All Roads Lead To-From-To Rome

Previously: Rome, If You Want To

Before I forget (any more) about this trip perhaps I can write a bit down. Having cleverly convinced the family that we should take this once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime trip, the details had to be hashed out.

Given that I had a business trip to Rome (I know, tough life), it made sense to start there. The young one being nearly a teen, I figured he could help his travel-challenged father on the trip out and they could meet me after my work was done. Then we’d start with Rome and go from there.

First step: consult the guide books, the internet, and friends-n-family who had been there. Perhaps we went overboard with the guide books. Especially since this doesn’t include the books I got on the Kindle (another copy of Rick  Steves Italy book for one.) In my defense some of these books were acquired during the previous trip twelve years ago–they still spoke of the Lira as the monetary unit–and some were acquired during the trip. I also didn’t take all of these books WITH me. I took the Rick Steves only on the Kindle (and the family brought an iPad which also had a copy on it through the Kindle app.) We did take the Fred Plotkin “Italy for the Gourmet Traveler” but only because it came after I left but before the family left and I didn’t realize how BIG it was before I suggested they bring it–oh and there is no Kindle version.  We took the Blue Guide concise–I love their focus on art, architecture and history–I generally ignore anything about accommodations or food. Taking a very old edition of the Blue Guide can be kinda hilarious.

Other books I took on the Kindle  just to set the mood:

The Big Plan

Normally I am the (reluctant) chief logistics officer for any and all vacations but I find it very stressful. I always beg for help and assistance but it is seldom granted. And, left to my own devices, I can construct a very drill-sergeant like itinerary (hup one, move every day, visit that museum, climb those stairs, hup two,  next town, next city, next site, check!).  This time I got some very valuable input from my husband: Focus on four main areas to stay for several days with side-trips, if possible and spend one entire day between places just moving from point A to point B with no other agenda. This turned out to be a great move and made for a more relaxing (for us) vacation. Here was our plan for 21 day vacation after the work portion of the trip:

  • Arrive in Rome, get to hotel
  • Spend a few days in Rome with a side trip to Pompeii
  • Take the train to the Cinque Terre
  • Spend a few days in the Cinque Terre
  • Take the train to Venice
  • Spend a few days in Venice
  • Take the train to Florence
  • Spend quite a few days in Florence with side trips to Pisa and Siena
  • Take the train to Rome
  • Fly home the next day
Each bullet that says Take the train to…. was the entire focus of the day’s activities. We never bought the tickets in advance but just went and got tickets from the handy machines for the next available train. When we got off at the train it was our job to get to the hotel, check in, unpack a bit and rest. Aside from eating that was the only plan. No rush to get anywhere by any time. That part worked well.

What to Do

That settled the next part was to decide on what to do in Italy. What were the MustDos vs. the CouldDos. My mantra was “You can’t do everything.This was repeated at regular intervals to calm myself because let’s face it, Italy is a country with way more museums, sites and restaurants that you can do justice to in anything less than a full lifetime. Really. I’m not one of those people who can go to a place like Italy and say OK that’s it, I’ve done it, no need to do it again.  Also I’m not too hip to do the “touristy” things since, in fact, while traveling to Italy on vacation I was, in fact, a tourist. I embrace it. So here are some of the things on our MustToDo list:

Rome

  • The Colosseum because it’s The Colosseum!
  • Spanish Steps because of Roman Holiday  and The Talented Mr. Ripley
  • Trevi Fountain because it’s baroquely packed into a tiny square and you can ensure your return to Rome there
  • The Pantheon because I adore architecture
  • Sistine Chapel and St. Peters because, well, duh
  • Food because it’s Italy (and I include all the major food groups like gelato and wine here)
  • Side Trip to Pompeii because, as a child, upon hearing tales of our trip to Italy when he was 8 months old, my son said “The next time we go to Italy, we have to go to Pompeii!”

Cinque Terre

  • The Cinque Terre itself because we read about it in a guide book  and some of our family members went there
  • Food  because we gave a cookbook by Fred Plotkin extolling the virtues of the Ligurian cuisine on the region. More books from Fred on Amazon here.

Venice

  • Venice itself
  • St. Mark’s square because, remember, I’m a tourist
  • A gondola ride because I regret that I didn’t do this the one other time I was here
  • Museums, generally
  • Food because I felt that I gave the food in Venice short shrift the last time I was here

Florence

  • David
  • The Duomo
  • The Uffizi
  • Machievelli’s tomb and statue because The Tween wanted to see these
  • Side Trip: Pisa because I’ve never been there and I hear they have a Tower that Leans
  • Side Trip: Siena because I have been there and they have an odd shaped Piazza where they do a twice-annual horse race and also an Enoteca of some note
  • Food because ya gotta eat, especially in Italy
That’s all I can recall of the MustDos but we had a lot of other things we DidDo because the opportunity presented itself. We tried to stay open and flexible to be able to roll with the punches. We got to do everything we wanted to if not always in the exact way we wanted. We got to do things that we hadn’t expected but which turned out lovely. We didn’t get to do everything because–you just can’t— but that was OK.

Accomodate Me, Please

So the last part of the planning was planning where to stay. I hate this part. I’m not good at it. I worry that I’ve picked the wrong place and will end up in a bad neighborhood in a filthy hotel (oh yeah, I did that once, in Montmartre). But with a little bit of “take the easy path” added to Rick Steve’s Italy 2010 advice added to flipping despairingly through one of the two Frommer’s guides that we bought through desperately trolling Trip Advisor to sending frantic emails to anyone in Italy who would respond…it worked out like this:

  • Rome: The Hotel Genova — recommended by our business partners so why work any harder than this–it turned out to be a nice boutique business hotel by the train station which turned out to be kind of a cool foodie neighborhood and–Colosseum-adjacent
  • Cinque Terre – Locanda Ca Dei Duxi — In Riomaggiore, the first of the five terres because they were the only ones who answered my email in the affirmative that they had rooms. Worked out very well.
  • Venice:  Ca’  Turelli — In the quiet Dorsuduro neighborhood. Only place we could find and only for two nights. Great locale but the hardest beds ever.
  • Venice-Lido: Hotel Villa Mabapa – A quick pick from booking.com via TripAdvisor without a lot of research. Didn’t mean to switch hotels in Venice but no choice. This is actually Venice-Lido separate from Venice “proper” but actually a pretty nice place to stay. I’d stay there again and take the ferry to Venice itself (and surrounding islands).
  • Florence: Hotel Europa — because I was running out of steam and I found them with nights available — turned out much better than I thought when I first arrived.
  • Rome: The Hotel Genova because why work any harder than this…just ask them for one more night before we head home
It all worked out well in the end despite my worrying. I would stay at any one of these hotels again though I might look for something with a softer bed in Dorsoduro. Or I might just head back to Venice-Lido for cheaper rates and an even quieter locale from which to base any Venice-related ventures.
Next step: When in Rome….coming soon
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Things I want from my Kindle

Since as I pointed out, some books and reading material are more flipping material than reading material, I have been thinking about what my Kindle could do to help. You’re welcome, Amazon.

Travel books are not read from start to finish in a linear fashion. They are more like magazines or newspapers. And so my suggestion is that we should be able to read them like a newspaper or magazine where you have a navigation aid at the bottom and a View Articles & Sections button as shown below:

Navigation at the bottom of a magazine article
Section and Articles Navigation

So, in travel book about Italy, the Sections would be Venice, Rome, Florence and the Articles would be Planning Your Time, Orientation, Tourist Info, Arrival, etc. Instead of this:

Table of Contents from a travel guide to Italy
Chapter Links should become Articles

I truly don’t care what % of the way through I am or what page most of the time in this kind of book.  This technique might be useful for fiction books as well. At a minimum letting you see Chapter titles and easily move among them. For technical books, you might truly use the more detailed TOCs with sub-headings etc. So in a book on HTML5 might have various sections(e.g. Inserting Video into Your Web Design) within which there would be articles (Creating the video, Converting the Video to Ogg Format, Embedding the Video, Adding Audio, Summary), for example.  For cookbooks, Sections would be: Appetizers, Entrees, Desserts with articles of “Crabcakes, Fried Dumplings, etc. in the Appetizers Section.

As I use the View Sections & Articles menus, I can easily skip to the sections and articles I want to see. Call it an Interactive Table of Contents, if you will. I would make perusing non-linear books a lot easier.

And as an added bonus, I would LOVE to mark the articles as favorites or tag them in some way and be able to say show me only my favorites, or show me only my “Venice” tagged articles.  So though I have a whole travel book on Italy, I”m not going to every city mentioned so I could get it to show me just the cities I’m interested in.  Or just the information on hotels in the cities I marked as favorites. That would make travel books so much easier to navigate.  And no, the “search” capability doesn’t give you the ease of navigation I need, nor does the View Marks & Notes function. I’ve tried those to make it easier but it really doesn’t cut it. This “View Only” toggle function lets me make my own custom book showing just the bits I need: just those cities, or just those recipes.

And one again, you’re welcome Amazon (and non-linear book publishers).

Disclaimer: Screen shots above of are from Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine and Rick Steves Italy 2011 respectively and the people who wrote and published them are the copyright holders. I myself am not a lawyer–just using these screen shots to show you what I mean.

Rome, If You Want To…

When I found out that my work would take me to Rome, Italy in May I immediately did two things:

  1. Look at the school calendar to see when my son’s school year ended and lobbied for the meeting to take place just after that date
  2. Started lobbying my husband for us to take a vacation in Italy, starting in….Rome!
My arguments were impeccable:
  • My flight is paid for as part of work
  • I can get you and the child (well just-barely-preteen) there on miles
  • It’s a big birthday year for me (50)
  • It’s a big anniversary year for us (25)

My son piped in…and I’m turning 13 this year so we can celebrate that! With a little bit of (lot of) pushing, whining and persuading (“This is the only year we’ll have been married for 25 years!”), my husband agreed.

Scr-rrr-rrr–eech. Rewind: What’s that about “big anniversary” again? I’ve always had trouble remembering the year, day and even month of our wedding anniversary. The second (or third, I’m not sure) year we were married, I was falling asleep one fine March night when I popped up, fully awake, and exclaimed: Tomorrow is our anniversary and we haven’t planned anything! You make dinner reservations, I’ll pop out at lunch to do some shopping! My husband, sleepily: “It is?” Me: “Yes, don’t you remember, we didn’t want to get married in June, so we got married just before.” Him: “We didn’t want to get married in June?”

The next day I went to work, danced into the locker room to get ready to run with my buddies and told my female friends: “Today is my wedding anniversary!” Them: “Congratulations, got any plans!” Me: “Sure, we’re going out to dinner!”  We got dressed and went out to meet our male running buddy. Me: “Today is my wedding anniversary!” Him: “No it’s not, you got married in May.” Me: “Maaaaay…..”  In my defense, May and March start with the same first two letters and…well that’s it for my defense. I call my husband and say: “Today is not our wedding anniversary!” Him: “Well I didn’t think so but you sounded so sure.” Sigh. And did you notice the part where in “March” I’m explaining that we didn’t want to get married in June so we got married just before? Yeah, neither did we.

Anyway so, upon reflection and review, I’m vaguely remembering we got married in 1987 so it’s probably our 24th anniversary not our 25th but the both start with 2 and…yeah, that’s not going to work. When I said “This is the only year we’ll have been married for 25 years” — hey, maybe not! I’m not going to confirm this, it’s worked so far…for 24 or 5 years.

Anyway who needs an excuse to go to Rome? Or, as we decided…to Italy, starting with Rome, for a three week cultural and culinary tour of our own devising? Not us!
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Up next: All Roads Lead To-From-To Rome

 

Packing Score: Jan 2010, Boston, Business, 3 days

This short blog will be used to document how well I packed for a given trip. Title will follow the pattern above: Date, Loc, Reason, Length. Then I will score how well I did.

What did I forget? What did I bring that I didn’t use? What did I use that I loved having with me? Maybe this will lead to greater efficiency, maybe it will just be a laugh.

Forgot:
Alarm clock. No biggie, figure out the hotel clock and also set the iPhone alarm. Since I don’t really know how to work the hotel clock I have to sit up and turn on the light to find the snooze button. Since the iPhone is across the room, I have to GET up and go over there. OK fine, I’m awake! Maybe I’ll ditch the alarm from my packing list. Maybe I’ll make a packing list.

Didn’t Bring: Stealth entry. I didn’t bring a robe. I never bring a robe. Even a travel robe seems overkill when you are trying to pack light. But my room was cold and I didn’t want to run the noisy heater so it would have been nice to have something other than my raincoat to wear. But I don’t think I’ll get in the habit of bringing one with me.

Didn’t Use:
Workout gear including very bulky running shoes. Just couldn’t get it together. But hope springs eternal so I’ll probably keep bringing the stuff. I have used them in the past, pinky swear!

Used, Loved
I love my iGo cord and tips. So much saved space. When Powermat offers 1 and 2 pod travel mats, I may have to change.

My iPhone TomTom app helped us get to and from the restaurant we went to for a team dinner.  Handy!

Packing Score: 80 (out of 100) Totally subjective.

Note: I am not being paid by anyone to pimp their products. I’m just sayin’ so you can gauge my credibility and just in case and companies wanted to ask. To which I would say no. Most likely.

The Savvy Traveler: What’s in my wallet?

The savvy traveler empties her purse of all unnecessary credit and department store cards but DOESN’T lose her drivers license before going through security.

On a recent trip from Denver to Boston, *I* was THAT savvy traveler. I travel a lot. With people who are also savvy travelers. I carefully packed everything I could possibly need(1). I carefully moved only the most essential items to my “travel purse(2).” The thinking is why take that Costco card when I’m not GOING to Costco on this business trip. Or any other card when I really don’t want to lose it and have to try and figure out how to replace it.

For a domestic trip, all you need for a picture ID is your driver’s license, so that is all I had. When traveling internationally I bring my passport, plus many copies of my passport strewn throughout my purse, luggage and laptop bag–just in case. I also bring my driver’s license because I need it to, well, DRIVE to the airport. But for domestic travel, having efficiently unpacked my travel purse, just the driver’s license.

I got to the airport in plenty of time, making sure I had no pressure that might tempt me to speed(3), and cleverly took out my preprinted (at home) boarding pass and my drivers license in preparation for a quick trip through security via the premier passenger line (told you I traveled a lot). But then…I saw the travel gadget store I’ve always been interested in but never taken the time to stop into…just before security. Since I was so early, I popped over there and browsed and found some awesome cool travel gadgets I felt I must buy and so I did. But when I picked up my boarding pass from the counter…there was NO DRIVERS LICENSE to be seen.

I immediately searched my person, my purse, my surroundings…repeatedly..zip zero nada zilch. Then to the airport information counter where they could call lost and found…ditto. Panic and sweat. They wont let you through security without a picture ID and my home and passport were a 140 mile roundtrip away and my flight in less than two hours. But I was advised to go through security line anyway and ask the nice TSA people if anyone had turned it in there. Amazingly the line monitor let me in so I could talk to TSA. The nice TSA lady called over a nice TSA guy. No, no one had turned in the license but if I could just step over here…. At a nice little desk they asked me repeatedly if I had ANY other picture ID with me…a Costco card, a student ID, a work ID…nope nothing says I–little Miss Efficiency. So they had me fill out an affidavit swearing who I was and where I lived. They called someone–who? I don’t know–the FBI, Homeland Security? They answered a lot of questions about how no, I really didn’t have any other form of picture ID (they weren’t impressed with my credit cards, insurance cards, or business cards. They asked for the last four digits of….my home phone number. That surprised me. They asked if I’d lived at any other addresses in my current neighborhood. I had! And I remembered the address, amazingly. And…eventually they stamped my boarding pass and let me in. I did not know they could do that.

Although they explained that I could get on the plane coming back the same way, luckily Mr. savvy traveler was joining me later in the week and I called home sheepishly to ask if he would bring my passport. I wonder if I had had my photocopy of my passport if it would have worked as an alternate picture ID? Repeated called to the airport lost and found yielded no joy, but midway through my trip, my husband called me to tell me the airport had called and they had found my license. I never learned where but…HOORAY! I was told I could pick it on my return trip. The return flight arrived after the normal business hours of the lost and found department but I arranged to call the people on duty and have them come down and hand it to me after a small wait. Thanks much to whoever found it and turned it in and to the lost and found folks and other airport personnel who rescued me.

Of course this did put a bite into my model of efficiency, carry-on bag only, everything arranged in advance savvy travelerness. But then that stuff never seems to be without its Murphy’s Law moments. About which, more later.

1) The myth of packing perfectly is one that falls apart easily. I can, and may, chronicle things I forgot to pack and things I packed but did not use.  But a savvy traveler’s grasp should exceed their reach, or that’s what check-in is for.

2) Travel purse is a black vertical microfiber security purse kind of like this one at Magellan’s. Slings over body under a jacket and masquerades as NOT a third item besides my rolling luggage and laptop backpack.

3) Thanks police guys for ticketing me for speeding because the speed limit drops abruptly from 65 to 35 just before parking and yes, I was a bit rushed to make my flight. This has made my life hell since my travel schedule has prevented me from appearing in court….argh!