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OKANAGAN VALLEY WINE TOUR-2010

BRIAN'S 2005 SUMMER VACATION WITH UNCLE

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HOW TO SPEAK BETTER ITALIAN

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TOURING in ITALY



Italy is a tourist's paradise, especially for those of us who love food and wine.  Add to the mix the Italian culture and you can have a fantastic vacation in this part of the planet.

Here are a few things you should bring with you to Italy:

wpe1C.jpg (2245 bytes)MARLING MENU MASTER
This is a terrific book to help you decipher the restaurant menus.  It is great, but some really "local" places sometimes have various items listed in the local dialect.  I remember being in a place and looking up "Finanziera."  No luck.  The proprietor of the restaurant indicated he didn't think it would be listed.  Since we didn't speak much Italian lo those many years ago, he pointed to his head and then said "Baaaahhhhh," in the manner of a sheep.  Oh, good!  Sheep's brains! 
The book is laid out in the fashion of a restaurant menu.
Antipasti first.  Then "Primi Piatti" such as pastas.  There's a fish section, a meat section and a side-dishes (contorni) section.   Plus desserts.


MAPS
wpe1D.jpg (2282 bytes)If you're renting a car for your trip, you might consider purchasing a map or two before you depart.  Becoming familiar with the roads is not a bad idea.  To more easily "navigate" the roads, look to see what the major towns are between you and your destination...jotting down the list of these in order will help you find your way should road signs be in place (they are in Northern Italia, but good luck in Southern Italy!).
Even so, remember my motto: "Where ever you go, there you are." 

I am also of the opinion that you cannot get lost in Europe.   I like to remind myself of this as I am searching for my destination.




I had been a fan of the GPS unit.  This is especially helpful when you're by yourself or have a passenger or co-pilot who's unable to multi-task, reading maps, watching for road signs (indicazione), etc.

One issue with the GPS is it's not perfect, but it will give you a pretty good idea.  I was recently in Italy's Piemonte and found the device to have difficulty in determining precisely where to "turn."  The problem is so many roads twist and weave through the hills...I'd have gone "off road" had I followed it precisely.

But one beautiful feature is should you not follow its advice, the device immediately "recalculates" and will give you instructions again should you miss a turn or cut-off.

Another thing:  some exits are located well before the actual roadway...I missed exiting at one point, since the ramp was about 300 meters before the actual road.  Still, it's a great device and I suggest having one if you're planning to drive to unknown territory.

In 2017 I bought a new version of the Garmin GPS and made an on-line purchase of the new Italian (and Greek) road map.  Downloading it into the microchip was impossible.  I called their tech support line (only open when it's convenient for them, as it's not 24/7) and the fellow there could not help.
They sent me a pre-programmed chip and entering addresses I would be visiting was a problem.
When I arrived in Milano, I tried entering the addresses of wineries we wanted to visit with no luck.  In Piemonte it did not work and when I arrived in Sardegna I tried again and while it did locate the address, it was going to take me in a very odd route.  I packed the machine back in its box and did not use it again.
I contacted Garmin and they credited me for the faulty Italian roads program without question.  I gather they are aware their product is flawed.

I used my Iphone as a navigation device.  The car rental company offered a "hot spot" device that allows you to tap into the internet without running up a huge bill for data usage.  
With Google's assistance in looking up various wineries, I clicked on their map and "directions" and this guided me efficiently right to my destination.

The other benefit is Google takes in to account the current road conditions and I arrived precisely at the time they indicated I would arrive.

You might consider renting a GPS from the auto company or buy one when you have a moment to visit an electronics store.  (I'm thinking of doing this next time.)


MICHELIN'S Green Guide and Red Guide
wpe1E.jpg (3489 bytes)If you're on a real vacation and scenic tour of Italy and you're interested to actually learn something about the history of places you're visiting, the green guides are a must!
For the casual tourist who likes to play it by ear, I'd suggest having Michelin's red guide.  This will, at the very least, point you towards decent hotels and the top restaurants.  Keep in mind, however, Michelin does have a slight bias towards things French.  They have a difficult time admitting the Italian style of cooking is as valid as the French.  The French really go crazy if you point out to them that their cuisine was taught to them by Italians. 
wpe1F.jpg (3035 bytes)As a result, the most highly decorated places are those with some formality commonly found in France.  Having major French wines on the wine list also adds to the ratings.
We dined in a wonderful place which had been recognized for its elegance and refinement.  This cost a small fortune and we dined well.
A few days later we visited a very modest little place run by a hard-working family out in the middle of no-where.  The food was of similar quality, but not at all fancy in its presentation.  The wine list was non-existent.   We dined as well and at a far lower cost.  Keep that in mind.


DRIVING IN ITALY

Some suggest having an International Driver's License.  I had not bothered with this for some years, but there is a good reason to have one:  If you "lose" it, you don't have trouble coming back home and driving. 
I did go to the local auto club office and buy an International Driver's License, being worried about driving in Sicilia.  It turns out I never needed to show it, but there was a measure of security in having it.

We were stopped by some Carabinieri many years ago.  They are sneaky and had a radar device by the side of the road.  We didn't realize, as we were driving over hill and dale, why so many on-coming cars were flashing their headlights at us in daylight.  This is a subtle warning that they had just passed a speed trap! 
The officers flagged us down (pointing Uzi machine guns at us!) and somehow conveyed we had been going too fast.  They asked for Henry's driver's license and wouldn't return in until we paid them, on the spot, the fine (la multa).  We paid and they immediately returned the license (patente). 

I don't ever speak Italian to an officer who's pulled us over.  (Not that this happens regularly....just twice in nearly 20 years.)  The last time my traveling companion was driving and crossed a double line to pass.  Not many Italians pay much attention to the driving laws, but we were motoring along and oblivious to a cop behind us.  My buddy wanted me to explain he didn't understand the double line.  I spoke only English and the officer grew weary of attempting to explain our infraction and let us off with a mere warning.  I am certain had I spoken Italian we'd have been relieved of many lire!

Radar has become much more common in Italy.  It's proven to be a good investment for local governments!  Many devices are hidden and take a photo of your license plate (la targa) with a record of your speed.  The European Union has made it easier for the government to come knock at the door of European residents to ask for payment for speeding!  Your rental car company will bill your credit card for infractions. 
It's usually a good idea to not be the fastest driver on the road.  Though the speed limit is posting on the autostrada, for example, Italians routinely drive well over the limit. 

Some GPS units will warn you when you're in the "zone" of a permanent radar device on a highway...but many little towns have them now.  Virtually every town has a sign indicating they're using a radar machine.  Not all the machines actually work, though.
One Italian friend told me these photo machines only work when there are police officers manning the devices, claiming they don't function otherwise.

The photo to the left shows what the typical radar device looks like.
I was surprised when friends drove well over the speed limit past such a machine.  They explained that many of these are not functional, but merely for "show" in an effort to get people to slow down.

The locals will know which machines are working and which ones are out of service.  


Always stay to the right and get the hell out of their way if they're flashing their lights at you from behind.  Only be in the left lane if you're passing!   And never pass on the right...that can get you a ticket.

Much like many years ago, "banditos" are out there hoping to prey upon the unsuspecting.  Some lady friends were driving together in Italia and got "bumped" or nudged on the autostrada.  The offending vehicle motioned for them to pull over in a rather deserted, out-of-the-way location so they could "exchange" information for insurance purposes.  NEVER PULL OVER WHERE YOU'RE NOT VISIBLE!   Drive to someplace where there are others around such as a well-populated rest area or near the next autostrada exit (uscita).  This is for your protection!  Capisce?

When renting a car recently the agent gave me two pieces of advice:  Don't pay someone for a parking space and don't give the keys when returning the car during "off hours" to someone dressed in a company uniform.
Shortly afterwards I was looking for a parking space and found one.  A fellow approached me and wanted to speak with me to have me give him some money for the space.  
The parking space was near a nice hotel and the receptionist indicated the car should be safe there.  I worried about the car until the next morning, wondering if I'd find a flat tire or busted window.  Happily the car was in good condition.

At the airport on that trip at 5 or 6 in the morning, sure enough there was a man wearing a company uniform.  He showed me the drop box for the keys and I deposited them in the box, wondering if he would fish them out.  I never did hear from the rental company, so apparently all went well.  



IN BIG CITIES:  BEWARE OF THE ZTL!  (Zona Traffico Limitato)
Some cities now have areas "blocked" off for residents or taxis.  The problem is you won't see a physical barrier or blockade.  You are supposed to know where a ZTL is situated.  
I received a citation, six months after driving in one of these areas, oblivious to the fact it was a restricted area!

On the left is a sign, virtually invisible to foreign drivers who are already preoccupied with being lost and trying to find the road to the destination.

If your hotel is in a limited zone, you need to immediately ask them to call the police and register your license plate number so you are not cited for being in a ZTL.





Stop Signs are often only a "Suggestion."
Many Italian drivers, when approaching a stop sign which is placed in a highly visible area, don't/won't bother
to even slow down if they see open road and no other vehicles on the pavement. 

No "Right On Red."
I am used to driving here in California where we can, in most instances, stop at a red light and make a right turn during the red light if there's no traffic coming from the left. 
A friend of mine became hysterical when I did this in his little town.  They, apparently, generally obey a red light. 
I explained to Luca that in California we have "right-on-red" and since I was from California, this one time it was okay. 


Before Traveling To Your Destination, KNOW WHAT DIRECTION YOU'RE GOING!
Not just north or south, but you'll want to have an idea what villages, towns or cities lie beyond your destination.  This can be most helpful.  It would be like traveling from San Francisco to Burlingame.  There are no signs in The City pointing you towards Burlingame.  You'd have to know you were going in the direction of San Jose or Los Angeles.  Same in Italy.  It's helpful to know some of the places you're heading. 

TWO HELPFUL SITES IN PLANNING/MAPPING A TRIP:
I've been using Google Maps to calculate time and distance between planned stops.
https://maps.google.com/

Another helpful site that I use to estimate how much time we'll need in planning an itinerary is the Michelin website.
http://www.michelin.com
They also have their hotel and restaurant suggestions on the site, so you might scope out a place to stay or dine.


Be certain of the name of the place you're going.  We got lost once looking for a place.  There were two towns of nearly identical names on the map.   Unfortunately they weren't neighboring villages and we'd been on the road to the wrong one!

The Italians are famous for having 30 signs posted in a location where cars are speeding by at 80 MPH.  Even graduates of speed reading courses are going to be in trouble!  And I've noticed there's always a truck the size of a small villa preventing me from seeing the potentially-informative exit signs along the highway! 



PARKING:
I noticed some of the parking spaces in larger towns are white and some are blue.
I was told the white ones are typically for the locals who must have a sticker on their car indicating they're from the neighborhood.
The blue ones are for visitors.  Yellow is usually a handicapped space.
But then in some places the white lines indicate free parking, while the blue spaces indicate the parking must be paid for.



Some towns have free parking for a particular time frame.  It's sort of on the honor system and most rental cars come with a card on the windshield by the rear-view mirror on the windshield.  You're supposed to 'set' this to indicate your arrival time.  This allows parking control officers to see if you're within the allowable time frame for free parking.

Other towns will have a machine such as the one depicted to the left.
You're expected to buy a parking space, essentially.  Drop in a coin and you'll see the "time" change on the screen, indicating to the minute when you have to leave.  Say you arrive at noon and know you'll be someplace until 4.  Drop in sufficient coins until it reads 4:00 or, perhaps, 16:00.  
When you're done, there's usually a button to print or stampa the ticket.  Place the ticket, face up, on your dashboard inside the car.
Since Italy goes to lunch around 12:30 or 1 until 2:30 or 3, most of the machines are programmed to NOT charge for "lunch time" parking.  

 


 

Some "old fashioned" places have a sort of "honor system" and will give you a limited amount of time.
Your rental car probably has one of those "disco orario"  gizmos in it.
You adjust it to show the time of your arrival...a parking enforcement officer might pass by and see if you've over-stayed the time offered.

 

This parking sign indicates you can use one of those disco orario gizmos and you can stay in that space for 90 minutes only.

It also indicates that there's a street market on Saturdays and they will tow your vehicle if you're parked there between 7am and 3pm.




 

 

 


This sign tells you there is NO PARKING in that zone...ever.  From midnight to midnight.  Don't even think about it.




 







Having a car in Rome is not a good idea.  Most of the streets do not allow cars, so only rent a car on the day you're leaving Rome to visit other areas.  
Florence DOES allow autos in most of the town, though I usually stay in smaller, more safe places outside big cities.  No cars in Venice, of course.  Naples is total chaos...(they have street lights but often don't want to pay for electricity to illuminate them!)




Most recently, I've rented cars through Kemwel...they seem to get great rates and they deal with major companies.
http://www.kemwel.com/

Their sister company is AutoEurope.  
http://www.autoeurope.com/

Scout through their web pages carefully.  In 2015 I needed to rent a car in Italy...$300 for the rental with a bit of insurance ($1000 deductible).  
On the same web page, way below, was the same car for $392.  Except this package included a free "one size" upgrade and the deductible was $0.  The insurance from the rental company is typically $15-$20 a day, so this was a bargain for an eleven day rental!  


Diesel fuel is slightly less costly in Europe, so you might consider asking for a diesel-powered vehicle.
I've made my reservations using their telephone service...for some reason, this seems to be about ten bucks cheaper than on-line reservations.

ON THE AUTOSTRADA
1.  Please stay to the right.  Pass on the left.  
2.  Drive defensively.
3.  Turn on your headlights...it makes you easier to see.  I believe this is now required as a matter of the law.

4.  Keep track of the Autostrada ticket (biglietto)!  (I usually slide it into the visor for safe-keeping.)  If you lose the ticket, they will probably ask you to pay for the toll cost as though you entered that autostrada from its furthest point!


 Be in the correct lane to pay when you exit the autostrada.  There is typically a toll booth with a live human being in it.  But I've been able to easily navigate the "self service" lanes with an American Express card or a Visa card.
Don't exit in the Telepass lane or Viacard lane unless you have those gizmos in your car.

 

 

There's a curious machine on some Autostrade...Sistema Tutor.  It supposedly records your license plate at one point and then, at the next one, averages the time it took you from Point A to Point B.  If you are too fast, you may get a citation.
But the odd thing is there are rest stops along the road, so I am unsure how they can accurately record your speed.


SPEED LIMITS


Most towns post signs of a 50km/hour speed limit.  That's about 30 miles-per-hour.

Many roads "out of town" have a 90 to 110km/hour speed limit.

The Autostrada usually has a limit of 130km/hour.  Sometimes there's signage indicating the Autostrada Speed Limit is reduced to 110km/hour if it's raining.

And the speed limit routinely changes if there is road construction.  


 

 

TRAINS

Though I suggest driving, since you have more freedom and flexibility, here's a link to information about the Italian railway system.

When buying tickets, you may have the option of 1st class (prima classe) which is more costly and less crowded. 

The train station person may ask you "andare" and "ritorna?" which means "round trip?"  If you're going one way, simply answer "andare, solo."   They will usually presume you want the cheaper, more common 2nd class seating, so if you are going to splurge, speak up! 
Sometimes there's a curious "surcharge," even when you've paid for your tickets.   The conductor will inform you of this when he or she checks your tickets.
Though Italians often don't plan ahead, buying your tickets in advance is a good idea...sometimes the seats are "sold out," so reserving before is often wise.
http://www.fs-on-line.com/home/en/index.html

http://www.trenitalia.com/en/index.html


Oh!  They periodically go on strike.  You may wish to ask if there is a "sciopero" planned during your visit. 
Yahoo! maintains a web page with announcements of who's going on strike and when.
http://it.news.yahoo.com/approfondimenti/scioperi.html

COFFEE IN ITALIA
The Italians drink a lot of coffee, but it's quite different from the coffee down the road at "Il Piccolo Cafe" here on Broadway or Peet's.

Aside from the road stops along the autostrada, you'll want to get a coffee in what's called a "bar."  This has quite a different connotation here in the U.S.   Over there, however, coffee is consumed, standing up, in a modest bar.  They are typically equipped with a large espresso machine.

Prices are usually listed somewhere on an official government chart on the wall.   Keep in mind that if you have the guy making your coffee bring it to you at a table five feet from the bar, this may increase the price of that steaming hot cup. 

In many busy, chaotic places, there's a cashier (casse) from whom you pay for your coffee, etc.   Frequently this is required first, before placing your order.  The cashier gives you a receipt (scontrino) which you hand to the person making the coffees, etc.   In other, smaller places, you pay afterwards.

They'll have a number of different options for you.  A friend, some years ago, decided to try something "different," having had a Cappuccino, Espresso, etc.   She ordered a "Caffe Corretto."  Much to her horror, this is a shot of espresso "fortified" with your choice of grappa! 

Cappuccino is something Italians drink ONLY in the morning.  Order one of these after noon and they've got you pegged as a tourist (or worse).  I have sensed the thoughts of servers in various places when a traveling companion has ordered a cappuccino after lunch (or if you really want to freak them out, dinner!).  I can almost see their thoughts printed out on their foreheads: "Imbecille!  Idiota!!   Americano stupido!!!" 

Many places have a small display of rolls and croissants.  Typically a croissant in Italia is called a "brioche."  If you'd like a juice, see if they're squeezing fresh oranges...you'll want to ask for a "spremuta."  

TELEPHONE INFO:
Public phones are going out of style, much as they are here in the U.S.  

Few of these even accept coins, so I'd suggest bringing a cell phone.  Some of the US companies have cell phone systems which will work in Europe, though you may pay a premium for having to, essentially, call from the US to a number down the street...it's a major long distance call.

On the other hand, you can buy a new "sim card" for your very own cell phone.  You may need to purchase, also, a device to re-charge your phone which will plug into a European electrical socket.  Virtually any cell phone store can sell you one of these cards.

I can't say the Europeans have completely figured out cell phone service, though.  I had a cell phone in Italy with an Italian number (of course).  The "carrier" changed every time we crossed a border, for example.  But I found that buying time in France for my Italian number was not easy.  In fact, I was told I needed a new "sim card" in France and so I purchased a new 'chip' and about 50 Euros' worth of phone time.  Why you can't recharge your existing number in each venue is not sensible!  (I've used the Italian company "Wind" and am told it is the least reliable.)

The pre-paid cards are usually sold in news-stands, 

When you're dialing in Italy, most of the time you'll need to use the prefix along with the phone number.  It used to be that if the prefix was "055" and you were dialing from within Italy, you didn't need to dial the "0."  Now you need that "0." 

Italians answer the phone with "Pronto!"  This means, literally, "ready." 
"Chi parla?" (key pahr-lah) is the question asking you "Who's speaking?"
To ask for someone, you'd say "C'e Luigi?" (chay Luigi).  If they respond with "Aspetta," that means "Wait." 

To dial back home to the US, dial 0-0-1, then the area code and number.  0-0 gets you out of the country, with "1" being the country code for the United States.  

ITALIAN TELEPHONE DIRECTORY (Elenco) On-LINE (White Pages)
http://www.italysoft.com/utility/telephone-directories/elenco-telefonico-italiano.html
Copy the above line and paste it in your address 'bar' to access phone listings.
You will need to know, at least, the correct spelling of the last name and the town or province.

TIPS ON TOURING IN TUSCANY

TIPS ON TOURING IN PIEMONTE

Robert Gorman's Travels in Venice (Updated periodically)

A Delightful Stop in UMBRIA

AMAZING ABRUZZO

OFF THE BEATEN PATH IN BASILICATA

Photos of My Nephew's 2005 Euro-Adventure with His Uncle
(mostly Italy, but elsewhere, too)

 

An interesting website by a wine & food writer based in Tuscany:
http://www.micheleshah.com

There's a firm that has rentals in Italy and their "Travel Journal" is illuminating.
http://viatraveldesign.com/journal/





ITALY IS DIFFERENT
Click here to see a 5 minute program which will explain to you in simple terms how Italy differs from the rest of Europe.


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