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From Vancouver to Italy Help Please !

Hi, I just found this site and love it!
I am a 50's female travelling (alone) Vancouver BC -Italy via London late Sept. I want to see Florence, Cinque Terre and then a week will be in Tuscany at a yoga retreat.
I will also be on route to Sicily where my grandparents were from. I do however want to go to Croatia (bucket list thing)
It will be my first time in Europe and travelling alone!
Does anyone have a suggestion for a route, where to go first/last.. my only limit is Oct 3 to 10.. after that Im to go and do whatever whenever.
Travelling on a budget and have about 3.5 weeks. I am aware of Ryanair and Easy jet.

I am not a touristy place person, I love areas that are not full of tons of people and tourists (such as Rome)

Thank you in advance!
Angie

Posted by
31137 posts

Angie,

Covering Florence, Cinque Terre, a week in Tuscany, Croatia and Sicily in a 3.5 week time frame could be a bit challenging. Are you also stopping in London for a few days?

As this is your first time in Europe, I'd highly recommend reading Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip as it has a lot of good information on how to travel in Europe. After that use the Italy guidebook to plan sightseeing in more detail.

Europe is not the best location for "budget travel", given the exchange rate of ~1.50. Be sure to include that in your planning.

It's late so I'll try to revisit this post tomorrow and may have some further comments to add.

Posted by
2487 posts

I love areas that are not full of tons of people and tourists
Florence and Cinque Terre are - with Rome and Venice - the most visited places in Italy. If you want some peace and quiet, stay somewhere outside Florence and do the city as a day trip. Agreeable Lucca would serve you well. The regular and cheap train can bring you there within 1,5 hrs. Cinque Terre seems for some reason to be a mandatory stop for Americans, and has fallen victim to its popularity. Better spend your time elsewhere.

Posted by
3580 posts

By October the tourist season has died down in Italy so it shouldn't be so crowded. The weather may still be pleasant. Go anywhere in Italy that appeals to you and stay at least two nights so you have a full day to visit. I also recommend the Rick Steves book on ITALY for basic information and ideas on how to proceed.

If you can return to this site and provide us with a more precise time frame for your travels, we can give you more ideas and information.

If you haven't seen London before, you may want to spend a few days there.

Later: I've had some time to consider your itinerary. Flying from place to place makes the most sense to me. 1) London to Pisa for Yoga, Florence, and CT; 2) Pisa to Croatia; 3) Croatia to Sicily; 4) Sicily to London then home. In the Tuscany area, Pisa is probably your best airport. There are numerous budget airlines; I would choose which one by time schedule and price.

As you make your plans and learn more, ask us for more specifics.

Posted by
1485 posts

Another option would be flying from London to Bologna. We found it easy to take the airport bus from the Bologna airport to the train station and then the fast train to Florence. We didn't find Florence to be nearly as crowded as Rome.

Posted by
14 posts

Hi Thank you for your replies but how can I reply to individual replies?

Posted by
31137 posts

ang,

You can either post individual replies here on the forum or send a Private Message. Click on the name of the person you want to message, and a menu will appear for "Send xxxx a private message".

Posted by
616 posts

I would go from Pisa or Florence to Catania, Palermo, Ragusa, depending where in Sicily you want to go to. You are not telling us where your family is staying.
Then Sicily to Croatia, ( in the region, do not miss Pula and Trieste, if you have time try to stop in Ravenna). From Croatia, try to go to Venice and stay there 3 days then back to Canada from Venice

Posted by
616 posts

If you want to see Toscana,
You need at least
3 days in Florence - 1 day in Fiesole
2 days in Siena
1 day in Lucca
2-3 days in Volterra
2-3 days in Val d'Arno
3 days in Pienza
2 days in Arezzo.
If you want very calm places but also very beautiful do not miss Umbria with Gubbio which is enchanting.

Posted by
5010 posts

Just to add a couple thoughts (since this is a first trip to Europe for you, and first-timers often overlook a few hard truths)...

Travelling on a budget

What you've started with looks challenging on a tight budget. Overall Europe is not cheap, and London is (often) spectacularly expensive. I think you're trying to do a trip to "Italy" but you're attempting to graft on other "extra" places (London, Croatia). Those extras are going to cost you. I'm guessing you're going via London because that's where the flights go (from YVR to Europe, probably most flights go through LHR). Try to minimize your time in London - it's expensive, and it's also very touristy/crowded (which you say you don't like). Of course, it's one of the world's great cities, bucket list, it certainly has its charms, etc., but...consider "doing" London as part of another trip to the UK.

have about 3.5 weeks

Good for you. That's a great length for a trip to Europe, in fact just about ideal IMHO. I think most North Americans' trips to Europe are painfully short. Since this is your first trip to Europe and you will be traveling alone, don't be surprised if you occasionally feel a little overwhelmed, a little lonely, and eventually a little homesick (I start to miss things from home after about 3 weeks). Going alone has advantages (you get to make all the decisions, your choices don't have to please anyone else, etc.) and disadvantages (nobody to watch your bag when you dart in to use a toilet, no "second opinions" to help make good decisions, nobody to share things with, etc.). Keep things in perspective and you'll do fine.

Even with 3.5 weeks, be careful not to try and do too much - your initial list covers a LOT of ground. It may be heartbreaking to go to some of these places for "just a few days" (Croatia, Sicily) - they have enough great stuff to spend all 3 weeks there. Avoid "one night stands" - remember, every time you pick up and change locations, you will generally consume a half-day at minimum, maybe most of a day, just with logistics (it takes more time than you think to pack up and check out of your hotel, get to the train station, take the train, arrive in your destination, find your hotel, check in, get oriented to the neighborhood, find a meal, etc.). You will get lost (more than a few times). This process can eat up a surprising amount of time - it's just the "overhead" of living, traveling, without any special tourist activities (although it can also be some of the most memorable parts of your trip). You will get better at it with practice but plan to lose 1/2 to 3/4 of a day every time you move.

Agree with the posts above to read Rick's general book (ETTBD) early, to get a feel for all the little practicalities. It'll help you make smarter choices when you do your planning.

Good luck and have fun

Posted by
14 posts

Im Overwhelmed with your responses, so awesome.
I will answer some things..

Im traveling from Vancouver to London with my Westjet dollars, they only fly to london at this time. airfare covered :)
I would rather use my time in sicily than london , so it will be my fly in fly out hub.

I have family in Sicily, Portecllo/palemero who I havent met but have accomodations.

Outside of that area, I would like on or two other spectacular places to see in Siciliy.

I will have 2 or 3 days in Florence, before I go to yoga reatreat in tuscany. so what are the MUST SEES in Florence. I wonder the best area to stay in Florence to be central. Air BNB have many places, I see many are saying PISA..

Croatia, Dubrov is a day trip for me, busy and touristy. I want to be with locals. See things most people dont want to . I could spend 4 or 5 days in Croatia if I choose.. The glory of being alone.

Thank you for your in depth assistance, I welcome all of them and private messages too.

I read somewhere our posts get deleted at some point , is that true? Id like to refer back to this information while researching the bookings.

I will definitely get the 2 books recommended!

Grazie!

Posted by
1428 posts

Since you're on a RICK STEVES forum, you really should be reading his guidebooks. Seems like a nice touch. You can also watch his dozens of videos on Italy on the internets.

Here's a thought, pop into a nearby CAA office and see if they have travel agents. Have a little chat and see if they can do anything for you. It can be a big help.

Posted by
31137 posts

phred,

"Here's a thought, pop into a nearby CAA office and see if they have travel agents."

BCAA sold their travel agencies a few years ago, and AFAIK they only offer online service now. Maritime Travel took over a lot of their offices.

Angie,

A few thoughts on your most recent post....

Have you booked your WestJet flights yet? As you're leaving late September, you'll have to be back by Oct. 21 as that's when their seasonal flights to London end. How are you getting from London to Sicily and then back to the mainland?

Your relatives in Sicily will probably be the best source of information on "one or two spectacular places to see in Sicily". There are lots of choices and which ones to see will likely depend on how far you want to travel. Cefalu is beautiful, Taormina is somewhat unique, you could see the Mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale near Syracuse, the Valley of the Temples or visit Ortygia - there are lots of choices. RS doesn't yet publish a guidebook on Sicily but you could check Lonely Planet or others for suggestions.

I'd suggest staying somewhere central in Florence. I'm a single traveller and I prefer small hotels listed in the RS guidebooks, so don't use AirBnB or similar services. The small hotels listed are all very reliable and sometimes offer a RS discount. I can suggest a couple of places if you're interested (depending on what "comfort level" you want). DON'T stay in Pisa. In terms of "Must Sees", again I'd recommend checking the guidebook to see what interests you. As Florence has a rich history in Renaissance art, many people like to visit the famous Uffizi and Accademia (reservations advised).

As you're travelling on a budget, it occurred to me that you could also consider staying in Hostels, at least part of the time. Those are about the cheapest beds you'll find, although you have to be wiling to put up with "communal living". Some Hostels are quite comfortable and others not as good. I find the facilities at HI Hostels are somewhat consistent from one location to another, although I've stayed at independent Hostels on occasion as well.

Florence is the capital of Tuscany, so it should be relatively easy to get from there to your Yoga retreat.

Visiting Croatia is a bit problematic, especially at that time of the year. Many of the budget airlines only offer seasonal service from Italy, which often ends about Sept. 1. You should be able to get a flight with Croatia Airlines or one of the others, but it may not be a "budget" flight. Travel by Ferry is often a long a tortuous process, as some of them travel overnight. There's no rail service to Dubrovnik, so you'd have to make the long trip from Italy to Split and then take a Bus ride. I'd have to do some research to see what options might be available for you to get to and from Croatia.

I don't believe posts are deleted, unless they contravene forum rules. However, they tend to bounce down the list as newer posts are added, so they may not be as easy to find a few weeks from now, unless they get regular replies.

Posted by
7737 posts

You can't really reply to individual replies unless you're talking about doing a private message. But the purpose of this forum is to have open discussion, so try to avoid private messages as a rule. If you're talking about publicly replying to a specific response, there's no way to do that. You just hit the Reply button and it will put your reply next in the queue.

Happy travels.

Posted by
14 posts

Hello,
I am back with questions now that I have booked my trip. I have taken in the great information you have all given me and decided to skip Croatia this time.
I am flying Westjet to London Gatwick Sept 28 then Easy Jet to Florence (not booked yet) I only see EJ flying to Florence not RyanAir.
I will spend 3 full days in Florence, then Tuscany until Oct 10 then on my way to Sicily with a couple of stops in between.

I have read thru RS information on Amalfi Coast, as a single woman, it sounds rather difficult. Any recommendations for one or 2 days there and budget places to stay (it sounds pricey)..
What about renting a car, wouldn't it be easier (safe?) to see sites that way or safer to take a bus tour?

I have ordered ricks book but also would love to hear others opinions and guidance..

PS I am not a big historian tho do want to do see the important musts, I love the sea/coast, quaint little towns, churches.

thank you !

Posted by
3044 posts

Check about buying your airfare on the Canadian sites of airlines such as KLM. I'm flying out of Vancouver (instead of Seattle) this summer because the fares were just that much better. When I added in the exchange rate that highly favored the US dollar, the price was terrific.

Posted by
31137 posts

Angie,

It's great that you were able to take advantage of the cheap WestJet fares to Gatwick, as I suspect they won't stay cheap for too long as this is their introductory year. IMO, skipping Croatia this time was a good idea.

When you arrive at LGW, you may have to use the small "mini-train" to travel from your arrival terminal to the one used by easyJet. It's not difficult. Will you be travelling with checked luggage? If you purchase any of the options with EJ such as Speedy Boarding or whatever, you'll be able to use a preferred desk to drop your luggage. After that you go through security.

Also, be sure to check the easyJet Terms & Conditions carefully, especially related to luggage rules. With the cheaper seats, passengers are allowed ONE carry-on item of the approved size.

For your stay in Sorrento, you might consider Hotel Desiree. It's an older property but clean and comfortable and the owners are wonderful (and they speak English). It's a bit of a walk to the station so I'd suggest taking a Taxi when you arrive, until you learn the way.

Renting a car is not always a good idea, as there are some potentially expensive "caveats" to be aware of, and driving along the twisting roads can sometimes be nerve wracking. If your budget will allow, you may consider hiring a private car service for a few hours, such as the Monetti Taxi listed in the guidebook.

While in Sorrento, many people like to take a day trip to Pompeii or Herculaneum as those sites have significant history. The guidebook has information on that. You'll have to use the "colourful" Circumvesuviana train to get there, so be sure to wear a Money Belt.

Posted by
209 posts

Angie,

You have the beginnings of a lovely trip. Ken mentioned hostels as an option, I second that idea! Take a look at Hostel Archi Rossi in Florence. They offer private rooms in their "annex". You get the cost benefits of a hostel but a private room. Hopefully, they still offer free walking tours of Florence.

Enjoy,

Sharon

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks Ken for your wealth of information .
I bought the Europe through the Back Door .. small section on Florence but living it .
I'd lI've your referrals to hotels .. YES!
Looks like it will be Florence on my own for 3 days .. so must sees for me would be the statues and some art /history ... live music. . There must be an outdoor area where people gather .. must eat places??

Sharon thanks ..I'm checking into the hostels.. I'm open to that !
Any suggestions Re girl stuff .. like shopping (cheaply lol ) olive soaps ... you know ..

Again thank u !

Posted by
111 posts

From what you have said about your interests, I suggest less traveling around, and more time to get a little deeper in few places. How about picking your three top spots to visit, and focus just on those? Maybe Sicily, Tuscany, and Croatia? It will be easier to control expenses if you avoid the most touristy areas, and if you minimize travel between regions.
It is easy to get budget flights from London to various places in Italy and Croatia. Rick has a website with a comprehensive list of budget European airlines. Take some time and check out all of them that fly the routes you are considering. Now days, it is often cheaper to fly than take a train, and sometimes even cheaper than bus travel. Buying tickets far in advance will help you control cost.
I know it sounds funny, but 3 1/2 weeks is not that much time, and sitting on a bus or train is probably not your highest priority.

Posted by
14 posts

Hi captvic
Yep your right . I've given up Croatia this trip .
So florence for 3 days then Tuscany retreat for a week .
After that make my way to Sicily. I will still have 2 weeks .

Thoughts on must sees ?
Thank u !

Posted by
17630 posts

You can see a lot of Sicily in two weeks. Before you start allocating nights to cities, I suggest you do some reading about the inland towns that might be of interest, then figure out how you might reach them. Public transportation is possible and the least expensive option, but can be slow and is pretty much unavailable on Sundays. Assuming you don't want to rent a car--having one would be very useful in Sicily, the other choice would be day excursions by bus. If people here aren't sure about the current situation, some Googling will probably reveal which coastal cities are good bases for day-long bus tours. I know there are some running from Taormina and Siracusa. Knowing what day-trips you want to take will help you decide how many days to stay in each city.

Edited to add: I forgot that there's a train line that cuts across the interior from Catania to Palermo. It goes through Enna.

These are among the interior cities/towns/sights that are popular with tourists (there are others of interest): Mt. Etna, Piazza Armerina for the nearby Villa Roman del Casale, Enna, Caltagirone for ceramics, Ragusa, Noto, Modica, and Scicli. I'd say that Ragusa is the most spectacular, and the mosaics at the Villa Romana are unusually fine.

Among the coastal cities that are very popular are Taormina (truly stunning site, but very touristy; close to Mount Etna), Ortygia (the historic section of Siracusa), Cefalu, Palermo (big, Naples-like city with wonderful churches), Trapani (nice itself, and with hill-top Erice accessible by funicular or bus). I used Catania as my NE base rather than Taormina, but most others would consider than seriously odd. I especially liked Ortygia and Trapani/Erice, plus all the wonderful churches in Palermo, including Monreale. But I would recommend all the cities I've mentioned.

There are also Greek ruins around Segesta and Agrigento (which I haven't seen), and some off-shore islands accessible from ports on the north coast. If you don't care much for the Greek ruins, you can save some time by skipping Segesta, Agrigento and (sadly) Trapani/Erice. The Northern and Eastern coasts would probably keep you well occupied for two weeks.

Posted by
14 posts

Hello, I am now weeks away from my trip, that all of you so kindly replied about.
I have decided to see Cinque De Terre first since my yoga retreat will be hosting florence day trips from Tuscany.
I found a travel partner also going to retreat and she wants to see CDT as well.

My questions..
Do we fly in to Florence and bus to CInque D T ?

Is the train cheaper from London to Florence ?
Exchanging Canadian to Euros, is it better from Canada? It is so high right now !

We will be travelling to Amalfi Coast after the retreat . Is it better to rent a driver or bus it to get there?

Thank you!
Angie

Posted by
31137 posts

Angie,

Just to clarify, the area you were referring to is the Cinque Terre, an area which consists of five small towns on the Ligurian coast. The easiest way to get there from Florence is to take the train, which usually involves one or two changes in Pisa or La Spezia. You'll need to familiarize yourself with the concept of changing trains.

Note that there are some potentially expensive "caveats" to be aware of when using trains and other public transit in Italy. If you need more information, I can forward my usual "boilerplate" on the subject.

If you want to travel directly from London to the Cinque Terre and then go to Florence after that, easyJet to Pisa (PSA) is a good choice. They have flights both from Gatwick and Luton (of the two, I prefer Gatwick). Once you arrive at Pisa, take the Shuttle to Pisa Centrale and then train to whichever of the five towns you plan to stay in. I'd suggest getting a hotel booking SOON! If you have the RS Italy guidebook (which I would highly recommend), there are lodging suggestions there for all of the towns.

If you'd prefer to travel a different route, there are numerous budget airlines. Check https://www.skyscanner.ca/

If you'd prefer to start in Florence after London, it's also very easy to get from Pisa to Florence (about one hour by train as I recall).

With all of the budget airlines, it's important to book early to get the best prices. The often use a "sliding scale" with the prices increasing as the flight fills. Also be sure to read their Terms & Conditions carefully, especially related to luggage limits. Finally, the cheapest tickets are usually non-refundable and non-changeable once booked, so choose carefully!

Posted by
75 posts

we are taking our first trip to Europe shortly. We are using Easyjet to get from Paris to Venice-- cheap flights & faster than the train (although we will have to go through airport security, etc...) but be careful.. make sure you understand size restraints on carryon vs checked bags and costs associated with checking bags once you're at the airport.. Also, we are going to Vernazza (CT) from Florence-- we are doing the train and while I don't know, a bus might be less expensive, time may also be something to consider.

Posted by
32 posts

Hi Angie,
We will be on the same flight to London the day before then flying Easyjet to Bari and continuing to Sicily, so we may cross paths.
Travel planning:
I've found a couple of websites to be helpful: Rome2Rio gives you options with prices and times between any two points on the globe.
Google Flights can be searched by plotting a variety of variables. For example you can put in a departing airport, dates of travel and see on a map prices to any major airport. Or find the cheapest dates or fewest stopovers.

I'd echo the recommendation to fly to Pisa from London. We've used Easyjet many times with very good experiences. One bag means ONE bag. Purse has to fit in there too if you don't want to pay for a bag.
I'm sure you have found this elsewhere on this site, but travel in Italy isn't a certainty. By that I mean there are lots of cancellations and planned strikes. You can see the strike days ahead of time on this website: http://www.cgsse.it/web/guest/scioperi-in-tempo-reale
It appears there will be an airline strike on October 11th, for example. If you put that date in for a ticket on Google Flights you will see all of your options are for train travel only.

We went to Cinque Terre 25 years ago at RS recommendation and it was charming. We took my parents there two years ago and were disappointed. It has lost it's Italian charm and now is filled with English speaking people and gift shops. The scenery is still beautiful, though, and our highlights were the day pass for the ferry between the towns (watch the time table and plan where you end up on the long lunch break. Take your swimsuit for a dip in the cove at Manarola) We also enjoyed the climb up to Corniglia which felt more like the Vernazza of times past, maybe because it's not as easy to access.

Like you, we aren't fond of big cities, but there's nothing like popping out of the underground Metro station like a mole and seeing the Colosseum right there in front of you. Give Rome a couple of days. If you've had your fill of art galleries in Florence, check out Villa D'Este outside of Rome for the incredible landscaping and fountains.

Train or bus to Naples and Pompeii? It can be a day trip on the way to Amalfi if you want. There are places to check your bags at the train stations. At the smaller ones it's the snack bar. There's a ferry from Salerno to Sicily or a flight from Naples to Sicily that are about the same cost, but the ferry sounds more interesting.
Enjoy the planning. It's like traveling twice! Maybe we'll see you there
Kathy

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks kathy !
When will you be in sicily ? I won't be there til October 15 or after .
Perhaps we should connect !
Thanks for the great information.

We are by passing Rome . There are other places I'd rather see.

It sounds so complicated getting from A to B from some areas . I'm getting a bit nervous !

Posted by
14 posts

Any thoughts on exchanging money in Italy. IS it better to bring all cash in EUROS, Use a bank machine at a bank, Use my VIsa, or a Currency Exchange? The rates are so high right now. My Canadian bank is 1.51 to buy. I really don't want to carry a lot of cash.
thank you!

Posted by
17630 posts

You'll do best by charging things to your credit card or using your ATM card to withdraw euros in Italy. Changing a bunch of dollars to euros in Canada will definitely cost more than either of those first two options. You may want to have a modest stash of euros with you so you can get through the first day (transportation from airport to hotel, a meal or two, etc.) without having to deal with an ATM while jet-lagged.

Whether you'll be better off using a credit card or an ATM card (and paying cash) will depend on your individual cards. Many have fees. The ATM-card fees, especially, can be a substantial percentage, especially on small withdrawals. But there are US ATM cards that charge virtually no fees--including Capital One Bank and some credit unions. I'll bet there are good ones in Canada, too. Similarly, there are credit cards that don't assess an extra fee for overseas use. So there are good options that many of us use.

The first thing to do is to find out the situation with the cards you have right now. You should be able to get the information by telephoning the toll-free number on the back of the card. If you find out there's a 3% credit-card fee on European charges, a $5 ATM fee, etc., you can consider getting a new card before your trip. (For the ATM card, you'd have to open an account with a new financial institution.)

Posted by
11613 posts

I have successfully pulled off a five-connection travel day, but it is stressful. I failed at a six-connection travel day once (the first train was late, all the other connections fell like dominoes). Rome2rio.com can help you figure out the best routes between places.

Posted by
327 posts

Angie, since you are in Canada (as I am), are you aware of Calforex for currency exchange before you travel? They are NOT at the airport and their exchange rates are better than any Canadian bank that we have checked. We bought some GBP, euros, and a few Croatian Kuna there for an upcoming trip. Happy travels!
Mardan

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks, Il be checking with my VISA today. My bank is a Credit Union and unfortunately don't have any special debit cards.

Marden, I have never heard of CALFOREX, where are they, major cities? Il be flying out of Vancouver. thank you.

Posted by
17630 posts

My credit union ATM/debit card is fee-free. It's not a special card, just the ordinary ATM card.

Posted by
31137 posts

Angie,

I haven't read through all the replies, but a few thoughts on money.....

  • I'd suggest getting €50-100 from your local credit union prior to your trip. They may have to order it, so be sure to ask in lots of time. That will provide some travel funds and I find that's much less hassle than trying to find an ATM when you're tired, jet lagged and hauling luggage.
  • Be sure to notify your financial institutions that you'll be travelling so they don't freeze your card.
  • In my experience, it's a really good idea to have a backup ATM card in case your primary card malfunctions (I've had that happen). As you're dealing with a credit union, send me a PM with the details as I might have a suggestion for you.
  • Having at least one credit card is also a good idea to pay for hotels and larger purchases. That's also the easiest way to buy rail tickets from Kiosks, as not all take cash.
Posted by
14 posts

am traveling next to florence then Naples and sorrento on Oct 12.
I'm having trouble booking a train to Naples from florence online .
Any helpful advice?

Also does anyone recommended specific tours for capri and blue grotto ..is it worth the trip?

Has anyone been to procida island?
My head is spinning with all I read online . I trust the forum recommendations!

Grazia
Angie

Posted by
11613 posts

I am seeing trains from Firenze Santa Maria Novella to Napoli Centrale every hour or half-hour on October 12. Where are you looking? Use trenitalia.com and switch to English for language choice, use Italian station names.

The train to Sorrento is not run by trenitalia, it is the Circumvesuviana in the same train station, but downstairs. Very crowded..