Please sign in to post.

Italy Report of a novice, solo, senior, female traveler.

Hello everyone. Many of you have helped me with answers to many of my Solo Italy Vacation, so I thought I would give back. OMG I am so thrilled with my trip.
I thought I would just share some thoughts and observations of a novice traveler and maybe help others.
Security: First let me say, I have the upmost respect for TSA officers and the very difficult, hard job they have. But here is my experience this time around: I have an ileostomy which causes the alarm to go off and usually just have me swipe my hand across my clothes and hand swab for explosives. Not at JFK: I was given the full treatment of exposing the bag, in private, with a body pat down and hand swab. They had trouble finding a female replacement for the officer in line (they needed two female officers to observe), which took forever. I was very worried I would be late for my flight as I didn't know how far the gate was and I began to panic a bit. All my belongings were left on the table 10 feet away from where they told me I had to stand, not talk, and out of my line of sight, where anyone could have stolen them - all my money except what I had in a money belt - was in my purse. I mentioned it and she finally took the boxes off the table. So, it's taking longer and longer, and no one seems to be responding to the very young officer's request for help, so I loudly complained to someone who seemed to be the super, "I have an ileostomy, a bag that catches my poop !", so that heads turned. He bellowed for a female to help. They got someone fast. In Newark, on return to States, the officer scolded me, "Why didn't you come here when you knew the alarm went off?" I didn't know the alarm went off, and I was patted down and hand swabbed. No one in Europe stopped me, no one in Cincinnati and no one in Raleigh. TSA, I know you have a hard job, but really?!

Trains: From Florence to Arezzo: The station was crowded and busy, and I'm glad I got there over an hour early. The ticket machine issued a ticket with no time, no train number even though I specified a time. I looked at that ticket forever, then asked, and apparently it was good for any time, any train.

Train Tracks: there can be two different train track numbers on the same set of rails. I assumed one side of the platform was always one track number, not two (maybe more?). So track 7 and 8 were one behind the other on the same platform in Rome. A kind mother and daughter helped me.
Over the Counter Medicine: Very, very expensive in Italy. Bring a supply if you can fit it in the luggage.
Naples: Not for single women after dark - my opinion. Heed everything Rick Steve's writes about it. But there are some good prices for clothing and shoes.

Being sick: Got the flu the last day. Getting dehydrated can cause major problems for ostomates . I was flying back in 24 hours, and not wanting to heave all the way, I called the US embassy, was put in touch with the duty officer in Naples, who provided a hospital name. Used the phone translator and wrote down on a 5x8 index card my situation, brief medical history, what meds usually work for me, and got a cab to the ER. Because of the language barrier, I didn't understand when she called my number and sat there for about an hour before I checked. The clerk at the register saw me, was helpful, super friendly, and they whisked me right back. They got blood, vitals, and MD made a quick exam. They gave me IV meds and then I waited for about 2 hours for blood work to come back. Was in ER for about 4 hours altogether. I don't know if I'll get a bill, but they have my address. Although I wasn't feeling very good it was interesting to experience the Italian socialized medicine, which was over all a positive experience.

About at my Max length. Thrilling trip! Loved every minute. Met some lovely wonderful people. Strangers are very helpful. Next time Northern Italy!

Posted by
6377 posts

Yes, please. Click "Add Reply" so we can see more.

Posted by
7721 posts

Trains: From Florence to Arezzo: The station was crowded and busy, and I'm glad I got there over an hour early. The ticket machine issued a ticket with no time, no train number even though I specified a time. I looked at that ticket forever, then asked, and apparently it was good for any time, any train.

Yes, likely you purchased a ticket for a Regional train, so no specific time, just anytime during the day. Not an issue now for you, but you also should have validated that ticket before getting on the train. If not, it could have been a fine.

Train Tracks: there can be two different train track numbers on the same set of rails. I assumed one side of the platform was always one track number, not two (maybe more?). So track 7 and 8 were one behind the other on the same platform in Rome.

There are different layouts, usually though they use something like 7A, 7B, etc. for a same track. I do not recall track 7 and 8 being the same track at Termini, but 17 and 18 are. The other thing you need to watch is the rare train that has cars that wind up at different destinations.

Glad you took the plunge and had a great time.

Posted by
104 posts

Yes Paul, I got it validated! haha.

The trip from Arezzo-Rome-Naples was on the super-fast train. Just an hour to Naples from Rome. I expect we were exceeding 170 miles an hour during parts of the trip. I was impressed! It was really quite thrilling. I'm going to take trains more often in Europe.

Rick Steves warms about uneven pavement in Italy, rightly so. I face-planted when I missed seeing a small step, unmarked and in very dim crypt. Jarred myself pretty good, ached all over for two days. I was more careful after that.

Just 'happened' upon the Sunday market at Santo Spirito Piazza, Florence. That was fun. Cashmere sweaters for 25 euros, all small sizes though, but bought a beautifully fragrant small bottle of olive, avocado and vitamin E oil, handcrafted. I use it for everything, even a tiny bit to smooth down wispy hair.

The left side of the Arno, Florence, was pretty dead at this time of the year, many of the shops on the side streets, R S suggests for his 'walk' are closed up tight.

I supplemented my photos with purchased postcards. The postcards are professional photos and better than I could take, so I took full advantage.

It got very dark very early and very quickly in Italy. I don't know why except that maybe the buildings tended to block the sun. At 5pm it was well past dusk in Florence, and at 3:30 in Naples (it rained the whole time, so maybe being overcast made it worse) it was dusk. At 3:45 and beginning to get fairly dark I exited the Archeological Museum to walk back to the hotel (Hotel Bellini) and kept close to two Italian women walking ahead of me, so I felt ok. The only other time I ventured out after dark was next door to the hotel for supper and once to walk a half block to the pharmacy: The first bar/resturant, I passed, had no one on the sidewalk, the second, two young couples with babies (Italian babies are darn cute) and the third, three tables of young men enthusiastically and vocally playing cards, gambling, and smoking everything - well maybe not meth.

Posted by
521 posts

So glad you had an overall positive experience. Sorry to hear that you were sick at the end and also about the experience with TSA. I’m sure that was very stressful. Glad you are planning your return trip!

Posted by
14269 posts

Thanks so much for posting your Trip Report! What a dreadful start to your trip. I travel solo and it would have really made me nervous to know my belongings (with money/CCs/etc) were sitting unattended, plus the insensitive behavior of the folks at TSA. Yes, they have a horrible job but no excuse for yelling across the crowded room about the ileostomy. Yikes.

I'm glad you got back safe and sound!

In any event it sounds like you still had a wonderful time! Kudos to you for your solo travel!

Posted by
3341 posts

It's hard to believe that TSA agents are allowed to treat people like that. What an awful experience.

Thanks for posting!

Posted by
7463 posts

Congratulations on your first solo Italy trip! You had a great trip despite some setbacks - wow, the JFK TSA group!

I appreciated hearing about the early darkness in the cities since my husband is always trying to convince me to travel in the winter vs. September. (I like the warmth, people outside & outdoor eating.)

Your positive attitude came through this posting, and I wish you many more wonderful experiences!

Posted by
377 posts

Thank you for sharing your experience. My husband travels with a guide dog and oftentimes he goes through quite a search because the dog’s harness sets off the alarm. On a recent trip the TSA officer let us know about a program called “TSA Cares.” You call ahead of time and a specially-trained officer accompanies you through the screening process so it is more streamlined for the disabled. The phone number and email are: (866) 289-9673 and [email protected]. My husband’s biggest concerns are that his belongings will be stolen while they are giving him the once over since he cannot keep an eye on it and also the delay. I hope this helps for your next flight. We will be trying TSA Cares for the first time soon.

Posted by
3961 posts

Thanks so much for sharing your journey. Despite some challenges that occurred, your experiences will inspire others. This said it all: "Thrilling trip! Loved every minute. Met some lovely people. Strangers are very helpful. Next time Northern Italy!"

Thanks for giving back. You made my day!

Posted by
104 posts

Hi Pam,
I yelled about the ileostomy to get them to do something, kinda gross, I know, but it got them moving.

Posted by
104 posts

JVB, thank you so much for that information. That's crazy for your husband, and the lovely dog, who no doubt, if he could speak, would have some things to say, lol! No where in my reading or research or ostomy support groups have I encountered that information. Do you think they would do it for an ostomate? I certainly will look into this! Thank you!

Posted by
14269 posts

Oh, hahaha!! That was you? Well, good thinking.....

I did not know about the TSA Cares program. Good information. I can't imagine that they wouldn't do it for an Ostomate because they KNOW you are going to set off a search with the appliance. IF you follow up on this for yourself, would you post back here? I'm sure you'll share on your Ostomate forums, groups, etc.

Posted by
44 posts

Brava to you for your first solo trip. Sounds wonderful!

We were recently at the Hotel Bellini Plaza also, for a quick 1-nt stay before a visit to Pompeii. It was great to have such a short walk to the Archeological Museum. We visited 2x that day, once in the morning and then again late afternoon to see the Pompeii exhibits that aren't open in the morning. Lovely hotel, but I agree with you about Naples. We walked to a fabulous dinner about 15 minutes from the hotel, and it was completely safe but not something I would have done on my own.

Would love to hear more about your trip!

Posted by
104 posts

Hi Jean,
Winter travel would be great if you like winter sports. Thinking of any country that gets snow. But it's a little different if you're a woman and traveling solo to go out after dark. I wouldn't hesitate for a winter vaca with a hunky husband. Florence streets were filled, and I mean filled with walkers at 7pm when I did venture out - it was like a carnival. Was careful, but felt safe in Florence, not so in Naples. Many of the restaurants in Florence had Chimeras.

Posted by
7050 posts

What was the issue in Naples after dark? Not enough foot traffic where you were, and/or too much vespa/other traffic? Low lighting/ low visibility? Why did you feel unsafe? Italian cities are pretty lively after hours, and people dine late in the evening.

Posted by
104 posts

I sent an email to TSA. It took me a long time to edit out all my complaints and just ask for info, haha. I will let you all know what I find out.

Posted by
752 posts

Wow! I’m so impressed with how you tackled every challenge and overcame every obstacle. Thank you for sharing, your report will be so helpful to other travelers. And it’s just plain inspiring!

Posted by
104 posts

Hi Agnes,
Maybe I'm just a chicken, and maybe I've been coddled, and I'm a small town girl, so I wouldn't go out alone at night in Chicago or New York either. A quick jaunt to the restaurant a couple of doors down is all I could manage to brave. That being said, on my street there was gang graffiti on the buildings, I could make out enough Italian to read that, odd men lingering around on the corners (not shopkeepers), a few people just about falling down drunk, some passed out - maybe drugs? or alcohol?(I'm a former drug and alcohol/mental health therapist). I don't think transportation is easy in Naples. I had no interest in hiking down to the Metro stop, taking a Metro down to the bay-front at night and taking it back to then hike 10 minutes in the dark to my hotel. And I was uncertain if I could get a cab to bring me back from the Bay. It was a dim street, slippery sidewalks in the rain (the whole time, it rained) with lot of hide-y places. I wouldn't have minded eating out at a restaurant close by, but none really looked very good. Maybe I'm being very unfair, but I just couldn't do Naples at night alone.

Posted by
14269 posts

Hello. My name is Pam. I'm a chicken too.

I've not been to Naples but I totally understand your reluctance!

There was an interesting discussion a few years ago about street smarts and someone pointed out that no matter how much someone might WANT to have street smarts many of us don't. I, too, live in a small town (population 800) where a traffic jam is 3 pickups and a loaded log truck. I rarely visit cities in the US. Closest city Coeur d'Alene with 45,000 people - it's big to me but not big in relation to things! No way can I really have street smarts!

Posted by
776 posts

Just a word about hospital bills and insurance. You didn't mention your health insurance, so I"ll just launch in here. We have had two hospital experiences while traveling; one in Sicily and one in Tenerife. In Sicily, it was a slip and fall in Taormina, broken ankle, face injuries. There was no ambulance but a taxi driver who did the honors. We never got a bill from the hospital, and neither did our insurance company. So, somebody ate the cost, but not us.

Totally different story in Tenerife (the Canaries are part of Spain, and therefore Europe). 5 day hospital stay. I paid cash for the ambulance, but the hospital assured me they would contact Blue Cross/Blue Shield and work out the bill. More than a year later, we got a bill from Blue Cross for nearly $7000 because we "hadn't filed a claim within one year of the event". Well, true, I didn't. We have very good overseas coverage and I assumed the hospital did what it said it would do and everything was covered. Turned out that the hospital took over a year to file for their share. When BC/BS told me to pay up, I told them it wasn't my problem, and to talk to the hospital in Tenerife. I never heard from either again. It's been about 9 months, so I'm thinking we're good. Moral here? Maybe take a copy of everything the hospital has and do your own paperwork.

Posted by
4476 posts

I plan to try to avoid Kennedy in the future. Even though I have Global Entry, they tell me I've been selected for "random search" (every time? really?) and make me take off my shoes, etc. Like you, I have no problems anywhere else.

Posted by
323 posts

hey, @erob1224
I'm so sorry that you ran into these troubles. But so brave of you to keep going and also to post your experience to help others. I hope that you are doing much better.
I spent much of my 30's travelling solo around Europe for my job and experienced lots of joy... and mishaps. My overall take away was being so grateful for those that helped me when I was feeling desperate. People are generally super kind and helpful.
I would recommend that you send your TSA experience either thru spoken word or email to TSA. Perhaps they need more education. It sucks to have to go through that but you seem like a kind and reasonable person, so perhaps you can pay it forward and send them more info on how to best deal with iliostomy travellers, to deal with respect. Perhaps they will create a universal policy. Sometimes it just takes one person to change things.
It has to be challenging to travel solo with medical issues. I'm certain that others will google travelling with this very condition, so I''m sure you are helping others as we speak. Best wishes to you! I hope that you are feeling better. I recommend you post a follow up with any afterthoughts you might have in case any other travellers with this condition need some research. Just my thoughts-take them or leave them- after reading your post. Best wishes!
Thanks! We are all here for each other! xoxo Lisa

Posted by
1311 posts

Kudos to you, Erob!
It was very interesting to read your report and to see your positive attitude in spite of some real negatives.
I hope that you will continue to travel and share your reports with us again.

Posted by
15 posts

I am SO Proud of you!!!!!! I have health problems too and have been debating whether or not to go to Croatia on my own this next May. Everyone keeps telling me to take a tour. But I don’t want to go where people tell me to go when they want me to go there. I want to go with a friend, partner and as a last resort by myself. Your post totally inspired me. Because of your post I am now going to go to Croatia next May for three Weeks by myself! My husband can stay home by himself! And I will drag all my medical equipment along with me!

Thank you for inspiring me to Go!!!!!

Sincerely,
Tricia

Posted by
16110 posts

Kudos to you for taking some bumps in the road in stride and not letting them spoil your adventure! Also for handling your health crisis brilliantly, and for taking this trip on, solo, AT ALL given your ileostomy and, well, it's not like you're a twenty-something, right? Very, very impressive. Wow.

I remembered you from one of your previous threads so was delighted to hear that, all-in-all, you were "thrilled" with your time in Italy, and pleased that they took gentle care of you at the hospital in Naples. :O)

Posted by
3246 posts

Great to hear that you made it through and enjoyed it!
I would have bared all at the airport if they had made me wait and be separated from my stuff; never mind just "announcing:" your condition in a loud voice!
Good for you for being assertive.

Posted by
7050 posts

Can you describe what you saw and liked in each of the three cities you visited? The one I'm unfamiliar with is Arezzo.

As far as seeing graffiti in Naples, it's literally everywhere (Spacca Napoli is a good example of a long drag where you'll find it all over the place, including on churches too). It doesn't have the same gang connotation as in the US, and I realize a lot of unsuspecting people are alarmed by it (and the chaos and garbage of a dense and poor city, etc.). "Graffitti" was once on cave walls but now you're just seeing the modern reincarnation - it's as Italian as gelato. You may not see it in the more sanitized touristy areas of northern Italian cities or in nice resorts, but it is common. I imagine it would cost a lot to repaint all the building covered in graffiti and they are in bad shape to begin with (crumbling, etc).

Posted by
681 posts

So glad that it was an overall positive experience with your can do attitude!