The trip to Italy (May 2015)positively surpassed my wildest best dreams. It was a wonderful experience. Two of us had such a great time that we plan to return next year to spend more time on the Amalfi Coast and then to travel to Sicily.
Before I detail our amazing time and various adventures, I want to share some basic tips which may be beneficial. To begin with the train travel between cities is very easy to book even at the last minute, inexpensive, very convenient and comfortable. It did help that we three ladies were traveling light. This mode of travel will continue to be our first choice of transportation between Italian cities. The only exception may be via ferry from the Amalfi Coast to Sicily.
Within the cities, the metro and bus systems were also easy to learn how to use, very accessible and inexpensive. It is important to note that the major cities of Milan, Florence, and Rome had red and blue bus and metro systems. It will become obvious if you have to purchase a ticket ahead of time before entry onto the bus or subway. Otherwise within communities such as Capri, a tourist can flag an orange bus at any assigned bus stop and purchase the ticket upon entry. We learned the hard way in Venice that there is a red button that a passenger has to push if you want the bus driver to stop to let you off; and you have to flag the bus with your right hand if you wish the bus pick you up at designated spots.
Within the major cities, there are tourist offices which offer passes for a flat fee, allowing tourists unlimited access to bus and metro systems along with some prepaid entrance cards to the museums listed on their plans. Among the cities, there are variances as to the number of days and the number of free museum tickets offered. Frequently, these allow tourists to avoid the long lines to purchase tickets at the popular sites.
Another suggestion is to make sure that all adults traveling together have their own working cell phones. Originally, we three gung ho ladies, all over the age of 65 decided to have just one person with a cell phone to save costs. We had intended to just use the phone to advise our families of our safe arrival and in the event of an emergency. However, there was the first incident when we realized that this thinking was foolish. We attended the World Expo in Milan which encompassed several acres and was very crowded. Fortuitously, when we entered the premises, I pointed out a statue to be meeting place in the event any one of us became separated. Sure enough at one of the exhibitions, I lost my friends. This situation would have been moot if all of us had a working cell phone. Also, reservations for various tours and restaurants were necessary which meant our friend ended up using more minutes than she had contracted for through her phone service company.
We also learned that travel can test a friendship. Here is what happened along with thoughts as to how to prevent tensions among traveling friends. One of our executive type friends is not an experienced overseas traveler. She discounted advice by myself and another long time friend who are both, frequent enthusiastic adventurers. We mentioned to her that we were walking at least an hour each day to get in shape for the long distances that we would be walking over various terrains, including cobblestone roads, hills, steps and other hikes such as climbing Mt. Vesuvius. When we started walking in the Lake Como area, we noticed she could not keep up with the two of us, and yet, she assumed we would adjust our pace to suit her. We had to explain that we had no intention of slowing down and missing out on various events due to her tiring easily or because she didn’t want to do something like going to the opera. For example, one day in Milan she was worn out and stressed. Consequently, she did not want to exit a bus to catch a cab so that we could make our 4:00 pm tour appointment to view the “Last Supper” masterpiece. She was furious when we left her on the bus and took off because we were intent on seeing this Leonardo da Vinci painting. In that same evening, we were very fortunate to be able purchase box seats to a sold out performance so that we could enjoy the opera by Puccini, “Turandot” at the famous Milan opera house, La Scala.
The moral of this story is that if you want to know for sure whether you should marry your beau, travel together. For any inexperienced traveler to other countries, take time to learn from those with ample knowledge. It wouldn’t hurt to study about the country that you plan to visit so that your expectations are based on reality and that you are more open to new experiences. If your health is not equal to others on the same trip, it is okay to opt out without holding others back. Sitting at a café in a beautiful square as you observe the going on of others or resting in a hammock while treasuring the sights of stunning scenery such as at the Amalfi Coast can be immensely rewarding. Taking your time to peruse a fantastic museum, gardens or indulging on a spa day which is very affordable in Italy, can make for a pleasant day. In short, you can have fun in another country at your own pace by deciding to do activities you enjoy while making plans to join others later for joint activities.
The best tour company that we consistently used is, “Walks of Italy” which can be reached at walksofitaly.com; U.S. phone 1-888-683-8670 and within Italy, call +39-069-480-4888. The tours are more expensive than other tour companies because the tour groups have fewer participants than the standard tour group of 45 to 50 peoples; the tour guides are licensed, very competent and knowledgeable; and the tours are well planned and managed. Another tour company in Rome which was highly recommended is, “Roman Guy” which can be accessed at theromanguy.com. We did not have a chance to try their services after we learned about them. This highly rated organization receives raves for their outstanding Roman foodie tours. Both of these tour entities are American owned and managed. The best large group tour experience was with Ciao Florence Tours & Travel, at email@example.com for trips in the Florence area and to close by destinations like Luca and Pisa.
I and my friend had such a grand time. The Italians just love their elders. I frequently had gentleman offer me their seats on public transit. I and my friend received so many spontaneous hugs from Italian handsome men. What fun!!!
When you see a + preceding a phone number in Italy, the plus sign stands for two zeros. So, when you see +39, you’ll need to dial 0039.
As a tourist you can save about 10% of taxes when you purchase items in Italy but you’ll have to spend over 155 euros (2015 rules). The store clerks can give you the forms that you’ll need to present at an airport office, designated for the refund of taxes.
I did not find an inexpensive way to ship merchandise back to the U.S. As I became worried about carrying extra luggage around, I started having the shop personnel do the shipping.
As a reminder, when you are asked if you wish the charge on your credit card to be in U.S. dollars, the answer is always, NO! The exchange rate will not be favorable to you.
The lines to purchase tickets for a popular attraction can be exceedingly long and slow. It does pay to take the time to purchase these tickets ahead of time. If you are part of a tour, the tour company will have your tickets. In some cases, such as at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, there is an office where you can immediately enter to purchase tickets for another day. In most cities, I just bought the city passes which included access to all public transportation and at least 2 free passes to well attended museums.