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May 2, 2016

Italy Review

I decided to go back to Italy for my vacation this year. Cities where Rome, Pompeii, Venice and Florence. I decided to book flight through Orbitz again. I used to find a hotel near the Spanish Steps. That’s where I prefer to stay in Rome. This time I did make sure to find a hotel on the bottom of the steps. Last time I had an uphill climb wherever I went to my hotel. That was not fun to do with luggage.

Before the trip I booked the Pompeii Day Trip from Rome on Viator which usually gives very fair pricing on tours. I also booked a tour directly with the Vatican for the Museum and Sistine Chapel tour. The last thing I pre-booked was a train ticket to Venice. That was also booked direct with the train line


Day 1 was one of the worst travel days I had. My flight was with Al Italia and this was the first time I had a bad experience with them, and it was a very bad experience. While waiting to be on a 9 hour flight they kept delaying our flight longer and longer, citing engine problems. There was zero communication over the speakers, they would only make announcements without the microphone, so only like 20 people would hear. After hours of delaying the flight they cancelled it. They had everyone exit and go the ticketing counter and stand in line for another hour while they tried to get hotels for everyone. After that long amount of time waiting, they had everyone wait another hour for a shuttle. People got to the hotels around 2AM. The next day the picked us back up around 1pm to be on a 6pm flight. So we lost a vacation day and had like 30 hours of travel time.

After that the flight when smooth. When we landed in Italy, a driver from the Hotel was a supposed to pick us up from the airport but be wasn’t there, later we learned he was late. So, we got a taxi. Taxi rates from the airport to a hotel in Rome is a flat rate of 48 Euros. One thing at the airport that had me going crazy was when I tried to get money from the ATM the only option was cash advance. Which in America you don’t want to do or you pay crazy fees, but there it was just the ATM’s poor wording and it was just a normal debit.

vatican museum

We got to our hotel, Relais Pierret. It is a very nice and clean hotel. Right next to the metro, and I do mean right next to the metro. So, you do get some loudness from people exiting the metro, but it is worth the location, and I would stay there again.

Since we lost a day, we ran to the supermarket, got water and headed for a tour prebooked at the Vatican Museum. If you don’t like art history, don’t book this tour. The first part is looking at a touch screen while the guide discusses art history, then you go to the museum with your headphone. Prebooking tours is worth skipping the lines, but we were to tired after all the travel time to enjoy this tour.
After that we just wanted to get a good dinner and go to sleep. A lot of restaurants are closed Monday, so we ended up eating at a place we wondered upon and then went to the hotel and got some sleep.

The next day we got up, went the the local bar for an expresso and a croissant and walked to the Piazza del Popolo to meet our guide for the Pompeii tour. The name of the tour company was CityWonders. The guide was very good and interesting on the bus ride over. She stayed with us, but there was a second guide that actually took us throughout Pompeii. Pompeii is definitely a good 1 day trip, I wouldn’t do more than 1 day there. When we got back to Rome we ate at Sofia Restaurant, which had very good reviews on Yelp. I had the risotto. All the food was above average, but I wouldn’t go back, there are better places in Rome.

roman forum
Day 3 we did the normal Rome stuff. The Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain & Castel San’t Angelo . Rome is definitely different than when I lived there. Seems like nothing but tourists now. Very crowded for my taste and it wasn’t even peak season yet. Anyway it was just our Rome hang out day. We had lunch at Grano Frutta e Farina which has great pizza but bad staff. The blonde cashier would not let me pay. She was talking non-stop to another staff member and just ignored me. When she finally took my money, she asked me for more forgetting half of it was already in her hand. Then she would not give me change. For dinner we ate at Al Gran Sasso, this was the best meal of our vacation. Every appetizer we had and every entrée we had was excellent.



Day 4 we took a train to Venice. The train ride is 3.5 hours. Booking premier elite on the train is worth it. Either way it’s not a bad ride. When we got there we booked a Gondola Ride and a Walking Tour. You have to go on a Gondola if you are in Venice. If I had to do it again I would have got a singing ride. The guy we had was silent the whole time. Before the walking tour we had time to eat, so we ate at Osteria Barababao, which was pretty good. The walking tour was okay. Learned that Venice is sinking and is 80% tourists there. There is just a whole lot of stores and not much else. I’m glad it was just a day trip.


florence bike tour


Day 5 we jumped back on the train for 1.5 hour ride to Florence. I haven’t been in Florence for 16 years, it’s a lot different than I remember. Back then I though 1 day was enough. This time I thought I should have stayed more days there. We did a bike tour from Ciao Florence, it was the best tour of the trip. Fantastic guide, also they have tandem bikes if you want one.




Mercato Centrale


After the trip we ate at a place the guide recommended il Mercato Centrale Firenze. We ate at the steak booth. I usually get mine Medium-Well, the waitess looked at me like I had 3 heads when I said that. They ended up cooking it less than medium. I liked it, but the people I was with had an issue eating it.
Day 6 we booked a tour with Walks of Italy. The crypts, bones & catacombs: underground tour of Rome. It’s something I never seen in Rome before, so I thought the tour was decent. The Bone Chapel is very interesting. After the tour we had our final Roman meal at Tucci Piazza Navona. It’s typical quality roman food, with a great outdoor location in Piazza Navona, to just sit and enjoy being in the city. After the meal had to go get the best gelato in the world at Gelateria Della Palma Rome. I got seconds there. Was the last day after all.

January 1, 2014

London Trip

In November I decide to book a quick 4 day last minute trip to London. I decided to go less than 1 week in advance, so I booked everything the same day. The cheapest flight I could find was on America Airlines so I booked through them. Then I went on and chose Melia White House Hotel. I chose this hotel because it was 4 stars , had good reviews, and was extremely close to a subway terminal. I decided to use tour guides for most of this trip. So, I went on Viator and booked 3 day trips on it.

Melia White House Hotel

So, Day 1 we arrive in London about 9AM in the morning. Flight was good, no troubles. From the airport we took the Heathrow Express, because it is by far the fastest way. A taxi would have took us about a hour and 20 minutes to get to the Hotel. Heathrow Express takes 15 minutes to get to London Paddington station which was just a couple subway stops from out Hotel.

Note that train tickets in London are very expensive compared to any USA train. Even subway tickets in London are expensive.

So, we get to the Melia White House Hotel, but we came to early and they said Check-in time was at 2pm. Usually I get lucky and the hotel has a room ready early, but not that day. We even came back a few hours later and the room still wasn’t ready. We really did have to wait until 2pm that day. That was the only bad experience we had at that hotel. Everything else about it was great. Very clean and nice all around.


big ben

Anyway so the first day there, we just left the bags in the Hotel and walked to the main sites like the London Eye, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace (inside is closed to the public most months). Then we went shopping at Camden Town. When we first got to Camden Town it looked like it was just a Heavy Metal and Punk shopping place, but this place ended up being my favorite shopping place anywhere in the world. This town had a ton of little side streets all with different merchandise. Unlike outdoor markets in the US that will have a hundred cell phone accessory stores and T-Shirt stores with exactly the same merchandise. Camden Town has thousands of tiny shops all with different merchandise. I recommend this place highly.



That night we ate at Demartino Italian restaurant in London. I had a Scallop Risotto. It was very good, but not sure if it was worth the price. I don’t think any food in London is worth the price.



The next day we had to get our own ride to the train station for the first trip we booked on Viator. We booked the “Luxury Paris Day Trip with Champagne Lunch on the Eiffel Tower“. I haven’t been to Paris in over 10 years. Didn’t like it back then, so I had low expectations. I’m glad I had low expectations, because I still don’t like this city. The tour started out with some famous landmark that they just told you about them as they drove by. I didn’t mind that they didn’t let us off the bus for photos, but other people did. Then we did a cruise along the River Seine. It was very cold out, but I wouldn’t have liked it in good weather either. You are supposed to listen to recorded tour guide on a phone attached to every seat. It was a sad boat and a sad tour.


After that they took us to lunch in the Eiffel Tower. The food was just okay, but talking to other tourist in your group is fun.


After lunch we went to the Louvre. Where you can pay extra to go in. I’ve been to the Louvre long ago , it probably the best museum I’ve been in, but they only gave us and hour and I wanted to go to a French Bakery. So that is where we went. There were no ATMs anywhere though, and I only had British Pounds and needed Euros. So, I have to go to a money exchange place, which is always a rip-off. Anyway we got some really good bakery snacks and had to hurry back to the rest of the group to catch a ride the train station. Two time in Paris is enough for me. I don’t need to go back.




The next day we book the “Lunch in the Cotswolds” tour on Viator. This ended up being the best tour. The picked us up in a bus at our hotel. Then took us to a bus terminal to catch a big tour bus. The first stop was at Burford. Which is a very nice little town. I got some great snacks at a bakery and also a chocolate store there.





The next stop was Stow-on-the-Wold which is a more touristy town, and also very pretty. After that we went to Bibury. Bibury was the nicest looking town to me. There are no stores or anything. It’s just a residential town where you each lunch at the The Swan Hotel. The Lunch was pretty good, I had the trout.





Last you go to Stratford-upon-Avon which is Shakespeare’s Birthplace. The tour at this point turn all about Shakespeare. I’m not into Shakespeare, so I wasn’t really interested, but this town is the biggest we visited that day and I would have liked to stay a full day in this town. Lots to see and eat.

When the tour headed back they don’t drop you off at your Hotel. I thought that was weird, but it seems like all London tour companies do that. They drop you off at a Subway station and you get home from taking the subway or taxi.

That night we wanted to go to a more inexpensive place to eat. So we found a chicken place called Nando’s. We both just got a small butterflied chicken breast, but the bill was still about $45 with drinks and just 1 order of fries. So, still not worth the price.

Windsor Castle

The next day we booked the “Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and Oxford Custom Day Trip” on Viator. Same deal where a van took us to a bus station. Then we had to find our own way home. The other thing is we found out the tour that we paid for shouldn’t be called a tour. It should be called a bus ticket. Because we had to pay extra to enter the castle and also extra to get into Stonehenge park.   The tour started with Windsor Castle. They give you head phones for an audio tour. It was worth the visit, but not a whole lot to say. You go in and look at the furniture and get to see a nice changing of the guard show.



Next we went to Stonehenge. Stonehenge would have been nice if they let you get closer to the rocks. They keep you pretty far away. You stay there just 45 minutes , which was the perfect amount of time.

Last we went to Oxford. When I booked the trip I admit I had no idea Oxford was just a college. It is the coolest looking college I ever seen, but that part of the tour was the least interesting out of any art of the trip.
Well that sums up my London trip. We left very early in the morning to head back home.

August 15, 2013

Clean and Scenic Beaches in Maine

Maine’s southern coast is home to some of the world’s most picturesque beaches. Each beach is different than another. Some are soft and sandy, some are a riot of tidal pools and others are composed of smooth stones.  The water tends to be colder at the north end of the state and even a little too warm for some as you go south.  You also have your choice of visiting a wild, secluded beach or one that comes with amenities such as change rooms and snack bars.


Orchard Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world that has a long scenic stretch of silty white sand. It boasts amusement parks, food and games. There are many well-placed parking lots and the beaches are always well guarded by a vigilant staff of well-trained life guards.


The north end of the beach is a bit quieter and is also known as Pine Point Beach.  It is surrounded by majestic towering white pines.


This beach is known for it’s warm water and soothing gentle surf. The mild character of the ocean here makes it popular with families. There are also lots of lifeguards on this site.


If you feel that you want to get away from the crowds and kids, this beach is attached to Footbridge Beach that is less populated but just as pretty. To get to it you cross a small footbridge over a tidal creek. It is easy to examine marine life when the tide is out in this area.


This is a three-mile expanse of sand at the mouth of the Kennebec River that is full of tidal pools that are perfect for exploring. However it is often a very windy beach that can boast dangerously high waves or sand in the eyes. If you like surf and boogie boarding then this would easily become a favorite beach for you.


This is one of the most beautiful pebbled beaches in the state. It is located very near Popham Beach and the town of Bristol. It is more secluded and wild in nature than neighboring bitches.


This is a smaller wilder beach located in Bar Harbor in Acadia National Park. It is notable because it is surrounded by two huge rock walls.  The water is really warm because the each has a perfect southern exposure. It also is well known for its beautiful view.


No matter what your vision of the ideal beach is you are sure to find it among the scores of resort areas that line the Maine Coast.


August 13, 2013

Six Places to Visit in Martha’s Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard is an island that includes the smaller Chappaquiddick Island and it is just off the south of Cape Cod in New England.  It is just less than 90 square miles and boasts a wonderful collection of old cottages, white bluffed sandy beaches and tourist attractions.


One of the most notable points of interest in Martha’s Vineyard is a town called Vineyard (Tisbury.) The main attraction in this summer resort area is the West Chop Light House that stands on the north end of the Island.  Not far from this lighthouse is a steamboat wharf that boasts 150 years of history.  The entire town is charming and boasts quaint architectural examples of coastal cottages from the last couple of centuries.


Another big attraction for Islanders is the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs.  Built in 1876, this is one of the oldest operating carousels in the United States.  It was moved from Coney Island to Martha’s Vineyard in 1884.  Each horse has a smaller animal carved in the pupil of each eye.  As the horses go around riders can catch a brass rings and hook them on top of their horse.  As of 2010, rides are two dollars each.


Edgartown is an old whaling town that is full of examples of 18th and 19th century architecture. This is the place where Jaws was filmed. It is also home to the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, which is run by the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

West Tisbury is home to Lambert’s Cove which is a hilly area of the Island with picturesque features such as an old cranberry bog, the public beach known as Lambert’s Cove Beach and a spectacular forest of oak and beach trees.


Chilmark boasts one of the most popular sunset watching spots in the world.  This fishing town has the highest average property value of any city or town in Massachusetts.  This town is a swimming haven with five beaches on the ocean and one on the inner shore of Menemsha Bay.


Aquinna, formerly known as Gay Head, has a large American Indian population. The Wampanoag were whaling in the area long before English colonists settled it. However the reason to visit Aquinna is to see the brightly colored clay cliffs and the aqua colored oceans with its very high waves.  The cliffs figure very prominently in the myths and spirituality of the Wampanoag. Yet another famous feature of Gay Head is its notorious nude, each which is also known as “Jungle Beach.”


As you can see there are tons of relaxing and interesting things to do in this area of the United States that boasts some of the most interesting curious and wonderful scenic vistas in “The New World.”

August 10, 2013

Blueberry Picking in Maine

The blueberry is native to Maine and they can be found growing everywhere all over the state in fields and barrens. That is because they thrive in the state’s naturally low acid soils.


Although you can buy them commercially it is a real tradition to go picking wild blueberries. Even commercial growers don’t tend to plant them or cultivate them. They just happen to own the land on which they grow.


Blueberry picking is a tradition that started centuries ago with the Native Americans of the area. They were the first to use these tiny sharp tasting berries as food and medicine.  They weren’t actually harvested commercially until the 1840s.


Most of the blueberry bushes can be found on ‘the barrens.” These are vast rolling plains of sandy soil that were formed by the glaciers and that perfectly suit the growing of low bush blueberries.  Other plants that grow in these barrens are rhodora, tea-berry, laurel and bracken.


These blueberries are a dark velvety blue and quite tiny. Other than in a few spots in Canada they really are not found anywhere else in the world.


The best time for anyone to pick blueberries is in August.  Any frost will kill these delicate tiny berries so it is always done way before frost can set it.


There are scores of wonderful pick-your-own farms in Maine.


In Adroscoggin County try Card’s Farm or Goss Berry Farm. You can pick your own raspberry and blueberries from dusk to dawn at both places.


In Aroostook County there is Circle B Farms, which has six acres of blueberries for PYO (pick your own.)  In Aroostookt here is also McNally’s Farm, Mac’s Best Produce and Hebert Farm.

In Cumblerland County you can pick your own at Crabtree’s Blueberries and The Stewart’s Farm.


In Franklin County there is Firth’s Fruit Farm and the Peace and Plenty Farm. The Peace and Plenty Farm sells organic wild sour top Maine blueberries.


In Hancock County you can pick your own in a marshy blueberry barrens at Hog Bay Blueberries.


In Kennebec County you can pick blueberries as well as pick up a little Maple Syrup for blueberry pancakes at Wagner’s Maple Sugar House.


In Lincoln County you can get big organic wild blueberries at Crummet Mountain Farm.


In Washington County you can pick them and buy nationally known preserves at Blue Barrens Farm.


In Walso County, both Staples Homestead and Sewall’s Orchards offer blueberry picking.


York County is the home if the famous Blueberry Hill Farm that offers a staggering ten acres of blueberries!


August 7, 2013

Enjoying Traditonal New England Cuisine

New England cosine encompasses delicious dishes made in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. For the most part these places are known for their traditional recipes that incorporate such indigenous ingredients as clams, maple syrups and beans.  Just follow along the state highways and stop at the many inns and bed and breakfasts to sample the best of what this state has to offer.


However lately the food in New England has gotten even more delicious and adventurous. If you thought New England is just about the clam chowder you are wrong!


These seaside states are famous for their clam chowders and there are as many recipes for it as there are grandmas, inns and spas. The Three Stallion Inn serves up delectable Corn Tarragon Chowder. The Wachusett Village Inn serves up both Smoked Salmon Chowder and Lobster chowder sprinkled with oyster crackers.


The entire state is known for homemade breads. If you like banana bread you will love the Chocolate Zucchini bread served at the Cabernet Inn. The Oatmeal Molasses bread served at the Rabbit Hill Inn is rustic and healthy for you.


Traditional raspberry scones are served up at the Old Tavern at Grafton. For a more decadent baked good try the Strawberry White Muffins or the Triple Chocolate Muffins at the Glynn House Inn.


In New England you find Maple Syrup on everything from pancakes to squash to ice cream. You will also find it in fudge, cookies and candy. However one of the most gourmet uses for it is in the recipe for Apple Chicken served up at Wachusett Village Inn. This is a chicken breast stuffed with apple and cheese soaked in maple syrup.


Lobster is a dietary staple in New England. Buttered lobster is found everywhere in restaurants along the coast. However, these “fruits of the sea” are now found in exotic gourmet dishes such as the “Grilled Lobster Tails with Foraged Fiddle Head and Leek Risotto found at the Inn by the Sea.


New England is also known for Inns serving special cocktails AT the Trapp Family Lodge a hot red wine drink known as Gluehwine is served.

At the Sebasco Harbor Resort there is a unique cocktail served called the Sebasco Lobster Bake, which is basically a vodka-based Ceaser with Horseradish and Lobster claw meat as a garnish.

When it comes to food there is a lot to discover in New England!