Money

Why I love Italy

This is a different VLOG for me. In this one I talk about the reasons I love Italy and give tips to both first time travelers to Italy well as experienced Italian travelers.

The video covers several sections:

  • Why I love Italy
  • Top Reasons I love Italy
  • Museums
  • What to do in Italy
  • Finding Places to Eat
  • The Metro (Subway)
  • Time to go
  • Hotels
  • Currency (Euros)
  • Airfares
  • Hopper App
  • Driving in Italy
  • Put Italy on your Bucket List

If Italy is not on your bucket list, it should be. Watch the video below and see why so many people love and go to Italy.

– George

Categories: Air Fares, Autostrada, Beach Resorts, Beaches, BLOG, Church, Cooking, Dolce, Dolce far niente, Driving in Italy, Duomo, Eating, Eating Italian, Espresso, Europe, Exchange Rates, Ferries, Flights, Food, Gelato, General Travel, Italian Facts, Italian language, Italy, Italy BLOGs, Metro Travel, Money, Museums, Parking Garage, Parking Meters, Passegiata, Pasta, Pastry, Pizza, Planning a vacation, Romance, Shopping, Small Towns, Towns, Trains, Travel Guides, Traveling without a tour, VLOG, Walking, Weather in Europe, Wine, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How can I survive without a Tour?

English: icon for smartphone (smart phone) rel...

English: icon for smartphone (smart phone) related content (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

YES, YES, YES!!!! You really can survive very well without a large formal tour. Huge bus tours stop at restaurants that make food for a large number of people quickly. This is not the Italian way. They also can not get you into small mountain towns. The roads are to steep and narrow.

We are firm believers of not taking tours in Europe. Many people say to me that they need a tour for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. Hard to plan and I am not a planner – Planning today with the internet and smart phones is easy. GPS will prevent you from getting lost.
  2. I might miss something important – There are great guide books and Apps that will tell you about the top 10-20 things in a city. You can not miss anything important. They will also guide you through museums, castles and churches.
  3. I don’t speak the language – Large modern cities have many people that cater to tourists and can speak some English. When you speak, speak slowly and use basic English like you where talking to a child. Learn the basics like Hello, Good morning, please, thank you and how much is it.
  4. I might get lost – As we said use a GPS App on your smart phone to get you around. If you don’t have one, rent one.
  5. I am afraid to find my way around – This is pure fear … FIGHT IT! You can get around and you will find great things to see, great restaurants to eat at and meet very friendly people.

We help plan trips abroad without tours. There are so many forms of information on the internet today about travel. You have to be aware some are peoples opinions that are not the same as yours. This is true of formal tours as well. They may go to places you don’t care about. They most certainly will go to tourist places to eat (and get kick backs from these places) which are NOT the best food in these countries. Our rules are:

  1. Don’t eat at tourist restaurants or near tourist attractions. The food is for tourists not locals. Get out with the locals and go to their restaurants. You will be amazed at how good the food is.
  2. Number 1 & 2 above – trips are not hard to plan. Buy a tour book at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. These books show top attractions and top things inside these attractions. You really can not miss anything important. With a map or a smart phone, you can layout where all of the attractions you want to see are. How far apart they are. You can plan what you can do each day. Next decide if you will walk, take a taxi or public transportation. Taxi drivers speak enough english to get by. Buses and Metros are easy to find and travel on. In big cities there usually is a metro stop near every major attraction. There are smart phone apps that determine where you are (GPS) and tell you where nearest metro stop is. They even guide you as you walk. Once at the metro they tell you what train to get on, which direction to go, how many stops to yours and the name of your stop. Once off the train they once again guide your walk to your attraction.
  3. Number 3 above – English is the universal language, French speak english in Italy, Japanese speak English throughout Europe. Most big cities have people who know enough English to help you. Attractions hire people who speak english as well. We like to learn some words in the country’s language we am visiting. They feel good when we try to speak their language.
  4. Number 4 & 5 above – You really can’t get lost with a good map or better yet a smart phone. Smart phones are getting cheaper each year. Plans for foreign use are cheaper than ever and at least one company is offering free foreign usage. You really need a data plan so you can use the internet. Many apps require communication with a server on the net. Map apps show you where you are and how to get to another destination like your hotel or the next attraction you want to visit. You never have to be afraid of getting around again.
  5. Be polite and kind to other people you encounter. You are their guests. They are NOT your servants. If you are friendly and nice most people will return the same to you.
  6. Exchange your money at banks not airports! Check rates they vary a lot. Use credit cards to get cash or purchase items. They charge a slightly higher exchange rate and most today do not charge extra foreign fees.

Most important is just relax and enjoy your adventure. Eat and enjoy the food, drink the wine, speak to the local people and see the sights. Take plenty of pictures and you will create a memory you will never forget. Most important be romantic, live like a European and enjoy yourself. You can do it!

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Cash, Europe, Exchange Rates, Food, General Travel, GPS, Money, Mountain Towns, Museums, Phones, Romance, Small Towns, Smart Phones, Tour Groups | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Italy – Travel the right way

Traveling to Italy is important. It is the dream of millions of people. It doesn’t have to be just a dream. It can be a reality. Save each month for a vacation to Italy. When you have enough, make reservations. See this beautiful and romantic country. Airfare is the most expensive part of the trip. Traveling off-season can drastically reduce airfares. Stay in small European hotels not big name American hotels. Make sure you have a private bath. Eat in bars or a trattoria. Never travel in August! It is hot and very crowded.

Tour groups can be expensive as well. They are run like cruises. The initial expense doesn’t seem bad but then they always have side-trips you want that can run up on the bill. They guide you to their restaurants and shops that give them a kickback. These are not always the best places for a memorable vacation. Be a smart traveller! Do your homework. Buy a guide-book or study the Internet. Here is a checklist:

  1. List the cities you ant to visit. Don’t try to do all of Europe or even all of Italy in one trip.
  2. List the top things you want to see in each city.
  3. If museums are your thing, list the top things in each museum that you want to see. Don’t try to do all of a large museum.
  4. Research Italian hotels. Look at location, price, amenities and other travelers reviews. Don’t worry if breakfast is included. Breakfast in Italy at a bar is cheap and delicious.
  5. Estimate the time you need in days in each city. Then estimate travel time between cities. You can fly, drive or take a train. Flying gives you the most time in your cities if they are a distance from each other. Trains are romantic and you can see the country side.
  6. List entrance costs and local transportation (metro) to get to each attraction. Many cities can be walked if you are in shape.
  7. Now estimate your trip. List days in each place and when you should go. Airfares are often cheaper on Tuesday through Thursday than weekends.
  8. Now you have an itinerary and an estimate on cost. Add in spending money and extras that you will find spur-of-the-moment.
  9. Now you are ready for a wonderful trip. Sit back and enjoy it.

We love taking people around Italy. We enjoy seeing the amazement in their eyes and the joy they feel. When we take a group it is always small and we don’t try to do everything in a single trip. It is important to end your vacation feeling happy and full of memories, Our rules are:

  1. Visit the main cities first. See the top ten things in each city. Experience the city as an Italian. Meet and talk with people. Most Italians speak some English as it is the national second language.
  2. Visit small mountain and sea-side towns next. Some of these are so small that the large tour busses can’t get to them.
  3. Never go to touristy restaurants or shops. Be spontaneous and see what you find during your walks.
  4. Have a general itinerary but be spontaneous and be able to change it.
  5. Experience not just the monuments but the people, food and wine.

Italy is a passionate and romantic country. Experience all of its emotions.

George & Jo Anne

 

 

Categories: Bars, Europe, General Travel, Italy, Money, Mountain Towns, Museums, Romance, Small Towns, Trains, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US Dollar vs Euro

Yesterday we talked about can you afford Italy. Any discussion on cost in a foreign country has to take into consideration the conversion rates. Last year it cost $1.34 to buy 1 Euro. That was the World Bank Rate. Your actual costs were higher depending on where you buy the Euros. Banks add-on .10 to .15 cents and exchange booths at the airport add-on much more! The best conversions are often with credit cards. They add-on an amount but not as high usually as banks and exchanges places. Many credit card companies now offer no fee foreign purchases. They still tack on cents to the World Bank rate but do not then charge an addition fee for foreign purchases.

Today the rate is $1.08 per Euro. That is a savings of $.26 per Euro from last year. If you spend $3,000 that is a savings of $780. That will buy you something nice on your trip. Europe has not been as cheap in a long time. Now is the time to book a trip and enjoy romantic Italy. The lower exchange rate makes hotels, meals, gifts, purchases and tours bought in Italy cheaper by 25% from last year. Airfares are the same since you buy them with dollars. If you purchase a local airfare or train tickets while in Italy it also will be 25% cheaper.

Enjoy the savings while it lasts. Check off another item on your bucket list!

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Air Fares, Euro, Europe, Exchange Rates, Hotels, Italy, Money, Trains | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Euros and Europe

Tis the season to travel to Europe! The dollar is down compared to the Euro which is great for us. Not long ago we were paying $1.40 to buy a Euro. Today it’s $1.24. That is about 13% better! Imagine a 13% discount on your travel expenses. This time of year is crowded with Americans and airfares can be up. You still can find a good fare if you shop. Many Americans like to travel over Thanksgiving week or the week after because they get 2 extra days. If you go Thanksgiving week you only take off 3 days and get 9 days of vacation. If you go the week after you take 5 days of vacation and get 11 days of vacation.

Christmas is also a great time in Europe. You can feel the holiday spirit in the lights and stores around Europe. In northern Europe you have an excellent chance of a white Christmas. Join the Europeans in a bar, pub or restaurant. Warm yourself by the fire and enjoy your food and drink slowly. Look around you and observe the European way of life.

Europe is romantic! Go and rekindle your relationship. Don’t travel to 21 cities in 21 days. Don’t hop country to country. Pick your favorite spot and enjoy a relaxing time with the person you love. Hold hands and stroll the streets slowly. This will make memories you will never forget.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Air Fares, Bars, Euro, Europe, Exchange Rates, Money, Romance, snow, The holidays in Europe | 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

How to buy a Place in Italy – Part 20

If you are contemplating buying a place in Italy or anywhere in Europe you must consider the lifestyle of that area. Europeans live different from we do. You should understand that and adjust your expectations. Some things to be considered are:

  1. Car sizes are typically smaller. This is because gas is so much more expensive (about $10/gallon in Italy but cars get 50-70 mpg). There are also many small cities where a larger car will NOT fit through the streets. We like having a hatchback in Italy. You can fold down the seats and carry most things you buy easily. You can find big american cars like Jeeps but they are rare and you need to be well off to afford to operate them.
  2. Cars are usually stick shift. Mountain roads are windy and many do not have guard rails (similar to California). Using your brakes on a downhill can wear them out and cause a fatal accident. Stick Shift (manual transmission) offers lower gears to help slow the car down without breaking.
  3. People in Europe tend to live outside even in winter. Their houses are very small by our standards. Kitchens are small, bathrooms are small and bedrooms are small. Houses and condo’s of 300-5– sq ft are large there. There always are large palatial mansions for millions of dollars but the typical home is small. Italians love to eat outside with family and friends. Balconies and decks are common.
  4. There are typically no closets. You need to buy an armoire (wardrobe) for your clothes.
  5. You usually do not get a kitchen even in a resale. There are furniture stores (Mobile) that sell full kitchens with cabinets and appliances.
  6. A typical day has stores open in morning until about 12:30 or 1 pm. Then everything except restaurants and touristy places close down. They reopen around 4pm and stay open until 8 or 9 pm. During the noon break, families spend time together. They eat lunch, walk together and meet up with friends. If you are looking for something during this closed time, you will not find it. Plan your day with this in mind.
  7. Wine is always cheaper when order as “House Wine” (vino di casa). It comes by the glass, 1/2 liter or full liter carafe. Some restaurants do sell bottles of wine but they are more expensive.

The most important thing about buying a Place in Italy is having fun! Determine what your most important criteria is. Ours was views. Set your budget. You can negotiate as you do here. Understand all your monthly bills (water, gas, electric, garbage and taxes). These can be paid monthly, every 2 or 3 months, semi annually or annually (depending on the area). Once you buy, make friends with your neighbors and store owners in town. Italians are friendly people and love Americans.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Closing a property in Italy, Europe, General Travel, Italy, Money, Owning a home in Italy, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to buy a Place in Italy – Part 19

Well we are back from our second stay at our Italian villa. Life goes on but we still dream of the sites, the people, the food, the wine, the gelato, the beaches … and on and on. In this BLOG we will discuss some of the considerations of buying a place outside the USA. First you need to find your dream place, The internet is full of places for sale. We chose solely on the views. Once you find a place and negotiate your price, you will need to transfer money as a down payment. We did this by wire transfer from our US account to the owners account in Italy. We were working through a realtor in the UK.

Money transfers are a big thing in this day and age of terrorism. Our Homeland Security requires documentation of any foreign account that is over a dollar value even for a day (when we did the transaction it was $50,000). Check the web for current restorations. There is no tax due on this amount (it is NOT the IRS). It just notifies our government that you had an account with substantial funds and the reason. We filed the paperwork and all was well. Not filing can lead to huge fines! In addition the Italian government requires paperwork on amounts over $5,000. We keep our transfers around $4,000 (which lasts a few years).

The next feat was to transfer the amount you will owe at closing. This can be $1000,000 to several million depending on your property. Of course if you take out a foreign mortgage that amount will be reduced by the mortgage amount. We decided to pay cash. The problem we had now was our government requires the person to be present when opening a foreign account. At the time we could not initiate a wire transfer remotely. We would have to fly to Italy open an account, fly back to the US and transfer the funds, then return to Italy for the closing. That would cost an extra $1200 to $1600 in airfare. Luckily we found companies like World First that transfer dollars to Euros and wire them into your foreign account. On smaller amounts they charge a small amount over the World Bank exchange rates. On large amounts they match it. Wiring from an US bank directly would cost a fee plus an extra 4-8% on the amount. If you were wiring even $100,000 that would be $4,000 to $8,000 extra.

In Europe kitchens do NOT typically come with a house (new or resale). People take all appliances, cabinets and sink with them. We had a beautiful tile wall with electric plugs and switches, pipes for water & drainage. That was our kitchen. We bought an entire kitchen and had it installed. It included refrigerator, stove (oven and cook top), sink and cabinets. It fit the wall perfect. We love our kitchen and it didn’t cost anything near what it would in the states. Refrigerators are very small by US standards. You do NOT need a big refrigerator/freezer. Italians use very little frozen items (mostly ice cream and ice cubes). They buy everything fresh each day so the refrigerator doesn’t need to be big. If you are going to buy in Europe, get into the lifestyle. Don’t try to fit our American standards to your European house!

NB - IMG_4770

You will use your foreign account to pay taxes, water bills, garbage pickup bills, electric & gas bills. Most banks have electronic banking so you can control you account from the US. Most also do not translate their pages into English. You have to do some translation on your own and get use to the site. You can also setup auto pay with all bills except taxes and Garbage pickup fees. For us these two are about $500 a year payable half in summer and remaining half in December. The bank website has a special page to pay these taxes.

Tomorrow we will discuss Living style in Italy. Houses are small but people live outside a lot.

George & Jo Anne

Categories: Europe, General Travel, Home Land Security, Italy, Money, Owning a home in Italy, Xpats | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Money and European Travel

Everyone needs money to travel. The cost of goods is one thing but the exchange rate is another. There are several things that make European travel more expensive. The good news is it is getting better and there are some things you can do to lower the costs.

  1. Exchange rates are dropping. This means Americans can buy more with their dollars in Europe than before. Exchange rates have been high. The higher they go, everything starts to look too expensive.
  2. On top of exchange rates you have credit card fees and bank exchange rates to buy Euros. Today the World Bank rate to buy 1 Euro is $1.352. You will never find a bank that will charge you that rate! They can be as high as $1.45. So you are paying a 5-10% premium to buy Euros.
  3. Some credit cards also charge an additional foreign transaction fee over and above the inflated exchange rate. This can be another 3-8% fee. So a $100 item can be costing you as much as $118 with fees. There are credit cards that are for foreign travel and do not charge this transaction fee. They still inflate the exchange rate.

Travel wisely and check rates and fees before you travel. Shop carefully in Europe. Costs can differ greatly by store. Some store will bargain with you. Once you are there, stop thinking about fees and rates! Just enjoy your trip and all of its experiences.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Europe, Exchange Rates, General Travel, Money | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

OK you are sold on Europe but How do you get there?

What are the top three reasons people don’t go to Europe? Money, Money, Money! Never borrow or use credit card debt to go. That only ruins your trip when you get back and have to pay for it. Most Americans don’t have four to six thousand to drop on a trip. There is the kids college fund, the mortgage, we need a new car, etc. The list goes on and on. There is a way. Save an amount you can afford each week, or month. Put it in a separate savings account just for vacations. Let it grow until you have enough to go. Then shop for deals on airfare and hotels. If having an account with several thousand in it is too tempting for you, start a Christmas fund and buy yourself a vacation gift at Christmas time.

Airfares are expensive but you can shop for deals. Last minute bookings can save a lot of money. Traveling Tuesday through Thursday instead of Friday through Sunday can save a bundle. Check both the airline sites and discount sites like Orbitz. Hotels can be inexpensive on discount sites. They don’t always get a lot off airfare but if you book it with them they can save you a lot on a hotel. Don’t pick the big American hotels. Go for small European hotels but be sure you have a private bath. The experience will be more memorable and fun. Many include a wonderful European breakfast with the room. Don’t look for American breakfasts, you are not in America. Eggs are usually only given as hard-boiled. The breakfast usually includes breads, pastries, meats and cheeses. Some have a variety of cereals as well. Juice and coffee is also available.

Enjoy your trip and be a European while you are traveling. Be romantic and be happy. Don’t forget the gelato and chocolate. These are less sugary than in the states and so delicious.

George & Jo Anne

 

Categories: Chocolate, Europe, Flights, General Travel, Money | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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