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…

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