New rooms opening, a valuable collection finally on view, compelling exhibitions, and, alas, a price increase: here’s what’s new at the Uffizi for 2018.
Let’s start with some not-so-good news: peak season ticket prices (March 1 through October 31) are now €20 (an increase of more than 50% since they previously cost €8). (If you travel in the low season - November 1 to February 28 - then the cost drops to €12.) But hey, art is priceless, and the art contained in the Uffizi even more so.
And now there’s even more incredible art to see there, thanks to the opening of eight new rooms devoted to Caravaggio and 17th-century painting. Painted in a bright cinnabar red meant to evoke the fervor of that century, but also a color that was often used in fabrics and wallpapers depicted in paintings at the time, the rooms contain such Caravaggio masterpieces as La Medusa, Il Bacco and Il Sacrificio di Isacco, alongside works by Annibale Carracci, Guido Reni, Gherardo Delle Notti, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Artemisia Gentileschi, in a confrontation between Florentine and Italian art with European art.
More welcome news comes with the recent opening to the general public of ...
If you are a world traveler, a lover of art and have someone special with oddball, special sensitivities--just like you--then perhaps here is a gift your lover will really love. A fully articulated Michelangelo's David Action Figure by Figma. Well know to nerds and comic book fans worldwide, Figma produces both static and pose-able action figures of nearly every type of pulp, TV and movie hero. But now, in their Table Museumseries, they are offering several classical art sculptures as articulated models.
The David is the fourth artwork to join the series along with Venus de Milo and Rodin's The Thinker. David has smooth, pose-able joints that can move from his classic pose to an endless variety of action poses. Even his eyes can be moved to change the direction of his gaze. A special base and arm parts are included for the classic pose, but various other hand parts are also included. His sling is also included, allowing you to pose him ready to take a shot.
Click HERE to see David's Eyes move
Venus with arms restored!
The first in the their series was the Le Penseur (The Thinker) by Rodin. For the first time after pondering his problem, the Thinker can actually get up and do something about it! But for Valentine's Day, perhaps you'd like to see him with a special someone... How about a wonderful Goddess from the Greek island of Milos--Venus herself. Of course, you'd get the classic upper torso without arms, but in her kit you also get additional parts such as her missing arm parts, an apple and various hand parts.
Pose your Venus with the bronzed body of Thinker or pair her with The David. Either way, these are unique gifts for that special someone who is also an art lover.
Step One: Don't be a tourist! Ok, I know that we fell into this trap ourselves when we traveled throughout Italy, but I'm telling you all to "Do as we say, not as we did!" You shouldn't spend all your time waiting on unimaginably long lines just to get into must-see tourist sites. There's real life out there away from the tourist throngs. I would suggest allocating only about 20% or less of your time trying to get into the "must see" sights that every other tourist is trying to see and 80% actually experience the Italian way of life.
As difficult as it is, try not to go where every other tourist is going. I know this is hard for the first timer to Italy--it was for us--to decide not to see the Sistine Chapel or Michelangelo's David. We spent a nightmarish, sweaty, stuffy, exhausting morning being enveloped and shoved by throngs of cruise ship tours in the Vatican Museum (Sistine Chapel included) and St. Peters--and believe it or not, this was a so-called "private tour" with our own personal guide! Sure, it was great seeing the Sistine Chapel, but as museums go, the Vatican Museum is not up to world standards in terms of comfort, proper care of the art displayed, lighting, cleanliness or how it handles the huge crowds they stuff into the place. And speaking as an artist, there was no opportunity to sit and admire Michelangelo's creation properly. (Read about our Vatican tour HERE.)
Lines at the Vatican Museum
The second part of this tip is to s l o w d o w n... You can't possibly see everything in Italy. When I first started planning our trip ten months before we left, every time I zoomed in to a different part of Italy on Google Earth I kept finding more and more outrageously wonderful things that I added to my pin map. I still have those Google maps saved in case we go back to Italy. Even when we were in one region, like Puglia, for example, I had dozens of things pinned in the area that we never got to see--that we just didn't have time to see. Still, I looked at it as having a list of options for a given area we happened to be in, knowing that we'd never get to see all of them.
There are 46 million tourists swooping down on Italy every year with the "high season" getting wider and wider (we went in October... I can't imagine how much more crowded the tourist sites are in late spring or summer!) But you have to remember, that almost anywhere you go in Italy, in every region, there is a plethora of art, palaces, aqueducts, museums, vineyards and great food everywhere! Even the smallest villages we passed through were worth a stop, a picnic and offered great subjects for photography. Castles... they are everywhere. Hill towns?--Where aren't there any? Roman ruins? Everywhere you look. Great architecture and churches? Fine art? Great wine? Yes, even in the small villages and towns. Great food? Pick a cuisine--any of the 20 regional cuisines in Italy!
So, take your time and by all means, slow down, and plan on savoring each and every bit of Italy and you'll find a higher degree of appreciation and satisfaction for La Bella Italia. Don't rush through anything. If you find that the lines are way to long, consider getting out of line and walk the other way... find something else around the next corner, in the next piazza or in the next village.
There's nothing like an Italian smile--Our Hot Air Balloon pilot, Stefano and one of his pups
One last part of this tip: Smile at locals and try to talk to them... Learn at least a little Italian before going to Italy. Talk to the ladies in the alimentari when buying your picnic supplies. Point a lot... smile a lot. Try talking to taxi drivers. I found them to really open up when you talk to them and ask about their lives. Learn basic phrases like Questo or Quello (This one... that one), Come si chiama? (What is this called?), Dove ___? (Where is found ____?), Grazie (thanks) and Per favore (Please).... and of course, Grazie (thanks--and say it properly: grat-zee-EH). You might not understand everything they say back to you but you will be experiencing the people of Italy. Take their photograph to remember their smiles. Give them your smile in return.
Remember, you are going to Italy to see, to smell, to taste and to feel... and to take home souvenirs... in the literal sense of the word... memories. Your goal should be to come back home with a part of the Italian lifestyle as part of your soul. Italia will never leave you...
If you enjoyed this article, please SHARE it with your friends and tell them to stop by Grand Voyage Italy's blog. Grazie mille.
OPINION: There should really be a tiered level of visits to the Vatican Museum, sold through lotteries. Those proving some art credentials--like academics or students of art--should be allowed a different time of day where they can spend a decent amount of quiet contemplation--something that isn't an option today. To stop the wear and tear on the museum itself (the patterned floor tiles are getting worn through!), the general tourist public should only be allowed to visit a smaller section of the museum, with a limited number of people accessing the Sistine Chapel at the same time. Or, as they have done with other fragile tile or mosaic floors in other churches in Italy, put raised walkways so tourists' feet never touch the tiles. Also, no children under 10 should be allowed. Visitors should also be expelled whenever they break the rules of the Church, like men wearing hats. ---JF
Copyright 2015, Jerry Finzi/Grand Voyage Italy - All Rights Reserved
The Basket/Trolley: Lucas loved pulling these around
Of course, the ultimate experience in buying food in Italy is to buy fresh in local town open air markets. But to do this, you need to be in the right town on the right day--these markets move from town to town with their schedules marked on signs where they take place. One town might have a market day once a week, while another larger one might have two, or even more than one market location.
When shopping in a local alimentari (grocery store) in Italy, you won't need a shopping cart. These shops are fairly small, and if you're trying to shop the way the locals do, you'll arrive with your own mesh or fabric bag to put your groceries in--or a basket, if you're feeling nostalgic. They will have just about everything you need... water, sodas, cheeses (cut to order), deli meats, sausage, produce... even very good wine (we paid no more than 5 Euro per bottle and never had a bad bottle). Perfect for gathering things for a picnic or making your own meal back at your rental apartment. Then there's the small, in-town, chain mercato, lots smaller than American supermarkets. Think--convenience store merged with a food market. These are in city centers and are a bit tight on space. Surprisingly, what looks like a small shop entrance on the the exterior often opens up to a larger than expected store inside--still not "super" though. They might have smaller sized shopping carts or convertible basket-trolleys. You can still bring your own bags to carry your purchases in.
Don't bother wasting a Euro on a cart unless you're buying lots of wine and water bottles
The same is true of larger supermercarto, usually located at one end of a town or outside the town limits entirely, except the aisles are larger and they will offer shopping carts--for a loaner fee. The first time we experienced this we were quite surprised. The carts lock together in a specific area (usually near the entrance) and a 1 Euro coin is needed to unlock one for use. If you remove the cart from the store and leave it in the parking lot, the store keeps your 1 Euro. If you return it to its lockup, you can retrieve your coin. This seems to work--we rarely saw carts left in parking lots. Here's a hint: Keep a 1 Euro coin in your car at all times in case you really do need to use a shopping cart.
People tend to shop differently in Italy and don't buy enough groceries for 1-2 weeks as many families do in the States. This is reflected in the smaller size of their refrigerators. Because of this, we rarely saw Italians with shopping carts overflowing with food, and in fact, rarely saw the carts being used at all, unless someone was buying a lot of overly heavy items. Most people tend to bring their own reusable mesh or fabric shopping bags, or even folding shopping carts like people did when I was a kid in the Fifties.
In fact, virtually everywhere (I believe it's because of a law), if you want a plastic shopping bag, you have to ask for one, and pay an extra 10 cents/Euro apiece. Essentially, you tell the checkout clerk beforehand how many bags you need so she can ring them up. And keep in mind, there are no bag boys in Italy. You bag your own groceries, unless you look befuddled and dumbfounded, like most newcomer tourists look--then you might have a nice lady helping you (or she might get very impatient, you never know.) If two of you are shopping, do like I do with Lucas--I load the groceries onto the belt area, he bags them.
(Read my article about the trend toward "Zero-Packaging" and "Zero Waste" markets in Europe HERE).
There is also another class of supermarket called the Hypermercato or for short Ipermercato (EE-perr-mher-COT-o). These are like the mega stores we have, Super-Walmart, BJs, etc. They are usually in an industrial area or well away from town centers and are as big as anything in the U.S. If you're vacationing in Italy, even for a prolonged stay in one location, you shouldn't ever need to waste your time in one of these--unless you're just curios about how similar or different they are from similar stores at home.
I should also address buying and pesatura, or weighing your produce in larger supermercadi. First of all, it's customary (for hygiene reasons) not to touch the produce with your bare hands. For this reason, you will see signs saying something like,
"Servitevi - Per motivi d'Igiene Non Toccare La Merce" Self Service - for reasons of hygiene Do Not Touch the merchandise
(A good phrase to remember, there are "Non Toccare" signs in other types of shops, too. )
Somewhere near the fruits and veggies you will see plastic gloves. Put one on the hand you intend to use to pick up your selections and use the other hand to hold the bag to put them into.
Now, for pesatura: look around for a scale, and place your bag on the the scale. Above the scale there will be a panel with pictures of the fruit and vegetables on sale that day. Press the the corresponding picture button and you'll get a label printed out. Stick it on your bag. Repeat with your other items.
One last tip: Now all supermarkets take credit cards. Some only use their own store cards--like some COOP locations. There should be an ATM nearby, so this shouldn't be much of a problem. Besides, to really experience the Italian lifestyle, try to steer clear from supermercati, even though the quality of produce in them is much superior from what is typically found in U.S. supermarkets. My best experiences have been shopping in local Mama e Papaalimentari, with the ultimate experience being the open air markets.
Happy shopping... and don't forget to buy a mesh shopping bag before heading to Italy.
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We planned on going to Italy even before our son, Lucas was born, but because of a sudden illness, we had to call it off. Then in 2014, we planned our three week Voyage to Italy, but this time, with our 12 year old son along with some typical goals... see the art, architecture, learn the history and search out my father's roots in Molfetta down in Puglia. We knew it would be a great time, giving us fantastic memories, but as this blog shows, it has changed our lives in many ways. Here are a few ways that a Voyage to Italy might change you forever:
If you thought you were eating "Italian food" before, you'll learn that you were wrong. Chicken parmesan, spaghetti and meatballs and pasta swimming in Alfredo sauce are not Italian dishes. You'll realize that if--and when--you eat these, you are really enjoying Italian-American dishes. A totally different thing.
You will appreciate fresh pasta more--especially if you make it yourself.
You will at long last really know how to slow down.
You won't want to pay extremely high prices for restaurants after learning how easy it is to implement the simple philosophy of Italian food preparation in your own kitchen.
You will learn that you can get along with less... more fresh food requires a smaller fridge; you don't need a huge gas-guzzling car; and that 22' high entrance hall in your McMansion will start to seem very ridiculous.
You will learn to recognize opportunities to relax and take in a view--learning to always make time to soak in the simple pleasures like a vista, a sunset, beautiful architecture or natural wonders.
You will be humbled at your place in history after seeing buildings still standing--and often still being used--after 2000 years. The oldest structures (Pennsylvania stone colonials) in my area are no more than 300 years old.
Your lunches will seem amazingly inadequate and short. You will want to have a job close enough to allow you to go home for lunch.
You will begin to understand the Italian meaning behind your own "bella figura" and always try to appear well attired and attractive rather than going out in public in sweat pants and unkempt, wet hair.
You will learn the advantage of a mid-day nap.
You will want to have simpler breakfasts... an espresso and a sweet pastry.
You might start keeping your home neater and cleaner. Italians even remove their shoes when home, walking on well cleaned tile floors.
You will want to make your own pizzas, and when you don't, you will want to order individual pizzas with simpler toppings... basil, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella.
You will want to learn all about soccer and watch international matches.
You will begin to see how much of an overpriced, un-Italian joke Starbucks really is.
You will no longer drink to excess, but rather have a cocktail or two (perhaps a Negroni?) with friends. You will start to select your bottles of wine based on how well they pair with your meals. Beer will lose its appeal.
You will eat more slowly, especially in good restaurants.
You will learn how to pronounce Italian words properly: broosh-KET-ah rather than broosh-etta, ree-COTT-ah rather than ri-cutta and eS-PRES-so instead of eX-presso.
A measly two week vacation will seem very inadequate after learning of the mandatory 31 days given to Italian workers.
You will never be satisfied by the fruit and veggies in your local supermarket again.
You will learn to absolutely love cheeses--especially from sheep.
American sodas will forever taste too sweet to you.
You will never be afraid or timid on the road again. You will drive with the confidence of a Grand Prix race driver.
You will learn to taste your food before automatically putting salt on it.
If you've always thought that complex French cuisine was the ultimate in fine dining and cooking, you'll find yourself replacing that whole view with the simplicity of Italian techniques.
The peanut butter will be shoved to the rear of the shelf, while Nutella comes to the front.
You will want to have meals with larger numbers of family and friends than ever before.
If you're a guy, you will feel fine about giving your friends big hugs and expect the same back.
Men... you might want to try wearing a Speedo again.
You will find yourself thinking about time in a different way... when it flows past, like a river, there is nothing you can do to get it back. There's always domani.
If you've never cooked before--you will. If you have cooked before, you will cook better.
You will never look at supermarket variety olive oils in the same way again.
You will have learned how a walk after dinner is good for your soul, your family and your health.
You will want to ask your family elders about their past, their romances, their family history and of course, you'll want them to write down their recipes for you.
If you're a man, you will compliment women more--even your mother. If you're a woman, you'll flirt more.
You will look at older people differently, and possibly even look forward to that stage in your own life.
You will find yourself learning more and more Italian words and phrases... and perhaps take a lesson or two, in preparation for your next trip back to Italy.
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When we traveled throughout Italy, we found either no Internet access and barely any TV, or when they existed, they were usually satellite or antenna based systems--read: S L O W. In large cities, like Rome or Florence, no problem. There were decent speeds and a decent number of cable channels--often the internet packages are bundled with TV. Our best Internet and TV was in our Rome rental apartment--our worst was in rural areas of Campania, Basilicata and Puglia.
Out in the countryside, in small villages all over Italy, we would see satellite dishes or small flat antenna units mounted on roofs that picked up the signals from either a satellite hovering above in space, or a tall tower in the nearby local area--a Wide Area Network of sorts.
Even when there is a decent connection, the WiFi system inside homes and hotels can be terribly slow with buggy connections. The reason is the thick, stone walls that most structures are made out of. It's a simple task to send WiFi throughout the three floors of my American 1868 vintage brick and timber home (and much more so in standard stud framed and dry-walled track homes), but WiFi signals don't pass through 1-2 foot thick stone walls and 2" thick clay tile floors easily.
Boosting the quality, stability and speed of broadband internet service is needed by most regions of Italy, not only for the locals, but for tourists who might be used to more reliable internet connections. It would also be a boon to business travelers, saving money to avoid cell phone data charges for mobile hot-spot use.
In 2012, it was reported that Italy ranked dead last in Europe when it came to truly high speed broadband coverage. In the rest of Europe, anywhere from 27% to 54% subscribe to services with speeds at 30Mbps or above. Italy? Only 14%.
The Italian government is at long last partnering with telecom companies to fix the problem. The project is called Fiber for Italy project initially will reach 20 million people in Italy's 15 largest cities, followed by another 138 cities by 2018. The government has also started the Italia Digitale project, which will provide at least 50% of Italians with high-speed internet access by 2020. They even plan on extending the resulting fiber-optic network to rural areas, hopefully putting an end to tower and satellite based systems.
The Fiber for Italy project has three main objectives: implementing a digital national register, a database of all of Italy's citizens (will Grande Fratello be watching?); introducing a system that allows public sector suppliers submit invoices digitally; and creating a single digital identity for Italians to use when they interact with the state—no more separate logins for dealing with different government services.
Italians and tourists alike might have to wait for a few more years, but barring an Italexit, the collapse of the Euro, and with a real financial commitment (one company's bid is almost one billion dollars), perhaps high speed fiber-optic technology will finally arrive in the land of gelato, Michelangelo's David, pasta and pizza.
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Italy is hot--nearly tropical-hot. Pretty much all over the country, too. It's a real task to stay cool in Italy--a country where ice cubes in a drink are thought to give a mal di stomaco, causing tourists to ask for ice in their warm glasses of soda; air conditioning is rarely turned on, or when it is on, is set to 75 degrees (when it exists at all, that is); where a 68 degree evening is considered cold; where Italians don their puffy jackets and scarves when most Americans are in T-shirts and shorts; and where people eat such large, heavy lunches during summer that they need to close up shop and go home to take a nap for a few hours with their shutters drawn against the midday sun.
Before we took our trip to Italy, I researched the weather extensively... or so I thought. I had all sorts of long range forecasts, histories of statistics of previous years' weather and temps, and even got first hand personal advice from Italians and travelers on the many online travel forums I frequented at the time. Nothing prepared me for the heat and humidity we encountered... and this was during three weeks in October! We saw many days in the 90s, usually with high humidity.
This got me thinking of my niece and her son... they are taking a tour of Italy and Greece in July. July! OMG! I don't know if I could do all the things we did in Italy in the heat of summer. Even in October, Pompeii was roasting us (thank the Lord for those fresh water fountains that were there), Amalfi made us sweat more than we thought our bodies could, and the Vatican Tour exhausted us beyond belief due to the extra BTUs produced by the throngs of tour groups pressing bodies like cattle trying to get through those narrow, un-airconditioned, stuffy, humid palace halls.
Curiously, in the southern province of Puglia, it seemed cooler than up in Tuscan or Rome--the sea breezes kept us more comfortable. Walking the streets of Rome we found especially grueling (like Manhattan, big cities hold heat), but not as awful as I imagine it must be to deal with the summer heat in Italia. In fact, summer temperatures in Rome can reach as high as 104F!
So I would strongly recommend when planning a trip to Italy that you plan it in the shoulder season months in early spring--March, April, May--or the fall during late September, all of October up to the first 2 weeks of November. After that, the rainy season comes to most of Italy.
But in case you have to be in Italy during summer, I've put together some tips on beating the heat when in Italy during the hottest months... especially helpful for those of you traveling with very young or older people susceptible to overheating and exhaustion.
Lines at St. Peters
Sweltering crowds at the Uffizi in Florence
Avoid Long Lines When Possible:
There are many things to see in Rome, Florence and the rest of Italy that don't require standing on long lines. Think out of the box. Even if you throw away your "must see" list of the top tourist attractions, you will still enjoy yourself and get a good taste of Italian life. Don't plan anything that requires long lines. I know this rules out things like the Vatican, the Uffizi in Florence, but believe me, I witnessed the long lines in October and can't imagine how much longer they get in the high tourist season. The lines at the Vatican can be three hours long unless you have booked a private tour, and even though St Peters is free to all, everyone has to go through the long lines for a security check... up to 3 hours in high season. You can try going either early (before 9am) or later in the afternoon when the tourist groups are gone. They are open until 7pm, so if you get there for 5pm you'll have shorter lines and still have some time to walk through. On Sunday's if you want to attend mass, again, the earlier the better.
Drink Water, Lots of Water:
You should bring a refillable bottle and trust the fountains for refilling your bottle unless it says "non potabile". Buying water bottles or sodas at tourist snack wagons will begin to add up, so refilling your own will help hold down costs. (I recommend this Thermos brand bottle. With some ice it keeps drinks icy cold for hours). Select a travel bag with a large enough drink bottle pocket. You won't always find a vendor or bar when you need one, but you will find water fountains... many times, ancient Roman ones with brass faucets sticking out of them. Consider bringing a bandanna that you can wet and tie around your neck, or fold and soak it and put it under your kids' caps. Lucas loved this technique for keeping cool.
Both light in color and light weight. I brought some travel shirts that were fine, but even on the hottest days they still held sweat. Lighter colors will reflect the sun. Lighter weight fabrics are also easier to pack. Bring a small spray bottle both for a cooling mist and for spraying wrinkled clothing--hang them on a travel folding hanger and the the wrinkles fall right out.
Wet Ones Singles:
These little packets of coolness are the best thing for cleaning a sweaty brow or neck, keeping your kids cool under pressure and wiping on your arms and legs for some refreshing evaporation. And they really don't take up much room at all. Buy a pack of 144 Wet Ones Wipes and stuff them in your luggage. Easy to stuff a handful in your day packs when doing the tourist thing.
Think Like an Italian and take a Riposa:
Italians don't go out in the hottest part of the day. They take long 3 hour lunches called a riposa--a siesta, if you will. Most go home for lunch. Think like an Italian and don't plan a lunch in small towns after 12 noon or you won't be able to find a restaurant open for lunch (in larger cities like Rome or Florence this isn't a problem). But in most other towns, look for bars--in Italy, a bar is a place to get snacks, pastries, sandwiches and espresso. Plan picnic lunches and a rest period in the middle of the hot day. Sit under a tree, have your lunches, dangle your feet in a stream or fountain, or plan to visit a cool church. It's a bit cooler inside old castles and churches with their thick walls and marble floors. When you can, get out early to get your tourist things done, relax back in your hotel of rental apartment like an Italian, then go to museums and such after 4pm when most of the tour buses and cruise ship crowds are long gone.
Don't Walk During Midday:
Do your long walks in the morning and late in the day when the sun is low. Plan indoor things for midday... or even plan on spending restful time in your air conditioned hotel room until later in the day. You won't miss anything... Rome, Florence, Pisa, Amalfi, Venice... they're all still there later in the day and in the evening--and less crowded.
This is especially important if you're prone to sunburn and to keep your kids from getting overheated. Don't worry about the non-cap wearing Italians who spot you for the tourist you obviously are. They can spot us anyway, even without a Yankee cap. Soak your kids' caps in fountains and slap them back on their heads to keep them cool.
Yes, I'm serious. If you're traveling with a few little ones, pack a couple of small, good quality water pistols and let them shoot each other to their little hearts' content. They will have less tantrums and meltdowns if they're getting cool by getting wet. (On occasion, I'd sprinkle some water down my boy's neck to cool him down). If you're tight on space, pack a couple of kitchen sized plastic hypos. They can suck water up from a fountain and shoot pretty far with these things.
Rent a Car:
Not in the big cities, but if you want to explore the Italian countryside, by all means, rent a swagger wagon and crank up the air conditioning. Some cars, like the newer Fiat 500L (they call it "the Large" in Italy) even have a glove box cooler that works fairly well for a water bottle or two.
Aqualandia water park
Italian Water Parks:
Yes, they have water parks in Italy too. Beautiful, big ones. Personally, I think this would be something a family might want to do only if they are staying for an extended period of time in Italy... after all, it's not like you'd experience anything about the Italian culture in a modern water park. But if you are staying in a hub location for three weeks or more, you might want to take a break and treat the family to some wet, cool fun at a local water park.
For example, just to the east of Venice in the resort beach town of Jesolo is Aqualandia, a large seaside water park 2 huge lagoon sized pools with a tropical island and other water slide attractions. One of the oldest and most famous water parks is Aquafan in Riccione one quarter of the way down the Adriatic coast side of the Boot. Again, I'd only recommend this for long term stays in Italy when your family needs a break from all the typical tourist activities and just wants to let loose and cool down. Personally, water theme parks are not my thing... I'd rather hit the real beaches in Italy...
Try Walking Sandals Instead of Sneakers:
If you decide to try this, find a good quality walking (hiking) sandal and wear them a while before your trip. Make sure that you will not develop any blisters on longer walks. If you find the right pair, they will save space (no sneakers) and save your feet from sweating on the hottest days.
Shady Side of the Street:
Only "Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun"--that's what Noel Coward said. I'm sorry to say that my wife hasn't a clue as to what side of the street to walk on when it's hot and sunny. Lucas and Lisa might get miffed when I turn a corner and abruptly say "let's walk on the other side". They don't notice the broiling sun on one side and the shade trees on the other. Maybe I notice because I'm a lot older than both of them put together, I'm carrying more weight than ever before, and have that little balding spot that burns way too easily when I forget my cap. Perhaps the other reason is because light is my science--being a professional photographer. I pay attention to light and shadows. Walk on the shady side and stay 15 - 20 degrees cooler. Some walks in Rome, for instance, are on very long, sunny boulevards. If you're lucky enough to be walking in a town like Bologna, you can walk for 0ver 40 miles of arcades and stay out of the sun.
Pack a Portable Fan:
A battery operated fan can be useful in many situations when traveling in Italy during the summer. You can use it on a train, especially regional lines whose air conditioning or ventilators might not be operating properly. You can put it on your table during meals pointing right at your face and neck. You can use it in hotel rooms where the A/C isn't up to snuff. If you've just endured a long walk up to the Centro Storico of a hilltown, you can find a shady place to sit, pop out your portable fan and cool down for a few minutes until your body temperature comes down a bit. Hint: Wipe your face and neck with a Wet One and enjoy the cooling evaporative effect as you point the fan at yourself.
Lucas, about to wet his head and put a wet cloth under his cap up on Palatine Hill
Take a Head Shower:
When you are at your body's limits on how much heat you can endure, look for a public potable water fountain and hold your head under it... wetting your hair and all. If you're sweaty and worn out looking anyway, who cares about how your wet hair will look... just think about how refreshing it will feel. This type of head shower will work especially well in the public fountains in places like Pompeii or towns like Lucca.
Taxis and Car Services:
By all means, learn how to get a taxi in the large cities. Most cities like Rome have taxi stands where taxis wait on the cue (the one in front is the next one to take a fare). You don't hail a taxi in Rome unless they have a legal place to pull over. They are very affordable and will save both your feet and your sweat glands. Take a taxi up to a city center and then meander casually back to your starting point. In case your driver doesn't have his air conditioner set cool enough, ask "il condizionatore d'aria...piùfrescoper favore?" (the air conditioner... cooler please?)
Besides taxi stands, ask your hotel for the numbers of the best radio taxi services. They work like Uber--call them, tell them your location (more often, you need to do this in Italian!) and they will show up within minutes. The taxi meter starts running when the taxi driver starts out toward your location. You can also try Uber in Rome and Florence.
In places like the Amalfi Coast, use a car service instead of using the bus. The buses are not always on time and you might find yourself waiting for a long time standing in the bright sun on the side of a very narrow, busy, curvy road.
One Word... GELATO:
That's right. One of the easiest ways to cool down is find a gelateria (which won't be too hard as they are everywhere and pretty much are always open) and ask for a scoop (or two) of your favorite flavor. I'm sure you'll even find flavors that you didn't know were your favorite! And don't worry about gelato spoiling your kid's appetites. Gelato, although having less air makes it taste richer than ice cream, is far lower in fat and sugar than ice cream. Have gelato at 5 or 6pm before the 7:30 Italian dinnertime starts. And there's a lot more than just gelato... granita, semifreddo, sorbetto, grattachetta, shakerato (ice espresso). Check out my blog post Frozen... to learn more.
Close the Shutters:
If you are staying in a hotel room or apartment or villa, they will most likely all have shutters. In the U.S. shutters have devolved into being only a decoration, screwed in the open position. In Italy they actually work and are a necessity. Close shutters in your rooms before going out for the day and your home away from home will be cooler when you get back. This is especially important for the midday period. There are a lot of family lunches and naps going on behind all those drawn shutters in Italian towns.
After getting down to this beach on Capri, you've got to come up again! Stop and take rests.
Take Rest Stops on Steps and Inclined Walkways:
There are lots of steps and sloped walkways in Italy. Hilltowns are everywhere. If you are driving, most parking lots are outside the lower party of hilltowns--you aren't permitted to drive in the historic centers (centro storico). There will be a lot of walking uphill and lots of steps. For example, in Positano (on the Amalfi Coast) there are over 2000 steps that many climb to get high above the town to see the amazing views of the sea. On the Isle of Capri there are steep switchback paths that you need to walk to get down to the beach. Many towns in Italy have similar paths that used to be used for donkeys but are still used for getting from one place to another.
Air conditioning in Italy isn't the same as here at home. First of all, Italians don't like drafts and might keep the air conditioning turned off completely or the temperature set at 78F (25C) instead 68F (20C). I even ran into one hotel that had a master control... you had to call the desk to have them turn it on, and they couldn't change the thermostat. It was one set temperature that definitely wasn't refreshing at all. If their system is broken down, chances are it won't be fixed during your stay.
The best air conditioning I've found is in the bigger cities and from "split duct" systems... the kind where you see a big bulky air handler unit mounted high on one wall. The radiator-looking systems barely cool at all. You might inquire about they type of air conditioning before booking an apartment, especially if you're planning a longer stay. Even in shops, restaurants and museums, I found most air conditioning systems to be way under par from what we're used to in the States. When you do find a very cool setup, savor it... you may not find it again.
One of my favorite beaches... Polignano al Mare, Puglia
The Italian Coast and Beaches:
There are 4722 miles of coastline in Italy, some of it are rugged and rocky, but most of it are beaches... everything from fine snow white sand to pink, to black to pebbles to rocky. You can take your pick from the chic Lido beaches of Venice to the Italian Riveria to the miles of pristine sand and rocky cove beaches of Puglia. Some beaches are packed like sardines with Italian families on their August holiday, many are overbuilt and crowded, while much of the Italian coastline (including Sicily and Sardinia) have mile after mile of some of the most unspoiled beaches anywhere in the world. And the great thing is (as in Puglia) many are just there for the taking. Free. Mother nature's gift to the tired and overheated traveler. If you want a natural beach experience, check out the Maremma in Tuscany (A Tuscan Beach Vacation: The Maremma). Don't forget to pack swim suits for summer travel!
Head North to the Italian Alps:
For nature lovers, trekkers, bikers and even skiers (at higher elevations), there is a great opportunity to stay cool in the Italian summer--the Italian Alps. With over 300 sunny days a year and much cooler temperatures than the rest of Italy, the Italian Alps, with its mix of Italian and South Tyrolean cuisine, is a wonderful way to beat the heat. The food here very different--there might be risotto, lardo (an paper thin-sliced herbed, cured lard) fonduta (Italian style fondue), Canederli (a sort of Matzo ball dumpling in broth), fontina and goat cheeses, sausages, wines and of course, beer. But the real star of the show up north is the world famous, UNESCO World Heritage Dolomites--amazing, jagged pinnacles jutting up from the top of Italy's boot. While there, you can ride cable cars up from the valley or enjoy adventure sports like paragliding, zip-lining, mountain climbing, river rafting and glacier trekking.
Gassata or frizzante... bubbly and refreshing.
Forget the Soda and Drink Gassata:
First of all, American style sweet sodas might taste the same in Italy, but can be very costly, especially when purchased at street vendors in tourist areas and in restaurants. Another thing on sodas... you will not find diet soda. I didn't see one brand of diet soday in all of Italy when we were there. Instead, order large bottles of "gassata" or "frizzante" (both mean sparkling water). Order one large bottle with meals. If you want plain water, order a bottle of "aqua naturale". Add the word "fresci" or "freddo" to ensure that the bottle they bring has "fresh" or "cold" come from a fridge. Local alimentari (grocery stores) will have large bottles of gassata in their cooler or you can buy a large bottle to bring back to your hotel fridge. The only other soda I'd recommend in Italy is Fanta Aranciata (orange). It is different in Italy--and better--made with natural orange juice... a light, refreshing, sparkling orangeade. Personally, I find the Sanpellegrino orange and lemon sodas way too acidic.
So, if you insist on going to Italy during the hottest time of the year, please stay cool and slow down. You might even have to knock some things off your list, but you'll have a much better time and stay healthier.
Stay cool, or as Italians put it, mantenere il sangue freddo! (Keep your blood cool)
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In Italy, Internet service is rare, sluggish and prone to weather-related problems (most services are satellite based systems--easier to install with all those stone walls). But soon there may be another option to get connected while visiting your favorite tourist sites. Even though Italy is short on cash, in 2017 it is going to start providing high-speed internet access at major tourist attractions, including all of its UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Also in the plan to get connected: seaside resorts, historic cities, airports and train stations.
But is this just a scheme to get Italian Big Brother watching and following even more people? The Italian government in fact wants to create a nationwide WI-fi network, which users can access via a single personal login, but according to La Repubblica, such a system will allow data to be collected on where tourists are spending their time, and perhaps it's own citizens.
Officials claim that the system would make it easier for people to enjoy Italy's natural and cultural attractions. According to Antonello Giacomelli, from the Economic Development Ministry, "We need to integrate services as much as possible because the digital element is part of the complete visitor experience."
Really? My son Lucas, my wife and I just used our imaginations and our own senses to delve into the history and majesty of the Colosseum when we visited--I had no desire to get on my smart phone to do some surfing. We already have Google tracking us like this. If I even look at a camera I'm interested in, I will then be barrages with camera ads on virtually every site I go onto that uses Googles data. I wouldn't want that after visiting historic sites in Italy (or the Taj Mahal, for that matter... apparently, this is a worldwide effort linking public WiFi with data mining and advertising).
Italy has more World Heritage Sites than any other country--51 at this writing--from Pompeii and Herculaneum, to Palladian villas, the cave city of Matera and Sicily's Mount Etna.
This project is odd when you consider that Italy has a problem with state funding for the upkeep of its historic sites and have already used corporate moneys to restore the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and more. Perhaps it's a scheme to sell the data from such a national WiFi system to pay for their maintenance.
As for me, I don't need WiFi when visiting such sites and soaking in the historic significance and culture.
Turn off your smart phones and just feel the history beneath your feet!
Note the "IVA" indicated in the circle--the tax is included in the purchase price
When shopping in Italy, or any country in the EU, you will always be paying the VAT (Value Added Tax), or, as it's called in Italy, the IVA. Look at the bottom of your Italian shopping receipt and you'll see the tax line item for the IVA. Keeping track of these receipts--and the tax you paid for your purchases--could save you money the next time you travel in Italy. All European Union have a VAT that they levy on purchases, with each country setting its own rate. The VAT rate in Italy is currently at 22%, and will rise to 24% in 2017. The tax is applied to travel expenses, meals, and merchandise. As you can see, that 22% can really start to add up. The good news is that if you are not a resident of the EU, you can get some of that VAT money back. You see, tourists aren't obliged to pay the tax, but because the VAT/IVA is incorporated into the price of nearly everything you purchase, the tax is simply part of the purchase price... the only way to get it back is filling out forms, and following the somewhat complex rules.
What Purchases Qualify for a VAT Refund in Italy?
First, you cannot get a refund on the tax on accommodations or food in Italy. There is an exception when traveling for business in Europe, but we won't get into that here. Any other purchases you make in Italy where you see the “IVA” added, are eligible for a VAT refund at the end of your vacation, including souvenirs, ceramics, clothing, jewelry, leather and even some services.
Keep in mind that there’s a minimum amount required in order to claim an IVA/VAT refund--currently in Italy the minimum purchase amount to submit a VAT refund is €154.94--all spent in one store at one time. So, for instance, if I want to buy an Italian guitar while in Italy, this would fit right in. It would also work when buying ceramics in a single shop Vetri Sul Mare on the Amalfi Coast--a town with many ceramics craftsmen (but won't work if buying a few things in several different shops). There are many interesting and unique shops in Rome, Venice or Florence that have a wide array of gifts perfect for the Voyager--either for yourself or gifts for loved ones back home. Planing your shopping sprees in shops that have a wide array of products is a great way to make purchase in one shop beyond the €154.94 minimum.
Other rules also need to be followed:
Anything you bring back out of the EU is for personal use only (how would they know?)
Purchases must be able to be exported (carried) in your personal luggage (If packed in your check-in luggage, you must open them at customs).
Items must be reported and go through customs.
Items must leave the EU within three months of the date of the purchase.
There are actually many merchants that will instantly remove the IVA tax as soon as you show them your Non-EU passport. Use your passport as leverage, making them believe you won't make the purchase if they won't remove the tax amount. This is one way to circumvent the entire refund process. But many vendors simply don't want to bother with the paperwork on their end. Keep in mind, however, that even if the merchant is willing to take the VAT amount off the purchase price, you’ll still need to get the receipt stamped at customs before you leave the country. Keep your receipts with each item purchased.
How to Get a VAT Refund in Italy
Here's why many people don't even bother about getting a refund--it can be a real hassle.
First, you need to ask the vendor about getting a VAT refund before leaving the shop. They need to give you a separate receipt--a copy known as a fattura--in addition to the one that comes out of the cash register. The fattura should include your name (use your passport as I.D.) and the amount of the IVA/VAT tax for the purchase. If there are blanks on the “fattura” for you to fill out, ask what information you need to fill in. Keep all forms and receipts, including the additional “fattura” receipts, in a secure place.
Ok... now part requires extra time at the airport when leaving Italy:
Gather together all your purchases (a soft, collapsible duffle works well for smaller carry-on purchases that might be fragile or valuable), along with their respective receipts and forms and then bring them to the local customs office at the airport.
When it’s your turn at the front of the special customs line, you’ll present all your receipts (and your purchased goods for inspection, if that’s required) and they’ll stamp everything. You then need to get those stamped receipts back to the merchant where you initially purchased the items. Yes--believe it or not. Many bigger stores work with companies with branches at airports and other international gateways in Italy (Global Refund and Premier Tax Free are two of the most common), which means you’ll need to take your stamped receipts to the appropriate agency’s office in the airport in order to get a refund on the VAT. You’ll either get a refund in cash right then, or they’ll refund your credit card. They take a small cut of the total amount. If, on the other hand, the merchant from whom you made your purchase doesn’t work with one of those in-airport agencies, then you’ll need to mail your receipts back to them directly, either from the airport before you leave or from home.
I know what you're thinking... That you may never hear from the merchant again and never see a refund anyway. This is possible, but many shops are fairly honest and will honor the request for a VAT refund. You might get a refund sent to you in Euros, requiring a fee for converting to dollars again. Complicated, right? This is why many people forget about VAT refunds. It is a real hassle. Of course, this is even more incentive to use your Passport as leverage when making the original purchases... try really hard to get them to take the VAT off voluntarily, or you won't buy. It does work.
How Do I Avoid All This Hassle?
The best way to avoid the hassle is to shop in stores that display a Tax Free Shopping or Euro Tax Free sign in their window. There are enough shops with this logo displayed in the larger Italian cities to satisfy your shopping needs.
In these Tax Free Shopping stores, you’ll need to show your passport when you make your purchase, and they will give you a check for the VAT amount along with the receipt for the goods. When you get to the airport, you’ll need to go to the line at the customs office for VAT refunds and have your receipts stamped, and then take the receipts--along with the check the merchant gave you--to the “Tax Free” booth in the airport where they’ll give you cash for that check. These booths are typically near the airport’s Duty-Free Shop. That's a bit easier, right?
Steps & Tips for Getting a Refund
Look for stores displaying Global Blue Tax Free Shopping signage in the window.
When paying for your purchases ask the shop staff for a Tax Free Form.
Tax Free Forms are available in three versions: one blue, one white and one similar to a credit card receipt. Fill in all the required fields in block letters, using the Latin alphabet.
Receipts can be accumulated to reach the minimum amount if the purchases were made on the same day and in the same store.
Remember: Incomplete Tax Free Form = No refund
At the airport, allow enough time for the refund process before your flight departs.
Before you check in for your flight, go to the Customs desk and present your completed Tax Free Form, passport, and purchases to get a stamp on your Form.
The goods have to be sealed and unused. Don’t pack them away in your check-in luggage as you will need to show them to the Customs Officer.
Remember: No Customs Stamp = No Refund
Go to a Refund office displaying the Global Blue logo.
Present your stamped and completed Tax Free Forms to receive the refund in cash or to credit card.
You may also opt to mail your stamped completed Tax Free Forms to the address of the Processing Centre and receive your refund on your credit card .
Please observe that at some airports a cash handling fee per "Form" will be charged should you require an Immediate Refund in cash.
The refund you receive is the VAT minus Global Blue’s service fee.
Refunds are paid on all goods that are exported in the traveller’s personal luggage.
If goods are too large to be carried in hand luggage, it is recommended to contact the Customs in advance.
VAT is not levied on books and therefore refund cannot be obtained. The purchase amounts for books are counted to reach the minimum purchase amount if the books are bought at the same time as other VAT qualifying products.
The post delivery is free of charge from all the world if you use the Global Blue prepaid envelope provided by the shop. Note that it is sent by regular post.
If you have not received the prepaid envelope you can use a standard envelope (at your expense)
In order to prevent a possible loss of the documents, we recommend you to use secured mail service (e.g. registered mail or courier- at your expense)
Before sending the documents, please make a copy of them or write down Tax Free Form number (DOC ID) of each Form for your reference.
In order to assure smooth processing of your refund send us just Tax Fee Forms filled in completely and correctly
Tax Free Shopping Card... No need to fill in paperwork in shops!
Ok, so after going through all of the above, here's an even simpler way to do some tax free shopping in Italy...
Whether you’re a frequent international shopper or planning a special trip abroad, you can easily save both time and money when you shop tax free with the new Shop Tax Free Blue Card. Membership is free!
The Shop Tax Free Blue Card allows you to claim your tax savings without the hassle of filling in Tax Free Forms by hand in busy shops each time you buy something. With a swipe of your card all your details will automatically be filled out on your Tax Free Form which is then printed out for you by the sales assistant. In this way, language communication problems and mistakes are avoided and you save time and money for a more convenient and enjoyable Tax Free Shopping trip.
Global Blue works with around 270,000 stores worldwide so you can enjoy the benefits at participating shops and take advantage of member only promotions.
The Global Blue App from Google Play (for Android) and iOS (for iPhone and iPad) connects travelers to the world of Tax Free Shopping with just one click. Global Blue’s app will guide travelers to the very best stores in many European cities, with full contact details and interactive maps. You can search the app for stores by location, product or brand.
The Global Blue App also helps a shopper to figure out their savings with the Tax Refund Calculator and step-by-step instructions on how to complete the Tax Free Shopping service. A re-engineered Refund Tracker is coming soon. Do a search in your favorite app store on Global Blue.
So, there you have it... a fairly intensive introduction to getting your VAT taxes refunded in Italy. For more information: Global Blue Q&A
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