None of this – except the Rome part – is set in stone. All of it – except the Rome part – can change up until the last minute, the reason being that all of the accommodation arrangements are mostly refundable up until the last minute. Except for Rome.
I am using mostly AirBnB to search out places to stay. It’s supplanted VRBO for me for a couple of reasons. First, I like the layout of the site and the search mechanism better, and secondly, the layers of protection against fraud seem stronger at AirBnB. You have to supply a good bit of information to the site in order to be approved to book accommodations, and the owner part is far more transparent than what you find at VRBO.
Why not hotels? Because for three people, which includes two kids, European hotels tend to suck. Anything reasonably priced is going to have far smaller rooms than what we’re used to in even say, a Motel 6. In most places, you can get an apartment with at least one bedroom for less than what you would pay for a hotel, and believe me, by the end of the day, we need space. I need space.
So no, staying in an apartment in Europe is not a luxury choice. Oh yes, this is our Rome apartment. It’s actually the more economical choice if you have a group and if you are staying long term – even a week. If I were traveling by myself, I would go the B and B & hotel route, not only because I wouldn’t need the space, but also for safety considerations. But with the family? Apartment all the way.
Anyway, that wasn’t supposed to be the point of this post – I’m going to a post later on trip prep. The point was to let you know that as I talk about our “plan” – almost anything I talk about can change to a few days before departure.That’s a freeing thought.
(Except for Rome – the reason being that the owner of that apartment, which I have rented through AirBnB – uses the strictest cancellation policies on the site. So, sure, I could cancel, but I’d have to pay half or all of the cost anyway.)
When traveling like this, I try to minimize movement, and it is always my goal. This trip – I say. This trip we are only going to move..ONCE. Or twice. Okay, three times.
And I almost always fail. In theory I embrace the ideal of Slow Travel – that you gain more from travel by slowing down and digging deep rather than racing around checking boxes off a list. I have found this to be so very true. But when you’re going to a completely new place, the temptation to See All The Things is strong.
The weird thing to consider for me as I began was the complete freedom we had. Yes, we would be flying into Bologna, but there’s absolutely no reason we needed to stay there. Bologna is one of the major train hubs in Italy. We could have landed and jumped on a train to anywhere – Puglia or Calabria in southern Italy, which I’ve always wanted to see…we could hop across to Croatia. Liguria and Genoa. Naples. I admit that I even looked up airfare to Athens for my mythology-crazy kid. I mean, not for him to go alone, but for all of us. I was initially tempted by the crazy low RyanAir fares, but then got realistic about that scam and just generally settled down and re-embraced those Slow Travel ideals I claim are so important to me.
So yes, I said to myself – you’re flying into Bologna. That’s the fare you grabbed. There’s a reason. Just stay there. It’s meant to be.
Originally, that was exactly the plan – stay in one place in Bologna for a week, the train down to Rome for a few days, then to Tuscany Things.
But wait. Ferrara has a Palio.
A palio is an athletic competion – usually races – deeply rooted in history, between neighborhoods in a city. The most famous palio is in Siena. It is held twice during the summer, and is quite the thing, with horses racing around the piazza.
What I discovered is that Siena’s is not the only palio. Other Italian cities have them, including Ferrara, with celebrations starting in the beginning of May and culminating in the race itself, which is held on May 29 this year. When we would be in the area.
Okay. This might change things. I started poking around, and encountered some advice which indicated…you know, Ferrara is a really nice, smaller city, and perhaps that could be your base for the week.
Well, that ate up a few days of my life, trying to sort that question out, and here’s where I came down:
- Arriving from the US, I didn’t want to have to travel far to our accommodation. I wanted to land, grab a taxi, and be there. Staying in Ferrara the entire week would mean adding another leg – albeit a relatively short one – to that journey. Given that our flight is not getting in until very late afternoon – I think it’s around 5, in fact – that wasn’t attractive.
- Oh, well just spend the first night in Bologna, then move? Not what I want to do either – be exhausted from travel, and then have to pick up and move the next morning.
- Any food tour that we would do starts in Parma, which is a 40 minute or so train ride from Bologna, but more like 90 minutes (connecting in Bologna) from Ferrara. The food tours start early, because the Parmesan cheese production takes place in the morning. So..if we stayed in Ferrara and did a Parma-centered food tour, I’d be rousing everyone at 6 or so and stressing about getting to Bologna, then to Parma….nope.
- If we wanted to check out Florence briefly before the longer time in Tuscany, it’s a 30-minute train ride from Bologna. We could even just pop over there for an evening.
- But..in Ferrara’s favor, it’s closer to Ravenna, which is a must-see, and Commachio – which is not a must-see, but of interest.
- Ferrara is also a smaller city – and if I have discovered anything about myself on my very limited European travels, it is that I love these mid-sized European cities that have a medieval or Renaissance core. There is a deep sense of community and history as well as a lovely way of life and a casual, easy and authentic level of culture and sophistication that is quite lovely to be a part of, even for a few days. Padova (Padua), for example, was my favorite place in our big trip of 2012. I could live there. Seriously.
- Also in Ferrara’s favor is, of course, the palio and being actually in the city for the days running up to the race and being right there for it.
So as much as I would have liked to spend a solid week in one place without moving, I decided that we’d split the week between Bologna and Ferrara. The boys aren’t little anymore, and moving is not that much of a hassle at all – and they do actually enjoy the adventure of seeing a new apartment – they always find something to intrigue them.
So…Ferrara it is. While there, we will go to Ravenna for a full day and take in the mosaics – I might hire a guide for that. I think it would be worth it, especially for the boys. It will be far more fruitful time than me with a guidebook standing there trying to point out things I’m not even sure I see. I’d like to go to Commachio and see the town, built on canals and into the sea, sort of like Venice…sort of, and I’m intrigued by a place whose fishing economy is built on eels. Not tempted to try them, though. No shame.
But in general, I would like to just enjoy Ferrara – read more about the city here – and the festivities, rent bikes, ride in the city and around the city walls and perhaps outside into the countryside, and just…stroll.
Thank you for reading to the end!
This process is an obviously absorbing one to me. In planning a trip like this, I am balancing my interest with the boys’, trying to figure out how to see things in a way that is not rushed, but takes in, as much as possible, a way of life and makes plenty of room for the unexpected.
It reflects an approach to life , in general. We balance the needs and desires of different people, we plan a bit, but we leave space and are open to encountering whatever enters that space.
There is so much to see, but only so much time to see, and only so much we can absorb. Have you ever had museum fatigue? Where your initial interest in the paintings and sculpture flags as you walk through gallery after gallery and all the Madonnas start looking the same? That’s what I try to avoid in a more general sense. You can’t see everything and trying to do so is just exhausting. You have “seen” a lot, but hardly actually seen anything.
For, truth be told, the most memorable moments of our travels have been the slowest ones. They’ve occurred sitting in piazzas, eating and drinking and interacting with the people who live there, the boys joining in a soccer game, halting conversations about common experiences in two different languages. They’ve occurred in the unexpected corners, the places we hadn’t planned to go but somehow ended up finding.
It’s my approach to life. Get your bearings. Have some general goals, a few things you’d like to achieve during the day, but be open, because you never know what will happen, and most of the time the unexpected will be what you remember, and at every step, planned or unplanned, God waits.
In a way,the hours I dedicate to researching these trips seems to belie my philosophy of openness. But it really doesn’t. I don’t take this time in order to map out an hour-by-hour itinerary. We don’t do that. That is not my style of life , much less travel. No..I think I just want to be aware of as many of the possibilities as I can, so when the moment comes, I’ll be able to point us in a direction that we all can enjoy and learn from…while leaving plenty of space for whatever else would like to be part of our life that day to enter and show us something new.