Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Florence bus tickets - tickets for the ATAF buses in Firenze

STOP PRESS! As of 18th July 2019, Florence's ATAF buses allow contactless payment, meaning credit card touch technology. The system is installed on 355 buses within the city plus the airport bus, and currently accepts MasterCard, VISA, Maestro and V Pay. The ticket price of 1.50 euros and the validity duration of 90 minutes remain unchanged. When asked to produce your ticket by an inspector, simply tell him give the last four digits of the card with which you made the payment.This is an enormous time-saver and obviates the need to validate and manage paper tickets which tend to accumulate in the pockets of busy tourists. We await news on when the system will be installed on the trams.


There are a few simple but important things to know about using the city buses in Florence, Italy.


ATAF bus ticket
ATAF 90 minute bus ticket

ATAF bus tickets should be bought BEFORE you board the bus. They are available from any kiosk (news stand) and from many cafés (bars), and at tobacconists. There are also two ATAF offices very near the SMN railway station where you can buy tickets. The most useful ATAF office is the one at via Alamanni 20r. You can get to it from inside the station by going down the steps leaving the station on the right (when facing away from the platforms), turn right again at the bottom of the steps, go past the very useful Conad supermarket, a florist shop and a post office. The ATAF office is the next place and is open Monday through Saturday 7.15am to 7pm.

In extremity, you can buy a ticket from the driver. Note that he's not obliged to provide change and sales are suspended if an inspector is on board.

how to buy an ATAF bus ticket in Florence
Etiquette indicating that ATAF tickets are sold inside.
Sign indicating a tobacconist - they usually also sell bus tickets
Sign indicating a tobacconist - they usually also sell bus tickets

IMPORTANT Florence ATAF bus tickets must be validated as you enter the bus. You do this by inserting the ticket into the franking machine located beside or just behind the driver, and another near the rear entrance to the bus. Insert the pink strip uppermost and first into the machine. Check your ticket to make sure it was stamped with the date and time. Inspectors have no mercy on those without a ticket or with an unvalidated ticket or with an expired ticket - the fine is on-the-spot and painful (50 euros). If one machine is not working, try the other one. You only escape a fine if both machines are inoperative.

There is a good range of tickets available. Most commonly used is the 90 minute ticket. Using this you can get on and off as many buses as you like in any direction for the 90 minutes from when you validated the ticket.

Other tickets are good for four 90 minute rides. These tickets can be shared as long as they are validated the requisite number of times. For example, two people taking the number 7 bus to Fiesole could frank such a ticket twice to go and again twice to come back later in the day. These tickets have four strips for validation. Be sure not to overwrite your validation.

There are also 24 hours tickets and tickets for several days. Since these tickets are not meant to be passed from one person to another, YOU MUST WRITE YOUR NAME ON LONG DURATION ATAF TICKETS, such as 24 hour and three day tickets.

ATAF tickets are good for the small, electric buses that follow routes mainly through otherwise traffic-free lanes, and also for the trams. They are NOT valid for the bus that runs to and from SMN railway station and the airport. You can buy those tickets on the bus. Note that a taxi from the airport costs a fixed price of 20 euros plus baggage and late hours fees.

Last but not least, there are pickpockets on the buses in Florence, especially when they are crowded and on routes favoured by tourists. Please read this article on pickpockets in Italy to understand what you can do to protect your valuables from these thieves. It's not as bad as in Rome, but they are here in Florence for sure.


Tuscany Toscana
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Tuscany Travel Guide


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Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Friday, 19 July 2019

Should I rent a car or hire a driver to explore Tuscany?

How to get around Tuscany is a bit of a vexed question. Between the larger towns, there is an excellent rail service with frequent trains all day. Smaller towns can be reached by bus, but the bus service is scheduled more for commuters than tourists. To explore the countryside, a car is by far the best way to go and, of course, many visitors to Tuscany rent a car for the duration of their stay. There is, however, an alternative strategy. "Should I rent a car or hire a driver to explore Tuscany?" Suppose you are here for two weeks but only five of those days are trips that require a car? Money-wise and for the reasons outlined, this might be the optimal alternative:

Don't rent a car in Tuscany: hire a driver.

For those of you who want to explore Tuscany efficiently, rather than renting your own car, consider hiring a private driver - a chauffeur, in other words - with his own vehicle. Yes, it will cost a bit more than a rental car but the advantages are numerous:
  • Instead of focussing on the narrow, twisting roads of Tuscany, you will be able to admire the views and identify the sights while you let your driver take care of the driving.
  • Planning your routes together with your driver - before you arrive, if possible - will allow you to visit more of your destinations in a shorter time - no time wasted on the wrong roads, slow speeds and closed sights. Plus, your driver will help you choose the most scenic routes where there are more than one.
  • Once you arrive at one of your destinations, your private driver will drop you off at the sight and then he'll take care of finding a parking place - often a problem with popular small Tuscan villages.
  • No more worries about bus lanes and limited traffic zones. A driver with an NCC license is allowed to drive into limited traffic zones where private drivers are prohibited. That means he can pick you up at your accommodations and drop you off again, as well as access sights with limited traffic zones.
  • Doing a wine-tasting tour is a popular activity among visitors to Tuscany. "Taste and spit" can be tiresome on day-long wine tasting tour. With your own driver, that issue disappears and you can enjoy yourselves freely.
  • Last but not least, your driver knows places that the guide books don't. Tell him or her your interests and ask for suggestions.
A minibus carries up to 7 or 8 passengers, will probably be air conditioned and provide WiFi access to the internet.

My recommended drivers are:

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit my Tuscany
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Tuscany Travel Guide

vacation accommodations in Tuscany


Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Tuesday, 16 July 2019

How can we do an olive oil tasting in Tuscany?

Wine tasting is a favorite of visitors to Tuscany and there are numerous avenues to that activity. In contrast, I'm often asked by readers, "How can we do an olive oil tasting in Tuscany?" This is slightly more difficult to arrange. Although, of course, many Tuscan olive oil producers will let you taste their olive oil before buying, this doesn't help much because you've got nothing to compare it with - you're dependent on having an "educated" palate. What you need is to have an expert present you with 2 or 3 olive oils to taste while the differences are described to you. It could be two good but very different extra virgin olive oils from different locations (e.g. Lucca area and Chianti), or a very fresh olive oil and a two year old oil from the same farm, or a bottle of Turkish olive oil and a sample from Tuscany, or a second press oil and a cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil. There are many interesting and illustrative comparisons, but the basic aim is to be able to distinguish a fresh, extra virgin olive oil grown (not just bottled) in Tuscany from other, often inferior, products.

Just a personal note: the colour of the olive oil doesn't necessarily tell you much. Grass is also a good source of chlorophyll! In southern Italy, where counterfeiting olive oil is, or anyway was, rampant, there is a group of tasters who use purple glasses to hold the oil they're examining so that they aren't influenced by the colour. Having said all that, a fresh, extra virgin oil should look deep green and might well be cloudy.

olive oil tasting in Tuscany
Extra virgin olives oil ready for an olive oil tasting.
For you olive oil tasting lesson, one option is to stay at an agriturismo where olive oil is produced and where the owner is able and willing to do a comparative tasting. Podere Felceto, a vacation villa located near Panzano in Chianti, does exactly that. In fact, the owners organise an olive oil evening where a light meal follows the tasting. Needless to say, there's plenty of their organic olive oil in the dishes as well as in the tasting glasses!

Another option is to take a day tour where an olive oil tasting is part of the programme. A good tour has either a driver-guide who is expert in comparing olive oils or who can take you to a producer who is expert.

More about the olive oil tasting evening at Villa Felceto in Tuscany.

More about the different commercial grades of olive oil.



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Saturday, 13 July 2019

What you need to know before renting a car in Italy

Today, a few tips on what you need to know before renting a car in Italy.

Firstly, many car rental agencies in Italy leave much to be desired in terms of service, accessibility and opening hours, and some of them are to be avoided at all costs. Waits of up to two hours are not exceptional when picking up and dropping off a car at a popular point such as an airport. Closure for lunch, holidays and at night are standard practice. Be aware that some rental car companies that have a good reputation in the US, for example, are totally separate from companies of the same name in Italy.

Secondly, don't try to save money by using price comparision websites and opting for the cheapest deal. You will surely lose money and a lot of time if you do. Use Avis, Hertz or Europcar or a reputable broker such as Auto Europe even if it appears to cost a bit more. Europcar is probably the largest rental company in Italy and has a good reputation.
renting a car in Italy
Motoring in Tuscany
Auto Europe is an agency that arranges cheap rentals with the major and reputable car rental companies. The UK site is sometimes cheaper than the US one, so check out both www.autoeurope.com and www.auto-europe.co.uk. AutoEurope has a good reputation.

DO NOT confuse Auto Europe with Auto Europa - Sicily by Car which has a very bad reputation. Auto Europe good, Auto Europa bad.

Rental car agencies in Italy to be AVOIDED at all costs.


● Auto Europa - Sicily by Car has an appalling reputation for sullen service, hours long waits, major overcharging, total lack of response to communications etc. NEVER have anything to do with Auto Europa. All business for Dollar and Thrifty car rental companies in Italy is handled by Auto Europa - therefore AVOID.

Once again: Auto Europe good, Auto Europa bad.

● Goldcar Rental Agency, especially at Pisa Airport, is notorious for hard-selling additional and unnecessary insurance, including not mentioning that the charge is per day not per hire and stating falsely that your own insurance, if any, is invalid. They overcharge for the initial tank of petrol and refuse a refund on remaining petrol when the car is returned. There are also endless reports of other excess charges. Waits can be up to four hours. Their staff are uniformly reported to be rude, aggressive and intimidating. Note that many brokers send customers to this rental car agency without fully explaining their fuel and insurance policy. If a broker offers you a car from Goldcar, refuse it.

● Maggiore Car Rental is another company to be absolutely AVOIDED, especially in Sicily. All the same issues as for Goldcar and more. Maggiore Car Rental has by far the worst reputation of any large car rental company in Italy. They routinely come up with excess charges in the hundreds and will call in the police if you don't pay. Never threaten to dispute a card payment nor give them cash. Work through your card company after the event. DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT RENT FROM MAGGIORE.

● Sixt Holiday Car Rentals is yet another rental car company that should NEVER be used. If a broker sends you to this company, cancel immediately. A Sixt speciality is to send you to a franchise that does not have an available car. Complaints to Sixt elicit the response that their small print says that reservations are NOT confirmed (despite their email titled "Confirmation of your reservation".)!

● Locauto should NEVER be used. If you are sent there through a broker, cancel immediately. They routinely demand a large deposit and then charge for existing damage, they do not check returned vehicles in the presence of the customer and they add damages to the blank check sheet, their insurance makes no provision for the passengers if the car breaks down and so on and on.

 ● Firefly is yet another disastrous hire car company that should NEVER be used. Easycar and Holiday Autos sometimes refer customers to Firefly. Cancel immediately if that happens. Dirty vehicles often with over 100,000 km on the dial, headlights that don't work etc etc. plus charges for an additional driver despite that being included, the usual massive (e.g. 1500 euros) deductions from credit cards without explanation, and so on.

To check carefully: unethical car rental companies pressure their customers to buy additional insurance. This not only costs money unnecessarily but can render your original insurance invalid.

Always insist that you get a finalisation of your rental - that is a receipt that the car has been checked and that signed off as OK and that there is no balance due for car items (damage and petrol). This can take a lot of time but it's worth it. They will not sign off on possible future parking or other road infringements.

IMPORTANT - limited traffic zones (ZTL's).
These are the areas in the historical centres of most Italian cities and towns that are closed during certain hours to traffic other than permit holders. Rental cars do not have these permits. The ZTL's are monitored by traffic cameras and entry by non-permit holders results in a charge to your credit card by the car rental company and a fine from the traffic authorities. Many rental car companies have offices very near these zones so that it's easy to wander into one when driving to or from the car pickup. For this reason, it is highly recommended, in Florence, for example, to use the offices and rental car pickup at the airport rather than those in the centre of town.

Full details about traffic violation in Italy, including ZTL infractions, click here.

Car rentals in Italy
Driving in Florence
ALSO IMPORTANT - an International Driving Permit, which is in essence an official translation of your driving licence, is required, in addition to a driver's licence, by everyone who does not hold a driving licence issued by an EU country and who intends to drive in Italy. Note that International Drivers Licences sold over the Internet are all scams, offering worthless pieces of paper at best. You need an International Driving Permit from your national motoring organisation. They're very cheap. Most rental car agencies now ask to see your International Driving Permit in addition to your licence.

If you plan to spend most of your time in a city such as Florence, with just one or two excursions into the countryside, you might find that the additional cost of a car and driver-guide rather than a rental car will be far outweighed by convenience and the efficiency of having a planned sightseeing itinerary.

More about motoring in Tuscany.

More about getting around in Tuscany.

Chianti without a car, including a list of recommended drivers.

Rental cars, minibuses and coaches offered by a small, local company in central Chianti

Rental vehicle companies are hard to come by in the smaller towns of Chianti, but there is one in Gaiole in Chianti that hires out high end machines from their own garage. If you're planning a stay in the Chianti area of Tuscany and will need transport, especially for groups, you might want to contact Tuscany Limousine
.
These are the cars, minibuses and buses they have available
with and without a driver.
Mercedes Classe E280 4 (+1) persons
Mercedes Vito 8 (+1) persons
Renault Trafic 8 (+1) persons
Mercedes Sprinter 18 (+1) persons
King Long 35 (+1) persons
Domino HDI 52 (+1) persons
Domino HDH 55 (+1) persons

They also offer luxury sports car rentals for test drives, weddings etc.

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
www.bella-toscana.com
Author: Anna Maria Baldini

All content copyright © ammonet Italian Web Site Promotion 2013 - 2019. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Horse drawn wagon tour through the Chianti countryside

Despite the heat wave we're currently experiencing, I have just returned from a fabulous horse drawn wagon tour through the Chianti countryside under the expert guidance of Luca Perrotta. I can't think of a more appropriate way to get around in Chianti than by horse and wagon! Luca met my friends and me at Montagnana near Montespertoli. That's where his tours start, although by prearrangement, you can start off from elsewhere if you'd prefer to tour a different part of Chianti. The wagon is covered to keep the sun off but open at the sides to let the breezes blow through. This was ideal for the kind of weather we're having right now. The seats were comfortable and the horses very strong and beautiful. Off we go!

Horse and wagon excursion through Chianti, Tuscany
Luca making the last minute preparations for a horse and wagon excursion through Chianti
Luca spends as little time as possible on tar-sealed roads and even then on roads with little traffic. Most of the time we travelled over Tuscan strade bianche (dirt roads) among the vineyards and olive groves. We took a full day tour and so stopped off for some wine tasting during the morning at one of the wineries near Montespertoli and San Casciano, and we had lunch at a farm house in their fine old kitchen. During the afternoon we continued our explorations with a stop at a castle (a small castle or a large fortified villa - both descriptions fit!). Altogether it was a wonderfully relaxing day.

Horse and wagon excursion in Tuscany
We took it in turns to ride beside Luca on the driver's bench
I can especially recommend Luca's horse and wagon tour for parents who are visiting Tuscany and who are asking themselves "what activities are available for kids in Tuscany?" One excellent answer is "a wagon ride through the Chianti countryside!" If you want to give a group of children (including grown-up children) a real treat, Luca can arrange for clowns, jugglers and other similar actors to meet you at some point during the tour. Wedding parties also often appreciate this kind of entertainment.

A group of children about to set out on a horse and wagon outing in Chianti
A group of children about to set out on a horse and wagon outing in Chianti

More about Luca's horse drawn wagon excursions in Chianti.


Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit Elena Spolaor's
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany & Umbria.

Chianti Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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