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Archive for January, 2013

Carnival opens in Venice

Carnival began last evening and all of Venice has come to life with color.  Enjoy the video and photos below!

Venice Carnival Canal Water Show

Photos Courtesy of Carnival of Venice

IMG_049[1] Carnevale di Venezia 2013 Carnevale di Venezia 2013 Carnevale di Venezia 2013 IMG_285[1] IMG_0131[1] venice carnival

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Copyright 2013   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Featured Photo Friday | Lunch Receipt Italian Style

lunch receipt italian styleI’m obsessed with feedback, let me know what you think.

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Copyright 2013   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

Earthquake in Italy | 5.0 near Parma

News is just barely trickling in about an earthquake today near Parma.  I haven’t heard back from friends yet, reports are pretty vague at this time.  I will write more as information comes in.

 

Link to real time site HERE.

earthquake italy parma

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

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 66,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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

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

Le marche italy

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

A series posted last year, but the information is priceless!

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

A series posted last year, but the information is priceless!

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

Travel to Italy Tip | Find a home base

Candle light dinner in Tuscany

A series I posted last year, but the information is priceless!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

Featured Photo Friday | Amalfi

Courtesy of Renovating Italy

Courtesy of Renovating Italy

Their site is wonderful, click HERE and enjoy!

 

I’m obsessed with feedback, let me know what you think.

Love it??  Pass it on!

Copyright 2013   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

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