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Italy: Details

March 1, 2010

Details:

This was a long-awaited trip to Italy with my husband, Charlie. I had been there two years earlier, with a group of women from church, and was so excited to share some of the the wonders of Italy with him! At the time, we were 43 and 52, and neither of us are foodies or adventure-travel people. Basically, we’re tourist geeks: we like to see sights and people, museums and homes.

First, some facts. We flew on Air Canada out of Dulles, connecting in Toronto to FCO. The fare was much, much better than anything else I found.  We could have taken a car service from Richmond to Dulles, and still saved money compared to a flight departing from Richmond! From Toronto to FCO, we were in two seats on the left side, and they felt much more cramped than our seats on the return flight, which were in the middle section of three. Food on Air Canada was plentiful, and according to Charlie, pretty good. Noise-canceling headphones and an eye mask are godsends! A note: on both flights, there were problems with the seat-back entertainment system, and the flight attendants seemed to double as technical troubleshooters. Thankfully, ours never went on the blink for very long.

The Toronto airport on the flight over was very confusing, and each person we asked about where to go next gave us a different answer. Coming back, it was much smoother with the in-transit connections process.

During the planning stages, after checking out some hotel rates, we quickly decided that apartments were the way to go. Seriously, hotel costs were outrageous for cheap ol’ me! I choose our apartments after lots of internet research, and a very detailed spreadsheet with the items that mattered to us (non-smoking, location, shower facilities, etc.), and columns for summarizing reviews found on the various message boards (Fodors, SlowTrav and TripAdvisor).

We rented our car through Kemwel, and the agency was EuropCar. We had a nice Mercedes, and once we got out of Rome, found driving in Italy to be a piece of cake. We had a Michelin roadmap, but wound up only using it to look at distances between places; there was no need for it for actual navigation. Italian roads are very well marked, even in the middle of nowhere, though you would be advised to know the names of other towns along and beyond your route, since signs will reference in-between towns and further towns, but maybe not your destination town. One really enjoyable thing about driving in Italy is that trucks don’t drive like maniacs!

Using ATMs was no problem, and each one we used gave us an option of English.

We never felt unsafe, even riding public transit in Rome. We of course did take precautions; for example, wearing our backpack in front on the bus rather than on our backs. I was surprised that there were far fewer aggressive vendors/beggars than on my visit five years ago.

After the discussion on boards about whether an international drivers permit was needed, I was definitely glad I had gotten one where we were pulled over in a random traffic stop outside Orvieto and asked for all our documents.

I used pocketmod.com to create little booklets about various things and found it to be quite useful – much better for me than carrying around full-size printouts. I had one with our schedule; one with information such as addresses, opening hours, phone #s, contacts, etc; and then destination-specific booklets, like for St. Peter’s, Assisi, etc. This info I mainly just cut and pasted from online sites, rather than retyping from guide books.

Finally, a word about bringing wine back: we bought two bottles of wine and a bottle of grappa that we packed in one of our checked bags. I went to a Mailboxes Etc. in Orvieto and asked for some bubble wrap, which the guy gave me for free. I only wrapped one layer around each bottle, and put them in a (framed, soft-sided) wheeled suitcase, and used some additional clothing as padding. All the bottles made it to the US without problem.

At the airport in Rome, I bought another bottle of wine at duty-free, and didn’t see the signs in Toronto that duty-free liquids couldn’t be carried on (an idea I don’t quite understand, since we never left a secure area). We had already sent our checked bags on the conveyor belt when we realized the problem. Yikes! So we  had to put it in a bag we were planning on carrying on, checking it instead. The only padding for the (expensive Brunello!) wine was two winderbreakers we had with us, and the bag was a leather duffle with no framing or protection whatsoever. Amazing, it too made it to the US intact!

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