I am in the early stages of plotting a trip to Italy for my wife and I. Looking at late next spring.
As the Tom Bihn forum is the source of all wisdom, I am looking for some input from you seasoned travelers out there for your ideas and suggestions for this trip.
Mainly interested in Rome and Tuscany but it is early enough at this point that any of my plans can be changed...
Looking forward to some of your ideas!
How about giving us more information like how long you plan to travel, what you're interested in--art, history, scenery? How will you travel in Italy--train? car? plane? Do you want to travel independently or on tour? Is this your first trip to Italy or have you been before? If before, where have you been?
Checkout LonelyPlanet.com and Onebag.com too.
You can also check out the Italy section at Rick Steves.com
Rick Steves' Europe: Travelers Helpline - To the Boot
The Italy section at Trip Advisor:
Italy Forum, Travel Discussion for Italy - TripAdvisor
For most people, their first visit to Italy encompasses the big three: Rome, Florence and Venice.
More than that, I'll need to know the answers to the questions I asked above: How long? How you plan to travel once in Italy? What are your main interests?
The most important is the airline you pick from the U.S to Italy.
Check all the travel review websites (travelocity, expedia, tripadvisor) but do not book with them, book directly from the airlines, hotels and car rentals companies (Tuskany).
In Rome, it is much better to take public transports, tour buses and walk. (bring nice and comfortable shoes)
Many travelers using travel review/discount booking websites have been booked in an already full hotel (I witnessed that last spring in DC) and I have read accounts of people being the victims of overbooking by those sites for virtually all the services they offer.
Check epinions for testimonials about airlines.
For the least hassle, I recommend packing really light, take a plane to Munich, Geneva or Lyon and a high speed train to Rome for your U.S to Europe flght.
Fly directly from Rome on the return flight.
Airlines flying the intercontinental "Leonardo da Vinci" Roma – Fiumicino Airport.
Airlines - Aeroporti di Roma
This is taken from the Rome airport but this is pretty much what you are allowed to take on your flight.
Allowed weights and dimensions of checked luggage vary according to airline company. Therefore it is recommended that travelers check directly with the airline for those details and for excess baggage rates.
Only one piece of carry-on luggage is allowed. It is recommended that travelers check directly with the airline for details regarding the weight and dimension permitted for their hand luggage.
In addition to Carry-on Luggage it is possible to carry onboard:
cameras, video cameras, CD players, personal computers (which must be removed from their cases for inspection at security checkpoints)
overcoats or raincoats
crutches or other objects to assist with walking
portable infant cradles
items purchased in the "duty free shop"
Prior to departure, check directly with the airline website for details regarding further onboard limitations.
For lost luggage in the airport, contact the handling company, which provides ground handling services for the carriers , indicated on the terminal monitors next to the number of the luggage.
The last line says it all checked bags=lost bags.
During your vacation make memories of meals, experiences and pictures.
Stuff that tourist are trapped into buying will be lost in checked luggages or during the "highly efficient handling" by the Italian and U.S post offices, the only alternative is pricey but efficient UPS.
Note that your purchase might not be "lost" to everybody and might appear on online auctions later on.
The airlines sell lots of lost things to this store. Unclaimed Baggage Center
Other forum members have recent experience with European trips, I hope they will chime in.
My post is more like a "better safe than sorry" preparation time for important trips kind of post.
Sorry, backpack, but I have to contradict some of the things you wrote.
First...why fly to Germany, France or Switzerland and take a high speed train? The train would take 9+ hours with changes. There are non-stop flights from the U.S. to Rome, Milan, Venice, Pisa and Naples. All in Italy. Flying to another country and taking a train would be more of a hassle than flying direct to the place you're beginning your trip. And a waste of a day. (BTW, Eurail sells train passes. In many cases, it's actually cheaper to buy point-to-point tickets especially within one country.)
Second, you make it sound as if Rome has specific carry-on rules. They don't. The EU sets maximum rules and each airline can either follow that or make their own, stricter rules. As an example, Alitalia, the national carrier of Italy, allows only one carry-on item, not one and a personal, and it can't weigh more than 8 kg (17.6 lbs.)
Flying "open jaw," meaning into one city and out of another can make more sense than doubling back to the arrival city and prices are usually not much different. But no need to fly into a place two countries away.
Packing light is always a good thing and it seems most people that are fans of Tom Bihn are usually "lighter" packers already. Or at least they're "wannabes."
Originally Posted by Frank II
I said I got the carry on rules from the Rome airport, I should have added website. It was a way to give Jeffmac (and myself) an idea of what can be carried onboard in Europe.
I love the fact that you and the other posters are bringing the perspective of more recent travels to Europe, the more info Jeffmac gets, the better he can organize his trip.
What can I say about the train suggestion? I love train travel! :)
Originally Posted by Frank II
I gotta agree with backpack and strongly disagree with Frank II on this - to call traveling via train a "waste" - appalling! It's not about the destination, after all, but the journey! :D
Originally Posted by backpack
Originally Posted by Just
I am a big proponent of train travel in Europe. Regional train travel. I love it. But, if I'm visiting Italy, I want to spend as much time as possible on Italian trains and in Italy. Not on trains getting to Italy. I agree the journey is as important as the destination. Jeffmac said he wanted to visit Italy. Adding 9-12 hours to their travel just getting to their first destination takes away from Italy. My suggestion to people is to use trains but in a regional way. Getting off a plane in another country just to spend a half a day more traveling by train to their first destination is a waste of time. Not train travel in general.
With your reasoning, why go so close as to Lyon, Geneva or Munich. Why not fly to London and train from there. Look at train travel time suggested by backpack:
Munich to Rome: 9 hours, 19 minutes with 1 change.
Lyon to Rome: 11 hours, 11 minutes with 2 changes
Geneva to Rome: 8 hours 3 minutes with 1 change
So after flying a good 9-11 hours or longer, you then suggest an 8 hour plus train trip. Guess what....they'll probably fall asleep on the train between exhaustion and jet lag.
Now, had the OP said they wanted to visit numerous countries, then by all means, trains between countries would make sense.
But, everyone travels their own way......
I can't wait to see pictures! Are you going to try to make it to Venice? :)
Originally Posted by jeffmac
My husband and I spent a week in Rome doing a Rick Steves 7-day city tour. I'm so happy we did his tour because it was so efficient and we got to experience so much. We are particularly big fans of his city tours because they are essentially a week of walking the city. Unlike most tours where you're shuttled here and there on tour buses, his city tours have you staying in a pension or small motel for a week in the heart of the city, and you walk miles and miles every day. On his city tours, if you need to go somewhere that's too far to walk, you catch the city bus or the local train/subway; by the end of the week you're completely comfortable navigating the city all by yourself, too.
Originally Posted by jeffmac
I can't speak highly enough of his city tours; one huge advantage was we never had to waste time standing in line to enter anyplace. They take care of all the admission for you, and you get to go through the group entrances (for example, the line was probably an hour long to get into the Vatican museum but we walked right past the queue and walked right in and saved a ton of time).
His tours are pricey; if you want to just do things on your own, I would definitely recommend his Rome travel guide, as well as making sure to download his Rome and Italy podcasts (and I believe he has a Rome walking tour you can download for free). His Rome book has some fantastic walking tours and you could easily fill a week of activities just doing the walking tours from his book alone.
I'm with others; pack light! I'd actually go with one of Tom Bihn's travel bags (Aeronaut, Tri-Star, or Western Flyer) and eschew rolling uprights. You'll be so much more mobile and have an easy time getting around (for example, you can easily take the train from the airport to the city).
Wear clothes you can wash in your hotel room and hang overnight. It lets you pack much fewer items in your bag. For laundry soap, I would suggest bringing a small Ziploc baggie filled with Charley's Soap; the best laundry soap in the world, and concentrated so you only need to take a few spoonfuls.
Haven't been to Tuscany so I can't help you there.
Thanks for all the input so far! I obviously deleted a paragraph from my original post that had relevant info in it!
We will likely be there for 6 days and than I will fly from there to Frankfurt for business. We are interested in art, history and architecture (particularly church related for both) and food and wine. Of course, can you mess up the food and wine part in Italy?
While in italy I am totally comfortable with public transport and walking if it works anywhere nearly as well as Germany and England. I am willing to rent a car but would prefer not to drive inside of Rome if possible.
I would like to avoid a full structured tour as I find that the pace that they try to keep you on makes lingering over the really lovely stuff difficult. I would be more than willing to contract a tour for a limited time period for something that makes good sense like the Vatican or a "high points of Rome" type approach.
Light packing is no problem for me but I am in the process of converting my wife, so that may be a bit more work...this is also part of the plan.
My gut tells me that that time period only gets me Rome and one other location, but maybe even that is optimistic and I should stick to only Rome?
I guess that's kind of like asking if you only have two hours for a mid-day meal, and should you just spend the whole time at the buffet at the Bellagio. lol
Originally Posted by jeffmac
Honestly, especially given your interests, you could easily spend all 6 days in Rome and go nowhere else. I do agree that a tour can make it hard to linger, although to be quite honest, the Vatican museum was such a treat and EVERYTHING in there is just fantastic that after a while, we got into sensory overload mode.
If you are willing to hire a tour guide, there was a woman who was a local expert who led us on a tour of the forum. Having someone walk us through Rome's history as we walked through the forum gave us so much more than we would've ever gotten out of the area on our own (there's no real signage and if you don't understand all the history you're walking through, the area just looks like old rocks and stuff). I can find her name for you (and I'm sure you can contact her via Rick Steves' travel office). Actually, if you are considering hiring a guide for some places, I'd recommend one for the forum, Coliseum, the Vatican museums, and the Borghese gallery. If you can afford a private guide, you might be able to linger all you want. Keep in mind that many of the areas in the Vatican museum are very crowded, and if you stop and linger too long, you'll be like a rock in the river swarming with salmon. Actually this place (20 tips on Visiting the Vatican Museums | Ron in Rome!) has some good practical tips for the Vatican. They do tell you to check in big bags... I suspect the Co-Pilot would be a fantastic museum-visiting bag, wouldn't you say? ;-)
The one thing you definitely want to do is obtain tickets in advance for a number of places. Based on your interests, I strongly recommend a visit to the Borghese Gallery--SO IMPRESSIVE! The catch is that you cannot walk up and buy tickets; you must make reservations in advance. Fortunately, you can do so online now so I don't think you have to phone them in Italy.
Wow, I am getting all nostalgic. We had such a fantastic trip. Our hope is to go back in a few years with my husband and in-laws, since they are very interested in seeing the works of Michaelangelo (and specifically, the Pieta).
I'll agree with much of what Lani said.
You have two options....spend the entire time in Rome & its surrounding areas, or split the time between Rome and say Florence since you mentioned you wanted to visit Tuscany. (It's a little over and hour and a half by train.)
You do not need to rent a car. Even if you decide to leave Rome, take the train. It's easier and faster.
I would suggest finding a tour of the Vatican. It can get very crowded and the lines long. With a tour, you bypass the lines and once the tour is over you can stay as long as you like.
Ron in Rome's website, as Lani pointed out, is terrific. Ron is a great guy and used to work as a guide in Rome. Unfortunately, he's relocated to Copenhagen.
One suggestion for the first day or two, and some people will scream when i suggest this, is the hop-on, hop-off bus. This bus goes past all the main sites and offers commentary. You can get off and on as often as you please. I suggest people make one complete loop and then get off and on as you please.
One other thing....Rome is known to have a serious pickpocketing problem. Be vigilant and wear a moneybelt. For a primer on moneybelts, go to:
Money*belts - OBOW Blog - One-bag, carry-on, light travel tips, techniques, and gear
On our trip to Italy a couple of years ago, we did a day trip down to Ostia Antica; this is the ancient port city for Rome. It was a short, approximately 1 hour train ride followed by a 15 minute walk to the site. Excellent, active archeological site with many ancient structures in much better shape than many in Rome. It's very easy to self-guide once you're there.
We also spent a couple of days up in Cinque Terre; if you have time, this area was spectacular.