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Italy My Way

Good afternoon. Long-time lurker, first time poster. We're looking at taking a trip to Italy for my son's high school graduation, in June 2020. We took our daughter to her choice (Maui). We've been to the UK and a lot of places in the US but I'm concerned about Italy. Mainly because of the language barrier. When we went to the UK, we did a day trip to Paris and a day really wasn't enough to start with, but the language barrier just didn't help because we just wandered around and didn't get to see much.

So....we don't want a repeat of Paris. That leads me to think of a guided tour, but we also don't want to be on a bus that drives by and points out the Leaning Tower of Pisa and you snap a picture through your window. Not sure if there is a best of both worlds?

Our son is a history buff and that is why he asked about Italy. I know he is interested in the Colosseum, Leaning Tower, Sistine Chapel, etc.

What is the feedback on the Italy - My Way tours? Does it sound like that could fit our needs? I appreciate any advice/feedback.

Thanks in advance!

Posted by
3475 posts

How many days do you think you might want IN Italy? That would determine where you could go without changing locations too many times.
Or even consider one city and really feel comfortable.

In Most major cities, there are people who speak English. Hotels, tourist sites and restaurants. You can book tours in English everywhere.

Posted by
3 posts

I can accumulate up to a years worth of leave at work...but, they get a little fidgety if you ask for more than two weeks together. So, the plan is to take 2 weeks...have the weekends in front, between, and at the end of the two weeks. so I guess that is 16 days but would probably do 13-14 which would include flying time, so we would have a couple of days to unpack, laundry, and prepare to go back to work.

Posted by
597 posts

With the concerns you have about language barriers and assistance with seeing things, I'm not sure if a My Way tour would match your desires. My Way tours organize the logistics of transit and hotels for you, but the rest is on your own. You would still be on your own for seeing the sights, navigating the cities, finding restaurants, etc. If that is the part you are concerned about, I would recommend a guided tour, or perhaps arrange your own hotels and travel and hire local guides so you get the most out of the sights? You could do something like the Venice, Florence and Rome tour or the Heart of Italy tour and add some time on your own to each end. Even if you decide to go independently or on a My Way tour, without the same time constraints you had in Paris you are likely to have a better experience. I hope you have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
869 posts

Even the regular Rick Steve's tours aren't "drive by and point", so considering your Paris example (and I've had that type of experience), a tour might not be a bad idea.

Another plus is that showing you how you can do things yourself is included on every RS tour.

Posted by
17155 posts

I have a few suggestions that might help you feel more comfortable traveling on your own:

  • Go as soon after graduation as you can. Italy will only get more crowded toward mid-summer, and it is likely to get hotter, too.

  • Don't spend all your time in large cities. If possible, start somewhere other than Rome.

  • Don't rush from place to place. Spend more time in each city than Rick's tours do. You are newbies, and you will not be as efficient as his tour guides. I spend about double his recommended time in almost every city, and sometimes even more.

  • Look for English-language walking tours. They are available at least at the major destinations, and they can cost as little as 10 euros for about 2 hours. You should tip about that much per person if you take a "free" tour. Not only will those tours provide good historical background, the guide will often share snippets about current life in the city--what neighborhoods have good restaurants, etc. Doing this on your first day, if possible, will help you settle in.

  • Stop in at the local tourist information office to pick up maps and brochures aligned with your interests. Keep your eyes open there, as well as out on the street, for posters about upcoming special events you would enjoy. Ask any questions you may have about getting around, roughly how much time you might expect to spend at a particular site, what days specific attractions are closed, etc. I do recommend verifying hours of tourist sights on the internet, though.

  • Rick's guide books are excellent for explaining all the nuts and bolts of travel, like how to use the local buses, where to find the tourist information office, etc. I'd tell you to go buy "Italy 2019" today, but it's possible you'll decide on a limited itinerary that would be covered in one of his smaller books (which may have more detailed information on the more limited areas they cover). This website has very useful information about the contents of the various guides to Italy. You can find it here. Click on "Is This the Right Book for Me?"

The above is not meant to say that you shouldn't take a tour. That might be the right decision for you. But a blitz one-day trip to Paris wasn't really a fair test of your ability to cope with 10-14 days in Italy.

By the way: Take the maximum time you can. Virtually everyone who posts a proposed itinerary for comment on this forum is trying to go to too many places, too fast. You'll regret not allowing as much time as your commitments at home (job, etc.) permit. You could spend 90 days in Italy and still leave many wonderful places unvisited.

Posted by
3475 posts

If you left on a Friday evening (I don't know where you're located) and returned on a Friday, you'd have 13 nights in in Italy. For a first trip, this is what I'd suggest. If you only have 12 nites eleminate 1 from (can't believe I'm saying this) Venice.

Fly into Venice.
3-4 nites Venice.

Train to Florence 2hr05m. 4 nites Florence.
Some good day trips from here.

Train to Rome 1 1/2 hrs. 5 nites Rome. You'll only touch the surface of this great city and want to return.

Edit. Fly out of Rome. It's much more efficient to do this than backtracking.

Posted by
869 posts

We love traveling in Italy on our own, but we also adore the RS tours. We took the Sicily tour last year and it was incredible. If you can afford it, I would strongly encourage you take a RS tour based on your experience in Paris. There are no drive by sittings on RS Tours; it’s actually quite opposite. You get to experience local culture from insiders that know where to visit......and they speak the language.

Posted by
11983 posts

Any Italian who looks like a student (for example they carry books or look like under 25) is likely to speak a decent amount of English. Anyone over 30 may have forgotten their English, unless they need it for work and the older they look the less likely are to speak English.

Posted by
4306 posts

Acraven's suggestions are very useful. Don't let your one-day Paris experience deter you from visiting non-English-speaking countries. And try to learn at least a few Italian phrases before you go, armed with a phrasebook.

Rick Steves tours aren't the drive-by kind, they're very thoughtful, high-energy "dives" into well-chosen places -- the "best of both worlds" you're looking for. I considered the "My Way" Italy tour last year because I've travelled independently in Europe and wanted the freedom. I decided against it because it moves around too much, with only two nights in most locations. I ended up on the shorter Venice/Florence/Rome tour which turned out to be an excellent choice, especially because I tacked on several extra days at both ends. You might find this tour the best alternative in the time you have. I'd suggest getting to Venice at least a day before the tour officially starts so you can get through the worst jetlag. Then let the guide show you these wonderful cities, with the help of local guides and bus drivers (only two partial days on the bus). Add as many days as you can in Rome at the end, or somewhere nearby like Orvieto or Assisi or Pompeii. By then you should be comfortable enough on your own. Fly "open jaw" into Venice and home from Rome to save backtracking.

Posted by
7795 posts

I'll tell you my experience of my first Rick Steves tour which was Heart of Italy.

The travelers were my brother, SIL, their 2 adult sons (ages 20 and 25) and me. The adults were pretty tired from parent care for our Mom and Dad over the previous couple of years. I'm the planner and did not want the responsibility for people's enjoyment and I was a little worried that the kids would want to sleep in. The older nephew could take off no more than 2 weeks.

So...we signed up for the Heart of Italy. AND had a fabulous time. The kids interacted with everyone on the tour, even going off with other adults for some night life. The kids were also the first ones to the meet up time every morning! They loved the guide and activities. I was totally unstressed and able to enjoy myself. Brother and SIL had a good time as well (well except SIL picked up some kind of bug on the plane).

There is free time in each location so you have some freedom from the group and it happens after you are oriented to a place and can make a good plan. The lessons on language, history, culture and geography were awesome. Not knowing any Italian was not a hindrance to our enjoyment. Our guide asked us at the initial meet up if we had anything particular we were interested in. Surprisingly my younger nephew said he was interested in the Medicis. I just had to laugh because sometimes I would look around when we were on a museum or walking tour with a local guide just to locate everyone and not see the guide or Marshall. Then I'd see the guide have Marshall over in a corner looking at another painting or building or landmark that related to a Medici. Awesome!

We did 2 extra nights in Rome ahead of the tour and 1 extra night in Florence after the tour. The extra night in Florence was to accommodate the nephews who want to go to a disk golf course in Pistoia, near Florence. Ok, we said! And yes, by that time they were able to be independent on taking the train to/from, getting to the disk golf and had a great day!

On this RS tour there was another kid traveling with parents who was 21 or so and then a range spaced out over 30's, 40's and up to 70's. We had a very fun group. We traveled in May right after the younger one finished his finals.

If you take a tour, do plan to arrive at least one night before the tour starts. I think nearly every tour I've been on someone missed part of the tour because of a travel delay.

Dick's suggestion of the Venice, Florence and Rome tour is excellent as well.

Posted by
11733 posts

When we went to the UK, we did a day trip to Paris and a day really
wasn't enough to start with, but the language barrier just didn't help
because we just wandered around and didn't get to see much.

Neither my husband nor I speak Italian beyond some manner words/phrases and we've only traveled Italy independently so far. You can do it too IF you spend the time to do the research in advance, as we did for our independent week in Paris (we don't speak French either). You just can't expect to land into Rome, Florence, Venice or anywhere else on your own and know what/how to see and do without doing the reading. That's how we figured out the what/where/when/hows of our trips, and we've yet to take a single bus tour.

So My Way may work very well for you as long as you understand that it's up to you to figure out what you want to see and how to do that. There are attractions which require ticketing/reservations in advance.

Posted by
865 posts

We were in Europe last summer (Barcelona, south France, Italy, and Switzerland) and the only place we came across people who did not speak English was one cabbie in Barcelona, and even he spoke a few phrases. I will say, Parisians can have a way of implying that they don't speak English, when they actually do. :) (Not knocking Paris or Parisians, just a personal observation.)

At least in Italy, learn to say the phrase, "Do you speak English? My Italian is terrible" and you will probably be just fine. :) https://translate.google.com/#view=home&op=translate&sl=en&tl=it&text=Do%20you%20speak%20English%3F%20My%20Italian%20is%20terrible. to listen to it.

Posted by
16 posts

My adult daughter and I took the Italy My Way tour in September 2018. I’ve taken a few fully guided RS tours before but we thought this one would give us more independence to plan our days ourselves. We were fortunate to have Rick’s son, Andy as our tour manager, and he provided lots of info on the bus rides, gave us short orientation walking tours in most of the stops, Italian language tips, how to order coffee etc. He was available in the mornings too for consultation. We did have some other group activities... such as a happy hour in Varenna and a memorable dinner in Tuscany. So you are not entirely on your own. I did plan ahead with advice from the RS Italy book, and reserved guided tours with Walks of Italy for Venice and Rome and got advance tickets for the Uffizi in Florence. We added two days before and after the tour which I highly recommend. It was fabulous and we would easily take another My Way tour.

Posted by
1667 posts

My wife and I went to Tuscany 3 years ago. We spent time in the big cities - Rome, Florence, Siena as well as in small towns in the countryside - Radda,Greve, San Gimignano and others.

We don't speak Italian other than a few phrases. We had absolutely no problem navigating on our own. There were only two times we were in a situation where someone didn't speak English. In Greve, we into a store to buy bus tickets. I asked to older ladies "Do you speak English?" in Italian. They both said no, but one scurried off to the back of the store. She brought her high school aged granddaughter with her who understood and spoke English really well and we were successful. The other time was in a small restaurant just outside the gates of the Abbey of Monte Oliveto di Maggiore. We had toured the abbey and had a little time before Vespers that we had come to attend. It was December and a little early for dinner. There was just the proprietress and no other customers. She didn't speak a lick of English. Still with a little effort and a lot of humor we successfully ordered and paid for a wonderful dinner.

Do as you wish regarding tours, but you can do just fine on your own.

Posted by
172 posts

What a wonderful opportunity for you and your family. We are taking our granddaughter next month to Rome and Barcelona.
My husband and I have been to Italy 3 times, we do not speak Italian. We have done just fine. Some times we have booked tours of major sights and the guide speaks English. At times we might listen to a guided tour from Rick Steves. I usually plan an itinerary for what we want to see on each day. May only be a couple of sights and then enjoying the food and environment.

Posted by
1 posts

I don't have experience with RIck's tours but am chiming in to recommend "Rapid Italian" by Earworms Learning, available on Audible and iTunes. I listened to both volumes repeatedly (mostly in my car) before our first trip to Italy last fall and found it enormously helpful to embed some essential phrases and beginning vocabulary in my brain. The lessons are entertaining ... like chats between a native Italian speaker with a lovely voice and an adult student. My favorite moment of using my very rudimentary Italian was asking if it was OK to sit at a cafe for drinks only. Also, we used Context and Guidaly for tours in Rome (Colosseum, Vatican and Borghese Gallery) and Florence (Uffizi and Accademia) and found them well worth the expense.

Posted by
1106 posts

Italy is a fairly easy country to get around in. I have been several times, and don't speak much Italian either. As long as you learn the basic "good manners" words, and how to read signs, e.g. tickets, train arrival and departure, you will be fine. I carried Rick's Italian Phrasebook and Dictionary (small, pocket size) which helped tremendously, especially when ordering food! I like to know what I am eating.

Posted by
21 posts

In my trips to Italy I have found that almost all people in a customer service role (restaurants, hotels, shops, tours) speak acceptable english. Unless you go way off the beaten path you should have no problem. Italians are much nicer and more respectful to tourists than the French.
Unless you are planning something else close by like Lucca, I would skip the Leaning Tower of Pisa. You will spend valuable time travelling to get there and back for little to see. The Leaning Tower is nice and the field of dreams area around it is beautiful but hardly a priority in your 2 week trip.

Posted by
68 posts

Not speaking Italian in major tourist sites should never be a problem.
I speak just enough Italian to be polite and respectful and on five trips both North and South in Italy, only once did I run into someone who I believe did not understand more English than I understand Italian.
The fact is that language barriers will not be your problem.
The desire to see all too much in still a relatively short period of time is the downfall of most tourists.
Just as we most all over pack, we all want to see it all....and that simply is never possible.
Do your research and pick one and certainly never more than two must see items each day.
Italy is do full of unexpected discoveries lurking around every corner.
Structure is all fine and good, but getting even a little bit list is golden.
Not sure if anyone else has mentioned it, but at the Vatican, there are tours unground of the location of the graveside of St Peter.
Check out the Scavi tour at St Peter's. Short tour with few people in each group and tours can be in English.
Regardless of what you do, just remember that you will miss far more than you see so slow down and surrender to the charm of Italy.
Eat your share of fantastic food, discover how awesome gelato can be and make your own memories.

Posted by
31073 posts

sd,

Based on your circumstances, a RS My Way Italy tour sounds like it would be a good fit. They take care of the logistics such as transportation and hotels, so all you'll need to plan is sightseeing. Of course, there will be some limitations. You'll have to plan touring efficiently so that you cover the sights you want to see in the time you have available. Your schedule will be dictated by the tour, so be sure you're at the bus at the appointed departure time!

Since you have a generous holiday allowance, is there any way you could squeeze a few more days and perhaps get 16 - 18 days? Surely that wouldn't be too much of an inconvenience for your employer? I would highly recommend arriving in Italy at least one day prior to the tour. Two days would be better. That will give you a chance to recover from jet lag and get your bearings. It would also be good to plan for a few days of self guided travel at the end of the tour. That would allow you to see more of the sights in Rome or perhaps take a day trip to Pompeii. I've found that it's also a really good idea to have a few days at home after the trip before going back to work.

You could see the Leaning Tower during your time in Florence, but I'd suggest spending your very short 1.5 days in Florence, as there's so much to see there. The guidebook has information on how to minimize the queues to get into the big museums.

To plan sightseeing, the RS Italy guidebook will be a valuable resource. Pack the book along for reference. Sights listed in the book are graded with "triangles", and I've found that the ratings are quite accurate. Focus mostly on the "three triangle" sites. One other suggestion is that you could arrange a walking tour with a local guide in some places, as that will provide a more interesting look at the history and you'll learn far more. One guide that I would highly recommend in Rome is Francesca Caruso - https://francescacaruso.com/ .

You shouldn't have any language issues when dealing with businesses that cater to tourists. However it would be a good idea to learn a few of the common polite phrases. You can use either a Phrasebook (such as the RS Italian or others) or one of the basic language courses (Pimsleur, etc.). If you take the My Way tour, you'll have a tour director along who will be able to help with any language, transportation or other issues, and by the end of the tour you should be quite comfortable at managing on your own.

One final thought.... If you decide to give Paris another try, plan your touring carefully with a good guidebook. You'll see a lot more and it will be a much more rewarding and interesting visit. As with Italy, you shouldn't have any language problems when dealing with tourist businesses, but again learning a few of the common phrases will help.

Good luck and Buon Viaggio!

Posted by
3 posts

Wow...thank you so much for all of the responses. I greatly appreciated the time and effort each of you took to give me some insight, advice and a LOT of things to think about.

I will say that throughout the many responses, a steady theme was to not rush our visit and take the time to enjoy it and make some memories. I agree with that 120%. That was the downfall of trying to do a daytrip to France during our UK visit. We also spent 8 days in London and we didn't even scratch the surface. We've found over the years that we would try and pack too many things into our trips; so we've gotten to the point where we now try and pick what we really want to do and only try and do 1 and maybe 2 things on a given day. We also give ourselves some downtime to relax.

As far as the language barrier - when we walked off the Eurostar in Paris, we were immediately swooped upon by a bunch of girls trying to get money from us. One even went so far as to grab our teenage daughter by the arm. I'd done extensive reading about pickpockets, etc. so we were slightly prepared for this. Then, the funny part is that I needed a men's room and went into a McDonalds and found I had to purchase something so I could get coins needed for the bathroom. I asked for a diet coke and they kept looking at me like they didn't have a clue. Now, in their defense, we are from Oklahoma. Imagine Gomer Pyle trying to speak any French. That was us. As many suggested on here, we tried to use "Please", "Thank you" "Excuse me", etc. But, again...picture Oklahoma hicks or Gomer Pyle trying to speak French. I'm not sure why I'm worried about it though - there are tons of good phone apps out there now that will translate for you. You can either type it in and have it say it or you can talk into your phone and it'll translate. So, No worries, right??

As far as whether a tour or going it independently is the right way for us, I'll definitely ponder on it. I do definitely think more than the two weeks originally planned would be good. Anything over 2 weeks has to be approved by our CEO, but given that it's a one time thing and it's for my son's graduation gift, I'm sure that won't be an issue.

We typically do a lot of research, reading, and planning for our trips. Maybe to the point of over thinking it. So, with that, I want to thank each one of you again because each of you made some really good points that we need to sit down and consider. I'll be spending a lot of time lurking around on the boards between now and June 2020. Seems like a long time away but I know it'll be here before we know it.

Again - Grazie!

Posted by
31073 posts

sd,

A few additional thoughts.....

Regarding the diet Coke in Paris, this thread is a bit dated but may provide some tips - https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/italy/diet-coke-addiction

You'll probably find that some of the products you're used to are slightly different in Europe. As I recall, many of the RS phrasebooks have a section with a description of the various foods and beverages in each country.

"But, again...picture Oklahoma hicks or Gomer Pyle trying to speak French. I'm not sure why I'm worried about it though - there are tons of good phone apps out there now that will translate for you. You can either type it in and have it say it or you can talk into your phone and it'll translate. So, No worries, right??"

In my experiences over many years and in various countries, I've found that the translation app's can help, but they're certainly not perfect. In some cases, they provide a reasonably good translation, in others the translation is "close" and sometimes the translation is completely wrong. I've verified that with native speakers of the languages in question. Google Translate is getting much better, but it's not a perfect solution.

One other aspect is that's it's not only cumbersome but probably impolite, is to speak phrases into a phone and then shove the phone under someone's snout to get them to provide a reply. You may need a data-connected phone to provide translations, depending on which app you're using. Also, locals may not have the patience while tourists type a phrase into a phone and then expect them to type a reply. In short, the current translators are good but not yet at the same level as the Star Trek Universal Translator - https://goo.gl/images/8UK3Kb .

A lot of research, reading, and planning is a good practice, as hopefully that means an enjoyable, problem-free trip. I tend to plan the same way.

Happy planning!

Posted by
1731 posts

Hmmm...

While I respect the RS tours & the folks that have taken them, I am a planner by nature, love to research and cannot fathom not setting up my own 'tour'. Tours by nature are devised to scratch the itch culturally of the widest cross-section of people--attractions, scenery, food, the whole nine yards.

Maybe I'm persnickety and a bit antisocial now that I'm in my early 60's, but I wanna do what I wanna do, at my own pace. I want to wake up in the morning, sip on some coffee, eat some fruit while my options are laid out before me & decide what I want to do that day dependent on factors like weather, distance & how I'm feeling. For the most part, I don't want to have to be someplace at a certain time. Certainly, we have done advance bookings like St. Peter's Skip The Line tickets in Rome (saved a couple hours of waiting) or the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, but my wife & I have always been perfectly content doing stuff on our own, even if it's nothing.

On our first trip abroad, we changed planes in Rome on the way to Catania, then Taormina. Not knowing nothing from nothing, we had set up a day tour with a Sicilian firm for a drive to some medieval villages above Taormina. Because transport around there is nothing short of death-defying--mountainous hairpin turns--we were happy to have a guide escort us, with one exception. It was later in the day, and we were walking around a tiny mountain village, and basically sculpted into a rock, there was a tiny cave-like dwelling/grocery store/cafe, illuminated by flickering lightbulbs. Inside was an old lady cooking and a couple of old men playing dominoes. The wonderful smells of whatever was being cooked in there was intoxicating. I wanted to stop & experience, but our guide said no, we had better get back--maybe he had another tour scheduled?

In hindsight, I should have absolutely insisted upon it because this was our private tour, and that has stuck in my mind ever since, that I had missed one of those 'moments' that RS often talks about. And I vowed that it wouldn't happen to me ever again.

Different strokes, all...

Posted by
1667 posts

In hindsight, I should have absolutely insisted upon it because this was our private tour, and that has stuck in my mind ever since, that I had missed one of those 'moments' that RS often talks about. And I vowed that it wouldn't happen to me ever again.

I'm with you Jay. We were invited to join some long time friends on a Viking River Cruise. We normally make our own plans and this was the first time since 1966 we were on a tour! There were many instances that I chafed under the tight schedule we were under.

Sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot by overscheduling. That's why I encourage folks asking for itinerary advice to build in a significant amount of free time and downtime. This gives you the opportunities to participate in those unexpected moments that crop up. To me, those are the moments that are at the heart of traveling.

Posted by
792 posts

I like to travel plan. In fact, sometimes I think I overdo it. But, I have traveled enough to appreciate not always having to find the exact hotel and the best transportation options. My Way tours are a bit of both worlds. I have done the My Way Alpine and am contemplating signing up for it again. On My Way tours, there are no scheduled activities - just the parameters of being on the bus when it pulls out. These are not guided tours with meeting times, group meals, and buddies. But, the escort does have a certain amount of knowledge and can and will share suggestions with the group, which can come in handy. The My Way Alpine I took was one of the first of its kind. The group really bonded in being supportive and friendly to each other. You could have companions to meet up with or not - as you chose. Great group. Oh, and a little bus time is, IMO, a bit of a plus to catch up on planning and to rest the feet and contemplate what has gone before and what is coming up.

If this tour format appeals to you, check out the tour scrapbooks - there were a few for My Way Italy in 2014. Only you can tell is this meets your needs. It works well for me. Debbie

Posted by
230 posts

You have received a lot of good advise that I will not repeat. I've been on 3 RS tours now, including My Way Italy and have also traveled on my own in Italy and Spain, 5 and 6 weeks. I will add:

1) 3 weeks minimum!
2) as a family of four, you may enjoy staying in an apartment rental as opposed to the smaller room you may be assigned on a RS tour.
3) the language barrier will not be a problem.
4) since you like to plan, and you have 4 folks who can work on it, you may enjoy planning your own trip.

5) planning your own trip will allow you to spend more than 2 nights per location. I'd suggest 3 cities on a 2 week tour and 3 cities on a 3 week tour.

6) to help you decide, I suggest looking closely at the specific activities and the bus-time on any tour you decide to take. When you are moving every 2 days, you are on the bus a lot in Italy. You might want to do the 7-day Rome tour, then tack on a choice of other cities.

So many choices! Good for you for starting NOW!

RS Guide books are full of the little details you need to get from A to B with confidence.

Have fun! PM me if you have any specific questions.