Friday, May 27, 2011

Managing the Budget in Italy part 2

The Pasta alla Norma I cooked:


It may not look that great but it tasted great!  Yum i love eggplant (aubergine).

Back in Florence:

A normal touristi day out in Florence might include a walk to the Duomo to climb up the stairs to the top of the dome.  You and the kids will love it.  To find your way to the Duomo is not too hard, it is in the centre of the city and you can normally see the dome or the bell tower.  But there are street signs everywhere with directional arrows like this:


These signs are everywhere in Florence, the best ones point you to the Public Toilets. Smile

When you find the Duomo do not enter from the front of the church (you will no doubt find many people lined up to go in this way) They are lined up to see inside the church (chiesa) not to climb the dome.  The dome entrance is to the left of the main entrance where the church joins the dome.  It costs €8 , the climb is not easy if you are in a rush, so get there when it opens at 8.30am Monday to Friday.  I only say this because you climb narrow stairs one way and you cannot stop as people cannot pass you.  You want to get there early and take it easy so that you don’t tire too much.  My sons were 10 and 8 when they did it, they got to the top before me so it wasn’t as hard for them as it was for me.  At the very top there is a set of stairs that is more like a ladder that you have to climb to get out onto the top of the Duomo. I recommend wearing pants or shorts (I wore a dress, this was not such a great idea especially at the top of the ladder Smile).  The burning calves and slight breathlessness is all worth it when you get to the top and see the amazing views of Florence from the dome. Then if you are game you can climb the bell tower as well.



Really if you get in the door at 8.30am you will be well and truly back down on the ground by 11am, then you can stretch out your sore legs and look for somewhere to eat lunch. 

Buying lunch in Florence

Do not be tempted to buy something from the restaurants near the Duomo (this is the most expensive area and you probably won’t be happy with the food) In fact wonder down the back streets and alleyways for better food.  Try a trattoria for traditional Italian food like pasta, bistecca fiorentina (famous dish) and pizza.  However a place we found that sold really tasty pizza was near the Santa Maria Novella on Via Panzani called Franco Express (or it was the place next door with Moka Efti above the door) There is an EXTYN Italia near by on the same side of the street.  I am telling you this because the pizza tasted good, it was hot and they had a toilet in the back.

If you must buy takeaway, find a small local grocer or supermarket , even a 99c shop for you drinks because for the price of one bottle of soft drink at a takeaway you can get 4 at a supermarket.  The 99c shops are great because everything inside is literally 99c even the cold drinks.

Back in Australia

We are off to a 25th Anniversary tonight, so Italy is to be continued…

Ciao for now


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Managing the budget in Italy part 1

Our first problem with money arose as soon as we landed in Florence (firenze).  We put 3000EU on a “cash passport card” before we left Australia so that we would be able to use it in an ATM when we landed in Italy.  Iain went to the ATM and it would not let him withdraw money so we had a slight panic attack in the airport because we had to have Euros to get a taxi to our apartment. (freak).

In a desperate bid to get Euros we found the exchange in the airport and it cost us $300 to exchange money.  A mistake we hope not to repeat in the future. 

*Lesson learned is that when going to a different country have some currency available in cash on you before leaving home.  Otherwise you could end up using a weeks worth of food money to exchange a small amount of cash.

Always ask the taxi driver what the fare will be before entering the car.  This way you know how much you will pay.  The taxi drivers normally only charge you what they estimated in Italy or they will turn the meter off and just charge you what they estimated.  In most cities of Italy we found that taxi’s were 25Euros from the airport/train station to hotels.  It is easier to budget for this the first time you land in a city then work out the public transport for you return trip (you will save about 20Euros).  Our taxi from Rome Termini (train station) to our apartment in Campo Dei Fiori cost 25 Euros and the bus ride cost 4Euros (the 4 of us).  Then because the ticket machine on the bus was broken we gave our bus tickets to someone waiting at the train station (they had 4 free rides on the bus).

Back to Florence (firenze)…

Once we had met our land lady at our apartment, she showed us how to get to the nearest supermarket (supermercato) Coop (Italy’s Coles equivalent) pronounce co-op.

Coop is great value, our weekly grocery bill in Australia is between $150-200 for 2 adults and 2 boys aged 11 and 8.  In Italy we averaged 90-150 Euros, I included take out food in this budget.  For instance if we spent only 90 Euros at Coop we could then (if needed) use 60Euros during the week while we were sight seeing to buy coffee (cafe), cold drinks, pastries, pizza etc.…

I did do a lot of cooking in the apartment to save on eating out. 

* Budge tip- Head out for sight seeing early before 9am (eat breakfast before leaving accommodation).  Most Italians are at work before then and most tourists will not be out of bed before 10am.  If you spend the morning sight seeing then get hungry at lunch time you can head back to you accommodation to eat some of the fresh food you bought at the supermarket.

* Carry a bottle of water with you, you can fill it up at taps on the streets (most of these are fresh spring water) It will have a sign saying not to drink it if it is no good.

* Get accommodation that is central to where you will be spending most of your time, that way it is not a chore to walk back for lunch, dinner etc.…Also you can walk everywhere and not worry about using public transport except when you are exhausted.

Just a little tip on the public transport in Italy, buy your tickets at the self service machines you can use English.  It gets easier to use the self service machines at the train stations the more you use them… for example a day trip from Florence to Pisa:

  • find the self service machine (one that works)
  • press the British flag (touch screen)
  • press the station you are at e.g. Florence SMN
  • press the station you want to go to e.g. Pisa Centrale
  • it will then ask what time you want to leave and what class you want to be in (1st or 2nd) I recommend sticking to 2nd unless you really need a table
  • Choose your tickets (2 adults, 2 children)
  • Then it will ask if you have any discounts (just pick BASE fare)
  • Then pay with cash or credit card and the tickets will pop out the bottom of the machine
  • If you would like return tickets, do the same again but with the stations the other way around.
  • Last but most important before getting on the train VALIDATE YOUR TICKET if you do not you will get a hefty fine.  (the validation box is yellow and is normally on the platform as you enter it).
  • It should be less than 30Euros for 2 adults and 2 children return.


You can then catch a bus from Pisa Centrale to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  There are many places to walk around in this area of Pisa and some well priced restaurants (look for lunch deals Pizza and drink 5Euros).  You don’t need to worry about getting lost, just ask someone to point you back in the direction of the Leaning Tower and you can find your bus stop from there. We wandered streets and alleyways in Pisa and saw what you normally wouldn’t see as a tourist, don’t worry about the time in Pisa because you are only an hour away from your accommodation in Florence and your return tickets can be used on most 2nd class carriages back (just ask if in doubt).

Back in Australia tonight I am going to cook a Sicilian dish I saw on the television last night… Pasta alla norma : It is a tomato based sauce with fried eggplant and rigatoni pasta.  I will let you know how it turned out in my next post.

Ciao for now…

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

more on the budget…

now where did I leave off with the last post???  :-)

Ok still in London…

We took a ride on the Big Bus Tour for 2 days, I believe we purchased a ticket for 48 hours that was less than 120GBP .  We thought it well worth it to get around London with a guide and to hop on and off the buses whenever and wherever we wanted to.  The boys loved being on the double decker buses (except when it rained…it is London after all).

London 029

From the bus we saw Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden, Marble Arch, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and St Paul’s Cathedral and of course many other historical buildings…oh I mustn’t forget the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

The boys wanted to go on the London Eye, we got a discount with the Big Bus ticket and lined up in an extremely long line but it didn’t take as long as we thought it would, luckily the Bus Tour provided us with rain ponchos.  The view from the Eye was great and would’ve have been even better on a clear day.


I am not sure if I mentioned this in the last post but we often had breakfast at the train station before starting our day.  Cumberland sausage on a muffin and coffee is 2GBP or you can get a Bacon and Egg sub and coffee from Subway for 2GBP also.  Great way to start the day on a budget.

Next post will feature budgets for;

  • flights to Florence from London
  • accommodation in Italy
  • food in Italy
  • transport in Italy

Ciao for now…