Please read thru these helpful hints for a happy holiday!
Italy is generally considered to be a safe country. Most Italians are courteous and helpful, especially in the countryside and small towns of Tuscany. If you are ever in trouble, people would probably go out of their way to help you. Just look at the way they care for immigrants arriving by the thousands on rickety boats from Africa every week … Besides road accidents, the main concern for tourists is theft. In crowded cities, on the bus or train, at an open-air market, there could be pickpockets around and they can spot the tourists. Keep your money safe; don’t put a wallet in your back pocket and don’t have it exposed in an open bag. The other easy target is your parked rental car. You shouldn’t leave any personal items visible inside the car, it’s best to put all your stuff in the trunk.
Before leaving home, make photocopies of your passport, all travel documents, insurance and credit cards and ATM card, and keep these in your suitcase and separate from your money. We urge all guests to take out adequate travel insurance to cover any eventuality, as we cannot be held responsible for any theft, loss, accident or injury during your travels – or your stay at the villa.
At your rental property it’s strongly advised that you close and lock windows, shutters, and doors before going out for the day. Not only for the safety of your belongings, but also because quick storms can blow up from nowhere and do considerable damage with strong winds and heavy rain.
In Italy you should always have some cash on hand because the open-air markets, some small shops, cafés and restaurants may not accept credit cards. You’ll do best by bringing your ATM card (remember the PIN number); the teller machines (bancomat) are everywhere. Notify your bank in advance that you’ll be traveling in Italy and ask about service charges when using the bankcard overseas. Some ATM machines here offer a choice of languages and preset amounts to draw. Prelievo = withdrawal. The maximum daily withdrawal amount is currently € 250. Carry some small bills and change with you for small purchases. Exchange money at the airport when you arrive for the best rates.
Travelers’ Cheques have become things of the past, but if you still have them, be prepared to spend time at a bank when cashing. Banks are typically open in the mornings only and can have long lines during the tourist season. The special money exchange shops in bigger cities offer faster service, but watch out for their rates and higher charges. Remember to bring your passport when cashing travelers’ cheques.
Credit cards are widely used, especially Visa and MasterCard. You can use credit cards at supermarkets, most stores, restaurants and gas stations. You can pay with a credit card at the Autostrada tollgates, you’ll see the signs (Carte) at the exit gates and they even take Diners and Amex! Drive to a full-service attended tollgate if you don’t want to use the automated machines.
Supermarket carts require a 1 Euro coin to release them from the “garage”. Return the shopping cart and insert the key from the previous cart to get your coin back. Stores are closed on Sundays, except during summer, when big supermarkets are open 7 days a week. Some small shops are closed also on Monday or Wednesday mornings, as the same staff works half-a-day on Saturdays. Note the opening hours of the grocery store or supermarket closest to your villa. Unpackaged loose Fruit and Vegetables are required to be weighted and priced before getting to the check-out counter. Each item carries a number (Taso) and the scales have the number and a picture of the product. Place the item on the scales, punch the number and out pops a coded price sticker. Fix it on the bag. Remember to put on the plastic gloves when handling loose fruit and vegetables. You’ll see the glove and bag dispensers and the scales around. Deli counters have a number system for service, pick up your ticket from the dispenser. Some deli items are priced per 100 grams = etto, so be careful if the price seems very low. Plastic carrying bags are charged for at the supermarket check-out. If the bags are behind the counter, ask for una busta = one bag, due buste, grazie = two bags, thanks. The self-service automated check-outs have arrived in Italy, too. They are most convenient if you buy only a few items, and also, you can choose the machine to use English!
International driver’s permit is now required for foreigners driving in Italy. EU passport holders who have a valid license from their own European country do not need this. If you are an American, Canadian, or Australian citizen, you will need to have this permit to rent and drive a car in Italy. Ask your car rental company for their specific requirements. In the USA you can get the international driver’s permit from the triple-A who issue them for a small fee; also send them 2 passport photos.
Autostrada tollgates: When entering the Autostrada drive to the gates marked biglietto and take the ticket from the machine (don’t drive to the gates reserved only for Telepass). When you exit, you need to give this ticket to the attendant at the manned tollbooth where you can pay with cash or credit card. You can also choose to pay in cash or use a credit card at the automated booths. The lanes are clearly marked for cash, or cards (Carte). Insert the ticket into the machine first, then your money or credit card. The card will be returned to you after the charge and the arm lifted to let you continue. Autostrada driving is fun if you follow the simple rule: stay to the right if not passing.
The highest official speed limit is 130kms on the left side lane at some wider sections of the Autostrada, but usually it’s 110kms. Typical speed limit is 90kms on the “Superstrada” 4-lane roads, and 70kms on the 2-lane Provincial Roads. Urban area maximum speed is 50kms. Please observe all road signs and speed limits. Headlights and seat belts must be on at all times by law.
Carabinieri (State Police) set up roadblocks occasionally to look for stolen vehicles, so they might wave you over (with what looks like a gigantic lolly-pop!) and they would want to see your car papers. Pull over, stay in your car, roll down the window, give them a big smile and only speak English! They usually wave you to go on once they realize you don’t speak Italian.
Autostrada service stations are open 24 hours, which is NOT the case elsewhere. Local stations follow the local shopping hours and close for lunch and on Sundays. Some have 24-hour self-service pumps where you put notes into a slot machine and choose your pump number. Fill it up in Italian is ‘Pieno’ and ‘Benzina’ is regular gas (petrol) and Diesel is either just Diesel or ‘Gasoilo’. Attendants staff the gas stations so you don’t need to leave your car if you pay with cash. The staffed full-service (Servizio) pumps are usually closest to the station house. If you are lucky, they may even wash your windshield (small tip is then appropriate). Credit card payments are usually made inside the station house. Self-service pumps have the sign ‘Fai da te’ = do it yourself.
Here are some names of the most commonly seen stores:
Alimentari = the grocery store.
Macelleria = the butcher shop.
Farmacia = the pharmacy and displaying a Green Cross.
Forno = the bakery.
Pasticceria = the cake shop.
Enoteca = the wine bar, where you can taste and buy local wines.
Bar = both a coffee shop and a bar, and they sell cigarettes, too.
Osteria = a wine bar with food.
Trattoria = an informal restaurant
Ristorante = can be more upscale than Trattoria or Osteria
Pizzeria = well, that you already know ……