A Brief Manual for Travelling About Medieval Italy

I’ve discovered recently that surprisingly enough my Italian blogs and the website “Abruzzo -Terra Incognita” have got a clearly seasonal nature. In spite of summer exodus from the cities, there are still more readers. I think it happens so because folks are planning their summer holidays and Italy is traditionally regarded as a great summer destination. Of course, I can argue about this popular delusion since it is more comfortable to travel about Italian cities of arts during the shoulder season. Nevertheless, I’d like to share some useful tips how to travel about the medieval Italy.

I don’t mean a virtual journey by means of time machine but an ordinary travel about contemporary Italy. Those tourists, who visit Italy with organized groups and pass through the country in a single week, may not even suspect that beyond mass tourist routes there exists quite a different country. Sometimes it only takes to make  one step and an amazed traveler finds himself in the very real medieval town. Stunning and fascinating one, but sometimes hard to understand. The fact is that the very long medieval epoch has left not only magnificent castles and cathedrals but ancient ways of life, as well. Italy became a unified state only 150 years ago and that is why Italian regions differ very much from each other, on the one hand, and Rome and other big cities, on the other hand. I qualify as medieval survivals such facts as poorly developed public transport network in some regions, unpredictable working hours of public and tourist services, extremely high Internet costs and sometimes impossibility to pay by credit card and etc.

I’ve drafted a kind of brief memo for my good self after visiting the city of Viterbo where I experienced such amenities in full measure. Whenever I set to schedule my journey, I strictly observe these simple rules in order to avoid unpleasant surprises.

I don’t recommend:

1. To arrive in an unknown city on Sunday or an official holiday (January 1, the Easter, April 25, May 1, August 15, the Xmas). Unfortunately, nobody waits you this day. Italians concern these days as their own holidays but not yours. These days the public transport runs very infrequently, if ever.

The most striking example I met in Rome last Xmas. I thought that it would be great to celebrate Christmas in Rome and my idée fixe was to attend the mess in Vatican on December 25. It seemed that I’d planned all things perfectly well. I booked an apartment near Tiburtina beforehand. I arrived at the Tiburtina station in Rome from Montesilvano at 12 o’clock and my friend came by train from the Fiumicino airport an hour later. After leaving our suitcases in the apartment we hurried to the underground but the gates were barred! We asked a policeman what was the matter? He told us that on Xmas all the transport runs only till afternoon. Incredibly! We couldn’t believe him because in Moscow the public transport runs nearly all the Xmas night. There weren’t any buses and taxis as well. Nothing! In addition, it seemed that the whole Tiburtina area was given up to homeless people of all nationalities. I’ve never seen so many hobos in Rome before.
We were doomed to stay in the apartment all the Xmas evening. Luckily, there were a huge TV and free Internet and I brought from Abruzzo the Xmas cake, “Limoncella” liquor and cheese. My friend brought from Moscow chocolates and red caviar. Next morning we started our big Xmas program and Rome reverted to its usual status of great tourist center. By the way, all my Italian friends were very much surprised when I told them about the Xmas transport problem.

2. If you go on a day trip, don’t arrive in a city at the siesta time (from 1 to 4 p.m.). You’ll find a sleeping kingdom. Particularly all the museums, churches and cafes will be closed. There are not so many things left which Italians observe so carefully as the siesta.

3. Don’t book an apartment if you come to a city for the first time. You’ll be met by an unconcerned manager whom you won’t see again. You’ll be left to the mercy of fate.

First things first!

4. As soon as you get at the place of your destination you should buy tickets for the urban transport. It isn’t an easy task at all. In big cities there are sometimes ticket machines but you need to have enough coins. There are two types of tickets in Italy: a simple ticket which is valid for 70-90 minutes after validation and a day ticket. If you consider walking about the city all day long it’s better to buy a day ticket. Usually, you can buy tickets at newsstands, tobacco and souvenir shops, bars and even petrol stations.

5. The next urgent thing to do is to visit a local IAT office (Assistance and Information for Tourists), sometimes it is called ”Info-point” or “Pro Loco”. Usually, they are situated near main sights or communes. They will give you very useful information about local places of interest and events, transport schedules. You can also get there free city maps and booklets. Unfortunately, their work hours are very short and normally they are closed on Sundays and holidays.

6. If “IAT” is closed you can drop into any travel agency and they will help you for sure.

7. If you failed to find #5 and #6. You can get some necessary information on transport schedules in a bar situated near the railway or bus station and ask a map in your hotel.

You should be ready to:

8. Folks don’t speak English in small towns.

9. In a small shop or restaurant credit cards are not accepted even if Visa and Mastercard logos are stuck to the door. I was told  in a small restaurant in Rome  that they pay 2 euro from each card transaction and that is why they accept cards only for big bills.

10. Even if a hotel site promises Internet for free it doesn’t mean at all that they provide normal Internet connection. At best, there will be a weak Wi-Fi.

Hope that these 10 tips will protect you from travel stress and the next 7 tips will help to enjoy your Italian holidays to the full.

You are welcome! Benvenuti!

1. Italians are the most tourist friendly nation in the world. They are always ready to help confused tourists to find their way. They are the best improvised guides.

2. If you visit a city of arts with a wide range of museums it is reasonable to buy a museum card which is valid for 2 or three days and gives you an opportunity to visit main museums.

3. The best places to eat well and cheap are called ”Locanda”, “Trattoria”, and “Osteria”. The key words are “di casa” or “casereccio”, i.e. homemade.

4. You can buy fresh and cheap fruits, vegetables and local typical food at regional markets.

5. Italian ice-cream is the best in the world, especially, “gelato artigiano”, i.e. handmade.

6. Great season sales start on July 1 and January 2 and last for two months and even more. If you have time, wait till prices fall by 50 or even 70%.

7. If you know magic words: “buon giorno”, “per favore”, “grazie” and, of course, “ciao”, Italians consider that you speak Italian very well.

Buon viaggio!

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2 Responses to “A Brief Manual for Travelling About Medieval Italy”

  1. Ciao Tatiana, these are excellent and useful tips for travel around medieval Italy! Looking forward to exploring more of amazing Abruzzo with you this August!

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