Tips for Train Travel in Italy

FrecciarossaTrain travel is one of the most popular ways for getting around Italy, both for tourists and local Italians. If you are visiting Italy for the first time, train travel may be a little intimidating. From my experiences on trains  in Italy I have learned a few things,so I decided to pass them on in the hopes that you may not make the same mistakes that I have. Here are some tips for traveling on trains in Italy. I hope that after a few rides you may feel like an experienced train traveler.

Rome Termini Train Station

Rome Termini Train Station

  •  Use the same door to exit as the one you entered. Some trains in Italy are very old and sometimes a door may not open. Believe me, I have had personal experience with this and ended up taking the train to the next town, only to get off, purchase another ticket, and take the next train back. Rather than being left to helplessly watch as the train leaves the station while you are still onboard, use the door that you know will work.
  • Place luggage where you can watch it. If your luggage can fit in the overhead compartment of the train, sit in a seat close by where you can keep an eye on it. If you have a larger bag, then you can store it between compartments, and try to sit in an end seat, so you can watch it. If you are lucky enough to be on an uncrowded train, then you can set your bag next to you without worry that another passenger will need the seat.
Inside a Newer Train in Italy

Inside a Newer Train in Italy

  • Be aware of the train stops prior to your destination, since many trains do not have an announcement or screen informing you of the next stop, or prossima fermata. In each train station there is a departures and arrivals list posted, where the train stops and the times are listed. If you have a chance to check this prior to getting onto your train,  you will be prepared to exit the train when necessary.
  • Be ready with your luggage to exit the train a minute or two prior to arrival at your destination. Trains in Italy attempt to run on time, particularly in the northern Italian cities, and they do not stay long at a station. Sometimes the stop is only for a minute, and Varenna in lake Como is an example of that.

  • Stamp your train ticket at the yellow boxes, which are posted inside the station or on the platforms. The tickets with reserved seats do not require a stamp, and also electronic tickets ordered online obviously cannot be stamped in a machine. For these, you will show the train personnel when they ask to see your ticket onboard. A hefty fine will be charged if you forget to stamp the ticket.
  • Once on the train, you can move from car to car to find a seat of your choice. If you have a reserved seat, then you are expected to occupy that specific seat on your specific car. This is important, especially if you do not want to engage in an argument with another passenger. I learned this the hard way.
Milano Centrale

Milan’s main train station

Train travel in Italy can be fun and efficient especially once you have implemented some of these tips. Soon you too will be an expert at train travel in Italy and points beyond. Buon viaggio!

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How to Save Money on Sicily Travel

Isola Bella in Taormina

Isola Bella in Taormina

Although I have been to Sicily five times, I just now became aware of a great way to save money on Sicily travel. The ONSICILY card is an easy way to obtain perks and discounts in Sicily. With over 366 participating providers, the discounts are available in five separate categories:

  • Accommodations
  • Food and drink
  • Workshops and activities
  • Nature and culture
  • Miscellaneous

ONSICILY CARD

The card is valid for three weeks and what surprised me was the cost – Only 10 EUROS! This is for one adult and one child under the age of 12. You can add more people to the card as well. Just an example of some of the perks are a free bottle of wine, a typical product, a homemade dessert, a big discount or other perk.

Sicilian countryside

Sicilian countryside

Check it out by clicking on the ONSICILY card photo above. Anytime I can save money on Sicily travel just means that I can stay longer or return another time. And if you know me, you know that I am always thinking of ways to go back to Sicily. Start planning your next trip with the ONSICILY card.Fruit vendors in Catania
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A Different Type of Hotel Accommodation in Italy – Albergo Diffuso

La Piana dei Mulini

La Piana dei Mulini

I had never heard of the term albergo diffuso until I discovered that I was staying in one a few years ago in Italy. What I thought to be an agriturismo was in actuality an albergo diffuso. You’re probably thinking, “What is an albergo diffuso anyway?”

Loosely translated the term means “scattered hotel.” I was surprised to learn that it is not a new concept, but rather has existed since the early 80s. The idea began in Italy as a way of providing accommodations to tourists in small villages and towns. The rooms usually are situated in a number of different buildings near each other. They do not necessarily have to be on the same property.

La Piana dei Mulini

La Piana dei Mulini

The intent of an albergo diffuso is to offer the traveler an authentic experience of living in a village and having contact with the local people instead of only with other travelers. It also serves the community by adding hotel accommodations at a cost considerably less than building a new hotel. The rooms are typically decorated in a way to maintain the local flavor, and meals are usually served with the same goal.

The organization known as the National Association of Alberghi Diffusi has set up criteria for these accommodations. Currently there are more than 40 of these alberghi diffusi in Italy with plans for 100 additional properties. Here are some of the guidelines for an albergo diffuso.

• For the purpose of protecting the historic architecture.
• Zero tolerance for “any new building that interrupts the integrity of the landscape
• Must maintain the original use, form and materials of the original structure
• Replacement materials must come from the local area
• As much as possible retain traces of life uncovered in the building as this is a symbol of village life
• Furnishings should keep with traditions of the area and be made by local artisans to maintain authenticity
• Use local material to reflect the colors and textures identified with the particular village
• Maintain the minimalist concept in bathrooms to not betray the
• Vital to the concept is not to add new construction

Colle d'Anchise sign

Colle d’Anchise sign

I have had the pleasure of staying in an albergo diffuso in the very small village of Colle d’Anchise in the region of Molise.  This is the village of my paternal grandparents and I frankly would not have thought that a town so small would even have a hotel.

Antonella Baratta, a distant cousin of mine who lives there told me about it, and after emailing the owner, Signor Michele, in Italian, I secured reservations here.

??????????????????????????????This was one of the best places I have stayed in Italy and the cost was unbelievably low. From the size of the rooms, the beauty of the property, the friendliness of the staff and the wonderful regional food at the restaurant I cannot say enough about La Piana dei Mulini.

 Colle d'Anchise

Colle d’Anchise

In fact I am staying there again in a few weeks when I return to Colle d’Anchise to visit my Italian family, so stay tuned for updates and more photos.

If you have the opportunity to stay at an  albergo diffuso on your next visit to Italy, I would highly recommend it.I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Dining Room at la Piana dei Mulini

Dining Room at la Piana dei Mulini

Posted in Italian Culture and Lifestyle, Italy Travel, Italy Travel Planning, Reservations, TRAVEL | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Leaving for Italy in Two Weeks

Oh my God – All of a sudden I feel the time crunch – I am leaving for Italy in two weeks and  just realized that I still had not booked all my train reservations. So today I spent time on the Trenitalia website rectifying the situation. I still have  a few to do yet, so tomorrow you know what my agenda entails.

FrecciarossaI love that I have come to know so many people in Italy and around the world thanks to Twitter. One of the great things about social media is interacting with others with similar interests. I have come to know so many people that I feel comfortable asking for advice and taking advantage of their expertise for information.

Gondolas in Venice

Gondolas in Venice

Here is an example. I will be going back to Venice this trip and am excited about it, because it is one of my favorite places in Italy. I have only been there twice before and neither time have I experienced the flooding which is associated with high tide, or acqua alta. My luck is due to change, I’m told, because Venetian locals have had to deal with an unusual amount of rain this year.

Venice

Venice

Thanks to Karen Henderson, Venice tour operater and fellow blogger on Italian Talks, I now know to expect that and to be prepared. “Disposable boots are a great option, you don’t have to carry that extra weight in your suitcase. And the latest models are sturdy enough to be reusable, and come with a little carrying case,” Karen mentions to me in an e-mail. She advises that I will have plenty of advance warning, saying “if the water is going to be above 110 cm- you will know it! The sirens will go off all over town. If you are sound asleep,it will wake you. If the water is going to be extremely high, you won’t even need boots, you won’t be going out in it. Everyone waits a few hours for the water to recede.”

It’s this personal advice from a local that is something you don’t find in typical travel guide books. I also found this convenient app, called hi!tide Venice. It monitors the current tides and informs you which areas in Venice are flooded. Pretty cool. I will be in Venice near the end of my trip so stay tuned for weather from Venice updates and photos.

 

 

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Winners Announced – Book Giveaway

Thank you to everyone who left a comment in response to my celebratory book giveaway. I appreciate all of you more than you know! Through a random drawing, the following fifteen people are winners – CONGRATULATIONS!

  1. Leila Harris
  2. Gloria Walsh
  3. K. Smothers
  4. Doggydd
  5. Jean Brick
  6. Ishita Sood
  7. Carol Sansone
  8. Sister Therese Ann Rich
  9. Nicole Ray
  10. Gina Lipari Jack Williams
  11. Jack Erickson
  12. Giuseppe
  13. Alessandro Zamboni
  14. Jackson JC9
  15. Sandra MacBryde

My Love Affair with Sicily book cover

My Love Affair with Sicily book cover

 

Memoirs of a Solo Traveler - My Love Affair with Italy

Memoirs of a Solo Traveler – My Love Affair with Italy

As stated in the original post, I will e-mail each of the winners and you can choose which book you’d like~either Memoirs of a Solo Traveler – My Love Affair with Italy or My Love Affair with Sicily. Ten of the winners will receive e-books and the following five winners will receive autographed paperback editions:

Gloria Walsh
Gina Lipari Jack Williams
Doggydd
Nicole Ray
Jean Brick

I hope you enjoy traveling with me through Italy and Sicily.

Mille Grazie.

In a few weeks I will be in Italy so please stay tuned for up-to-date posts and photos from Milano, Napli, the Amalfi Coast, Lucca, Bagni di Lucca, Colle d’Anchise, Desenzano, and Venice!

Ciao

Venice

Venice

 

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Time to Celebrate with a BOOK GIVEAWAY

book-signing-event-1024x680I am leaving a month from today for Italy and am excited since I will be discovering some new places. One is Naples and I am fortunate enough to have the services of the knowledgeable Tina from Discover Napoli Destinations.  Much more on that while I am in Italy, including photos.

Today, however, I want to announce a GIVEAWAY as a THANK YOU to all of you! I started this blog a little over three and a half years ago, while I was preparing to travel to Italy for three months by myself. I wanted a blog so I would share my photos and write about what I was doing. That way my friends and family could keep up with my adventures. Little did I know that I would end up writing a book, based on this blog. And thanks to all of you, Memoirs of a Solo Traveler – My Love Affair with Italy is selling well.

book-cover-print-version-amazon2-196x2942My blog has reached a milestone with over 5000 followers now and almost 100,000 hits. So to celebrate this, I am giving away 5 autographed copies of the paperback edition of either of my books, winner’s choice. I am also giving away 10 e-book versions of either book, winner’s choice. If you already have the book, you can give it away as a gift! So 15 of you will be winners!

Kindle Cover (3)

All you have to do is leave a comment on any of my blog posts with the hash tag #MilestoneGiveaway and you will be entered in a random drawing to win. I will run this promotion for 10 days and will announce the winners on another blog post at that time. Good luck!

And once more, grazie mille dal mio cuore. Thank you very much from my heart. Your support means more to me than you will ever know.6559354337_8e6e15e248_m (240x240)

 

Un abbraccio e baci! A hug and kisses.

Photo credit of heart to Rare Class from Flickr.

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New Concept in Travel ~ Custom Luggage from UGOBAGS

DSCN4481 (640x481)I am so excited about my new custom luggage from UGOBAGS. A brand new company, UGOBAGS is based in California, where each piece of luggage is assembled, after being customized to one’s specifications.

As a participant in their Kickstarter campaign this past spring, I recently received my own customized carry-on size bag. It is perfect for weekend trips when I don’t need to check a bag, and I’ll be trying it out this weekend, in fact.

DSCN4486 (478x640)For my upcoming trip to Italy though, I decided I need the mid-size bag, so I ordered one with the same custom logo as my smaller bag. I couldn’t be more pleased!

DSCN4475 (640x479)The construction is 100 percent polycarbonate in a choice of white, silver, or black. I chose the silver. The four wheels are the 360-degree spinner type and seem very durable. I was able to choose the color of my choice for the wheels, bumpers and handles.

The fully-lined interior has numerous separate pockets and zippered spaces for efficient and organized packing.

DSCN4470 (640x480)DSCN4473 (640x480)Even the lock is TSA approved.

DSCN4474 (640x480)To customize you can either use one of UGOBAGS’ designs or upload your own photo and logo or text. Their designers are glad to help with the details at no extra charge. I found the entire process to be pleasant. Both persons I spoke with during my customization process were friendly and more than helpful.

I was so impressed by the care UGOBAGS exercised in the packaging and shipping of my luggage. Shipping was free and my bag arrived within a few days.

DSCN4465 (640x481)Delivered by FedEx in a sturdy cardboard box, my luggage was completely wrapped in bubble wrap, and beneath that, was enclosed inside a fabric bag with a drawstring. I may use the bag as a laundry bag when traveling. It was apparent that every detail was carefully considered. they even included a luggage tag.

I recommend this company to anyone who needs some new luggage and wants something unique. As for me, having this bag customized with the logo from my blog is great advertising for me. For a limited time, you can take advantage of a 15 percent discount from UGOBAGS by clicking on the words below. I am not receiving any compensation from them for posting this. I would like to see that the company does well since I like the product so much, and am happy to help promote it.

UGOBAG MargieTemplate

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Made in Italy – Italian Shoemakers

photo5 (640x481)I rarely go to the mall, but last week I was delighted to find a new store in the Treasure Coast Mall in Jensen Beach, Florida. Italian Shoemakers sells authentic Italian footwear which is 100 percent made in Italy. With a name that speaks to me, how could I miss it?

photo3 (640x480)Of course I went inside and couldn’t have been more excited when Clara, one of the managers, spoke to me in Italian. Her ancestors are Italian on her father’s side and Hispanic on her mother’s side.

Photo hanging on wall in the store

Photo hanging on wall in the store

She informed me that all the shoes are made in Tuscany, Italy, near Florence, outside of Lucca. Of course, the leather capital in Italy. The store features photos of shoemakers working and scenes from Florence.

Photo of shoemaker from wall in the store

Photo of shoemaker from wall in the store

Clara further explained that in Italy the business operates quite a few factories, although many have closed due to production that has moved to China to save costs. What amazed me the most was the cost of the shoes here. All are discounted and many were between $20 and $30.

photo9 (640x480)I purchased two pairs of sandals and the minute I tried them on, they were extremely comfortable.

photo4 (640x481)Florida operates five stores with a sales and distribution center located in Miami. Italian Shoemakers has been in business since 1982, and their goal is quality at an affordable price.

photo2 (640x480)On my second visit to the store I had the pleasure of meeting  Cheryl, the other manager, who could not have been more accommodating and congenial, explaining more about the company and sharing a brochure with me. I bought my third pair of sandals during this visit.

photo6 (640x481)I noticed the special touches like I often see in Italy – the quality bags used to carry home my purchases, and even some chocolates wrapped in gold foil for the customers.

photo10 (640x482)photo (640x480)

I hope when I am in Tuscany I can tour one of their factories. It would be a real experience to see quality craftsmanship where it originated. I know I will be a frequent customer at Italian Shoemakers because you can never have too many shoes, and in Florida, too many sandals.

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La Passeggiata – The Evening Stroll in Italy

Spanish Steps in Rome

Spanish Steps in Rome

One of my favorite  aspects of the Italian lifestyle is the late afternoon and early evening ritual known as la passeggiata, or the evening stroll. Each evening, between the hours of 5pm and 8pm, Italians take to the streets, to walk and socialize. The name originates from the verb passeggiare, which means to walk. Sociologists label la passeggiata a cultural performance, and on Saturdays and Sundays entire families participate, this frequently being the main social event of the day. Afterwards, everyone heads home together for the evening meal.

In her book titled The Passeggiata and Popular Culture in an Italian Town,  Giovanna Delnegro states that this custom “reinforces a sense of belonging.” Individuals greet their friends and acquaintances, while sharing all the latest news and gossip. Women frequently hold hands, walking together in what appears as an informal parade. As they mark the end of the workday, men can be heard to say andiamo a fare qualche vasca, or “let’s go do some laps.” Not only is the custom of la passeggiata a social bonding experience, but also good exercise, and I can use all that I can get!

Busy Piazza in Capri

Busy Piazza in Capri

Originally, one of the purposes of la passeggiata was to display the charms of young women who were eligible to be married, and in this process, parents of these girls encouraged them to be flirtatious. They wanted their daughters  to fare una bella figura, or to look good. This could be one of the reasons that generally people change their clothing after working, and put on their finer attire, dressing to impress, for the evening stroll. The goal is, after all, or to see and be seen.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

In the larger cities such as Rome, some streets are just packed with people, making it nearly impossible for cars to get by. One of these streets in particular is via del Corso, known for its shopping. As people are walking, it is not uncommon for them to stop and do some window shopping. Another favorite spot for everyone to congregate during this evening ritual is the piazza, and Piazza Navona is a wonderfully entertaining spot. Usually in the early evenings, you will find mimes performing, musicians entertaining and vendors demonstrating the latest new items. Piazza di Spagna, or the Spanish Steps, becomes another crowded spot for la passeggiata.

As an integral part of everyday life in Italy, la passeggiata is an endearing custom in Italy, one that I enjoy very much.  Italians like to share things and be with one another, and they like to be outside, as their homes are frequently small. Unless it is raining, you can count on la passeggiata to occur in every city, town, and village in Italy every day of every week.

 

 

 

 

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Gelato – Italy’s Sweet Treat to the World

Gelato in Maiori

Gelato in Maiori

Gelato is one of Italy’s great gifts to the world, and once you have tasted authentic Italian gelato, you understand why this is true. Italians consider gelato to be their ice cream, but it really is quite different from American ice cream in many ways, and when you are in Italy, you simply cannot leave there without sampling this refreshing sweet almost-frozen dessert.

Forget sampling~I made it an almost daily ritual! Strolling the streets with a gelato in hand has certainly become part of the Italian lifestyle of today, with different regions claiming to have the best gelato in Italy.

History
Gelato dates back to the 16th century, and it is not really clear who should receive the credit. Two Florentine men, Giuseppe Ruggieri and Bernardo Buontalenti were the first to create this sweet treat for the Caterina de Medici family, but a Sicilian, named Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli is the one credited with being the first to sell gelato to the public. In 1686 he opened a café in Paris, which still exists today and is the oldest restaurant in Paris.

Gelato vendor in  Lucca

Gelato vendor in Lucca

Differences
Gelato differs from American ice cream in four distinct categories: fat content, texture, taste and ingredients.

  • Fat content – Gelato is made with approximately half the butterfat used in American ice cream. Most gelato has between four and eight percent butterfat compared with 10-18 percent in ice cream. In fact the FDA sets standards of a minimum of 10 percent fat for a product to be labeled ice cream.
  • Texture – Gelato is softer than ice cream because it is only partially frozen and is served that way. It is intended to be eaten on the same day it was made in most cases. Certain types of freezers, known as “forced-air freezers,” prevent the gelato from becoming completely frozen, helping to maintain its softer consistency.
  • Taste – The taste is more pure, partly due to the decreased percent of air in gelato compared with ice cream. A stronger taste is realized particularly in the sorbetti, which are made without milk, using water in its place. Sorbetto or non-dairy gelato originated in southern Italy and is particularly popular in Sicily. The less sugar used produces a grainier texture and also a more intense flavor.
  • Ingredients – Gelato is made using pure fresh ingredients including whole milk, sugar, flavorings, especially fresh fruit. Occasionally there are eggs and cream in gelato, but not always.
  • Gelato in Italy

    Gelato in Italy

Regional gelato specialties

  • In Sicily, you can have gelato in a brioche, and some Sicilians love this for breakfast. The first time I saw this was in Cefalu and I thought it was gelato in a hamburger bun. It has become quite popular and is available in mainland Italy now also.
  • Rome’s Tre Scalini, in Piazza Navona in Rome, lays claim to its specialty tartufo, which means truffle. It is not truffle-flavored gelato, but rather a dessert made of deep chocolate gelato and topped with whipped cream, shaped like a little cake. They have been serving this sweet treat since 1946. I must admit I have not had this yet, but you can be sure that it is on my list.
  • Pistachio gelato at the Riposto Marina in Sicily is said to be the best anywhere because the pistachios are from Bronte. I tried it and in my opinion, it totally was. Riposto is approximately 15km south of Taormina.

Serving Choices
Gelato is served in a cup or a cone and of course the brioche. Frequently in Italy you can choose several flavors (gusti) for one cup or cone. The prices are almost always clearly marked for the various selections, and in most gelaterie or bars serving gelato, you pay first, telling the cashier what you are ordering and then take the receipt to the person serving the gelato. You then tell this person what flavors you want, and they happily provide you with your gelato.

DSCF4995 (640x426)Gelato is available in an endless number of flavors, limited only by the inventiveness and creativity of the gelato maker. Some of the more popular flavors include stracciatella (chocolate chip), nocciola (hazelnut), amarena (black cherry), tiramisu, cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate), pistachio and Sicilian cassata cake. I have tried them all and it is hard to say which is the best. I only know that I am smiling as I am walking down the streets in Italy with a gelato.

Sharing gelato in Riposto with my Sicilian friends, Angelica and Teresa

Sharing gelato in Riposto with my Sicilian friends, Angelica and Teresa

 

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