I'm a 30 something who loves to travel. I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels. I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt. I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney. My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.
In light of the recent sinking of the Costa Concordia my travel tip for Americans is to register for STEP -https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
STEP is a US State Department program where you can register your trip information in case of an emergency. While we all assume nothing will happen while we are away, the reality is that things do happen (London tube bombings, Madrid train bombings) and when we're overseas it's much more complicated. You may need a new passport, clothing, basic necessities, money or transportation. The US Government, your hotel/travel company and your family will know you're overseas. The easier it is to get in touch with you the easier it is to take care of all of those issues.
Pisa has a bad reputation as just being a tourist trap - it's just a tower that happens to lean.
I'm not going to say that's not true, but I did find a certain charm in Pisa.
It's quant little town with fortress walls around it. It gives a nice feeling of what an old Italian town might have looked like, if you can tune out the throngs of tourists.
As for the tower, it's actually quite pretty with a very clean look to it. One thing I don't like in Italy is that the colors of the buildings (oranges and yellows) make them look dirty, but the tower was white and looked very clean. It was such a contrast to what you normally see that it stood out the second I turned the corner and it came into my vision. On top of that it has two matching buildings, the Baptistry and the Cathedral.
I'm not going to tell you run to Italy and put Pisa on the top of your list of things to do. But, if you're in the area I think it is worth visiting. If you want to go to the top though, you'll want to book that in advance.
Contiki does tours for 18-35 year olds. Since I'm turning 36 years old this year I have maybe one more chance to take a tour and then I'll have to move on to taking different vacations and using different tour companies. So I'm leaving Contiki to the next generation.
Contiki offers tours of Europe, North America (US, Canada, Mexico), Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and South America.
Contiki isn't for everyone. I think it's great for young, less experienced travelers. For the experienced or independent travelers, Contiki may not be a good fit. While you do get a lot of free time, there are times when you are traveling in a big group and there is at times a schedule (unless you want to find your own way to the next city). But it takes away the stress of planning transportation, choosing hotels, and it provides about half your meals. This is even more comforting when you're traveling somewhere that they speak another language.
If you've never traveled to Europe before I would suggest a whirlwind tour that goes to a lot of places, that gives the opportunity to get to know different cultures and find out what you like. If you've traveled a bit then I would suggest a regional tour, they go slower and you get a better feel for the areas you're visiting.
The tours I've taken, and they were all great -
California Highlights (kinda short and it's the last week of the Wild Western which can be weird)
Scandinavia and Russia
England and Scotland
At the end of 2011 I was thinking that maybe I should go to Disney World with my annual pass in January or February before I have surgery in March, enjoy the nicer weather and have a quick fun break.
Then last week I got an email from Amex, they were offering a $100 Amex Gift Card if you purchased a round trip ticket with Delta. So I started looking for flights to Orlando and found flights for a long weekend for $205, and with the $100 Gift Card it would only really cost me $105. I was sold, and asked my sister if she wanted to come. She said yes, and she's bringing my two nephews too!
Of course no good plan goes unpunished. With the 4 of us and the overnight change in the price of the flight we're actually going to fly Jetblue (my preferred airline when flying domestically) and go for 4 days instead of 3. We'll be staying at the Polynesian, one of the resorts I've wanted to stay at (and will cost me a lot less then if I had to pay for it myself).
So here's to last minute trips!
Oh, and I have a friend going down for the leap day festivities and since I still have that Amex offer who knows what else could happen.
I own a bunch of cameras. My primary camera is the Canon xsi, but I also own a Canon point and shoot and a camera that is water resistant. But my new favorite camera is the one on my IPhone 4s.
On my December trip to Disney I took my DSLR and my Iphone, I left the point and shoot at home in favor of the Iphone. From the bit of testing I had done with it I knew it took good pictures and since it's my phone I always have it with me. While there were a few pictures that I had issues with, I also found that the Iphone was always with me and handy and that makes a big difference.
So for this week, I'm going to suggest the Iphone 4s (I hear the Iphone 4 has a pretty good camera too). I'm also going to suggest that you practice with it a bit and maybe get a tripod for it if you want to stretch your photography skills.
When I sailed on the Norwegian Epic and was stopping in Rome I decided to make it an easier day on myself. I've been to Rome previously and really just wanted to see the Colosseum and The Forum. I would have taken the NCL transfer to Rome, but it was $99. I don't mind paying a premium for convenience, but that was rediculous! Instead I took the train for 9 euros, which includes the Rome metro.
I can tell you how to do that, but this review is way more detialed then I could ever imagine writing so for step by step directions - Civitavecchia to Rome by train. The short story is that you take the free shuttle out of the port into town (5 minute bus ride), walk 5-10 minutes to the train, by tickets and get on the next train. I HIGHLY suggest getting a train schedule before taking the cruise, NCL did not have one available onboard. But the train seemed to run every 30-60 minutes.
I'm also going to suggest Cruize Cast Podcast #4 on Rome if you would like to try and do all the major highlights of Rome in one day.
I did things slightly differently then suggested, which was good and bad. When I got off the shuttle bus I went into the Tourist Information booth, here they tried to sell me the "fast" train for 15 euros, but it didn't leave for over an hour. The "slow" train was leaving in about 20 minutes. Also, the "fast" train only seemed to have 1 return time, but the "slow" train left every 30 minutes to an hour. The difference in the ride time was about 20-30 minutes. The "fast" train took 40 minutes the "slow" train took just over an hour, Italian time. I had a little fight with the woman here, she wouldn't answer any of my questions, just kept trying to push the fast train on me and then every other tour she could. I got annoyed and yelled at her then I bought my slow train ticket and tickets to the Colosseum/Forum. Buying the Colosseum/Forum tickets here was a FABULOUS idea, it meant I didn't have to wait on line in Rome and I was able to kill the 20 minutes I had to wait for the train anyway.
Once in Rome my friend (I met him on the ship) and I walked to the Colossum. We got a little lost and it took a while. I would suggest taking the metro unless you want the exercise (you might after eating all that good food on the ship), the walk was not in the nice touristy area of the city. I LOVED Rome the first time I went there, after walking through regular areas (for all I know I was in the ghetto, ack!) I lost some of my love for the city. It had a dirty, rundown feeling and look to it, which the tourist areas do not have. But it was also an adventure.
It was hot, I needed it!
After the Colossum and The Forum, which I'll discuss in another post, we walked to the Wedding Cake and found a nice little sidewalk cafe for lunch.
After lunch we walked back to the train station, getting pretty lost this time, we had to pull out maps and ask complete strangers for directions multiple times. This did allow us to stop and throw coins in the Trevi Fountain and just miss a train back to the port. But at least this walk was in nicer area of Rome. But if we had gotten any more lost we would have had to take a Taxi back to the train station.
I always show nice pictures, but the true Trevi Fountain has construction in front.
Unless you're interested in doing a tour in Rome, I would highly suggest taking the train into Rome, just get the schedule before you leave. It's economical, and although the train was a little run down, we didn't hit any traffic and we got to travel with Italians, who don't speak English so I have no idea what any of them said. No, I didn't expect them to speak English, but it makes it hard to find out what the locals are talking about when they're not speaking in English. You will find plenty of other cruise passengers on the train too, you wont be alone.
I thought I had written about everything I wanted to write about in Barcelona, but then realized, I had missed 3 things. So here are the last pieces of Barcelona - Las Ramblas, Barcelona Cathedral and Barceloneta.
Las Ramblas is the main tourist strip in Barcelona. It is situated that on each side there are stores, then a lane of traffic and in the middle is a wide pedestrian walkway. The walkway has kiosks, restaurant seating, street performers and pick pockets. I am happy to say I don't know anyone who was pick pocketed, but this area is known to have lots of pick pockets so you will need to watch your wallet.
While the strip is loaded with tourists and touristy things, there are also many regular shops, like Nike, and a good atmosphere. It feels alive (but not early in the morning), and joyful. Of course you can also pick up any tourist souvenir you want, including a SpongeBob T-Shirt in Spanish (I have a 9 year old nephew). For the first time visitor to Barcelona you do need to take a walk down Las Ramblas, but if you're hungry I would take a walk a block or so away from Las Ramblas. You'll find better, cheaper food.
Barcelona Cathedral is in the gothic quarter, across from my first hotel in Barcelona. It's free to enter and is strikingly different from Sagrada Familia, it's well - gothic. If you have more then a day or two in Barcelona it's worth a visit, particularly if you have seen Sagrada Familia. I went during a mass (does that count as going to church?) so I didn't have free reign of the church. But I was able to see the architecture which was very ornate and detailed. It was pretty dark inside the church, giving the feel of candle light. With vaulted ceilings and the dim light it had a VERY old feel. I'm pretty sure the lights were electric even if they looked like candles. There were many small and ornate chaples in the back of the church, heavy in gold and very detailed in their images. But I'm pretty sure the flat screen TV's were new though.
Finally, I want to talk about Barceloneta, the beach area of Barcelona. I didn't spend too much time here, it wasn't terribly warm and there is so much to do in Barcelona, but I wanted to see the beach here. It was a nice beach, and pretty long. It's strange to think of such a large beach in a city, and only blocks away from the heart of downtown.
The area has a lot of restaurants, I hear it's known for Paella, shops but not as many hotels as I expected. One of the girls I met on the cruise stayed at Hotel Arts (the tall blue one that was formerly part of the olympic athletes village), which is a very nice (and expensive) hotel. There is also a casino here. If you're looking for a relaxing stay in Barcelona this would be a nice place to stay.