Florence

Florence

Seven years ago, fresh off surgeries, ambulance rides, ICU treatments, and a year that would not give an inch, my husband and I took a pause to travel through Italy with his family – a trip that we are still talking about with awe and wonder. The central element of that trip – three days in Florence.  So, naturally, my Brunelleschi-loving husband, and his Botticelli-adoring wife could think of only one city that they couldn’t wait to visit again with our two sons in tow — Florence!

The itinerary: one afternoon, a full day, and one long morning. But, first, we have to get there from Cinque Terre.

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One Day in Rome

The thing which never happens, has happened! On my upcoming trip to Italy I will have 24 full, unscheduled hours – all to myself.

No colleagues to entertain

No meetings to attend

No children to attend to

Just me, my map, and an ungodly amount of Frascati

I’ve visited Rome before, years ago, and after two weeks in Venice, Sienna, Cinque Terre, Bologna, and Florence I found it a sore disappointment: dirty, crowded, and overrun with tourists too lazy to do more than visit the big ten greatest hits.

But, Rome is the Eternal City for a reason. With a history that spans nearly 3,000 years Rome is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Europe. Rome is commonly considered the birthplace of western civilization and was the capital city for the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire.

So, yeah, I get that it is important … but so is Detroit; I don’t exactly want to visit every Christmas.

In fact, I’ve always kind of considered Rome the Italian city that tourists visit when they don’t really take their time to research the beauty that is Italy (hence the endless brigade of tourists marching nose-to-tail behind a flag wielding tour guide).

As for my interests, want amazing ruins, visit Turino, want breathtaking chapels – Venice, and don’t forget the art, culture, and food that is Florence!

However, I recognize that I’m sorta … well … wrong.  In 2011, Rome was the 18th-most-visited city in the world, 3rd most visited in the European Union, and the most popular tourist attraction in Italy (which is exactly the type of description that would keep me away). But, people love Rome. People eat, pray, and love their way to Rome and back year after year.

Rome is ruination and reinvention, thriving, bustling, sleepy, and special.  There is no denying that moment when you walk around a corner and come face to face with iconic ROME – the Trevi fountain, the Vatican, Hadrian’s Arch, or any of a thousand other spectacular glimpses into the astounding history of this eternal city.

So, I am putting on my rose colored glasses (they fit quite nicely after a catastrophically shitty trip to Bali, strep throat in Istanbul, and a July heat wave in Shanghai) and prepping for the next great adventure.

My itinerary for one day in Rome:

1. Skip the Caesar Shuffle and the Vatican, I’ve been there and done that. Instead I’ll start the day with a leisurely stroll and cappuccino in Trastevere.

2. Then, I’ll continue across the Tiber to the Parthenon, a visit to the daily markets of the Campo De’ Fiori, and a stroll through the Piazza Navona .

3. After a full day of wandering, I’ll end the afternoon with the Dolce Vita stroll (as coined by travel guru Rick Steves) starting with a glass of wine and snacks at the Piazza del Popolo then a saunter down the Via del Corso and up Via Condotti to the Spanish Steps to surround myself with smooching lovers and that feeling of being painfully alone … for just long enough to make a Skype call home to my family as they settle in to their day.

And, hopefully, this time Rome will leave me aching to return, understanding what those nose-to-tail tour group tourists have been raving about for years.

Zen and the Art of Sightseeing

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I am one of the fortunate souls who doesn’t get jet lagged. Perhaps that’s just my biology, but I think it’s probably my approach to International travel.

My Routine for Avoiding Jet Lag:

1. Sleep En Route: While people will encourage you to avoid alcohol when travelling I am a strong advocate for a glass of wine, or two, to help ease into sleep while flying. Every hour of sleep you can get while flying is one less hour of sleep lag when you land; and wine makes me sleepy.

2. Hit the Ground Running: According to travel Guru Rick Steves (and one of the toppers on my Five List ’cause I’m kinky like that) one tip for avoiding jet lag is to start your vacation on local time. “On arrival, stay awake until an early local bedtime. If you doze off at 4 p.m. and wake up at midnight, you’ve accomplished nothing. Plan a good walk until early evening. Jet lag hates fresh air, daylight, and exercise. Your body may beg for sleep, but stand firm: Refuse. Force your body’s transition to the local time.You’ll probably awaken very early on your first morning. Trying to sleep later is normally futile. Get out and enjoy…”

3. Limit Caffeine: On day one, avoid using coffee to keep you awake. Instead, use your body’s natural rythyms to rise as close to sunrise as you can and then call it a night early.

4. Sleep with The Curtains Open: To aide that “rise with the sun” idea sleep with the curtains open so that your body can adjust to the new sleep schedule more naturally.

5. Imbibe, But Just a Little: In a recent article for The Daily Mail, Orlando Bloom gave his tips for avoiding jet lag, and that included avoiding alcohol. Now, while I agree you shouldn’t go on a minibar binge of Tequila and Tobblerone, two glasses of wine before bed on the FIRST night in a new timezone, followed by an early lights out is my proven method for getting a decent night’s sleep in a new environment and waking up on local time. I do the same thing on my first night home.

6. Don’t Bring Your Pillow: It makes you look like a travel noob and subconsciously reminds your body that you’re not at home. But, mostly because it looks ridiculous.

7. Pack Sleepwear AND Loungewear: Change out of your day clothes and into your lounging clothes to tell your body its time to relax; then change again when its time to sleep. Set new routines in hotels to teach your body what to expect, and when.

8. Triple Alarm Clocks: Nothing will mess with your sleep like tension that you might miss a critical appointment. Solution: set your cell phone, the room clock, and request a wake up call so you don’t wake up worried that you missed your alarm clock.

9. Water, Water, Water: Dehydration will make you fell run down. Stay hydrated to avoid wearing yourself down which will leave you feeling slugish.

10. Whitenoise: Find something that masks the unfamiliar noises and helps you relax into sleep. I’m fond of leaving the TV on, at a super low volume, so that it drowns out the street sounds, and those frisky neighbors

My Travel Items: The Holy Grail

Everyone who travels eventually finds their must-have travel items. These are mine …

Shoe Fresh Sachets

1. Dryer Sheets – I love the way dryer sheets ensure everything comes out of your suitcase smelling fresh and clean.  I use them when packing, then store my empty suitcases with a few dryer sheets tucked into their nooks and crannies so they smell clean even after a muggy trip to the tropics.  I also recently discovered Downy Unstopables for making shoe sachets.

Passport Cases

2. Passport Case – I keep my passport in my purse or day bag and travel with it at easy access when going to other countries (it’s amazing how often you need it: booking trains, checking into hotels, exchanging money).

Monogrammed Beach Bag

3. Day Bag – I use this as my airplane carry on (make sure your purse will fit inside the bag so that you have one, easy-to-carry item for the airport). My day bag becomes the beach bag, my filing cabinet, and in a pinch a pillow during long layovers in lousy airports.

4. Lounging Clothes leggings make the perfect lounging pants, they can be paired with a nice tunic to make an outfit, and they can also take you to the gym (if you get ambitious). I don’t like to fly in leggings (for airplanes I like loose-fitting clothes) but they can roll up easily and tuck in your carry on if you have a long lay over and might want to change your clothes.

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5. My Tried and True Travel Outfit

Passport Case and Travel Book

6. The Book – I always buy a book on the place I’m going.  I prefer Rick Steves Guides when available (A lifetime of watching his travel documentaries on PBS and the amazing value-adds he brought to my trip to Italy – skip the line at the Sistine Chapel, yes please – have made me a life long advocate. Plus I can hear his voice in my head when I read his travel guides and it makes me feel like I have a buddy traveling with me.)

Recessed Outlets

7. Phone Charger – this goes without saying, but it’s one of those last-in items that can result in an expensive airport purchase if you forget.  Be sure you have the right adapter (they’re expensive for what they do, and every country is unique do your research).  My tip, get the smallest adapter you can, sometimes the outlets are recessed and although you ave the right adapter, you still can’t plug in because those American-bought adapters won’t fit. It’s hard to describe, but I gave you a picture for example.

Universal Adapter

Do not buy the universal adapter, they almost never fit into outlets in airports and low-end hotels, and even in high-end hotels it’s hit and miss.

8. Carry On Essentials

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, hair tie
  • Swimsuit or one critical wardrobe item so that even if your bags are lost your trip isn’t ruined (this has been a life saver)
  • Print outs of the hotel you’re going to first, and the name of the car service you’re using for the first stop (I book a car for the first location on international travel; it makes landing and transitioning simpler when arriving in unfamiliar places where the difference between legitimate taxis and gypsy cabs can be hard to determine – hence the gypsy cab-tastrophe that happened to me in Qingdao, China in 2011.)
  • A good book that travels well (don’t take Anna Karenina through 18 hours of travel, it’s a door stop, not a travel read)
  • A notepad

9. Local Currency – Always have at least enough $$ in the local currency of where you’re going just in case.  My just in case turned out to be the Jakarta, Indonesia airport where I had to take a taxi from one terminal to the other.  It cost about $2.00 and I would have paid $6.00 to pull money out of the ATM, then would have had a hassle getting change.

10. Print Outs of the Itinerary – Often enough I’ve loaded my luggage in the back of the taxi, climbed into the back seat, then realized the address of where I am going is sitting in my suitcase in the trunk.