Posts Tagged With: travel tips

Learning Any New Language Is Foreign to Us!

Conventional wisdom says travelers should learn a few basic words in the native language for convenience and to show respect. I think this is true, so here are some Italian terms we found useful:

First, I found many Italians spoke English as soon as I tried my Italian. My theory was that they were proud that they knew English. Sue disagreed; she thought they wanted to avoid hearing any further assault on their beloved tongue.

Unmini (men's room): Sue learned this on our last day, after-the-fact.

Per favore (please), grazie (thank you).

Buon giorno (good morning, good day), buona sera (good evening). I had trouble here because I could not figure out when sera began. I once said something like buon giorno and was greeted with (I hope!) buona sera at 3 p.m.

In Italy, this pizza and calzone are each meant for one!

Arrivederci (goodbye), ciao (hello or so long, familiar)

Stazione (train station). Centrale (central). In big cities that have several stations, such as Florence, it helps to know which station is best for you. Stazione Centrale put us in the right place most of the time, but not in Florence.

Autobus (bus).

Parli Inglese? (Do you speak English?)

Prego (Our book says it means “you are welcome,” but it is used for more basics. Servers used it to tell us they were ready to take our order, for example.)

No need to know: Sono Americano (I am American.) They know that before you speak, whether you are in London, Beijing, or Rome.

Mi scuse (excuse me)

Si and no.

We didn't know many of these, but it would help to know some food words. Kinds of meat, sauces, vegetables, milk, juice, salad, etc. Or have them in your phone or on a cheat sheet. Many menus have English, but stores usually do not. Some menu items are not traditional American fare. Or, be adventurous! A few times, I wasn't sure, but it all tasted good.

Dov'e il bagno? (Where is the bathroom?) In cities, carry some change for public restrooms. Prices usually range from 50 cents to one euro.

You can see this is a very short list. We got by with these and often did not need to know them. We welcome your suggestions.

We try to remember to be ready to laugh at ourselves. Sometimes sense of humor is the most difficult thing to pack everywhere. We often tell each other that we will never see these people again, so it is alright to make mistakes. This did not work so well in Scotland because we have great friends there who remember our miscues, and they still get a good laugh at our expense! Don't worry, I won't mention any names, Trish!


Categories: Italy | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

So, You Want to Ride the Train in Italy!?

Sue does word puzzles on a high-speed Eurostar train from Verona to Florence today.

What is the best way to get around Italy? For us, it seemed that the train would be best for day trips from Rome and Verona and for intercity travel.

This notion is foreign to many in the United States, where train options are few and far between in most of the country.

How about price? It varies tremendously. Comfort, convenience? Those vary too, largely based upon what you are willing to pay. We have found that the train can be convenient, comfortable and inexpensive here. It can also be confusing, as travel can be in an unfamiliar country. But, this is part of the challenge and fun of traveling.

The conventional wisdom is that you get the best deals by purchasing tickets at the train station on or near the day of the trip. For regional trains, we have found this to be true. We went from Rome to Naples and back for 22 Euro each. Verona to Venice, about 15 Euro return per person. Some of these deals did not show up on the computer the day before.

Regional trains are fine and allow you to use the tickets any day and time within a specified period, usually a couple of months. They do not give you reserved seats, but we easily found seats except once and on that trip we got seats after about half an hour. They make more stops, but if the distance is not too great, it is no big deal. And, you can almost always travel spontaneously and cheaply.

But, if you have a fair distance to travel, there are other options, such as Eurostar, a more comfortable, high-speed train. We have used Eurostar twice, from Rome to Verona (74 Euro each) and from Verona to Florence today (about 40 Euro each). A Euro is about $1.29. These trains are very fast, comfortable, quiet, and make few stops. Plus, you get to choose your seats when you book. We enjoyed both Eurostar trips very much.

Graffiti is common around Italy; I found this art at a station during our ride from Florence to Pistoia.

Many people book their train travel online through trenitalia. At the station, you can book at the ticket counter through an agent or use a touch-screen machine. We used the machine every time, and it was easy. Just tap the British flag for English and the rest is easy. You can choose your itinerary and the machine prints your tickets. You can use credit cards.

If you book a regional train (without reserved date, time, or seat), get your ticket validated on the day of your journey by getting it stamped in one of the validating machines at the station. You can be fined (50 Euro) if you do not. Some people ride the trains without tickets…some hide in the bathroom when tickets are being checked. Several times, we had our validated tickets, but no one ever checked them. Ah, well.

We booked our Eurostar travel a couple of days in advance both times at the touch-screen machine at the station. We think the extra cost is worth it for longer trips.

Rome and Verona are walkable cities, but we used the buses several times. We bought tickets at tobacco stores, which are common (1,50 in Rome and 1,30 in Verona). The tickets are good for any one bus trip on any day. There are machines on the buses to validate your tickets. On some buses, you can buy tickets on machines. There are signs at bus stops that show which buses stop there and where they go. Usually, we were going to the train station (stazione), so it was easy to figure out.

At train stations, you can buy an espresso, or something stronger.

We know some who use cheap, intercity flights (Ryan Air, for example) to get around. If you love airports, this might be your ticket!

Now we are in Tuscany for a week, staying in a small, mountaintop village. Time for Californians' favorite form of travel: the car. After just one day, I am glad we have our little Alfa Romeo sedan. Italian drivers following us today may not agree, though. We booked online for about 240 Euro a week, full insurance included (as well as a fee for having two drivers).

No matter your mode of travel, travel light! Our rolling carry-on sized bags have been relatively easy on this trip. I remember once pulling two suitcases around London…never again!

What can you add about the best way to get around Italy? Share your ideas by writing a comment.


Categories: Italy | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Venice: All’s Well That Ends Well

Ah, Venice. A cluster of islands, off the coast of northeast Italy, dissected by a maze of canals and narrow streets. Shops, restaurants, cafes and tourists galore.

How do you spend a day in a city that one guidebook said could take three months to fully explore?

We started with a water-taxi ride from the train station along the Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco. Crowded boat, but a fun, picturesque journey.

We walked through the impressive Basilica di San Marco (I remembered to take off my hat this time.) The guidebook said it is one of the greatest buildings in Europe. The mosaics are beyond belief.

It was time to explore. Punctuated by lunch and a pause for coffee and pastry, we wandered along narrow passageways, often climbing up and down steps on the countless bridges. Where did the crowds go? We kept track of which district we were in, but otherwise left the map in my back pocket.

About an hour before our train, we found the perfect place for a drink next to the Grand Canal. Not far from the station, we debated whether to have the smaller or larger carafe of wine. This is Venice! Very enjoyable, but probably not a wise choice.

A couple of wrong turns led us off the map 15 minutes before our train was to take us back to Verona. We picked up the pace when Sue saw the tronchetto (people mover) and found it on the map. We were nearly running. It was a couple of minutes after departure time, but the sign said our train was delayed. Yes! Sue ran for the train and made it through the door as I validated our ticket in the machine on the platform. The whistle blew and the door closed…behind me!

Ah, Venice!


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2 Euros Buy Gondola Memory!




No trip to Venice is complete without a ride in one of the city's romantic gondolas. While cruising a fascinating maze of waterways, you'll create rich memories of your day in this beautiful and historic region. However, an investment in a gondola ride will leave your pocketbook in a very poor state…and because we do have a budget of sorts, we decided that a photo would make us just as happy.

With a 10 Euro bill in hand, Reg approached a young gondolier offering him a good old American bribe. He promptly, but politely turned us down, although he did direct us to Campo San Sophia where we could “take the gondola across the canal for just 2 Euro.” The ride takes all of 45 seconds, so make sure you are posed and ready when the gondolier pushes off…


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Pompeii’s Story of Life and Tragedy is Revealed

With a menacing Mount Vesuvius looming, a visit to Pompeii brings to life the terrible tragedy of nearly 2,000 years ago. From Rome, it is two train rides and about three hours away, but I would not miss the experience. Take the train from Roma Termini to Naples. You will have several choices…we took the local train for just 11 Euro. Then follow the signs to the Circumvesuviana station; buy tickets before the turnstile for 4,50 Euro (commas instead of decimals) and head for the platform. Get off at the Pompeii Scavi Villa Misteri station, about 30 minutes. Go past the guided tour kiosk and the entrance is on the left. You can get water (and pizza?) from one of the several food/drink stands on the way.


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The Highest Point in the World’s Smallest Nation

It is quite a climb at the Vatican to the cupola of St. Peter's Basilica, but the view is worth every step. The lines at St. Peter's can be quite long, but there was a break at lunchtime today.

We are off to Verona tomorrow (Tuesday) on the train. Rome was unseasonably warm for our week, with temperatures in the high 70s and high humidity. Not bad, and it sure beats rain. A few notes from Rome:

  • Take off your hat when you enter church, especially St. Peter's. Guess who did not?
  • Dinner hour here for many diners is about 9 p.m., when you can feel the city energize. The meal pace is slower than in California…much better here! You must ask for the check when you are ready.
  • Some diners smoke at outdoor cafes, but it is usually not bad.
  • Many drivers and passengers do not wear seat belts.
  • This is a walkable city.
  • The food is terrific and we are looking forward to specialties of other areas of Italy. We have had mainly pasta, pizza, calzone, risotto, and panini here. The bruschetta is a great appetizer. Most drink red wine here and we did not splurge for the expensive stuff, but what we drank was mostly good, particularly after the first glass.
  • We have loved the maze of narrow streets and the incredible number of eating and drinking places.
  • Smart cars are everywhere, but they park at stupid places and angles. I have no idea how people get out of their parking spots. But, I usually cannot figure out how they got into them!
  • Be sure to get your train and bus tickets validated…there are machines at the train stations to do so, and yellow machines on buses. You can be fined if you forget. It is easy once you get the hang of it.
  • Sue advises not to try your high heels on the cobblestone streets. We did pass several hospitals on our walks, though.
  • I am so glad we chose Italy for our first retirement adventure.
  • What would you add to this list?


Categories: Italy | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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