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Barb Oct 26th, 2005 08:43 AM

This is Why I Will Always Travel Solo From Now: Trip Report -Rome and Sorrento
Well I am finally getting around to doing my trip report. I came back to work on 10/17th to a huge pile of work and to a major job crisis, but for now at least the pile on my desk is down to a manageable size.

This report will not list the major sites to see and not even that many restaurant reviews, this report is to warn others thinking about going on a trip with a group of people to rethink your plans, or at least take some precautionary steps before you leave to ensure that your trip will not be a trip from hell. Actually, this trip had a few really good days, but unfortunately more bad days, but how bad can Rome and the Amalfi Coast really be.

A little background first: This was my 6th trip to Italy and my 6th time in my favorite city in the world Roma! My 5 travel companions had never been to Italy, well one woman had been in college, many moons ago and obviously did not remember one single thing about it. Two of the women I have known since high school (D & J), the other three (M, P and N) are neighbors of J and I did not know them prior to this trip. We are all the same age – 50 somethings.

In the early planning stages of this trip, the things I really stressed to this group (which incidentally changed characters a few times before we left) was that everyone really needed to be in fairly good physical shape, at least fit enough to carry their own luggage, be able to walk up stairs, handle walking on cobblestones and probably be able to climb up some moderate size hills – think Positano and Capri.

The other major point I wanted to make was that I would be more than willing to give them lots of suggestions – (via Fodors recommendations – sure hope they aren’t reading this - but if they didn’t during the planning of this trip, I doubt seriously that they are reading this now, lol), help with directions and recommendations for restaurants, etc., but I would in no way be their tour guide. I emphasized the importance of doing their own research and reading so they could decide what was really important to them in terms of where they wanted to go and what they wanted to see. In other words, this is your trip and you need to plan it.

During the next six months my decision to organize this trip would be questioned by me many times. After many phone calls and emails, an itinerary was finally agreed to. We would fly into Rome, stay there for four days with one day trip to Florence and then take the train to Naples and on to Sorrento as our base for 8 days. We would do day trips down the coast to Positano, Amalfi and Ravello and over to Capri and maybe Ischia, Pompeii and a day in Naples. Everyone agreed.

In the meantime I got the opportunity to go to Rome for 8 days in March and was really pleased to be able to secure for the group, 3 apts. in the same building, just off Campo dei Fiori for a great price. I also was finally able to meet my friend SeaUrchin and her friend S. for a few days, one of which we spent in Sorrento. In Sorrento I was fortunate enough to stop into the Hotel Lorelei on their opening day of the season and book us 3 seaview rooms. I had always wanted to stay at the Lorelei and I just knew the group would love it there.

I was very excited to tell the group the good news. While I was gone they decide to call the group the Divas. So, almost immediately the red flags started going up. Two of the Divas told me they had a bad fear of heights so the planned bus trips down the AC would be out of the question. One Diva revealed she gets seasick very easily and so would not be able to go to Capri or Ischia.

In June, D fell and injured her back and was in PT, her doc said she should be fine by the end of Sept. though. One other Diva had knee surgery in April which was still causing her some problems and another Diva had leg and feet problems, which she had failed to mention, which she was now concerned about. By July J was suffering from plantars faceitis (sp).

In August, foot/leg problem Diva P and now “torn miniscus” Diva N decided they would cancel their apt. in Rome for two days and take the train to Venice instead. I tried to explain that by the time they spent almost a day traveling there and back to Rome for our departure to Sorrento that they really would not have much time to spend in Venice, plus they would need to find a hotel and that might not be so easy at the last minute. Well, they found out the apt. in Rome would not rent to them for just two days so they decided not to go to Venice.

I had booked a Scavi tour for them, after telling them how great it was and how much I had enjoyed taking the tour. They all agreed – Well after waiting almost a month, I finally got the confirmation back. When I gave them the good news, two of them asked if there would be any bones, or graves or anything morbid about it and if it was in close quarters and underground – duh!!! yes. Well I had to cancel their reservation.

Now I am really having concerns about this whole trip.

We had our pre-trip dinner about a week before we left and everyone seemed so excited and so enthusiastic and everyone assured me that their physical problems all seemed to be under control and would not be a problem, so for the first time in months, I thought this is going to be ok.

The very next Monday I get an email from Diva P&N saying that they just thought there was too many stairs for them to climb to the apt. in Rome and they wanted me to cancel theirs and they would find something else, close to where we were. I’m thinking there is no way in h--- they are going to find something near the Campo di Fiori one week before we are to leave! But they did, amazing. Just around the corner from ours on the little side street between the Campo and Piazza Farnese. I told them they would have to contact RealRome and cancel their apt. themselves. Luckily, there was no problem and no penalty charge.

Now we are 3 days to lift off when I get an email from D saying that she is having second thoughts about going (she and I were sharing apt. and hotel room). Her back was acting up again, she was totally freaking out about her debit card not working in Italy – apparently some guy at her bank told her that he would never travel with just a debit card (she doesn’t have a credit card!!! Who doesn’t have a credit card??) and that debit cards get eaten or stolen and advised her to get euro travellers checks instead of using her debit card. I’m now trying to take deep breaths – The next day she emailed that she really thought she would not go – I emailed back that she would have to pay her ½ of the apt. and hotel room, but that I would totally understand if she didn’t’ go. I’m thinking that maybe this is a blessing in disguise! She emailed back immediately saying that she was going. She then emailed back later that day saying that she had gone to the money exchange and was taking her total trip budget in euro cash! She actually carried around $3,000 e in her money belt for the whole trip. She’s now calling me, talking non-stop about all her fears, doubts and paranoia about being robbed and worse. By this time I’m saying to myself, ok, we’ve been friends for years, BUT how much time have I actually spent with her over the last 20+ yrs – a few “girls weekends” 2-3x a yr. get togethers for dinner?? How well do I really know her now. Gulp.

Ok, I know I am going on and on about the dynamics of this group and we haven’t even left yet, but I’m hoping maybe this may be a warning to some of you who may be contemplating a similar situation.

Well, at my suggestion, we are on our way to the Vancouver airport in our stretch limo ($17 each) sipping Prosecco which I had been saving for a special occasion and after a little toast to the trip, I ask them if they had one thing to pick that they really wanted to do or see on this trip, what would it be. Dead total silence. The Divas are now looking from one to the other and finally J says, I really want to see the Sistine Chapel and I think, TG! then another chimes in – I want to shop!! The other Divas are still thinking about it. I’m now thinking to myself – I am so going to have to ditch the Divas as soon as we get to Rome.

We have a little light dinner at the airport and amazingly no great fuss when the bill came – more on that later. British Air was actually very good. First time for me as I usually fly Delta out of Seattle. I was a little worried about the 13 lb carryon limit, but I didn’t see anyone checking on that and I KNOW some of the Divas were way over as were most of the carryons I was seeing being shoved into the overheads. I think there is more legroom in coach and the in-seat entertainment is nice. Even the food wasn’t too bad and the FAs were just great – friendly, helpful and the free wine doesn’t hurt.

We finally are in Roma! The limo that I have arranged is there to pick us up – two of the Divas have apparently arranged for help de-boarding and are met with two wheelchairs being pushed by two incredibly handsome young men. The two Divas are very embarrassed and couldn’t stop giggling all the way to the limo. I think someone got pictures to blackmail them with no doubt. Our limo driver was a hoot and even pinched my cheek when I got out of the limo – no – I know what you’re thinking - the cheek on my face!! Our apts were a short walk up Via Cappellari from the Campo dei Fiori, through a huge wooden door which opened into a tiny, charming little courtyard and up one very steep flight of marble stairs. The apts are nice. Pretty basic, but very adequate for our needs. Mine even had a piano and floor to ceiling window with a tiny little iron balcony and a clothes line. It’s now 11:00 p.m, but everyone is hungry and wanting to see the Campo, so we walk around a little and then settle on Da Baffetto 2 for some pizza and vino. I couldn’t believe it’s now 11:45 and I’m sitting in Rome eating pizza. I’m very optimistic that this trip is going to be great after all. Back to the apt. I decide on the pull out couch and D gets the bedroom upstairs. After D is asleep and snoring upstairs, I’m leaning out the window watching the activity in the tiny street below and all the young people who are spilling out of the Campo and enjoying a Friday night with their friends and I’m breathing in that special soft Roman air and feeling like I am somehow where I was meant to be. It’s been worth the effort to get here and I am happy.

Little did I know what was to come – more later as I can,

kleeblatt Oct 26th, 2005 09:00 AM

Wow. This is better than the Da Vinci Code! Looking forward to hearing more.

Scarlett Oct 26th, 2005 09:05 AM

Oh goody....more more!!

easytraveler Oct 26th, 2005 09:11 AM

HI, Barb!

As for "group dynamics", this sounds more like "hearding cats" to me! :)

More, please! You have a great way of putting the reader next to you. I feel like I'm in Rome right now!

CatFancier Oct 26th, 2005 09:15 AM

OMG...don't know if I'll be able to read the conclusion of this painful story. It just goes to show that the old saying, "He who travels best, travels alone" (or something like that) was probably stuck in Italy with the Divas!

Don't think me rude, but why in HELL would you even consider organizing something like this????

Eloise Oct 26th, 2005 09:24 AM

I shall follow your tale (which I suspect will be one of woe...) with great interest.

Almost every trip report and/or discussion about group travel that I have read on this board has been a horror story.

Question: Do only unhappy group travellers post trip reports or are all group travellers unhappy?

amelia Oct 26th, 2005 09:27 AM

Barb, More, more, more....

chepar Oct 26th, 2005 09:30 AM

Gosh - your story is bringing back so many painful memories of my last European trip. Don't get me started, I can probably kvetch for days about the travel companion from hell. :)

I am really enjoying your trip report and have complete sympathy - on a daily basis I fantasized about ditching my travel companion and going it alone.

alan64 Oct 26th, 2005 09:46 AM

And to think I've been given a hard time about traveling to Europe alone a few times in the past!

kakalena Oct 26th, 2005 09:46 AM


It sounds like this was painful but I'm afraid your pain was my gain.

You do have a wonderful way of telling a story. Glad you had that lovely moment on your balcony on your first night!


anotherjudy Oct 26th, 2005 09:49 AM

Barb, hope you had some wonderful moments to more than compensate for the Divas. I also planned a trip with a high school friend and Never Again! Solo works for me.
Please continue.

Barb Oct 26th, 2005 09:51 AM

Thanks for the understanding responses. I hope phyllis_stein reads this. I think eliztrav really summed it up - clinging vine, no curiosity, no plan, none of your planning being appreciated and no-one listening to you once you are there. I actually had a really bad feeling about this trip about 3 months into the planning, but I kept trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, and I was trying to be very optimistic. I have to be really honest and take some of the responsibility here too, it was an opportunity for me to share expenses for accommodations, limos, etc., and therefore be a relatively inexpensive trip. Now I know better - I will never compromise my travel happiness for a cheap room. I'll try to get the next installment done this afternoon between work projects.

michelleNYC Oct 26th, 2005 09:57 AM

More! More!

elaine Oct 26th, 2005 10:00 AM

Keep talking keep talking.
It makes we who love solo travel feel validated, and it makes we who travel with friends and family wake up to what should be avoided.

Yours is definitely a case of
no good deed goes unpunished.

I have a friend who was going with friends and family on a trip to London, she'd been there before, they had not. She told everyone that she was delighted they would all be there at the same time, and she'd be happy to offer suggestions. Most dinners were planned as a group. But, during the day, she was organizing her time as she saw fit, and while anyone was free to join her in any activity, they would be joining her under their own steam. Each room in the hotel was reserved separately by the people who would be staying in the room. Once there, if my friend chose to change her day's schedule, or not stay for the entire tour of the museum, or skip lunch that day, she made it clear from the beginning she would not be responsible for the others' getting back to the hotel, or their going on to the next activity.

Barb, yours was more difficult due to the apartment, and to the travel from one place to another.
There's always next time!

MissZiegfeld Oct 26th, 2005 10:02 AM

post more!!! im sooo intrigued so far.

rbnwdln Oct 26th, 2005 10:02 AM

This is hilarious! Only because I have had some similar experiences. Like..the traveling companion who decides she needs to have a sit-down meal 12 minutes before the train to Naples leaves on a track that we have yet to identify!

ira Oct 26th, 2005 10:06 AM

>Two of the women I have known since high school (D & J), the other three (M, P and N) are neighbors of J and I did not know them prior to this trip.<

UH, OH. :)

Looking forward to more of this very interesting report, Barb.


StCirq Oct 26th, 2005 10:09 AM

Barb, this is shaping up to be a really good, if painful, yarn! Can't wait to read the rest!

Barb Oct 26th, 2005 10:09 AM

Elaine - your friend's plan is EXACTLY what I will do if and when I ever decide to travel with companion(s) again. Live and learn.

easytraveler Oct 26th, 2005 10:12 AM

Sorry for the typo

that was "herding cats" not "hearding"

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