food: bring energy bar
To save on local public transportation and museum admissions, find out if any of the cities you are visiting offer city cards for tourists. Naples, Orvieto, Padova, Rome, Turin, Trieste, Verona and Venice are among the locales with such programs. For example. purchase the Verona Card at one of many locations around the city (8 euros for a one-day card and 12 euros for three days) and gain free admission to the city’s museums, churches and monuments and travel for free on the local bus.
Naples – www.Napoliartecard.com
Orvieto – www.Orvienet.it
Padova – www.Padovando.com
Rome – www.Romapass.it
Trieste – www.Triestetourism.it
Turin – www.Turismotorino.org
Venice – www.Venicecard.it
Verona – www.Portale.commune.verona.it
The rest of Europe
For Switzerland, Italy or Spain, check out raileurope.co.uk (or call 0870 8 371 371). Here you can book both your Eurostar ticket from London to Paris and many cheap deals offered by the European railways. Buy a London-Paris ticket from £59 return, then nab a ticket from Paris to Geneva, Lausanne, Bern, Basel or Zurich from as little as £15 each way. You can even treat yourself to first class, from £38 each way.
If travelling to Italy, a couchette on the overnight train from Paris to Florence, Venice or Rome can be yours for as little as £26 each way. If you're bound for Spain, a bed for the night on the excellent "trainhotels" from Paris to Madrid or Barcelona costs just £52 each way if you book in advance. And frankly, an afternoon Eurostar to Paris then an overnight sleeper to the Mediterranean won't take much more time out of your schedule than a late afternoon flight plus a room for the night - and isn't that a hotel bill saved, too?
If you’re just taking one or two long train trips during your European vacation, you’re probably best to just buy point-to-point tickets. But if you want to see more of the continent, a Eurail pass is a good option.
Class and discounts
Finally, do you want to travel in first or second class? If you’re under 26 on the first day of your pass, you can buy a discounted second-class ticket. Adults over 26 must buy a first-class ticket, but if there are two or more of you travelling together, you can get a Saver ticket which saves about 15%. If you’re under 26 but want a bit more luxury, you can just buy a first-class Adult or Saver ticket.
It’s much easier to buy a Eurail pass from home and have it sent to you there, Although you can now buy Eurail passes in some main train stations, they will cost on average 20% more than buying online, and you don’t have the full range of options. The online store will however ship your pass to you within Europe, but you have to pay hefty shipping fees – it’s often free to countries outside of Europe.
Not all trains are free when using the pass. Some trains have compulsory reservations – which means that you have to pay to reserve your specific seat. A lot of international and almost all night trains require you to do this, whether it’s for a seat or a couchette (bed). You can almost always travel the same journey for free but it will take you longer.
You can identify trains that require a reservation by the R printed next to them in the booklet. Online, Oebb makes it perfectly clear with bold type: subject to compulsory reservation.
Who is the pass good for?
A Eurail pass is the best thing in the world for people travelling in Western and Northern Europe, specifically Switzerland, Germany and Scandinavia. If you’re planning on travelling for five or more hours on each journey, you will save a lot of money and probably effort.
A traveller who is spending a lot of time in Italy or some Eastern European countries won’t get as much out of the pass, and might want to consider getting a pass for their travel in the West, and using point-to-point tickets in cheaper areas.
Weather in Italy
Winters in the north of Italy are cold, with rain and snow, and December through February can often be unpleasant unless you're skiing in Cortina. In the south, the weather is mild in the winter months, averaging 4°C and up (in the 40s F). Sicily's citrus and almond trees are already in bloom in February -- but nights can be cold, and Italian hotels' heating systems can be . . . frustrating. Purpose-built, modernized hotels in their own buildings often have independent heating/cooling systems you (or they) can control, but in older hotels and in small ones that take up only part of a building, the heat can often be turned on for the winter only on a pre-established date dictated by the local government and can be left on only during certain hours of the day (just one of the many lovely laws still hanging on from the Fascist era). Some of the cheapest hotels in Southern Italy and Sicily don't even have heating systems, so the rare cold snap can leave you shivering.
For the most part, it's drier in Italy than in North America. Since the humidity is lower, high temperatures don't seem as bad; exceptions are cities known for their humidity factor, such as Florence and Venice. In Rome, Naples, and the south, temperatures can stay around 90°F (32°C) for days, but nights are most often comfortably cooler. It's important to remember that this is not a country as smitten by the notion of air-conditioning and central heating as, say, the United States. And remember that the inexpensive hotels we list in this book are often the very places that will remind you of the pros and cons of ancient stone palazzi built with about 1m (3-ft.) thick walls. Don't expect the comfort of the Ritz.
Offices and shops in Italy are closed on the following dates: January 1 (New Year's Day), January 6 (Epiphany, usually called La Befana after Italy's Christmas Witch, who used to bring the presents until Hollywood's version of Santa Claus moved the gift-giving to December 25 by popular kiddie demand, though a few presents are always held over for La Befana),
30. Breakfast. Is it included or not? Always ask, and ask if it is continental or buffet. If they expect you to pay 5€ ($5.75) per person (for example) for a prepackaged month-old cornetto (croissant) and cup of mediocre coffee, check out the charming outdoor cafe down the block instead. If the self-service, all-you-can-eat buffet of cold cuts, fresh rolls, juice, yogurt, and -- well, you get the drift -- is offered in a simpatico setting and will keep you going till dinner, dig in, enjoy yourself, and grab an apple for the road.
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