Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Planes, Trains and Boats…getting around Southern Italy

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalmediamuseum/

image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalmediamuseum/

On a recent trip to Palermo, followed by a visit to Naples, I had the opportunity to experience just about every kind of public transportation option that Italy has to offer.

It all started with a two-hour train ride (8 Euros) to Bari, where I would then catch a bus to the airport.  The national railway network is Trenitalia, and they have regional and express lines that go just about everywhere.  In my case, it was a regional train.  Upon leaving the train station in Bari, I walked to the tobacco kiosk to buy my bus ticket (80 cents) to the airport.  Having done this before, I knew to be aggressive when the bus came and make sure I had a seat on the bus.

To get to Sicily, I flew from Bari to Trapani, which is about an hour or so from Palermo.  It was a Ryanair flight that cost me next to nothing  (11 Euros plus taxes, coming to 18 Euros), the catch being that there are no assigned seats (so you have to fight for a good one) and then you have to listen to several sales pitches for perfumes and lottery tickets.  The flight was one hour and passed by very quickly.  And of course, this being Italy, the people onboard applauded when the plane landed.

To get from Trapani to Palermo, where I would be staying for a few days, I used the shuttle bus service known as Terravision.  For 12 Euros I had a seat on a nice, air conditioned bus, and was let off in a nice area in downtown Palermo.  From there I walked to my bed and breakfast because I had already gotten to know Palermo a bit previously.

I had some time scheduled in Naples, where I was meeting a friend.  Since Sicily is an island, the obvious solution was to take a boat. (Though you can take the train, which sits on a barge for the aquatic part of the trip).  The company I used was Tirrenia, and I opted for a night boat so that I could sleep, as it’s an eight-hour trip.  I reserved a bed in a women’s cabin (though you can also reserve your own cabin) and was pleased to find out that the boat had a restaurant as well as a self-service cafe and a lounge with a full bar. Not bad!  The total price for the boat trip was about 70 Euros and it was well worth it, as when I woke up and looked out the cabin window, I saw Naples in all its splendor, lit up by the golden morning sun.

This is something I really like about living in Europe: the public transportation is so varied and available that you can go anywhere you want for a reasonable price.

Tina Ferrari is a tango dancer, translator and writer currently based in Lecce, Italy. She writes at AffordableCallingCards.net as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

Budget Travel in Switzerland

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

By Chantal Panozzo

Save money in Switzerland. Really.

Save money in Switzerland. Really.

Chinese food, $25. 1-hour train ride, $60. Night in a Swiss hotel, $200. How the heck can someone travel on a budget in Switzerland?

After all, Switzerland recently was reported as having the highest hotel rates in Europe. It’s tough to find anything under $200 a night, let alone $150. Even on the Swiss Budget Hotels website, “budget” is considered the prices I quoted above. Yes.

So what’s a traveler to do?

Travel like a European. By staying longer, you’ll save more.

What?

Yes.

The key to making a vacation affordable in Switzerland is to rent an apartment.  But since most apartments are only available for a minimum of seven nights, you need to stop vacationing like an American with your head cut off and start vacationing like a lazy European that doesn’t have anywhere to be except in a chair enjoying the scenery. And staying seven nights in an apartment will be cheaper than a long weekend at a hotel. Guaranteed. Staying a week will also guarantee you at least a few days of decent weather too.

In the resort town of Bettmeralp near the Aletsch glacier, an apartment can be found for 2 people for around CHF 500 total for 7-nights. An apartment also means you’ll have a kitchen so you can cook your own food and forgo the restaurants where a “good deal” for a meal for two is CHF 60. Some apartments are also available with free Internet, which means no fees at Internet cafés, and many also have washing facilities so you can vacation longer but pack lighter.

Another hint: don’t pay full price for your train/lift tickets. Find deals through local tourism offices, Rail Away offers, and if you live in Switzerland, make sure you at least have the ½ price card.

How do you save money when traveling in Switzerland?

Chantal Panozzo is a writer in Switzerland. She’s the author of One Big Yodel, a blog about life in Switzerland and moving abroad, and also discusses living abroad as a freelancer at Writer Abroad. She’s also the co-founder of the Zurich Writers Workshop.

Traveler vs. Tourist – What’s Your Style?

Monday, May 31st, 2010

I’m the type of traveler who likes to stay in one city and get to know it in the most complete way.  I’ve always enjoyed becoming part of a place and trying to blend in with its people, at least a little bit.  I am also of the belief that every city has its underlying beauty that you don’t see right away, that you have to stick around to discover.  Even the most obviously beautiful cities such as Venice or Florence have hidden gems that require patience and sensitivity.  To me, getting to know a city means walking its streets, getting lost, visiting markets, meeting people.

Recently I was in Palermo, Sicily.  I explored the city alone, in my way, for a few days until family reached me from the United States.  With their arrival came a different type of tourism.  Due to physical limitations on the part of my relatives, we needed to find a way for them to explore the city without too much walking.  Luckily, we found that there was a hop-on, hop-off bus that takes you to all the important sites. Perfect!  I decided to tag along and experience a type of tourism I have never given much thought to.

Instead of hopping off and on, we opted to stay on the bus for the whole route.  They handed out headphones and we were able to choose the language we wanted.  I chose Italian as I never trust the translations into other languages.  I quickly became bored with the commentary and switched on my ipod instead, and tango music accompanied me on this bus tour of Palermo.

It was interesting to see people get on and off where they chose.  My relatives were satisfied that they saw a little bit of everything, and they were able to pick out a few sites to come back to, to explore in more detail.  I can see why somebody would take a tour such as this one, but it’s not something I will do again.  I really get satisfaction from trying to figure out how to get around on my own and discovering the deeper layers of a city.  I may not get see *all* of the important sites, but I do get to know the city.

What’s your travel style?

Tina Ferrari is a tango dancer, translator and writer currently based in Lecce, Italy. She writes at AffordableCallingCards.net as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

Why Go Global?

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

by Chantal Panozzo

Why move abroad? Why Europe? Why Switzerland? Why ask why?

In today’s world, there is no better way to advance a career than by living abroad. Those who take the risk and go global will understand the world better than anyone else and be rewarded for it in their careers—and in their personal lives.

But if you need specific reasons, here are a few to consider:

-Career Advancement/Career Reinvention

As an expat, you will bring unique skills to your new country by virtue of being different. In Switzerland, well-educated native English speakers are in high demand at international companies and you may find a challenging opportunity that wouldn’t exist in your home country—even if you first arrive as the trailing spouse like I did. And if you don’t, you many find yourself reinventing your career. That’s not a bad thing, either.

-Travel

To live in a new part of the world means it is right there for you to explore. And if you live in a country like Switzerland, which borders five other countries, travel is easy. Instead of seeing things as a tourist, you learn about them as a local and you also learn to travel as a local would. In Europe, this means traveling longer, at a more relaxed pace, and by taking public transportation. Americans that go abroad will likely enjoy more vacation time (up to double or triple the time) than they’ve ever known.

-Language

There is no better way to learn a language than become immersed in it. Granted, learning a language in Switzerland (with four official ones and many more dialects) has its own unique challenges, but for those who are up to them, it’s possible to become fluent with enough time and effort.

-No “what ifs”

This is probably the biggest reason I moved abroad. I never wanted to think, “what if?” Because when given the opportunity, I knew that if I didn’t take it I would always think, “what if?” And that’s not something I wanted to always have to ask myself.

Did you go global? If so, what were your reasons for going abroad?

Chantal Panozzo is a writer in Switzerland who has written for a variety of publications on two continents. She’s the author of One Big Yodel, a blog about life in Switzerland and moving abroad, and also discusses living abroad as a freelancer at Writer Abroad.

Traveling in Italy: Trains vs. Planes

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

While planning my recent visit to Lecce, I hemmed and hawed over how I would get there.  There was, of course, the train, which would get me from Perugia to Rome to Lecce for at good 70-ish Euros one way.  An all-day affair.  There was also the bus, which would leave Perugia in the evening and arrive in Lecce in the morning.  A little less than the cost of the train and I wouldn’t have to switch.

Then someone on Facebook suggested flying.  I looked online and sure enough, there was a flight from Rome to Brindisi that cost half the price of a train ticket.  The airline is Blu-Express and I believe you have to live in Italy to use them.  I decided to try them out, even though I love trains.

I spent the night in Rome, where I danced tango with friends I haven’t seen since I lived in Buenos Aires, and in the morning I hopped the Leonardo Express from the Termini station to Fiumicino Airport.  They only allow you to check in 15 kilos worth of luggage, and I alas had 17.  I had to pay 7 Euros per extra kilo.

After one hour in the air, I was in Brindisi.  I asked around and found my way to a city bus which brought me to the train station.  For about 3 Euros I took a train to Lecce in about 40 minutes.  It was an interesting experience and while I had to do a lot of suitcase lugging on and off planes, trains and buses, things were pretty well laid-out.  Still, when I calculated things, it took just as long as the train in the end.

When it was time to leave Lecce, I decided to pay the extra money and take the train instead.  Since I have a USB internet modem with a mobile phone company, I was able to surf the net for part of the 5-hour ride to Rome, chatting with friends while looking out the window at trulli along the Adriatic sea.   The ride was so relaxing and peaceful (and so full of beautiful landscapes) that I decided it is still much better to take the train.

The nice thing about the small European airlines is that I can arrive in more distant cities such as Madrid with enough ease and for a small price.  But for travel within Italy, I think the train is where it’s at.

How do you get around?

Tina Ferrari is a translator, writer and tango dancer based in Umbria, Italy. She writes at AffordableCallingCards.net as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

**Image courtesy of FreeFoto.com

Ricci di Mare – An Unexpected Delight in the Heel of the Boot

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

I recently spent just over a week in Puglia; Lecce, to be exact, on the Salento peninsula.  Looking at a map of Italy, you’ll find it near the bottom of the “stiletto heel”.

A friend brought me to the ancient town of Gallipoli one morning.  Located about 45 minutes from Lecce on the Ionian Sea, Gallipoli in February is sleepy and warm.  After a cold and gray winter in Perugia, it felt good to walk along the water without a jacket, breathing in the salty air.

While my friend was at an appointment, I took the opportunity to walk around the town a little bit and peek into stores. I came across a shop selling things like local olive oil and wine.  I decided to go in, and the man running the shop offered me tastes of very green olive oil and a glass of wine.  We chatted about grapes and olives (two of my favorite things) as I sipped my negroamaro.

Ricci di mare

Ricci di mare

Afterwards, with a newly purchased bottle of wine in my bag, I found my friend again and she said, “Tina, you have to taste ricci!”  I wasn’t quite sure what she was talking about until we came upon a group of fishermen who had laid out a nice-sized pile of very fresh spiny sea urchins on a table.  She asked if I could taste one since I had never had them before.  One of the men obliged and with a swift move and a “crack!”, a sea urchin was cut in half to reveal it’s red and orange roe, and offered to me with a spoon.

It was quite a delight to taste and smell the salty sea in such a way.  “Do you like them?” they asked me.  I nodded my head happily and we bought a big container of them.

Our fresh lunch on the sea

Our fresh lunch on the sea

We found an open supermarket and brought some bread and water, and sat at a table overlooking one of the beaches.  The sun warmed our backs as we contentedly scooped out the ricci with bread, without a care in the world.  The ricci were a pleasant surprise, and perhaps my favorite culinary discovery on this trip.

Tina Ferrari is a translator, writer and tango dancer based in Umbria, Italy. She writes at AffordableCallingCards.net as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

Five Great Reasons to Visit the Balloon Festival in Chateau-d’Oex

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

by Chantal Panozzo

If you’re an expat living in Switzerland, you won’t want to miss the upcoming Balloon Festival in Chateau-d’Oex. Not only is it included in the book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, but the event is just magical. I went last year and I highly recommend it (even if you have to stay in neighboring Bulle to save money). Below are five reasons to check it out:

1. If you’re an American, it’s another thing you can check off that you’ve seen. Another one down, 999 to go. Don’t all of us Americans love lists?

2. Western Spirit may be back. “Western Spirit” was an American balloon featured at the festival last year (See above photo). It’s owned by John Seay, and is notable for its cowboy decorations, furthering to engrain the Swiss stereotype that all Americans are cowboys.  But the best part is listening to the French announcers pronounce “Western Spirit.”

3. Swiss children will hand you a grilled sausage with their bare hands–even if what you thought you ordered was a barbecue sandwich. Either way, it’s all very, uh, quaint.

4. You can stare at people because they won’t notice—their eyes will be glued to the sky. So not only can you get great photos of balloons, you can get great photos of people looking at them.

5. You will redefine what you think of when you think hot air balloon. At this festival, there’s a special event featuring unusual balloons in the shape of everything from bagpipe players to chicks popping out of eggs.

What: Balloon Festival

Where: Chateau-d’Oex

When: January 23-31, 2010

Cost: You must buy a festival pass at the “door”. About CHF 10 ($10)

Tips: To save money, stay in a neighboring town like Bulle, just far away enough not to be affected by the ballooning prices.

Chantal Panozzo is an American writer living in Switzerland. She writes about expat life at AffordableCallingCards.net and on her personal blog, One Big Yodel. She also blogs about the international writing life over at Writer Abroad.

Getting to and around Montevideo, Uruguay

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Last weekend, I jetted off to the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo for a long weekend. This is one of the perks of expat life. Whereas friends back home in California might take a road-trip to Vegas, when you’re living in Paris you can Eurostar it to London. South America’s countries are bigger than European ones, so those of us on this continent can’t country-hop quite as easily as your average European expat. But from Santiago, Buenos Aires and Montevideo are each appproximately 2 hours away by plane, and you can get to Rio de Janeiro in 5. Not bad.

I’d never been to Montevideo and didn’t really know what to expect. In the end, however, I had such good experiences that I wanted to share my tips for getting to and around Uruguay’s biggest city.

div xmlns:cc=http://creativecommons.org/ns# about=http://www.flickr.com/photos/philliecasablanca/2052014957/a rel=cc:attributionURL href=

Statue of General Artigas in Montevideo's Plaza Independencia http://www.flickr.com/photos/philliecasablanca/ / CC BY 2.0

Getting there

I flew Pluna non-stop. It was cheaper than LAN, and I have to say I was impressed. The little regional jets are new and nicely outfitted, and aside from a delay of about half an hour on my flight out everything went smoothly. Checked bags will run you $10 if you check-in online ($20 at the airport), food and drink have to be purchased, and you can’t book a seat until you check-in 36 hours beforehand, but in return you get far lower prices than anything else out there. Luckily for me, it looks like Pluna’s expanding service from Santiago – there’s now a non-stop to Asunción, Paraguay three days a week – so hopefully this will bring some good low-cost options to the market. If you’re traveling around South America and might want to stop in Montevideo, look into flying Pluna.

Getting around

From the airport, I took an official taxi. It was expensive – US$43. I was in a rush to get to the stadium set up on Pocitos beach to see the Chilean handball game my fiancé was playing in, so I paid up, but otherwise I probably would have taken a bus or seen if I could find one of the unofficial taxis. It took about 30 minutes to get from the airport to the city center at 6:45pm on a Friday.

Pocitos beach div xmlns:cc=http://creativecommons.org/ns# about=http://www.flickr.com/photos/37081617@N00/321727159/a rel=cc:attributionURL href=

Pocitos beach http://www.flickr.com/photos/37081617@N00/ / CC BY 2.0

Taxis within the city are cheap. The meters tick off numbers of credits, and every taxi has the official chart to convert that number into the amount you owe. The drivers have a reputation for being honest.

We also took buses. They cost $16 or US$0.80. We asked people what bus to take to get wherever we were trying to go, and everyone was helpful. If you speak a bit of Spanish and are on a budget, buses are a great way to get around the city.

Sleeping

I stayed at the Sur Hotel due to its price (US$38 per night for non-Uruguayans who don’t pay tax) and TripAdvisor recommendations. It’s really well located, and the staff are friendly. It’s not luxurious, but it’s a solid little boutique hotel and a great value for the price. We would stay there again.

The hotel is a remodeled old house

The hotel is a remodeled old house

To read more about what we actually did in Montevideo – aside from me watching my fiancé participate in the first ever Odesur beach games as part of Chile’s beach handball team – check out my recap here. And if you ever find yourself headed for a few days there, have fun!

Emily Williams is a US gringa living in Santiago, Chile. She writes about expat life at AffordableCallingCards.net and on her personal blog, Don’t Call Me Gringa, and loves hearing from readers!

This One is For the Ladies…

Friday, August 7th, 2009

To boldly go (to the bathroom) where only men have gone before (standing up)……

So this post might be a little indelicate, but when I found this product, I wished I had known about it before. Here’s the back story:

Rob and I are going to be doing some bicycle touring. We’ll be touring mostly self- supported, which means we will carry our tent and everything we need in our panniers and set off. We will probably do a mixture of camping and hotel rooms. We are going to start with two weeks in Maine, and then some touring in Patagonia when we get back to Buenos Aires.

While shopping for supplies, I cam across the Freshette F.U.D. (Feminine Urinary Director) made by Sani Fem, which essentially allows a woman to go to the bathroom standing up. Seeing as we will be out in the wild, I bought it.

The Freshette F.U.D.

The Freshette F.U.D.

I tried it out at home. I rushed out of the bathroom, triumphant. Why hadn’t I known about this before? It’s easy to use, clean, simple, and small enough to fit in a purse (the tube is removable and fits into the cup, and then into a white zip-top bag). In fact, I am going to carry it with me in my purse ALWAYS. For all those times I am in a strange place and go to the back of a little cafe or bar to find the bathroom is scarily unsanitary. For all the times we are at some festival supplied with stinky port-a-potties. And of course, when we are on the road on our bikes and have to pull over to the side. No more looking for big bushes or boulders! It’s also a good solution for those who are incapacitated or bed-ridden.

In any case, I highly recommend the Freshette not just for camping or hiking, but for traveling in general. It gives a kind of freedom and peace of mind that I find comforting. It’s going to be in my purse right next to my cell phone and wallet, and next time I have to use a dingy bathroom, I no longer need to cringe.

Julia Evans wrote this article for AffordableCallingCards.net where she blogs about her life as an expat.  She also writes a personal blog Evans’ Gate about living as an American expat in Buenos Aires, where she lives with her husband.  Comments on both blogs welcome!

The Top 8 Undiscovered Swiss Towns

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

By Chantal Panozzo

Ah, the perfect Swiss town. Cute chalets. Sparkling lakes. Photogenic mountains. And people speaking Japanese and English? Unfortunately, certain areas of Switzerland—especially in the summers—are overrun with large tour buses and masses of humanity being herded by an umbrella-waving guide. To help you avoid the crowds, here are eight undiscovered Swiss towns (as part of a two-part series) that all offer something unique—from a spa with the most mineral-rich water in Switzerland to three grand Roman castles you can call your own.

Stein am Rhein

Stein am Rhein, Photo by Brian Opyd

Stein am Rhein

There’s no leaf or flower out of place in this storybook town on the Rhine. It’s almost too perfect, but that’s why it’s interesting. The old town is full of brightly colored frescoed buildings so painstakingly preserved that they sparkle in the sun.  Next to the river, the Benedictine monastery is well worth the $5 admission for its 16th century atmosphere of austerity—especially since you’ll be thanking God for having it all to yourself.

Solothurn

All of Switzerland is renowned for its timekeeping abilities, but Solothurn features a 12th century clock tower that does more than tell the time—it entertains. Show up on the hour and you’ll be treated to a show of dancing mechanical figures as fine as Bern’s famous clock, but without the crowds. Then climb the tower of Solothurn’s Neo-Classical cathedral to revel in the timelessness of this Baroque city.

Schaffhausen

Yes, it’s an unforgettable town on the Rhine. Yes, it’s got one of the largest old towns with plenty of shopping. But insiders head straight to Abaco, a family-run chocolate store famous for its champagne chocolate balls. After dipping fruit in its chocolate fountain or enjoying a coffee with a complimentary truffle, you just might be up for facing the crowds at Europe’s largest waterfall, the Rhinefalls—about a half-hour hike away.

Bellinzona

Be king or queen for the day as you explore grassy castle pathways and eat risotto while admiring your city’s vineyards. Bellinzona’s three expansive castles, built by the dukes of Milan, are the grandest in Switzerland. Even though they have now been labeled a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s still possible to feel like you own the place—especially on a weekday, when your claim to the crown will probably go uncontested.

For the rest of the Top 8 spots, click here to visit One Big Yodel. But in the meantime, what do you think? What are your favorite Swiss spots?

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