Italian Tid Bits

Bellissima Italia!

Italy is a top choice for many when deciding where to go for vacation.

If you are planning a visit to Italy this summer, and it is your first time, I’ve put together a few tips that will hopefully help to get you through it all a little easier.

Based on my own experience:

1- Pack light. The smaller your bag, the better. (Very challenging for me btw.)

  • A large suitcase can be difficult to cram into a shared transfer or taxi.
  • In Venice for example, it’s likely you will need to walk at least a few blocks to and from your hotel. The sidewalks are narrow and broken, not to mention the many steps you’ll encounter lugging your bag over canal bridges.

2-When ordering your cappuccino or coffee, pay at the register first, and then take your receipt to the counter where drinks are being made.

  • Note- “caffe” is espresso
  • “Caffe Americano” is like American drip coffee.
  • Be prepared to possibly squeeze in between the patrons lining the bar enjoying their beverage.

 

3-When choosing a restaurant, avoid menus that are printed in several languages. And steer clear of the gentleman trying to lure you into his ristorante. It’ll cost you a lot more than it’s worth.

4- Before you go, learn some useful phrases like;

  • “Dov’è La toilette?”

“Where is the bathroom?”

  • “Dov’è stazione centrale?”

“Where is the central station?”

  • “Una pasta piatto, per favore.”

“A dish of pasta please.”

  • “Scusi! Non capisco.”

“Excuse me, I don’t understand.”

  • “Il Conto, per favore.”

“The bill please.”

 

5-If traveling by train, depending on the train company in which you are traveling, you may need to validate your ticket before you board. A ticket stamp machine is available just before you enter the platform.

If the conductor sees that you do not have a validated ticket, you will receive a fine. The fine is about 50 Euro if you can pay with cash on the spot. But pay the fine, always carry ample cash. A fine can be costly if police get involved.

Trenitalia I know is one of them. The Leonardo Express running from Rome airport to the Roma Termini station can be tricky too. Make sure your ticket is taking you exactly where you need to go. You can be charged a fine there too.

 

6-Enjoy the amazing wine, but not too much. Respect the culture and the Italian people.

THE TRICKY AND BEAUTY OF THE AMALFI COAST

Italy’s coastlines are some of the most picturesque destinations in the world. The stunning combination of the Tyrrhenian Sea and Italy’s Amalfi Coast has created many unforgettable vistas.

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The seaside cliffs are stacked with pastel villas overlooking the coastal towns of Positano, Amalfi, and Minori, to name a few. Ravello, perched high above Minori, has proven to be an incredible back drop for wedding ceremonies.

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photo courtesy of Sam Segar

Positano is known for its narrow streets filled with boutiques and cafes’. Its pebble beach is laden with rows of umbrellas all summer long.

Amalfi is nestled far below the rugged cliffs and was once the seat of the Maritime Republic. The Saint’Andrea cathedral resides in the heart of town showing off its medieval Italian striped Byzantine façade.

Minori sits within an un-crowded cove, retaining its identity as a fishing village. Scattered among the sunshades’ and beachgoers, are small wooden sea ready boats.

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photo courtesy of Jim Goodrich
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photo courtesy of Charis Tsevis
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photo courtesy of Ravanous
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photo courtesy of Ravanous

Besides being known as a wedding venue, Ravello is recognized for its gardens, town square, and Duomo.

 

 

Getting around can be tricky

I don’t recommend that you take on the Amalfi Drive yourself.  The road which was built by the Romans is narrow and winds up the coast with some hairy scary turns. If you are prone to motion sickness, medicate accordingly!

Traffic can be thick, especially in the summer months. It is not uncommon to meet other vehicles at the curves and forcing drivers to stomp the brakes in order to slowly pass with mere inches between the cars.  A bus can’t make some turns without oncoming autos reversing to a place with room enough for the bus to pass by.

The bus is the least expensive mode of transportation and advised.

If going from Minori to Ravello for example, you can take the ferry to Amalfi (10 min) and then the bus to Ravello (15 min).

A taxi will cost 30-40 Euros. (20-25 min drive)

If you are going in the opposite direction, Ravello to Minori, there’s a nice walk, all downhill, takes about an hour.

I suggest a private driver from the Salerno train station to your Amalfi Coast accommodation. The cost to Ravello for instance, is 100 Euro, but well worth it.  Sit back and enjoy the scenery.

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In summer months ferries are available from Naples, Sorrento, and Capri.

There is also a bus that runs from Naples airport to Sorrento.

And a bus is available from Rome to Positano and Praiano.

Venezia- A Seductress

There’s a reason Venezia Italy is run over with tourists. She is a seductress, and we are the marionettes’. A fourteenth century city constructed with Venetian Gothic architecture entices us.

st marco square

Made up of 118 submerged islands, it gives the illusion of a floating city, a stunning city; The “Queen of the Adriatic” as she is appropriately called.

Some other fitting titles for this intriguing city are, “City of Water”,  “City of Bridges”, or “City of Canals”.

The “City of Masks” is another suitable nickname for this ancient lady.

Artistic and bright colored Venetian masks are worn during carnival. This traditional event takes place at the beginning of each year. Mass party-goers converge upon Venezia, plugging the maze like paths with the glitter and shine of eccentric costumes; each participant hoping to keep with custom, their identity a bit of a mystery.

Photo courtesy of Nico1
Photo courtesy of Nico1

Venezia is a labyrinth of narrow walled footpaths. Getting lost is a guarantee. You followed the map closely; certain each turn was the right one. But, here you are, retracing your steps searching for the exact spot where you were misled. Considering there are 400 footbridges and 177 canals, it’s easy to get confused.

Traffic on the Grand Canal is busy and fascinating. Small mail delivery boats are laden with packages, and they swiftly cruise by water buses and taxis. Hotel and restaurant supplies are transported the same way, urgently!

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It’s a different experience for a gondolier. The glide of his gondola is smooth and silent upon the water. He may sing to his riders. But he’ll most likely be more boisterous when he and another’s gondola come together in a slender canal!

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Cathedrals and palaces can be seen all over Europe.

I think its Venezia’s unique character that summons us.

 

Let’s Talk Firenze!

Truth, Venice is my favorite Italian city. However, Florence is a close second.

What do I love about Florence? Hmm…Where to start? I’ve been to the city of Renaissance several times, and each visit is a new pleasure!

 

1-Cappuccino and a croissant, at an outdoor café!

the one
Morning cappicciono and Croissant

2- The art of course,

Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David is there. You can view it in the Galleria dell’Accademia. Or, a replica stands in the Piazza della Signoria. I’ve seen both, but you can only take a pic in the piazza.

Me and david
Me and the replica of David

I have to admit, I have a fondness for Michelangelo. He danced to his own tune.

From Piazza della Signoria, it is a short six minute walk to the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Michelangelo is buried.

 

3-Pitti Gola e Cantina

I can’t talk about Florence without mentioning Pitti Gola e Cantina! Located in Palazzo Pitti, this wine tasting room/café was designed for the love of wine. If you enjoy wine and food, I highly recommend the Wine Tasting Lunch, three course meal with four wines included. Everything is impeccable, including service. The cost is 35,00 euro per person, and totally worth it.

Pitti Gola is a small place however, a few tables are set for outdoor use, (in warm weather) and maybe five inside. I would seek reservations, they are not required, but I strongly suggest it.

While you’re in the palazzo, take a tour through Pitti Palace. You’ll see renaissance paintings and art, and hear stories about the influential Medici family.

4-The cathedral,

or Duomo can’t be missed! Literally!! This is a beautiful architectural marvel, and one of my favorites. Piazza del Duomo will be crowded, although this shouldn’t hinder you from getting some great shots.

Tickets are available to view the church’s interior, and also to climb its tower; the climb is challenging, but the view is well worth it, I’ve heard.

The duomo is also included with some “skip the line” tours.

And finally…

5-Ponte Vecchio

Florence’s oldest bridge, stretching across the Arno River, is the most popular place for shopping.

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Great restaurants, wine bars and even grocery stores are in this area. Expect a “packed house”, as they say.

 

 

Some Firenze Tips:

Arrive by plane or train

The streets in Florence are narrow and jammed with cars. The local drivers go wherever they feel they need to, to get through the mass.

I would recommend a hotel shuttle (if offered by your hotel) or shared transport, to your accommodation. A taxi is a good option, the line can get long, but it moves quickly. (At least at the train station.) A note here, do not accept help from a local offering to get you ahead in the line, unless you don’t mind paying several Euros for it.

Other than arrival, Firenze is very walk-able. Pick-up a map and enjoy exploring the city!

 

Protect your cash

We usually split money between us, and we also leave some behind locked in the safe in our room. Carry your wallet in your front pocket, or use a money belt. I use a small purse, one that I keep close to my body or even under a jacket. If I see the need for a backpack, I wear it in front instead of on my back. Pick pockets target the tourist crowds; be careful and aware of who’s around you.

 

Tip your tour guide 

Tips is their livelihood. If you choose not to tip, and there’s a chance to get even, they will! I’m speaking from personal experience.

 

 

Everything Europe!

Hey Everyone!

Welcome to The Traveling Laurel!

This is my first blog post, and I’m feeling very out of my element. I am a seasoned traveler but a travel writer-not.

Back in 2010 when my husband and I made our first trip to Europe, it was a little intimidating for me. I think for my hubby too. The Army assigned him to a post in Germany back in the 80’s, so… that was awhile ago.

Fast forward to 2018, we are so captivated with Europe; the vacation destination is always somewhere European. Lately, it’s more like “where in Italy are we going this year”?

Weather is weather, no matter the mood outside, goose bumps or sweat, we go when we can go!

Our itineraries usually include, a castle, cathedral or basilica, a roman archeological site, or it might be a palace built by a monarchy. Regardless of the architectural marvel, its construction was determined by a passionate people. Therefore, it never disappoints.

We may be feeling minuscule standing in front of the spectacular Duomo in Florence, or the gothic Old Town Square in Prague, but there’s always a history to hear and read about. Even the priceless art chronicles Europe’s past.

 

A short excursion for me in the spring, Milan and Lake Como, (work related) no complaints here! Later, with my best friend, who is also my husband, together we will discover Portugal.

I hope you’ll return for those details!

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