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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Italy and Paris Travel Tips

Beautiful beautiful Vernazza
I really, really want to start sharing photos from our trip but this week has been kinda crazy with getting back to work and catching up with the people we love. I've barely had time to go through any of our photos, well except Cinque Terre photos. I LOVED CINQUE TERRE. Anyway, I did make the time to come up with a list of tips and things that we learned on our travels to share with you.

I know this is a lot of information, but I think I would have appreciated reading something like this before our trip. Hope it helps someone out there. :)
Taken while on the hike from Vernazza to Monterroso. Cinque Terre stole my heart.
Technology Related Tips
I should say that we spent about 8 months planning this trip. I obsessively read Rick Steve's Italy and Rick Steve's Paris, stalked Tripadvisor, and read lots of travel blogs. We didn't take any organized tours, but did download all of Rick Steve's free audio guides and they were AWESOME. He has audio-guides for most of the major museums in Italy, all the Ancient Roman sites, the Lourve, Pompeii, Versailles, and I'm sure I'm forgetting to mention others. We found that the audio-guides left out some details at times, but they were entertaining and covered the information that we thought was probably most pertinent. Oh and they definitely beat spending lots of money on organized tours Not going to lie, I'd rather put my money towards amazing food.

USE TRIPADVISOR. We regularly found ourselves going to TripAdvisor on our phones and reading the reviews of restaurants. I constantly said the words, "TripAdvisor never steers me wrong". Also, TripAdvisor provides free downloadable city guides that we used whenever possible. The app has free possible itineraries, tips, and lots and lots of great reviews. I highly recommend it.

If at all possible, purchase a SIM card and use Google Maps to make navigating around the cities a whole lot easier. You'll save yourself time, stress, money, and you know that little ole navigation system will probably help you avoid some arguments if you're traveling with your significant other (cough, not that I'm speaking from personal experience or anything =P)

We also used the Google Translate app every single day. It works really well and also gives you the option to hear the way in which the word or phrase you're entering should be pronounced. It was really really helpful.

Italy (we spent about 3 weeks in Italy, and as a result have more Italy related tips)
We found the public transportation system in Italy to be.... shenanigans to say the least. If you are planning a trip throughout Italy and will be relying on public transportation make sure you read up about the public transportation system in advance so you come way more prepared than we did. We did however have a really great experience on the Italo trains. I highly recommend them.

If you are renting a car in Italy make sure you stop at an Autogrill, which is basically the Italians version of a truck stop. Italian drivers take food seriously, and oh man we had really good food at the Autogrills.

Italy is (duh) HOT in August... really really hot. If you do go during that time bring lots and lots of light clothing and be prepared to do laundry regularly (sometimes in your bathroom sink). Lets just say this Southern Californian was so not prepared for the humidity I experienced in Italy.

Make reservations at all the museums in Rome and Florence before you leave for your trip, in some cases months before you leave. DO IT.

Certain parts of Italy are overrun by mosquitoes during the summer (Venice!, Sorrento, and I swear there were killer mosquitoes in Rome). If you are a mosquito magnet like me invest in some bug spray. Trust me, you won't regret it.

Rome has water fountains everywhere with the most wonderful cold water. We used these Vapur collapsible water bottles every single day. They're perfect.

While in Paris we rented Velib bikes. They are cheap, have pickup and drop-off stations all over the city, and we thought were the best way to explore Paris. Paris has lots of bike lanes and is a relatively easy city to bike ride in, but be careful nonetheless. We did almost get killed once or twice by drivers that didn't see us. Either way, we loved actually seeing Paris while getting from one place to the next.

If you are at all interested in checking out the museums in Paris make sure you purchase the Paris Museum Pass. It allows you to skip lines and will save you a lot of money, provided you are interested in seeing a number of the museums on the list.

We found that in Italy most restaurants, B&Bs, and miscellaneous shops will only accept cash while in Paris all places accept credit card or cash. Be prepared. :)

Restaurants and cafes almost always have a different price for sitting down at a table versus standing at the bar or taking food to go. Think about it before you decide to sit down.

In Italy always ask how much before you order or buy something because often times prices will not be clearly marked. This really goes for everything you purchase including gelato at a stand, a souvenir, or even a clothing item at a nicer store. Also, check the amount of change you receive, and make sure it is correct. If it's not correct, say something and get the right amount back. I only say this based on (multiple) experiences in the more touristy areas.

In Paris all restaurants and shops have prices clearly displayed outside or on a window. Easy peasy.

Miscellaneous Tips
Yes, I love clothes and fashion. I so wanted to take a big suitcase with lots of cute clothing, and lots of extra space so I could shop, buttttt taking a small carry-on backpack with perfectly organized packing cubes was the best decision I could have made! You can read more about how I packed here. Seriously, the last thing you want to do while rushing through a crowded train station or climbing up tons of steps is to worry about dragging a huge suitcase behind you. It's just not worth it. If you can manage it, and you definitely can during the summer, bring a small backpack. We both used Tom Bihn Aeronaut bags. Point is, if I can do it, you can do it. =P

Oh and if you love food.... well the way I love good food make sure you take advantage of the amazing food in Italy and Paris. Try your best to step away from the touristy areas and try restaurants where the locals are, even if you're nervous about reading the menus. More often than not, people will help you out. Also I personally chose to have a cheaper breakfast, or a free one if our hotel included breakfast. A small but delicious lunch like pizza or a sandwich, and a more expensive but delicious dinner with a bottle of wine. While in Italy we also made sure to have gelato each day, because well that's what you do.

To be honest there are a lot of pickpockets in Italy and Paris. Chances are you will be fine, but make sure you are always aware of who is around you and watch your stuff. If someone approaches you asking you to sign a petition, participate in a game, tries to put a bracelet or ring on you, tries to sell you a metro/train ticket say no firmly and walk away.

When you do walk into a store or restaurant say hello in the appropriate language and smile. It makes a difference. ;)

Most importantly, make sure you slow down. There are so many beautiful things and places to see but we found that the times we enjoyed the most were really the times we slowed down. Whether that be while people watching and making friends at a sidewalk cafe in Paris (oh my god I LOVE Paris), sitting on the beach in Positano, chatting with locals on the train, or enjoying a glass of champagne on the grass while watching the Eiffel Tower light up at night, just stop and enjoy. Those times that you stop while probably the ones you value the most.
No caption necessary ;)
Questions, Thoughts, or Suggestions?
Send them my way :)


Anonymous said...

love this! so going to save this for when i get to go on my own adventure!

Robyn said...

I think it is brilliant that you travelled for all that time with a carry on- so right- makes travelling so much easier. I did the same when I went up paris earlier this year- but I was only in Europe for 4 days!! Well done you!

Jill J @ Classy with a Kick said...

I am SO jealous of your trip. These are all great tips. We are hoping to go to Italy/Greece next year so this is very helpful! Welcome back to SD!!

Classy with a Kick

Amira said...

Cinque Terre has now replaced Greece as my top desired travel destination. GORGEOUS!

Danielle Villano said...

Thank you for this! My best friend and I are in the beginning stages of planning a trip to Italy, and these sorts of tips are really helpful :)


Martie @ Spunkyrella said...

As a European myself - born and raised in Vienna, Austria - it´s funny to read your tips because many of them are very obvious to Europeans :)

I also wanted to say that the overly touristy areas tend to avoid clearly stated prices because they want to trick customers, also those restaurants and bistro are not as great as the ones locals would go to.

While traveling I always try to do what locals do - it´s the much better experience!

Oh and about the weather: You caught the massive heat wave which came over from the Sahara. Italy, Germany and Austria all suffered. Old buildings in Vienna don´t provide any AC and I didn´t have one at my office either. It was like two weeks straight living in 120F humidity. I was a mess :(

Positano is my favorite as well :)

Love the photos!


Crazy Shenanigans-JMO said...

It sounds like you had an AMAZING time! I can't wait to see more photos!

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures said...

Awesome tips!

Anonymous said...

Tammy, this is all awesome! My wife, her sister and I are planning a trip to Italy and Paris next June and this is super helpful and getting me super excited!

T.Bee said...

Thank you so much Tammy for your insight. My husband and I will be going on a Paris Italy trip in 2015. Yes im super uber early in my research but I'm soaking all the information I can in. This was a great help!

Toya M.

Mikayla Knaebel said...

Looks like a great trip! I am going to several countries in Central Europe and May. What did you bring as far as converters or adaptors for the outlets there? Thanks! :)

Tammy @ Lemons, Avocados and the Bay said...

Hi Mikayla,
As far as electronics we tried to keep things pretty simple and brought 2 phones, a tablet, a DSLR camera, and a point and shoot camera. We ended up purchasing 4 two plug adapters, but I think we would have been just fine with 3. I can't remember exactly which adapters we purchased, but they were similar to this http://www.amazon.com/OREI-Grounded-Universal-Adapter-Germany/dp/B004SY5O5K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1396843831&sr=8-1&keywords=europe+power+adapter.

Good luck and have an amazing trip :)

Jami said...

I've loved reading your posts about Italy and Paris! We are going in June, with a similar itinerary, so your posts have been very helpful (and your photos are amazing).

Can you tell me about your shoes on this trip? I saw what you packed. I'm wondering if the shoes you packed worked well, or if you had to buy different shoes while there. Did you wish you hadn't brought some, etc. Very worried about the amount of walking we will be doing in the heat and keeping my feet happy.

Also, did you use your DSLR everywhere? Did you find it too heavy/bulky to carry around all the time?

Tammy @ Lemons, Avocados and the Bay said...

Hi Jami,
How amamzing that you are doing the trip in June. I am SO jealous. :) :)

I personally wore a mixture of Avarcas (slippers that are made in Spain), sneakers, and a pair of sandals I bought while in Tuscany on our trip. The shoes I brought worked well, and I only bought the sandals in Tuscany because they were beautiful. ;)

I just recently became obsessed with Fitflops. Maybe you should look into bringing a pair of those?? They are really really comfortable, and if you are lucky you can find a really cute pair. :)

Also, I did bring my DSLR almost everywhere. I purchased a Canon SL1 which is a smaller and lighter DSLR. It worked perfectly. On the few occasions we went out for a nice dinner I opted to leave my DSLR in our hotel room and brought my point and shoot instead.

Hope that helps. :)

Have a wonderful trip.


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