Topic: Vacation and Get Aways

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 attent with you…it’s all part of the high ressure 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 alot 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 goto 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.


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 Trafalger 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 busses 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 nanninisorrento@virgilio.it.
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: http://www.s-apollinare.it/recipes.html.
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.


Vacationing Luxuriousely For Less – It CAN be done! 0






Vacationing Luxuriousely For Less – It CAN be done!
OK so you’re thinking of taking the family or perhaps your special squeeze or maybe just yourself on a much needed get the heck outta Dodge vacation. Good for you! Problem is, like many, you work for some (idiot) that doesn’t pay enough to make the bills, much less a vacation of any sort. So, how can you make this work? Well, here’s a few tips to help stretch those bucks and help you have a good time.
Plan ahead. This has to be the biggest number one tip I can give anyone. If you do your trips last minute you will pay and pay and pay. Hotels and fun places KNOW this and they hike the prices accordingly. So think and plan ahead. if ou’re a member of AAA go get their trip books, maps and talk with one of their trip advisors. This along could be worth the price of your annual membership with them. Plan what you want to do, where you want to go and when the best time to go – based on what you want to do and best prices. Also, once again, Google is your friend.
Watch for venu specials and promotions. Most of the places you want to visit know when the soft spots in their traffic flows are and they push promotions to keep the bodies flowing during those lulling times. Know this and work it to your advantage. The times I like are either just before or after a major holiday season. Between Thanksgiving and Xmas have been great times for me and the first half of January when the kids are all back in school also tends to be nice. Study the university schedules for when their breaks and major exam schedules are. Trust me kids aren’t going to be going on vacation in any large groups when they have final projects due and exams coming up…and neither are their parents. May is also a nice time for me as students are finishing up school work almost accross the board and places can be empty.
Shop your tours carefully. Tour vendors like Grayline can add alot to your trip with their local tours of major sites. Use them and other tour options strategically. Face it, you can get yourself from here to there faster and cheaper than a tour company can. So once you’re there, use them there for what they know and do best. Also you may get better deals if you book your tours for during the week versus the weekend. There’s usually less traffic and demand during the week.
Plan your meals and food wisely. Throw a small cooler in the trunk and use it for drinks, sandwiches, yogurt or whatever you like to eat. Many hotels offer breakfast as part of the deal. Personally, I really like Hampton Inn’s for this as they are totally family and business friendly. I can a few pieces of fruit, yogurt, put together a trail mix, etc., and take it with me. Finding a small grocery on your travels is usually easy to do. Use that cooler strategically for drinks, sandwich fixings, etc., and you can save a small bundle of chow expenses.
Choose where you stay carefully. You can enjoy your stay and vacation just as easily at a place that is cost effective as you can at one that is woefully over priced and under delivered. There are some chains that are clearly marketing their name and have over priced their product and deliver the same if not less than much better priced options. Personally, this is one of the reasons that I tend to avoid Marriott facilities.
Watch for resorts and venues that offer more family friendly options. Some have special kid friendly events and programs that are specifically designed for kids and the family.
One of my prefered websites after the AAA site is nps.gov. This is the page for the national Park Service. You will find an incredible wealth of information here of places to go, things to do and see that are incredibly affordable and an incredible amount of fun. If you look at the park system, also give serious consideration to the annual pass. I can save you a tidy bundle on the parks with entrance fees. Also check you state web sites and counties for their park systems as well.
Read the travel sections of your local paper with a very discerning eye. Keep in mind that most of those articles you’re reading with all those nice pictures of places to see are probably written by somebody’s public relations group and printed as if they were a feature article. They’re little less than an over written advertisement. They CAN have some really good and useful information, but read them with a big eyes wide open filter.
I hope you do your research and have a great trip.
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.