I didn’t set out to do a *ton* of research and planning, really I didn’t. You see this was not the first international trip this crew had taken together. They had traveled together to Australia, Germany, and South Africa – just to name a few. We were joining a well oiled machine, and as such there were some ground rules, the most important being:
There is only one group plan and there is no whining on vacation. You either are cool with it and don’t complain or you go do your own thing.
Tommy also let me know that Bryant was an incredible planner and he was doing research for the trip. I was happy to hear that the planning function already was delegated.
But I could.not.help.myself. I started researching the Vatican (a whole post or two in and of itself). Visiting the Vatican was of the utmost importance to Matt and I and I wasn’t sure if the other group members had such a strong desire. I was going to figure out our whole Vatican visit and if the others wanted to join us perfect, but if not no worries. After I got a fair amount of info I emailed Bryant. I didn’t want to step on his toes but I wanted to share some of what I found. Turns out he had amassed a bit of research too but work had gotten super busy and he wasn’t able to do as much as he wanted. We paired up and collaborated for the rest of the planning.
- Eyewitness Travel Rome– (2 stars) This book was gifted to us by my Mom at Christmas. The book is full of photos but I found the information pretty basic and not exceedingly helpful. However, the pull-out map that came with it was a lifesaver. We took the map and left the book at home. I swear the map is worth the price of the book alone!
- Rick Steves’ Italy 2011– (4 stars) If you don’t know where you are going this is a great book. If you have already narrowed your trip down to one or two areas I would suggest buying the area books- like Rome. The books are lighter and easier to take with you in a backpack. The Italy book would be very helpful narrowing down where to visit in the early planning stages.
- Rick Steves’ Rome 2011– (5 stars) A must for Rome in my opinion. I used this extensively for all sorts of info including lodging, general safety, tips and tricks to avoiding long lines, etc. Definitely a cover to cover read.
- Rick Steves’ Snapshot: Naples & the Amalfi Coast– (1 stars) this small book was a duplicate of the info in the Italy book. Its small size was nice but overall it wasn’t super valuable for the types of things we did on the Amalfi Coast. The maps are certainly lacking and the Map of Pompeii wasn’t helpful for us on our visit.
- Rick Steves’ Italian Phrase Book & Dictionary– (5 stars) Great pocket-book. We used it numerous times to decipher an Italian menu because really, you want to eat at the places that don’t have an English menu. It also helped us out when trying to get medication at the pharmacy (more on that later).
- Rick Steves’ Europe 101 History & Art for the Traveler– (5 stars) this book really helped us get ready for what we were going to see. Europe, but Rome in particular, is so chock full of history and art that it can be almost overwhelming. This book provided a quick and easy way to reacquaint ourselves with some of that history so that when we visited places or saw the sights it was in context. A context that we could relate to. Obviously we focused on the Italy part but it covers all of Europe. Rick also does a class based on this and I think we might try to catch it sometime soon.
- Dirty Italian (3 stars) Mostly just for humor, I bought this so Matt could cuss in Italian and to entertain the two bachelors on our trip. I must say I learned all sorts of new phrases in both English and Italian.
Classes Rick Steves’ Travel is headquartered in Edmonds, just a 15 minute drive from my house. Every Thursday evening and Saturday morning they offer free Travel Classes. If you are in the Seattle area I suggest you check out the schedule and attend one even if you don’t have a trip you are planning. We lucked out, just before our trip the Rick Steves Travel center put on a Travel Festival. A whole weekend full of classes, some of them taught by Rick himself.
- A Roman Tapestry: Francesca is a licensed tour guide (important which I will touch on later) and Rick Steve’s top choice for tours of Rome. It’s not hard to understand why. This presentation was game changing for us. Francesca is a warm engaging person and a native Roman. She spends her winters in Edmonds WA so we were lucky to meet her. Her talk pulled us in and captivated us so much that we had tears in our eyes when she talked about the Pieta. In her talk she helped to bring the many sites of Rome down to a human connection, not just about knowing the facts about a site, but also knowing how to put it into a story to make the people listening connect to the piece of art, or monument on a human level.
- Packing Light and Right– Matt and I bought into the traveling light mentality. I’ll post more about it later but our travel circumstances forced us to be very choosy about what we brought.
- Italy with Rick Steves- Rick is tall, really tall. He’s also very engaging as a speaker. He had us captivated the whole time he talked about Italy, and about getting into Italian life, rather than just being an observer.
- Europe through the Back Door Travel Basics– This class with Rick really hit home with Matt and I. Stay away from the places tour buses and cruise ships go, find the Italy that comes out after the tourists leave, stay at small quality mom and pop places, pack light, etc.
- Beginning Italian for Travelers with Graz Palumbo-Perry- First of all, Graz is absolutely hilarious and second the Italian she taught us (how to pronounce certain letter combos, basic questions, responses, etc) we used, and third she is an absolute riot. She was right, Italians want to speak English with you anyways so relax but being able to say a few things is helpful. I was so happy she taught us what sounds the letters and letter combinations make. For example ci is always “Cha” so Ciao is pronounced “chow”. It made pronouncing written words easier which came in handy when ordering off of a menu. In the beginning we could only say “boobity boopy” (a la Family Guy) but by the end we had a handful of phrases under our belts such as “seiopero” which means “on strike”. Matt spotted this on a tv in the metro, alerting us a day ahead that a metro strike was coming. We adjusted the times we were going to use the metro accordingly and weren’t affected at all.
DVD/Blurays Thanks to Netflix we watched a handful of Rick Steves DVDs before leaving. Really Amy, that Rick Steves guy again? Yep! The info is similar to the books so really it was more getting us excited about the trip than real “research”. We enjoyed the Rome and Naples shows from the Italy’s Cities DVD, as well as the Amalfi Coast segment in Italy’s Countryside DVD
Carpe Diem Condos: As a home base it was perfect for us. Three bedrooms, two baths, a sleeper sofa, full kitchen, dining table, and patio. We got it for $1500 for the week because Tommy is a RCI member. We researched the place on trip advisor (3 star out of 5 rating) and made adjustments accordingly. Some people had stayed there without a car and it was horrific. So we planned to rent cars. Others complained about the 35 Euro per person resort fee, we factored it in to the planned expenses. We weren’t expecting a fancy resort and in the end we were pleasantly surprised with the experience. It worked perfect as a home base outside the city. We were able to drive to nearby grocery stores to stock up on wine (much cheaper than going to the nearby bar) and ingredients for breakfasts and one or two home cooked dinners. Buying groceries saved us money in the end. It was a lot of fun having a condo with a large group like ours. There were some drunken escapades and lots of together time. Thankfully our bedroom was a nice “escape” when I overdosed on people (something I tend to do.
Hotel Nardizzi Americana: We spent our last night in the center of Rome. Because some of our traveling companions had early AM flights I selected a hotel near the main Metro station- Termini. There is a train that runs direct from Termini to the FCO. I used the list of hotels recommend by, you guessed it, Rick. Unfortunately we didn’t book early enough and most of my first pick hotels were booked.
Hotels that we were considering
Up next in Part 2: Transportation, Staying Hydrated, Tours, and Personal Safety
*Believe it or not, I wasn’t compensated by Rick Steves for my opinions in this post. Nope, we really just love supporting local owned businesses.