International travel was not a priority when I was a child. There were visits to battlefields in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, trips to see family in Maine, and a bunch of back and forth drives when we moved to Wisconsin. The most exciting place I had been was Arizona, to visit my cattle rancher great uncle Mr. B when I was 10. We slipped ever so briefly into Nogales, Mexico, staying only long enough to buy strings of dried peppers and a cheap turquoise chip bracelet for me. At 32, I joined a motley bunch of alumnae, trustees, and students from my college on group trip to Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento, and Sicily.
Revelations from this trip were:
- Do figure out where you are going to eat before you go (at least a few spots). I had been working like a dog, and I thought I would just surrender myself to this trip. That’s the wrong move in Rome – it is full of tourist restaurants with terrible food. When it comes to food, if you care what you eat, do some research. My only good food memories are from Sicily. I now do my homework.
- Walk, look, and photograph. Also, know when an experience can’t be photographed or caught on video, and just stand there and enjoy it. It was on my trip to Rome that I started to photograph for the sake of the practice, not just to document that I had been to the Spanish steps. In fact, I don’t think I even took a picture of the Spanish Steps.
- Group travel is not for me.
- Eat gelato for breakfast – a Sicilian lesson, where they place a scoop inside brioche-like pastry.
I travel a fair amount for work to interesting places. Since that trip to Rome, I have a hit list for every city I visit:
- Visit the train station (s). It’s partly an architecture thing, partly a transit thing. They are a civic symbols of adventure.
- Visit the markets. If there is no old city market or street markets, go to the grocery store – they say a lot about the area. The first Italian grocery store I entered was in Sorrento off-season. Beautiful meats, cheeses, and produce, with a very, very small pre-packaged/processed section. The Dutch have wonderful grocery stores. Can we say stroopwafels?
- Learn the transit system. Nothing makes me feel like a local than learning to take the subway or tram. Of course, the Rotterdam tram system was unfathomable. Strip tickets, validations….glad I didn’t get arrested. Not sure why that one was so difficult.
- And of course, my profession compels me to visit a slew of museums – that’s unavoidable.
I’m ready to go back to Rome under my own steam.