A bit of a post on mental trip prep, but first…drat.
I had said I would be planning out loud, so here we go with the first instance of plans called into question by new information.
I have been all about Ferrara’s palio for the last weekend of May. Hooray for hundreds-year old tradition, color, medieval pageantry and horse and donkey races. Fun!
But then last night I realized….Corpus Domini is the last Sunday of May this year. In our language that’s Corpus Christi, and a major way it’s celebrated in many parts of Italy is with an infiorata– a carpet of flowers arranged in intricate designs and pictures. There are a few large celebrations, beginning with Bolseno, the actual site of the Orvieto Eucharistic Miracle which is, you know THE ORIGINS OF THE FEAST.
Oh, and the Corpus Domini celebration in Orvieto. Just a small thing.
(The corporal is preserved in the duomo in Orvieto, which is why it is the main pilgrimage site for the miracle)
What. To. Do.
The Ferrara accommodations are totally refundable. Bolsena is an area I had been looking to visit right after Rome – Bolsena, Orvieto, Pitigliano, the Saturnia baths, various Etruscan things…but that would be the week after Corpus Domini. It would be quite possible to just stay an extra two days in Bologna, absorb some Ferrara vibes, see Ravenna, and then go down to this area for the feast….but is it such a big deal that it would be difficult to find accomodations, to get to the place..navigate? Looks pretty crowded. Probably. I don’t know. Darn it! I was liking this early Lent/ Easter thing until now.
What I will probably do – unless one of you has an inside track and some insight – is just hope that Ferrara won’t forget Corpus Domini among all the palio celebrations, and we’ll see some flower tapestries and a serious procession anyway – I have checked if any towns in Emilio-Romagna have well-known infiorata, but the only ones I can find are monasteries that are really not close to where we will be.
So…my prep work? Which is obviously inadequate and a sham?
Well, in terms of general travel research for the areas we’re visiting, an embarrasing number of hours spent on travel discussion boards – mostly TripAdvisor, Slow Travel and Fodor’s. General websites are okay, but I find discussion boards to be by far the most valuable, as you can follow the questions that real people are asking, get current information and search according to your own particular interest. Like last year when we were going to be spending a day in Vegas and I panicked over the “porn slappers” I had read stood on the streets handing out cards with explicit photos advertising escort services.
I mean, it’s really useful to be able to narrow the discussion down and see what Real People are Really Saying about Porn Slappers Today.
(Answer: Yes, they are there. Yes, it’s very sad because they looked to be mostly middle-aged Latino immigrants, male and female, illegal, I’d imagine. No, they didn’t hand any cards to us, the boys didn’t even notice them, and there were too damn many people on the sidewalk for them to even notice the cards under their feet. And I still hated Vegas.)
I’m of the view that guidebook companies should just abandon their sections on accommodations and restaurants – who even bothers with getting that information from even a year-old book anymore rather than online? But they’re still valuable, of course, in just showing you the sites. Right now, what I’m perusing are the Blue Guide: Northern Italy which I bought a few years ago for our Milan trip (it includes Emilia-Romagna) and DK guides. I checked out Secret Tuscany from the library – it was interesting, and I might check it out again before we leave and take some notes. I have the Oxford Archaelogical Guide to Rome which I’ve used in the past.
I’m more interested in educating myself on history and culture. I’m rereading Morton’s A Traveler in Italy, which is so wonderful. I’m reading A Traveler’s History of Italy. Over the next few weeks I’ll be reading up on my Medicis and other Renaissance points, as well as art history – mostly to help me help the boys.
Tonight I read Tilt: A Skewed History of the Tower of Pisa which could have done as a long magazine article, but then it wouldn’t have been encased in a quirky package like this:
It’s a good, easy read that explains the historical and cultural context of the campanile, not as much on the technical side of the construction, dispenses with the Galileo myth and gives good detail on the attempts to stabilize the structure – the most recent being, it seems, successful, and which involved not propping the tower up as others had attempted, but rather removing soil from under the higher end. No bibliography, though, which is irritating.
(Interesting note about the 1902 collapse of the campanile next to St. Mark’s in Venice, a structure which looked from the outside to be much more sound. Photos of the collapse actually exist because the cracks in the tower were noted, then observed to grow until finally no one could deny what was about to happen, the square was cleared, and cameras brought for the moment. You can the before, during and after photos here.)
As for their prep:
They, of course, know the itinerary. I’ve showed them the accomodations we have so far, gone over maps. I’ve scattered books around and on slow evenings we’ll leaf through some of them. We watched Gladiator and will do some other movies. Spartacus, maybe? Just to get us in the spirit of things. The other night, we watched the Rick Steves’ shows on Italian hill towns and Florence. Yes, Rick Steves is mocked and even reviled in some quarters. I mock him. But his programs are a decent intro to the areas, even though his voice really gets on their nerves and frankly puzzles them. Hah.
So yes, I am tempted to be an anti-Rick Steves snob myself, but when that creeps up on me, I must always remember this story.
Flashback to that first trip, back in 2006. We’d landed in Rome, it was the afternoon, and we gave up trying to keep everyone awake until evening. It was just too much. They were all napping, but I had a phone call to make to an acquaintance, and this was pre-internationally-capable cell phones, at least for us. (I actually did some work on that trip – I spoke a couple of times, had an interview, and we had a wonderful long lunch with a bunch of interesting Rome-based Catholic journalists). I left them all in the apartment on the Borgo Vittorio, and went to find a pay phone. Well, first I bought a phone card, as you did then. And perhaps still do. Then I found the phone and for the LIFE OF ME could not figure out how to use the card/phone combo. I mean…I just couldn’t. Nothing happened. So I got back to the apartment and told Mike, no I hadn’t made the call because I couldn’t figure out the damn phone. He flipped open Rick Steves’ book and pointed (in triumph, because I had been dissing RS, while he’d been studying his books) to one of those little drawings he has – that shows exactly how to use the cards (you had to tear off the corner). And that’s what Rick Steves is great for – he and his crew understand what is going to trip you up and confuse you and just tell you how to manage in a very practical way.
Oh, back to prep. I have a couple of Great Courses – I bought them two years ago on sale – they are very good. We’ve watched some in the past, but over the next couple of weeks we will pick them up again and watch the lectures on some of the iconic Roman buildings.
We’ll watch this National Geographic special on the Brunelleschi’s dome.
And that will probably be it.
That’s the basics of mental prep. I’ll talk more about concrete prep – luggage, clothing, finding accomodations, etc – in a future post.