Travel Tips and Observations From Bill
First of all we had a wonderful trip using the trains which allowed us to relax while enjoying the view of the countryside and sea. We do take our meals and apero snacks along with us when we are on the train to make sure we are well fed and have enough to drink at the appropriate times. It is possible on most of the major train lines to buy food but it is not always convenient to wait for your meals to be delivered to your seat (if you are in first class) that you might have pre-ordered and the menu pictures do not usually correspond with the items served. You might be able to save enough to add a nice bottle of wine with your lunch, apero or dinner by buying a nice salad, sandwich, cheese and sausage platter from a grocery before entering the station. Coffee brewed yourself is always better than they have the ability to serve on the trains. A half liter thermos is just about right for each of us for breakfast and is easy to pack and manage. One more thing to consider is that all trains do not have food on board so if you bring your own you know it will be there when you are ready.
We tend to favor apartments or homes found on the rental sites over hotels so that we have the option of cooking or having a place to store our cold drinks and heating items in a microwave or oven. More space for the money is the norm and you can live like a local shopping in the markets if you enjoy that sort of thing (we definitely do). When searching for apartments on any site it is a very good ideal before making that booking to use one of the street map programs that allows you to walk the neighborhood to see what is in the vicinity and how convenient it will be for you to access public transport, parking, shopping and assess the security of the neighborhood. It might be a big red flag if in every picture of your neighborhood you see the police escorting the camera vehicle. What looks great in daylight might change completely at dusk. Read the reviews of not only the place you are considering but also others in the same area that might be rated differently both higher and lower and pay attention to the ones that discuss the location. Another point to remember is that some of the booking sites allow the owners to remove reviews that they don’t consider positive so you will want to check a couple of different sites to get a better insight into the neighborhood.
All through the years I have read how dirty the canals of Venice were and was pleasantly surprised to see plenty of fish swimming and very little trash thrown into the water (a few empty water and soda bottles perhaps from the millions of tourists) and no bad odors. The streets were impeccably cleaned with door to door trash pickup from inside the buildings. There were a few mosquitos but it is a city that would not exist without the water.
If the dates for your trip are flexible (or not) you might want to check the calendars on each of the cities websites you might visit along the way to see what festivals or special events might be planned that you may or may not wish to be involved with on your vacation. Certain events can swell the population of villages and cities by hundreds of thousands and this might affect your ability to visit the notable sites. One place this occurred was in Milan where they allow viewing of religious relics only once a year so thousands of people crowd the Duomo and also buy the limited number of tickets to see the Leonardo Da Vinci fresco so both were off our list for this trip. If you happen to be visiting Venice then you might want to check out the website for the port to see how many cruise ships will be docked on each day so you can plan your itinerary accordingly. One site that shows cruise ships at different ports is https://www.cruisemapper.com/ports/venice-port-79 If you buy “skip the line” tickets in advance and there are warnings about busy times and security lines then pay attention and make sure you are well fed and do not need a restroom to keep anxiety and frustration at a minimum.
So now you are a bit hungry or thirsty so you see a great little spot with a set menu listed outside. In France the set menus may include 3 items – starter, main course and dessert but in Italy you might need to read carefully as it may be split into 3 items but the last item could be your choice of accompaniment for the main. Ask before being seated if the menu is available or will you be required to order a la carte at usually much higher prices. It’s fun to be spontaneous sometimes but you did look at the reviews for the restaurants and bars in the area didn’t you so you knew which ones to absolutely avoid? If the ratings are 1 or 2 out of 5 then read carefully and think twice before stopping. Ok so the menu is available and you are seated but before you are given a menu your server asks if you would like a drink or perhaps a bottle of wine and maybe even an appetizer plate to share while you are waiting. This is the time to ask for a menu and the wine list before you say yes. Some restaurants in tourist areas are known for bringing bottles of wine/drinks at inflated prices and the highest priced appetizer on the menu to unsuspecting tourists. (Our waiter laughing said the bottle he was about to pour was 200 euros and we told him to stop right there. The price amazingly fell to 40 euros but on the bill it had to be “corrected”.)
One last thought here is to check more than one site that gives restaurant recommendations as we were quite surprised when we picked one restaurant that was within 300 meters of our hotel because it was listed as home style cooking. Google can have errors in translation but reading back it appears that there may have been an error on linking to the reservation website because what we read in the reviews had nothing to do with this restaurant. We made an online reservation and walked to dinner arriving in our polo style shirts, tennis shoes and shorts. We were greeted by the hostess with the question “Are you staying in the hotel?’’ When we answered no the response was “I will have to see if we can make an exception to accommodate you.” She came back after consulting with the manager and told us she would make an exception but we would have to be seated in the garden as there was a dress code at this restaurant. Her English was perfect but her choice of words might not have had the meaning or intonation she expected or what we heard. The weather was warm so we really did wish to sit outside. Except for the mosquitoes and traffic noise on the other side of the hedges we enjoyed ourselves for the 3 hours. We looked at the menu and the huge wine menu book that was being passed around and decided to just go all in and have the tasting menu with the wine pairings. No choices required and an evening of entertaining dining. (This trip was a birthday celebration after all).
Another last note for this post is to look outside the main tourist areas for places to eat and drink. Just step one or two streets away from the main cathedral or monument and you might just find a great spot where you can meet the locals and enjoy a much more relaxed meal or drink and possibly at a better price or at least a better value. Be positive and smile and you might be surprised at the response you receive.