Italy for Beginners
Every journey involves possible pitfalls that can lead to awkward situations or unexpected expenses when things go really bad.
It all starts when you cross the border. The motorway implies a ticket and its price depends on mileage. You have to pick up the ticket when you enter the motorway and show it when you exit in order to pay (you can pay cash or by credit card). Nowadays, it is possible to get Viacard or Telepass at ADAC. Using Telepass you have access to specific lanes that allow you to pass without stopping for the payment. BE CAREFUL: DO NOT DRIVE TOWARD A TELEPASS ACCESS IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A TELEPASS SUBSCRIPTION!
Dealing with driving, you should know that the maximum speed in the motorway is 130 km/h and fines for those who do not respect speed limits are very expensive! When you drive in the countryside you could find partially unpaved roads. This also concerns state roads, that is “big” connecting roads, not only private roads. Anyway, pay attention because even big roads can have deep holes that can challenge your nerves and make your drive exciting as a roller coaster ride.
If you travel by car you need to know that in Italy parking lots are painted on the ground and you should pay attention to their colour. A white line usually indicates a free parking but check that there are no signs that, for example, denote that they are parking places reserved for residents. Yellow lines indicate parking for residents, disabled people or parking lots specifically designed. Blue lines indicate a pay and display parking. Be careful: if you do not pay the ticket you can have a very expensive surprise. A “basic” fine costs around 30 euros (and it is already marked down if you pay in a few days).
When you arrive at your holiday house, there are a few things you may find weird, but do not worry I got it, you just need to keep on reading! Italian families have only 3kw of electricity and therefore you have to keep in mind that the oven and the washing machine, or also the oven and the hairdryer cannot work together. If you use them together the general meter turns off. Considering you are not used to this rules, and it is very likely that you forget this boring stuff when you are on holiday, I suggest you to ask somebody to show you where the main switch is located at your arrival. It can be useful even in case of thunderstorm.
Italian beds have different standard sizes. A single bed is 80×1,90m, a double bed is 1,60×1,90 and there are also other customized sizes. Moreover, the duvet is not inside a duvet cover, but it is over the sheet. During summertime usually we sleep using only a sheet (Sheets exist in double size too).
For those who visit Italy during cold seasons, you should consider that houses are built differently and usually they are less isolated. Even when houses are isolated, they are not heated as much as you are used to. The law provides clear guidelines: in Tuscany you can use the heating from November to the end of March, 12 h a day, except for the mountain areas where no restrictions are provided and in the province of Arezzo where it is possible to turn on the heat from October 15th to mid-April, 14hours a day and indoor temperatures above 18°c are forbidden. Private houses usually have temperatures that ranges from 16 to 18 degrees. Now you probably understand why Italians put on warm clothes even when they are at home. Since the heating is very expensive, usually owners charge you considering consumption and in every holiday house you can choose when and for how long you want to use the heat.
But, let’s talk about one of the most traumatic things for tourists: breakfast. Of course, when you stay at a holiday house you can choose the breakfast you prefer but concerning this point there are a few points we should mention. In Italy, there is no German coffee, not to mention coffee machines with filter. Italians usually drink espresso at home or standing at the bar. This is what they usually eat: a slice of cake, some biscuits or toasted bread with jam. If you have breakfast at a bar you could have “un pezzo” (that usually is a brioche) and drink a cappuccino. You cannot find the sandwiches that you usually find in Germany, in Italy they just have the kind of bread that we eat during the main meals. Tuscan bread does not have salt and thanks to this feature it does not alter the flavour of food. Of course, you can find other types of bread in supermarkets and in some local shops. Anyway, it is totally worth it to fully experience Tuscan lifestyle and enjoy the typical salt-free bread or a slice of focaccia. If you go to a bar, keep in mind that prices are different if you eat at the counter or at a table. Prices vary depending on the location and the popularity of the place. Here in Pescia (where we live) you pay 1 euro, maximum 1, 20 for an espresso, but in other towns it can be more expensive.
If you travel to small cities, they usually respect traditional mealtimes. This means that lunch is between 13.00 and 14.30 and dinner never before 19.30. Usually kitchens are closed before this time. You can find pizza for dinner, because the wood oven is turned on during the late afternoon. If you go out with friends, you should know that it is typical to split the bill considering the number of people and not according to what each of you ate.
Pizzeria, trattoria or restaurant? Which one do you choose?
In a pizzeria usually you can find only pizza, and sometimes a starter (antipasto). By the way, when people eat pizza, they usually drink bear or coke. Trattoria is a traditional restaurant where you can enjoy local dishes. There are restaurants that fit every price range. You always have to pay a cover charge (il coperto) that includes table service and bread. No offense if your wine is served in a simple glass: this is gradually changing and also in trattorie they are introducing wine glasses. And…do not take for granted to find cool white wine. Anyway, you usually can enjoy an incredible meal in this type of restaurants: the staff is very friendly and welcoming and, unlike proper restaurants in which the portions are thought to give you the possibility to taste different dishes, in a trattoria the rule is: generous portions and good food. We can say that eating in a trattoria is like eating at your grandmother’s house: you always leave the place feeling completely full!
Ok, you spent the first day without troubles but also without finding an Italian that can speak German or at least English. Italians, especially in small towns, do not usually speak foreign languages but they are very nice, and they are always willing to help you even if they do not understand your language!
Little by little you will get used to the differences. Electricity, water, internet, phone coverage can stop working without notice (phone coverage is by far the least reliable) and what you can do is nothing but waiting for them to work again. In recent years, these things are improving. During my first stay here in Italy I always tried to call somebody or at least I tried to fix it myself but you know, one always learns something new from difficult situations and now I know that I just have to ask my neighbours if they are in troubles too with electricity ( water/ gas or whatever), to be sure that it’s not a matter of the breaker and then….just wait!
Internet. May I skip this topic? No? Ok, then… sometimes I need hours to publish pictures and if I am particularly unlucky the web crushes and I have to start it all over again. I live in Pescia, near the city centre and trust me I know everything about the best internet connection available on the market. This is getting better, but it needs time. For those who absolutely need internet connection during your holiday, I suggest you to ask about it in advance to be sure that it is working. There are places in which the only possibility is a slow connection, enough for emails but surely not sufficient to surf the internet.
Just one last thing: exhaust pipes are smaller than elsewhere. It is extremely important that you do not throw anything but toilet paper in it because it gets IMMEDIATELY clogged.
Last but not least: waste disposal and separate collection. I suggest you ask me about this at your arrival so that I can give you the current policy because it changes depending on the place where the house is located. It is different in every municipality and it changes so fast that sometimes I do not know how it works either and I have to check.
What’s missing? Did I forget something? What about your Italian first-experiences? Leave a comment or send us a direct message to tell us your stories!
And now…you are ready to enjoy your Tuscan trip!