Traveling with Rick Steves

20140528-072012-26412674.jpg

I had car pooled with Rick for 2-3 weeks leading up to the grand departure for Roma. He was a stellar co-pilot during my morning commute, although he never chipped in for gas. But, he did provide me with great advice on how to travel smarter.

Prior to leaving, I loaded up my phone with his walking tours in podcast form. These are all free. He also offers an app, which is more interactive, but I found the podcasts ample for my travel education needs. I should probably mention Rick wasn’t physically with me on the trip, but he might as well have been. We had a volume of notes distilled from his travel books–attractions by location, hours/days closed, cost, best time to go.

Traveling abroad is an amazing challenge in terms of project management and logistics. You could easily create a matrix of which attraction is open when, then build your itinerary around that. I didn’t go that far, but I was tempted to bust out my pencil. Rome and Paris were perfect candidates for this level of planning. They both have more museums, piazzas, vistas, restaurants than you can possibly visit, no matter how long your trip.

Here’s a brief overview of the cities and sites we ended up visiting. All of which I hope to chronicle in the coming weeks.

  1. Rome – 4 nights – Colosseo, Galleria Borghese, Trevi fountain, Spanish Steps, Trajan’s column, Pantheon, Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Boca della Verita
  2. Florence – 3 nights – Galleria dell’Accademia, Uffizi, Il Duomo di Firenze, Giotto’s Campanile
  3. Venice – 2 nights – San Marco, Murano island, numerous bridges and dead-end roads
  4. Paris 5 nights – Eiffel tower, Louvre, Notre Dame, Champs Elysees, Arc de Triumph, Versailles, Jardin de Luxembourg, Musee d’Orsay, Pantheon, Louvre Pyramid, Moulin Rouge, Arc du Carrousel, Rodin Museum, Champs de Mars, Giverney (Monet’s jardin and maison)

And that’s leaving out some things! This was an incredibly active trip. Each day we had 1-2 things slated for the morning. For Italy, we would see a site or two in the morning, explore a bit, eat lunch, then I’d take a short nap before our dinner and strolls at night. For Paris, we rarely went back to the hotel. We didn’t have an unlimited train pass, so we tried to make the most of each pass by exploring the area we were in. Don’t worry. I still had my naps. Either I fell asleep sitting upright or I’d use Leann’s shoulder as a pillow for a short nappy nap.

For all of the above attractions, the longest we waited in line was for the Eiffel Tower (close to 2 hours). We tried to make a reservation in advance and they were all booked. I’m not sure how far you need to book, but as soon as you know you’ll be in Paris, try to book a slot. Otherwise, we booked ahead for Vatican, Accademia, Uffizi and Borghese (fun story about this one for a future post). Climbing the Duomo was the second longest wait time–about 45 minutes. Everything else was pretty much 10 minutes or less. This is a must for all travelers trying to see a lot in the time they are visiting.

This was the first trip to Italy and France for both me and my lady friend. Accordingly, we loaded up the trip with the must-see tourist sites. In future visits, we could take a more relaxed approach now that we’ve seen all the must-sees.

If you are at all like us (crazy), book what you can in advance, create a calendar, buy city passes to skip lines, start working out to get in better shape. But most importantly, invite Rick Steves along for the adventure.

When Do You Leave?

travel, translation, italian, iphone, europe

travel, translation, italian, iphone, europe

Every day for the past two weeks I have been asked the same question. I am unsure if my friends and coworkers can’t wait to be rid of me, or if they are as anxious as I am for the grandest adventure of my life. This includes that time I walked across the US/Mexico border and spent the day traipsing around Tijuana.

I have been fortunate to travel domestically (and to Canada and Mexico last year) since college. Most of these trips involved visiting friends in cities I had never seen. Glamorously, this also included crashing on couches or in dorms. When you rarely sleep well at someone’s place, be it a relative or friend, staring at the ceiling on an air mattress or on a couch is irrelevant.

This vacation may signal what psychologists call “adulthood.” A thing that I often avoid at all costs. The trip involves zero couches or air mattresses. It also features seeing some of the world’s greatest art, origins of the modern city and the finest cuisine.

When do I leave, you ask?

The scheduled departure is this Friday evening. The destinations, if you haven’t been subjected to my repeated questions or discussions, are Rome, Florence, Venice and, at long last, Paris.

For the past four to five weeks, I have been researching every travel guide and blog I can find. Rick Steves has become my close personal friend. For one week he accompanied me on my commute, sharing stories on Rome at Night, the best churches, Trastevere and walking through the countless museums that house priceless treasures.

Another few days were comprised of mimicking an “Italian for Travelers” CD my girlfriend picked up. Should I be concerned that all of the hotel dialogue was about the rooms being small and too expensive? I still need to learn how to ask where the library is and what noises Italian animals make.

Then I hit the podcasts and apps. In a true measure of nerdiness (or being curious about the world), I found lectures on the great artists. This lecture from Washington University Professor William E. Wallace was particularly fascinating about Michelangelo as artist, sculptor, foreman and aristocrat. One might call him a renaissance man.

All this crammed research made me wish I took more art and world history classes in college. I realized I would’ve paid a lot more attention if I were going to Rome and Florence at the end of the semester.

I haven’t done as much research on Paris, mais j’espère que les années de français sera de retour à son arrivée à Paris.

This trip will mark the first time I haven’t been in Chicago for my birthday. Instead, I’ll be in the eternal city and Florence. In lieu of buying me a drink this year for my birthday, feel free to send me some euros my way.

Mille grazie et merci bien to my lady friend for agreeing to join on the adventure and to all my jet setter friends who have shared their experiences on places to see, places to skip and reminding me to plan to time to enjoy la dolce vita/la belle vie.

I’ll try to update BachelorBasics with pictures and vignettes when I can. If you want more, follow me on the social channels (links are up top).

No one has asked when I come back. I think they know that I wasn’t kidding when I replied that I wasn’t.

20140514-225318.jpg