I thought it would be interesting to think about what went right, what went wrong, what could have been done better, and what was done right.
I have never planned a trip in such detail before. I don’t really like the type of trip where every minute is planned in advance. However we would have missed out on a lot of things without some pre-booking, and some very long lines were bypassed because we’d booked ahead. In general I tried to book at most one activity per day, and in general that would be booked for as early in the day as possible. This worked out very well and I would do it that way again.
Having prioritized lists worked well too. We did nowhere near every sight that I had researched as worthwhile, and we couldn’t have done much more in each day without it becoming too much. Having activities and sights colour-coded by priority on a Google map meant we had a massive degree of flexibility in what we would do next depending on where we were or the time of day.
The days I thought were the weakest were the days I hadn’t put as much thought into. These were the days we spent driving. I had a general sense of where I wanted to go, but more specific sights and various alternative routes and times to choose from would have been better. One aspect of the driving part was the consideration that there is very little street parking.
Longer! Nearly every place could have done with another day, though really we’d already extended that trip as much as possible. Every place we stayed we wished we could have stayed longer. But with a longer itinerary we probably would have used that time to stay in more places. For the number of days we had I really don’t see how we could have improved the itinerary.
The final budget was about right. It’s impossible to track spending when you are throwing cash at everything. We seemed to buy a lot of gelato, but then in the end it was probably less than 200 euro. This was still high, but it would have been out of our food budget. Some meals were quite expensive, but then others weren’t too bad, so it evened out. We didn’t use a lot of local transport – probably less than anticipated, however we did “cheat” a few times and use taxis. We would have used fewer taxis if the heat hadn’t been so bad – we probably would have walked it. A few times public transport would have taken too long or was just too difficult to work out. In these cases we needed to balance our money budget with our time budget.
Apart from the AirBnb all our accommodation was outstanding. I wouldn’t hesitate to stay at any of the places again except for Hotel Esmeralda. I chose this place on location and character grounds, and it certainly came top in both categories. However it didn’t have air-conditioning, nor a fridge, and I think if I went back, having already stayed at Hotel Esmeralda, I’d choose something with a few more facilities. Don’t get me wrong – it would still be my first choice for a first-time visit.
AirBnb though have lost all my confidence. Looking at the reviews for the place we stayed I saw only one review mentioned the water situation, yet still rated the place highly. This review has either been removed or is impossible to find. I wasn’t going to leave a review myself until I had got my money back – only to discover you can only leave a review within 14 days of your stay. Why that arbitrarily small amount is beyond me. Even discounting the water situation the place did not match the rave reviews of previous guests. “Spotlessly clean” does not match peeling paint and residual tape all over the walls from previous posters. I wouldn’t have stayed there even if the water situation was fine. I would have written off the money I’d spent on the place.
The Macpac Voyagers are much more comfortable to carry and have much better compartments than the Macpac Contrail. However the Voyagers are not suitable at all for carrying a laptop. We carried a spare set of documents and tickets in one of them and it did a reasonable job of keeping them flat, but pictures and shirts really needed the Contrail. I think the Contrail is more suited to business needs, but it was useful that we had it.
Stand-out performer was the Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack. This was small and light enough to carry in our small day-bags or purse, yet strong and comfortable to carry things in when required. It’s amazingly comfortable to carry – I honestly thought the straps would dig in to my shoulders after a while but it was fine. The only thing is it’s hard against your back so affecting breathablity – ie your back can get wet with sweat much more easily.
In Paris we bought a small suitcase to ship back souvenirs and lighten our load. It was our last stop so we didn’t care about lugging it about. We wouldn’t have wanted to get it any earlier though. A single bag each was already quite enough.
We took too many warm clothes. We were not to know that there would be a heat wave. Even so one medium jacket each would have sufficed. I took a lightweight pullover, a rain jacket, and a dressier medium jacket. The dressier medium jack would have sufficed. Jess took a puffer jacket which should have stayed at home.
For long trousers I took Bluffworks chinos. These were exceptionally good. Zipped and hidden pockets were excellent for security. The style was easy to dress up or down. They are almost impossible to get dirty – even coffee spills just wipe off. They aren’t too hot – I often used them in the mid 30C heat we had most of the time, and they were still comfortable. They are easy to wash and dry overnight. I think these are the best trousers I’ve even had.
I wore almost every day a Macpac Crossroad short sleeve shirt. This was extremely lightweight – perfect for the heat. It did get wet from sweat, however it also dried extremely quickly. I could be saturated in sweat, go into a church for a rest for 10 minutes and be dry again. I could wash the shirt in the evening, and it would be completely dry within an hour. It also has a zipped hidden pocket (which took me a month to discover) which was very handy for keeping my phone in.
For shorts I wore Macpac Drift shorts. These were useful as they were lightweight and had a lot of zipped pockets. However the zips on the lower pockets would often jam on the material.
I intended on buying dress shoes at some point along the road, but in the end made do with just my Lowa boots and Allbirds. The Allbird are very lightweight and are difficult to make smell. However, for me at least, after 20km a day they gave me terrible blisters. I had tried to wear them in a bit (and toughen my feet up) before we left, but they just didn’t do it for me for long distances. I ended up having to do surgery on my blisters and taping up my feet. Jess and Mina also wore Allbirds almost exclusively and were fine and didn’t get a blister between them. My boots were comfortable as always. However they just cannot be worn with shorts around a city. Some days I would wear long trousers just so I could wear my boots and let my feet recover from the Allbirds.
GoPro Hero 7
Truly a hero. Its small size meant you could film discreetly and get very candid footage. It’s very good a smoothing out shake from walking, or just holding the camera still. It’s ideal for selfies. It’s such a wide lens you can get close to something yet still fit it in the shot.
Where it falls down somewhat is in low light. That is to be expected and is the trade-off with this camera. It also loses some of it’s ability to smooth out shake in low light.
This was the camera that got the most use.
Sony RX100 VI
A great camera for quality photos. A decent zoom meant you could capture detail really well, as well as taking good shots of scenery. It didn’t perform as well in low light as I would have hoped with the larger sensor. It doesn’t film in 4K unless you switch to the video mode which was a pain (the Olympus has a similar fault). Video is extremely shaky especially compared to the GoPro which is incredibly smooth. Even at the widest angle, handheld is very wobbly. The video can be steadied a lot in post at the expense of detail. It starts up quickly, but seems to take quite a while to turn off – well retract the lens at any rate. I wish it would retract the lens more quickly into the process of shutting down so I wouldn’t have to wait to put the camera away. Being small enough to carry in my pocket meant it got used.
Our last camera, but still useful. Being waterproof meant it could be used in the pool. It has a useful zoom. For some reason, especially in low light, there is a strong green tinge. This can be removed in post, but I’m not sure why it’s there in the first place. Again, low light is an issue, and the 4K video function is even more annoying, since you need to switch the dial to video, then select the mode you want. It would be much easier if you could set the default video mode in either Auto mode or when you select video with the dial.
Cameras in General
One of the first things I thought about before this trip was how to record it. My first travel camera was a medium-priced 35mm film camera with a wide angle of 38mm. Ever since I have been paranoid about lack of wide-angle. I have travelled a lot with both digital and film SLRs. On the positive side you can shoot as wide or as long as you like – just change the lens. They can also shoot great in low light. On the negative side lugging them about is a pain given their weight, and the fact that they are often put away when carrying them about, so require constant packing and unpacking. Changing lenses is also often difficult in the heat of action – and so often avoided. Our time budget (time to spend at each activity) and our weight budget (carrying a target of 7kg total) really counted heavily against taking an SLR.
The other concern was video. Previously I have carried a film camera and a separate video camera (this was back in the days of film). Shooting both was very time consuming and took too much time enjoying the moment. Never again. I also wanted all footage shot in 4K, and to combine footage they needed to be shot at either 25fps or 50fps. None of our cameras or even phones would do this. Another nail in the coffin for the DSLR was that it would need an upgrade to cover video.
Now, going over the photos and video, do I regret my decisions on cameras? There are a large number of photos taken which are out of focus – generally due to low light. There are a lot which are just too noisy to ever be used. There are a lot which have motion blur – again due to low light. But a lot of these photo are garbage because we did not have a lot of time. We didn’t have time to stop and use a tripod. Often photo were taken while walking along. A DSLR would not have fixed these problems. In fact I probably wouldn’t have taken the photo in the first place – and even though a lot of photos were garbage there is the odd gem. I think overall we made the right decision on cameras. If we’d spent a week at each place, so increasing our time budget, I really would have liked a bigger camera. Given that we were trying to cover as much as possible in the shortest time possible small cameras were the way to go.
Power management and data management took a lot more time and attention than I anticipated.
Every day was a struggle to keep all our devices charged. The universal adapter plug with 4 USB ports turned out to be essential. However with 3 phones, 3 cameras (with at least 2 if not 3 batteries each), 3 power-banks and a computer it was a juggling act to charge the most essential items first and remember to swap out items once they were full.
The RavPower 26000 powerbank was very good, being able to charge 3 things at once, and “quick” charge through the laptop’s charger, though it was heavy to carry about. I really noticed the few times I didn’t carry it how much lighter my carry-bag was.
We could have almost gotten away without spare camera batteries, but there were about 3 days where we just took so many photos that there wasn’t time to recharge the batteries from the powerbank which required the cameras be taken out of action. So in the end they were necessary.
It’s hard to anticipate how many photos and videos you’ll take. The GoPro especially, since it’s mainly used for video, used a lot of data. In the end we needed to buy an additional micro-SD card, for a total of 512GB.
For backing up our data I took 640GB over 3 small flash drives, however these were filled about halfway through and I had to buy an external hard drive in Florence. This too was filled by the end. Offsite backup to Google Photos was largely useless. We had too much data and the wifi at most places was abysmal.
Even more abysmal was mobile data. We bought 3 SIMs before we left, 2 with 6GB data and one with 20GB. We didn’t come close to using it all, but not through lack of trying. The 20GB SIM would hardly connect to anything other than the voice network for most of Southern Italy while the others connected only intermittently and at slow speeds, and visa-versa for the Northern part. I think the nature of buildings in Italian cities had a big part to play – the signal doesn’t get down into the concrete buildings.
Being hot meant we only wore light clothing, so all our heavy clothes never got worn and never needed cleaning. Most of our clothes dried in hours, and only heavy socks were an issue to dry. A couple of times I wore damp socks. Our Allbirds got smelly with sweat at one point but we had a washing machine and they were dry by the next day. Mostly our clothes were washed with shampoo from the complimentary supply. Clothes were dried as much as possible on coat-hangers.
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