More Peabody Papers: Travel Tips From My Visit to Italy
There are a lot of questions about trip planning asked and answered on this forum. I thought it would be a good idea to separate the lessons learned from the trip report, which you can find by clicking my screen name.
I needed hotels for Rome and Sorrento, with a top budget of 200 euro per night, preferring less, of course. I used Fodors both for lists and for positively reported hotels on these boards. For further research, Hotels.com and Booking.com both had reviews by their purchasers and useful search features, particularly sort by distance from a particular landmark or city center, plus by price. I cross referenced the reviews on tripadviser.com, which is less reliable. But, throw out the detail-free reviews, the blasts due to a perceived slight from the maid, and the shills, and you get a good idea of the place. Then I checked the hotel's own website. I booked through the hotels directly for the same price as through the third party sites. This allowed easy changes in reservations when plans changed and got me bonuses only available on the hotel 's website (free restaurant meal for staying 4 nights).
Things to Do:
We listed possibles, from guidebooks, recommendations here, on line versions of the tourism magazines that used to be given away in hotels, and so on. We decided on our musts, our wants, and fill-in sites, then noted closure days. The ones that required reservations were reserved on line.
Unplanned time was essential. Mrs. Peabody hates it that I add an hour beyond prudent timing for getting to airports. This proved essential when we were on our way to the airport and realized that neither of us had set the home alarm and had to make a quick trip back. It also meant that I rejected a plane connection with only an hour to do it for one with a 2 hour plane change, which ended up needing an hour and ¾ when we did it.
We set only one major site per day for touring, and left a blank day in the week planned in Rome. The slack day was used when our first attempt at a Vatican tour failed. The unplanned times on the other days were filled with exploring, shopping, and thing from our optional site list, chosen by location and the weather.
“The Google is Your Friend”:
In addition to the usual searches such as for the official websites for hotels, restaurants, and sites, Google has featured that are both cool and very useful. Want lists of the 10 best gelateria in Rome? The best pizzas? Google! Can't read the reviews or contract provisions posted in a foreign language or the website that is only in Italian? Google Translate! Want to see what the walk from a hotel to the railroad station or a restaurant looks like? Google Earth!
I Love Rick Steves:
After deciding on our Rome hotel and after making the reservation, I discovered that it was listed in RS's Rome guidebook as giving a discount for book holders. I emailed the hotel and got 10% off, which paid for our lunches for a week. I then saw that the Colosseum and Forum tour I wanted to book had the same discount, put “RickSteves2012” in the coupon code slot in the on line reservation form, and saved the price of the guidebook. The self-guided instructions in the book for several sites were all we needed, saving the need for audioguides.
I Hate Rick Steves:
Sometimes, the opening times, closure days, or ticket prices are out of date. All must be confirmed in real time. Don't walk to a restaurant that isn't open, like we did. Worse, his maps are terrible. Streets are missing, street names change as you walk along from block to block, but not on the map, details are smoothed out, and so on. His maps got us lost more often than not. The only way to use RS's maps safely is to correlate the RS map with a real map and mark the RS sites on the real map. You have been warned.
Time is Money:
A cheaper train takes longer than the expensive express, a pass is a few euro more than buying individual tickets as needed for the Metro or for museums, a bus plus the Metro plus a walk is cheaper than a cab or limo from the airport, and so on. My time is restricted: I have only the time between landing and taking off for home again. An hour here, 30 minutes there, worry, hassle, mistakes. Forget it. Pay the money and do what you came for, which is touring, not waiting in line and changing from one transport to another.
Time is Time:
Packing, checking out, checking in, unpacking kills half a day, plus there is travel time, including getting there early enough not to miss the train or bus, plus waiting for connections. Unless you are touring to see roads and trains, minimize hotel changes.
I used to use a moneybelt pocket thing that went around my waist. It was uncomfortable. Using it outside of the hotel room required a place to partially disrobe. This time I used a pouch-pocket that hung under my shirt from around my neck. If I needed something from it, I undid a shirt button. (OK for men.) As for my wallet, I used 4 safety pins to anchor a net of loose rubber bands that made it nearly impossible to pull the wallet out unless you knew how to push the bands apart. Our cheap daybag had nothing of value and a balky zipper that required a minimum of two hands to open the darn thing. No one got anything off me.
We carried drivers licenses and a color copy of the passport identification pages. I left the passports in the room safe. Never had a problem with this combination.
Since a long ago trip where newish shoes got me blisters by day 2, I have used the proverbial well broken in walking shoes, and packed the dress shoes. This time, what with the cobbles of Rome and the ancient broken walks of Pompeii, I took my most comfortable Mephistos (walking and dress/walking). Near the end of the trip, my right walking shoe went from broken in to just plain broken with a split seam. I was glad I had a spare pair. Mrs. P's sandals held on for the whole trip.
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More Peabody Papers: Travel Tips From My Visit to Italy