Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Venice and Germany - A Plan

After a 37 year career spent managing projects, money, and people my approach to our travel adventures seems quite anal, but I enjoy the planning process almost as much as the trips. An early mentor (and good friend) told me to: "Plan the work, and work the plan" and that has carried into our retirement (without the pressure). Thankfully, Kat enjoys it as much as I do. I'm sure it would drive some people (like at least one of my children) nuts. In any event, I thought I'd take a few moments to outline the 10 simple steps we've used. Long after we are gone, it may help the kids and grand kids plan their trips.

Monday - August 18, 2010 - Late summer in Venice and Germany

Step 1 - Where do you want to go and for how long? Here's where your imagination takes center stage. What tickles you and what is the inspiration for the trip. In our case, some summer reading, a passion for Vermeer, a great brother and sister-in-law, and a desire to see some new territory that would challenge us a little. We have found that 2-3 weeks is ideal. Kat gets tired of eating out, and I start to miss the easy pace of our everyday lives.

Step 2 - Bound the trip by the airline schedules. The latest web sites let you look at fares by day, and it's easy to pick the cheapest (we are retired) departure and return dates. Once those reservations are made we know how many days we'll be gone.

Step 3 - Make a list of the "Must Sees". These items make the trip a success, everything else is a bonus. For this trip it includes Verona, the four Vermeers, major WWII sights in Berlin, Dachau, the Eagles Nest in Berchtesgaden, crazy old Ludwig's castle in Bavaria, and at least one medieval walled town. For a 17 day trip that's not many. As in most things the 80/20 rule applies. 20% of what we see and do will provide 80% of the lasting memories, so choose wisely.

Step 4 - Read a good tour guide (we travel with Rick Steves a lot and he has never let us down), and get some maps of the area to be covered. The Frommers guides have been very helpful and contain a lot of useful information.

In our case it was northern Italy and Germany. Put post-its on the must-see sites. It's a good way to get an idea of centers of interest and distances between them. We try to keep in mind things we might like to see along the way - like "The Romantic Road."

Step 5 - Figure out the major transportation legs. There were three main areas of interest - Venice and surrounds, Northern Germany and Bavaria. The answer became obvious - train around Venice, fly to Northern Germany then fly back to Bavaria, rent a car to see the southern Germany sites and finally drive back to Venice to fly home. There is a large drop-off charge for the car (200 Euros) but it was cheaper than flying or trains for the two of us.

Step 6 - Check the must-sees and make sure they are see-able. Most museums are closed on Monday for instance, so our trip to Dresden had to accommodate that. There is the once-a-decade passion play taking place in Oberammergau, so a visit there was out (who needs crowds). Also we added some stuff after reading the guide book - like a luge run in the Tirol? At this point we knew how long to stay in each place and in what order to make it work.

Step 7 - Book the planes, trains, auto rental and overnight accommodations. We did this a month in advance and still had a challenge finding rooms in the popular places. Berlin was the most difficult. October 3, 2010 is the 20th anniversary of the reunification of the country, and let's not forget Oktoberfest in the Munich area. We give great weight to the reviews of fellow travelers and have not been disappointed.

We booked refundable rooms and transportation whenever we could, but some stuff is locked in. I print out a page for each activity, plus a Google map for each driving segment and stick them in a folder organized by day.

Step 8 - Figure out how much cash to take (many hotels and restaurants in Germany and Austria don't take plastic), when to do the laundry (treat it as a must-see or suffer the consequences), and check the weather sites to know what to expect and pack. Update the "to do before we leave" and "to take with us" lists. Has anything changed since our last trip (like prescriptions)? Make sure our passports are up-to-date and we have a current International Driving Permit (lack of same cost us €50 in Italy on one trip).

Step 9 - Sit in the screen-house with a good cigar, a nice glass of wine, and a wonderful spouse to do a mental walk-through day by day. Imagine walking the tours, seeing the sights, and making the connections. Are there blocks of free time? Are we so locked in, that we can't make spontaneous decisions (like skipping the second day in Dresden for a trip to Görlitz)?

It was during this process that we realized I had booked the car in Munich one day later than I should have (fortunately it was changeable without charge and I got a better rate because a sale just began).

Step 10 - Relax - With a month before our trip starts, the majors have been taken care of and the only anxiety should be ensuring we wake up in time to get the shuttle to the airport. Bon Voyage, Buon Viaggio and have a Gute Reise!

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