I am very excited to share the progress of our planning and preparation but I was swamped the whole week. I need to finish some reports before I leave on the 27th. I am glad that even with my hectic schedule, I managed to finished our 'must dos' before leaving for this trip. It helped that it's already my second time in Paris so I just did extensive research on Italy segment of our trip. It also helped that this time, we're focusing on two (2) countries only (France and Italy) and three major cities: Paris, Rome and Florence with side trips to Siena, Assisi and Pisa. Now, I just have barely one week left to do miscellaneous stuff and prepare the things in my packing list...well...the list isn't done yet. :) For updates:
I submitted our visa last week (September 10th). The schedule for our visa application is very tight. Given the normal 15-day processing, the earliest I could get it is Thursday, September 25th. I was so relieved when I was asked to come back after 10 days. I am supposed to collect it today but I arrived late (around 10AM) at the French Embassy. The security told me to come back tomorrow at 8:00 AM to 8:30 AM. I was surprised they did not let me in. Before I left the Embassy last week, I asked the consul what time I should come back and he said anytime.
I didn't have any problem booking a hotel in Paris but finding accommodation in Rome and Florence was quite a challenge. The other week, I spent my entire weekend trying to find a tourist hotel or bed and breakfast accommodation in Florence and Rome that is within my requirements. It can be frustrating to inquire from several hotels, bed and breakfasts and apartments and then get only a few responses. Those few responses are not even the preferred ones. Finally, I was able to reserve and confirm our accommodations in Paris, Florence and Rome for the next two weeks. We'll experience three types of accommodation: hotel (Paris), bed and breakfast (Florence), and furnished apartment (Rome). I was very careful in choosing our accommodations because my college friend and her mom will be travelling with us. I hope I made good choices. Later, I'll post some details about our accommodations, tips and the links to websites I used.
Advance Purchase of Museum Tickets
Travel guides advise tourists to reserve tickets for Accademia and Uffizi gallery in advance either by calling, online or through your hotel. I purchased ours online at B-ticket, the official website of Florence Museums, In addition, I also purchased tickets for Bargello Museum and Medici Chapels from the same website. According to Rick Steves guide book, besides Accademia and Uffizi gallery, the only other places that should be booked in advance is Branccaci Chapel (reservation is mandatory and free to see Massacio frescoes) and the Medici-Riccardi Palace (reservation recommended for quick entry into the Chapel of the Magi) but I don't have reservations for these sights :)
In Rome, I reserved tickets for Borghese Gallery through their offical website and I requested tickets for papal audience from The Church of Santa Susana. The tickets for papal audience is free but you need to request them and pick them up the day before from the Church of Santa Susana.
When buying/reserving tickets online booking fees up to 5 Euros per ticket is added to the cost of the ticket. Pricey but it will save you from lining up for hours!
Advance Purchase of Train Tickets
Unlike in our 2006 trip, I did not purchase a rail pass this time because based on my calculation, buying point to point tickets will be more economical for our chosen itinerary. To go to Italy, we will be taking a night train from Paris to Florence. Since we can't afford any delay (our accommodations are booked, our museum tickets are reserved, etc.) I already purchased train tickets at TGV-Europe website to be picked-up at any French Station. In France, you can purchase tickets in advance at TGV-Europe website or you can also go SCNF website (choose English) and there is a link that will direct you to TGV. Later, I will post another entry about train travel, rail passes, tips and more.
Guidebooks and Gadgets
The Rick Steves guide books (Europe 101, Europe Through the Backdoor, Florence and Tuscany, and Rome) I ordered from Amazon already arrived. I browsed the pages as soon as I got them from the courier yesterday. They were very good! The best travel guide I ever read so far and they are worth every cent. I wish I ordered them sooner so that I'll be finished reading them by the time we leave. Rick Steves guide book is all you need for your Europe Travels. Rick Steves also maintains a website about Europe Travels with up to date information. Even without buying a book, the website will be a very good resource in planning your trip.
I also got my new video camera. Sometimes, a nice DLSR camera is not enough to capture everything. I've been putting off this purchase for quite a while thinking it's not a necessity. But since we're traveling to Europe again, I think the purchase was justified.
Reviews and Tips from Other Travellers
I searched the net extensively for tips, tourist traps and recommendations. One reader (anonymous) gave helpful tips and good recommendations in Rome. I'll definitely check them out and thank you anonymous!
This post is getting very long. I think I'll stop here for now but keep checking for my future posts!