Q. My wife and I are headed to the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy next year and this will be our first trip to Europe . We wondered if you had any advice for first time European travelers. Also, what sites do you recommend in Turin as well as in Milan as we will be spending a day there too.
A. You chose one of the more expensive countries in Europe for you first visit. Consider investing in a Torino Card, a 48-hour (approximately $18) or 72-hour (US$20) tourist card that lets you use all public transportation, allows free entry to more than 130 attractions, and provides discounts for theater, concerts, guided tours, bicycle rentals, shuttle to/from the airport and more. Buy the card through Turismo Torino information centers and hotels. Not to be missed is the Egyptian Museum , one of the world's largest collections of Egyptian artifacts with over 30,000 pieces on display. A lot of information is available through the Tourist Office of Turin.
If you and your wife are into shopping, then there's no place better than Milan , considered by many as the fashion capital in the world. You should check out Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II , a retail arcade and place to sit at a café to people watch, with intricate floor and ceiling decorations. Across the way is the Duomo, the world's largest Gothic cathedral, in the Piazza Duomo, a traffic-free square in the middle of Milan . Be sure to check out the Cathedral's roof, where you can get a great view of the city; Leonardo da Vinci's "other" famous painting in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie - The Last Supper; and the Brera Art Gallery , one of the world's most famous galleries, with Italian paintings from the 14th to the 20th century. Since you only have one day in Milan, consider taking the hop-on/hop-off Tourist Tram Ciao Milano ($23) all day, which stops near famous monuments, main shopping outlets, and "old Milan's" narrow streets and courtyards. Tickets are available at the I.A.T. Tourist Office on the corner of Piazza Duomo or at the Garibaldi at Piazza Freud bus terminal. Or you can check out the Tourist Office of Milan's itinerary for a walking tour.
Q. My wife and I plus another couple will be in Sorrento, Italy later this year. My parents were born in Lacedonia, Avellino, which I believe is west of Naples. What would be the best route and method of transportation to get from Sorrento to Lacedonia?
A. Lacedonia is located in the province of Avellino, in the Campania region of Southern Italy, and as you said, it is west of Naples (incidentally, fans of HBO's "The Sopranos" might recognize the name Avellino as the locale to which the famous mob family traced their origins).
To get to Lacedonia, you have two options: train or automobile. With the train, you'll first have to get to Naples (either via train, hydrofoil or bus), and take a train to Lacedonia. The journey will take anywhere from three and a half to four hours and a half hours, and you'll have to change either once or twice, depending on the time you leave. Further more, the train station nearest Lacedonia is located in Rocchetta San Antonio , which is about 12km away, so you may still need to take a taxi or local transportation to reach the town. For a train schedule, go to the Trenitalia Web site.
I personally recommend renting a car and driving, because you'll probably have to rent a car anyway, even if you take the train, unless you have relatives to drive you around Lacedonia. According to ViaMichelin, which is the European equivalent of MapQuest), the driving distance is 153km, and should take (providing you don't get lost) about two hours, and cost 5.7EUR in tolls. And about 106km of the driving trip will be on highways.
You can get more information from the Italian Tourist Board at (212-245-5618).
Q. A group of five of us will be going to Tuscany in late February. Could you recommend a good cooking school for two days, plus accommodations?
A. There are several companies that offer cooking packages in Italy, but the shortest I've seen is a three day course. However, you can customize some of them, so you'd probably be able to work out a two day package. For example, Italian Tours by Mama Margaret (800/557-0370) offers a four-day "Short Indulgence: Cooking & Wine Lovers' Adventure in Southern Tuscany's Brunello & Vino Nobile Wine Country" package that costs about $1720 to $2305 per person, double occupancy (depending on choice of accommodation) for four people (price drops to $1561 to $2148 per person if there are six in the group). It includes four nights accommodation with breakfast buffet, all meals with wine, four cooking lessons (two with chefs in two restaurants, and two with home cooks), excursions, bilingual guide/driver throughout and private transfers from/to the Chiusi train station.
Another option is through Tuscan Way (800/766-2390) which offers a three-night package allowing you to choose from three different packages in various locals around Tuscany. Their prices start at $1990 per person, double occupancy, including all accommodations, transfers, table wine, meals, guided excursions, museum tickets, wine/oil tastings, and two to three cooking classes. Tuscan Way's tours typically begin in March, but they are open to setting up a private tour for a small group if your February date is set.
And for a company with a much wider selection, there's The International Kitchen (800/945-8606), offering 17 different programs, ranging from two to seven nights. Their two-night program, just outside of Florence, costs $595 per person, double occupancy, and includes accommodations, daily breakfast, one cooking lesson, and a dinner following the lesson. This company seems to offer more flexibility in terms of customization.
These three companies will give you a good start, and if you want to learn more about Tuscany, check out the Tourism in Tuscany Website.