Monday, March 30, 2009

Briefcasing through Europe

Because I chose my undergraduate major wisely, I'll be spending Easter in Italy for dissertation research. Don't hate me. Better yet, join me. My round trip open jaw ticket (into Venice and out of Rome) was, taxes and fees included, $415.

Gone are the carefree days of backpacking in Europe as captured by Michener's The Drifters. The system is now such that I'm not sure how a contemporary carefree wanderer could see much of anything. The pattern is an Athonite one: In the sixties, hippies crashed Mount Athos and took advantage of monastic hospitality, an abuse which lead to the diamoniterion process which requires (thanks to Takis' cigarette breaks) nearly a dozen calls to Greece. Italy's reservation process is similar, meaning my trip now resembles a tight daily regimen in (what's left of) corporate America. The briefcase, not the backpack, seems the appropriate accessory.

First, consider the extensive preparation required. Beyond the Renaissance art texts, there is the essential travel book cocktail: One part Blue Guide (art historical), one part Pilgrim's Guide (devotional) mixed into a generous serving of the trusty Rick Steves (practical). John Ruskin's Stones of Venice can be used as well, granted it's concealed in a hip flask.

Then consider the trip itself: Two and a half days in Venice are jam packed - the more disciplined my sight seeing, the better the chance of a trip through the lagoon to the Byzantine mosaics of Torcello. Then, after picking up a car I've made a reservation to the minute at Padua's Arena Chapel, after which I'll pull into Ravenna just before the sights close. Here's the next day in Florence:
8:15am - Bargello Museum
9am - See Masaccio's Trinity at Santa Maria Novella
10am - San Marco Museum
12pm - Accademia
2pm - Uffizi
?pm - Get kicked out of the Ufizzi
Considering advance reservations are required for many of those, the casual traveler is at significant disadvantage. The next day in Florence takes me to the Duomo and the Brancacci Chapel (more reservations). Then it's off to Siena before the sights close, and the next day I hope to pull the threefer - Arezzo, Orvieto and Assisi. Impossible? We'll find out. I'm moving fast because I'm eager to get to Holy Week in Rome (where several more reservations have been necessary). While I'm quite proud of my prep-work, I could have done better. Had I been on the ball months ago, I would possibly have made it to the Scavi, which is now only a remote possibility.

This kind of detailed scheduling demands that a briefcase (or tasteful manpurse - it can be done) replace the backpack, and sleek eurojacket outerwear replace the casual fleece, but I'm okay with that. As anyone familiar with the Italian chapters of the Sartorialist will know, upping one's garment game when in Italy is not exactly a bad idea.

Expect a few interspersed Italian blog bursts over the next two weeks.