About Italy - Miscellaneous

Miscellaneous travel tips about Italy for your next Italian trip or vacation.
Tax Refund
About Electricity
Electrical outlets in Italy operate on a 220-volt system, as opposed to 110-volts here in the US.

Many of the newer appliances, hair dryers, cell phones, camcorders, etc. will accept the higher voltage. Please refer to your owners manual to ensure that they are "dual-voltage". However, even if it is compatible, you will need an adapter plug to ensure that the prongs fit into the outlet.   We recommend that you purchase an adaptor plug prior to your Italian trip.   You can usually find these in stores that sell luggage, travel accessories, etc.   These will be tough to find in Italy outside of the airport.   Otherwise, the prongs on your laptop, electric razor or hair dryer will not fit in the electrical outlets in Italy.

Again, make sure your equipment is compatible with the voltage.   If your equipment is not compatible, you will need a converter to convert the 220-volt current to 110-volts.   Failure to do so may result in damage to your equipment and or fire damage.

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Italian Holidays

If you are planning a trip to Italy this year, please take note of the following holiday schedule:

Date Holiday
Jan 1 New Year's Day
Jan 6 Epiphany
Mar 19 Feast of St. Joseph (Festa dei' Papa') or Father's Day
Varies Easter Monday
Apr 25 Liberation Day
May 1 Labor Day
Varies Mother's Day
Aug 15 Feast of the Assumption (or Ferragosto)
Nov 1 All Saints (Ognissanti)
Dec 8 Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Dec 25 Christmas
Dec 26 St. Stephen's Day

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On national holidays, you will probably find many information offices closed along with museums and many restaurants.   In addition, the public transportation systems will operate on reduced schedules.  

Along with the above holidays, each town celebrates the feast-day of its patron saint.   This will, of course, differ from town to town.

Below is a listing of the holiday dates for a few major cities:

City Event
Venice April 25 (Feast of St. Mark - also Liberation Day)
Florence June 24 (Feast of St. John the Baptist)
Rome June 29 (Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
Palermo July 15 (Feast of St. Rosalia)
Milan September 7 (Feast of St. Ambrose)
Naples September 19 (Feast of San Gennaro)
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About Language
The predominant language spoken in Italy is Italian, which is derived from Latin.   There are countless other dialects, that at one time, were even more prevalent and had more significance. With the advent of television and radio, the regional dialects are disappearing. Some of the differences, I believe, should qualify a dialect as another language. For example, in Sicilian the word for flower is "sciuri", whereas in Italian it is "fiore".  

The Italian spoken around Siena in the Tuscany region is considered the most proper Italian. This Italian is the one taught in schools, and the one you will most likely encounter.  

In most of your dealings, knowing Italian will be sufficient unless you should venture off into a small town and talk to an old-timer who only speaks his particular dialect. Even then, they will more than likely go out of their way in being understood.  

If you don't speak Italian, knowing English, French or German will get you pretty far. Most hotel staffs have someone on board that can converse in English. Spanish is a distant fourth in the other languages you'll encounter in Italy. The bottom-line is that most Italians are friendly and will appreciate any effort you take in trying to communicate to them in Italian.  

Other than that, there are a few towns where German is spoken close to the German border and Albanian in certain pockets in the south.

Also Highly recommended for learning Italian:

Italian by Pimsleur | 501 Italian Verbs | Webster's Italian / English Dictionary through Amazon.com

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About Italy Mail

There is really no other way to describe the Italian mail service except that it stinks.   Mailing a letter or a postcard can take two weeks to send it within Italy. You will probably beat your postcard home if you mail it to the United States.  

If you have an important piece of mail that needs priority handling, you should use one of the overnight services that operate in Italy such as DHL, Federal Express and UPS. Of course, a fax machine can also come in handy.

Most hotels will let you fax documents (for a fee, of course).

If you find yourself in Rome, the Vatican post office is actually pretty good.

Italian Post office hours of operation tend to be from 8:00 AM to 13:30 / then from 16:00 to 19:00 Mon - Fri.   Some operate in the morning on Saturday.

Italian stamps or francobolli can be purchased most tobacco shops, or tabbachi.

Let us not forget about those big bulky red boxes you will see around town...those are the Italian mailboxes.   Blue ones are for mailing internationally, and are indicated by the word "estero".   You'll tend to find the blue ones only in very tourist-oriented locales.

You will see 2 slots for mailing letters:

Per la citta' - For the city (local mail)


Per tutte le altre destinazioni - For other destinations

Make sure you pick the right slot, or your mail can be FURTHER delayed!

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About Newspapers

You will never have an excuse to be out of touch with the world in Italy.   The USA Today (European edition) is published every weekday.   You can find it at most major newsstands.   Check at the newsstand at the train station if all else fails.  

For news in Italian, every major city publishes its own local paper.   There are even papers that are national in scope.   The more popular ones being:

Il Corriere della Sera
La Repubblica

Other respected papers, that tend to be more local in nature, are:

Il Mattino (Naples)
Il Messaggero (Rome)
La Stampa (Turin)

There are even three (3) DAILY papers that highlight sports.   The more popular one being La Gazzetta dello Sport which is pretty hard to miss with its bright pink paper.

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Safety Considerations for Italy

For the most part, Italy is still relatively safe.   In certain parts, it is still common to see kids playing outside by themselves.   And in some towns, you can leave your windows and doors unlocked.

You will never have a problem with gangs and drive-by shootings; they are virtually non-existent.   Italians will drink wine with their meal....but the tendency is not to go out and get "smashed" or "wasted".   Therefore, you probably won't encounter drunks looking for a fight in a bar.   You will never have to worry about locking your doors driving down an awful neighborhood like you would in say, some parts of Detroit or LA.   The more likely scenario you will fall victim to is petty theft.

That being said, you should exercise the following precautions and miscellaneous travel tips (just as you would anywhere else):

  • Do not flash your gold and jewelry.   I can remember a time when virtually everyone would wear gold chains, bracelets, etc.   Unfortunately, those days are gone.   Italy is the place to buy fantastic jewelry.   It is best to leave what you already have at home.  
  • Try not to carry around a big bulky wallet.   Italy can get very crowded, especially in the cities.   This is a good breeding ground for pickpockets.   It is a good idea to purchase a travel pouch that you can clip on to your belt.   Do not carry around more cash than you need.   ATM's are prevalent all over Italy.
  • Try to walk as if you know where you are going.   Having a sense of purpose will greatly reduce the chances of being robbed.
  • Do not leave your cameras unattended while you go for a swim.   And of course, do not leave money in your sneakers...that's the oldest trick in the book.
  • Stay away from the gypsy children.   They are notorious especially in Rome by the train station.   They will usually work in pairs.   As one is distracting your attention by trying to sell you something, the other will try to pick your pocket.
  • Do not leave your drinks unattended at the bar.   Date rape drugs are also found in Italy.
  • Do not take any strangers back to your hotel room.... even if you think you found "amore".
  • Avoid the drug scene altogether.   In Italy, you are allowed to carry around a small amount of marijuana for "personal consumption".   However, that amount is subject to interpretation (by the police officer).   It is best not to be put in a situation that would require legal counsel.   It's not worth it.
  • If you do find yourself in trouble with the police, it is best not to offer a bribe.   Even though it is a more accepted practice in Italy, you still may offend an official by offering a bribe.   Let them be the ones to initiate that discussion.
  • Also keep in mind that most police officers do not speak English.   They will try to help you....but do not expect them to know English.   If you run across one that does speak English, consider yourself lucky.
  • If you do find yourself in an emergency situation, dial 113 (that's the Italian equivalent of 911).  

Special Considerations for Women (more miscellaneous travel tips):

Even though the stereotype of the Italian man pinching a woman's behind is a little far-fetched (although I would not say that it has never happened), it is important to note that Italian men are very straightforward.   If you are a single woman, or traveling with a group of women, you can eventually expect to be harassed.   You'll also probably hear a good amount of "cat calling".   The best thing to do is to do what the Italian women do -- ignore it.   Keep moving about your business.   Yes, I know some of them may be charming and good-looking and hard to resist.   But better to be safe than sorry.  Some of them prey (for lack of a better word) on American and Canadian women - and don't think that they can't tell.   They are also very shrewd...they can tell where you are from by how you carry yourself (walk, dress, etc.).

Another note...carry your pocketbook (or shopping bags) on the arm opposite the street side.   Or better yet, try to do without your pocketbook, or purse --- I know for some women, you may be better off asking to put toothpicks in their eyes.   The reason being is that mopeds are common all over Italy.   Some cities have had problems with thieves snatching your purse while they are riding their moped.   They will usually work in groups of two per moped.   By the time you realize your purse has been snatched, they will be about 15 feet away from you traveling at 30 miles per hour.   Always be aware of your surroundings.  

I know that all of the above sounds harsh.   And like I mentioned earlier, Italy is very safe. The police do a good job.   There's even been a remarkable, and successful, crackdown against organized crime the last ten years.   Tourism is Italy's biggest business, therefore they have a vested interest in keeping things safe.   Remember the old saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" or "e' meglio prevenire che curare".  You want your Italian trip or vacation to be memorable for the right reasons.

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About Italy - Soccer
Italian Soccer or "Calcio"

To say that Italians are passionate about soccer is an understatement.   Italians live for their "calcio", and for good reason: some of the best and most noted players in the world play soccer in Italy.

There are a few professional leagues in Italy, the highest being Serie A (established in 1927).   The player salaries in the Serie A are some of the highest in all of sports.   Next in line is the Serie B league and a few leagues in Serie C and Serie D.   Although not as popular as Serie A, these lower leagues will also have competive games and talented players.

For Serie A, there are 18 teams that play 34 games.   The season runs from September through May.   Most games are played on Sunday, with an occasional game on Saturday.   Then there are playoffs and a championship game.   The winner of the Italian Championship will then play in the "Champions League" of European teams to determine a champion for Europe.

At the end of the year, the four worst teams from Serie A will then play in the Serie B league the following year.   The top 4 teams from Serie B will be promoted to Serie A.   All of the other leagues will also similarly promote and demote teams.

Some of the better players will be also elected to the national team that will compete in other events like the European Cup (2004) and the World Cup (2006).

The World Cup, undoubtedly the most watched sporting event in the world, is held every four years.   Italy has won the World Cup 4 times, the most recent being in 2006.   Brazil has the most wins with 5.   Germany is the next team behind Italy with 3 World Cup champships.   The next World Cup will take place in 2010 with South Africa being the host country.

If you are a sports fan and have the opportunity to see a game in the Serie A league, then you should definitely not pass up the opportunity.   There is much pageantry, revelry and passion that can only be understood by attending a game.   Needless to say, it is tough to secure tickets for Serie A.   Tickets are allocated to the many fan clubs that follow each team.   You will probably have an easier time finding tickets for Serie B or Serie C games.   Although the Italian soccer fans are not as rowdy and the infamous British "hooligans", you will likely see police in riot-gear.   But don't let that deter you from seeing a game...it's all part of the atmosphere.

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About Tax Refund
Tax refund on IVA (or Value Added Tax) for Italy

When you are shopping in Italy and go to the cashier ("cassa") to pay for your items, you will notice that there is no sales tax added to the price of the item.   In other words, if you buy a bottle of wine for 10 Euros, you can hand the clerk a 10 note and be on your way.  

However, Italy, along with most other European countries, imposes a value-added tax (VAT) on most good and services purchased in the country.   In Italian, it is known as "Imposta sul Valora Aggiunto" or IVA.   The amount is already built-in to the price indicated on the item.   Generally, the tax rate is about 19% (that's not a typo...nineteen percent!).  

Luckily for non-EU residents, a visitor to Italy can claim a refund.   A refund is available in amounts paid on GOODS (i.e. Clothing, etc.) purchased in excess of approximately 155 Euros.   Visitors may not claim an IVA refund for amounts paid for SERVICES such as hotels, car rentals, meals, entertainment, etc.  

Claiming your refund will depend on the type of merchant:

  • Tax Free (Euro Free) Italy Stores

If a store participates in the "Euro Tax Free" program, all you need to do is present your passport at the cash register "cassa" at checkout.   Ask the clerk for a "tax free shopping cheque" along with the receipt.   The store will charge you the sales tax.   Upon departing Italy, take the receipt and the merchandise to the Customs Office at the airport.   If everything is proper, they will stamp your "tax free shopping cheque".   You can then redeem this in any of the "Tax free Cash Refund" booths within the airport.  

  • Other Stores

If a store does not participate in the program above, then it is more cumbersome to claim the refund.   You must ask the store for a special invoice, or "fattura" which indicates the amount of the IVA.   The fattura along with the merchandise must be presented to the Customs Office upon departure at the airport.   They will then stamp the fattura.   You will then need to mail that back to the merchant within 90 days of the purchase date.   The store will then mail you the IVA refund to whatever address you desire.   Italian mail is notoriously slow.   So therefore, this can take a considerable amount of time.  

  • Direct Shipped Goods from Merchant

Many stores, particularly in the airport and in touristic areas, will ship merchandise directly to your address at home.   In this scenario, your purchase is exempt from IVA.   You will not be charged any tax.   You will be issued a "Tax-free receipt".

Recommended hotel in Rome (Roma)

The 3 star hotel Romae is located in the heart of Rome, close to central train station Termini. It is the ideal place to stay for visiting major Rome monuments and attractions . Hotel Romae is housed in a classic Roman palazzo in a quiet side street with lovely restaurants. Hotel amenities include free internet access and 37 comfortable guest rooms...More about this hotel>>

More Italian and European hotels in Italy | Florence | Venice | Naples | Paris | London

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