01 August 2007

Traveling | A Look Back

You've read the stories (the whats if you will), now I want to tell you about the hows. We love to travel. We're working on ways to do it more frequently and perhaps permanently. I believe the key to successful travel is preparation. Not necessarily reinventing the wheel, but it making sure you have the right treads for your journey. Today I'm going to tell you what we did right (by our standards) and what we will improve before our next adventure.

Danie's Unofficial Guide to Trip Planning
  1. Know where you're going
I'm organized. Okay, I am extremely organized. Before I go anywhere or do anything, I like to know what I'm going to do after that task is completed. Knowing I am going to be on a cruise and docking (or tendering) at a certain place for 7-12 hours inspires me to want to know exactly what there is to do in that locale. Even if I don't get to do it, or choose not to, I want to know what my options are. That way, if I run into someone and we start talking about Santorini, I won't have to say "I didn't go to Oia..." only to have them reply: "Really? Well the wine & crepes are spectacular." I doubt that would ever happen but you get the point.

Two weeks before we left, Jesse and I went to Barnes & Noble to read up on our ports of call. There are plenty of books out there with historical facts about cities - designed with the tourist in mind. They explain that which would make your trip worthwhile. You're never going to learn everything about an area from a book. But if you don't have time to absorb the culture and/or its history, books are a great way to fast forward. And in our case, we got extra tourism information on the ship the night before we docked.

For Rome, we ought a guide book from Frommer's, as well as a fantastic map. I also bought a moleskine travel journal. It came with a pull-out map, but the one we bought was more detailed and laminated. Aside from being a journal and having a map, the moleskine had sheets available for my likes and dislikes. I think it's perfect for creating a personalized guide. I highly recommend it.
  1. Know where you're going
  2. Know how to get there
Jesse took care of all of our travel arrangements. I bought my own flights, but I was only getting onto the same flights he had already booked. Once we were at the airport, a minibus from Bob's Limos and Tours took us from the airport to the ship.When the cruise was over, a member from Bob's team was there to take us back to the airport. We had no complaints for Bob. The prepaid trip includes all tolls and the drivers had a GPS Service that kept us on course. I'd work with Bob again.

We used the subways in Rome, Athens, Naples (Pompeii), and Milan. Trains are a fast (& cheap) way to get around. I also like that we got to see what commuters see. On the trip from Piraeus to Athens we saw gypsy slums - not something I would have walked through, but something interesting to see from a speeding train. Almost all of the train stations had automatic ticketing stations, so there wasn't necessary to speak the language. But you should know the direction in which you are heading. That way, you can note the last stop on the train. It'll help you stay orientented and get back to your hotel.

We used the Roman subways the most. There was a day pass available for 4 euros, but we never got it - and we never took the train more than 4 times in one day. Although, if we had purchased the day pass, we probably would have used it often just to get our money's worth. But we really wanted to see the city. During our two stops in Rome, we stayed far in the north and far in the south. We did a lot of walking to cover the ground in between and took a few cabs beause trains stop running at nine.

In Greece, we only took the train from the port city to the street closest to the Acropolis. I think the Greek subway was the cleanest and the least crowded.

The trains in Naples went out east past Pompeii... but not north to the Catacombs of San Gennaro. We walked about two miles to get there and planned to take the bus back down. But in Naples you can only buy bus passes in certain stores. We figured it would have taken us less time to walk than to find the right store. I think we werre right. We caught a train at the Metropolitan Museum and took it to the main hub in the city. There we bought roubdtrip ticket to Pompeii for 9,50 euros. The ride took about a half hour. During that time we realized we had no idea how far the ruins were from the train station. Fortunately, when we got off we were only two blocks away.

Milan had the dirtiest subways of them all. The main commuter hubs we saw (Milano Centrale and the Malpensa Express) were nice but the city trains were gross. I grew up riding NYC subways with my dad. Trust me when I say Milan's subway system is nasty. Still, they give the best value for your money.
  1. Know where you're going
  2. Know how to get there
  3. Know what you're saying
I studied Italian for two years. I like it. My problem is, if I don't know a word, I substitute the Spanish version. Sometimes that will work, but it's not a way to learn Italian. Before we left, I took out old notes from my last trip to Italy. It was a two week immersion course in Siena. I wasn't surprised that I had the notes. And I wasn't surprised that I never made time to study them. I did however buy an Italian phrase book. It helped a lot.

I also bought a Greek phrase book. It served no purpose at all. Words in Greek don't look like words at all. There's no way to even pretend to know how to pronounce them. I couldn't even use it translate street signs. While in Greece, I learned no Greek. It is regrettable. I recommend (wherever you go) you plan some way to communicate in the event no one around you speaks English.
  1. Know where you're going
  2. Know how to get there
  3. Know what you're saying
  4. Know what to bring
Not all luggage is created equal. We brought too much of the wrong stuff on this vacation. The idea was to have one big suitcase, one carry-on each, and my computer. I think that would have been fine if we were just cruising, but for the amount of traveling we did afterwards, we needed smaller, more easily managed bags.

Our recommendation (and what we will be using next time) is two pieces of luggage each. One small to medium bag to be checked. That bag should have wheels and a sturdy handle... and it should be easy to carry over the gaps between subway cars and platforms. In addition to that bag, a backpack with wheels. I'm looking for one with a cushioned laptop compartment. The goal is to carry neither a lot of little bags, nor one big one. That would have helped us.
  1. Know where you're going
  2. Know how to get there
  3. Know what you're saying
  4. Know what to bring
  5. Know what to wear
Women need clothes with pockets. It makes sense for several reasons, including not keeping your money in the same place and having money handy for quick purchases. A purse might be convenient, but I think a backpack is more convenient, because both hands are free at all times. It just keeps things the traveler moving.

I recommend two pairs of walking shoes that can be alternated. No matter how comfortable you think your shoes are, they will annoy you at the end of a long day. And even the shoes that annoyed you yesterday will provide relief. Flip-flops are dumb for site seeing. They don't have a lot of support or traction and marble just gets smoother with time.

Be comfortable. If you think you're going to sweat, wear an undershirt. Be practical, even if you're not as cute as you could be. Also, be smart. The Vatican has a dress code: bare shoulders, cleavage, midriffs, and upper thighs are not to be seen
  1. Know where you're going
  2. Know how to get there
  3. Know what you're saying
  4. Know what to bring
  5. Know what to wear
  6. Know how to go
Part of being Danie is having an intense dislike for public restrooms. Unfortunately, they are a necessary evil. I'm not sure how many I used during the trip, but I do know only 3 had both toilet paper and soap. I had my own wipes and hand sanitizer. But I wanted soap. I might bring that next time.

So that's my advice, not to be confused with a complete checklist of any sort. Overall our trip went well. We traveled well together and I think that had a lot to do with the planning we did ahead of time. Hopefully this will help you as well.