We’re almost ready to start our next adventure in Italy, which will include the island of Sardinia, Rome, the Amalfi Coast, the region of Emilia Romagna, the Dolomites and exploring the Lombardy region near Milan. Preparing for this adventure may seem like a lot of work, but for those of us from the Pacific Northwest —a winter of trip planning is more therapy than work.
Although the internet offers a wealth of information, we like reading books. The local library, used bookstores and our local book seller are where we start. We enjoy reading up on history, politics, art and general travel tips. If you really want to understand the Italian psyche, try Luigi Barzini’s The Italians. Although it was first published in 1964, this book still helps unravel the complexities of Italian behavior. A shorter and more recent exploration is by Beppe Severgnini, called La Bella Figura.
For history, there are too many books to mention in your local library. But if you forget most of your World History class in high school, pick up Rick Steve’s Europe 101. This delightful book gives a brief overview of art and history for travelers to Europe. I really like the time lines that helped me understand which historical periods fit the artistic trends. He also does a good job comparing the different art periods and trends in architecture. It’s an easy and fast read.For general travel information, I like Rick Steve’s books for an overview. I think his maps and recommendations are good. He’s also very helpful on the transportation logistics. But, I also use the Lonely Planet series. They often cover some parts of Italy that Steves hasn’t explored as much. Their suggested itineraries are often excellent. When we’ve followed their advice on restaurants, we’ve rarely been disappointed. Most of the travel books have online versions that we take on the iPad. There are several other series with loads of information, but these two aren’t afraid to give their opinions and make solid suggestions.
I’ve said in an earlier blog, you can save money on accommodations by staying in a small apartment or Agriturismo for five days to one week (or longer). We’ve had success using Vacation by Owner, http://www.vrbo.com and HomeAway, http://www.homeaway.com. But, we are also very fond of Airbnb, http://www.airbnb.com. The first two sites have been around for quite awhile and are well-known in Europe. The prices tend to be higher and they may ask for substantial deposits. However, most owners are experienced and have been in the business awhile. Airbnb is a newer company started up in San Francisco, CA. The offerings range from very expensive homes and upscale apartments to small studios or a couch in the living room. However, you can set your search so you aren’t getting something that is shared. There are plenty of reviews about each place, so it’s easy to get an idea if someone is more professional or not. One minor drawback to Airbnb is that you pay when you make your reservation, so if plan far in advance, you are paying in advance. However, there are several different cancellation policies, so read them carefully before you commit. When we need a hotel or B&B, I like to use TripAdvisor because of the ease of their site and the reviews. I always read several reviews. For instance, if someone complains about a small bathroom, that isn’t a red flag for me because many bathrooms in Europe seem small to us. But, if people complain about how they are treated or if there are reports of broken items or unclean rooms, I move on. I also use the links (when available) to the accommodation’s own website. There is usually more information there.
For writing this blog, email and general internet access, I’m happy to have my lightweight iPad. It’s not that hard to find wifi in Italy. The iPad’s connection is a little weaker than a laptop, but it does the job. More and more, cities and towns in Italy offer free wifi in the public piazzas. You might have to go to a local TI (tourist Information Booth) to find out how to sign up.
We’ve traveled in Italy many times without using a phone and we’ve survived just fine. If you don’t speak Italian and you don’t have someone to call in Italy, why have a phone? Email works just fine. But, once you start mingling with the locals, a phone comes in handy. It’s also nice for making last minute reservations at a restaurant and also to give to your hotel/B&B for contacting you. But email often works just as well.If you have a phone that can be unlocked, like an older iPhone or a T-Mobile phone, it’s easy to get a local Italian number with no contract. Just buy an inexpensive SIM card at one of the ubiquitous phone stores when you get to Italy. Have your passport handy for purchasing the SIM card the first time. Once you have the card installed, you can go back to a phone store or into any small Tabacchi Shop and add more time. I usually buy 5-10 euros at a time. NOTE: The Tabacchi shops are also a good source for buying bus tickets and stamps (francobolli) for your postcards if you ever send one again. If you don’t have a phone that unlocks, you might look into buying an inexpensive “Go Phone” type there. I would only do this if you plan to return to Europe in the near future. If your next trip will be in France, your Italian phone should work just fine.
The Internet & Blogs
The internet is full of useful information for any trip. Every city and town has a website with information for travelers. These sites are especially useful for current events and the latest entertainment. But, here are some of my favorite resources for travel on the web:
New York Times Travel Section: This website has good tips (both current & older) on things to do, where to eat and where to sleep. It’s easy to search for a certain destination and find several helpful articles. I also enjoy the Frugal Traveler blog.
Although this site emphasizes lodgings and restaurants, there’s also some info on things to do and see.
This website is made up of a community of travelers who tend to take a bit more time exploring an area. There are many trip reports and reviews of places to stay and eat throughout the world, not just Europe.
Romeing Magazine: http://www.romeing.it
This is a great resource for what’s happening in Rome.
About.com Italy: http://goitaly.about.com
This site has useful information on Italy, and I use it, but it’s a but busy and full of ads for my taste.
Lately, I am relying more on blogs for more current travel information. It isn’t always easy to find a really good blog. But once I find what I’m looking for, it’s worth it. Here are a few recent finds:
Revealed Rome: http://www.revealedrome.com
Written by a Brit who moved to Rome, this blog gives great tips on new restaurants and places to visit in Rome and many other cities in Italy.
Very up to date travel information on Italy in a nice, clean format. There’s also a list to the right of this post for more very worthwhile blogs.
Don’t Worry—Be Happy
Just keeping up with the various blogs could keep you glued to your computer for way too many hours. So, don’t let these tips overwhelm you. When you get to your destination, the people at the local TI office, the owners of your B&B, other tourists on the train− even the barista at your favorite coffee bar are all great resources. Greet them with a smile and you’ll find a wealth of information at your fingertips.