I always arrive a few days before my groups. It’s not for a few days of relaxation before the craziness begins, it’s to make sure everything is ready for their arrival. Since it’s kind of my reconnoissance mission, I call these days ‘recon’.

Most everything I can do from home. Arrange hotels, meals, drivers, local guides, Masses, etc. But I like to reconfirm everything in person. So even though I use the same people and places for most trips, I still like to confirm things face to face. I’ve had Mass reservations lost, dinner reservations mixed up and guides forget to show up. Coming in a few days early and reconfirming everything helps to avoid these issues.

There are other things that are important to take care of as well. I spend the majority of my recon days practicing walking. Sidewalks close, streets have detours, entrances change, metro stops have construction, it’s important to know these things before leading a group.

So for every walking tour we do, be it around the block for gelato or a two hour walk through floodlit Rome, I walk the same steps several times before the group arrives. I make sure to know the best side of the street for a crosswalk, which metro exit has the working escalator, which side street has the wobbly cobblestone and which sidewalks to avoid because of annoying salesmen.

For the last two days I’ve been in Athens and Rome to prepare for the arrival of my Lino Rulli group. Here’s what I’ve done…

Athens (12 hours)
After landing, and before even getting to the hotel, I visited two of four restaurants that we will not be using as a group, but to make sure I can still recommend them during free time.

I visited the two restaurants we will be dining in to confirm the space and menu. I sadly turned down two free meals and ouzo because I was too busy to stop.

I rode the subway seven times to work out details on which lines to take and where to exit. Many stops have four exits that each go to different streets.

I stopped by Vodafone for an iPad SIM and data plan and to ask about the rates for others who will be traveling with iPads.

Found out the metro stop by our hotel is closed due to them finding some ruins during renovation. An inconvenience for sure, but there’s another stop about ten minutes away. So, I practiced walking that route. It goes through a university area, which means know-it-all teens protesting and harassing, so we’ll need to stay on the other side of the street.

I found that a nearby Starbucks has closed. And a local shop has taken it’s place. Good for the small business, but Americans like their Starbucks, so I found another.

I went to the church where we will celebrate Mass to be sure the reservation was correct and to pray for a safe journey for the group.

I walked all the shopping districts to help cater to some of those traveling. We have a jewelry expert, so I found the best jewelry shops. We have a beer connisouir, so I found some places that sell the local brew. We have a few grandparents, so I found the best shops for kid gear. This is a group who likes to party, so I found a few bars.

And because I expect the same from my groups, I stayed out until 10:00 PM after the overnight flight. Going to bed at a reasonable time helps beat jet lag. So I discourage naps on the first day and encourage lots of outdoor activity and walking.

I took notes of everything I did, so that I can review again before we actually do them.

Then I left the hotel before 6:00 AM for my flight to Rome.

Rome (12 hours)
After landing I met with the hotel owner to discuss our itinerary for the day the group arrives. We have Mass scheduled, plan to visit several churches and the colosseum before ending at the Spanish Steps for an evening stroll through Rome. I needed to make sure our timeline was still doable with the two million people in Rome for the beatification.

Rome is the first stop for the group, so I walked to the nearest ATMs to be sure they were operational.

I stopped into a Vodafone store to see if roaming charges for data on the iPad applied between Greece and Italy. They are not compatible.

I checked our Mass time at Saint Paul.

I with our restaurant to confirm our dinner plans and review the menu for the first group meal.

I met some friends for drinks.

I went by Saint Peter’s Basilica for prayer time and to take some pictures for a really cool project my bride is doing. Pictures didn’t work out as planned due to the beatification set up.

I met some friends for dinner.

I walked the groups night walk through Rome, connecting the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona and Saint Peter’s Basilica.

And people think I’m on vacation!

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