A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: ChristisDream

The Logistics of the Whole Thing


View Trip of a Lifetime! on ChristisDream's travel map.

I was asked many times how I managed to plan & pack for this trip. My answer - a spread sheet of course! While I do like to travel light I do not like to go without. We normally travel with 1 carry on size suitcase - 21" x 14" x 9" (including wheels) and a personal bag that fits over the handle of the suitcase. This trip being 3 months long, covering 2 1/2 seasons, and with the cat required a little more! Fortunately only a little - I added 1 suitcase which spent 2 months in storage and a tote bag for the cats things and a little soft cooler about the size of a 6 pack. For the ice I carried an ice bag - I knew I could always find ice cubes but usually wouldn't have access to a freezer to freeze an ice pack - it worked like a charm.

Usually we travel "by the seat of our pants" - no advance reservations but this trip with the cat I did reserve hotels in advance. Many hotels in Europe do accept pets but the fees can range from nothing to "are you kidding?" so advance research is invaluable.

I always carry my own shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face cream, lotion, deodorant, and all the other personal care products one could need. I used small bottles as they are easier to find places for in the suitcase - these were split between the stored bag and what we carried. I also had a supply of OTC medication for colds, stomach issues, tylenol, and band-aids - just in case. Was glad I packed the cold meds as we went through all of it plus more we bought.

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This is the bag that was stored for 2 months.

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The $69 question was "How do travel with a litter box?" Easy - a travel litter box - it folds up and will fit in the pocket of her carry bag, We carried litter in the tote bag plus a scoop, whisk broom & dust pan, disposal bags, a tarp, absorbent pads, a rag, and emergency carpet spot cleaner - just in case. The photo on the right is of her box folded up and a liner with some litter in it. I could just grad this bag& her bag and go the the bathroom on the train or plane and set up box, set her in it, she'd do her thing, then put it all back - less than 5 minutes! Shai is really an excellent traveler.

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We always had a good supply of wet cat food with us as well as treats, dry food, and bottled water. Her bowls are the collapsible silicone type that clip on the handle of her bag.

Another must travel with is a coffee maker. I don't move without coffee in the morning - even to a breakfast room! I have carried this little coffee maker with me for 20 years. You can make a drip cup of coffee or just heat the water and make instant. I also carry a supply of sweetener and the liquid creamers that do not need refrigeration.

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I carried picnic supplies in a zippered bag - paper plates, napkins, utensils, various sizes of ziplocs, wine glasses, TSA corkscrew, salt & pepper, and a sharp knife. We usually had some sort of snack/nibbles with us - olives & cheese would fit in the little cooler, fruit was easy, and we always carried wine!

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Another challenge was carrying 3 months worth of daily medicine & vitamins. I made up 100 - 2" x 2" baggies of pills and put them in 2 qt ziplocs.

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Not knowing what the weather would be in Boston & NYC we brought warm coats, gloves, scarves, & hats plus some warm layers of clothing. Ray had 3 pairs of pants, 8 shirts, a linen suit, 2 prs of shoes, 1 pr of sandals, and swim trunks. I had 5 dresses, 3 prs of shoes, 1 pr of boots, 2 prs leggings, 2 tops, and swimsuit.

As most everyone knows I am always hot so a fan is another necessary thing to have, We also had 2 notebook computers, 3 kindles, a 12' extension cord, and 2 cell phones. When we arrived in Paris I purchased a French SIM card from Orange along with 4 extra top ups. I put the new SIM in Ray's phone and used it as a hotspot. Worked like a charm everywhere especially now since there are no roaming fees in Europe anymore. We used it for directions - both walking and then driving in England, restaurant reviews, historical information, several taxi apps, train schedules & reservations where needed, e-tickets for entrance to places, it was really an indispensable tool. I had all of our reservations in a great travel app so we needed very few paper copies of reservations.

The 2 months we spent on the continent we traveled by train. We had two month continuous rail passes and even if we had paid full price for them we really got our moneys worth! The list doesn't even include all of the times we used it on local trains within a city or region.

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We enjoyed shopping in the local markets in the cities - especially when picking up wine & nibbles. The trips to the suburbs in search of cat food were a great way to see a different lifestyle in several European cities.

The packing list is constantly changing and being refined - I try to see what was actually used and what was not, what worked and what did not. I did find a few things I could scale down for future trips. When traveling and on the move we do not unpack our bags - packing cubes or in our case 2 gallon ziplocs are perfect to keep clothing neat, organized, and easy to access. We made many trips to the laundry but we met and talked with so many wonderful people while there - fellow travelers and locals alike so it never seemed like a chore.

Like anything the success in the planning.

Posted by ChristisDream 04:38 Archived in England Tagged packing organization trip_planning travel_with_cat Comments (0)

England and Meeting Old Friends for the First Time!

sunny 74 °F
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This part of the trip took some research for sure. We were originally just going to fly from Paris to London - easy right. Not...to bring an animal into the UK by plane they must travel in the cargo hold...not going to happen. Animals are not allowed on the Eurostar - that's out, have to be in the kennei on the ferry, unless you have a car, one way car rental - nope. Finally I found Pet Travel Abroad - a taxi company! We took the train from Paris Gare du Nord to Caiais where our taxi was waiting for us at the station.

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Our driver Alex took us to the pet check in area and thanks to Shai's Pet Passport we breezed right through!

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Onward to "Le Shuttle" - the car train for the channel tunnel

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All went smooth, the taxi dropped us at the train station in Folkestone, England, we took the next train to London, taxi to hotel, and Bob's your uncle - that's how you get a cat from Paris to London!

There was a nice pub down the street from the hotel we walked to for dinner. Ray had fish & chips, I had a burger, both excellent!

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The full english breakfast - toast, eggs, potatoes, rashers of bacon, bangers, beans, grilled tomatoes, and mushrooms! Heart attack on a plate!

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Another day in search of wine, cat food, and wandering London. This was our third time in London so the usual sights were not in the plan - we actually have had bad luck on prior visits to the UK so we were keeping our heads down! Our first visit in 1997 we left Paris the night Princess Diana was killed and arrived in London the weekend of her funeral. Our next visit was in 2001, September, we were in Caernarfon Castle in Wales when we first heard about the planes hitting the WTC. We were halfway through a 3 week visit with our last week in London. When we arrived in London our hotel room had been given away - they were not expecting us as planes were not flying. Fortunately they did find us a room for the week.

Laundry day again. We were staying very near Paddington station, the neighbor hood becomes residential very quickly.

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I love rooftop bars. I found one in the Waterloo area of London that has a great happy hour - that was our destination for this evening. We passed the London Eye on the way

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After walking up the four floors the Bar Elba rewards you with 2 for 1 cocktails, thousands of tiny lights, a friendly staff, and really great food!

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We split a burger and TWO orders of fries! The fries were their version of poutine (gravy, cheese, bacon, green chiles) and oh so delicious

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Meeting Old Friends for the First Time

Off to pick up our rental car and head up north to Nottingham!

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I met Glenn about 9 years ago playing a Facebook game and we have maintained contact since. I've watched his children grow up, his writing develop, and his books being published (shameless plug https://www.amazon.com/Glenn-Scrimshaw/e/B009HNIXR8 )

He invited us to his Halloween Party - we came dressed as the scariest of all - American Tourists!

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Glenn's wife Kay & me
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Of course I had to bring a little Texas treat - Glenn is whiskey lover and this one was wonderful!

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We had a lot of fun meeting them all - turns out Kay & I are very much alike!

After a day of chilling & laundry

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we decided it was time for some curry. We barely made a dent in the food but it was delicious!

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Next we headed south to Southampton. I decided to minimize the moving around and spend the last 5 nights before the cruise home at the hotel near the cruise port. By this time I had taken over the driving - turns out I'm a natural at driving on the left!

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You really can't get much closer to the cruise terminal!

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Very busy cruise port - new ship almost every day - Independence of the Seas

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Shai loved this window - lots to watch!

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Winchester and the Cathedral

We still had the car for a couple more days so we headed to Winchester to the Cathedral for a visit. Winchester is a lovely town and the Cathedral is amazing.

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The Cathedral was built in the 11th century in the Romanesque style soon after the Normans conquered England. It was remodeled in the 14th century with Gothic arches. By the 16th century the Cathedral was completed much like it is seen today.

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The center aisle - Winchester is the longest cathedral in Europe
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The intricately carved choir

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The 15th century great screen behind the high altar

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Some of the amazing stained glass

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This diving helmet belonged to William Walker - the man who literally saved the Cathedral. Seeing the diving helmet reminded me of the documentary I'd watched about this.

"When huge cracks started to appear in the early 1900s, the Cathedral seemed in danger of complete collapse. Early efforts to underpin its waterlogged foundations failed until William Walker, a deep-sea diver, worked under water every day for six years placing bags of concrete. "

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Original 13th century floor tiles

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The original Romanesque arches are still visible in one area of the church - the rest were all converted to high Gothic

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Jane Austen is among the people buried there

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It is an amazing place with a storied history.

After the Cathedral we stopped for a nibble and refreshment at a little Italian place before walking back to the car.

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A Day at the Beach

We were greeted with a beautiful day - the QE 2 in port today

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We decided to take a drive down the coast a bit and ended in town called Fareham at the Osborne View Pub. The place had beautiful views of the Isle of Wight. We ordered some lunch & bottle of Shiraz.

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After lunch we took our wine outside to enjoy the sunshine. They had a great lawn area with picnic tables & a fabulous deck. We eventually landed in the comfy chairs on the deck and as we do made fast friends with the couple sitting next to us.

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After our 3 hour lunch stop we headed back to Southampton. I really loved the driving on the right.

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That night we went for a preview of The Dancing Man Brewery - a group of us on cruise critic had decided to meet there the night before we sail to get acquainted - we'd been chatting online for about a year! Dinner was wonderful - we were looking forward to returning in a couple of days.

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Hair Day and a Wine Find

Today we returned the renal car and were able to walk back to the hotel and to my hair appointment. We found a barber for Ray - he even got the OAP rate (Old Age Pensioners) - and we were both ready to go!

By this time it was dinner time and I found a little Italian restaurant to try. Piccolo Mondo was tucked away in a quiet side street and was a treasure find! We really fell in love with Amarone wine this trip and our new friend the sommelier told me to look for 2012 as it was a very good year. So we looked, and looked, and looked - it was nowhere to be found. Sitting in this restaurant I noticed on the chalk board it said to ask about wine specials - so I asked. It was an Amarone, I asked to see the bottle - it was a 2012, I asked if I could buy it to take with me - of course you can! It is sitting in my wine rack waiting for a special occasion!

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Getting Ready for the Cruise

This day was spent with a quick trip to the mall for some last minute items, packing, and meeting a group from the cruise critic forum at The Dancing Man Brewery. We had a great time as I never stopped long enough to take a photo! Little did we know just how much fun we would all have over the next 15 days.

Shai watching me pack
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A ship leaving under a gorgeous sunset
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Tomorrow we sail!

Posted by ChristisDream 09:06 Archived in England Tagged southampton fareham osborne_view winchester_cathedral Comments (0)

Change of Plans & Return to Paris

sunny 75 °F
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Our last breakfast with this beautiful view

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I was very glad I had booked the driver round trip as there was a transit strike that day and the local train was not running. Strikes are a common occurrence in Italy and usually last one day or even hours. Our driver dropped us at the train station in Naples with plenty of time to catch the train. This would be a rather long day - 4 1/2 hours to Milan then 5 hours to Nice.

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We changed to the French TGV train in Milan and met a new friend. He was wearing a lapel pin and tie tack of a bunch of grapes. Ray asked what they were for, turns out he was a Master International Sommelier - one of 16 in the world at his level! He was heading home after teaching a class in Italy. Antonato is a very charming man - we had a great conversation which made the trip pass quickly. If you even need a container load of wine I can hook you up!

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On to Paris

After a quick sleep in Nice we caught the TGV to Paris. Originally we planned to head to Barcelona from Nice but that would have meant another long travel day to get there and then a super long day to get from Barcelona to London since we had to go through Paris to pick up a bag we stored there before we left the first time. We'd been to Barcelona before so it wasn't a must, add to that the current uncertain Catalan independence we decided to go straight to Paris - my favorite city anyway.

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The French Riviera

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We arrived in Paris, settled in to our hotel and went to dinner at our favorite La Terrasse.

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Next day was a chill day, laundry, cat food shopping but we did find time for wine & nibbles

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A Trip to Chateau Fountainebleau

I had wanted to see Fountainebleau on our first stop in Paris but we ran out of time so today we are headed there. We left from Gare de Lyon - just a 38 minute train ride away.

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The chateau was begun in the 1100's and was added to or renovated through the hundreds of years following - it has more than 1500 rooms. It was home to Medici's, all of the Louis', and the Napoleon's among many others.

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The Plate Gallery - 128 porcelain plates depicting historical moments in history - these were fitted into the woodwork in the early 1800's.

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The Chateau houses numerous works of art

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The bedchambers were amazing

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The Chapel Vestibule

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The Ballroom

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The Chapel of Saint Saturnin - the Chateau's first Chapel

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Napoleon's Bedchamber

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The Abdication Room - where Napoleon signed his abdication in 1814

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The Clock with Nine Dials - each dial displays a different period - signs of the days of the week, moon phases, days of the week, day of the month, equinoxes & solstices, months, leap years, phases of the sun. The arc across the top displays the current zodiac sign.

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The lower floor of the Chapel

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The Palace from Above - the only real way to appreciate the true size

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Waiting for the bus back to the train station

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Dinner that night at Cafe Roussillon - I had the Boeuf Bourguignon and Ray had a lovely chop. Delicious and the wine devine!

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Last Day in Paris

Today we would retrieve the bag we stored here when we left the first time, look for cat food, and do some laundry - not necessarily in that order. We took the subway to a laundromat near the place we stored the bag and got that out of the way first. Next we walked toward the agency that had the bag stopping at several markets along the way until we found the right cat food. By then it was time for lunch - we found the wonderful Le Compas where we shared one of the best burgers I've ever had washed down with a lovely Crozes Hermitage.

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After retrieving the bag we took a cab back to the hotel passing some familiar landmarks on the way

Eiffel Tower
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Obelisk on the Place de la Concorde
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We chilled for while

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Then headed to dinner

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The ravioli was so good it almost did not make the photo!

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We then shared a French Classic - Bavette with Shallots washed down with an exceptional Pinot Noir

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Thus ended another spectacular visit to Paris.

In the morning - crossing the channel to England!

Posted by ChristisDream 05:53 Archived in France Tagged paris fountainebleau cafe_varenne cafe_roussillon le_compas Comments (2)

Sorrento, Amalfi, and Beautiful Capri!

sunny 80 °F
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This was our first time going south of Rome and we were both very excited to explore this part of Italy. Trains do not go directly to Sorrento - you must stop in Naples and continue to Sorrento via the local train, bus, ferry, taxi, or private car. The Italian Freccia Rossa train whisked us to Naples in less than 3 hrs.

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I decided against taking the local circumvesuviana train which runs between Naples and Sorrento and any other mode that required loading & unloading more than once! I managed to find a reasonable private car service which met us on the platform and drove us to our hotel.

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Our first glimpse of Vesuvius and Piano di Sorrento.

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We arrived at our hotel and were pleasantly surprised that we'd been upgraded to a room with a better view! We enjoyed some wine & nibbles on our balcony before heading to dinner.

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We headed out to dinner there was a cruise ship (the first of many) moored on the harbor.

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We found a place for dinner and had our first of many lovely meals and our first taste of the wonderful local Aglianico wine.

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Walking home we enjoyed the beautifully lit coastline of Naples across the bay.

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A Lazy Day

Our hotel's breakfast room has a lovely terrace with incredible views of Vesuvius & Naples - what a way to start the day!

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We spent the rest of the morning planning what we would do the next couple of days and eventually wandered out to eat again! The hotel next door had a great terrace in their restaurant - I really love being able to eat outdoors and the weather was perfect. We enjoyed the view, lunch, a lovely rose, and shared dessert.

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We walked around Sorrento a bit, visited a wonderful wine store and enjoyed a beautiful sunset!

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Touring the Amalfi Coast

We booked a small bus tour of the Amalfi Coast for today and were picked up near our hotel - the bus even though small was too big to fit down our street! The minivan that drove us there the first day had to fold in his mirrors to make it! Another cruise ship in the harbor today!

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Our first stop was a scenic overlook

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Some places have been around hundreds of years

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The cable in the photo is to pull a basket up and down the hill - that's how the folks who live up there transport things rather than carry them.

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Positano from above

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We carried on along Amalfi Drive to Posotano. We stopped there for a look around, some shopping, and a glass of wine.

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Everyone back in the bus we continued and drove past the town of Praiano

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The model village is called a Presepe - a Nativity that includes the whole town - and are a tradition in Naples. If you go to the photos section of the blog and zoom in on this photo you can see the manger built back in the rock. These are all wired and illuminated at night.

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Next we arrived in the town of Amalfi. We decided to take a boat tour part way down the coast for about an hour. Different views from water and a beautiful day!

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After the boat ride we went to the square in Amalfi, people watched, and enjoyed a glass of Aglianico.

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The Cathedral dates back to the 9th Century

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Back in the bus we head for our last stop of the day - Ravello. We stopped at the Chiesa Santa Maria A Gradillo, an 11th century church. Our guide, Gus, showed us where the original floor mosaic could be seen through plexi-glass panels in the floor. It is made of small grey & white stones and depicts a tree of life.

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We walked down the passage to the square and walked around a bit. We learned about Villa Rufolo a 13th century villa belonging to the the powerful Rufolo family. We saw the beautiful views and sat and chatted with our tour guide, Gus. He was born & raised in Sorrento and knew everyone everywhere we stopped! He has been a tour guide for 30+ plus years and has worked on 6 continents. The man knows a lot about a lot of places. He really made the day enjoyable.

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On the ride home I was able to catch a few good shots

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Back in Sorrento the cruise ship all lit up

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A Day in and All Around Capri

We woke up to yet another gorgeous day in Sorrento. We planned to go to Capri for the day and thanks to a generous benefactor we were able to splurge on a small boat cruise all around the island rather than taking the ferry. The weather was perfect for a day on the water! The views from our hotel this morning

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We were picked up at our hotel and transported to the marina in Piano di Sorrento.

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Off we go to the island of Capri. Our first stop - the famous "Blue Grotto". The queue to go in was over an hour - we decided to not wait and our captain told us he would show us some other grottos just as beautiful!

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This is the Mesola Fort, there were two cannons here at one time and along with two other forts guarded the western approach to the island.

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The Punta Carena Lighthouse sits at the southwestern tip of Capri and is the 2nd tallest in Italy (Genoa is the tallest), It has been in operation since 1867.

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Continuing around the south side of the island we come to the Grotta Verde - Green Grotto

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Next our captain dropped us off at the Marina Piccola to spend a few hours on the island. We took the bus up the hill to the town of Capri and found the best view in town for lunch.

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After a wonderful pizza, a couple of glasses of wine, and lovely chats with several other travellers we opted for a taxi back down to the marina to meet our boat.
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It was a nice enough day to have many swimmers at the small beach.

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Back on the boat we headed towards I Faraglioni. The rocks have each been given a name: the first, still attached to the land, is called Stella, the second, separated from the first block by a stretch of sea; Faraglione di Mezzo and the third, Faraglione di Fuori or Scopolo, meaning the head or promontory stretching into the sea.

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The center one has an arch - the legend is if you kiss your love under the arch it will last forever!

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We continued around to the Grotta Bianca. This cave is full of white stalactites & stalagmites. If you look closely there is a stalagmite on the right side that looks like a silhouette of Mary.

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Having completely circled the island it was time to head back to Sorrento. We did make a couple of stops along the way,

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A waterfall
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a little green grotto
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Our hotel - it is the building on the right
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driving up from the marina - yes that diagonal line is a road!
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Our hotel has a lovely rooftop lounge with spectacular views

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We met "hopalong" as we named him. Based on his adept cracker catching he spends a lot of time getting sympathy on this roof. When another gull tried to horn in on the goodies hopalong chased him away!

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This quickly became our favorite restaurant in Sorrento - it sits on a quiet alley - the food was fantastic and had two hard working waitresses who were always happy & friendly. Their house wine was fantastic!

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We will definitely return to Sorrento!

In the morning - train day to to Nice then on to Paris!

Posted by ChristisDream 15:22 Archived in Italy Tagged hotel sorrento capri regina Comments (2)

Florence - Such a Beautiful City!

And the Pizza is Great Too!

sunny 75 °F
View Trip of a Lifetime! on ChristisDream's travel map.

We arrived in Florence in the morning after a nights sleep on the train. While I do sleep very well on the train I usually am up late watching out the window! We headed to our hotel and left our bags - our room would be ready about noonish. We stopped for breakfast then went for a walk re-familiarizing ourselves with the city.

One of the iconic Florence views is the Duomo, the Baptistry, & the Campanile (Bell Tower) from the 13th century

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The Piazza della Signoria is the main point of origin of the Florentine Republic. It is surrounded by various palazzos including the Palazzo Vecchio which is the town hall. The square is lined with statuary including a copy of the David. The Loggia dei Lanzi contains several statues.

The copy of the David
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Hercules & Cacus
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Hercules and the Centaur
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The Rape of the Sabine Women
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Perseus with the Head of Medusa
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We next walked down to the river - the Arno flows through Florence - we had a great view of the Ponte Vecchio

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We headed back to our hotel and settled in, had a little nap and got ready for dinner. One of the main reasons we returned to Florence was to have pizza at a place we'd gone on our first visit - La Bussola. We started with a bottle of wine - one of my new favorites...

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...which explains why there are no photos from dinner!

==Drinking Our Way Across the Rooftops of Florence==

This being our second visit we'd seen the big sights here (well this trip is really not about seeing the sights anyway) so we made our own fun! I found 5 places in Florence with rooftop bars/cafes and off we went.

Our first stop was of all places the library! They have a small cafe on the top floor with a view of the Duomo and glasses of Prosecco

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Our next stop was the rooftop cafe at a department store that overlooked the Piazza della Repubblica and the Duomo. While waiting for a table we started chatting with a couple from Wisconson and invited them to join us when we were seated. On the building in the photo of the piazza it says "Pensione Pendini" - that was our hotel. It has been a lodging establishment since 1879.

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Our next stop was the Westin Hotel overlooking the Arno River and peaks at the Ponte Veccio.
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Our last stop was the Hotel Continentale which looks directly over the Ponte Vecchio - the oldest bridge in Florence and still lined with shops as bridges were long ago.
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There was one last rooftop that we never made as we really needed food!

==A Trip to Siena==

We attempted to visit Siena years ago when we had a car in Tuscany - we however did not have a very good map! After several attempts to find a way to drive into the city center we abandoned the idea vowing to return another time. This time we took the train, then a series of escalators and travelators from the train station, through a mall, and finally to a location inside the city walls. If you just stand still it takes about 9 minutes to climb up the hill. We then engaged a taxi to take us to the center - Piazza del Campo - the huge square that is home to the Il Palio horse race.

The view from the top of the escalator
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The Piazza del Campo
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Always time for wine & nibbles
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The Fonte Gaia - "Fountain of the World" - built in 1419 as an endpoint of the system of conduits bringing water to the city's centre
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One of the many narrow winding streets in Siena
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This wall is part of a planned expansion of the Siena Duoma that was never completed
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The Siena Duomo - built in the 13th century
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Gelato stop
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Words to live by
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Tuscan countryside from the train
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Tonight's dinner!
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==Last Day in Florence==

We chilled, did laundry, and had one last pizza from La Bussola - so good. They even brought me a bowl chile oil for my pizza.

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Our hotel has seen a lot of history unfold in the Piazza della Repubblica. Two walls in the lobby area area covered with photos of through the years.

From 1898 - the square was called Piazza Vittorio Emanuele then
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1935 - Training of fascist troops
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1938 Motorcade with Mussolini and Hitler
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In the morning we leave for Sorrento & the Amalfi Coast!!!

Posted by ChristisDream 03:01 Archived in Italy Tagged florence roof_top_bars la_bussola Comments (3)

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