Big Wheel Keep on Turnin’

The Paris to Normandy river cruise

We’re always looking and planning beyond the next vacation destination. I”m over to the UK in October where we’re planning a road trip around Scotland but then I’m going over again in April because he needs to come here in August for my niece’s wedding so we’re reversing our directions next year. So where to go? What to do?

I have a friend who has taken a couple of river cruises and really enjoyed them. I suggested this to him and found this short cruise that would fit in with our vacation window. April in Paris! We thought the itinerary (click on the map for the itinerary) sounded good. The nice thing about a river cruise is that you don’t spent a lot of time on the ship like you often do on sea cruises because the destination distances are short.  It’s not the Proud Mary and it isn’t a paddlewheel Mississippi steamer, but the boats and state rooms are quite nice. The state rooms will be tiny but who cares! They have en suite, a bed, and wifi. That pretty much covers all needs doesn’t it?

We had decided on  the Viking River cruise company as they do 2 for 1 deals if you book really early and pay for it by July 31. It seemed like a very good deal and the travel agent also has good things to say about the company. I do realize that you add on tips for the crew and various guides at the end of the week and though all meals and wine/beer are covered, chances are you’d be out and about at lunchtime so probably would eat in the towns then.

But like all good things that seem too good to be true, this one turned out to be as well. The Travel Agent called Viking last week and quoted me a price of about 2550 for a total for two people. So today, I went in and said ok, we’ll go for it. She called them again to set it up but emailed me back and said that the cheaper state rooms are sold out and the higher class of state room that was left was about 2700 PER PERSON. So much for the 2 for 1 deal advertised! It looked to me as if all the room prices were not per person, they were 2 for 1, for all classes of room. It shouldn’t make a difference whether they’re nearly sold out or not.

Sadly, I declined. nearly $5500 for an 8 day 7 night river cruise is far richer than my budget. I’m not being sold down the river, thank you very much.

The Next Time I See London

Sarastro, Covent Garden. A very theatrical restaurant

Sarastro, Covent Garden. A very theatrical restaurant

We haven’t visited London for awhile. Well, it’s not really been that long, I guess, but it feels like it. The last time we were there was in the spring of 2011. We saw Wicked, went to the Doctor Who exhibit, the Zoo, Camden, National Gallery, flew the London Eye and caught up with friends. That was two and a half full days.

We are doing a road trip in Scotland in October but we’re also thinking of a weekend in London, probably the weekend before I leave. I can go to the airport from the city rather than doing the Manchester – Heathrow transfer. It is a bit less hassle that way.

Providing that’s where we end up, I’m already scouting for hotels and making lists. Naturally.

I am pretty sure the Tower of London will be on the to-do list. G. hasn’t been there, or not since he was a kid. I’ve been but I know I haven’t seen all there is to see. I know I’ve missed the main White Tower and armouries museum, for instance. I’ve seen the Crown Jewels and I couldn’t care if I don’t see them again. They are impressive, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t change, do they? You see them once, that’s all you need. I’ve seen them twice!

I’d also like to get tickets for a new show, Book of Mormon. We would have done that in New York but the prices were sky high and tickets hard to get. I’ve seen the London prices and though still not cheap, are more reasonable.

Now … what else? I’d like to go to Hampton Court again because I only saw a few of the highlights while on a walking tour over ten years ago. That walking tour encompassed Richmond as well as a boat ride to HC which was neat, but then by the time the guide took us around to a few highlights and we could finish on our own, it was closeish to closeing time and after a rest with a cuppa, there wasn’t really time to see much more inside the palace so I walked around in the gardens for a bit as they’re open later than the palace. So yes, that might be an option.

I was also looking at the tours offered by London Walks. That is an excellent walking tour company. I’ve taken walks with them in the past, including the all day Richmond and Hampton Court one, and I can very much recommend any of their tours. There’s a few that interest me but all of them are on Sunday morning. How to choose!!? We’ll put our heads together and try to figure out the logistics. One of them is a guided tour *of* the Tower of London with a discount on the entrance fee which is considerable. Even if we don’t do that one, and do one of the others, we could still go straight from the walking tour to the train station to get to Hampton Court and have a few hours there in the afternoon.

I was also considering Churchill’s War Rooms as somewhere that neither of us have been before. My fella is pretty pragmatic, he’ll go along with pretty much most things I suggest as well as adding his own. We like a lot of the same things so it’s not too difficult to choose things to do and see. I’m very lucky to have a partner who likes history and art and enjoys museums and galleries.

It sounds like a pricey weekend but there’s a good way to save a bit of money. I think I might have mentioned the 2for1 website before. You need a valid rail ticket and a voucher from the website and you can get into most of the main London attractions at 2 for 1 which is, of course, half price. Only certain kinds of rail tickets, however. You can’t use Oyster cards, and if you have a day travel card it has to be issued by National Rail at a train station, not the kind you would get at a tube station or out of a machine. There’s a list of what you can and can’t use here.  You can also use the links there to find out which attractions are available. They include other things like restaurants and some of the West End shows, the older ones generally,  as well. Too bad they didn’t offer half price hotels!

Anyway, that’s the list for London as it stands today. As always, it’s a moving target and we could change our minds a number of times before we firm up our plans. That’s part of the fun of travel, though, isn’t it!?


A New York Minute

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City (where we probably won't be going this time!)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City (where we probably won’t be going this time!)

New York stuff is all booked and there’s 30 sleeps until Graham gets here!

We have:

Rock of Ages tickets booked for Thursday May 9. Got a discount from, Saved about $40 per ticket I think. Decent seats, in the main floor section about half way back. But they gave us seat 1 and 3. Huh? I would hope that if there is a body between us, they will be kind enough to switch so we can sit together. We weren’t going to a show because at first we couldn’t agree on one but this one made the cut and I think it’s going to be good.

Instead of the ubiquitous city type passes, we booked a 5-attraction pass each through SmartDestinations. Many cities have an attraction pass that is good for 3 or 5 days and it’s “all you can do/see” off their list but I can never fit enough in to break even let alone save anything. This Explorer Pass is a bit different. You choose 3, 5, 7 or 10 things from their list of 55 attractions and tours and the pass is good for 30 days. You don’t have to say which things you will be doing, it just counts them off as you scan your chipped card which I received today! FedEx sent it and I didn’t realize it would come courier so i wasn’t home. They delivered it to my office today instead.

We know 4 of the 5 things we’ll be doing, The Empire State Building, the Guggenheim musem (changed our minds from the Frick, and this one is on the Explorer Pass’s list where the Frick isn’t), the Intrepid Sea and Space museum and a TV and Movie location tour,  and we can pick from one of the other things though we are leaning towards the NBC Studio tour.  This pass seems much more doable and is cheaper ($116 for 5 attractions, and by including the TV tour, we’ll end up saving 4o or 50 dollars over the 5 things we do, I think)  and you can spread it out more rather than squash everything into 3 days and be exhausted and burned out trying to fit it all in. They do a number of tours via the CitySights company which do hop on hop off,  but you can only do one of them with the pass and each one is only one of the various routes that would be included if you’d bought a 48 hour pass from a tour company separately.  We’ve heard the tv location tour is quite good and let’s face it, they film loads of things in NYC!

Booked the hop on hop off tour through Grayline that’s good for 72 hours so we can spread it out. Take a downtown loop one day, so we can get on and off and explore, then the uptown tour the next day and we thought we’d do a night tour as well. They also do a Brooklyn tour and a Bronx tour but we may not do those. The night tour goes over to Brooklyn so you get a look at the night skyline. We can also use the tour bus as transportation if we want, even after having done the tours, if there’s still time left on the ticket.

Thought about pre-booking an airport shuttle to the hotel but the standard airport bus goes to Port Authority, the big bus terminal which is only 3 blocks from the hotel so that’s good enough. There’s a lot of things that are within easy walking distance of the hotel, less than 10 or 12 blocks which is convenient. We plan on wandering around some of the neighbourhoods like Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Chinatown, Little Italy (which, i understand, (those last two) are really small) and Soho and probably the posh areas like Fifth and Park Avenue. Would like to check out Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Centre, see the John Lennon memorial in Central Park, maybe see the 911 site though it’s not a free museum like they said it would be but I think you can observe the park area from outside.

Also got the rental car booked for when we get back. I think we’re sorted! Now we just have to get there!

New York, Here We Come

When last we spoke of our trip to New York, I had nothing booked and was searching for hotel possibilities and making lists of things to do. Last week, I booked the flights using Aeroplan points. They still charge us taxes and fees but two tickets to New York cost us a total of $280 CAD, far better than nearly $1000 it would have cost. The fees really kill you! We’re flying in and out of Newark, though the return flight includes a change in Boston Logan.

After much searching and angst, I thought I had a short list of 2 or 3 Holiday Inns when I found another couple hotels that looked good too, one called Hotel Grand Union and one called King and Grove.

An aside. I’ve belonged to a travel email list for years called Travelzine. It’s a great resource. You can ask anything and get some really useful replies from lots of travelers.

So anyway. I had just sent an email to the Travelzine to see what people had to say about my shortlist of hotels. I went to to re-check the addresses and guess what? There was a sale on  a few of the Holiday Inns! Well now… that makes a big difference. I decided to book the one near Times Square. It’s got free WiFi and a buffet breakfast, also a good savings. Their non refundable rate was about $220 CAD per night but they had a refundable rate of $240 and I decided it could be worth it to get that. Free cancellation is always good if you can get it. An extra $80 for the week is about what it would cost for Cancellation insurance anyway. I think it’s still a prepaid amount but that’s fine. My credit card gives me Aeroplan points and the credit card gives you additional peace of mind. I’m not sure but I think the gold card may even have trip interruption/cancellation included. I must look that up.

There now. Flight and hotel booked. Now we can *really* start planning. I’ll get the Empire State Building tickets online to save one of the queues. I’ll probably get the Hop On Hop Off bus tickets online too. We still haven’t decided on a show but there’s time for that. I’ve been perusing the Timeout New York site.

Great website, by the way, if you’re visiting any city they cover. They had a good theatre section and lots of ideas on museums, popular and lesser known, and a list of free or cheap ones. I discovered one that’s on an aircraft carrier, the Intrepid and is a sea, space and aviation museum and I think my fella would really like that. I would as well. I really enjoyed the War Museum in Manchester last year  and how often do you get to walk on the flight deck of a carrier! There’s a Skyscraper Museum that might be cool.  There’s also the Society of Illustrators, with an exhibit that’s on the week we’re there about the artist behind MAD Magazine. We have talked about taking the Staten Island Ferry if it’s a nice day, very good for views of the Statue of Liberty and the city skyline.

If I make a list, we’ll probably manage to get to see some of this though probably not all. We’re also going up the ESB and I want to visit the Frick Collection and the New York Public Library. We’ll be there the best part of four days. I’ll be paying closer attention to that NYC blog post  I mentioned the other week, too.  I’ve looked into the New York Pass that gets you into most of what I’ve already mentioned for free, but the problem I’ve always had with these types of passes is that you really need to pack in lots of things each day to realize the savings. I never can keep up that pace so we would end up losing money. Buying tickets online to the things you definitely are going to do can at least get you past the ticket purchasing lineup and that’s good enough for me.

I’m excited now!

It feels good to have the hotel decision made and booked. The rest is gravy. We always pick a few Must Do items and then see where the wind takes us. I know there will be a lot of walking, there always is. I’ll look into transport passes or tickets.

I Heart Her City

New York Public Library

New York Public Library (Photograph by Wally Gobetz, Flickr)

I’ve been browsing a blog on the National Geographic Traveler magazine’s website by Annie Fitzsimmons, the Urban Insider. I thought she might have some interesting articles on New  York, with the view to our visit there in May.  I am really happy I did! This post in particular of all the ones she’s got tagged with New York City has probably added 4 or 5 things to the list of places to see and things to do. She loves her city and after reading that post, I just might as well!

At least one item she listed was already on my Radar, the Frick Collection.

She describes her neighbourhood, Greenwich Village so well that I think a wander around there is definitely called for.

And what about this? The Transit Museum where the store has unique souvenirs except that seems to be an online shop not a real one. Will have to investigate further.

We probably won’t get as far north on Manhattan as The Cloisters but you never know. I have seen the Unicorn tapestries. On my one visit to NYC I was lucky enough to see them at the main Metropolitan Musuem.

I really would like to see the New York Public Library interior and the Rose Reading Room. It looks amazing.

G. wants to go up in the Empire State Building and we decided we are probably going to take a bus tour around the city. Those usually include several routes, a night tour and one to see Brooklyn which is apparently not that interesting though you get to stop and take a photo across at the skyline.  One advantage of these tours is using them as transportation. You can get off at various locations and explore the areas and neighbourhoods.  There are also television/movie locations tours that might be interesting too.

Now that G. has his ticket to Canada, I will sort out the NYC tickets. I’m going to use Aeroplan points for those and I’m still trying to decide on a hotel. So many to choose from! Saving money on the flights will help with the hotel budget.

National Geographic magazine is one of, if not my favourite travel magazine. I get a few but this one has the best photography of all. Some years ago I flew to Toronto for a photography seminar they gave. I must blog about that sometime!

Bonnie Scotland

I’m dreaming of the highlands. And the lowlands, and the lochs, the mountains, the hills and the heather.

We’re planning a road trip to Scotland in October, driving up from Salford/Manchester. We don’t know for sure exactly what parts we’ll go to but I had a look at the Google maps and charted out a potential, albeit subject to change route. I’ve been to Scotland before, twice, on bus tours and it’s a spectacular country. When they say it’s “Big Sky” country, they aren’t wrong. You feel very insignificant under the broad skies, surrounded often by bare mountains rising up on either side of you.

Miles and miles of not very much, not even many trees aside from dark green swaths of tree “farms” patching some of the high hills. (Trees grow faster at theses altitudes so they farm them and clear cut them). You pass ruins of a croft now and then or you may spy the turrets of a castle in the distance. Look up to the top of the ridge and you might spot the stately antlers of a stag and mind how you go, pheasants can flutter out of the brush and flicker across your view.

We want to explore some castles and there’s no shortage of those in Scotland. We must see the Highlands, Loch Lomond and Ness and take the road to Skye. I want to pay respects once again to the fallen at Culloden and look over the Georgian Edinburgh from the ramparts of the castle. I expect we’ll find a country B&B or maybe a cottage for a few nights as a base. That might mean the route on the map changes slightly but the area covered will be similar.

I anticipate it will take a full week to cover it all and though some of the sights will be familiar to me, I know we’ll go off the main track and go to some areas of the country that are new to me, too. And because we’re going under our own steam rather than a bus, we can stop and go as we like through the days, for photo ops, for a meal, or just to enjoy the view.

Weather permitting. I say that, but even under stormy skies or foggy days, Scotland has a mystery and an allure that captivates you.

Rainbow in the Highlands, near Glencoe

Rainbow in the Highlands, near Glencoe

(Written for this week’s WordPress Writing Challenge – “Map it out”)

Planning: A Bite out of the Big Apple

St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City

Right. So. The next trip up on the planning board is New York City for May.

I was in New York once for a brief visit during a training course in New Jersey. A few of us students took the bus into the city and walked over to see the Empire State Building. We went up and watched as the lights started to come on as dusk settled over the skyline. Walking back to Port Authority bus terminal, we could see the lights of Times Square as we crossed over 7th Ave. I stopped in the middle of the cross walk in the middle of the street to gawp and take pictures!

I spent Saturday in the city, as well, since I wasn’t flying home until Sunday. I spent the morning in the Metropolitan Museum and met up with an aquaintance for lunch, walking around the general area and into Times Square in the afternoon with him. My impressions of New York then were twofold.

Colour. There was colour everywhere! It was high summer and there were bright banners on buildings, magazine stands with lots of colours on display, people were wearing cheery clothing, yellow taxis were rivers on the streets. Then there was Times Square. Talk about an explosion of colour! Even the garbage bags were pink and blue and there was a neon sign over the police station!

Smell. There was a wide variety of smells, both good and bad as I walked along. Food drifting out of restaurants. Chemical smells from hair salons. Masses of human beings. Diesel and gasoline engines of the vehicles. Perfumes on people. New York was an assault on the senses, to be sure, and now after nearly 15 years, I’ll be back. We’ll still only scratch the surface in just a few days but it’s a start!

Already, I’ve been looking at hotel prices and wow, what a shock I’ve had!

When I was looking for hotels in Rome, I expected the hotel prices to be very expensive and they weren’t. They were no worse than London where I can always find reasonable hotels in London within my budget, generally paying between $125 and $160 Canadian per night. On the whole, we were quite happy with the Bailey’s Hotel in Rome and I’d recommend it.

New York City was an eye opener. Even cheap chains like Days Inn and that sort of thing were a good bit over $200 a night! Anything under $200 includes shared bathrooms and facilities or is in New Jersey, or by the airport or in Brooklyn or Queens. I want to stay on Manhattan and I don’t want to be way down at the tip or up on the north of the island either. It’s better to be within relative walking distance of many of the sights so I guess I’ll have to resign myself to a higher budget this time.

I’ve already got my eye on a couple of likely candidates, several being suite hotels with a small kitchen which is good for stocking up for breakfasts and evening snacks. The drawback to one of them  is it’s only serviced by housekeeping once a week though they’ll bring more towels or pillows if you ask. That’s probably not a big deal, really. I *do* know how to make a bed! Haven’t looked too much further into the other similar ones but I will be doing so.

Looking on Expedia, I see they will combine flight and hotel for some good discounts in some cases. I think I’ll look into that further across a few sites that do packages and see what kind of a deal I can get that way. Anyone that has any recommendations, do feel free to comment. It’s much appreciated.

Things to do: Well, my partner wants to go up the Empire State Building so we’ll do that. I like going up high places, too! I would like to take the Staten Island Ferry over and back for a good view of the skyline and *that* statue, though otherwise not that interested in actually visiting it. I have been to the Metropolitan Museum and, looking around at the other big museums, I think the Frick Collection might be just the thing. We will probably take in the theatre, too, at least one night.  St. Patrick’s Cathedral is also on my list.

We’ll probably take the hop-on hop-off tour around to see the main sights and it will be useful for transportation, too. The companies that do it have 48 and 72 hour passes that cover a handful of different tours you can take including a night tour. There are several routes so you could break them up over a couple of days rather than packing it all into one day.

Visiting London in the 1940s

I wonder if they followed the itineraries in this blog post!

Travel guide books have been around as long as there have been travelers but the first guidebooks as we know them originated in the early 19th century. From this article in the Sydney Morning Herald from a few years ago:

It was in response to the Grand Tour’s enduring popularity into the early 19th century that the first true travel guidebooks appeared. An English writer and playwright, Mariana Starke, recognised the Grand Tourists’ need for practical information, and in 1800 she wrote Letters from Italy, blurring narrative and guidance. Twenty years later, the book morphed into the dedicated guidebook Information and Directions for Travellers on the Continent. Already it contained now-familiar forms: a ratings system (using exclamation points rather than stars), accommodation options, costs and titbits of history.

Published by John Murray, it would be the pioneer title of one the world’s first great guidebook empires, Murray’s Handbooks, which would eventually publish about 400 titles. Its exhaustive, two-volume 1845 Handbook for Travellers in Spain, written by Richard Ford after four years of research and a decade of writing, is the classic among guidebooks.

Karl Baedeker is said to have written his first guidebook – Holland, Belgium and the Rhine – for Murray’s Handbooks, but in 1829, with the publication of Baedeker’s German-language guide to the Rhine Valley, he also became its first competition. Guidebooks to Austria, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland followed, and by 1861, two years after Karl’s death, Baedeker was publishing English-language guides.

While Baedeker was the most popular for a long time, now we have a plethora of choice. Add on the Internet and it can actually get a bit overwhelming. You don’t even have to carry a book anymore, what with ebooks and podcasts and smartphone apps, you can have it all ine a neat, light package.

I love guidebooks, especially the ones with lovely pictures! Those are the more expensive and heavy ones but they are so nice to look at. In the past, I’ve always bought at least one guidebook for somewhere I’m planning to go, even if it’s a small “Top Ten” city guide and yes, even in this day of the internet. It’s easier to have a small book in your bag than sheets and sheets of printed paper sometimes.

My electronic device is an iPod and I’ve discovered that guidebooks on that are not really that convenient to use though they’d be good on a tablet sized device. There are some good apps for iPods and smartphones but unfortunately, the one I wanted recently doesn’t work on my older device. Figures.

But bringing this back to London in particular, I have an old guidebook  to London that was published during World War II. There’s a small insert that explains that due to the war, they cannot publish the full set of maps they usually do. There is only one fold out city center map with the underground stations marked and some of the main streets.

What makes me laugh, though, is their suggestions for itineraries for one or two days’ sightseeing. I really don’t know how you could fit it all in! Surely they don’t suggest you do all these things in the time allotted? I wonder if they’re saying that any or several of these for morning and afternoon would be sufficient though they do mention, in the ultimate of British understatement,  that it’s a “very hurried day”. That’s putting it mildly! I expect you could do it if you were just walking past all these sights and not going inside.

The Victoria Tower, Westminster

The Victoria Tower, Westminster

I’m reproducing the itineraries here for your amusement.

For one day in London their suggestions are:.

National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Whitehall (passing Gov’t Offices, Royal United Services museum and the cenotaph), Parliament, Westminster Abbey and cathedral, Buckingham Palace (exterior), St. James’s Park, London Museum Lancaster House, St. James’s Palace (exterior).

Lunch in the Piccadilly or Leicester Square area. (phew! My feet would be smokin’ by this time!)


Regent, Oxford Streets, Wallace Collection, Drive thru Hyde Park, Kens. Gdns, Piccadilly, Royal Academy, British Museum, Lincoln’s Inn walk, Law Courts and Temple, Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill, St. Paul’s
They go on to suggest dinner and theatre if you are staying overnight.

An Alternative might be:
Tower of London, Monument, Bank of England, Royal Exchange, Guildhall, Cheapside, St. Paul’s.


Law Courts, Temple Gardens, Embankment, County Hall, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, National Gallery (open evenings of certain days).

A bit more doable(?)

A suggestion for a two day visit:
First Day:
Charing Cross, National Gallery and Portrait Gallery, Whitehall, Parliament, County Hall, Westminster Abbey (Lunch) War Museum, Lambeth Palace exterior, Tate Britain, Westminster Cathedral, St. James’s Park, London Museum, Green and Hyde Parks, V&A museum, Nat. Hist. and Science Museums.

Second Day:
Tower of London, Monument, Royal Exchange, Bank, Guildhall, Cheapside, St. Paul’s, (lunch) Holborn, British Museum, Oxford St., Wallace Collection, Regent’s Park, Zoo

Longer stays suggest things like the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the “new” Horniman museum, Windsor, Hampton Court, Kew, Richmond, Epping Forest, Croyden Airport

Oh yes, that’s the main international airport, Croyden. In another old book I have, published in the 1950s, it mentions the London Airport (later called Heathrow) that is under construction. In that book, the Museum of London has moved to a wing of Kensington Palace.


Countdown – Four sleeps

The Colosseum, Rome

It’s really three sleeps until I leave but four until I get there after an overnight flight. I do love to travel. I just hate getting there. Flying is not all that comfortable for me and I can’t usually sleep sitting up. I may doze a bit but I get into that zone where I could be asleep but I can still hear everything that’s going on. Or it seems like it. I avoid caffeine and alcohol on the flight over and try to drink water or juice. It doesn’t really help much. I won’t take a sleeping pill. I just suffer the sleep deprivation the next day.

I’ve got my laundry done and most things packed. It’ll be the dregs of the wardrobe the rest of this week for me. Phone’s charged, but I’ll give it another shot of juice because it’s old and doesn’t really hold a charge too long anymore. That’s on the list to purchase. I’ll pick up a cheap phone when I’m over there, I think. Just last minute stuff to put in the carry on.

Got tickets booked and printed from for the Colosseum and the Vatican. The Colosseum now offers tours that will take you into the lower levels and upper level of the walls. Down where they kept the animals, slaves and props and up for a great view over the city. You can only do that with a tour and I think it’s worth it! Vatican museums tour takes in all the usual plus the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s.
Here’s the list I made for Rome: The “Bucket” List

Roman Forum
Trajan’s Markets
Gladiator School (near the Colosseum)
Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s
Profondo Rosso store (Near Vatican City, Owned and run by horror film director Dario Argento, apparently there’s a little horror museum there as well)

Piazza Navona
Church of Sant’Ignazio Di Loyola (painted dome)
Trevi Fountain
Spanish Steps
Santa Maria della Concezione Ossuary

Napoleon musuem
Arc Pacis
Ostia Antica
Castel St. Angelo
Boca de Verita (near Tiber)
Tiber Island

We make our lists and make the effort to do the most important things on it. After that, we may pick more from the list or we could just as easily get side tracked and do something completely different. You never know where you’ll end up.  There’s a pretty good chance we’ll do everything above the “Maybe” list since we have the tickets for some things and the things in the second section are mostly fairly close together.  We don’t want to overdo churches, but maybe Santa Maria Maggiore if we are in the area.

Rome is one of those cities that you’ll never get to see everything that interests you in one visit that only lasts 4 or 5 days. We always wear ourselves out and we always say we’ll go at a slower pace. We never do.

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!