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How to Survive the Summer Heat in Italy

A Caffe Shakerato

If you’ve read some of the other posts on this site then you may know about the heat which tends to dominate Milan, and just about everywhere in Italy from around June until the end of September.

This heat can be tough to bear if you are from colder climes, like me. To help you survive Italy’s hot season, here are some tips on what you can do to keep your cool.

While Italians are generally quite used to the heat and don’t tend to suffer from it as much as those from cooler northern European lands, they do take certain steps keep the heat at bay.  Us non-Italians can learn from them.

What do Italians do to try to deal with the absurd heat levels? Well, here in 35°c Milan where I live there are several things the locals do, but perhaps the most common, and preferred, method of handling the heat, is that of escape.

Milan gets very hot and humid indeed during the summer months, and other Italian cities such as Rome and Florence can become distinctly stifling too.

Every weekend during the hot season much of Milan’s population runs for the hills or charges off to the seaside at weekends (the lucky few alternate – having two houses to choose from).

This would seem to be the ideal solution, at least on the face of it.

The Great Escape, maybe

Assuming that you have or are renting a little place at a high enough altitude to remain cool (and mozzy free) or down by the sea, one of the chores of heading out of the city is just that, heading out.  It would seem that the whole of Milan, where I live, and many other Italian cities for that matter, migrate during summer weekends and this leads to some of the most horrendous traffic jams you have ever seen in your life.  Only these jams happen more or less every weekend during the summer escape season.  Throw in an accident, or two, and the blast up to the mountains or off to the coast, can turn into something which is far from relaxing.

Whereas you may be lucky when leaving Milan and get to your summer retreat in a reasonable time, coming back could well be arduous, two hour trips can easily turn into six hour tortures.  Even more if there is an accident.

While leaving Milan seems to be a good way to keep your cool in the heat of the Italian summer, you may well end up finding your stress level maxing out in the horrendous return traffic jams.  I won’t mention the accidents which are common at this time of year. Oops, sorry, I just did.

One way to avoid the return trip traffic jams seems to be to wait until after 9:00 pm before heading back to Milan. After this hour, traffic levels are lower and queues shorter. Indeed, those who leave at 9 may well arrive home at about the same time as those who depart at 5 or 6 pm.

Luckily there is an alternative to summertime driving hell – the train.

If you book seats, online, for both the away and return journeys, you’ll be OK.  Italy’s rail service is not too bad, and reasonably priced too.  You’ll also avoid being slapped with a fine for driving into one of Italy many limited traffic zones or ZTLs, as they call them here.  These fines are becoming an increasing problem for foreign drivers, as can be seen from the 500 plus comments on the post Speeding and Other Traffic Fines in Italy.

Then again, you could always stay in the city.

Stuck in the Heat of the City

Let’s assume you are generally stuck in a city like Milan, like me, or can’t abide being stuck in never ending tailbacks (again, like me). What are your alternatives? In this case you could install air conditioning.

Air conditioning is really catching on in Italy and rectangular white boxes are popping up on balconies everywhere. However, there is a catch. Our bodies don’t seem to like being thrust from a internally cool 25°C into external temperatures exceeding 35°C. In fact they will protest, usually in the form of a nasty summer cold or flu-like ailment.  Which is just what you need right in the middle of summer.  Air conditioning also seems to play havoc with the health of very small children and babies and from personal experience creates more sleepless nights that it saves.

OK, air conditioning does not seem to be the ideal solution, so what’s next? Easy, get a electric fan. They come in all shapes and sizes, but you have to be quick because at this time of year they sell out faster than an ice cream melts in the Italian summer sun.  However, fans create slight problems.  Some people find the noise irritating, so you need to hear the thing running in a nice quiet shop before handing over cash.  Other people just cannot sleep with a cool draft wafting over their bodies, which can cause problems for couples if one of you likes it, but the other doesn’t. Cue heated domestics.

Now, what can you do if you don’t like air conditioning and find fans frustrating and you are reviled by the thought of sitting in tailbacks for half your weekend? Good question. You could try leaving the windows open in the hope that a rare breeze may drift in and cool you down a wee bit. Fat hope, cool breezes are about as rare as hens teeth in Milan in summer, and if you live with Italians you may well end up being told that air movement can be fatal.

Hit the Pools

In Milan one thing Italians do when the heat becomes too hot to handle is to head for one of the city’s many open air swimming pools.

During the summer months these places can become rather busy and noisy, but for sun lovers and for children, they are not bad places to be.

All the open-air pools I’ve been to in Milan have had café facilities, where drinks, ice creams and other snacks can be bought.

Admission prices are around €5 or so Euros for the day, depending on the quality and the location of the pool in question. Some are attractive, others are, well, just swimming pools.

For those who are not keen on hoards of screaming kids, there are private clubs which have outdoor pools too. Obviously these places cost much more and some may require a fixed term membership too. Still, if you can afford them, the cool and tranquillity of of a private pool is inviting.

Wherever you go pool-wise, taking mosquito repellent and sun cream is strongly advisable. Finding a spot in the shade can be hard at certain times of the day.

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Stop reading, start speaking

Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.

Swimming caps are also required in many of Italy’s pools too for reasons of hygiene. If you do not have a cap, you can often buy them for a few Euros at the pools themselves.

Once you’ve survived the heat of the day, you’ll want a good night’s sleep – and this is not always that easy as the night-time temperatures are not too far off day time levels. As mentioned before, air conditioning or fans can help. Then again you might strip off down to your birthday suit, but this can lead to certain, er, problems…

The Perils of Sleeping in Your Birthday Suit

How about sleeping naked? Good idea, but if you don’t do something to discourage the mozzies, you will wake up covered in lots of nice little itchy bumps.

Your average mozzy has no qualms at all about biting you anywhere on your body – and I do mean anywhere. While you can get away with scratching away at your itchy arms or legs, people do start to notice when you start rubbing your crotch incessantly.  You have been warned.

As you might well have gathered, sleeping can become difficult, unless you have a cotton pillow.

However, aside from the right pillow, there are certain other strategies you can adopt to prevent the heat from overcoming you.

Hit the Night Spots

If you are young free and single, and blessed with oodles of stamina, you could just spend every night out partying.  Here I should mention that Milan has a few open air discos which go down well with young insomniacs.  Try the (beware the site blasts out disco moozic – turn the volume down before visiting) Old Fashion Cafe in Parco Sempione, for example.

Make Babies!

If you happen to be a youngish, but as yet childless couple, then devoting yourselves to baby making could well be one of the best ways of ensuring that you will actually spend a few hours (OK, two hours) sleeping every night, but be a little careful because if you go for it too often you may find other aspects of your life suffering. Bosses have never been too keen on those who drop off suddenly at work.

For those, like me, who are neither young, nor free, nor single, you can play with your kids until they tire you out enough to ensure that you sleep regardless of how hot it is. Or you could sit in front of Italian TV and wait until it bores you to sleep – more or less a dead cert.

Italian husbands generally shove wives and sprogs off to relations or to the mountain or seaside house during the hot season, thus ensuring that they can sleep better, either alone and care free, or with some other lonely person, who just might happen to be of the opposite sex.

Other things you can do to keep yourself cool

A Caffe Shakerato
A Happy Italian Caffe Shakerato

Go to one of the many open air pools – but watch out for mozzies and loud groups of kids. Eat gallons of ice cream or ‘granita’ – the flavoured ice drink – which is one of the best ways to cool yourself down. The best ‘granite’ are the Sicilian style ones which contain much more fruit and stuff than the insipid standard mint and lemon things which most bars and stalls sell.

Always get ice cream from the real ice cream shops – not from the bars, and try as many of the bewildering varieties of flavours which exist as you can. Italy is full of ice cream parlours, and they are cool places to hang out in summer, in every sense. Italy’s gelateria are very popular with local mosquito populations too.

Another great and cooling Italian thing is the café shakerato coffee – which is what I often turn to when the heat starts to get to me. Read about the Italian café shakerato here: Caffè Shakerato Moments

Watch Your Pee!

And finally, drink plenty of water – around 2 litres a day.

Foreigners, especially older people and those from cooler countries, just do not realise how quickly you can dehydrate in Italy’s heat.

A good indicator of your level of dehydration is the colour of your urine.  If it is dark yellow you need more water – once it is clear you are OK.

Watch out when wondering around open air tourist attractions in Italy, such as Pompeii, for example.  The heat can be overpowering.  Actually, the summer-time stink of toilet facilities at Pompeii can be overpowering too.

Wandering around all of Italy’s sights can be a draining experience, in more ways than one.

Walk in the Shade

Italians walk on the shady side of streets and sit on the side of buses which are opposite the sun and they do not go out unless they really have to from about midday until around five pm during the hot season.

Italians, not surprisingly, are much more resistant to Italy’s heat than many visitors, so if you go by their rules you should be OK.

Use the Water Fountains

Use the water fountains which you will find spread throughout most Italian cities to douse your head in cool water, and, holding your wrists in the stream of cold running water tends to cool you down as well.  You can also be green and re-fill your water bottles for free too – just make sure there is not a sign which says ‘acqua non potabile‘ – which means the water is not drinkable.

Oh and light clothes, cotton and linen, are a great idea too and the best shoes are sandals – yes those horrible Jesus type ones – but don’t wear socks while you are wearing sandals – people will think you are odd or foreign, or, possibly, both.

Keep cool and stay cool!

Enough, I’m off to get some cool water.

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