To Tour or Not to Tour

Sep 6th, 2011, 11:09 AM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 8,668
One less day in CT and add one to Rome. Looks like a good first trip to me.

maitaitom is offline  
Sep 6th, 2011, 11:31 AM
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I looked at some of the hotels in the tours. Florence hotel included in the tour packages is more than 1 mile walk from the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio and and Rome hotel included in the tour is more than 3 miles from Pantheon.

When you compare cost, make sure you are aware of the metric used -- what the cost offers you. Looking at the tour package link, what the tours are offering are the number of locations per dollar. However looking at how much time is chewed up in moving around along with accommodations so far away from the attractions, I doubt the tours can offer better experience per dollar metric. You need to choose what metric is relevant to you. There is no right/wrong answer. Look at the inside of what 14days offers you in each case.
greg is offline  
Sep 6th, 2011, 12:07 PM
Join Date: Dec 2006
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Just a thought -- have you looked at the packages arranged by Costco Travel? These are not tours, but Costco books your hotels and transportation between cities for you, and your airfare as well, if you wish. The hotels are excellent and centrally located. Here, for example, is an Italy package:
These packages are very flexible and you can add nights wherever you wish. I am doing Rome/Florence/Venice/Paris in November and will report back!
azzure is offline  
Sep 6th, 2011, 01:34 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
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hi Charlotte,

you're being brave - stick with it.

there are no perfect vacations, but if you do it yourself, you can at least control some of the parameters - like getting a decent CENTRAL hotel, for example. this is a real advantage as other posters have indicated.

as for your itinerary, IMO your idea to spend 3 nights in Venice to start off with is a very good one - you will need time to recover from the journey, possibly jetlag, and just to adjust to Italy, and there is really no better place to do it. Also, nowhere else will be so expensive, so you will get the worst over first!

then you can have a nice rest on the way to the CT - 6 hours is a long way on a train. 3 nights looks about right here.

personally, I would then hire a car and stay somewhere like Siena, using it as a base to tour - you could do Florence as a day trip on the bus very easily.

then return your car in orvieto, spend 1/2 a day there, and get the train to Rome. if you can somehow squeeze an extra day for Rome, you'll be as close to perfection as you can reasonably expect.

this gives you the following:

Day 1 - arrive in Venice.
Day 2-4 - Venice
Day 5 - train to CT.
Day 6-7 - CT
Day 8 - train to Pisa, see campo dei miracle, rent car. drive to Siena
Day 9-10 - stay Siena
Day 11 - drive to orvieto, return car, tour city, get train to Rome.
Day 12-14 - Rome.
annhig is offline  
Sep 6th, 2011, 03:05 PM
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Posts: 49
Thank you all for your feedback. General feedback is apprieciated. I will post more questions as they come up, but here are a few.

annhig- I like the way you think. It crossed my mind to rent the car in Pisa for the Tuscany stretch, obviously not for Florence. Which brings up the question, what do we need to do to be able to drive in Europe, licensing wise?

Also do trains in Europe charge extra for baggage? We are going to pack as lightly as possible but we will probably still have a bag.

Honestly I am a bit intimidated about pickpocketing. The guidebooks I have looked at have warnings all over them, especially in the Rome chapter (as if Rome isn't big and scarey enough.) I have heard that this is a problem and will be investing in a money belt and be on my guard without a doubt. Any other tips on avoiding being the victim of a pickpocketing. How about cameras? What is the safest way to carry them so they won't be as snachable?

Also does anyone have any advice as far as which of the Cinque Terre to stay in?
CharlotteJ is offline  
Sep 6th, 2011, 03:07 PM
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**We will definitely have a bag... Probably was a miss-type.
CharlotteJ is offline  
Sep 6th, 2011, 04:59 PM
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Charlotte ....

I think your estimates for DIY you're using must be very high. Looking at the tour it comes to about $500/nt (350E)for the 2 of you. You can do much better than that, while staying in hotels much better located.

In Rome and Florence I think you can safely budget 100E/nt for accommodations that are “lower priced hotels that are safe, clean and not too far away from where we want to be”. I know that Venice is more expensive (I've never been), but 150E should be good number from looking at websites.

Look at and Select search areas as Duomo for Florence, San Marco for Venice, Pantheon, Trevi, Piazza Navona for Rome.

For food, 100E a day should be more than sufficient. That will allow you to have a quick/light lunch and a sit down dinner in addition to gelato, choosing moderate budget restaurants.

That leaves 100-150E under the tour cost each day, you just need to figure in transportation cost. If you decide to rent a car for Tuscany, it will be a significant additional cost, especially if neither of you can drive a stick.

I think Venice/Florence/Tuscany/CT/Rome is 1 or 2 too many stops. Spending more than you need to on transport and making the logistics more challenging. You are young, so you will have plenty of opportunities to come back to Italy, so take this trip slower. I’m also not sure I’d suggest renting a car for nervous first time travelers from a small town. For Tuscany it would give you the most freedom, but potentially a lot of extra stress.

Here is my itinerary suggestion:

Day 1 - arrive in Venice.
Day 2-4 - Venice
Day 5 - train Florence
Day 6-7- Florence
Day 8 - train to Pisa, & Lucca, sleep Florence
Day 9 – train to Siena, sleep Florence
Day 10 - train to Rome
Day 11-14 – Rome

This would give you a taste of Tuscany if you wanted to do a future CT/Tuscany trip. Also it would leave some unexplored territory in Rome if you wanted to do a future Rome/Amalfi trip.

No extra baggage charge on trains.

I think the pickpocket thing is way overdramatized. Wear a money belt. In your purse keep only a days worth of cash and one debit & credit card. Keep other cash, back up credit and debit, and ID in your money belt. Carry a cross body purse. Keep your hand across the opening on the metro, bus etc. and in crowds. Be alert and aware of your surroundings. In a restaurant or café, keep your purse on, don’t hang it on the chair. If you do all those things, it would take Houdini to pickpocket you!
aimeekm is offline  
Sep 6th, 2011, 06:30 PM
Join Date: Jun 2009
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When I planned my trip to Italy, everyone on this board had me very nervous about pickpockets... and luggage thieves on the trains. I began to think I didn't even want to go to Rome!

I had no problems and no close encounters. I carried a cross body bag with the front turned into my body so the opening was not accessible to anyone. If I was wearing a jacket, my camera was in one pocket with my hand on it which is just habit for me... left hand in my pocket, right hand on my purse strap.

I did overhear an older woman talking about her husband's wallet being stolen the previous day but he probably had it in his back pocket.
joannyc is offline  
Sep 7th, 2011, 05:56 AM
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I like your itinerary, especially the time in Venice. As I've frequently written, it's perfectly appropriate sightseeing there to drift around in a jet-lagged fog. Like maitaitom says, maybe subtract a day from the the Cinque Terre and add it to Rome. You are scanting Rome a bit.

Pisa is west of Florence and Siena to the south. So you couldn't easily stop in Pisa on the way to Siena. And the bus is better than train from Florence to Siena. The train stops outside the walls and you have to get yourself into town by bus or taxi. Whereas the bus arrives in the historic center of Siena. (The bus station for Siena is across the street from the main Florence train station.)

I'd skip a car for this first visit. You don't need any more complications, and cars aren't advisable in any Italian city, especially Florence.

To save money on meals, we have our big meal at lunch. It's cheaper than dinner and gives us a nice rest from sightseeing. Then we have gelato for dinner. The Italians eat dinner after 8:00. That's a bit late for us, makes sleeping harder.

You're doing a good job on the planning. And you will be able to stay in small, central hotels with lots of local atmosphere -- as opposed to those uninteresting tourgroup hotels in far corners of the city. For hotels, also look at, checking the box for B&Bs/Inns.
Mimar is offline  
Sep 7th, 2011, 06:23 AM
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Thanks Again!
Mimar: Thank you for the advice! I could be wrong but I believe when I was pricing train tickets I would have to change trains in Pisa to get to Siena from Cinque Terre anyway. The same with Florence. That must be where the rail branches. From what I have read it is a 45 minute walk from the train station to the field of Miricles, I was thinking of walking one way, spending some time and then busing back to the train station. Great tip on the meals. I think mid-day would be when we need the biggest energy boost anyway.

Thanks Aimeekm that was my original plan, it is a good one too, and also still a possibility. Nothing is booked yet.

Which Leads me to the question.. When booking your hotels, do you book online or call the hotel directly? The guide book I have (Rick Steves) says to call directly (if you want his discounts at one of his reccomended hotels)
CharlotteJ is offline  
Sep 7th, 2011, 07:02 AM
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I always book online. Use TripAdvisor which will check prices at the place you choose at multiple web sites. You can book someplace, and keep looking, if you don't book with a "no cancellation" price (and you can always change your reservation to thst price closer to your trip when you asre certain you won't change your mind.)

If you find a specific hotel you really want, and it appears they don't have rooms for your dates, sometimes it is because you are trying to book too far in the future. And sometimes, you can then call (or email) the hotel direct and bingo, they have rooms. Ask for their best price, and you may get a better price than the web site.
uhoh_busted is offline  
Sep 7th, 2011, 08:03 AM
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I always CALL hotels for final booking. Especially helpful as they can describe the different rooms in detail, answer ANY questions, and offer extras like transport. They have always spoken good English and give their best rate.

Also you asked about extra bags on trains. Plenty of room - even on the vaporettos (not so much on subways during rush hour...).
bardo1 is offline  
Sep 7th, 2011, 09:03 AM
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I really think you should look at the following thread to help you decide. You should look especially at the last few days' postings when she left the tour and had to do things on her own. Even seasoned travelers get confused and disoriented, especially in Italy and especially in Italian train stations where the signage is not always the greatest.

There are upsides and downsides to doing a tour as there are upsides and downsides to DIY. Weigh them carefully and decide which way is best for you, your experience and your temperament.
easytraveler is offline  
Sep 7th, 2011, 10:23 AM
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CharlotteJ, you might consider hiring a private tour guide on your first day in each city (or just on your first full day in the country) to alleviate any anxiety when you first arrive. I'm sure there are a number of well reviewed guides that can be recommended. I can understand the fear of the unknown and having someone to help you through the small things right from the start may be all you need.
Ann Marie
amwosu is offline  
Sep 7th, 2011, 11:47 AM
Join Date: Mar 2006
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What has worked for me is booking the plane and train tickets in advance, and then upon arrival, go to the office of tourism (typically one at every major airport/train station) to look at DYI tours or book a guided tour. Also, Tripadvisor is a valuable resource.
nancicita is offline  
Sep 7th, 2011, 11:48 AM
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DYI = DIY (I'm sometimes dyslexic)

Have fun!
nancicita is offline  
Sep 7th, 2011, 11:55 AM
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Call or book online ??? Already you've gotten two differing opinions. I prefer to book online ensuring that I get an email confirmation .... sometimes will follow up just before with an email query about an issue (of course, mentioning that I'm VERY excited to be coming).

Although as bardo1 has said, calling does seem to be good option. Being one of those who MUST have written confirmation, I feel more comfortable with reservations on paper.
JBX is offline  
Sep 7th, 2011, 12:04 PM
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 7,142
RE. hiring a private tour guide on your first day:

While it may be quite nice, it could blow the (tour vs. DYI) costs analysis out the window.

RE. Calling vs. email:

If you're a bit "Type A", like JBX, just ask them to email you after you've talked. Best benefits of both options.
bardo1 is offline  

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