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5 Top Tips to Travel well in Italy

Enjoying la dolce vita in Italy is easy for the Italians. They know just how their system works, what to do, where to go and how to go about things.


1.  Behave like a good guest.

Even if you speak a few words of Italian, rest assured, everyone will instantly know that you are not Italian.  To travel well in Italy, you don’t need to desperately try to look and be Italian, it just means you should be yourself, as a good guest. Being a good guest means playing things by the Italian rules.  One of these would be to not touch things in stores like you normally would in North America.  It’s not done.


2.  Adapt to local circumstances.

Expect to experience Italy in Italy and not North America in an Italian setting.  There is no two ways about it: the Italians do things in their own peculiar ways.  E.g. You have to go to this counter to pay and to that counter to pick up your meat or bakery goods. One handles the money, the other the food.

Just when you think they are extremely good with hygiene, don’t be surprised if you find no toilet paper, soap, nor a toilet seat in many public places, cafes and restaurants.  Don’t bother complaining about it. Just bring your own gear along.

These two examples might be easy to fit in with. Much harder on the American mind is the fact that shops and restaurants have their own set hours. Shops open in the morning and close at 1 pm for lunch. Restaurants start lunch at 1 pm till 3 pm, and are close till 8 pm when they open again for dinner. Set an alarm clock to wake up early so you can get things done and bring a few snacks along to help you manage this rather rigid restaurant schedule.

Overall, enjoy rather than get annoyed when things are arranged differently than they are at home. After all, this is why you are in Italy. To experience something new.  Relax, and enjoy some more gelato as you find something else to do because whatever you planned is closed, and none knows when they will open again because someone is on strike.


3.  Be polite.

Italians are generally courteous and polite and certain manners will open doors for you.  Italians say ‘buon giorno’ when they walk into the shop, and not only the shop keeper but also the other clients greet them back. Just participate in this by saying ‘buon giorno’ when you walk into a store.  Observe local politeness and follow suit.


bracciano_viterbo_italy4. Practice walking before your trip and bring sensible shoes. 

I always advice guests to take their smaller children for long walks for a few weeks prior to coming for a visit to Italy.  Italy means walking.  And bring and wear comfortable, flat shoes while here. 

Between uneven cobble stones outside(see photo) and slippery marble floors inside, Italian flooring is a challenge.

While you will see young Italian fashionistas wearing super high heels,  realize that they usually are not walking very far, i.e. just from their little scooter to the coffee shop.   They are certainly not going on a 5 mile sight-seeing tour through Rome like you may be.  So, be like an Italian grandmother instead: wear flat, comfortable shoes and you’ll be so happy that you did.


5.  Relax.

Italia is best experienced rather than raced through. Yes, it’s true: Italia is one big giant outdoor museum and there is just soo much to be seen.  However, to get the best out of your Italian trip, you have to actually slow down, have fewer plans and go with the flow. In practical terms that mean that you should spend at least 3-4 days in each location and do a lot fewer sights than are on offer. Just pick a top 3 and add if you have time.  Remember that the best thing about visiting Italy is simply being there.

Bernini in the Vatican

Bernini in the Vatican

Bernini’s art can be found all over Rome, with some of his most spectacular work in the heart of the city, that is, the Vatican City.

Every Sunday the pope addresses the crowd on his St. Peter’s Square. The crowd sees him as a tiny speck in a window way up high above a monumental piece of Bernini’s art: the square flanking St. Peter’s colonnade. The crowd even stands on Bernini’s art. Being both an architect and a sculpture, Bernini designed the entire Piazza di San Pietro.

bernini collonade st peters church Vatican Italy


Bernini was also commissioned to design one of the most prominent element inside of the basilica, i.e. the grave of St. Peter’s with its bronze columned canopy, called baldachin, which roofs this central high altar.



St Peters grave Bernini Vatican Italy


For a long one, one could also find my personal favorite work by Bernini, the sculpture called Ecstasy of St Theresa, within the St. Peters church.   That sculpture can now be found in the Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria, another church in Rome.

Credit for images within St Peters: Hadi

From the Renaissance to the Riviera – a Historic Stroll Through Rimini, Italy 1

By Michael O’Connor

Who knows what Sigismondo Malatesta, the famous 15th Century Lord of Rimini (and original ‘renaissance man’, as described by American poet Ezra Pound), would make of his city were he to return today.


Apart from the obvious differences between the renaissance city (many significant parts of which remain, for example Malatesta’s castle) and that of the 21st – i.e the presence of skyscrapers, electrically powered street lights, and the ever present motor vehicle – one thing would perhaps strike him above all, the move to the seaside.

In Malatesta’s time Rimini and its defences were decidedly inland, running around what is considered the centro storico today. Malatesta, on coming to power, embarked on a huge building programme, which included the famous Tempio Malatesta – the first, and one of the finest examples of neo-classical architecture in Europe – and his huge, and at the time thoroughly modern fortress, the rocca malatesta. His city, though, was built primarily on top of the existing city’s site – that is to say on the site of the Roman city of Ariminum, founded in approximately 286 B.C. Existing roman monuments, including the famous Ponte di Tiberio and Arco d’Augusto(which remain impressive monuments today) were incorporated into his city, all of which – even given the retreat of the sea over the centuries, were inland from the beach.

Strolling around today’s city, Malatesta would find, at least during the summer months, a gravitational pull towards the expansive sandy beaches that would probably puzzle him. In his day the notion of lying on the beach for the day, with an occasional swim to cool off, would have seemed particularly strange, if not downright dangerous. The beach was a place for brigandry and smuggling, away from the protection of the city’s defences. Let’s not forget, as well, that in Malatesta’s time cities like Rimini were often at war with neighbouring city states. Throughout his lifetime Malatesta was in continuous conflict with powers like his neighbour Federico da Montefeltro, Lord of Urbino, or indeed the Pope (Pius II, for example, excommunicated Sigismondo in 1460 declaring him a heretic). Sunbathing and sea bathing would not, perhaps, have been high on the average citizens’s priorities at the time.

So when did Rimini start to change, to become a town that is, for Italians (and increasingly tourists from around the world), synonymous with sun, sea, and sand? Professor Feruccio Farina, of the University of Urbino, in his fascinating study of the history of seabathing in Rimini – Una costa lunga due secoli (Panozzo Editore) – gives us a portrait of one of the first foreign tourist bathers to dip her toes into Rimini’s gentle waves. Her name was Elisabeth Kenny, and she was the young Irish wife of a Roman noble. She’s recorded as having visited Rimini in August of 1790 (over 300 years after the death of our Sigismondo), and stayed for over two weeks to benefit from the sea waves and air.

Click for part 2 of the article.

Birdwatching Necessities for the Beginner

Birdwatching is one of America’s most popular outdoor activities. Those of us who love birds, have watched birds, in our back yards or at the local parks, raise and support their families. But every so often we have the urge to escape beyond these confinements and go out into the wild to watch birds in their native habitats.

If you haven’t been on a bird watching outing before, the following tips will give you a good basic foundation of necessities you will need in order to best enjoy your time in the outdoors.

Often you will hear a bird before you see it. Learning to bird by ear is an important part of becoming a good bird watcher. The more time you spend in the field watching birds, the better you will become at learning to recognize the different mating calls and vocalizations made by your favorite birds. To hone up on your skills you can actually purchase CD recordings of the bird calls of literally thousands of birds. Use these to practice identifying different species by their songs and sounds.

Knowing the types of shelter and trees that your bird species prefer is the second key to finding their nests and setting up your stakeout. Some prefer to build their nests close to the ground, while others will find the topmost branches of a tree to build their home.

To have the best chance of spotting your bird species, it’s important to know what times of the day it tends to feed. Most species prefer to start their foraging just before sunrise and will continue up to noon. Some, however, prefer later in the day and you’ll find them just becoming active before sunset.

The most necessary piece of equipment you’ll need is a spotting scope with a tripod. A regular telescope won’t do. You need one with the proper level of magnification. As birding as become more and more popular, it’s become easier to find many brands of birding binoculars made specifically for bird watchers.

Other Birding Necessities

To be prepared to spend the day outdoors with your bird friends, you’ll need the following minimum supplies:

– A sunscreen of at least 15 SPF. This will provide moderate protection from the sun. For extended periods of time, go for an SPF of 30+.

– Water. You lose lots of water while hiking which can lead to dehydration. Take a canteen or bottled water. Drink lots of water before you start your hike and take periodic sips along the way.

– Insect repellant. For the best possible protection against mosquitoes and other insects, you should apply the insect repellant to both your skin and your clothing, according to the label instructions.

– Footwear. You’ll be doing lots of walking and hiking and you’ll want the most comfortable boots possible. In addition, if there’s the possibility that you will be trekking through marsh or extremely damp conditions, you should take along a pair of knee-high rubber boots.

– Rain gear. Weather conditions can change quickly so you want to be prepared for possible rainfalls. A lightweight, waterproof, breathable piece of rainwear could be indispensable.

– Snacks. These are for you, not the birds. Take along some high energy store bought or home made granola bars, fruits, and nuts and you’ll be good to go.

If you survive and enjoy your first outing and feel that you’ll definitely be doing this again, then the manufactures of birding supplies will love you as you will undoubtedly be back in their stores to buy cameras, recorders, and other hight priced items in preparation for your next trip.

By Ken Lawless

Ken Lawless writes articles on bird house kits, camping, and the outdoors. Visit his site at for more information on bird houses.

Spain – UNESCO World Heritage Cities

By Michael Russell

Magnificent, unique monuments. Streets that carry you back in time. In Spain you will find unique places where you will live art and history at each step. These are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Spain- Camino de Santiago -  pilgrimage route  Photo by Ana Sansão

Exploring them you will enjoy a privileged journey back in time, where you can discover Spain’s important cultural heritage.

There is lots to see in Spain. It is no coincidence that Spain is the country with the second largest number of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Presented here in no particular order other than roughly north to south, you will discover outstanding examples of Spain’s rich, varied cultural treasures.

In each location you will find a beautiful “urban museum”, packed with history, offering a range of superb monuments in different artistic styles. Just one piece of advice: take your time. Take a relaxed stroll through the streets and let each city captivate you with its own special magic.

We start in the northwest in Santiago de Compostela. With its majestic Cathedral, it is the final destination for thousands of people who go on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route every year.

In the west central region not far from the border with Portugal, you will come to the historic city of Salamanca where you will find unique places like its University, one of the world’s oldest and its emblematic Plaza Mayor Square.

Further south along the Portuguese border, is Caceres with its amazing succession of historic buildings and palaces, especially when they are illuminated by night.

In central Spain grouped around Madrid are five more UNESCO Historic Sites.

Segovia has some of the best-conserved Romanesque monuments in Europe. You will be left speechless when you see its Roman Aqueduct, a truly stunning feat of engineering.

In Avila you will feel like a medieval knight – here you can imagine what towns were like in the Middle Ages. Its defensive wall is the best conserved in Europe and its Gothic Cathedral is Spain’s oldest.

Alcala de Henares on the road to Guadalajara from Madrid, is the model of a university town that was exported to Europe and America. Its University is not to be missed, of course, along with Calle Mayor Street and the house where Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, was born.

Toledo was a melting pot of cultures for centuries. Go on an adventure and search out the legacy of Muslims, Jews and Christians, who once lived together in these narrow city streets.

Cuenca’s unique historic center looks out over rocky canyon walls in the heart of the Cuenca mountains in the region of Castile-La Mancha. Its famous “hanging houses” are an example of architecture and nature in perfect harmony.

In southern Spain you will find the historic old town of Cordoba. Here you will see the splendour of ancient Moorish culture, with the Great Mosque – considered the most important Islamic monument in the Western World – being the prime example.

Not forgetting Ibiza in the Balearic Islands also has UNESCO’s prestigious designation: for its biodiversity and archaeological heritage. The same is true of the town of San Cristobal de la Laguna in the Canary Islands, whose architecture displays the origins of Latin American urban development.

In these Spanish cities, overflowing with art and culture, you will be sure to discover the pleasure of history. Enjoy!

About the Author

Michael Russell, Your Independent guide to Travel

Spain – A Land of Endless Holidays

By Andrew Regan

As one of Europe’s hottest – and most exciting – cultural hotspots, Spain is a popular summer holiday destination for tourists from the UK and beyond.

spainishflag- photo by Alberto Jimenez

However, whether you’re keen to explore parts of Spain that you’ve never visited before or you’re a novice to the joys of Spanish culture, it’s important to figure out which areas of the country you’d most like to visit. After all, each area of Spain affords different opportunities to people with different interests – so ensure you make the right option when it comes to your holiday!

For instance, if you’re seeking a cosmopolitan city with a vibrant cultural scene, you’ll love Barcelona. Rent a holiday villa in Barcelona and you’ll be able to enjoy the buzz that surrounds Spain’s second largest city. Take a walk around the city and explore its stunning Gaudi architecture, as well the spectacular churches of the Gothic Quarter. Visitors to Barcelona will also be able to enjoy a range of museums: the Museum of the City of Barcelona, for instance, includes access to underground Roman ruins, while The Football Museum located near Barcelona’s Nou Camp football stadium is one of the city’s most visited attractions.

Alternatively, why not take a holiday in Andalucía and explore the region’s rich historical heritage and stunning coastal landscape? Rent a holiday villa in Cadiz and you’ll find yourself in the midst of one of Spain’s most stunning coastal towns. As the oldest continuously-inhabited city in Western Europe, Cadiz boasts breathtaking sandy beaches and clear blue seas. Every year, the city also plays host to the Carnival of Cadiz, one of the world’s best known carnivals. And while you’re in Andalucía, take the opportunity to visit the Alhambra in Granada and the Grand Mosque in Cordoba – two of the most spectacular monuments of Spain’s Moorish past.

And if you’re planning a party holiday to Spain, you’ll love the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands of Spain. Whether you’re hoping to head to Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Menorca or the ever popular Ibiza, you’ll be able to experience some of the best nightlife in Spain. What’s more, if you’re planning to rent a holiday apartment in the Mediterranean islands of Spain, you won’t be disappointed: these party locations are home to some of the best holiday villas in Spain, so you’ll be able to party and sleep in style!

Ultimately, if you’ve traveled around Spain’s most popular tourist hotspots and you’re looking for a Spanish holiday destination that’s off the beaten track, why not visit Bilbao? The primary city in the Basque Country of Spain, Bilbao is home to a range of museums, fabulous architecture and Spain’s Guggenheim Museum. Or if you’re a keen food fan, take a trip to Valencia – the city that invented paella! Every March, Valencia hosts the festival Fallas, in which the local neighburhoods of Valencia build large paper maché constructions that can represent a range of issues or interests. Rent a holiday villa in Valencia during Fallas and you’ll be able to bask in the buzz of the city and take delight in Fallas’ spectacular firework display! So even if you’ve been to Spain before, you can rest assured that you’ll always find new things that will draw you back to this beautiful country.

About the Author

Andrew Regan is an online, freelance journalist who lists travelling and rugby among his interests.