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Soliciting Italian travel advice, California style.

Soliciting Italian travel advice, California style.

Old Jan 14th, 2013, 10:59 AM
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Try to squeeze in the Borghese Gallery and do the audio tour. It was one of my favorite galleries. Also, we booked tours of the Vatican and Ancient Rome...but make sure it is a small group. You don't want to be in a group of 20+ following a guide around. We were 2 in a group of 4 and 6...well worth the money spent.
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Old Jan 14th, 2013, 11:21 AM
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Just think of language learning as part of the (fun) planning process. Millions travel without doing so, but I cannot imagine not at least learning numbers and basics needed to conduct transactions. Will I be having an in-depth conversation with anyone? Not likely, but I definitely think it adds to the experience, and is vital in restaurants--particularly if you want to go to restaurants without English menus.
Also, I definitely see a lot of parallels with Spanish--so much so that I find myself confusing some words. On the balance, my Spanish background helps. I'm a big fan of Rosetta Stone if you can afford the splurge.
You asked about blogs also. I'm hoping to get to Rome next year, and here are a few I've bookmarked:
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Old Jan 14th, 2013, 12:17 PM
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It's always tourist season in Venice, Florence and Rome. But if you go in May or September, there will be fewer tourists and the weather will be more pleasant.

On researching hotels, you'll be able to find hotels in a huge range of prices in all three cities (though Venice will generally be more expensive). It may work better if you decide on your hotel budget, then start researching for centrally-located hotels in that price range.
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Old Jan 14th, 2013, 12:20 PM
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n_renea, hi,

I was raised in California and now live in Italy and you can definitely relax about your first trip to Italy and doing it together with your friend on your own. The cities you plan to visit are actually much smaller in size than maybe what you are imagining. In terms of walking around size, think in terms of Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Berkeley, places you can mainly walk around easily but also with MUCH better public transportation between the cities. Taking the trains between cities, even long distances, are a breeze.

Of course these "small" places are overflowing with fantastic buildings filled with famous and things like nothing you've ever seen -- so you will need to choose and be organized about seeing what most excites you to see, and living with the fact you can't see it all just this first time. Don't let anybody guilt-trip you into seeing anything if it's not calling to you. Other people have (IMHO) pretty rigid ideas about Venice and Rome, especially when you remember for some Catholics it's all about the Vatican, and other people think there is some "right" way to see Venice or Italy. Poo. If people tell you they "can't imagine" that you wouldn't include this or that, well, that's interesting information about them and their advice, not about Italy.

Also, you asked people to be "brutally" honest, but I honestly think there is no reason to be brutal -- and just so you know, if you want, you can get detailed advice from Frommer's and Tripadvisor message boards without sarcastic putdowns like "this isn't rocket science." It honestly will take you and your friend some real brain work to plan an affordable, rewarding trip for your first trip to Italy -- especially if you want something more than check off the most famous sights quickly and then go shop a lot and eat piles of ice cream, LOL. You should read some trip reports around here about people who come to Italy and leave and still don't have a clue. Of course you'll want to eat some great Italian treats, but I admire you for zeroing in on the kind of tour that appeared to offer you some intellectual content for your trip. I'm sure you can do it on your own, without the tour group, but you had to start somewhere and you made a good start, with an open mind. Brava! Complimenti! (Italian lesson #1)

You'll get less tourists in the "trinity" outside of the time when school kids are on vacation. But you should be braced for crowds and lines at the most famous monuments and churches, so find out which ones you need to reserve before you go. It is very hot in summer, and more humid than California generally, and summer lasts until Sept 21 in terms of heat (even a bit later in Rome).

Hope all your dreams come true.
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Old Jan 14th, 2013, 12:53 PM
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There are a bunch of things about this description that I don;t get

But a couple of notes:

I would spend more time and less money on hotels (you don't need 4* you can do 3* and get enough time in each place to actually see something (can you see SF, LA and SD in 7 days with travel in between - I don't think you'll get to see much)

Not only all 4* but basically all 3* hotels have private baths - and central location is more important to a trip with limited time than having a bar in the hotel.

The hotel in FLorence is well on the - wrong side of the Arno - not in a good position for sightseeing - better someplace simpler near the heart of the city. Hotels in the other 2 cities are reasonably central - but not as close as I would want to be. IMHO art of the joy of any vacation in europe is exploring the city on foot (plan on doing 8 to 10 miles a day - NOT like CA - cars are useless in all 3 places).

I would do a lot more work on what you actually want to see and do - then figure out how much time you really have - and people can help you make decisions. (Each city has dozens of tours of all types from inexpensive to exclusive walking tours that you can usually pick up on the spot except for the few places - Scavi, Borghese, etc - that require them.)
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Old Jan 14th, 2013, 01:33 PM
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I'd get a copy of the Rough Guide to Italy to read up about the trip now so you can enjoy your knowledge while you are there.

Italian, learn in CA, also try one or two of the skype based italian one to one teachers (I used one based in Italy on http://www.verbalplanet.com/index.asp Elisa Polise) and even skype chat to italians (try Busuu.com). You may not get to perfection but it is much nicer to order in the language.

The three cities you want to go to are very easy to do on your own. The train system in Italy is very clean and extensive (even the cheap slow regionale are pretty good) The Silver Arrow (Rome-Florence-Venice) is a great train.

Italian hotel rooms are smaller than you might expect and every bathroom has an emergency pull cord in it. (don't pull it)
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Old Jan 14th, 2013, 01:53 PM
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Any sun dresses would need sleeves to enter many churches (shoulders and knees need to be covered). Instead of jeans, take linen. Italians tend to wear very thin linen to keep cool. >>

it's a small detail at this point, but a light shirt or a large silk scarf that you can put in your bag and won't weigh much is all you'll need to solve this problem.

as for language learning, do you belong to a library? They very often have language CDs or tapes that you can try out before you buy. e-bay is also useful for picking up 2nd hand copies at cheap prices. My favourite is Michel Thomas, but the most important thing is to practice little and often.

once you have a budget, i'm sure that there are people here who can recommend nice central hotels in each place. Central = convenience, and when you are in a new place for a short period of time, IMO that is worth a lot.
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Old Jan 14th, 2013, 02:32 PM
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In Rome we stayed at B&B Al Centro di Roma in July last year and really enjoyed it. A very small B&B located on the 4th floor of a building (there is an elevator) with only 3 rooms. The rooms were small but clean, each with its own bathroom and excellent air conditioning. They gave you a voucher for breakfast at the bar across the piazza each morning. I think the cost was $115 per night, based on double occupancy (don't know if it would be more if you each got your own room). The B&B was in a great location - easy walking distance to all the sights. I would go back in a minute!
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Old Jan 14th, 2013, 03:41 PM
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Flying into Venice and out of Rome works better for many – flights headed for the USA seem to leave very early from Venice. Also Venice gives a very calm entry to Italy. (A caveat here – we’re Venice nut-cases.)

Second class on trains in Italy is fine. Some prefer first class, and you do get a bit more space in first, but we’ve travelled often in second without any problems. Both train trips that you are planning are about 2 hours – so not a big deal, and there is a bar (often) on trains. Many trains have wi-fi connection, in both first and second. We’ve never booked train tickets much in advance – often the day prior to travelling – but there are cost savings if you book early (maybe). Look for posts on this forum by a guy called GAC – he knows all about trains in Italy.

For hotels, www.venere.com is a good site to look at.

For Venice, the walking tour does not make a lot of sense, as you can do it on your own. Also, with a walking group, you are limited to what the guide thinks is important, and limited to the walking speed of the slowest person. A walking tour that takes in the Mercerie will be difficult – the Mercerie is often jam-packed with people. Sometimes it’s a good idea to look at the walking tour itinerary, and then just do it on your own.

If you click on my user name, you’ll find a couple of trip reports that I’ve written about Venice.
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Old Jan 14th, 2013, 03:42 PM
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I agree you don't need 4-star hotels. If you want to feel like you are in Italy, stay at a smaller pension or B&B.

To start, read through a bunch of threads on hotels in each of the cities.

In Venice, Pension la Calcina gets rave reviews for its low prices and wonderful service. It was full when we went to Venice, but we had a very nice brunch at their outdoor cafe with a beautiful view.

We stayed at the 1-star Hotel Riva, situated at the confluence of two small canals, in a convenient and charming area. I recommend you consider it.

Casa Rezzonica (sp?) is in the Dorsoduro (sp?) area. My daughter stayed there once and liked it a lot.

In Florence, we liked the Relais Cavalcanti very much.

And in Rome, we liked Domus Julia, near the Spanish Steps.

Most hotels in Italy include a simple breakfast in their price, as ours did.
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Old Jan 14th, 2013, 04:15 PM
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My daughter and a friend stayed here in Venice and liked it:


Easy to find, and not too busy in the street. With the best chocolate shop in the world outside the door.
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Old Jan 14th, 2013, 05:40 PM
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I have no problem with the idea of 4* hotels - we always lookk for 4* or 5* (but at bargain prices) - but that doesn't men we have to shorten the trip.

If given the choice between a longer trip wit 3* hotels and 4* I would always doe the former (I did when I first traveled 30 years ago).
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Old Jan 14th, 2013, 06:33 PM
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While a tour simplifies certain aspects of travel
its not always the most economical way to travel and if you read carefully you will "see" means look at as you pass by, rather than "visit" ie go into the various sites.

You can easily travel between Venice, Florence and Rome by train, and select well located hotels that fit your budget.

Take out some guide books on Italy from your local library and decide what things you each want to see and do in each city.

You will probably find that most tours either do not go to these places or do not give you enough free time to go on your own. Also look at map of each city, so you can see where most of the sites are. The historic centers of each of these cities is not as large as you think, and its not difficult to get around. Your hotel can help you with directions too.

You can book hotels on line...i used Tingo.com .. they re-book for you if the rate drops, and you get a refund on the credit card once you stayed and you can cancel as well.. it paid for me as the euro kept on dropping last year.

You and your friend are young, and many people on tours are much older. I have done this myself, and some times it felt like I was traveling with the parents of others. not exactly ideal.

You have enough time to organize this your self. Watch the airfares. Try to fly into Venice and then go to Rome. The flight times home will be better and you will have more choices.

You will have a long flight to Italy from the west coast. If you can add a day going, you will be able to rest more when you arrive. look into the various flight possibilities. For example from many east coast cities you cannot fly nonstop to Italy. However, Delta and Alitalia have nonstop flights from NYC/JFK to Venice and from Rome. Balance cost and the number of hours of flying you are willing to do.

On your own you also get to chose where to eat what to eat and when. Only on certain types of tours will you have great meals, at great local restaurants.

In addition to your local library for language cd, you can see if the library has online free language program. the BBC has a free online language program .. you can sign up and learn some Italian. But not to worry you will be visiting cities where there are many tourists and those who deal with tourists generally speak English as well as other languages.

You may also find that there are some independent travel packages that will give you the rail and hotels in each city. You can compare prices and locations of the hotels.

Happy planning and I hope your trip is wonderful.
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Old Jan 17th, 2013, 06:57 PM
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Thank you all. Your advice has been invaluable. So excited to start planning.
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Old Jan 19th, 2013, 10:17 AM
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What is "California style". ?????
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Old Mar 22nd, 2013, 02:30 PM
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Just as a chain is only as strong as the weakest link, a group tour is only as fast as the slowest tourist. You will get up early but wait for the oversleeper. You will be ready to move on but there will be the obligatory bathroom break (your bladder may vary). In any location with three important sites, you will drive by one, stop for a picture at one, and get a walk through the third. Boarding the tour bus takes half an hour. Same for getting a room at the hotel or anything else that the group will do at the same time. The included food will be adequate but uninspiring and certainly not in any way offensive to any one with unadventurous tastes. One third of your time will be spent on the organizational overhead of the group.

You will not have decide anything. You will not have to figure out how to deal with unfamiliar transportation or social conventions or currency. You will not be perplexed by anything unfamiliar. You will not waste any time going the wrong way on a bus or getting lost. You will not have to blame yourself for a bad choice, you can just blame the tour. And there will always be someone to answer your questions, often accurately.

At your age, you are nearly certain to be the youngest tour group members, by a few decades.

As for deciding what you want to do, what are your skills? Maps? Improvisation? Planning? Languages? You only avoid mistakes with experience, but you only get experience from mistakes. Mine have included getting lost in Rome and discovering the reality of steak tartare. What are your interests? Art? Culture? Food? Ice cream? The sheer wonder of seeing something in real life rather than a picture?

And remember, with any inclusive tour, cheap is really too cheap, and expensive is overpriced. The money spent to organize, advertise, and profit from a tour will not be spent on you.

The fact that you are starting planning now is an excellent predicter of eventual success. Go for whatever kind of trip you feel will suit you, then plan another to correct your mistakes.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2013, 06:50 PM
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To address budget...

I'm currently starting the planning of a 2 week trip to London, Paris and Venice. Because I know budget is a key factor in my friends being able to come I needed to give a fairly accurate budget for them to plan and save. To do this I got an idea of the dates they could probably get off work and the itinerary desired.

Then I figured out the order of cities based on logic, in my case London - Paris - Venice. My budget saver once I get closer to getting real time airfare will be to flip flop Venice and London.

We've also settled on late April and early May 2015 for the trip window to be solidified once we get about 6 months out based on airfare and hotel trends.

Then I calculated the number of nights I thought we'd want to stay. In this case, London 4-5, Paris 4-5, Venice 3 with 1 night on the sleeper train between Paris and France (I've heard all the arguments on flying, train is our choice).

To calculate the hotel budget I did a search on Booking.com and some apartment sites for the approximate dates this year that we would be there and got an idea of what the rates were for the hotels that looked good on location and amenities.

I've rounded up about 25% to give cushion and then figured out a comfortable daily budget (meals, local transit, entry fees, shopping money) to get my budget for each person. As I've researched I've made note of the variables, like the sleeper train for 3 would run x$ at full price but start looking at about 90 days out and we could save 20-50% on the fare.

This lets me schedule a reminder on my calendar to check and book those savings as soon as they open.

Each person is different in their needs and comfort level. I'd be fine with a shared hostel dorm room as long as it was female only, my friend would only be comfortable with an en-suite bath (she might make an exception for a very small B&B). I've got on my list a day out to Bath and that is something the other 2 on my trip may not do as it's directly based on my love of Jane Austen.

Your personal spending style is also an indicator of how much to budget. I'm the type to think over any kind of purchase and to stick to a budget... so if I budget $20 for lunch and then the place chosen on the fly is more expensive I'm going to be looking for ways to make-up for it or take it out of my spending money pool (good meal v. fewer trinkets).

All up to you and your friend and how much you can realistically save.
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Old Mar 24th, 2013, 03:24 AM
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Generally speaking:

You can do this on your own. Whether you want to is something only you can answer. For some people, it's just easier to sign onto a tour group and have everything handled for them. A suggestion if you do it on your own: How 'bout if you and your friend split up the planning, according to some system. "You plan Rome, and I'll plan Florence." Or: "You take care of the hotels, and I'll take care of the transportation."

Hotels: There's tons of info and recommendations on this forum. Honestly, that should be the easiest part.

Language: If you want to learn, go ahead, but it's not necessary for the Big Three.

In-country transportation: If you're on a tour group, generally, you get on the bus and go, with planned stops. On your own can be a bit more complicated and time consuming. For instance, going from Florence to Venice by train involves getting to the train station in Florence, waiting for your train, train travel, then getting to your hotel from the Venice train station -- no easy deal if your hotel isn't near a major canal. The point being, budget a fair amount of time for getting from Point A to Point B when doing it on your own.

Food budget: That's difficult because there are so many personal variables -- and multiply them X 2 because there are two of you. If your hotels provide breakfast (and many do in Italy), figure on $100/day/person for food. Some will say that's too little; some will say it's too much. I say you have to start somewhere.

So let's break this down. As I understand it, the tour you're looking at will cost you roughly $3500/person for airfare, hotel and "first class transportation" (bus) between cities. Tours and food are extra.

Let's say you find an airfare for $1200. (I don't fly from CA, so I'm not sure of the prices.) Hotel is $100/nt each for 9 nights -- $900. Food, $100/day = $1000. Transportation between cities/airports: $300. Admissions to sites: $200. An optional tour or two offered through your hotel or otherwise: $200.

I make that $3800 for just about everything, except souvenirs.
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