Hubby and I had both been to Europe, but neither of us had been to Italy nor did we speak the language. Therefore, we decided we’d get a little help with our trip planning.
Because this was vacation, we didn’t want to do a tour where we had to adhere to someone else’s schedule. We certainly didn’t want to have to get up early every morning. We found a company called Monograms which strikes a happy medium. Their motto is “Independent travel simplified.”
We made our own plane reservations (more about that in a minute) and they were in charge of transfers, hotels in Rome, Florence, Venice, and Lake Maggiore. Included were three nights in each city, train transfers between the cities, transfers between hotels and train stations, a “host” at each hotel to help set up tours and a ½ day tour in each city to get us acclimated. We tacked three extra days on to the beginning and the end and we had our trip.
As you know, we went in October. The weather was about like it is here — unpredictable. All it all, it was a good time to go–not too hot, not too cold and we only had heavy rain one day. The rest of the time it was mild and sunny. We layered our clothes and wore a light jacket. I learned to take a scarf everywhere (and I still do, even in the summer), to use as a wrap if I got chilly.
- Don’t take heels (you’ll break your neck) and take an empty suitcase for all the things you’ll buy.
- Do take electrical adapters. We took three which was plenty. Seldom did we have more than three vacant plugs in our hotel room to plug in our chargers (cameras, iPad, etc.). I ordered from Amazon.
- Know your money plan. Banks vary greatly with fees and you can spend a lot of money if you haven’t thought this through. Chances are you’ll need to use a debit card at an ATM (we did–several times). The exchange rate can’t be avoided, but bank fees can. We avoided them by finding out who partnered with our bank in Europe, but sometimes a city only had one or two branches of this bank so we walked for blocks to find it. Some banks or bank cards waive fees. It might be worth opening an account just to have that convenience.
- Make a copy of your passport and keep it with you. Keep the original in your hotel safe. Keep with it emergency numbers. Better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them.
- Split your money up — some in hotel safe; the rest divided between travel partners. We felt safe while we were there, but heard tales of thieves who steal backpacks and purses. Therefore I ordered a backpack with RFID technology (so credit cards couldn’t be read) and whose straps were reinforced with wire. We used it everywhere, and it was so well designed, I frequently use it as my purse today.
- We had a non-stop flight out of Atlanta. We’d saved frequent flyer miles forever and were able to travel first class. It turned out this was one of two brand new planes. The pilot was so proud of it he came out and told us all about it. The seats were like pods and completely self contained. We felt like geeks taking pictures, but once we brought out our camera, pretty much every one in first class lost their cool and did the same thing. The seats reclined all the way flat like a bed. They gave you a full size (nice) pillow and an actual comforter from Westin (I think). But who wants to sleep and miss the first class experience??? Not me. I watched movies and read as we crossed the pond.
- Check your cell plan. I’d heard horrific stories of people returning with thousands of dollars in cell phone bills so we just turned our phones off. I so wish we had investigated a European plan or at least a texting plan, especially since my dad was sick.
- What did work for me was Skype. Using the Internet and my iPad, I could talk to my dad while he was in the hospital via my aunt’s iPad. He never quite got the technology. He just knew he could see me and I was in Italy, but it made me feel better to actually see him and hear his voice.
I have pictures — somewhere — but during our stay we used a camera that broke while we were there, an iPad and two iPhones. Somehow the plane images didn’t make it to my cloud. You’ll just have to take my word for it — it was amazing. Ironically, I probably had the best wine of the whole trip during dinner on the plane. Go figure.
We had a little snafu when we landed in Rome. Delta had changed our itinerary and I’d forgotten to tell the travel company. We arrived early in the morning and they were expecting us mid-afternoon. Therefore, no one met us at the airport, but we had no problem getting to our hotel and reached our intended driver to tell him we wouldn’t need him. He was a little peeved, but lost the attitude when we agreed to a private tour the next day. That’ll be the next post.
I found some of our photos from the first class flight — pure decadence!