Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day 69: flying home (Nov 24)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: early flight from Madrid to Frankfurt, change planes for the flight back home to Houston in time for Thanksgiving dinner. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day 68: Madrid (Nov 23)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: Royal Palace and the Egyptian Temple of Debod. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 67: Tangier, Gibraltar (Nov 22)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: ferry to Tangier and city tour, then bus ride from Tarifa to Gibraltar again. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 66: Gibraltar (Nov 21)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: train ride to Algeciras and bus ride to Gibraltar, caves and monkeys tour, British pub. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Day 65: Madrid (Nov 20)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: the Reina Sofia and Thyssen Museums, Plaza Mayor, Mercado de San Miguel, the royal church, and downtown at night. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Day 64: Madrid (Nov 19)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: the Prado Museum and Puerto del Sol at night. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Day 63: Madrid (Nov 18)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: a bus tour of Madrid and a walk from Puerto del Sol to the Royal Palace. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day 62: Barcelona (Nov 17)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: an all-Gaudi day featuring Casa Batllo and La Sagrada Familia, plus Montjuic. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Madrid, Gibraltar, & Tangier details

Here's the plan for my last week in Europe: three days in Madrid (one of which might be a side trip to Toledo), then 2 nights and 2-1/2 days at the tip of Spain (Gibraltar, Tarifa, Algeciras) and into Morocco, then back to Madrid for one final night before heading to the airport. Then home!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day 61: Barcelona (Nov 16)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: La Boqueria again, the Old Town, Picasso Museum, the Block of Discord and Casa Batllo, and paella for dinner. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day 60: Barcelona (Nov 15)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: a walk down La Rambla, La Boqueria, and tapas for dinner. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Day 59: Provence, Arles, Aix (Nov 14)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: Arles, Aix-en-Provence, Chateauneuf du Pape, and Oppede le Vieux. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Barcelona details

I'm stuck on the train for 8 hours, from around 7am til 3pm, but unfortunately it's not the same train, I have three connections to make so I can't even sleep for very long. There seems to be enough to do that I can do and see most of what I want in the 2-1/2 days I have in Barcelona, assuming I don't stay out too late or sleep too late. Then I leave for Madrid on Friday.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 58: Provence, Avignon (Nov 13)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: Avignon and the Pont du Gard. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Day 57: Nice, Monte Carlo (Nov 12)

Blog post coming soon! Highlights: the Chagall Museum, walking along the beach, the farmer's market in Nice, the bus ride along the coast to Monte Carlo, the walk around the bay, and the Casino. In the meantime, here are today's pictures.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Day 56: Pisa, Genoa (Nov 11)

Pisa is 1:15 from Florence, train station to train station. If you have bags, check them at the Pisa train station, look for “deposito bagagli” — as you get off the train, it’s to the right at the far end of platform 1, past the police office.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Day 55: Florence (Nov 10)

Left Rome about 9:45 for Florence (we wanted to leave around 8:15 but we got stuck in rush hour traffic on the bus going to the metro station), got in around 11 (it’s a 95 minute train ride, they leave on the :15 and :45), and since our hotel was on the way between the train station and the stuff to see, we checked in and dropped our stuff off. We were out and ready to go by noon. We stayed at the Hotel Europa, which is one of Rick’s recommended places (but our rates were much lower since it was off-season).
First off, since you’ll be going to both of the museums (the Uffizi and the Accademia) that are going to have huge lines, you’ll need to make reservations as far in advance as you reasonably can. Otherwise you’ll be standing outside for literally hours. We were lucky, we had checked online when we were in Rome and we were told that in mid-November there are no lines and so we didn’t need to make reservations. There were maybe a combined 10 people in front of us in line at both museums and inside it wasn’t crowded. I expect it to be much different in June.

South of France details

Here's what I had planned for the South of France. Originally I was going to spend one day each in Nice and Monte Carlo, but I took an extra day in Rome and ended up combining the two cities into one day. We get into Nice late on Friday night, then Saturday we start out in Nice and spend the afternoon and evening in Monte Carlo, coming back to Nice for the night. Then Sunday we get to Aix-en-Provence and rent a car to drive around the Provence area for 2 days, the first night in Avignon and the second in Aix. Because we have a car, we have the luxury of going wherever and whenever, not depending on the train or bus schedules for once, and so I've got a list of places that we'll pick and choose from over the two days.

Italy details

With the flooding in Cinque Terre, I had to switch up my itinerary. I was going to go from Milan to Venice to spend 5 days in Rome (with a day trip to Amalfi and Pompeii included), then a day in Florence, then a half day in Pisa followed by a day and a half in Cinque Terre before heading to 2 days in Nice/Monte Carlo.

The new plan had me going from Milan to Venice to Naples (via Rome) for 2 days, including a ride down the Amalfi Coast and a tour of Pompeii and a climb up Mt Vesuvius; then 5 days in Rome; then a day in Florence; then a half day in Pisa and a half day on the train going to Nice, followed by 1 day in Nice/Monte Carlo. Basically, I swapped Cinque Terre for Naples and took one day out of Nice to give to Rome.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day 54: Rome (Nov 9)

The two main things I wanted to do today that were left on my list were the Borghese Gallery and Trajan’s area (Column, Market, and Imperial Forums). Both are on the Roma Pass museum list but the Gallery still requires a mandatory reservation that you need to pick up 30 minutes ahead of time. I also wanted to see the Piazza del Popolo. Given that none of the three are really near each other, I thought we might start at Popolo and take Rick’s “Dolce Vita Stroll” down Via del Corso (with maybe a stop at the Ara Pacis museum along the way) but by the time we got to the Piazza (we slept in) it was nearly lunchtime already.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Day 53: Rome (Nov 8)

Today was a walking tour I put together mainly out of geographic closeness and bits & pieces of Rick’s various tours in the northern part of Rome. It was also day 2 of the Roma Pass and we hit 2 museums on the list.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Day 52: Rome (Nov 7)

This was designed to be day 1 of the Roma Pass, and the start of the museum-type attractions that were covered by the pass, concentrating on the Ancient Rome sites like the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, the Circus Maximus, and the Church of St Peter In Chains, with Trajan’s Column if we had time.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day 51: Rome (Nov 6)

Fortunately I had this day roughly planned out and didn’t have to stay up late the night before. The plan to start out was doing the Night Walk from last night, only in reverse, starting from the Spanish Steps, and taking time to go inside or see the sights. We slept in and got to the Spanish Steps (metro stop Spagna) around noon.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Day 50: Rome, Vatican City (Nov 5)

You should get a Roma Pass for each person. It’s 20 euros but pays for itself quickly. It’s valid for 3 days and covers public transportation and free or discounted admission to major sights. In those 3 days, the first two sights are free, so choose the priciest ones. It’s available at the Tourist Information (TI) booth in the Termini train station. Remember that the Vatican is closed on Sunday; the following are closed on Mondays: National Museum of Rome, Borghese Gallery, Capitoline Museums, Catacombs of Priscilla, Museum of the Imperial Forums (includes Trajan’s Market and Trajan’s Forum), Castel Sant’Angelo and Ara Pacis, so plan accordingly. The Ancient Rome sites are open seven days (Colosseum, Roman Forum). We were in Rome Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, so we ended up using our Roma Pass and arranging the schedule so that the museums were on the last three days. The Vatican is not part of the Roma Pass.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Day 49: Naples, Amalfi Coast (Nov 4)

The second day in Naples was planned to be a tour of the Amalfi Coast. I read in one of the guide books that the best way to do this is just take the regular passenger bus from one end to the other for a couple of euros, no need to hire a guide. So my plan was to take the Circumvesuviana train from Naples to Sorrento (it’s a local train, not covered by my rail pass), take the bus from Sorrento through Positano and Amalfi to Salerno, and then take the regular train from Salerno back to Naples. (Think of it like a right triangle, go south from Naples to Sorrento, east from Sorrento to Salerno, then northwest back to Naples.) We ran into three problems. First, my dad got pickpocketed on the bus from the hotel to the train station, it had his driver’s license and 3 credit cards (his ATM and a 4th credit card were back in the hotel). With no internet (or even wifi), we couldn’t use Skype to call the US to cancel the cards. Second, the rumors we heard yesterday at the train station were true, there was a train strike on the Circumvesuviana so our options were to pay a cab to go to Sorrento (Pompeii is a stop along the way, by the way) or double our trip by taking the train to Salerno, the bus to Sorrento and back, and then the train from Salerno to Naples. The cab would have been quicker but much more expensive, the train was cheaper but meant a longer day. Since we had nothing else going on, we chose the double-train and double-bus. Our third problem popped up later.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day 48: Naples, Pompeii (Nov 3)

Our overnight train from Venice had us change trains in Rome. When we got to Naples they were in the midst of a huge construction project right across from the train station. WARNING: Naples is notorious for pickpockets (and my dad had his wallet picked while on the bus our second day there), keep your stuff very secure in your front pocket and carry your purse over your shoulder across your body and zipped up.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Day 47: Venice (Nov 2)

Checked out of the hotel and took a vaporetto to the Santa Lucia train station to start the Grand Canal tour. First we left our luggage with the bell desk, then we went upstream to the nearby new Calatrava Bridge. I used Rick Steves’ audio guide and self-guided cruise info from his book (you pause the audio at each stop). Take the slow #1 boat (not the express #2), you can do the whole trip in 45-60 minutes if you don’t get off at any of the 16 stops. We got off at the following stops:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day 46: Venice (Nov 1)

We had two days and spent the time leisurely, but you could probably cram this into one. The two main things were to take the Grand Canal Vaporetto tour and to spend time in St Mark’s area (which includes the piazza, the Basilica, and the Doge’s Palace). Make sure you account for opening and closing times for the Basilica and the Palace. We bought a 24-hour vaporetto pass. My original plan: day 1 do the Grand Canal tour and stop at the various points of interest until it gets dark, then on day 2 finish the tour in the morning and do St Mark’s all afternoon and evening.