Archive for the ‘Public transportation’ Category

Train Travel for Cheap(er)

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Traveling by train is one of the best ways to see Italy—rolling through the vast countryside and right into the city of your choosing.  Depending on if you take a local train or the sleek Frecciarossa or Frecciargento express trains, you can get from Rome to Florence in 1½ hours and Florence to Venice in under two.  Whether you ride first class or coach, train travel in Italy is generally comfortable, easy on the wallet and the itinerary, and, unless you’re faced with a sciopero (strike), stress-free.

Riding the rails is particularly helpful to our independent travelers creating itineraries or opting for one of our carefully-planned independent tours.  It’s also great for daytrippers looking to get out of the big city and into a smaller nearby town.  For example, riding the train from Florence can easily get you to Pisa, Bologna, Lucca, Viareggio, or Perugia for the day.

Train travel is even sweeter over the next few weeks as Trenitalia, Italy’s main train operator, is running promotions that deeply slash train prices.  Here’s a quick rundown:

Daytrippers can take advantage of flat “andata e ritorno in giornata” fares (one-day roundtrip) on the Frecciarossa and Frecciargento trains (109€ for second class, 149€ for first class).

Saturday travelers get two-for-one fares through December 10 using the “Sabato Italiano 2×1” promotion.

Families always save 50% on tickets for children under 12 while children under 4 travel for free, but the “Offerta Familia” promotion can get those discounts plus 20% off on the adults traveling in the group.

“MINI fares” offer seats at up to 60% off on nearly every route on every class of train.

In order to take advantage of these great promotions, be sure to buys your tickets at least two days in advance—of course, the earlier you purchase, the better!  Of course, we can help you purchase the tickets and plan your journey through Italy!

Art in the Roman Airport

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Long layovers in Rome are about to get a whole lot more enjoyable.

Next week, a permanent art museum will open its doors in Terminal 1 of Leonardo da Vinci Airport (aka Fiumicino), showcasing a rotating lineup of classic Italian art.  The more than 36 million travelers that pass through the airport yearly will now get to share in the country’s culture before even stepping foot on solid ground.

Opening up the museum will, appropriately, be an exhibit of art by Leonardo da Vinci.

So, the next time you get to the Rome airport with the required three hours to spare, don’t worry—the museum offers plenty to keep you occupied.  And it will give you that last taste of the Bel Paese.

A Window to Italia: Day Trips from Florence

Friday, September 17th, 2010

As planned, this second week in Florence has been a slower one—a more Italian one.  With all of the major sightseeing done, I spent this week going on day trips, taking in some of the best of what Tuscany and the surrounding regions have to offer.

A typical side street in Siena

The first stop was Siena, a place of magic, Medieval times, and mattoni (brick).  Like out of a fairytale, Siena’s narrow, steep streets wind around its main Piazza del Campo (home to the famous palio horse race) and the massive, black and white marble duomo, Santa Maria della Scala.   A few blocks from the campo, I stopped into a small restaurant to sample some of the town’s traditional pici—a thicker version of spaghetti that is made by hand.  Since it’s an easy, hour-long ride from Florence, Siena was the perfect place to spend Saturday—and watching the gorgeous scenery of Chianti through the bus window prevented me from opening my book!

On Sunday, it was off to the beach town of Viareggio—normally about an hour and a half by train from Florence, but in my case more like three hours due to a train strike.  Once I arrived, the beautiful surroundings—the ocean, the endless beach (most of which, I found out the hard way, is reserved for hotel guests), the mountains that shoot right up from the coast, and the long pier lined with fishermen—made the stress of the day vanish.

Wednesday afternoon was spent in the Florentine hill towns of Fiesole and Settignano with their breathtaking views of the Arno Valley.  By looking down on the city from so high up, you can really judge the size of the Duomo in comparison to patchwork of yellow and terracotta buildings and steepled churches around it.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to Bologna, less than an hour by train from Florence.  While there’s not much “to see” per se in the historical center, Bologna is a perfect place for strolling, and its Piazza Maggiore is ideal for people watching—especially with all of the students from the University of Bologna buzzing around.  Often overlooked by tourists, Bologna’s most charming feature is its seemingly endless, shop-lined porticoes covering nearly all of the sidewalks.  But people really go to Bologna for the food.  From streets with stores selling fresh fruit, vegetables, pasta, meat, and fish on tables spilling out into the street to quaint restaurants serving up traditional tortellini and meaty bolognese sauces, the flavors from Bologna and the surrounding Emilia Romagna region are mouth-watering.

This weekend I’m on the move, bidding arrivederci to Florence and exploring the coast of Cinque Terre.

Ciao!

The Venice Film Festival

Friday, August 13th, 2010

The stars will come out to Venice at the end of the month for the 67th Annual Venice Film Festival, the oldest and most prestigious film festival in the world.  The festival is from September 1 to 10, but celebrities like George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Natalia Portman, and more will start arriving in the days leading up to the big event, which is a part of the Venice Biennale, a major contemporary art festival held twice every year. 

The film festival, which represents 35 countries in 2010, is broken down into four categories: Venezia 67, for world premiere feature films (24 this year); Out of Competition, films by directors like Martin Scorsese and Casey Affleck who have already had films in the festival (27 this year); Orizzonti, films that present new trends in international cinema (21 this year); and Controcampo Italiano, films presenting new trends within Italian cinema (12 this year).  In addition, there will also be a retrospective on Italian comedy and two independent sections of the festival.  Screenings of the films take place on the Venetian Lido in the historic Palazzo del Cinema.

The films and filmmakers compete for the coveted Golden Lion, as well as Silver Lions, and actors and actresses are up for the Copa Volpi award.  The awards given out at the Venice Film Festival are often indicative of other international film awards over the course of the next year, including the Oscars.

The festival will open with Black Swan, by American filmmaker Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman in the New York City ballet world.  The festival will close with the world premiere of The Tempest, an American film by Julie Taymor starring Helen Mirren.  Four Italian films are up for the coveted Golden Lion: Carlo Mazzacurati’s La Passione, Mario Martone’s Noi Credevamo, Ascanio Celestini’s La Pecora Nera, and Saverio Costanzo’s film based on the novel The Solitude of Prime Numbers. 

So, if you’re in Venice at the beginning of September and are over 18, try snagging a ticket to see one of the films!  Just hop on vaporetto number 1 from Piazza San Marco and keep an eye out for celebs!

Been to the Venice Film Festival before?  Tell us about your experience!

Take a Vespa for a Spin!

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Vespas in a row (photo by paPisc via flickr)

Ever since Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck whizzed through the streets of Rome in the 1952 film Roman Holiday, the world has been infatuated with Vespas, those sleek, candy-colored two-wheelers which bring the scooter to a whole new level.

But Vespas date back further than that first appearance in Hollywood.  After World War II, Italy’s Enrico Piaggio, of the Piaggio & Co aeronautical transportation manufacturer, decided to help resolve the country’s need for affordable, modern transportation.  He took his inspiration from Nebraska-made scooters used by American troops as field transport in the war—namely to maneuver destroyed roads in the Dolomites.  Piaggio designer Corradino D’Ascanio worked with a local business owner to create a vehicle that would be easy for both men and women to drive while not getting their clothes dirty.  The result?  A scooter that’s engine is covered in a pressed steel unibody (hiding all of that grease and dirt) with a flat floorboard for easy on and off—especially for women wearing skirts—and a sleek windshield for protection. 

After giving the thumbs down on several prototypes, resulting in a more aerodynamic model, Enrico Piaggio approved the MP6, and declared that its buzzing engine “Sembra una vespa.” (“It resembles a wasp.”)  Hence the name.

Sales were slow after the Vespa’s debut at the 1946 Milan Fair, but once Hollywood gave the seal of approval, numbers soared, and by 1960, two million people were scooting their way around the world.  Of course, the company has gone through ups and downs and new models have been introduced over the years, including a gas-electric hybrid version in 2004, but Vespa still ranks fourth in sales of scooters sold globally.

The best way to see “the country of the Vespa,” as Italy was so dubbed in “La Dolce Vita,” is, of course, by Vespa!  Whether you’re heading out to the Piaggio Museum in Pisa where you can see original Vespas and custom models—including one by Salvador Dalí—or just want to cruise though the Tuscan countryside in style, a chic, eye-catching Vespa is the way to go. 

And if you want to see some real Vespa enthusiasts in action, be sure to check out Vespizzatevi, an annual June meeting of the Vespa Club Firenze, where models old and new are showcased around Florence!

Public Transportation in Italy

Friday, April 16th, 2010

There are different kinds of travelers out there.  Some like the comfort, comraderie, and security of a professionally guided tour.  Others prefer the personal attention given during a private tour.  And still others like to ditch the guide and hit the road themselves, taking their itinerary into their own hands and independently exploring at their own pace.  That’s where public transportation comes in. 

But traversing a country’s rails and roads can be daunting—the language barrier, different ways of doing things, etc.  So we’ve broken down the public transportation systems of some of Italy’s major cities. 

Some general notes on public transportation:

  • Remember to validate your ticket!  The most important part of traveling Italy’s public transportation system happens before you even start moving.  Once you get your bus or train ticket and are ready to travel, it’s imperative that you find a validation machine and get your ticket stamped with the date and time.  On buses, this machine is near the driver, and you should use it as soon as you board.  Once the bus gets moving, it’s possible that an undercover, plain-clothes ticket agent will take out his badge and start checking tickets, issuing hefty fines to any violators.  On trains, use the machine at the beginning of the platform before boarding so that when the conductor makes his/her rounds, you won’t have any problems. 
  • How to buy tickets.  To buy train tickets, go to any ticket window at the train station, use a ticket machine if available, buy a ticket from a qualified travel agent, or purchase them online through the Trenitalia site.  Keep in mind that there are different classes (and therefore prices) of tickets—so be prepared when you go to purchase.  Most city bus tickets can be purchased from a kiosk, newsstand, or tabaccheria—easily spotted with their rectangular sign with a giant letter “T.”  Each city has its own set of fares and time periods for which the ticket is valid—and many have options for 1-day, 3-day, weekly, or monthly passes.
  • Etiquette.  Italians are polite and chivalrous, so while you’re in Italy, you should be too.  Try to keep in mind some of their rules—like giving your seat up for an older person and using the middle doors to exit buses while the front and back doors are used by people entering.    In general, use common courtesy.  That being said, don’t take manners for granted—keep an eye on your belongings at all times!
  • Flying within Italy.  Aside from the big-name airlines like Alitalia, there are many smaller, no-frills airlines out there that can connect you to airports within Italy, as well as some other European destinations.  They include Air One, Ryanair, Volareweb, Wind Jet, easyJet, Eolavia, and Air Dolomiti.

And now for some city-specific facts:

ROME

Metro (aka, the subway or underground)—Rome’s Metro consists of two lines (for now anyway—a third is in the building process): The A line is orange, and the B line is blue.  The two lines travel in an X shape, connecting at Termini Station, and operate until 11:30pm.  One ticket costs one Euro while a day pass costs four and a 3-day tourist pass costs 11.  Tickets are also valid on buses, trams, and some local trains.

Train—Termini Train Station is one of the largest train stations in Europe, and both domestic and international trains depart and arrive from there.  Located in the heart of the city, it’s a quick ride to any hotel or attraction.  Like all roads, all trains lead to Rome.

Airports

Leonardo Da Vinci Airport (aka Fiumicino) is 32km from the city, but you can get there via the Leonardo Express, which goes from Termini Station to the airport.  Tickets to the international airport cost 11 Euro one way and trains depart every 30 minutes.  A taxi will cost you 40 Euro exactly, thanks to a government price cap.

Ciampino airport is smaller since it used to only be used as a military airport.  There are several ways to get to/from Ciampino, but we recommend the direct Terravision bus, which goes right to Termini Station.  Tickets can be booked online for a discounted rate of about five Euro one way or 10 Euro round trip.  Otherwise, a taxi will cost 30 Euro.

Buses—There are plenty of buses to ride in Rome, though few of them run on schedule.  Keep in mind that there are local as well as express buses—you’ll probably want the local buses called Linea Urbana—they’re orange.  Regular schedules run until midnight, at which point a less-frequent schedule takes over.

NAPLES / AMALFI COAST

Train—Circumvesuviana trains connect Naples with Sorrento, Pompeii, Herculaneum and other towns in the area and intercity trains pass through Naples quite frequently. 

Airport—Naples Airport can be reached by taxi, where fixed rates are set up to/from specific points within the city’s historic center.  Though a train line is in construction to connect the two, your main option is by taking the 3S or Alibus, or if you’re going to Sorrento the Curreri bus.

Buses—SITA buses connect the villages of the Amalfi Coast to each other, as well as to Naples, departing at least once an hour. 

Ferry—Ferries are a great way to see the Amalfi Coast.  The two best operators are Cooperativa Sant’Andrea and Metro del Mare.

FLORENCEATAF: official public transportation

Train—Santa Maria Novella Stazione is Florence’s main train station, where the majority of train travel in and out of Florence occurs.  Campo di Marte is a smaller station where some intercity trains stop, but it is more for regional service.

Airport—Amerigo Vespucci (aka, Peretola) is located 4 km from the center of Florence. A taxi will take about 15 minutes for 20 Euro, but there is a public bus that stops right outside of the airport that will take you to the train station (Santa Maria Novella) in 20 minutes for less than five Euro.

Bus—City buses cost 1.20 Euro per ticket and are good for one hour of transportation.  There are also frequent regional buses to Siena, San Gimignano, and other surrounding towns.

Taxi—Taxis can be pricey and cannot simply be hailed on the street.  You’ll either have to call them ahead of time to schedule a pickup or head to one of the few taxi stands around town.

VENICE

Water bus (aka vaporetti and motoscafi)—Water buses run along the main routes to the city center and are by far the best way to get around Venice’s canals.  However, with the extremely high one-way fares (6.50 Euro), you’re better off getting a Venice Connected pass for 12 to 72 hours of travel.  Or, you can get the transit authority’s Venice Tourist Travel Card.)

Water Taxi—With no meters, it’s possible to get scammed when you take a water taxi.  So make sure you negotiate your fare before pushing off.

Gondola—Though you’ll probably only take a gondola for more of a joy ride as opposed to an efficient mode of transportation, make sure you know the cost and length of ride before casting off.

Traghetti (gondola ferries)—At seven points along the Grand Canal between the railroad station and Santa Maria della Salute, you can follow yellow gondola signs to the water, pay a small fare, and get to the other side of the canal while still getting a gondola experience.

Train—Trains begin and end in Venice, so don’t worry about missing your stop.  Trains run frequently into Station-Venezia Santa Lucia.

Airport—Local buses run between the city and Marco Polo Airport for just three Euro and the ride is about 20 minutes long.  To take the bus from Venice to either Marco Polo or the Trieste airport, go to the D2 bus bay in Piazzale Roma and follow the signs.

Buses—You obviously won’t be taking a bus in Venice’s historic center, but if you’re staying on the mainland, you may have to take one.  They depart from / arrive to Piazzale Roma.

MILAN

A quick note about Milan’s ticketing system: the same ticket (1 Euro) can be used on buses, metros, and trams for 75 minutes.  A “2×6” ticket can be used twice a day for six days a week for 6.70 Euro.  If you purchase a monthly pass for 37.75 Euro, you can also use it for discounts at theaters including Teatro Nuovo and Smeraldo.

Metro–Milan’s subway system has three lines: the red line, running Northeast and West; the green line, running Northeast and Southwest; and the yellow line, which runs North and South. There is also a blue line, which makes three stops in central Milan before heading to the suburbs. Look for a red square sign with a white “M” on it to signify a Metro entrance.  Trains run until 12:15am.

Trams and Buses—Orange trolley cars and orange buses run throughout the city, stopping at locations where there is a tall orange poll with a diagram of the tram/bus route.

Taxis—Like Florence, you cannot flag down a taxi in Milan.  Head to a taxi stand or call a taxi ahead of time, but be aware that the meter will start running as soon as the driver gets the call.

Trains

Stazione Centrale—inter-city and international trains, as well as some local trains.

Stazione Garibaldi—local trains only

Stazione Cadorna—local trains on the Ferrovia del Nord line, as well as the Malpensa Express.

Airports
MalpensaLocated about an hour by taxi outside of the city center (about 85 Euro), Malpensa is one of Milan’s main international airports.  The Malpensa Express is a train that runs every half hour to/from Cadorna station between 6:50am and 8:20pm. The ride is 40 minutes and costs 9.30 Euro.  Otherwise you can get to/from the airport via the Malpensa Shuttle, a bus that leaves from Central Station at piazza Luigi di Savoia and runs between 5:20am until 10:30pm.  The ride is 50 minutes long and costs 4.13 Euro.

Linate—Milan’s other major international airport is Linate, reachable via bus or taxi.  The Linate Shuttle (1.85 Euro) leaves from Central Station at piazza Luigi di Savoia between 5:40am and 11:15pm and takes 35 minutes to reach the airport. A public city bus, #73, also goes to the airport, leaving San Babila or outside of the arrivals terminal every ten minutes.  Plan for a half hour of travel time.  If you’re not a bus person, a taxi will cost 18 Euro from the city center and should take about half an hour in good traffic. 

Orio al Serio—While you can get to Orio al Serio by train, it get a bit complicated, so your best bet is to take the airport bus that leaves from / goes to  Central Station at piazza Luigi di Savoia between 5.35 am until 9.30 pm. The ride is an hour long and costs 6.71 Euro—you can get tickets at the ticket office in Central Station.      

SICILY

Palermo Airport (PMO)—Palermo Airport is the most convenient Sicily airport, located 30km outside of the city.   Buses to/from the airport run on the half hour to Stazione Centrale in Palermo for about 5 Euro, and less-frequent buses from to Agrigento and to Trapani.  Be sure to check out schedules ahead of time.  A train also runs to the airport every 40 minutes from the city’s main train station.

Catania Airport (CTA)—Just 5km outside of Catania the Fontanarossa Airport is serviced to the city by bus every 20 minutes. Other Sicilian cities can also be reached through direct buses run by Interbus.

Trains–Sicily’s rail system travels through some beautiful landscapes, so it’s a great way to see the island.  Direct connections exist between the major cities, but only one or two travel the long-haul routes every day.  One of the most interesting aspects of Sicilian train travel is that the train cars break off according to destination–so make sure you’re in the properly labeled car.  Also, trains cross the Messina via ferry, so have your camera ready!

Bus–Traveling Sicily by bus is just as efficient and convenient as by train, and since the train system doesn’t cover the entire island, sometimes a bus is the only option.  There are two big companies that operate long-distance routes–Interbus and AST. 

Ferry—A ferry is one of the best ways to get from the mainland to Sicily is to take a ferry.  Whether by train, by car, or on foot, there is space for everyone!  From Villa San Giovanni and Messina, ferries leave every 15-20 minutes, 24 hours a day. Since you can’t make a reservation in advance, unless it’s August, you’ll have to wait in line.  Another option is the hydrofoil or ferry from Naples to Palermo.  These run from April 20-October 7 and both take carss.  The hydrofoil takes four hours, while the ferry is an overnight venture—leaving at 7:30pm and arriving the next morning.  There’s plenty to do on board—from arcades to TV to a disco.

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