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Driving and Parking Tips For Travelers

Driving and Parking Tips For Travelers

It’s not just a myth that the Italians have no road sense. They are known to be in a hurry and can pull off some spine-chilling road stunts. And let’s not even start about the parking. There seems to be something about Italy, that when people (normal, sober people) hit the roads, they suddenly drive like they’ve become Valentino Rossi or Fernando Alonso! The Italians can be somewhat territorial and a little deviant in their ways to get from point A to point B. The best advice I can give anyone heading to Italy is to drive your own car. This is a liberating and inexpensive way to commute and also avoid long queues in the bus, train and taxi stands. The bigger, more crowded cities in Italy can be trying and so always go prepared with directions, maps and plenty of time at hand. The mad traffic can eat up a lot of your tight travel schedule.

Allow me to share some clever car rental, driving secrets and parking tips with you, which in my opinion will hold you in good stead in and around most of Italy.

1. Are you allowed to drive a car abroad? Make sure that you have a valid international driver’s license when you book a car on hire in Italy as the cops can be very strict about this. Before speeding off into the horizon in an Italian rental car make doubly sure you know about local road rules and safety measures. The traffic wardens may not always excuse your ignorance even if you play the tourist car.

2. Local taxes – Almost all the major cities have now begun to slap city taxes on cars coming in and this can be a wee bit heavy on the pocket. Make sure that before you get into the bigger cities, you park your vehicle in the outskirts and hop into some local transport (the bus or a train) to reach city center. A small price to pay methinks and this will save you the terror of driving through maniac Italian city traffic. As you leave the city, once again take some form of public transport and reach the spot you had parked your hire car.

3. Don’t ask strangers for directions they will confuse you! To me it’s like the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip. Whenever I’ve asked for directions to reach somewhere in Italy, the whole exercise has been futile as so much time is lost in understanding the Italian words and the nicknames for streets and buildings. It is way easier to get a trusty travel map, or better still, have a GPS navigation system fitted to your rental car. This also means fewer stops and a trouble-free ride.

4. Go local – Like almost everything in Italy the best option is usually the local one and so too for car rental. Pick a local Italian car hire company and you will be guaranteed a more efficient service. From local travel info, handy hints for travelers, knowledge of shortcuts and the best times to visit some monuments, a local car hire company can offer you more than just a car. Car hire rates are unlikely to be lower than the market but it’s the grip on the local nuances that is the deal maker.

5. Look out for the scooters! There are hundreds of two wheelers out on the roads in any Italian city and they can be very fast, occupy the parking space for cars and create some more havoc in the already heaving Italian traffic.

Final word on scooters – like them or hate them, they’re everywhere in Italy. Just give them way and keep out of their way!

6. No parking zone – If you thought driving was maddening enough, wait till you look for parking spots in Italy. Though not an issue in the smaller cities or towns, to find a parking space in cities like Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence and Naples is a problem. Add to this the innovative ways the locals park in tight spaces making the whole experience of negotiating parking both stressful and time-consuming. The secret to parking in Italy is to look for parking garages or public parking enclosures which may be just outside the city center but easily reachable via public transport or a brisk walk.

If you are using rental cars in Italy, it’s best to play by the book, follow local rules and not get stressed by swelling traffic or lack of parking spots. Keep a cool head and try to think a little out of the box. Italy is incredibly exciting both in the summer and winter with plenty of things to do, foods to taste, adventure activities to experience, historical sites to visit, art to appreciate and rich culture to absorb. You are bound to come back from a trip to Italy, refreshed, relaxed, rejuvenated and raving about the things you did there. So happy travelling and oh, yeah don’t forget to book a rental car before you go. They’re not always available at the last minute.

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Suggestions For Renting Cars In Italy

Suggestions For Renting Cars In Italy

Most people on vacation like the safety, economy and ease of public transport that buses, trams and trains offer, yet they crave the freedom, convenience and independence of a rented car. But before trying to rent a car in Italy, it would be best to go through the following suggestions that will make things a lot easier. It’s really pretty easy to enjoy the freedom of rental cars in Italy when you are traveling on your own, with family or in a private group, and don’t want to be herded like sheep into buses and vans.

It’s the practical option if you have luggage, shopping bags or camping gear that can be unwieldy to lug around on public transport. And if you want to visit far off towns and villages, the public transport system may not be very reliable, so the best option is to be on your own in a rented vehicle.

Let’s get started.

International Driver’s License – Do you have one? You will definitely need one if you are keen on renting a car in Italy. You driving license is translated into an Italian form and is known as an International Driving Permit. The car hire companies may not insist on one but if the police find you renting a car without an international driving license then you could be in for trouble. If you’re from the US then visit the AAA website for more details on how to get an international driving license.

Get a trusty map – If you want to discover the length and breadth of Italy then you will most surely need a good map, one with updated names and accurate directions. Don’t buy any cheap map from the roadside; think of a more expensive map as an investment. If you are hiking or mountain biking the more detailed (and hence more costly!) map will be useful and a good map can be bought at Touring Club.

The Italian parking conundrum – This can be a puzzling prospect for visitors to Italy, at any time of the year, as the parking spaces can be few and far between in most big cities. Although there are dedicated parking zones and allotments, the distance can be a bother and hence citizens park without heed to rules. As a tourist and international driver, you are advised to follow parking sings and not risk your vehicle being towed away and being fined hefty penalties. Keep spare time to look for parking when you head to crowded cities and monuments.

Need emergency help? – Ok, so you’re on your own and driving a renting car and suddenly the car breaks down or you have a road accident or medical emergency then you need to dial 116 from your mobile and reach the emergency road help service and if you are on the Autostrade then get to the call boxes located on the side of the road and dial the helpline number.

Lastly, always keep your seat belts fastened, don’t talk on the phone while driving (unless you have hands-free service/headphones), don’t drink and drive, always keep the headlights on during the day and night and place the safety vests (with reflective panels) in the car. All these are strictly monitored by the police and non-compliance could attract a fine, seizing of vehicle or criminal persecution.

Renting a car in Italy is a very simple process, especially if you book online and search the rental company sites for deals and price discounts. Make sure to abide by the laws and traffic rules to enjoy an uninterrupted driving experience in Italy.

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How To Dress Like The Locals In Italy

How To Dress Like The Locals In Italy

So you’ve got the difficult things like car rental sorted out and the flight tickets booked too, then what’s stopping you now? Surely you’re not confused as to what to wear in Italy? Let me make it easier for you, by suggesting how to dress, both in the summer and in winter. Italy is one of the world’s leading fashion capitals and the locals there, especially in big cities, are turned out very smartly most of the time. This can make a modest traveler worry if what she/he plans to wear is less than appropriate in Italy. It’s not like the common man there struts around in designer threads 24 hours a day, it’s more that they wear unusual combinations and styles in a confident way. Also remember there’s only a limited amount of stuff you can pack into a suitcase and lug around when you travel. Even if you have a car on hire in Italy, you don’t want to be carrying around bagfuls of clothes and accessories. Pack light and pack smart. Here’s a look at the fashion essentials you should pack for your Italian sojourn.

Summer clothes

If you plan on going to Italy in the summer months then for the ladies I recommend long skirts, dresses and tank tops or t-shirts. Try to avoid the shorts and miniskirt look, this is because most Italian women don’t wear very short hemlines and you will standout like a typical foreigner from miles away. They opt for capris, knee-length fitted skirts and flowing dresses like maxis that are cool and breezy for summer. Another thing is that very short clothes and sleeveless outfits won’t be allowed when you to enter the orthodox churches. Even if you happen to pack a pair of shorts, I can bet you won’t wear it after seeing what the locals wear. The shoes can be sandals or open toe heels which will be cool and comfortable for walking. Although you mostly have got a rental car to get around places still a holiday wearing stilettos is best avoided.

Men are advised to avoid boring, touristy attire like shorts, caps and sneakers. Lightweight linen pants, khakis and cotton pants with semi casual footwear is the best bet. Instead of closed formal shoes men can choose casual leather sandals. If you are still keen on shorts try to keep them to knee-length and keep a shirt handy to pull over a sleeveless t-shirt when you visit churches. For the posh dinner out and casinos its best keep a semi party button down shirt and a clean, nice pair of jeans. For summer smart collared t-shirts look apt.

Winter wear

Winter in Italy is a great time to visit and once again you could be at cross-purposes what exactly to pack for the trip. Most often I’ve seen the locals dress as per season and not really dress on a day-by-day basis. So sometimes even though it’s not so cold you can find men and women in fur coats and ankle length boots. For the evenings, both men and women will do well to pack a pair of formal trousers or slacks. Or even a dark colored expensive looking pair of jeans. Tailored, fitted dresses and skirts are recommended for women and men can choose a collared tee instead of tight t-shirts with logos on the front. For your feet try dark colored shoes in black, navy, maroon, grey or brown. Try not blind everyone with ultra-white tennis shoes. Carry a good winter coat, a woolen scarf, a pair of gloves, couple of pairs of socks and you’re all set. You don’t need to restrict your wardrobe to all blacks you can play around with colors and mix and match to create the perfect ensemble.

A final word

Lastly, remember that many religious places of worship and churches are very particular about their dress code. This means shorts, open midriffs and sleeveless clothes are not allowed inside their premises. To beat this, what I suggest you do is carry along a pair of pants, a shawl or a scarf and when you visit these places you can put them on. Try not to be too casually dressed and skip the ‘shorts and sneakers’ look altogether.

A backpack can be akin a neon flashing sign that says ‘I’m a foreigner’ so I suggest you leave it in the rental car or preferably at your hotel. Just carry a small purse or a man-bag and you will look local and feel so much lighter.  Keep the warm clothes, water, food, travel brochures and other paraphernalia in the hired car.

Don’t think that to visit Italy you need to pack all your fancy clothes, or buy a wardrobe full of designer names. The fact is you are going there on holiday and you should focus on being comfortable, well dressed and practical. The bright side is that once you are back from Italy you would have had a master class in the next season’s trends and be more knowledgeable then any of your friends back home.


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Gelato in Italy – A Real Scoop of Goodness

Gelato in Italy – A Real Scoop of Goodness

When you’re driving through Italy, the whole point is to enjoy what the country has to offer. And one of the most incredible things Italy has to offer – is FOOD.

Some people may think “it’s just ice cream,” but let’s face it – there is something different about an icy cold, melt-in-the-mouth scoop of gelato. A lot of people have asked the right way to buy gelato in Italy, since there are so many flavors, colors and methods used to make it. For the novice making a decision at the gelateria (the gelato parlor) it can be a mind-boggling choice.

Here are some tips which will make buying gelato a piece of cake…or rather, a scoop of ice cream.

Step 1: What is Gelato? Start with knowing how gelato is made and what methods are employed. This means knowing what goes into gelato – like milk, fruit puree, sugar, cream and nuts. In order to stabilize the gelato egg yolks are added and fat-free milk solids are used to add stability to the base. Using a hot process, the sugars are dissolved and then the base is pasteurized. To ensure that ice crystals don’t form, the pasteurized mix is allowed to age. Then they flavor the gelato with nut and fruit purees along with cocoa, choco flakes, biscuits, cookies or wafers.

Step 2: Know how to order a gelato – In Italy, cups are called coppa and cones cono, so make up your mind as to what you want your gelato served in. The hint is you can eat the cone not the cup! Head to the cash counter, ask for cup or cone, the number of scoops you want and pay. Collect the receipt and proceed to the guy who serves the gelato. To order scoops of different flavors ask for the gusti (flavor) that you find interesting from the menu or freezer display. You can get upto three flavors in a cup or cone. Pick a unique combination of gusti and voila! you are ready to tuck into an authentic Italian gelato.

Now for the secrets. How to know if the gelaterie and the gelato they serve therein are any good at all. Here are my tried and tested methods.

  • Secret 1: Look at the gelato, not at the appearance of the shop. A fancy gelateria doesn’t mean great gelato. If the various flavors of gelato look neon, fluorescent or rather incredibly bright in color I’m pretty sure they are made with artificial additives and not real fruits and nuts. Trust your common sense, if the apple gelato is red and not pale cream or grey and the pistachio flavor is neon green not the real grey-olive color, you would realize they are not the real deal. Try to eat gelato made from 100% natural ingredients as this does make a significant effect on taste, texture and appearance.
  • Secret 2: Freshly made gelato (from scratch) or made from pre-mix (as is rampant) can make or break the gelato. Produzione propria and artigianale are Italian for ‘made on-site’ and free from artificial ingredients’ and these words would be displayed in the gelaterie and will tell you that here is the old-fashioned gelato not made with commercial mixes. If you are still not sure, ask the shop staff. Try your best, to avoid the pre-mix gelato.
  • Secret 3: Most of the quality conscious and authentic gelaterie will not be very fussy about presentation and fancy decorations. They would rather scoop out traditional, wholesome, natural gelato and skip the window-dressing (like fancy cups or gravity-defying, towering formations of gelato scoops heaped into a pretty serving dish). When it comes to gelato, the modest gelateria, in my estimate are the good ones.
  • Secret 4: The best gelato is sold from huge metal tubs. Now because of the commercial influx of mass-produced gelato into Italy, some of the smart gelato marketers have started selling it in metal tubs, but not many bother and stick to reusable plastic containers. From experience 9 out of 10 gelaterie who have gelato in metal tubs are the authentic makers.
  • Secret 5: Avoid gelato which contains preservatives as this negates the basic principle of making ice-cream from fresh ingredients on a daily basis. If you are eating gelato with preservatives it just means that this is not freshly made, is stored in a freezer for God-only-knows-how-long and the flavors and colors are perhaps not natural too.
  • Secret 6:  There are about 5 types of gelato flavor groups – chocolates, fruits, nuts, creams and the miscellaneous. Almost all gelato flavors will fall in any one of these categories and the number of flavors available in Italy today is countless. The best way to get to taste as many as possible flavors is to go for two or three scoop on a cone and mix and match flavors. And yes, eat as much gelato every day of your stay in Italy. Trust me, they are less fattening than ice-cream, will take you to gastronomical dessert-heaven unfailingly and are surprisingly cheap on the pocket.

Lastly though many travelers to Italy swear by the gelato in Florence, this seems to be an urban myth and to be honest every village and city in Italy offers some traditional, freshly made and utterly delicious gelato. In fact the more places you eat gelato, the further local flavors and combinations you can taste.

Though you can’t actually take back gelato as a souvenir from Italy back to your home you can take back the satisfaction of having eaten as many different flavors as you could along with some very sweet memories of gelato. I do hope these secrets would make buying that perfect gelato scoop simpler experience and a more informed one. Ciao and Buon appetito!

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Do’s and Dont’s For Hiring A Car In Italy

Do’s and Dont’s For Hiring A Car In Italy

In all countries, including Italy, renting and driving a car involves adhering to local regulations and laws. You will usually need a valid international driving license (although in some places, your state or country driver’s license will be sufficient). The license must be kept with you in the car and it’s best to keep some other personal identity proof like a passport or student ID card. To hire a car in Italy ensure you have taken motor insurance and have a registered vehicle. If the car is not yours, carry a letter from the owner that says you have permission to drive it.

To book a car on the internet, one needs to only access a computer and run a search for car rental companies. There are superb price comparison search engine sites that ask for the most basic travel data from you and list out all the available cars and car hire companies that are open for booking on those dates. After comparing the features and the prices you can pay online with a debit or credit card and print a rental voucher receipt.

Depending on the car rental company you have chosen, the age for driving will vary, i.e. the minimum and maximum age. So make sure you always find out about the individual age policy of the rental company instead of paying added charges later.

The busy cities like Milan, Rome, Turin, Naples and Verona may be crowded and not offer drivers good speeds but when you are on the interstate highway called as Autostrade, the speeds can be encouraging. Also in villages the speed limit may be as less as 50 km/hr if the weather is rainy and roads are wet. Read the road signs carefully and do follow the speed limits strictly. For instance motorways are 130 km/hr, dual carriageways are 110 km/hr and open roads are 90 km/hr in good weather. If the roads are wet then the speeds go down to 110 km/hr, 90 km/hr and 80 km/hr respectively.

In addition, there are a few more do’s and don’ts that you need to consider:

  • The cops are very strict about not drinking and driving, the limit in Italy for drivers is 05 mg alcohol per 1 ml of blood as against say 0.8/1 units in the UK.
  • No matter where you are driving and at what time seatbelts and headlights are compulsory. Not wearing belts and turning off the lights will definitely result in fines.
  • Keep to the right side of the road and only just when you want to overtake indicate with lights and move to the left. After overtaking from the left, move back to the right hand side lane and maintain the speed limits.
  • All children below age 4 need to be seated with special child restraint. Children below age 12 who are seated in the front seat need a special restraint.
  • All fines are spot fines and if you are fined, then do collect a receipt from the traffic warden.
  • If driving in the winter months then a snow chain and set of winter tyres are compulsory. Just have them in the car and use as per need and weather condition.
  • Don’t use your horn in heavily built-up sectors of the cities. In an emergency it’s ok to horn, but best avoided rest of the time.
  • Neon colored warning vests need to be kept in the car, and preferably not in the boot of the car. These must be worn before getting out of the car when the car is forced to park in dark places and emergencies to signal approaching cars and help teams.
  • In Italy diesel, petrol and LPG are widely used as fuel and to use the non-Autostrada petrol pumps it is advisable to keep cash as they do not accept payment through debit or credit cards.

Most streets have traffic surveillance cameras and radar traps, so breaking the law is not worth taking the chance. To put it in a nutshell, it’s way easier to be informed of the traffic rules and ensure that your driving time in Italy is event-free.

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