I never watched the Griswold’s version of a European Vacation. In fact, other travel films like ‘If this is Tuesday…’ haven’t been in my selection either. My travel abroad had previously been limited to one trip, albeit a 4 month adventure, to an English speaking country. That was 26 years ago. You might say that I was overdue. Tony and I hadn’t vacationed in over 5 years, so, yeah, we were overdue!
I’d also never traveled with a group other than my family. I was unprepared and a bit anxious about what could happen in Italy, for 8 days, with a large group whose happiness and satisfaction I was taking responsibility for. Now, don’t get me wrong. They weren’t making me responsible, it was just me. My desire to make people happy. Little did I know that my peeps would blossom into full fledged swans of travel.
I should have known, I guess. Every pre-tour get together grew more raucous and fun. Looking back now I can see that we were forming the perfect Italian family. Multiple and simultaneous conversations, everyone speaking at a pitch sure to be heard. Lots of laughter, lots of wine, hugs, kisses and concern for each other.
Oh, and food, we ate plenty before we left for Italy. And it was good, no doubt. But no meal could have prepared us for what lay before us in Italy. We drank a bit of wine, too. Yeah, right! We didn’t foresee the Italian free flowing river of wine that our group consumed while in Italy. So, I was thinking how could I begin to tell the tale of our travel – the sites, the food, the people and the drink. Where would I begin?
In writing classes over the years, one of the most impressive concepts that I learned was this: tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. That being said, I feel I should start out with a summary, filling in the details over time.
My overall experience in Italy was beyond belief, beyond words and well beyond expectations. We managed to pull off an extraordinary trip filled with extraordinary people, sites, food and drink. Inspirational, really. I am inspired to cook, shop, eat and drink Italy. So much so that the focus of my cooking classes over the next few months will be as much Italian based as possible. I’m even going to do an Italian Thanksgiving class. But what about you? What about my readers ? Either the ones who traveled with us, or those that didn’t. What would you like to know?
I have put together my thoughts on what it takes to have an awe inspiring Italian trip, and I thought that I would share these thoughts with you. If you are planning a trip to Italy, perhaps these points may lead you to have a better trip. If you’ve been to Italy, they might remind you of pleasantries you have already experienced. Those of you who have no interest have already hit the red X button in the top, right hand corner. Arrivederci!
So, hear we go. Mary’s top 10, sure fire ways to put together an Italian trip that will leave you breathless!
Number 1 – Choose a hardworking, dedicated Travel Agent who has contacts in Italy and is not afraid to make the phone calls and emails necessary to get you the perfect trip. Our trip was honed to perfection over the course of months of meetings, conversations and arrangements with my travel agent. Kathy Collins did a dynamic job of keeping up with all the details and communicating tirelessly with our Italian contacts. Kathy’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Number 2 – Insist on a native speaking tour director for your travel throughout Italy. If you are fortunate enough to have one with personality, charm, a sense of humor and wit, so much the better. Young, single and good looking – Score!
Number 3 – Balance your trip with a variety of topics. My focus was food and wine, but Kathy and Giuseppe were seasoned enough not to make the trip linear. We had a wide range of food, wine, winery tours, cooking classes, world class meals and other ‘real’ Italian experiences. Sprinkled with history, culture, art and the antic dotes of real Italian life made the trip diverse and appealing to everyone.
Number 4 – Select a group of fun, like minded travel mates. Our group was a perfect blend of wonderful, beautiful (inside and out) women and “thoughtful, intelligent” men. These were words we heard in toasts on one of our last gatherings in Italy. We really couldn’t have been any more fortunate for the group members! Everyone was fabulous and added their own particular facet to our experience. Without their interest and faith in our team, our trip wouldn’t have become a reality.
Number 5 – Get to know your travel mates. We did this by scheduling an event every month for the 8 months leading up to departure. Travelers were very comfortable with each other, mingling and mixing throughout the tour. I believe everyone felt included and cared for.
Number 6 – Have a support system in place. My brother and his fiance offered their condo to do two of the events which helped to change things up and give people a chance to see another part of town. Bob and Julie, as far more experienced travelers than I, offered great advice on travel, packing, money, electronic devices, etc. Julie even took everyone’s picture and put together a cheat sheet to make face/name connections a breeze. Our travel group began making plans for follow up parties at their homes before our third day in Italy. (Steve and Doris & David and Karen – I can’t wait to get started!)
Number 7 – Ask the experts for help. One of my goals was to learn as much and share as much about Italy BEFORE we left as I could make possible. Getting my traveling buddies things they needed was important too. My mother, Jackie, put our group in touch with her employer, Taylor Trunk, for luggage wisdom and discounts. Blu Italian Grille was host to an early Italian meal. Gemelli Wines and Spirits gave us an education on Tuscan and Umbrian wines. We savored gelato at Gelato Gilberto in Norton Commons. Add a style show with packable clothes from JockeyPerson2Person, jewelry from Sara Simpson Designs and accessories from Bliss Gallery and Gifts, and you’ve got the makings of nearly a year of activities. If you are lucky enough to have a member in the group that makes home-brew Limoncello – (Bring it on Betty!) take full advantage!
Number 8 – Get ready to walk. No matter where you go in Italy, you are going to walk. Bring comfortable shoes and lots of Aleve (or drug of choice). The streets are sure to be either uphill or down. I’m sure we walked 2-5 miles per day. It was worth every step. At every corner in every small town, the vistas were marvelous.
Number 9 – Take a good camera. My only regret! I should have invested in or borrowed a camera. Mine just didn’t take the range of pictures that I would have loved to have kept. Fortunately, there were 28 others on the trip with cameras and we have vowed to share. I’d estimate that we took at least 10,000 pictures in total and I won’t be surprised if the total were double!
Number 10 – Come back home just long enough to make enough money to go back again, and again. We’re already planning another trip. Let me know if you’d like to join us.