Building an Itinerary

Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome

How do you decide the destination of your next trip? For most people, I think it varies depending on the reason for travel. Obviously, if you’re visting friends or family, that’s the starting point but if you just want to decide “where shall we go this time?” do you throw a dart at the map? Are there places you’ve always wanted to go? What restricts your choice?

There are any  number of reasons and usually more than one. The type of interests or hobbies you have might come into play. You might like the idea of a place if you’re read about it in a book or seen it in a movie. You may have been to a location as a child or many years ago and wish to see it again through adult or more experienced eyes. I’ve had all three inspire me for locations.

I love history, art, archictecture, and a bit of shopping. I prefer cities but I also like to do day trips if based in one place for longer than a few days. I also tend to want to see as much as I can in an area so I tend to try to squeeze too much in and I’ve started to scale that back. I’m not an overly active person so the types of holidays where you’re hiking in the hills or doing a lot of water sports aren’t for me nor are the types of holidays where you’re lying on a beach or by a pool in the hot sun, either.

I’m lucky that my partner likes a lot of the same things I do. We’re planning a trip to Rome in November and that was his choice. He has never been there and loved the idea of it. I’ve been there twice, once briefly on that high school trip I blogged about a few days ago and once during a bus tour around Italy with a friend. But that was over 15 years ago and I don’t mind going again. This time won’t be organized by a group, we’ll have the chance to go where we want, when we want and take in the big sights in our own time. Besides, my photos need updating!

Once we decide where to go, the first thing I do is start pricing flights. I won’t book anything until a flight or other transportation is decided and usually paid for. It’s not easy these days to get good deals because the cost of flying is so high with the added fees and surcharges so you really have to keep on the ball. In addition to the cost, I try to get arrival times at a reasonable time of day so that we don’t lose a whole day. There were cheaper flights to Rome from Manchester, but most of them had us arriving nearly 10 p.m. and that’s fine if you’re staying a week or two or more but if you’ve only allocated 4 or 5 days, you lose a lot of time that way.

I paid a little more for the flights and we arrive mid-afternoon. Since there don’t seem to be any flights direct from Manchester, changing planes adds a couple of hours onto the duration.

Then the quest for a hotel begins and I always find that a bit stressful because if we’re staying in a city, there’s always far too much to choose from and even checking hotel rating sites, far too many different opinions from great to horrible. You want to take them with a grain of salt but you also don’t want to make a choice that turns out to be a nightmare. I’ve had at least one hotel in the past that was far less than ideal. Let’s just say a hotel with “character” isn’t always a good thing!

There’s a general budget, I won’t book anything that’s too cheap because you’re pretty much assured of “you get what you pay for” but I can’t afford the upper echelons of the posh and cushy either unless we get a lucky deal. Even trying to decide on an area of Rome was confusing. You hear so much good and bad about the area around the train station that you’re not sure what to believe. I looked at that area anyway, and an area around the Colosseum which has a lot of hotels and I even briefly considered hotels near the Pantheon in the middle of the historic city centre and nearly booked on in the piazza of the Pantheon itself.

In the end, I went just a little away from the Train station on what looks to be a quieter street, rather than a main one and the rooms looked to be a pretty decent size, another bonus because you can’t expect roomy in Europe for the most part.  It’s called Bailey’s Hotel and has got pretty good reviews. The cost was within budget and there was free wi-fi, always a “must have” now that I have a laptop to take with me.

La Pieta, by Michealangelo in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Flights, hotel, all booked and prepaid. Now what are we going to do when we get there? I make lists, lots of them. I put things on the sightseeing list and try to tick off the ones we really shouldn’t miss. The rest of the things are places and sights we’d like to see if we can fit it in. Again, as I said, I always try to do too much and end up like a limp noodle with blisters. I always say I won’t do that again and I always do. There’s just too much to see!

Because my partner hasn’t been to Rome, we’ll see the Vatican museum and Sistine chapel, St. Peter’s, the Colosseum and Forum. Those are his must-see items. I really want to see the Pantheon again, because I was quite taken with it before and I must see the Pieta in St. Peter’s again. It made a huge impression on me the first time I saw it at 18 and again in 1996. We’ll walk all around those narrow streets where Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain are to be found. There are a few churches and monuments and ruins to check out and, back to his interests, a shop near the Vatican that is owned by Dario Argento who is a director of horror films. The shop also has a small horror museum in it that’s sometimes open.

When deciding what to see, especially to find things that aren’t on the top 10 lists, I always like to see guide books and use dozens of websites and searches as well. Sites like Virtual Tourist and IgoUgo are invaluable because real people like me put their tips online and many people find things by chance that aren’t in the guide books and you can discover them on sites like those as well.

Shopping, dining, good wine, lots of walking, taking lots and lots of photos. We might fit in a side visit to Ostia for more ruins. But there are also museums… one possibility is the Napoleon museum that might be a bit different. It’s a chance to see things I saw before and see things I missed in the past. My partner is really excited and sees Rome as a romantic destination steeped in all that history.

That works for me!

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