Italy is a beautiful country with fantastic sights, friendly people, great food & wine and addictive desserts. We traveled and holidayed through various cities of Italy over the course of almost 16 days. This article is a recap of the trip in case anyone is looking for tips on planning their travel to Italy from India (or otherwise). If you need specific information, do drop a comment and I’ll get back.
We traveled to Italy from India, Pune specifically. And India automatically means that the visa processing is going to be many notches tougher. The Italian consulate is in Mumbai and applicants must use VFS to apply. There is a lot of lack of clarity in documents in the VFS site and the chat operatives give a variety of answers each time you try to converse with them. Their phone lines are permanently busy. There is a lot more trouble that VFS gave us and I will not go into those details. Let’s just assume that you are blessed individual and your Italian visa comes through without issues till the date of travel.
Before you leave…
- Pick up an international sim card (from India) with data in it. It will come in very handy. It’s important. You will end up using maps at many places during the visit. Sims are much more expensive in Italy. We picked up Matrix, worked well without outages.
- Carry sufficient Euros with you. Carry a combination of cash and travel card. Cards are accepted in many places (not as much in Rome though) and you get better conversion rates for a Travel Card. Only thing is that cards are a little tricky to fully consume as once the balance is EUR 20, you can no longer withdraw money as there is a $2 transaction charge and money does tend to get stuck till you magically end up with a bill that equals the balance on the card.
- Exchange rates (even for USD) is terrible so carry sufficient ForEx.
- Pack light. There is going to be a lot of moving around in Italy.
Let’s get the fear factor out of the way…
There is a lot of warning people give about safety in Italy. Italy is not New Jersey, there is no mugging. However, there is petty theft so:
- Keep your bags close, don’t be careless about them.
- Avoid wallets in back pockets.
- If someone comes asking you for money, avoid.
So, don’t be afraid regarding safety issues.
The people of Italy are quite friendly and are happy to see tourists. You will need to pick up a couple of Italian words to get through the trip as not all of them can speak English. While a few people might come across as rude, it is only because of the communication gap.
The Destinations and Itinerary
- Roma a.k.a Rome – 2 and a half days.
- Napoli a.k.a Naples – 3 days.
- Firenze a.k.a Florence – 3 days.
- La Spezia – 2 days.
- Milano a.k.a Milan – 2 days.
- Venice – 2 and a half days.
We flew into Rome and flew out of Venice.
Inter City Travel
- Trains are a convenient way to travel between cities. Trains are on time and you get a great view of the countryside too. You can use various online portals to book your tickets ahead of time.
- We used https://www.italiarail.com/ . Tickets start getting more expensive as you near the date of journey.
- There are two types of tickets – fixed and variable. The variable is close to twice the cost. Choose based on how flexible you would like to keep your journey.
- There are multi-day passes. These are not very useful. The price pretty much adds up to more than individually booking journeys. This is only for people who do multiple journeys between cities in a day, not otherwise.
- You can try and drive between cities. This requires an International Driving Permit. We didn’t get one of those in time so we didn’t try the driving option.
- Italy has Grafitti everywhere. Not on the ancient monuments, of course. They are otherwise everywhere else. Some of it is really good artwork and is done painstakingly. People believe it could be political, not sure.
- Cornettos are similar to the french croissants but aren’t as amazing. The cornettos tend to be sweetish. They are also jam, cream or chocolate filled usually. The plain ones are called naturale and make a good breakfast.
- Shops typically tend to close between 7PM and 8:30PM. It is to maintain a good work-life balance. It is good in a way. Shop early.
- Funnily, you don’t get interesting souvenirs. It’s mostly the standard boring mugs and fridge magnets. I guess that’s the Chinese products flooding the market.
- Dogs (read pets) are allowed everywhere. Like everywhere – shops, restaurants, bars, supermarkets, subways, busses – you name it. Some places may have like a dog parking area.
- Dogs are super-well-behaved. You hardly know that they are there. They are not annoying and are quiet while minding their own business. When without their leashes, they don’t wander.
- Owners are not expected to clean-up their dog’s poop. So do keep an eye on the pavements as you walk.
- Smoking is allowed in most places and on the streets.
- Eating and drinking is allowed in metros and on busses. Leads to a mess sometimes.
- Spritz is a very popular alcoholic beverage that you will see in the northern sides of Italy. It is a mix of wine and one of Aperol or Campari. Aperol is sweeter and Campari is quite dry.
- Bottled water in Italy comes in two types – Naturale (regular still water) and Frizzante (sparkling water). The frizzante is initially odd tasting but it is a good option.
Pizza in Italy
- The style of making pizza changes quite a bit from city to city.
- Pizza is served uncut. A pizza is your dish. Once made it is seen as rude to chop it up.
Coffee in Italy
- Is amazing!
- There are abundant coffee shops. Why wouldn’t there be, they invented the Espresso Machine and the brilliant Cappuccino.
- Cappuccinos are usually served warm to hot and you can ask for hotter if you like (Say Caldo). They are strong and have a very fine froth. Everyone makes great Cappuccinos.
Gelato in Italy
- It’s available everywhere.
- Some places are good, the others are great and a few shops are just .. ah molto buono.
- Buy ponchos and keep them handy. You never know when it can start raining. Ponchos are light and they help protect your electronics from drowning in the rain.
- Quite frequently you end up in train stations and subways which have no escalators or lifts. This is strange that a lot of the places don’t consider people coming there with bags. So be prepared to carry you bag up and down flights of stairs. Pack light.
- The prices sharply go up from South to the North of Italy. As you go north be prepared to see lesser value for money.
- Tickets for buses are to be purchased from a newspaper stand or bars. This is another strange and annoying thing. Tickets on buses are twice as expensive and border on unethical. This is a tourist trap, so buy your tickets ahead of time. Also, a bus driver could run out of tickets so just get your tickets before boarding..
We used AirBnB for all of our stays. This was our first experience with AirBnB. It was a great experience. You get to stay with locals and they give you great tips to see their city in a non-touristy way and eat in the right places. You get to learn a lot about the culture and quirks of each of the cities too. It is very safe in Italy.
Here is more detailed information on the journey and each of the cities, click to read more.