Let me help translate what the guide book refers to as European charm, quaint surroundings, or living like a local.
Dog crap on the sidewalk. Enjoy it, it's everywhere. Parma had the most, Lucca was a close second, with Florence reasonably clean on main tourist areas, but in the less frequented areas, poop. Siena is relatively free of dog poop, except in outlying neighborhoods. Verona, Padua and Vicenza were much like Siena, with lower percentages per square foot. Dog poop is everywhere, pray it's raining and raining hard at night.
Random Smells. If you AirBnB as I did, some apartments have smells coming from the outside at certain times of day. Depends on the neighborhood. Beware heavy student populations, lots of close quarters living. Parma was fine, other than dog poop. Lucca had zero smells where I rented. Siena, positively wonderful. Florence, near Santa Croce, on the other extreme, a combination smell of burning garbage, boiled meat, a hint of sewer, mixed in with diesel exhaust and perhaps that 2pm and 11pm waft of cigarette smoke from the flat next door. If the house was locked up all day without the window open, yep, your pillow was gonna smell like burnt garbage, boiled meat, cigarettes and diesel fumes.
Ancient streets can wear on you. I love the charm of an ancient city and its streets and alleys. I like the old streets, cobblestone, roughed stone, etc. However, one needs to pay attention when walking, firstly for the aforementioned dog poop, secondly for loose stones and protruding stones. Dog poop hides in these nostalgic, ancient street cracks like a moray eel waiting to attack. This may be why Europeans walk slowly. Less issue with becoming unbalanced or tripping on a stone when walking slowly and greater reaction time to avoid dog poop. If you're in a hurry, you may experience knee and ankle problems or a complete wipeout.
Cold floors in your apartment or hotel. Regardless of where one stays, even a four or five star hotel, your floor will be concrete or tile and it will be cold. Period. If the owner bought a rug, consider it a bonus. Bring slippers.
A shower that sucks. Sure, everyone has a bidet, but the offset is a low pressure, coffin sized shower, that barely has enough room to turn around in and the water may or may not get hot. Hotels aren't much different. Or better yet, a bath tub with a long shower head attachment but no shower curtain and no pole to hang the shower head. 50/50 chance on reasonably consistent hot water. Learn to deal with it. These shower inconveniences fall under the same category as No Air Conditioner in Summer.
Ambient heat radiators. It may be a mortal sin if an Italian increases the heat in their apartment to 19c which is not 70 degrees. Of course the thermostat is located near a heating unit, not actually where you sit down to eat or watch tv, those locations are 7-10F degrees cooler than where the thermostat is located. The advice is usually, wear heavier clothing inside. My advice if you need to warm up? Go to one of the 83 clothing shops down the Main Street that are using all the electricity in the town to crank their heat up so they can leave their doors open for tourists to come in a shop. If you want to be warm, go shopping, the heating rules obviously don't apply to retail clothing or shoe stores in Italy.
Washing machines? Sure! Clothes Dryer? No chance. I know I just bashed heating units in Italy, but they do haveanother use besides heating the wall it's attached to and preventing the thermostat from registering an accurate temperature. Ambient heat radiators are great for drying socks, underwear and jeans. Throw a spun dry pair of denim over a wall mounted radiator unit, flip a couple times, you'll have bone dry jeans in a hour. How am I supposed to dry my clothes in a house that's 60 degrees and the outside temp is 38 with no sun in winter time? By the way, this little washer will take in upwards of 2 hours to wash your clothes, so wash your clothes the night before you travel.
Sitting at a restaurant bar is near impossible in Italy. As a single traveler for most of my business career, I've been seated at many a restaurant bar, it's the norm. I generally don't think Italians like people to sit at their bar. Italians seem to want everyone seated at a table. I was lucky enough to snatch a seat at one bar all night long, while others were simply turned away, like beggars.
A couple positive thoughts:
On the upside, Italian security doors are awesome. 100% metal. Multiple contact points and bolted or screwed into the concrete around them. There would be less breaking in from perps in the US, if we installed doors like these. In order to get to one apartment flat, it took 3 keyed doors to get in and up 3 flights of stairs. Try stealing a 60 inch plasma from my flat perp!
Summer versus Winter Travel?
It's a lot less busy in city centers and train stations during winter, even at the busiest stations like Milan and Florence. Now, it hasn't rained much, so I haven't been inconvenienced, and it is cooler, much cooler. Sweating constantly in the humid Italian summertime climate can be challenging. No air conditioning is no fun. Yep, winter travel in Europe is better.