Italy

Italy
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Sunday, February 28, 2010

CONTEST!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kh4cNtykfUI

What advice would you give someone who is traveling to Italy?

My mom and I are going to Italy in two years after my first year in college. What advice would you give us as far as when we should go and what we should see? Also, what should we take with us, and what's the best way to travel around once we get there? What did you enjoy/dislike the most about your trip?


ANSWER: Since you still have 2 years to plan, think about what kind of experience you want. By that, I mean do you want to spend your time on organized tours or have more of a spur of the moment adventure?

I'm assuming that you'll be going in the summer, so here's how/what I'd recommend packing: Travel light with a carry-on only (one with wheels and a handle); skip the jeans and shorts - opt for wrinkle-free dresses, one pair of capris and 5 tops in the same color scheme; a swimsuit; flip-flops; one pair of heals for the evening; a pair of stylish but broken in walking shoes; your own feminine hygiene products if you think you'll need them (the stuff over there is not the same); 2 washcloths (almost no hotel has them in Italy); small shampoo & conditioner and pump hairspray (by 2012 you may be able to take up to 3 0z bottles in your carry on, check the airline website for the latest rules. PRODUCT NOTES are based on my inability to find them there). Most hotels have blow-dryers, so don't bother packing yours. If you do, it'll likely blow up the first time you use it unless you take a power CONVERTOR. I say skip the convertor and pick up a couple of little adapters at your local travel shop - for your cell phone charger or whatever other electrical devices you take along. Oh - cell phones - every travel guru is going to say get your phone unlocked before you go then buy a sim card for Italy. Don't waste the money on that or phone cards. Just call your cell phone company and add international calling to your account for the month (with AT&T it's $4) then only use your phone for emergencies. If there are things that you and your mom can share, split them up and only take one between you.

Travel: Every city has hop-on hop-off tour buses. Tickets are usually about 20-30 Euros each, but they're good for 24-48 hours. They'll give you a good lay of the land and you can use your pass to get around as long as you choose one with frequent WELL-MARKED stops. I love the trains in Italy, but you'll need some detailed advice about how to use them the first time (travel guides didn't really prepare me for this).

What to see? Rome, the Cinque Terre, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast are some of my favorites.

Map tip: Every hotel has city maps with the local attractions highlighted. They're free, so pick one up when you get there.

Feel free to email me anytime. I'd gladly help you and your mom with any other questions you might have about safety, travel, whatever...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Questions from National Geographic Traveler

I am very interested in your experiences with the Italian Rivera trains. I am thinking about the train from Marseille to Pisa, but if you have a suggestion for a better route, please provide it. Why Marseille to Pisa? Just a question. I spend most of my time in Southern Italy which is rarely written about or traveled to by Americans. I'm not talking about Naples or Sicily, but the stretch of land in between - South of Amalfi: Praia a Mare, Scalea, Diamante, Paola, Vibo Valentia, Reggio di Calabria. The food and life there is an absolute contrast to the north. It is a seafood lover's paradise. The beaches are pristine and rarely crowded. One time I  spent the night at a hotel in Cirella when I was the only guest. While I love Northern Italy, the southern part offers sights that are rarely seen by the average American traveler. (NOTE: The Mafia presence there is over-hyped.)



1. What is the highlight of the trip? I'd read about the Cinque Terre before my trip, but none of the articles adequately prepared me for the hike north from Vernazza to Monterosso. By the time I was heading down those nearly vertical stairs into Monterosso, I was thankful that I hadn't started at the north end. The most amazing part of that hike was the thriving agriculture. I mean - people actually live there and pack all of there products up those cliffs. When my sister and I hiked the southern leg from Vernazza to Romaggiore the following day, we finally saw how the locals accomplish this feat. And I've never seen a photograph or an article about it before. We were hiking down the trail when we came across a single metal track (like something an old slot car would run on) running up from the beach to the top of the cliffs. At the side of the trail, an old elementary school chair lay bolted to the track with its legs removed. A grimy lawn mower engine with a pull-rope start was attached to the rear of the chair back. That's what they use to get their olives, lemons, and other products out of there! Talk about a hazardous job. You have to go there just to see that. 


I don't know if that was really "the highlight," but it was pretty amazing. That and the spinning toilet seat up at the bathroom at "Bar il Castello" above Vernazza (beware: I think I stopped counting the stairs up to that bar at around #600). Or maybe it was the festival on the piazza that night. Or dancing in the bar...

TRAIN: From either direction on the main train route, you can take ES/Eurostar, IC/Intercity, D/Direct, or R/Regional. Get off at Levanto or La Spezia to catch the inter-village Cinque Terre train that runs through all 5 villages.
2. What is the most spectacular sight along the trip? That glistening blue Mediterranean.

3. What is the most important thing for someone considering the trip to know? I doubt that I am the only American that's ever been naive to the ways of European train riding, so I'll just say this: TAKE YOUR TIME. Buy a Eurail (flex) pass in advance so that you can jump off and on any train whenever you want. They're good for 24 hours of train riding per day. If you have questions about the 24 hour time period, ask the on-board train attendant. ALWAYS, ALWAYS date your ticket. When in doubt, ask the train attendant for help right away - BEFORE he fines you (if you wait until later, he will fine you for any mistakes you might have made).

4. What is an insider tip you can give someone to get the most out of the experience? Depending on the time of year, you might feel rushed to get on your train, find your seat, and stay put. If you bought a Eurail Pass, you can go to the ticket booth and reserve a seat ahead of time. This means that your car and seat number will be pre-printed on your boarding card. Once you find your seat, check your windows - if they're so dirty that you can't see out of them, ask the Capo (train attendant) if you have time to clean them (on the outside). That might sound odd, but I really regretted not doing that, then went down to the bathroom, grabbed some paper towels, and did it on the first 5 minute stop.

Get off of the train whenever you feel the urge. 
5. What, if anything, about the trip should the traveler know that might be a problem? Getting fined - it happened to me - 50 Euros for not writing the date on my pass when I entered the train. If you ask the train attendant for help up front, he'll help you with anything, even upgrading to a better seat on the spot if you want.

Getting stuck on the tracks/delays - be prepared - one time we had to wait 3 hours for another train to come push us up the tracks.

6. What makes the train so special? You can see the countryside in a way that isn't possible from a car or by air. The other advantages are the ability to get up and walk around, socialize, or get off at any stop you might feel inclined to.

7. Is there a particular route (point to point) or direction (from where to where) that a traveler should take to have the best experience? I don't think it really matters which direction you travel, just get a seaside seat. That may sound easy, but keep in mind that your train might make a stop at a station where it goes head in, then backs out - leaving you on the land side of the train. That's not to say that the view of the land is bad by any means, I just love that view of the Mediterranean Sea!

8. What are the stops along the way a traveler should plan to spend some time at? Monaco is a bit like Vegas on steroids, but I still think it's worth a stop - if for nothing more than to check out the ENORMOUS yachts in the harbor and all of the Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentlys, and Maseratis parked in front of the casinos.

San Remo - if you're into horticulture, I'd recommend stopping here. My (Italian) boyfriend brokers flowers, so we've made several buying trips to San Remo and the hillsides covered with greenhouses and endless flowers of every variety never cease to amaze me. We've visited warehouses bigger than 10 Costcos there - each full to the rafters with flowers. TRAIN: on the main route from Marseille.

The Cinque Terre - see above. 

Pisa was cool only because I wanted to see the tower, but it was a bit anti-climactic after the awesome vistas in the Cinque Terre. TRAIN: Catch the village train out of Cinque Terre to La Spezia then transfer to the IC, D, or R train to Pisa.
 
9. Are there any special rules or restrictions on the train? If so, what are they? When in doubt, ask the train attendant. He'll be hanging out by the steps when you enter the train.

10. Is this a good train for children? Wh or why not? Trains are better for kids no matter how you slice it. They can get up and stretch, go to the bathroom, etc. As long as they mind their manners, everyone will be courteous and enjoy your kids as much as you do.

11. What is something that I have not asked about or that is not on the websites that a traveler should know about the train? Food and beverage: not all trains have a food car, so consider that. It's pretty common to see vendors coming through the trains at longer stops with sandwiches, beer, and water, but you can bring your own. When we were stuck on the tracks for 3 hours, it was pretty cool that we had a bottle of wine, glasses, and some munchies to tide us over.

Another thing: I didn't understand what a "bin" was in Italy. Those travel guides mentioned the word "binario," but didn't explain that the abbreviation for platform was "bin" in Italian. That means you need to find your "bin" on the overhead reader boards once you know your train number. In larger stations, you might not see your train number and "bin" on the board until 20 minutes before its arrival time. And that could change if another train pulls into that "bin" first. So KEEP watching the sign until you see that your train is arriving (I believe it will say "in arrivi").

If you end up at a train station on a day that the ticket booth is closed or the ticket vending machines are out of order, just find the Capo (on-board ticketing attendant) and tell him your situation. Even if he doesn't speak English, he'll understand if you explain that you couldn't buy a ticket and he'll sell you one on the spot. Say "no ticket at the station" and he'll get that. Of course, speaking the local language helps, but THEY WILL HELP YOU IF YOU ASK. This applies to all trains, including the city metros.

Side note to the last tip: If you are at a station with no electronic means for checking your train schedule - the booth is closed, the machines are down, worst case scenario - you'll find paper schedules posted inside the station. Any route that lists both your ORIGIN and your DESTINATION within the route will get you where you need to go. The route number functions like a flight number at the airport. When that train stops at the station, CONFIRM with the agent that you can get to your destination on that train - he'll either sell you the ticket or tell you which train to wait for. 

Speaking of ticket vending machines - those are pretty handy in the major stations. They work like ATM's. On the touch screen you'll see flags representing country languages. Press the British flag for English and you can find out anything you want to know about any train. And you can pay by credit card for any ticket there without waiting in a line.

Can same train tkt be used from Venice to Rome with stopover at Pisa?

I will be leaving early from Venice. Can i use single ticket to go to Rome with stopover at Pisa or do i need to take two separate tickets from Venice to Pisa and Pisa to Rome. Please suggest alternate options as well. Thanks.


ANSWER:
Go to the Eurail site at http://www.eurail.com/eurail-italy-pass?… where you can buy an Italy pass from $179 US If you'll be traveling by train for more than one day. The same three-day inter-rail pass is 168 Euros on Trenitalia's sitehttp://www.trenitalia.com/cms/v/index.js…

Trenitalia's site also has a journey proposals tab where you can search for alternate routes.

The advantage to having a flexible pass is that you can jump on and off as many trains as you can cram into any 24 hour period - including regional trains. WARNING: You MUST write the date and time on your pass as soon as you start using it on each day that you begin traveling! The on-board agent will check your pass. (I know, my sister and I got fined 50 Euros each for forgetting this one day.)

So, can you do Venice to Rome with a stopover in Pisa? Yes, but the first response was correct in telling you that you'd have to transfer at Florence to catch the train out to Pisa. As I recall, it was about an hour ride. Walking to the leaning tower from the station in Pisa will take about 20 minutes. If you decide to buy your single-use ticket's at the stations, you'll need to factor in additional time for buying them. From Pisa you can continue on to Rome on a standard train with transfer(s) or catch the fast train (ES) direct. I'd recommend getting on the website and playing around with the schedules to see how all of those connections would work out in your time frame before making a decision. One other quick tip, you can act like you're buying the tickets online to get exact fare prices BEFORE you actually pay for them.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What do teens wear in italy?


hi, im going to italy this summer and im going to be 16 when i go, and i was wondering what i should wear because i dont want to look like a tourist or anything. lol. so my dad told me they wear a lot of skirts and dresses? so any help?

Best Answer - Chosen by Asker

Since you're going this summer, I'd recommend skipping the jeans or anything heavy. (My 15 year old niece went with me last year and NEVER wore the jeans she hauled along.) Summer dresses are great - pack some shorter ones for the day and long ones for evening. Capri pants are good, but most of the time too hot for the day. Shoes - take your flip flops, but bring a pair of heals too (stuff those in your purse for a swap out right before you enter a restaurant). Take a pair of walking shoes that are broken in but don't LOOK like walking shoes. Shorts are only for the beach in Italy - and you'll almost never see an Italian woman wearing them. Again, a dress is perfect over your swimsuit. Take a shawl or scarf along - it functions as a fashion statement and keeps the chill off of your shoulders in the evenings.

Other tips: bring bandaids - if you run out, you'll need to visit a "farmacia" (look for the green cross anywhere); American blow-dryers have a tendency to get fried on Italian electrical and every hotel seems to have them, so skip that or bring a power convertor (not an adapter); take your own washcloths because nobody uses them there; pack your own feminine hygiene stuff if there's a chance you'll need it; bring a big purse, but keep it zipped and firmly under your arm.

Feel free to email me if you want any more info.

HAVE FUN!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Why do I still cry when I read the beginning?

I wonder if I'll ever get over my mom's death. She was such an amazing woman. Maybe this is the best tribute that I could have ever give to her. Or maybe it's the 4th book - a story about her life with 3 babies in Africa?

Landslides in Southern Italy

Although the latest slide didn't affect Angelo or anyone we know, it happened in a town just up the hill from Roberto's Restaurant in Vibo Valentia. The rains have really socked Southern Italy this year. http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1825948/experts_warn_italians_of_possible_new_landslide_threats/index.html

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Driving Sara and Camille to Scalea

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8_awivwkuI

Book updates

Even though I remind myself daily that publishing a book often takes anywhere from 18 months to 5 years, that doesn't stop the impatience I feel at my own progress. When will those books arrive? This week? Maybe. I'm hounding Amazon even in my sleep.

So, I keep writing. I'm now working on the 2nd book. Will it be "A Chick's Guide to Italy: Crazy Stuff that a Male Travel Writer Could Never Tell You," or "Woman Driver: An American Careens Through the Winding Roads of Italian Life"? I suppose that will all become clear as I work through the writing process.

I've posted some new videos to my youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/MICHELLEMERRITT so I hope you laugh at the latest. Watch out though - I sometimes swear like a truck driver when I'm negotiating those roads in Italy.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Wading through the LONG list of potential ACTRESSES/ACTORS

Every day, film rumblings get louder and louder. While I've been thinking about the whole casting thing (and I know that won't be my job), I ponder...who would I choose to play my character in the film? Then there's my sister - who would play her?

I was on the phone with Angelo this morning and we were laughing about the whole prospect of other people playing us on film, so I asked him (in Italian), "Who should play you?" He didn't even hesitate before he blurted out, "George Clooney!" That cracked me up - I should have known that he'd say that. But I was thinking that George needs to have a cameo role as the first guy who hit on me in the bar before my sister arrived in Rome. Angelo's character HAS to be an Italian, so I'll run up a list of potential actors once I finish digging through all of these actress profiles.

Send me your suggestions if you have any!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Verbicaro, Italy

What's happing in Italy today?

Well, as most of you know, I talk to Angelo every day. The weather is cold and rainy in Scalea, like it's been most of this winter. When I say rainy, I'm not referring to the kind of persistent drizzle that we experience here in the Pacific Northwest. I'm talking about Forest Gump rain - the kind that comes up from the ground until you're wading in it. Regardless, I wish I was there with him.

I'm still wondering how this whole blogosphere actually works....does anyone actually read this stuff? If you happen to stumble across this in your web-wandering, please send me a question or a sign that let's me know someone is out there listening.

Michelle

Sunday, February 14, 2010

How do you learn to eat in a refined way? please help this clueless american trash


Answers (1)

  • Wooshta...that's a tough one. Let's start with the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right. Not many people will notice if you pick up the wrong fork for whatever course you're eating. European rules mean that you should hold the fork "tines down" - think about a shovel held the opposite way you would use it to dig a hole. The knife in your right hand becomes the tool that you use to push everything onto the tines of the fork in you left hand.

    Practice, practice, practice. Eat a salad with your fork in your left hand and the tines facing down. Use the knife to push the lettuce onto the tines. Now do that again and again. Do it with fish. Practice cutting a steak with your knife in your right hand while the tines of your fork hold the meat down in your left. Pick things up between you knife and your fork the same way you would with chopsticks, but use both hands instead of one...

    You get the idea.

How do I reserve an overnight train in Italy online?

This March I am going to Italy. I will take a train from Rome to Venice, and I'd like to take an overnight train--but all the places I can find are high-speed trains, or trains that don't show how long they take to get there. Any help?

Your Answer:

Rome to Venice by train is only about 4-5 hours on a BAD day. That's why you can't find an overnight train. Have you visited the Eurail site or Trenitalia? Granted, they are a bit confusing, but not to worry. You can pick up your ticket when you arrive in Rome. Are you taking the commuter train from Fiumicino Airport to Roma Terme? If so, that's about a 30 minute ride and it'll cost about 11 Euros - buy the ticket at the airport train station. Once you arrive at Roma Terme, you can buy your ticket to Venezia. If you'd like more detailed information, I'd be happy to share with you - just email m@michellemerritt.com

Hotel Ducale - Diamante

My dark sense of humor compelled me to produce this little clip...

What to wear in Italy??

Im going on a school trip to Italy in march...its going to be really cold and we will be doing a lot of walking I have no idea what to wear!!! PLEASE HELP!!!

Best Answer - Chosen by Asker

What part of Italy will you be traveling to? No matter where you go, you'll be doing a lot of walking, so wear a pair of shoes that are already broken in. Keep in mind that you'll be in Italy, so footwear is also a fashion statement. I'm assuming since you said "school trip" that you're in high school, so that would also impact my advice about what to wear. This winter most of the Italian students were still wearing slim jeans, metallic silver shoes (I'd call them a tennis shoe, but I doubt that's the right name), and waist-length parka jackets trimmed with fur (fake or real is irrelevant). Scarves around the neck aren't just a fashion statement, they're also a great layer that you can easily discard when the sun come out. For girls, I noticed a lot more leggings and long tops this year (that means you'd need a top-of-the-thigh pea coat too. I go to Italy all of the time, so feel free to email if you'd like photos or more information.
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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Question: Is Bagnoli near Naples a safe place to walk around. Is there a good restaurant there.?

Also, what is the best way to get there from Rome. Somebody told me the only way is to get the train to Naples and then take the cumana to Bagnoli.


ANSWER: Naples is a bit of a rough town, but you can certainly walk around there. Just watch out for pick pockets - especially at the train station and in crowds. I've done this trip alone (and I'm a woman who didn't speak Italian at the time), so you should be just fine. When you land in Rome, look for the "Treni" signs once you exit customs. I believe it's on the third floor. The train to Roma Termini Centrale should cost about 11 Euros and take about 30 minutes to downtown. You can buy your Eurail pass in advance online or at any of the ticket booths in the central station (after you exit the commuter train from the airport, you'll need to go upstairs to the main platform). Don't let those ticket machines intimidate you - on the touch screen, push the British flag and all directions will come up in English. Tons of trains go directly to Napoli. Once you get your ticket, it should list the train number (treno), time, car number (carrozza/vagone) and seat (posto) on it (you can opt for coach, first class, high speed, etc). Now head for the platform and look for the overhead reader boards. There are 20 platforms (abbreviated BIN on the sign) in Rome and you won't know your BIN until about 20 minutes before your train arrives. Car numbers will be listed inside the glass doors to the train, but if you get on the wrong one, you can always walk through the train to the correct one. The onboard Capo (ticketing agent) will check your ticket and help you find your seat if needed. 

Once you arrive in Napoli, you can catch the metro train over to Bagnoli for about 1.50 Euros. Look for the big red "M." Check out this google maphttp://maps.google.com/maps?tab=ml because everywhere you see that red "M" is a metro stop.

Restaurants - I've eaten at a few there, but can't remember the names. Don't worry, it's hard to go wrong at any of them. HAPPY TRAVELS!

Friday, February 12, 2010

My first interview transcript!


Where do you currently live: Tacoma, WA
How old were you when you took your first trip solo? That depends on how you define first trip. I suppose I didn't really start stepping out on that limb until I took off for Italy alone in July 2008 where I wandered aimlessly around Rome for 3 days - I was 43 at the time.
Why was it that you decided to travel alone? Well - my sons were grown, my parents had just died, my job expired, I didn't have a significant other, and my sister suggested a trip to Europe. After that I was hooked and I always seem to have my suitcase half packed.
Where and when have you traveled solo? Rome: almost too many times to mention since 2008. Fiji: October, 2008. Road trip to AZ through the Redwoods: January, 2009 (I delivered my oldest son's car to him at his new military base in Tucson). Road trip to AZ, TX, NV then home to WA via the Grand Canyon, Laughlin, NV, and the Mojave desert. London: May, 2009. (Italy, Italy, and Italy in between.) Verona, Italy: November 2009 - on this trip, I rented a car in Milan and drove over to Verona where I met Angelo for the biggest annual horse show in all of Europe.

In June, 2009, I rented a house on the beach in Lido Sangineto, Italy and invited about 15 friends and family to stop in for a visit. One of my girlfriends got her passport just so she could come. It was her first time traveling out of the country alone. Another of my girlfriends didn't follow my directions and ended up at a train station where nobody spoke English. (Lots of funny stuff happened, but I don't know how much of that material you could use.)

Next up? I'm thinking about Egypt and Morocco. Oh, and Costa Rica.
Of these places, which was cheapest? (Examples of how much accommodations and a meal were -- would be fabulous!) As you know, cheap is always relevant to the current exchange rate of the dollar. I'd need to refer to my records to tell you exact prices, but I would say that Fiji was pretty cheap once I got away from the hotel. (I'll have to get back to you on exact figures.) Also the house in Italy wasn't bad: a 4 bedroom, 3 bath for the month was 1500 Euros which came out to about 50 Euros a night with a boat load of people pitching in for their share of the stay. With a kitchen, we were able to prepare a lot of our own meals.
Of these places, which was the most expensive? (Examples of how much accommodations and a meal were -- would be fabulous!) Accommodations in Rome during the summer can vary from 25 euros a night for a hostel to whatever you want to spend. I think the most expensive hotel I've stayed at there was about 200 Euros a night at a 4 star (Although there's one on the Piazza di Republicca that I really want to spend the night at, but it runs about 400-600 Euros a night and I think I'll save that for when Angelo and I are together in Rome.) 

I'm most familiar with food prices in Italy because of the amount of time I spend there. The least expensive meals are usually a panino (sandwich) for 3-5 Euros. The most expensive meal I've had was at a friends restaurant in Vibo Valentia - http://www.rossobarique.eu - but we had a ton of wine and the full meal deal - our tab was about 100 Euros per person.

You can always go on the cheap there by visiting the local market. Food prices are pretty comparable to the US, but you can get a decent bottle of red wine for 1.80-2.80.

If you would like actual information and pricing of the lodgings I've stayed in anywhere, I'd gladly share them.

Side note: The road trips around the US have been pretty cheap because you can usually find decent hotels near truck stops for $25-$35 and meals for under $10 (in a restaurant). 
Of these places, which do you feel was the most safe? All of them.
The most dangerous? Napoli can be a little intimidating by yourself. It's the pick-pocket capital of Italy and I tease Angelo every time we drive through there by telling him that it's a lot like some of the rougher places in Mexico.

Which was the easiest to travel in? London and Fiji.
What would you say were the top five or so most memorable experiences you had? Alone in Fiji: The river trip with that German tour group. I knew something was up when the bus driver picked me up at the hotel at 7 am and told me to get in the front seat. I ended up swimming in a waterfall alone with one tour guide and the boat driver. Then I floated a bamboo raft part of the way down the river while the rest of the group left (it was raining and they didn't want to get wet even though it was at least 75 degrees at the time).

Fiji #2: Taking a boat out to a coral island to snorkel for the day.

Alone in Rome: Driving a rental car out to the beach at Lido di Ostia and getting lost on the way back. It was my first time in Italy and I spoke all of about 12 words of Italian at the time.

The road trip through the Redwoods was amazing. I could go back there and just spend hours standing under those towering trees.
Then there's the Grand Canyon, and the Mojave. 

Is there anywhere you would not recommend to a traveler or a woman traveling alone? Obviously, I haven't been to many hazardous places yet, so we'll see about this. North Africa could be interesting.
What do you think about the comment -- "traveling alone as a woman is dangerous"? I don't really buy that. No matter where you are in the world, if you maintain a sense of awareness about your surrounding, exude confidence, and make friends along the way, people will almost always go out of their way to help you.
What scares or scared you the most about traveling solo? Hmm...ordering the wrong meal and getting lutefisk instead of grilled fish?
What precautions would you recommend another solo female traveler to take? Share your itinerary with family and friends complete with contact info. Upgrade your cell phone to the international calling plan (with AT & T it only costs about $4 a month and you can terminate it when you get home) even if you never use it. There's nothing more frustrating that not being able to make a call when you need to. I've done the other sim card/unlocked phone in Europe and always needed my American phone to check in at home. Even if you spend $10 or $20 on calls, it's well worth the peace of mind. 

If you can do it, get your currency in advance at one of those airport ATM's. In my experience, it's been easier and more cost effective than screwing around at the bank. Then I usually order a cocktail or something I have to pay for on the flight so I have small bills when I land.

I'm not into that money belt thing, but I do carry my handbag close to the front and always zip it up. In my opinion, the less you look like a tourist, the better off you are. Backpacks are fun, but they're a dead give-away. Tennis shoes might seem sensible, but shoes say a lot about who you are. I bought some really stylish Nike Air flip-flops with a Cole Haan upper at Nordstroms for $60 and they're still in service after hiking the Cinque Terre, traveling to Fiji and everywhere else I've gone in the past 1 1/2 years. Leave expensive jewelry at home. Do a little research about the place you're going and match your clothing to what's acceptable in that culture. Pack light and throw in a couple of scarves.

What would you say is the most challenging thing about traveling alone? The wow factor - not having someone to say "Wow, did you see that" to.
What is the most rewarding thing about traveling alone? Traveling alone should be viewed as an opportunity to experience new cultures and make friends outside of your usual comfort zone. I now have a ton of friends in Italy, a couple in London, and a girlfriend in Brisbaine. We can pop in and visit each other any time.
Have your experiences traveling alone changed how you look at yourself? Absolutely! I've always been pretty independent, but now the world seems like such a small place. The other thing is, I KNOW that I can adapt in almost any situation.
Have you ever been in a situation which was dangerous, scary or you felt unsafe? What did you? Haha! How about getting my sister and I out of Paolo's apartment? Granted, I wasn't alone, but it was a bit weird.

Or that train ride to Napoli when I wasn't sure if anyone would even be there to meet me?

Other than that, no.
When planning a trip what aspect of planning do you find the most difficult? Remembering to have my mail and newspaper delivery held.
Do you have a website or blog where people could learn more about you and your travels? Websites: http://www.michellemerritt.com http://www.nightinrome.com (blog is linked to the latter) http://michellesitaly.blogspot.com/ I'm also on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?ref=profile&id=599096671/ and you tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDhWoPlxjNI/ I'm on a few other social networking sites, but managing them all is a very time-consuming process. Lately, I've been contributing answers Yahoo Ask - travel - Italy.
Are you in a relationship? If so, what did your partner think of you traveling alone? I am in a relationship with my dear Angelo in Italy. Sometimes he says that I'm crazy for traveling alone, but he knows that I'm perfectly capable. Whenever he's worried, he'll say, "stai attenda," meaning he wants me to keep my eyes open or pay attention.

Any tips or tricks you have learned along the way to help other solo female travelers? Where do I start? Don't over-pack: nobody will notice if you wear the same thing two or three times in a week. Leave the blow-dryer at home. Be nice to people on over-booked flights (one time, my seat was double booked and I told the flight attendant that she could seat me anywhere - instead of putting me back by the toilet, she moved me to first class). In Italy, if you have a question about anything health related, GO TO THE PHARMACY...you can ask those people ANYTHING (I don't want to give TMI, but that's where you'll find everything from bandaids to condoms to laxatives, etc.). Oh, and one other woman-only note that nobody ever talks about: feminine hygiene products - pack your own if you have a preference because even if you find something at the market that resembles what you buy in the states, it probably won't be as effective (I've experienced this in Italy and Mexico). Many other countries don't have wash cloths, so if you use one at home, take one or two with you.
What websites, books or other resources do you use to plan your trips? I shop around for airfare, but usually find the best deals on Expedia. As I've gotten better at working my airline miles, I sometimes play the airline sites against expedia for both air and hotel bookings to maximize my accumulated miles. For inter-europe travel, I usually bag expedia for airfare and go straight towegolo.com for the cheap tickets. Eurail passes would take a whole chapter to write about.

As far as planning, I do the usual google searches in advance. I use google maps a lot so that I can get a feel for the streets beforehand. As far as books go, Rick Steves' phrasebooks are handy for getting by on any language and they aren't too bulky for carry-on. I love Eyewitness travel guides, but they're always too big and heavy to take along.

I almost forgot - I carry my iphone and I've downloaded translation apps that don't require internet connectivity.
Any other recommendations on tour operators, transportation options, hotels, food, things to do, things not to do, anything else you would like to add? If and when you make a hotel reservation, always ask the concierge if they have a free airport shuttle. If they don't, ask how much you should expect to pay for a cab or if a bus to get you to the hotel. Make friends with the bartenders wherever you go - they'll usually give you good local tips (especially if they're employed by the hotel where you're staying). I don't usually do organized tours, but I'll sometimes indulge in one of those open-top bus tours to get a quick lay of the land. Almost every city seems to have those hop-on hop-off buses where the ticket is good for 24 hours, but you need to make sure that you take one that has CLEARLY MARKED stops on their route. And if you take a red bus, remember which tour group was operating that particular red bus. Don't be afraid to dicker over the price either.

Rome Hotel Reviews - all from personal experience

I've stayed at all of these hotels in Rome within the past year:

4 Star - Sheraton Parco de Medici - http://www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=931 - This one is a favorite because the beds are pure heaven. Cost varies from $100-200 US per night. Located about half way between Fiumicino Airport and downtown Rome, the hotel offers a free regularly scheduled shuttle service into the city. Shuttle to the airport only runs once at about 8am (outbound only). Expect to pay about 40 Euros for cab fare from the airport.

3 Star - Hotel Tritone - http://www.tritonehotel.com - Downtown and central to Trevi Fountain, etc.., but there's a church next door and the bells toll EVERY HOUR. About $280 US/night.

4 Star - Alante Garden Hotel - http://www.atlantegardenhotel.com/ - About 3 blocks from Vatican square and no church bells within earshot. Easy walk to all buses. FREE airport shuttle both ways. Pd $307 US/night.

4 Star - Domina Hotel & Conference Capanele - http://www.dominahotels.com/eng/roma_hotel_domina_capannelle/
A bit off the beaten path with bus service to the train into central Rome (and it's really close to the catacombs) - pd 66 Euros/night 1/25/10

4 Star AND MY NEW FAVORITE - Hotel Bettoja Massimo D'Azeglio - http://www.bettojahotels.it/
From inside Fiumicino Airport, follow the signs for "Treni" and catch the train into town for about 11 Euros. Walk out the front door of the station and the hotel is only about 1 1/2 blocks away. Pd $152 US/night on 2/1/10

Getting the blog started

Yahoo has this new "Answer" feature on their site, so I signed up for it yesterday and started answering travel questions. One girl needed to know what kind of clothes to pack for her school trip to Italy in March.  I guessed that she was probably high school age, so I told her what all the students are wearing over there right now: slim jeans, silver tennis shoes, fur-trimmed parkas, etc. Everyone else suggested the usual like  walking shoes, sweats, and a warm coat. The girl liked my answer so much that she thanked me and said it was a big help.

That's the sort of thing I'd like to do here - help each other through sharing information about Italy.

Pass it on.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Testing the link to One Night in Rome

Just checking to see if the blog links through to http://www.nightinrome.com

Send your questions. Tomorrow, I'll post some new and fascinating tidbit about life in Italy.

Open season for all questions about Italy!

What kind of crazy things do you want to know about that I DID NOT write in One Night in Rome: And the End of Life as I Knew it?

How to open one of those mysterious bathtub drains?
Where to go when you need to restock on "cerotti" (bandaids)?
The best bars?
The best places to meet men in Italy?

Send me your questions and I'll do my best to answer them.