Posts tagged ‘advice’

June 16, 2011

Cinque Terre

Le Cinque Terre  (the five lands) are a group of five picturesque villages along the coast surrounded by terraced vineyards, olive groves, and forests.  The villages can be reached on the train that runs between La Spezia and Genoa or by ferry from La Spezia, Portovenere, Levanto (the next village up the coast toward Genoa where there’s also a train station), as well as other Italian Riviera villages.

There are popular hiking trails between the villages as well as in the scenic hills above them.  One can easily blend one or two hikes between the villages with a few minute rail ride between others, hence have time enough to visit all of them in one day.

The Cinque Terre region is very popular with Americans and is crowded in summer. Spending the night in one of the villages is a good way to experience the charm without the huge crowds since the majority of visitors  only experience Cinque Terre as a ‘day trip’.   Lodging is very limited….but worthwhile if you can land a room, since evenings are quieter.  I strongly recommend that room reservations be secured many months in advance if you plan on overnighting in Cinque Terre.  Simple 3 star hotels, generally family owned and operated, will cost Euro160 per night for two in high season including breakfast.  For one of the few 4 star options requiring a  2-3 night minimum, add another Euro 100 per night.

The little bitty cove beaches are packed with sun bathers.  Umbrellas and chaise lounges are available for rent each day, but don’t expect much peace or quiet or private space, though it is festive and colorful.

All of the villages have shopping and dining options,   Monterosso al Mare being the  largest .. offers the most services for visitors, including a little nightlife in high season.  And Monterosso is accessible by car..though you will not want to explore Cinque Terre via car once you arrive.

Enjoy these charming fishing villages soon, as civilization is encroaching on these once very isolated hamlets.

May 25, 2011

Italy’s Amalfi Coast

My first introduction to the Amalfi Coast was many years ago in the heart of the summer season…August, when many local Italians are on vacation as well.  The atmosphere in Positano, where I planted for 10 days, was vibrant and festive.  The Italians, always beautifully dressed were in brillant summer color attire with exquisitly handcrafted sandals, walking arm-in-arm talking in their animated way, warm and friendly … obviously delighted to be on holiday in this  beautiful setting blessed with endless days of brillant sunshine and bella vistas.

To this day, having revisited the Amalfi region many times, I still believe it to be the most beautiful coastline in the world.

Sorrento – Sorrento is well connected to all the attractions of the Amalfi Coast and the archaeological sites of Campania, a good place to make a base for your Amalfi Coast vacation. From Sorrento you can take the ferry to Capri, the slow Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Naples, and bus (or drive) to the Amalfi coast. You can also make frequent trips by hydrfoil from Sorrento to Capri, Naples, Ischia, Amalfi, and Positano.

Capri – Famous for the Blue Grotto, the small and charming island of Capri has but two towns, Capri and Anacapri. You can get each around on foot and take a bus between them. There are frequent boats from Sorrento and Naples.

Positano – Positano made the transition from sleepy fishing villages into one of Italy’s most popular resort towns.  Built into the steep seaside slope, it offers amazing views. It is most definitely more vibrant and fun in the peak summer season…with the many shops full of merchandise, the cafes and restaurants full of contented clients, and the primarily pedestrian streets bustling with tanned sandal-footed tourists.

Amalfi – Amalfi was a very powerful town and the first Sea Republic in Italy, later joined by Pisa, Venice and Genova. Amalfi is now a peaceful resort town with great views whose main historical sight is the Duomo (Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea) which has an interesting mix of Moorish and early Gothic influences.

Ravello – Perched on a ridge high above Amalfi (40 km from Sorrento) is enchanting with stupendous views, quiet lanes, and two important Romanesque churches. Ravello hosts one of Italy’s most famous music festivals.

Praiano – An ancient fishing village turned into a prestigious seaside resort; where have we heard that before? More “spread out” than the other villages, see the church dedicated to St. Luke, the Chiesa di San Luca Evangelista, containing relics of the saint.

May 17, 2011

Train Travel in Italy

photo by Laura Burke

Train travel in Italy is cheap compared to surrounding countries. But there’s a catch: major rail lines in Italy tend to have a vast ridership and seats during “rush hours” can be difficult to find on Italian trains.  Below are some basics.  I strongly recommend making your reservations in advance (often can be done within 60 days of travel) in either first or second class.

(My agency is a train broker for Europe…so we can make and ticket train reservations).
There can be many advantages to doing your travel by train…that is assuming that your intended destinations have rail access.  But a key to a successful rail journeys is that you travel light and can handle your luggage with ease.

Italy Train Routes Map

So where can you go on the Italian train? Check this Italy Rail Map on Europe Travel.

Types of Trains in Italy

The list below is prioritized by cost and speed, expensive and fast trains first.

Eurostar (ES or Treni Eurostar Italia)
Italy’s premier train, not to be confused with the Eurostar that plies the English channel (the Italian Eurostar was first to claim the name). Seat reservations on Eurostar Italia are manditory. Eurostar travels swiftly between major Italian cities.

Intercity and the newer Intercity Plus trains
Relatively fast trains that run the length of Italy, stopping at the large cities. First and second class service is available. First class coaches offer slightly better seats and are generally less populated. Seat reservations are compulsory on the Intercity Plus trains, and the fee is included in the ticket price. Seat reservations can be made for some Intercity trains, too.

Regionale (Regional Trains)
These are the local trains, often running around work and school schedules. They are cheap and usually reliable–but seats can be hard to find on major routes. Many regional trains have only second class seats, but if available, consider first class, asking for Prima Classe, per favore, it’s less likely to be full especially during commute times.

March 9, 2011

Agent or Internet?

A question I am often asked when I am out socially and someone hears I am ‘in the travel business’ is “How do you compete with the internet?”  “It’s so easy for people to source their own information online these days and make their own travel plans.”

Quite frankly, if you are internet savvy and you need an airline ticket to visit your family or friends, I say ‘go on-line’ and do it yourself.  But if you may need to change the travel date or city visited or need to coordinate stops or multiple travelers, maybe paying a small fee is actually a  good idea.

When shopping for best values, you may have to visit multiple websites to make cost and schedule comparisons and you can ultimately wind up spending a fair amount of time.  Are you going to remember to confirm to be sure that what you booked is still operating as originally scheduled?  Now what happens when  your connection in Chicago is cancelled due to a weather or mechanical delay…who are you going to call to assist to you make alternate arrangements?   You certainly can queue up with the other 250 stranded passengers…or maybe you would  rather check into a nearby hotel while your travel agent sorts it all out for you.   Some people have the time and patience, and may even enjoy the process…so go for it.

I receive many calls from very internet savvy and sharp folks who say…”I have spent  countless hours in the last month searching  dozens of websites for this or that, and I am more confused than when I started.  I know where we want to go, but I need a villa in this region for 9 with en suite acomedation and a chef for 3 nights,  and we need to be walking distance to a hill village or I need to meet this price point for 4 nights in Paris and Rome and Barcelona…or we want to go on a cruise, but we are trying to satisfy the budget requirements and tastes for 5 different couples, etc”. You can hear the relief in their voice when after a few minutes of conversation, you tell them that you will be happy to take over navigating the overwhelming array of choices while meeting their expectations and budgetary requirements.

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February 14, 2011

Romance, museums and history in one of Italy’s top cities, Milan

Romance is on everyones mind this week, but one of Italy’s romantic cities is also rated as a top destination! Can you guess which city?  Well, it’s Milan that I want to tell you about today.

“Romantic Italy beckons lovers of all ages to its magical countryside. Couples can tour several of its beautiful, historic cities including Milan, Florence, Naples, and Rome. Each of these beloved cities has a unique Italian flavor just waiting to be experienced.

Milan’s history dates back to 400 B.C., and contains many wonderful museums, galleries, churches, and other historical buildings for couples to tour. Some of the most famous museums include the Cenacolo Vinciano which houses the painting of The Last Supper, and the La Scala Theater Museum which is home to wonderfully historic costumes and theater sets. Historical and breathtaking churches that must be visited include The Duomo, which includes nearly 3500 statues and Santa Maria delle Grazie, the church where Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper.

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January 29, 2011

Why do so many people get sick after they fly?

This may seem obvious to those of you who travel frequently, but I read this article and thought it would be in all our best interest to share.  There are many good tips, read more to find them all!

6 Places Germs Breed on Airplanes…

By Douglas Wright
updated 1/20/2011 2:13:00 PM ET

Beware of airplane water, tray tables, seat pockets, pillows, and lavatories.

Flu season is in full swing, so it’s more important than ever to protect yourself against illness. We dug deep to identify the major germ zones on planes (and tips to avoid them). No, you’re not likely to contract meningitis, but better safe than sorry, right?

FOR: E. coli, a common culprit behind stomach cramps

Your plane reaches 30,000 feet, the fasten-seat-belt sign switches off, and the flight attendant comes by to take your drink order: Coffee or tea? Ice water? They seem like innocent offers — until you consider that airplane water has been under review by the EPA for traces of E. coli for six years. A random sampling of 327 unnamed domestic and international aircraft caused a stir in 2004 when some water samples tested positive for E. coli, one strain of which is the leading cause of food poisoning in the U.S. Coffee and tea are brewed on board with such water and don’t typically reach hot enough temperatures to kill E. coli. When bottled water runs out, some planes have been known to fill fliers’ glasses from the tank. One British Airways crew member confessed to the London-based Times that, in those cases, the crew first has to wait for any cloudy “floating stuff” to settle out. And onboard tanks are small to limit their weight, so planes sometimes refill at foreign airports, where water standards can be questionable. The encouraging news is that water quality and control are improving: From 2005 to 2008, only 3.6 percent of samples tested positive for coliform bacteria, of which only a small fraction tested positive for E. coli. And in October 2011, the EPA’s Aircraft Drinking Water Rule, with more standardized, stringent disinfection and inspection regulations, will go into effect.

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