Tuesday, September 18, 2012

10 Tips, Just the Tips (Dirty!)

Chianti for SupperI had never been to Italy before we touched down in Rome on a beautiful sunny morning a couple of weeks ago. I had done some research but not very much. I got overwhelmed by the choices and couldn't decide on anything once I got too much input so I stopped when I had just enough that we had a map and a place to lay our heads. Oh, and a ride home. For the most part I had just enough information but there were places in which I was woefully under-prepared. I would not consider myself an expert on all things Italian at this point but I do have a few words of wisdom to impart based on my limited experience. Seems like the perfect thing for a 10 Things Tuesday list, doesn't it?

1. Go to see Michaelangelo's David. I don't care if you don't like art, if you think the museum fee is too expensive, or if you're embarrassed by stone cold wieners, you have to see this sculpture. I like art, I'm used to museum fees, and I don't mind a stony baloney but still I was just going to see it because it was part of the list of things one ought to do when in Italy. I could have stayed all day just staring at this incredible carving. In fact, they have rules about sitting on the floor in the museum because I'm pretty sure you'd have an Occupy Accademia situation in pretty short order.

2.  Drinking Chianti in bed and going to sleep early is a perfectly valid way to spend your first night in Italy.

Untitled 3. Be prepared for weird systems. For instance, we almost gave up on going to see David because, despite having pre-purchased reserved time entry tickets online, we had to wait in a long line outside the museum before being let in. Inside we waited in another line to trade the online vouchers for tickets. Then we were finally allowed into the museum itself. We encountered a similar situation when trying to get tickets for the subway in Rome with all our luggage in tow. For me, coming from a fast-paced city, it was difficult to downshift into a gear where no one cared if you had a long wait time and no one was interested in speeding any process up.

4.  Related: Don't ever say no to something to eat. Eat everything you can get your hands on that won't make you physically ill. It's all good. Even what looks like it might be the cheapest, crappiest junk in the area is likely to be delicious compared to your local pizza joint or even the salad you make and bring for lunch at the office. You can have the fruit and the fiber rich cereal from the hotel's breakfast bar but beyond that eat whatever looks good, whenever the mood strikes. You don't want to be waiting in a long line and be hungry too!

5. Hone your negotiating skills. You don't have to go to China like Queen Bee and I did but don't just go to a market and pay what the vendor suggests. Do some smart talking and you can get yourself a pretty good deal. In the leather market in Florence I noticed that the vendor was immediately quoting me a price a full 10 Euros lower than the tag on that item so I knew that there was plenty of wiggle room to work with.

Untitled 6. Go to Venice first. If your itinerary includes Venice, and I think it should, start there. Your luggage will be lightest, which is nice because you'll be hauling it up and down stairs, and your enthusiasm for conquering new things will be at an all time high. Venice was our final stop and, though we'd been warned to be prepared for getting lost and climbing stairs and paying a premium for things, my resolve for working through those sorts of challenges had waned. I loved the look of Venice and wanted to explore more of it but wound up being too overwhelmed. As a result my biggest regrets are from that part of the trip and since it was the final leg it's hard to move them out of my mind.

7. Stay at the Hotel Albani Firenze. It is not appreciably more expensive than other low to middle end hotels we stayed in but it is something out of literature. If you've ever pictured Hemingway characters sipping cocktails in exotic locations this is one of those locations. Splurge on drinks on the terrace at least one night, too, so you can feel like you've stepped into a favorite book.

Dog First 8. There are 414 steps up to the panoramic view at the top of the Museo Teatro (I may have the name of that particular part of the museum wrong) in Siena (that  first link says 131 steps, not sure who's correct but there are a number of different places you could start counting). I didn't know that before we started. They're generally spiral steps in cramped, ancient towers, too.

9. Go up those steps anyway. The view is as gorgeous as advertised, if not more so. It's absolutely worth every moment you worried that it was just an elaborate plot to kill tourists.

10. Do not be afraid of the nap. In the larger cities Italy is no longer a culture that completely closes down for a couple of hours after lunch. You can still get something to eat, go to a museum, or transact business throughout the day at most places. That doesn't mean you have to be doing those things all day long. An hour or two of lounging, reading, and sleeping before you get dressed and go looking for the perfect place for dinner can make everything tastier, funnier, and more beautiful. I know, you're not a nap person, you just feel groggy. Just try it. Once. You don't have to do it again if it doesn't work. Let me know how it goes.

*I have only just begun to add photos to my Flickr. Check that link often for updates. (1243 photos, give or take, by the time I'm done.)


  1. I read all of these, but I wish you'd saved the "stony baloney" line for last; it was hysterically distracting!

  2. ahhh, the bird flying ... the dog and his or her family ... can't wait for more in your funny, funny posts.

  3. Travel regrets suck. However, it just means we shall go back and right the wrongs. Or do differently the things previously done. Or some sort of inspiring phrase you can probably write better. I can't wait for some more time to go through the photos. Seriously awesome experience!