Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Catching the Train

As we wrote in an earlier post, we recommend you rent a car in Italy, and depending on what your plans are for your stay, think about sharing the cost with other wedding guests. However, if you don't want to rent a car, or just don't want to drive in Italy, here are some basic details about getting from some major Italian cities to Bucine (near the Lupinari estate). For further information and other routes visit, Italiarail.com.

From Rome Stazione Termini:

- train to Arezzo (direct) takes a 1 hr 22 mins on the fast train
- train to Florence (direct) takes 1 hr 36 mins on the fast train or 2 hrs 30 mins on the slower one.
- Train to Pisa central (1 change) takes 3 hrs on the fast train but goes via Florence so it’s kind of pointless.

From Milan:

- train to Florence (direct) takes 2hrs 45mins on the fast train – one train leaves every hour
- train to Arezzo (direct) takes 4hrs on the regular train – roughly one train every hour

From Bologna:

- train to Florence (direct) takes 1 hour on the fast train – two trains leave every hour
- train to Arezzo (direct) takes 1 hr 45 mins on the regular train – roughly one train every hour

From Florence:

- train to Bucine (direct) takes 1 hour on the local train
- train to Montevarchi (direct) takes 36 mins on the local train

From Arezzo:

- train to Bucine (direct) takes 20 mins on the local train – trains go every two hours
- train to Montevarchi (direct) takes 25 mins on the local train – there are roughly two trains an hour.

All rail info from Italiarail.

Check other earlier posts about the region and transportation from the US and UK.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Car Rental

At the moment, we've only checked out car rental from Florence but there are other locations to rent from if you're not flying into Florence. Check the Region section of this site for basic geographic location details and the US Transportation and UK Transportation sections for airport details which will help you figure out where will work best for you.

See the Car Safety section below.

2 locations + airport

4 locations + airport

1 location (airport)

1 location (airport)

2 locations +airport

4 locations + airport

1 location (airport)

Travel Smarts

Again, you may want to file this under common-sense, but we think it is worth saying all the same.

You may have read that petty thievery and bag-snatching are common in Italian cities. We have not experienced this and would stress that, in general, European cities have much less crime of all kinds than their US counterparts, especially violent crime, but we encourage guests to be cautious with their possessions.

As you would be when visiting any American city, don't put your wallet in your back pocket, keep your pockets zipped or buttoned-own when possible, and make sure your bag or purse are closed. Italian women typically wear their handbags over their shoulders instead of in their hands, making them harder to snatch. The easiest thing is to put your valuables in the hotel safe and then you don't have to worry about them.

Please note that wearing a fanny pack / bum-bag not only makes you look like a tourist and will attract unnecessary attention to the place you’re keeping your valuables, but they look stupid too. You wouldn't wear one in New York City, so we encourage you not to make yourself a target for thieves or the fashion police, and don't wear one in Italy.

Car Safety
Theft of, and from, cars is reasonably common in Italy. For many years, cars have been stolen to order, particularly rental cars, and then driven aboard ferries to the former Yugoslavia and Albania for re-sale. So make sure you always lock your car and take any valuables with you, because having to go all the way to Albania to buy your car back would be a drag.

The Wrong Side of the Tracks?
It's also worth noting that if, while wandering the streets of an Italian city, you find yourself in a neighborhood full of scruffy, old buildings covered in graffiti, don't panic, you might not necessarily have entered a "bad" area. Unlike US and UK cities where these kinds of things might indicate the area is run-down, it is slightly different in Italy.

As you probably know, graffiti is originally an Italian word used to describe the tags and other musings that cheeky rapscallions have been decorating buildings with in Italy for thousands of years. So, as you'll see, it is commonplace and just part of the charm of the place. Indeed, the age and style of architecture of the buildings is one of the principle reasons you're visiting.

That's not to say there aren't areas of Italian cities you might want to avoid, but that the age of the buildings and the amount of graffiti are not always the best indicators of salubriousness. In fact, the oldest areas of Rome and Florence are those in the center, and are also the safest and easiest to negotiate due to the huge amounts of foot traffic and activity at all hours of the day. The newer, quieter, and often uglier, concrete high rises of the suburbs are more likely to be places you want to miss.

Cell Phones (for US-based guests)

Try and look away, just try...

It’s important to note that it's unlikely your US cellphone will work in Italy, as the network systems are completely different to those in America. We recommend checking with your cellphone provider several months before you depart for Italy to see if your cellphone can be "unlocked" to work on the European GSM system.

Depending on the age of your handset and the carrier you use (T-Mobile and Cingular are most likely to be able to be unlocked) this may be possible for a small fee, and allow you to use your phone in Italy, and probably in the rest of Europe too.

For further information about the European cellular system and unlocking your phone, click here. For information about purchasing Italian TIM cards (chip that allows your phone to be used - check link above for an image) for your unlocked phone or renting a phone in Italy, click here or here. TIM cards are available for sale on Ebay but we suggest you read up on them and restrictions on their use before buying anything.

Please bear in mind that international phone cards are sold in Italy ― tabbachi, or tobacconists, and newsstand kiosks are the best places to buy these ― and of course, there are phones in every room at Lupinari, so ask about how to dial internationally and the likely cost of calls when you check-in.

(Hoff pic is random we admit, but it makes this rather dry post a tad more interesting.)

Things to Bring Checklist

Imagine our surprise when we got to the hotel...

We realise that packing most of the items below is commonsense, but we thought it might be useful all the same.

- Converter
- ATM Card (easiest way to get money – travelers checks really are not used anymore call your bank to make sure you’ll be able to use your debit/ATM card abroad – ask about any fees)
- Alarm clock (there are no clocks in any apartments)
- iPod + travel speakers (No stereos in apartments)
- extra towels for by pool (bathroom towels are provided, but you might want a bigger one)
- Swimsuit
- Sunblock
- Sun Glasses
- Michelin (or other) road map of Italy and/or Tuscany (available in US at Barnes& Noble / Borders) (For a better selection of maps and guidebooks than maybe anywhere else in the world, visit Stanfords of London)
- Up to date passport
- Drivers’ license
- Italian phrasebook
- Italy/Tuscany Guide Book (we recommend the “Rough Guide” series)
- Phone card / international calling card (see cellphone)
- Hairdryer
- Immodium
- Pain killers
- Camera/Extra Memory Card
- Batteries