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Driving, Europe, Italy

Driving in Italy

July 29, 2015

Italy is now the third foreign country I have driven in! The plan for my trip to Italy was to see friends near Rome and then go to Venice. I knew there were towns along the way I wanted to see and getting to my friend’s house seemed easier by car. After talking to lots of people, I was assured that driving in Italy would be easy compared to driving in Qatar.  This also made it possible for me to make several stops along the way to Venice.

Once I decided to rent a car, I was faced with how to rent a car in Italy. Most major US car rental companies have branches in Italy, but they weren’t always the cheapest option. After I had booked my hotel in Venice using Hotels.com*, I saw that they also did car rental brokering. Essentially, you tell them what you need and they negotiate a price for you. It is all done instantaneously and then you receive a confirmation email with a voucher to present to the car rental agency. Renting the car through Hotels.com was the cheapest option I found.

The other issue was that I don’t know how to drive a manual transmission and the Italians love a manual! Most of the rental cars were manuals and finding the automatic transmission section was hard. Originally, I thought I would drive from Venice to Rome and Venice didn’t have many automatic options. Rome had many more. The Hotels.com car rental process for finding an automatic was easier than the European car rental company sites. You should also be aware that the automatic transmissions were also more expensive than the manuals.

Knowing that towns are old and parking could be an issue, I opted for the smallest car they offered. It ended up being the Fiat 500 you see above.  This was a real benefit when I had to maneuver through the tiny parking garage at my hotel in Verona. It was also good when parking the car in my friends’ small village.  Small cars are very common for these reasons and there seemed to be plenty of them in the rental car garage.

The actual driving!  Here are my tips for driving in Italy both on the highway and in the country. This includes guides to the driving rules.

  1. Italians drive fast! If you don’t want to drive fast, stay out of the far left hand lane. If driving fast makes you nervous, drive in the far right hand lane.
  2. People cut in and out of lanes quickly and closely. Don’t worry about it as this is common and the Italians know what they are doing. A few Italians flashed their lights at me telling me they were coming and to get out of their way.  Get over if you can, but if you can’t just use your signal to indicate that you will get over when able.
  3. Tolls! All the highways have tolls and they are expensive. I spent almost €40 on tolls. Some toll booths are automated and some have a person. Be sure you go in the lane that is marked for cash and not the Telepass, which is like a toll tag. A few seemed to take credit cards as well.
  4. Gas is expensive too.  I spent over €100 on gas for a weeks worth of driving. I did pay for the serviced option because I wasn’t sure which gas to put in the car and I didn’t need to screw that up! There were plenty of service stations all along my routes, even in the villages. The ones in the villages might be self-service at some times of the day and you will have to pay in cash.
  5. Turn your lights even during the day in the country. This is the law.
  6. Going fast in a small car isn’t as scary especially when everyone else is in a small car. However, my car took it’s time getting up to speed on the highway. The usual speed limit on the highway is 130 KPH, which is about 81 MPH and everyone was speeding!
  7. Speed cameras are everywhere. The GPS I rented warned me of them, but the ones in the small towns were not always detected. I have been back less than a week, so I have no idea if I got any tickets yet! Google “speed camera italy” to see what they look like. Some were very obvious and some were not.
  8. Get a GPS. Get it from the rental car company as it will be the most up-to-date with maps and speed cameras. It was more accurate than my Google maps app on my phone.

Overall, I really enjoyed driving in Italy and am now determined to do more driving in other countries. Have you driven in a foreign country? Tell us your tips for driving in that country in the comments

*This post was not sponsored by Hotels.com. 

Driving, Museums, United States

My First Solo Trip Experience

March 10, 2015
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The Breakers Mansion in Newport, RI – Photo courtesy of Wally Gobetz, Flickr

I was telling a story to a friend the other day about my trip to Rhode Island and I realized half way through the telling, that this was my first entirely solo trip. Of course, I had been on planes by myself and done road trips home from college, but this trip I had planned entirely by myself.

In the Fall of 1999, I moved to New York City to do an internship at Saks Fifth Avenue. Much of my free time was spent exploring New York City, but for my birthday, I wanted to do something different. I looked at weekend trips from the city and discovered Newport, Rhode Island and the “summer homes” of New York’s rich. Of course, I am talking old rich. These are the homes of the Astor’s, the Vanderbilt’s and the like. Unfortunately, my fellow fashion friends didn’t want to go or could get time off work. I decided I wasn’t going to let that stop me and I went by myself. Not only did I go on my first solo trip, I also spent my birthday alone for the first time.

I rented a car. This was an entirely new process to me as well.  I had the internet, so I was able to book it online. I had decided that renting a hybrid was most cost efficient as it cost more up front, but fuel would be less. The only thing was I had never been in a hybrid at this point. When I picked up the Toyota Prius, I had no idea how to start it! It was one of the first push button cars. I had to get the rental company to show me how!

The drive up to Rhode Island was great! It was late October and the leaves had changed. I also love to take long drives. I did this frequently in Texas as college was 6 hours away from my parents house.  I also hadn’t driven since I moved to New York City in September and was glad to be in a car.

When I was planning the trip, I knew I wanted to stay in a bed and breakfast not a hotel. My Mom has instilled a love of bed and breakfasts in me from a young age. Thanks Mom! I chose a historic home on the outskirts of Newport. It had lovely views of the water and I had a beautiful room with an attached bath.  To be honest, I don’t remember if the food was good, it was too long ago. However, I do remember the owners being there and telling great stories about the house and rooms.

I love historic homes and going to see massive historic homes was right up my alley.  The mansions were stunning. Looking back, I they remind me of the house in Downton Abbey although more gilded. I saw as many as I could in the two days I was there. I had lovely weather and you could walk from mansion to mansion.

Since it was my birthday, I wanted to go somewhere nice for dinner.  This was my rookie mistake, although I still tend to make this mistake. I didn’t have a reservation anywhere and when I did get one it was for 9pm! I never eat this late, but this time I didn’t care. The waiter was surprised I was by myself and even more surprised when I told him it was my birthday. I had ordered dessert and knowing that I wouldn’t want the whole restaurant to know it was my birthday and I was alone, they didn’t come out and sing but wrote Happy Birthday in chocolate on the plate!

While I didn’t give it much thought at the time, I did pretty good for my first solo trip. Not only did I pick a great place to visit and got there and back with no issues, I also learned I liked traveling by myself and that I could do it and that was probably the most important thing!

 Link to original photo – I usually like to use my own photos in posts, but all these photos are in print format back in Texas!
Driving, Qatar, Travel

Lost in Translation

March 3, 2015

Watermarked-1088Lost in translation is much more than not understanding the language of the country you are in . It can be a gesture, a look, or a word.  Here in Qatar, this is especially true. Qatar’s population is over 2.3 million and only 250,000 of those are Qatari. Most of the population are expats coming to work here. Given how many nationalities there are,  it’s no wonder we have so many “lost in translation” moments.

Driving seems to be the biggest lost in translation moment! We all have come from different countries with different driving rules and we are now all trying to drive together in a country with rapidly changing infrastructure and different driving rules. Roundabouts cause the biggest confusion, especially for this American. Here you are supposed to wait until it’s clear to enter the roundabout, but in some countries, the people are supposed to let your merge. In the U.S., we don’t have many, so when I first arrived it was like “what do I do and how do I not get killed doing it!”  This was the only thing that terrified me about driving here. Now I go through them with ease.

Another lost in translation moment that most women can relate to here is staring. People stare at you here. Yes, it is mostly men, but I once had an Arab woman stare at me in the bathroom while I brushed my hair. Local men stare as they aren’t used to seeing women with their hair uncovered. The laborer expats stare as they live with men and work with men all day and I can only guess that looking at a woman is a nice change. The other men stare, at least at me, because I am blond and their just aren’t a lot of us running around in the Middle East! (Yes, I am making some assumptions here, but I am sure I am right to some degree.) When I first arrived, it bothered me a lot. It made me angry. It is not something I was warned about before I arrived. But then I realized, I stared at people when I arrived and they are just looking out of curiosity. Now I hardly notice.

The way to greet people in Qatar is sometimes lost in translation to expats. People in the Middle East don’t just say hello and start talking. They greet you with Good Morning and how are you? They may also ask after your family or your health.  This can take some time to get used to. Even in shops its appropriate to say Good Morning before checking out. It took some practice, but now I am used to it and greet everyone with a Good Morning! By the way, this is even said if you had a car accident on the way into work!

Speaking English with other expats can be lost in translation. We native English speaking people of the world can barely speak to each other some times. Or if we do understand the word, we have a different meaning. This was revealed to me recently when I met a Scottish guy. We were out at the mangroves and we had to wade through water and the legs of my pants got wet. Well pants in the UK, apparently means your underwear! Of course, he didn’t say anything at the moment, as I am sure he couldn’t figure out why this girl was talking so freely about her underwear! He did tell me later that they say trousers. There are so many other English language differences, petrol station/gas station, napkin/serviette, bathers/swimsuit, etc. Of course, the pants/underwear is the most confusing and funny! Although now, I catch myself saying things like shop instead of store and petrol station instead of gas! My English has become international English!

This post is part of a travel link up hosted by Emma, Kelly, Rebecca and Sam . Head on over to any of these blogs to read about their lost in translation moments!