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ASK JOURNEYS: Watch money in romantic Italy

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This is the weekend when Manitobans officially begin celebrating what we hope will be a beautiful summer.

But it also signals the beginning of overseas vacations, with the cities and countries of Europe still being among our favourite destinations.

Of these, Italy continues to capture the imagination of a significant percentage of travellers. I get loads of questions about the destination throughout the year.

How safe is it? Do you recommend driving up and down the country? Are all accommodations expensive? And how much of Italy can you take in on a two- to three-week vacation?

Because of the extensive interest in so many aspects of this fascinating country, I will use this column to try answering these and other queries that have been posed to me over the past days and months. Many of the answers will pertain to other countries in Europe as well, even though the concentration of information will highlight Italy most of all.

So long as you take normal precautions, Italy is not a country where you are likely to experience violent crime activity. However, as in most of the large tourist cities around the world, Italy's pickpocket industry is thriving.

Most travellers have no idea just how professional these people are at separating you from your most valuable belongings without you even knowing it. Cutting the bottoms of purses, slicing straps to take the entire purse, and getting into a purse through a zipper are all common.

Money should never be kept in one place and should be hidden in waist safes or similar accessories.

Transportation in Italy, as in most of Europe, is very efficient, with a rail system that is among the best in the world.

In Rome, where everyone going to Europe should spend time, the underground is relatively inexpensive and can take you anywhere you might want to go quickly and efficiently.

City driving can be hectic. However, I have driven throughout most of the country a number of times and found it extremely easy to get around in by automobile.

Today's GPS era has made it even more comforting to get around, knowing if you aren't sure of of directions, you are guided by the nebulous voice emanating from the unit.

It should be noted that driving through the Italian Amalfi coast regions will involve a seemingly never-ending series of hairpin turns. Many find this a more disconcerting region to drive in as a result.

Though the east-to-west distance in Italy is never more than 170 kilometres, the north-south distance is about 1,932 km. Most roads are paved and in very good shape.

The southern journey, with its mountains and turns, will take considerably longer than the mileage suggests. The sights along any route -- north, south, east or west -- always contain attractions that persuade visitors to stay longer than intended.

The point being that in a two- to three-week vacation, you cannot properly visit the entire country.

Using Rome as a theoretical centre point, I would suggest going north or south if your time falls into a normal vacation frame.

During the high season months of summer, even budget accommodations might seem expensive compared to what you might find in Canada.

Summers can be very hot, especially if you're spending a lot of time outdoors visiting the major attractions.

That's why May, June and September/October have become so popular for Canadians.

Especially in the major cities, even in what are described as bed and breakfasts, prices might range from $300 to $400 a night for good-quality accommodations. There are always good deals to be found, but you will need to check reviews carefully to be certain of what you're paying.

A note of caution: Bed and breakfasts in cities such as Rome are not like the quaint owner-operated homes you often find in places such as Stratford and other places in England. In Italy, they are often converted buildings with small bedrooms, extremely small elevators and a central dining facility in the basement or on the main floor.

They are clean and well-kept, but may not reach the romanticized expectations you might have.

Italy might be one of the best countries in the world for wining and dining, and you don't have to break the bank to enjoy exceptional meals in quality establishments.

There are fine-dining options that will take your credit card to its limit, but finding a reasonably priced restaurant is not hard.

In cities such as Rome, you will find streets where they're lined up side by side for block after block, each owner or manager imploring you to view their menu and pricing.

Often, you will be filled with the antipasto and not even need the full meal.

Italian wines are well-known and of excellent quality, and the service at most of these restaurants is not only excellent, but can quickly lead you to making friends with the owners, making you want to return to the same restaurant for other meals.

Europe has many countries that are worth visiting. Italy has been and will continue to be one of my favourites.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2014 E6

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