Trip Coach: July 17, 2007
Christopher Winner, editor of Italy-based website TheAmericanMag.com, answered your questions on planning a trip to Italy.
Christopher Winner: Christopher Winner here. Greetings to all of you from Rome and thanks so much for your interesting questions. It's hotter than July these days, a beautiful, classic summer in which broiling days yield to tolerably cool nights. Before I start, I want to remind you again about the weak dollar. The euro is now worth about $1.38 and climbing. That means some exchange kiosks (including at major airports) will push it up to $1.45 -- in other words you're getting less than 75 euro cents on your dollar bill. A 100 euro meal is really $140, a $200 euro hotel room nearly $280, and so on. For those who still ask me about how much cash to take, here's a general answer. Get 150 euros per person before you travel. This is to handle any travel emergencies on arrival. The rest you can get through the ubiquitous Bancomat bank machines, now equipped for Visa, Mastercard, Amex, etc. (check into service charges). Ensure you take two cards, keeping one with you and one in reserve. Photocopy the data page of your passport and keep that with you in lieu of lugging your passport around and risk losing it while seeing the sights. Passports can be kept at the hotel, with the front desk if you choose. Pick-pocketing is a summer problem on buses (because people wear little clothing and have so few places to put important documents), so dodge potential mishaps. Remember, it's July and August. While the tourist sites are all open, museums too, some restaurants close for the holidays (particularly between August 10 and 25th). So call ahead or ask your hotel concierge. Now, on to your questions.
Payson, Arizona: I just read with interest that there has been no garbage collection in the Naples area and what looks like southwestern Italy for several months. We are planning to be in Caserta October 27-29, after which we plan to head south along the Amalfi coast, stopping in Paestum for 2 nights and then on to Sicily. We will be in Sicily from November 1-7. From Palermo we will either drive back to Rome or take the Ferry Palermo/Naples. There are 3 people in our party. My questions are: If the garbage strike continues that long, will the areas we are visiting be affected? How reliable is the Palermo/Naples Ferry since we will be crossing on November 7th and are catching our homeward flights on November 9th from Rome? Thank you, Leslie
Christopher Winner: Dear Leslie: The truth about the garbage situation is that there's no end in sight. The city and region simply can't keep up with the waste that has already accumulated. It's not so much a strike as it is the lack of anyplace to dispose of the garbage since several waste facilities shut down since 2006. That said, the problem is most dramatic in the outlying sections of Naples. (You can have a look a late night May emergency pickup at youtube.com/watch?v=l7QEDOitTAc). Still, this shouldn't concern you unduly. Your itinerary sounds just fine. The Naples-Palermo ferry is a vital link and very reliable. Beware of weather, however. October and November can kick up rough water. The ferry is storm-sensitive.
Apex, NC : We are booked on atransatlantic cruise for April 26, 2008 from Miami to Rome. No airfare was included, nor was it offered. Would we be better off touring on our own and paying over $200/night for a hotel room in each city in Italy, or booking a land tour? What is your opinion as to booking reasonable airfare back to Raleigh, NC? and shouldn't the cruiseline be offering cut rate fares back to the US?
Christopher Winner: I don't know the details of your cruise so I can't make an informed remark. I can say that the Atlantic is a rocky stretch of water in April -- so don't expect a Caribbean lullaby. Honestly, it would seem to me to make more sense to fly to Italy, tour the country, and if you wish to take a cruise take one that leaves from Genoa or Venice and does the Mediterranean. Costa cruises has some interesting itineraries (costacruise.com).
Mentone, California: I have arranged a solo trip to Florence and Venice for the first two weeks of November. I plan to spend 1 week in Florence, then train to Venice and back after a week to fly out of Florence. Will I need to make reservations for museums during this off season time? (I am pretty spontaneous...which is why I love traveling alone!) Also, I read somewhere that it is not common for women to dine alone in Italy? And lastly, if you were a tourist making a day trip out of Florence, would you choose Piza or Siena? Thanks for your time, I am packed already (in July!) and anxious to fall in love with your country! Annie