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Old 02-16-2012, 07:13 AM   #21
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I had my own car in Europe. No problem. Publlic trans is also excellent.

In China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan....fuggetaboutit! You need a driver especially in the cities.

Safety, language, local knowledge...even speaking the language in Japan makes the Metro a challenge...you have to know where you're going if you're going to be changing trains etc.
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Old 02-16-2012, 08:32 AM   #22
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I have rented a car (personal travel) in Italy and I have been driven (business expense) as well. But we have traveled quite a lot, and we're comfortable that we're resourceful enough to find our way anywhere (as long as basic safety is not an issue), we like the adventure of it.

When we drive ourselves, we can explore all sorts of places on a whim - to us that's part of the fun of travel. When I've been driven, you're pretty much on the same main routes and there's no exploring per se.

All comes down to what you're comfortable with. Obviously many of us have done it, but I have relatives who haven't traveled much and when they've gone to Europe (incl Italy) they've gone on bus tours or been driven. And our relatives enjoyed their trips as well, they can't know what they've missed, if indeed they have (maybe nothing significant). Best of luck however you decide...
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Old 02-16-2012, 09:37 AM   #23
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We rented a car in Malta (a stick with righth hand drive was, um, interesting) with no mishaps. Went all over France and Germany without more than the ability to say "please," "thank you," "beer, please," "where is teh bathroom?" and "check, please," all on public transportation. No mishaps, other than giving up and peeing in a sink on a French train since I couldn't figure out where the bathroom was.

Go for it! You'll be fine.
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Old 02-16-2012, 11:15 AM   #24
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Lots of reassuring reports. I'll check out the links and use the suggestions of studying signs and navigation words beforehand, as well as making a list of milestones on the planned routes. GPS backup is a must now that it's been mentioned.

I'm looking forward to idea of renting and driving more now. Thanks for the comprehensive input.
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Old 02-16-2012, 12:17 PM   #25
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We're going to Tuscany in Italy. The destination for the day excursion is a small town called Saturnia, to visit its hot springs. My web research says that it'd be hard to find English speakers around the bus stops and in the town.

The only consequence of getting lost is the stress of trying to book hotel rooms or find our way back out of Saturnia without speaking Italian.
I forgot to ask how much you'd use the car or driver? We tend to spend the day driving all over when we travel, deciding where we want to go on the fly sometimes, so having our own car is essential. However, if we only needed a car for airport to hotel/resort and then walk/cab to mostly planned locations, a driver would be fine and make it easier. I couldn't tell which from your description. Good luck, and have fun, Tuscany is beautiful...
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Old 02-16-2012, 04:01 PM   #26
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It is possible to take public transportation to Saturnia. From Florence or Rome, you take the train to Grosseto, then take the RAMA bus to Saturnia. It is a long trip by bus, about 3 hours, so it is not a day trip by public transportation. While the train part is easy (trenitalia.it--you can convert the site to English), the bus schedules are often confusing and notoriously subject to change. Like most travel in Italy, plan for plenty of time and enjoy the ride as well as the destination. Rather than a private driver, you might check to see if you can find a tour to the area--could be cheaper. And by the way, don't listen to those who state that no one speaks English. I've travelled extensively in Italy, especially in Tuscany and Lazio, and rarely if ever found anyone who didn't speak or at least understand English. Roads, too, are excellent and clearly marked with easily understood international symbols and city/town directions. For my money, I'd rent a car. Enjoy: Saturnia is a treat!
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Old 02-16-2012, 04:14 PM   #27
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I'll chime in and say don't be too concerned about driving in Italy and about not speaking Italian. You should of course learn as much as you can, but I've driven around the Maremma and, while you run into less English speakers there than in the cities, you can usually find someone. And, as someone else said, sign language and other languages (especially Spanish or French) can also be used. I traveled once for 3 weeks in Italy with a friend who spoke high school Spanish with an American accent -- he did just fine!

It seems stressful when you're anticipating it, but the situations where you find someone kind to help you (or even the situations where you don't!) are often the most memorable, fun parts of a trip.
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Old 02-16-2012, 05:12 PM   #28
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I had no problems figuring out the regional busses in Italy nor the trains. It's all pretty easy. But maybe I'm a more experienced traveler than you? Probably not.
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Old 02-16-2012, 05:54 PM   #29
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Old 02-16-2012, 10:33 PM   #30
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Well, our main goal is to get to the hot springs and back. I guess I need to plan more to see how much spare time we would have to make extra use of the car.

Oo, good to know that the bus schedules are not 100% reliable. That definitely factors into the decision.
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Old 02-17-2012, 12:33 AM   #31
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I've got an app on my phone; I type in what I want to say, it plays it back in just about any language I want. I've gotten some pretty surprised looks when my phone asks someone where's the bathrooms. ha!!

Most countries are very curious about Americans and many know enough English so as to make each other understood anyways. I've been to 21 countries and can't say language barriers have ever made the trip less and usually added to the whole foreign atmosphere.

BTW, you might be surprised which countries are the most difficult to converse. New Zealand for me is almost impossible. I can't believe they speak English. I was at a store, like a K-mart here in the states, and checking out. They kept asking me a question before they would begin check-out. I couldn't understand what the clerk was asking. I figured she was asking if I was paying cash or credit or something like that. Eventually I understood that bags for your goods are not free. They charge 3 cents NZ for a bag and she wanted to know if I wanted a bag or if I had my own or just load back into the cart. While it's English technically, with an accent and their own vernacular slang, I couldn't make anything out!! ha!!

many people who know English in a foreign country didn't learn it from an American. As such, they hardly understand English when it's spoken by an American. (unless they watch a lot of US movies) I found it easy to write down what I wanted to convey. They can read English much better. Once asked a Japanese girl for a game; nintendo. She did not know what I was talking about, never heard of nintendo. I wrote it on a piece of paper. She said, 'oh! Nin Ten DO! Not Nin TEN do. They use the last syllable emphasized, not the middle.
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Old 02-17-2012, 05:34 AM   #32
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I've got an app on my phone; I type in what I want to say, it plays it back in just about any language I want. I've gotten some pretty surprised looks when my phone asks someone where's the bathrooms. ha!!

Most countries are very curious about Americans and many know enough English so as to make each other understood anyways. I've been to 21 countries and can't say language barriers have ever made the trip less and usually added to the whole foreign atmosphere.

BTW, you might be surprised which countries are the most difficult to converse. New Zealand for me is almost impossible. I can't believe they speak English. I was at a store, like a K-mart here in the states, and checking out. They kept asking me a question before they would begin check-out. I couldn't understand what the clerk was asking. I figured she was asking if I was paying cash or credit or something like that. Eventually I understood that bags for your goods are not free. They charge 3 cents NZ for a bag and she wanted to know if I wanted a bag or if I had my own or just load back into the cart. While it's English technically, with an accent and their own vernacular slang, I couldn't make anything out!! ha!!

many people who know English in a foreign country didn't learn it from an American. As such, they hardly understand English when it's spoken by an American. (unless they watch a lot of US movies) I found it easy to write down what I wanted to convey. They can read English much better. Once asked a Japanese girl for a game; nintendo. She did not know what I was talking about, never heard of nintendo. I wrote it on a piece of paper. She said, 'oh! Nin Ten DO! Not Nin TEN do. They use the last syllable emphasized, not the middle.
I've not had that experience outside the US, but I sure have in here US. Sometimes I wasn't even sure we are speaking the same language as I travel around the country.

As for not being understood, it happens to me occasionally at home when DW and I are discussing the finer points of an issue, and also here to the forum, but usually limited to discussion of certain topics, like taxes and such. Can't say for sure it is language however.
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Old 02-17-2012, 08:53 AM   #33
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We bought our GPS in Europe while on vacation there this summer. I even worked up enough nerve to drive through Paris and only survived b/c of the GPS. I believe we paid about $100 for it over there.

Generally speaking, I would worry little about being stranded anywhere. I have been to many countries where their language looks like art work to me. You are very fortunate to speak english, as that seems to be the default of anywhere I have been.

Learn to drive a stick and pack light!
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Old 02-17-2012, 10:19 AM   #34
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...many people who know English in a foreign country didn't learn it from an American. As such, they hardly understand English when it's spoken by an American. (unless they watch a lot of US movies) ....
Or MTV. We've found traveling in Europe that many of the children (otherwise well-educated ) of our acquaintances speak "American English" without a trace of an accent to our ear.
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Old 02-17-2012, 12:24 PM   #35
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Italy Experience
Old 02-17-2012, 07:39 PM   #36
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Italy Experience

So we rented a car in Florence and drove all over the countryside on multiple trips.

All ok, except there are parts of the city that are restricted. I drove through 2 of them and 6 months later got two tickets for 180$. I was able to use the hotel to get one removed, but ended up paying the other one.

Guess the recommendation is to make sure you know what restricted signs look like. Ask for information from the hotel.
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Old 02-19-2012, 09:19 PM   #37
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Thanks for the reminder about the ZTI zones in Italy - tripadvisor and slowtravel cautioned against those.

I feel much relieved about having to learn Italian, but I'll try to learn basic phrases since that seemed to work for people.
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Old 03-03-2012, 06:51 PM   #38
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We rent cars in Europe often-this year in the UK, Turkey, and Italy. We have never had a problem with the language. If you can drive a standard even better as automatic transmissions are expensive.

Driving in Italy is not issue. In Tuscany you need to watch out for traffic cameras (they are marked) as you can get a nasty surprise a few months after returning home. Also, many towns have restricted areas (well marked) where only people with permits can drive. You need to watch out for these otherwise you may be ticketed. This past May we paid $225US for one week rental, including insurance, for a small diesel Fiat with standard transmission.

We also use a Garmin GPS with European maps. Much better than renting one. Our preferred vendor is Autoeurope.
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Old 03-03-2012, 10:57 PM   #39
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Sorry, somehow this thread did not show up on my radar until today.

$1000/day is criminal. I am sure you can do better. Use the internet to look for bilingual guides. Call the tourist board. etc.

We find it best to hire a bilingual driver. A little English is better than none. More is better. They explain things and make the trip much more interesting.

I drove a rental in Holland. Not sure I would try it in Italy.

We have been living for over a year in Azerbaijan. No way would I drive here. We are not up to public transportation either. We hardly know any Azeri or Russian. From friends and co-workers, we found local taxi drivers who speak enough English for us and we ring them up. We hired a private driver for weekends for about $60/day who spoke very good English and provided her own car. She explained a lot about this country and this city. It was a bargain!

There are countries where you should not drive. MichaelB could tell you about Venezuela. Long ago, a colleague who had worked there for Exxon told me that you needed a local driver. If there was any problem, it was going to be your fault if you drove. In many places in the Middle East, I have been told if you are even a passenger and there is an accident, jump out and run away. The law is that if you had not been there, there would have been no accident, so it is your fault.

As everyone says, it is country-specific. Always, if you drive, get good insurance! In an expat forum, it was suggested that when renting a car, you should take pictures of the car immediately all around so they can't ding you for existing damage. Remember, you are always the rich gringo.
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Old 03-04-2012, 03:09 AM   #40
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Italy is not a thirld world country. You will be fine driving yourself. Enjoy the trip.
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