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Italy for a month-12/24:Milan/SIRMIONE/Lake Garda//Roma/Parma/Sienna

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Will be in SIRMIONE for New Year's Eve and want to know if anyone has been there and might have any recommendations. Any insight into any of the places we are visiting would be appreciated. We know it will be cold but, at least it is being cold in ITALY

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    It's such a charming town, but it's been so long since I was there, I have no recommendations for you. Sorry! I do think you will enjoy it and hopefully, someone can give you some advice.

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    You will not only be cold in Italy, you will also very often be confronting very slippery conditions underfoot, so good boots with excellent sole traction are really an absolute must.

    I've been in Milan for New Year's Eve but not Sirmione. I was surprised at how quiet Milan was in general -- although I suspect if I had gone to the Duomo or the nightclub areas around Navigli I would have seen festivities. Sirmione is so small, if there is any public celebration at midnight, you'll be sure to see it. Don't be surprised if it is short. Not many Italians enjoy hanging out in freezing cold.

    The norm for Italians on NYE is to be at home, eating a celebratory dinner and hanging out with the family. I would expect that the restaurants open in Sirmione will be serving a fixed "capodanno" menu at a very high price. In Milan, we found several pizzerie open, and that's what we did for NYE.

    The traditional greeting on NYE is "Auguri!" (wishing someone else good fortune), so many people will greet you that way, and will be pleased if you do the same.

    All the other places you are going are exceptionally beautiful. It will really be worth your money to invest in a good guidebook that covers only Rome, and another that covers only Tuscany, which will include extensive information about Siena and day trips from it (including the logistics of how to take them).

    It will be harder to find information on Parma, but google searches will help. (Using a string search like "visit Parma tourism" will net you sites in English). Be aware that several of the most interesting places to visit in Parma are only open in the morning. (The Duomo and Bapistery are open in the afternoon). Parma has a highly-regarded opera season you might want to check into.

    It can also be worth it to take a day trip by bus to Torrechiara castle (ask the tourist office), or to the hometown of the composer Giuseppe Verdi, Busseto. By train, you can easily visit Modena and Reggio nell'Emilia (which shares credit in the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese). If you are headed to Parma specifically for food, it can be worth it to spend some time visiting the Chowhound website message board for Italy to get tips on restaurants.

    Personally, I would not dream of taking a trip like yours in February without having many pairs of long silk underwear, and warmly lined boots. Plus a very good fleece or down vest to wear under a waterproof coat. You can get away with not having a full-length coat -- hip-lenght will do -- but it is best if it has a very high collar and hood.

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