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Italy Hostels, Eurail Passes, and Backpacking Tips

 

Italy is vibrant, seductive, even extraordinary. It has style, fine food and delicious wine, and more museums and churches than you could ever hope to explore in a lifetime. Beneath it all there remains, happily a chaotic Mediterranean flair.

Of course, not everything is wonderful. The 'economic miracle' of the past decades has transformed the country, leading to expanded industry, poor urban planning and unchecked resort construction.

Do some research before arriving in Italy and strike a fair balance between the cities and the countryside - from Roman ruins and tiny medieval hill towns to the grandeur of the Alps and Dolomites, there is much more to the country than just Rome, Venice and Florence.

Highlights

Whittling down a short list of highlights for Italy is almost an impossible task. Bearing that in mind, you could try the following: Florence, Siena, Italian food, the ancient ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum, Venice and the rugged Aeolian Islands.

When to Go

The best time to visit Italy is in the off season, particularly from April to June and September to October, when the weather is good, prices are lower and there are fewer tourists. During July and August (the high season) it is very hot, prices are inflated, the country swarms with tourists, and hotels by the sea and in the mountains are usually booked out. Note that many hotels and restaurants in seaside areas close down for the winter months.

Dangers

Theft is the main problem for travellers in Italy, mostly in the form of petty thievery and pickpocketing, especially in the bigger cities. Always carry your cash in a money belt and avoid flashing your dough in public. Motorcycle bandits are a minor problem in Rome, Naples, Palermo and Syracuse. If you are using a shoulder bag, make sure that you wear the strap across your body and have the bag on the side away from the road.

Never leave valuables in a parked car. It is a good idea to park your car in a supervised car park if you are leaving it for any amount of time.

Time

One hour ahead GMT/UTC.

Business Hours

Business hours can vary from city to city, but generally shops and businesses are open 8.30 am to 1 pm and 5 to 7.30 pm Monday to Saturday, and some are also open on Sunday morning. Banks are generally open 8.30 am to 1.30 pm and from 2.30 to 4.30 pm Monday to Friday, but hours vary between banks and cities. Large post offices are open 8 am to 6 or 7 pm Monday to Saturday. Most museums close on Monday, and restaurants and bars are required to close for one day each week.

All of this has become more flexible since opening times were liberalised under new trading hour laws that came into effect in April 1999. At the time of writing it was difficult to determine what effect this has had on day to day practicalities, as Italians tend to value their time off and are not necessarily rushing to keep their shops open throughout the week.

Public Holidays & Special Events

National public holidays include: 6 January (Epiphany); Easter Monday; 25 April (Liberation Day); 1 May (Labour Day); 15 August (Ferragosto or Feast of the Assumption); 1 November (All Saints' Day); 8 December (Feast of the Immaculate Conception); 25 December (Christmas Day); and 26 December (Feast of St Stephen).

Individual towns also have public holidays to celebrate the feasts of their patron saints. Some of these are the Feast of St Mark in Venice on 25 April; the Feast of St John the Baptist on 24 June in Florence, Genoa and Turin; the Feast of St Peter and St Paul in Rome on 29 June; the Feast of St Januarius in Naples on 19 September; and the Feast of St Ambrose in Milan on 7 December.

Emergency

Police 113, Ambulance 118, Fire 115.

Foreign Embassies

The following addresses and phone numbers are for Rome (area code 46):

Canada (44 59 81), Via G B de Rossi 27
UK (482 54 41), Via XX Settembre 80a
USA (06 467 41), Via Vittorio Veneto 119a-121

 

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