How to Plan a Trip to Italy: Part One

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Siena: Neighborhood flag guarding its territory

Siena: Neighborhood flag guarding its territory

Congratulations!  A trip to Italy is a wonderful and memorable time.  It’s something you’ll never forget and it will forever change you even after you return.  That sounds like a tall order, but it’s absolutely true.  You won’t know until you go.

Planning is an essential part of Your Tour of Italy.  While you can sign up with one of the many tours that are offered, the internet makes it so easy to design your own trip and go on your own.  You may find that there are places and things you would like to see that an organized tour just doesn’t offer.

There are lots of things to consider.

  • Are you traveling with children?
  • Are you going for a specific holiday?
  • What landmarks and cities do you most want to see?
  • How long do you plan to stay?
  • How much money do you have to spend?

When you think of Italy, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?  That’s what you should see.  For some people, it may be “The David” in Florence, or Lake Como at the base of the Alps.  Some people are going to find  their long lost relatives and retrace their own family history.  Some people want to eat and drink their way through the landscape.  Others plan to see museums.  Some people just want to travel to one city and “get the feel of it.”  All of these are honorable and excellent choices.

Be warned.  It can be  overwhelming and very confusing planning a trip to a place you’ve never been.  Once you tell people you’re going, they immediately offer their advice.  You’ll feel your brain spinning with so much unsolicited information. Stay focused!

Greve in Chianti

Greve in Chianti

There is a reason that Rome is called The Eternal City.  My dear cousin, Laura, spoke volumes about it when she stated that, “I have lived here all of my life, and still, there are things I have not seen.”

Keep that in mind when you begin to plan.  I’m sorry.  You can’t see everything.  However, you can prioritize and plan.  No matter what you do, from seeing famous works of art to standing in line for a gelato,  YOU ARE IN ITALY.


Here’s a very preliminary step by step to get you started.  Consider this the first of many ways to spend winter evenings as you conspire with your traveling companions.

  1. Put on some classic Italian music and open a bottle of wine.  (Why not start enjoying Italy now?)
  2. Make a list of all the things you want to see.  No cities, no itinerary, just name what’s important to you.
  3. Get out a map of Italy.  Use one that you can write on. (Barnes and Noble has them.)
  4. Mark off where those landmarks are located.
  5. Get a travel journal.  Begin to write down facts, times, and dates.
  6. Look at the map and decide which cities you want to see the most.  (I won’t even tell you what you SHOULD see, only you can answer that.)
  7. Draw lines from the cities that you’ve chosen to see if there are reasonable modes of transportation to get from one to the other.  The Italian train system is vast and efficient, so don’t be afraid.
  8. Use the internet.  Travel websites, blogs, on line magazines and newspapers offer a plethora of information.
  9. Use your basic skeletal map to flesh out where you will actually go.  For example, if you have decided you want to see the tomb of St. Francis in Assisi, begin to  research Assisi.  Trip Advisor offers a lot of honest and solid information.
  10. You may find that your trip will change.  Logistics, distance, time and money are all factors that can’t be ignored.  (Mi dispiace.)

    The Cat Sanctuary, Rome

    The Cat Sanctuary, Rome

If you’ve noticed, there IS a lot of planning and research.  This is really not a chore.  It’s exciting to sit and plan your trip.  The more information you have, the better decisions you can make.  Going to Italy the first time is not a trip that you just hop onto a flight and hope for the best.  You want to be informed and aware.  You’re entering another culture and you’re leaving American soil.  It pays to plan.

So now, go get that map and notebook and start thinking about What Italy Means to You.




The David: What You Need To Know Before You Get To Florence

The beautiful reproduction of Michelangelo's David.

Florence, or Firenze, as it is called in Italy, is an ancient city filled with some of the world’s most beautiful art.  It was the stomping grounds of, to name a few, Michelangelo Buonarroti and  Dante Alighieri (though after they banished Dante, they had the nerve to be angry when Ravenna claimed his body for their Famous Dead Person.)  It is also hot, crowded, loud and dusty.  When you disembark from the Santa Maria Novella Train Station, (The SMN,) you will feel as if THIS was Alighieri’s inspiration for a Circle of Hell.  However, don’t plan a trip to Italy without stopping here.  The home turf of the Medici family, their mark is evident throughout the city.  Their faces grace the arch in the doorway in the front hall of the Uffizi.  In fact, the Uffizi, was their family offices.  Outside, The David stands guard.  Wait for it……

The beautiful reproduction of Michelangelo's David.

The beautiful reproduction of Michelangelo’s David.

IT IS THE FAKE DAVID.  This is one of the first things you need to know.  It breaks my heart every time when people tell me how they posed in front of it, and blah blah blah.  Oh dear.  It puts me at an emotional crux.  Do I tell them?  So, listen up people, I’m telling you now.

The real David, the one that Michelangelo created, really DID used to stand in this space.  He was moved in 1873 and  now, he is the main attraction at the Accademia Museum on the other side of town.  Traveling to Italy is a lot of time and money and you want to do it right.  It’s like when someone has food on their teeth….do you tell them or do you let them go on their merry way with spinach on an incisor?    It’s the same thing with David.  Once you tell them you’ve forever destroyed their belief that they saw The Real One.   (It also doesn’t help that  they kind of think you’re a meanie for telling them.)

The author being totally disrespectful to the Pseudo David

The author being totally disrespectful to the Pseudo David

Make sure you see the real one.  I mean it when I say he will literally take your breath away.  It is an entirely unexpected, holy experience.  The fact that he’s a 17 foot naked man has nothing to do with it.  Really.  It is an unforgettable moment.  This leads me to my second thing to know.  DO NOT TAKE HIS PICTURE.  Even if you are a shameless hussy and are not embarrassed by the security guards screaming, “Va via!  Ferma!” (Go away!  Stop!) the wall of humanity surrounding you will be mortified.  Please people.  Follow the rules.  His picture is for sale in the gift shop.  Buy one there.

In Florence, the two main museums are the Academia, and the Uffizi.  Please, please take heed of all the tourist advice and book your tickets ahead of time You will save yourself hours of time and when you see those lines, your heart will sink.  I don’t want you to have to compromise on what you’re willing to wait for to see.  The David is right on the other side of that wall, but if you do not have reservations, it could take all day to meet him.  I mean it.  Book your tickets ahead of time.  Yet, here’s another thing you need to know.  If you call them, be prepared for the phone bill when it arrives.  To me, it’s worth the $30.00 phone call.

On another aside, go and see the reproduction in the Piazza della Signoria.  It was placed there in 1910 and it gives you a true feeling for what this city was like when this biblical underdog was positioned to glare in the direction of the Goliath of Rome.

Time is precious, especially when you are in Italy.  Let’s face it, we may never come back this way again.  I want you to have memories stored up in your heart and mind that will make you smile, and not wince at an honest planning mistake.  Florence is overwhelming on a good day.  Trying to organize your thoughts amid the heat and the people is almost impossible.  The more planning you do ahead of time, the better the experience will be.