If you are interested in art and history, places of importance to visit in Florence are: Palazzo Pitti, Uffizi, Galleria dell'Academia (where Michelangelo's statue of David is situated), the Duomo (cathedral Santa Maria del fiore) with it’s famous dome and baptistery, the Museo dell'opera del Duomo, The ponte vecchio (a 600 year old bridge over the river Arno for pedestrian traffic only) and piazzale Michelangelo (a famous viewing point for the whole city).
To avoid long lines at the museums, it is best to make a booking in advance here’s the number to call: 0039 055 294 883.
There are many more galleries, etc. When planning sightseeing, it is not advisable to take your car into Florence because of the difficulty parking. Parking restrictions and tow-away areas exist. The best idea is to take a train or bus in, leaving your car at one of the rural stations that have free parking (Santa Maria novella train station is in the centre of the city) or park your car on the out skirts and call a cab. We often leave our car in the big car park of the Sheraton Hotel (as far from reception as possible) and then ask the concierge to call us a cab (we always tip him for this hoping he won’t mind that we’re not guests).
If you would like to park there is a big pay car park under the station. Open air spaces marked on the road with blue lines are pay at the meter, blue with a red dot or red are residents only, yellow is for handicapped and white is free parking.
Toilets can be used by the brazen in any big hotel (try to follow your nose rather than ask, look like you belong) or with a purchase in nearly every bar.
IN THE COUNTRY:
Almost any town in Tuscany is worth visiting but may be some stand out because of their known tourist popularity. Some of these are : Pisa, Arezzo, Siena (famous for the Palio, a bareback horse race held each July and august), Lucca, San Gimignano (known for its ancient towers), Cortona (a town possibly older than Troy), Pienza, Montepulciano with a fortress which has existed since the 8th century, Trequanda, Petroio, where you can find the biggest Terracotta producers, Chianciano Terme famous for its therapeutically healing spa resorts.
We really enjoy tooling around the smaller lesser known villages as well, every medieval or renaissance hamlet has a treasure to offer you.
Driving in Italy is very pleasant on the country roads but some are quite narrow and some are gravel only. Most areas are very well sign posted. Don’t try to take your car into the walled medieval villages, often the streets are too narrow. Park out side the wall and walk in, it’s good for you and works up an appetite for more pasta!
The auto stradas in Italy need care because of the speed which some drivers attain. It is very important to stay in the slow lane unless actively over taking. If a faster car comes up behind you, move over, let it pass. It is illegal to overtake on the right. Petrol is very expensive.
If you are worried about driving on the other side of the road than you are used to, as long as you have a car from the country you are in, all you have to think to your self is “Am I the driver in the middle of the road with the passenger between me and the curb” It works every time and is much less confusing than trying to work out left, right or wrong.
SPEED LIMITS (often ignored by Italians):
50 km/h in urban areas
90 km/h in secondary roads
110 km/h dual carriageways
130 km/h on motorways (autostrade)
You can be penalised by the police for:
Not having your headlights on at all times whilst the car is in motion
Not putting on a reflective jacket or vest when not in your car on the Auto strada (your hire car must contain one by law)
Not putting out a reflective triangle if stopped on the auto strada(your hire car must contain one by law)
Not putting your seatbelt on.
Driving in bare feet or shoes with out a back or strap behind the heel such as thongs, flip flops, mules etc.
Parking rules vary from city to city.
Blue definitely means parking is limited and you either must buy a ticket from a street machine and display it on your dash board or indicate the hour of your arrival with a small wheel on the inside of your wind screen, there will be a sign to tell you the maximum time allowed.
Yellow definitely means handicapped or loading zone, do not park in yellow spaces.
Red means resident only parking.
White can mean free parking or can mean resident only parking. The best bet is to park in a pay garage. If this is not possible, try to find a white marked space but read the signs carefully in case they are resident only.
In both Florence and Siena, the best place to park is under the station. In Siena, this will mean a short Taxi or bus ride to reach the centre. There is also a big pay car park in the Siena stadium (follow the football signs) In both cities there is ample street parking although time permitted is usually limited.
In Arezzo we always park on the street.
Be careful entering the centre of cities as they are usually restricted traffic zones and have telecameras. The fine will be put on to your credit card if you have a hire car. With in the next year it will also be possible for the police to send traffic and parking violation tickets by post or via your local police to any EU resident.
City hire car offices usually close on Saturday afternoons, Sundays and public holidays. Airport offices have longer hours and will often wait for delayed flights. We recommend a rental car for rural stays. We can organise a rent a car for you with Hertz for the same price as going directly to them. You can check this out here: http://www.intuscany.net/services/car-rental-vacation-in-tuscany
Italian Food Varies from region to region. Breakfast is usually continental, i.e., juice, fruit, milk, croissant, packet toast, cold meat, cheese, coffee, tea, B&Bs that serve dinner will usually offer local produce (4 courses are not uncommon). Coffee is never served with dessert, always after.
Cappuccinos or lattes are not drunk by Italians after 12.00 as the milk is thought to interfere with the digestion. If you want a long coffee ask for a “lungo” or “café Americano” In this case the bar tender will make you an expresso and then let the machine run on, adding extra hot water.
You can always ask for extra hot or cold milk. Food and drinks at the bar are cheaper than at a table. This is because of the extra work involved for the staff. Some times in quiet country bars this rule does not apply but in the city it is always the case. You should tell the bar tender if you intend to sit down.
Sandwiches never have butter.
Try not to expect the same food that you have at home.
Restaurants: Must close one day per week and each owner chooses their own day. Look in the window and you will see a notice "chiuso ------" with the day of the week. In this way there are always restaurants open on any given day.
Trattorias and Osterias are smaller often family run restaurants usually serving local dishes and somewhat cheaper than Ristoranti (restaurants) some bars also serve salads and pasta dishes for light meals.
You will need a one Euro coin to liberate your shopping trolley, you get it back when you return the trolly. Plastic shopping bags are 5cents each (the same price or slightly less than bought bin liners).
Fruit and vegetables need to be weighed before you get to the cashier.
All super markets are closed on Sundays and most are closed Monday morning until about 2.30. If you are in self catering accommodation, make sure you check with your host about local supermarket opening times so that you don’t get stranded with out food.
In Italy, most shops, galleries, museums, etc close at 12.30 or 1.00 and reopen at 4.00-5.00 p.m. Banks are some times open in the afternoon but it’s best to go in the morning to be sure. Check with your host.
It is 220 volts, so Americans will fry their razors, hair dryers, etc., with out a converter (some times you can get travel models with two settings), Brits, Aussies etc just will need an adapter plug as the prongs are different. All properties at Intuscany will supply hair dryers upon request.
You will need a phone card to use most public phones, buy one in newspaper kiosks or tobacconists. Cell phones: if you use yours or some one calls you on it when you are here it will cost you a fortune. Short message texting is the best idea or just leave your phone at home (Very liberating).
All cities and major towns have tourist offices. They are called “Pro loco” and can be very useful, don’t hesitate to go in, look at the brochures and ask questions.
Petty theft is common in the cities, do not leave belongings exposed in the car. Never leave valuables in the car. Watch out for pickpockets (usually children) in busy areas, they are competent at their work!
There are several police forces: "la polizia" deal with most crimes, "carabinieri" deal with speeding and security. Their uniforms were designed by Armani!
Emergency medical treatment is free of charge to any one presenting them selves at the emergency room. Many countries, including Australia, The U.K. and the E.U. have reciprocal medical plans so bring your heath care cards. If you do need to pay for health care, it is not exorbitantly expensive as in the U.S.
The local currency is Euro, it is a decimal system 100 cents = 1 Euro. You can change your money at the bank (expect long lines) or at a change booth (will cost you slightly more) or use your credit card when possible and let your bank worry about the exchange. You will need some cash for Sundries and some cheaper restaurants. Many of the properties on our web site require a cash security deposit, you will be advised about that when booking.
Italians are generally easy going and willing to please but it does help if you learn a few basic words or phrases:
Grazie (grah-tsee-eh) = thank you
Per favore (pair-fah-vor-eh) = please
Buon giorno (bwon-jor-noh) = hello
Buona sera (bwon-ah-sair-ah) = good evening
Si (see) = yes
No (no) = No
Va bene (va beh-neh) = that's fine
Basta (Ba sta) = Stop
There are lots more - a berlitz phrase book is most helpful
The best airports that service Tuscany are (in order) Florence, Pisa, Rome or Bologna for more information about getting here and getting around please contact us.
The standard bed is called a "Matrimoniale" (matrimonial) it is between King and Queen sized. A double bed is smaller than Queen sized but bigger than a single. “Piazza e mezzo” or “letto Francese” is half as big again as a single bed and only suitable for two children or a couple very much in love.