Boats & trains

Italy

The length of the train journey from Rome to Cannes was a little daunting. Luckily, our long haul plans were adjusted when we were contacted by Mack and Anne (parents of Ben) who were in Genoa planning their sailing adventure and kindly invited us to stay with them. It was great to see some familiar faces, celebrate our engagement, see Genoa and the famed International Boat Show, and break up the train journey to Cannes.

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Genoa seemed a bit more industrial than some of the other Italian cities we had visited. Still plenty of good spots to eat and drink though. Mack and Anne found a spot amongst the locals for a post-boat show prosecco, followed by a great dinner at a restaurant on one of the many squares. We enjoyed watching Anne in full flight with near fluent Italian – very impressive compared to our efforts after all those weeks amongst it!

The boat show itself is a feast for the eyes. Plenty of crazy new inventions – eg boats with fold down sides for extra space. A couple basically unfolded onto the water like some sort of Transformers toy. Amongst the few practical offerings were a lot of floating sun loungers with bonus engine, not to mention that a whole heap were just plain ugly with stumpy fronts or horrid colours. Many of the boats are designed for cruising the Med and wouldn’t be any good in NZ, but they’re certainly fun to look at. And then there were the outfits. It was fairly warm, but there were still a couple of fur coats and plenty of super-high heels. It was hard to tell if anyone was actually buying, or just being seen.

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24 hours after arriving, we were back to the train station and off to Ventimiglia – the last Italian city before the French border. We were very glad to have marked our last night in Italy with some great food and excellent company. We’re looking forward to hearing all about the sailing adventure

As an aside, train travel in Italy is fantastic. Better than Austria and (as we would learn) probably easier than France (at least the French Riveria anyway). Before we left home, we had seriously considered buying “EuroRail” passes. Advice to anyone thinking about that – these are not good value like they used to be. If you are travelling in Eastern Europe or Italy (and to a lesser extent France), don’t bother.

It was far cheaper to buy the tickets online in advance and get the “economy” or “super-economy” fares which tended to be half or one quarter of a standard base fare. In Italy you simply go on http://www.trenitalia.com (ideally about two weeks or more before you travel if you want to get “super economy”, although we often only managed a few days before), change the language to English, then book your train and pay by credit card. For the fast intercity trains (not the regionale ones) they send you an email and text message with your seat reservation and booking code. You don’t need a ticket or anything – just show the code to the conductor when he comes around. Very easy and if you get economy fares – very cheap.

The hardest part about the whole thing is when you find an Italian sound asleep in your seat. There’s no fancy solution for that. Even with the pre-bought rail passes you can’t just get on a train, you still need to book a seat reservation and have to pay a supplement. It just doesn’t stack up against the economy online tickets. If possible, try to avoid buying tickets from the station for intercity trains, as they will only give you the base fare.

In Austria if you book online through OBB, you can save money, but need to print your e-ticket – a real pain when you’re on the road and not staying in fancy hotels.

In France, it’s still pretty easy. For TGV trains you book online and either get your ticket mailed to you (no good if already travelling), or they give you a code that you plug in at a machine at the station to print your ticket.

And anything about train travel that you don’t know the answer to – visit http://www.seat61.com. It’s mostly about how to get from London to other European cities but there is also very detailed advice about travelling within particular countries. We bought a book on travelling Europe by train, but hardly used it because everything is on this website.

Last piece of advice is on sim cards for iPad if you need 3G. There are so many different ways of doing this, but here is what we did:

– UK: Went to O2 shop and bought a sim card. Gave us 4GB for one month and cost about £30. There are cheaper plans. Main advice here is to get it all working when you’re in the shop cause we couldn’t do it ourselves – something weird happens with the new iPad. Only thing with O2 is that they will keep charging you each month until you go into your carrier settings and cancel your payments. Just remember to do that when you leave the UK.

– Italy: Went to Vodafone shop and bought a sim card which gave us 7GB, which is heaps! This cost €8 for the sim card and €25 for the data. It lasts for one year. Topping up would be tricky as you need to go on the Vodafone Italy website to do it. Some people said the TIM network coverage is better, but we found Vodafone okay (bit patchy in Tuscany).

– France: Went to Orange shop and bought a sim card. This cost €8 for the sim card and €25 for 2GB of data. Just chuck in the sim card and it works. Topping up on the Orange website a bit tricky unless you speak French. Otherwise use a Google translate.

That’s the travel tips section covered. As you can probably tell, we are also very informative when it comes to restaurants (and laundromats, metro tickets and other exciting admin topics) if anyone needs any pointers in the future. Sorry I don’t have any train pictures to illustrate Alex’s tips 🙂

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