I’ve been telling you all about the amazing things we ate and did in Italy. Now it’s time that I come clean and tell you about the things I didn’t like.
Italian cities are filled with beautiful fountains that dispense clean, fresh, cool, drinking water. You carry a water bottle with you and fill it up as you go through the city. This is a lovely benefit. But if water is so fresh, clean, and accessible why couldn’t we get a glass of tap water in a single restaurant? They claim not to have any available. Which is a lie. They just plan on your $3 bottle of mineral water as part of the meal. And we always had to order 2-3 per meal.
When you do order water, they will pour no more than 2 inches in each glass. I think they assume you’ll be hydrating with wine.
Water and drinks are served without ice. There are no ice buckets or ice machines in hotels. I was so tired of drinking lukewarm beverages. Even the water sold in stores is not cold. One day we bought a bottle of water from a street vendor before heading into the Roman Forum and it had been frozen, so it was blissfully cold. I have never tasted anything so delicious in my life. This was the only cold beverage we had.
Yes, we went in late July-early August. We didn’t have a choice with our kids’ school and activity schedules, so we ended up there in the hottest time of the year. It was 99 degrees. The coolest it got was 92 I think. It was uncomfortably hot every single day. There was never a cloud in the sky. There was not a drop of rain. There was no wind, but a few breezes when we were lucky. I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much in my life. When we got to Sorrento, it was 86% humidity.
The Air Conditioning
I insisted on hotels with air conditioning. We were able to get the rooms just about comfortable by putting the AC on high all day, every day. The AC in stores and restaurants was a joke. Many places had signs up saying they had it, but they leave the doors open! So even if you dined or shopped somewhere that was air conditioned, you were always in a light sweat. I wore a money belt and when I took it off at the end of the day, the Euros in it were sopping wet.
While the people in Italy were overwhelmingly friendly and kind to us, once we got south of Rome, it changed. Here everyone was trying to upsell us. My daughter ordered a glass of wine and the waiter wanted her to buy a half bottle. We took a cab to a nearby beach and the driver wanted to take us to a town half an hour away then on a tour down the coast. I ordered a fish dish and the waiter wanted me to order it for two people. I picked out a few things in a shop and the saleswoman took me downstairs and tried to sell me $3000 pieces of furniture. It was constant and unrelenting and tiring.
When we went to the Blue Grotto, we knew the rowboat man would expect a tip, so we gave him one and then he told us it was not enough and demanded more.
Once you figure out that you can walk into any bar (which is really a cafe) and use their bathroom, you aren’t so reliant on public bathrooms, which are few and far between. Most public bathrooms are not free and some even require exact change. There were some very unpleasant bathrooms. One restaurant on Murano had what was really a hole in the ground with a very low bowl over it. If you needed to sit, you squatted with your knees in your face. None of the toilets had the same flushing mechanism. Many had a push button on the wall. One had a foot pedal. I was always hunting around, looking for the button and it was always in a different shape or location.
It also seemed that the bathrooms in museums and other attractions were always in the basement!
We did not enjoy our airport experiences! At the Naples airport, after going through security I still had to show a boarding pass to be allowed to buy a pack of gum. When it was time to board our plane, they had us get on a standing only bus which literally drove 20 feet to the steps to the plane. Then they told half of us to board from the back, but didn’t do so by seating assignment, so the aisles were full of people trying to get past each other. The Rome airport was insanity. There was a holding area for our gate with 8 seats and 300 people. They roped everyone inside the area, then told them to come out and line up. There was no line, just people pushing. It took an hour to board the plane and they did so in no order at all.
There’s nowhere to sit in Italy. I kid you not. They do not have benches in piazzas, museums, churches, towns, at train stations, in airports, at ferry stations or ANYWHERE. If you spend the day walking around the city, you end up sitting on tiny little shop window sills or dirty curbs because you are so completely desperate to get off your feet.
Getting the Bill
I understand that meals are very different in Italy, but we got so tired of trying to get the bill every night. You have to ask for it because it is never brought to you. And then you wait and wait and wait for it to come. Most restaurants in Italy have handheld credit card swipe machines they bring to the table, so that makes paying easier, however tipping is another issue. Many places, particularly in the north, add a service charge to the bill, so tip is included. In the south though, they do not. And you cannot add a tip to the bill when you charge. So you have to plan to be able to tip in cash.
Here at home, we think of Italian bread as quite delicious. We found that each city we went to seemed to serve one kind of bread with dinner no matter where we ate. In Venice, it was rolls. Elsewhere it was sliced bread. None of it excited me – the bread I’ve had at home is much better. And none of it was served with butter or olive oil. Once only we had a bottle of olive oil and a plate for dipping come with it, but that was it.
Before we went, I read everything and talked to a lot of people. EVERYONE told me women do not wear shorts in Italy. NEVER EVER EVER. Men don’t either, I was told. Everyone told me to bring capri pants and skirts, and pants for the men. This advice was completely 100% wrong. Most of our female guides wore shorts. Most of the people (Italians and tourists I saw on the streets were wearing shorts. We were so, so HOT and knowing we could have been in shorts made us very cranky! Yes, there is a requirement that shoulders and knees be covered in churches, but honestly, I found it was not enforced most of the time and certainly not at all for men! There were men in shorts in the Vatican, the Duomo, and San Marco. No one cared. Women in tank tops were told to buy scarves to cover their shoulders, but I saw many women in short skirts in churches and no one had a problem with this. Next time, I would bring shorts and only wear capris for the churches to be safe. I can certainly believe that when it is not 99 degrees Italian women are not wearing shorts, but at the height of the summer, we were the ones sticking out like sore thumbs in our long clothing. Next time, I will pack what makes me comfortable and not worry about trying to fit in.
No Tourism Info
Anywhere you go in the US or Canada, you will find tons of tourism brochures, maps, and flyers in restaurants, shops, hotels, airports, etc. And you will frequently find tourism booths in busy areas. Italy has none of this. The only map we got for free was the one our hotel gave us in each city. If you didn’t know what you wanted to see and do before you got there, there were no helpful brochures to give you ideas. I think you could literally drop out of the sky into any major US area without a lick of planning and be able to get your hands on all the info you needed within 10 minutes. Maybe the Italians assume people are using the internet for info? I don’t know, but I missed having all those great suggestions. I almost always find something I didn’t know about when I pick up free brochures.
Now that you’ve read my list of complaints, I have to tell you they are minor ones and although the heat made the trip difficult and some of the way things were done are not what we are accustomed to, we really had the time of our lives!