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Italian telephone area codes all begin with 0 and consist of up to four digits. The area code is followed by a number of anything from four to eight digits. The area code is an integral part of the telephone number and must always be dialled, even when calling from next door.
Mobile-phone numbers begin with a three-digit prefix such as 330. Toll-free (free-phone) numbers are known as numeri verdi and usually start with 800.
The cheapest options for calling internationally are free or low-cost computer programs such as Skype, cut-rate call centres or international calling cards, which are sold at newsstands and tobacconists.
Cut-price call centres can be found in all of main cities, and rates can be considerably lower than from Telecom payphones for International calls. You simply place your call from a private booth inside the centre and pay for it it when you've finished.
Direct international calls can also easly be made from public telephones with a phonecard. Dial 00 to get out of Italy, then the relevant country and area codes, followed by the telephone number.
To call Italy from abroad, call the international access number (011 in the United States, 00 from most other countries), Italy's country code (+39) and then the area code of the location you want, including the leading 0.
Partly privatised Telecom Italia is the largest telecommunications organisation in Italy. Where Telecom offices are staffed, it is possible to make international calls and pay at the desk afterwards.
>lternatively, you'll find Telecom payphones throughout the country, on the streets, in train stations and in Telecom offices.
Most payphones accept only carte/schede telefoniche (phonecards), although some also accept credit cards. Telecom offers a wide range of prepaid cards for both domestic and international use; for a full list, see www.telecomitalia.it/telefono/carte-telefoniche.
You can buy phonecards (most commonly €3, €5 or €10) at post offices, tobacconists and newsstands. You must break off the top left-hand corner of the card before you can use it. All phonecards have an expiry date, printed on the face of the card.
Italy uses GSM 900/1800, which is compatible with the rest of Europe and Australia but not with North American GSM 1900 or the totally different Japanese system.
Most modern smart phones are multiband, meaning that they are compatible with a variety of international networks. However, before bringing your own phone to Italy, check with your service provider to make sure it is compatible, and beware of calls being routed internationally (very expensive for a "local" call). In many cases you'll be better off buying a cheap Italian phone or unlocking your phone for use with an Italian SIM card.
Italy has one of the highest level of mobile-phone penetration in Europe, and you can get a temporary or prepaid account from several companies if you already own a GSM, multiband cellular phone. You will usually need your passport to open an account.
Always check with your mobile-service provider in your home country to ascertain whether your handset allows use of another SIM card. If yours does, it can cost as little as €10 to activate a local prepaid SIM card (simetimes with €10 worth of calls on the card).
Pay-as-you-go SIM cards are readily available at telephone and electronics stores throughout Italy.
Once you're set up your easly purchase recharge cards (allowing you to top up your account with extra minutes) at many tobacconists and newsstands, as well as some bars, supermarkets and banks. Alternatively, you can buy or lease an inexpensive Italian phone for the duration of your trip.
Of the main mobile phone companies, TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile), Wind and Vodafone have the densest networks of outlets across the country.
Internet access in Italy has improved markedly in the past couple of years, with Rome, Bologna, Venice and other municipalities instituting city-wide hot spots, and an increasing number of hotels, B&Bs, hostels and even agriturismo now offering free wi-fi.
On the downside, internet cafes remain thinner on the ground than elsewhere in Europe, signal strength is variable, and access is not yet as widespread in rural and southern Italy as in urban and northen areas.
You'll still have to pay for access at many top-end hotels (upwards of €10 per day) and at internet cafes (€2 to €6 per hour).
Le Poste (www.poste.it, in Italian), Italy's postal system , is reasonably reliable.
Post office opening hours : 8am - 7pm Mon-Fri & 8.30am - noon Sat
Francobolli (stamps) are available at post offices and authorised tobacconists (look for the big white-on-black T sign). Sign letters often need to be weighed, what you get at the tobacconist for international arimail will occasionally be an approximation of the proper rate. Tobacconists keep regular shop hours.
Postal Rates & Services:
The cost of sending a letter by via aerea (airmail) depends on its weight, size and where it is being sent. Most people use posta prioritaria (priority mail), Italy's most efficient mail service, guaranteed to deliver letters sent to Europe within four to eight days.
Tune into Vatican Radio (www.radiovaticana.org; 93.3FM and 105FM in the Rome area) for a rundwon of what the Pope is up to (in Italian, English and other languages); or state-owned Italian RAI-1, RAI-2 and RAI-3 (www.rai.it), which broadcast all over the country and abroad. Commercial stations such as Rome's Radio Centro Suono (www.centrosuono.com) and Radio Città Futura (www.radiocittafutura.it), Naples's Radio Kiss Kiss (www.kisskissnapoli.it) and Milan-based left-wing Radio Popolare (www.radiopopolare.it) are all good for contemporary music.
Switch on the box to watch the state-run RAI-1, RAI-2 and RAI-3 (www.rai.it) and the main commercial stations (mostly run by Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset company): Canale 5 (www.canale5.mediaset.it), Italia 1 and Rete 4 and La 7.
If your Italian is up to it, try the following newspapers: Corriere della Sera , the country's leading daily; Il Messaggero , a popular Rome-based broadsheet; or La Repubblica , a centre-left daily. For the Church's view, try the Osservatore Romano .
Unlike many other European countries, English is not widely spoken in Italy. Of course, in the main tourist centers you can get by, but in the countryside and south of Rome you'll need to master a few basic phrases. This will improve your experience no end, especially when ordering in restaurants , some of which have no written menu.
Italy is a surprisingly formal society; the following tips will help you avoid any awkward moments.
Shake hands and say buongiorno (good day) or buona sera (good evening) to strangers; kiss both cheecks and say come stai? (how are you?) to friends. Use Lei (you) in polite company; use tu (you) with friends and children. Only use first names if invited.
Asking for help
Say mi scusi (excuse me) to attract attention; and use permesso (permission) when you want to pass someone in a crowded space.
Dress modestly (cover shoulders, torsos and thighs) and be quite and respectful when visiting religous sites.
Eating & Drinking
When dining in an Italian home, bring a small gift of sweets ( dolci ) or wine and dress well. Let your host lead when sitting and starting the meal. Take a small amount first so you can be cajoled into accepting a second helping. If you do not want more wine, leave your glass full. When dining out summon the waiter by saying per favore (please?).
Italians love children but there are few special amenities for them. Always make a point of asking staff members at tourist offices if they know of any special family activities or have suggestions on hotels that cater for kids.
Book accommodation in advance whenever possible to avoid inconvenience. In hotels, some double rooms can't accommodate an extra bed for kids, so it's best to check ahead. If your child is small enough to share your bed, some hoteliers will let you do this for free.
On public transport, discounts are available for children (usually aged under 12 but sometimes based on the chikd's heigh), and admission to many sites is free for chikdren under 18.
When travelling by trian, reserve seats where possible to avoid finding yourselves standing. You can hire car seats for infants and childen from most car-rental firms, but you should always book them in advance.
You can buy baby formula in powder or liquid form, as well as sterilising solutions such as Milton, at pharmacies. Disposable nappies (diapers) are available at supermarkets and pharmacies. Fresch cow's milk is sold in cartons in supermarkets and in bars with a "Latteria" sign. UHT milk is popular and in many out-of-the-way areas the only kind available.
Kids are welcome in most restaurants, but do not count on the availability of high chairs. Children's menus are uncommon but you can generally ask for a mezzo piatto (half-portion) off the menu.
For more information and idea, see the superb Italy-focused website www.italiakids.com, or the more general www.travelwithyourkids.com and www.familytravelnetwork.com.
Free admission to many galleries and cultural sites is available to youth under 18 and seniors over 65 years old; in addition, visitors aged between 18 and 25 often qualify for a 50% discount. In some cases, these discounts only apply to EU citizens.
You will find details discount cards issued by cities or regions, such as Roma Pass (www.romapass.it), a three-day €25 card that offers free use of public transport and free or reduced admission to Rome's museums.
Im many places around Italy, you can also save money by purchasing a biglietto cumulativo , a ticket that allows admission to a number of associated sights for less than the combined cost of separate admission fees.
Youth, Student & Teacher Cards:
The European Youth Card offers thousands of discounts on Italian hotels, museums, restaurants, shops and clubs, while a student, teacher or youth travel card can save you money on flights to Italy. You can find all type of cards on website www.cts.it (Centro Turistico Studentesco e Giovanile - CTS), a youth travel agency with branches throughout Italy.
The latter three cards are available worldwide from student unions, hostelling organisations and youth travel agencies such as STA Travel (www.statravel.com).
Italy is not a dangerous counrty for women to travel in.
Clearly, as with anywhere in the world. women travelling alone need to take certain precautions and, in some parts of the country, be prepared for more than their fair share of unwanted attention.
Eye-to-eye contact is the norm in Italy's daily flirtatious interplay. Eye contact can become outright staring the further south you travel. Lone women may find it difficult to remain alone. Foreign women are particular objects of male attention in tourist towns like Florence and more generally in the south.
Usually the best response is to ignore them. If that doesn't work, politly tell your interlocutors you're waiting for your marito (housband) or fidanzato /boyfriend) and, if necessary, walk away.
Avoid becoming aggressive as this may result in an unpleasant confrontation. If all else fails, approach the nearest member of the police.
Women travelling alone should use their common sense. Avoid solo hitchhiking or walking alone in dark streets, and look for hotels that are central.
Homosexuality is legal in Italy and well tolerated in the major cities. However, overt displays of affecion by homosexual couples could attract a negative response in the more conservative south and in smaller towns.
There are gay clubs in Rome, Milan and Bologna and a handful in places such as Florence. Some coastal towns and resorts (such as the Tuscan town of Viareggio or Taormina in Sicily) have much more action in summer.
In June 2011 Rome hosted the Euro Pride Festival, Europe's largest LGBT event, drawing over a million visitors for 12 days of festivities culminating in a concert headlined by Lady Gaga.
See the following resources for more information:
Arcigay & Arcilesbica (www.arcigay.it) Bologna-based national organisation for gays and lesbians.
AZ Gay (www.azgay.it) Rome-based organisation that publishes a free Gay Rome guide , available at toursit booths.
Circolo Mario Mieli (www.mariomieli.net) Rome-based cultural centre that publishes AUT , a free aternative monthly covering news, culture and politcs.
Gay.it (www.gay.it, in Italian) Website listing gay bars and hotels across the countrys.
GayFriendlyItaly.com (www.gayfriendlyitaly.com) English-language site produced by Gay.it, featuring information on everything from hotels to homophobia issued and the law.
Pride (www.prideonline.it) National monthly magazine of art, music, politics and gay culture.
Italy is not an easy country for travellers with disabilities and getting around can be a problem for wheelchair users. Even a short journey in a city or town can become a major expedition if cobblestone streets have to be negotiated. Although many buildings have lifts, they are not always wide enough for wheelchairs. Not an awful lot has been done to make life the deaf or blind any easier either.
The Italian National Tourist Office in your country may be able to provide advice on Italian associations for travellers with disabilities and information on what help is available.
Italy's national rail company, Trenitalia offers a national helpline for passengers with disabilities at 199 303060 (7am to 9pm daily).
A handful of cities also publish general guides on accessibility, among them Bologna, Milan, Padua, Reggio Emilia, Turin, Venice and Verona. Milano per Tutti (www.milanopertutti.it) is a helpful resource.
Some organisations that may help include the following:
Accessible Italy (www.accessibleitaly.com) A San Marino-based company that specialises in holiday services for ravellers with disabilities, ranging from tours to the hiring of adapted transport to romantic Italian weddings. This is the best first port of call.
Consorzio Cooperative Integrate (www.coinsociale.it) This Rome-based organisation provides information on the capitol (including transport and access) and is happy to share its contacts throughout Italy. Its "Turismo per Tutti" program seeks to improve infrastructure and access for tourist with disabilities.
Tourism for All (www.tourismforall.org.uk) This UK-based group has information on hotels with access for guests with disabilities, where to hire equipment and tour operators dealing with travellers with disabilities.
For foreign embassies and consulates in Italy not listed here, look under "Ambasciate" or "Consolati" in the telephone directory. In addition to the following, some countries run honorary consulates in other cities.
Australia Rome (06 852721; www.italy.embassy.gov.au; Via Antonio Bosio 5); Milan (02 77674217; www.austrade.it; Via Borgogna 2).
Canada Rome (06 854441; www.canadainternational.gc.ca/italy-italie; Via Zara 30).
France Rome (06 686011; www.ambafrance-it.org; Piazza Farnese 67); Milan (02 6559141; Via Moscova 12); Naples (081 2488511; Via Francesco Crispi 86); Turin (011 5732311; Via Roma 366).
Germany Rome (06 492131; www.rom.diplo.de; Via San Martino della Battiglia 4); Milan (02 6231101; www.mailand.diplo.de; Via Solferino 40); Naples (081 2488511; www.neapel.diplo.de; Via Francesco Crispi 69).
Japan Rome (06 487991; www.it.emb-japan.go.jp; Via Quintino Sella 60); Milan (02 6241141; www.milano.it.emb-japan.go.jp; Via Cesare Mangili 2/4).
New Zealand Rome (06 8537501; www.nzembassy.com; Via Clitunno 44); Milan (02 72170001; Via Terraggio 17).
UK Rome (06 42200001; www.ukinitaly.fco.gov.uk; Via XX Settembre 80a); Florence (055 284133; Lungarno Corsini 2); Milan (02 723001; Via San Paolo 7); Naples (081 4238911; Via dei Mille 40).
USA Rome (06 46741; www.italy.usembassy.gov; Via Vittorio Veneto 121); Florence (055 266951; www.florence.usconsulate.gov; Lungarno Vespucci 38); Milan (02 290351; www.milan.usconsulate.gov; Via Principe Amedeo 2/10); Naples (081 5838111; www.naples.usconsulate.gov; Piazza della Repubblica).
Accomodation in Italy can range from the sublime to the ridiculous with prices to match. Hotels and pensioni make up the bulk of the offerings, covering a rainbow of options from cheap sleeps near the train station to luxury hotels considered among the best on the planet.
Youth hostels and campgrounds are a boon for the budget-minded, while rifugi (mountain huts) welcome mountain walkers after a long day on the trail.
Fancier options include charming B&B-style places (as www.center2roomsbb.it) that continue to proliferate, apartment rentals in the heart of Italy's great cities, luxurious country villas and agriturismi (farm stays).
Capturing the imagination still more are the options to stay in anything fom castles to convents and monasteries.
The accomodations offer: only breakfast (prima colazione ); half-board ( mezza pensione ) equals breakfast and either lunch or dinner; full-board ( pensione completa ) includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Prices can fluctuate enormously depending on the season, with Easter, summer and the Christmas/New Year period being the typical peak tourist times. Seasonality also varies according to location.
Expect to pay top prices in the mountains during the ski season (December to March) or along the coast in summer (July and August).
Conversely, summer in the parched cities can equal low season; in August especially, many city hotels charge as little as half price.
Some hotels, in particular the lower-end places, barely alter their prices throughout the year. In low season there's no harm in bargaining for a discount, especially if you intend to stay for several days.
Hotels usually require that reservations be confirmed with a credit-card number. No-shows will be docked a night's accomodation.
Churches offer some amazing art (usually free), a cool respite from heat, and a welcome seat.
A modest drees code (no bare shoulder or shorts for anyone, even kids) is enforced at larger churches, such as Venice'a St. Mark's and the Vatican's St. Peter's, but is often overlooked elsewhere. If uou are caught by surprise, you can improvise, using maps to cover your shoulders and a jacket for your knees.
Some churches have coin-operated audioboxes that describe the art and history; just aet the dial on English, put in your coins, and listen. Coin boxer near a piece of art illuminate the art (and present a better photo opportunity).
Most museums and archaeological sites open daily with some of them closing one day a week. Some museums require advance reservation so it is recommended to check locally for timings and admission procedures.
Light snacks may be purchased in Bars where you can have sandwiches (panini ), salads (insalata ) or pizze at reasonable prices. Prices may be considerably higher if the food and drinks are taken sitting at the inside or outside table, particularly in the city or resort centre.
Pizzerie and Tavola Calda (self-service) offer pizza and hot cooked meals, they can be found all over Italy, prices may vary but usually cheaper than a restaurants.
Full meals are available at Trattorie and Ristoranti the first usually being cheaper and informal, restaurants vary greatly in quality and price.
All Pizzerie, Trattorie and Restaurants close one day a week.
Meals in Italian restaurants usually consists of a starter ( antipasto ) (ham, salami, seafood, vegetables, etc...), a first course ( il primo piatto o portata ) (pasta, soup, risotto, ravioli, etc...), a second course ( il secondo piatto o portata ) (meat or fish with vegetables), sweet or fruits and... espresso coffee.
Shop opening hours vary according to place and season, but most of them open from 9.30am to 1.00pm and from 4.00pm to 8.00pm. On Sunday shops are usually closed. Sales take place in January and July.