To Tour or Not to Tour

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Aug 18th, 2011, 09:45 AM
  #41
 
Join Date: Apr 2011
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As you now have a plan of Venice, Florence (Tuscany) and Rome you need to work out how much time to devote to each. Depends on your interests. As mentioned above would agree that its best to fly into Venice and out of Rome. Also mentioned above is seat61.com which is a great resource for rail travel advice - I dont know how I would have managed without it. You can do the whole trip using rail - I know some would advise hiring a car in Tuscany to get around, but depends on what you want to do and there is plenty that you can do by rail.
One thing I would say is that Pisa is an easy day trip from Florence (by rail). Could even take just the morning there and stop off on the way back to Florence for somewhere more interesting. (Not a fan of Pisa.)
Also the guidebooks will advise about buying tickets to museums etc in advance - this is very important otherwise you will be queuing for hours.
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Aug 18th, 2011, 09:45 AM
  #42
 
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As you now have a plan of Venice, Florence (Tuscany) and Rome you need to work out how much time to devote to each. Depends on your interests. As mentioned above would agree that its best to fly into Venice and out of Rome. Also mentioned above is seat61.com which is a great resource for rail travel advice - I dont know how I would have managed without it. You can do the whole trip using rail - I know some would advise hiring a car in Tuscany to get around, but depends on what you want to do and there is plenty that you can do by rail.
One thing I would say is that Pisa is an easy day trip from Florence (by rail). Could even take just the morning there and stop off on the way back to Florence for somewhere more interesting. (Not a fan of Pisa.)
Also the guidebooks will advise about buying tickets to museums etc in advance - this is very important otherwise you will be queuing for hours.
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Aug 18th, 2011, 09:47 AM
  #43
 
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>> He would really like the best value per day with as many stops as possible .... I fear he thinks "let's see as much as possible and hopefully only have to do this once" ....I am hoping this will be the trip that he falls head over heals in love with travel<<

I think if you go with a cram as much in as possible trip it will reinforce his negative opinion. It will be a MUCH more enjoyable trip if you slow it down and select only a handful of destinations.

You list your worries as "transportation, getting lost, changing money, and of course the language barriar. (sic)." By moving around less you minimize all these. Oh and don't worry about changing money, just use an ATM, they work the same all over the world. Also don't worry about the language barrier, basic Italian will get you far. Many people in Europe speak at least some english. It's important to get the pleasentries in their tongue, but usually after that if they see you struggling in their language they will switch to English. It's the effort that is appreciated, and smooths communication over. Even if you are stuck and no one speaks English, miming and pointing at maps, or places in the guidebook works wonders. Just think how many millions of people travel every year, not speaking the native language at all. You'll be fine, I promise!
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Aug 18th, 2011, 05:34 PM
  #44
 
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On tours,I just hated:
-the time wasted waiting around for people-checking that everyone is present(there's always someone who is late/lost!)
-the checking in/out of hotels in groups............
-the lack of downtime,just to relax,wander, sleep in,shop.
-the roll of the dice as to who you get as tour leader.
-the hotels are never within walking distance to anywhere interesting-reason given is the difficulty to park the bus.
- the food...............
- the outstreched hand at the end for a tip........
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Aug 19th, 2011, 04:54 AM
  #45
 
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You have to be v-e-r-y careful about tours. Sometimes you end up in places because the tour guide has an "arrangement" with the nearby store/restaurant/kiosk... You also end up getting just a taste of places that you want to see more of. Oh, and you don't always get to enter every site. The brochure may say "see/ reach / visit" a site and you will "whiz by" in the bus staring at the site through the window. More is not better on a trip abroad. I think everyone who wrote in this thread will agree.
So, if you choose a tour, check very carefully what sites you actually see from the inside and how crowded the days are.
You can't get that lost! We took a two week car trip in Northern Spain without knowing a word of Spanish. We made plenty of wrong turns and had plenty of interesting experiences finding out where we had to go. We stopped at a busy gas station and when the other drivers finally understood where we wanted to go, they got very "upset" for us because we were driving in the opposite direction! There was a lot of hand wringing (by them) and pointing at the map. We really laughed at that once we were our (correct) way.
If you use public transport (buses / trains / trams), you won't get lost.
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Aug 20th, 2011, 07:23 AM
  #46
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OK Guys. Just to update you... we still have not ruled out a tour, but with your help and suggestions and my trusty Rick Steves guide book, I think I am on the road to planning a trip we can do on our own (and one that will save us $2,000-$4,000, never a bad thing) We know we will still be wanting to do about 2 weeks. I am still unsure how much time we will be spending in each place. Advice would be apprieciated. Also if you have any suggestions of what not to miss in each city or what I should add to this please let me know.Please also let me know if I have underestimated drive time between places etc.

This is what I have penciled out:

Fly into Venice stay there a few days (3-4)
Take the train to Florence.
Rent a car in Florence
Stay in or near Florence (3-5 days)
Take Day trips to Pisa (for photo of tower, thats about it), into Florence, Tuscany in general...
Turn in rental car
Take train to Rome.
Stay in Rome (3-5)
In Rome we want to see the Colosseum, and the Sistine Chapel most
Fly home from Rome.

Thoughts Anyone
Charlotte
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Aug 20th, 2011, 08:27 AM
  #47
 
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Looks good to me. If you are relying on the Rick Steves Italy guidebook, be aware that the 2012 edition comes out in October and will have the most updated information. Updates subsequent to the publication of the guidebook can be found on Steves' web site.
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Aug 20th, 2011, 10:40 AM
  #48
 
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Good for you,believe me you will have an adventure and many memories!
In Rome I suggest you take the on/off bus-use it all day and see the sights that interest you.There's also the Archeobus which will take you out to the catacombs-if that interests you!
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Aug 20th, 2011, 11:49 AM
  #49
 
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You can rent the car in Venice and drive from there to Florence. Most rental agencies will be near the train station.
Check out rentals from both Florence and Venice and see which makes the most sense.
Have a great trip.
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Aug 21st, 2011, 07:32 AM
  #50
 
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If you're going from city center to city center in Italy, a train always makes more sense.

And Florence does not make a good base for day trips by car. By bus you can make a daytrip to Siena, by train you can go to Pisa and Lucca. If you stay in Florence's Centro Storico, the historic center, it'll probably be in a ZTL, a zone where only locals can drive. If you stay on the outskirts, you have to take a bus in to see the sights. In either case you probably pay to park your car.

Ditto if the Leaning Tower of Pisa is on your bucket list. Pisa is a fairly big city. You don't want to drive in and out of it. (But I've never been to Pisa in a number of trips to Italy. You don't have to.)

If you're not big fans of Renaissance art and architecture, maybe a daytrip into Florence will suffice. You could stay on the edge of Siena and take the bus in. Or stay in Arezzo in Chianti or somewhere else on the trainline.
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Aug 21st, 2011, 08:18 AM
  #51
 
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Charlotte- your rough plan looks very good. Logical, logistical, and reasonable. A rarity for a first timer plan. Congrats.

Take the higher number in your 3 cities- you'll want/need them.

4 nights in Venice w/ no day trips (not counting the smaller Venetian islands).

5 nights in Florence with 2, 3 or even 4 full-day day trips.

5 nights in Rome w/ no day trips.
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Aug 21st, 2011, 09:25 AM
  #52
 
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Regarding language, I always try to learn a way to say, "I speak okay but listen poorly. Please speak slowly."

When I'm home, if someone approaches me in English I will take the time to try and understand them and help them. Often the person will be pleasantly surprised with how my Spanish I know or German. If they try their native language first, forget it. (Of course, rare is the person who approaches me in German, double darn)

My feeling is that when one crosses a border they should learn at least 20 words of that country's language. Anyone can do this.
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Aug 21st, 2011, 10:07 AM
  #53
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Can anyone give me any more information about taking buses to see sights in Europe and how it compares to taking the train? I have lots of train info but no bus info.
Mimar, thank you for the advice about Florence.
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Aug 21st, 2011, 11:26 AM
  #54
 
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like the idea of seeing as much as we can in 2 weeks or so.>>

with 2 weeks, IMHO you really need to think about restarting yourselves to one country; since your interests seem to centre on Italy, why not make it Italy this time? frankly i would rule out the first two tours on your list - you will spend far more time travelling than you do seeing and doing.

then the places in Italy you want to see are super-easy to get to - by train. yes there are lots of buses, but for these particular cities, the train is the thing.

for you, the easy route would IMHO be the best - fly into Venice, stay 4 nights. train to Florence, stay 4 nights [gives you the opportunity to do a day trip to Pisa] train to Rome, stay 6 nights. fly home.

there is so much to do in each of these places, there is no chance that you will run out of things to do. and they are chock full of people who speak english.

oops, i just read your lost about renting a car. YOU DO NOT WANT A CAR IN FLORENCE. if you want to go this way, i suggest swapping Florence for Siena, where there are hotels on the outskirts of the city, with parking, but you can still walk into the centre. Then you could do a bus trip to Florence; this is one occasion when the bus is a better option.
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Aug 21st, 2011, 01:25 PM
  #55
 
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For buses (and any public transportation Q) simply search on posts by GAC. He has probably already provided multple posts for any question you could ask (and answered ones you have not yet even thought of). Public transport in Italy & Sicily is his specialty and - dare I say - passion!

I agree with the general consensus. Renting a car if you intend to stay in cities is not the way to go. You will find the trains easy and parking not easy or plentiful. It is my impression that trains are more convenient than busses in the locations you have in mind, but others will know better.

I also encourage you to stay in at least one apartment during your stay as suggested by others. It is in my view a very welcome break from hotels and may save you a few Euro. Both Fodorites and individuals who post on Tripadvisor can also give, in many cases, feedback on specific apartments. We stayed in a place rented by another Fodorite based on her Trip Report and it was as lovely as she reported.
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Aug 21st, 2011, 02:01 PM
  #56
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See, what would I do without you guys? scratch renting the car in florence then.
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Aug 22nd, 2011, 07:38 AM
  #57
 
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I disagree with LizTD. I like apartments too, but not so much for first-timers, especially not if they're nervous about traveling on their own. In a hotel you can ask questions and get help. In an apartment you have to figure out where to buy toilet paper and how to use the appliances.

CharlotteJ, years ago I dragged my husband on a guided tour for our first trip to Europe. He loved it and we've returned many times since. I had found a tour with long stops in each city. We learned to use the public transportation and gained the confidence that we could do this by ourselves.

Of course that was in the days before Fodors forum. You can get a lot of help here and elsewhere on the Internet. And Rick Steves is a good resource for nervous first-time travelers.

Here's a site with detailed information about traveling by train in Italy: www.slowtrav.com/italy/trains/. Regarding the buses, there are different lines according to where you start from and where you're going. Refine your itinerary and then we can help.
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Aug 22nd, 2011, 09:53 AM
  #58
 
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roninrome.com is also a very good source of information.
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Aug 22nd, 2011, 12:42 PM
  #59
 
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I just picked up on this thread and am excited to see that you are thinking of doing this yourselves! You will have a blast, way better than a tour in my opinion. We did our first trip to Italy in 2000 (first trip anywhere really) and were a little nervous doing it ourselves... but we just went back for the 5th time in May. You will fall in love with Italy and you will be back!
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Aug 22nd, 2011, 12:53 PM
  #60
 
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As far as hotels go, if you provide a price range, people here will make some good suggestions.
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