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Accommodations

The lodgings we list are the cream of the crop in each price category. Properties are assigned price categories based on the rate for two people sharing a standard double room in high season, including tax and service.

Apartment and House Rentals

Renting a vacation property can be economical depending on your budget and the number of people in your group. Most are owned by individuals and managed by rental agents who advertise online. In some cases rental agents handle only the online reservation and financial arrangements; in others, the agent and/or owner may meet you at the property for the initial check-in. Issues to keep in mind when renting an apartment in Venice are the location (street noise, ambience, and accessibility to public transport), the availability of an elevator or number of stairs, air-conditioning and ventilation, hot water, the furnishings (including pots and linens), what's supplied on arrival (dishwashing liquid, coffee or tea), and the cost of utilities (are all covered by the rental rate?).

Contacts

Airbnb (Venice, Veneto. www.airbnb.com.)

At Home Abroad (212/421–9165. www.athomeabroadinc.com.)

Barclay International Group (800/845–6636 or 516/364–0064. www.barclayweb.com.)

Italy Rents (202/821–4273; 06/99268007 in Italy. www.italyrents.com.)

Vacation Rentals by Owner (877/228–0710. www.vrbo.com.)

Home Exchanges

With a direct home exchange you stay in someone else's home while they stay in yours. Some outfits also deal with vacation homes, so you're not really occupying someone's full-time residence, just their vacant weekend place.

Venetians have historically not been as enthusiastic about home exchanges as others; however, there are some apartments in Venice owned by foreigners (Americans, English, etc.) who use the home-exchange services.

Exchange Clubs

Home Exchange.com. Membership is $7.95 monthly. 800/877–8723; 310/798–3864; 0382/1861690 from Italy. www.homeexchange.com.

Communications

Internet

Getting online in Venice: Wi-Fi is widely available in hotels and restaurants, and there are still a few Internet cafés in operation. Many business-oriented hotels also offer in-room broadband, though some (ironically, often the more expensive ones) charge for broadband and Wi-Fi access. Note that chargers and power supplies may need plug adapters to fit European-style electric sockets (a converter probably won’t be necessary).

Venice is continuing to develop citywide Internet and expand services at a daily or weekly rate for temporary access. However, coverage is still quite limited and progress in extending coverage has been quite slow.

Paid and free Wi-Fi hot spots can be found in major airports and train stations and shopping centers; they will most likely be free in bars or cafés that want your business.

Contact

Phones

Calling Italy from Abroad

When telephoning Italy from North America, dial 011 (to get an international line), followed by Italy's country code, 39, and the phone number, including any leading 0. Note that Italian cell numbers have 10 digits and always begin with a 3; Italian landline numbers will contain from 4 to 10 digits and always begin with a 0. So, for example, when calling Venice, where local numbers start with 041, dial 011 + 39 + 041 + phone number; for a cell phone, dial 011 + 39 + cell number.

Calling Within Italy

For all calls within Italy, whether local or long-distance, you'll dial the entire phone number that starts with 0, or 3 for cell phone numbers. Calling a cell phone may cost significantly more than calling a landline, depending on the calling plan. Italy uses the prefix "800" for toll-free or numero verde (green) numbers.

Making International Calls

The country code for the U.S. and Canada is 1 (dial 00 + 1 + area code and number).

Because of the high rates charged by most hotels for long-distance and international calls, you're better off making such calls from your mobile phone and/or using an international calling card.

With the advent of mobile phones, public pay phones are becoming increasingly scarce in Venice. You can use your U.S. mobile phone in Italy, but to avoid exorbitant roaming costs, even if you are doing only a moderate amount of calling, it is best to purchase a prepaid Italian SIM card from any tobacconist or mobile phone service provider shop. You will pay only for outgoing calls.

Make sure, however, that your phone uses the GSM system (not all U.S. phones do) and is unlocked (that you can use it with SIM cards from any service provider). If your phone is not GSM, or permanently locked, consider buying an inexpensive mobile phone outfitted with a prepaid SIM card.

If you’re carrying a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, investigate apps and services such as Skype, Viber, and Whatsapp, which offer free or low-cost calling and texting services.

Access Codes

AT&T Direct (800/172444. www.shop.att.com.)

World Access (800/905825. www.worldaccessnumbers.com.)

Calling Cards

If you will be making frequent calls to North America or other overseas locations from Venice, you may want to consider getting an international calling card; you call a toll-free number from any phone, including your cell phone, entering the access code found on the back of the card followed by the destination number. A reliable prepaid card for calling North America and elsewhere in Europe is the TIM Welcome card, which comes in two denominations, €5 and €10, and is available at tobacco shops and newsstands. When purchasing, specify your calling destination (the United States, or the country you prefer).

If you’re a frequent international traveler, save your old mobile phone (ask your cell phone company to unlock it for you) or buy an unlocked, multiband phone online. Use it as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.

Contacts

Cellular Abroad. This is a good source for SIM cards that work in many countries; travel-friendly phones can also be purchased or rented. 800/287–5072. www.cellularabroad.com.

Mobal. GSM phones that will operate in 190 countries are available for purchase (starting at $29) and rent. Per-call rates in Italy are $1.25 per minute; sending a text costs $.80. 888/888–9162; 212/785–5800 support. www.mobal.com.

Planet Fone. Rental cell phones, with per-minute rates costing $.99–$1.98, are available. 888/988–4777. www.planetfone.com.

Customs and Duties

Travelers from the United States should experience little difficulty clearing customs at any Italian airport. It may be more difficult to clear customs when returning to the United States, where residents are normally entitled to a duty-free exemption of $800 on items accompanying them. You'll have to pay a tax (most often a flat percentage) on the value of everything beyond that limit. When you shop in Italy, keep all your receipts handy, as customs inspectors may ask to see them as well as the items you purchased.

Fresh mushrooms, truffles, and fresh fruits and vegetables are forbidden. There are restrictions on the amount of alcohol allowed in duty-free, too. Generally, you can bring in one liter of wine, beer, or other alcohol without paying a customs duty; visit the travel area of the Customs and Border Patrol Travel website for complete information.

Italy requires documentation regarding the background of many antiques and antiquities before these items are taken out of the country. Under Italian law, some antiquities found on Italian soil are considered state property, and there are other restrictions on antique artwork. Even if purchased from a business in Italy, legal ownership of artifacts may be in question if brought into the United States. Therefore, although they don't necessarily confer ownership, documents such as export permits and receipts are required when importing such items into the United States.

Information in Italy

Dogana Sezione Viaggiatori (06/50241. www.agenziadogane.it.)

U.S. Information

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (877/227–5511. www.cbp.gov.)

Eating Out

Meals and Mealtimes

What's the difference between a ristorante and a trattoria? Can you order food at an enoteca (wine bar)? Can you go to a restaurant just for a snack or order only salad at a pizzeria? The following definitions should help.

Not long ago, ristoranti tended to be more elegant and expensive than trattorie (which serve traditional, home-style fare in an atmosphere to match) or osterie (which serve local wines and simple, regional dishes). But the distinction has blurred considerably, and an osteria in the center of town might now be far fancier (and pricier) than a ristorante across the street. In any sit-down establishment, however, you're generally expected to order at least a two-course meal, such as a primo (first course) and a secondo (main course) or a contorno (vegetable side dish); an antipasto (starter) followed by either a primo or secondo; or a secondo and a dolce (dessert).

If you’d prefer to eat less, best head to an enoteca or pizzeria, where it's more common to order a single dish. An enoteca menu is often limited to a selection of cheese, cured meats, salads, and desserts, but if there's a kitchen you can also find soups, pastas, and main courses. The typical pizzeria serves affettati misti (a selection of cured pork), simple salads, various kinds of bruschetta, crostini (similar to bruschetta, with a variety of toppings).

The most convenient and least expensive places for a quick snack between sights are probably bars, cafés, and pizza al taglio (by the slice) spots. Pizza al taglio shops are easy to negotiate, but few have seats. They sell pizza by the slice: just point out which kind you want and how much. Since good pizza requires a wood-burning oven, which are not permitted in Venice because of fire hazard, and since Venetians considered pizza to be a "foreign" food imported from Naples, pizza in Venice is in general not very good. In many cafés and in all of the al taglio places, it is heated up in a microwave.

Much better options for fast food are the kebab shops, which have flourished throughout the city. The kebabs are generally fresh and served with Middle Eastern bread made with pizza dough—a rather delicious product of gastronomic fusion.

Bars in Italy resemble what we think of as cafés, and are primarily places to get a coffee and a bite to eat, rather than drinking establishments. Expect a selection of panini warmed up on the griddle (piastra) and tramezzini (sandwiches made of untoasted white bread triangles). Some bars also serve vegetable and fruit salads, cold pasta dishes, and gelato. Most offer beer and a variety of alcohol, as well as wines by the glass. A café is like a bar but typically has more tables. Pizza at a café should be especially avoided—it's usually heated in a microwave.

Most places charge for table use, even if you bring the food from the counter to the table yourself. In self-service bars and cafés it's good manners to clean your table before you leave. Menus are posted outside most restaurants (in English in tourist areas). If not, you might step inside and ask to take a look at the menu, but don't ask for a table unless you intend to stay.

If you have special dietary needs, make them known; they can usually be accommodated. Although mineral water makes its way to almost every table, you can order a carafe of tap water (acqua di rubinetto or acqua semplice) instead—which in Venice is quite good—but be prepared for an unenthusiastic reaction from your waiter.

A Venetian would seldom ask for olive oil and salt to dip bread in, but the culturally tolerant Venetians won’t scoff if you do. They may even express mild curiosity. But don't be surprised if there's no butter to spread on bread, unless you’re eating it with anchovies, a favorite north Italian snack. Wiping your bowl clean with a (small) piece of bread is usually considered a sign of appreciation, not bad manners. Spaghetti should be eaten with a fork only, although a little help from a spoon—a southern Italian custom—won't horrify locals the way cutting spaghetti into little pieces will. Order your caffè (Italians drink cappuccino only in the morning) after dessert, not with it. Since an Italian meal generally consists of several courses, portions tend to be small.

Breakfast (la colazione) is usually served from 7 to 10:30, lunch (il pranzo) from 12:30 to 2:30, and dinner (la cena) from 7:30 to 10; outside those hours best head for a bar. Peak times are usually 1:30 for lunch and 9 for dinner. Enoteche and Venetian bacari (wine bars) are also open in the morning and late afternoon for cicchetti (finger foods) at the counter. Most pizzerias open at 8 pm and close around midnight—later in summer and on weekends. Bars and cafés are open from 7 am until 8 or 9 pm; a few stay open until midnight.

Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed here are open for lunch and dinner, closing one or two days a week.

Paying

Most restaurants have a cover charge per person, usually listed at the top of the check as coperto or pane e coperto. It should be a modest (€1–€3 per person) except at the most expensive restaurants. Whenever in doubt, ask before you order to avoid unpleasant discussions later. In Venice, as in many cities in Northern Italy, no tip is expected, even if the service is excellent. The price of fish dishes is often given by weight (before cooking), so the price quoted on the menu is for 100 grams of fish, not for the whole dish. (An average fish portion is about 350 grams.

Major credit cards are widely accepted in Venice; more restaurants take Visa and MasterCard than American Express or Diners Club. If you become a regular customer, you may find that the restaurant owner will give you a discount, without your asking for one. If that is the case, cash payment is preferred.

Reservations and Dress

Although we only mention reservations specifically when they’re essential (there's no other way you'll ever get a table) or when they're not accepted, it's always safest to make one for dinner. Large parties should always call ahead to check the reservations policy. If you change your mind, be sure to cancel, even at the last minute.

We mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie. In Venice, even the most elegant restaurants tend to be very casual about dress. Only very few restaurants will turn away patrons because they are wearing shorts.

Wines, Beer, and Spirits

The grape has been cultivated in Italy since the time of the Etruscans, and Italians justifiably take pride in their local varieties, which are numerous. The Veneto and the neighboring regions of Friuli and Alto Adige are some of the prime wine-growing regions of Italy. Wine in Italy is less expensive than almost anywhere else, so it's often affordable to order a bottle of wine at a restaurant rather than sticking with the house wine (which is usually good but quite simple). Many bars have their own aperitivo della casa (house aperitif); Italians are imaginative with their mixed drinks, so you may want to try one.

You can purchase beer, wine, and spirits in any bar, grocery store, or enoteca, any day of the week, any time of the day. Italian and German beer is readily available, but it can be more expensive than wine.

There's no minimum drinking age in Italy. Italian children begin drinking wine mixed with water at mealtimes when they're teens (or thereabouts). Italians are rarely seen drunk in public, and public drinking, except in a bar or eating establishment, isn't considered acceptable behavior. Bars usually close by 11 pm; hotel and restaurant bars stay open until midnight. Brewpubs and discos serve until about 2 am.

Electricity

The electrical current in Italy is 220 volts, 50 cycles alternating current (AC); wall outlets accept continental-type plugs, with two or three round prongs.

You may purchase a universal adapter, which has several types of plugs in one lightweight, compact unit, at travel specialty stores, electronics stores, and online. You can also pick up plug adapters in Italy in any electric supply store for about €2 each. You'll likely not need a voltage converter, though. Most portable devices are dual voltage (i.e., they operate equally well on 110 and 220 volts); just check label specifications and manufacturer instructions to be sure. Don't use 110-volt outlets marked "for shavers only" for high-wattage appliances such as hair dryers.

Contacts

Walkabout Travel Gear. Walkabout Travel Gear has a good coverage of electrical and telephone plugs around the world under "adapters." www.walkabouttravelgear.com.

Emergencies

No matter where you are in Italy, you can dial 113 in case of emergency: the call will be directed to the local police. Not all 113 operators speak English, so you may want to ask a local person to place the call. Asking the operator for "pronto soccorso" (first aid and also the emergency room of a hospital) should get you an ambulanza (ambulance). If you just need a doctor, ask for "un medico."

Italy has the carabinieri (national police force, their emergency number is 112 from anywhere in Italy) as well as the polizia (local police force). Both are armed and have the power to arrest and investigate crimes. Always report the loss of your passport to the caribinieri as well as to your embassy. When reporting a crime, you'll be asked to fill out una denuncia (official report); keep a copy for your insurance company.

Pharmacies are generally open weekdays 8:30–1 and 4–8, and Saturday 9–1. Local pharmacies rotate covering the off-hours in shifts: on the door of every pharmacy is a list of which pharmacies in the vicinity will be open late.

Foreign Embassies

U.S. Consulate Florence (Via Lungarno Vespucci 38, Florence, Tuscany. 055/266951. florence.usconsulate.gov.)

U.S. Consulate Milan (Via Principe Amedeo 2/10, Milan, Lombardy. 02/290351. milan.usconsulate.gov.)

U.S. Consulate Naples (Piazza della Repubblica, Naples, Campania. 081/5838111. naples.usconsulate.gov.)

General Emergency Contacts

Emergencies (115 fire; 118 ambulance.)

National and State Police (112 Polizia (National Police); 113 Carabinieri (State Police).)

Hours of Operation

Religious and civic holidays are frequent in Italy. Depending on the holiday's local importance, businesses may close for the day. Businesses don't close Friday or Monday when the holiday falls on the weekend, though the Monday following Easter is a holiday.

Banks are open weekdays 8:30–1:30 and for one or two hours in the afternoon, depending on the bank. Most post offices are open Monday–Saturday 9–1:30, some until 2; central post offices are open 9–6:30 weekdays, 9–12:30 or 9–6:30 on Saturday.

Most churches are open from early morning until noon or 12:30, when they close for three hours or more; they open again in the afternoon, closing at about 6. San Marco, remains open all day. Many museums are closed one day a week, often Monday or Tuesday. During low season museums often close early; during high season many stay open until late at night.

Most shops are open Monday–Saturday 9–1 and 3:30 or 4–7:30. Barbers and hairdressers, with certain exceptions, are closed Sunday and Monday. Some bookstores and fashion- or tourist-oriented shops in Venice are open all day, as well as Sunday. Many branches of large chain supermarkets, such as Billa and COOP, don't close for lunch and are usually open Sunday; smaller alimentari (delicatessens) and other food shops are usually closed one evening during the week and are almost always closed Sunday.

Holidays

The national holidays in 2014 include January 1 (New Year's Day); January 6 (Epiphany); April 20 and 21 (Easter Sunday and Monday); April 25 (Liberation Day); May 1 (Labor Day or May Day); June 2 (Festival of the Republic); August 15 (Ferragosto); November 1 (All Saints' Day); December 8 (Immaculate Conception); and December 25 and 26 (Christmas Day and the Feast of Saint Stephen).

Venice's feast of Saint Mark is April 25, the same as Liberation Day, so the Madonna della Salute on November 21 makes up for the lost holiday.

Mail

The Italian mail system has a bad reputation but has become noticeably more efficient in recent times with some privatization. Allow from 7 to 15 days for mail to get to the United States. Receiving mail in Italy, especially packages, can take weeks, usually due to customs (not postal) delays.

Most post offices are open Monday–Saturday 9–1:30; central post offices are open weekdays 9–6:30, Saturday 9–12:30 (some until 6:30). You can buy stamps at tobacco shops as well as post offices.

Posta Prioritaria (for regular letters and packages) is the name for standard postage. It guarantees delivery within Italy in three to five business days and abroad in five to six working days. The more expensive express delivery, Postacelere (for larger letters and packages), guarantees one-day delivery to most places in Italy and three- to five-day delivery abroad. Note that the postal service has no control over customs, however, which makes international delivery estimates meaningless. Mail sent as Posta Prioritaria Internazionale to the United States costs €2 for up to 20 grams, €3.50 for 21–50 grams, and €4.50 for 51–100 grams. Mail sent as Postacelere to the United States costs €46.57 for up to 500 grams.

Reliable two-day international mail is generally available during the week in all major cities and at popular resorts via UPS and Federal Express—but again, customs delays can slow down "express" service.

Shipping Services

Sending a letter or small package to the United States via Federal Express takes at least two days and costs about €45. Other package services to check are Quick Pack Europe (for delivery within Europe) and Express Mail Service (a global three- to five-day service for letters and packages). Compare prices with those of Postacelere to determine the cheapest option.

If you’ve purchased antiques, ceramics, or other fragile objects, ask if the vendor will do the shipping for you. In most cases this is possible, and preferable, because many merchants have experience with these kinds of shipments. If so, ask whether the article will be insured against breakage.

Money

Prices in Venice are high, but no higher than in Milan or in other European cities and resorts. Within Venice, there is a substantial difference between prices in the Piazza San Marco area and those in residential districts such as Cannaregio, Santa Croce, or in the working-class neighborhood of Castello. Bars and cafés must, by law, post their charges, both for consumption standing at the bar and for consumption at a table (regardless if there is table service or not). If you are in a bar or café patronized largely by tourists, you may want to consult the price list before you order or sit down. The cafés in the Piazza San Marco put on a hefty supplementary charge for music.

ATMs and Banks

An ATM (bancomat in Italian) is the easiest way to get euros in Italy. There are numerous ATMs around Venice, and since there are ATMs at Marco Polo Airport, there is no need to buy euros before you depart the U.S. Be sure to memorize your PIN in numbers, as ATM keypads in Italy won't always display letters. Check with your bank to confirm that you have an international PIN (codice segreto) that will be recognized in the countries you're visiting; to raise your maximum daily withdrawal allowance; and to learn what your bank's fee is for withdrawing money (Italian banks don't charge withdrawal fees). Be aware that PINs beginning with a 0 (zero) tend to be rejected in Italy.

Your own bank may charge a fee for using ATMs abroad and/or for the cost of conversion from euros to dollars. Nevertheless, you can usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money inside a bank with a teller, the next-best option. Whatever the method, extracting funds as you need them is safer than carrying around a large amount of cash. Finally, it's advisable to carry more than one card that can be used for cash withdrawal, in case something happens to your main one.

Credit Cards

It's a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you're going abroad and don't travel internationally often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a welcome occurrence halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen. Keep these in a safe place, so you're prepared should something go wrong. American Express, MasterCard, and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you're abroad) if your card is lost.

North American toll-free numbers aren’t available from abroad, so be sure to obtain a local number with area code for any business you may need to contact.

Although it's usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there's a problem), note that some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they're in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won't be any surprises when you get the bill. Because of these fees, avoid using your credit card for ATM withdrawals or cash advances (use a debit or cash card instead).

Venetian merchants prefer MasterCard and Visa, but American Express is usually accepted in popular tourist destinations. Credit cards aren't accepted everywhere, though; if you want to pay with a credit card in a small shop, hotel, or restaurant, it's a good idea to make your intentions known early on.

Reporting Lost Cards

American Express (800/528–4800 in U.S.; 905/474–0870 collect from abroad. www.americanexpress.com.)

Diners Club (800/234–6377 in U.S.; 514/877–1577 collect from abroad; 800/393939 in Italy. www.dinersclub.com.)

MasterCard (800/307–7309 in U.S.; 636/722–7111 collect from abroad; 800/870866 in Italy. www.mastercard.us.)

Visa (800/847–2911 in U.S.; 303/967–1096 from abroad; 800/819014 in Italy. usa.visa.com.)

Currency and Exchange

The euro is the main unit of currency in Italy. Under the euro system there are 100 centesimi (cents) to the euro. There are coins valued at 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 centesimi as well as 1 and 2 euros. There are seven notes: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 euros. At this writing, 1 euro was worth about 1.35 U.S. dollars.

Post offices exchange currency at good rates, but employees speak limited English, so be prepared. (Writing your request can help in these cases.)

Even if a currency-exchange booth has a sign promising no commission, rest assured that there's some kind of huge, hidden fee. You're almost always better off getting foreign currency at an ATM or exchanging money at a bank or post office.

Passports and Visas

U.S. citizens need only a valid passport to enter Italy for stays of up to 90 days.

Passports

Although somewhat costly, a U.S. passport is relatively simple to obtain and is valid for 10 years. You must apply in person if you're getting a passport for the first time; if your previous passport was lost, stolen, or damaged; or if it has expired and was issued more than 15 years ago or when you were under 16. All children under 18 must appear in person to apply for or renew a passport. Both parents must accompany any child under 14 (or send a notarized statement with their permission) and provide proof of their relationship to the child.

There are 25 regional passport offices as well as 7,000 passport acceptance facilities in post offices, public libraries, and other governmental offices. If you're renewing a passport, you may do so by mail; forms are available at passport acceptance facilities and online, where you trace the application’s progress.

The cost of a new passport is $135 for adults, $105 for children under 16; renewals are $110 for adults, $105 for children under 16 plus. Allow four to six weeks for processing, both for first-time passports and renewals. For an expediting fee of $60 you can reduce this time to two to three weeks. If your trip is less than two weeks away, you can get a passport even more rapidly by going to a passport office with the necessary documentation. Private expediters can get things done in as little as 48 hours, but charge hefty fees for their services.

Before your trip, make two copies of your passport's data page (one for someone at home and another for you to carry separately). Or scan the page and email it to someone at home and/or yourself.

Visas

When staying for 90 days or less, U.S. citizens aren't required to obtain a visa prior to traveling to Italy. A recent law requires that you fill in a declaration of presence within eight days of your arrival—the stamp on your passport at airport arrivals substitutes for this.

U.S. Passport Information

U.S. Department of State (877/487–2778. travel.state.gov.)

U.S. Passport Expediters

A. Briggs Passport & Visa Expeditors (800/806–0581 toll-free; 202/338–0111. www.abriggs.com.)

American Passport Express (800/455–5166. www.americanpassport.com.)

Travel Document Systems (800/874–5100. www.traveldocs.com.)

Travel the World Visas (202/223–8822. www.world-visa.com.)

Taxes

A 10% V.A.T. (value-added tax) is included in the rate at all hotels. No tax is added to the bill in restaurants. A service charge of approximately 10%–15% is usually added to your check.

The V.A.T. is 22% on clothing, wine, and luxury goods. On consumer goods it's already included in the amount shown on the price tag (look for the phrase "IVA inclusa"), whereas on services it may not be. If you're not a European citizen and if your purchases in a single day total more than €154.94, you may be entitled to a refund of the V.A.T.

When making a purchase, ask whether the merchant gives refunds—not all do, nor are they required to. If they do, they'll help you fill out the V.A.T. refund form, which you then submit to a company that will issue you the refund in the form of cash, check, or credit-card adjustment.

Alternatively, as you leave the country (or, if you're visiting several European Union countries, on leaving the EU), present your merchandise and the form to customs officials, who will stamp it. Once through passport control, take the stamped form to a refund-service counter for an on-the-spot refund (the quickest and easiest option). You may also mail it to the address on the form (or on the envelope with it) after you arrive home, but processing time can be long, especially if you request a credit-card adjustment. Note that in larger cities the cash refund can be obtained at in-town offices prior to departure; just ask the merchant or check the envelope for local office addresses.

Global Blue is the largest V.A.T.-refund service with 225,000 affiliated stores and more than 700 refund counters at major airports and border crossings. Its refund form, called a Tax Free Check, is the most common across the European continent. Premier Tax Free is another company that represents more than 70,000 merchants worldwide; look for their logos in store windows.

V.A.T. Refunds

Global Blue (866/706–6090 in North America; 421 232/111111 from abroad; 00800/32111111 from Italy. www.global-blue.com.)

Premier Tax Free (905/542–1710 from U.S.; 06/699–23383 from Italy. www.premiertaxfree.com.)

Time

Italy is in the Central European Time Zone (CET). From March to October it institutes daylight saving time (ora legale). Italy is 6 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time, 1 hour ahead of Great Britain, 10 hours behind Sydney, and 12 hours behind Auckland. Like the rest of Europe, Italy uses the 24-hour (or "military") clock, which means that after noon you continue counting forward: 13:00 is 1 pm, 23:30 is 11:30 pm.

Tipping

In Venice, is in most of northern Italy, tipping is not expected in restaurants, bars, taxis, or for other services, even for excellent service. The only exception is to tip a bellhop €2­–€2.50 per bag for carrying your bags to your room.

Tours

Venice has tour guides licensed by the government. Some are eminently qualified in relevant fields such as architecture and art history and are a pleasure to spend time with. Lots of private guides have websites, and you can check the travel forums at fodors.com for recommendations (it’s best to book before you leave home, as popular guides and tours are in demand). Once in Venice, tourist offices and hotel concierges can also provide the names of knowledgeable local guides and the rates for certain services.

Recommended Generalists

Abercrombie & Kent (800/554–7016 or 630/725–3400. www.abercrombiekent.com.)

Maupin Tour (800/255–4266 or 954/653–3820. www.maupintour.com.)

Perillo Tours (800/431–1515. www.perillotours.com.)

Travcoa (888/979–1434 or 310/730–1263. www.travcoa.com.)

Culinary Tour Contact

Epiculinary (520/4882792. www.epiculinary.com.)

Trip Insurance

Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness (yours or that of someone back home), or, in some cases, acts of terrorism in your destination. Such policies usually also cover evacuation and medical care. (For trips abroad you should have at least medical and medical evacuation coverage. With a few exceptions, Medicare doesn't provide coverage abroad, nor does regular health insurance.) Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.

Another type of coverage to consider is financial default—that is, when your trip is disrupted because a tour operator, airline, or cruise line goes out of business. Generally you must buy this when you book your trip or shortly thereafter, and it's available to you only if your operator isn't on a list of excluded companies.

Many travel insurance policies have exclusions for preexisting conditions as a cause for cancellation. Most companies waive those exclusions, however, if you take out your policy within a short period (which varies by company) after the first payment toward your trip.

Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure that you're covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you're getting the best price and range of coverage available.

Comprehensive Insurers

Allianz (866/884–3556. www.allianztravelinsurance.com.)

CSA Travel Protection (877/243–4135; 240/330–1529 collect. www.csatravelprotection.com.)

HTH Worldwide (610/254–8700; 1-888/243–2358 toll-free. www.hthworldwide.com.)

Travel Guard (800/826–1300; 800/345–0505 toll-free from Italy. www.travelguard.com.)

Travel Insured International (800/243–3174; 603/328–1707 collect. www.travelinsured.com.)

Travelex Insurance (800/228–9792; 603/328–1739 collect. www.travelexinsurance.com.)

Insurance Comparison Info

Insure My Trip (800/487–4722 or 401/773–9300. www.insuremytrip.com.)

Square Mouth (800/240–0369 or 727/564–9203. www.squaremouth.com.)