I am sitting in a small café just off of Piazza Signoria, watching crowds of tourists go by. Their faces contain a variety of expressions, from awe to frustration. As people of every age and ethnicity form the passing parade, I think of how important this trip is to them.
Each person who vacations in Italy will leave with their own impression of the cities they visited, and for some, it may be their one and only time in the boot country. My wish is that they have their eyes and hearts opened to the beauty that resides here, and appreciate the Italian people and culture.
A few ways to guarantee that won't happen:
1. FOLLOW AN UMBRELLA -- If your entire vacation is spent frantically trying to follow the person with the umbrella, you will miss the beauty of Italy. Trying to glimpse a view of a famous painting, or being herded through a church with a throng of other people, won't allow for any time to savor it. The narrow, winding streets and local trattorias can't unfold their charms when you travel en masse. Pay a little more, see a little less, but don't travel in a group over 12.
2. AMERICANIZE YOUR EATING -- Italians will tell you they have the best cuisine in the world, and it's hard to argue with that statement! Allow your eating adventure to be Italian style, without ice in your drink or a mixture of courses together. Meals are expected to take time, savoring not only the food, but the wine and conversation. Ask the server for recommendations, and know that oil and balsamic vinegar is Italian dressing!
3. ARRIVE WITHOUT A CLUE -- You needn't be a scholar to appreciate the art, architecture and culture in Italy, but a little studying before you arrive is going to enhance what you see. There's a plethora of information to be found on the internet. Read some blogs of locals from the cities you'll visit, and prepare a balanced itinerary for your days. A little research ahead of time will help you appreciate what you've traveled so far to see.
4. CRAM TOO MUCH IN A DAY -- Realize the fact that, generally, if you are spending less than three days in the major cities, you won't get to see all the major sites. Prioritize, hire a private guide, and add a variety of experiences to each day, knowing you can't do it all. Should you only have one day in my city, Florence, I can help you out with this article.
5. BE UNPREPARED TO WALK -- Nothing zaps the fun out of a vacation faster than aching feet. Breaking in new shoes isn't a good idea, but preparing to walk for miles a day, is. Many cities, such as Florence, are mostly pedestrian only, and that means it's your two feet that are going get you around. Keep track of your steps each day? 10,000+ is a given in Italy!
6. NOT BOOKING IN ADVANCE -- During the high season, all major attractions will require long waits if you haven't purchased tickets in advance. Online reservations are easily made before you leave home, and guarantee you will see more, wait less. Guides and tours also book out early, so plan ahead of time and make reservations!
7. CRITICIZE WHAT'S DIFFERENT -- Italy is not the United States. As obvious as that sounds, it's necessary to remember that you are visiting a foreign country, and a foreign culture. Embrace the experience, the people, the food, art, architecture and tempo of life. Things will be done differently, which is, hopefully, one of the reasons you wanted to visit!
Here's hoping that if you come to Italy, it is all you've imagined and a trip of a lifetime.