If you want to be in touch, it is a good idea to rent a cellphone on your visit to northern Italy. Pay phones have not entirely gone by the wayside, but these days there are very few pay phones in Italy -- a place where there are far more cellular numbers than land line numbers.
Alternatively, you can buy phone cards with special fixed rates to the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries (una carta telefonica prepagata per chiamare gli Stati Uniti, Canada . . .). The rates on these phone cards are heavily discounted from what you would pay from a land line and far less expensive than calling abroad from a cellphone. Newsstands and tobacconists in cities carry these cards.
To call northern Italy:
1. Dial the international access code: 011 from the U.S.; 00 from the U.K., Ireland, or New Zealand; or 0011 from Australia.
2. Dial the country code 39.
3. Dial the city code (for Milan: 02) and then the number. (Do not drop the initial 0 as you might in other European countries.) Even when calling within Italy, you always need to dial the city code first.
To make international calls: To make international calls from Italy, first dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64). Next, dial the area code and number. For example, if you wanted to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., you would dial 00-1-202-588-7800.
For directory assistance: Each cellphone carrier has its own directory assistance number, which is listed automatically in the address book of your SIM card. For Telecom Italia, and its mobile carrier, TIM, the directory assistance number is tel. 412.
For operator assistance: For operator assistance in making either a domestic or an international call from a Telecom Italia land line, call tel. 170.
Toll-free numbers: Numbers in Italy beginning with 800 or 877, and a few others beginning with 8, are toll-free, but calling a 1-800 number in the States from Italy is not toll-free. In fact, it costs the same as an overseas call.
The three letters that define much of the world's wireless capabilities are GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), a big seamless network that makes for easy cross-border cellphone use throughout Europe and dozens of other countries worldwide. GSM phones function with a removable plastic SIM card, encoded with your phone number and account information. If your cellphone is on a GSM system and you have a world-capable multiband phone such as many Sony Ericsson, Motorola, or Samsung models, you can make and receive calls across civilized areas around much of the globe, including Italy. Just call your wireless operator and ask for "international roaming" to be activated on your account. Unfortunately, per-minute charges can be high -- usually $1 to $1.50 in Italy. Coverage with major carriers is excellent in northern Italy cities, like Milan, but can be spotty sometimes in the region's less populated countryside.
For many, renting a phone is a good idea. While you can rent a phone from any number of overseas sites, including kiosks at airports and at car-rental agencies, we suggest renting the phone before you leave home. There are a number of places in Milan where you can rent cellphones, but it is generally expensive.
Buying a phone can be economically attractive, as Italy has relatively cheap prepaid phone programs. Once you arrive at your destination, stop by a local cellphone shop and get the cheapest package; you'll pay less than $100 for a phone and a starter calling card. The best deals will probably be in Milan. The city's principal train station, Stazione Centrale, has several cellular stores in the lower-level shopping center. Local calls may be as low as 10¢ per minute, and incoming calls are free.
Internet & E-Mail
More and more hotels, resorts, airports, cafes, and retailers are going Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity), becoming "hotspots" that offer free high-speed Wi-Fi access or charge a small fee for usage. Most hotels and lots of wine bars and Irish pubs in Milan have wireless Internet access, as do many hotels throughout northern Italy. In Milan, a reliable cafe to go to for wireless Internet access is Bar Magenta, on Carducci 13 at Corso Magenta (tel. 02-805-3808).
Most major airports have Internet kiosks that provide basic Web access for a per-minute fee that's usually higher than cybercafe prices. Both of Milan's airports offer wireless Internet access; visit www.sea-aeroportimilano.it for more information.
If you are bringing your own computer, keep in mind that the outlets are 220V in Italy, and you will need an adapter for a U.K. or North American plug -- the same one used for France and most of the rest of the Continent.
If you're not traveling with your own computer, you'll generally find small Internet cafes scattered around high-density tourist locales throughout northern Italy. A reliable Internet cafe in Milan is Grazia Internet Café, Piazza Duca d'Aosta 14 (tel. 02-670-0543), a large computer lab just outside Milan's Stazione Centrale. In Venice, one of the bigger Internet cafes is Venetian Navigator (Casselleria 5300; tel. 041-277-1056; www.venetiannavigator.com), which is between San Marco and the Grand Canal.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.