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Internet makes traveling simple

JIM AND FAYE SMITH’S granddaugher, Leah Knox, lighting a candle in the Santa Maria Novella church, Florence, Italy.

We saw the Pope.

We sat there in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, described as the most impressive church on earth, among thousands of people in the customary Wednesday morning mass held in St. Peter’s Square.

Yes, our long-awaited trip to Italy has come and gone. We went, we enjoyed, we got tired, we got lost, and by the time we returned home this week, we collapsed.

It was three weeks accompanied by our daughter and granddaughter, spending a week on a farm in Tuscany outside of Pienza, then several days each in Reggio Emelia, Florence, Rome and Venice.

Faye was our tour director. Her first year retired from teaching placed her in front of our home computer, investigating lodgings, things to do, places to visit, detailing the tiniest of details.

It all went off without a hitch. Her efforts paid off handsomely.

The amazing thing about planning trips today, even trips to far-off places, is that you can do your planning and scheduling your stops all in advance at home using your computer.

We don’t need a blow-by-blow description of our trip, cause that could be boring, but the lesson is you can plan your trip in advance yourself, and have a grand time doing it.

For example, you can schedule your airline flight times and pay for your seats in advance on-line, even printing out your boarding passes.

Get lots of guide books such as those from world traveler Rick Steves, Lonely Planet and DK Eyewitness. The information in them is more than the price of the book. Pick the historical sites you wish to visit, and expect to pay to get into many of them. Museums are not free, neither are major historical sites such as the Roman Forum, Colosseum, Vatican Museum. Churches are free and spectacular.

Some sites must be booked weeks or months in advance. And some sites you have to book specific times. Be sure you know what you want to visit, and when they are available. The guide books will tell you. Plus, all these sites have websites that you can easily call up on-line.

Not to fear. You can make your reservations on-line from the comfort your home, pay the fees in advance by credit card, print out a paid voucher, take it with you on your trip, present it at the ticket window, then go to the head of line. This time of the year, if you don’t have advance reservations to enter the major tourist attractions, you will stand in line for hours. Why waste your time there?

Want to drive around Italy? Rent your car on line in advance of your trip. Show your reservation confirmation number at the desk in the airport, and you are good to go within 15 or 20 minutes. Once you have your car, the trick now is, “how do I get out of here?”

If you are not going to use your rental car in all places, and believe me you don’t want to drive in the major cities, taxis and buses are plentiful. In Rome, for example, you can get a visitor’s pass good for several museums, tour buses and regular street buses. Again, order it on line before you go, present your confirmation numbers at the appointed place, and your passes are there ready and waiting.

Best way to travel from big city to big city, for example Rome to Venice, is by train.

You can go by fast train or slow train. Again, you are at home before your trip, schedule your time and date of your departures, order your tickets on-line well in advance, and your train tickets will arrive by mail to your home before you leave.

But beware. The train stations in Italy are busier than the Atlanta airport, so trying to figure train schedules at the station, negotiating all this with Italian speaking clerks, and signs in Italian, could be quite nerve wracking. Get your tickets in advance.

June, July and August are heavy tourist months in Italy. Avoid these months if at all possible. We went in June as soon as possible, waiting for our granddaughter’s school year to conclude.

Check your cell phone to be sure it can be used in foreign countries. If not, you can get an international cell phone that works off the satellite. Take your laptop. Wi-fi is everywhere, and computers work. Our granddaughter spent her evenings on Facebook, reporting to all her friends what she did that day.

The crowds were huge in the big tourist attractions. And rude. Hordes of people from all parts of the world coming at you from every direction. After a few days of it, you have to retreat, find quiet out-of-the-way places and just wander.

Returning home we received one of those mail pieces from a touring company—See six cities in 10 days. Nope. You don’t want to do that. Don’t even think about a touring bus. You can easily plan your own trip and have a lot of fun doing it.

Yes we saw the Pope. Up close and personal. We were in the crowd in front of the Basilica, and the Pope rode around the crowd in an open slow-moving vehicle, standing and waving. There were several places roped off to make a pathway for his vehicle to come through the crowds. I was right at the rail with camera when he came by.

His bright red hat and white robes made him a standout.

Jim Smith writes a weekly column for The Post-Searchlight. You can contact him through his e-mail at bainbooknook@yahoo.com or by his cell phone, (229) 254-2753.