The bus from Milan airport (MPX) to Central Bus Station is now 8000 lira, not 14,000 as listed in Rick Steves book. Some ticket windows at train station accept credit cards, but others right next to them do not. Look for the Visa / MC decals to avoid a wasted wait in line.
There is an Internet cafe at Obstplatz 24. In Bolzano, the Internet cafe had German keyboards, which have the Y and Z keys reversed from standard US QWERTY keyboards. Also, some symbol keys are different. Note that the keyboard is German style, so you have to hold down three keys to make an @ sign. Bolzano has been both Austrian (German) and Italian. It seems that the majority of residents prefer to speak German among themselves. All signs are bilingual. The town has narrow cobblestone streets. Many shops & tourists, friendly shopkeepers, but few folks speak English. In 4 days we heard only two other tourists, from Britain, speaking English.
Bolzano is located in a mountainous area, similar to Yosemite Valley. The Iceman is in a museum in Bolzano. There is a line to enter the museum and another line inside to peer through the small window to see the iceman.
To get to Hotel Feichter in Bolzano, walk straight out of the train station and up the street with a tree-filled park and frog fountain on your left. Distance from train station to hotel is about 300 meters. You can find English-language newspapers at "Tabacci - Tabak" shop on the west side of the main plaza. Also, a newsstand in the university area sells European Wall St. Journal. Almost no men in Bolzano wear shorts. Visa / MasterCard is widely accepted, and there are lots of ATM's on the streets that dispense lira. Our hotel room had a small TV, with Italian and German programming. Only once, on a Saturday morning until 7 AM, did it have any English programming...at that time CNN was on. Bolzano hotel breakfast was all the kaiser rolls you could eat, one cup of coffee and Tang. No obese people were seen in Bolzano. Bolzano rolls up the streets every evening at 8 PM, with only an occasional gelateria (ice cream stand) open until 9 PM.
In Bolzano many people ride bicycles...children and well-dressed adults. Avoid quick sidesteps while walking to avoid being hit from behind. We did not see many bicycles in the other Italian cities we visited. Very few tourist trinket shops are found in Bolzano. On the train from Bolzano to Verona we met a couple from British Columbia...our first English conversations. On the train from Verona to Venice we did not have seat reservations and had to stand all the way. If this happens to you, and if you can stand the noise and heat, you may prefer the area at the end of the car where you can sit on the floor with your legs in the departure step area. Sometimes the train map in the station is backwards, so note the class of the cars as the train pulls into the station.
One day we took a field trip from Bolzano to Casselroto by bus. Its elevation is 1060 meters, but it seems much higher. It is a quaint, picturesque mountain town.
A city of 200,000, rather than a quaint little mountain town. Catch the City Tour by going out front of train station, turning left, and going roughly 50m until you see well-marked City Tour ticket office. Tour leaves at 12:00 noon, and ends at the University area at 1:15 PM. Our guide was a well-informed lady named Onella. You have to walk about 15 minutes to get back to the train station.
We stood in a ticket line at Venice train station for 45 minutes, aware that the sign said that the line closed at 1305 (1:05 PM). It closed instead at 1300, just before we were served. English was heard everywhere in Venice. The streets are buzzing with people. The major business is tourism, and business is good. No cars, mopeds, scooters or bicycles are on the streets of Venice. The only wheeled vehicles were baby carriages.
We stayed at the Bernardi-Semenzato Hotel (fax 041-5222424), in room 3 of the annex. The annex is about 100 meters from the actual hotel. Our corner room had no air conditioning or fan, and could become rather warm. The street below was adequately quiet after 10 PM. Our hotel room had no TV set. Many dogs on leash were seen in Venice. We saw an elegantly-dressed woman clean up after her dog on a street in a very matter-of-fact manner. Venice parties until after 10 PM.
Venice has many, many shops for tourists. In Venice, an Internet cafe with 8 computers can be found in the northwest part of town, 50 meters east of the Guglie bridge. The Internet cafe was closed at 7:45 PM. Find it by looking for the red telephone-handset sign. Its computers have Italian keyboards, which have letters in the same places as a US QWERTY keyboard but with some symbols moved around. Venice has dozens of pizzerias. Venice hotel breakfast included thin bread and watery orange juice. Dehumidifiers are seen frequently in buildings in Venice.
We rode the water bus four times, and nobody ever asked to see our ticket. Sometimes the water buses do not exactly follow the order of stops shown on the map, perhaps due to other boat traffic. There are optional-payment restrooms on ground floor and on second floor (near top of stairs) at Doges Palace. The attendants appear to work for tips. We saw the Doges Palace and crossed (both ways) the Bridge of Sighs...which, incidentally, is a relatively new term. The prison is grim, but with surprisingly large cells. The Doges were the Bill Gates'es of their time...in 500 years, will Bill Gates' house be a tourist attraction? In Venice, walking from Hotel Bernardi Semenzato to the railroad station takes 20 minutes if you know the route.
We needed, but did not have, seat reservations on the Venice - Florence train. Therefore, we had to stand in the crowded aisle for 3-1/2 hours.
We stayed at the Santuario Santa Catarina "Alma Domus," fax 0039577-47601. Three nights for 390,000 lira. Note that the entrance to the hotel is on the opposite side of it from the little arrow on this map.
The best rooms in the Alma Duomo hotel are on the 4th floor (actually, ground level in this hilly town). These are rooms 1 through 12. Rooms on lower floors do not have nearly such a good view of the town and duomo (cathedral). No single rooms are on the 4th level, only doubles and triples. Some single-room persons chose to pay extra to move up to a double room.
In the basement of the Alma Duomo Hotel are two TV rooms. The TV's receive CNN and BBC World, and sometimes Sky network. There are no TV's in the rooms.
Clothes dry very well on the balconies of 4th floor rooms. There is an overhang which keeps off the rain, and a railing to tie your clothesline to.
The Alma Duomo hotel has plenty of hot water, but the showers have no curtains and therefore will get almost the entire bathroom wet. This is much more acceptable for one person in a room than 3 persons in a room. The Alma Duomo is a 1-star hotel.
The Spizzico pizza parlor on the main plaza has free toilets in the basement. Take the stairs next to the counter. The men-women labels were in Italian, and difficult for a non-speaker to decipher...the penciled signs were correct at the time of our visit. In Italy we saw a Boxter sports car parked on the street. Compared to other cars, it looked large.
In Siena, the Internet Office Center / Nova Media (at corner of Via Cecco Angiolieri and Via S. Viglio) has slow computers, dirty mice and the S key on my keyboard worked only erratically. Another internet cafe is 60 meters east, at 33 Avv. T. Nencini...this is a few dozen meters east of Paizza Tolomei. A third internet cafe is Internet Point, across a narrow street from the McDonald's at the top of the hill...cost is 7500 lira / hr. This third location is about 300 m from the Alma Duomo.
The best Internet access is Internet Train, at Via di Pantaneto 54...fast connections, English spoken. In Siena, there are two locations of Internet Train chain. They have nice computers, equipped with American keyboards, connected to a fast link...highly recommended! One is located at 51 (or 54) Via de Pantaneto, southwest of Il Campo, about 30 yards downhill from a self-service laundry. The cost to students is 10,000 lira / hr, others 12,000 lira / hr. About half the computers have headsets for use as telephones (DialPad.com, etc.), and there is no extra charge from the cafe for their use. The other Internet Train is located east of Il Campo, at 121 Via de Citta. Internet Train is a chain of Internet cafe's, with web sites http://www.sienaweb.com and http://www.internettrain.it.
A good self-service laundry is Wash & Dry [Lavarapido ad Acqua] at Via Di Pantaneto 38. Eight kg (17 pounds) costs 5000 lira to wash (or 16 kg for 10,000 lira), 18 kg costs 5000 lira to dry. This laundry is a few stores away from Internet Train, above.
There seems to be no bus service from Siena to Orvieto. The Tra.In and Sita lines are owned by the same company. In Siena, some intercity buses leave from Piazza Gramci in the old town (top of the hill) and some from the train station (bottom of the hill). To get between these locations you will want to take a taxi or bus (#3, 9 or 10), because it is rather far to walk. The #9 bus in Siena takes 18 minutes from old town to the RR station. Bus tickets (available in the underground concourse and at the train station) cost 1500 lira. Restrooms in the Siena train station are free, probably because there is too little traffic to support an attendant.
In Siena, most of the shutters in a neighborhood are the same color, but different areas of town have different shutter colors. This may be a way of symbolizing neighborhood boundaries.
A good place for a cup of expresso and some local atmosphere is the Bar Siena Gelateria, located 30 meters to the left of the post office (Poste Italiane) at the top of the hill. The proprietor, his wife and adult daughter are friendly.
A "Perfumerie" is a drug store.
Siena is a walled city.
I took a bus from Siena to Pienza Montepulciano one day, to look for the Sant'Anna in Camprena monastery where some of the movie The English Patient was filmed. See this page for more information about this movie and see this page for photos of the monastery. On the bus I met a yoga instructor named Betty, from my home town of Austin, Texas, USA. Sant'Anna is about 5 km off the highway into Pienza...take the turnoff about 2 km north of town...there is a sign next to the highway showing the turnoff. To catch the bus out of Pienza, wait at the covered bus shelter across the street from the Carabinieri (police) building.
To get to Santa Anna monastery, I paid a taxi driver 40,000 lira (plus tip) to take me there, wait 30 minutes and then take me back into town. Finding a taxi was not easy, and I achieved success only by asking at a newsstand on the main highway. The taxi driver, Mr. G. Pascoli, speaks only a little English, and can be contacted at email@example.com. His phone number is 3355-42-46-68. The monastery is now a school for Italian language and cultural studies, and its telephone / fax number is 0039-0578-748037.
We took a day trip from Siena to Firenza (Florence), by taking a bus from Siena train station. At the public restroom on the ground floor in the free area of Palazo Veccio, the cost is whatever you want to pay. For example, three (mixed gender) can enter for 1000 lira. The men's side if OK, but the women's side has a long wait and the women's toilets are "a pot on the ground with nasty knee rests." "It was gross!" Take your own toilet paper. In Firenza, some obese people (mostly tourists) were seen.
The Firenza bus station is very close to the train station, but not easy to find. Look for the Deanna store across the street from the train station...the Sita bus terminal is hidden next door to it. You will be more calm on a bus if you avoid the front seat, because up there you can see all the close calls and narrowly-avoided traffic accidents. In Firenza, the bus driver was playing a rock music station. During one song the DJ went through translating the English lyrics into Italian, line by line. The divided highway north of Firenza would never meet US Interstate standards. There are no shoulders, and access ramps are extremely short...in one case, there was no access ramp at all, just a Stop sign. Traffic typically traveled at 100 kph (60 mph).
Trains run from Orvieto to Roma at 0735, 0800, 0900, 1009, 1128, 1212, 1328 and later. If you select a train other than a Direto, you will have to pay a supplement in advance.
The Hotel Corso in Orvieto is newly-remodeled, and appears to be rated 3 stars. It is located 300 to 400 meters from the upper funicular (cable car) station, not 200 meters as stated in Rick Steves guidebook. The hotel has a well-marked awning out front, so when you finally get to it you will know. Rooms have TV that receives CNN and BBC World. In room 18 there are very few places to hang wet laundry. Also, room 18 faces the street which is noisy until at least 11 PM, and it did not seem to have an air conditioner or fan.
The duomo (cathedral) of Orvieto is not to be missed! The exterior is very impressive.
We found townspeople crowding the center-city streets every night past 10 PM...teens, moms and dads and little children, grandparents, all socializing.
We located two Internet cafes in Orvieto. One, the Cafe Cavor, is about a block from the clock tower and has one computer. It is open from 6:30 AM until 9 PM. The other, the Montanucci Bar / Internet Caffe, can be found 1/2 block from the Piazza della Republica (the plaza with the turreted tower). It is open until 11 PM or longer and has two computers in the back. It is a part of the Internet Train chain, but has slow dialup access and slow computers. One mouse did not work well, and the restaurant staff hasn't a clue...they just sell access cards that activate the computers (6000 lira for 30 minutes).
The hotel towels were large - about half the size of bed sheets - and about as thin. Our bathroom had a broken shower door, a shower head that would point itself in unexpected directions, and a window that opened onto a public-access patio (with a ladder outside). There was plenty of hot water.
From Orvieto we caught a train into Roma. The trip takes about an hour and 15 minutes, and costs about 10,000 lira per person one-way. We were fined 10,000 lira by the conductor because (this one time) we neglected to time-stamp the ticket in the yellow box before getting on the train. This also happened to several other passengers in our train car. The conductor gave us a receipt for the fine. Trains stop in the Orvieto station for only two minutes.
For unknown reasons, the railroad tunnels between Orvieto and Roma cause ear popping.
In Orvieto, the funicular is open from 8 AM (on Sunday, maybe earlier other days) to 8:30 PM and runs every 10 minutes...a ride takes about 3 minutes. If you arrive after it closes, you can buy a bus ticket (1500 lira) in the restaurant / bar of the train station...they can change large bills. Bus #4 goes direct to the upper funicular station.
There are two McDonald's in the Roma Termini station, and a third next door. The ground-floor McD's has a strict employee who chases out beggars (and presumably pickpockets). The ground-floor McD's has no toilets.
Railroad station toilets are located in the basement, near an Internet cafe, and cost 1000 lira.
The Termini train station in Roma is the big, end-of-the-line (terminal) station. Do not get off at other stations on the outskirts of Roma, even though they may also have names beginning with "T." Termini is the end of the line, a large building, and you will know when you are in it.
To take the #110 city tour bus, go straight out the front of Termini to buy your ticket at a kiosk with a sign that says "i Bus" and "i Metro." Do not expect any courtesy from the ticket vendor. The #110 tour bus does not stop at the city bus stop labeled 110. The city tour bus #110 is very tall (enclosed double-decker) and has "110" painted in large numerals on the sides. Tours run every 30 minutes. The tour guides narrate in Italian and broken English, and sometimes it is difficult to distinguish which language they are speaking. The guides seem humorless. Tours cost 25,000 lira with hop-on / hop- off privileges (a good idea), or less without.
At the Vatican, a guide told us the best time of day to visit the cupola (dome) of St. Peter's is 5 PM. There is a waiting line. Shorts are not acceptable garb to enter the Vatican, but (in my case) long pajama bottoms over my walking shorts were acceptable. For women, some of the souvenir shops sell disposable stretch pants cheap. There are drinking fountains at the Vatican where you can refill water bottles.
The Roma Termini train station, while "an architectural masterpiece" (according to the bus tour guide's script), is unpleasant inside. Learning the departure times for trains to the small town of Orvieto was a challenge, with long lines at the information offices and ticket windows and our inability to locate any printed schedules (later we saw them out front of the station). You need a train to Firenza (Florence), but not all Firenza trains stop at Orvieto. The person at the information desk suggested that we catch a train which had left 20 minutes earlier. We finally purchased a train schedule book (7500 lira at a magazine stand, but it was difficult to understand. When one of us sat down on the ground outside to look up trains to Orvieto, she was told to get up by a police officer.
The best way to buy train tickets may be the machines scattered around the station.
Pickpockets are a known hazard in Roma. Our family members used the word "Bogey" to warn each other of these people, e.g., "There is a bogey at your 9 o'clock."
We found two ATM's in Termini. One was out of service, the other had a 5-minute line. A pickpocket hit our daughter about 2 minutes after I had accessed the functional ATM and distributed the money to family members. The bogey walked up behind our teenage daughter and placed his left hand into her right front jeans pocket as he passed her. It was not a subtle attempt to get the money, he was depending upon surprise rather than stealth. As he kept walking rapidly he raised his hand, palm open, evidently to indicate to his accomplice that he had not gotten anything. He had a folded newspaper stuck into his pants, in the small of his back...folded newspapers are used in some pickpocket maneuvers to conceal the hands or loot.
We saw some other suspected pickpockets in Termini. In one case, a person picked up an apparently-discarded folded newspaper...we suspected him of being an accomplice.
"If you like big cities, you will like Roma. If you don't, you won't."
Trains from Roma to Orvieto (time & type): 1314 Direto, 1514 Direto, 1610 IC (you must pay supplement in advance), 1714 Direto, 1803 IC, 1907 Night train (supplement?), 1914 Direto and 2225 Expresso (supplement?).
In Roma, it is not clear if all taxis have meters. We took a "RadioTaxi 3570" which did. The driver estimated 20,000 lira from Termini to Saint Peters, but the cost was only 13,000. Riding Roma taxis is not for suitable for persons with heart conditions or a fear of dying.
The Vatican Museum is very worth seeing, but it closes earlier than many expect. On Saturdays and some Sundays the entrance is open 8:45 to 12:30, other days the entrance is open until 3:30. The line outside is several blocks long, some shaded and some not. Here are some line-waiting times for various locations along the street (if you are in line at this point, you have this much time to wait):
The Vatican Museum has free toilets with drinking fountains, and a cafeteria with reasonable prices.
After you leave St. Peter's you may attempt to catch a taxi. There are not always any available, so a good alternative (maybe an 8 block walk) is the Metro (subway). You can buy Metro tickets (1500 lira) at a news-stand along the way.
In Roma Termini, the trains to Rome Fiumicino airport depart every 30 minutes on Track 26. Tickets are relatively expensive for the distance involved. Expect to walk about 10 minutes from the track 1-24 area to the track 25-29 area.
In Fiumicino (Rome's international airport) there are guards on the balconies toting machine guns.
Many Senegalese sell purses along the streets of Italian cities.
Throughout Italy (and Western Europe), you cannot distinguish the various nationalities by appearance. British, English, Americans, Italians all look and dress the same.
Italian trains and other surfaces are often decorated with large, artistic, multi-colored graffiti. Sometimes this involves just a number, like "23." Other times you will see a pattern repeated over and over, Andy Warhol style.
No fanny packs were seen in Bolzano or Venice, or anywhere else in Italy. Men in Siena use purses (strap over a shoulder, purse under the opposite arm), briefcases (leather or fabric), camera bags, backpacks and multi-pocket vests.
Is Spanish-language fluency useful in Italy? Moderately so, but do not expect that you will find communication in Italian easy even if you can speak Spanish.
A "kilometric" train ticket is spelled "Biglietto Chilometrico."
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