Category Archives: travel

6 Reasons Why Cesena Will Be One of the Most Visited Italian Cities in the Next 10 Years

Yesterday morning I woke up to the new ad presented by the Cesena Tourism Office. The promo exudes what I have know for years; Cesena is one of the best unknown cities in Europe.
I have been traveling to Cesena for the better part of a decade to visit friends and enjoy la dolce vita. For years this city (like many Italian cities) has flown under the radar to the general public and most unsuspecting tourists. But now, due to the extension campus of the University of Bologna and its young creative population, the richness of this city and the surrounding area are being exposed.

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The Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Add Sicily to Your Itinerary

This is a guest post by Rick Zullo. He is an American writer, traveler, and part-time English teacher. Rick lives in Rome with his Sicilian wife. He enjoys exploring the hidden areas of Italy, and blogging about the expat experience. Rick is also the author of the book, Teaching English in Rome, Italy: A Guide for Americans, available on Amazon. You can connect with Rick on his blog, or on Twitter.

“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is to not have seen Italy at all, for in Sicily lies the key to everything.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

For millennia, Sicily (or Sicilia, in Italian) has been at the crossroads of the Mediterranean.greek ruins in siracusa Every society that has passed through or conquered the island has left fragments of their culture behind; much of which is still visible today. For the modern traveler this means that the last 3,000 years of western civilization is abundantly displayed and conveniently compressed into this 25,711 km2 (9,927 sq. mi) floating triangle at the very edge of the European Continent, making it an accessible microcosm of Italy in the extreme.

So if you’d like to experience this sumptuous adventure across epochs and cultures, what are some of the highlights that will impart the visitor with this sense of historical passage? The list is endless, no doubt; but if you start with these five things, you’ll have at least tasted a bit of it all.

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How I Navigated My Way to Lake Como and How You Can Too

Lake Como (or Lago di Como, in Italian) is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  lago di comoThere are few places in the world where it feels like God actively spends his free time.  Especially when we are talking about Italy, the place where beauty is born.   The lake is everything it’s cracked up to be and more. It’s a peaceful mountain top retreat, accessible through a sleepy passage of cottages, and small cities.  Looking back on this trip, there’s a reason why a Las Vegas casino, George Clooney, and artist throughout the ages, claim this lake as part of their identity.

Here are five tips to consider when navigating your way to Lake Como.

  • Getting to Milan. Wherever you are, I recommend getting to Lake Como (lago di Como) from Milan. Whether you fly into Milan, or take a train to get there, the city gives you the best launching point into the mountains. It’s a short forty-five minute train ride through the Italian alps, before reaching the edge of the lake.
  • Train to Como. The train to Como departs from several train stations in Milan. Not to mention, there’s more than one train with service to Lake Como. The main train station on the lake is called Como Nord Lago.
  • Cost: Of all the pricy train tickets in the country, the ticket to Como is very economical. The average ticket costs €4,50 for a forty-five minute trip.
  • The lake towns and beyond. Como, is the gateway town the lake is named after. There are several other cities on the lake, accessible by the roadways around the lake, or directly by ferry. There are two types of ferries that service the lake. The lake is serviced by a hydrofoil (the fast) ferry, and a normal (slower) ferry. The difference in ferries is time and price. Both ferries are not cheap – as far as ferries are concerned.  The normal ferry is €28,00 for an all-day pass.  The hydrofoil cost €15,00 for each one-way trip. (Stepping off the dock at one station and stepping onto the dock at the next station.)  For example, a round trip ticket, on the hydrofoil, from Como, to Bellagio, is €30,00. While the all-day pass will carry you to an unlimited amount of cities. Click here for ferry timetable.
  • Set your watch. The atmosphere around the lake is intoxicating, and often, time seems to fall by the way side.  If you spending the evening in one of the cities around the lake it’s a great feeling of bliss, but for those returning to Milan be sure to keep an eye on the time.  When I was there, I had not secured my spot in Milan, and almost didn’t get back before the sun went down.  Trying to find a place to spend the night, in an unfamiliar city, in the pitch black, with full luggage, is not a recipe for success. (Although, often a recipe for adventure. However, due to my timeline, I was not in the mood.)

These five tips are taken directly from my travel notes.  If you find any other suggests would be helpful, please leave them in a comment below.

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The 5 things to keep in mind when riding the metro or bus

This morning I took a very long walk around downtown Rome – about 12 miles. By the time I finished my trek, I was so wiped I decided to catch the metro back to Basilica S. Paulo, before hopping a bus to a friend apartment in the suburb of “Roma 70.” The journey provoked a list of things to mind when using the bus or metro.

Here is my list of five things to keep in mind when riding the metro, or bus, across town.

  1. Where you stand. On every metro, or bus, there is a right place to sit – or stand – and a wrong place. In Italy you never know when a group of 30 people will fill the space around you. Make sure you have enough space to get you, and what every cargo, through the door when it counts.
  2. Number of stops to your destination. It seems like a no brainer, but in the chaos of the public transit experience you can forget where you are and where you want to go.
  3. Bag placement. This is key. You always want to make sure you keep purses, or for the guys “satchels,” and backpacks in front of you. It is easy to slip and have your carrying items drift behind you. This is perfect placement for quick pick-pocket.
  4. Fellow passengers. Keep an eye on your fellow passengers. Italians often don’t require much personal space, and can get friendly. However, always be cautions if people start getting too friendly.
  5. Traffic. Just like is San Francisco, New York, Seattle, or Los Angles, major cities in Italy have a rush hour. Public transit will get slammed with people and make it difficult, and timely, to bet from a to b – especially with bags. Keep an eye on the clock, and avoid the 4 P.M. to 6:30 P.M. time slot.

These are all things I forget get to do with out fail just about every trip. They are really good reminders and can save you a lot of time.

Please feel free to comment on if you agree with this list, or disagree with this list. I would really like to hear traveling wisdom from others.

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How to get to Sorrento and the Amalfi cost by train

Last week I was on a train leaving Roma Termini heading for Napoli Centrale – on my way to Sorrento. Amongst the cacophony of Italians shifting their luggage and trying to find their seat on the train I heard two people arguing in English. The couple was heading to Sorrento for their honeymoon. Their bags were on the ground. The husband had his hands in the air. The wife was pointing at the husband. Since the commotion was getting most everyone’s attention on the train, I decided to walk over and see if I could help. Long story short, we ended up talking for the majority of the ride to Napoli Centrale.

They had just landed in Rome and we slowly making there way to Sorrento. Several things happen to them within the first 48 hours of their honeymoon; missed one train, purchased the wrong train ticket, were late getting into their destination, and had several arguments.

Over the next hour the conversation seemed to clam the couple down.

Once we arrived at Napoli Centrale I helped them with their connection to Sorrento. That interaction was a great reminder just of how hard it can be to travel when all the “Italian travel factors’ are hitting you all at once. Even the simplest things, can become disastrous, making it really hard to get from point A to point B.

Here are 6 steps to get to, and from, Sorrento.

1. Arrive at Napoli Centrale. Once you have arrived at Napoli Centrale located the Circumvesuviana logo. The logo is on most signs and directing traffic to ticket office and track numbers. The circumvesuviana signs points toward the escalator heading under the main platform.

Here is the Circumvesuviana logo.


2. Head toward the Circumvesuviana. The circumvesuviana is located in a separate part of the Napoli Centrale train station. Once you get off the escalator under the main platform, turn left, and head straight down the hall way.  The circumvesuviana track and ticket window is located about 100 yards at the end of the hallway, and south of the main train platform.
3. Buy tickets. Once you arrive at the circumvesuviana window, tickets are available for the train to Sorrento and cost 4 euro each way. I recommend purchasing two tickets per person in advance. Tickets are not time sensitive and only become active when you validate them. It’s really nice not to worry about your return ticket while in Sorrento, and it can save time to already have a return ticket purchased when you arrive.
4. Find the train to Sorrento. The train that leaves for Sorrento departs from track 3 – in Italian it’s binario 3. Here are two important time management items to remember when on the train, (1) the trip to Sorrento from Napoli Centrale takes about 110 minutes and (2) there are 33 quick stops between Circumvesuviana at Napoli Centrale station and Sorrento.

Please note: There are three different destinations departing from track 3. Make sure the final destination on the train says Sorrento.

Click here to view the train departure schedules.

5. Arrive in Sorrento. Sorrento’s city center several blocks from the station. To get there, you must head down the stairs of the train station, head straight for two blocks, turn left, and continue about 5 blocks to Sorrento’s city center.
6. Go onward. There are buses departing to Positano, Ravello, Vietri, and Amalfi all available right out side the train station. Tickets can be purchased at the coffee bar across the street from the station.

The Amalfi coast, like most sights in Italy, is really busy during the height of tourist season. In the off-season it’s very mellow and easy to move between the cities.
For Italian enthusiasts the Amalfi coast easily makes their top 10 list of places to see. It’s full of southern Italian beauty and a great place to soak up the Mediterranean sun!

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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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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?

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.

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