Junk food giant McDonalds is trying (re)open a temple to
processed meat at the place built 2000 years ago to be a temple to all Gods,
and I for one am not happy about it.
Italy pioneered the slow food movement, a movement that is about
real food, in season, not processed, as close to farm to table as possible, eaten
at a table with friends and family. Basically the complete antithesis to the
garbage that is McDonalds.
So the American junk franchise aggressively trying to push its way into the sites of ancient ruins is even more offensive than otherwise.
Although there’s a McDonalds on every street corner in America
they are few and far between in Italy. The Fast food culture hasn’t really
taken off in Italy, a country where meals are consumed sitting at a table be it
at home or in a restaurant.
But McDonalds isn’t targeting Italians. Italy is one of the
most touristed countries in the world, and McDonalds wants those tourists, so
it is trying to worm its way into the big tourist sites. Just last week they
got turned away from the Baths of Caracalla, this week they are trying to
pollute the Pantheon.
The Piazza della Rotonda, home of the Pantheon has a variety of eating options, from artiginal gelato, to the most famous coffee shop in the world (Tazza d’Oro) to a variety of trattoria and restaurants. You can sit outside at a table with a view of the Pantheon and enjoy Italian food and culture. McDonalds wants to violate that, siphoning off Americans and Chinese and plowing their tourist dollars into junk-o-rama at the expense of the local businesses.
There are multiple ways the city loses when McDonalds comes to town, but lets look at three of them:
* Local Business Suffers
Italians don’t really benefit too much from all these tourists. Beautiful, historical piazzas such as Piazza della Rotonda don’t charge an entry fee, you just walk in. The only way the city and the people make money is by tourists spending money in stores and at food establishments. Local business benefit from the influx of tourists sitting at their tables, eating their food.
If a percentage of those tourists are now getting Big Macs instead, those local businesses get hurt.
* The Trash!
American fast food chains generate an extraordinary amount of
trash. Here in the states people walk around eating fast food and then
(hopefully) dump the refuse into trash cans. Look around any American city and
see how much fast food rubbish is littered around the streets. A McDonalds by
the Pantheon is going to create trash around the Pantheon.
It should also be noted that Rome already has a problem with trash collection and disposal. The city doesn’t need American food franchises adding to the volume and making it worse.
* The Extra Crowds
A McDonalds at the Pantheon will draw even more people into the area as tourists follow the signs to the golden arches. As tricky as it can be to take a photo of the Pantheon without tourists getting in the way, a McDonalds will make it worse.
Bringing American tourists to a McDonalds at the Pantheon also brings more problems, for everyone – you and me included.
Whether they are right or wrong, pick pockets think American
tourists have the best and easiest stuff to steal. The average American tourist
is likely to have more cash on them than the average European or Eastern
European. The flash more jewelry, more overall bling, and as a result are
If you were a pickpocket and didn’t want to hang out at the
Trevi Fountain, a big American fast food chain would be the next best thing.
Easy pickings from distracted tourists busy supersizing their orders and
plowing through fries. I wouldn’t care about that – serves you right for eating
there, but now you have drawn more pickpocketing to the area, and that impacts
all of us.
* TERROR TARGETS
If you belong to some deranged sect and want to inflict harm on
a large group and get your cause some internationally televised fame and
attention, what better place to do it than one where Americans hang out? McDonalds,
Starbucks, Subway – none of them should be in Italy, period. I tell all of my
Glam Italia Tour travelers to stay the heck away from them and with the
exception of two travelers, over the years have been successful.
Although I travel the world without fear of terror attacks, I
do consciously avoid the areas around McDonalds and Co. While writing this I
did a quick google search on terror attacks and McDonalds. It looks like over
the years there have been plenty.
McDonalds had a junk food palace in the Piazza della Rotonda
in the past but was run out of town back in 2011. Hopefully the powers that be
will turn their backs on any kickbacks paying the chain’s way into the piazza.
The reversal on permitting the proposed Baths of Caracalla McDonalds at least
gives me some hope.
If you feel you need McDonalds to be part of your travel experience, maybe just stay home?
Are you thinking about renting a car and driving while you are
in Italy? Or maybe you are wondering if it is necessary to have a car while you
As someone who rents cars in Italy several times per year, I can tell you there is nothing so freeing and fun as getting behind the wheel of a zippy little Italian car and racing through the hills of Tuscany, the olive lined roadways of Puglia or the lesser traveled parts of Lazio. With Italian music blasting, the wind blowing your hair while you glamorously look at the road ahead through an oversized pair of sunglasses – what could be more fabulous?
I can also tell you the heart pounding stress that comes with
your GPS dumping you into the heart of a busy city, backing up a long line of
cars because you got in the telepass lane at the toll booth by mistake or
finding yourself deep, deep inside the one way street labyrinth of the storico centro in a medieval town that
was built for horses not cars – going the wrong way (all of which I have done)
can ruin a trip or at least leave you a nervous wreck.
First things first, let’s look at your trip and see if you
even need to drive while you’re in Italy. Start by mapping your trip and seeing
if a car is necessary. If your trip is primarily major cities, for example you
are going to Rome, Florence and Venice then no you definitely do not need a
car. If your trip is going to be spent exploring outside of the cities look to
see whether the places you are going are on a train route.
So much of Italy has really fantastic train access that
frequently not only do you not need a car, but a car would be slower and more
If your travel plans include aimlessly roaming the hill towns
of Tuscany, or exploring Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria or Sicily, then a car is
going to be essential.
not need a car inside the cities. In fact I emphatically
recommend you do not get a car if you are inside the cities. Public transport
is excellent, and in the big cities taxis are plentiful, so you can get
anywhere you want to go quite easily.
On the other hand driving inside the cities can be
treacherous, incredibly stressful and very expensive.
It is so easy to get lost and your GPS can be more of an enemy
than a friend, especially inside old towns where the signal doesn’t always find
I was recently walking in Venice with some women who wanted to
go to a specific restaurant that was at best a little wiggly to get to. Walking
through the narrow calle the GPS would drop and a couple of times I had to take
us back into an open campo to let the signal find my phone again. There was
much eye-rolling and snorting from the peanut gallery who just didn’t get it
that there wasn’t a consistent GPS signal.
This is just a nuisance when you are on foot, but when you are
driving it can be really stressful and have you going down the wrong streets
and getting into situations you cannot easily get back out of.
Parking inside the cities can be hard to come by. It almost
always requires parallel parking super-proficiency, and the ability to not only
parallel park in traffic, but with only an inch or two space at either end of
There are parking buildings here and there but they can be very difficult to find and once inside the individual parking spaces are small and tight.
ZTLs are very expensive traps for unsuspecting tourists. The Zona TrafficoLimitato or Limited Traffic Zone is designed so that only cars with
a special permit can go inside. These are normally, but not always, in the
central heart of a city, as well as in small villages and towns.
Your GPS probably will not recognize a ZTL and will send you
straight into the heart of it. With everything else that is going on chances
are you won’t even see the warning sign. If you are on a one way street you can
be inside the ZTL before you even realize it, or worse still you see it coming
but have no way to get back out of it!
ZTLs are monitored with cameras that catch you the moment you
cross into one. It will take months to arrive but suddenly you find yourself
with a steep fine that nearly doubles if not paid within 60 days. You also get
an “admin fee” from the rental car company, charged to your credit card.
In all likelihood it won’t just happen once – if you are not
on top of it you can find yourself going in and out of ZTLs without realizing
and find yourself with multiple fines. On an Italy travel forum that I was
reading a traveler was fined over 2400 euros, a year after his Italy trip. He
hadn’t known where all the ZTLs were and just drove in and out of them,
somewhere near 24 times!
So even if your parallel parking skills are on point and you
don’t get stressed easily, I sincerely recommend not driving inside the cities.
5. Discover New Towns And Villages
Having a rental car and driving around the countryside,
discovering random little towns the tour buses don’t go to is one of my
absolute favorite things to do in Italy.
The trick to it is to keep an open mind, decide ahead of time
you won’t allow yourself to get stressed out, and then go have fun!
On my most recent trip to Italy I flew into Bari, picked up a rental car and then drove by myself across Puglia and Basilicata to get to La Rabatana
It was a beautiful and easy drive, except for one roundabout
that had 5 exits, and that the GPS couldn’t decode. At various points I was
going the wrong way, heading back to the airport, even driving through an olive
grove! The only reason I made it to the correct exit from the roundabout was
that the other 4 were wrong!
It was such a lovely drive though that I forgot to get
stressed out. My feeling about driving around the countryside in Italy is so
what if you get lost or go through some roundabout shenanigans – it’s all part of
the fun. Getting lost just means discovering some incredible little town, and
is actually how I have discovered most of my favorite secret places!
Another good idea is to print out maps of your route before you drive off. You can’t rely on GPS alone, and having a backup little map showing you how to get from point A to point B at least will give you a concept of where you’re heading.
Also, should you lose cell service/have no data/lose Wi-Fi/run out of battery you will be glad you had a back up plan!
7. Look For City Names, Not Route Numbers
This comes back to the way they sign things in Italy. You’re
not looking for the A1 when you leave Florence airport, you are looking for the
A1 Roma or the A1 Bologna. Once you get on that highway it may give you a variety
of different route numbers such as the E185, SS125 etc that can get really
confusing, so think directionally and keep looking for the name of the town you
are going to.
From Florence I take the A1 Roma to whichever roads are taking me to San Gimignano – I don’t get too involved with the route numbers, I just keep looking for the San Gimi signs, which is a much easier way to do it.
If your little town isn’t likely to have much signage, at least know which big towns are in that direction.
If you don’t live somewhere that uses roundabouts they can be
confusing. I grew up with them, so they are second nature to me, but if they
are new or unfamiliar to you, here’s the deal:
Always yield (or give way) to the left. You merge into the
traffic when there is a space.
There are no lanes in roundabouts, so stay in the space you
Your GPS will tell you which exit to take, such as take the 3rd
exit on the right. Sometimes this is a guessing game as the 2nd exit
could be a dirt track or maybe just the suggestion of an exit. There will be
vertically stacked signs for all the places off each exit, which makes having a
passenger navigating for you so much easier!
If you can’t figure it out just stay on the roundabout, making
loops until you see your sign. One time with my then 12 year old riding shotgun
we looped around the roundabout about 20 times before we found our exit, which
was one of about 40 signs all stacked up, and wasn’t easy to find the first 19
times! Really it’s all just part of the fun.
Most of the motorways are going to be two lanes in each
direction. The left lane is for passing, so stay in the right lane unless you
are passing someone.
10. Watch For Speed Traps
There are camera speed traps along all the motorways/highways.
Just as with ZTLs you won’t know you’ve got a speeding fine for months, and
these fines are hefty.
I have learned the hard way that if my name and credit card
are the ones on the rental car booking, no one else is driving. A year or so
after a trip driving through Puglia I found that my friend who kept wanting to
drive had been blowing through speed traps like a race car driver. Each fine
was for 270 euros, each also came with an administrative fee from Hertz, and each
fine was set to double if not paid in 60 days.
Luckily each fine indicated exactly where the speeding had happened, so I was able to show her that it was all her, but it took some wrangling to get the money wired to Puglia and off my card.
11. There Will Be Tolls
Be prepared for toll roads and toll booths. Just because they
mostly take credit cards doesn’t mean the credit card machine will be working,
so have coins ready.
Also as you are exiting the motorway into the toll area look
for the yellow telepass sign and then make sure you don’t go in those lanes. My
first time driving alone in Italy I got into the telepass lane, backed traffic
up all the way to the motorway, couldn’t get out of the line, and was somewhere
between a heart attack and bursting into tears when a nice fellow on a
motorbike figured out what was up and came and rescued me.
I haven’t made that mistake twice!
You can’t guarantee that there will be a human working the
toll booth, so have a variety of coins with you.
12. Don’t Trust The GPS
Well not entirely anyway. One time I had the people at Hertz
program the rental car’s built in GPS system for me. Initially it was shouting
at me in Russian, but once I got it to English it started giving me crazy
directions. I was on my way to San Gimignano, a route I have driven a thousand
times, so I knew it was giving me crazy-wrong directions.
On your phone the Google Maps GPS is the worst and will try to
drive you off cliffs. Waze is good but will always take you on circuitous
routes that may save you minutes but will have you arriving with a full head of
grey hair, as it routes you through alleyways and side streets and hair raising
turns. Apple Maps is perhaps the best, but Siri still doesn’t always get it
If you miss a highway exit it can be 30 minutes before you get
to the next one to turn back. With that in mind, mapping the drive beforehand
can be a really good idea, just so you have a general idea of where you’re
13. You May Get A Stick Shift
In Italy I actually prefer driving a stick
shift, especially when driving through the hills. I spend a considerable amount
of driving time in Tuscany, which in turn means a lot of time driving through
the hills! A stick shift gives you so much more control as you are buzzing
around the countryside and is much more fun to drive.
This past summer Hertz put me in an automatic
station wagon, which apart from having zero coolness whatsoever, also was a
pain to drive in the hills as it couldn’t down shift quickly enough.
But be advised that most of the rental cars
in Europe are stick shifts. If you require an automatic you need to specify
that when you book your car, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get one. If none have
come back in when you are picking your car up you will be given a manual
14. Rent A Diesel
In my experience renting endless cars in
Italy, diesels get much better gas mileage and diesel is much less expensive
Expect to pay between $7 and $9 per gallon on
Whenever possible, book a diesel! They run quietly
and efficiently and leave you with more money for shopping.
You will have several insurance options with
your rental car. Choose the Super Cover option. This comes with zero
deductible, so if anything happens to your car you can walk away.
Most rental car companies have a 3000 euro
deductible and will have you paying through the nose for the smallest scratch.
A cursory glance at cars in Italy will tell
you that most of them are covered in dings and scratches.
The chances of someone bumping your parked
car or opening their door into it are huge, so it’s better to be safe than
Super Cover is expensive and can add an extra
45 euros per day to your 20 euro per day rental, but can be worth every penny
if you get so much as one scratch on your car.
16. Stop At An Autogrille
At least once while you are driving on the
highways in Italy, stop at an Autogrille. These are something like our truck
stops in the U.S. but oh so different!
Yes you can gas up the car there, but they
also have a full espresso bar, a full bar, and really fantastic food.
Unlike the guaranteed gastric turmoil of the smelly rolling sausages and dubious foods at truck stops here in the states, the food at the truck stops across Italy is tremendous. From fresh panini to crisp salads and much more, a country whose culture is so deeply bound into their cuisine doesn’t tolerate bad food for hungry travelers!
Even after all these years of travel in Italy
I still get a huge kick out of stopping at Autogrilles. Often we will buy
breads and cheeses and fresh sliced prosciutto at a local village market to
bring home for dinner then stop at an Autogrille on the way home and pick up
salad to have with it. You will love it!
Are you planning a big trip or getting ready to travel? If so you may be thinking about travel insurance and whether or not you need to purchase a policy. Is it money wasted or is it an investment in your trip?
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1. When Do You Need Travel Insurance?
Personally, I buy travel insurance for every international trip I take. From luggage going missing to flights being delayed to something going wrong before the trip and forcing me to miss it, there are so many things that can happen.
Overseas travel normally involves a substantial financial investment and I want to make sure that A) I don’t lose that investment and B) the trip doesn’t get ruined by me not having clothes when I get there.
For domestic travel I don’t normally buy a travel insurance policy unless I have significant expenses attached. If I’m just flying to the opposite coast for a few days it is an expense I will do without, but if I’m flying to Hawaii for a vacation I will insure the trip.
You need to weigh out how drastic your financial loss will be if something major happens.
2. When Should You Buy Travel Insurance?
I have my Glam Italia Tour travelers purchase travel insurance as soon as they have paid their deposit and booked their flights. You need to get covered as quickly as possible.
Most of us buy the less expensive airfares that have zero allowance for cancellation or changes to be made. (Read the fine print on your airline ticket) This can leave you with no recourse if something happens between buying the ticket and flying out. As with many boutique travel services, deposits and payments on my tours are non-refundable, which could add up to a significant amount of money lost should something go wrong prior to leaving.
Many travel insurance policies don’t cover you until 14 days after purchase, so you want to purchase your policy as quickly as possible.
In life, anything can happen. You could break your leg, have a heart attack, lose your job – the list is endless. Of course we hope none of these things do happen, but should something major go wrong you want to be past that 14 day window and be able to get some financial relief.
3. Should You Buy Travel Insurance From Your Airline?
Do your homework on this one.
When you are purchasing your airfare the airline will offer you an insurance policy. I have never bought one of these so can’t speak to their value. Make sure you do your due diligence before clicking that purchase button. My feeling is that the policy probably will serve the airline better than it will serve you. (I could be wrong though.)
Your insurance policy needs to cover more things than just the airfare and lost bags though, so really read up on that policy as well as any you may consider buying. It seems to me they don’t want you to spend time making comparisons as you will see a timer clicking away, warning you that you only have minutes before you lose the price on your airfare. I always buy a separate, freestanding policy.
Three years ago on a flight from Charlotte to Rome I sat next to a couple who were supposed to fly from San Francisco to Rome two days prior, to go on a cruise. The airline had cancelled their flight while they were at the airport. They were stuck in San Francisco (along with everyone else from their flight) for 2 full days before American re-routed them to Charlotte and from there onto Rome, costing them not only 2 nights in a hotel in a very expensive city, but the first 3+ days of their cruise as well.
4. Does Your Credit Card Offer Travel Insurance Coverage?
Depending on the credit card you used and whether you charged your entire trip to it or not your credit card may offer international travel insurance as part of your membership.
I had a situation a couple of years ago where my son and I were flying back from New Zealand with United (I seriously do not recommend flying United) The tickets had been purchased months prior, but shortly before our trip United decided to cancel our Los Angeles-Phoenix flight, leaving us stranded at LAX overnight. United being United basically just said “sucks to be you”.
Our flights had been purchased through American Express who said “no problem” and put us in a nice hotel overnight and paid for dinner. The moral of that story is that AmEx is good and United is bad.
Before booking your trip find out what type of travel insurance your credit card offers, if it does offer travel insurance.
5. Read The Fine Print and Trip Cancellation Policy
Before buying a travel insurance policy be sure to read all the fine print, including the trip cancellation policy. You will only get your money back if the reason for cancellation falls within the reasons listed on the policy.
Reading the fine print is really important as you need to know ahead of time about any exclusions and what documentation you need to have to make a claim. For example, your stolen handbag may require a police report, your medical claim may require additional documentation, your asthma attack may not be covered.
Also an act of terror, an act of God like a hurricane or earthquake, or the outbreak of war may not be covered. Obviously we aren’t planning for any of these things to happen, but you need to know what to do, and what is covered in the event that something goes way off the rails.
Medical transport coverage is in my opinion one of the most important thing to consider when purchasing travel insurance. Should something catastrophic happen – you get hit by a car, have a heart attack or aneurysm or stroke, break a leg or break your back, you need a travel insurance policy that will bring you home on the appropriate type of plane, with a nurse.
Of course the chances of something like that happening are incredibly slim, and of course you would be stabilized and treated in hospital wherever you are, but the getting back home factor could potentially be a huge deal. How would your family get you back home if you were incapacitated?
I recently read a post from a travel blogger whose friend slipped and broke 2 vertebrae somewhere down in South America while they were hiking. They not only had a travel insurance policy that provided medical escort home, but also had an evacuation policy. This covered being heli-vac’d out of the rain forest. I have never purchased evacuation cover but I don’t do any trips that involve hiking or high danger sports. The most dangerous sport I engage in is drinking a spritz while looking over the Grand Canal in Venice.
Evacuation policies normally only cover heli-vac to the nearest hospital, not to the hospital of your choice. They also don’t cover getting you from that hospital to the next, or back home. A helivac is incredibly expensive, and can run more than $100,000 depending on where you are.
Always make sure you have a travel insurance policy that gives you between $50,000 and $100,000 medical travel home.
Before purchasing a travel insurance policy be sure to find out what their policy is on pre-existing conditions and if your pre-existing is covered or not. You may have coverage from your medical insurance policy at home, but be sure to check first as most medical insurance policies are not likely to cover you overseas.
8. Check The Travel Insurance Help Options
Before purchasing a travel insurance policy check to see what help the company will give you should something happen while you are out of the country. Some companies have international help lines or toll free help lines, others have nothing.
I got sick while traveling overseas 2 years ago. My travel insurance company was able to not only find me English speaking doctors in the places I was traveling, but also facilitate the appointments. They were incredibly helpful.
Another time one of my travelers’ luggage didn’t make it to Italy with her. The airline was about as much help as a bar of soap, but the insurance company got on it and chased after the suitcase as it made its way around the world. It saved my client hours of being on hold with the airline (at international calling fees) and also meant she didn’t have to waste vacation time trying to chase her bag down. The bag didn’t get to us until day 8 of an 11 day tour, but in the meantime the travel insurance company covered the purchase of new clothes, shoes and toiletries.
Ideally you want to use a multinational travel insurance company that offers you proper help when you need it.