Of all of the countries that I have visited, I have spent the most time in Europe’s big boot, Italy. After studying abroad in Florence, Sorrento and Sicily, I grew to learn much more about the country than I had on short visits as a teenager. If you are off to Italy or planning to visit, here are a few things I learned about the country that might prove useful if you don’t have a few years to spend to get to know it.
Don’t Order a Cappuccino in the Afternoon or Evening: While it might be tempting to order up a delicious cappuccino in the afternoon or the evening for an instant pick-me-up while touring Italy, you might receive a great deal of strange looks from locals. Italians never drink a cappuccino outside of morning hours.
Do Your Shopping and Touring in the Morning or Late Afternoon: At around noon in Italy, everything shuts down for several hours. Yes, everything seems to shut down. You can’t normally buy groceries. You won’t find many shops open. And you will even have a hard time finding attractions that aren’t closed for the Italian version of naptime called riposo. It is best to tour and shop in the morning and early evenings to avoid this afternoon shutdown.
Italians Dress For The Season, Not For The Weather: This lesson still shocks me. Italians don’t really dress for the weather; rather, they dress for the season. It might be warm, hot even and Italians might be wearing winter coats and scarves. Italians don’t seem to alter their wardrobe for what the temperature might be that day. Instead, they look at the calendar to see what they should wear.
Always Seek Out Restaurants Away From Main Piazzas: Italy is no secret. It is on every tourist’s radar and as a result, you can have bad meals in the country. After sampling a few bad seeds, I learned in Italy to always steer clear of restaurants in main piazzas. While known the world over for their cuisines, Italians do have bad restaurants, mostly those catered to tourists with the well-publicized “tourist menu” or with a man out front encouraging you to eat there. If you want to eat well in Italy, don’t go in a place with a hawker and don’t eat in major piazzas.
Live with Host Families To Learn Italian: One of the main reasons I studied in Italy was not just for the food and to be amongst ancient history. I wanted to learn Italian. However, I found this difficult to do as a very pale redhead. Italy is very touristy so many people will speak back to you in English even if you try Italian. I decided to live with a few host families throughout my studies in order to force the locals to speak to me in Italian. If you want to learn Italian, the best way is to go live with some who will actually help you learn.
Branch Out From Rome, Venice and Florence: While I love Rome and I always have a special place in my traveling heart for Florence, the major cities of Italy are certainly overrun with tourists. While you shouldn’t cut them out of your itinerary, don’t spend all of your time in the well-known areas of the country. Head to regions like Abruzzo, Puglia, Calabria, Sicily and Sardinia to escape the crowds and perhaps catch a small glimpse of what the country used to look like before everyone got here.
Embrace Dolce Far Niente: Many things in Italy don’t make sense. There is no rhyme or reason to most aspects of the country. To embrace Italy, you must embrace a change of plans. You have to learn to love the sweetness of doing nothing, dolce far niente as the saying goes. In the evening hours, when everyone comes out of their homes and apartments to simply saunter around the main street, join them and walk slowly. This is the dolce far niente at its finest.