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Italy is a large country in Southern Europe. It is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites - art and monuments are everywhere around the country. It is also famous worldwide for its cuisine, its fashion, the luxury sports cars and motorcycles, as well as for its beautiful coasts, lakes and mountains (the Alps and Appennines).
Two independent mini-states lie within Italy: San Marino and Vatican City. While technically not part of the European Union, both of these states are also part of the Schengen Region and the European Monetary Union.
Italy is situated on the Mediterranean Sea, bordering France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia. The country, which is a boot-shaped peninsula, is surrounded by the Ligurian Sea, the Sardinian Sea, and the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west, the Sicilian and Ionian Sea in the South, and Adriatic Sea in the East. Italian is the major language spoken by the majority of the population, but as you travel throughout the country, you will find there are several distinct dialects corresponding to the region you are in. Italy has a very diverse landscape, but can be primarily described as mountainous including the Alpes and the Apennies mountain ranges that run through it. Italy has two major islands as part of its country: Sardinia, which is an island off the west coast of Italy, and Sicily, which is at the southern tip (the "toe") of the boot. Italy has a population of 59,619,290, and the capital city of Italy is Rome.
HOW TO REACH
Italy is a member of the Schengen agreement, so all visa laws that apply to other member states apply to Italy. Keep in mind that, like other Schengen member states, the 90-day counter begins once you enter the Schengen area and is not reset by travel outside it.
By plane - Italy has 500 national airline, Alitalia, as well as several smaller carriers, such as Meridiana or Air One. There are 406 budget routes flown from and within Italy by low cost airlines.
By car - Italy borders on France, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia. French and Austrian borders are open, but cars can be stopped behind the border for random checks. Switzerland is not part of the Schengen zone, and full border checks apply - although they have been known to let coaches straight through.
By boat - There are several ferries departing from Greece, Albania, Montenegro and Croatia. Most of them arrive to Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi. Some regular ferry services connect the island of Corsica in France to Genoa, Livorno, Civitavecchia, Naples and North of Sardinia. Barcelona is connected to Civitavecchia.
Italy is part of the Eurozone, so the common currency of the European Union, the Euro (€), is legal tender in Italy.
Italy is quite an expensive country. It has many luxury hotels and posh restaurants. It may cost €40.00 a day if a person self caters, stays in hostel, avoids drinking and doesn't visit too many museums. However, staying in a comfortable hotel, eating out regularly and visiting lots of museums and galleries, may cost a person at least €100-150 a day. Hiring a car may double expenses, so one should visit with enough budget.
All the bills include the service charges, so tipping is not necessary. Tipping the taxi drivers is also not necessary, but a hotel porter may expect a little something.
If you plan to travel through countryside or rural regions you probably should not rely on your credit cards: in many small towns they're accepted only by a small number of shops (particularly restaurants).
Unless it says otherwise the price includes IVA (same as VAT) of 20%. On some product, such as books, IVA is 4%. If you're a non-EU resident, you are entitled to a VAT refund on purchases of goods that will be exported out of the European Union. Shops offering this scheme have a Tax Free sticker outside. Be sure to ask for your tax-free voucher before leaving the store. These goods have to be unused when you pass the customs checkpoint upon leaving the EU.
Italian fashion is renowned worldwide. Many of the world's most famous international brands have their headquarters in Italy. The two key areas for high-class shopping are Via della Spiga and Via Montenapoleone (and surroundings), in Milan and via Condotti in Rome, but you'll find flagship stores in almost every major city.
Like most developed countries, Italy is a very safe country to travel. There are few incidents of terrorism/serious violence and these episodes have been almost exclusively motivated by internal politics. Examples include the 1993 bombing of the Uffizi by the Italian Mafia. Almost every major incident is attributed to organized crime or anarchist movements and rarely, if ever, directed at travelers or foreigners.
Petty crime can be a problem for unwary travelers. Travelers should note that pickpockets often work in pairs or teams, occasionally in conjunction with street vendors. The rate of violent crimes in Italy is considered "moderate," and while a portion of violent crimes are committed against travelers, it is normally not a problem. However, instances of rape and robbery as a result of drugging are increasing. Travelers should be careful when going out at night alone.
Travelers should also be sure to ask for prices before making transactions with most vendors. Taking pictures with jovial, high-spirited costumed mascots will be followed up with a demand for payment. Some other examples are when gelato is purchased or a shoe shine is desired, prices should be asked for beforehand, since reports of extreme price gouging has occurred.
Beware of being tricked on prices even in restaurants, bars, and hotels. If they see you are a tourist, it's somewhat common to give you a higher bill than you're supposed to pay, and you MUST complain to get the right price or even getting your change back!
Italians are generally open and friendly; if you use the regular politeness you will have no problems.
Southern Italians often use their hands to gesture frantically while talking, and it's not considered rude at all in southern Italy. This spontaneous attitude toward hand gestures is usually very funny and surprising for strangers, and there is a real gesture language standard that differs radically from other countries and from what is shown in films.
Italians, especially those in the North, are very different from the stereotype of "pulcinella, pizza and mandolino" seen in American "B" movies (and you won't find roads full of Fiat 500's). Not surprisingly, for many people this stereotype is quite offensive, also considered the small but quite frequent hostility of north inhabitants to southern Italians. The same goes when talking about the stereotype of Italians and the Mafia.
Taking pictures in Italy is not a problem, but you may find people not willing to be photographed, just ask before. It's not recommended to take photo of children: Italian parents can get very upset with it.
Consider that Italians and French people have a great opinion and mutual respect for themselves but they have a developed rivalry for commerce, arts, tourism, culture and sports (a friendly hate-love). Issuing that French foods or products are better than Italian ones would not usually provide you troubles, but Italians won't appreciate it. It's better if you avoid the point because you could meet unpolite persons as in any country, anyway it's more common that they will answer you with a joke or trying to change your ideas with argomentations and good points.