!
Nothing in Texas is truly Italian, but there are some great Italian-inspired restaurants around the city. My favorite casual Italian hot-spots include Terilli's on Greenville Avenue and Patrizio - a restaurant named after me, of course! Angelo's pizza is perhaps my favorite and out-of-towners love Campisi's. Nonna's crab ravioli is molto bene, so give it a try. Also, there's Daniele Osteria on Oak Lawn. A cheese lover? Molto Formaggio is a recent add to the foodie scene and you'll find some unique flavors here.

Cook like an Italian!
There's a New York-style Italian market near downtown called Jimmy's Food Store that offers a great assortment of Italian goods. Jimmy's fresh-made sandwiches are great. Good wine selection. Need an artful appetizer? Top bread with their olive salad and bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes for an easy, tasty appetizer guests will think you had brought in. And for the love of Italy, don't forget to top it with fresh parmigiano reggiano! My crostini recipe is located here.

Shop like an Italian!
Explore and shop local markets around the city. My favorites? I just recently visited Dallas' Mozzarella Company down in Deep Ellum and left with an arm full of cheeses including scamorza, mozzarella with green olive and mozzarella with pesto. You can also sign-up for classes for cheese making or artful wine or beer pairings for cheese. The Mozzarella Company's neighbor Rudolph's Market & Sausage Factory has amazing meats that will remind you of an Italian macelleria, and they also sell fresh artisan breads from Empire Bread Company. My favorite is the Pane Paisano (shown at right).

Speak Like An Italian!
Learn the beauty of the Italian language! We did, and it helped make our last Italian adventure much easier on the communication efforts. We enrolled in SMU's beginning Italian and took two semesters of it from an Italian native named Damiano. He's hilarious. Best of all we've met some great people in our class ~ one who let us stay on her and her husband's yacht for free during our '08 adventure. I know! Big Texas props to you, Jeanie and David! So you never know who you're going to meet in the classes. Enroll today!

Damiano said a great best way to orient yourself to the language is by quite literally listening to it all the time. Immerse yourself as much as possible. So pop-in your favorite Italian flick and leave the TV on as "white noise" during your daily chores. Let your ears adapt to the Italian language.

Check with your programming provider about adding International Programming for your listening and viewing pleasure. Our provider (DirecTV) doesn't offer the network we liked when in Italy, so we haven't taken the plunge... yet.

There's also an Italian Club of Dallas that has ongoing events and things to do. They're based in Addison. We've not participated yet, but there were folks in our class who did. More information here.

Read Like An Italian!
(or at least read a good book written by one). I stumbled upon Too Much Tuscan Sun surfing Amazon and quickly ordered it. Written by Dario Castagno, you'll gain great insight into the heart of Tuscany's Chianti region through easy to digest, short chapters. This one's a page turner and I spent many weekends slowly reading this as it made me feel like I had been whisked away to Italy for an insider's view of Tuscany - and the tourists who flock there. Just like a fine wine, you'll lose yourself in the rich, bold insight. Ironically titled, however, there could never truly be "too much" Tuscan sun!

Sing Like An Italian!
Since you're online, you can listen to our favorite radio station for "very normal people" here. Just click the 102.5 FM link at left and let the love of Italian music tickle your ear drums.

Need A Quick Fix?
Rent (or preferably buy)
Under The Tuscan Sun. While this movie may be over-the-top sunrise peachy-happy, it brings to life the beauty of Italy. The laughter. And the hope we all have for our preferred "home away from home."

Q: Do you have a useless tips for me?

You betcha!


Useless Fact #1: I took two semesters of Italian but never knew this - the Italian alphabet is ~20% shorter than our Anglo version because there are no J, K, W, X, or Y characters found in the language. So how, then, do we spell "Texas" or "y'all," y'all?

How big is Italy compared to Texas? You're looking at it!
Useless Fact #2: Scared about going to a big, unknown country far, far, away? Tackle this on for size ~ while going to Italy is a huge event, don't let the thought of traveling there intimidate you. Italy is just 1/2 as large as Texas, in size. Italy is 116,305 square miles in size vs. its parter Texas, which weighs-in at a beefy 266,807 square miles.

Taking a closer look, Italy is comprised of about 20 regions compared to the 254 counties in Texas. That means the Italian regions can roughly "hold" about 25 Texas counties, on average. Suddenly Italy doesn't seem so small, right?

You'll find just like within Texas as well as the U.S. Italy offers varied and unique dialects, traditions - even pasta dishes! Size aside the regions of Italy pack a ton of grandeur within the country's version of the Texas "boot," proving size doesn't matter - quality does!

for the love of : italy

3 comments:

Jeff said...

Great blog page! I love the photos and everything about it. Throw in a couple of scenes from an Antonioni film, and I am right there. When I go to Italy I'll be back to check up again on your site, first. -ciao

Patrick said...

Thanks, Jeff!

I'm happy to help! Make sure and follow us on Facebook for real-time updates, secret recipes and events.

I'm making more blogger posts about the villages I saw last summer plus we have a new site coming soon.

Thanks for making the time to share your comment!

~ Patrick @ ForTheLoveOfItaly.com

Colleen said...

Will be leaving for "il bel paese" in less than a month, heading first to the home of me ancestors--the lovely west coast of Ireland! My sister & I have never graced their shores at the same time, so expect some form of magic. Then we will return to the land where we came of age : Vicenza, in the veneto region.lived there as kids and teens, now what to see it with the eyes that come with experience and in my case, recent cataract surgery! Rented a lovely, cheap apt thru HomeAway.com. I'm staying' til the dang election's over! Can't stand another word of it! Will try my hand at blogging."Vivendo in sogno" (living a dream) or "Colleen's Big Fat Bucket list".
Opinions? So excited I ca barely think of anything else!
I may call on you, Patrick!