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Travel to Italy Tip #7 | Purchase train tickets in country

Italy’s train system can be frustrating to say the least.  Between delays, cancellations and strikes a traveler can lose their cool.  My next tip won’t necessarily save you money outright, but will help hedge your bets when using the trains for transportation on your trip.

7. When possible, purchase your train tickets once in Italy

My people try to get as much taken care of ahead of time before leaving for their vacation.  While I am an avid planner and believe that setting yourself up early is important, train tickets are where I draw the line.  Except for a few exceptions, I discourage people from buying before leaving.  Here is why:

Traveling brings about the unexpected and Italy more so than many places.  Most of the time these unplanned situations are actually positive, but occasionally they can wreak havoc on a trip.  Italian trains are more often than not late, some cancelled altogether.  Strikes are common.  You can actually find out exactly when and where most of the train strikes are as the publish them each month, but prepurchased train tickets usually need to be taken care of before that final list is public.  Insurance must (should) be added to prepurchased tickets to cover these situations.  Also, you never know when you might fall in love with a place or want to change your plans.  With prepaid tickets you lose your flexibility.

There are times I would take advantage of buying ahead.  For example, if I am ever arriving in Rome but need to take the train the next day to another major city I grab my ticket.  Some of my past clients staying in Florence have wanted to day trip to Venice and for simplicity’s sake I have made pre-arrangements.

Instead, I head straight to the train station or a local travel agency once I arrive in Italy and purchase the tickets I need.  For travel between smaller towns (example:  Orvieto)  I just arrive a few minutes before hand and get my ticket from the window or the machine.  That way if I want to linger a bit longer over a meal or am itching to get back earlier I have the flexibility.

Train travel seems overwhelming but is actually quite simple and I will be running a series on my train travel tips in the upcoming weeks.  Check back this week for more tips about car rental, taxis and public transportation.

I love feedback, so leave me comments!

copyright 2012  Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel

Travel to Italy Tip #6 | Travel second class when riding the trains

Now that we have gone through some important big money-saving topics it is time for a few nitty gritty travel tips.  Today I will be talking about train travel with the biggest money-saving rule as Tip #6.

6. Travel second class when riding trains.

Who says there isn't room in 2nd class?

More than once I have worked with clients who first went through big name travel companies to make travel arrangements and reservations.  They are almost always told to buy first class train tickets.  There is absolutely no better way to waste your money.  First class compartments are a bit roomier and have assigned seating.  That’s it.

The major train connections between big cities have assigned seats whether you choose 1st or 2nd class.  For example, anyone traveling between Florence and Venice will find their seat on the train similar to that of an airline flight.  Why pay more money?  Both classes are heading to the same spot, both have designated seating.

Second class seating might fit more people depending on the style and age of the train you are on.  I have occasionally had to work my way through several cars to find a seat (see my train tips article coming soon) but that has been during peak travel times.  Also, I find I love traveling second class because I have a chance to ride with the locals like a local.  I always bring a make-shift picnic and use the sharing of my food as an ice breaker for meeting others.

If you are a hard-core first class traveler, then by all means feel free to throw your money away.  Just remember that train travel will not be like that on the airlines and don’t expect warmed towels with an aperitif waiting for you.

Check back this week for more tips about train travel, car rental, taxis and public transportation.

I love feedback, so leave me comments!

copyright 2012  Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel

Chocolate and Candied Orange Peel Biscotti

Chocolate and Candied Orange Peel Biscotti

Yep, I’m on an orange kick!

Candied orange chocolate

Ingredients:

1 cup chocolate chips + 3/4 cup chocolate chips to fold into dough

1/2 cup  butter

2 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 Tb Orange juice concentrate

2 to 2¼ cups flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 cup chopped candied orange peel (see recipe below)

Directions:

1. Heat the oven to 350°. Melt the butter and chocolate chips together (I put them in a Pyrex measuring cup and microwave them) and set aside.

2. Beat the eggs and sugar until lightened, about two minutes.

3. Add the vanilla, orange juice concentrate and chocolate mixture.

4. Mix in the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt just until combined. You should have a soft, but not sticky, dough. Add the extra 1/4 cup of flour if dough is too sticky.  I usually have to add more.  Fold in candied orange peel and 3/4 cup of chocolate chips.

5. Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, form each half into a log that is 3½ inches by 9 inches. Place the logs on a heavy-duty baking sheet.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the tops are set.

6. Reduce the oven to 275°. Let the logs cool, then slice into 1/2-inch thick slices.  With this recipe it is very important to let them cool otherwise it will crumble when cutting.  Arrange the slices on baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, carefully turn the slices over, and bake for another 20 minutes.

7. Cool on a wire rack.  Store in an airtight container or freeze.

Candied Orange Peel

Peel 3 oranges thinning, making sure not to grab any of the white pith.  Place peels in saucepan, cover with water and simmer 10 minutes.  Drain.  In saucepan, combine 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar.  Bring to a boil and cook until sugar is completely dissolved.  Add peel and let simmer until liquid is absorbed.  About 45 mins to an hour.  Lift peel out and place on waxed paper to cool.

Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Not just Italy and travel anymore | My blogging obsession

My husband made me start this blog.

I didn’t want to.  Not one bit.  Why would I want to spend time writing on-line articles and information nobody would read?  Plus I can barely navigate Twitter and only recently became Facebook savvy.

Kicking and screaming I did it.  Actually, it was pretty easy thanks to WordPress.  I even got a few views in those early days (thanks mom).

Site stats: My love hate relationship

In October I was one of the first people to publish information about the flooding in the Cinque Terre.  I had 691 views that day, and I’m pretty sure only about half a dozen where my parents.  I was hooked.  I couldn’t stop writing.  I had this great platform I could use to educate, inform, entertain and ultimately help people.  Amazing. exhilarating.

Addicting.

I have yet to come close to that day.  I’m lucky to break 200 views.  Not that it’s from lack of trying or obsessing.  In fact, I am most likely checking my WordPress site stats as we speak.  You know the ones.  View Counts, Referrers, Top Posts & Pages.  I try to limit myself to just a few peeks a day, but the suspense!  It kills me!  Maybe just once an hour??  Will today be the day?  Will I break 200?  More importantly, how many people will like me?

My gold standard in popularity measurement.

Likes.  Comments.  Followers.  Even more crippling an obsession.  Every time I get one of these I celebrate my victory, pumping my fist in the air.  YES!  On the flip side, a day without any is horrendous.  Painful.  A day of dark introspection.  What went wrong?  I haven’t had this tumultuous a relationship since college.  I once went a full week without so much as one new follower.  I was devastated as this has become my gold standard.  The pinnacle of success and the ultimate ego-boost.  Nothing is more gratifying than knowing someone enjoyed my writing so much that they don’t want to miss a word ever again.

I’m asking you the reader to make sure that you use caution here and treat this blog gently.  What may seem to be nothing more than a click of the mouse, a simple comment or a decision to follow in reality is gasoline thrown onto my obsessive blogging fire.

Better wrap this up, I haven’t checked my stats is 37 minutes.

I am obsessed love feedback, so leave me comments!

copyright 2012  Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel

Earthquake hits Cinque Terre in Italy

Map detailing earthquake epicenter and areas involved.

**Second quake hits Italy May 29th, read more here**

**For news on the recent May earthquake in Emila Romagna, click here**

The Cinque Terre has had its struggles with Mother Nature over the last few months and just to prove who is boss she let out a 5.4 earthquake this morning.  As you can see from the map, Vernazza was fairly close to the epicenter

This was the second of two earthquakes felt in Northern Italy over the last two days, with the second being felt in Milan as well as some parts of Tuscany.  At this time no damage or deaths have been reported but people are definitely a little on edge.

The following link is to the latest news report from ASNA.

I love feedback, leave me a comment!

copyright 2012  Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel

Featured Photo Friday | Siena, Italy

Building along Il Campo in Siena, Italy

Travel to Italy Tip #5 | Support smaller family run businesses

Le marche italy

Now that's what I call a Bed and Breakfast!

I talked in previous posts about finding a home base and staying there for an extended period of time and also the benefits of traveling to a lesser known area.  Tip #5 brings both of those pieces of advice together to help save you money yet keep your experience amazing.

5. Stay in smaller, family run accommodations

This is something I live by.  I support these places 100%.  Smaller doesn’t mean less, in fact it is usually the opposite.  There is a ton of love put into accommodations run by families and that is reflected in the way guests are treated.  Plus, Italian families are struggling to make ends meet just like us.  I like to know that my money is helping to support them in their passion, not just being funnelled into some big corporation.

Dinner at our agriturismo

So how do you find these places?  I start by looking for Bed & Breakfast’s (B&B’s) and agriturismos.  A B&B normally doesn’t have many rooms and these rooms can occasionally be a part of the owners’ home.  The hosts are more readily available and looking forward to answering your questions, helping with your plans plus giving great advice for the area.  An agriturismo is a working farm that also accommodates guests.  Many of these places have an option for meals in addition to breakfast.  Being on a farm doesn’t mean you are surrounded by barnyards.  Most have beautiful grounds complete with olive groves and vineyards.

I have put together all of my favorite resources here to help you get started.  TripAdvisor is a great site.  Real reviews from real travelers along with average prices to help you with your budget.  Just remember to take everything said with a grain of salt.  Sometimes the happy travelers aren’t always the ones writing the reviews.  I also use SlowTrav as a place to get ideas as their travel philosophy is much like mine.

Find a smaller accommodation and you won’t be sorry.  You may even find you have become a part of their family.

Italy Le Marche

Instant Italian family

I love feedback, so leave me comments!

copyright 2012  Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel

Travel to Italy Tip #4 | Travel to lesser known areas

Le marche

Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche

Another way to help save money and make your dream of travel to Italy come true this year is to think outside of the box.  The majority of tourists all travel to the same areas in Italy.  In major cities, the tourists can be found in the same concentrated places.  Of course there are the blockbusters to see, but aside from that you really don’t need to get caught up in the masses.  To increase your enjoyment, see more of the real Italy all while saving money, follow tip #4.

4. Travel to a Lesser Known Area

Most guidebooks lead people to the same places over and over.  When I travel I make sure not to miss the important sites and places that are a priority to me, but when I am done I make a beeline for the opposite direction of the other tourists.

An alternative to Tuscany is Umbria.  You are still within easy driving range if you want to still explore Tuscany.  Umbria is like Tuscany’s shy little sister and once you get to know her you find she has just as good of a personality.  I love Umbria.  It is full of hill towns, churches, parks, lakes and experiences.  This area is a marvelous home base.

Travel

Quaint and out of the way

Feeling even braver?  Then I encourage you to try Le Marche.  You will be lucky to find much more than a few token pages about this in mainstream guidebooks.  Le Marche feels like my personal secret, one that I can’t keep.  You can have it all here, from beaches to quaint villages.  The best part is that you won’t get run over by a herd of tourists snapping pictures.  The area is still close to places like Gubbio and Assisi making them an easy day trip.  Another area under the radar is Abruzzo, a mountainous region that is my next project.  Drop dead gorgeous country at a better price with less commotion.

You don’t have to skip the well known areas if you don’t want to.  Just try finding a city or town that is a little less popular and you will save money.  For example:  When traveling to the Amalfi Coast (where nothing is cheap) stay in one of the smaller but just as amazing towns further down.  Instead of Positano, try Ravello or Furore.  An alternative to this coast line is the Italian Riviera and my favorite the Cinque Terre.  Here prices are better and they would love a visit as they recover from the flooding.  Staying in Venice?  Try the Accademia District.  It’s just one bridge away from the action.  Florence on the ‘other side’ of the river is a completely different place.

Looking for places in lesser known or visited areas is just another tip to saving money and making that dream trip come true this year.  Stay tuned, I’ve got more tips on the way.

I love feedback, so leave me comments!

copyright 2012  Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel

Top Ten: Things actually heard or done while on tour in Italy

On tour in Vernazza

When I was taking small groups on tour in Italy, I learned to never be too surprised at what I overheard.  Some funny, some unbelievable but all entertaining.  I can laugh at this even more knowing I have an entire list dedicated to the embarassing things I’ve said and done over the years.  Enjoy!

10.  Two lovely ladies got a jump-start to my tour but taking a tour of their own in Rome.  They aren’t sure what they saw or why it was important as the whole thing was in Italian.

9.  Get R Done.  Repeatedly said during a walking tour of the Roman Forum in response to the architectural accomplishments.

8.  Wet T-shirt contest!!  Yelled out on the Rialto Bridge during a sudden rain storm.

7.  Great, more Chef Boyardee.  Referring to the homemade pasta being served.

6.  I was asked if the artists at the market used paint by numbers.

Travel Italy

5.  During a wonderful wine tasting, we were being educated on the types of grapes used in the area.  One of my members proceeded to explain how they made dandelion wine back home.

4.  While enjoying the sun on the tiny beach in the village of Vernazza, I was asked “Is this Florence?”

3.  Does the food and wine happen to get any better?  We were in Rome at the time.

2.  I’m not going on the Colosseum tour.  It’s just not my thing.

1.  I was worried about getting my passport in time but my jail probation period was finally over!

Roman Forum, part of the Colosseum tour

I love feedback, so leave me comments!

Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Travel to Italy Tip #3 | Find a home base

Candle light dinner in Tuscany

Now that you have Committed to Travel (if you missed that post, read about it here) and have looked into the benefits of Off-Season Travel (read post here) its time to start talking about the logistics of your itinerary.  About 90% of people who hire me to help plan their trips to Italy have a To Do List a mile long.  Very rarely do people plan to stay more than 2 or 3 nights in one location.  I understand.  On my first trip to Italy I bounced around the country like a little kid set loose in a candy store.  I wasn’t sure when I would ever get back and I wanted to see everything.  Most travelers have that same urgency.  I spend much of my time helping people to slow down and prioritize their itinerary.  This is my next huge and most important travel tip.

3. Find a Home Base

Most travelers spend two weeks in Italy.   I recommend no more than three stops, staying one week in one place.  Gasp!  I said it.  Now like me explain why this works so well.

  • You will find better rates for week long stays.
  • If you book somewhere with a kitchen, you will save money by cooking and eating in several times during your stay.
  • Unique places often only accept week long reservations.  Dreaming of a stay in a villa or farmhouse?  You won’t be able to for just a night or two.
  • Being in one location, you become a temporary resident and truly begin to get the feel of Italy.  You get to experience a place, not just see it.
  • You save time and money by not constantly travelling to a new location.
  • You save time by skipping the checking in-checking out process.

Time is also as valuable on a vacation as money.  The process of changing locations is very time consuming and depending on the distance can take an entire day.  Italy may be small on the map, but nothing here happens quickly or easily.  If taking public transportation you are at the mercy of the train/bus schedules (or lack there of).

Also, the value of an experience is priceless and should be taken into great consideration during planning.  I would rather miss a few items on my to do list in order to have a higher quality trip with more touching memories.

My favorite little grandma

The two biggest arguments I hear about this style of travel are the following:  1.  There will not be enough to see or do in one area for a week and 2.  I need to see everything because I will not ever be back to Italy.  I assure you, one week will never be enough time to see and experience one place in Italy.  Never.  I have stayed many days in places that have absolutely no blockbuster attractions yet found myself wishing for more time.  The beauty in Italy is found in the nooks and crannys.  The tourist destinations are breathtaking and I am not saying you should forgo these places, but your memories that will be the most significant and lasting will be the unexpected ones.  These are best found and made when traveling slowly.  And the best way to travel slowly is by sticking to a home base.  Now I can’t promise that everyone will be able to return to Italy, life gets complicated.  You may never have the chance again, but that should not be your reason for rushing your trip.  Make your to do list as long as you like, then look it over and pick only your absolute favorites.  Put the rest on the back burner and tell yourself you will be back.  Try and remember that quality is far better than quantity in this situation.  Now close your eyes and imagine your ideal day.  Is it savoring a meal or experiencing mass?  Maybe actually sitting down next to those little old ladies on the bench instead of just furtively snapping pictures.  Put whatever you dream about next to the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s David.  Now that’s a list worth following!

I love feedback, so leave me comments!

Apartment with kitchen and fireplace

It's a long story and a favorite memory

copyright 2012  Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel

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