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TRAVEL TIPS FOR TRIP TO ITALY

 

Travel Guides

The best guidebook we found is the DK Travel Guide, Italy. We had the edition covering the whole country, but small versions can be found for particular cities. It was great on ranking the sites and for providing very detailed notes for all the sites worth visiting. The graphics made the sites come alive, and the maps helped in planning. The guide to restaurants and hotels was excellent, and apparently uninfluenced by commercial considerations (such as advertising placements).Rail Travel

All rail travel can be booked in advance through http://www.Raileurope.com

We don't know how essential advance booking really is; there were empty seats on all the trains we rode. We have heard that the seats sell out on the fastest trains.

First class offers a little more elbow room.  Car and seat numbers will be indicated on the ticket.

Be sure to stamp your ticket on the train platform before departure. Conductors are very casual about tickets, but if and when they do check, they will look for this evidence that you got on in the right place. On trains and subways in Italy and throughout Europe, be sure to keep your ticket until after you have left the station. Sometimes the only check is at the exit. This same advice applies for subways.Luggage is an issue for European trains in general in the post 9/11 era.  Understand that overhead space for luggage will be minimal at best and that only in the most expensive trains will there be adequate storage racks down the hall.  Find out what to expect. Sometimes there is porter assistance, but not always.  Take as little as you can.Renting a Car

Reserving an automatic transmission car is a real challenge in Europe in general. This is a real problem, for those who don't drive a stick shift.  We were able to reserve an automatic transmission vehicle through Hertz in 2010 for pick-up at the Venice airport and delivery at the Pisa Airport.  Confirm and reconfirm your arrangements, wherever you make them, if there is nobody in your party who can drive a stick shift.

We loved the driving. Don't let the crazy speeders on the Autostrade bother you. Tooling around the countryside in the car was a lot of fun. We also found that parking in or near old towns was not as difficult as we thought it would be if you looked for parking garages.  Watch carfully for the many restrictions on on-street parking.  If you plan to park your car at your hotel, prepare to pay a high per-night charge.

Travel with GPS

In 2010, we bought a portable Garman GPS device that included information for Italy and all of Europe.  We had tremendous success with this device.  It took us through confusing traffic circles by telling us exactly which exit to take, guided us through the complicated street plans of medieval cities, and flawlessly took us to our hotels in each city.

Before we left, we input all of our known destinations as "favorites," including the addresses of parking garages recommended by restaurants we were planning to visit.  We were planning days to drive around in Tuscany and in areas of the countryside outside of Verona, so we loaded dozens of possible destinations.  The GPS requires actual street addresses, so it was useful to go on-line and find the street address of a centrally-located destination, such as a church or the main square.  All of this was much easier to do from home than it would have been on the road.

Taxis

There is no problem getting them from through your hotel or through a restaurant in a few minutes, but we ran into some delays getting a taxi on the return trips from restaurants.  We had no qualms about hailing taxis from the streets in Rome and Florence. In those cities, however, it was very difficult to find a taxi on the street except at the designated taxi stands. Look for them when you arrive, or ask where they are.Make sure that you are taking a real taxi. We were met at the Rome train station by a driver who acted like a taxi driver, but ran a private car service at an outrageous price.

A real taxi will be marked "taxi." They are clean and safe in Italy; do not hesitate to use them. As with anywhere in the world, however, never enter a taxi that has more than one person in it. This is how kidnappings can occur.Tipping

Ask whether the service is included in restaurant checks; we generally found it was not. If service was excellent, you might want to leave a little more, even if the service is included.Money

No matter what happens in exchange rate fluctuations, we find that using a rule of thumb is easier than precision.  If you want to be precise, go ahead.

We found the acceptance of credit cards in 2010 to be almost universal. Yes at restaurants in Rome; no in Florence.  No matter what approach you take on getting cash, there are likely to be service charges for international transactions.

We always recommend cash cards for your cash needs. There were no surprises when we checked our bank statements, and we were very impressed with the exchange rates.  Because of the wide availability of cash machines and acceptance of credit cards, we didn't bother buying traveler's checks.  Ironically, certain airports are the one place where you may not find a cash machine, because the old-fashioned currency exchanges seem to operate there exclusively.  Try to have enough Euros in your pocket to get you from arrival to your hotel, then look for cash machines in town.

A Final WordGive everyone in the family a pocket English-Italian dictionary. It was a lot of fun trying to express our thoughts in Italian, and the Italians respond warmly to efforts to use their language. We found the Italians very warm and very accommodating, and we can hardly wait to return to Italy.

Gary and Susan Johnson, 2010

 
This site covers the following destinations in Italy in greater detail:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In addition, the general advice on safety is in order: