Italy is such a popular travel destination that you may just assume that you will enjoy visiting there, like most people do. But maybe not, because some people are just never happy if they can’t have the same kind of hotels, food, and overall comforts they have at from home. Feedback websites like Trip Advisor are filled with comments by people who never should have gone to Italy, because…”the hotel rooms are too small, there’s not enough air conditioning, it’s too noisy, they don’t cook eggs like we do”…the list goes on and on. If you, or the person you’re traveling with, can’t get out of the comfort zone and enjoy going where things are different, Italy is probably not for you.
Are you ready for a new culture? Will you be satisfied to deal with the inconveniences? Here are some of the ways that travel in Europe, including Italy, is distinctive and may be in contrast to traveling closer to home. It’s important that you read this before committing to a trip to Italy.
SMALL HOTEL ROOMS.
We’re spoiled for space in North America. And that certainly applies to you Australians. We have expectations about the size of hotel rooms that generally cannot be met in European city centers. Hotel rooms in Italy are no smaller, on average, than those in London and Paris. But they are significantly smaller than in most American and Canadian hotels.
We specialize in hotels that are right in the city centers, but that’s also where the space is tight and the hotel rooms are smallest. You might prefer hotels the motorcoach companies use, that are typically located further out from the city centers, often with larger rooms. Those hotels are far less convenient, but they tend to be more familiar to Americans.
In Italian cities, every hotel we use has air conditioning. But it may not be available when you want it. That’s because Europeans are energy-conscious to a degree we cannot imagine in North America. Air conditioning is not available all year, but rather when it’s needed. That’s “needed” by their standards, not yours.
Consider too that if the air conditioning is not running, and if you open your windows, you expose yourself to more street noise (see below). And there won’t be screens on the windows, so you are far more likely to see the occasional flying insect than in hotels in North America, where the windows are likely to be sealed.
PHYSICAL DEMANDS AND ACCESSIBILITY.
The “Old World” is not just a marketing concept. When you’re faced with more stairs than you ever climbed in one stretch, or steep stone steps with no railings, or rough cobblestone streets great for turning ankles, you’ll start to appreciate that it’s old. You’re likely to find yourself walking much more than at home, and being on your feet far longer. Blisters are standard after the first day walking in Rome.
Just visiting the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica, you are likely to walk the better part of two miles. We’ve seen people ask to drop out of Vatican group tours, wanting to sit down and rest. And then there’s the matter of getting your bags on and off the trains, yet more physicality to consider. It sure helps to get in shape before your trip.
Lots of people have trouble sleeping, even at home under well controlled circumstances. If you are one of them, please be cautious about traveling to any European city. Foreign travel can be exhausting, even if you’re getting plenty of sleep. But if you need silence to sleep, you might be very unhappy at a hotel in the center of any large city, including cities in the USA, due to sirens, traffic noise and early-morning trash pickups.
In Italian cities, where there are few high-rise buildings and most hotel rooms are on low floors (2 through 6), you’ll be closer to that noise. And you’ll hear unfamiliar sounds, like motorscooters, and the rumble of cars pounding on cobblestones. Then there are the many hotels that have wood or ceramic floors. Those floors transmit sound to other rooms much more than carpeted floors do. If you think of yourself as unusually sensitive to noise at night, consider a more rural destination instead of a trip to one of the great cities of Italy and Europe.
HARD HOTEL BEDS.
Another complaint that’s common on the hotel feedback websites. Yes, hotels in Italy do tend to use mattresses that are really, really firm. That does not mean they’re low-quality beds.
UNFRIENDLY HOTEL PERSONNEL?
We certainly don’t think so. But some travelers will come to that conclusion. Americans and Canadians have cultures that would strike most Europeans as being too informal and too relaxed. We meet people easily and make friendships quickly. It’s not like that in Europe.
Some people can get offended at the level of formality they encounter in European hotels, at the front desk. You only need take a quick browse through some of the travel feedback websites to find plenty of complaints about rude or unhelpful hotel personnel. Sometimes it’s just what it seems — inexcusable behavior. But we think that most of the time it’s a cultural difference that North Americans don’t understand.
European hotel personnel tend to be very proud, rather defensive, and even aloof, by American and Canadian standards. Don’t look for them to be chatty. It doesn’t help that they tend to expect difficulty with Americans, thinking we are hard to please, so there can already be some tension when Americans approach the front desk.
This is one we can (almost) joke about. You may think the bathrooms of Europe are an adventure in themselves. Every bathroom seems to be designed differently, to keep you guessing. Some bathrooms are ridiculously small, or oddly shaped, to fit into very old architecture, while some are huge. Sinks may be operated by pedals on the floor. But it’s the tub/shower arrangement that most often requires an attitude adjustment. Little half-doors are used for tub-showers, and sometimes containing the spray seems hopeless. Tubs can be very narrow. Shower stalls can be so small that you need to squeeze in. Some showers have no walls at all, so that the whole bathroom is designed as the drain. Then there are the toilets, each of which seems to use a different technology, so you can find yourself at a loss just how to flush some of them. You need to be able to laugh about these variations, not be irritated.
Your first experience in Italy can be startling. It’s a bombardment of the senses. For many people, the sights, sounds and even smells won’t fit at first with romanticized images. To get the most of a first trip to Italy, you need to suspend your expectations and judgments, at least for the first day or two.
It’s unfair to compare the real Italy to dinner at the Olive Garden. Starting from your home in suburbia one day and dropping into Rome the next, is culture shock, and however exciting that may be, it’s also fatiguing and disorienting. Try to allow for this and don’t start out worrying if this is the Italy you anticipated. There’s a fitting quote to remember from E. M. Forster’s book, A Room with a View….”One doesn’t come to Italy for niceness. One comes for life…” Take that objective with you for the softest landing to Italy.
WEAK U.S. DOLLAR.
This one is only for Americans. It isn’t a cultural difference, but it’s so basic to a trip decision that it needs to be addressed. We’re all hearing how the U.S. dollar is so weak and how expensive it is to travel in Europe. But who knows if the dollar will ever get back to parity with the euro? If you’re like most people who want to visit Europe, you’re not willing to wait indefinitely for a better exchange rate. So you’ll probably go ahead and travel and just accept it. But some people go and do not accept it. They suffer for every euro they spend, and they question at every meal and hotel whether it was worth the cost.
If this is a big issue for you now, it will only get more frustrating when you get to Italy, making it very difficult to have an enjoyable trip. Please think about whether you can let go, and leave the weak dollar behind.
We love Italy. We hope you do. But no travel destination is right for everybody. If you go to Italy with expectations that are too romantic, or if your requirements for comfort are rigidly based on your lifestyle at home, you may be disappointed. We hope our comments will help avoid that.
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