Tips for American Tourists

Planning a vacation can be part of the fun.  While there is a fine balance between having no plan at all and having every minute of the day assigned with an activity, it’s important to be informed before you leave on your trip.

Leaving the United States is a big deal.  Whether you know it or not, there certain unalienable rights that we as American citizens enjoy.  When you leave American soil, you’re at their house.  While it’s important to know their local customs, it’s also important to protect yourself.

Traveling with a passport means your activity can be logged.  When you register and check into a European hotel, they will ask for your passport.  Don’t panic, as this is customary.  They will make copies of it and keep it on file during your trip.  You are a foreigner.  It’s worth your while to find the American embassy in whatever city you are in and let them know you are there.

Follow the directions in your passport.  They put them there for a reason.  What are they, you ask?  Well, make two copies of your passport.  Leave one at home with somebody you trust.  Bring the second copy with you and DO NOT KEEP IT WITH THE ORIGINAL.  If, God forbid, your passport is stolen, you have some proof to bring with you to said embassy.  Also, if you are traveling with others, don’t keep all of the passports on one person.  Split them up.

I’ve said before, and it’s worth restating.  I love the United States.  I am so proud to be an American.  Yet, out there my little grasshoppers, are people that do not like us.  Unfair.  Illogical.  Whatevs.  They do.  These are some tips to keep you from sticking out and making yourself an easy target.

  • Do not fiddle with your map in the middle of the street.  Even in a town heavily visited by tourists, you don’t need to advertise that you’re entirely lost.  Take ten minutes and sit down somewhere, or better yet, map yourself out at the hotel.  If you look like a wounded antelope, well….
  • Respect the local dress code.  I know you like to wear what you like to wear.  Get over it.  Take the time to learn the customs.  Europeans do not take shoes off when they enter someone’s home.  They’ll think you’re rude for pulling those smelly shoes off your barking dogs.  I know we think we’re being polite by not tracking in dirt, but they perceive it as too familiar.  Did you know that pants were illegal in France for women until….like last Thursday?  I’m kidding.  No, I’m not.
  • Do not, under any circumstances wear a mesh fanny pack.  The circling thieves won’t be able to get near you because I’ll be in the way slapping you upside the head.  There are so many options that are classic and practical.  Do yourself a favor and find one.
  • Contact your credit card companies and let them know you’ll be traveling.  They will red flag your card if you suddenly start showing purchases on the other side of the globe.
  • Don’t go into a trance at the ATM machines.  Seriously.  People do this.  Be aware of your surroundings.

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Buying Gold and Silver Jewelry on The Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio Over The Arno River, Florence

The Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

 

One of the lovely shops on the Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio, (or The Old Bridge) is one of the most famous sites in the world to purchase gold and silver jewelry.  Founded hundreds of years ago, this trading post was the centerpiece of Florence, Italy with vendors and customers coming from all over.  Italian gold and silver is the finest in the world, and buying a little trinket, (or two) on a trip to Italy is a wonderful remembrance to bring home.  It’s something you’ll actually use because let’s face it, what do you do with a tiny Leaning Tower of Pisa after you’re home?

There is plenty of debate as to whether or not you are getting the best deal or if the jewelry is overpriced on the bridge.

This is something you have to decide for yourself.  Perhaps you pay a bit more.  Maybe it is a bit less.  Either way, all of the shops on the bridge are accredited vendors, so you know you have genuine materials.  Remember, you’ll also be paying for the experience.  Believe me when I tell you that in itself, that makes it worth the price.  You’ll remember it forever.

Italian gold is made as 18kt.  It will say 750 on it instead.  True Italian gold will also have a tiny stamp on it with usually a star and some small letters or numbers.  These are the identification numbers of the area in Italy in which the jewelry was made.  Each region has its own stamps and numbers.  When you are shopping for gold in Italy, look for this marking to insure you are getting Italian gold made in Italy.

When you shop in Italy, is is different than here in the States.  As I’ve mentioned before, there are some unspoken rules that are followed.  When you are on the Ponte Vecchio, you are truly marked as a tourist. (Or at least as someone with cash or credit cards to spend.)  You want to be alert and aware of your surroundings, so your adventure on the bridge is pleasurable.

One thing to know when you are on the bridge is that vendors are everywhere.  They aren’t selling jewelry, but they have scarves and wooden Pinocchio dolls and such.  They will attempt to distract you, so be prepared and keep walking.  Keep your hand on your purse.  If you need to, say, “Va Via!”  (This means, “Go Away!”)  While they won’t suddenly think you’re a native, they will at least know you’ve done your homework and will move on.

Shopping on the bridge, everything is there for your perusal.  When you spot something that’s caught your eyes, you knock on the door of the shop.  They only allow one party in at a time.  The vendor comes out and you can literally point to something in the window, or you can say, “posso?”  This means, “Can I?” to have entrance to the shop.  They will escort you in and lock the door behind you.  For real.  Be ready.

They are very gracious and it’s intimate.  Once you make the purchase, you will need to give information for customs as there are forms you will need to return when you arrive at the airport heading home.  You’ll receive your papers from the vendor and your purchase will be wrapped like the precious trinket that it is, in velvet bags and tissue wrap.

Honestly, the safest place for jewelry is on your person.  Wearing a gold chain or a bracelet will not make you a target, and you will be infinitely more secure than if you tuck the bag into your purse. Thieves and pickpockets will be watching to see who comes out of a store with some tiny bag in ribbons.  The important thing, again,  is to be aware and alert.   If you decide to wear the jewelry out of the store, (even if it isn’t for you, remember safety) tell them.  They will assist you and they’ll still give you all the lovely wrappings and bags.

They are used to tourists and they are so accommodating and gracious.  Every time you look at your beautiful piece of jewelry it will make you smile to know you bought it at the most famous jewelry location on the planet.

Children. Breakfast. Italy.

Nonna's Easter Bread Recipe

While your children may think it’s hilarious that you are bringing them to a bar, ( in the morning no less,)  they will soon be dismayed to find that their usual breakfast of choice is unavailable.

My suggestion for parents is this; get them a hot chocolate and a cornetto.  The hot chocolate is thick and creamy and more substantial than we make here in the states.  (Be prepared for a scalding hot container arriving at the table with your squirmy little ones.)   The cornetto will work because there is nothing “weird” in it.  It is basically a horn shaped roll.  Sometimes they are served with confectionary sugar on them.  Most people put Nutella or jam on them. Whatever they choose, kids usually will eat these without a fight.  There’s nothing worse than them picking out a pastry only to discover what they thought was chocolate is in fact, figs.   The secret is you need to get them to eat some protein and fat.  Museums are opening and lunch is a long way off.  Forget all normal dietary rules, haven’t you heard that whatever you feed your kids on vacation doesn’t count?

Fill them up at breakfast as much as you can because most restaurants will not open for lunch until later in the day.  It’s unlike our American culture that you can run in and out and grab something quick to eat.  While they do have McDonald’s, it’s not the same.IMG_4084

Traveling with children can be a challenge on a good day.  Couple it with jet lag and not eating well and you are sure to have it all…Screaming.  Tantrums.  Feet stomping.  Tears.

…and I’m just talking about the parents.

Choose a bar that offers a sit down service.  While it is more expensive, it may be easier for you to manage the children, the food and the check all at once.  This is the time when pick pockets will swoop in.  There is nothing like a frustrated, distracted parent to rob.  Talk about kicking someone when they’re down.

So remember.  “Vorrei cioccolata caldo e cornetti per tutti.”

I would like hot chocolate and cornettos for everyone.

Get one for yourself too.  There really is nothing like their hot chocolate.  It’s more like drinking warm pudding with cream in it.  Delicioso!

Savor the moment.  You’re having breakfast in Italy with your children.  It’s a memory you will all carry forever.