Sunday, March 20, 2016

Trattoria, Osteria and Ristorante - Finding A Place To Eat

   Half the fun of our trips to Italy has been finding and enjoying good places to eat. Whether you choose a trattoria, osteria or ristorante for your next meal, a great way to choose a restaurant is just by reading the posted menu and peeking in the front window. We've found most of ours that way. We have rarely been disappointed. Asking the hotel staff, concierge or your self-catering apartment/villa owner is also a great way to find a restaurant with good food and Italian atmosphere. Some say to look for places that seem full of locals and places without photos of their food on the menu board.  
   Many restaurants in cities like Florence, Rome and Venice exist because of the tourist trade, but if you choose to eat at a place with a tourist menu in English that is offering a complete meal with a glass of wine for 10 euros, you might not be disappointed. We have eaten at several "tourist restaurants" and found that the food and wine were more than adequate. Everything depends on your dining expectations and your budget.
   Several of our best dining experiences have occurred when we headed down a side street or alley and came upon the perfect little trattoria. Three restaurants that come to mind were all found a little outside the main tourist haunts, but still within walking distance of city centers.
 One we discovered on our second in Florence visit, when the four of us were starving after a long day of sight-seeing in Rome, so we headed out of our apartment on foot to find a place for dinner. We decided to try to stay in our neighborhood and were fortunate to find Il Cavaliere Ristorante on Viale Spartaco Lavagnini 20. This small, family owned restaurant exceeded our expectations with its delicious traditional Tuscan meals and excellent wine. I ordered Ravioli ricotta e spinaci (spinach and ricotta ravioli) and Debbie had Spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams). Both were delectable. What a delightful evening!  With a bottle of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, our dinner check was about 45 euros.
Il Cavaliere Ristorante, Florence

   On our most recent trip in November 2015, Debbie and I found two more excellent restaurants. Since we were having supper at our apartment some nights, we enjoyed seeking out little trattorias for lunch in each city we visited. Two favorites stand out: the first, Trattoria da Giampi e Ciccio at via Farini 31/B, was in Bologna, where we both had wonderful pasta meals and house wine for 34 euros.
Trattoria da Giampi e Ciccio, Bologna

    The second, in Bergamo (a city that we loved that wasn't even on our itinerary), we ventured down a side street after seeing a sign on the corner for Ristorante Lalimentari, via Tassis, 3a, Bergamo Alta. We were very pleased. The service, atmosphere, food and wine were excellent. Our total for lunch with wine was 44 euros. Be sure to ride the funicolare up to the old city to get to this restaurant.
Ristorante Lalimentari, Bergamo
Ristorante Lalimentari, Bergamo

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Feeling a bit lazy today, so I thought I'd just post a photo array of a few of our experiences and places we've visited it Italy. Hope you enjoy the photos we took. These photos are all from our first trip in June/July 2011.
Street performer near the Uffizi in Florence
Street performer near the Uffizi in Florence

Street performer near the Uffizi in Florence

Our very first view of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre view from the hiking trail

Our entrance gate to San Gimignano

Towers of San Gimignano

Greve in Chianti

Fiesole cafe
Wine shop in Fiesole
Fiesole al fresco

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

How Much Will It Cost?

 How much will it cost? This is always a tough question to answer on your own if you're planning your first trip to Italy. On this post, I'll share what our actual expenditures were on our most recent vacation in Italy. Whether you're staying for a single week or a month, the costs of traveling can be high. There are so many variables. One cost that I check often, mostly just out of curiosity, is the euro/dollar exchange rate. Another, that I receive email alerts from Kayak, Tripadvisor, Swiss International Airlines and Aer Lingus is airfare for the dates we're hoping to travel. A third might be the fluctuating room rates at hotels. Depending on where you choose to stay when you travel, which airline you use and whether or not to rent a car, your what you will spend can vary widely.
On our way!

   We have found, more than once, that our airfares turned out to be our single biggest expense. For that reason, and because we are retired, we have been fortunate to spend 14 to 16 days in Italy on each visit. Plane tickets are just too expensive for us to stay just seven days. But, if you have only 7 days, plan a less ambitious itinerary and get going! You can still have a wonderful trip if you focus on having the Italian experience concentrating more on one locale or two. More on this in a future post. On our first trip in June/July 2011, our economy tickets on Swiss cost $1252 each. In September/October 2014, our tickets cost $1420 each, once again, on Swiss. Last year, in November 2015, the cost was just $655 each on Aer Lingus! So, you can see a major fluctuation in prices. The 2015 trip wasn't planned or thought of, until we got the email price alert from Aer Lingus on August 28, 2015. By the 31st, we had booked our flights for November 7th. That gave just a little over two months to arrange lodging, renew our passports, reserve train tickets and pay deposits. On September 2, 2015, we had new passport photos taken at the post office and mailed our new applications. We also reserved a hotel room in Milan for our first three days in Italy. Since the great plane ticket price required flying into the Linate airport in Milan, we got to visit that city and area for the first time.
   Now, back to the costs of the trip. Our flights were a total of $1314; the hotel room in Milan was $345 ($115/night); our rental apartment in Bologna for the second three days was $338 ($113/night); seven nights at the apartment in Florence was $500 ($71/night) and one more night in Milan for our departure was $94. Our reserved seat train tickets that we purchased online before we left were $86. Those tickets took us from Milan to Bologna, Bologna to Florence and Florence to Milan all 2nd class on Trenitalia's fast trains, the Frecciargento and the Frecciarossa. The tickets prices were greatly discounted by buying them in advance online. Of course, then, we were tied into specific dates and times, regardless of weather or changes in plans. We had no problems with that.
Debbie relaxing in our Bologna apartment

Flights $1314
Lodging $1325
Trains (res.) $86
Other trans.$264 (taxis, regional trains, buses, ferries)
Food, misc.$900 (our pre-trip estimate was $1500)
 Total         $3889 (give or take $100-200)

That brings our total for the 14 day 2015 trip to $3889. (we had additional costs for boarding our dog, Sandie ($447 after a long-stay discount) and rental cars to/from the airport in Boston ($235) where parking our car would have cost about $200 for 16 days. We chose not to leave our car there for that long. Also, our US passport renewals cost about $250, which we won't have to do again for 10 more years. Please note that even if you have six months left until your passport renewal date, some countries, like Italy won't accept them. Get your passport renewed if you will have six months or less on their expiration date by the time you travel.
   Not only were the plane fares great, the exchange rate dollars to euros was the best we've had on our three trips: 2015 ($1.09), 2014 ($1.31) and 2011 ($1.46). We were paying about 26% less in 2015 than we were in 2011!
   On our 16 day 2011 trip, we spent about $6400 due to higher plane fares, larger apartment rental and a less friendly exchange rate. In 2014, four of us traveled together for 14 days and split the cost of the same 3 bedroom/3 bath apartment ($1834/$130 per night) we had rented in 2011, so our total costs were about $5900 even though plane fares were higher.
  Obviously, there are a lot of factors that can influence how much your trip will cost. Restaurant prices vary as widely in Italy as they do anywhere else. We rarely chose $$$$ expensive places to eat and several times each year, we prepared our own meals at our apartment. Lodging can be a huge expense with choices for a hotel room ranging from $45 to $750 a night. Self-catering apartments can run between $60 and $400 per night. You can save a lot of money buying some train tickets before you leave home. Museum tickets and passes can be pretty costly, too, but be sure to include them in your budget.
   Lastly, don't let the exchange rate prevent you from making your plans and going on the trip of a lifetime. And, once you're in Italy, the sooner you stop calculating euros into to dollars every time you eat out or buy something, you will begin to enjoy your trip even more. Italy is waiting for you. Get going!
From our balcony at Hotel Mythos in Milan