Italy Travel & Vacations
Italy is a large country in Southern Europe, probably one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe after France and Spain.
Italian food inside of Italy is different than Italian in America or western Europe. Italian food is based upon a few simple ingredients and Italians often have very discriminating tastes that may seem strange to Americans and other visitors. For instance, a sandwich stand might sell 4 different types of ham sandwiches that in each case contain ham, mayonnaise, and cheese. The only thing that may differ between the sandwiches is the type of ham or cheese used in them. Rustichella and panzerotti are two examples of sandwiches well-liked by Italians and tourists alike. Also, Italian sandwiches are quite different from the traditional Italian-American "hero," "submarine," or "hoagie" sandwich. Rather than large sandwiches with a piling of meat, vegetables, and cheese, sandwiches in Italy are often quite small, very flat (made even more so when they are quickly heated and pressed on a panini grill), and contain a few simple ingredients, rarely, if ever lettuce. Also, a traditional Italian meal is separated into several sections: antipasto (marinated vegetables, etc), primo (pasta or rice dish), secondo (meat course), dolce (dessert). Salads often come with the secondo. Americans will notice that Italian pasta often has a myriad of sauces rather than simply tomato and alfredo. Also, Italian pasta is often served with much less sauce than in America.
Like the language and culture, food in Italy is also very different region by region. Pasta and olive oil are considered the characteristics of southern Italian food, while northern food focuses on rice and butter (although today there are many many exceptions). Local ingredients are also very important. In warm Naples, citrus and other fresh fruit play a prominent role in both food and liquor, while in Venice fish is obviously an important traditional ingredient. As guideline, in the south cuisine is focused on pasta and dessert, while at north meat is king, but this rule can be very different depending where you are.
A note about breakfast in Italy: breakfast in America is often seen as a large meal (eggs, bacon, juice, toast, coffee, fruit, etc). In Italy, this is not the case. Breakfast for Italians might be coffee with a pastry (cappuccino e brioche) or a piece of bread and cold cuts or cheese. Unless you know for certain otherwise, you should not expect a large breakfast in Italy.
Usually Italian meals are: small breakfast, one-dish lunch, one-dish dinner. Coffee is welcomed at nearly every hour, expecially around 10AM and at the end of a meal.
Please remember that in Italy cuisine is a kind of art (great chefs as Gualtiero Marchesi or Gianfranco Vissani are considered half way between tv stars and magician) and Italians generally don't like any foreigner who asks always for spaghetti or pizza, so please, read the menu and remember that almost every restaurant has a typical dish and some towns have centuries-old traditions that you are invited to learn.
Travel info based on work by Evan Prodromou, Michele Ann Jenkins, Ryan Holliday, Jimmy Wales, Paul James Cowie, Aaron Burda, Pavel Curtis, Visa Kopu, Sininen, Masha, Jyri Lehtinen, David Le Brun and Mikko Siren and others at Wikitravel. Content is available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 1.0.
Like most developed countries, Italy is a very safe country to travel. There are few incidents of terrorism/serious violence and these episodes have been almost exclusively motivated by internal politics. Examples include the 1993 bombing of the Uffizi by the Italian Mafia. Almost every major incident is attributed to organized crime or anarchist movements and rarely, if ever, directed at travelers or foreigners.
Petty crime can be a problem for unwary travelers. Travelers should note that pickpockets often work in pairs or teams, occasionally in conjunction with street vendors. The rate of violent crimes in Italy is considered a "moderate," and while a portion of violent crimes are committed against travelers, it is normally not a problem. However, instances of rape and robbery as a result of drugging are increasing. Travelers should be careful when going out at night alone.
The driving skills of Italians is well known to be poor. Drivers do not like stopping for pedestrians. I think the correct word to call Italian drivers is beserk!
An additional note: There are many bars in Italy that cater to tourists and foreigners with "home country" themes, calling themselves such things as "American bars" or "Irish pubs." In addition to travelers, these bars attract a large number of Italians who, among other reasons, go there specifically to meet travelers and foreigners. And while the motivation for the vast majority of these Italians is simply to have a good time with new friends, there can be one or two petty criminals who loiter in and out of these establishments hoping to take advantage of travelers who are disoriented or drunk. Traveling to these places in groups is a simple solution to this problem.