Friday, February 22, 2008

Europe bound!

On Monday morning, I'll land in Rome. It will be my first visit since I backpacked there with my niece Kim -- who is getting married next month in England -- more than a dozen years ago.


But it's not nostalgia, it's you that's taking me there. Every year we ask readers where they most want to read about. And for the past few years, you've said Italy. So here I go.

The problem with Italy or any place using the euro these days is the cost. As I write this, my fave exchange website tells me the exchange is $1.48 to 1 euro and $1.96 to 1 British pound. I remember worse times -- back in 1979, when I studied in England, the exchange was $2.12 to the pound -- but this clearly makes pond-hopping pricey.

We've all heard the horror tales. $6 cups of coffee (yes, I bought one in London's Heathrow Airport last fall), $50 kebab dinners.

But how bad is it really? I'm here to let you know. Each day through March 9, I'll log on and give you my expense report.

Let me warn you: I'll be traveling pretty cheaply. The point here is not to spend money -- but not to backpack it, either.

In Rome, I've pre-booked my hotel via Hotels.com. I shopped around and found prices aimed at Americans through websites like Hotels.com and Venere.com were about 40 percent cheaper than booking with the hotel's own websites, which quote prices in euros.

If I were feeling a little richer, I could have had a lovely room for 100 euros at several better-than-average hotels. As it is, I'm paying $105 plus a handling fee, for a total of $115 per night, for a hotel recommended by both Fodor's and Lonely Planet near the train station. Not the best neighborhood, but not the worst. I'll let you know how it goes.

I'm renting a car to drive to Puglia, Italy's little known heel. By prepaying the car through Kemwel, I got a price of about $275 for a week...about $150 cheaper than using one of the usual cancel-at-will services.

In Puglia, I'm staying mostly in small mid-range hotels that charge about 50 euros per night, including breakfast, or about $75. This I know to be reasonable; when I drove across the U.S. two years ago, I generally paid that much or more to stay in chain motels.

My one splurge: A 100-euro-per night hotel. Usually, the Masseria Torre Coccaro -- a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World -- and it's highly rated cooking school charge much more. But this is the off season, and I was able to snag a surprisingly low rate.

That's one of the bonuses of traveling off-season, which in Europe usually means November-April. But there are drawbacks as well: Several of the hotels and restaurants we contacted were closed in February and early March.

I'll end my trip in England, at Kim's wedding. Readers sometimes ask about her; a dozen years ago, she and I wrote a story about our backpacking trip to Europe. It was her first trip to Europe. She arrived home in one piece, generally unscathed ... and with a lust for travel.

So it's a handy thing that she's fallen in love with a delight fellow name Henry, half British and half Spanish, who lives in Southampton, England. Her mother, of course, is blaming me for the fact that her yet-to-be-born grandchildren will be living abroad. But I'm blaming my brother, a techno-geek. You see, Kim and Henry met on the Internet.

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1992: Jane Wooldridge, left, and Kim Wooldridge in Paris.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is plenty of blame to go around for Kim's move to the U.K. I do think that some of her love for distant places come to her naturally (straight from her Aunt Jane). We are all very excited to leave for Britain and get to see everyone there. It is a comfort for the less adventurous among us to have the way paved by our more travelled relatives. See you there in two short weeks. Kim's Mother