Postcard of a Travel Itinerary

Another reflection from the trip Craig and I took to Italy during his painting sabbatical.


After 10 days in Italy, I came home with wine and olive oil from the castle and farm we stayed at, a 19th-century drawing of the Madonna and Jesus, a 2,500-year-old Etruscan bead given to me by a gallery owner who spent 15 minutes telling us – as best we could follow – about traveling to America with the pope and meeting President Kennedy, gifts for the kids, and a notebook filled with stories of people, places and meals. Craig returned with sketches, photos and pneumonia. He blamed me for the pneumonia.

Craig had envisioned 10 days of relaxation, strolling through Venice, riding a gondola along the Grand Canal, painting the Tuscan countryside, eating pizza in a sunny piazza. We would buy plane tickets, make hotel reservations (or not) and drive to the airport. I call it his “get in the car” – or in this case, “get on the plane” – approach to travel, one he employs for his creative wanderings. With nothing more than a general sense of where he’s headed, he simply lets his trips happen. He walks or drives until he finds something interesting to paint or gets hungry or needs sleep. The unknown is his invitation for adventure.

The unknown is my invitation to miss an important destination. I like guidebooks. And maps. And itineraries. As Craig is watching the hawks circle the field beside Highway 151, I’m calculating our ETA at Pickle-Barrell Subs in Dubuque. If I was getting the chance to see Italy, I’d make sure we planned out what we’d see. I started with guidebooks to outline a reasonable timeline – could we explore Venice and Tuscany and still get to Rome? (No.) I read travelogues to discover back-road charms. I hit the internet to confirm my choices. Then I built a calendar that Craig never looked at.

I knew the best time to visit the Basilica of San Marco in Venice (late, as the tours were leaving) and the Accademia in Florence to see Michelangelo’s David (first thing, with a reservation), how to pack light, and where to find the rundown abbey where The English Patient was filmed, the butcher in Panzano who fed and entertained people on Saturday afternoons, and the farmer selling his dried herbs at the Wednesday morning market in Castellina. I learned about agriturismo, where farm families supplement their income by renting out rooms to tourists and feeding them from the animals and produce they raise.

Craig indulged my obsessiveness – even welcomed it – as long as I understood he needed time to wander and paint. No problem. I could schedule that in too.

So we meandered … toward the church I wanted to see. Craig painted … while I read up on our afternoon’s destinations. We sat in piazzas … where I talked with students who told us we had to walk the Stations of the Cross along Via Margherita. I penciled it in. We each lived our ideal vacation … until Craig got sick and couldn’t keep up.

We didn’t know he had pneumonia (I might have been more sympathetic if we had), but our last two days he was tired and wanted to head back to the farm by early afternoon. We missed castles and gardens as we lay by the pool. How could we ever see Italy if all we did was sun on the terrace overlooking the patchwork of vineyards and orchards rolling up to the majestic towers of San Gimignano?

I applied more sunscreen and sipped my glass of wine.


  1. Mark and I have similar, divergent travel styles as you two.

    I make kennel arrangements for the dog, hold the mail, ask neighbors to look after the house, find current maps, have the van serviced, book hotel reservations, provide itineraries for relatives, load up on snacks/drinks for the trip, wash and pack all the clothes, get cash or traveler’s checks, prepay bills that might come due while we’re gone, turn off the water, unplug most electrical items, and leave the lights on a timer.

    Mark gets in the car and says something like, “I’m just realizing that we’re really doing this.”