Italy by the Books

For this issue’s Bookshelf, I have interviewed my husband, trip planner extraordinaire. With his analytic mind and voyager’s spirit, he created for us a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

How did you choose the guide books?

‘Before even researching guide books, I researched tour companies. I wanted a company that offered a small group tree-week tour that would take us to the seven cities we wanted to visit, arrange transportation, hotels, and a half-day tour in each to orient us during our stay.  I wanted a tour that would give us plenty of freedom to craft our own experience as well, eating when and where we wanted, being in charge of our own time schedule, and having the freedom to wander and explore at will. Firebird Tours met everything on my list and more.

Once the tour group was squared away I headed to the library for the guidebooks that would help me create a memorable trip to Italy. My plan was to read them, purchase the best one, and then take notes from the others to include in my purchased book.

Which books did you read?
I checked out Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, Frommer’s D. K. Eyewitness and Rick Steves. Each book had a somewhat different focus. Fodors and Formmer’s were fine, very straightforwad.  The Eyewitness book was very culturally oriented with several pages in color showing the art in various museums.  Surprisingly, Lonely Planet was not much different from the Frommers and Fodor’s.

Sorrento’s last remaining lemon grove in the city proper.

In the end, I ordered Rick Steves’ book. I like his wry humor and his down to earth approach to travel. Once it arrived, I got down to work, reading each book’s description of the cities we would visit and then adding their information in the appropriate pages of the Rick Steves. I appreciate Steves’ personal view, sharing what was worthwhile and including walking tours of each city we planned to visit. He even included a section on pickpockets, where they tended to ply their trade and how to avoid them. I researched the information city by city. For instance, Rick Steves was the only one to mention touring the last remaining lemon grove in the city of Sorrento. His restaurant reviews were also much more practical instead of focussing only on the high end places. His book was also twice as large as the other four because there was that much info.

With so much info, how did you organize it for travel?
I bought a colorful plastic file folder with ten sections. Each section held the pages for different city. Another section held our plane and train reservations. I kept our reservations for museums and other sites in another.

Did you use any other resources?
Trip Advisor’s Forum section was invaluable. If I needed more information than one book or another offered, I could head right to Trip Advisor for up-to-date info. For instance, from reading the books I knew Rome’s Borghese Gallery was a don’t miss. But without Trip Advisor I wouldn’t have known to order our tickets months ahead. Because of Covid, the number of visitors per two-hour session was quite limited. A guide book can’t tell you that. Same with the Uffizi in Florence and going to the roof of the Milan Cathedral. Knowing this, I was able to ask my contact at Firebird to order them.

What’s the next trip?
Nothing yet. I’m still organizing the photos from this one!

Well that’s about it for the Bookshelf. Go to Questions to share in our belated anniversary adventure in Italy.