For some of you, it’s relaxing in the cafe that simply cozies you up with a blissful cup of coffee, being with a friend or family member that loves you more than you thought you deserved, or seeing your newborn baby smiling up at you. Maybe it’s laughing as your puppy or kitty rolls around in your lap, or eating a damn good meal that makes you think you’ll never be hungry again, or seeing the beginning of a new day in the orange glow of a sunrise that warms your skin, your soul.
Whatever it is, you already know what I mean…
…That place or person or thing on which you can rely to always make you feel at ease, at home. Not only am I lucky enough to have astoundingly phenomenal family and friends, but the universe has blessed me with a place I can go and instantaneously be happy, a place where challenge still awaits me, history never dies and beauty never ceases.
It’s a place where the language tickles your ears.
It’s a place where the food is pure.
It’s a place where the people are as kind to you as the wine.
It’s a place where authentic coffee lives and breathes.
It’s a place that has born true artists who went on to create masterpieces.
It’s the home of Linguini, Fettuccine, Rigatoni, Penne; I can go all day.
It’s the home of focaccia and ciabatta.
Where pesto is the best-o.
The pleasure has been all mine in my continued exploration of the regions of Piemonte, Liguria, Campania, Lombardy, Veneto, Lazio, Umbria and Abruzzo, but my satisfaction has yet to be reached until I have seen all 20. Each region is responsible for supporting Italian cuisine, culture and economy in its own way, but what is Italy most known for? The food! Are you craving the freshest pesto? Liguria. Do you want to taste the pureness of Barbaresco wine? Piemonte. Do you want real olive oil from the best olives? Abruzzo and Umbria. You need ciabatta in your belly now? Veneto.
Each time I return to Italy, I fall more and more in love with it. My Italian is quite good, but I am not yet fluent, so I love being able to practice. If you can imagine, there are not many people with whom I can practice in Texas! Now that we’re in a new year, I am so looking forward to my next hop across the pond to land in my beautiful Italia!
For Your Taste Buds:
- “With gas” (Or “con gas” Or “gasata” Or “frizzante”) – When asking for or looking for water, this means, “sparkling”. For me… it’s acqua naturale (still water) all the way. Also, when ordering water in Italy, it’s generally not free, nor does it come with ice, nor will they have ice to give you if you ask for it (if they do, they’ll bring you a few measly cubes). Even though water in restaurants usually isn’t free, there are plenty of free water fountains throughout every city; they’re beautiful and made of stone. Speaking of, tap water is perfectly safe in Italy!
- If you have a coffee while standing at the bar, you will only pay the price of the coffee, but if you want a table, you will pay a service fee.
- It is not custom to order cappuccini after 1100PM. It is more common to get an espresso, which is also called caffè normale, at that time, but if you really want one of those frothy, yummy drinks, they won’t verbalize their opinion.
- If you’re a wine drinker, when going out to restaurants, just order vino rosso della casa (House red wine) or vino bianco della casa (house white wine). I have never ordered the house white wine, but I can vouch that no matter to which restaurant you go, in whichever city, in whichever region, the house red will be cheap and delicious!
- If you go in the winter, you MUST try any
- A common beverage in Italy that you will probably see often, particularly in the summertime, is the Aperol spritz. They look yummy but are a tad bitter, so keep this in mind before ordering.
- adult beverage. Yeah. We’re talking an all you can eat dinner for $7-11 Euro depending on the beverage. Northern Italy tends to have these larger spreads for aperitivo since it’s more popular there (I had my best ever aperitivo in Torino, the city in which I lived and first fell in love with Italy). Knowing that, not all locations that offer aperitivo serve a buffet; maybe it’s just a platter of a variety of scrumptious things to send your taste buds into a frenzy. Regardless of where you go, aperitivo usually starts around 7pm and goes until 9pm.
- I have one word for you, darlings… TRUFFLES. Not the decadent chocolates, no, no. These heavenly fungi that grow under the ground, usually around olive tree roots, and is hunted down by dogs, are one of my favorite things. Give me truffle pesto on a piece of toast baked with olive oil and pecorino cheese and topped with prosciutto, and I will be one happy lady! These are like mushrooms, but stronger with una sapore unico (a unique flavor). You can get them freshly shaved onto your meat, drizzled onto your pasta in oil form or spread onto your bread as a sauce. People usually love them or hate them. It is time for you to find out!
- Similar to deli meat ham, prosciutto can be eaten on a sandwich, pizza or wrapped around whatever the hell you want. It can be a pretty fatty meat, but ohmygoodnessgracious, so much yum! I prefer prosciutto crudo (dry-cured) to prosciutto cotto (cooked).
- Speaking of ham… do you like bacon? Pancetta is the Italian bacon, and it’s better. If you want to try this in a very famous dish that is actually my all time FAV, order the carbonara.
- Americans, I love eggs more than the next person, but they are generally not served for breakfast here, so don’t expect it. You’re looking at cold cuts, cheese and pastries. The only places you’ll get an American breakfast is at one of the American hotel chains. I’ve seen a few, but let me tell you now, the rooms can be small and inconsequential, whereas if you stay in an Italian hotel, the rooms are large, the furniture is unique and the service in top notch. When in Rome 🙂
If you DO love cheese, then you MUST MUST try baked
Gelato stracciatella is basically chocolate chip ice cream but one million times better; my personal favorite is amarena (cherry). Panna? Si. I love whipped cream. Biscotto? Si. Those little cookies are perfect to dip into your first couple of bites of gelato.
- Alright, my party animals… when you find yourself stumbling around on the streets late at night due to too many chupitos (shots), and you need to fill your belly with something greasy and heavenly (a bit of an exaggeration, but when you’re intoxicated you’ll agree with me), go to any Kebab (or kebap) restaurant. They’re open late, and you can get falafel or gyros and French fries covered in mayonnaise inside a wrap. It may sound gross, but man they can hit the spot!
- Most restaurants and shops close down for about 3 hours around lunch time, everyday, so plan for this. Also, most everything is closed down on Sundays.
- Ready for dinner? 98% of restaurants don’t open for cena (dinner) until 7 pm.
- Tipping is not a thing. If you’d like to throw a couple of Euro at your server because they were amazing, sure, but it is not necessary and is sometimes even rejected.
- I could probably talk about food for… ever, so I’m going to stop now before I overload you all.
Traveling To and Fro:
- Taking a train? You can buy any ticket online on trenitalia.com, but the tickets are nonrefundable, so be sure you know what you’re needing to purchase! Also, print out or take a screenshot of your proof of your seat for when the controllers come through to check tickets or you can get slapped with a fine. Of course, tickets can be bought at the station, as well, either at a customer service desk or an electronic kiosk (my preference). If you purchase un biglietto (a ticket) at the station, don’t forget to validate your ticket BEFORE getting on the train, or you can, also, get a fine. Validating your ticket shows when you actually decided to use it, and you can get it stamped by inserting it in any machine perched on the columns between i binari (the platforms)(you do not need to validate for online purchases). Some trains even have a bar to grab un panino (sandwich) and una birra (beer)! You can eat and drink at your seat, but even though it is legal, if you decide to drink alcohol, be discreet and respectful.
- This isn’t very specific to Italy, but while I lived there, I wanted to see as much of Europe as I could while on a strict budget. I did that by flying RyanAir. It’s very cheap, and you can’t edit your ticket if you make a mistake spelling your name, and they charge you for carry ons, but hey, you’ll save some money.
- If you’re arriving in Rome or leaving from Rome and don’t want to take a taxi or the train to and from the airport, I recommend Pegaso Limo & Services (http://www.limousinepegaso.it/). If you call the phone number, they speak English and are very kind. It’s better to schedule at least one day ahead of time. It’s 50 Euro to get the city from the airport and vice versa, but I throw in an extra 10 for tip because the drivers are always very kind and professional. It’s the same price even if you have multiple people. The cars are always luxury vehicles, spotlessly clean and they provide bottled water.
- Rome is stupendous, but please please please take a tour into the spectacular beauty that is the countryside. The people are more wholesome and the food is fresher than can be as that cheese you’re buying is the from store owner’s brother’s goat. One of my all time favorite cities in all of Italy is Assisi located in the region of Umbria. Once you make your way into la campagna (the country), find some wineries to go to. It doesn’t matter which. Any will have great wine (at least this is what I’ve come to find). You can also do olive oil tastings. I know right? Who knew?!
- If you are in Rome, heed this advice. As lame and touristic as it is, the Big Bus tours are the best way to get to all the major landmarks, and when you’re finished seeing everything, you can use it as a taxi to get around. The buses are inexpensive. have wifi and include great historical commentary as they drive you around the city.
[TIP: When you see the “TAXI” sign, it means that’s where you stand when hopping in a cab. There are lines; if people are there first, be respectful, and wait behind them. When it’s late at night and taxis are far and few in between, there is usually a phone by the taxi stand where you can call to request a taxi. Just tell them where you are and how many people are with you.]
- To get the most out of your Italian travels, your time will be best spent in the months of March – May, September and October. These months are not too chilly (in March you’ll still need some warm clothing, but nothing too thick), and they are not completely overwhelmed by tourists. However, if you are interested in a white christmas, Italy has some of the best christmas markets I have ever been to, but you’ll not find any flakes sprinkling down on Rome for those exist in more northern regions.
- The currency is the Euro – before going, always check the conversion rate to your home country’s currency because it fluctuates.
- Ladies, if you like to wear nice dresses in the summer, Italian men will gawk and throw a “ciao Bella”; just a heads up.
- If you plan on staying in Italy for a while, I recommend stopping by an electronics store to buy an Italian sim card for your phone or just getting a really cheap phone. Tim is the provider I used while there, and I chose the option to recharge the data as I went. To do this, you can get “ricarica” cards for varying amounts of data to put more on your phone. You can get these ricarica cards at Tabacchi stores and, if I remember correctly, even grocery stores. However, you may need an Italian friend to call the number to recharge your phone unless your Italian is good! Vodafone is another reliable provider if you don’t go with Tim.
- You can also buy monthly metro passes (student or regular) and francobolli (stamps) at Tabacchi stores.
- The vast majority of Italians smoke cigarettes. Most Italians roll their own, and when buying these tobacco products, they are usually accompanied by a terrifying picture of black lungs and other ads promoting you to quit.
- Generally, using public restrooms in italy begins with a small fee, so have some coins on hand.
- If you video or photograph any street performers (of which there are many), it’s courteous to give them at least a Euro.
- Italian translate app – free – no wifi needed or you can download the Italian dictionary on the Google translate app for free to use it without wifi (to download any language on the google translate app: Open app > select the top left where you choose a language > tap download button to the right of chosen language. You will need enough space on your phone.
Pronunciations to make you feel less like a tourist (as per American English)(to the best of my ability):
- If you really want to do well on your pronunciation, remember to emphasize the word on the second to last vowel.
- The letter ‘I’ – pronounced EE (ie: Pisa = Pee-saw)
- The letter ‘E’ – pronounced AY (long a) or EH (depending) (ie: penne = peh-nay)
- The letter ‘A’ – pronounced AW (short a) (ie: viaggio = vee-aw-joh) (meaning trip)
- The letter ‘O’ – pronounced OH (ie: vino = vee-noh)
- The letter ‘U’ – pronounced OO (ie: menu = may-noo)
- CH – K (ie: orecchiette pasta – ear shaped pasta)
- CIA – CHAW (ie: ciao – formal hello/goodbye)
- GIA – JAW (ie: giappone – Japan)
- GN – NY (ie: lasagna = law-saw-nyaw)
- SCIA – SHAW (ie: sciarpa – scarf)
- ZZ – TZ (ie: pizza)
- Vorrei (vor-ay-ee) – I would like… (for all of your restaurant and bar outings!)
- Vorremmo ordinare (vor-ray-moh or-dee-nawr-ay) – we would like to order
- Prego (pray-go) – you’re welcome OR please (as in “please, you first”)
- Posso assaggiare (Poh-soh aws-saw-jar-ay) – Can I taste… (for when you go to street markets and want to try out un pezzo (a piece) of yummy cheese or una fragola (a strawberry))
- Basta (baw-staw) – enough (for when you’re picking out your chosen goods and the vendor is placing them in your bag, this is what you say when there’s enough)
- Dove il bagno? (doh-vay eel baw-nyo) – Where is the restroom?
- Sono da (soh-noh daw) – I am from…
- Pronto (prohn-toh) – Ready (Also, how they answer a phone call)
- Sto bene (stoh beh-nay) – I’m good
- Porta via (pohr-tah vee-ah) – To go (for ordering take out!)
Even though there are many dictionaries and translation apps, I do hope these words help you get a through some situations once you arrive. If you’re a movie fan and want to put your mind into an Italian mood, I recommend watching Under the Tuscan Sun. Additionally, La Vita è Bella is a classic Italian film that with touch your heart in so many ways (and it’s on Netflix in the USA).
After flying to and from Italy only four times, I feel as if I’ll ever get enough of it. Here’s to many more adventures to this enchanting land and to all of you getting to have your first experience under the green, white and red. For those of you that have been, I’m sure you had as lovely of a time as I do when stepping onto this foreign soil!
A tutti Italiani, se può aiutarmi con più luoghi visitare in Italia, sarò molto felice! Vorrei vedere cose che la viaggiatrice di tutti i giorni non vedere! Grazie 🙂
*Not in the mood for Italy? Maybe Germany is the country for you! See my article “Das Ist Kühl, Ja?“*