If you're planning or dreaming about cycling in Italy, my job is to make it happen for you.
Your flight’s just landed or you’ve crossed the border onto Italian soil; wherever you’re coming from, it’s no secret you’re going places. Imagine the Italian sun beaming down with a blank slate of unicorns and rainbows. How could anything possibly go wrong?
With places to be and people to see, that might mean plowing through the day like a bag of potato chips. But… you might consider adding a touch of elegance and grace that’ll steal hearts and delight locals. Here are just a few things I’ve learned over the years.
In auto: How to avoid traffic fines in Italy
Italy’s largest and most profitable tourist trap is its roadways and traffic rules. It’s automated and will catch you like bait in a mousetrap. Bait being your exuberant enthusiasm and zest for life. You’ll know it when you get home and receive a letter like this: Dear You, we want your money ASAP and here’s where to send it. Cordiali saluti, Italy.
Coming on one of my trips means not getting these letters... because we will instead! Or, we know how to avoid traffic fines in Italy and here’s how you can too:
Autovelox boxes are (not-so-hidden) camera boxes on the autostrada (130km/h) and secondary highways (110km/h). If you find yourself nearly rear-ending the car ahead of you because they’ve slammed on the breaks, it’s likely an autovelox box reflex. The good thing is once you know what they look like you can save €55 - €900 from driving 10 - 40km/h over the speed limit. Most modern car GPS’s detect them, too.
Remember this sign and remember it well. If you forget, you’ll be reminded in every historic center of any Italian town. It’s the border of a residents-only or pedestrian zone. Blowing by one of these puppies will cost anywhere from 40 to 70 euros depending if you’re in a rental car. Once you’ve violated this sign, you have five whole minutes to cross as many times as you want… for free! Then it’s another 40 to 70 euros.
The third and final driving essential is color-coded parking lines. White = Free, Blue = Paid, and Yellow = Residents-only Parking. Most parking meters accept credit cards via chip. Double parking is only acceptable when in sight of your cappuccino or ATM, well, sort of. Not really.
Italians are social and curious beings, they wave, say hello and so shall you. When overtaking another cyclist, it’s custom to say either ciao, salve (hello) or buongiorno (good day). Greeting an old lady or man taking a stroll with an Inglourious Basterds buongiorno Signora/Signore will undoubtedly win you a smile.
Especially Tuscans want to know where you’re from, what you’re doing and what you plan to do…. where you’ll eat, what you’ll eat, where you’re staying, who you’re with and blah blah blah. Any occasion that allows them to display/insert their expert local knowledge and/or English skills is theirs for the taking.
Stopping for coffee on a long ride is practically obligatory. Italian clubs and group rides usually pile into a bar, take back espressos like vodka shots, trade a few jokes and opinions then hit the road in a matter of five to ten minutes. Sounds a little rushed, I know. But what you need to know is standard operating procedure (SOP): order, consume then pay (with cash) last. Unless it’s a huge bar like the Autogrill or a busy Sunday morning, you’ll clear the tab right before a chorus of ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao…. ciao!
A fare shopping
Like riding, shopping is a social experience. It’s unacceptable to walk into a boutique shop or small grocery shop without at least saying buongiorno or buonasera. And Italians seem to draw a fine line between what’s acceptable and what’s inaccetabile.
Buongiorno depending on the area of Italy you’re in is used until lunch, after lunch it’s buonasera. Mixing them up with warrant you a tourist sticker plastered to your forehead.
Bonus points to those for striking up a conversation with the shop owner about the object in question. Yes, speaking about a Peugeot pepper grinder for 10-15 minutes is something valid to strive for!
A few tips on SOP in a:
fruit/veg shop: They’re proud of their produce and expect you to be, too. When it’s your turn, tell them everything you need, what you’re making and when. They’ll gather it for you based on when it’s meant to be eaten and most likely also have something to say about it. Remember: don’t touch the fruit and veg until you’ve paid for it!
boutique clothing/shoe shop: This is where innovation begins, as in, this is not Walmart on boxing day. One must show appreciation and respect to the Italian leathers and fabrics. A top shop will have skilled salespeople who’ll become your personal shopper and get you lookin’ tight and right for any occasion. Rummaging through the racks and piles of shirts to find your size is going to make for an angry salesperson. They’ll do it for you.
Lastly, the fundamental piece that holds the extroverted Italian society together: cibo and the rituals around it. No conversation is complete without its mention. Dinner time is at earliest 8pm. You might be wondering what one’s to do if they’re hungry at say 5 or 6 pm?
Monday to Thursday you’d eat a meranda/snack. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday it’s aperitivo or time to fare un giro - touring the town wearing a puffy jacket (in winter) or a long flowy skirt in summer. Whatever you want to wear will be fine, too. Just don’t choose athletic clothing because you, too, will be plastered with a tourist sticker.
Key is to not skip out on the Aperol Spritz and remember to reserve restaurants especially on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. And mamma said manners matter; per favore (please) and grazie (thanks)!
Now get out there and after it - time is of the essence!