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On October 11th, 2020 by Jeremy Cotroneo

Travel Tips in a Covid World

Posted In:
Reflections | Travel Tips

Booking flights in a Covid World

Booking Flights in the Times of COVID – A few tips

If there’s one thing we have come to count on in Covid times, it’s that the unknowns are numerous...

So numerous that it’s hard to wrap your brain around all the various possible outcomes of any given decision.  Recently Jeremy booked a flight from Florence to California and learned a lot of things about the "new normal" in travel!  We believe that his hard earned knowledge can help YOU when travel to Europe opens up again or even with bookings in the US.

When it comes to booking an international flight, uncertainty reigns supreme.  However, there ARE some measures that can be taken to limit your flight-related problems.  Here are some tips to help protect you against a stressful flight-booking experience.

 

Always book flights directly with an airline (avoid discount or third party sites).
Better yet, book through a trusted travel agent who can advocate for you!

This was a tough one for Jeremy as he's always been one to seek the best deal possible, gravitating towards these aggregator sites.  In the past this has worked out fine… except for the times when his flights were cancelled in advance, or when he had to make itinerary changes.  The reason is that when a booking is made through a third-party site, any changes to the itinerary can’t be made directly with the airline; they have to be made with the third-party site. In non-Covid times, this can lead to delays and a reduction in the level of customer service.  Nowadays, booking directly with the airline may even be the difference between getting a cancelled flight refunded and only being offered a travel voucher.

Also, more levels of communication create more confusion so, in complicated times, better to deal straight with the source or via a travel agent.

Travel agents can book direct and have access to the number of passengers on a flight allowing you to find those which are closer to being full and thus less likely to be cancelled.

We recommend using www.skyscanner.com or www.google.com/flights to do a little research for the best dates and prices for your destination and then booking the same flight directly on the airline’s website or through your travel agent.

 

Try to limit your flight connections.

Once again, Jeremy has been notoriously known among friends and family for getting great deals on long flights by accepting itineraries with one or more connections. A few years back he scored a flight from Italy to California during a New Year’s Holiday weekend for under $300!

Connecting flights

Unfortunately, with every leg you add to a flight, you add one more flight that can be cancelled, putting your whole itinerary at risk in the process.  Flights with connections also tend to involve shorter routes which airlines cancel more frequently.

Airlines are struggling due to the COVID travel stoppage causing them to cancel flights that will not make them money.  It is best to reduce your exposure to cancellation risk by minimizing the number of legs/flights in your itinerary.

 

Always book the same air carrier or its partner airlines for the duration of your trip.

Most of the large air carriers are part of global airline alliances such a OneWorld,  SkyTeam, StarAlliance, etc.  When booking flights to/from any international destination, it's best to book all of your flights on the same carrier the entire way OR booked on partner/alliance airlines.  This is the case for several reasons.

  • If any individual leg of your itinerary is cancelled - and you are booked on the same airline or a partner airline - it is up to the air carrier to rebook you.  If any single leg of your itinerary is with a non-partner carrier, it is up to YOU to figure out how to get a cancelled flight rebooked, and unfortunately, the airlines are not very helpful in helping you figure it out.
  • If one of your legs/flights is delayed and you miss your connection, it is up to the airline to get you on the next available flight without additional fees.  However, if you've booked a separate leg on a non-partner airline and that delayed flight causes you to miss your connection on another airline, you are mostly out of luck.   You may have to pay a fee to rebook on a later flight.
  • Finally, it aids in getting your luggage safely to your final destination!  When you book on partner airlines, they have what's called "interline agreements" - meaning they agree to move your luggage between different air carriers (for example, from a United flight to a Lufthansa flight).  This allows your luggage to be checked all the way through to your destination – ALWAYS a very important question to ask when booking flights with connections on different air carriers.  If you book outside of the airline partnership, you may have to collect luggage at your connection city, go back through security, and then re-check your bags for the new airline!  No one wants that headache!!  That's a recipe for disaster - both losing your luggage and missing your connection.  This is where advice from either your Tuscany Tours Trip Advisor or your travel agent will come in handy.  Though Tuscany Tours does not book airfare, we are happy to provide routing suggestions and answer questions as best we can.

 

As the Italians say “armati di santa pazienza” - “Arm yourself with holy patience.”

Be flexible and be ready to adjust your itinerary (maybe even multiple times!) by a few dates or change departure and arrival airports if need be.  In the event you receive a cancellation email, call your airline or travel agent immediately and ask what other options you have.

If you are joining one of our small-group tours, we always recommend arriving 1-2 days BEFORE the tour start date.  This allows you some breathing room in case of flight delays or cancellations and gives you some time to adjust to the jet lag and to acclimate to the time change so you can be refreshed and raring to go when it's time to meet up with your tour group!

 

Travel is on its way back, so be ready to travel smart and (hopefully) stress-free in the post-COVID world!

We can't wait to welcome you back to Italy, France or Spain!

Note: We provide information to the best of our knowledge, but we always recommend that you check with your travel agent or airline for any specific questions regarding booking flights.

By:  Jeremy &  Karen, Trip Advisors - Tuscany Tours

On August 27th, 2020 by Jeremy Cotroneo

Glamping in Chianti

Posted In:
Life in Tuscany | Radda | Reflections

Another “first” in this odd year that is 2020: my first time glamping… at one of Tuscany’s finest “glampsites!”

 

Finally, free from Italy’s lockdown, but with the pandemic still lurking in the shadows, my wife and I decided to take our 9-year-old nephew on an adventure.  We needed a place where we could get offline, without huge crowds, but where we could relax and shake off some of the stress of the past few months… and so a glamping trip it was!!

 

The Beautiful Chianti Region

 

We jumped in our car and slowly wound our way through vineyard-laced wooded hills, up and up, as far as we could possibly delve into the depths of Chianti.  As we approached the town of Radda in Chianti, our city-dwelling nephew commented “Wow, this town is really in the middle of nowhere!”  He was right, and that’s the beauty of exploring the bel paese.

 

The Beautiful – yet isolated – Radda in Chianti

Photo Credit: Wikipedia (Radda-in-Chianti)

 

Growing up in California, my experiences with camping had always been on the rugged side.  You drive as far as you possibly can from “civilization,” leave the car, and set up shop.  A week’s worth of food was brought from home and stored in a thermo cooler along with a giant ice block. Restrooms were outhouses, baths taken in lakes, and the only semblances of electricity were emitted from gas lanterns or transistor AM radios.

 

Typical campsite from my youth

Photo Credit: www.publicdomainpictures.net (Haanala)

I had never been camping in Italy before, but I already knew that Italians have a bit of a different take on things.  You are never THAT far from a village here, and campsites offer more services and amenities. Bathrooms are a must, and bars and restaurants are staples.  So, when glamping came into fashion a few years ago, the transition from camping to “glamping” was probably quite smooth.

 

Now, you may be wondering – what the heck is “glamping?”  Essentially, it’s luxury camping.  You get most of the amenities of a resort or hotel room, but you are still in the middle of nature.

 

Our research for “glampsites” yielded quite a few options: everything from tree houses in Tuscany, to yurts in olive groves in Abruzzo, or even staying in a bubble (!?) in Basilicata. In the end we chose to stay close to home at Orlando Glamping,  nestled high in the Chianti region’s forested hills.

 

Orlando Glamping

Photo Credit: www.orlandochianti.it

 

Air Lodge Accommodation

Photo Credit: www.orlandochianti.it

 

Upon arrival, we noted the license plates on the cars: half from Italy and half from the Netherlands, an interesting mix.  Our accommodation was known as an “Air Lodge,” a sort of two-story wooden structure with tent walls and roof.  The loft has a tent ceiling that could be unzipped, yielding a skylight.  Very quaint, but complete with bathroom, a tiny kitchen reminiscent of Ikea’s eco-house, and even an electric “BBQ.”

 

This resort had various types of accommodations at different price points: cabins, RV parking, tents, and something that looked like a rustic version of a Japanese capsule hotel which they call a “cube.”  Something for everyone.

Most guests were families with children aged 12 and under, and this was the target age for most activities.  The entertainment schedule featured balloon animals, kiddy water gym, and a disco. In addition, there was an off-road driving course with baby quads for kids under 10.

 

Where most people spent their days

 

In the end, most of our time was dedicated to the pool, switching from waterslide to jacuzzi to pool to lounge chairs… just what the doctor ordered!  A great way to soak up the Tuscan sun, this is how many of the “glampers” spent their days.    Social distancing was in effect by  the guests… somewhat.

 

Food will always be a central theme of my travels. If you know me, you know I tend to be skeptical (rightly or wrongly) about culinary quality in all-inclusive type resorts (Especially Italian locations frequented by high numbers of foreigners).  However, I was pleasantly surprised by both the quality of the meals (the typical Sienese “pici” pasta with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, fresh tomato sauce, and hot pepper and sauce was superb) and their presentation (truly works of art).

And when the food is right, you can’t go wrong, so all in all, I was quite pleased with my first Italian glamping experience.  Great fun and great food for the family!!

 

Pici All'Aglione

 

 

Breakfast Spread

 

On June 20th, 2020 by Karen Embrey

Read Italy: Our Travelers' Favorite Books about Italy

Posted In:
Books | Culture | Italy | Reflections | Travelers Tales

READ ITALY book recommendations

Our travelers are avid readers, and they love to share their personal book recommendations in our Tuscany Tours Travel Community Facebook group.  In these "safer-at-home" times, a good book is just what the doctor ordered to help us escape to another place.  And, what better place than Tuscany, Sicily, Florence, Venice..... or anywhere in Italy?!  Books about Italy

To vicariously travel to Italy, look no further than our community’s recommendations below. History, fiction, art, science… there’s something for everyone.  So, grab your wine, kick back, and relax as we guide you on some armchair travels through Italy!

Help us to grow our Italy book list!  Please leave your recommendations in the comments below.

 

Tuscany Tours Team recommendations:

Pam recommends:
All Sam Hilt books!
All Detective Montalbano books -- set all over Sicily
Love in a Tuscan Kitchen: Savoring Life Through the Romance, Recipes, and Traditions of Italy by Sheryl Ness

Karen recommends:
The Botticelli Secret: A novel of Renaissance Italy  by Marina Fiorato
The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer

Jeremy recommends:
The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe by David I. Kertzer
Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

Shauna recommends:
The Birth of Venus – Sarah Dunant
The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco
Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert

 

Travelers' Community recommendations:

Mark B. recommends:
A Vineyard in Tuscany: A Wine Lover’s Dream by Ferenc Máté
A Thousand Days in Tuscany: A Bittersweet Adventure by Marlena de Blasi
Hidden Tuscany: Discovering Art, Culture, and Memories in a Well-Known Region's Unknown Places by John Keahey
The Wisdom of Tuscany: Simplicity, Security & the Good Life - Making the Tuscan Lifestyle Your Own by Ferenc Máté

Lauren Y. recommends:
The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

Judie W. recommends:
One Summer Day in Rome by Mark Lamprell
The Lady in the Palazzo: At Home in Umbria by Marlena de Blasi
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
Women in Sunlight by Frances Mayes
I Found Myself in Tuscany by Lisa Condie

Virginia S. recommends:
Dances with Luigi: A Grandson’s Determined Quest to Comprehend Italy and the Italians by Paul Paolicelli

Jeff C. recommends:
Hidden Tuscany: discovering Art, Culture, and Memories in a Well-Known Region’s Unknown Places by John Keahey
The Mountains of Saint Francis: Discovering the Geologic Events that Shaped our Earth

Tarie H. recommends:
The Glassblower of Murano by Mariana Fiorato
A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi

 

On June 18th, 2020 by Karen Embrey

Sugar & Spice......

Posted In:
Florence | Food | Gelato | Italy | Life in Tuscany | Reflections

Bicycle outside My Sugar Gelato Florence

Gelato from My Sugar in Florence…..and everything nice can be found in a scrumptious spoonful of GELATO!  While out one Spring day doing my very FAVORITE pastime in Florence (wandering the streets with no particular place to go!), I came upon an elusive gelato shop that I’d read lots of great
things about but could never find.  It’s in the lesser-visited area of San Lorenzo in the Centro Storico (historical center) of Florence –  “less visited” only because (unfortunately) many tourists don’t venture BEYOND the imaginary “tourist’s triangle” that includes the Duomo, the Uffizi and the Ponte Vecchio.

The absolute most incredible part of visiting Florence is just WANDERING!!  Meander about this beautiful city and turn down every little street and alley you can find – the city is so small that you can’t get lost!  Don’t get distracted by the window displays of the leather shops.  Look UP at the buildings to truly experience your surroundings as you walk these hallowed halls once traversed by many of the Renaissance greats – Michelangelo, daVinci, the Medici and so many more.

When you decide to toss the map, you can discover so many hidden features of this truly magical city…. like the undiscovered gelaterie with award-winning delights in a cup (or a cone, whatever your pleasure).  My Sugar Gelato & Yogurt is located on via de’ Ginori 49r.  I shoved two flavors into my piccolo coppa (small cup) and had Pineapple & Ginger AND Coconut for the small investment of only €2!  The flavors were amazing – unique, fresh, and made with REAL ingredients.  I could even taste the flakes of coconut!  Another of their unique flavors is melacotta (ricotta, apple, cinnamon and honey).  The flavors change on a daily basis so feel free to make a daily visit-- your taste buds will love you for it!

It was only after I’d stepped back outside of the shop that I read the sign that said:  “WINNER Gelato Festival Firenze 2016 Reviewed by NY Times.”  Well, I guess my taste buds have been validated by the real gelato experts!  Head over to My Sugar for some absolutely decadent artisanal homemade gelato made fresh daily onsite!

My Sugar Gelato Artigianale
Via de' Ginori, 49/red
50123 Firenze FI, Italy
Tel: +39 393 069 6042
https://my-sugar.business.site/

 

Where have you found YOUR favorite gelato in Italy?!? 

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