Offbeat activities in Italy

Reid's List of 16 things you should do—besides visiting the museums, churches, and monuments—to really get a taste of what life in Italy is like

One of the best things you can do as a tourist is to stop being a tourist. These activities—soccer matches, cooking classes, Italian TV variety shows, mass in a church, etc.—are as much a part of the cultural experience and Italian life (and Italian travel) as exploring the great sights, frescoes, statues, cathedrals, and museums of Italy.

Following the heroic example of Michael Palin—who kicked off his BBC series "Around the World in 80 Days" by cruising the canals of a garbage scow—here are sixteen (less-smelly) suggestions for getting out of the tourism rut.

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Book ahead

While for some activities you can just show up, this is one travel item you really should try to reserve in advance.

Popular activities like cooking classes can sell out.

Many are available only on certain days of the week, so it pays to know that you'll have to set aside, say, Tuesday morning for that guided market walk with a local cookbook author.

Many of the best activities are available by advance booking or appointment only—particularly wineries. Some vineyards welcome walk-ins, true, but many more will give you a cellar tour and wine tasting only if you call ahead a few days (and those tend to be the ones most liberal with the free samples).

If you have your heart set on dining in a particular restaurant, go ahead and call ahead,even if it's just earlier on the same day—though a day ahead is preferable. I have found that a corrollary of Muphy's Law applies to this aspect of travel. Any restaurant I am particularly keen on but blithely assume I can just waltz into will inevitably be filled to the brim: no tables available. However, half the time when I do book a table in advance I'll end up being the only guy in the place (nor near enough for my advance booking to feel like overkill). Still, better safe than sorry. Reserving a table is quick and painless; getting turned away at the door can be crushing.

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