Tuesday, March 29, 2005

TRAVEL TIPS, PART 1: White Socks, No chicks

TRAVEL TIPS, PART 1: White Socks, No chicks


It's getting to that part of the year for those who are contemplating traveling to Europe or more specifically, Italy to start making plans. Here are my bits of advice and other life lessons learned the hard way on the road.

1--Bring mosquito repellent. Many countries don't spray to the same extent and with the same fervor as in the US (which is for the better environmentally to be honest) and a lot of hostels lack AC so be prepared to fend em off during the night.

2--No need for travelers checks. The days of searching for the local Amex office and waiting in line with your passport to cash the day's budgeted spending money are over! ATMs are abundant and the rates/fees aren't horrible. The max is usually 250 euros, which is close to 300 US. I found you can often reinsert the card and get another 250 for the big payments (which in my case were apartment bills).

3--Eat local. Shun eating at the local McDonalds. You didn't spend hundreds of dollars on airfare and travel thousands of miles to eat food found right down the street at your local strip mall. Go out and get some cheap eats from local pizzerias, bars (coffee shops) and pastry shops. You can learn a lot about a culture by what they eat and why.

4-- Not sure if this is the rule in other parts of Europe but if you guys are looking to hook up with the local ladies, don't wear white socks with your shoes. Apparently that is a major fashion faux pas. How do I know this? Well, on my last day in Italy after a year living in Reggio Emilia, my friend and fellow artist, Cammo, told me in a bar in Bologna! Thanks for news... Madonna! Makes me wonder what other brutta figuras I made. Now someone is going to tell me leaving gloves on the table is bad too eh eh eh.

5--If you are planning a trip to Italy, don't go in August. A huge number of Italians take August off as a holiday (yeah the whole month!) so a lot of restaurants and stores and museums, especially in smaller cities will be closed. It's also very hot and muggy so go in June or better yet, September when the weather is near perfect.

6--Again in Italy, on a short trip, I recommend Rome (min. 3-4 days) and Venice (min 1-2 days) for the big cities and Siena and Lucca as smaller cities to visit. To find cities with less tourists, head south or east to Le Marche region or Puglia further south.

7--A lot of cell phones work overseas now if you sign up for service through your carrier for that region. I think you need a tri-band or GSM/GPRS enabled phone. If you get your phone completely unlocked, you can buy a SIM card overseas and pop it into your phone and make local calls for 5 or 7 cents a minute. In some countries tho like Germany, you will need a local address to buy one. If you use your American carrier, look to pay a buck and a quarter a minute to call. For short trips, just skip all this and use your US based carrier and your phone for emergencies.

8--Pack and then repack but leave out 50% of what you initially packed. Your arms and back will thank you later.

9--If you love soft toilet paper, bring your own roll or two. And pack some Metamucil in capsule form--you'll thank me later.


rraph said...

you mean we got rough toilet paper??

Gelatomettista said...

No, no--I prefer the European TP...American stuff is like kleenex.


icemanx62 said...

Nice socks! I'll let my friend know some of your advice because he's contemplating a trip to Italy this summer. Any museum recommendations?

nohoohboy said...

Italy sounds fun. Especially around my birthday. Any good cheap eats?

// Ron said...

Any tips on visiting Sicily? I do know the dialect is quite different to the point that Sicilian can be its own language. Always wanted to make that Corleone pilgrimage maybe I can find an Apollonia.

tutti per ora

// Ron

Jesse Chin said...

And always remember to pack your (non-white) socks inside your shoes to save more space in your luggage.

Pack a lot of neutral colors so that everything matches with everything else.

Always bring your own suntan lotion...buying suntan lotion wherever you visit always seems to result in getting ripped off or at least it has been in all of my experiences.

sedat said...

Oh my god, Jim!!!! not the white socks :P
theyre the absolute faux pas. black shoes, black socks(thats a unspoken rule)...i think people are only ok with those white socks when you wear em on white sneakers when your doing sports or so.

T Bird said...

I also lived in the great country known as Italy for four months. I highly recommend seeing Florence (2-3days for the full tour). I saw someone asking about museums so I figured I'd add my own two cents on the matter...

In Florence, the art museums are: the Uffizi (paintings), the Academia (The David), the Bargello (sculptures) and the Museo Dell'Opera (mostly sculpture) and they are all "musts". There are other museums that have some interesting things, but those have the big art. If you like scientific history and have some extra time, the Science museum is worth a trip. Climbing to the top of the Duomo or Bell Tower is also well worth it - but it's fairly tight along the journey and has some nasty spiral staircases that could give you some vertigo.

In Rome, the Vatican Museum is (obviously) a must - this is where the Sistine Chappel is held. It has very strange hours, and is usually closed around 1:45pm (some days 12:45) so this is a good first stop. St. Peter's and the Colloseum are also "musts" but most people would probably know that one. You can also go to the top of St. Peter's, but the line for this can be pretty intense if you go on a good, clear day.

I don't know many other Roman museums - when I went there, it was usually for a one day whirlwind tour (which I did three times). But I figured if maybe someone started listing things, others would follow suit. :)



Thanks for the tips, I'll keep these in mind when the next occasion presents itself.

Sam Out-

johnnyjustice said...

Ha, Jim, I've got ya beat!

I traversed Rome in only 2 days!

Oh, and the suggestion about the TP is a good one although tourist attractions like Italy usually are not harmful to your backside. Try using the stuff in Romania. Their version actually has tiny woodchips in it...ouch.


GTJDorris said...

Finally the real stuff that I've been looking for on this blog! I'm spending about a month and a half of my summer studying abroad in the very north of Italy. Thanks for the tips, Jim!!

-- Jonathan

nohoohboy said...

Jim, when will be the next time you'll be in LA for a store signing or con?

The Edge said...

I would agree with Jim on most points. I have travelled extensively abroad and he makes good points. However I would add as an aside that this are good rules for Italy and not for say...France.
Also, Jim it is a huge faux pas to wear white socks with shoes anywhere if you are over the age of 16. However, European men are way more fashion conscious then us big American yankee cowboys so...I personally always thought it was a lot of fun to try and blend in with the culture I was visiting. You can imagine this is easier to do in Europe than say the Middle East. However Europeans can spot an American right away so it is a fun little game you can try...think of yourself as James Bond trying to disappear. Here is a hint, baseball caps are a big no no

Lord Chimmy said...

Black shoes+white socks...Reminds me of Michael Jackson. Looks cool when moonwalking.

Gelatomettista said...

Yeah almost all my comments are for travel in Italy. In Germany, it seems ok to wear white socks with sandals. As far as France, I've been there many times and my only bit of advice would be not to order any soda with any meal. Go bottled water or wine. Actually same applies to Italy.

As far as trying not to appear 'American'--I don't really go out of my way to hide it. It's pretty obvious I am not Italian or European. That aside, I think there are a number of reasons to try and not stand out. If not just not to insult people. Like in Italy, it is considered rude to leave your gloves on the dining table or wear informal wear to dinner like a ballcap in a restaurant.

I think you can still be yourself and not look like a typical tourist. Bring at one pair of nice clothes for going out to eat or dancing. Few Italian men wear shorts during the summer so if you want to fit in, be prepared to be hot. I didn't see a lot of Khaki pants either...in fact, being over there wearing mostly jeans broke me of both wearing Khakis and shorts. I'm sure the casual ware look will kick back in. As an expat writer living in Vienna once said to me...Americans look like they are always on the way to the zoo when they travel and in Southern California...you could say that look is in effect nearly 24/7, not just for excursions to the zoo.

Another suggestion...try and learn a little of the language, if only to show that you don't expect everyone to speak English. Although more and more Europeans speak great English every year, it couldn't hurt to riciprocate even if you can only order a pizza and a beer.

As far as cheap eats in Italy--try any bar (not to be confused with our version of a bar--over there, you order espressoes during the day and aperitifs in the afternoon). At any bar you can find cheap sandwiches and bottles of water or just hit a grocery store and buy some fresh sliced salume, cheese, hard boiled eggs and a bottle of mineral water or wine and eat at the park.

As far as other appearances anywhere else...aside from the Big Apple Con this weekend in NYC, I have one appearance in Italy that I am still working out details for and then there is the San Diego Con. I am skipping a bunch of other shows cause the amount of work on my plate is at an alltime, allstar high and I need to get that squared away first and cons take a lot of time and energy out of me.

Concerning Sicily, I have only been in Palermo for a week; it's a beautiful island full of contradictions and a storied past. The food is an incredible blend of traditional Italian pizzas and pastas but with a Mediterrean and sometimes even a north African flair. I would recommend it but not necessarily as a first visit. And yes, they speak their own dialect which is very hard to follow...even for native mainland Italians.



brisey said...

Following this white socks thread has been a lot of fun today and being italian I'd like to put my 2 cents.

As many of you said, we can spot an american in two seconds only by seeing how he's dressed (or his hairstyle) and there is much more than socks or ballcaps..!!

The first advice that comes to my mind at this moment is a thing all the girls I've ever known notice a lot: NEVER put a t-shirt (or anything else) under a shirt.. moreso if you're going to dinner or dance with her!

oh, and a question for Jim, do you already know where and when you'll be appearing here in Italy?
I missed all of your "surprise appearances" last year..!

brett said...

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