PLANNING FOR ITALY 2012
We'll be in New Orleans during the first week in April and I really don't have a plan. Yes, I have the flights booked and the hotel reserved, but other than that I don't have a list of sights and must-sees, much less a rudimentary itinerary. It's not really like me to be so unprepared, but somehow travel within the United States just doesn't command the same attention to detail as a trip to Europe does. In the states you can do pretty much anything you want any time you want, so other than occasional irritations like a business deciding to work 'only' a set number of hours rather than be open 24/7, you're good to go whenever the spirit moves you.
When traveling in Italy, on the other hand, (and you were pretty sure that's where I was going with this, right?) timing is everything. We alwasy say that when we're on vacation our time is our most valuable asset, and sometimes it's worth it to pay extra to take the high-speed train if it gives you an extra hour or two in Rome or Florence. We always try to figure out where we'll be on Sunday - that can be a good day to travel because fewer cars (and trucks) are on the road. Most stores won't be open on Sundays, and some gas stations will be cash only because the credit card machine doesn't work without a human. Restaurants are likely to be busy for Sunday lunch, so plan to be there on the dot if you want a table at your favorite hosteria.
Even weekdays in Italy can pose problems. If you want or need to go to the local market when you're there, great. And if the market is there but you don't want to be, traffic may be slow-moving or even re-routed, so plan ahead. Many shops aren't open on Monday mornings because they were open on Saturday, but with the new, relaxed laws that just took affect, store hours may change dramtically.
That afternoon break may even be on its way out. As long as stores do close for the afternoon, the hours between one and four o'clock can drag on unless you have a plan. That plan might be as simple as having a three hour lunch, or it could be a three hour drive, but it just needs to be planned in advance, otherwise you might find yourself sitting on some ancient steps in some medieval town, finished with lunch and nothing is open - even whindow shopping opportunities disappear behind the roll-down corrugated doors.
And when you travel in Italy you not only have to think about holidays in general, but you also need to know about how these holidays will affect you. If you want to arrive at Rome's airport on November first, All Saint's Day, of course all the facilities are up and running, including car rentals. BUT - don't exepct that you could take the train to Perugia, or Chiusi or Foligno to pick up your rental car because chances are the only three places you can get a rental car on this holy/holiday are the airports in Rome, Milan and Venice.
Finding yourself in some cutesy town while they celebrate their patron saint can be a lot of fun - and could also be quite noisy if your room is near the main piazza! Oh, and I just remembered our friend who booked a great place in Perugia, just off the main piazza - the church! the steps! the fountain! the bells! What they didn't tell our friend was that the college kids party on the church steps until 3 or 4 every morning. And just when the kids leave the garbage trucks start their rounds, and when they're finished the morning delivery trucks are starting to arrive. and none of that mattered anyway because these church bells ran EVERY FIFTEEN MINUTES ALL NIGHT LONG!!!! (Our friend miraculously got out of that place much sooner than planned!)
And then there are the strikes, convenieNtly posted so you'll be prepared, but you have to know where to find that information, and make sure you keep up with it - sometimes strikes are cancelled, or the hours are changed.
So it's for these reasons that all I can think about right now is our trip to Italy this fall. September or October? Which feste will be going on during those times, and which would we like to attend? Who among our friends will be in Italy in September and October, and what are their plans? We have friends who split their time between the U.S. and Italy, so quite often they'll take a vacation within their vacation and travel to another part of Italy (or Europe). I'd hate to miss someone because we didn't coordinate. We also have friends who bring groups of people over, so we want to make sure they'll have some free time to spend with us, and then there are our friends who still work in Italy. Seeing them is the most challenging of all sometimes, since the workday sometimes ends at eight o'clock, dinner can't possibly be before nine, and before you know it, it's midnight! I STILL need 8 hours sleep (I really want NINE hours sleep but am willing to give up one hour just because it's Italy), and we know that if you don't get going early in the morning you won't get anything done - or see any of those wonderful sites because at precisely one o'clock Italy will go to lunch.