Posts Tagged ‘Italy travel’

Italian Soccer Games: Experience the Rush in Person

Monday, July 21st, 2014

italian soccer game

Photo by Flickr user John Wood

Italian soccer season begins in August, and let me tell you, in Italy, soccer is serious business.

Italians even have a different name for the sport than most European languages – calcio rather than futbol – because they’ve been playing some version of the sport since Roman times!

Next to a meal with an Italian family or a palio celebration, attending a soccer game in Italy is one of the best ways to dive into and fully experience Italian culture.

How to Get Tickets to an Italian Soccer Game

italian soccer game

Photo by Flickr user Nick

As most Italians take an extended summer holiday, the soccer season runs from August through May. Sunday is the most popular day for games, followed by Saturday.

Before you look at the season’s schedule, decide what type of game you want to see. The top teams, those known around the world like AC Milan, Roma, Inter, Fiorentina, play in the Series A, and those tickets can be expensive and hard to come by, especially in the case of important match-ups.

If you want to catch a game, but don’t particularly care who you see, check for any series to see what games are available while you’re in town.

You can often get tickets online, usually from the club or team site, but there are hefty fees that border on scalped ticket prices. The best way to get tickets is in person, at the stadium, but you’ll need to do it in advance and unfortunately most stadiums are well out of the city center and only take cash.

When you buy tickets and arrive at the stadium, you’ll need to show a photo ID as Italian soccer tickets have the attendee’s name printed on them.

Attending an Italian Soccer Game – What You Need to Know

italian soccer game

Photo by Flickr user Fatoom Qoughandoqa

Games between rival teams aren’t just heated; they can be dangerous.

Fans from the away team sit in an enclosed area to keep the home team fans from throwing things at them or attacking them and visa versa. It’s best not only to avoid sporting the away team’s colors, but not to cheer for them at all.

To keep things calm, or at least as calm as possible, Italian stadiums are alcohol-free, though smoking is incredibly common. At the entrance gate, guards check bags for bottled liquids, confiscate any alcohol, and remove the caps from any permitted beverages.

Excited fans tend to throw things on the field, either in happiness or disapproval, and there were some incidents of players being injured by projectile soda bottles several years ago.

But it’s not all dangerous. The enthusiasm is contagious, so don’t be surprised if you leave the game with a new pack of Italian friends.

Navigating Italy by Train

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

On Italy tours, trains are one of the best ways to see the country. You can enjoy the landscape in comfortable surrounds, be transported directly from city center to city center, and not have to work about GPS or parking laws.

When you go to book Italian trains, whether online via Trenitalia or at one of the kiosks in Italian train stations (we’ll be covering how exactly to get your tickets that in our newsletter this month, sign up here), it’s easily to be either confused or overwhelmed.

Italy has so many different types of trains, and often all of them travel the same route. Let’s break it down.

The National Train System

The Italian national rail runs almost all local and regional trains. A few regions have their own systems that are also open to the public, but most trains you’ll end up taking go the Trenitalia, the national system.

Local trains make lots of stops, only have second-class seats, and connect cities that are close by within the same region, like Florence and Siena in Tuscany or Venice and Verona in the Veneto.

There are several levels of trains that go faster than local trains but slower than high speed. And every few years it seems like something new pops up!

Regional trains can also connect you to cities in the same region, but they make fewer stops than local trains and move faster. You can also take regional trains or fast regional trains to move from one region to another where the high-speed trains don’t run or when you don’t want to pay the extra expense of those trains.

Intercity trains were, once upon a time, the fast option, but now they are more or less phased out. You’ll still see them as a slower option on some long distance routes. Likewise, Eurostar was the high-speed option ten years ago, but now they offer another way (at twice the time and often also twice the price) to get between distant cities when the high-speed trains are full.

High-speed Trains: Italo vs. Freccia

For high-speed service, which is what you need to go between major cities such as Milan and Rome or Florence and Venice, you now have two options, thanks to the relative newcomer Italo.

A private company with its own lounges and—in some cases like Rome where it leaves from a secondary station—its own stations, Italo offers a luxury product. Freccia (Italian for arrow) trains from Trenitalia have several levels of premium cabins that offer similar service, but the basic product is quite functional, if not a little cramped, and can be found for great prices if you book in advance.

The Freccia trains cut the time it takes to get around Italy in half, getting you around faster than driving, and even flying in most cases.

The Top Summer Opera Festivals in Italy

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Opera was made to be sung outside al fresco, when it was first performed in the 15th century at the Palazzo Pitti gardens as part of a Medici family wedding celebration.

While Italy has many famous—and famously decorated—inside opera houses, enjoying its outdoor opera venues is one of the true treats of a summer visit to the peninsula.

From Verona in the north, through Italy’s heart—Rome—down to Siracusa in Sicily, summer opera festivals fill historic venues dating back to Roman times with classical music that resonates perfectly with these classic venues.

Siracusa Greek Theatre in Sicily

Dating to the 5th century BC, when Greek culture ruled the world rather than Roman, and Southern Italy was part of Magna Grecia, greater Greece, the Greek Theater of Siracusa is one of the largest ever built by the Ancient Greeks.

While the theater originally held more than 15,000 spectators, several sections, particularly the orchestra and stage, have been dilapidated over the years. After the Greek influence in the area waved, the Romans adapted the theater, which then fell into disuse until the summer theater festival began in 1914.

This anniversary season, three classic plays, Agamemnon and Eumenides by Aschylus and The Wasps by Aristophanes will run from the 9th of May to the 22nd of June.

Arena di Verona

Probably the most well known outdoor theater in Italy, a night at the Arena di Verona—a great city to visit in any season, and just a short train ride from Venice—is a magical experiences, from the candlelit audience to the world famous performers.

The nearly 2,000-year-old theater has run more than 90 seasons of its summer festival, which begins at the end of June, and frequently features direction from Franco Zeffirelli, one of the most noted figures in opera.

Sets and costumes from productions at both the Arena and other noted opera venues around Italy can also be seen at the nearby Lyric Museum on the history of opera and the Arena’s summer opera festival.

Baths of Caracalla in Rome

One of my favorite outdoor summer theaters is right in Rome, at the heart of the cultural capital of ancient society. The Baths of Caracalla, a lovely, well-preserved site worth a visit in its own right, hosts Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera during the summer.

Like the regular season, tickets sell out fast for the operas and ballets performed under the stars. This year, the season runs from the 24th of June through the 9th of August.

What’s in a Name? Your Guide to Italian Restaurant Types

Friday, April 11th, 2014

When you think of different types of dining establishments, most fall into one of two categories-sit down or take out, fine dining or casual, restaurants in cafes.

But in Italy, they seem to have a dizzying number of names for places that, ostensibly, all seem like sit down restaurants: trattoria, ristorante, osteria, enoteca, and the list goes on.

When you’re out in Italy, how do you know what you’re getting? There are basically five grades of sit-down restaurant, two types of wine bars, and two main types of take-out place.

Sit-Down Restaurants:

  • Ristorante – This is the top grade of Italian dining establishments, with conscientious service, fine dining plating and dishes, and often a well-known chef.
  • Trattoria – Trattorias are wonderful casual places to eat, whether for a pre-set lunch menu or a dinner out. They focus on typical Italian fare, without the fusion flare you may see in ristorantes.
  • Osteria – Osterias are much like trattorias, but a bit more casual with a focus on regional specialties.
  • Tavola Calda – In a tavola calda, there is typically no table service. You choose your food from a cafeteria style serving set up. These are primarily in Florence.
  • Pizzeria – In Italy, pizzarias are sit-down restaurants that predominantly serve pizza with wine, a variety of salads, and a few pasta selections.

Wine bars:

  • Enoteca – For a more formal wine tasting experience in line with American wine bars, head to an enoteca. Today, many are high-design and high-tech, though the food options are typically limited.
  • Taverna – Tavernas are more old-fashioned, like an Italian version of a British pub, with wine instead of beer. Food is very traditional, simple fare.

Take-out:

  • Pizza a taglio – For a slice of pizza on the run, look for a pizza a taglio (literally: by the slice). There may be limited seating, but squares of pizza, calzones, and occasionally some desserts are packaged up to take away.
  • Rosticceria – Unlike pizza a taglio places, which expect people to be eating their food on the go, rosticcerias typically serve hot food, primarily meat and roast vegetable dishes, to take and eat at home. If you’re looking for an entire chicken, this is the place.

See My Talk at the NYTimes Travel Show! (on video)

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

As you may have seen recently via email, I was fortunate to be selected to speak on a panel at the New York Times Travel Show earlier this month with several other Italian travel specialist:

  • Kathy McCabe from the Dream of Italy magazine
  • Steve Perillo of Perillo Tours
  • Dominic Siano of Tour Italy now

In “How to Plan a Luxurious (But Affordable) Italian Vacation,” Susan Van Allen, a friend and author of “100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go” and “Letters from Italy,” moderated a panel of experts to help travelers enjoy Italian luxury without breaking the bank.

To be completely honest, I was very nervous beforehand. Though I’ve been leading tours for decades, that’s different than sitting, facing a group of people you don’t know at all, and hoping they’re interested in what you’re saying!

I ended up being very surprised though, because the other panelists didn’t have a lot to say and ended up taking notes on what I was saying (!). In particular, I talked about the kind of experiences that a travel specialist can arrange for you through the people they know in Italy that can really add a sense of luxury to your experience even without an over-the-top price tag.

Watch my whole talk on YouTube here or the embedded video above.

Shopping in Italy: What You Need to Know

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Whether you plan it into your budget or not. Whether you bring a big enough suitcase or not. Whether you set aside time in your itinerary or not.

Shopping in Italy is kind of inevitable.

You may end up with a suitcase full of gourmet goodies or wine bottles (here’s how to pack them), housewares or high fashion. But first you have to navigate the cultural nuances of shopping in Italy.

Opening and Closing Times

Shops open on the later side, often around 10 am. Most non-chain shops, boutiques and handicraft shops close for an extended lunch from 12:30 or 1pm to 3 or 4 pm. In small towns, absolutely everything will close.

In major city centers, most things stay upon through the lunch break. Stores, even in smaller towns, are open later to compensate, usually till around 7:30 or 8 pm.

Trying Things On

When you arrive, you must say hello (buongiorno during the day and buona sera in the afternoon) to start a respectful relationship with the shop keeper. Otherwise they will find you very rude.

You, on the other hand, might find it rude when salespeople come into your dressing room while you’re trying things on to help you squeeze into a tight pair of jeans. Salespeople in Italy are very hands on, but it is just because they are passionate about helping you find something you like.

Buying and Exchanging

Commas replace a periods on price tags, and tax is already included. You can’t pay anything that is less than EU10 or 20 Euros with a credit card. Always bring cash with you for the smaller purchases.

Credit cards are not widely accepted, but bring your passport or another photo ID if you plan to make a large purchase with your credit card. Many stores will send you away if you are not able to provide photo ID with your credit card.

Be very confident before you purchase anything, because store exchanges essentially don’t exist.

$600 Fares to Italy Continue Through the Spring!

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Thanks to the pressure new entrant Emirates is putting on the U.S.-Italy flight market, more and more options for exceptional deals on flights to Italy keep popping up.

While we’ve focused a lot of attention on the new flights into Milan, particularly the flight sale Emirates recently ran (read more about it here), some new low fares have begun to appear for flights into Rome as well:

Rome flight alert

Great Milan Fares Continue This Spring

Even though Emirates initially announced that their $600 flights to Milan were only available through October 31st, I’m still seeing comparable rates on flights from New York to Milan in the early spring on Emirates:

emirates

And United and Delta are still matching the $600 rate:

united

delta

But what is even more exciting than the other domestic airlines trying to jump in and challenge Emirates is the reaction of the European airlines.

To hold onto this key market, Lufthansa has also reduced its fares for the spring below Emirates’ offerings:

lufthansa

Do You Prefer First Class?

We’ve been primarily talking about economy fares so far, but I can’t help but point out this great fare for those who prefer business class:

alitalia 1st class

On my recent trip to Italy, I flew United, and got a great last-minute upgrade offer at the airport. Truly, when you need to take the red-eye, as most of us do to get to Europe, the effect of lie-flat seats and upper-class service cannot be underestimated

There’s still time to join our group departures to Capri and Amalfi and Puglia and Basilicata this spring, so take a peek at these flight deals before they’re gone.

Italian Travel Apps for Every Situation

Friday, September 20th, 2013

I’m getting ready to head to Italy twice next month, first to the Buy Veneto show and then for two weeks of research in Piedmont, Tuscany, and Rome.

Though I’m familiar with Katie Parla’s stunning Rome app (photo above), I’ve never had a chance to look into the increasingly wide world of  travel apps. But the landscape has changed significantly from the early Italian travel apps, which were little more than shrunken guidebooks.

Today your phone can ask questions for you in Italian or provide a whole set of situation specific vocabulary all while offline. You can find out if the train is on time and translate menus just by snapping a picture with your phone.

Some of these apps are iPhone only, but many are available for a variety of operating systems, including Android and Windows mobile.

Apps that Help You Navigate Italy

  • Word Lens – snap a picture of an Italian word on a sign, menu, or reservation and the app translates it
  • Rail Europe – browse schedules, buy train tickets, and find information on luggage storage and other train station services
  • Pronto Treno – connecting to the Italian national rail network, this app allows you to check whether your train is on time and whether there’s an upcoming strike scheduled
  • Italo Treno – with information on the newest high speed train system that links major cities in Italy

Italian Language Apps

  • The Lonely Planet Phrasebook – type in a phrase in English and the app translates and speaks the phrase for you in Italian
  • Talking Italian Phrasebook – sponsored by the Fiat 500, this app allows you to search by category to find the vocab for the situation you need, whether shopping, checking into your hotel, or getting directions
  • WorldNomads Italian-English Translator – prepared phrases available offline that allow you to practice your budding Italian in any travel situation

City/Region Specific Apps

  • Tuscany for Foodies – recommended by SlowItaly, this app catalogs the culinary artisans of Tuscany that keep ancient traditions alive and the restaurants that serve their food
  • Rick Steves’ Ancient Rome Tour – an interactive guide with audio and video to help create your own walking tour of Rome’s ancient sites
  • Katie Parla’s Rome – an elegant, well-styled compendium of impeccably curated picks for eating, shopping, and exploring Rome
  • Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome - highlighting all the good stuff in Italy. Elizabeth has apps for Rome, Florence and Venice, plus her instagram sends are a glimpse of what we are missing daily

Italian Food Apps

  • Foodies by Gambero Rosso – from the publisher of the Italian equivalent of the French Michelin guide, Gambero Rosso’s comprehensive listing of the best eateries—from pizzarias to gourmet temples—includes GoogleMaps directions and itineraries
  • Italian Menu Decoder – a food-focused dictionary that includes nearly every ingredient, dish, and food festival you’ll come across in Italy, no matter where in the country you are
  • Olive Oil IQ – a guide to the differences between olive oil varieties and uses in different parts of Italy, as well as background on olive oil history and production

Summer in Italy: 5 Ways to Enjoy It

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

summer in italy
Image © Italian Concierge

As days and nights heat up, much of Italy becomes almost unbearably hot and humid.

To stay comfortable, Italians live life al fresco (in the open air). Parties, cooking and eating meals, dance clubs—every type of leisure activity moves outside till things cool down.

Here are five ways to get in on the outdoor fun this summer in Italy:

Festivals

summer in italy festivals
Image © Italian Concierge

Italians love to take time off and relax in the summer, and there are hundreds if not thousands of festivals all over the country catering to just that desire.

Summer music festivals, from the 100-year-old summer opera festival in Verona’s Roman amphitheater to the month of classical concerts that makes up Florence’s Maggio Musicale and from the world-renowned Umbria Jazz Festival to the summer concert series in Ravello and Taormina, fill the warm summer nights with siren’s songs.

The Greek Theatre in Siracusa, Sicily, features classic theater productions in the warmer months, while Taormina hosts a renowned film festival. To me, one of the real highlights of the summer festival season is Andrea Bocelli’s annual July concert in the outdoor theatre he created in Lajatico near the sea in western Tuscany.

Hiking

summer in italy hiking
Image © Italian Concierge

Hiking and country walking are some of my personal favorite ways to experience Italy. I’ve covered more than 2,000 miles of the book during my time leading walking tours, both for Italian Concierge and previously for Wilderness Travel, Country Walkers,  Smithsonian Journeys and Smithsonian Study Tours.

Summer is one of the perfect times to see the north of Italy on foot. While the rest of the country swelters, the weather in the Alps and Dolomites is almost as stunning as the mountain meadows.

Aperitivos

summer in italy aperitivo
Image © Italian Concierge

It’s a simple concept, much like happy hour: stopping in a local bar for a pre-dinner drink accompanied by some nibbles. But like so many other things, Italians elevate it to an art form.

After you order your aperitivo—usually a fun, colorful drink like an Aperol spritz  (aperol and prosecco) or sparkling wine such as plain old prosecco—the bar is your oyster. A full spread of mini panini, pizze , sliced meats and cheeses, focaccias and more awaits at most aperitivos.

And in the summer, restaurants and bars double or triple in size as they take their seating into surrounding sidewalks or parks.

Sagras

summer in italy grapes
Image © Italian Concierge

Sagras aren’t something you’ll find announced in glossy travel magazines. They’re decidedly and deliciously local affairs often to celebrate a particular regional plate, or food item.

Whether it’s DOC (designation of controlled origin) or simply a special local recipe, every town from petit cities like Florence to tiny country hamlets in the mountains of Calabria has a food worth celebrating. Porcini, castagne (chestnuts), tortellini, or cinghiale (wild boar) all are cause to celebrate.

Sagras may revolve around freshly-cooked, family-style meals, but there’s also music – if not a live band – and plenty of wine, which means dancing is the only way to end the night.

Palios

summer in italy palio
Image © Italian Concierge

Every summer, cities, towns, and small mountain villages around Italy maintain the medieval tradition of the palio, an event named not for a specific type of race or parade, but the prize they all have in common, typically a simple  banner.

Though the most famous palio, the Palio of Siena, revolves around a horse race, Italian palios take many forms: foot races, donkey races, boat races, archery matches, and more.

In addition to the main competition, each palio includes parades, music, flag throwing, and neighborhood celebrations.

*****

In our July newsletter, we’ll be covering one more way to enjoy the outdoors in Italy this summer: the estati (summers). Major cities throughout the country organize an entire summer of outdoor events from concerts to theatrical performances to interactive art events.

Sign up below to get the newsletter by email:

 

This June in Joyce’s Little Black Book

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

relais po italian luxury hotel

Image © Italian Concierge

As I travel through Italy this month, I’m reminded of the importance of little “accessories” that add an extra special ricordo (memory) to your Italian experience.

Italians are so warm and helpful, and often you can’t leave their company without receiving a little something to remember them by. It may be a little grappa after dinner, in the case of a restaurant. Or a piatti di buon ricordo (ceramic souvenir plate) when visiting a pottery workshop. Or even a well-used horn tool used to test the quality of the culatello you admired at the salumeria.

When you encounter such a giving people, it is impossible not to leave with positive experiences, but these little mementos are some of my favorite things to bring home from Italy.

In the second part of my trip report on my current travels, I share some of my latest special ricordi. You can also read more about one of my other favorite things to bring home (wine!) in the new “Wines to Bring Home” section.

Here’s what else you missed:

  • Tis the Season for . . . Gelato
    We explore the origins of gelato and our favorite places to sample Italy’s favorite sweet. And don’t miss our blog post on the etiquette and vocab for ordering gelato in Italy.
  • Events this Month: Emirates Begins Flights to Milan
    Challenging the current domestic offerings, Emirates has a new luxury flight experience available to start your journey to Italy off in style.
  • Traveler Tip: Bringing Wine Home from Italy
    You don’t need to “smuggle” you favorite Italian sips home, but you do need to pack them carefully. We show you how.
  • Things We Love: La Scuderia del Duca Paper
    On the Amalfi coast, they still produce handmade paper the same way Saracen invaders taught them nearly 1000 years ago.
  • May Recipe: Dark Chocolate Gelato
    Hungry yet? If you’re itching to try authentic gelato at home after our sweet focus this month, try this recipe for ultra dark chocolate gelato from Venice’s famed Hotel Cipriani.

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