So do you use TripAdvisor? Can you believe them?

May 4, 2015: Well just about everyone who travels, or who wants to travel or sell a travel product does. TripAdvisor owns 46 separate travel review and retail travel sellers (with posts in 28 different languages)—the most well known and popular is their travel review site where travelers—they say—post their reviews on every thing from lodging to restaurants to—well in Italy even gondola rides in Venice. Over 200 million reviews currently appear on TripAdvisor—with more than 4 million Monthly Google followers. 

In Italy The Travel Curmudgeon has become more than suspect on seeing a TripAdvisor-approved decal on a store front, restaurant, hotel, cab and even a water ferry—well we know even on a good day their service stinks! Every retail establishment in the country features a TripAdvisor logo somewhere on the premises—sometimes several—some with a year designation and many without. So beware if you see them! Better to ask a local for an opinion on a particular activity. Ask hotel staff or even restaurant service staff where they spend their money or Euros, or wherever to dine or visit.

Use TripAdvisor for research and planning but be your own “trip advisor” when you commit dollars!!! REMEMBER TripAdvisor is also in the business of selling travel, so does that influence their posts, rankings and recommendations?

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Menaggio, Lake Como, Italy—Ralph’s and Safeway with a view?

April 29, 2015: So what’s the view like from your supermarket parking lot? Can you see the fantastic Little Swiss Alps or the Dolomite Mountains? Probably not, unless you travel around Lake Como in Italy.

This is the view from the CONAD supermarket, the largest of two markets in Menaggio, on the western edge of Lake Como, about 30 minutes north of the city of Como. The city of Como is the major destination on the western side of Lake Como as well as a rail hub to travel south into Milan and north into Switzerland. 

Menaggio is one of the dozens of small villages that dot the 100 plus miles that cover the entire lake, and one of the small “treasures” you can visit or stay. Arrive by car, bus or be bold and travel via water ferry in a slow old fashioned yacht-like pace or high speed “hold on to your loved ones and the family jewels” catamaran hydrofoil.

Unlike the Venice water ferry system and operation, the Como ferry crews like their jobs, have ticket offices in each destination with live people that can answer questions, are pleasant and even helpful. Visit in the off seasons—avoid July and August—look for the deals, and don’t be bashful and ask for an even larger discount! Stay in a “royal” hotel (that’s a hotel with Grand in the name) or find an apartment and be a local.

And expect to walk a lot and still gain a few pounds – meats, cheeses, pasta and the best gelato in all of Italy!!! And maybe even a Cooney or Branson sighting—or even visit locations used in Casino Royal or Star Wars!!! For real.


Marco Polo and his Airport?

April 27, 2015: The Venice International Airport is named after this legendary early world explorer who lived in Venice—I guess because navigating the airport is like being on an extremely long never ending trade mission to the Far East. The entire airport is under construction, with most of the misplaced directional signage in Italian and confusing. The real confusion continues when you exit the airport through various construction mazes to find your way into Venice—well you don’t really go into Venice as no motor vehicles are allowed—you get yourself to the Plaza Roma transportation hub where you either walk or take a variety of water taxis into your final destination. If you arrive in Venice by train from elsewhere this is where the line ends—don’t make the mistake as many travelers do and get off at the first Venice stop.

The other option is to find the low speed water taxi that serves the airport and travel by water into Venice—only do this if you have considerable time to waste! This trip is ok if you want to see the entire area that surrounds Venice and stop at the numerous small islands around Venice as well as numerous stops around Venice itself. On a good day Venice is hard to navigate—yes getting lost is part of the experience but it does get frustrating after a time.

The water ferries—especially to and from Marco Polo are extremely slow and expect no assistance or even the answer to a simple question (like where the **** are we?) from the arrogant crew, as one of them told me, “I am not paid to answer questions.”

The water taxis in and around Venice itself are fine for transportation, but be sure to buy your ticket ahead of time if you can find a nearby newsstand or dedicated ticket kiosk, then validate your ticket as you enter the water taxi. Again know where you want to go or check the taxi route maps, and if it’s after dark the schedules become very infrequent.

Aahh Venice—where time does not count!!!

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Italian Airports

April 25, 2015: Prepare yourself for a grand cluster of the TC’s favorite term “something akin to a goat rope.” ( more on the TC’s “don’t leave home without it travel terms and definitions” later).

Mass confusion and mayhem– signage is ok if you can read Italian. The locals pay no attention to lines and queues- ticket and gate agents are indifferent and haven’t learned eye contact– well unless you’re male and scoping up an attractive female.

Gum chewing agents as well as female agents behind the counters applying make up are part of the check-in process and in many cases you can’t check in for a flight until two hours prior. If your traveling on one of the European budget carriers like Ryanair or “not so Easy Easy Jet” it gets worse- the TC says pay the extra dollar to upgrade to what we would call “business class” to reserve a seat, check a bag for free, fast track security and pre-board through the front cabin door. On board service is fairly non-existent and the safety message highlights what you need to do in the unlikely event a flight attendant screams “brace!”

These carriers mostly operate out of smaller secondary airports or smaller terminals at larger airports. Budget air in Europe is a city bus with wings!!!


A general word or maybe two on Sicily:

April 24, 2015: This large island off the southwest part of Italy is a travel gem– for hospitality to history and over all variety of sights. When’s the last time you’ve ever walked in a crater on Europe’s only active volcano? (you can still feel the heat coming from the ground). So much to see and do and eat, with a variety of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables as well as a collection of sea food caught fresh everyday. And the vino– little know of the island but some of the best in the world. Anything grown on the slopes of the volcano (Mt Etna) is even better thanks to the minerals from hundreds of years of volcanic ash and rock.

When dining, order the local house wine– usually under $5 for a large carafe. Eating in Sicily is an art and the Italians here some of the best food artists in the world. Not a lot of English spoken here, but who cares!!!