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Old 06-09-2012, 04:30 PM   #1
jcb
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Staying Connected in Italy

I posted something similar in the DIS exclusive ABD forum but thought others might benefit from my technological observations during our ABD Viva Italia adventure.

Electrical Power
Our experience with Italian electrical power was uneventful. Before leaving, I bought two power strips and 2 adapters (and 2 more for Switzerland, which uses a different power outlet). I decided for forego a recommended heavy power strip in favor of a lighter one. While lighter, the spaces between the outlets let me put my several iPad/iPhone power adapters next to each other.

I also bought a smaller one just in case.

Before leaving, I was concerned that the Italian power outlets might not be grounded but I never had any problem with the grounded adapters I bought from Amazon.


I had no issues using any of the devices I brought. The power adapters for all of my devices (iPad, iPhone, Dell laptop, Camera battery charger) were dual voltage.

The only issue I had with the Italian power adapters was that on the train from Venice to Milan (which we took to get to Switzerland after our adventure ended), the adapters were so wide that it took a little finagling to get the adapter in the plug without tripping the breaker (which was next to the outlet). I didn't have this problem on the Eurostar train from Florence to Venice.

Speaking of power on the train, the Eurostar train from Florence to Venice had Italian power plugs available in first class. All the trains we rode offered power in first or comfort class.

Hair Dryers
My wife's hair dryer wasn't dual voltage so it stayed home. All the hotels provided hair dryers. My wife tells me the hair dryer in Venice was the best but the ones in Rome and Artimino were "ok."

Wireless Internet using a Sim Card
Upon arrival in Rome (and learning our room wasn't quite ready), we walked from the Hotel Bernini Bristol to the Vodafone One store on Via del Tritone. The walk, while a little complex due to Italian roads (and our unfamiliarity with them) was an easy one. Google maps shows the Vodafone store is 500 meters, or less than 1/3 of a mile, from our Hotel.
(This photo of store the store comes from the owner).

To buy a sim card in Italy (and probably any EU country), you must show your passport. While the clerks at the Vodafone One store were very nice and very helpful, we had a slight language issue in the store. Italians do not natively use a long "I" so until I pulled out my iPad and showed it to them, the store's employees didn't know what I wanted to buy. To them it was an "ePad."

The sim card on my iPad (the "new" 3rd Generation one) is on the side, located next to the paperclip in this photo.

Using the paperclip (the store clerk actually had a device that did this) you can pop open the sim card tray.

You must have the AT&T version of the iPad. This won't work on a Verizon iPad or, for that matter, on a wi/fi only iPad.

The sim card comes in a credit card size package

but the sim card itself is no larger than a dime,

so the card must be trimmed (as in physically cut) to the size needed by the iPad. The store clerk trimmed the sim card to the correct size without me asking her to do so.

The total price was €25 (currently $31.26) for 5 gigabytes of data (or one month of use). As we left Italy (10 days later), I checked my data usage and found I had downloaded and uploaded about 4.5 gigabytes but then I was determined to get my money's worth out of the sim card.

The sim card doesn't work immediately as it takes about 3 hours for the data to be uploaded to the mobile network. My sim card started working in about 2.75 hours. Once it is activated, you will need to enter the pin code which comes with the sim card package (see "codice pin" in the photo above).

After buying the sim card we walked a few more feet down Via del Tritone and found a new TIM store.
http://www.tim.it/home

If I had it to do over, I would probably have bought a sim card from TIM (for the reasons I described below).

You don't have to use these particular stores. They just happened to be closest to our hotel. There were TIM and Vodafone stores all over Rome.

The Vodafone sim card worked well in Rome and Florence. Not surprisingly, I had a very weak signal in our room in Artimino (which is on a mountain) but it worked fairly well outside of the room. Comments I read before leaving seemed to say that TIM worked better in remote areas which is one reason I would go with them if I were ever going to stay in Artimino again.

While I had a strong signal in Venice, I think there were so many people in a relatively small area using their smart phones that upload and download speeds during the day were at a slow crawl. The speeds approved significantly in the evening.

While I had a strong wireless signal in most of Venice, the signal in the Hotel Luna Baglioni was weak to non-existent. It was virtually unusable, at least if you have my level of patience. Others on the trip who had bought TIM cards reported they were unable to connect at 3G but they didn't seem to have the same problems I did.

I had little trouble connecting while we were actually traveling by bus or train. There were infrequent spots where the signal ceased but they were few.

Hotel Internet
Of the three hotels we stayed in, only the one in Artimino included Internet in the room price. Internet was a separate charge in Rome and Venice. I didn't ask about the cost in Rome. In Venice, the hotel wanted €15 per day, €10 for 3 hours and €5 for an hour. Since I could walk to where I could get a strong signal on my iPad, I decided it wasn't worth it.

The hotel in Artimino had wireless internet in the lobby and wired internet in the rooms. Both required a pass code the hotel provided. I had some issues connecting to the wired internet in the room but it eventually started working after I rebooted.

GPS Navigation
I have a Garmin Nuvi GPS for my SUV so I took it and bought a set of maps for the Alps because, after our ABD trip ended, we spent our final weekend in Switzerland. The maps came on a micro SD card which fit my GPS so no installation was needed. Having the GPS tell us where to go saved us several times, though I was also glad I bought a paper map of Switzerland while in Florence, and it wasn't perfect. Following GPS directions is easy in most areas of the US, but on the much more complex and narrow roads of Switzerland, I unexpectedly heard "recalculating" far more often that I would have liked!

I had hoped to use the GPS on Eurostar but could never get it to lock on to the satellites from the train. It otherwise worked very well. I found it more fun to follow the train's progress on my iPad Map app. This, of course, used up considerable data but again, I was determined to use all 5 gigabytes.
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Last edited by jcb; 05-31-2014 at 09:55 AM.
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Old 06-09-2012, 10:17 PM   #2
sayhello
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Wow! Thanks for all the great info, Jack!

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Old 06-11-2012, 09:07 AM   #3
lost*in*cyberspace
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To buy a sim card in Italy (and probably any EU country), you must show your passport.

Just one correction - you do not have to show a passport to buy a SIM card in many European countries. You can often buy them from vending machines.
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