Where does it all start when it comes to planning a trip? For some, it's an invitation somewhere, whether it be to a wedding or a family reunion, and for others the world is a blank canvas on which to start drawing up our grand plan. We can go back our earliest dreams, places we never got round to, revisit favourite spots, or to cover regions that we are familiar with but would like to get to know in greater detail, and we can start our trip in any one of these places. For me, in the style of Old School Traveller, the list of possible destinations is narrowed down by several key factors; I'm not into exploring new lands and corrupting their ancient inhabitants. I'm not one for extreme pursuits, like mountaineering, bog snorkelling or taking a bio-yogic cruise through the Galapagos Islands.... I want to wander through well trodden alleyways, I want to sit in historic cafes and just watch the world go by, I want to view the Baroque, the Gothic and the Renaissance and see their facades alter through changes in ambient light or through grape induced diminished responsibility. I want to eat classic regional dishes and quaff the local wine. I don't want to eat hedgehog or guinea pig, eyeballs or testicles, salted whale meat or anything from Gregg's the so-called Bakers. In short, I am hastening myself through a world of classic travel destinations or those places less popular but 'of a region'. Only less popular, by the way, because they may not necessarily offer the the full gamut of things we require to tick off dampened bucket lists or enable full tilt rushingaroundedness.
It seems to me that there is too much of this rushing about stuff and not enough 'being'. I fear that this is the plight of the travel blogger too. Not enough time to capture the essence of a place... Too busy documenting it and moving on. I need to optimise my trips because of the sheer amount of time it takes me to get there but once in any given place, I like to calm right down and to take it in. To read Watermark by Joseph Brodski is to fully appreciate what travel writing can be when you have the time to truly get to know an often rushed destination.
Watermark, it should be noted, is one of the most magical, poetic and personal 'reference guides' that you will ever read. It also points out that to read of other peoples experiences isn't simply a case of where to eat, where to go, or at what price, but moreover, to visualise a city in your minds-eye and to just want to be there and .... well, be. Even if we have just a little time in any one given place, it doesn't mean we have to scorch around trying to see everything on offer, and often, we've seen the thing we're attempting to tick off on so many occasions, that it's usually either a great disappointment to us or it adds nothing to our appreciation of the object in question in anyway whatsoever. The Mona Lisa, for example, is pretty much a celebrity painting - It has nothing to do with art and more to do with table mats and art theft. A painting so famous, and so much on everyone's list to see, that people seldom ask themselves the question "Why?" The Louvre has millions of other artefacts worth your time and to find your own personal favourite would be time better spent. Better even still, visit a smaller gallery so you don't burn yourself out to it all. Make it more soulful and distinct, more individual..... Go to a smaller gallery.... Post-Impressionist even better..... after 3 glasses of vin rouge and a long lunch...... Altogether a much better experience. If I hear one more person who has spent a precious afternoon in Paris bitching about the queues, the crowds, the dullness and the size of dear old Mona, when it's all they've gone to see, well je flip mon couvercle (I will flip my lid).....Properly.
Right, so, I always have to go home to the UK, with London or Wales as my base. This takes a week out of the trip, so I just need to figure out if I go anywhere before hand or where to go afterwards, so it's then off to Skyscanner to see the prices, the timings and any flight specials that might take me somewhere I wasn't initially thinking of. A quick stopover on the way, always helps with jet-lag and its good use of precious time to get a quick idea of a place to see if you wish to return for longer one day or with so many places to get to, if that brief 24 hours was enough. I then factor in where I really want to go to and see if this is doable flying with my current airline of choice etc. Choosing an odd day to depart and booking your leave accordingly, really helps to bring down the price of an airline ticket. For example, booking Monday to Monday means that you will most likely have to fly out on a Friday night and this is when tickets are at their most expensive..... Along with the Saturday/Sunday you will have to fly on your return, that is. If you book Wednesday to Wednesday for example, your flight may be several hundreds cheaper and you have a little more flexibility. Weekends in some destinations are best avoided as you have the added hindrance of weekenders and day trippers clogging up the cafes, spoiling the views and stabbing you in the eye with their selfie sticks or knocking you off bridges with their distended backpacks. Flights back home on the Monday/Tuesday are also much cheaper too. The money you've just saved has allowed you to upgrade your room, your hotel, and it pays for the oh so important, and often overlooked airport transfer.
Once I have a basic idea of the long haul flight situation, I start breaking down the trip into smaller sections. The UK leg always takes care of itself with just a day trip to organise therein. Windsor & Eton, York, Brighton, Cambridge, Bath etc, and book the train tickets well in advance, usually through Trainline, because the train network is so eye-wateringly expensive and you must book in advance to get the savings and then stick to your plans. Then I search for accommodation - A quick scan of Hotels on Trivago or Booking.com, just to see what's on offer, the going rate for a room at that time of the year, then I move to B&B's and apartments. If the dates fit to where I want to stay then I preliminarily book it without a fee on one of these sites to guarantee somewhere I'm at least comfortable with before continuing my search. Nothing worse than finding a place but because you're still searching, you lose out. The best places are often small and they quickly go. Trip Advisor has guaranteed that the top rated soon get snapped up. I then continue through the other destinations. If the place is not available, I will start to shuffle the dates and itineraries around until it fits. Once all this is done, I start to communicate with the owners and hotels themselves to guarantee the best rates, to build a relationship, to increase the chances of getting a suite/sweet upgrade and to ensure that there are no nasty 'No Reservation' conversations upon arrival.
As previously mentioned, waiting to buy your plane tickets to ensure the best deal, will often pay for a lot of the accommodation or at least allow you to upgrade within your budget. For example, for my next trip, with three of us flying, the tickets with Etihad were $1000 higher than Emirates but I don't want to fly with Emirates... I also refuse to book knowing that it is costing me so much more with my frequent flyer that it is elsewhere. So, I waited and waited and then the Etihad price dropped by the $1000 it was originally over - That's a saving of $3000. This may seem easy and logical, but I know many people who just log on, do their flight search, that's the cost with my choice and they just book it. Seems a bit silly to me. Moving the flight out and back by a day or two can also often save a few hundred dollars and is well worth considering. There are many divided opinions about the best time to book your flights, I like to leave it pretty late, but 5 to 6 weeks beforehand is often thought to be the optimum time. It is also my opinion that the agents and airlines are just on a sale loop, whereby they all take it in turns to offer the best deals to popular long haul destinations. They all seem to rise and fall by the same amount and it's really just about biding your time for your particular flight of choice to head the list. Once the long haul flights are booked, I can move to the short haul flights between cities and also look at ferry or train options as well, and that's pretty much it. Never pay for anything until you have confirmation of dates and always try to push yourself a little to make full use of your time away. Always try to book a period in the middle of the holiday that allows you to recover and rest up, so you don't get travel fatigue and just want to get home. This is not a great way to end any trip.
Old School Travellers next trip consists of the UK as usual, then on to Spain and then to Italy as always. Italy is always there and this time it's Bologna and Modena. Modena is only a short 25 minute train ride from Bologna and is a bit of a no brainer for a quick visit, and this is what I mean about extending yourself - Even if it's only for a long lunch, it's well worth doing. Etihad fly out of Bologna with a change at Rome but the flight times back to Australia are exceptional and the plane switch is really no biggy. The Spanish leg was originally to include San Sebastian, Salamanca and Seville but was just too difficult to link the three, so I chose 6 days in Seville which will also allow visits to Jerez, I love my sherry, and to Cadiz, which is a fabulous small walkable city on the south coast. From there we move on to Granada and the Alhambra. It's all very close and very doable by train and with 12 days, it allows plenty of time for just relaxing. the trip was booked once again as above, and hopefully will once again be glorious and trouble free. Having said that, It's worthwhile remembering that 'trouble free' is often a state of mind and an easy going traveller usually has a lot fewer problems than a stubborn old crank-handle does.
That's about it for this blog. Don't forget, I'm available to help with any specific questions you may have regarding any future trips you're planning and happy travels.