Travel Tips From Rome’s Best Guide
A&B has been escorting travelers across the Italian Peninsula for over a decade. We have been extremely fortunate to have in Rome one of our highest rated guides: Francesco Miglio. His touring company is a family business with mother, father, and sister all licensed experts in the tourism field. In his own words, Francesco has put this terrific list of essential travel tips.
USEFUL TIPS FOR YOUR ROMAN HOLIDAY FROM A NATIVE ROMAN
> GENERAL SAFETY
Rome is considered a very safe city as measured against other capitals. You should take obvious precautions, as in any city, such as keeping any bags and possessions under your control and being alert for bag-snatchers and pickpockets in crowded places (for example, the metro and buses).
> ITALIAN LANGUAGE
Italian is a very easy language because is pronounced in the way is written. Italy is composed of 20 regions and in each of them the dialect change. The Roman dilect from the Italians is considered one of the most picturesque and funny of the country. Latin in this language is very important, so don’t forget a little handbook “English-Latin” to understand the many words on the ruins.
> PEOPLE INTERACTION
Speaking a little Italian goes a long way with the people. You should be able to greet someone, thank someone, acknowledge someone else’s thanks and maybe even say “How are you?”
Italians like most Europeans tend to be a bit more formal than Americans. Italians are very friendly people, but they start out a little more slowly than we do.
“Buon giorno” means “good morning” and “good day.”
“Buon pomeriggio” is used less often. It means “Good afternoon.”
“Buona sera” means “Good evening” as a greeting. “Buona notte” means “Good night” as a departure.
Do not use “Ciao” until you have become acquaintances. Let them say it first, then you know it’s OK to say it to them!
“Grazie” means “Thank you” and “Prego” means “please”, “you’re welcome” or even “after you” (when for example someone opens a door for you and says, “Prego” they are indicating that you should walk through first.
When you walk into a store or other establishment you should as a matter of course greet them with one of those time-dependent greetings. A quick, “Buon giorno, signore/signora/signorina” is the polite thing to say. It is doubtful that you will have to do the “Italian greeting”, but in case you meet someone who wants to, grasp their hands in yours, kiss each cheek lightly and quickly and say, “Ciao” each time.
Try to become familiar with the currency, and don’t be afraid to check your change. In a restaurant don’t be shy of querying the bill, if necessary. Be prepared for cashiers who are reluctant to accept banknotes of €50 and above for small purchases, and for being hassled for fiddly bits of change. Italy is still adjusting to the euro, and cashiers don’t like giving coins in change.
Cashpoints / ATMs are dotted around the city centre, and labelled Bancomat. They are usually, though not always, in good working order, and have menus in English. Check with your bank if you’re concerned about being able to draw money. A four-digit UK PIN code usually works fine, but US visitors can encounter problems. Note that many businesses, shops and restaurants in Italy do not accept credit cards.
> GREETING SOMEONE IN ROME
The Italians are keen on the most enthusiastic forms of greeting. Hugs, kisses and handshakes are all bestowed upon meeting a friend, or even a mild acquaintance, regardless of sex. Two light kisses on the cheek, first the right and then the left.
> SHOPS IN ROME
In a small-medium sized shop, it’s standard to greet the staff as you enter, not when you approach the counter to pay. A friendly ‘Buongiorno’ or ‘Buonasera’ warms the atmosphere. When paying, we’ve found that staff usually expect you to put coins down on the surface or dish provided, rather than placing money directly into their hands (fear of germs? money-handling etiquette?), and they will do the same when giving you your change (il resto). The advent of the euro has caused problems for the Italians. Most lira transactions were in banknotes, and people are still adjusting to the fact that coins are now of significant denominations and in general use. Don’t be surprised to find the whole issue of change rather perplexing for cashiers, who may try to insist you give them complex combinations of coins and notes rather than simply changing your notes.
> MAKING FRIENDS
To make friends, it’s a good idea to pay some compliments. Most Italians still live in their town of origin and feel far more strongly about their local area than they do about Italy in general. Tell them how beautiful their town/lake/village/church is – and possibly add how much you prefer it to Rome/Milan/other Italian towns. Residents can be founts of knowledge regarding their local monuments and history, and a few questions will often produce interesting stories.
Whole essays can be written about the Italians’ relationships with clothes (maybe a future addition to this site…). Three of the most important observations:
1. Italians are very conformist about clothing; everyone wears the same fashions, from teenagers to grans (this can take some getting used to… see comment 2 below). Don’t be surprised or insulted if you are looked at askance for your ‘eccentricity’ in not wearing the latest customized jeans or fiendishly-pointed boots.
2. It’s important not to judge people in return by their choice of clothing. Styles do not necessarily carry the same connotations in Italy that they would in Britain or some other countries. A woman in fishnets, stilettos, miniskirt and caked makeup at eight in the morning is probably just going to work in a bank. Almost all youths lounge about in skin-tight t-shirts and casually-knotted knitwear (and are very perplexed by the response they get when they take their sense of style and grooming to a less ‘sophisticated’ climate).
3. Sometimes clothing rules are written. To visit a church or religious site you will need to cover yourself up; no bare backs, chests, shoulders and sometimes no knees. Sometimes museums and other attractions can also be strict; no bathing costumes, for example. If you want to visit a church or religious site it’s a good idea to take something to cover yourself up with; for example a jumper or large scarf. Some churches supply cover-ups, e.g. sarongs are loaned to men with shorts so that they can modestly conceal their legs. Even where there are no written rules, it’s worth noting that bare chests and large expanses of sunburnt skin aren’t really acceptable away from beaches or sunbathing areas, whatever the temperature.
> ADVICE FOR WOMEN
Sexual harassment is not regarded in the same way in Italy as in English-speaking countries. The general atmosphere is pretty unreconstructed, and women should be prepared for attention. However, the tone of this ‘attention’ is generally less aggressive than you may be used to. Men will call out compliments such as ‘bella’ (beautiful) instead of muttering crude suggestions. And culturally, these comments are not seen as insults; if you respond angrily or insultingly everyone will be very surprised. Whereas women of other nationalities may be used to telling strangers (in no uncertain terms) to shut up and go away, in Italy the norm is to ignore the attention. In any case, responding in English or in imperfect Italian will only encourage more attention. It’s best to do as the Italian women do, and sail past with your head held high. If you avoid eye contact and don’t respond, you are extremely unlikely to be pursued or hassled further.
> CROSSING ROADS IN ROME
Crossing the road is a hazardous occupation for tourists in Rome, and it pays to stay alert. Where there is a green man indicating that you can cross, be aware that cars may still be entitled to turn onto the road and cross where you are blithely walking. Where there are no lights, crossing places are indicated by white stripes. As a pedestrian you have the right of way here, but drivers are quick to spot a nervous foreigner and are just as likely to accelerate as to stop. You will need to set foot on the road before any vehicle will even consider stopping for you. Make sure that the drivers in approaching cars have seen you and that they have a reasonable stopping distance – and walk. Traffic etiquette in Rome is about survival of the fittest. However aggressive they may seem, drivers are aware that they could pick up penalty points (a recent innovation) or fines from running over pedestrians, and will toe the line if given no choice in the matter. However, you should always remain alert, particularly in wet weather when slippery roads make life even more hair-raising.
> ROME BUSINESS HOURS AND BANKING
Italian banks are open on weekdays from 08:30 or 09:00 to 12:30 or 13:00 and from 14:20 or 15:00 to 16:00. Commercial office hours vary from one industry and sector to another but in general, most will operate somewhere between 08:30 and 18:30, Monday to Friday.
Since January 2005, smoking has been banned in all enclosed public places that do not offer sealed off rooms equipped with smoke extractors. The controversial new law covers bars, restaurants, offices, public buildings, public transport and cinemas. Smokers face fines of up to €275, whilst businesses could be hit for €2,000
> DISABLED TRAVELERS
Rome is not the most disabled-friendly city largely due to the number of hills, raised pavements and cobbled streets. Buses are wheelchair-friendly whilst remaining public transport in Rome is partially accessible. Leading visitor attractions are a mixed bag: a lift is provided to the top of the Colosseum, whilst the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel is only accessible via the long route through the Vatican museums. General information and assistance is available from A.N.T.H.A.I. (Associazione Nazionale Tutela Handicappati ed Invalidi) at downtown Rome’s Corso Vittorio Emanuele 154, 00186 Roma, tel. 011-39-06-6821-9168; Accessible Italy offers guided tours for disabled travelers. More accessibility information on different types of accommodation, transport and attractions.
Public telephones accept euro coins, tokens and phone cards, sold in tobacconists, newstands and post offices. Many public phones now accept international credit cards.
The military police (carabinieri) and civil police (polizia) are contactable by telephoning 113. For medical help, call the 24-hour, English-speaking Medline on 06 808-0995 or the Rome American Hospital on 06 2885062/4. The fire service can be reached on 115; road assistance on 116. Embassies can assist in the last resort: the American Embassy is located at Via Veneto, 119/a, 00187 Rome, the British Embassy at via XX Settembre 80, 00187 Rome.
> ROME TIPPING ADVICE
Tipping is not mandatory although it is customary, depending on whether or not you feel it is deserved. If so, an amount between 5% and 10% of the bill should be tipped. Some restaurants in Rome include gratuities in the bill, as well as the cover charge.
> EATING OUT IN ROME
Eateries in Italy have operating hours that Americans might consider a little… weird. They aren’t open all day, in fact they usually aren’t even open all afternoon. Usually they open for lunch, 11:30 or so to 3 pm. Then they reopen for dinner at 7 or 7:30 pm and close again at midnight.
There are various types of restaurants in Italy; restaurants, pizzerias, osterias, trattorias and tavola caldas, plus bars and cafes. They all serve food but the sorts of food they serve depends on the type of place they are. Restaurants are the fanciest and have the highest prices generally. You get the normal Roman fare in the standard Italian way. Trattorias are restaurants that are generally owned by family members. You can get a good meal with a decent menu choice at a trattoria. An osteria is like a pub or a small restaurant; owned by a family with only 1 or 2 employees. You get really good food at an osteria. A pizzeria is obvious. A tavola calda (which means “hot table”) is a cafeteria style place where you get a filling meal for a very good price. You might have a choice of 2 or 3 main dishes, vegetables, pasta, something to drink.
> AVOID QUEUES IN MUSEUMS
If you visit Rome and go straight to the Colosseum as many tourist do, you will end up waiting in a really long queue before actually getting to see the interior.
Since the tickets to the Palatine are also valid for the Colosseum, make sure to go there first. The queue is much shorter and when you return to the Colosseum, you will not have to wait to buy a ticket as there is a separate entrance for those already having a ticket.
For what concerns the Vatican, every guide book tells you to go early in the morning….But you are on holiday and you probably don’t want to wake up at 6:30 to be sure to be the first of the 15,000 daily visitors of the Vatican Museums, for this reason we always suggest to visit them at 2 pm, less crowds outside and less inside. Doing a lunch tour of the Vatican you will be in a cool area during the warmest time of the day.
> THE PRINCESS AND THE GLADIATORS
Unfortunately this is the bad part of being one of the most beautiful cities in the world and also one with the most tourist attractions…. Colosseo, Pantheon, Venice Square, Spanish Steps are full of these people that take advantage of families with kids or innocent tourist to charge them 5 to 15 Euros for a picture.
Source: Francesco Miglio, Miles & Miles, www.milesandmiles.net