Apps to pack.

I enjoyed my Italy trip immensely. On this trip I graduated to the realm of the connected-passenger, relying on technology to assist my travels. I thought I’d share some of the apps that I found useful (and a couple I didn’t). Also, note that I have an iPhone, so I can’t comment on the availability of the apps for other phone types.

International data plan: Before setting off, do take the time to research your wireless phone provider’s international plan options. Mine has a day-pass for $10/day which essentially extends the already generous cellular voice/data limits of my existing plan to use while connected in other covered countries. Free wifi is generally widely available in Europe, but I found it could be a bit spotty. I didn’t want to worry about data caps, and Italy and the U.K. are included in my provider’s per-day international plan, so I went with that. You may choose differently, but decide before you leave.

Airline apps: This trip I flew Norwegian Air Shuttle and easyJet. You’ll want your airlines’ apps on your phone, too. Online check-in may help you avoid some lines, and online boarding passes can make connections and terminal transfers a bit easier without having to find a kiosk or person to print out a paper boarding pass for you.

Lodging: I booked my lodging through Airbnb. The Airbnb app makes for easy communication with hosts for directions, check-in times, and handling any questions or problems that come up during your stay. If your hotel has an app, you may want to install it for the same reasons.

Itinerary management: Instead of printing out a dozen or so reservation details, I opted to use GoogleTrips to integrate them all together. Once installed, you can login and have it pull details from emails in your inbox relating to travel reservations, and it will organize them all neatly by trip, date, and destination. And you can have it download the itinerary for offline viewing. This puts times, flight numbers, locations, reservation codes, contact details in one easy to reach place.

Train schedules: Following a tip from Rick Steve’s Europe website, I installed the Deutsche Bahn’s app DB Navigator for online rail timetables. It was awesome. Though it is the German rail’s app, it includes very current schedules for all of Europe for online viewing. The Italian rail information was accurate and I used this app exclusively to plan my train travel. I didn’t use it to purchase tickets, just to figure out which train I wanted to catch. I highly recommend it.

Currency conversion: The Xe currency app works online, or offline if needed, using the last exchange rate it downloaded. Not necessary but nice to have if you don’t know how much that thing is really going to cost you.

Foreign language help: My English and Spanish get me by in most places, but I don’t know much Italian. So, I used the Google Translate app. It will translate individual words or phrases for you. But it can also use the camera on your phone and will translate entire paragraphs of text in an image for you. This was awesome for translating text from tour brochures. Plus it was just kind of fun to use.

I also recommend Duolingo for learning a new language. I always have it on my phone, to sharpen my Spanish, and I used it for a few weeks ahead of my recent trip to learn a bit of Italian. It definitely helped. They also make a flash card-based app called Tinycards that is a nice companion to the original Duolingo app. And they are both free.

What to see: I installed the Trip Advisor app, and downloaded ahead of time the info they have on Florence, Pisa and Cinque Terra. I used it to look for ideas on new things to see and places to visit. Google Trips also has a “things to do” category, but I found Trip Advisor was the one I used more.

Finally, I recommend installing Rick Steve’s Audio Europe app. It has audio walking tour and museum audio tours for several destinations in Europe. You can download ahead of time the ones you want to listen to.

Entertainment: I always tote my kindle e-reader around, but I also downloaded some free audiobooks and videos using Hoopla and Overdrive apps. If your city library participates with them, you can checkout several titles for free each month. I loaded up a few for the plane and train rides.

I never leave home without my Geocaching app. If you want to see more than a few caches you’ll have to sign up for a premium membership, which I find very reasonable. You can download ahead of time collections of caches in different places that you are going to visit. I earned my Italy badge on this trip. Woohoo! I carry a real compass in my backpack, but an electronic version is handy, too.

I left my binoculars and big camera at home this trip. So I didn’t think I’d get much birding in, and that was correct. I could hear many birds, but I was hard-pressed to get a good look at most. Before I left, I paid $15 for a European birding field guide app called Collin’s Bird Guide, as the European bird species are different from those in North America. Turns out I didn’t use that app at all. It has beautiful content, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It didn’t have a function to guide me in identifying a bird by color, size, etc. Good old Google search did the trick; I’d search, for example, on “Italy large black and grey bird” and just scroll through pictures until I found the one I was looking for. A website called world-birds.com turned up often with helpful info.

Navigating: I prefer paper maps, but for electronic aid I just used Google Maps to plot walking directions ahead of time, or if I had a “where the heck am I” moment. I wasn’t worried about my data usage as my data plan has high limits. But if you are, you can look up a route and directions while on wifi and take a series of screen shots ahead of time for viewing later. There are a couple other map/navigation apps I’ve seen recommended, but I didn’t use them: navmii and CityMaps2Go. If you really are trying to limit your data usage while traveling, download these ahead of time to see how helpful they are and practice with them before you leave.

Check out these and other apps to make your trip more enjoyable.

What other apps would you recommend?

Cinque Terra day-trip.

Irene is headed to Portugal today. We said goodbye at the train station.

I left Firenze S.M.N. train station this morning headed for Cinque Terra today. Monte and I spent several days there on our honeymoon. It was beautiful. I just have to pop over since I’m in the neighborhood.

Wow it is packed there in April/May! And that’s not even high season. So, several thousand of my friends and I huddled together in the local train between the cities, and squished through city streets together. But it was worth it for me. I simply love the views.

I checked my backpack at the station in La Spezia and waited for almost an hour in line to buy a CinqueTerra card – which gives admission to the park and the local trains running both ways between the five towns.

Once I was there I spent five hours or so visiting 4 of the 5 towns. And I hiked a bit of the trails. I enjoyed going down to the water the most.

I took the train back to Pisa, checked into my airbnb there to drop off my pack, and then headed back out to catch some of the sights in Pisa before it got dark.

So much beautiful scenery, everywhere you look. This was some nursery the train passed by.

And my train to Pisa stopped at Carrara; as in Carrara marble. These mountains are essentially the quarries for this coveted stone. That’s not snow on the mountains, it’s stone dust and cut stone.

I’m now Back in Pisa for the night. I found this 1989 Keith Haring mural, Tuttomondo, on the side of a church near the Pisa Centrale train station. Nice surprise.

I’m going to sleep in tomorrow! Goodnight.

A walk about.

Whew! I logged over 10 miles of walking yesterday. In the morning, I walked from our apartment to Piazzale Michelangelo, a lovely hilltop plaza across the river and above Florence providing sweeping views of the city and surrounding hills.

I’ve been to Florence two times before, and always love making it up here to see this view:

After soaking in as much as I could, I walked over to the stadium to meet Irene and watch Jeremy’s second day of competition (and I squeezed in a bit of geocaching along the way).

Later in the afternoon we set out again on our own little gelato & wine walk. La Carraia is supposed to have the best gelato in Florence. I won’t argue.

It also provides a lovely afternoon view of the Ponte Vecchio as you nibble on your gelato outside along the river.

We were back at the apartment garden at the end of another great day in Florence with Irene. Tomorrow we are splitting up to finish each of our journeys home.

Tuscan day.

I arrived in Pisa on Wednesday evening after a long layover in London. I met up with Irene at the train station and we walked across the river to my airbnb. We were pretty tired after our travel days so a long walk and dinner was the perfect tourist activity.

In the morning we got up for an early train. We are headed to Florence and will make a side trip to Lucca. This was just a quick overnight for me in Pisa, but I’ll have more time to sightsee on my return trip on Sunday / Monday.

Lucca is a lovely town surrounded by an ancient Renaissance wall that has a beautiful tree-lined walk/bike path on top. The composer of the Turandot opera (a favorite of mine), Puccini, was born there. We checked our bags at the rail station, rented bikes for the day, and rode all over that beautiful town.

The top of the wall…

The outside of the massive wall…

Pizza for lunch!

A beautiful garden at Palazzo Pfanner…

After a fun day we hopped a train to Florence and checked into our Airbnb place there. We walked all over that town, took way too many selfies, and finally settled in with a bottle of wine and leftover pizza on the cute garden of our apartment.

Tomorrow the track meet starts. Good luck Jeremy!