09 August 2012

Italy - Practical Travel Advice

Like most international airports, getting out of Rome-Fiumicino Airport and into Rome has a myriad of options. There is a bus that goes straight to Roma Termini from the airport. Look for the Terravision Bus / Atral Bus signs.

Roma Termini is the main train station of Rome and it connects to all major Italian cities and other European cities such as Paris, Munich, Geneva, Basel and Vienna. It also has bus and Roma Metro connections to get you to your hotel in Rome.

The bus is comfy, and costs €4 per person (one way) and it takes an hour to get to Roma Termini. If you aren’t in a rush, this is simply the most cost effective way to get to the center. There are trains that go from the airport to Roma Termini, but that is about €14 and takes half an hour. 

When travelling to anywhere in general, keep these things in mind:

Not everything is going to be in English – be sure to know the following words in their native tongue:
Ticketing/Ticket Office
The names of the cities/places you are going to in their native tongue. Ex: Firenze for Florence, Venezia for Venice. Extremely important especially when you are catching public transportation.

Currency – If possible, bring the local currency with you. Do it at your home bank/money exchange weeks before you leave. The Money Changers in Europe have VERY UNDESIREABLE exchange rates; bring very little US Dollars with you.

Credit and Debit cards – Call your banks to let them know that you are travelling and ask if they have partners in the country you are visiting to. (ex: Bank of America's partner in Italy is BNP Paribas. I didn't get charged anything by withrawing euros from their ATM) This allows you to withdraw money at the best rates from an ATM and you don’t have to carry much cash with you. Remember, the best exchange rates are transacted via plastic in Europe.

Learn how to read a map, and always carry one with you -If you are lost and the person you are asking for directions don’t speak your language, just show them the map and point. Locals are very friendly (for the most part) and will point you to the bus stop/train station even if they don’t know how to speak your language.

Learn how to take public transportation! – There are no ifs and buts on this one because when you are on public transportation it won’t go anywhere that isn’t on its route. It will show you the way the locals live and allows you to be part of the landscape. If you don’t know how, it is always good to practice on the New York City Subway and Bus System because if you can take the NYC subway like a pro – getting on public transit in any part of the world will be a cinch.

DON’T BE STUPID, AND DON’T ACT PRIVILEGED -The comforts you are used to back home may not exist in the country you are visiting or may not exist in the same manner you are used to. Take everything around you with a grain of salt and enjoy your surroundings. This is why you are travelling! Don't call any attention to yourself and be very careful of petty crimes such as pickpockets.

Public service announcement found
in Florence buses. IN ENGLISH!!
(they also have it in Italian, fyi)

Italy-specific travel advice

If you are riding Trenitalia (there are many train lines in Italy), remember to validate your ticket before getting on the train. If the inspector comes into your train and your ticket isn't validated, you will pay a fine. Rail Europe charges more money, so your best bet is to come up to the train station and just buy it from the machine or from the ticket window. The fares are the same price regardless of buying them in advance or 5 minutes before the train leaves.

Trenitalia train tickets are valid 6 hours after validation (not after buying). If you are travelling between Firenze Rifredi and Firenze Santa Maria Novella, you can still go back to Firenze Rifredi using the same ticket if the train you are taking is within the 6 hour window from validation.

Trenitalia serves a lot of destinations, however this is the slower train. This is the "Trains for Local Transport" in the Trenitalia website. The express trains are here. All trains are comfy regardless of speed; however the express trains are definitely much more comfier, it has its own bathrooms, a bar car and a table for your eating pleasure. They are also equipped with "free wifi" but it only accomodates passengers who have Italian mobile service. It didn't allow me to use their wifi without an account.

Sometimes the express trains are the only option you have - BUT MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHICH TRAIN YOU ARE TAKING BACK before you wander off on your daytrip. This is especially true if you are taking a daytrip to Venice (Venezia), the only option I had going back to Florence was the Frecciarossa.

When getting on a long train trip, try to eat before you get on the train - or pack a picnic to eat on the train. Sometimes, you get lucky and a vendor will come up to the train and sell prosciutto and cheese sandwiches (luxury! prosciutto!) and drinks. This is the only time I saw them and I took a lot of intercity trains.

If you didn't pack - don't despair. They have vending machines right by the tracks. But it is always good to have food with you.

Water is EVERYWHERE and is potable and FREE! Reuse your drink container and drink from any fountain in Italy! And you can even wash your face with it!

The bus system in Florence and Rome are very good, it is just a matter of learning how to use them. There are clearly marked bus stops and they say where they go, so just read them. Be sure to get your bus tickets from the Tabacci and validate them once inside the bus. They have different kinds of validating machines, one of them is this yellow one. If the bus is packed, and you cant get to the machine, you can ask a fellow passenger to validate it for you. I've seen this happen a couple of times.

Bus Ticket Validating Machine
The Rome Metro is just a big X on the city and you can transfer from one diagonal to the other at Roma Termini. It really is a no-brainer, especially if you are used to a public transit.

You will be walking a LOT wear comfy shoes. If you go in the summer months, keep your cool with Gelato. Preferably 3 times a day.

Don't worry about getting lost - the Italians are very nice people and they will give you directions gladly. If they don't know the answer to your question, they will ask another person for you and then point you where to go.



Other blogposts in this series:

Daytrip to the Leaning Tower of Pisa from Florence for 9 Euros!


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