Topic: Travel

Interesting points to travel to and visit

So, Let’s consider: Ever wonder how the restrictions on suitcases was determined? 0

So, Let’s consider: Ever wonder how the restrictions on suitcases was determined?

“I’m sorry sir, but your suitcase is over weight”.

Ever get told that when you’re flying? Well, I did a couple weeks ago while on a trip from SLC. I wasn’t the happiest flyer either as it was a rather expensive event!

Come to find out, airlines really like to limit the amount of stuff you can take with you before they start adding fee$ to your flying experience. Further, if you’re going to be on a trip for a week or so, chances are that you’re going to be needing more than 45 pounds of stuff and most likely more than one suitcase. This is especially trying if you’re planning on doing anything more than just spending money at your vacation venues. In my case, I collect insects so I threw in a few kiling jars, etc., along with my cloths, etc. Not the whole lab, but enough to snag a few specimens for my collections, should I run into anything of interest. And all in one suitcase.

So, how did they come to the weight, size and quantity limitations that they did you ask? Good question! Inquiring minds would like to know.

Well, let’s think about this for a moment, or two…. Flyers are to a large extent constrained by the whims of the airlines and they can dictate basically anything that they want to. And, it’s in their best interests to milk out all the fee$ they can get out of your wallet that they can! But, they want to appear to be the nice guys in this equation. Now, I have no insider knowledge on how the real events happened, but I have a theory.

Consider that the airlines can easily, and probably do, determine the average size, weight and quantity of checked items passengers take with them. It’s simple data analytics. So, it would be really easy to determine the average weight of a suitcase. Let’s say for discussion sake that it is 53 pounds. I think this is a fairly reasonable and probably low number, but let’s use it.

Now, from an airline’s perspective, they want to limit the amount of weight and number of suitcases you bring. So, let’s presume that the average flyer takes 1.8 suitcases at about 53 pounds each. Now, with this information, Mr. Airline realizes that there’s a revenue opportunity here. How can they either reduce their baggage concerns or make you PAY more fee$, which would equate to more revenue for them? AH! BAGGAGE FEE$! So, let’s limit the checked items to one and set a weight that might be just under the average…say maybe 45 pounds. OH, you can carry on a bag, provided it’s the size of a toaster(more on that later). And, if they need any inforcement weight, well, they’ll just lobby the FAA and other federal agencies to approve their policies and bingo, the fee$ are basically law. OH, this is above and beyond the prices of your ticket and in some cases your “seat fee$”.

In short in our hypothetical example, if your suitcase if 47 pounds, you’re OVER WEIGHT and it’s time to pay them more fee$. And we’re not talking chicken feed here! You get the idea? If you feel like you’re being ripped off with the high price$ and all the additional fee$, you’re not alone. But don’t waste your time writing your congressman, they probably couldn’t care less.

Then there’s that “carry on item”. It’s really annoying to have two airports tell you your carry on is within size limits, only to have a midpoint airport challenge them. Presume you’re traveling from Chattanooga(CHA) to Salt Lake City (SLC) via Dallas Ft.Worth (DFW). You’re given a document by your airline with the allowed dimensions of your allowed carry on. You measure it to make sure you’re basically in compliance. Airport one lets you on no problems, but the midpoint airport thinks it’s to big and they point to a box the size of a toaster that it’s supposed to fit into. Since you made the major mistake of not bringing your notation from the airlines with the size limits nor did you bring a simple ruler, you’re totally constrained to the whims of the all knowing gate agent that’s been flying for 40 years and knows that God comes to her when He has questions. So, you have no choice but to capitulate, pay the baggage fee$ and check in your carry on at the gate. To make matters worse, when you’re returning from SLC to DFW, SLC verifies that you’re in compliance. But, you can kiss that $40 in baggage fee you paid to God’s tutor in DFW goodbye…

You’re also going to find that, contrary to the assured knowledge of my least favorite DFW gate agent, there’s all kinds of space and room up above the seats in those bins! And chances are she has no clue what kind of a bird you’re flying in anyway, but she’s hell bent for leather that there’s not going to be any space up there for your item or anyone else’s. I think it’s all about the fee$.

So, what’s a flyer to do beyond thinking they need to put their head between their legs and kiss their ass goodbye? I’d recommend that you review the carry on size documentation, usually provided with your ticket. Print a copy and put it some place readily available in your carry on. Measure your carry on to make sure you’re in compliance and if you’re at the limits, pack a small ruler in that same carry on bag. It will come in handy if you run into someone like my least favorite DFW gate agent. And, put all your heavy stuff in the carry on! They don’t weigh it! And if you can schlep it, they won’t care. It’s amusing to see them suggest people repack their suitcases to shift the weight around in them to get under their weight compliance…uh, all items are going on the SAME PLANE. So, is the net weight really the concern or is it the fee$?

Now, some legaleze: The numbers and suppositions I’ve postulate here are my own random fictional hypotheticals. However, the DFW gate agent was very real. But at the end of the day, could it all really be this $imple?

I’m Don Rima and that’s the view From Where I Stand.

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So, Let’s consider: 15 Days in the UK this Summer 0

So, Let’s consider: 15 Days in the UK this Summer

Some thoughts about vacationing in the UK.

My kid is now 11 going on 21, so I figure she’s old enough to not only appreciate traveling abroad but she’ll remember most of her trip(s), the sites, people, and the exposure and appreciation for life in other cultures and parts of the world. We’ve traveled a lot domestically here in the US for most of her life, and continue to do so, but other than a couple days in Canada this was her first real trip abroad. In this trip we learned a lot of what the UK had to offer and we learned a few things about traveling as a tourist. Here’s what happened:

Day 1.

We took an overnighter from Atlanta to Heathrow and arrived at noon in London. I think Delta must have found a sale on buckets at Home Depot and put the smallest ones on this plane for us to sit in! These uncomfortable form compressing containers didn’t lend much to sleep or anything else for just over 8 hours.

But, alas, we checked into the Millennium & Copthorne by the Chelsea football stadium, unloaded the suitcases and flagged a cabbie for some afternoon exploration.

First on the list was the Sherlock Holmes “museum” over on Baker Street. This is a rather quaint hole in the wall tourist trap that has all the memorabilia about Holmes and Watson that you would ever want to by. There’s almost as much floor space allocated to shop as there is to the upstairs “museum”. The museum is a cluster of rooms with period items that Holmes would have used. Also lots of pictures, violins, pipes, and other forensic paraphernalia that Holmes would have used in his work. The museum part is really setup to represent the flat that Holmes shared with Watson and is an interesting look at things from that time period.

From there, it was off to the British Museum for the rest of the afternoon. If you’ve not been here, make sure this is a high priority item on your trip to London. The displays of things like the Rosetta stone, mummies, statues and artifacts from time periods going back to pre-Babylon and ancient Egypt were just incredibly fascinating! Most tours don’t include this museum on their schedule but find some time to go through it.

Day 2: London.

We had booked our tour through AAA with Trafalgar Tours. When I was looking over the itinerary, I noticed that they only offered a 3 hour tour of London. Yeah, it kinda sounds like a quip from Gilligan’s Island. In looking at their itinerary, I realized there was no way they were going to be able to cover London in 3 hours. Attempts to contact Trafalgar prior to leaving the US weren’t very successful so we opted for using another tour group for our tour of London. Later we would find out that there was an “optional” tour we could have PAID EXTRA for that would have included all that the first tour didn’t and should have. We would also later find that Trafalgar has a nasty habit of wanting to tack on extra items, for a fee of course, that frankly should be part of the base tour. This practice of theirs was one of the few things about the whole trip that was most annoying. But life get’s better.

We had a great day hitting most of the sites and things to do and see in London. It a packed 9 hours of walking, riding, boating and listening. The tour guide was excellent. Evidently, England has a certification that tour guides must go through before walking crowds through the streets. Our guide was really good. And the day excellent. I would have liked a 2nd day just to go back and spend more time walking through London in areas we didn’t have as much time to spend at. Also, catching an evening play would have been nice. Next time I’ll plan ahead on that.

I was a bit surprised that they had removed the rather large exhibit on torture and implements of midlevel torture from the Bloody Tower. It used to house a very nice exhibit of these ghoulish tools and practices, and finding anyone that would even talk about the old exhibit wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Off the record, I did find some old Beefeaters that admitted that the older exhibits had been removed to make the place more “politically correct”. So, when you go to the Tower of London, expect the politically correct version – also there’s a lot fewer crown jewels than I recall being there on my last trip as well. Guess they’ve had to pay for some of the queen’s bills or not make things look as gaudy.

Day 3: Paris

You can get a one day really crammed in tour of Paris while you’re in London. You’re up before the roosters, catch the train through the Chunnel and in a couple hours you’re in Paris. We did this. The ride is really nice. First class coach isn’t that much more and the ride is worth it. The French countryside zips by in a lovely patchwork of little farms, villages and towns until you get to Paris.

Keep in mind, you’re not going to do Paris in a day. This was just an overview visit hitting the highlights. And it was really well done. We contracted with Grayline Tours before leaving the US for this as Trafalgar had inexplicably canceled theirs. The tour wound its way through Paris on the top of an open top bus. Thank God it wasn’t raining that morning! We pass through and around most of the major sites and venues of Paris ending up at the Eiffel Tower. This place is incredible. The view from the second level is incredible. There’s a little snack shop there that you can grab a coke and munchie as well. Do be careful of the plethora of vendors that inundate that area under the tower. I was especially annoyed by one of the vendors at the “official” sales booths under the tower. The total of my sale came to about 11.50 euros. She told me she had no change and wasn’t going to be giving me the 50 cents portion of my change. I told her then to move the sale back to 11 euros or I’d walk. She still said no change, so I started to walk…SUDDENLY, her cash drawer opened with plenty of change to be found and life continued normally. I’m told life in Paris hasn’t changed in a long time. SO, if you’re confronted with thieves like this, just walk away from the deal. And make sure you keep your hand on your wallet.

We had several afternoon options to choose from. We chose the palace at Versailles. I had seriously considered going to the Louvre, and if there is a next time probably will. The palace was packed but it was incredible. Clearly a major work of architecture and artistry. Make sure you allocate a full half day for this place if you’re going to do it right. We had just over 2 hours. When you go here, a couple things to keep in mind. Rest rooms are plentiful to be found. As you enter the palace grounds, you’ll see a rather long line of people queuing up for the rest room. This line will be long. There are better alternatives that your guide probably won’t tell you about. If you go in through the exit to the bookstore area, take a left toward the café and there’s plenty of rest room space there. Also, once inside, there’s plenty of rest rooms. Don’t waste your time outside. Unless you have a specific tour guide for the palace, you’ll be taking the self guided audio tour. It’s really good but the line to get your player can be long. Get your player first then go on your wanderings.

We ended up back in Paris around 5:30. Our connection to the train wasn’t due until around 7. So we were stuck for about 2 hours in a centre of stores to shop our hearts out. Now, frankly, if I’m coming all the way from the US to see Paris, one of the last things I want to do is go shopping. Now you see why I wish I’d’ve spent that time at the Louvre.

The train trip back to London went very smooth, dinner was good and we arrived back tired after a full day in Paris.

Fortunately, the laundry was ready and we packed for leaving in the morning.

This brings up two MAJOR items of annoyance with Trafalgar Tours. It would seem that they have an incredibly annoying knack of planting their clients in hotels that totally lack laundry facilities. This is a huge demerit for them as far as I’m concerned. When one travels, they need to wash cloths and after a full day of traveling and walking, the last thing I wanted to do was wash my socks in the sink and hope they dried before morning. Frankly, very little dried on this tour before morning. There was, of course, the valet service that each hotel gleefully informed us was available. Frankly, it was substantially cheaper to have bought each and every item new, thrown them away and bought new to replace them than to use the valet laundry service. The service was a blatant rip off to a captive audience and not appreciated.

Secondly, Trafalgar only allows one suitcase per person. Now, keep in mind, you’re taking a 14 day tour, all your logistical items and you’re going to be picking up stuff at all those tourist traps you’re stopping at along the way and Trafalgar things you should be able to stuff all that crap into one small suitcase. Horseshit! Our travel agent told us 2 bags per person. When we got there and loaded the bus, Trafalgar and I had a little “come to Jesus” meeting over their policy and what we were told and what was reasonable. Common ground was found and life continued. But just be aware you’re supposed to be stuck with one suitcase…and I’d recommend you find a BIG one!

Day 4: The tour begins.

This was really the first day for us with the group. We had contracted for the 15 day “Best of Britain” tour and today life starts for real. What’s interesting is that these tour companies include your travel to and from your home country’s as days of the tour, so in effect, the tour is really more like 13 days, even though it’s marketed as 15.

In the morning we met our coach master, Kirsty Lydon, and our tour guide, Stephen Tormey. Now, before I continue, let me say this: without exception, I’d take another tour with this pair without question. Steve was an incredible tour guide, statesman and guardian of his trusts. Kirsty did a fine job with the coach (generally referred to as a bus by the rest of the world).

We loaded up and traveled through the Salisbury plane to Stonehenge. I’d never been there and frankly it was smaller than I expected, but none the less, very impressive. Come to find out, the Druids made many of these kinds of edifices around the UK. We wandered through the cathedral in Salisbury and ended the day in Plymouth. That night we were at the Jurys Inn Hotel which was conveniently next to an Office Depot store that I made use of in the morning. A nice centrally located hotel, but without laundry facilities.

Another thing you’ll discover while in the UK. They’re concept of high speed internet makes dialup look blazing fast. And it can be incredibly expensive!

Day 5: Plymouth and beyond.

After breakfast we drove down to the wharf where the Pilgrims set sail from. Plymouth is a quiet, quaint and interesting town. The old harbor, fort and Mountbatten’s place across the harbor are still standing.

We took an optional tour (the rest went shopping as I recall) of the harbor and through the naval yard (which is being moved to another facility). It was interesting. Hot coffee felt good! Then down the Cornish coast to St. Ives, which is a nice little village and nook. Then off to Penzance and St.Michael’s Mount for lunch. The landscape is incredibly beautiful. And the roads, very narrow in places. On the way back to Plymouth, we stopped at a nice little pub for tea. Interesting place with an eating room encased in glass that looked more of a greenhouse or conservatory than eating room.

In the evening, we wondered around downtown for dinner. Found a nice place on the wharf. I realized I wasn’t going to be losing any weight on this trip!

Day 6: Glastonbury, Wells, Bath and Cardiff

The abbey in Glastonbury is an interesting place to visit. It’s the place where legend has it that Kind Arthur and his second wife, Guinevere, were buried. The grounds are interesting to walk around but make sure you catch the presentation in the old bakery. It’s worth waiting for.

Then we drove through Wells and on to Bath. The cathedral there is very impressive but more so the Roman bath works that are under it and underground on the grounds. It’s interesting to see how much about plumbing the ancient Romans really knew and these baths are most impressive. Above ground, the city has some nice quaint shops and book stores. And there’s a nice ice cream shop just beside the cathedral.

After dodging raindrops around the cathedral, we reboarded the bus crossed the Severn into Wales and into Cardiff. That night we had a really nice lamb dinner at one of the pubs by the power plant. Had to watch your head going around in the place as the doors were a bit lower but the food and staff were great.

The hotel in Cardiff used was the Copthorne. Frankly, I wouldn’t stay there again. The rooms were a mess, plumbing didn’t work for several of us, there wasn’t any internet in the rooms and the only place you could find internet was in the front lobby at an incredibly high price, slow speed and you were inundated with ads on your browser trying to get anything done. A place to avoid. And, as expected, no laundry facilities. This Copthorne is way away from Cardiff and several of us would have liked to go into Cardiff to explore in the evening. However, it appears that most of Cardiff is closed by 6pm, or so we were told, and it was a fair hike away.

Day 7: From Cardiff to Liverpool

More nice scenery and by now one burned out cathedral looks a lot like the next. Evidently Henry VIII enjoyed burning cathedrals as much as he did lopping the heads off his wives. A pity in both cases. We took the optional “Beetles Tour” that afternoon. It was interesting and informative but not stellar. I can now say I’ve been there, done that. But there’s other places in Wales I’d prefer to be in besides Liverpool.

That night we were at the Jurys Inn on the water front. Nice place, negligible internet availability and no laundry. However, the hotel next to us did have a really nice laundry, so guess who capitalized on that!? Interesting who you run into in the laundry. Had a nice talk with some gals who were in Liverpool for a music festival, all the way from LA.

Day 8: From Liverpool via the lake district to Glasgow

We drove through the Lake District and took a nice optional cruise around England’s largest lake, Windermere. A really nice place to visit. Then a really nice ride around the countryside that inspired Wordsworth. Lunch was in Grasmere and we visited the chapel where he is buried. A really nice creek side village.

Then it was on to Glasgow for dinner and the evening.

Day 9: From Glasgow to Aviemore

Now we’re off and into the Highlands. Past Loch Lomond and some other really nice lakes (uh, er, Lochs!). The Highlands is really an incredibly beautiful part of the world. We wandered into Glencoe and past the 1692 massacre site and had lunch at Fort William. Fort William is a kind of Gatlinburg touristish town with some nice eating places, tourist shops and a great view of the mountains and water.

We stopped at the Ben Nevis distillery for a tour of the facilities. Alex found the “heelin koo’ in the pasture next to the distillery fun to watch. They have got to be the most ugly cows on the earth!

Then off to Aviemore and the Laggan Country Hotel. Now, a word about the Laggan. It’s out in the middle of bloody nowhere. Surrounded by mountains and pastures it’s about as simple and bucolic as it gets. There’s no internet, no laundry and you’re going to love this place. The locks are the old warded type door locks that frankly I’ve not seen used on a hotel in 50 years. It’s clean, the people and food are nice and if you want to get off the grid for a week and get away from everything, this is a place to go.

Day 10: Highlands and Skye

Today we set off in search of the Loch Ness monster…and as you can imagine, didn’t find the little beastie. But we did find some really lovely countryside, a handful of old castles, some of which ya just want to move in and unpack your suitcase at.

A sheep dog training and management demonstration was also to be had that afternoon as an optional event. We went. Learned a few things about sheep dogs and the sheep business. Alex really enjoyed it. Wishes she could have brought home one of the puppies.

Day 11: Balmoral, St. Andrews and Edinburgh

By now, one burned out cathedral’s just as good as the next and you’re beginning to see why Henry VIII may have thought so as well. But, it’s off to the summer home of the queen at Balmoral.

Balmoral is a really nicely laid out castle and estate. The grounds are well cared for and nice to walk around, but don’t think you’re going to be seeing much inside the castle. They basically give you 2 rooms to walk through and no pictures please. The rooms are filled with the queen’s outfits, some pictures and silverware – why anyone would want pictures of these items anyway is a curiosity. There’s the ubiquitous tourist shop and place to snag some lunch, which we did, and it was good.

Then off to the land of the duffers and St. Andrews. Frankly, I don’t like golf but no trip to Scotland is complete without the obligatory trip to St. Andrews where golf all began and where they filmed the beach scenes of Chariots of Fire. OK, now I’ve been there and done that.

Off to Edinburgh. And a really interesting and delicious flame filled evening dinner at a pub just down the street from the grave of Greyfriars Bobby.

This evening, we’re at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Edinburgh. Internet support sucked so bad I was on the phone to their support back at Salt Lake City in the US…the chick in SLC kept telling me she was “resetting the controllers” and would call a senior, and presumably more competent, technician who would solve the problem shortly. Two days later we checked out, problem still not resolved, front desk people still clueless. Nice place to stay if you don’t need internet or laundry facilities – but you should expect more from a Holiday Inn.

Day 12: Edinburgh and Rosslyn Chapel

I wish I had another couple days to spend in this city. I really liked not only the city but the people as well. In the morning we started with the usual tour around the city, ending up at the castle. The castle is a huge bastille built on the top of a solid rock. Once inside it you can see why nobody ever got inside the inner portion of it, ever. The design and construction are really interesting for that time period and the views from walking around are just amazing. The food is great, the people really nice and I could really get into this place.

In the afternoon, we took an optional trip down to Rosslyn Chapel. This is the place made famous by The da Vinci Code. Like the book, it’s a nice quaint little chapel that was nice to wander around. Unlike the book, there’s very few, if any, secrets about the place or hidden chambers, etc. Also, no pictures please. They wanted to make sure you bought the CD of pictures I presume.

Day 13: Edinburgh to York

Hadrian’s Wall is a most interesting thing. Like the Great Wall of China, it stretches across part of northern Scotland and acted as a military barrier. I guess they had to give those soldiers something to do with their time as well, so why not have them build things.

Then into York for the evening.

Day 14: York, Sherwood Forest, Stratford, Oxford and finally back in London

We left York this morning and traveled through the country side stopping for a visit at Shakespeare’s birthplace and group pictures in front of Anne Hathaway’s cottage. Shakespeare’s home is a landmark and tourist attraction – again, no pictures please as we want to sell them to you in the gift shop. The town is an interesting wander around and listening to Steve tell some of the history of the place I learned a few things I didn’t know about that era. Frankly, I’ve never been a fan of Shakespeare and I find the current Anne Hathaway a lot more interesting than Shakespeare’s wife. Se la vi.

The ride through the rolling hills down to Oxford was interesting. It’s a nice rural community with narrow roads and farms. We passed Winston Churchill’s estate but didn’t go in. It’s a really nice palatial estate. And, finally we’re in Oxford. We were running a bit short of time but did have a nice tour of the chapel in Oxford and a few minutes to roam about the place. It’s a huge version of what we would call a “college town” and logically so. A little more time there would have been nice also.

Then finally back to the Copthorne in Chelsea in London and the end of the tour.

By the time we unloaded that bus we were tired and ready to catch dinner and lie down for a while. We’d covered a lot of real estate in England, Scotland and Wales. We’d made some new friends and met some really interesting people. We’d seen and done a lot in a few days. It was worth the price and we’d had a great time.

Day 15: Back home

The alarm detonated early, packing was done quickly. We hit breakfast and said good bye again to some of our travel mates for the last two weeks. A quick trip over to the Chelsea football club shop for a couple t-shirts and then off to the airport and a trip across the pond to Atlanta. This time, the seats were much better and the sleeping came a lot easier.

I’m Don Rima and that’s the way it was in the UK this summer, From Where I Stand.

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So, Let’s consider: National Park Passports 0

So, Let’s consider: National Park Passports

Several years ago, the National Park System(NPS) started a really nice hobby item for those that like to travel and visit parks. It’s referred to as the “passport”. (You can find more info at

A set of additional stamps honoring specific parks is issued every year, and every year I order the year’s new passport stamp set for my National Park “passports”. Now before you go getting confused on me, these passports aren’t the kind that are issue by the state department that you need to travel between countries, or to New Jersey. They’re actually more like a scrap book of stamps that are issued for parks in the NPS system. A new stamp set is issued each year. And, yes, some parks have yet to get their stamp, but you can still get the passport “stamped” when you visit them. When you visit a park and their visitor’s center, you can get the “cancelation” stamp for you passport stamp. And if there’s not one yet issued, you can still collect the cancelations. It’s a really nice scrapbook log of your trips and visits. And it makes for a nice consolidation of memories to look back on later.

I started this with my kid back when she was young as a fun side item when our family traveled as a way for her to have a book of memories of our trips. And each year when I order my new set I still get her a copy as well.

I just got my new set of stamps for next year and this morning I updated my passports with them. I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve had to expand to 2 volumes with several sets of additional inserts.

Our family has changed in recent years, but even still, as I add the new stamps and flip through the pages of trips gone by, the memories come back like the noon day sun.

If you’re looking for a fun memory building hobby for your kid(s) and family, I really recommend that you check out this little known fun part of traveling the national park system. It’s affordable and something that grows as they do.

I’m Don Rima and that’s the view From Where I Stand.

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So, Let’s consider: Some reasons to avoid Timeshares 0

So, Let’s consider: Some reasons to avoid Timeshares

Ok, so we’ve all heard of them. Frankly you can’t go on a decent vacation to any resort and not have some high pressure attempt to sell you one. Usually for free tickets to some tourist trap or another, and OH, if your spouse is with you they MUST attend with you…it’s all part of the high reassure sales scheme to snooker you into buying
a timeshare.

The schemes have changed over the years. You used to have deeded property, now you buy “points” or whatever, depending on what the scheme, uh, plan, actually is that’s being pitched.
You’ll be told perhaps as many have been in the past that they’re “GREAT investments…”, “you can pass them along to your family…”, “they’re going to increase in value…” and any of many other lines designed to make you fork over a lot of dough for some expensive stuff.

For starters, it’s not an investment. You should never even think of it as an investment – regardless of what the sales people tell you. The resale market for timeshares is incredibly illiquid and it’s doubtful you’d find a buyer, much less one that’s willing to pay you what you paid for it, and forget making any profit. There are however any number of organizations willing to take your timeshare off your hands…for a hefty fee… Also forget the idea of being able to “trade up” at some later date…the only way you’re going to be able to trade “up” is if you pay a hefty fee for the honor.

Are you SURE you want to go to the same venu each and every year? Really? What about logistic issues getting to and from your venu? Keep in mind, you’re totally locked in to a set time when you have access to your property. Depending on your contract you may be able to rent or trade your unit, but that’s something to read in the fine print. For some you have to play the points game, and that presumes that you even have it all figured out!

What if your schedule changes or some event happens that you can’t take your vacation that week? You’re screwed. Some let you “bank” your weeks and trade them, some don’t and some totally depend on the points system…again, caveat emptor and read the fine print.

Finally there’s those ever rising “maintenance fees” that they really either don’t talk much about when you’re buying or they downplay the hell out of. Trust me, they WILL INCREASE. They WILL get expensive. You will NOT be able to do anything about it. You’re contractually locked in to having to pay whatever they tell you that your assessment is. And, frankly when you do the math on how many units your place has, at 52 weeks a year times what you’re paying for your week’s maintenance fees…you’re going to quickly realize that someone’s really making a lot of dough, and it’s NOT you.

If you want to get a free set of tickets to some expensive vacation park, ok, go for the sales pitch, but, don’t fall for the pitch, regardless of how much they browbeat you, bitch, moan, pressure you, etc. Make sure you think LOGICALLY and do the financial math before you even think of this stuff. And don’t fall for that “this is a special price for right now only” line of crap. If they REALLY WANT your sale, they’ll sell to you at that price today or next week. They’re all commission sales based…and there’s always more than one person selling these things…

I’m Don Rima and that’s the view From Where I Stand.

Hard Rocking Toronto Blue Jays 0

Hard Rocking Toronto Blue Jays
I was in Toronto recently for a trip and waiting for my dinner reservation up on the CN Tower, when I realized that the Blue Jays were playing a home game.
Now not having been to a Jays game before and it being late in the game, was very surprised when I wandered into the Hard Rock Cafe there at the stadium and realized that their wall was an open window in deep left/center field! This was totally cool!
After picking up my usual HRC t-shirts and coffee mug I wandered over to the window and enjoyed a couple of innings of baseball, while sipping on a cold one and waiting for the time to pass before heading up the tower for dinner.
This was a really nice and relaxing interlude in the middle of the day and something folks traveling to downtown Toronto may want to checkout while there.
Enjoy the game and lift a cold one for me.
I’m Don Rima and that’s the way I saw it, From Where I Stand.

All Roads Lead To Rome – It’s Vacation Time 0

All Roads Lead To Rome – It’s Vacation Time

For the next 14 days I’m taking the family to Italy for family summer vacation. I had hoped to be able to be able to do Italy and keep something that looked like my Jenny Craig diet going as well. And, for those that are thinking of doing Italy in the future, especially with Trafalgar Tours, this will serve as something to work with in planning your trips as well.

I picked up a copy of the “Dummies guide to Italy” before I left. Took the book to Kinko’s and had the spine cut off. This allows me to pull out the chapters that I want for the areas that I’m in or want to read about and not have the whole tome in my pocket.

Here goes:

Before I start, a caveat. When I’m talking about “Trafalgar”, I’m referring to corporate, and NOT to either our coach driver or tour director. I have nothing but high recommendations for both our driver, Andreo, and our tour director, Adele. Should you do this tour and be with them you’ll be in good hands.

The Tour/trip is marketed as a 13 day tour. Well, it’s more like 11. And I added an extra couple days at the end just for personal time in Rome. The reason for that is that Trafalgar includes your days of traveling TO Italy as a day and your day traveling HOME as a day of their tour schedule. If you call sitting on a transatlantic flight part of your tour, well, then you have a much different idea of what should be considered tour time than I do.

If you’re thinking of doing Italy and you depend on an efficient internet connection as part of your sanity, do yourself a HUGE favor and get an internet access card that’s a USB card, or some equivalent, to provide you with nationwide wireless access. Do NOT plan on depending on your hotel for any form of efficient internet connectivity. What I’ve found is that for the most part, with a couple of exceptions, internet access is INCREDIBLY expensive and a lot of the wireless is rather close to first generation WIFI technology which means your going to be running incredibly slow. I recommend you checkout something like Vodaphone, Tim, etc. I ended up picking up a Vodaphone card in Verona. There’s a Vodaphone store just a few blocks from Juliette’s balcony. BUT, you can also get them at the airport in Rome. Right after you get off the airplane and before you leave the gate area, look for a store called Dixon’s Traveler. It’s an electronics kiosk in the center of the gate area and had several varieties of ‘internet keys’. By the way, they’re called ‘internet keys’ over there. Now, I’ve not validated that they’re good all over Europe, but I’m lead to believe that they area. The Vodaphone key will cost you about 60 euros which is less than 4 days break even time using hotel internet charges. And it works on the bus. Make SURE you get your phone number for the key when you’re buying it as if you need to recharge it (add more time/money) you will need this number!

(Day 1)

We took the evening Delta flight out of Atlanta, direct to Rome. It departed Atlanta somewhere around 4:30p.m. and arrived in Rome somewhere around 8 a.m. the next morning. This is an absolutely great way to do your flight over as it gives you almost a full day of extra time in the city to do whatever you want, which is what I had hoped.

Frankly, this is one of the best flights I’ve had on Delta in a while. Seats were well sized (granted I’ve lost 40 some odd pounds and at least 7 inches of girth since my last major Delta flight last summer to the UK), food was great, the new seat back entertainment systems were really interesting and frankly I have nothing to complain about from a Delta perspective. I had thought of catching more sleep on the flight than I did and probably would have hadn’t it been for all the stewardess call buttons going ding all night and someone’s brat kid sitting behind me that just couldn’t shut up. So, come the time I hit the hotel, I’m ready to hit the sack for a few hours….but wouldn’t you know it, they said the rooms weren’t ready and wouldn’t be until noon…which is their normal check in time. Oh bugger! So, we camped out in the lobby and caught some sleep until the rooms were ready.

Rome airport security was most amusing and almost nonexistent. We needed a passport to get out of the US, but basically nothing to get into Italy. Rather literally, nobody checked either our passports or luggage. From a security standpoint, I was rather stunned when they just waved hundreds of us through the immigration checkpoint and didn’t even look at our passports. Nobody asked anything about our luggage. I have to tell you that I’m really glad that doesn’t happen state side.

You’re going to find that the exchange rate you get at the local banks and exchange kiosks is about 10% higher than the published rates in Wall Street. Also, it appears that most everyone adds an 11% commission on top of that for honor of getting local currency to spend in their country. So, in total, expect to pay about 20% or so above and beyond the published exchange rate when picking up local currency.
Our hotel is the Mediterraneo in Rome. Just a few blocks down from the train station. Rooms are very adequate, staff is fine, no real problems there at all. A quick 6 block perimeter walk of the hotel (which I did while the rest were out cold) shows that I’ve got about all I need in terms of support for most things I would need from a pharmacy to newspapers. I wish this place had in room internet, but it’s wireless which is fine, except that they want 15 euros per day for internet access. Frankly, that’s an outrage, but they’ve got you by the balls and they know it, so what to do? At least the internet connection speed is fast – which is a helluva lot more than I was able to say for most of the UK trip last summer!

Also, the place doesn’t have a laundry, nor was I able to find any in the area. They only want to tell you about their laundry service which is going to be a left nut, but then again, they’ve got you by the balls.

If I have a major regular fault with Trafalgar, is their total lack of concern for the logistics needs of a traveler when it comes to needing laundry done while on a trip. Unfortunately, Trafalgar seems to intentionally play into the hands of their hotels to insure they get as much services revenue as they can from tourist. Frankly, I think that just totally SUCKS.

After a quick nap we decided to hit a few of the major sites to have some extra time there. Granted we knew these were going to be covered in the tours on the 21st anyway, but there are times when you just like to have the extra time to meander at your own rate.

We walked down to the coliseum, got some nice external shots then snagged a cab to Pantheon. The Pantheon is a really interesting place and we enjoyed some time poking around it. Then snagged a cab to zip over to St. Peter’s. On a Friday afternoon, we got lucky. The place wasn’t crowded at all. We breezed through security and had a nice walk around the cathedral. BTW, you can get Vatican post card stamps there at the post office, they’re good for any post card mailed in Rome, proper. Which worked really well to get cards sans service charges as I’ve quickly come to the conclusion that Italy would charge for the air you breath if they could.

Now, a heads up if you’re going to St. Peter’s or any other cathedral for that matter: You need to dress appropriately. I was able to get away with a t-shirt and longer shorts and I saw lots of guys with these multi-pocket knee length walking shorts and none of us had any problems getting through security, but the folks at Trafalgar tell us to wear long trousers and appropriate shirts. There’s also appropriate dress for ladies as well which means that loose shorts showing your incredible legs, tank and tube tops, etc., are verboten. Just a heads up, don’t want your vacation ruined on a rules issue. We weren’t informed of this until after we hit Italy. Fortunately I had some in my suitcase for other reasons.

Trafalgar is notorious for their “optional” tour options. They tend to pack into these things that by all means of logic should be part of the base tour, but, alas they bundle them into fee based optional events during the tour. To me, it’s kind of the same functional equivalent of taking a trip to DC and being told that the tour of the US Capital is done as an optional, extra fee based, tour that’s not part of the package. What was interesting was that I later found out that one of our group had taken this same tour about 10 years ago and a lot of the stuff that was not extra fee based, was then part of the base package. Go figure.

After coming back from our afternoon self guided tour, we hit the rooftop restaurant and then to bed. The rooftop is a really nice view of Rome, but I don’t recommend eating there unless you think paying 65 euro for 2 sandwiches, 1 salad and 1 bowl of soup isn’t a totally rip off. But if you have more money than brains, by all means, chow down. Frankly, I was beat on my ass, wanted a quick sandwich and to hit the shower and bed and didn’t care.

(Day 2)

Today starts the real touring fun. After a nice buffet breakfast we started out what would be a really good day with hitting the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican museums and going through St. Peter’s in a more organized manner. But, absolutely no regrets for the time spent there yesterday. We breezed by the Forum and Circus Maximus, had a nice walking tour inside the coliseum, They could have easily fit in doing some additional things like the Trevi Fountain and a few other items, but, alas, that’s saved for one of those “optional” tours this evening. The tour guide for these events was really good and personable. We had a good day with her on this circuit.

Pick pockets, beggars and street ripoff artists are ubiquitous in this town. On of our troupe had his pockets lighted for a hefty amount, including some personal items. Evidently, pick pockets roam free in Rome, virtually free from legal harassment that is. You would think that to keep crime town and increase the appreciation of tourists and local citizens alike, the local police would take an aggressive interest in stomping out these petty thieves. Evidently, they’re just not interested.

Granted I could have taken an cab over and done my own thing, but opted for the evening optional tour that included a really nice meal at Meno’s, a walk down the Spanish Steps and a night visit to the Trevi fountain, which is lit in the evening. Got some nice night pics of the fountain. Yeah, I’d say it was well worth 35 euro a head, but this is also stuff that could have been done in the afternoon of the base tour versus saving it for an extra, optional, fee based event.

Now, if you’re anywhere near the central train station, be aware that just a couple block from it are some really nice museums that if you have some time are great to go through. We went through one that had some really nice mosaics, frescos as well as a huge coin collection dating back to BC.

(Day 3)

Checked out of the Mediterraneo this morning. Frankly, I have no reservations at all in recommending this hotel to anyone visiting Rome. It’s incredibly centrally located for what you would want for support (pharmacy, food, exchange, travel logistics and closeness to points of interest). The staff was really nice, breakfast was good, rooms very nice. Internet was expensive at 15 euro per day and there’s no laundry facilities for a major hotel (don’t expect to find them in family run hotels – as nice as family runs can be).
Off to Sorrento, Pompeii and Positano this morning.

We’ve been warned about the drinking water in Venice and Florence so I’m planning on picking up a few liters of water for each of us in the next day or so and just stow it until I hit Venice. We were advised not to even brush our teeth with faucet water in either town. Interesting and surprising. Kinda reminds me of my last trip to Mexico.

The drive down to Pompeii is a nice one through the countryside, past the Abbey of Monte Casino and on down to Pompeii.
The walk around Pompeii went well, albeit a bit short. Pompeii’s an interesting town in history. The archeological digs and reconstruction are really interesting and this stop is one that’s a must for anyone traveling through.

Mid afternoon we checked into Johanna’s Park Hotel in Sorrento. Nice quiet family run hotel on the outskirts of Sorrento, and their wireless is free!

I’ve opted to take an optional trip to Positano this evening via the Amalfi Drive. If you get carsick easily, don’t do this. I got lucky. The trip was non-eventful from a car sickness perspective and the view down the highway was nice. Some really good photography to be had. Had a really good dinner at Le Tre Sorelle ( The Three Sisters) right on the waterfront after walking through and past the shops. They have a really nice tomato there that’s about the diameter of a golden quarter and really tasty. It’s not a traditional cherry from the ones I’m used to growing, it’s a bit bigger. Then a night ride back to the hotel, shower and bed.

(Day 4)

Today, a day trip to the Isle of Capri and visiting a woodworking company.

Well, we started with a nice breakfast buffet then loaded up the bus to go for a tour and presentation at what was touted as a company that did the exquisite wooden boxes, pictures, etc. Frankly, this is an art form that I enjoy seeing from time to time, so the idea of seeing how they do it was most intriguing! Once we got there, the presentation was a few minute show and tell by a company representative to us sitting in a presentation area then we were run through the gauntlet of their showroom…and in my opinion, spent way too much time in their showroom. There was no real demonstration of the craft. If you go to the Louisville Slugger bat company in Louisville, KY, and take their tour, you get a really nice demonstration of how they chose the wood and walk you through how a bat is made from tree to finished product. You even see them being made. THIS was the kind of demo I was looking for and expecting. What I got was a watered down sales pitch and spent way too much time being hit by sales. If you’re stuck at this place on your tour, I recommend you just wander out and go checkout the news stand at the top of the hill, the little grocery story on the other side of the parking lot or the pastry shop across the street. Both of them smell great and you can get English newspapers at the news stand.

The boat ride to Capri is a nice 20 minutes or so ride. We had calm seas, which was nice. There are nice seats on the lower and mid decks and if you’re lucky you can grab one with a table to work on stuff while you’re in transit.

Capri is an interesting place. We did a little walking around the water front, then hopped into some small buses and headed up the hill to AnaCapri. The views on the road up and at the top were really incredible. We had some nice but slightly hazy weather and yet could see Vesuvius poking through the clouds.

I’m not one that likes heights. I can handle flying but looking down from tall buildings is not something I like to do. But, with a highest distance off the ground of about 35 feet, the ski lift to the top of AnaCapri was something I was curious to checkout. The ride went smooth. During the ride you look down at a lot of local floral and insect life, homes, gardens, and get some really nice views of the island and down to the coast and over to Naples. If you have a clear day (mine was hazy) the view of mainland Italy should be incredible. And, I got a couple good ideas for my garden from some of the gardens I passed over.

Later we did a short walk to and through the gardens in the city. Small but nice place.

Finally we did a boat trip around the island. Not a full 360 trip but a major chunk. It’s interesting seeing some of the rock formations from the water and makes for some really good pictures as well!

In the evening we had an interesting visit to a family run lemon grove and lemon business. This family makes their own limoncello, as well as other wines. They open their home and orchard/vineyard for tours. Really nice people and they also serve dinner to groups that come for the tours. We had a great evening and dinner there. I’m told by the connoisseurs in our group that their limoncello is some of the best they’ve had. I do have to admit, the panetone was incredible. In case you’re looking for some good limoncello and a good evening when in Sorrento, the group is called Solitalia, Nannini and their email is

Tomarrow, Assisi.

(Day 5)

Checked out of Johanna’s Park Hotel this morning. Nice quiet place away from Sorrento if you’re ever in the area. Nice staff and good breakfasts. Internet was free and efficient and for a smaller hotel this was refreshing. I’ve been in some smaller hotels in Europe that were nice but Spartan in terms of peripheral amenities.

The ride to Assisi was incredibly nice. We stopped by a World War II cemetery to get some pics of the Abbey of Monte Casino. The country side was really nice and the eateries that you stop at for lunch have a food quality that far surpasses that you find at the fast food styro boxes we have in the USA. But then, the whole approach to food and eating in Italy is no where near the same as it is in the US.
This afternoon we took a nice walking tour through the church in Assisi. St. Francis is entombed in the basement level along with a slew of other notables of the time. Picked up several books from the church bookstore and it’s a great place to get post card stamps also. Some of the fresco’s here are some of the earliest in all of Italy. And the view of the valley is incredible.

We’re camped out at the Hotel Giotto. A really nice place with an incredible view of the valley. Nice staff. Only problems are they’ve turned off the a/c for the season and their internet is first generation wifi. This makes the room incredibly hot, even with the windows open and you have to be about 20 feet from the bar to get a decent wifi connection. Come to find out, there’s evidently a law in Italy that mandates that hotel air conditioners be turned off until June 1. Frankly, this is an incredibly annoying law when you’re used to things being a lot cooler than my room in Assisi was.

(Day 6)

Checked out of the Giotto and headed for Venice. It’s a bit of a hike.

Drove past Basilica of Pomposa(I think this was the place). Anyway, this was where the notation for music scores was originally designed by a monk there. Prior to this time, music was memorized and the notes to be sung were spelled out by the conductor using finger positioning.
On the way we stopped by the Basilica of Saint Apollinare in Classe. It’s a really interesting church with some really old mosaics. Also on the walls there’s some of the old Latin plaques like you see in most churches. What was interesting with some of these was how they used Roman numeral notation(RNN). Usually when you’re saying the number 4 in RNN, you state it as IV, well they had it as IIII. Evidently, they used both, which the local guide confirmed. And sometimes instead of using X for the number ten, they would use VV, which is two fives. The basilica is a nice break.

Next to the basilica is another of the many family eateries you’ll find in Italy. Nice place and some really nice home made lasagna. Here’s their web page of recipes in case you’re interested:

Hit Venice mid afternoon. Did the obligatory gondola ride and water taxi around the place. Great time. You have to watch for pick pockets here, especially around St. Mark’s. Saw plenty of them sizing up the crowd.

Checked into the Novotel hotel this evening. Nice place, restaurant staff were great. There are no (typical of hotels chosen by Trafalgar) laundry facilities here and you have to use their INCREDIBLY expensive consierge service. The internet connectivity is the poorest I’ve seen so far in Italy, and this is supposed to be a new facility. If you need any kind of bandwidth while in Venice, this isn’t where you want to stay if you don’t have your own wireless technology.

(Day 7)

Venice. Today, an all day in Venice.

I think there’s been a serious immigration from the Congo into Italy. Many of the high traffic and priority points of Venice are inundated with these fellow from the Congo blocking your way and trying to sell (and in some cases rather aggressively) some of the most annoying crap out there. Trinkets, suit cases, umbrellas…and these boys will get in your face…so do be warned accordingly.

We started out with what was supposed to be a demonstration of glass blowing. Well, it was better than the wood working demonstration in that we actually saw something done, but the guys used scrap glass, it was fast and then we were hustled immediately to the showroom to, hopefully, spend the national debt on their over priced glasswares. I think they were disappointed as I rather doubt many of the group bought anything. The rest of the morning was spent free time in Venice. When you get there, I recommend you get a map, they do come in handy. Also, take the time to go up the tower in the square. There’s a fee to go up the lift, but it’s well worth it as the view over Venice is incredible.

Zipped over to the Hard Rock for some gifts, coffee mug and t-shirt then back to the square to grab a water taxi to lunch over on the island of Burano. Burano’s a nice off the beaten path island that’s part of Venice. It’s a bit quieter, less foot traffic and a nice place for lunch and to just putz around a bit. It’s about a 20 minute or so taxi ride from St. Mark’s.

By the time we got home, it was shower and drop into bed time.

(Day 8 )

Verona, Milan and off to Lake Maggiore

We left fairly early and made our way over to Verona. Verona is the town of the famed story of Romeo and Juliette. The story is fiction, but the town has a little alleyway complete with a balcony that is labeled as Juliette’s balcony from where she uttered those words heard around the world: “Romeo, Romeo, where for art thou….” And the rest is history…provided that you stopped at the little gift shop across from the balcony.

By this time, I’d had enough of high priced hotel internet and low bandwidth. And, as luck would have it, there was a Vodafone store right off the street. I can’t believe these guy wait until 10 to open. What I also found out is that stores appear to be more of a social event than actually conducting business. I had a scant 15 minutes to get my internet access USB plug and get off to my bus. The attending gal was greeted by her boyfriend and that took some time, then others in the shop interrupted her and she had to answer them, then a delivery and she had to talk to them…Meanwhile the clock is ticking and I’m getting late for the damn bus and I’m sure they’re getting pissed at me. Can’t blame them. Finally, with much objection from the attendant, I mush her along, pay for the internet key and rush out the door. I’ve never been a long distance runner. My body reminded me of that a few hundred meters down the road. But, I’m still alive. There is a God!
Then off to Milano to see DaVinci’s Last Supper, the cathedral and a few other sites. They redesigned how you access the painting from since I was last here and it’s been restored as well. Frankly, I still think that Dan Brown’s book was on to something as the figured claimed to be John the Devine looks A LOT like a woman. But, the painting is an awesome classic. From there, we grabbed a quick street sandwich (don’t do that on just any corner, ask your guide!), hit the cathedral, mall and the castle. The cathedral and castle are impressive structures with some interesting history. The castle has the last and incomplete work of Michelagelo.

By the way, there’s another krewe of those boys from the Congo around the castle. You just can’t get away from them.
An hour and half later, we checked into the Hotel Splendid on Lake Maggiore. A really nice place on the lake with an incredible view of the alps…and internet that costs 20 euros a day. Damn glad I got that internet key this morning. It will pay for itself in 3 days.

(Day 9)

This morning started out with breakfast which included one of the most incredible almond cakes I’ve ever eaten. It was just incredible. If my cardiologist had a clue he’d be shaking his head.

Then, it was off to a really nice water taxi ride over Lake Maggiore to the Borromean Island of the Isola Bella Palace and gardens. A really interesting tour and a nice gardens to wander around. Not to mention really nice views of the Italian Alps.

After a really short break, we loaded up again and headed up to Lugano Switzerland and :Lake Lugano. The ride was really nice. Weather very cooperative. Lugano is a lake waterfront town. It’s not been totally spoiled by tourists yet and is a nice place to spend an afternoon just wandering around. As luck would have it, Alpha Romeo was having their 100th anniversary party in the town and the main square was lined with vintage Alpha Romeo’s. Really a nice site.

Found a nice hole in the wall for some pasta and chicken then off to the chocolate store just up from the main square. This place had the most incredible chocolate hazelnut candy I’ve ever eaten. It was a kind of toasted carmelized hazelnuts in a mild milk chocolate bark format. This is better than any Cadbury, etc., that I’ve every munched on.

In the afternoon, it’s back to Lake Maggiano, supper of veal, potatoes, veggies, soup and lasagna….and some more of that incredible cake.
Fortunately, my activity level is much higher than usual and I can handle the extra munchies much easier.
I’m now ready to goto sleep.

(Day 10)

This morning we check out of the Hotel Splendid in Baveno and head to Pisa. This hotel has been theoretically recently renovated. It’s really a nice looker! Bad thing is, the air conditioning didn’t work both nights…and it gets hot there…which means open windows, etc., and security issues. But the food was great, service was good, rooms are incredible… No problems recommending the place, but make sure you check to see if they have the a/c on and working.

In Pisa, you have to park your motor coach a bit away from the historical city area of Pisa. These little motorized choo-choo’s with McDonalds signs on them take you to the historical section and entrance to the old city where the cathedral and tower are. Here you’re greeting by more of those folks from the Congo who’s relatives also met your buss in the parking lot. Fortunately, the local cops keep them out of the historical section.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. I not too fondly recall my last visit when my camera for the trip broke on the top of the tower. I was more than just a bit bummed for the rest of the trip! The old part containing the tower inside the ancient walls is most interesting. After a quick lunch we wandered in and around. The tower is not open to those that want to climb to the top but not having secured the requisite timed tickets and being pressed for time, opted to view it externally. Besides, I wasn’t really interested in pressing fate with my current camera.

Today is part of a long weekend marking Italian Independence Day which I think is this coming Tuesday. The roads and rest areas are crowded and a royal mess in more ways than one. But, we do make it down to Tuscany, past Genova and past the marble mining areas and through the beautiful Tuscan country side finally ending in the Mediterraneo Hotel in Florence.

After a quick check in and a few minutes of feet up time, we bussed off to an optional evening event which was a tour of a local monastery and an incredible and entertaining dinner at the restaurant associated with the monastery. The waiters are dressed up in monk attire but are anything but monk’ish in their demeanor. We had a great time.

On the way back we stopped off at the hilltop park to Michelangelo. This overlooks the city and gives some really nice night views and photography. It’s also a gathering point for the locals in the evening.

(Day 11)

Our Morning started out with a nice breakfast buffet (most of the breakfasts will be buffets on your trip). Then off to do a walking tour of downtown Florence. Our guide, Louisa, did a nice job of wandering us through the streets and sights of Florence, ending up with a tour of the church at Santa Croce. Now, your guide may not know this, but there’s a leather school associated with the church at San Croce. I say this as guides like to take you for a leather ‘demonstration’ at one of the local vendors which is nothing more than a sales pitch and then leave you in the shop to spend your money. If you lookup this leather school, you’ll find artisans at work making some of the most incredible leather art that you’ve seen. It’s easy to find in almost any book on Florence.

There’s also a silversmith working in his store front as well which wasn’t on the tour agenda. If you’re standing in front of Santa Croce, with your back to the front door and facing the square, go down the street to the left that is at the top left of the square from your position. Down there about 100meters or so you’ll find a silversmith doing his thing. It’s rather interesting.

By the way, you can get post card stamps at almost any tobacco store.

After a quick lunch and more obligatory shopping ( I opted to do some reading ) we boarded our bus for an optional trip to San Gimignano(SG). Frankly this was one of the most pleasant side trips of the whole tour. Giovanna was an incredible guide and about as personable as they get. SG is a mountain city/fortress from the middle ages and is Italy’s best preserved medieval city. It’s still an active city but it’s really fascinating to just walk through and look at the structures and architecture. Frankly, I enjoyed this castle much more than any I went through in the UK last summer.

(Day 12)

Off to Siena then back to Rome.

We drove through the Chianti region of Italy and to Siena. Siena is known for it’s annual Palio horse race in which the center square of the city turns into a small race track for about 3 minutes. We did a nice little walk through the city and had lunch on the swuare. Now, if you’re eating on the square (il Campo) be careful for a diner called la Costa. They like to charge you about $6 for a can of coke. The salad and pizza were nice, but the drinks were a bit out of line on cost. Right next to it is a really nice gelati place. I recommend you indulge.
Then back to the bus and on to Rome and our official fair well dinner with the group. And the end of the tour.
We checked into the Sheraton Gulf which is a very nice place where a simple bowl of soup can cost you $13USD and equally high priced internet. But I have my card.

(Day 13)

I had added a couple extra free days at the end of our tour for just extra free time. Today is first of those two days.
Before you goto a country, it is well advised that you check to see if there’s any national holidays during your stay and how they will impact on your plans. I didn’t. I won’t forget that again.

Today is Italian Independence Day. It’s their 150th celebration of Italian Independence. Not everything is closed, due to the high tourism levels, but a lot will be. Also public transportation is impacted.

After a nice complementary breakfast buffet we headed off to see the catacolmbs. Only two of the three are open due to the holiday but we picked one and frankly it was really interesting. Amazing how they dug out this huge underground network with the technology of that period!
Then off to St. Peters to climb the Cupola. Well, when we got there, the Pope was giving his Independence Day speech in the square. So, I got to see the Pope, not that seeing the pope was on my list of things to do. We grabbed a quick lunch since St. Peter’s was closed due to the pontiff’s presentation. It was still closed after lunch so we opted to hit the uptown errands instead and come back in the morning. So, a quick run to the HRC, down the stairs and some pics at the Trevi in the daytime. Then time for a cab ride back to the hotel and collapse.

(Day 14)

Today we’re going to hit the cupola again. After a quick breakfast we snagged a cab and headed back to St. Peters. Talk about lucky! NO LINE! So, zipping through security and up to the cupola. Now, there’s really nothing like the view from up there of Rome. It’s absolutely incredible. Also, there’s nothing like the climb up the stairs to remind me that I’m not 20 still and not totally over my major bout with allergies. But, alas, we all made it in acceptable time. Snagged a bunch of panoramic shots then headed down.

We wanted to drop by one of those museums I spoke up around the train station then head down to the forum. The museum was really interesting. Especially the collection of ancient and contemporary coins in the basement. This a quick lunch by the train station and then to the forum. We missed the 1pm English tour by a few minutes so just kinda tagged along with another group of tourist that had an English speaking guide. One of those things were you try to look nonchalant while listening to what their saying. My wife and kid hate when I do this, but it works. His presentation was really informative and I got some really nice shots of the ruins of the forum, including some back toward the arch and coliseum. The history and architecture behind the original structure of the forum is really incredible. It’s also incredible that so much of it has disappeared leaving what little is left there today.

My tour and picture taking were cut short due to an afternoon shower. Which was fine as it was late and time to head back to the hotel and pack for the return trip in the morning.

(Day 15)

Going Home.

I finished most of the packing last night and just needed to add a few morning items after breakfast. The Sheraton has an airport shuttle that leaves at 8 and we needed to be on it. There was no doubt in my mind that in spite of my putting all the heavy books and items I’d acquired in my carry on bag, all 4 suitcases were going to be overweight. Hopefully I wasn’t going to be hit too hard for it.
We got to the airport. Well, Delta won’t let you check in until a certain set time. So you wait in this huge cattle yard waiting for your check in time while armed guards with what appear to be MP5’s walk on a catwalk up above you. Alas, you’re eventually going to get your passport checked and move on to the next check point. Fortunately nobody charged me for my baggage. I didn’t ask about it either! So, with baggage checks in hand, we boarded the shuttle to the departure concourse.

If you’ve ever been to the airport in Orlando, the topology is kind of similar to that, except instead of a central hub, there’s five hubs or terminals, none of which are connected internally.

The nice thing is that once you get to the main departure hub, there’s food. It’s pretty good for airport food and it’s a helluva lot cheaper than the hotel was! So, time to grab a last bit of good Roma pizza, salad and find my airplane.

Italy was a lot more expensive than I ever dreamed it would be, but the people were great and we had a helluva good time.
Would I do it again and recommend it? Absolutely. But, before you go:

– Make sure you brush up on your Italian, even the basics are a great help.

– Pickup a Dummies Guide to Italy or similar book. It’ll be a godsend.

– Once you hit Italy and before you leave your arrival terminal, go get that Vodafone or whomever’s internet key. This will save you A LOT of money and frustration while you’re in Italy.

– If you’re going with Trafalgar, presume that Trafalgar either intentionally or otherwise chooses not to use hotels with laundry facilities and who’s consierges only know of the laundry services provided by their hotel. Don’t presume that you’ll be able to do laundry by hand as it may not dry overnight due to high humidity in the rooms, so plan on bringing an extra gold brick to do your laundry while on tour. This is probably my biggest bitch with Trafalgar.

Then, watch out for pick pockets and have a great time.

I’m Don Rima and that’s the view, From Where I Stand.

Transfer Smart – Unloading your timeshare…at a price. 0

Transfer Smart – Unloading your timeshare…at a price.

For the last several years I’ve owned a timeshare down in Ft. Lauderdale. It’s on the water, a nice place, and I never get down to it. But, it gets me into the “timeshare system” and I enjoy some of the other benefits.

I’ve given some thought of selling it and buying in another region that I’m more apt to vacation at. But, good luck with selling anything related to timeshare! I’ve looked at all those companies that have sent me cards and letters to sell my timeshare, only to find that they’re little more than high priced listing companies and have no intention of selling anything of mine. And of course, they want their money up front. No results guaranteed.

So, when I got a letter about a way to get out of my timeshare, guaranteed, I was interested. I called the number on the card. The fact that nobody could or would answer any of my questions but was incredibly eager to sign me up for a meeting they were having in my area, should have been a red flag that this wasn’t what I was looking for.

But I went.

The meeting was held in a hotel meeting room downtown that reminded me a lot of the kind of meetings I’d been in by high pressure sales people that were originally trying to sell me my timeshare. The presenters droned on, quoting people like Warren Buffet, Jane Bryant Quinn, and others, telling me how bad an investment in timeshares was and how much money I was going to be spending. I have to admit, some of their arguments were salient. But I was still wondering how I was going to get out of this thing.

Finally, the moment of truth. For the princely fee of about $4000, this group would take my timeshare off my hands. That’s right, the Transfer Smart organization, wanted me to PAY THEM about $4000 for the honor of taking my timeshare. This isn’t what I had in mind, I though it not a good business deal and I gathered up my papers and I left.

So, a quick heads up, if you get a nice card from Transfer Smart guaranteeing you a way out of your timeshare, expect to pay. And to pay a lot of money.

Which leads me to the question I’ve not gotten an answer to – What the heck do THEY do with all these time share units people are paying them to take away? If owning a timeshare unit was really that onerous, why would they want them? Oh well…

However, if you’re interested in a nice timeshare on the waterfront in Ft. Lauderdale mine’s still for sale and I’ll even entertain a swap.

Finally, if this was of any help to you, help me by clicking on one of the adverts on the right of your screen…besides, they may have something interesting as well.

I’m Don Rima, and that’s the view, From Where I Stand.