Italy has over 60 million inhabitants. The largest city is Rome with 2.8 million people. Milan, Naples, and Turin each have over one million people, and Palermo in the island of Sicily has over 700,000 inhabitants.
The history of Italy is ancient and complicated. The Roman Empire dominated a large portion of Europe from 44 BC to 1453 AD. Roman culture influenced religion, architecture, language, and law in the conquered lands. Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire in 380 AD. Roman Catholicism spread with the conquests of the empire, and today it is the largest branch of Christianity. Many of the buildings, roads and statues created during the Roman empire still survive today.
The fall of the Roman Empire gave rise to small independent feudal states that built walled city fortifications throughout Italy. The Vatican City, which is the seat of the Roman Catholic church, is a walled sovereign city-state located within the city of Rome. Throughout Italy there are many chapels, churches, basilicas and cathedrals that are magnificent examples of the artistic and architectural achievements of Roman culture and bear witness to the religious devotion of the Italian people.
Whether you drive or take public transportation in Italy, be prepared to walk a lot and climb many stairways. Take comfortable shoes. Italy is a mountainous country that is geologically active. The city of Naples is located about 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) from Mount Vesuvius which erupted in 79 AD destroying the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The last eruption of Mount Vesuvius was in 1944. The volcano is currently dormant and the summit of Vesuvius is open as a national park to visitors. The interval between significant earthquakes in Italy is approximately three years.
Public transportation is good and fairly inexpensive. In a large city like Rome, you can buy a tour bus ticket valid for 24 or 48 hours that allows you to stop at different points of interest, and then reboard later after you have done your sightseeing.
Renting a car and driving in Italy
Driving in Italy is similar to driving in a large U.S. city, but more challenging because the streets are narrower and there are many more pedestrians. Cars drive on the right side of the street like in the United States.
Using a GPS
There are many hotels to choose from. Most of them accept credit cards, and you can make reservations by e-mail from the United States. What you find when you get there can surprise you, even for hotels with good ratings. I saw a hotel with a cramped bathroom that had the shower in front of the toilet; the shower courtain enclosed the toilet so that the toilet seat got wet when taking a shower. Some hotels offer free WIFI Internet, but in other hotels you have to pay for Internet access. Some hotels have TV and others do not. Many European hotels include breakfast in the cost of the room. The "continental breakfast" consists usually of pastries, coffee, and tea, but it may include cold cuts, cheese, yogurt, cereal and fresh fruits.
Restaurants throughout Italy may have a fixed-price "tourist" dinner that includes a first dish (primi plati) of pasta or soup, a second dish (secondi plati) of meat or fish, followed by side dishes (contorni) of french fries or salad, and finally a dessert. This is a lot of food. I have never been able to eat more than a first dish or a second dish. Pizza, as you would expect, is very popular in Italy. In Rome, the pizza was very thin (about 2mm thick) whereas in Sienna the crust was thicker (about 5 mm) and similar to American thin crust pizza.
Common expressions: Buon giorno (good day or good morning), bona sera (good evening), prego. The word "prego" has a variety of meanings. A vendor may offer you something and say "prego" meaning "please look here". A person in a hurry may touch you slightly while saying "prego" to try to get past you; this is like "excuse me". When you say "grazie" (thank you) after receiving something, a person may say "prego" that corresponds to "you are welcome". Some useful words: collazione (breakfast), prenzo (lunch), cena (dinner), toilet is pronounced like in French (twalette).
A good place to start a trip to Italy is in Rome where there is a combination of modern life, ancient Roman architectural wonders, and the Vatican City which has an extensive museum that is not confined to religious items.