Trip planning and preparation:
I do not like packing and unpacking, nor do I find planes, trains or automobiles places where I generally enjoy spending time; therefore, I wanted to go to a limited number of places and get to experience them in detail rather than race from one end of the country to the other. Originally, I thought just Rome and Florence, but Scott, my travelling companion, the guy I married who was also turning 50, said he wanted to go to Murano, so Venice was included. We decided not to stay in Florence but elsewhere in Tuscany where we could slow down and see something of a less mainstream tourist spot. We ended up picking Lucca because it is a smaller city, yet a good location for day trips to Florence, Pisa, the Cinque Terre and the Chianti area. While Montalcino or some other wine town in the Chianti area also appealed, we decided to avoid a location that required a car.
Flight details were settled during the summer. Hotels and the apartment we rented were booked in August. Booking early resulted in booking places with more room than we needed because back in August, we thought we needed room for four. As it turns out, we were a smaller group because our son, Robin, and his girlfriend, Katie, as university students, did not get their schedules settled until January and because of schedules, only our son joined us for the first part of the trip. So we could have found other accommodation and paid less, but decided it was not worth the hassle at that late date. This jaunt we splashed out more on accommodation than we normally would because as two 50 year olds, our old bones needed comfort. Okay, only kidding, the nice digs were a treat to ourselves.
I enjoy planning a trip almost as much as the trip itself. I started reading guide books almost a year before we went, but once our accommodations were booked, I started itinerary planning in greater earnest. My method was to read guide books, surf the net and quiz everyone I knew who had been to Italy. I started with some general plans and my travelling companions were willing to go along with them for the most part. We have learned over the years to make lots of plans but be ready to drop the plans without regret. There were a few must do things but otherwise, lots of potentials which do not have to be realized. I researched details, like when things are open and what others recommend is the best time or way to do or see things, and then for the must dos, I see if I can book or buy tickets as I found it saves time and also avoids crowding all the must do things together towards the end of the stay. I then try to put together a rough itinerary that includes the must do items and a list of suggestions for things which will work around the must dos. We have also learned, we do not all need to do the same things. If one is ready to go but the other is suffering from jet lag; then one can go out and the other can nap.
The somewhat novel (for us) pre-travel project for this trip was to learn some Italian. We have stumbled along with our aged French skills but neither of us had any Italian. We had mixed responses to this from those who told us it was a waste of time as we would not need Italian at all, to others who said definitely do it because they found themselves surrounded by people who did not speak English, to yet others who said our efforts to speak Italian would be appreciated, even if not required. We started classes in September for our March departure. After January, I worked fairly diligently at attending classes, doing homework and listening to CDs. I certainly learned that my memory is not what it used to be and I would describe my ability before we left as speaking only very little Italian. But taking Italian classes at least put us into contact with lots of people with information about and experiences in Italy which we would not have had otherwise.
The last major pre-departure project was dealing with jet lag. The rule of thumb is that it takes a day of recovery for each hour of time change. Going across the Atlantic means seven or eight hours difference for us. We cannot afford to spend seven or eight days recovering, so we make efforts to reduce the effects of jet lag. By experiment and experience with a lot of trips to the UK, we have learned one of the best ways to deal with the time change as a result of flying east is to try to shift our sleeping schedule so that we are waking up earlier as close to morning in our intended destination as is feasible. About two months prior to departure, I start moving my wake up time earlier, a quarter or half hour each week. Doing this over a long period of time makes it more of a habit. The down side is that I wake up early even on weekends. About the earliest I can arise and still be sensible at work and stay awake to eat dinner in the evenings is to get up at 3:00 a.m. That is still 11:00 a.m. in Italy, but if I want to get up at 8:00 a.m. while I’m there, that’s only a three hour adjustment, not eight.
During the extra hours of the morning, I exercise, do household chores or read. This trip, I was exercising while listening to Italian lessons and re-reading my books on Italian art history. It is also a good time to plan or take care of the little details that need to be done before departure so that the last days are not full of running around and creating stress. Scott, a night owl, has less success with getting up earlier. But even with a minimal effort of a few hours earlier the week before departure has helped him.
The rest of the jet lag reduction efforts are on the day of departure. This assumes an overnight flight across the Atlantic. Get up extra early. Get a good work out in. Have everything ready for departure in plenty of time. Eat a good late lunch or early dinner with lots of protein, vegetables and fruit. Start drinking water and keep drinking water. Avoid alcohol. Wear comfortable clothes for the plane. Since bringing on a bottle of water from home is no longer allowed, buy some water before boarding. On the plane, set my watch to the destination time zone, take off or loosen shoes, get a pillow, put in ear plugs, and try to sleep most of the way, using a sleeping pill if needed. When not sleeping, exercise feet and drink water. I avoid eating until the last hour or two when it is breakfast time.
Getting some sleep is crucial as we have always landed around 10:00 a.m. to noon hour which means early morning at home. We have discovered the hard way that we cannot function if we have, in effect, gone all night without sleep.
Once at the destination, I immediately try to follow the local time for meals and continue to drink lots of water. Getting outside and walking helps avoid napping. The first night sleeping in the new time zone, I try to sleep through the night. A mild sleeping pill, milder than what I use on the plane, can help if I wake in the middle of the night. Otherwise, I do not use sleeping pills the rest of the vacation but try to follow the local time table and get active when I feel sleepy but should be awake.
We try to pack light, limiting ourselves to one bag, especially this trip which would include three train rides with all our luggage. To keep to the minimum, we planned to do laundry in two locations: Rome and the apartment in Lucca which had a washer.
Our travelling wardrobe has upgraded over the years of travelling to Europe as we have found we felt underdressed compared to most Europeans. We packed no or wear only one pair of jeans. They are too bulky, don’t launder easily by hand and trendy jeans do not look good on me, assuming I can even get into them. We prefer darker colours in lighter weight fabric, easily cleaned fabrics for trousers. Ones with some stretchy fibre in them seem to crush the least. At least a few button down shirts for men get packed. For women, I have found easy to wash, not too easy to crush, simple tops or blouses dressed up with scarves or necklaces allow variety without taking a lot of room. We pack underclothing that is easy to launder by hand and will dry relatively quickly for those times we cannot find or have no time to go to a laundromat or cleaner. Comfortable shoes are essential. We have found leather walking shoes are the most versatile as they work for both day walks and wearing to restaurants and most important, keep the feet dry in wet weather. Before we leave, the predicition for Rome is a week of rainy weather. Scott is into Keens for walking shoes. My favourites are my Pradas. I try to keep the number of shoes to a minimum of two because they are take up room and don’t squash down. (An extra bag to bring home shoes bought during a trip, however, is a different issue.)
The general plan this vacation was to take in a lot of history, art and architecture in Rome for 7 days; Murano and Titian’s paintings over 3 days in Venice; and then slow down for a week in Lucca with a day trip to the Uffizi in Florence as the only must do.
Wednesday, March 28:
We originally booked a direct flight from Calgary to Frankfurt leaving in the late afternoon. Less than a month before we were to leave, our direct flight was cancelled and we were booked on a flight to Toronto leaving at 9:00 a.m. and then from Toronto we were booked on a flight to Frankfurt. Not an ideal start.
Toronto was not a stop we wished for but at least our luggage was checked through to Rome so all we needed to do was find somewhere for lunch. Pearson Airport seems to have a lot a fast food places and few restaurants. We thought we saw a restaurant but could not figure out how to get to it because we were locked into a secure area. We wasted a lot of time walking around trying to find somewhere to eat that doesn’t look like McDonalds.
We ended up going to the international departure area, after getting our boarding passes checked twice, and found a spot called Via Della Bici Bar and Grill. At least the name is appropriate. We had burgers and a beer trying to pretend its dinner time although it was barely noon in Calgary.
I bought 3 litres of water to take on the plane and we took off without incident. I popped a sleeping pill, put in ear plugs and slept most of the flight.