Some Travel Advice from Jeff Curto:

General Advice

  • Don't try to do or see too much - One mistake that I think a lot of people make is trying to do too much or to see too many things. Think about trying to see your own country in one fell swoop; or even trying to see "all" of the major U.S. city you are most familiar with in just one day. It can't be done. Instead, concentrate on seeing a few things and seeing them well. Take your time and relax; you are on vacation after all. This strategy includes hopping from one town to another too often. If you move from one hotel to another every night, about half of each day will be consumed by packing, traveling, finding the "new" place, checking in, unpacking, etc. Instead, consider staying in one place for a few days. You'll get a better flavor of the place and be more relaxed, too. Don't make checking an item off a list a substitute for getting a feel for the spirit of a place.
  • Get Up Early, Stay up Late - The light is so beautiful in the morning, and the crowds that throng to popular places don't arrive until after they've had a proper breakfast. Getting up early gives you quiet time in a place that you can't get any other way. Staying up late assures you that you won't miss the wonderful social time that Italians have late in the evening. You also will be more tempted to eat your evening meal when Italians do; sometime around 8:00PM or later. Of course, this means that you might want to reserve some time in the afternoon to have a nap; always a good idea in the heat of the day, anyway.
  • Get off the Beaten Track - Generally speaking, the farther you get away from large towns and cities, the more "pure" your Italian experience will be. Think about where you live and about whether a visitor to your part of the world would get a good understanding of where you lived by visiting the nearest large city. I am not suggesting that you ignore the amazing large and popular cities in Italy, but rather that you balance a visit to, say, Florence with a few days in the Tuscan countryside. In other words, watch where the crowds go and then walk or drive in the opposite direction.
  • Don't try to keep up with Italian drivers - The best way to get off the beaten track is to drive a car. Bumping along a narrow dirt road in Italy is a wonderful thing and finding that little out-of-the-way chapel or the roadside pizzeria that will never appear in any guidebook is like finding buried treasure. This freedom comes with a price in that Italian drivers are usually better at the craft of driving a car than we are. They are more accustomed to high speeds, are better at car control and are more aware of what their cars can and cannot do. Be cautious and respectful and stay in the right lane (Italians always use the left lane only for passing). Be careful when you pass slower traffic because that little speck in your rearview mirror can become a thundering Alfa, BMW or Mercedes in a matter of seconds when it is traveling at over 150 MPH.
  • Look for Agriturismo accommodations - "Agriturismo" is an Italian concept that makes clean, pleasant rooms available in farm or other country houses. It's a great way to get a sense of how people live get to see the way an Italian farm works, and it also happens to be a very inexpensive way to stay.
  • Eat where locals eat - Italy offers one of the most satisfyingly wonderful gastronomic cultures on earth. You can eat well (really well) almost anywhere.I frequently ask people where I am staying where they go out to eat.. Asking the desk clerk works, but asking the gardener is even better. I ask them where they would take their families for a meal, or where they would go when they want a good meal. What you'll find is that you can eat great food for small money. Even if you are too timid to ask someone, see if you can figure out where local folks eat by going a bit out of the way (see "beaten track" above) and looking for local cars or foot traffic.
  • Learn a bit of Italian - Italians know that, unlike English or Spanish, their language is not very popular worldwide. Many contemporary Italians speak English and speak it well. This is especially true in larger cities and more touristy towns. Still, if you want to get on an Italian's good side (and be a polite traveler, as well) it pays to learn a bit of Italian before you go. Take a class, borrow or buy some language tapes or obtain a book of common phrases and vocabulary words and commit some of the beautiful Italian language to memory. The Italians you meet will be pleased that you've at least tried to fit in to their culture and you'll feel better about yourself.
  • Buy stuff at supermarkets - If you want to buy things like bottled water or wine, cheese, bread and sausage for a picnic, you'll save a lot of money by going to supermarkets instead of the smaller shops. COOP is one of the largest chains, and you'll find them nearly everywhere. Plus, it's really fun to see how large the pasta aisle is! The flip side of this is that when you're in a small town, assembling a meal from separate visits to the wine shop, the bread shop, the cheese shop and the meat shop can be a lot of fun and very different from the way you probably buy food at home.
  • Eat gelato as often as possible - To say that gelato is "ice cream" is to do it a supreme disservice. I'm not sure how they do it, or why we can't seem to make a similar product in the US, but Italian gelato is one of the greatest pleasures in the entire country. A serving of gelato can turn even the most disgruntled tourist into a calm and relaxed citizen of Italy. Eat it as often as you are able.