Traveling in Italy can be a pleasure if you are prepared and have the right attitude. It is all about understanding the rules, the norms, and going with the flow. Italians do things differently: breakfast is a croissant and coffee, the table of contents is in the back of the book, and lunch can take well over two hours. The tips below will help prepare you for some of these differences. Except on the highways, life is slower in Italy, and you can benefit more form your travels if you assume an Italian frame of mind. The Italians’ friendliness, love of good food, and appreciation of art and saints makes visiting this beautiful country a complete and satisfying experience.
English is spoken quite often in the big cities, but in the smaller towns it will be the luck of the draw. Italians are very friendly and will go out of their way to help you, even if you don’t understand, but they love it if you try to speak their language. We asked an Italian friend why Italians keep talking when we say we don’t understand Italian, and she replied that they just can’t believe we don’t speak Italian!
Always be prepared with an English/Italian phrasebook.
Staying in monasteries and convents is a wonderful way to make a trip to Italy affordable. You must understand though, these are not hotels, and they do not have the amenities of a hotel. The rooms are plain and simple, and there is no room service. However, we have found them to be clean, safe, and affordable. You can share a bathroom down the hall or ask for a private bathroom at an additional cost. The nuns and staff are usually very sweet and add to the quiet ambiance of the lodging. Most monasteries have a curfew, so find this out when you check in. If you are not back in time, you will be locked out for the night! Curfews are usually late enough to accommodate most pilgrims’ lifestyles.
You will be doing a lot of walking on uneven surfaces, so always wear comfortable walking shoes. Some of the larger basilicas (St. Peter’s in Rome, St. Mark’s in Venice) will not let anyone enter the church with shorts, miniskirts, sleeveless shirts, or a bare midriff. Dress appropriately when visiting the shrines: long pants or skirts to the knees. Sometimes bare arms are a problem, so bring something to put over your shoulders.
Excerpt from Heater, James and Colleen. The Pilgrim’s Italy: A Travel Guide to the Saints. (Inner Travel Books: Nevada City, California), 2008. pages 263, 265-66, 267.