Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Best way to buy Euros in Italy

For American and other visitors to Italy, the most convenient and least expensive way to buy euros is to use a debit card at an ATM (called a "Banc-o-Mat" in Italy). This is also where you will obtain the best rate of exchange. You can withdraw a certain maximum of Euros per withdrawal or per day (determine this before you leave, although it depends both on your bank and the ATM) and your bank will charge a per withdrawal ATM fee from as low as $0.75 up to $5.00 or more, depending on your bank. Some debit cards do not charge fees for international transactions, while most Visa cards and Mastercards charge a 3% transaction fee per withdrawal. Ask about these fees before departure so that you know whether to withdraw a maximum amount infrequently or smaller amounts as needed.

Best way to obtain euros in Italy
Capital One is reputed to be the only major company to not add on a foreign transaction fee. Almost all other Visa/Mastercards have a total of 3% foreign transaction fees.

It's always a good idea to obtain, say, € 200 in small notes before you leave, so that you don't have to look for an ATM as soon as you arrive.

Try not to use ATMs in large railway stations and crowded places to avoid the problem of pickpockets.

DO NOT USE EURONET ATMs.


Obtaining euros in Europe

DO NOT use EURONET ATM cash machines. You will see these ATMs everywhere that tourists go, especially in airports and railway stations. They charge outrageously high fees and give the worst possible exchange rate. Use an ATM that belongs to a bank, preferably in the lobby of the bank.

Traveler's Cheques are no longer in common use in Europe. Hardly any shop or hotel will accept them and most banks refuse to take them because of redemption problems.

DO NOT use currency exchange offices ("Cambio"). Although somewhat regulated, these places charge huge fees. Up to 20% is not unheard of. If you must exchange bank notes, it's by far best to use a bank.

Be sure to let your bank and/or credit card company know that you will be traveling in Europe, (destinations and time periods) so that the anti-fraud protection software does not block your use of the card in Europe.



Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Thursday, 2 April 2020

Italian lessons in Tuscany, Italy

If you're under lock-down due to Coronavirus, maybe this is the moment to take some Italian lessons using Skype. Lorella is ready and willing to provide Italian lessons at all levels via the internet.

Taking Italian lessons in Tuscany can and should be both practical and fun. There are multiple approaches, all of which have strong positive points. One approach to learning Italian is to use an online Italian language beginners' course or CD course and then to follow that up with intensive Italian lessons with a professional Italian language teacher, either in a group or one-to-one. Another approach to learning Italian is to start from the beginning with your professional Italian language teacher, taking your lessons at an easy pace, and backing them up with taped or CD lessons. Both of these approaches are enormously enhanced if you have the chance to take your Italian lessons in Italy so that you hear the language all day long and, of course, have the opportunity or the necessity to use your Italian language skills, rudimentary as they might be at the start.

Italian lessons in Tuscany
Lorella Federico, certified Italian teacher
If you have the chance to study Italian in Italy, I can strongly recommend Lorella Federico who is a professional Italian language teacher who gained her qualification at the University of Siena and who is based in Panzano in Chianti. Lorella is a skilled teacher - no doubt about that - and Panzano and its environs are a great base for your vacation in Tuscany. And they say that Siennese is the purest and most beautiful dialect of Italian.

Italian lessons via Skype
Italian lessons via Skype

If you're coming here on vacation, you can even take a single lesson with her so that you can pronounce places names correctly and apply a few useful phrases. Those are her beginner-level Italian lessons. She also offers a highly popular programme where you can continue your Italian lessons back home via Skype. And she also offers an intensive Italian course for those who, for one reason or another, must or wish to acquire good Italian conversational and reading skills in a short time.

More about Lorella's Italian lessons in Tuscany.

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

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Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Cooking lessons at our accommodation in Tuscany

Food definitely has to be one of the reasons to spend some time in Tuscany, and second to enjoying Tuscan cuisine comes the desire to know how to prepare a Tuscan meal. No doubt that's why I often receive enquiries about arranging "cooking lessons at our accommodation in Tuscany". Usually, my answer is first to try Le Cetinelle, Simonetta Landati's B&B in the Chianti hills above Greve in Chianti.

cooking lessons at our accommodation in Tuscany
Agriturismo Le Cetinelle Bed and Breakfast offers Tuscan cooking lessons to vacationers.
At Le Cetinelle, the Tuscan cooking classes are hands-on. When participating in a cooking lesson, you prepare and cook yourself under Simonetta's expert guidance in a very friendly and informal atmosphere. Whenever possible, fresh produce from the Le Cetinelle vegetable garden and orchard are used, plus, of course, their own Chianti Classico wine and extra virgin olive oil. Cooking classes can be arranged over 1, 2, 3 or more days and they usually start at 10 am for a lunch cooking lesson and 4 pm for a dinner lesson. This allows plenty of time for the lesson before you sit down to enjoy the products of your labours.
A Tuscan cookery class with Simonetta
A Tuscan cookery class with Simonetta
For those more interested in dining that cooking, Simonetta also prepares evening meals for those who are interested.

So if you're seeking very attractive and economical vacation accommodations with the opportunity to learn Tuscan cookery, Le Cetinelle is the place for you!

More about Tuscan cooking lessons at Le Cetinelle.




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Friday, 31 January 2020

Where to rent an e-bike in Tuscany?

As more and better models of e-bike (electric bike) become widely available in Tuscany, we are lucky enough to have access to a new and wonderful way to explore the Tuscan countryside. Standard bikes are already hugely popular in Tuscany, especially among male Tuscans of all ages as well as with many visitors. On weekends from Spring through Autumn, you can see them zooming along in their thousands over the scenic routes, especially the Chiantigiana highway that traverses Chianti between Florence and Sienna. The one adjective that applies to all of these riders is "fit".

cycling in Tuscany
White road cycling in Tuscany

Then there are the rest of us . . . keen on enjoying the outdoors and getting a bit of exercise but not quite up to tackling the Tuscan hills on racing bikes. Fear not, Dear Reader, the answer is nigh. The electric or assisted bicycle, commonly known as the e-bike or ebike, is a bicycle with pedals like an ordinary bike but with, in addition, a generator and an electric motor powered by accumulators (rechargeable batteries) which are recharged by the generator on downhill or easy, flat stretches. I tested one of these recently during a brief warmish spell and I can say that they're incredible. You can tackle the Tuscan hill roads, including the unpaved strade bianche without breaking into a sweat (or perspiring, in the case of ladies). This really puts at your disposal the most attractive way to explore Tuscany outside the big art cities. Very little sound, fresh air blowing through your hair and the option to stop for a "photo opp" or a rest or lunch whenever the spirit moves you. Riding an e-bike really does bring you effortlessly into close contact with rural Tuscany.

Where to rent an e-bike in Tuscany?
E-bike in Tuscany

This brings us to the question of how to rent an e-bike in Tuscany.There are e-bike rental outlets in many of the larger towns in Tuscany - just keep your eye open for a bicycle and Vespa repair shop. In general, these outlets provide e-bikes for those keen on self-guided bike tours in Tuscany. In contrast, I took the opportunity to join an organised e-bike tour with Tuscany Quintessence, specifically their four day Via Francigena Tour, which included both accommodation along the route and meals (they also offer a seven day version of this e-bike tour). It was a fabulous experience that I don't hesitate to recommend strongly.

More about Tuscany Quintessence Tuscany e-bike Cycling Tours.

My post about self-guided bike tours in Tuscany.

Tuscany e-bike rentals


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

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

Tuscany Travel Guide

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Thieves in the trams in Florence

I generally don't like being the bearer of bad tidings on this blog, but a warning for visitors to Florence. There are now thieves in the trams of Florence. It seems that pickpockets have discovered easy pickings in the Florentine trams and at the tram stations. The latest arrests were two attractive Bulgarian gypsy women, ages 19 and 23, whose modus opparandi is for one of the them to jostle and if possible unbalance their target while the other steals the victim's wallet or purse (and to claim to be pregnant upon arrest so that they can't be held pending trial). The youngest had been arrested at least six times in 2019 for similar crimes on public transport and her friend had been investigated for theft last year.

pickpockets on Florence trams


What can you do about it?  If you detect someone trying to pick your pockets or you see that happening to someone else, create a noisy fuss. The Florentine public are fed up with this kind of thing and will come to your assistance. The latest arrests resulted from exactly this - the pickpockets were spotted in action and members of the public blocked them from slipping out the door of the tram until the carabinieri arrived.

Tips on how to avoid pickpockets in Italy.

Useful info on bus and tram tickets in Florence.

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

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

Tuscany Travel Guide


vacation accommodations in Tuscany

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Sunday, 12 January 2020

Florentine villas and gardens: American and English expatriates in Tuscany

Your favorite blogger's sources tell her that a fabulous opportunity is coming up during November 2020, namely a week long "workshop" organised by Villa Gamberaia, devoted to the Florentine villas and gardens of American and English expatriates in Tuscany during the later 19th and early 20th centuries.

Florentine villas and gardens: American and English expatriots in Tuscany
The parterre of Villa Gamberaia

Villa Gamberaia, celebrated for its unique gardens and splendid views over the city of Florence and the Arno Valley, has long inspired American and British landscape designers, from Charles Platt and Cecil Pinsent to Ellen Biddle Shipman. In the early 1900s, it was the favorite meeting place of Bernard and Mary Berenson, Janet Ross, Vernon Lee and Arthur Acton, who gathered for tea, dinners on the terrace and talks on art and literature with their hostess, the Romanian princess Jeanne Ghyka and her American companion, artist Florence Blood, two very talented women who created the magnificent parterre d’eau.

The number of participants will be limited. A small group of guests (probably 6-12 persons) seeking both a tranquil setting away from crowds of tourists and a convenient base for visits to Florence and to the neighboring villas of Fiesole and Settignano, will be accommodated in the Villa Gamberaia guest-houses. All visits, on-site lectures and workshops are planned and will be conducted by art historians and landscape architects resident in Florence.

I can't reveal the details yet, but the week will include lunches and aperativi at villas, gardens and other sites in and around Florence that are otherwise almost impossible for the ordinary visitor to access. There will be lunches and dinners at Villa Gamberaia.

Click the following link for more information on this unique one week exploration of  the Florentine villas and gardens of the American and English expatriates in Tuscany.


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

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

Tuscany Travel Guide


vacation accommodations in Tuscany

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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