Italy- June 2015

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I remember back in 2008 when my Mom said to me ” You know you can take trains?” Up until that point, I was planning trips to major cities, mostly served by United Airlines. Learning I could take trains to different places, opened up a new travel door for me.  Last year, I discovered how easy driving around is, yet another travel door opened.

A few friends were planning trips to Europe this summer and had asked for some advice. In talking with them about their itineraries, I discovered all sorts of places, I had not previously thought to visit.  Like Cinque Terre, or Siena.

Since I had just visited Paris in March, I figured I would hope over to Italy and check out some of these gems. So I decided to fly to Florence, use it as my base and rent a car to drive around.

**TRAVEL TIP** If you are renting a car, make sure you are rested. It’s not a good idea to pick up the rental when you are coming off an long international flight or even after a long HOT day of sightseeing.

I had booked a hotel about 5 minutes from the airport. It only took me only 30 minutes to find it. One has to be careful driving around Florence as they have these areas that are traffic restricted and if you enter one, you will pay a fine. (And yes for the record, I am expecting a violation notice in the mail).

The next day, I was off to visit the Republic of San Marino.

IMG_4607And officially at 46 countries!  I thought about cheating and just keeping driving, but then technically it would not count. So I parked the car and checked out the town.

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San Marino reminded me a bit of Liechtenstein.  Some interesting historical sites, but nothing that would require days of sightseeing.

After about an hour, I had my fill and decided to head to Arezzo. At this point, I must admit I am very thankful I did not do my normal obsessive research planning this trip. If I had, there is no way I would have been driving around.  On last year’s trip, I vetoed Italy completing based on the fact that I refused to drive on the skinny roads on the side of mountain. Well, I drove on some skinny mountain roads, with some crazy hairpin turns, and I survived. So I guess there is something to be said about conquering ones fears. That and maybe invest in some adult diapers.

After a long hot day of driving, I headed back to Florence. I attempted to walk around the City center, seriously Google, 27 minutes to walk 2 blocks? ( Yes I know, Really? I was still using Google?).  It was too hot, 95f or 36c. I admitted defeated and called it a night.

Up early again the next day, this time heading to Cinque Terre.  I drove to Le Spezia with the plan to take the train up to Monteresso. Again due to relaxed planning, I did not think to check to make sure the trains were running. Yep, train strike. No trains, but if I wanted, I could try to take a boat, along with the thousands of cruise passengers.  So I ended up driving to Riomaggiore. Of course there was no parking. So I did not make it down into town. From what I did see, I was will definitely go back.

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Next stop, Pisa. Because at this point I had become a pro at navigating the mountain roads. I was able to find parking quite easily, which was surprising.  Of course, I got my requisite selfie

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After Pisa, I headed to Lucca another walled city, before heading back to Florence and calling it a day.

On my last day, I headed over to Siena, with a pit shop to do some shopping at the infamous Mall. It’s like any other outlet mall you’ve been too, including Prada and Gucci. Years ago, you could actually get some deals. Now stuff is made specifically for the outlet and it’s full of tourists from all over the world. I will say the prices were about 1/2 of prices here in States, with the strong dollar. So if you are in the area and really want a Prada or Gucci, it may not be a bad idea to check it out.

A friend had talked so vividly of Siena, she made me want to visit it. And yes Kristy,I could see why you loved it so much. I will agree I prefer Siena over Florence.

I will definitely go back, when it’s not so warm, to proper tour around. It really does deserve more then a few hours.

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I still had a few hours before I needed to head back, so I decided to check out San Gimignano. Well between getting lost and not finding parking, this is the closest I got.

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Funny enough, it actually worked out. I needed to head back to Florence to return my rental car and catch my flight. Which was turn out quite the adventure. Silly me, I thought there would be signs for Rental Car Return, there was but along with 20 others. So after about 30 minutes, I finally figured out where to return the car. I made it inside the terminal exactly 2 hours before departure. And that’s when I noticed my flight was CANCELLED. Great.  Let the fun times begin.

The European Union has great protection rights for consumers in regards to air travel. Even though the flight was cancelled due to weather, Lufthansa was required to provide accommodations, food and transportation. More detail on EU 261 can be found here.

I had to talk to a Lufthansa representative to have alternative arrangements made, as I was missing my flight back to Chicago in the morning. They were busing everyone up to Palermo to overnight and fly out of Bologna the next morning. I smiled politely and said NO. Just NO. Not happening. I was hot and tired and frankly, just not interested. The lady just smiled and said, no problem. So I was able to spend the night in Florence and fly to Frankfurt the next morning at 6.30 am. I was scheduled to connect on the United flight at 12:45 pm. As I arrived at the airport in Florence, I got an email from United informing me that my flight was delayed 3 hours……..

I will say is there are worse places to be stuck then the Senator Lounge in Frankfurt Airport.

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Finally 36 hours later, I made it home. Only 8 hours later then scheduled.  I love love love that I am able to meet up with my various friends, those moments alone made up for all my misadventures.

Future adventures await…… Stay tuned.

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Paris-June 2015

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Does anyone recall the freakish blizzard that hit Europe in December, 2010? When the arctic winds come to visit? I recall it vividly. It was unnaturally cold.

I can now add remember when that freakish heatwave that hit Paris in early June 2015, to my travel stories. When it was was 90f + degrees (32-36c)?.

It’s not a secret that I do not like extreme heat. Especially for sightseeing. I figured I would be safe visiting Europe in early June, because it’s technically late spring. WRONG.

This trip I had booked a room at the Hilton Paris Opera. It’s more centrally located and I was able to take the RER to Gare Nord and change to the Magenta line to Haussamn St. Lazare which is right next to the hotel.

**TRAVEL TIP***-do NOT use Google Maps in Paris. It’s a little wonky when it comes to public transportation. A good alternative is RometoRio

After refreshing, I hit the streets to do a little shopping.  Again, don’t trust Google Maps. What should have been a 10 minute walk took me 30 minutes.  Did I mention it was starting to get a little warm?

First stop Chanel, for Pursegate 2.0. (Whitney and Katy- that same bag is still sold out!). I am happy to report, no major damage done on my credit cards.

Bruce and Will were able to change plans and come to Paris a day early.  We made plans to meet for lunch. Somewhere, again in case you miss it the first 2 times, don’t use Google Maps. At this point, it was no longer just warm, it was hot.  There was an insane line for taxis, so I did what anyone with a smartphone would do, requested an Uber. It was only 3 km away, how long could it take? 1 hour and 24 euro……

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We had a nice lunch and took a stroll along the Seine. The guys were fading and I had plans to meet up with my friend, John for drinks,  so we parted with plans to catch up again later.

It was now hotter then before. And you would think by now I had learned my lesson with Google. Nope. I started to walk over to the Park Hyatt. Bad idea. I lasted about 3 blocks before I hopped in a taxi. I met up with John and few of his friends for some champagne.  And I got a present!! Thanks John!

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I headed back to my hotel for a mandatory refresh because it was just HOT. Then off for more champagne, dinner and walking around Paris.

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I finally made it back to my hotel ready to crash around 1.30 am. Only to be woken up by the hotel alarm clock at 6.30 am. It actually worked out well, as I had planned to visit Versailles.

**TRAVEL TIP*** If your hotel room has an alarm clock, make sure the alarm is off before going to bed.

I hopped on the Rer C to Versailles. I had pre-booked my ticket online, so upon arrival I was able to just show the ticket and walk in. I suggest going as early as possible, if you want to avoid crazy crowds.  Versailles was great, but between the selfies sticks and tourist playing professional photographers, it was hard to get pictures. And it was HOT,  worse then the day before.  And there were loads of people and well, I probably saw like 10%.  I actually started to feel ill, pretty sure dehydrated, so I took a break got some juice and went back out to explore the garden. I want to say I lasted about 10 minutes, before I admitted defeat.

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I headed back to Paris, where I met up with Bruce and Will before heading over to Orly to catch my flight to Florence.  I tried to Uber but they were having a crazy surge, so fares were 2.4 times higher then normal. I ended up taking Le Cab, which is like Uber but with fixed prices, nice cars, tablets with wifi. And much better prices.

Of course the next day in Paris, the weather was normal like low 70’s…………

Stayed tuned for my Italian Adventure.