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Traveling Italy near Christmas

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1. Posted by patjk (Budding Member 35 posts) 5y

patjk has indicated that this thread is about Italy

Hello,
I am a student from the US currently studying in the UK. During mid-Dec and near Christmas, I plan to head to Italy and check it out.

I am flying into Rome on the 15th for sure. After spending the night of the 16th, and 17th in Rome, I want to train to either Florence or Pisa. After a couple days in either or both of those, I want to check out Cinque Terre a bit, before I fly out of Bologna to head to Paris for a couple days.

My question is, what is the best route to take to do this? I am arriving in Rome, and I need to leave out of Bologna (they have the cheapest flights I could find to Paris). Right now, my plan is to train from Rome to Pisa, take a day trip to somewhere in Cinque Terre, train to Florence, spend a couple days in Florence, then train up to Bologna to fly to Paris.

Any suggestions? Should I buy all my train tickets in advance? What is the best way to get from the train stations to the hostels where I am staying?

Another question: How long would it take to walk the trek throughout a lot of Cinque Terre?

Thanks!

[ Edit: Edited on 15-Nov-2009, at 07:59 by patjk ]

2. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 5y

The route sounds reasonable to me. I'm assuming you're using Pisa as a base prior to going to Cinque Terre so you won't need to lug your bags etc with you all day while getting from one village to another. Otherwise, you could considder Rome-Cinque Terre, followed by Cinque Terre-Pisa, and do only 2 train journeys instead of 3 (and this will save you a little bit of money in terms of ticket prices).

Buying ahead or not depends on the train type. Check on the train options on Trenitalia's website. If at any point you want to travel with faster ES/ES*/Intercity trains, then definitely buy ahead and get discounted Amica ticket (which gives 20% reduction from the standard price). The Amica price is not immediately obvious when you do the train searches, but when you click on a particular train option, it should comes up in the next screen if it's available. (Amica prices are not available if the ticket is less than €10 to start with). Slow regional R trains don't in general allow reservations nor online booking (unless it's part of a connection from faster trains) therefore no booking required for those.

So I'll say, go to Trenitalia's website, and look for the different options, weigh up the time differences between taking different types of trains, and consider the prices and how they fit into your budget. If you opt to save, say, 1 hour travelling time by using faster train, then definitely book the tickets ahead. If you think you're going to travel with the cheap R train options, and don't mind that extra hour of travelling time, then you can buy your tickets as you go along.

E.g. train from Pisa to Cinque Terre if you choose to travel Rome-Pisa, then doing day trip to Cinque Terre from Pisa. Unless you plan to go to only one village among the 5, you would be starting in one village, and finishing in another, and will want to return from the village you've arrived last in. You won't quite know how far you can trek or how many villages you'll be able to cover (weather, daylight and fitness dependent). Moreover, there are no fast trains that stop at all the villages so you'll be on regional trains, which is not bookable in any case. So clearly, buy as you go would be a more flexible condition. Plus if you book something from Pisa with a connection (at La Spezia) that includes a fast train, that option is only going to be faster by about 10-15 minutes in terms of total travelling time, and it'll cost a wee bit more.

Ps: strange, I can't seem to find tickets more than 1 month in advance on Trenitalia at the moment - it gives error page. So you may want to wait for a couple more days before starting to book for the tickets?

3. Posted by patjk (Budding Member 35 posts) 5y

Thank you for the great information. I will definitely consider going Rome to Cinque Terre. My impression of Cinque Terre was of it being very small, so I figured there were no direct trains and I'd have to stop in Pisa anyways. However, I will definitely look into this.

In regards to the trek, I was more or less just thinking about whether I can or can't do it in a couple days. I don't mind just going to Cinque Terre for the day and enjoy the views, and then head back to Pisa.

What is the best to way get from the main train stations of each city to the hostels? Are the buses and maps pretty straight forward? I know in England the buses don't announce that stops as they go, so if you don't know where you're going, it is practically impossible to know when to get off without asking someone on the bus.

Also, do a lot of people speak English in Italy? I heard that most don't, but it is nice to know that I can ask for help if I need it.

Thanks again.

4. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 5y

The villages are not big, but if you're walking along the coast from one village to another, to make all 5 villages will take a good part of the day (5-6 hours?). But hey, if you only have a very small amount of things with you and you're using to doing hikes and stuff, then it's a doable option to head straight for Cinque Terre. By the way, Pisa is also a small town that you can explore the historical centre within a couple of hours. ;)

Errm, since there are a lot of hostels in all the different cities, I can't really tell you much more about how to get there. You should check with the hostels you're booking in for the directions. If you're somewhere quite central, it's easy to just walk around. I did that when I was visiting.

In Rome, there are buses and metro, but the metro is confined to one corner of the city. The bus stops do mark the stops of the route, but be aware that they can be crowded and on the popular routes where tourists take to get from one sights to another, like 40 or 64, guard your bag with your life and hug it to you in front etc. Pickpockets operating on the routes are amazingly adept, that in between the time it takes for you to get on the bus and the door closes (read: seconds) you may find your wallet in your backpack that you carry on your back already gone.

In Pisa, I just went around by foot and I didn't pay much attention on the bus routes etc. In Florence, similarly, I was exploring solely by foot. I've never been to Bologna so sorry, I can't tell you much more about it either.

Usually, you can get free bus maps easily at the information centres. And oh, buy your tickets before getting on the bus, either from the tabacconist, or station office/counter, or ticket vending machine, and sometimes newseller. Tickets are not available on the bus from what I recall. Validate the ticket on the machine, and they're usually good for unlimited travel within anything between an hour to 90 minutes, depending on which city you're in.

5. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 5y

Re language. There may be limited English speakers, and usually the further south you are, the less English speakers there are (e.g. plenty of English speakers in Milan in comparison to Florence).

This is probably something that I can't give good advice on, because I know some basic Italian and therefore it didn't register for me as being too difficult to communicate. Also, during my first forays to Italy, I was travelling with friends who are fluent in Italian. Perhaps other TPers may be able to tell you more of their experience on this?

6. Posted by Gurt (Full Member 59 posts) 5y

Some small tips: if you arrive on Roma Ciampino by Ryanair do not buy your busticket in the plane. It suggests easy city centre travelling, but you'll end up in a crowd around only one bus. We had to wait for 30 minutes and after that we decided we did not want to push ourselves into the new crowd and finally bought a new ticket for the other busses, empty waiting for people......!

The bus will bring you to Roma Terminus station (in about 30 minutes), so I can advise to look for a bed nearby. Terminus will be the train station where you'll leave too.

In Roma also consider taking a tram. Tickets are the same as your bustickets. About 1 euro per hour. Just buy a handful in advance.

Did you see my Cinque Terra pictures yet? The villages are beautiful but small. So if you sleep overthere you don't need a bus from the trainstation.
If I remember well on the stations you can buy train tickets in advance. They are validated outside the train in the machine just before departing.

Have a nice trip!

7. Posted by patjk (Budding Member 35 posts) 5y

Quoting lil_lil

The villages are not big, but if you're walking along the coast from one village to another, to make all 5 villages will take a good part of the day (5-6 hours?). But hey, if you only have a very small amount of things with you and you're using to doing hikes and stuff, then it's a doable option to head straight for Cinque Terre. By the way, Pisa is also a small town that you can explore the historical centre within a couple of hours. ;)

I can't seem to find too much info about this trek online. How long distance wise is the trip? I'd definitely be willing to spend the day hiking it - it seems well worth it. I have climbed many mountains, so my physical condition isn't an issue. Does the trek run north-south or south-north?

Quoting lil_lil

In Pisa, I just went around by foot and I didn't pay much attention on the bus routes etc. In Florence, similarly, I was exploring solely by foot. I've never been to Bologna so sorry, I can't tell you much more about it either.

Sounds good, this is my plan. I may try avoiding a lot of the buses in Rome as well, if I can. I more or less just want to see the city, the Vatican, and the Colosseo.

Do you have any suggestions on where to stay in Cinque Terre? I am considering just taking a bus up from Rome straight to Cinque Terre, and then pass through Pisa on my way to Florence to check out the leaning tower.

Quoting Gurt

Some small tips: if you arrive on Roma Ciampino by Ryanair do not buy your busticket in the plane. It suggests easy city centre travelling, but you'll end up in a crowd around only one bus. We had to wait for 30 minutes and after that we decided we did not want to push ourselves into the new crowd and finally bought a new ticket for the other busses, empty waiting for people......!

I am indeed taking ryanair. I did hear that ryanair tries to charge for every little thing, so I will certainly avoid all of that.

Quoting Gurt

Did you see my Cinque Terra pictures yet? The villages are beautiful but small. So if you sleep overthere you don't need a bus from the trainstation.
If I remember well on the stations you can buy train tickets in advance. They are validated outside the train in the machine just before departing.

I haven't seen the pictures. Where are they at?

I definitely plan to sleep overnight there, as I really want to try this trek. I plan to spend a night or 2 there, and then head to Pisa for the morning/lunch, and head up to Florence in the afternoon. Thanks for the info!

8. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 5y

It has been a while since I went to Cinque Terre so instead of risking giving inaccurate advice, here's a wikitravel article on Cinque Terre - hope it helps. And perhaps when you return, you can contribute back to the forum by helping to update the TP Travel Guide on Cinque Terre? ;)

(Ps: the TP Travel Guide has accommodation list so you could search for accommodation from there)

You can walk the path from north to south or south to north, as you prefer. Know that the steeper and trickier walk is the north so if you walk north to south, you're tackling those first and leaving the easier portion till later, when you're getting tired. However, I've heard some people said it's more rewarding the other way, so... (Up to yourself to decide really) ;)

I can't tell much re bus from Rome to Cinque Terre (either Monterosso - if you start from north, or Riomaggiore - if you start from south), since I usually do intercity travel in Italy by train. Come to really think of it, I don't use bus much at all in Italy, usually preferring to take the trains. The regional trains are usually cheap and convenient.

As for buses from Ciampino to Rome, I believe Ryanair partners with Terravision but there are other bus operators there indeed, and the prices are more or less the same between them all, between €5 to €6 if I'm not mistaken. Cotral and Sit are the other two main operators.

There is another option which is more complicated but it reduces your travel cost by about half. It's by taking local bus to metro station for line A - station Anagnina. Then grab the metro which goes into Rome. The metro ticket is a standard ticket used for all public transport in Rome, so you can use it to catch a bus or a tram when you arrive, as long as it's within an hour since your first validation.

9. Posted by patjk (Budding Member 35 posts) 5y

I am starting to lay out the final details of my trip.

I have decided to spend a couple days in Rome, then train from Rome to Monterosso. Spend the night in Monterosso, hike through all the villages south to Riomaggiore. I will most likely leave early in the day, and spend around 10 hrs or so checking out the hike, the villages, etc. I'll try to pack a lunch to eat on the hike somewhere, or maybe just stop in one of the villages to eat.

Then I'll spend the night in Riomaggiore, and the next morning train to Pisa, check out the city center and leaning tower, then train to Florence and spend a bit of time there.

Thanks for all the great tips and resources for this. It should be a great time. Some further questions:

  • I have been considering bringing my laptop on this trip. It would be extremely handy to be able to look up further details about something if I end up lost or want to explore something further. However, I have been told by friends not to. The biggest thing about this for me would be having to carry it in my backpack during the hiking and walking, but that shouldn't be too big of a deal. Any suggestions?
  • For the trip from Rome to Cinque Terre, I was reading here that there is a direct train from Rome to Monterosso that costs around 41 Euors. Does this sound correct? I assume it would be one of the faster trains, but not sure. Should I book this train ticket in advance on Trenitalia's website?
  • Any suggestions for where to stay in Monterosso and/or in Riomaggiore? I don't need anything fancy, just a place to sleep.

Cheers!

10. Posted by lil_lil (Travel Guru 462 posts) 5y

Re bringing laptop:

First, a couple of things re bringing laptop esp as you're travelling with Ryanair. A very strict 1-bag policy is in place, so no separate laptop bag allowed. It must fit into your one luggage, unless you've booked to check in a luggage. I doubt that you'll be checking bag in, since then that would means you'll have too much stuff to carry while you hike/walk Cinque Terre. Additionally, the one piece hand luggage allowance is 10kg, and a laptop could easily eat up 4kg or so including the battery pack.

Secondly, walking all day for a good few hours is not great for carrying laptop all that time. Weight makes itself felt after a while, and you won't want to have backache if you can avoid it. If you want more information etc, I'm sure there are tourist information centres where you can get details from, or from fellow travellers. That's what people have been doing prior to the laptop/netbook era.

Thirdly, if you have a laptop, then you'll either have to bring that with you at all time, or risk leaving it behind at hostels etc. Are you truly confident that the laptop will remain safe? Do you have other purpose of carrying the laptop apart from just wanting to get more information on a just-in-case basis? Quite often, I find anything that's "just-in-case" usually is not required afterall. Unless you really need it, my advice would be to leave it at home.

Re train:

As far as I am aware of, there's usually a change of train at La Spezia but when you buy ticket for Rome to Monterosso, the change would have been accounted for. The fastest option involves a first fast train (either ES, ES* or IC) from Rome to La Spezia, then a change to a slower regional (R) train to Monterosso. Travel time usually averages around 4 to 4.5 hours. Ticket for second class, if taken as ES or ES* combined with R is about €43, and if taken as IC combined with R is about €34.

If you buy your ticket ahead on Trenitalia, you can get a 20% discounted Amica price BUT there is a condition to that. You will have to buy your tickets for the 2 train rides separately. You see, R trains are not entitled for discounts. Only ES, ES* and IC are eligible for Amica discount. If both train types are on one itinerary, the discount cannot apply.

One way Rome to La Spezia on ES/ES* is about €41, and on IC is €32 (all second class prices). The 20% discount for ES/ES* is €8 to €9 of savings, and for IC it would be €6 to €7.

From La Spezia to Monterosso you'll need to buy separate ticket but since that's a regional train, no reservation is required and they are usually quite cheap (a few euro at most - I can't check this price online as the searches don't give R prices but it's definitely less than €5).

Adding the prices of both train from Rome to La Spezia and La Spezia to Monterosso, you will make a few euro of saving. But if you want it to be convenient, then just buy them in one go. Please note that currently, for some strange reason, Trenitalia website doesn't seem to allow searches/bookings of trains beyond 12 December.