Casie Goes To Italy – Part 3

As wonderful as the hiking was we decided to take a break and explore Capri. Our group took a private boat to the island of Capri. It was a nice change looking at the islands from a new perspective instead of from above. We went through the Tunnel of Love, into town, visited the Blue Grotto and enjoyed the views of other little islands around.

Exploring the town was neat. We took a chairlift up to the top for a view overlooking the island (also easier than hiking). Capri is a more “high class” island when it comes to shopping so we didn’t do too much. Once again we had lunch with a breathtaking view.

After leaving Capri we ventured through more of the islands. Taking us to the Blue Grotto! It was one of my favourite parts of the trip but it was very short. They took us in little boats and do a quick tour (maybe 5 minutes). The cost for us was 14EUR per person.

Travel Tip: when they take you into the Blue Grotto they will ask if you want to go swimming then charge you more after you’re out so be careful.

 

Overall I can’t say enough good things about my experience with G Adventures and Local Living in the Amalfi Coast.  Italy is a breathtaking country and I’m so happy I was able to experience it this way.   I just want to say Thank you to G Adventures for the unforgettable week.

If Italy is on your bucket list, give me a shout at 306-955-1449 or casie@uniglobevacation.com.  I would LOVE to help you to plan your dream trip and share with you all of my insider tips and tricks.

Casie Goes to Italy – Part 2

I made it to the Amalfi Coast. It’s breathtaking! I’m not much for big cities so I was happy for a nice change. If you enjoy hiking this is the place for you. We’ve done three so far and they’ve all been challenging but worth every second especially the view at the top. My favorite hike was The Walk of the Gods. We started from the small town of Bomerano and ended in Positano. We explored Positano and had lunch with a beautiful view.

Another hike we did was Valle dei Mulini. On the way up we saw the view of Amalfi, old mills, waterfalls and more. At the top we were rewarded with a peaceful surrounding of trees and the most beautiful waterfall.

The most challenging hike we did was from Amalfi to Ravello. The elevation gain is 2858ft. There were lots and lots of steps upward on a paved pathway. At the time I was wondering why I agreed to this but once I was at the top I felt so accomplished.

As challenging as they are, I would prefer doing hikes rather than taking transfers to the destinations. The smells of fresh flowers and lemons mixed with the views along the way are irreplaceable. Plus picture taking is much easier when you’re standing still verse in a moving vehicle.

 

Travel tip: if you have bad knees or ankles and can’t do stairs the hikes in this area may be difficult for you and are not highly recommended as there are many steps.

 

We are staying at a local farm which is a super neat experience. Its ran by a family which makes you feel very welcomed! They have done a couple food demonstrations for us. One being lasagna and the other was Tiramisu. It’s crazy how much work they put into making fresh pasta. All the food they have cooked us has been wonderful!

Casie Goes To Italy – Part 1

Hey guys! I just landed in Naples, the birthplace of pizza. The first thing I did after checking into my hotel of course was to go eat pizza! It was amazing – thin crust and so cheesy. There are pizza places everywhere! I’m in heaven.

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The next day we walked around touring Naples in the old and new part. It’s amazing the difference in the communities; they’re divided by one street which is called Spaccanapoli which means “Naples splitter”. Old Naples is more touristy with local shops for souvenirs. You see cornicello everywhere which look like red peppers. It’s said that if you give one to someone it will bring them good luck.

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There is also Naples Underground to visit. They offer self or guided tours. Unfortunately we were too impatient to wait for the next guided tour so we did it on our own. I would definitely recommend doing a guided tour. We didn’t get all the history facts. New Naples is more designer name shops. They have a couple tables with souvenirs but not as many. I personally liked old Naples better because it gave more of a local vibe. In both neighborhoods the street food smells amazing! Treats everywhere!  You definitely will not starve in Naples.

Where do pepperonis go on a holiday?
The leaning tower of ‘pizza of course.

Until next time!

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To see more of Casie’s European trip along with vacation photos from our other amazing agents, check out our Instagram @UniglobeYXE
https://www.instagram.com/uniglobeyxe/?hl=en

 

Jamie’s Italian Adventure – Final Blog

Well, we have made it home from our delightful tour of Italy and it’s time to catch up on our last few days.  We spend two nights in Florence and Florence was a treasure.  It’s quieter than Rome and quite a bit smaller – a very pedestrian friendly historical downtown, which was a nice change.

 

Our hotel, the AC Firenze, a Marriott Property, was just across the street from the start of the historical downtown area.  It was a brand new hotel and very modern, nice bed (best we had in Italy) and a great breakfast buffet in the morning.  The only complaint was that the Air Conditioning couldn’t be turned down lower than 20 degrees and I found it quite warm at night.  We could walk to the main sights, like the Duomo, the Uffizi Gallery, the Ponte Vecchio, the Accademia Museum and some world famous shopping areas with top of the line leathers and gold.  However, it was quite a long walk from the hotel.  If you had mobility issues, they had bike-taxis (a guy peddling a two seat carriage) and a few regular taxis that could take you around, but most traffic is restricted within the downtown area.  A Bike-Taxi from the Duomo to our hotel was $12 EUR – we took one back at the end of our day.

 

We had one full day in Florence and made the most of it.  Unfortunately, as it was a Monday, we couldn’t visit the Uffizi or the Accademia as they are closed on Mondays. But we did a walking tour of downtown to familiarize ourselves with the area and saw where the Duomos was, as well as the replica of David which is in David’s original home in the Piazza della Signoria, the Ponte Vecchio and the Piazza di Santa Croce which is the square with the best shopping and also home to the Basilica di Santa Croce which was well worth visiting.  It is the oldest Franciscan church in Florence and one of the oldest in Italy and is home to the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante and more.  It was also a beautiful church.  After visiting the Basilica, shopping for some leather goods and filling up on lasagna, we decided to tackle the 450 steps or so to the top of the bell tower, connected to the Duomo.  We first visited the Duomo and the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the famous cathedral with the huge dome that dominates the Florence skyline.  The outside was very ornate and the Duomo incredible, however, most of the masterpieces and sculptures from this Basilica have been moved to the museums, so they say it is like an empty jewelry box.  We had the option of climbing the Duomo (almost 500 stairs) or the Bell Tower (about 450 stairs).  There was a lineup for the Duomo and none for the Bell Tower, so that made our decision easy.  It was about $6 EUR for an entry fee.  The stairs are very narrow with people coming up and down and at times they are steep and you can feel a bit claustrophobic.  However, the views from the top were incredible and made it well worth the effort!

 

Following these adventures, we had to go back and prepare for our evening in Tuscany.  We were driven about a half hour outside of Florence into the Tuscan hillside to the Castello del Trebbio – a 12th century castle, surrounded by 350 hectares of vineyards and Olive Groves.  It was originally the home to the Pazzi family, and was the site of an attempted murder of the Medici brothers, who were the biggest advocates and supporters of the Renaissance movement.  The current family bought the estate in 1968 and raised their 5 children there.  After the death of the parents in the 1980’s, one of the daughters, Anna, took over the running and management of the estate with her husband.  They further developed the winery and olive oil production and opened the estate up as a venue for weddings, special events and also started renting several farmhouses on the estate to tourists – all to support the upkeep of their lovely castle.  The castle itself has the winery and wine cellars in the basements – which also used to be the prisons.  The castle is heated only by fireplaces, with the exception of one special event room which has central heating and it is filled with antiques and is very authentic.  It was magical.  There were rolling hills, flowers and vineyards everywhere.  It was very peaceful and easy to see why tourists would want to come and stay.  It was also one of the best meals we had on our entire stay in Italy and included wine tasting.  Although I had to abstain from the wine this time, I was sure to buy some to bring home for a later date!

 

The next morning, it was on to Venice and the city I had been waiting for! Venice, like Rome, was just as I had imagined it to be.  Our hotel, the Amadeus, was only one street over from the Grand Canal and about a 5 minute walk from the train station, so it was very convenient.  The rooms were decorated with antique Venetian furnishings, but the bathrooms were quite modern and the rooms were very charming and clean.  We had a little balcony and the nicest part was with the windows open, we overlooked a quiet courtyard and all you would hear in the morning when you woke up was the birds and the bell tower.  You didn’t hear the people or noise of the canals and busy streets, etc at all.

 

We had about a day and a half in Venice and we spent quite a bit of that time just wandering through all the quaint streets and alleys and over bridges and canals.  It was the nicest city to just walk around.  At first I was worried about getting lost, but they had little signs on the sides of the buildings pointing you down each alley and street either towards St Marks, Rialto or the Piazza del Roma.  Our hotel was near the Piazza del Roma and we usually wandered towards St. Marks or Rialto and shopped or saw the sights as we came across them.  That way, we could always have an idea which way to go and which way to come home.  It worked well and we never had to look at a map – we just enjoyed the journey.  We did a private Gondola ride for two, leaving from right near our hotel.  It was 100 EUR for about a 40 minute ride (total for two of us).  I didn’t think that was too bad compared to prices I had seen online.  The Gondalier was very good, although he didn’t sing – he told us it was better if he didn’t as he only ever sang in the shower!  We did the Gondola at Sunset and it was dark by our return.  I think this was the best time to see Venice and see the city light up.  It was well worth the money.

We also toured the Doge’s Palace in St. Mark’s square and were glad we did.  There was no lineup and it was 15EUR each.  You tour the private apartments of the Doge, which were incredible, as well as the Institutional Chambers, which is where a lot of the official meetings and judicial/court proceedings happened, etc.  Then we were able to tour the Armoury and go across the Bridge of Sighs to the Prison.  It was really interesting and you should plan to have at least an hour to an hour and a half to tour.

The main public transportation in Venice is the Vaparetto (water bus).  It is quite expensive!  For locals, it’s only about 1.5EUR for each ride, but for tourists, it was 7EUR for each ride and they have a schedule, just like buses, so in one case we ended up waiting about 40 minutes for the bus and we could have walked back in that amount of time (but my feet were tired!)

Getting back to the airport doesn’t really have any inexpensive options.  You can take a water taxi right from historic Venice to the airport for about 120EUR, or we could walk (and drag our bags) the 10 minute walk to the bus terminal (just past the train terminal) and from there you can take an airport bus for 10EUR each or a taxi for 40EUR flat fee.  We opted for the taxi for 40EUR so we didn’t have to wait and drag our bags on and off the bus.  I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the 120EUR on the water taxi, but it would have been very nice and convenient!  You could also take a train, but you would have to change trains in Mestre and again you would be dragging your bags to and from the trains.

From Venice we flew Alitalia to Rome.  We arrived at the airport early and they put us on the earlier flight for no charge, so we didn’t have to wait three hours for our flight – we basically just checked in, went through security and boarded the plane.  It was a quiet 45 minute flight and we were there.  In Rome we had to overnight before flying back to Canada on Air Canada.  We opted to stay at the Hilton Rome Airport as it is connected by covered walkway (5 min walk) and we wouldn’t have to take a taxi or deal with shuttles.  The best rate I could find was a prepaid non refundable rate of $189EUR.  I have to say, this was the only hotel I was disappointed with on the whole trip.  The pillows were terrible, the sheets were worn out in places, the bathroom was not very clean and there was rust on the fixtures and mildew in the grout in the shower.  It was OK, but definitely not the standard I was expecting from a Hilton.  The best part – the Hilton Burgers from room service.  For 18EUR each, we got enormous Beef Burgers with onion rings, cheese and bacon on them and fries and after two weeks of pasta and pizza, it was nice to have a taste of home!  🙂

Jamie’s Italian Adventure – Part 2

Well lots has happened since our last update. We spent a great last day in Rome at the Pantheon, Piazza Navona and the evening attending the ‘E’lisir de Amore’ at the Opera house. All three would make it onto my must-do list for Rome. The first two were free, the Opera was €59 for middle of the road tickets. The opera was an amazing experience, a gorgeous ornate opera house with the Italians dressed in their finest and spectacular singing…very ‘Pretty Woman’ 🙂 !

After Rome, we made our way to the Amalfi Coast. We stopped en route at Pompeii and were treated to beautiful, clear views of Mt. Vesuvius. Pompeii turned out to be very interesting and was much more extensive than I imagined. The state of the ruins and the extent to which they were preserved was incredible.

From Pompeii, we took a road through the mountain pass on the Sorrento Peninsula to reach the Amalfi Coast. Mama Mia, what a road! Zigzagging higher and higher to the top of the mountain with the coast miles below over steep cliffs, our coach clinging to the side of the mountain on a single land road with traffic going in both directions!  Yikes, it was a close your eyes and hang on kind of ride. If you want to reach Amalfi on your own, you can take a train to Sorrento or Salerno and then ferries from there to several of the villages.

We stayed three nights in Maiori, the largest town in Amalfi Coast with 10,000 people. Our hotel was the Soleil Splendid and we had a large, lovely one bedroom suite overlooking the Mediterranean. It was very 1950’s style, but quaint, sparkling clean and with a nice breakfast each morning. We could always hear the sound of the waves from our room, I loved it!

Maiori has a good bit of shopping with friendly shopkeepers, a beautiful promenade running the length of the sea. Some of our best meals were here at local seaside restaurants. The food seemed a bit more inventive or less plain than what we found in Rome… local pasta with pumpkin flowers and fresh smoked cheese, ravioli with romano infused with local lemon and cherry tomatoes, yum! Plus the best tomato soup I have ever had! This area is well known for their lemons, they are everywhere! Lemoncello, olive oil infused with lemon, etc.

While in Amalfi we also visited Amalfi town, the oldest village in the area and the famous Isle of Capri! It was about 1.5 hours by ferry each way from Amalfi town to Capri. Once in Capri, you take a cable car from the harbour to the town built in the mountain above.  The cable car takes five minutes and cost €1.80. The town is known to host the rich and famous, Tom Cruise, etc. There are some of the best views there, it is a really impressive island. There is a monastery with famous flower gardens and their own perfumery. There are top end hotels and villas owned by the rich and famous, as well as all the high end shopping, Gucci, Prada, Valentino and much more….every girl’s dream if you had an endless budget! We skipped the shopping, had a really nice lunch and went back to the harbour and spent an hour being lazy at the local free beach. It wasn’t quite swimming weather, but it was pleasant and relaxing to sit and look at the beautiful blue Mediterranean.

Now we are off to Florence and Venice for two nights each, which is sure to be a whirlwind of sightseeing and trying to fit everything into our last few days. There is so much to see and do here, two weeks is not enough!

Jamie’s Italian Adventure – Part 1

Well we have now spent a full 48 hours in Rome and my head is spinning! There is so much here to see and do it will be impossible in the three and a half days we are here. Let me start by saying Rome is magnificent and exactly as I was hoping/expecting. Here are a few of my first-glance observations and tips.
1) Conversation for Italians is more of a competition than a conversation. Each speaking louder, faster and with more movement than the next to try to get their point across. At the same time it is a beautiful language and like a ballet of lyrical words constantly playing in the background. I have also noticed while Italians are eating, drinking, enjoying each others company – no one is on their phone for the entire meal! How refreshing!

2) Rome is a city meant to be walked. The metro is easy, only two lines, one to the Spanish Steps and onwards to the Vatican, the other to the Colosseum. However, we have walked everywhere. Our hotel is near the Termini train station, – it’s the Una hotel which is lovely and modern. From our hotel you can walk everywhere. The Trevi fountain, Spanish steps, Colosseum are all about 20 minutes. From there, a few more minutes and you are at the Piazza del Popollo, the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon and more. It seems easy to get lost, but then all the little side streets and alleys all lead back to one of the main roads and it’s easy to find your way again. Getting lost is half the fun as there is a new treasure around every corner. Churches that don’t make the tourist map or guidebook, but manage to take your breath away when you stumble into one…or gardens full of towering pines and cool breezes….or ancient ruins, walls and aqueducts. Rome really is full of hidden treasures waiting for you to come across them.

3) See the sights from the day and evening perspective if you can. Seeing the Trevi fountain and St. Peter’s lit up at night is beautiful and so different from the daytime.

4) Come prepared for people, noise, traffic and crowds. The first day and a half we wandered through some sights and the streets of Rome on our own. It was busy and at times it felt you took your life in your hands attempting to cross the street. Today we went to the Vatican and Colosseum on a guided tour and learned what crowds were really about! Thankfully with our guide we could skip the lines as we had reservations. The Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peters were really worth visiting, but the endless crush of people hurrying you along and pushing and shoving did manage to take away some of the enjoyment. It would have been nice to take your time and take it all in.

4) Coach tours aren’t just for older people! Even I was surprised to find that about 1/4 to 1/3 of the people in our group of 45 or so are my age or younger. It is a good mix of people and the leisurely paced tour of this Italian Concerto Trafalgar tour gives us lots of free time and not a lot of early mornings, which we like! 🙂

5) Bathrooms! As a pregnant lady, bathrooms are of utmost importance these days! There aren’t a lot of public ones and you often pay €1-1.5 to use them. My secret trick- McDonalds! There are signs everywhere pointing you to the next McDonalds and they almost always have decent facilities available.

6) Last but not least, come hungry! I have fallen in love with their mixed Brushetta plates and order one with every meal. The pasta and pizza are fresh and delicious and best of all the homemade ice cream (gelato) sold on every corner!
Tomorrow we have more free time, so I think we will visit the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, plus we have tickets to the Opera! After that, it us on to the Amalfi Coast.
Ciao!

Ed’s Crystal Cruise – Majestic Majesties – Part 1

Arriving in Venice is always an experience. You have a couple of choices to get onto the island from the airport. You can take a bus transfer to the main land entrance and then a vaparetto (water bus) or a water taxi from there. We opted to transfer by vaparetto from the airport to the nearest stop to our hotel. At 15 Euro per person, this is much less than a water taxi which would have cost 110 Euro for both of us. You have to purchase the ticket in the airport before you go to the dock.

There is a long walkway from the airport to the dock where you pick up your boat and having a lot of luggage is not a good idea. Plus, if you are taking the vaparetto, you have to be prepared to lift it on and off the boat. This may be a good reason to take a water taxi plus you don’t have to endure an hour and a half boat ride on the vaparetto! Arriving at the closest vaparetto stop to our hotel, we still had to walk up and over a couple of bridges hauling our bags along the way…hmmm, maybe the water taxi would have been better as it would have dropped us off right at our hotel, the Westin Europa Regina.

The hotel itself was beautiful, right on the Grand Canal and the room was large and inviting. Unfortunately, the next morning I woke up with several bites.

The evening of arrival was a wonderful experience wandering some of the streets of Venice ending in San Marco Piazza and having a lovely dinner there.

Surprisingly the piazza was not very crowded. Check out this little video of the gondolas:

The next morning… more of the same. We have been to Venice a couple of times now and actually spent a week here a couple of years ago, so we have been to most of the major attractions. Just roaming the streets and watching the bustle of the city was what we wanted. Some people are often intimidated with the seemingly lack of structure to the city…it is very easy to get lost in Venice but it is also very easy to stumble across the way back. We love finding little nooks and crannies and the treasures they hold.


We opted for a water taxi to the port to board our ship (70 Euro) but it took us right to the dock and it was easy. Crystal Cruises does a marvelous job of embarkation and within 10 minutes of arriving at the ship we were shown to our stateroom. The ship is absolutely gorgeous and the staff are very friendly and accommodating. They have staff from around the world and it is interesting to see where they are all from and they do like to talk about their homeland.

First, a quick tour of the ship to familiarize ourselves and then get ready for dinner. The food is truly amazing and we have great dinner mates.

The ship spent the night in Venice so we have one last opportunity to visit. What a difference from yesterday! Today the city seems jam packed with tourists and you can hardly find a quiet spot. This video will show you what I mean:

We dodged and weaved our way through the crowds ending up at the Rialto Bridge and a quick tour of the fish and produce market…very interesting with every conceivable type of fish and seafood you can imagine.

But enough of the crowds…found a great little restaurant along a canal with lots of atmosphere and a good wine list.

The sail away from Venice was very interesting as a tug boat pulls our ship along the Grand Canal past San Marco Piazza, the Bridge of Sighs and other great sights.

We are working on this cruise as Vacation Vignette Hosts and as such we hosted our cocktail reception for the group. About 22 passengers in total and all are very nice. Our reception was at the front of the ship on Deck 12 with our own little “balcony” so we could watch as we came though the Grand Canal – awesome.

Today is a day at sea so we can explore the ship and take in some of the activities…so far we have found the golf clinic very interesting…

The great thing about Crystal Cruises is that it is all-inclusive, so the wines at dinner, the cocktails during the day, the specialty coffees, the golf instruction, the lecturers, the movies, the entertainment, fitness classes…everything is included. Luxury at its best!