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Old 03-17-2013, 05:44 PM   #31
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Heather: Thank you for so much more info, especially all the magnets. I think you are the Cruise trip Fairy Godmother!!! Love reading about all your plans and I love your enthusiasm!!!

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Old 03-17-2013, 05:44 PM   #32
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Thank you so much for posting all this information! This is our first trip to Europe and I am feeling so overwhelmed by everything! I am trying to find the right combination of seeing what we want without exhausting ourselves and then have everyone be cranky and tired. I really appreciate all your research and information. Any tips for first timers to Europe? I have a private guide and car for Rome and Athens, and I contacted the cooking lesson person you are using, but beyond that we are still trying to decide.
How fun - first trips to new places are always the best - you never know what to expect and everything seems so different. Let me know how you make out with Arianna in La Spezia

I totally get the cranky and tired....the best combat is being organized in advance - so you are halfway there.

What a great question about Tips for first-timers to Europe. I have been so many times that it wasnt until you asked me did I really even think about it - especially from what is different from North American travel (per say).

I have pulled together some thoughts I had - I hope they are not too obvious or impertinent. They are just things I thought of off the top of my head.

Europe is easy to get around. I find that the public transportation system is so much further advanced than North America . The old streets are friendly to pedestrians and a lot of people are on bikes both motorized and peddle. We usually avail of these things when visiting. However, I do find that when you only have one day in a city it can slow you down if you don't know the local directions.

I think you have to prioritise what your goal is for each port and then decide from there how you are going to get around.

For example, when its just me I always to take the public transportation. When with my husband, we take public transportation but I have to remove half my list of to-see because he doesnt like to move to quickly up or down the stairs or push his way to the front of the subway line&.. With 10 of us this time (ages 1 75 years) I wouldnt dream of taking them on a subway I have booked cars everywhere. Although last time in La Spezia I did take 6 of us (ages 2-74) by foot to the train station, train to Pisa, bus to the Leaning Tower and then return. My husband said he wasnt doing the planes, trains and automobiles this time in Pisa - he found it tiring and hot. Now my two year old - loved it - and would do it again.

I also find that I try to include everyone in the plans regardless of their age. That way there is a variety of things to see and it isnt just another ruin that by the end of the trip looks the same as the first one you saw. Which trust me can happen&even my notes on photos start to become shorter and shorter. I remember in a previous trip to Kusadasi my friends and I all took the same picture of a pile of ruins (near the end of our touring day). Not a single one of us remembered what the photo was of. We didn't have a clue and still don't. Who knows, maybe this time I will see it again and I can finally put a caption to that photo.

So here it goes:

Toilets
  • Go to the toilet when the opportunity presents itself because sometimes it's a long time before you see another one. And restaurants won't necessarily let you in to use the facilities without purchasing.
  • Have change a lot of Tourist washrooms charge - some as much as 5 Euros. Most are 1 Euro though and you need change to get in.
  • If there is a washroom attendant, they can be frugal on the toilet-paper I always have some tissues in my purse just in case. I remember a nun once at the Vatican only giving me one square.

Eating
  • I usually try to avoid the tourist areas to eat. Usually the prices are much higher and food quality is lower. Even just walk a couple of blocks away and find somewhere to eat. If there are a lot of locals there then usually the food is good - pubs, taverns, etc are usually great places to get good food.
  • Quick food on the run - the grocery stores in Europe have great grab and go options usually for a lot cheaper than take-aways or fast-food.
  • Soda pop is not all you can drink in most places in Europe be careful because soda can really add up on a bill. Also choosing a soda that is not a standard bar pop (i.e. 7-up, soda water or coke) can also be much more expensive for a smaller amount. Also note, water is usually brought to you in a bottle and is not free of charge.

Try to visit stress free
  • Dont try and do everything. Europe is old so there is a lot of history and there is a lot to do in every single city. Choose the main thing you are going to see in each place. Then two sites you want to see. And then a list of places that would be nice to see. Organize them on your map and you will begin to clearly see what is doable and not based on your priority.
  • Dont sweat the small stuff. If you miss the first subway, dont worry, theres another one coming. Now if you miss the last train back to port then just quickly come up with a back-up plan. I always figure out what train is my very last train I can take to make it on time and then aim to be on the one before it.
  • Put the cost in perspective if you just spent $10K to get to Europe; And it will cost you $20 vs. $5 to take a taxi (instead of the subway) and will make your day more enjoyable, save time and your feet - then do it!
  • If you are lost - then pop into the closest hotel theyll always point you in the right direction. Ask a local most have an understanding of English and if they dont they usually will help find someone who does. I have met some great people this way.
  • When you get off the ship pick up the local map from the tourist info. Even if you dont need it. You never know what information it has on it.

Transportation
  • If you take the train make sure to find out if the ticket needs validating before you get on the train. Usually there is a machine on the platform. Otherwise you could end up with a hefty fine from the ticket taker on the train.
  • Not all trains are air-conditioned. They can get very hot. Consider first class tickets for this reason alone.
  • When you taking a cab just stick with the licensed cabs. Black (illegal) cabs can be cheaper but they can also take you for a ride.
Money
  • There are bank machines everywhere so dont stress about getting a lot of currency before you go. But check with your bank to see if they have any limitations on international withdrawals or what their extra fees are.
  • Have small bills it can be hard to pay for a small taxi fare or water with a $100 bill. And in places like Turkey youll end up with Turkish Lire as change.
  • Tipping in Europe is very different than North America. Tips are usually included already in restaurant prices (quite often the menu even states this).
  • Taxes are already included in the price and arent added after the fact. If you make a large purchase see if the store participates in the VAT refund program. They will fill out a form for you that will allow you to get a certain portion of the included taxes back when departing from the airport. You will need your passport and this is only good for receipts of a decent value (i.e. $100+). Remember without the forms completed at the time of purchase there is no way to get your money back.

Finally
If someone is dressed up in costume (unless it is Mickey Mouse) chances are they are doing it for money. The gladiators outside of the Coliseum are expecting you to pay them for any sort of picture. But beware they might say $2.00 originally but when you get dressed up in their spare costumes and the whole family is in the picture and then you take 5 poses it could cost $10 or more. And if you dont have exact change it could cost you even more!
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Old 03-18-2013, 11:20 AM   #33
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Your plans for La Spezia sound really neat.
So, you organized the trip to Pisa with ariannandfriends as well? Are you doing that after lunch? I'm thinking of emailing them and basically copying your idea if that's ok. We were planning on a day in Cinque Terre, but we've been there a couple times before (it never gets old) and this sounds pretty cool.

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Old 03-18-2013, 11:24 AM   #34
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Love all the great info!!!
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Old 03-18-2013, 11:25 AM   #35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cousin Orville
Your plans for La Spezia sound really neat.
So, you organized the trip to Pisa with ariannandfriends as well? Are you doing that after lunch? I'm thinking of emailing them and basically copying your idea if that's ok. We were planning on a day in Cinque Terre, but we've been there a couple times before (it never gets old) and this sounds pretty cool.
I am glad you like the sounds of our day!

Go for it - contact Arianna and hopefully it will work for you too. They have arranged everything for us, except the climb tickets (I am going to book those myself).

Let me know how you make out!
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Old 03-18-2013, 12:51 PM   #36
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Subscribing to your thread. You are an amazing source of information! Thank you so much for sharing all of your hard work. We are on the Venice to Barcelona (with Greece and Turkey) itinerary in July 2014, and I am so eager to follow your pre-trip planning and your trip report when you get back.
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Old 03-18-2013, 05:05 PM   #37
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Air Canada Itinerary Changes

First of all.....thanks everyone for the great words of encouragement about my pre-trip report...I'm having fun writing them.

Now I have to vent for a second.


I just received my 5th itinerary change from Air Canada today.

3 of the 5 were minor
- a couple of hours here or there, or even 3 minutes difference in one of the changes.

1 of the 5 was pretty major - 24 hours major
It's funny because I got the notice (for 3 of our 4 passengers) and couldn't find any time changes. I even passed the notice to a colleague at work and she couldn't find a time change so we thought it was sent in error. We only noticed a month later because our friend's daughter tried to match our flights and couldn't get on one of our flights. It was then we realised our return flight on the 25th had been moved to the 26th - a whole 24 hours.

Now our latest change....

....and I don't know if I should be happy or sad. The schedule is better but I lose my special plans.

We had a connecting flight from Newcastle, UK to Barcelona through Brussels, Belgium. The original connection time was enough to allow me to plan a side-trip to take the boys to see a Commonwealth Cemetery in what they know as "Flanders Fields" and then return back to the airport to get our next flight to Barcelona. We were really looking forward to it and had even picked out where the Canadians were buried (and the Newfoundlanders because we were our own country back then).

Well...Air Canada just changed this part of flights. We are now going through Heathrow (instead of Belgium). The Connection times are better and we are getting into Barcelona earlier....but we are going to miss our little adventure and history lesson

Tooooo bad.

I wonder how many more changes Air Canada will make before our trip starts....I should say anything because next you will know they will cancel our direct flight from Newfoundland and make us back track to Toronto
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Old 03-19-2013, 12:42 PM   #38
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Newfoundland Sailor, those are quite the time changes on your flight! My goodness! I sure hope they don't send you back through Toronto, but I guess anything is possible at this point? I hope they don't change again on you. That Brussels stop sounded cool!

Thank you so much for all the tips for the first timers to Europe. I will be printing those out. I had no idea about the money for the bathroom. I know in Mexico they do that , but had no idea in Europe. All your other tips are so very helpful. I can't say thank you enough for sharing them!

We contacted Arianna and friends and have the cooking lesson all set up. When I originally contacted her, it was just our family, but now we are joining up with another family which made the price cheaper (Yeah and thank you to that family) and I was wondering if it was someone on here who booked with her as well. My daughter has dreams of going to culinary school after college and her dream was to take an Italian cooking class. Thanks to your help, we can!

I don't have the tickets purchased yet for the tower, our daughter 18 wants to climb and our son 14 does too. Not sure about my husband and myself. Would the kids be allowed to climb without us? If not, I guess we will work out a little harder and make the climb too!

I think we figured out the rest of our excursions last night, now I just hope they are available on April 14.

Thanks again for all of your help and if you don't mind, I may have more questions as we get closer!
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Old 03-19-2013, 06:09 PM   #39
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Tickets to pre-purchase

I think one of the most important things I have been looking for to try and save time (on a one-day visit) when visiting some of the popular sites is investigate if there is a "skip-the-line" queue because you pre-purchased your tickets.

Be careful though, because many private ticket sites will also sell these tickets at a marked-up rate and you could pay double what you would have if you had purchased from the official site itself.

In 2011, we pre-purchased for the Leaning Tower and the Vatican Museums. Thank goodness we did - because the lines were insane...especially because we were traveling during the high European Summer holidays (early-August). We went through the Forum entrance to get our tickets for the Coliseum last time (there was no line at the Forum but gigantic at the Coliseum - which we could then bypass).

The Coliseum doesn't have an official website for tickets - but I have included the website our guide this time round suggested.

Recommended tickets to purchase in advance to avoid lines:

La Spezia
Climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa: http://boxoffice.opapisa.it/Turisti/ [20-12 days prior to visit]

Florence Uffizi Museum - http://www.b-ticket.com/b-ticket/uffizi/ (A great article on ticket purchasing here: http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Travel-g18...m.Tickets.html ) NOTE: CLOSED ON MONDAYS


Rome
Vatican Museums: http://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/do [up to 60 days prior to visit]

Coliseum: http://www.ticketclic.it/Gb/HTML/musei/colosseo.cfm or use the Forum or Palentine Hill entrance to avoid the line ups

Galleria Borghese: www.tosc.it [up to 45 days prior to visit] – Often sells out everyday, so tickets are recommended.


Malta
Hal Saflieni Hypogeum: https://booking.heritagemalta.org/ - Sells outs weeks in advance (only 60 tickets per day)

Playmobil Factory Tour: email - funpark@playmobilmalta.com - only two tours a day (maximum of 10 people per group)


Athens

I did a lot of reading about any pre-purchased tickets in Greece and I wasn't able to find any suggestions. And you can't even pre-purchase tickets for the Acropolis (but you can for the Acropolis museum).

I did find a great Google Map of Athens Points of Interests:
http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UT...42143&t=k&z=15
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Old 03-19-2013, 06:32 PM   #40
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We contacted Arianna and friends and have the cooking lesson all set up. When I originally contacted her, it was just our family, but now we are joining up with another family which made the price cheaper (Yeah and thank you to that family) and I was wondering if it was someone on here who booked with her as well. My daughter has dreams of going to culinary school after college and her dream was to take an Italian cooking class. Thanks to your help, we can!

I don't have the tickets purchased yet for the tower, our daughter 18 wants to climb and our son 14 does too. Not sure about my husband and myself. Would the kids be allowed to climb without us? If not, I guess we will work out a little harder and make the climb too!
That is awesome you're are going cooking. I am so excited for you - and especially for your daughter....I think I might have a clue of who might be joining you... but I haven't heard back confirming if they booked.... Have you picked out your menu???

For Pisa - first of all the climb is pretty easy (as far as walking steps goes). It's sort of cool to walk the tower because the stairs are all worn on one-side and I don't recall them being steep. And I don't know if it is your mind playing tricks on you or not - but I swore I was leaning too

In terms of age. The tickets for the Leaning Tower say that "under 18s must be accompanied by an adult." So I would interpret that to say that your 14-yr old son could go with your 18-yr old adult daughter? ....But I think you should go up anyways Just imagine, you'll be walking the same steps as Gallileo when he was testing his theory on Gravity.
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Old 03-19-2013, 09:23 PM   #41
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Quote:
Originally Posted by disfreaks View Post
Newfoundland Sailor, those are quite the time changes on your flight! My goodness! I sure hope they don't send you back through Toronto, but I guess anything is possible at this point? I hope they don't change again on you. That Brussels stop sounded cool!

Thank you so much for all the tips for the first timers to Europe. I will be printing those out. I had no idea about the money for the bathroom. I know in Mexico they do that , but had no idea in Europe. All your other tips are so very helpful. I can't say thank you enough for sharing them!

We contacted Arianna and friends and have the cooking lesson all set up. When I originally contacted her, it was just our family, but now we are joining up with another family which made the price cheaper (Yeah and thank you to that family) and I was wondering if it was someone on here who booked with her as well. My daughter has dreams of going to culinary school after college and her dream was to take an Italian cooking class. Thanks to your help, we can!

I don't have the tickets purchased yet for the tower, our daughter 18 wants to climb and our son 14 does too. Not sure about my husband and myself. Would the kids be allowed to climb without us? If not, I guess we will work out a little harder and make the climb too!

I think we figured out the rest of our excursions last night, now I just hope they are available on April 14.

Thanks again for all of your help and if you don't mind, I may have more questions as we get closer!
I think that family is ours. We just booked yesterday. We have some younger kids 8 and 3. Hope that's ok. I think my oldest son and I will be making the climb in Pisa. Any idea what we're cooking?
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Old 03-20-2013, 12:50 PM   #42
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I have trouble posting with the quotes, but we are happy to being sharing this with you! My daughter is 18 and my son is 15. They both love younger kids and are really looking forward to this. Are your kids girls or boys?
We would love to make pasta for sure, beyond that we are pretty flexible! What are you looking forward to making? We live a ferry ride away from Seattle. So excited to meet you ahead of time!
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Old 03-20-2013, 01:42 PM   #43
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I think that family is ours. We just booked yesterday. We have some younger kids 8 and 3. Hope that's ok. I think my oldest son and I will be making the climb in Pisa. Any idea what we're cooking?
Disfreaks & Cousin Orville - I think that it is fabulous that you guys are cooking together. Are you cooking first and then the tower?

Can't wait until afterwards to hear all about it- hopefully we'll meet up at the Tower or on the tender and compare our days

That's why I love these boards - we can all share everything we know, read and heard about - and end up making everyone elses and your own vacation that much better. Love it!!!

My brother was reading through the boards today and said "its an overload of information"! I could only laugh. He did say he found my pre-trip report (by accident) while reading other posts....Ooops, did I forget to tell him I am writing about him every day????
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Old 03-20-2013, 08:21 PM   #44
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Quote:
Originally Posted by disfreaks View Post
I have trouble posting with the quotes, but we are happy to being sharing this with you! My daughter is 18 and my son is 15. They both love younger kids and are really looking forward to this. Are your kids girls or boys?
We would love to make pasta for sure, beyond that we are pretty flexible! What are you looking forward to making? We live a ferry ride away from Seattle. So excited to meet you ahead of time!
We have boys. I think they'll really enjoy the cooking. We also have newborn girl who we may take with us as well. Risotto or Ravioli sound good. As long as there's wine and pasta, we're happy. Are you on Bainbridge?

NS - yes we're cooking followed by Pisa. She suggested making reservations to climb at 3:00pm. Having been to Pisa before but never climbed the tower, I'd like to do it this year if I can secure the tickets.
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Old 03-26-2013, 10:39 AM   #45
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Cousin Orville, sounds great! I think we will all climb the tower as well. We are so excited about the cooking class! Yeah! This will be so much fun!
We are in Poulsbo actually. How did you know about Bainbridge? It would just be too crazy if you knew someone there!
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