Travel Tips


In this section I give you tips on traveling, driving, packing, eating, drinking and enjoying your trip to Italy. As many times as I’ve traveled to Italy, I learn something new each and every time. Each trip I make gets better and better — I think it’s because I keep jotting down things that make my travel life easier… plus, I’m more relaxed and less intimidated by the differences between our countries the more times I visit Italy. I’m happy to pass that information on to you. It’s quite a learning experience. I’ll let you in on the joys, mishaps, challenges, discoveries and funny tales of what can happen on a trip to Italy.

Here we go with the TIPS…….

WHO TO TRAVEL WITH AND HOW: Make sure you travel with people you know and like, family, friends — easygoing, interested, non-complaining, adaptable — good people. Nothing ruins a trip faster than traveling with someone you have little in common with, people who are upset at the least inconvenience, folks who are demanding (inappropriately so) and rude. I have been there and it was upsetting to say the least…..how little we know each other until we’ve shared a room and a few meals (and a few enlightening moments — who knew?)……just be tolerant, remember you’re on vacation — relax….let some stuff "go" — be true to yourself.

I’m usually the person who plans the travel for me and my friends, if they’re disappointed in something, I take it personally — I so want them happy and enjoying themselves (as I am), that I feel I’ve let them down when something isn’t just perfect. Things do go wrong and there are disappointments — just move on, get beyond — you’re in Italy! Also, if you are the travel planner, you’re not the tour guide and you don’t have all the answers — it’s your time to enjoy and relax too. Your friends and family need to know this. Less stress — less pressure — less fallout. Remember: any time you travel with a person or people, you will get tired of them if it’s a prolonged trip — take a day or a half day on your own - go in to the trip knowing this and discussing it in advance. You’ll be surprised how happy you are to meet your friends and family back at the hotel for a drink and dinner to discuss your solo adventures.

WEATHER: Now this is just me, but I like cooler weather — cool and cold (refreshing) is no problem for me. I also love spring-like weather and you can get both when traveling off-peak. For example, I’ve been to Rome in February when all I needed was a sweater during the day and a light jacket at night….I’ve been to the Amalfi Coast in December and sat on a beach (not normal)….I’ve been to Venice in April and only needed a light jacket and umbrella….and I’ve been to Tuscany in October and worn gloves…..my point here is you get what you get, you need to layer your clothes and plan in advance. All the charts in the world for "typical" weather can simply be thrown out the window on any given day. My feeling is this: when you’re standing in line at a museum, or shopping a market or touring a cathedral — why not do it when you don’t have to sweat?!?! The summer’s are hot — just like in the USA….the only respite you have in Italy is the Mediterranean effect (which does, in fact exist). Here are a few sites I use for weather: www.intellicast.comwww.weatherplanner.com - www.accuweather.com - you can also check your local internet site and do a search. It’s a good idea to check these sites just before your trip — you’ll have some idea of what to expect upon arrival and a few days beyond. It’s key to layer your clothes, bring gloves and an umbrella. Here are some general weather guidelines:

Northern Italy: January: 30s and 40s (warming up as you get in to March) April: 50s and 60s (warming up as you get in to June) July: 70s and 80s (getting hotter as the summer progresses) October: 50s and 60s (cooling as you get in to November and December). The further north you travel the cooler it becomes.

Central Italy: January: 30s and 40s (warming up as you get in to March) April: 40s, 50s and 60s (warming up as you get in to June) July: 70s and 80s and sometimes 90s (getting hotter as the summer progresses) October: 50s and 60s and 70s (cooling as you get in to November and December).

Southern Italy: January: 40s, 50s and 60s (warming up as you get in to March) April: 50s and 60s (warming up as you get in to June) July: 70s, 80s and 90s (getting hotter as the summer progresses) October: 50s, 60s and 70s (cooling as you get in to November and December).

PACKING: The word is casual and comfortable. Travel light — within reason. No need to buy new clothes for your trip — take what you love and what’s comfortable on you. I’d suggest trying everything on prior to the trip to make sure you like it and are comfortable in it (does it fit and does it go with several items that I’m packing?). It’s a casual country — no need for a tie or anything dressy (unless you’re going to a fancy restaurant — I’ve found a black skirt or slacks and sweater usually do the trick in that instance). Take a couple pair of pants (or 3 pair of pants and a skirt) and alternate with your tops/sweaters. One jacket or overcoat — a barn jacket works well depending on the season. Bring gloves, hat and an umbrella (small). I usually pack my clothing in a duffle on wheels — that is most comfortable for me (personally). It’s a good idea to share toiletries if you’re traveling in a group — no need for several shampoos, conditioners, toothpastes etc. Tip: make a list of needs and divide these items between/among those traveling with you. You can combine and put in an extra bag for ease of finding these items when needed. Usually 2 pair of shoes/boots works best in fall and winter — no tennis shoes — too American (and I mean that in a positive way — just don’t do tennis shoes — you’ll see — you’ll understand). I’ve been accused of being a snob about this and maybe that is so, but Italy is a country that makes some of the best shoes in the world — I respect that. If you’re planning to hike or bike — proper shoes and sneaks of course. Tip: pack an extra bag that can be made small (rolls up/folds up — I have a great Longchamp bag that is perfect for this — there are also knockoffs/copies) to put your purchases in — I suggest this twice because you don’t want to have to buy a tote while you’re there….which I have done in the past. Another item you might consider bringing is a tube (about 24 to 30 inches long). You can buy these at your local art store or packaging store. This tube will protect any art, placemats, menus — anything you’re thinking about framing and don’t want to ruin with constant packing and unpacking. I use mine over and over — reinforce it with tape as the years go by or just buy a new one for a few dollars.

PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS:  Carry all of your prescription medications on your person (pockets) or in your carryon bag.  I think this is an obvious tip, but I give it special emphasis as you don't want to risk an illness or an exacerbation of any health issues. Plus, there are delays in baggage and flights — better to have your "stuff" with you.  

MEDICINE/EMERGENCY KIT:  I always carry a small emergency medical kit.  In the kit I have aspirin/ibuprofen, immodium, pepto bismol, cold/allergy pills, bandaids, some alcohol wipes, bacitracin/neosporin and flu medicine. I've been fortunate on most of my trips, but friends and family have been very glad that I had the "stuff".......

HANDICAPPED/SENIOR TRAVEL/THOSE IN LESS THAN PERFECT SHAPE (most of us): Be aware that Italy is filled with ancient towns and cities that require some climbing — and some of it can be quite strenuous….if you’re not in the best of shape, tire easily or have a health condition that limits your physical activity — plan your travel accordingly — give yourself time to tour, take your time — relax and enjoy. Italy is a wonderful destination, an ancient destination that is not totally (or thoroughly) prepared to deal with handicapped folks. Even though the legal system in Italy requires train stations, airports, public restrooms, museums, restaurants etc. to comply with regulations that assist the disabled and the disabled traveler — you will run in to places that are difficult to navigate in a wheelchair. The modern hotels have it covered and if the hotel has an elevator — you’ll do just fine. My suggestion is you inquire when making your reservations. Italy does have an association that works closely with the government to assure that regulations are adhered to and that improvements continue in that area — it is called

Associazione Nazionale Guida Legislazione Andicappati Trasporti

- the website address is — www.anglat.it and you can email them at info@anglat.it

FYI: the major towns are rather well-prepared, the smaller towns are working toward becoming prepared. It’s just difficult to take ancient cities and add elevators (which they have), wider stairways (close to impossible in some cases) and services for the handicapped. You’d be surprised and happy at the elevators on many of the bridges in Venice. I offer this warning as I have a sister with MS and she would have a hard time in many of the towns that I visit — however, we’re planning a trip!

ASSISTED TRAVEL: Ardith Luke is an RN who has lived abroad and traveled extensively. She assists those who desire to travel, yet don't have the patience to deal with the "rigors" that are often involved. Help with meds, activities, health monitoring and maintenance (while traveling) - it's simple peace of mind for those who continue to travel and explore, yet need a helping hand. Her email address is: ardith11@juno.com

BAGGAGE IDENTIFICATION:  Interestingly, about 85% of all baggage/luggage is colored black.  The possibility to take a bag that looks like your bag, but belongs to another person is there.....I have several brightly colored nametags on the outside of my baggage and a nametag on the inside - just in case.....I've seen folks with brightly colored straps around their bags, colored ties, unique bag tags - the gamut.  Anything that will help you to identify your baggage is key....don't forget to check the tags....and watch for others who might make the same mistake.

BAGGAGE SAFETY:  You can no longer lock your bags on flights — but you still need locks (or so I think). I like to keep my bags locked when I am away from my room or when I’m on a train. So, I put the locks on when I get to my first hotel. Read about train travel locks in the section on Train Travel.


JUST IN CASE:  I always pack a needle and thread (usually black and white colored thread).  I've ripped a couple of items and have been able to make repairs on those items by having the needle and thread handy.

PACK-MATES: I ordered these from QVC on a "lark"……they actually work. They’re these bags that you put your clothes in, then compress or roll the items, the air release valve opens and all the air goes out making items (especially bulky sweaters) small (they look almost freeze-dried)! This tip is for people who tend to overpack. These bags do work, your clothes recover after a few minutes in the air or hanging up, they are reusable and they do add room to your luggage. They are very cool. Web addresses: www.packmate.com or www.iqvc.com .  

PASSPORTS: Obviously you need a passport to get "in" to Italy. Here’s a safety measure just in case you lose your passport while traveling. Make a photocopy of your passport and leave it at home or with a friend. Make another photocopy and put it in a safe compartment with your luggage. If you lose the passport, you have a copy of your document and can expedite the replacement. Keep your real passport in your waist wallet for absolute safety.

AMERICAN EMBASSY LOCATIONS: It’s not a bad idea to have a list of the American Embassy locations and phone numbers with you when you travel. If you lose your passport, if you need shelter or assistance in an emergency, you’ll have the numbers, addresses and email contacts right at your fingertips. Less hassle, less stress and in a real emergency — you’ll be glad you have the information. Be safe out there. The website for this information is: http://usembassy.state.gov/

TRAVEL INSURANCE: I’ve been asked about travel insurance for tense political times (war, terrorism, fear, etc.). Here’s my take: first, trip-cancellation and/or trip-interruption insurance really does not protect you. If you’re on a trip and war is declared — there is not a policy that will protect you. If you’re looking for guarantees, I’d shop around and understand that the price you pay will be very very high. I also advise you to do some research and read the agreement you’re signing (repeat: you are signing and agreeing to their terms and conditions). A website I use that offers the most information and options is: www.mytripinsurance.com

ABOUT THE TRIP ACROSS THE "POND": Sleep. Take 2 or 3 Excedrin PM/Tylenol PM or whatever pill you take to make you sleep. Dress comfortably — you’ll be in those clothes the day you leave and the entire first day of your trip. Eat the dinner they offer on the plane (or bring your own sandwiches)….I’m mixed on the wine that you get on planes….International flights give you free alcohol/mixed drinks (this has changed recently — in some cases you pay for the drinks). I usually don’t drink too much on the plane because one drink is like two and a half drinks on land (altitude and pressure). So, while I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, I don’t recommend it if you’re going to take the pills….and a good night’s sleep wins with me…you’ve got plenty of days to enjoy the wine of Italy. I truly suggest you sleep. Another suggestion is to get up very very early on the day you’re leaving for Italy (for example — get up at 3 or 4 am and start getting ready for your trip). When you get on the plane and through the night — you’ll definitely be tired and will most surely sleep (in fact, you’re setting your internal clock when you do this). Make sure you stay hydrated on the plane — it’s good for your body — the flight attendants will come through the plane repeatedly with water and juice — take the water. I also like to do some "movements" during the flight to keep my body from "cramping": for example stretch your legs out (either in the aisle when no one is there or under your seat), do ankle circles, roll your shoulders forward and backward, stretch your arms, wiggle your toes, roll your neck — you’ll be surprised how much better this will make you feel. There are those that like to walk the aisles — that’s good too. When you land, if you feel you need a caffeine push — do! Another thing I do is bring an old washcloth in my purse or carryon bag. Once I’ve made it through customs and am ready to go in to the city or go to get my rental car, I stop in the bathroom, wash my face and moisturize and put on new/clean makeup. You’ll last longer and feel cleaner throughout this first day. And speaking of the first day, you have to fight the urge to sleep the first day of your trip — the desire to take a short nap is unbelievable — don’t. When you check in to your hotel — put your bags down, get refreshed and go see the sights — at least take a stroll! The key is to stay up until 11pm (or later) the first day and the jet lag is gone by the following morning. I swear if you take a nap you won’t know your name for 3 days!

THE TICKET RULES AND CONDITIONS: There are a lot of rules written on the back of your ticket….however, with etickets and paperless travel, much is lost in the translation….not to mention what is printed on the back of your ticket is actually an abridged version….so, here are some rules and rules of thumb:

Rule: 240 — Delayed Flights: If your flight is delayed, you are to be booked on the next available flight where space is available. If the delay is over 2 hours, the airline is to allow you a free 3-minute phone to alert your friends, family or business associates. If the flight is diverted to another airport and your delay is over 4 hours and it’s after 10pm, the airline will give you a hotel voucher and transport to the hotel.

Rule: 190 — Lost Baggage: If an airline loses your baggage, they (the airline) will pay you the amount of the items in your suitcase (you must have proof) up to $2,500.

Rule: 260 — Airline Flight Refunds: If your airline fails to depart, because of mechanical problems/difficulties or because they have overbooked the flight, they must offer you a refund on your ticket. And, on the other hand, if your plans change the airline may charge you fees depending on the type of ticket you purchased.

RENTAL CARS: I usually call AutoEurope for my car rentals…..the number is 800-223-5555. They also have a website: www.autoeurope.com. When you rent from them you get all insurances included in the price, unlimited miles — and great deals. You also get a number of rental companies like Avis, Europcar etc. I’ve never had a problem with them — no hidden charges — nothing. For long term rentals there are deals from Renault Eurodrive — you basically lease a car while you’re there — very good pricing — fine cars (new). The website is www.renaultusa.com and the phone number is 800-221-1052.

DRIVING: I consider the Italians very good drivers. They stay in the right hand lane unless they are passing. You must do the same. When you’re overtaking another vehicle — quickly go out, pass and return to the regular lane. The Italians drive fast and pass to get around slower vehicles — they’ll flash their lights and expect you to move — so move! Stay right and you’ll have no problems. Autostradas are marked with green signs and smaller roads are marked with blue signs. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll know to head for the city that is above the one you wish to go to (that’s on the map and on the signs — also follow any signs that direct you to the city you are going to). Follow the map, get lost and it’s easy to get found. Sometimes to get to a location it seems like you’re going south to get north — it’s just that you’re trying to reach the autostrada that will take you where you wish to go. The roads are good and well marked for the most part. Sometimes you just follow the sign that says tutte directions — that means you’re going to an area that can take you just about anywhere — a good thing.

Note: on the pavement on the autostradas you’ll see the cities written in white — that’s just a bonus bit of help if you can’t see the signs.

MAPS: I suggest purchasing a good Italian map from a bookstore. Even though your rental agent will supply you with a map — you’ll need a second one with more detailed information (again you’ll use it trip after trip and so will your friends). Plus, when you’re pulled over and trying to read the map — it’s best if at least two of you have a map. Internet sites like Mapquest and Mapblast can give you directions from one address to another in Italy. And, while these directions work (thank goodness), sometimes there are more direct ways to reach a destination. Have a good map and you can get where you need to go. You may also want to get off the autostrada and drive through the countryside — DO! You can’t imagine the places you discover, the trattorias you get to dine at and the small villages you get to visit (however briefly). I consider staying in these off the main road towns and villages the next time I plan a trip (take notes). Check out www.bn.com or www.barnesandnoble.com or www.amazon.com for a good selection.

DIRECTIONS: There are a couple of websites that I use just in case I feel the need to have exact directions from one town to another: www.mapblast.com and www.mapquest.com. Go to the driving directions section on each site and you can be as specific as you want or just map from town to town.

MORE DIRECTIONS: Check out www.autostrade.it for directions to and from all towns.

CITY DRIVING TIP: Okay, you’ve gotten to a city you wish to visit and you’ll see signs for parking (a big P)….in your mind you know what you really want to do is go further on in to the city — do! You can always turn around if you have to or need to. The key is to not to lose your car by parking so far far away. You’ll see the locals going up in to the city and parking in the best spaces, while the tourists park below and walk for eons to get to the sights (and in some cases you do have to park outside the gates of a town). But, when you feel you just want to see what’s up there before you park, proceed forward and move the car later if you have to….otherwise look how smart (and lucky) you are. Keep heading for the Citta Centro (City Center) and you’ll get where you need to go.

GASOLINE: Here’s a good idea and a recommendation: If you’re traveling in a group (of 2 or more), each of you should put some euros in a "kitty" (an envelope or zippered pouch) — keep it separate from all other money. This money is to be used for tolls, gas, parking etc. When you run low, you each add some euros. Trade off keeping control of the money. He who drives — drives. He who sits in the passenger seat controls the "kitty". When you come to a toll, read the amount on the toll sign and have it ready for the toll taker. It’s a bit daunting at first — you’ll get used to it. Don’t worry about taking time at the tollbooths either - take your time and relax….what do you care? You’ll get the hang of it.

Gasoline in Europe is sold by the liter. Most people drive small cars and they’re great on fuel. We’re a bit spoiled in the states. Even though gas prices are high (to us), the gas prices in Europe are much higher. That’s one of the reasons they have such small cars! Unleaded is senza piomba. 30 liters equals 8 gallons. As for mileage, you’re dealing with kilometers. 10 kilometers equals 6 miles. TO TELL THE GUY AT THE GAS STATION TO FILL IT UP JUST SAY PIENO.

FYI: Fuel prices are regulated by the government — so there is no need to shop around for gasoline/fuel at better prices. Do keep in mind that gasoline on the autostrada is a bit higher than in towns — again, government regulated.

PARKING TICKETS: If you get a parking ticket, you pay at any post office. You simply hand them the ticket, the payment and they give you a receipt.

EMERGENCY/BREAKDOWNS: Make sure you have the phone number for the rental car company you’re doing business with — quite often they have an office in a town nearby that can assist you with any automobile problems. Do note that on the Autostradas you’ll see phone boxes about every 2 kilometers. If you have a breakdown, simply dial 116 and the local Automobile Club Italiano (their version of AAA) will assist you.

DISTANCES: I do a lot of driving in Italy….the following list of "drive times" are my best times….I usually add about 20 minutes (for getting lost-getting started-and reading the map)….I have a tendency to turn right when I’m in doubt — sometimes that’s not the way to go….so, use these times as a general reference point.

Rome to Alberobello — 5 hours
Rome to Amalfi - 3 hours
Rome to Assisi - 3 hours
Rome to Bari — 4 hours and 20 minutes
Rome to Bologna - 3 hours and 40 minutes
Rome to Cortona - 3 hours
Rome to Deruta (pottery) - 2 hours and 30 min.
Rome to Florence — 2 hours and 45 minutes
Rome to Frascati — 30 minutes
Rome to Matera — 5 hours
Rome to Milan — 5 hours and 30 minutes
Rome to Naples — 2 hours and 20 minutes
Rome to Orvieto — 1 hour and 30 minutes
Rome to Perugia - 2 hours
Rome to Pompei — 2 hours and 20 minutes
Rome to Portofino — 5 hours
Rome to Scanno — 1 hour and 45 minutes
Rome to Siena — 2 hours and 40 minutes
Rome to Sorrento - 2 hours and 30 minutes
Rome to Venice — 5 hours
Rome to Villa San Giovanni (ferry to Sicily) — 6 hours and 30 minutes
Florence to Amalfi — 5 hours
Florence to Assisi - 2 hours

Florence to Bari — 6 hours and 30 minutes
Florence to Bologna - 1 hour
Florence to Cinque Terre — 2 hours
Florence to Lake Como — 3 hours and 20 minutes
Florence to Milan - 3 hours

Florence to Perugia — 1 hour and 35 minutes
Florence to Pisa - 1 hour
Florence to Portofino — 2 hours and 15 minutes
Florence to Rome — 2 hours and 45 minutes
Florence to San Gimignano — 45 minutes
Florence to Siena - 1 hour
Florence to Venice - 2 hours and 30 min.
Milan to Bologna — 2 hours and 15 minutes
Milan to Cinque Terre — 2 hours and 30 minutes
Milan to Lake Como — 45 minutes
Milan to Florence - 3 hours
Milan to Linate Airport - 25 minutes
Milan to Malpensa Airport - 1 hour
Milan to Orvieto — 4 hours and 25 minutes
Milan to Perugia — 4 hours and 25 minutes
Milan to Portofino — 2 hours
Milan to Positano — 8 hours
Milan to Rome — 5 hours and 30 minutes
Milan to Siena - 4 hours
Milan to Venice — 2 hours and 45 minutes
Venice to Amalfi — 7 hours and 20 minutes
Venice to Bologna — 1 hour and 30 minutes
Venice to Cinque Terre — 4 hours
Venice to Lake Como — 3 hours
Venice to Florence — 2 hours and 30 minutes
Venice to Milan — 2 hours and 45 minutes
Venice to Orvieto — 4 hours
Venice to Perugia — 3 hours and 50 minutes
Venice to Portofino — 4 hours and 10 minutes
Venice to Positano — 7 hours and 20 minutes
Venice to Rome — 5 hours
Naples to Amalfi — 1 hour
Naples to Positano — 52 minutes
Naples to Ravello - 1 hour and 30 minutes

Naples to Rome — 2 hours and 20 minutes
Naples to Sorrento - 1 hour
Positano to Amalfi — 15 minutes
Positano to Naples — 52 minutes
Positano to Pompei — 45 minutes
Positano to Sorrento - 30 minutes
Amalfi to Matera — 2 hours and 45 minutes
Amalfi to Pompei — 50 minutes
Amalfi to Positano — 15 minutes
Amalfi to Ravello — 8 minutes
Amalfi to Rome - 3 hours
Amalfi to Sorrento - 1 hour
Amalfi to Villa San Giovanni (ferry to Sicily) — 4 hours and 20 minutes
Ravello to Amalfi — 8 minutes

Ravello to Naples - 1 hour and 30 minutes
Ravello to Sorrento - 1 hour and 30 minutes
Sorrento to Amalfi - 1 hour
Sorrento to Naples - 1 hour
Sorrento to Positano - 30 minutes
Sorrento to Ravello - 1 hour and 30 minutes
Sorrento to Rome - 2 hours and 30 minutes
Siena to Assisi — 1 hour and 40 minutes
Siena to Cortona - 1 hour and 10 minutes
Siena to Florence - 1 hour
Siena to Milan — 3 hours and 50 minutes
Siena to Perugia - 1 hour and 30 minutes
Siena to Rome — 2 hours and 40 minutes
Siena San Gimignano - 45 minutes

SICILY

Messina to Agrigento — 2 hours and 50 minutes
Messina to Caltagirone — 2 hours
Messina to Catania — 1 hour
Messina to Enna — 1 hour and 45 minutes
Messina to Erice — 3 hours and 40 minutes
Messina to Palermo — 2 hours and 30 minutes
Messina to Siracusa — 1 hour and 45 minutes
Messina to Taormina — 32 minutes
Palermo to Agrigento — 2 hours
Palermo to Caltagirone — 2 hours and 15 minutes
Palermo to Catania — 2 hours
Palermo to Enna — 1 hour and 30 minutes
Palermo to Erice — 1 hour and 10 minutes
Palermo to Messina — 2 hours and 30 minutes
Palermo to Siracusa — 2 hours and 40 minutes
Palermo to Taormina — 2 hours and 30 minutes

TRAIN TRAVEL:  I’ve traveled by train on many occasions. I like it! Sometimes I combine it with my car rentals…..here’s what you need to know:  the train system in Italy is very good — timely, efficient — it totally works for me. You can get from point A to point B easily, but sometimes there are stops along the way and you’re dependent on or at the mercy of the train schedules.  Investigate prior to your trip — see if it makes sense to train around Italy. FYI: You don’t need a car in Rome, Florence or Venice — if these towns are your entire trip — take the train and enjoy these towns.

I use both www.trenitalia.it or www.fs-on-line.com to check train schedules from one town to the next and in some cases to buy my tickets (it’s not always possible to make a purchase however). These sites give you times, dates, schedule, type of train, stops (if any) and the ability (sometimes) to buy your ticket online/reserve.

 
If you’d rather have the ticket right in your hand prior to leaving the USA call RailEurope: 800-848-7245.  Keep in mind there are service charges for purchasing tickets in advance (a $27 ticket goes to $40 or higher) — but the ticket is sent right to your home or office by courier. You can also buy from these sites: www.raileurope.com or www.dertravel.com or www.cit-tours.com (again with the service charges).

The other way to get rail tickets is to do it when you are in Italy.  I find this somewhat time-consuming, but it’s less expensive and you just make time for it in your day of touring. You can also buy from travel agents that are located in the train stations — they usually do not charge service fees — they will have this posted and you should also ask to double check.  In busy times, trains fill up — I had to sit on the floor (with bags) on a recent trip from Rome to Florence — the train was crowded at the time I wished to travel (peak time) and I wanted to leave right then — I could have waited for the next train and gotten a seat, but I chose to sit or stand.….Keep in mind, some well-traveled routes offer very regular departures — others offer only one or two — investigate prior to the trip to assure you get your ticket or at least the train times. My suggestion for train travel is to pack lightly if possible (and I know it is not always possible). Allow time for schlepping your bags and getting on and off the trains. 

TIP: Whenever you have doubts — go to the Information Office at the train station. Early on in your travels you might be confused about reading the schedules or finding the right track — so, go early, see an agent who speaks English and you’ll be assured of boarding the correct train.

TIP: There are some busy stations where folks come up to you and offer assistance — go to the Information office. Unless a person has the official name tag/badge for the station — they are not an official employee and they are either scamming you for a tip or checking to see if they might be able to rip you off (keep your money, passport and everything else in a SAFE PLACE).

TIP: When you board the train, quite often your bag is too large to fit over your head or right near your seat.....do note that you can stow it between seats if that space is not already taken. So, quite often you have to stow your bag in the baggage compartment of the car you're seated in.....You can't keep your eyes on that bag at all times so I find that a lock with a cable works wonders for my peace of mind.  Magellan's Catalogue has a couple of styles at good prices.  The cable is connected to the lock, you connect it to your bag, wrap it around the train rack. Just remember to go to the bag car to unhook the bag prior to arriving at your station — people are anxious to get on and off the train and you don’t want to be jostled and made nervous by doing this at the last minute.

ITALIAN HOTEL RATING SYSTEM: Hotels in Italy are given star rankings from the government. A hotel will receive a ranking from 1 to 5 stars (5 being the best). Every hotel must display their star ranking on the façade of the establishment. These star rankings will become very familiar to you as you go through Italy. The ranking takes in to account the various levels of service, amenities and comfort offered by the hotel. A one star hotel is basic, simple and usually offers a shared bathroom. A two star is a step above. A three star will normally offer simple comfort with a private bath and four and five star hotels are deluxe accommodations. When you book a room, be specific about your needs and you will not be disappointed. If a private bath is important to you, then state that on your reservation request. I’ve stayed in 2 star hotels that offered a wonderful level of comfort and a private bath. I’ve had as many good nights in a 3 star hotel as I have had in 4 and 5 star hotels. Off peak allows you the option to choose or mix it up at better (lower) rates. It’s the sublime to the ridiculous for me. You will not find star ratings on most agriturismo/farms — however, there are some farms that offer amenities beyond what you get at hotels. Check out the websites of each for your best gauge.

NOTE: Know this — your hotels in major cities (Rome, Florence and Venice for example) and resorts will cost more money than in smaller towns and in the countryside. These are must-see cities and knowing this in advance will allow you to plan your trip better. Plus, my knowledge of the hotels offering the best value, comfort, style and convenience make it easier to spend your money wisely.

TO THE FIRST HOTEL: If your first city is Rome, Florence or Milan, and you’re going to cab in to the city, have a card printed with the name and address of the hotel to give to the taxi driver - unless you’re able to communicate in Italian — which I’m sure you can — but, just to be sure…..use the card. This way you give the driver the car and you can sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

Another easy option (and quite often offered to you by your hotel) is a limo or car service that will pick you up at the airport. The hotel will quote you a price which is almost always the same as a cab/taxi (and if there is a small difference — no biggie — the convenience often outweighs the cost difference). For taxis — when you arrive at the hotel, look at the meter and round up the fare. If there’s any question, go in to the hotel and ask a hotel employee to assist you.

Tip: I recently had a taxi driver (one bad apple) try to pull a EURO-SCAM on me……I gave him a 50 euro note for our ride to a hotel near the airport, I asked him for a certain amount back and he pulled out a 10 euro note and said I’d given him that amount (a 10) and not a 50….Well, I knew what I’d given him and I knew I had no 10s in my wallet, so I started to argue with the driver. He would not give in, so I told my friend what the driver had done and she pulled out her pad wrote down his car number, went in to the hotel and told the hotel employees what the driver had done and wouldn’t you know it — all of a sudden the driver finds a 50 euro bill in his back seat! I asked for a receipt and when I got home I wrote a letter to the taxi commission in Rome.

FINDING YOUR HOTELS: You’ll notice in many cities they have yellow signs with black letters with hotel names on them (sometimes they’re white with black letters). Just head toward the direction of your hotel and you’ll have no problem. When you can’t find your hotel — just ask a person on the street — they’ll point and you’ll eventually get there. It’s half the experience and the fun (and the frustration) of traveling in a foreign country. (dove albergo ________? Means where’s hotel________? And is pronounced — dovay al-bear-go_________?) — again with the long o’s.

CHECKING IN AT HOTELS: When you check in at hotels, they ask for your passport. Have your passports (all of you) ready and available for the desk clerk. It’s a government requirement. They may keep the passports for a few minutes or for an hour. Just make sure you retrieve them and put them in the safety of the waist wallet once they are returned to you.

MY KIND OF HOTELS: Anyone who has ever traveled with me knows my choices are from the sublime to the ridiculous (I believe I mentioned that earlier)! I’ve stayed at some of the world’s best hotels and some of the most charming hotels and some of the most unique hotels and some places I’d rather not stay at again…..you live and you learn. The trick is to write down places you wish to stay at (the next time) as you go. Don’t be freaky about it, just note the hotel name and address. I like to stay in the medieval center of most cities because I can then walk to everything. If I stay outside a town, I want it to be a special place, a new experience, something I can tell others about. I won’t steer you wrong — trust me — all of the places I’ve chosen here are unique and wonderful places — totally described — with websites so you can get an idea of what’s in store for you. It’s all about adventure!

FARMS/AGRITOURISMO: So, you want to stay at a farm…these places can range from rustic to sublime…….the choice is yours. My first warning is that some farms take credit cards and some do not (even if they ask for a credit card to confirm your booking), be prepared to pay cash……second, don’t expect the concierge (there’s not one) or porter (there’s not one) to carry your bags to your room — you’re on your own.…..third, the food is usually plentiful, delicious and dining is communal (in many cases)….fourth, the families who own and run these places are warm, welcoming and will leave you on your own, but will also assist you with local history, sights and dining (if you wish). I usually stay at one of two farms per trip and am always so pleased with the food, the décor and the service…….I correspond with quite a few of the families who have welcomed me in to their homes — TRY IT!

HOTELS - AN OPTION JUST IN CASE: I recently encountered a hotel situation that caused me to make a last-minute change. I had spent the day in Tuscany and arrived at my hotel at dusk and in the rain. This was a small town with few lodging options. My hotel was dark, the street up to the hotel was under construction, so I left the car and climbed up a steep hill to the hotel (my parents behind me), I rang the bell and then the lights went...the owner greeted me, took me to my car - my parents had to walk down to the car, we put our bags in the owner's car and when I asked if I should park in his lot, he told me I could not park my car up in the village - even though there was parking. Perhaps it was me, perhaps it was the weather, or perhaps the construction had something to do with it, but I didn't wish to park my car on a busy thoroughfare and I didn't want my parents climbing that steep hill every time we left the hotelÉit just didn't seem right, safe or proper - and I was set to stay at this hotel for several days. So, even though it was late, I thanked the gentleman and told him I didn't wish to stay at his hotel under those circumstances - he understood, apologized and my parents and I set out in search of new accommodations. Now, remember it's late, it's raining and we've had a fabulous day of touring. My mother suggested we head to the autostrada and stay at a hotel there. We considered many things, but knew we'd find a hotel open, with a restaurant and in good time. We stopped at the first hotel - The Hotel Transit. Obviously, for those in transit - truckers and people moving on down the country. Our room was nice, the facilities private and clean - the dinner excellent. The price! 3 people in a nice suite plus dinner with wine - 100 euros! We slept well, ate well and saved money - I was shocked! Hotel Transit saved us and I'd recommend this option when in doubt, lost, sleepy, trying to save a few bucks and for the sheer surprise.

CONVERSIONS:

To change Kilometers in to Miles you multiply the Kilometers by .621; To change Miles in to Kilometers you multiply by 1.61; 16.1 Kilometers = 10Miles

To change Liters in to Gallons you multiply the liters by .264; To change Gallons to Liters you multiply Gallons by 3.79; 37.9 liters = 10 gallons

To change Centigrade/Celsius in to Fahrenheit you multiply the Centigrade/Celsius by 1.8 and add 32; To change Fahrenheit to Centigrade/Celsius you subtract 32 from the Fahrenheit and multiply by .555; 15.5 Centigrade/Celsius = 60 Fahrenheit

To change Grams in to Ounces you multiply the Grams by the .035; To change Ounces to Grams you multiply the Ounces by 28.4; 227.2 Grams = 8 Ounces

To change Meters in to Feet you multiply the Meters by 3.28; To change Feet in to Meters you multiply the Feet by .305; 100 Meters = 328 Feet

To change Kilograms in to Pounds you multiply the Kilograms by 2.20; To change Pounds in to Kilograms you multiply the Pounds by .455; 2.3 Kilograms = 5 Pounds

Shoes — Women: Size 5 is 36 in Italy; Size 6 is 37 in Italy; Size 7 is 38 in Italy; Size 8 is 39 in Italy; Size 9 is 40 in Italy; Size 10 is 41 in Italy.

Shoes — Men: Size 7 is 39 _ in Italy; Size 8 is 41 in Italy; Size 9 is 42 in Italy; Size 10 is 43 in Italy; Size 11 is 44 _ in Italy; Size 12 is 46 in Italy.

Clothing — Women: Size 6 is 38 in Italy; Size 8 is 40 in Italy; Size 10 is 42 in Italy; Size 12 is 44 in Italy; Size 14 is 46 in Italy; Size 16 is 48 in Italy; Size 18 is 50 in Italy.

Clothing — Men (Suits): Size 34 is 44 in Italy; Size 36 is 46 in Italy; Size 38 is 48 in Italy; Size 40 is 50 in Italy: Size 42 is 52 in Italy; Size 44 is 54 in Italy; Size 46 is 56 in Italy; Size 48 is 58 in Italy.

Clothing — Men (Shirts): Size 14 is 36 in Italy; Size 15 is 38 in Italy; Size 15 _ is 39 in Italy: Size 16 is 41 in Italy; Size 16 _ is 42 in Italy; Size 17 is 43 in Italy; Size 17 _ is 44 in Italy; Size 18 is 45 in Italy.

CITY MAPS: in Florence and Rome make sure you get a city map or plan to make life easier. Your hotel will have these at the front desk for free. This way you can gauge your time and sights and get to those that are most important to you. And you can get home (to your hotel) from wherever you are. The front desk is always helpful at pointing out (on the map) the places you’re interested in. Even the smaller towns have maps — get them.

TIME — USA AND ITALY: Italy is 6 hours ahead of the eastern United States; 7 hours ahead of the central United States; 9 hours ahead of the western United States. Italy does utilize daylight savings time from the end of March to the end of September.

ITALIAN TIME: Italians are busy early and busy late. In between you take your chances with time. Around 12:30/1:00pm places close for a few hours. They re-open around 3:00/3:30pm and stay open until 7pm. If you think you need gas and are in a small town — get gas then. If you’re on the autostrada, the agip’s are open almost all of the time. Just watch the gauge and if you get off the beaten track you may have to stop at a kind of self-serve/insert money type of fuel machine. Just be aware of the gauge and keep the "kitty" full.

 

GETTING MARRIED IN ITALY: The road to marriage in Italy can seem tedious….there are two ways to go about it: the easy way is to get married by a Justice of the Peace in the USA and then have a lovely ceremony in Italy…..the other way requires documentation and time — here’s what you have to do: Four days prior to the actual wedding ceremony (plan for this), you must appear before the Ufficiale Di Stato Civile (Civil Registrar) of the city you’ll be getting married in; you must file a declaration of intent to marry and you must have two witnesses with you; you must also have the following documents: a — Passports; bBirth certificates — the actual birth certificate or a certified copy — both parents names must be on the certificate; cEvidence that any previous marriages have been terminated — divorce decree, annulment decree or death certificate — fyi: a previous marriage by the bride must have ended (officially) at least 300 days prior to this new wedding; dSworn statement of consent to the marriage by parents or legal guardians if the person who desires to be married is under 18 years of age; e — An affidavit stating that there are no obstacles or impediments to this marriage — this affadavit must be notarized by the US Consular Officer in Italy — you’ll need an appointment for this — fyi — this document is called a Nulla Osta — there is a charge for this as well; f — the Atto Notorio (you can get this is the US prior to departure — it is recommended that you get this in the USA) from an Italian Consular Officer in the USA — this is another sworn oath stating that there are no impediments to the marriage under US law (two witnesses) — these documents must be translated in to Italian and must have an Apostille/Hague Certification. If you cannot get the Atto Notorio prior to your trip to Italy, you will go to the Prefettura/Pretura in the town you are going to be married in (this requires an appointment), go to the Ufficio Atti Notori — you will need three stamps for this appointment: two different Marche Per Atti Giudiziari and the Marche Madre-Figlia (there is a charge for these — they can be bought at the local tabacchi shop). In order for the marriage to be legal/recognized in the USA, the marriage must be registered with the Prefettura/Pretura. Make sure you also have copies of all certificates for yourself (affixed with the Apostille), you’ll need them in the US (legalities, insurance, employment, etc.). Please utilize the following websites, as this section is a guide only: www.italyemb.org/ and http://travel.state.gov/

ABOUT THE AGIP’S: These are the gas stops — some are large and some are small — they all have good food. The big ones (the signs have a crossed fork and knife and say ristorante) have terrific and inexpensive lunches — pasta! And salad! And wine! Among other things. Great if you’re traveling to a city and it’s a "long" day of travel (several hours on the road). The small ones are great for a croissant and cappuccino in the morning (they say bar — very convenient and cost effective if you’re not getting breakfast at the hotel). At the small ones, you order from the cashier, pay her, get a ticket and hand it to the attendant behind the bar. In the large agip’s with the café or cafeteria you pay when you’ve gone through the food line. Also, you almost always exit through a different door than the one you entered — it keeps the traffic flowing and it is all about logistics…...

 

LANGUAGE: I’d suggest getting the Pimsleur beginner tapes for a slight introduction to the language. These tapes are great. Pimsleur is the best one I’ve used — the most effective. Yes, many people speak English, but it’s fun and polite to try to speak their language. I’ve even taken courses at the local college to improve and to connect with others who love Italy. You cannot imagine the new tips and ideas you get from other Italophiles. You can find these tapes at www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com or www.bn.com.

PICNICS: what’s more fun than sitting in the crisp, sunshiny air drinking wine, eating fresh bread, cheese, fruit, veggies and sausages — did I mention olives? This is a great way to save money and truly experience the countryside. When you pass a store that has fresh items — buy and store in the car. Sausage and cheese will keep (and make the car smell divine — the bread goes stale). Just keep stuff wrapped up — Tip: bring sealable bags. When you run out or tire of your current fare — get new stuff!

Tip: the Magellan’s catalogue or the Brookstone Store have the following items — get one for each of you traveling: small collapsible cup (for drinking wine or water), a fork, knife, spoon set, a corkscrew with a bottle opener. I have also found these items at the local Walmart/KMart/Target in the camping section. You can cut sausage, cheese, open wine and eat olives for lunch (or in your hotel room in the afternoon — cocktail hour)! You can store the utensils in the glove compartment! Keep some wet wipes for the cleanup.

CAMERAS: Everyone should bring a camera and plenty of film. Everyone takes plenty of pictures of everyone on the trip. Have your camera at the ready so you get good shots. Buy both black and white film (for artsy shots that are suitable for framing/gifts) and color film. Also have an extra battery for the camera — nothing worse than having to buy an expensive lithium battery in Europe — quite a bit more expensive over there. Take pictures, don’t be afraid to ask someone to get shots of you, the two of you or the group….offer to do it for others and they’ll usually reciprocate. I’ve met some nice (and grateful) people this way. And don’t be embarrassed to take pictures in front of fabulous sites — you’re on vacation and it’s a must. And while I’m sure you’re an excellent photographer — think — try to get you and your traveling friends in photos — there’s nothing worse than coming home, getting your film developed and finding you’ve taken 50 shots of the hills of Tuscany and no one — not one PERSON is in a single picture. Sure, you’re going to take some shots like that — do — I just suggest that the full feelings of the trip are in the faces of those you travel with. I think you get my drift — take lots of pictures…..if you have a digital camera, make sure you have the supplies required for your camera.

FILM SAFETY:  Airports/Airlines are increasingly and lawfully utilizing (thank goodness) the high powered luggage scanners (for checked bags only) to make flying safer for everyone.  The drawback is that film in checked bags can be ruined by these high powered x-rays.  Do not put your film - any film in your checked baggage.  Take your film with you in your carryon baggage.  As an added measure of preserving your film and pictures, I'd suggest that you invest in a Security Bag from Magellan's.  This bag is made of a pliable lead fabric and is similar to the lead aprons that x-ray technicians utilize when taking films for x-rays.  The bags come in two sizes:  small and large.  I purchased a large bag so I can put my camera (which always has film in it) in with my film.  There's nothing worse than getting home from a trip and having all of your film ruined by the scanning machinery at the airports. Tip: before you head home, place all film in your carryon inside the lead pouch.

TOURING THOSE CHURCHES:

I’m spiritual and religious……but as I’ve researched the many churches in France and Italy, I’ve come across some terms that I needed to look up to make sure I really knew what they were…..I hope these definitions will help you to tour the churches with a better knowledge and understanding.

Tympanum: Over the doors of the church you’ll often see a decorated half-moon or triangle shaped space — it’s a tympanum.

Narthex: The room just after the entrance and just before the main part of the church (nave).

Nave: The main part of the church — the body so to speak.

Transept: The part of the church that juts out from the main body of the church creating a cross pattern/cruciform.

Apse: A semi-circular projection usually with a domed or vaulted ceiling.

Chancel: The area around the altar that is reserved for clergy only.

Sacristy: A room in a church that adjoins the sanctuary where sacred vessels and vestments are kept — the vestry.

Choir: Where the choir/singers sit.

Clerestory: The upper wall area that usually encompasses the windows.

Labyrinth: A maze or pathway — sometimes on the church floor and serves as a place to do penance (often on knees).

Crypt: Located under the church/nave, this room is often a burial site.

Ambulatory: Similar to a cloister — a place to walk-think-contemplate, usually covered.

ELECTRICITY: 220 volts ac — you’ll need a converter kit. Your hairdryer should have a button or switch for both 110 (America) and 220 (Italy) volts — this way you don’t have to use the adapter but you will need the plug. The adapter is the largest thing in the converter kit. I use the hairdryer with the volt switch and a converter for Europe (they are clearly marked). You simply plug the dryer into the converter and the converter into the outlet. However, do bring the adapter just in case…..better safe than sorry. My mother has made a few mistakes in our travels…once her curling iron was left plugged in to heat up — it heated up fast and melted! On another occasion, she blew the fuses in the entire hotel! Fortunately, the hotels are used to this and they just flip a switch and we’re back in business. This is why I either buy a dual voltage appliance or I buy a hairdryer over there and use it when I travel (not that expensive).

ALARM CLOCK: Bring a travel alarm clock — sometimes the hotels don’t do wakeup calls and sometimes there are no clocks — bring an extra battery for it as well…..it’s nice to know what time it is!

COUNTRY CODE IN ITALY (FOR THE TELEPHONE): 39 — to dial from the USA: 01139 and the number. Listen for the funny ring….

DIALING HOME FROM ITALY WITH YOUR PHONE CREDIT CARD:

CALL YOUR PHONE COMPANY IN ADVANCE (PRIOR TO YOUR DEPARTURE) TO GET THE CODES YOU’LL NEED TO MAKE A PHONE CALL HOME…

TIP: THE PHONE CARD YOU CAN BUY IN ITALY IS MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE.

TELEPHONE: Leave a copy of your itinerary with your friends and loved ones — you never know when they might need to get in touch with you. I usually prepare one with the hotel name, the dates I’ll be at the hotel, the phone and fax numbers and if anyone needs to contact me (sometimes my office does), they can fax a note and the front desk can deliver the fax — that way your family/friends/office don’t get the one night clerk who doesn’t speak any English. Remind those who might call you of the time difference and the fact that you might be out all day — thus, they may not get a return fax or phone call until the next day.

CELL PHONES: Your cell phone most likely will not work in Italy. Not unless you’ve paid for the plan. Arrange with your provider to add that feature if you must be in touch — it will cost you.

PHONE BOOTHS: Buy a phone card at the local Tabacchi shop (other places sell them) and you’ll be able to use the phone booths/kiosks in the towns you visit — very inexpensive. The cards come in different denominations, I usually start with a 10 euro card. Make sure you tear the corner tab off the phone card prior to inserting it in the machine, then follow directions. As you use it, it’ll give you a running total (in descending order what you’ve used until it’s empty).

MONEY: First things first — get a waist wallet. There is a neck version where the wallet hangs about your neck — it’s also good. Everyone on your trip may want one. This way you always know where your ticket, passport and money are. TIP: At home (in the US), empty your bag/purse and wallet of anything you don’t need — and leave it at home. Each day you take out some money and put it in your wallet or bag — the rest stays in your waist wallet. If you need to get out some money — just lift your shirt/sweater and get it out of the waist wallet. You’re safer and you worry less about losses. As mentioned, I usually empty out my purse and wallet anything that would bother me if my purse or wallet got ripped off. I don’t need all the stuff I carry on a day-to-day basis here at home, so my bag is much lighter and I use the extra space to carry a book or map….

Some people prefer traveler’s checks and others prefer cash (me). Traveler’s checks are not always accepted — sometimes the hours to get them cashed are inconvenient — frankly, it’s too much trouble for me. The waist wallet makes me feel secure and I’ve never had a problem. You can go to the bank and get cash at the ATM (also safe), take credit cards and your bankcard — all can be used in Italy. If the first ATM machine doesn’t work — try the next one. Your secret code should only be 4 digits — if it’s more than 4 — go change it at the bank in the USA prior to your trip— you can even change it at your local ATM — that’s what I did when I learned that the secret code could only be 4 digits.

THE EURO: The EURO, the official currency of the European Union was effective in January 2002 (literally effective — it was actually inaugurated in January of 1999). The EURO makes traveling between and among the 15 European Union countries much easier. Only 12 of the EU countries have adopted the EURO (Italy, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain) and the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden have decided to keep their own currencies (for how long — no one knows).

CREDIT CARDS: I recently had a situation where my credit card company put a "fraud alert" on my card because I traveled to several countries in a matter of days. Had I contacted the credit card company prior to my trip, I would have had no problems (or inconvenience). So, a good rule is to contact your credit card companies and let them know that you’ll be traveling outside the United States. You’ll avoid problems this way.

CURRENCY CONVERSIONS: I have an electronic currency converter that I keep in my bag so that I don’t get confused when making a buying decision…..I bought it from the Magellan’s catalogue. You can get them at travel stores and general merchandise stores too (Kmart, Target, Walmart). I have another method that works quite well too: I go online to a currency converter site (for example: www.ljsp.com/currency.htm) and plug in numbers from a low figure like 1 dollar up to $500. I then use excel (the computer program) and create a handy pocket converter. I type in all the conversions, print it out and use clear heavy packing tape on both sides of the printed conversions (makes it easier to find and protects it from tearing etc.). I make a few of these and keep one in my pocket, one in my wallet and give the rest to traveling companions. It’s simple and convenient. I feel like Martha Stewart: "it’s a good thing"…….

SAFETY: Italy is completely safe. You simply have to be aware, use your common sense and listen to your instincts. If you feel that a place is unsafe — get out. I lived in New York for many years, I’ve traveled — I’m alert. Be aware of your surroundings and look out for each other. I’ve never felt in danger when in Italy. A lesson or two: Three years ago when I was in Italy my friend Jan stopped to help an American read a map (in broad daylight) — we were in Florence right in front of the beautiful Duomo….I was looking at the Duomo, Jan was helping the lost man and a pickpocket was trying to open her backpack. I was standing right there and didn’t even notice (I was looking at shoes in a store window and my back was to Jan and the man in need). Jan felt something "funny" and turned around and grabbed my arm - we both realized what had been going on….Jan, being a smart traveler kept her money in a waist wallet and any valuables in a secret inside pocket of her backpack. You better believe I created a stir so that others would know he was a crook! I screamed and cursed at the man letting others know he was a scoundrel. We moved on and were relieved that we were not harmed or robbed. My friend Kia (a European by birth, has lived half her life there and has traveled extensively) was in Amsterdam trying on shoes when a guy nabbed her purse as she pranced about in her new boots. This ruined a day and a half of her short trip to Amsterdam. She had to go get a new passport, a new airline ticket and more money. What a waste of time (and money)! If only she’d had her waist wallet. I’ve never seen the so-called "gypsy children", but if you get bombarded by them the key is to say no (loudly) and get away quickly — don’t be nice to them, don’t try to talk to them, they’re a gang of thieves, not cute little children. Definitely take an aggressive stance and move quickly away — I’m not in to violence, but kick out if you have to — teach them a lesson. Another ploy is the beggar women you’ll see on the streets, as they beg from you, they push in on an area of your body to distract you (using cardboard or a newspaper) and as they do this they’re nabbing your wallet because you’re distracted. Just don’t talk to these folks. When they come near you, tell them to get away — loudly. Again, I’ve never run in to them — another plus with off-peak travel. Once again, waist wallets are the answer.

MEMORIES: If you are at a fabulous restaurant and you love the placemat or wish to keep it as a memory — get the waitperson to give you another - when you return home — have it framed. Some of my favorite wall hangings are menus (and memories) from my favorite places. Also, I made a wonderful tray of memories from one trip — I took a rectangle frame with 4 openings for photos. I used photos from my trip and then I saved receipts, hotel cards, brochures, money and other items to go all around the photos — just glue them down around the photos. I then bought drawer pulls/handles from a hardware store, screwed them in to the wooden frame and the "darn" thing is a serving tray (one of my favorite possessions). Each year I send Christmas cards with photos from my most recent trips. This has become a tradition for me (8 years running). Just a thought……another thing I suggest is getting a picture of each of you in front of all of your hotels. This will be neat for your photo album — I do this religiously — even in the rain! Even in a rush! Don’t forget! It sort of sets up my photo/memory album by day…..

THE PASSEGIATA: This Italian tradition takes place after the stores open in the afternoon (around 3:30/4:00). Folks come out of the woodwork and shop, stroll, show off, meet others and talk. It’s a wonderful tradition that you’ll notice especially in the small towns — the larger towns tend to be "open" most of the time.

SHOPPING: I live by the Moscow rule of shopping (I learned this from the Born to Shop books) — "buy it when you see it because it won’t be there when you go back to get it" and you often don’t have the time to go back to get what you should have bought in the first place. Repeated Tip: pack a small bag or tote in with your belongings to carry back what you buy. No need to ship — carry it! It’s a few hours of schlepping, but the instant gratification of giving gifts and unpacking your "finds" and memories totally worth the schlepping…………

SHIPPING ITEMS HOME AND DUTY: I always recommend that you bring an extra bag for items you wish to bring home from Italy. As I purchase and buy, I keep a tally of what I've spent in order to know if I have to pay anything at Customs. Your allowances are: A U.S. resident is allowed to bring $800 worth of foreign goods back to the U.S. duty-free. These items must accompany the resident on the return trip home. If you are a couple - you can share this allowance and get a $1600 allowance. You can also mail an additional $200 worth of goods to a U.S. address duty free - but only one parcel per day - remember no alcohol, tobacco or perfume products worth more than $5. I've spent more than the allotted amount on occasion and have had to pay duty on my return home (they used to allow only $400 in foreign goods) and in some cases have not paid duty based on what I was bringing back in to the U.S. To me, honesty is the best policy - have your tally sheet available for inspection and the whole process can be moved along. As mentioned there are items that I frequently buy that are not part of the duty process - for example, antiques (items over 100 years old), original works of art, paintings, watercolors, drawings, sculptures - these do not get taxed - this is one reason I have so much art! This is also why I carry a tube for my original paintings and watercolors. You can list these items on your tally sheet, but they are not to be added to your total $800 allowance.

As for shipping, ask the store if they ship - ask the price to ship - ask about insurance costs - all of this makes me crazy, can cost more than the "deal" you've just negotiated and takes time, so I usually opt to carry my items in my extra bag unless it's just too big to carry (a huge pair of urns I purchased in Vietri one year and a set of china on another trip).

Another thing - Duty-free doesn't mean you don't get taxed. It's a common mistake that travelers might make in Duty-free shops (at the airport). Now, I love shopping in the airport on my departure day - but I know that when I bring those items in to the U.S. that they are part of my tally sheet and if I've gone over my $800 - I have to pay duty on the total I have spent. In this case, duty-free means that if the items had been imported in to the U.S. they would be subject to duty and taxes (thus, buying a great bag/purse in duty free is often a really great deal).

And, just because they sell it at duty-free shops does not mean you can bring it in to the U.S. For example, certain meats are sold in the freezer case in the duty-free shops. You pack it away, fill out your customs form and when the customs official asks what meat you brought back in to the U.S. and you show him or her....they confiscate it because you're not allowed to bring in certain meats, fruits and cheeses! If you buy that prosciutto - eat it on the plane! Why? Because you cannot bring back fresh, dried or canned meats or meat products from most countries. Now, these regulations change based on disease outbreaks from different areas of the world. When in doubt, contact USDA-APHIS at 301-734-7830 or check out http://www.aphis.usda.gov/travel/.

Here's another site that offers great explanations on everything: http://www.customs.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/know_brochure/

A WORD ABOUT WINE: this is just my experience, but I always go with the vino della casa — either rosso — red or bianco — white or both! I haven’t had a bad wine in this country and vino della casa is the local wine of the area you’re in….at the trattorias, the waiter can give you a wine list, but will not be an expert on wine, so just order the vino della casa. If you are in a restaurant and there’s a bottle of wine on the table — don’t take it right away — simply order the vino della casa. This (having a bottle on the table) is done in some restaurants to take advantage of the tourist — it’s usually a much more expensive bottle of wine than the tourist had in mind and you can end up paying a lot of money for that wine. Make it easy on yourself, simply order the vino della casa (rosso = red and bianco = white) which is very inexpensive and local and almost always tasty. Sometimes the vino della casa comes in a bottle (usually in a specialty restaurant), but more often than not it comes in a pitcher or carafe. There are also inexpensive and good wines on the menu — order them as well. If it comes in a bottle and you like the stuff — the establishment will sell you another bottle or so for enjoying at home or on your travels. I save bottles from special restaurants too……

OTHER DRINKS: Campari is a favorite of mine — mixed with soda or orange juice. It’s definitely an acquired taste — I like it. The beers are Nastro Azzuro or Peroni.

WATER: The water is totally safe in Italy. In Rome, the water is piped in from the hills — always fresh. Throughout the cities in Italy you will see little fountains for drinking — go ahead — drink! The sign to look out for is ACQUA NOT POTABILE — THAT MEANS DON’T DRINK THE WATER!

COFFEE, CAPPUCCINO, ESPRESSO: For breakfast, caffe latte or cappuccino is the drink (they will bring you tea if you prefer that). After dinner, if you wish to have a coffee drink, Italians usually have just plain coffee (not cappuccino).

FOOD: There’s simply no better food on earth! When in Italy I usually only eat at trattorias — these are locally (family owned) dining establishments with great food at great prices. Usually menus are posted outside the restaurants. Do the math, you’ll know if you’re getting ripped off or not — then decide if the place will work for you. In Italy, dining is an all night experience. They have primis, secondis, and other courses. Don’t feel the least bit guilty about going in and ordering an appetizer and a pasta. It’s done all the time. If you want the pasta and a meat dish (secondi), fine — I just don’t want you to feel you have to do as they do — because they all don’t. Was that clear? Or just confusing? Great little book called A Taste of Trattoria is both well written and one I’ve used often. However, wandering around is neat and you’ll stumble on finds of your own.

THE BUON RICORDO RESTAURANTS: These are restaurants that provide great food, atmosphere, great wines and a bonus* if you dine on the specialty of the restaurant (menu tipico). The Buon Ricordo Restaurants are an organization of Italian restaurants that serve the typical food of an area in Italy. The restaurants have to qualify to become members. They are high quality dining establishments that serve the best of the area, fresh, local foods, great wines and have earned the right to be a Buon Ricordo. *If you order the specialty of the restaurant, you receive a china plate that gives the name of the city, the name of the restaurant and an illustration of the special meal. They are charming! I have 18 of these plates! These restaurants are wonderful and I highly recommend them. You must make sure you ask for the plate. There’s a website you can see if any of the places you’re visiting are listed and make a special point of having dinner or lunch there. The website is: www.buonricordo.com/english/home2.htm

COVER CHARGES AND TIPPING: Usually you don’t tip in Italy — the Italians never do….however, the restaurants love Americans because we’re used to doing it and it’s nice (for them!). Menus usually say — servizio incluso — that means the service/tip is included in the prices. When you’re finished dining and you wish to get the bill — say: il conto and they’ll bring you your bill. If you get your lunch or dinner bill and there’s a pane or coperto charge — do not tip — at least don’t tip the 15 or 20% you were thinking of tipping. Pane means bread and coperto means cover — you’ve been charged for both and it’s a standard charge. If you get especially good service, leave a tip or some change — otherwise — don’t. In fine restaurants — do tip. Cabs also usually include a tip but give an additional 5 — 10% - no more.

RETURNING THE CAR TO THE AIRPORT TIP: You may wish to drop off the luggage and a person to watch the luggage at the terminal while the other person returns the car. That way, if the car return is far away you don’t have to lug your bags all over the place. If the rental return is off site (almost in another town as happened to me once), make sure you have a good map and allow time to get lost. The word for car rental is Autoleggio.

ON YOUR RETURN HOME: Sometimes you get a bad stomachache when you return from a trip abroad. I suggest that you take Pepto-Bismol when you get home, eat dinner and go to bed after unpacking. Start the next day with another "swig" of pepto (if you have an ache) and allow yourself a nap or two. You’ll find that for 3 to 4 nights you’ll awaken several times during the night. This is just jet lag, time changes and its effects on you.

CUSTOMS FORM: Every person coming to the United States (regardless of nationality) must complete a Customs Declaration form. For United States residents that is Form 6059B. If you are traveling with other immediate family members, you only need to complete one form per family (this is father, mother and children) - immediate family. Follow my instructions below. Note: To view a completed sample form click here.

1.   Print your last name - this is your family name - in my case Good.
      Print your first name - this is your given name - in my case Robin.
      Print your middle initial - in my case L.
2.   Print the date of your birth - day/month/year - if you were born on
      August 31,1968, you'd put 31/08/1968.
3.   Print the number of family members traveling with you - if you are alone - put 0;
      if you're traveling with your husband and son - put 2; do not include yourself in
      the count.
4.   Print your current street address in the United States.
      Print your city and state.
5.   Print the name of the country that issued your passport - in most cases that
      will be the United States.
6.   Print your passport number - this is found in the upper right hand corner of
      your passport on the page with your picture.
7.   Print the name of the country you live in - in most cases that will be the United
      States.
8.   Print the name or names of the countries you visited on this trip - in most cases
      that will be Italy; if you also traveled to France, list France.
9.   Print your flight number and airline - for example: Continental Flight #41.
10. Since this is more than likely a vacation, mark box #10 as NO.
11. You should not be bringing fruits, plants or insects back to the United States,
      so mark the box NO.
      You should not be bringing meats, animals or wildlife products back to the
      United States, so mark the box NO.
      You should not be bringing disease agents, cell cultures or snails back to the
      United States, so mark the box NO.
      You most likely are not carrying soil back to the United States, so mark the box NO.**
      **However, if you did visit a farm and came in to contact with farm animals etc.
      Be truthful and mark the box YES.
12. You probably didn't handle livestock, so mark the box NO.
13. If you are bringing $10,000 or more in United States dollars or the equivalent in
      foreign money - in this case Euros (or any other kind for that matter) - mark the box   
      YES.**
      However, I find it doubtful that you'd be bringing that kind of money back from a
      vacation - so mark the box NO. If in doubt, read the back of the form for clarification.
14. You should not be bringing commercial goods for sale back from your vacation, so
      mark the box NO. If you are, then mark the box YES.
15. If you are a resident of the United States (and in most cases you are), put down
      the total value of the goods you bought and are bringing back in to the United
      States. For example, if you bought a gold bracelet for $125 and also purchased
      some pottery for $75 and also purchased some tourist gifts at $100 - then you put    
      down a total of $300. If you have receipts - keep them handy.
X - Sign the form.

THE BACK OF THE FORM
Read the back of the form. There is NO need to fill in the blanks on the back of the form - those spaces are for others.


 


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