Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Travel Virgin's Guide to Italy

Trevi Fountain
My travels have usually been to my home state to see the huge extended family my husband’s career ripped me from in 1987. (Not that I hold any resentment.)

Then we went to Italy.

The photos of Italy’s incredible sights prepared me for the wonders of The Trevi Fountain, the David, the Sistine Chapel, Venice canals and gondolas, etc. But some important things aren’t mentioned in guidebooks, so out of the goodness of my heart I’m sharing them with you. 

Pay to Pee

You have to pay to use public toilets in Italy. Usually half a Euro (their 50-cent piece), but in Venice we paid 1,50 Euros--and had to climb yet another flight of stairs for the pleasure. Every toilet flushes differently. Never once saw the standard American lever. I saw square cuts in ceramic toilet tops, round cuts, double cuts where you choose the water amount depending on, ahem, the contents. I saw square, rectangular, and circle shapes in the walls. The one that stymied our travel group was what looked like a hotel tissue dispenser behind the toilet. Praying no spiders lived within, I stuck my fingers inside and discovered the flusher. 

The Labyrinth
You know that Venice is all canals, but did you know there are no vehicles on the island so you have to climb stairs over all the canals to get anywhere? Walk a block, climb stairs. Another block, more stairs. Or face a barrier and go left or right, because forward is water. If you're not on the main walk, Venice is a maze of narrow lanes of shops and restaurants. People had warned me about the narrow lanes, but nothing prepared me for having to walk single file down an alley in Venice—and finding not a street gang, but a nice restaurant at the other end. And I thought the canal water would smell bad, but it doesn't. The gondola ride was a wonderful, stink-free experience. 

Key Fob

Keyed Up 
Hotels in Italy have their quirks. We stayed in lovely hotels, the kind John Norris has never sprung for in all his life. All three rooms we stayed in had twin beds. In some, the door key cards must be stuck in a wall holder in your room to turn on the electricity. When you leave you pull out the card, and the electricity—including the air conditioning—turn off. In another, a heavy metal fob (see photo, left) is attached to an actual key. You had to leave it at the front desk and ask for it by room number when you came back. Of course, anyone could ask for anyone else’s room key and get away with it, but I thought of that too late to go robbing the other guests.
A Bidet in Every Hotel Bath

Bidet to You

Hotel bathrooms in Italy have bidets. (Remember Crocodile Dundee: “It’s for washing your backside.”) I can barely bring myself to use a public bathroom--who on earth would use a bidet in a restaurant bathroom? Yet I saw one.

Bamboozled by Google

I could never figure out whether to say grazie or grazia as thank you. Italians said it both ways. Googling it only made things more confusing, so you’re on your own there. I think “Prego” must mean “You’re welcome.” They couldn’t all be expressing a preference on spaghetti sauce brands.

So, there you have it. Hints from and for the travel virgin. Happy travels!


  1. You always know how to make people laugh! I would be a 'travel virgin' as well, so thank you for the very interesting information provided. Rachael Witherspoon

  2. That is an awesome description of Italy. Only 1 " bathroom" experience I had in addition to yours....... The hole in the floor, no toilet, and not sure whether to put the paper in the hole or my pocket...Hmmm, I chose the hole. Pedals to turn on the sink, to wash hands, which I had to ask where the " on" was. Very different !