Helpful Hints

Eating Habits
Breakfast for the Italians generally consists of coffee or tea and bread or a brioche. Many of the buffet breakfasts offered in Italian hotels - will also have fruit, yogurt, cake or various types, and some cold cuts. Least expensive way to have breakfast when staying in the towns - Rome, Florence, Venice - is to head out to the nearest 'bar', and breakfast like the Italians. Stand at the counter and have a cappuccino and croissant ( cornetto); Most places you have to pay at the cash register first and then take your receipt to the bar to order, however in the mornings - the neighbourhood places let you have your coffee first to wake up - then pay.

Lunch and dinner are the two large daily meals; lunch is served around 1:00 P.M., and dinner is served between 8:00 and 9:00 P. M. If you arrive too early, you will find the restaurant rather empty - dinner often does not start until 8 or 9 - and lasts late into the evening.

Trattorias provide reasonably- priced simple fare, A ristorante more expensive offerings. Bars and cafes offer various pannini, or sandwiches. These tend to be available throughout the day; Bottled water (natural or carbonated ( con gaz) is inexpensive and good. Italians drink bottled water in restaurants as well as at home. You will be asked if you want 'gassata' - which means sparkling - like Pelegrino, or 'non gassata' - which will be still water. Wine is inexpensive, particularly if you order the vino della casa, or house wine. Fruit juice is available in most cafés, including fresh squeezed orange and lemon juice, but you'll pay a premium. Soft drinks like Coke are readily available, but again, you pay more than you do in North America.
The service charge is usually included in the bill, so you are not obligated to leave a tip, although it is customary to give a little extra for good service. Generally you round up the bill.

Standard breakfast in France includes coffee or hot chocolate and a croissant, pain au chocolat, or sandwich. All of these can generally be found in a bar or café, up until about 9:30 A.M. Lunchtime begins at 1:00 P.M. Some cafés offer a plat du jour, and various sandwiches. You can find more variety in a restaurant, a brasserie, or, for smaller and more expensive dishes, a salon de tee. Dinner gets underway at about 8:00 or 9:00 P.M.
Tap water in France isn't bad, but the locals will look at you strangely if you order it. It is usual to order bottled water , like in Italy you will be asked if you want carbonated or still - there are various brand names - but Perrier and Evian - are two well know options; If ther is a group at a table - it is very usual to order a large bottle of each to be shared by all. Wine is consumed at just about every meal, and the table wine, vin de table, is drinkable and cheap. Soft drinks and juices are both available in bars and cafés, but in terms of price, you're better off buying them in a grocery store.

Service compris or s.c. means the service charge is included. If the menu reads service non compris, or s.n.c. or servis en sus, then you need to add an additional 15 percent.

Great Britain
Breakfast is often toast and marmalade with tea or some combination of eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, and fried bread. For lunch and dinner, pubs almost always have some kind of lunchtime menu, and many also offer evening meals, served at the bar or in a separate restaurant area. Restaurants of all kinds abound, and you can find everything from traditional British fare to ethnic cuisine.
Ten percent should be added to your bill in a restaurant if a service charge has not already been added. Do not tip bar staff in a pub; the offer of a drink, instead, is appreciated.
Lunch is served from 12pm to 2pm, and dinner is served between 7pm and 9pm.

Energy and Water Consumption
In Europe, utilities cost two to three times what they cost in the North America. Many accommodations charge heating and electricity based on usage, or include up to at certain kw usage in the price and anything above that is charged extra. Don't leave lights blazing in unoccupied rooms or use heat twenty-four hours a day? Wear layers if it is cool. Bring slippers or warm socks for stone floors - that you will find in many Italian houses. In addition, water heaters tend to be smaller than those found in North America, which means that you may not have as much hot water as you are used to. Pay attention to this - or your extra charges can really add up!

Grocery Shopping
In Europe, you'll find small refrigerators and rarely freezers so you will likely have to shop more frequently. Most European towns and cities have weekly open-air markets, which offer a good opportunity to sample local produce.
Fresh bread, which is made every night, is quickly gone in the mornings, and hard to find in the afternoons. - so buy early -
It is common to find milk in "long shelf life" packaging. Yoghurt of all kinds is widely available and excellent - very different from North America - you may want to try it - even if you are not a yoghurt eater - my husband was pleasantly surprised.

In Italy - and most other European countries it is considered very bad manners to handle or touch the produce. In the larger supermarkets disposable plastic gloves are provided for bagging the fruits and vegetables. Nearby will be a scale for weighing the produce from which a price sticker will be issued. Don't forget to do this - or when you get to the cashier she will send you back. There are usually pictures of the produce on the stickers - so it is not difficult to figure out.
Also in Italy, you will probably have to bag your own groceries, and be charged for each plastic bag that you use. The bags are useful as garbage can liners. Or you can take them back with you the next time you shop and you won't have to buy new ones.


Driving in Italy can look a bit daunting, but if you stay alert and keep your cool, it really is no problem. In fact, if you enjoy driving, chances are you will have a great time on the roads in Italy. Have a good map - check your route before you go - if your destination is a small place - look at the next biggest place on the same route/road - the signs will likelyl be posted for that (bigger) town; If you are looking for a freeway exit - it will nearly always be for the bigger town - It is always very well marked - as you get closed to the highway turnoff - the smaller towns between the highway and the bigger town - will also show - chances are good that ir will show your destination.
Parking - as in most European towns - many parking areas are on the honour sytem - you must have a 'horario' - check your rental car before you leave the office - many have them, but many don't and ask for one - otherwise you can buy them very cheaply at gas stations and newsstands. - You will have to mark your arrival time on this and put it onto your dashboard when you arrive - the posted signs will show how much time you are allowed to park. Other parking areas - will be metered - you may have to buy a ticket from a central meter somewhere in the vicinity of where you have just parked - you may have to look around - but don't neglect to buy a ticket.

Similar rules apply as in Italy. However, be aware of the roundabouts, which are abundant and a little daunting until you get used to them. Pay attention to the signs that say, "Cedez le Passage!" (Give right-of-way to oncoming traffic). Also some areas of France still have what I call 'suicide lanes' - which means there are 3 lanes of road - the two outside ones for driving the middle one for passing - for traffic going both ways! So watch out here - you can suddenly have someone coming straight at you - their nerves are better than yours - as they are used to it - move over! And let them pass.

Great Britain
Driving is on the left side of the road. You must yield to traffic approaching from your right in roundabouts. Rush hour in large towns and cities should be avoided, as traffic can be bad. On this same note, parking in city centers can also be tricky; "Park & Ride" centers have been established, allowing you to park your car outside the centers and take a shuttle into the center.

Public Bathrooms
Public bathrooms are not as widely found as in North America. It often takes a little ingenuity and patience to locate them. The following places are likely locations when in need: restaurants, large cafes and bars, museums, some gas stations, and train stations.

There is a real variety of toilet facilities to be found, from first-class American Standard toilets to porcelain holes in the floor, so prepare yourself! Always carry tissues with you for the times (frequent) when there is no toilet paper to be found.
Be forewarned: it is not unusual for the public bathrooms to be unisex, so don't be shocked by what appears to be a lack of modesty.
Many places still require you to pay a small fee for using the washrooms, for example at the train station in Rome - you will be required to pay to go in and you will be given your toilet paper - however - you will find that these facilities are usually very clean.


Cellular phones are used everywhere in Europe and use the Global System for Mobiles (GSM), which is different from the U.S. system. While you can rent such a phone in Europe, it is more convenient to rent it from a company in the U.S. that can deliver the phone to you the day prior to your departure. For info on our cell phone services, click here. or I now recommend you consider buying a cell phone when you arrive and a prepaid card. Inexpensive phones are now available anywhere from €30 - €59 plus a prepaid card. All incoming calls are free, so when I phone home to North America - I make a quick call and tell them to call me ( they pay normal long distance fees) you pay nothing on your Italian mobile. If you have an unlocked tri-band North American phone - I recommend buying an Italian SIM card ( about €30) as you then use the much cheaper Italian system and do not pay American Roaming fees which are horrendous! We also have a few cell phones that we rent to clients - so ask us about them.


Pre-paid calling cards in various amounts (€ 5, €10, €20 or more) have become the norm for public telephones. Ask for a 'scheda telefonica' - and tell them the denomination. The cards can be purchased in train stations, airports, post offices, newsstands and bars. The telephone automatically deducts the amount of the call from your card. You can use the card again, as long as you haven't used up the credit. The best way to call internationally is to use this to call your North American operator -
AT&T - dial 172-1011 - you will get an American operator - you can then make a call just as you would at home - at lower rates than using your card directly.
Sprint - 172 -1877; MCI - 172-1022; for Canada - call 172- 1001;

Click here for Canada Direct - to get your personalized calling card numbers for all each European country you will visit.

Coin-operated public phones are being replaced by card-operated cabines so it's essential to have a telecarte, phone card, of either 50 or 120 units. Phone cards are available from tabacs, newspaper stands, and post offices. Credit cards can also be used. Post offices have phone booths; once you've been assigned a number by the counterperson, you can dial.
For At&T MCI Sprint
For Canada - 0-800-99-00-16 or 0-800-99-02-16
Great Britain

The old scarlet phone booths still exist all over Great Britain; these are coin-operated, and take 10p, 20p, 50p and 1 pound coins. Many phones are now also equipped for phone cards. Cards can be purchased at post offices and stores displaying a green sign.

0-800-89-0016 or 0-500-89-1016
Credit Cards
Most restaurants and hotels take major credit cards, as do many large grocery stores, supermarkets, and gas stations. It is not as easy to get cash advances
Debit Cards - you can use debit cards - at most bank machines. Look for a BancoMat.
You will need a 4 digit pin number - longer numbers don't work - so make sure you get yours from your local bank.

Vandalism & Theft
When walking the streets of any city it is always a good idea to guard your pockets, purse, and camera. The cities of Europe are no exception. Pay particularly close attention in crowded places where quiet hands might remove your camera or purse contents or make a quick snatch as you are exiting a taxi. Don't wear valuables or carry items that might make you a target of opportunity. Use a money belt or pouch - hidden from view.
Backpacks can be slit from behind.

If you have a rental car, never leave items in the body of the car that would identify you as tourists (maps, guidebooks, cameras, suitcases, etc.). You might consider it cheap insurance to purchase a European newspaper to be left clearly visible.

Regulations in Italy for Tourists:

Registration for Tourists on arrival at your property:

Under Italian law, all tourists are required to have a copy of their passports lodged with the local authorities within 3 days of a tourist's arrival in Italy. In the case of a hotel this would normally done at the reception at check-in.

At our properties it is usually done on arrival. Please ensure you have a copy of your passport with you.

Purchasing counterfeit goods

Although those fake Guccis and Louis Vuitton bags look great, buying them can cause you a lot of trouble.

Hefty fines are imposed on Tourists purchasing counterfeit goods while visiting Italy As part of our ongoing commitment to ensure the safety and security of travelers, the Italian Government Tourist Board strongly recommends that tourists do not, under any circumstances, attempt to purchase any counterfeit items, as this may end up costing them well more than an authentic product.

As of May 2005 a new legislation was implemented (which carries fines of up to 10,000 Euros for people caught purchasing counterfeit products, and criminal charges for anyone caught selling counterfeit goods.) It aims at a national wide crackdown on the sellers and buyers of counterfeit items, i.e. purses, sunglasses, watches, belts, etc bearing luxury labels such as Prada, Gucci, Fendi only to name a few.

Customs Regulations for Italy

Luggage is examined on entering and leaving Italy. Free entry is allowed for personal effects: clothing (new and used), books, camping and household equipment, fishing tackle, 1 pair of skis, 2 tennis racquets, computer, CD player with 10 CD's, tape recorder or Dictaphone, baby carriage, 2 still cameras with 10 rolls of film for each camera, 1 movie camera, binoculars, personal jewelry, portable radio set (subject to a small license fee), 400 cigarettes and a quantity of cigars or pipe tobacco not exceeding 500 grams (1.1 lb).

All items mentioned above may be imported duty-free only on condition that they are for personal use and are not be sold, given away or traded. A maximum of two bottles of wine and one bottle of hard liquor per person may be brought in duty-free. The bottles must not be open. A maximum of 4.4 lbs. of coffee, 6.6 lbs. of sugar and 2.2 lbs. of cocoa are allowed duty-free.

There are no restrictions on gifts purchased in Italy except for antiques and works of art. These require the authorization of the Ministero dei Beni Culturali e Ambientali. Canadian Regulations on Purchases Abroad Any person residing in Canada returning from a trip abroad can qualify for personal exemption.

All articles acquired abroad, whether purchased or received as gifts, or purchased at a duty free shop, either abroad or in Canada, must be declared by the traveler on return to Canada. U.S. Regulations on Purchases Abroad Each U.S. tourist may bring back to the U.S. duty-free $800 worth of goods purchased abroad.

The goods must accompany the traveler. A flat rate of 3% is assessed on the next $1,000 worth of goods purchased. Parcels containing gifts may be sent from abroad to the U.S. duty-free, providing the total value of such parcels received by one person, one day does not exceed $100. Each package should be marked "Unsolicited Gift". The amount paid and the contents of the package should be declared.
Passport Regulations

A visa is not required for a U.S., Canadian or Australian citizens holding a valid passport unless he expects to stay in Italy more than 90 days. If, after entering Italy, the tourist decides he would like to stay more than 90 days, he can apply, once only, at any police station (questura) for an extension of an additional 90 days.