Health & safety
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a good idea. It may also cover you for cancellation or delays to your travel arrangements. Paying for your ticket with a credit card can often provide limited travel accident insurance and you may be able to reclaim the payment if the operator doesn’t deliver. Ask your credit-card company what it will cover.
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It sometimes requires patience to deal with the Italian concept of service, which does not always seem to follow the maxim that the customer is always right. While often courteous and friendly, some people in uniform or behind a counter (including police officers, waiters and shop assistants) may regard you with supreme indifference.
Long queues are the norm in banks, post offices and government offices.
Pickpockets and bag-snatchers operate in most cities, especially Naples and Rome. Reduce the chances of such petty theft by wearing a money belt (with money, passport, credit cards and important documents) under your clothing. Wear bags or cameras slung across the body to make it harder to snatch them. If your hotel has a safe, use it.
Watch for groups of dishevelled-looking women and children asking you for money. Their favourite haunts are train stations, tourist sights and shopping areas. If you’ve been targeted by a group take evasive action (such as crossing the street) or shout ‘Va via!’ (Go away!). Again, this is an issue mainly in Rome and Naples.
Parked cars, particularly those with foreign number plates or rental-company stickers, are prime targets. Try not to leave anything in the car and certainly not overnight. Car theft is a problem in Rome, Campania and Puglia.
In case of theft or loss, always report the incident at the police station within 24 hours and ask for a statement, otherwise your travel-insurance company won’t pay out.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
Blood clots may form in the legs during a plane flight, chiefly because of prolonged immobility (the longer the flight, the greater the risk).
The chief symptom of DVT is swelling or pain of the foot, ankle or calf, usually but not always on just one side. When a blood clot travels to the lungs, it may cause chest pain and breathing difficulties. Travellers with any of these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.
To prevent the development of DVT on long-haul flights, you should walk about the cabin, contract the leg muscles while sitting, drink plenty of fluids and avoid alcohol and tobacco.
To avoid jet lag try drinking plenty of nonalcoholic fluids and eating light meals. Upon arrival, get exposure to natural sunlight and readjust your schedule (for meals, sleep etc) as soon as possible.
Travelling with children
Italians love children but there are few special amenities for them. Always make a point of asking staff at tourist offices if they know of any special family activities or have suggestions on hotels that cater for kids. Discounts are available for children (usually aged under 12 but sometimes based on the child’s height) on public transport and for admission to sites.
If you have kids, book accommodation in advance to avoid any inconvenience and, when travelling by train, reserve seats where possible to avoid finding yourselves standing. You can hire car seats for infants and children from most car-rental firms, but you should always book them in advance.
You can buy baby formula in powder or li-quid form, as well as sterilising solutions such as Milton, at pharmacies. Disposable nappies (diapers) are widely available at supermarkets and pharmacies. Fresh cow’s milk is sold in cartons in supermarkets and in bars that have a ‘Latteria’ sign. UHT milk is popular and in many out-of-the-way areas the only kind available.Successful travel with children can require a special effort. Don’t try to overdo things and make sure activities include the kids – older children could help in the planning of these. Try to think of things that might capture their imagination like the sites at Pompeii, the Colosseum and the Forum in Rome, and Greek temples in the south and on Sicily. Another good bet are the volcanoes in the south.
Water activities, from lolling on a beach to snorkelling or sailing, are always winners.
When choosing museums, throw in the odd curio that may be more likely to stir a young child’s fascination than yet another worthy art gallery! Boys will probably like such things as Venice’s Museo Storico Navale, while girls might enjoy the idea of a little fashion shopping with Mum in Milan’s Golden Quad district. In northern Italy, make a stopover at Gardaland, the amusement park near Lago di Garda in Lombardy, or at Italia in Miniatura in Emilia-Romagna.
Always allow time for kids to play, and make sure treats such as a whopping gelato or slice of their favourite pizza are included in the bag of tricks.
Italy is not a dangerous country 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. In many places, local lotharios will try it on with exasperating insistence, which can be flattering or a pain. Foreign women are particular objects of male attention in tourist towns like Florence and more generally in the south. Usually the best response to undesired advances is to ignore them. If that doesn’t work, politely tell your interlocutors you’re waiting for your marito (husband) 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.
Watch out for men with wandering hands on crowded buses. Either keep your back to the wall or make a loud fuss if someone starts fondling your behind. A loud ‘Che schifo!’ (How disgusting!) will usually do the trick. If a more serious incident occurs, report it to the police, who are then required to press charges.
Women travelling alone should use their common sense. Avoid walking alone in dark streets, and look for hotels that are central (unsafe areas are noted in this book). Women should avoid hitchhiking alone. Use some dress sense, too. Skimpy beachwear is not a good idea in the south (except perhaps at the beach), and especially in more conservative areas, such as the smaller towns.