Thursday, February 24, 2011

Italy Plans

Well, I promised to keep writing updates about my planning for our Italy trip in April and I haven't done that.  Mostly, I haven't reported because I didn't do much planning for a long time.

Everything is turning out to be more expensive than I had estimated.  That's ok. This is an expensive trip and the extra 10% or so isn't going to get me down.  I can't say that this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip because I do think we'll be able to travel like this again someday, but it will be a long way off.  So if I spread out the cost over, say, 10 or 15 years, it's actually quite a bargain!  But the extra cost threw me for a loop when choosing the hotels and I got stumped.  I had a price-point in mind but I just wasn't finding what I wanted.  Eventually, I figured out that I just needed to spend a bit more, and that solved that problem.

But by the time I got over that, the hotels started filling up.  This was in December, for a trip in April!  I was shocked.  So I also had to modify my expectations on that front too.  I could no longer just pick the one hotel that I wanted and assume I would get it.

Another problem I had was that my method of choosing a hotel required me to sit at my computer and compare my options all in one go.  It's one of those tasks that required me to have a big block of time to work with.  Not easy when you have fractured time.  Every time I did a little piece of research and had to stop and do something else, the effort was lost.  I needed to retain the options in my head and  compare them while they were fresh.  Finding that block of time was a big challenge, especially when most of my Sam-free time was being used for the baby-making project.  But finally, I found a day with some time and I booked the hotels for Rome and Florence.  Whew!  Both of them are in great locations, but they're just above what I'd call "budget" hotels.  I don't think the hotels will be very important in the big cities.  I looked primarily at location, comfortable beds, on-site management, and private bathrooms.  All we need is a stress-free place to hole up for a nap or for the night.

Oh, and booking the flight was a nightmare.  I had checked flights early on and there seemed to be plenty of options, but when I went back a month later (in early December!) all the flights were very inconvenient.  Some of them had 12 hour layovers.  I used search engines but they all gave me the same bad news.  Then I started searching individual airlines' web sites to see if I could get lucky.  Finally, I did get lucky with KLM.  I found the perfect flight.  I tried to book it and my goddamn credit card blocked the transaction because their algorithm said that it might be fraudulent.  So I tried another card.  That one had a block on it too because Adam bought my Christmas present on it that morning and THAT was flagged as potentially fraudulent!  Finally, I got a card that I knew should work, but the KLM web site would not take it.  Somewhere in there, the KLM web site returned a message saying that the flight I had chosen was no longer available.  I actually cried at that point.  But I tried again, while also calling on the phone.  It turned out that there were more seats on the flight, but that it still wouldn't take my credit card.  When I got someone on the phone, they could not find that the flight even existed.  At this point, I had been working on this for about two hours and I had to go pick up Sam from school in just a few minutes.  But while I was talking to a rep on the phone, I clicked "book this flight" again on the web site and for some reason, it went through!  I still have no idea what was going on there, but the whole thing was so stressful.  I think I was on the hormones at that point too, which probably made it seem worse than it really was.

Then, I still had the road trip to plan for.  I needed two more hotels and all I knew was a general driving route we would take between the two cities.  I have a friend from Perugia who helped me figure this part out.  We're going to stay one night in a real castle just outside Gubbio, and one night in Volterra.  I picked places that seemed restful and had access to some of the areas we want to explore by car.  I am so excited about this part of the trip.  I just hope the weather is not too bad.  April can be very rainy.

I reserved a rental car but I'm not totally confident I did it the smart way.  I need to review my guidebooks and make sure I made good choices.  Damn, that little VW Golf is expensive, too!  With the exception of the hotel near Gubbio, the car is the only thing that I didn't have to pay in advance for, so at least I can try to change that if necessary.

And now, I need to book the museums that require advance reservations.  I hope I haven't missed the time window for that, but I suppose if we miss something, it won't be the end of the world.  Our list of  things to see and do is huge and we'll probably not get to it all anyway.

Overall, the planning has not been as fun as I had hoped.  It's been a lot of really difficult, stressful work.  But I am determined not to make that mistake with the actual trip itself.  We are not going to try to do too much.  We are not going to stress out about whether a meal costs a few extra Euros.  We are NOT going to overpack.  And, after making this mistake way too many times, this time we will be sure to make time for naps.


  1. I'm sure you haven't missed the window for booking museum reservations--we booked our trip to Italy in the height of tourist season (July) literally twelve days in advance, and had no problem with getting museum reservations on the dates and times we wanted. You won't have any trouble at all. I'm so jealous--you're going to have a wonderful trip!

  2. Oh--by the way--ask your hotels to make the museum bookings for you. That's what we did in Florence for the Uffizi and the Accademia... very easy. We were in a just barely above budget hotel in Florence ourselves and we had no trouble getting them to make our reservations for us. I believe we booked our Vatican Museum tickets ourselves.

  3. Tori, yes, I plan to ask the hotels about that. I have trouble with ceding that kind of control, though. I'm surprised you did it! :)

  4. You need to buy tickets in advance for the Borghesse in Rome- one of my favorite places, in second place only to seeing the David:

  5. Oh yeah, Susan. That is one our top things to do. I'd do that before the Vatican Museum.

  6. Actually Amy, the only reason we did it through the hotel was because we couldn't get the museum websites to work. We tried and tried to purchase our tickets ourselves and kept getting errors, so we became so frustrated we emailed the hotel and they responded to us quickly with all of the information. You know me well enough to know that relinquishing control wasn't my first option. :)

  7. The Borghese is awesome, I second that! I really enjoyed the Vatican, too, though.

  8. Yes, I loved, loved, loved the Vatican and St. Peters. Could have looked at Michelangelo's "Pieta" for hours. We ended up spending an entire day just in those two places, which I would not have thought possible. And then it was time for one of those much-needed naps! ...Your description of booking the flight sounds awful; I would have cried too!