Walking in the sun

This is a reminder that while we are in Italy we will spend a WHOLE LOT OF TIME walking in the sun.


So, if you haven’t already begun your ‘getting in shape for Italy’ regimen start this weekend. Personally, I have been exercising to Gilad’s Body Sculpt on fittv. I am not enjoying it at all. But I want to be able to put my own suitcase in the overhead compartment on the plane and I want to be able to keep up with the tour guide on the walking tours. By the way, this is the perfect time of year to walk in the evening…

In the sun:

I choose my sun screen by smell: does it remind me of summers in Indiana (Coppertone, sweat, chlorine) or does it smell like coconut (mmmm, coconut cream pie). Needless to say, my skin is sun damaged.

Please share what sunscreen you plan on taking with you (and maybe why that brand) so I can make an informed decision on what sunscreen to take with me.

Here’s the scoop on getting around the ‘contact the booking agency’ rule

United has our flights from LAX to London Heathrow and returning from Dulles to LAX. The other flights are operated by Lufthansa.

To request special seating or special meals on United call:

Reservations 800/864-8331

Give them the reservation number, the flight number, your full name as listed on your itinerary. (Please note you may have a different reservation number on the return flight. I don’t think this matters.)

VERY important information after the extra legroom bit. Keep reading.

If you require extra leg room you want Economy Plus. That will cost you $109. I don’t know if that covers both flights or just one. Ask.

The other flights on our trip are with Lufthansa.  Any special meals or seating must go through them.

WHILE YOU ARE ON THE PHONE WITH UNITED tell them you want to request special seating/meal/whatever from Lufthansa.

They should give you a different  reservation number for the Lufthansa portion of your trip.

Lufthansa’s phone number is: 800-645-3880.

Lufthansa was able to change my seat and my meal for the Frankfurt to Dulles flight. They can do nothing for the european leg of the journey. But those flights are short anyway.

GOOD LUCK with your special requests!

Selecting a seat on the flights & special meals?

I like a seat on the aisle when flying. I get up frequently on a flight and it is very inconvenient for my row mates to have to stand  up every 45 minutes or so just to accomodate me. So, I checked United’s website to see if I could select a seat. (You can just click on the links below and go directly there.) I found that I could not choose a seat due to the ticketing agency we used. I will contact EF to see if we can get our United Mileage Plus numbers added to our itineraries.

If you haven’t already got a Mileage Plus account I recommend you get one.

(BTW, is EF aware of any special meal requirements you have? Let me know as soon as possible so I can make sure those are included on your itinerary.)

Here is what United Airlines has to say on the subject of seating:

To select seats after you?ve purchased tickets,

*log in to My Itineraries using your Mileage Plus number

*select View/modify for the itinerary you wish to change.

*Click Seat assignment to change your existing seat assignment.

* Click the seat you prefer,

*then click Next flight or Close seat map. Your new seat assignment will be saved.

You may also select your seats on United or United Express throughEasyCheck-in Online.

EasyCheck-in Online is available within 24 hours of your outbound flight.

If you forgot to select your seat when purchasing tickets through another website or travel agency

* please contact your booking source directly to have them add your Mileage Plus number to your reservation;

*you will then be able to use My itineraries to view your seat assignments or make changes if seats are available.

Stay connected while abroad

If you want to have a phone with you on our trip so that folks at home can call you EF sells a cell phone you can purchase cheaply. The phone uses a ‘sim’ card that can be easily recharged. There is no commitment to any kind of a contract, no credit check, etc. It is a ‘pay as you go’ sort of phone which you can use anytime you travel in Europe – so save it.

What you want is the $29.00 GLOBAL PREMIUM MOBILE.It will be loaded with a sim card that has a $10.00 credit on it. There will be sales tax on the purchase and there will be a delivery charge.

I believe the $10.00 credit gets you 30 minutes of use. After that you recharge the card (easy to do) and have a per minute charge.

If you get this phone make sure you read the fine print so there are no surprises later on. Personally, I think it is a good deal and I will get one for myself to use on this trip and on future trips.

So, if you are interested visit: http://www.eftours.ekit.com or call customer service at: 1-888-513-8804.


60 days until we leave!

The Language

According to just about everybody who travels for a living, and those who just travel a lot, it is important to know a few words in the language of the country you are visiting. It just makes things easier and you feel less like an infant who can’t do for yourself.

You can invest in a phrase book I suppose, but personally, I get so lost in those that they just become dead weight in my bag. It works better for me to just learn some words and do a lot of pointing.

No Money is No Excuse:

If you don’t want to shell out the big bucks for a whole language program try one of these options for FREE.

  • You can learn some Italian for free by borrowing good traveler’s Italian cds from the library. The Beale Library will let you borrow for 3 weeks.
  • You can sign up for one week of free Italian lessons at http://italianpod.com/ Italian pod uses text and audio. The lesson sets and learning resources are geared to your current language level. After your week you can sign up for as little as $9.00/month all the way up to $39.00/month. Of course you can cancel your subscription at any time.
  • The FSI program was used by the US Foreign Service Institute to train diplomats. It is old – from the mid-1980s but still useful. The course is so old it has entered the common domain and is free to anyone who wants to use it. http://www.fsi-language-courses.org/

Gotta have these Words and Phrases:

‘Go Away’ is a very important phrase you will want to use when you encounter Gypsies. A few years ago, leaving the Bologna train station loaded down with luggage and an excruciating headache I was accosted by a Gypsie couple. They kept shoving a newspaper in my face and calling me kind lady. I think they said something about needing rent money. Anyway, I kept saying ‘Andiamo!!!!!” Andiamo!!!!’ and wondering why they didn’t leave. Later, in my hotel  room, I realised I had been saying ‘Lets go!!!!” not ‘Go away!!!’  I am still not sure what ‘Go away’ is in Italian but I will know by June 10. Here are some other phrases you will want to be able to use.

According to Rob Sangster, author of Traveler’s Tool Kit (pages 337,338), there are certain words and phrases that should be written down or memorized:
“hello, good day, goodbye, please, thank you, pardon me, my name is…, what is your name?
“yes and no.
“where is…,
“toilet.     (so very important!)
“Food related words (including ‘may I have the bill please?’)
“lodging related words
“transport words: airport, bus station, train station, subway station, gasoline, taxi, bus
“phrases for bargaining in the market place (‘How much is…?’, ‘That’s too much’)
“personal pronouns
“time of day
“verbs to be, to have, to go
“pleas for help such as ‘I don’t understand’, ‘Please speak more slowly’, ‘Stop!’ ‘help!’ ‘go away!’ and ‘I need a doctor’

“money, money, money, money…” (from Cabaret)

What with the less than optimal exchange rate between the dollar and the euro we are already at a disadvantage when it comes to getting the ‘most bang for your buck’ while in Europe.

Traveler’s Checks

AmEx Traveler’s Checks are not used much anymore. You have to find some place to cash them (not all places take them) and that place will charge a fee unless it is and American Express office.

Cards -Credit or Debit?

What most people do these days is use an atm machine and their debit card or a credit card. So, lets look at the fees involved in using ‘cards’.
PLEASE note that many banks in Europe, just as in the US, will charge you a fee if you are not a customer of theirs.

AND According to Money Central at MSN. Visa and Mastercard corporation are going to add 1% onto whatever amount you withdraw as a currency conversion fee. Then the bank may charge as much as 2% more on top of that for doing absolutely nothing for a whopping 3% total. Here is the article:


Credit Union credit card, Commercial Bank debit, Credit Union debit

I looked into the charges associated with three 3 cards: my Kern Schools Federal Credit Union (KSFCU) Visa credit card, my Union Bank debit card, and my KSFCU Visa debit card.

Credit Card
I called my KSFCU Visa provider to see what they charge. The woman I spoke with said that they charge what every other company charges: 3%! And on top of that the interest rate for a cash withdraw on the credit card is 24.24%!!! So, you do not want to use any credit card to get cash. Save the credit card only for making purchases.

Commercial Bank Debit Card
Next I called a commercial bank. I have an account at Union Bank and was thinking of using the debit card linked to that account. They charge a $5.00 fee every time you use the atm in a foreign country whether it is to transfer funds, check your balance, or withdraw cash. So if you are going to withdraw funds from an atm take out as much as you possibly can at a time to minimize the amount you pay for it. If I were to make a purchase using the debit card my account would be charged a 2% foreign purchase fee.

Credit Union debit card
Finally, I called KSFCU to find out the fees associated with using my debit card. They charge 1%. So this is probably a good way to go.
This is very cool:
According to Independent Traveler:
“… if you have a Capital One card, you won’t pay any fees at all — Capital One is the only major U.S. issuer that doesn’t charge its own currency conversion fee or pass the one from Visa and MasterCard on to the consumer.”
“We recommend calling before each trip, as these policies may change without notice.”

Another option

If you don’t want to get another credit card there is another option. EF has a Travel Prepaid Visa Card. This is a debit card. You have already deposited funds to your account and can use it until the funds are gone. It looks to me like the Visa company does charge a percentage for currency conversion and it looks like another 1% is also added to that.

Movies – Italy

In case you didn’t hear last week’s Travels with Rick Steves where he and two Roman tour guides talk about must-sees in Rome, you can listen to the podcast on itunes. Here is the link (I hope).


well rats!! that doesn’t work. Maybe you can copy and paste it into your web browser. If that doesn’t work go to itunes and type in ‘travel with rick steves’. The most recent podcast is the Rome City Guide.

I am happy to report that we will see virtually everything the guides mentioned as important to see (maybe not The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa).

The reason this ‘movie’ post is so long in coming is because I figure everybody has favorite movies that feature Italy, and who am I to tell you what movies to see. With books it is different, you are less likely to have read about Italy. Unless you have read Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons which, of course, I forgot to mention last time.

Then I thought, well maybe I should just mention my 3 favorite Italian/Italy related movies and find out what your favorite movies are. But there was a time (when I was totally infatuated with all things Italian) when the only movies in my Netflix queue were Italian, old, new, bad, good….

So, the only one I can definitely say is among my top 3 is Nani Moretti’s Caro Diario. It is only available in vhs format or through the instant play on Netflix. You can rent Moretti’s A Son’s Room as a dvd but his approach in that is very standard. In Caro Diario he talks directly to you and well, in addition to being very cute and charming, you get a quirky picture of contemporary Italians.

How about you all? Do you have a favorite movie or 3? Did movies have anything to do with wanting to venture to Italy?

Remember the February 20 deadline is coming up.

Reading about Italy

To have a richer experience of Italy during our trip you might want to read a bit about the place before we go. Here are some recommendations.

Pick up most any travel magazine and you will find an article about Italy.

I like to go to the library and browse through the magazines for sale ($1.00 each). National Geographic Traveler and Condé Nast Traveler both frequently feature Italian locations prominently. They have beautiful photos, too.

For more in depth historical information I highly recommend Ross King’s books. They are well researched, easy, and entertaining to read. Plus, these two relate to places we will be seeing.

Michaelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling where in you will find out that MA was grumpy, died with his boots on, and rarely bathed. You will also learn that MA’s painting and composition improved once he looked at what Raphael was doing and he was able to get back (really really far back) and evaluate what he had already finished.

Brunelleschi’s Dome you will find that the Dark Ages were not really so dark, and if you adopt one of your apprentices you’d better be sure he’s not going to rob you blind. Il Duomo (the house) is the tallest most imposing building in Florence. We will definitely enter it. Also, this is where the famous Baptistry doors are that heralded the start of the Renaissance.


I am thinking about getting his book about Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power. Machiavelli and Michaelanglo are both buried in (I think it is ) Santo Spirito church in Florence. We will probably tour that church. I think Dante might be buried there, too but I am not sure since he was banished from Florence for writing The Divine Comedy.

If you are interested in how Italy became unified (19th century) and how come the Pope got squeezed into the small city state of Vatican you might want to read David Kertzer’s The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara


It looks like Kertzer has written a number of books about Italy that might be interesting.

And, finally, if you are interested in contemporary Italy there is an EXCELLENT book by Tobias Jones. It is very very entertaining! David (and maybe Sharon) is reading it now. Any comments David?

The Dark Heart of Italy


Next week: movies

coffee in Italy

While we are in Italy you may want to order coffee from a (coffee) bar since Italian coffee is soooo very good.

Italians will drink capuchino (yum)  in the morning. But not in the afternoon. Café macchiato is different than Starbuck’s drink of the same name. Café macchiato is spotted coffee, just a splash of milk in the coffee. Also, Italians stand at the bar and have a quick pick-me-up of espresso in a thimble sized glass, chased with a glass of water –  again – quick.

From my experience you can order coffee from the bar  OR you can sit at a table and be waited on. If you go to the bar you the coffee may be less expensive than if you sit at a table to order. BUT you cannot order coffee at the bar and then look for a seat.

The protocol at one bar we went into was go to the cashier, order the coffee, pay the cashier, get a ticket, hand the ticket to the barista,  stand at the bar and drink your coffee – quickly.

So, be sure to watch the locals.

Get in Shape

START WALKING: We are 6 months away from our trip and it is time to get into shape. A tour in Italy requires a whole lot of walking. If you start to get into shape NOW then in June climbing the 7 hills of Rome will be a cake-walk. Actually we will not climb all 7 of the hills of Rome but you take my meaning.