Friday, April 6, 2012

Planning a Research Trip (Part 2)

Found art, Venice

Last time, we talked about some of the things that make planning a research trip a bit different from planning a pleasure trip (not that I don't find research a pleasure, you understand). We discussed planning your research activities, planning your time, how to get around, and where to stay. This time, we'll take a look at some other things to consider as you set up your research trip.


How can food possibly be different for a research trip than it is for any other kind of trip? It isn't, really, but there are a couple of things worth keeping in mind. First, it's probably worth carrying something lightweight and indestructible (energy bars, nuts, etc.)
so that if you're off exploring someplace, away from your rented kitchen and from restaurants and stores, you won't need to cut a research expedition short on account of imminent starvation.

If you are using an apartment kitchen, you will find cooking equipment and dishes. The supplies can range from minimal to elaborate, but usually you will have at least enough to manage to heat a couple of things at once on the stovetop and serve a meal for the number of people sleeping in the apartment. Sometimes you will find condiments, spices, tea and coffee waiting for you; other times the cupboards will be bare. Shopping
in local stores can be interesting and satisfying, though, and you may well make some useful discoveries in terms of local produce, cheeses, and prepared foods from a deli. If you keep it simple (we eat a lot of boxed soups, local breads and cheeses), it won't take much cooking time.

Don't neglect local markets, especially the outdoor variety. You'll find fascinating products, and it will be a quick course in local culture as well.

Sometimes your research activities mean you need food at unorthodox times. If you're in Italy, for example, and you desperately need a meal but the restaurants are not going to be open for another two hours, consider looking for ethnic restaurants. A kebab shop or a Chinese restaurant is more likely to be open than a regular Italian restaurant or trattoria, and it can be fun to see such fare translated into Italian. Egg rolls, for example, are among the "antipasti" and all Chinese noodle dishes tend to be called "spaghetti."

Pictures: hearty breakfast in the Netherlands; Sicilian olives from the market; fresh pizza machine in the Palermo airport.
What to pack

If you're travelling during cool weather (and the shoulder seasons are economical for many destinations), consider wearing layers. My personal favorite is silk - it can be washed in a sink and it will dry overnight, and it weighs almost nothing and takes up little room in your baggage. For me, a black microfiber sweater and silk turtlenecks in several different colors can keep me comfortable, and I don't feel as if I'm wearing the same thing every day.

Don't forget raingear. It may make the difference between seeing something you want to see, and missing it altogether. Travel rainjackets that pack in a pouch will not take up much room, and some of them can double as a regular jacket on days when the weather looks iffy. Personally, I wouldn't bother with an umbrella. It's just one more thing to carry. (But if you'd like to have one, consider a travel-size umbrella that will fit in a purse or backpack.)

You will need comfortable shoes. Don't skimp on this, and don't forget to pack extra laces. Yes, you could find them wherever you are, eventually, but do you really want to take the extra time?

Pack a hat, to protect you from sun or cold or both. This is one I always forget, and as a result I keep buying cheap ones from souvenir stands. I own a baseball cap with a horn-helmeted Viking on it from Norway, and a knitted cap with earflaps that says "Souvenir of Amsterdam." I didn't like wearing the silly things at the time, and I don't wear them now. Take something reasonable with you instead.

My other two must-bring items are a pair of opera glasses (much less bulky than binoculars, but they'll help you see things you would otherwise miss), and a small flashlight. I call mine my crypt light, because we once found ourselves in a crypt under a small Italian church and the guys upstairs forgot we were there and turned the lights off. Do you have any idea how dark it can be in a crypt? Since then, I've always carried a light.

What to buy

This will, of course, depend on your budget and your interests. You may find souvenirs that evoke the place for you, serving as writing talismans. Shop the local flea markets and antique fairs for this sort of thing. Buy the local crafts. You may well find gifts for people back at home, or for yourself.

A well-travelled friend of mine says that if you see something you know you want, you should buy it then. Don't count on finding it again later, either somewhere else or where you've first seen it. That way lies disappointment.

Don't forget to shop for postcards; especially if there are places where indoor photography is frowned upon or impractical, the cards can give you a good visual record of what you've seen, very possibly showing more detail than you could have captured anyway.

Books are an obvious purchase. You will probably find books on your topic, or related to it, that you would never see at home. These are the things to snap up while you have the chance. Look at children's books, as well. Many of the best of them are lavishly and accurately illustrated, and may be of use to you. If you take an interest in a church, castle, or other site that has a minimal selection, do look in nearby bookstores. They may be taking advantage of their proximity to the attraction and stocking relevant books.

(Note: I don't recommend doing much shopping at the sort of places illustrated here.)

Pictures: Schlock shopping in Florence (first two), Taormina, and Venice. In Taormina they sell little busts of Mussolini made of volcanic rock.
Disappointments and surprises...

Sometimes it doesn't work out the way you want it to. Something important is closed for remodeling, or there's a train strike at a critical time, or your exotic location doesn't look quite like it did in the brochure. It happens; just roll with it. There'll always be one that got away. (They were polishing the floors in the Edinburgh museum on the one day I had available to see the Lewis chesspieces housed there. I missed the statue that was on the cover of my high school Spanish book when an entire floor of a Madrid museum was closed. They were dredging the canal next to our place in Venice. Our apartment on "the most beautiful piazza in Italy" - Arezzo - looked out on a major street remodeling project we hadn't known about.) If you travel during the off season, these things are more likely to happen to you; after all, they've got to do maintenance sometime, and the height of the tourist season is not going to seem like the best time.

This is what a canal in Venice looks like when they're dredging it
(Fortunately, I can't show you what it smells like)

The most beautiful piazza in Italy

...And why they don't really matter

You've gone somewhere wonderful. You're pursuing an interest you're passionate about. You're having new experiences. How can you possibly go wrong? You've been disciplined and organized about your planning; now's the time to relax and enjoy. Follow your whims. Talk to people - they'll have a lot to tell you. Soak it all up, take pictures, jot down notes so you won't forget anything. Have a wonderful trip, and a wonderful time putting all your new knowledge to use once you're back home. Buon viaggio!

1 comment:

H Stuart said...

The last section is the best. Good advice for just travelin' the road of life, too.