I like traveling with a tour group. Having a guide enhances what I’m seeing. I feel like I learn so much more. I knew that a Rick Steves tour was perfect for me. I had used them for a Best of Paris tour once before. The biggest reason is half your time is guided and half your time you are free to explore on your own. I’ll get into more about the other “why’s” later.
Looking at the various Italy tours I decided that the Heart of Italy tour suited me best. I have very limited time off. Since I couldn’t get away for the 17 day Best of Italy tour, I felt the Heart of Italy 9 day tour had the best balance of major cities, small towns, and beach villages.
The Heart of Italy tour is very active with lots of walking – be sure to bring great walking shoes. It is me, my tour guide, and 26 other travelers traipsing through Rome, the Tuscan hill towns of Volterra and Lucca, the Cinque Terre, and finally landing in Florence.
Who? Why? Where?
My name is Douglas from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I am a firm believer that it is essential to go beyond your own backyard to gain new insights and perspectives. I look at travel as a doable adventure.
The lesson I learned from the tragedy of the September 11 attacks is that tomorrow is never guaranteed and I should not put off doing something that I want to accomplish or experience. It is for that reason that I decided to experience as much of Italy as I could afford. This was my chance to squeeze as much joy as possible.
I’m a big day dreamer. So one night I’m in bed with my tablet pretending I’m going to Italy. Lo and behold, I discover a round trip flight to Rome that is a super sweet deal, amazing actually. I just had to click and book that flight, but before I did I needed to figure out what my itinerary would be and what exactly my travel dates needed to be. I had selected a week around Labor Day because I knew it would be a good time to ask for time off from work and the business is closed that Monday. Spoiler alert! I survived my solo trip!
Click on this map to visit the Rick Steves web site Heart of Italy tour page. The numbers refer to the number of nights that the tour stays at that destination.
The Journey Begins...
Friday, 31 August 2018
Luckily traveling to the airport was uneventful. I was flying Norwegian which is a budget airline that nickel and dime you for every little a la carte thing. Sadly, their “dreamliners” are all being serviced so the plane was a Spanish Prestige. I had paid for choosing my seat ahead of time and chose a window seat so my head could lean against the side of the plane. But when I boarded, I discovered 7J was a middle seat. Quelle surprise! Or should I say, Che sopresa!? The woman sitting in the aisle seat said she heard that the 777-200 was fully booked. Fortunately, no one sat down at the window seat 7K and I moved over giving us some added room.
Lessons learned on this flight:
1. Test out sleep aids ahead of time. Side effect – upset gastro intestinal tract, similar to the way food poisoning has made me feel. Even with a sleep aid I didn’t sleep well. I felt like I was awake most of the night.
2. Wear layers. I started the flight sweating. Later I was chilly. My merino wool sweater came in handy.
3. Red-eye means EVERYONE sleeps – quietest flight ever. WIN!
4. Allow for extra time to navigate a new destination. Took a bit of time to find out where to go. Once off the plane and into the airport I had that “Toto, we’re not in Kansas” feeling due to a stream of announcements in Italian over the public address system.
The ATM at the airport was tricky. It asked 2 times in different ways questions regarding DCC. DCC stands for dynamic currency conversion. The ATM was offering if I wanted to be charged in the local currency or have it converted into dollars for me. The problem is the currency conversion is bound to be terrible. Save yourself some money and always select the local currency, in this case euros. My worst fear was abated. I got cash with no problem.
From the airport I took the Leonardo Express train. In order to ride you need to have your ticket punched by a validating machine. Otherwise, if a conductor inspects your ticket and it is not validated there is a hefty fine. But I had a bit of trouble finding the machine that validates the ticket. Then, once I found the machine it wasn’t clear which way to put the ticket in and where in the machine. Thankfully, another passenger came along on my heels and between the two of us we figured it out. Two brains are better than one. This super quick commute from the airport to the center of Rome was worth every penny.
The Leonardo Express train dropped me off at Rome’s Termini rail station. Navigating Termini station was slow, but the signage was clear with the use of symbols. The station was very clean. Overall, the organization of the station is excellent. An issue may pop up because everyone is running around like ants. Frequently they are only concerned with themselves and very well will collide with you. Keep your eyes open and stay alert.
A HUGE saving grace for me is that in my information packet for the tour (that was mailed to me several weeks before my trip) there were very detailed step by step instructions on how to get from the airport to the first hotel of the trip. I might have gotten lost if they weren’t such clear and easy to understand directions. I took a subway from Termini to the station closest to my hotel in Rome. I emerge from the underground and begin the short walk to my hotel.
It’s official. I am in Roma.
"Der Liebe Gott Steckt Im Detail"
"God is in the detail" - meaning that attention paid to small things has big rewards - details are important. That is my philosophy with this scrapbook. I hope my attention to detail will help someone else's travel dreams become reality that much easier.
It is a god send. Just type the phrase you need to understand or express and it gives you the translation in either direction. English to Italian or Italian to English.
App of the Day
Please note: As you navigate this website,when coming across a photo gallery, click on a picture to see it in its entirety
Village of Vernazza in the Cinque Terre