Thursday, September 29, 2011

INDECISION!!!

Okay, so I always drive myself crazy, trying to think of every possible scenario for whatever it is I'm planning.  Should we travel north to south, or would it be better if we travel south to north?  Time of year, holidays, weather patterns and more can make these legimate questions.  So can trying to arrange your stay so that any holidays and/or Sundays are used wisely.  Since many (most?) tourist sites are closed on Sunday, that can be a great day to be on the road - but if you're traveling by train there might be reduced service on Sunday.  And unless your picking up at the Rome airport, it probably won't be possible to pick up (or drop off) your car on a Sunday. 

Of course there are other concerns, like trying to beat the crowds.  EVERYONE wants to be on vacation for the best weather, coolest scenery and moving historical re-enactments, so yes, it can be a juggle.  And don't forget that the fact that EVERYONE wants to be there at the same time also means that prices go UP!  If you want to go during (traditionally) cold, rainy weather when it's dark by 5 p.m., you can save a bundle!  But there's that trade-off! 

I AM cheap cheap cheap, and damn proud of it, but I'm also incredibly ambitious when it comes to traveling.  I really do want to see and do everything, PLUS I want to stay in a great hotel located right in the centro!  So trying to decide just how close to high season I can get without actually paying high season prices.  I'll probably never see fields of sunflowers in Italy again because the airfare is always going to be crazy in the summer.  Another trade-off. 

Finding a great place to stay at a reasonable price is my second biggest challenge, right after finding a decent airfare with a reasonable itinerary.  It takes a lot of searching just to find ONE of those, and finding them together is like finding the needle in the haystack.  Car rental in Italy is terribly, terribly expensive, and many people fly into France or Germany, rent a car, then drive into Italy!  That they make you pay for the privilege of being tail-gated, cut-off and scared for your life makes it even worse!  SO........

Those are just some of the reasons I'm starting to question our plan for Italy and Slovenia next spring.  Should we wait until fall (September/October), when the weather will (possibly) be warmer?  When the days will be longer and there will be more festas and sagras, and more friends around?  I think we're both so anxious to get back to Italy that we just want to go as soon as possible - but that might not be the best time!  Maybe I'm just getting freaked out by the money - but with airfare hovering around $900 each, car rentals costing about $300 per week, and hotel costs of at least  $100 per night, probably more, my heading is ringing with all the cha-chings

Either old age is turning me into a travel chicken or the travel gods are trying to tell me something by putting all these doubts in my mind.  Either way I'm just going to wait, and try not to think about it at all.  Yeah right........

Friday, September 23, 2011

POSSIBLE ITINERARIES

Plans for the Grand Canyon are set.  First night at the Cameron Post Trading Lodge.  Next morning drive north to Page – tour Antelope Canyon.   Drive to the Grand Canyon (east entrance) – check in to our in-park lodge for 2 nights.  After leaving the GC we’ll head to Sedona where we’ll spend another 2 nights.  Our last day will be spent driving, then turning in our car at the airport and taking the shuttle back to the hotel.  Done. 

Now I get to figure out how to make this Italy trip work.  We want to be gone probably 25 days – that’s about 3 weeks of actual vacation time, minus the travel days.  We need to be back in the states no later than April 25th  Leaving before the end of March may or may not make the fare lower.  We want to rent a car and drive through Slovenia.   Flying in and out of Venice would be perfect for that, but flying into Venice costs WAAAY more than flying into Rome.  Why is that???    Now we could fly into Rome since I sort of wanted to spend a few days there last time and didn’t get to…… Plus we do want to visit Umbria.  Wendy might be the only one there – ooh, maybe Keith and Janine, maybe Belinda and Giacomo won’t have gone on the road for the season yet…..

Okay, so if we flew into Venice (and paid more), would it be worth it in travel expense savings?  We could train it to Trieste, then take a taxi across the border where I’m betting it’s a LOT cheaper to rent a car!  We can then drive to the capital city (don’t ask me to spell it yet, I’m just learning this stuff), spend a day or two here, I know there are some cool caves to see, plus of course there’s Lake Bled, which looks like a fairy tale from the right angle.  There has been talk of driving north to Vienna, perhaps a 2 hour drive?  Anyway, then back to Venice, turn in the car, maybe spend the night in Venice, or somewhere on the trainline.  Ferrara is on the list now, we missed it last fall.  I don’t know if it’s on the trainline, but I’m so afraid of those cameras on the autostrada!  Just a few kilometers over the speed limit and BAM!, a ticket arrives in you mailbox a few months later.  No thanks!

So, train it as far south as we can get, Ferrara, Chiusi, maybe even Perugia, then pick up a rental car for 3 or 4 days in Umbria.  Have to eat at Angelino and Peppa’s, the pizza place in Cannara, and Simone’s restaurant in Bevagna.  Oh, and visit the Perugina factory – chocolate bananas are running low.  After that turn in the car and train it to Florence for a few days, then  back to Venice for our last night.

If we flew in and out of Rome we’d probably skip Florence, do Rome at the beginning, train to Oriveto, rent a car and stay in Umbria for 3 or 4 days.  Take the train up to Venice, stopping at Ferrara if possible for one night.  Once in Venice I think we’d leave right away, training through Venice, on to Trieste.  Guess you gotta spend a day exploring Trieste, right?  Okay, then take a taxi across the border and explore Slovenia for – 5,maybe 6 days?  I need to go back and see how many days that would be.   ***TIME OUT***  Okay, that looks like about 17 days so far, so we would have time to stop in Ferrara, and to spend some time in Rome and maybe even Florence.  Gosh, now I need to flesh this out and think about the timing.  Perhaps after Slovenia we could train it back down to Florence, then take the train to Rome for our flight home.  Is that any more expensive than flying in/out of Venice and having to get as far south as Umbria?  In the end we might break even, so then what makes more sense - or is that just a question with no right answer?

I think we can also fly into Florence, but that would require a plane change in Europe, and I want a direct flight.  And now we have to figure out what’s a good price, and when are we likely to see ‘sale’ prices, or should we buy NOW?   This is the part I hate, trying to find the best schedule at the best price.  Sometimes I find the WORST schedule – flying into Heathrow but having to get over to Gatwick for the connecting flight! – and quite often it’s at a pretty bad price – who buys these tickets and let’s airlines strand us in airports for hours on end – aren’t we paying them to actually get us somewhere???  Okay, don’t  get me started. 

Now I need to make a shopping list – Eggplant Parmesan is on the menu for this week – I’m trying a new recipe, of course, with roasted eggplant instead of the usual fried.   Plus I want to make an apple pie – today felt like the most perfect fall day!  I’m almost ready to clean out the garden – wow, I can’t believe I’m excited to do it! 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

TRAVEL PLANS

Yes I know I've been MIA, but really, I've been busy! We just got back from a trip to Vancouver and Seattle, a two week trip done on a budget, visiting friends we met while living in Italy. I swear, it's so nice to talk with people who really, truly, 'get it' - people who understand that while you might find a great pizza here in the states, or even some good gelato, without the accompanying ambiance of Italy itself, somehow it just doesn't taste as good. We talked of food and wine and wondered why it is that no one's adding porchetta trucks to the movement. We talked about the good and bad parts of living in Italy, and just like with family, it's okay to bitch amongst ourselves, but please, don't let anyone else talk trash about our adopted country!

So, that trip's over, time to start planning the next one, and the one after that, and then the one after that. I LOVE planning trips! Deciding where were want to go, how long we should stay, should we head north first, or maybe it makes more sense to go south? Should we rent a car or take the train? New unexplored areas always compete with old favorites anytime we're planning a trip, so maybe we can squeeze in a few days in Rome, or a quick trip to Florence.....
Up next on our horizon is a quick visit to the Grand Canyon, six days for sightseeing doesn't sound like nearly enough for the Grand Canyon and the surrounding area, and it's not, but it's all we can afford, and we just decided it's better to see a few things than nothing at all, so we'll head to Arizona, hope for good weather, and see as much as we can in our allotted time. In my next life I'm going to start traveling MUCH sooner and not save everything for my old age!

2011 has been the first year since 1999 that we have not been to Italy, so obviously that's high on our list. And next summer my son and his family will be moving to Frankfurt German for a two year stay, so that sort of mixes things up. My head is swimming with possibilities: fly into Frankfurt then train or drive south to Italy, passing through Bavaria and Tyrol - gorgeous scenery, but pricey. Maybe we could fly into Frankfurt then take a budget airline to England for a week - at least we'd be able to leave all but the necessities in Frankfort; it just wouldn't be possible to fly into London and take a budget flight to Germany - those cheapie European airlines don't let you travel with much more than a purse these days.

We also saw a Rick Steves' show about Slovenia that really, really piqued our interest - it seems to combine the best of the Alps, Germany, Austria AND Italy into one compact country that's not (yet!) over-run with tourists!



So here's the rough plan, at least for today:

Spring 2012: Italy, with a side of Slovenia. We're still working out the details and checking various options, and I'd LOVE to be able to fly open-jaw without a huge surcharge, but that might not be possible. We want to spend some time in Umbria, of course, but I wouldn't mind a few days in Florence, then we thought we could do a driving trip, Venice to Venice, traveling through northeastern Italy and Slovenia. OR - we could fly into Vienna and drive down to Slovenia and back to Vienna - or fly out of Venice - but then we'd still have to get down to Umbria.....as I said, still a work in progress....

Fall 2012: Frankfurt, then a quick trip to London and southern England. Yes, the exchange rate IS even worse than the euro, but England is my first love and it's been a long, long time since we were there. I'm thinking this also might be the time to visit Belgium.

2013:  Ireland?  I'd love to see Ireland but the thought of driving on the 'other' side of the road just terrifies me!  Yes, we drove in Scotland, but really, it was scary.  Art does NOT share my fears and is happy to drive.

At some point I'll need another bite of the Big Apple, but who knows when that might happen. Oh, and we'll have to plan for a quick trip to North Carolina next May for our granddaughter's First Communion. What else? We still haven't visited Sicily, I still need to visit Carcassonne (France), and we'd both love to make another visit to Turkey.... 

My advice to you? Start traveling NOW! I wish I'd started traveling at a much younger age when I could sling on a backpack and walk to the nearest hostel without needing an Aleve (or two)for my aching joints, and I wished I'd started putting money aside for travel on a regular basis. Yes, I might have spent it as fast as I'd saved it, but in the end I would have travelled more, and really, that's what I love to do!