Shermanstravel Blog

Italy

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Flight: booked. Hotel: reserved. Language podcasts: Completed. What else do you need to prepare before jetting off on vacation?

Most of us would probably never think that feeding pigeons in parts of Venice could get us fined as much as our plane tickets there cost. Likewise, while we always leave a substantial tip after dining at a restaurant in North America, the practice is a foreign concept to many international visitors. Needless to say, very diverse cultural customs abound around the world. Here are a few quirky ones that we love and think are useful to know for preventing cultural mishaps abroad.

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Locals can usually deduce at some point that you’re not one of them, but there are still ways to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb when you travel.  And blending in has a more practical purpose than just making you feel comfortable — it can open the door to better interactions with locals and make you less vulnerable to pickpockets and other scammers who specifically target travelers. Here are 10 dead giveaways that you’re a tourist… and what to do about it.

1. Unfurling a paper map in the middle of the sidewalk.

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Yes, sometimes it’s easier to carry a paper map (see tip #4  here). But there’s nothing else that screams “I don’t know where I’m going” more loudly. Here’s where it’s useful to have a smartphone or a tablet. Even if you’re in a foreign country without a data connection, it’s possible to download detailed maps with just a little planning and forethought. We’ll even go as far as to say that, with Google’s Offline Maps feature, it’s pretty easy. Of course, there are instances where you won’t want to be brandishing a shiny phone in public either. Use your judgment.

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cannolo di ricotta - flickr-neekoh.fi - 620If there’s one thing all travelers end up doing in Italy, it’s eating. And in Sicily, discovering all of the island’s native foods — which are distinct from those in the rest of Italy — is akin to learning a new language: practice is the the only way you’ll ever really gain proficiency. For your next trip to the Mediterranean’s largest and most delicious isle, here’s a crash course on essential dishes that can, and should, only be eaten in Sicily.

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SicilyAh, Sicilia. The soccer ball to Italy’s boot is an island rich with history, from the crumbling mosaics of Piazza Armerina to sky-high Taormina. But on a recent trip, we skipped the museums and temples for some traditional R&R. Our home base was Modica, an ancient, church-filled city that teeters between two hills, about half an hour from the coast. In between day trips to the surrounding towns of Palazzolo and Ragusa, we spent our time trekking up (and down) Modica’s endless stone steps, taste-testing in its signature laboratori del cioccolato, and spying vintage Fiats. What more could an Italophile ask for?

Below, a few highlights from our trip. Read more

bregenz festival - seebuhne - austria - 2014 - anja kohler - 620What’s better than getting cultured with a round of opera in Europe? Doing it en plein air. Whether you prefer soaking up some sun during the day or catching the sunset in the cool evening, summertime brings a boon of theater and music festivals all over the region. Here, four open-air celebrations worth battling the crowds and heat.

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After a year-long absence from Eurail’s Select Pass program, France officially returned to the network last month, becoming the 27th participating European country. (Other changes: Eurail has chosen to do away with passes that allow travel between three and five pre-selected countries, in lieu of a four-country pass only.) To celebrate, we’ve put together three wanderlust-worthy itineraries for taking advantage of the newly revamped program.

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Intercontinental ThalassoMake no mistake, collecting points to use for travel is a hassle. With black out dates and restrictions, actually using them for travel can be an even bigger hassle. That’s why loyalty programs are often overlooked as too conflated or difficult to actually enjoy, but those who put in the effort can be rewarded handsomely. Case in point: I recently used a combination of points to fund a visit to a remote island paradise in the southern Maldives. It wasn’t easy, nor was it straightforward, but it enabled me to travel to a place I could never afford otherwise. Here are five astonishing properties around the globe that may not be so far out of reach after all… Read more

mushroom - flickr - furtwangl - 620Foraging is a culinary trend that isn’t going away, and it’s only getting bigger in travel. Many credit the movement to chef René Redzepi of Noma, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Copenhagen that frequently tops “Best in the World” restaurant lists. And it makes sense, especially at a time when travelers are seeking local and immersive experiences, the appeal of foraging for your own food is clear. It’s a fresh way to connect with a destination; it’s wonderfully tactile; and it’s a reminder of the wonders that nature has to offer.

These days, foraging in travel goes beyond reserving tables at a restaurant with an adventurous chef. More and more foraging tours and excursions have popped up in many locales. Here, we’ve rounded up some ideas and destinations to get you started. Just keep in mind that there are dangers in gathering your own food – including risk of illness if you eat the wrong thing – and the issue of sustainability in the harvesting process. That’s why we suggest that you always connect with a local expert or company that specializes in foraging; you’ll also want to know the local regulations and best practices. Read more

BratanAs views go, lakes provide a backdrop that is at once soothing and full of mystery. Unlike oceans, these mighty bodies of water are contained. You can row across their surface, dive for shipwrecks, or simply go bird-watching, all in the safe knowledge that land is never too far away. More than anything, lakes can provide a refreshing change of scenery from days spent shopping in town or hiking in the surrounding mountains.

Here are a few lakefront views worth traveling for.

AbruzzoDriving through endless sweeping hills in Italy, there’s nothing for miles, except for the occasional religious relic on the side of the road.  It was hard to believe that we’d just come from bustling Rome, which is about 120 miles away.

The region of Abruzzo, the least populated of Italy’s 20 regions, is also its greenest, with one third of its territory preserved in national parks. It’s also one of the few areas in the world where you can ski in the mountains in the morning and surf (on the Adriatic Sea) in the afternoon. Read more

Koh LantaWhether it’s a packed cruise ship unloading throngs of boisterous passengers, or a mob of thirty college students tearing through town, an excess of tourists can make a destination go from in-demand to insufferable, just like that. Consider avoiding these played-out locales and shift your attention to nearby spots that are lesser-known, and more worthy of the term “vacation.”

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santignacioBritish Airways has just launched its discounted “daytripper fares” for travelers flying from London to a handful of European cities. The catch? (Or, perhaps the benefit?) You have to return to London in the same day. Round-trip tickets, including all taxes and fees, will cost £79 (about $130) to Dublin and Geneva, £89 (about $149) for Edinburgh and Rome and £99 (about $165) for Vienna and Munich. You can only travel with carry-on luggage from London’s Heathrow airport, and only on Saturdays or Sundays.

These fares are tailor-made for travelers who want to cram in a second destination with their London trip — a fairly common strategy, especially considering how easy it is to get to Paris, Scotland, or other parts of England by rail. Flying expands your options even more.

Of course, taking into account check-in, transfers, and flight time, this doesn’t leave you much time to enjoy that second destination. But if you really have the urge to pop across the Channel (or Irish Sea) for a few hours, here are some suggestions for quick, interesting itineraries you can accomplish in a day.

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MilanKnown as a destination for jet-setting fashionistas and corporate types, Milan has built a reputation as the flashiest, most up-to-date of Italy’s modern metropolises. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Yes, a stay at the super-chic Armani Hotel would be amazing. And sure, we might spend an afternoon prowling Via della Spiga for supermodel sightings. But at the end of the day, this is Italy, and plenty of us aren’t coming for the new Fall/Winter collections – we’re here for the history. Here are three spots to help you step back in time.

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pizzarium-620Here’s the thing about food in Rome: when it’s good, it’ll drive you to tears of joy over a bowl of bucatini. But like any tourist-ridden city, when it’s bad, it’s really bad – in the form of sticky laminated menus, limp pizza crust and hot pink gelato. The trick is finding the gems that locals swear by. From intimate, family-run joints to Michelin-star meals, here are five of Rome’s best restaurants. Read more

Lake PlacidYes, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi have been mired in controversy, but we can’t help but get into the Olympic spirit as the opening ceremonies (February 7) draw nearer. After all, what beats watching a trained professional athlete go hurtling down the luge track at 90 miles an hour? We’ve taken a look back at previous winter Olympics host sites, and all the fun activities that visitors can still do there. Now, who’s ready for some bobsledding? Read more

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