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Report 838: It's All About The Shoes

By mary miller from New York, Fall 2005

Trip Description: Trip of a lifetime. Two weeks in Italy with a group of 22 friends

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Rome, Tuscany

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Vacation Rentals; Art Trip; Cooking Classes; Day Tours; Sightseeing; Wine Trip; Independent Travel; Large Group: 10 or More

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Page 1 of 17: Planning Planning Planning

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16 months in the planning and the trip we had all been dreaming of was finally here!!! Months of e-mails, guidebooks, web sites, phone calls and most importantly numerous decisions, had materialized into what, we hoped would be, the trip of a lifetime. I had been elected unofficial "tour guide" and was prepared to solve problems, smooth ruffled feathers, calm jangled nerves and serve as hostess. I was trying to stay cautiously optimistic that all would go well.

The group, mostly college friends, started at 10, and taking on a life of its own, had grown to 22 travelers. The planning involved: where to go, how to get there, where to stay etc. etc. etc. Tuscany, an area of small towns, with storied pasts dating back hundreds of years, came to mind as a place that many had dreamed of. The first, and probably the easiest decision had been made.

September or October was the time frame chosen. Checking schedules, we narrowed it down to the first 2 weeks in October. Decision number 2 and now the real work begins! I didn't know how to go about finding a villa to rent. Should I collect a group and hope to find a house that fits us... OR... pick a house and hope we would have enough people to fill it? Like many of our decisions it was a compromise. Count the group, GUESS how many more there will be, pick a house that seems to work then keep inviting (a couple at a time) until the house is full. This was the hardest part. There are the wonderful few that give you a quick and decisive yes, and then the rest are "thinking" about it. To them I say think faster... The Slowtrav web site led me to Parker Villas. I thought they were wonderful and very efficent to deal with but more importantly the catalog descriptions were extremly accurate. Rental cars were next, taking advice from the Slow Trav website. When it comes to cars more is better. Ignoring the complaints of some travelers, trying to save money, I rented 6 cars. One couple had a scooter, so it worked out to 20 people in 6 cars and not for one moment did I think it was too many. We were using Autoeurope for the rental cars, but discovered my travel agent could get the same rate, so I went through her. This turned out to be a good decision, when we returned home there was a billing issue with one of our group and the travel agent handled it.... How long? Group decision! Two weeks in a villa will be definitely TOO long.

WRONG if that villa sits on top of a picturesque hill in Tuscany, overlooking vineyards and olive groves!! Thinking back on it, that was probably the one decision I most wish I could have changed. You have 7 days... The first day is afternoon arrival. The last day is early morning checkout. What you really have is 5 days to see all of Tuscany. Who thought that was a good idea???

Our group was 12 travelers who were staying only 1 week and they spent it at the villa. The additional 10 travelers had 10 days, and their vacations worked out to be: 3 days Rome, 7 days Villa. The planning continued. Hotel La-Residenza, right off the Via Veneto, was our choice for Rome. A group always has budget variables, this hotel was a fairly moderate 195 euros per night. It included a lovely breakfast, a welcome cocktail, and a perfect location. Not cheap but not too expensive either, a definite recommendation in my book. I chose it because of its location and - believe it or not - because it had a cocktail lounge. I wanted a spot, other than someone's room, where we could meet before heading out for dinner, or one of our tours and also a place when we returned in the evening. There are a lot of "must sees" in an ancient city like Rome. We were only going to be there for three days and wanted to be as close to the center of the city as possible. La Residenza is right off the Via Veneto, one of the main thoroughfares; a very central location.

Knowing what my friends wanted, I had to plan for guided tours in Rome. I knew that with tours you would see more and waste less time. How do I find a tour guide? No problem, go to SlowTrav. That is where I found Peter, of Vatican Tours Inc. The web page told me that Peter had worked at the Vatican and his tours were "insider" tours. I knew that I had found my guide. Most of my friends had never been to Rome before, and wanted tours so they would "see it all." I thought 3 tours were too many, but that is what they decided. I was trying to be accommodating and signed us up for all three.

The first was billed as a 100 minute driving tour of Rome, including pickup in a van. I selected that and asked if the pickup could be at the airport and drop off at the hotel. I thought that would save us the cost of an airport transfer. Seeing the Vatican was at the top of everyone’s list, so the second tour was 5 hour in-depth tour of the Vatican. The walking tour for day number 3 was billed as piazza-gelato-piazza-vino-piazza-vino. That sounded like my kind of walk. Peter and Vatican Tours were hired.

The days in Rome started, for the original 10, with departure from the USA on Tuesday, arrival in Rome on Wednesday. Our 3 days in Rome were Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The next 8 travelers would be arriving Friday. All 18 were set for an early morning departure, Saturday, to our Villa in Chianti.

I needed to arrange dinner for 18, Friday our final night in Rome.... More Planning...

The Slowtrav members gave me the names of numerous restaurants. I knew as leader I had to make a selection and so I did. I chose, La Taverna Degli Amici in the Piazza Margana. I emailed the restaurant to make a reservation, emailed the hotel, to please confirm the reservation and to make sure it was within walking distance. I was imagining... an evening stroll through Rome to our restaurant and possibly a walk home seeing Rome at night. Dinner was arranged.

My mind was racing every day. I was trying to foresee problems and head them off at the pass, so the vacation would run as smoothly as possible. That is when I made my second executive decision.

I was envisioning 18 Americans, testing the patience of an Italian waiter, in a quiet Roman restaurant. I emailed the restaurant, to ask if I could pre-order dinner for Friday night.

The email response was yes, followed by 7 different menus to select from. Apparently, I was not the first to do this. The only problem, they were in Italian. Sounds like nothing, we have all been to enough Italian restaurants and can certainly read a menu. But NOT this menu. I took it to my neighbor, Giovanna, who is Italian. She translated most of it, but even she could not translate it all. I felt as though I were experiencing Italian culture through my computer.

I chose our menu and emailed the restaurant. I was feeling empowered and relieved.

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