An Italy trip in the R&D phase

Old Mar 25th, 2009, 11:19 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Hi sfg,

Charge whatever is chargeable. Use the ATM for cash.

CapitalOne doesn;t charge a currency conversion fee.

Insist on being charged in Euro. Do not let them do you the "favor" of converting your bill to USD. You will pay more.

If you are going to drive, who is going to navigate?

ira is online now  
Old Mar 25th, 2009, 11:59 AM
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I would also suggest that instead of doing the "big 3," you choose a more northern or more southern itinerary. For example, you could visit Venice, Florence and the Cinque Terre, or Venice, Florence and Tuscany, for the north.

I agree that you'll only need a car for your more rural destinations. Try to do that part in the middle, and start and end in the cities (fly open jaws). That way, you can fly into city #1, pick up the rental car as you leave, drive around, then drop the rental car as you enter city #2 at the end of your trip.

Whether the autostrada is unnerving probably depends on your driving experience, and what kind of driving you usually do. I like driving on the autostrade - while the cars can drive faster, it's usually more orderly than highways in the U.S. And back roads, while narrow and curvy, are also beautiful and interesting. I do almost all of the driving on our European trips, because I enjoy it (and DH does the nagivating, which he's much better at than I am). BTW, most cars are standard transmission, so keep that in mind (my primary car is a stick, so I'm used to that, too).
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Old Mar 25th, 2009, 12:55 PM
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We currently are planning our 12 day trip to Italy. We were lucky enough to book our airfare using miles so we could only fly in and out of Rome. This will be our 3rd trip to Italy (our first to Venice) and first time bringing family (my parents, sisters and our two small children). It will definitely be slow travel compared to what we were able to accomplish in the past.
In the past, we flew into Milan and saw "The Last Supper", then drove into the countryside staying at B&B's outside Aque Terme...visited Cerretto winery romantic and relaxing. Then headed down to Porto San Stefano for some beach relaxation, stopped by Pisa and Lucca (for the olive oil and more wine) before arriving in Florence and Rome. Our first trip we stayed in Radda in Chianti and had the best bistecca for 2 (my husband was a vegan until that night). Florence we always stop in as we really enjoy Buca Del Orafo restaurant there. If I were going back without the group, we would have ventured to Southern Italy. But 12 days (landing in Rome, then immediately training to Florence(with day trips to Pisa, Lucca and countryside) for 4 nights, train to Venice for 3 nights, train back to Rome for 4 nights) we thought would cover a good portion and feel for the Italian my parents probably won't make it back there.
Our Italian friends who live here say to change your money here before you go, although I think in the past we used ATM's and cc's. Driving license now is easy to get at AAA.
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Old Mar 25th, 2009, 03:44 PM
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If you want to buy seeds, there’s a place in Venice. Walk from Campo San Stefano towards the Academia Bridge, and there’s a small stall on your left that sells plants and seeds. We bought tomato, basil, radiccio and artichoke seeds there. But no sunflower seeds.
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Old Mar 25th, 2009, 04:03 PM
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We took almost no cash with us, and had no trouble with using ATM’s. There’s an ATM at Venice (Marco Polo) airport. We found that there was a 250 Euro limit on withdrawals, but we could make more than one withdrawal in a day. There are ATM’s everywhere. Maybe not in the tiny towns, but in Venice, for instance, we had a choice from half a dozen within 200 metres of where we were staying. In Italy, you will sometimes receive a discount when you pay in cash. People love it when you make an effort to give them the correct change – there’s a chronic shortage of small change in Italy. I saw a guy attempt to buy a postcard, offering a fifty Euro note. The vendor shrugged and said “forget it”.
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Old Mar 25th, 2009, 04:27 PM
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Language – will always be a problem. We've found the phrase “Sono Australiano, piccolo Italiano” works wonders in shops. i.e. “We come from Australia, we don't have much Italian, so please make allowances for us”. It invariably brings a smile, sometimes it opens a conversation, sometimes it brings a reply in perfect English, or brings the response "Piccolo Englese". The question, “Do you speak English” is uncomfortable at best, a barrier at worst, in the same way as being asked "Do you speak Italian" in the middle of Kansas would erect a bit of a barrier. All that aside, we conducted transactions with people who had no English without too many problems, and sign language is universal.
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Old Mar 25th, 2009, 04:35 PM
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hi sun'guy,

welcome to europe! you'll find us much more polite than those nasty lounge lizards. we even agree with each other sometimes!

and I would tend to agree with the other posters above, that Venice, Florence, Rome can be just too overwhelming. unless you have a degree in art history, you'll be hopelessly confused by the time you get to the 3rd or 4th gallery or museum.

i like the town/countryside/town typ of trip and venice/ ? /Rome works well for this.

to find somewhere in the countryside, you can try or google "agriturismos in Tuscany". an agritourismo is usually a B&B on a farm in the countryside. that sort of place would be lovely in September.

regards, ann

regards, ann
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Old Mar 25th, 2009, 04:38 PM
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Sun, my boy, this should help you decide on some areas where you'd like to visit. Sit back with a nice glass (bottle) of Chianti. Here is our three week trip in words and photos. Repeat after me, "Put the correct petrol in the car."
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Old Mar 25th, 2009, 07:30 PM
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I've been reading your posts since you came aboard, so I feel in some regard, I know you.

That being said- I think you ought to stick to the 2-week plan for your first visit. You don't want to cram in so much that a month after you are home, you won't remember much of any of it.

Additionally, I think being a newlywed, you might be on more of a strict budget than some. This would lead me to tell you that apartment rental is much more economical than hotels, and even more so if you rent by the week. If you don't feel comfortable renting an apt, there are PLENTY of budget lodgings available in Italy, especially in Rome. (There is even a little hostel run by nuns near the Vatican. No tv or phone, but clean bed to sleep in and great rate!)

October is an ideal time to visit, but September would be fine, too, if it is late September. (If you are using FF miles, you should go after 10/15, as that is when most "peak" seasons turn to "off" seasons and you will need far fewer miles to travel after the 15th.)

I also think you should skip the car on your first visit. If you fly into Venice, you can take the train to Florence and bus to Siena for a day. Then train to Rome.

Since the Vatican was on your list, I should tell you that you could probably take 3 days and not see everything at the Vatican you want to see. But 6 or 7 days in Rome is a good start for first trip. Make sure that once your plans are firm, you contact the Vatican Excavations office to get on the list for a Scavi tour.

I think your very first step is to go through as many trip reports as you can on Italy. Then decide what is most important for you to see. Does Mrs. Sun like art and history and food? Or do the two of you really just want to see pretty countryside? Or an ocean view? If the latter, maybe the Cinque Terra is a better option for you.

You might want to start a "Vacation" document and separate it by tabs, like "cities", "museums", "arts", "food", "travel". Then, cut and paste items from the trip reports you are reading. This is exactly how I started planning my trip to Italy. Somewhere on here is a link that has pretty much every church in Rome on it, and what it's best features are, etc. including what famous art might be located there. (Lots of "free" art viewing in Roman churches!) So, when you see a restaurant recommendation that sounds great, cut and paste it. (We sorted by city first.) Or museum or shop or etc...

Also, my daughter did a great spreadsheet which summarized all the info. Shortly before our trip, we made up a Plan A and Plan B. (Always have a Plan B- Italy is NOT the U.S. You may run into a museum closed due to transit strike or church under renovation, etc.) Additionally, the spreadsheet had addresses and phone numbers of all the places we wanted to see and their days/hours of operation. Reservation numbers, etc.

And the MOST important piece of advice I received here (adn thank heavens I followed!) is to get your mind set right now (and if you keep repeating it to yourself until your trip, I guarantee it will be foremost in your head)... that something WILL go wrong somewhere along the way. The really important thing is to NOT let it affect the rest of your vacation. Move past it quickly and move on! (In our case, there was a transit strike our first day in Paris- all museums closed! And I took a nasty tumble face-first in Rome- ironically, just after having been blessed by the Pope! hahaha)

I'd be happy to answer any questions I can. I'm no expert, BUT I did enough planning off of these boards to know what might be useful to you and where to find it. (email me at [email protected])

The Italian phrase I also found went a long way... "Mi dispiace!" (I'm sorry!)

So, please start yourself a file and start reading trip reports. AND OH YEAH--- head over to your local Borders Books or Barnes & Noble. Head straight to the travel section and start browsing the travel guides. I highly, highly recommend the DK Eyewitness Travel guides. Full color, great maps, easy to read and follow. Great books!
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Old Mar 25th, 2009, 07:47 PM
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I have been in Mid October and the weather was terrific. If you are going to drive be sure and learn the international signs. I found driving in Tuscany a breeze but departing Rome with the car and dropping it off in FLorence was nerve wracking. I would recommend dropping one of the big 3 and spending the time in Tuscany or Umbria. You can always go back.
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Old Mar 25th, 2009, 08:02 PM
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hi sunflowerguy

The dollar is worth a lot more than it was a year ago, but I think you need to plan on it staying between 1.30-1.40 to the euro.

I'm just here to point out that many of the country locations people are suggesting to you are touristy. Many people seem to think that all the small towns and countryside of Italy is located in Tuscany. In reality, most of Italy is food-producing farmland. Tuscany is only the part of Italy that has most aggressively marketed itself to foreign tourists (and Rick Steves has made CInque Terre a very touristy destination out of a handful of fishing villages).

You can have a fantastic -- truly fantastic -- time in Italy visiting small towns near Venice -- like Treviso -- where tourists don't go. Do a google search for Treviso, and you'll see what I mean. If you have any interest at all about getting truly off the beaten track when it comes to tourism, don't be afraid to go anywhere in Italy. The Italians will always welcome you.

I'm also surprised to read in this thread that October is "the idea" time to go to Italy. I live in Italy. I plan to see more rain in Italy in October than September. And I usually do!

Italy generally has nice weather, but September is usually dry and warm. If you don't like warm weather, move into fall.
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Old Mar 25th, 2009, 08:09 PM
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Old Mar 26th, 2009, 10:00 AM
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Where to start? As per your suggestions I decided that making this a surprise trip was not going to work so I spoke at length with Mrs. Sun as to what we would like to do on our first adventure to Italy. We both agreed that we wanted to see the countryside at some point but from what we have read and looked at I think that the visit to the country would be better served on a second trip. So we have dropped the car idea for now, I also need to learn to drive a stick it seems.

There is so much to see it seems. Every time I read a TR it seems there is just one more thing that we would want to go see. Italy sounds like a place you could spend a lifetime and still have one more thing to go see.

Also, Italy seems like a place where time is not the task mater we make it into. It seems like they want you to slow down and enjoy what you are doing not rush all the time. While Kansas is not what I would call a fast paced society it does seem that Italy runs slower and that is a principal that I want to embrace.

So with that thought in mind, I think we will stick to the big three and maybe a day trip to Sienna, or a variation there of. I just want to take it all in and I don’t want us to feel like we have to get up and get going, I want to wonder, get lost and find my way back. Does that sound crazy?

Ira and others on currency, thank you for the advice I will look into what my banks policies are as well as their fees etc. Maybe I should look into opening an account with a more “global” bank for this trip?

Peter, really like your phrase and the logic behind it I will add it to my list of things to practice.

Maitaitom, I am surprised you all made it back. I don’t think that poor car ever had a chance. Nice report by the way.

A question to someone other then Maitaitom (from his TR I know they never wondered this ) I know Italy is well known for its wine but Mrs. Sun and I don’t drink, is this going to cause issue with the locals? I don’t want to offend them “no Chianti for us but I will take a water”

I've been reading your posts since you came aboard, so I feel in some regard, I know you.

Sarge, I know and thanks for putting up with me Do you happen to still have all those lists? Mrs. Sun is the queen of the thrifty so she is really good about cutting down our costs, me not so much. Our budget for this trip will as you said be more constricted as we have had a lot of money going out (buying the house, the wedding etc) so I will look into the apartment rental, it will be hard to say goodbye to room service.

Zeppole, the moment I saw your name I had a hunch as to where you might live I like your suggestion about seeing little towns around the bigger ones. That is one of the debates that we are having (Mrs. Sun and I) as to what would be our best plan go to one city and really soak it and the towns around it in or stick to just trying to see the big three.
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Old Mar 26th, 2009, 10:24 AM
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See our very long and history filled report about our Rome, Tuscony & Cinque Terre trip (link below)several years ago. We also did a second trip to Italy that included Bellagio, the Dolomites and beautiful, awesome Venice. Can't go wrong with anything in Italy in my opinion (humble as it is). Happy planning. Feel free to ask any questions, we would love to help if we can.
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Old Mar 26th, 2009, 10:27 AM
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Footnote: We prefer September for European travel and have found that to offer the best of all worlds for many different activities.
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Old Mar 26th, 2009, 10:40 AM
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Sun, they'll be happy to offer you water (I am an acqua frizzante guy), Coke Lite or other non-alcoholic drinks.

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Old Mar 26th, 2009, 10:52 AM
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For day trip ideas, you can look at You can just use it for ideas, not actually purchase anything there. Most of their trips are with private cars or motor coaches. You can take trains instead and save a lot of money but you would not be getting guides of course.

You can rent auto transmission cars. It costs more because they're rare. I paid for it because I didn't want to deal with manual transmission on hills and winding roads with very narrow roads (in some areas, you go off the shoulder and you could end up in a ravine). On a 8-day rental or so, I think I paid about 80-90 a day. I was suppose to get a Mercedes compact A180 but they gave me a 220 turbo diesel which was nice, very low mileage.

On wine, no it's not required. But the restaurants will charge you a lot for bottled water anyways. If you don't like fizzy water, remember "naturale" (natura-lay). It never hurts to sample a glass or two though.

As for credit cards and ATM cards, Amex was 2% but the more commonly accepted Visa is 3% from some banks. It's still way better than the exchange rate you'd get by exchanging physical dollars at exchange places.

For ATMs ("bancomat"), most credit unions will refund any fees charged by networks and not charge any fees on their end. Big banks like BofA won't, they will tack on their own charges. Most brokers like eTrade and Schwab also have ATM cards for which you pay no ATM fees.

Schwab has a Visa card which offers 2% cash back on all purchases but you have to open a SchwabOne brokerage account (where they will credit your 2% cash back awards) and this Visa is also not suppose to have any surcharges for foreign currency transactions.

You're right about being able to come back to Italy or other European countries over and over again. Most of these nations are younger as political entities than the US, even though their cultures and civilizations are much much older. Most of them were smaller countries or regions, with different dialects, different govts. etc. For instance, in 1850, only 50% of people in what is now France spoke the French we know today. Italy also has a lot of dialects. So there's a lot of differences packed in countries which are smaller than some of our states.

You might find that you keep going back over and over to "Old Europe."
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Old Mar 26th, 2009, 11:03 AM
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Alright let me ask you all a real tough question if you were only able to go to one of the big three, which one and why?
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Old Mar 26th, 2009, 11:18 AM
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Answer to your tough question: Rome

Why: It has something for everyone. Ancient Rome, Vatican, shopping restaurants, big city feel, medieval winding streets old center, a variety of museums and sights. And if you feel the need, you can leave town easily for a number of good day trips.

Florence is mostly about Renaissance art, so if you are not a fan, it may wear thin quickly. Venice is fabulous, a favorite of mine,but it does not sum up Italy the way Rome does.

A Beverage Warning for Your Budget: a Coke in a restaurant in Italy will cost the same or even more than a glass of wine. And Italy also has beer,if you prefer.
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Old Mar 26th, 2009, 11:33 AM
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"...if you were only able to go to one of the big three, which one and why?"

Tough one.

For romance, nothing beats Venice at night.

For history, Rome has the bragging rights.

But the city that made me fall in love with Italy was Florence, when I visited for the first time in the mid 1990s. I have been back four times, and we have enjoyed it each and every time. Yes, it is crowded, but so are Rome and Venice. If you like history and art, there is plenty to see. Check out the bling on the Ponte Vecchio. Great restaurants. Gardens. Sit at an outdoor café and sip vino (sorry, water).

It is within two hours of Cinque Terre if you want to go there for a day or two. After Florence, rent a car and drive through the Chianti countryside on the Karen Valentine Highway (222) on your way to Siena. San Gimignano and Volterra (beautiful drive from SG) are other places to check out if you stay in that part of Tuscany. Siena Duomo is spectacular.

Further south, the Montalcino, Montepulciano, Pienza part pf southern Tuscany makes a great base. We love the Palazzo del Capitano hotel in San Quirico d' Orcia. Great base to see that area. Then drive to Rome, drop the car and fly out from there.

If you wanted to see Venice from Florence, you can take a morning train that gets you there before noon. Spend a few days there.

I don't know how long you plan to spend, but if you can get at least two weeks, then you can really get a feel of the country and you won't have to limit your stay to just one of the big three. In any event, deciding where to go in italy is a fun problem to solve, and best of all, there are no wrong answers.

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