ROME — I should have known better than to place an order at a sidewalk cafe without first checking the prices. A single slice of pizza was 4,300 lira (about $3), a soft drink another 5,800 lira ($4). This wasn't a trendy cafe, just a small corner shop, but it did face one of Rome's scenic squares, the Piazza Venezia. I was being charged for the view.
This kind of mistake can take a pretty big bite out of a daily budget. Your best bet for good advice, to avoid the pitfalls and enjoy a student-style budget trip through Italy, is to invest in one of the travel guides by Harvard Student Agencies. The detailed 560-page "Let's Go: Italy," is available in bookstores for $9.95, or you can buy "Let's Go: Europe," for $10.95--its 864 pages include a chapter on Italy.
In Rome you can ask at tourist information offices for a free copy of "Young Rome," a 48-page English-language booklet that offers suggestions for do-it-yourself city tours, maps, accommodation advice and youth hostel addresses, listings of inexpensive restaurants, post office locations, health services, hints on where to search out night life and a list of museums including days and hours they are open.
This can help you plan your visit for the best time to see major sights. For example, most museums close on Mondays and many, such as the Vatican Museum, limit regular public hours to between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. The Vatican Museum is free the last Sunday of the month; you can save money by going then but be prepared for crowds. Plan your shopping for weekdays between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. or from 4 until about 8 p.m.
Phones Usually in Pubs
Pack patience. You'll find many simple services operate a little differently than at home. Most public phones are in bars where tokens are sold to operate them. If you don't have exact change for a bus it is back to a bar again; that's where you can buy bus tickets.
The heat, noise and crowds can be draining. You'll find there are advantages to a system that forces you to retreat and relax for several hours during midday.
When in crowds do not carry valuables in a shoulder bag that can be grabbed. Thieves on motor scooters operate this way in much of Europe. Another ploy is for a group of children to hold a piece of cardboard up to your face to distract you while your pocket is picked. These are two good reasons why you should carry your passport and money in a pouch under your clothing.
Be wary of persons who become too friendly on trains. A young solo traveler, for instance, was befriended by a group who drugged his coffee and stole his possessions.
When traveling by train in Italy check both departure and arrival times before buying your ticket. Some trains go directly between major cities while others stop in many villages en route and that can almost double your travel time.
For international rail travel, ask where you can get Transalpino fares. These are discounted tickets available to travelers under age 26. They are valid for travel from major Italian cities to hundreds of destinations throughout Europe. In Rome there is a Transalpino booth in Stazione Termini.
Here are some sample Transalpino fares from Rome this summer: Rome to Amsterdam, 125,200 lira (about $88); to Lisbon, 146,600 lira ($103); to Paris, 82,900 lira ($58); to Corfu, 81,500 lira ($57).
If you have a Eurail Youth pass you can use it for ferry travel between Italy and Greece but if you make that an overnight voyage before Sept. 30 you will have to pay a summer surcharge of $10 plus port taxes. Reservations (an extra $2) are recommended. It costs an extra $9 to get an airline-type seat to stretch out in; a berth in a six-passenger cabin is an additional $22.
For further information on travel in Italy check with the Italian youth/student travel service, CTS (Centro Turistico Studentesco). CTS has offices in most major Italian cities. In Rome it is at Genova 16, telephone 479-931.