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Suggestions on travel itinerary on Italy and Southern Europe

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Hey guys,
I was selected as part of my university to go to a conference in Rome for 6 days next April, and as it's my last semester I am planning on taking two weeks off classes afterwards to do some travelling. I have travelled Europe extensively, but have not been to Italy before (and have only been skiing in Austria, and to Belgrade in the Balkans). My original plan was to spend a further week travelling up Italy, and then a week in some of the Balkans, flying straight to Dubrovnik and going down through Montenegro and Albania, but there are unfortunately no flights between Venice and anywhere in Croatia, so I've started trying to amend my itinerary and would love some advice. Just as background, I have travelled very widely and am confident that I can handle long days filled with lots of sightseeing, I will probably be spending most of the two weeks alone (friends might join for a few days), and I have no problem with early morning starts or overnight buses. Also I am 22 and male from Australia, I like going to museums, I love art and architecture and people watching, and seeing cultural sites. Anyway, my current plan is as follows:

Fly to Rome, arriving 6am 11/3 and spend the day sightseeing
12/3-18/3 Conference (I will have most of the 12th to sightsee before having to go to the conference accommodation, and will have a bit of time to see things during the planned excursions, but I won't have much free time between these days)
19-21/3 Rome (is this too much if I also have a day and a half before, and will go to places like the Colosseum during the conference? Are there any day trips I should do?)
22/3 - Take an early train to Florence and stay there 3 days, leaving at night on the 24/3
25/3 - Either spend a day in Bologna (arriving the night before), or go straight to Venice. If I go to Bologna, I'll have two days in Venice, if I don't, I'll have three days.
28/3 - Take the 6:41am train to Trieste and then the tram then the train to Ljubljana, and spend that afternoon and the next day there
30/3-2/4 I have four days that I could either go down to Zagreb and Dubrovnik, before getting the ferry to Bari and then going back to Rome for my flight, or I could get the train up and spend a day in Maribor (Slovenia) or Graz (Austria) and then spend 3 days in Vienna before flying to Rome for my flight home on 3/4

What do you think? I know I'm trying to get a lot in, but I just have this sudden anxiety that once I graduate and have to get a real job I won't be able to take off time and go travelling anymore haha, so I'm trying to do as much as I can. Another, though completely unrelated, option would be to instead fly to Helsinki after Venice, spend a few days there, get the ferry down to Tallinn and then a bus to Vilnius before going back to Rome? (I've already been to Riga). Is that better?

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    I, personally, would not be happy with any of the options you outline -- WAY too rushed for my tastes!

    My reaction to the realization that I might never return to an area seems quite different than yours: Rather than trying to cram it all in (my take on your possible itineraries), the realization that I might not return makes me want to maximize the time I have to actually see and experience the places that I choose to see, while minimizing the time spent traveling between places (unless, of course, the point of the journey IS the time in transit). Rather than skimming the surface and spending time getting from place to place, I choose to skip some places entirely, even if I am sure I would enjoy them. I’m most likely to skip or skimp on places that have international airports, because those are the ones that I can most readily visit again. I’ve also realized that if I can return to a region, the LAST thing that I am likely to want to do is spend my time re-tracing all that extra travel time so that I can go back and finally see the things I skipped the first time. In fact, I might end up not returning specifically because it would mean wasting so much time going from place to place! So MY idea of making the most of my time is to decide on my highest priorities and do everything I can to take full advantage of them. JMO.

    Good luck!

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    I agree 100% with KJA.

    You really have to prioritize and spend more time in the most important places you want to visit.
    You say that you've never been to Italy. You could easily spend the entire 2 weeks in Italy, and not even scratch the surface.

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    The main draw for most people to Bologna, apart from strolling the small but fascinating historic center, mainly around Santo Stefano, is the food markets, which close up around 1pm. If you decided to overnight in Bologna, you could do a sightseeing walk in the morning (be sure to include the church of Santa Maria della Vita, the piazza Santo Stefano and the anatomical theatre in the Archigennasio) and buy a picnic in the markets, and leave for Venice shortly after noontime.

    However, before you commit to that, it is really worth your while to look closely at all you might want to see in Venice. There is a lot there inside museums and churches. (Bologna hotel rooms are also expensive.)

    Personally I would opt for the northern route that includes Vienna, partly to avoid what might be an unpleasant or cancelled ferry ride to Bari in April (and I would definitely not go to Helsinki and that far north in April.) The art and architecture of Vienna is astounding. The Kunsthistoriches museum is one of the greatest museums of art in the world, but also there are the unique works of the Secessionist movement.

    I have never been to Graz or Marbor, so don't know what you'd be missing (I would think Graz is rather dead in April, but what do i know?) , still, I will suggest you skip them and fly from Venice to Vienna, maybe giving one more day to Venice (in order to visit Torcello) and the other would be well spent in Vienna.

    Would be interesting to know the subject of your conference and your future career and whether there are destinations in Italy or Europe that would really open up for you the areas of life that you are personally involved in. Italy especially often has particular locales for professional accomplishment, museums devoted entirely to just one subject, or being the birthplace of western astronomy, western medicine, etc, and there are some itineraries for Europe that illuminate modern history or European politics/problems in vivid ways.

    But you are also entitled to have a holiday filled with beauty and just indulge yourself. Strongly recommend you drop the anxiety about never getting to travel again and just focus on what you want to enjoy this trip. When you get into the details of travel logistics if you find yourself wondering if this is too much travel between places, then re-evaluate. If you are enthusiastic to take on a lot of sightseeing in differnt cultures, you're not alone and many people are so glad they plunged in and kept going. Just one tip is to not cut it too close with some of your travel connections if you go for a busy trip. Leave wiggle room for the unexpected where you can.

    No doubt others will have more totally opposite opinions to add. :)

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    Here is another thing to consider. You will be at a conference in Rome for 6 days. I've been to plenty of conferences, and there's always free time. On the first day is registration, and usually half a day free, and the last day, hardly anyone attends. I've been there and done that.

    All I'm saying is that after a 6 day conference, 2 days free in Rome on your own may be enough. That will give you 2 more days for your planning elsewhere.

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