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Old 08-30-2016, 03:10 PM   #1
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Italy

I'm traveling to Italy in October on a 12 day tour. Hotels, transfers, some food, and some sightseeing are included. Venice, Florence, Rome and Sorrento.

I've never been to Europe before so I was wondering if anyone had any tips or advice.

* How much cash to bring
* Use of Credit cards or ATM card
* Cost of meals
* Possible fun things to do or places to go
* Safety tips

thanks
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Old 08-30-2016, 03:25 PM   #2
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There a threads that point out CC's that don't charge foreign transaction fees, and ATM cards that don't charge fees as well (or reimburse them).

Plus great tips on pick pockets (there are lots in places).

I think that tipping is not done in restaurants, best to read a guide book or two about it.
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Old 08-30-2016, 03:49 PM   #3
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I'd bring minimal cash and just use ATMs when you are there - that way you can just get Euros on arrival. The airport will have ATMs. Use a credit card that doesn't charge foreign fees. If you are on a tour, how much free time will you have? I assume the tour is hitting the highlights of each place, but I love just finding a little café or wine bar, sitting outside with a drink, and absorbing the atmosphere. Especially in places like St. Mark's Square in Venice. Oh- don't order bottles of wine - just order house wine. House wine is cheap and fabulous, not like drinking the garbage US restaurants usually serve as house wine.
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Old 08-30-2016, 04:26 PM   #4
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Sounds like a great tour! A lot of people in those locations speak English. It's nice if you can bring a translation book.

You need a chip CC. There are many with no foreign transaction fees. Tipping is not expected, but it is nice. We tipped a little, rounding up basically. Tipped our tour guides one Euro. Avoid tours with meals. We ate way better in our own.

The exchange rate is fabulous, food and goods are currently very cheap.

Ditto on the house wine. We paid 4 euros per glass in May. Very good wines.

I purchased Euros in advance through AAA. Never had to find an ATM between the CC and the cash I brought. It saved a lot of time at the airport.

I brought a spare credit card as a backup and divided my Euros, keeping them in two places. I also copied the picture page of my passport and kept it in my carry on bag, just in case.

I've been to all those places except Venice. Sorrento was my favorite. Florence is stunning.


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Old 08-30-2016, 04:46 PM   #5
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Some quick suggestions.

1) Get the Capital One Quicksilver card. No foreign transaction fees and it gives you 1.5% cash back. Hard to beat for overseas trips.

2) Meals can be very hit-or-miss in Venice and the touristy areas of Rome and Florence. Try to find out of the way, off the beaten track spots for more authentic, reasonably priced cuisine.

3) Be sure to allocate a lot of time for some of the biggest and best museums, because you don't want to be rushed through them.

4) Brush up on some basic Italian by using the Pimsleur audio course (levels I and II) or something like the DuoLingo app. Knowing a bit of basic Italian adds so much to the experience... at least it did for me.

5) You may be hounded by beggars or targeted by pickpockets in certain very crowded, touristy areas (like St. Marks Square in Venice), especially if you look like a typical "clueless" or gullible tourist. Keep your phone, camera, money all very close at hand and protected from possible snatchers at all times.
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Old 08-30-2016, 05:03 PM   #6
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DW and I were there (Rome, Florence, Venice) back in 2012 and I still smile every time I recall the great time we had.
One "unknown" surprisingly great time is the opera at St. Mark's Anglican Church in Florence. I'm the last person you'd expect to enjoy opera but this was truly fun. Before each scene the host narrates in English what is about to take place, so it's easy to follow along. This is not the NY Met - minimal scenery, very informal setting, but a fun time. Here's the link:

Opera at St Mark's Church Florence, a unique intimate venue

We took minimal cash, charged whenever we could, and as we ran low on cash just used the nearest ATM. The ATM fees were nominal, and worth it to avoid hassle and worry of having too much cash, or those annoying travelers checks.
Our credit card did not charge foreign transaction fee (I think we used our Chase Marriott card). You'll have a great time....I'm jealous!
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Old 08-30-2016, 05:21 PM   #7
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Your US credit card might not work in vending (unmanned) ticket machines - unless you have one with CHIP and PIN. Most US cards are CHIP and SIGNATURE. So they'll work where ever you have a person (sales clerk, waitperson, etc).

Fees can add to the cost of your vacation. Most CCs and ATMs charge a foreign exchange rate. In addition, many banks charge an out of network ATM charge. It pays to use the no foreign transaction cards. I used PenFed visa (chip and PIN) and Capital One Venture last summer. I used my Schwab ATM for ATM withdrawals.

EastWestGal's advise to go with the house wine is a good suggestion. We've never been disappointed with a house wine.

Italy is a friendly, beautiful place. The food, the colors, the people... all add to the experience. But the cities you are going to are touristic - and where you have large groups of tourists you can also have scammers and pickpockets. This is true throughout the world - including the US. Be aware of your wallet at all times. Use common sense if someone has a deal or is aggressive about getting your attention...

Meals - plan on spending more time than you would in the states. Linger, enjoy, have an aperitivo before dinner, and a digestivo after dinner. They will not rush you from your table (unless it's a fully tourist oriented place - it's not in the Italian culture to rush you through your meal in order to turn over the table.). Some restaurants will charge a "table fee" - that is a price for occupying the table - you are basically paying rent (indefinitely) for use of the table. So if there is a nice cafe with a view... don't sweat the table fee, pay it and enjoy the view for as long as you want.

Tipping at meals is typically just rounding up the bill to a convenient number... If your bill is 28Euro - pay 30Euro, for example.

Florence - if you're feeling fit - climb the duomo... You climb between the outer and inner layers of the duomo and emerge at the top for a fabulous vista.

You can also climb St. Peter's at the Vatican.

Check out the Campo di Fiori market in Rome. It's a flower market and MUCH MUCH more. I had the best porchetta panino purchased from a stand at the Campo di Fiori market.

Venice - for a first trip - take some time to wander... get lost. Eventually you'll get back to the grand canal... you can't get too lost there, it's small. The little alleyways and bridges are so cool. If you get too tired, catch a vaporetto (a boat that acts as a bus - runs frequently along the major canals.)

If you have extra time in Venice and want some down time - take a vaporetto over to Lido - then walk straight ahead across the narrow island, to Lido beach. You can rent lounge chairs/umbrella and enjoy the beach.
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Old 08-30-2016, 05:56 PM   #8
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Organized tours will take you to their restaurants. They may be good they may not. I preferred to find my own. We used tripadvisor and Rick Steve's books as a starting point and were not disappointed in our selections. We used tours for the Uffizi and the Vatican and did all the other places we went to on our own (we used Rick Steve's podcasts for the Colosseum, Forum and Ostisa Antica). We used local transit to get around Venice (vaporetto), buses in Florence and buses/subway/trains in Rome. The house wine is a great tip. We were paying 3-4 Euros for 1/2 litre when we went.

You can get lost in Venice...we went out for an short walk and found the hotel again 5 hrs later lol

I loved Italy I'm sure you will have a great time, enjoy!
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Old 08-30-2016, 06:30 PM   #9
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Couple of things: We bought a day pass for the Vaporetto in Venice, and went to Burano (lace) and Murano (glass), then took one to the Piazzle Rome. From there we took another one down the Grand Canal and had a cup of coffee at sunset.
As far as getting lost in Venice, most buildings have signs that point either to the train station (Ferrovia), or to St. Marks (Piaza San Marcos). But, get a good map also.
In Rome, we took a horse and carriage from the Colosseum to the Trevi Fountain. It was not cheap, but to go along at that slow pace through places cars could not go was great.
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Old 08-30-2016, 06:43 PM   #10
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I have made several trips to Italy for work, and pleasure. Next month we are going to Spain and Portugal again, the DW loves Barcelona. Here are my strongest tips;
Pick pockets everywhere-I have had my wifes purse pulled on a train in France, and had to fend off begger pick pockets in Italy nearly in every town, but Rome is horrible. I have since then stopped others from taking wallets on trains and streets, so keep an eye open and your wallet hidden.
Food if awesome in Italy, the simpler the better, and yes house wine is just fine.
We have traveled with limo drivers, cabs and rental car....best was our little diesel rental Nissan, but if you are bussing it, then just don't leave anything you want to keep in the bus when you step out.
Use your hands and broken english/italian and you will be just fine.
Don't wear tennis shoes unless you want to be scorned as a turist. Italians dress up, even in jeans they wear expensive shoes, and most respect those who fit in this way.
The vatican scorns shorts above the knee and will kick you out of line, versus Istanbul where they welcome your naked legs with a borrowed shawl.
Lines for museums should be short, but beware of holiday's they often are closed.
Eat local small restaurants, try to avoid group feasting off the bus.
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Old 08-30-2016, 06:45 PM   #11
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Rome is overwhelming. It sounds like you will only be there a few days, so plan ahead of time what you want to see. You can't do it all. However, the old part of the city is very walkable and you can hit most of the big tourist sites by a little planning. Colosseum, Trevi fountain, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, Vatican/St. Peters, Borghese gardens and museum, Pantheon, Roman forum, Via Veneto. All the side streets are marvelous, so plan on unscheduled time to wander a bit as well. In terms of restaurants the side streets just a block or two from the main tourist trap areas can be significantly less expensive for equally wonderful cuisine. Italians eat skimpy breakfasts--usually just a pastry and coffee--with a big meal between about 12-2 and a dinner late, about 9 p.m. I usually found that the noon meal filled me up so well that just a piece of fruit, cheese, wine back at the hotel was adequate for an evening snack. There are small shops/delis everywhere that will make you a picnic lunch.
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Old 08-31-2016, 12:27 PM   #12
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Years ago I bought a pickpocket resistant purse at AAA. I wear over my shoulder, not hanging on it. The zippers clasp together and are hard to open. I hold it with my arm across the top, over the main compartment zipper. The strap has a cable in it so it isn't easily cut.


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Old 08-31-2016, 12:38 PM   #13
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Rome is awesome. Almost everything you want to see is between the Colosseum and the Vatican. Walk as much as can, including through the old Roman Forum.
Sorrento and whole Amalfi coast are some of the most beautiful areas in Italy. Make sure to sample some of the local Limoncello.
Using a concealer for your passport and money is highly recommended. Carry little cash and use the ATM's as everyone has said. Also don't forget to tell/register your ATM and credit card for out of country travel. If you don't, they may not work. Look into travel insurance as well, especially for the medical benefit. Not all US plans will cover you when you are out of the country.
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Old 08-31-2016, 12:49 PM   #14
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Another suggestion, for Rome: Consider tours with Walks of Italy. We used them for 3 tours, one of which was the Vatican. We booked the earliest tour time available.
As a result, we were one of the first groups in the Sistine Chapel and it wasn't crowded. I've heard horror stories about how crowded it gets later. I'm not an art expert, but while everybody was looking up at the famous ceiling, I spent my time mesmerized by Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" fresco. Don't miss it! (it's also in the Chapel).
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Old 08-31-2016, 01:10 PM   #15
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One other random trip for you is to seek out a good, non-touristy restaurant in Rome or Venice that serves a risotto with freshly shaved white truffle. If your taste buds are anything like mine and you can find a well-prepared version of this dish, you'll think your mouth has died and gone to heaven!
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Old 08-31-2016, 01:12 PM   #16
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Carry tweezers with you. You wouldn't believe how many times when the ATM tried to return our bank card, only a few millimeters stuck out, which made it impossible to grasp with our fingers. If you are unable to grab your bank card, it will suck your card back in and you'll have to see if the branch is able to retrieve it for you if you show your passport. Bringing a backup card is handy.

We've come across a couple of food writers/bloggers, Elizabeth Minchilli and Katie Parla, that we're using for ideas on where to eat. Elizabeth Minchilli has a couple of city guide food apps too for a few dollars.

Make sure you validate your train ticket before you board your train. They occasionally bottleneck to a gate when you get off to check tickets and fine you on the spot w/out a validated ticket.

Many museums and sites have tricks to skip the line: Making reservations/booking ahead, buying a dual purpose ticket as the less busy place, etc. Personally, I like the Rick Steves guide books for Europe which list most of these tips.

I like to buy a day pass and cruise the canals of Venice on the Vaporetti.

Read up on the potential scams. When my sister when to Europe for the first time a few years back, we chatted about all the big and small scams so that she would be able to recognize potential situations: mother with a baby, herds of kids surrounding you, found ring on the ground, ketchup on your clothes, bottleneck at the end of an escalator, grab n dash via a scooter or off the metro, no pricing for an can of coke or a scoop of gelato (always ask)... the list goes on and on.

Italian trains seem to be always late. Don't count on them to be on time.

Labour stoppages/strikes are common in Europe/Italy but they're typically announced ahead of time so people can plan around them. You can google for sites that show a list of upcoming events.
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Old 08-31-2016, 01:21 PM   #17
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* How much cash to bring-- $100 in U.S. Cash.
* Use of Credit cards or ATM card Use the credit card any time you can. Use the ATM card to obtain your spending money over there--but only out of a bank ATM machine. Travelex and American Express knock your head off on exchange rate and other charges.
* Cost of meals Depends on what you eat. A real Italian meal can be many, many courses, and can cost a fortune. We eat simple street food (hot dogs/pizza) at lunch and ask our hotels for suggestions for night eats. We mix our meals up--including Chinese, KFC, and local restaurants--not spending too much.
* Possible fun things to do or places to go--We look online for "Free Walking Tours" of the big European cities. And we sign up for their "nightlife tour" or "pub crawl tour". They take you to really good, inexpensive restaurants and bars that are off the beaten path. And those on the tour are from all over the world and usually an incredible bunch of fun loving people.
* Safety tips-- Carry no billfold or purse on the street. Just a little cash, an ATM card, a credit card and the calling card of your hotel (so you can find your way home. Try to stay out of crowds. Whenever someone gets into "my space", I turn into a complete jerk and am very defensive.

We recently returned from Rome and Venice (and Greece and Turkey). It was my 7th trip to Venice. Italy's one of those places I never get tired of visiting, and you're going to have a great time. I suggest you sign into Rick Steves' Italy Travel Forum for Italy, as it's especially full of great travel info. Italy's just full of ancient and modern history, great food, architecture and art.
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Old 08-31-2016, 01:44 PM   #18
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Try the Italian street food Arancini. Hand held rice ball with fillings like various types of cheese.
Despite what others have told me and despite the poor rates, I always purchase about 100 Euros here in the states before flying into Rome. The reason is that the ATM machines in the Rome airport are as often as not broken or out of money. And cabs into the city and/or the train want cash. It was a hard lesson learned when it first happened.
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Old 08-31-2016, 01:49 PM   #19
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Thanks all for your wonderful tips and advice. Our tour includes breakfast and some dinners. We will be on our own for all day time snacks or lunch and most dinners. There will be a lot of planned excursions but we will have free time everyday.
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Old 08-31-2016, 02:03 PM   #20
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First of all, it sounds like the OP is going on a tour. Those 4 cities spread out throughout the country in 12 days sounds like there won't be a lot of free time.

It's a good idea to have a chip credit card in general but chances are, they won't have to buy tickets for trains, where you want a chip and PIN card so you can buy tickets at kiosks instead of waiting in long lines at the ticket counter.

I've never carried more than $40 in USD cash and I haven't exchanged USD into local currency in over 20 years. Get an ATM card, particularly if your bank or credit union reimburses any ATM fees. An ATM card with chip is a good idea too. They have ATMs which read chipped cards, which are more secure from skimming. Also, ATMs are everywhere. You don't have to get local currency at the airport, unless you need it to buy bus tickets or taxi to get into the city. I avoid ATMs located next to one of those currency exchange windows, especially if they're affiliated with the exchange bureau.

But the tour they're on may include transfers from/to airports?

I've had great €9 meals in Florence and crappy €40 meals in other parts of Italy. Pays to look at some reviews on TripAdvisor (ignore reviews by people with 2 or 3 reviews). Some places may have set price lunches, like 2 or 3 courses which is cheaper than a la carte.

Venice will be expensive but if cost is a concern, you can have a big lunch which will be cheaper than dinner. Also, Florence and Rome both have great panini places where they will make a panini with great ingredients (quality cheese and prosciutto) for about €5. Again check TA, some of the highest rated restaurants in those cities were sandwich places.

You can ask them to add tomatoes (pomodori).

You can also have a relatively cheap meal by getting pizza. It's not like American pizza with tons of ingredients. And you'll have to use a fork and knife. Pasta in Italy, particularly in Florence, is not like pasta in the US. It's often noodles and sauce, not much in the way of meat. They're considered a first course (primo) to be followed up by a secondo or second course of meat or fish. Lot of restaurants offer set menus of 2 or 3 courses, which may or may not include beverage. You will pay to sit down and pay for bottled water ("naturale" for still water). The cover charge is called coperto, usually 2 or 3 Euros.

In Venice, cicchetti is a local thing, usually little plates of seafood such as octopus, served in wine bars (bacari), in the early evening hours.

Italian breakfast is a cornetto (croissant or other pastries) and cafe. Italians only drink cappuccino in the morning so don't ask for it at other times. Also, espresso/cappucino is cheaper to have at the counter (al banco) than actually sitting down at a table.

Especially if you go to these big scenic piazzas, you will see these big tourist cafes where people sit on the square and they can see the world pass or listen to live music (Piazza San Marco in Venice) and you will pay inflated prices for the convenience.

If you walk a couple of blocks from these piazzas, you might find a small cafe with a counter where you'll save a lot of money. It will be a different ambiance but not necessarily a worse ambiance. There will be locals and they may not talk to you.
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