Italy – Travel Tips
When ever possible, we used Flixbus (the green ones). There are many bus lines in Italy but most are franchises and the actual operation and reliability depends on the individual operators. Flixbus seems to give a consistently high standard, although sometimes at a higher price. In most cases, the bus stops are near or at the rail station. Modern buses have free WiFi and toilets. On long haul trips, make sure you use the toilets on the bus because the ones at the rest stops always cost 1 or 2 Euros. Bus tickets can be purchased at travel agents or on the Internet. Flixbus accepts electronic tickets on a smartphone. They have an excellent app for buying and storing your tickets.
In the south of Italy and Sicily, we were forced to use other more local services. We found timetables to be difficult to obtain and busses did not always run on time.
Train travel within Italy is a cheap and reasonably simple way to go. We found that the journeys that involved a cross border trip became much more expensive, making bus travel far cheaper. Internal travel using Regional Trains (lots of stops) is only slightly more expensive than the bus. There is no room for luggage so you just have to take up more seats. There are other services, including Intercity Train with few or no stops and the price goes up. There are fast bullet type trains (AV Trains) between some destinations with three levels of comfort (the highest has food and drink service) that compete with air travel.
Tickets are easily purchased using the ticket machines at any rail station. They have an English mode, selectable at the start. You need to know the names of the start station and end station. Then nominate the day from a time (eg 8:00am) to scan the available trips and prices. The machines take cash (and give change) or credit cards. It was easier to use these than go into the ticket office and battle with language.
Note that the ticket MUST be validated before you get on the train on the day you are going to use it. There are lots of little machines around. Just insert the ticket using the marked arrows and it stamps a time and date on it. You will get fined if you don’t do this.
The biggest issue we have had with rail travel is that the advertised departure platform often changes, sometimes at the last minute. Do not rely on the printed timetables on display. Always keep an eye on the electronic boards. If you are waiting at a crowded platform and a lot of people suddenly leave, go and check the electronic board.
Warning! Regional trains may or may not have toilets but they are often locked anyway. Go before you board. Toilets at train stations are always pay, usually 1Euro, payable by coin. Change machines are available but carry a bunch of Euro coins if travelling on trains.
Ferry to Croatia
We have left both times by ferry from Ancona,
- 2012 – SNAV fast ferry to Split. Approx 5 hours and travelling during the day time. The ship was big but had a peculiar long corkscrewing motion that made a lot of people sick.
- 2017 – Jadrolinija overnight ferry to Zadar. We had an inside cabin, small but a comfy bunk with breakfast thrown in. About 90€ each, double the price of a deck ticket but worth it. Arrived 7am in Gazenica, about 8kms out of Zadar. We used a local bus to the bus depot then a number 2 bus to Zadar Old Town. There was very little signage about buses at Gazenica. We asked around and walked 800m to the bus area. Some seating but no shelter. Lots of taxis on hand. They wanted about 25€ for the trip into town. Cost 10HRK ($A2) each.
There are other ferry companies, inlcuding Blueline.
There is left luggage at Ancona train station, there are no signs but it’s inside where the toilets are so follow signs there. €3 for the first 12 hours, paid in advance, per bag.
Alternatively, luggage can be left at the Waiting Room next to the Immigration Departure Area for a similar fee. This is more convenient because it is closer to access to the town centre. Ancona is worth exploring (although quite a climb from the wharf area) for its history and Roman ruins. Things get vey quiet in Ancona on Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
There is a free shuttle bus (No 20) that goes between the train station, the ticket office (all lines) and the Departure/Immigration Area. Alternatively, a taxi from the rail station to the ticketing office will cost around 15€. Walking is difficult due to the road system.
Immigration did not open until 8pm for a 10pm sailing time.
Ferry Back to Italy
We have only used Montenegro Lines from Bar (Montenegro) to Bari (Italy). The ferry was a Jadrolinija boat (Dubrovnik) with facilities for cars. The trip took 7 hours from 12noon to 7pm. Three levels of ticket are available, deck seating, recliner seating, and cabin. We bought a recliner seat but there were so few people on board that I suspect many did not pay the extra. Most people sat at tables in one of the two bars which you could do for the cost of deck seating. Immigration processing at each end was quick and simple.
Accommodation costs vary so much by location it is hard to give advice. We have found both Booking.com and AirBnB to be very reliable services. Note that most locations now charge a tourist tax per person per night, varying between 0.50 and 1.50 Euro. Often but not always, this is payable separately from the bill and in cash, although we can’t get a good explanation for this.
There are three main providers in Italy
We did not find any real difference between them in terms of coverage or speed in the locations we travelled. All have 3G and 4G coverage. All offer short term tourist deals that can be very good. They will require registration using a passport. The problem that we had was buying a chip for 1 month, leaving Italy for a while, during which time the month expired, then re-entering Italy only to find that to recharge the SIM, we revert to the original purchase date, thereby paying for time we were out of the country. All three providers had the same system.
All providers offer roaming to other countries but the plans are not worth it if you are going to roam for more than two or three days.
Both Wind and Vodaphone had good apps to track usage. We did not try TIM. They all offer attractive plans with a phone home allowance. However, check that Australia is on the list. It was for Wind but not for Vodaphone.
Finding a phone store was not always easy and they were always crowded. Becasue they make very little money selling a tourist a cheap SIM (but it takes a lot of time), we did get fobbed off at times with a lack of language or “Sorry. Our computer is down.” Make sure you have your passport for ID.
WARNING! We had a very unpleasant experience with WIND. We kept trying to maintain a small credit, having paid 10 for 5Gb of data. However, it kept going down, and when we went into debit data ceased. It turned out that WIND will allow special promotional offers to send SMS messages offering services (entertainment, games and the like) which you will pay for BY DEFAULT unless you send STOP to a given number. The messages were in Italian so we ignored them and so we were charged. After some effort, we got this feature cancelled.
All allowed tethering.
Dining in Italy can be a very cheap and wonderful experience, providing you want Italian food. Whereas most other European countries have embraced a cosmopolitan menu, in Italy it is Italian cuisine, and local dishes at that. It is common to find a restaurant with only four Prima and four Secondo with very little choice of salad (Insalata). However, set menus with 2 courses and a beer or wine for 10€ were relatively common. Unlike Germany and Austria, there are far fewer fast food places with a middle eastern influence (kebabs and the like). Bakeries with panini (sandwiches) a common and generally cheap. There is a small number of Chinese or Thai restaurants in most bigger cities.
We had considerable difficulties in parts of southern Italy finding places to eat. In Bari, Villapiana and Reggio Calabria, small pizzerias and panini stalls predominate and cheap restaurants with a varied menu are scarce. This is especially a problem on Sunday and Monday, with restaurants tending to close on one or both of these days.
We tried to improve our Italian before our last visit using the Duolingo app. It helped a lot, mostly with reading and listening rather than speaking because we were both slow to think up a reply.
We found that English was quite widely spoken, at least enough to get by. As always, the younger the person the better the English.
Italians always greet people (Bon giorno) whether or not they know them. It is easy to reply in Italian but sometimes that can lead to a mistaken impression that you can speak Italian. We did not find people seemed to mind if you replied with “Hello”. “Ciao” is interchangeable for “hello” and “goodbye” (usually with friends) but we did not find it used as much as “Buon Giorno” or “Arrivaderci” or “Buona Giornata”. Things vary from region to region.
The simple “Grazie” is always replied to with a “Prego” (you are welcome). It is standard, even in supermarkets.
In the south, English is less common than in the north. We travelled through Bari and Villapiana Lido in Calabria without finding an English speaker at any accommodation, restaurant or transport facility.
In Sicily, with the big increase in tourism, English was more widely spoken.