Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Cost of Train Tickets

I’m helping lead a mission trip to Italy in a few short weeks.  One member of our team came up to me early in our training and asked “How much does a typical train ticket from Rome to Naples cost?”   I answered with my standard response “It depends.”  I directed her toward the trenitalia website.  As I thought about it, I realized, the site isn’t very straight forward and it might be helpful if we covered how to look up train prices via the website.

First go to trenitalia and look at the top right hand side of the page.  There click on the British flag to change the language to English.

  • Pull down fields.  On the left hand side of the page there are fill in menus to indicate where you are going to and coming from.
  • Dates.  Fill in the dates you plan on traveling. If you just want to get an idea of the price, the date does not have to be exact.  To check the departure times of a train you want to at least include the exact day of the week – I’ve found most schedules run them times on the same days of the week.
  • Time.  This is the field that often confuses people. In Italy they require you to indicate the time of day you wish to travel. Most of Europe uses military time, so keep that in mind when you fill out those fields (one for the hour, one for the minute).
  • Trains. It can get very difficult to understand the differences between trains.  There are two main trains you must be familiar with: the Eurostar, and the intercity.  The Eurostar trains, indicated by the red ES*A category, stop at main stations that run along a north to south route.  The six major stops are:  Milano, Bologna, Firenze, Roma, Napoli, and Salerno. Any stop along these routs you can get there fast and in style.  Any other city or stop you will need to take an intercity train, indicated by the bold iC category.

The Eurostar trains are fast especially is you want to get between major cities quickly – but it costs more. It’s a great way to travel.  I have always said the intercity train is ridiculous for one reasons. It stops at every vineyard, Roman ruin, and castle in the country along the way your destination.  The one draw back to the iC trains is they aren’t cheap.

Ticket prices often remain the same throughout the year per route.  This is the method I use when I am budgeting for my in country transportation costs.  I highly recommend it.

* The photos were screen shots taken from my computer the day of the post.

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Italian Locks

Italians are known for many things.  Off the top of my head I can think of five:  food, fashion, cars, love & romance, and history – just to name a few.  Italians live life with a class and style all their own, but like every culture they have their idiosyncrasies.  The first time I saw the locks I had not clue – I thought is just looked ugly.   If you have not idea what I’m talking about, you in good company.   Most people don’t. Even I didn’t know for almost 5 years.  Until I was educated; here’s the story.

Where ever streets have picturesque views in Italy you see a chain, a guardrail full of locks.  The locks are next to and on top of each other.  It doesn’t matter, as long as they’re stationary.  Each lock has two initials and or a heart.  The tradition goes like this.  After a long  romantic walk couples usually  take a lock; Inscribe both their initials, securely fasten it to the chain.  Then throws away the key.  As if to say our love will last forever.  The Italians took carving initials into a tree a step further.  They mark their relationship in style.  It’s an incredible sight to behold when the locks blend into the Italian landscapes. As odd as this sounds it’s a more common and beautiful than one would think.  It’s one of those things that marks the Italian as a great people.  Next time you travel. Mind the locks.

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Top Things to Look for When Booking a Hostel or Budget Hotel

In June I’m helping to lead a STM(short-term mission) team to Italy.  At the end of our trip we are stopping in Roma for two days of vacation before we fly home.  As of last week, we need to find a place to say for our last night in Roma.  We are less than a month out not to mention it’s the busiest time of the year – the beginning of the travel season.   In my haste I realized this is a great opportunity to write a post on what to look for in a hostel or budget hotel. When it comes to last minute accommodations there are two schools of thought.   Pay a ridiculous amount of money on a nice hotel in the center of the city or, the economic choice, crash at a hostel for the night.   Since Italy isn’t cheap we’re going with the latter.

Here are the top things I look for when I choose a hostel or budget hotel.

  • Breakfast included in the ticket price.  Let’s face it. When you have limited time and are anxious to see the sights, the last thing you want to do is hassle with is breakfast.  Not to mention the amount of money you’re already spending on the hotel (and how much food can cost at a caffé) it’s beneficial to have breakfast provided.
  • Lockers.  A good hostel is provides lockers for their customers.  If you have your own private room, then it’s not much of a concern.  Lastly, make sure if you want to leave you back at reception after the check out time, double check before hand
  • Positive reviews.  Often times I find my hostels on a websites such as hostelworld.com, hostelbookers.com, or hihostels.com. Reviews are your best friend. You can get a great idea of how clean, friendly, and safe a hostel can be.  I would be careful; look at the nationality of the person who left the comment.  So I don’t get in trouble; let me clarify what I mean.  Just about every nationality is more forgiving, gracious, and tolerant then most Americans.  I have a deep respect for other cultures. I’m a ethnographer at heart.  That begin said I would rather trust a recommendation from someone living in Sãn Paolo, Brazil than someone from New York City.  Reason being both parties define quality two different ways – due to culture differences. In my observation, a Brazilian would much rather stay in a place that is clean and friendly, than luxurious and secluded. Again just a general thought.  I welcome a perspective from both parties. Please lend your perspective in the comment section.   I’m an American.  I feel like I’m speaking for Americans and the rest of the world went I say, we need to be respectful of others when we travel.  Let’s illuminate the amount of ugly American out there. Forgive me I digress.
  • Location.  When staying in a hostel, often you must walk to get to them from the main train station.  In this case the closer the hostel is to the station the better.  I find on the hostel site they have a Google map of the area around the hostel.  If not Google the address.
  • Kitchen included.  If you speak with anyone who backpacked in the olden days kitchens were a standard amenity.   Now-a-days it’s hard to find access to a kitchen.  You can cut down costs by cooking your own food; kitchens are essential.  Also some hostels offer a welcome dinner for your first night in town.

In the experience these are some of the top things to look for when investigating a low cost place to spend the night.  I will let you know where we stayed when I return – along with my review.

Questions of the day:  What do you look for in a hostel or budget hotel?

Bread

Of all the topics about Italian travel, I bet few of you figured I would write about bread.  I am hypersensitive to others speak about their travel experiences – especially travel in Italy.   If you have spent any time in a big city you know subconsciously overhearing conversation is easy to do – regardless if that’s your intent.  The comments people make about Italy always astound me.  Italy either fits you like a glove or turns you off faster than you can say ciao.  I have heard a handful of people say the bread in Italy is awful.  At first I didn’t think much of it, but on my last trip across the pond I started making observations.

The farther south I went; the better the bread tasted.  In Bologna the bread was dry and crumbly. In Firenze the bread was still dry and crumbly. By the time I got to Roma it got easier to find fresh soft bread, but often it was dry. When I arrived in Napoli I was almost amazed by the fact that it was exactly what I was looking for. The bread was soft and chewy.  After a few conversations with the locals I found my answer.  Most bread cooked in the south, especially in Napoli, uses salt in the recipe. Most bread north of Roma doesn’t typically use salt and as a result it doesn’t taste very good to American palettes. The bread at restaurants is not free and costs any where from €2,00 – €8,00.
So if a restaurant makes the bread on sight or orders it from the local bakery consider asking if salt is used before you make your final decision.

Pit stop, Roma

When traveling, the process can take its toll.  Every trip I’m plagued with very little sleep, poor airplane food, and little patience.  It seems when arriving at your destination you’re depleted of all three.  In January arrived in Rome late in the afternoon – around 7pm.  As I stepped off the train I only wanted three things:  To check in to my hotel, drop off my backpack – which had been weighing me down the past 8 hours, and eat a big plate of pasta.  The hotel my colleague booked for us was a 10 min walk from the Termini Station – typical for most hotels in the area.   After we checked in and dropped my bags in the room, I began to stagger toward front door of the hotel.  On the way out I asked the man at the door if he had any favorite restaurants in the area.  He said I must try Meid in Nepols.  This restaurant is a great find.  I recommend it to anyone traveling through Roma, or anyone just wanting to grab a bite close to the train station.  The prices are affordable; €6 – €10 for a pizza, €9 – €12 euro for a good plate of pasta.  The quality is just as good as expensive restaurants in the center of town.

Restaurant Recommendation:  Meid in Nepols

My Restaurant Score:  93/100 pts.

Firenze

As we start heading out of March and into April, it’s officially the start of “pre-vacation” season. Most people are planning vacations, or have already planned them, and are buying ticket, reserving hotels, tours, etc. Florence is often times on peoples travel bucket lists. Since my first time to this city, this past January, the visit compelled me to write about recommendations. So often, when traveling, we feel rushed as to not “miss anything” within these once in a life time cities. Time is often limited as we feel the need to get the best bang for our travel buck. Case in point, yesterday morning’s online edition of The Wall Street Journal covered sights to see when traveling to Firenze. It seems everyone wants to be dreaming of Italia.

Food
Firenze has great country food, but it can be expensive. If you want to eat well without spending too much, don’t eat ever meal out! It’s easy to simply, sit at a restaurant, when you are hot, tired, dehydrated, and hungry. Buy food in the local markets, or grocery stores, will tide you over until your big restaurant meal of the day.

Markets/Grocery Stores
Despar Supermercato
Piazza di San Lorenzo, 20-red,
Firenze 50123

Supermercato Sma
Via Alessandro Allori, 9,
Firenze, 50127

Mercato Centrale
Via dell’Ariento
50123 Firenze

Sites
Most people I speak with have 2 to 3 day in Firenze, I recommend you must see the following …
Il Duomo – Costs 7 EURO walk to the top of the copola. It is well worth it if you can physically handle the walk.
Ponte Vecchio – World famous bridge that crosses the Arno river. Absorb the culture of the city as you walk to and from the bridge.

Lodging
I stayed at the great bed & breakfast within walking distance of the train station and the Duomo called Soggiorno Magliani. An excellent place to stay, inexpensive, and has an extremely knowledgeable and friendly staff.

Soggiorno Magliani
Via Santa Reparata, 1
Florence, Italy, 50129

Firenze seems to be the city that most English speaking people like to visit. So, If you are looking for an off the beaten path kind of tour, this is not it, however, it’s a great place to see some classic Italian country. I will return in due time.

Question
Do you have a favorite restaurant in Firenze?
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