My husband and I went to Italy in September. Just wanted to share some of our experiences and address topics that I originally had questions about: -Money. The prevailing wisdom on this website is to take any money you need out of ATMs while in Italy. However, we only have 1 ATM card and this concerned me in case it didn't work. We have a local currency exchange which gives much better rates than airport and we exchanged all the money we thought we would need in advance. While in Italy, we just carried what we needed on us and put the rest in our hotel safe. It worked out great for us and never had to worry about getting money.We did use money belts while in Rome. -Credit cards. We opened a new credit card after finding that every other card we had charges a 3% transaction fee. Worth looking into. -It's obvious but I will mention anyway-please be careful crossing the streets in Rome. Cars and vespas come through quickly. We saw a teenager almost run over by a truck right in front of us. But the traffic did not overwhelm my experience as I feared it might. Vatican-We took a guided tour where we were allowed in a bit early and went straight to the Sistine Chapel before it was too busy. I highly recommend doing something like this. By noon, the crowds were so thick in the Vatican that we could barely walk. And this was late September. Cab fare-The Rick Steve's Rome book we have stated that cab fare from the airport was 40E. I believe the fares have gone up. The placard on the taxis now say 48E. We paid 45E to the Rome Marriott Grand Flora. I believe they adjust slightly based on specific hotel. They gave us a slip of paper with the specific fare on it before we got in. Attractions-Please be mentally prepared that Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and Pantheon will always be thronged with tourists. However, these sites are all free-so enjoy.
Trains-we took a train from Rome to Naples making our way down to Sorrento. I purchased our tickets in advance on the trenitalia website and was able to print. No issues. At the Rome station, the track (binario) number did not appear on the screen until about 15 minutes before the train was to depart. So don't worry. On the way back in Naples, the track was listed much earlier. We decided to hire a driver from Naples to Sorrento. I had read a lot about whether to take the local train from Naples to Sorrento. There are concerns about safety, etc. We decided to hire a driver. We later rode the local train from Sorrento to Ercolano and we did see a couple of beggars but no biggie. The real issue is space for luggage. The train is packed with tourists and locals and I am not sure where you would have room for your luggage. The train is outfitted like a normal subway train. However, I did see people on the train with their luggage. A couple had it sticking out in the aisle and a few were just standing near the doorways with it. I was glad we opted for a driver, but if you really want to save money I think it would work OK on the Circumvesa.
Food-Of course the food in Italy was overall very good. I think we are spoiled however because we have so many great Italian restaurants in our metro area (some of them open for 50 years or more). So I can't say we were blown away by the food. I think people over hype it and therefore,you are built up with false expectations. Also, I just could not get into the al dente pasta. I did not want to offend anyone by asking for it differently. Finally, near the end of the trip, I started asking for my pasta cooked more and I did enjoy it more. Pizza was pretty good, but quality varies as anywhere else. There is a definite lack of tomato sauce. My husband is a pizza fiend so we had our share.
Tipping-We took an Italian language class before Italy. Our teacher was born in Italy and travels there frequently. She was very adamant that we did not need to tip anyone in Italy. Not the waiters, the bellmen, or tour guides. For taxis, I rounded up to the next Euro. According to our teacher, Italians never tip but of course they are happy to take tips from Americans who don't know any better. We did stray from this a couple of times, but only when we felt moved to do so. Language-It seemed that most people we encountered in Italy spoke English and were happy to do so with all Americans/English. As I said before, we took a community college class for 12 weeks (2 hours a week) before our trip. This really gave us several words/phrases that we could use in Italy. I found it enhanced my experience to be able to converse a bit in Italian. I was actually surprised how little I heard Americans trying to speak Italian at all-even a Buongiorno or a grazie. I also bought Rick's Italian phrase book which I found to be extremely helpful. Of course learning a language is not for everyone, but if you took Spanish or French in high school, I think you will find Italian similar. Something to think about.
Herculaneum (Ercolano)-Do not take the 3E shuttle to the site from the subway. You can easily walk there as directed in the guidebook.
Amalfi and Positano-If you have to pick between the 2, Positano is more interesting and varied, but more steps. Much has been written about whether to drive the Amalfi Coast or not. What I observed is that yes, the road is windy, but no more so than say the mountains of NC. The real issue is how narrow the road can be in places and the blind curves. I would never try driving there. Ravello-We stayed in Ravello at the Hotel Caruso which was fantastic. However, there does not appear to be much in the town itself (except beautiful views) and walking anywhere requires many steps. It is much more peaceful in Ravello, but if you are not staying here, not sure if it's worth a special trip.
Capri-make sure you take the chairlift up to Monte Solaro and do visit the Blue Grotto. Both are really special. Don't just start walking around in Capri like we did and get lost in a residential area. They do have information booths, so please utilize. The taxis are so expensive. We did take a couple however. But we also took the bus from the Blue Grotto back to Anacapri and it was good. You pay the driver as you board. These are just some observations I had from my trip and I hope that it may be helpful to some.
Thanks for your detailed report! "There is a definite lack of tomato sauce" Yes, by American standards, there sure is. I always warn people that pizza in Italy is different - less cheese (or in some cases, no cheese), less sauce, different toppings, thinner crusts, etc. Some are very disappointed that it tastes nothing like the stuff they're used to.
Thanks Cynthia for your post - that is very informative. I, too, will be going to the Meditteranean on a cruise and will be visitng these same locations. I also plan to take plenty of Euros and one credit card that does not charge FX fees (Capital One). I am fortunate that I work in a bank so I am hoping to get a nice exchange rate. Thanks for letting us know about the traffic. Anyone know how the weather will be in the Meditteranean in late October?