Car Rentals

How to Plan a Trip in Italy – Part 6

So we have our itinerary and know where we are staying, Know we need transportation while in Italy. We have a few choices:

  1. Tour – This is our least favorite and we never do this. Tours tend to be big, slow moving and they choose restaurants that give them a kick-back (not ones with great Italian food). Tours have had complaints for a long time. Some are giving Free Days where you are on your own to explore. They do handle the issues of language, getting lost and easy of touring but at an expense. In our opinion a great expense.
  2. Rental Car – This is our favorite to go to small towns and hilltop cities. In large cities we park for the duration of our stay and walk or take local transportation. Car rentals are easiest at the airport. You get your car and drive out and are on an autostrada quickly. In the south where we have our home, it is critical to have a car. It is the country and you need a car to get around. Italy’s roads are easy to navigate and GPS works great. You have a choice of American car rentals like Hertz, Avis and Budget as well as European (usually cheaper) like Eurocar. The Autostrada has great Auto Grille (rest Areas) with good bathrooms, great food and gifts. Take a break from driving and enjoy.
  3. Cruises – This is an option we do not like. Cruise tours are short and not enough time to really see a city. A few hours in Rome is not enough to see it. It certainly is not enough time to sit at a bar and experience Italian life. You go to Italy not just for the sites but to experience the Italian people and customs.
  4. Ferries – In beside areas like the Amalfi coast, take a ferry to visit other local towns. This is a fast and sonic way to travel an area. Ferries are usually not expensive.
  5. Train – An in between option is to take the train. Most airports have easy access to trains that take you into the nearby city. From any of Italy’s big cities you can board high-speed trains (Trenitalia) to any other big city in Europe. Trains are fast and efficient. Remember that your ticket must be validated before boarding the train unless you have an e-Ticket that says no validation necessary. Validation is sticking your ticket into a yellow validating machine at the end of tracks and getting it time stamped. From a large city you can transfer to local trains that go to almost all local towns. You can get to your destination or a nearby town easily.

Trains Italy

However you get around Italy, enjoy the ride. Look at Italy’s vast rugged countryside. The mountains are large and very rugged. Italy was formed by very violent volcano and earthquake events. It literally rose out of the sea. What was left is a very beautiful countryside. Italy is one of the most visited countries on Earth. Go and see why! Explore Italy and be romantic.

Tomorrow we ill look at booking your airfare and pricing.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Auto Grills, Autostrada, Car Rentals, Cruises, Driving in Italy, Europe, Ferries, General Travel, Italy, Parking Garage, Romance, Small Towns, Trains | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Smartphone Apps on Vacation

If you have a smart phone or are thinking of getting one and you are planning a trip to Europe, take it with you. We have an iPhone 6 Plus’ and call AT&T before going. AT&T offers reduced call costs in Europe, a data plan for Europe and texting for a fee and it costs only $30/month. The phones work fine. We have had no problems at all. If you are at a hotel with WiFi, you don’t need a data plan and can text other iPhones for free using the WiFi. Some apps that are useful are:

  • Tom-Tom GPS – This is a great GPS program that doesn’t use Internet (unless you are looking up a place by name). We bought the Western Europe version for $50. We have had it since our iPhone 4s and we both share it for the one cost.
  • Airline Apps – Most airlines have apps to check-in, check on flights and book new reservations. They also usually work with the iPhones Passport. You can show your phone at check-in and security instead of paper.
  • My TSA – Is an app that has the latest TSA rules and regulations.
  • Metro App – This is a handy app that allows you to download subway maps from many of the world’s cities
  • Expedia, Orbitz, Trip Advisor, etc. – These apps give you access to hotels, cars and flights from anywhere in the world.
  • GateGuru – Shows gates at many large airports and what stores and restaurants are nearby.
  • Language Apps – These allow you to translate languages in either direction. This can be handy in a country that you don’t speak the language. There are also apps that allow you to take a picture from your camera or the Internet and translate the foreign text.
  • Vino Volo – If your airport has a Vino Volo, it is a great place to start your vacation. Have a glass of wine and something to eat. The app gets you free membership which gives free sampling.

If you get lost just use your map app and plug-in your hotel address (get a card as you leave your hotel). Make sure you have it set to walk not drive (unless you are driving) and get instructions back to your hotel. You can use this to find museums, monuments and gardens as well or just an interesting restaurant.

The subway apps are fantastic. We used the Paris Metro App to find the nearest metro stop to where we were and then to plot a course on the metro to where we wanted to go. It tells you which direction to take train, how many stops to go, which trains to switch to and your final stop. The map app can then pick up from the metro stop to your destination.

Your smart phone becomes your European guide-book but so much more powerful than any book could be. Many apps offer a guided tour through a museum or monument. Make sure you bring your headphones.

What did we do before smart phones? Paper maps were so hard to use!

George & Jo Anne

Categories: Car Rentals, Driving in Italy, Europe, General Travel, GPS, Hotels, Metro Travel, Museums, Phones, Smart Phones | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Airfares

Do you fly non-stop or do you try to save a little on a stop or two? We get airfare deals in email all the time. Most are scams. You see the sucker price and say to yourself, “WOW what a great price to Italy!” Then you click on the price and all the listed airfares are higher. You have been suckered! We fly non stop Philadelphia to Rome. Many flights with stops have extremely long layovers. The last thing we want to do after an 8 to 10 hour flight is wait in some airport for another 8 hours to catch a connecting flight.

Our non stop gets us to Rome and then we have a 4.5 hour drive to our home in Italy. Yes we could fly into Naples or Salerno and be much closer but again we are sitting in an airport for longer than the drive time. Besides getting off the plane and renting a car starts your adventure. Driving and looking at the sea and mountains is exhilarating. We can see many small towns on the mountain sides around us.

We usually stop at an Auto Grille on the Autostrada to get something to eat and stretch our legs. All in all, the time goes by quickly and we are in Italy. Soon we are taking the exit for our all town and our anticipation heightens.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Air Fares, Auto Grills, Autostrada, Car Rentals, Driving in Italy, Europe, Flights, General Travel, Italy, Southern Italy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Autostrada’s of Italy

The Italian Autostrada is much like the German Autobahn. They are high-speed roads with at least 2 lanes but many have 3 lanes each way. There are tolls on these roads. Toll plazas can be at exits/entrances or across the entire highway. The main north-south highways are labeled A plus a one or two digit number. Connector highways that can go in any direction are labeled E and have two or three digit number. These roads are easy to navigate. A few driving rules exist:

  1. Never hog the left lane! Use it to pass and then move back into the middle lane. If a car is approaching from the rear, move over. I can not stress this enough. Italians roads have speed limits by lane. The left is the highest, the middle a little less and the right lane is for slow-moving vehicles.
  2. Use your turn signal to indicate lane change.
  3. Lane lines are just a suggestion in Italy! You will see cars driving on them and right next to you. This is normale (normal)!
  4. Use your GPS device or smart phone to get directions and distances. We use the Tom-Tom App on our iPhones.
  5. Auto Grills are rest areas on these highways. They have good food, restrooms and all kinds of tourist junk. Take a break from driving, stretch your legs, eat something and have a cafè.

The main Autostrada’s are:

  • A1 – Milan to Naples
  • A2 – Old Rome to Naples but now it is part of A1
  • A3 – Naples south to ferry to Siciliy
  • A4 – Turin to Trieste
  • A5 – Turin to Monte Bianco
  • A6 – Turin to Savona
  • A7 – Milan to Genoa
  • A8 – Milan to Varese
  • A9 – Lainate to Chiasso
  • A10 – Genoa to Ventimiglia

The list goes on and on. See a complete list on Wikipedia.

Get out and rent a car and see the real Italy.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Auto Grills, Autostrada, Car Rentals, Driving in Italy, Europe, Italy | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Italy Buck List Trips

“My Itchy Travel Feet” BLOG posted two bucket list trips:

  1. Northern Italy
  2. Southern Italy

Italy is romantic and beautiful both north and south. Food changes, fashions change and dialects change but Italians are Italians. They love Americans, their food and their wine. They are a romantic people. I have always said on this BLOG, that you need to see the big cities and their museums and monuments but afterwards go to the small beach and mountain cities.

How to plan your Italian trip:

  1. Decide if you will go on your own or in a formal tour. Italy can easily be enjoyed on your own or with small private tours like ours. The big Italian tours are not as fun. They often stop in touristy restaurants that are not the same as real Italian restaurants. They can’t go to really small mountain towns with big tour buses. You are usually locked into tour parameters. When on your own, you can change your mind and stay in a beautiful city for additional days.
  2. Decide what you want to see. Are you going to the big cities of Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples or small cities.
  3. Pick an area of Italy like Campania or Abruzzi. Don’t try to do all of Italy in 7 days. It doesn’t work!
  4. Decide on mountain or beach towns or both.
  5. Pick which cities to spend your nights in. Look up hotel prices, accommodations and availability on the Internet.
  6. Decide if you are going safe and will lock in hotels with a credit card or play it by ear and decide when you arrive in a city.
  7. Look up history, sites to see and local food specialties.
  8. Plan your trip with a small tour or rent a car and drive. If you will drive make sure you have a good GPS program on your smart phone. Plan your travel routes by how long it will take. Give your self extra time for delays, traffic, lunch and dinner and sightseeing. Remember Italy closes its stores in most towns from 1pm to around 4 pm.
  9. Learn some Italian to say Buon Giorno (good day but used to say hello to a stranger as well), Grazie (Thank you) and Prego (Thank You). Most of us have been to good Italian restaurants in America that list the food in Italian. We are familiar with the choices like Carne (meat), Pesce (fish), Insalata (salad) and Dolce (dessert).
  10. Plan your flights on a non-stop flight if possible. Some stop overs can be as long as 8 to 10 hours. We prefer after a long flight to be driving in the Italian countryside to waiting another 8+ hours at an airport.
  11. Don’t forget to try Italian gelato (ice cream) and chocolate!

Once you arrive, forget about your worries and troubles and enjoy Italy. Be respectful and courteous. Most of all enjoy your trip and the memories it creates!

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Air Fares, Beaches, Campania, Car Rentals, Driving in Italy, Eating Italian, Europe, Flights, Gelato, General Travel, GPS, Hotels, Italy, Mountain Towns, Regions of Italy, Small Towns, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Euros

Euro to dollar conversion rates are always changing. When the euro was about $1.40 everything in Europe was expensive. As it drops closer to $1.00, where it started, everything looks cheaper. It is currently at $1.27 which is a great rate. This is a good time to visit Europe. You will save on everything you buy in Europe including meals and hotels. If we look at $1.40 vs. $1.27 that is almost a 10% drop in rate. That means if your hotel, meals and spending for two weeks cost $4,000, you will save about $400.

Rates are on the down swing and may even get lower. You still have to be careful of where you convert your dollars to euros. The banks and currency exchange places can charge a lot on top of the $1.27. If you are careful you can plan a nice vacation and enjoy a savings.

Europe awaits you. If it is on your bucket list, now is a good time to go.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Car Rentals, Eating Italian, Euro, Europe, Exchange Rates, General Travel, Money | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Driving in Italy

First and foremost, the Italians drive on the same side of the road as we do. This makes it a whole lot easier. Rental cars are abundant. You can rent from an American company like Hertz, Avis or Budget or from European companies like Europcar and Sixt. I prefer to rent a diesel when in Italy. The fuel is cheaper there. Fuel prices are very expensive compared to ours (about $10/gallon). Any savings you can make on this will help. I rent economy or compact cars since they get better mileage. Italian cars do not have all the smog and clean air protections we have so they get a much higher MPG than we do.

The roads are great. The largest roads are called Autostrada and are numbered A1, A@, etc. A connecting Autostrada can be named E24 etc. These are high-speed roads usually have three lanes each direction. They are limited access roads. Italians drive these roads at 140 KPH (about 90 MPH). The left lane is for passing only! DO NOT DRIVE IN THE LEFT LANE WHEN CARS ARE APPROACHING BEHIND YOU! Italians are kinder  to other drivers than we are but they will get very upset if you drive in the left and hog it. The middle lane has a slower speed limit and the far right has the slowest speed limit. There are speed cameras that will ticket you over 140 KPH. There are tolls on most of these roads. Have euros ready to pay your tolls.

Next are highways with limited access. These are typically two lanes with more curves (a slower speed limit). They are good roads and can get you from the Autostrada to near where you are going. Finally there are regular roads which can range from a flat surface road to a very curving mountain road. Some mountain roads have guard rails others do not (like California).

Fuel stops are everywhere so getting fuel is not a problem. Prices range as they do here. You should have a smart phone with European GPS (we use the Western Europe Tom-Tom App) or rent a GPS unit with your car. Directions are not always obvious and a GPS can help you. We also use our iPhone Tom-Tom for walking directions in big towns like Rome. Go and get lost then plug-in your hotel address and put it in walk mode.

Don’t drive in big cities like Rome. Most will not allow you to drive in the old city center. If you are driving and have a hotel, email them as where to park. They may have to email you a pass to enter the old city center and park. Driving will get you places that tours don’t go. So get out and enjoy yourself and have fun.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Car Rentals, Driving in Italy, Euro, Europe, General Travel, GPS, Parking Garage | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So you have picked your city! Now what?

OK you did your homework and picked your perfect European countries to visit. You have a list of cities to visit and the major things to see in each city. Now what? How should you get around Europe? You have three choices:

  1. Tour – which I would never do
  2. Trains – European trains are fast, on schedule and comfortable. They are also very easy to use.
  3. Rental Car – Cars are the most convent for small cities. They should not be used for large cities.

Trains – European trains between major cities are fast and travel faster than cars do. In France they travel much faster than cars do. You can buy tickets in America on-line but you pay a premium plus an increased exchange rate. In Europe there are machines that can be put into English and are easy to use. You enter where you are going, choose one way or round trip and pick your train (time). They take credit cards and your tickets are printed at the machine. You can also go to a window and speak to someone. They normally speak some English. There are usually lines at the windows. However you buy your tickets don’t forget to have them validated at machines by your track. Validation says you are using this ticket. It is an honor system and the conductor may never get to you to check your tickets. If you are checked onboard and do not have a validation stamp, the fine is very high. Online tickets may have “No Validation Needed” stamped on them. These are good for only the train listed so validation is not necessary. From big cities to small cities there are trains but they are local trains. They are slower and usually stop at each city along the way. Europe’s train system is extensive and can get you to or very near your destination town.

Rental Cars – Rental cars are convent at most airports. You can usually pickup your car in a parking garage or lot attached to the terminals. There are many companies including the American rental companies and the European companies. We usually don’t use the American companies because they are more costly for the same car. We like Eurocar. I also pay to take the insurance. It is easier to deal with an accident if you have insurance from the rental company. If you are using a rental car you really should have a GPS unit. You can rent these with the car for an additional fee. You can also use the one on your smart phone. We bought the Tom-Tom app for our iPhones. We have one for the USA and one for Western Europe. They each cost around $50 but we have had them on two different phones for 4 years now. The app can show traffic (for an annual fee). They also know where speed cameras and gas stations are.

Make a note on your smart phone and carry a printed copy (in case you lose your phone) of all hotel names, addresses and phone numbers. You should also have your itinerary with a list of city names you are going to visit. Europeans are friendly and will help you out as needed. Be friendly and polite. It is customary in Europe to say “Please” and “Thank-You”. You should know how to say these in each language you will encounter. Now just enjoy your trip. Create some memories!

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Car Rentals, Euro, Europe, Exchange Rates, General Travel, GPS, Hotels, Tour Groups, Trains | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: