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Money and Tickets in Italy

as part of Jenny and Charlie Plesums visit

October 2-12, 2011

Vatican Museum

If you are disabled, you and a care-giver can go to the head of the line and get into the Vatican Museum free. Everyone else pays €15 (US$21) after standing in line, normally waiting for hours. I had heard that you could join a tour group, and that would get you into the museum without waiting in a long line. Jenny discovered a web site that sells reservations and tickets to the Vatican Museum for €19. A $6 per ticket service change seems absurd, especially since you still have the extra step of turning in your certificate in exchange for the actual ticket (short line), but saving hours of standing in the long line outside the museum is well worth it. Further, when one of the web sites no longer had tickets for the hour we wanted, she discovered the other web sites still had tickets available (perhaps at a higher price)... the different vendors are not working from a common inventory of available tickets.

Florence

The Uffizi in Florence (the world's oldest art museum) has a wonderful web site that includes the ability to buy tickets in advance for this and other Florence museums. At the Uffizi there is a line to get in for people who are with a tour, a separate line for those with individual reservations (exchange your voucher for a ticket first, at a different entrance) and a third (long) line for those without a reservation. This "uffizi.org" web site also has links to the other important museums in Florence, including tickets for the other museums. When we originally visited we found the uffizi.com web site, and did not realize that was a commercial site - not nearly as good as the official uffizi.org web site mentioned above - my apologies.

We previously recommended buying tickets to Accademia in Florence (home of David) through a separate web site, but that site is not as good as offered by the Uffizi.org web site above. We hope you find our updated recommendation useful.

Trains

Trains are prompt and efficient. Don't expect to just pay subway fare for a train that will take you hundreds of miles. Our 175 mile trip from Rome to Florence cost €45 each person, each way (About US$62 times four).

You may purchase train tickets at a travel agent. In Rome, the hotel recommended a travel agent a block or two away; she was very efficient, helpful, and did not charge a service fee for issuing the train ticket. In Florence the travel agents we found were surly, open limited hours, and had high fees.

You may purchase a ticket from a vending machine in the train station - amazingly efficient, complete, and helpful. Only one problem. They do not take credit cards that use the magnetic stripe common in North America. Europe has converted to the computer chip within the card. They don't say "no Americans" - they just say processing error after you have gone through the whole reservation process and it is trying to read your credit card.

There are ticket agents in the train station during the day, but not late at night, etc. And the typical line was a 25 minute wait (as measured by the time it took us when we used that option).

Other choice? Go to the ATM, withdraw enough cash to buy the tickets at the vending machines (which comes out of the ATM as €50 notes - think of it as $70 bills. Then find a vending machine that will accept €50 notes (not all do, but more do than accept mag stripe debit or credit cards)

Side Note: We finally found a US bank that will issue a "chip and PIN card, Andrews Federal Credit Union. We have since opened an account with them, and now carry their "chip and pin" VISA credit card. They have no fees for international transactions (most banks charge 1% to 5%), and also provide an ATM card useful abroad. It has greatly eased our travels.

Changing Money

Italy uses the Euro, like most (but not all) of the European Union countries.

Money Changers (Cambio, Exchange) are still common in the tourist areas, but the exchange rates offered (especially for those who advertise "no fee") are terrible. (Hint: Look at the difference in price offered to buy or sell the same currency.)

ATMs are widely available, and all that we tried on this and other trips seem to work with mag stripe cards without problem, and dispense up to several hundred Euros (or whatever local currency) at a time. The exchange rate is basically the same inter-bank rate used for credit card purchases, and none (so far) have the service charges that are charged in the USA. (Not this trip, but a couple years ago, an airport ATM offered to change my money at a certain rate, no transaction fee, rather than doing the simple withdrawal I had requested. I took my chances and said NO, just withdraw the money, and got a far better rate from my US bank, also with no transaction fee.)

Credit cards are not as universally accepted as in the United States - be sure to check when you go into a store or restaurant. Almost all of the world except North America has converted to a card with an embedded chip rather than a mag stripe; we found our credit cards useless in vending machines (like ticket machines), but had no problem with our mag stripe cards in restaurants that accepted cards in tourist areas. The credit cards charge a Foreign Transaction Charge - our primary bank charges 1%, but I have heard of fees as high as 5%. That would sure make using cash from the ATM more attractive, but the cash is more vulnerable to loss and pickpocket.


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