Travel

New York City Second Time Around

I was fortunate enough to visit New York for the first time around 7 years ago and, as a rule, I don’t return to the same place twice because I feel that you are missing out on somewhere else.

However, I had unfinished business with NYC and my first visit consisted of rushing around like a madman trying to see as much as I could racing to the top of the Empire State, Statue of Liberty and the Rock frantically attempting to tick as many things off my bucket list as possible.

Now that Grand Central Station, Central Park, Times Square, Wall Street and Brooklyn Bridge are a fading memory, I thought it was time to return and soak up the other things that New York has to offer at a more leisurely pace with 5 full days for our return visit.

NYC2

Arriving into Newark on an internal flight at 21:45, we got the train from the airport to Penn Station for only $12.50 which was only a 2 minute walk to our hotel the New Yorker and there were no safety concerns at all and everywhere was very busy despite the arriving in Manhattan quite late.

Day 1

It was time to learn and conquer the New York Subway so purchased a one-week unlimited subway and local bus pass for $30. NYC is a big place, so having the ability to zip around the city without scrambling around for loose change was the best decision I could have made.

Understanding the metro system offered a slight learning curve, but again the beauty of the unlimited pass means any mistakes were quickly rectified when I understood the difference between uptown and downtown or express and local service.

Next to the New Yorker Hotel Tick Tock restaurant is a subway station that allowed us to hop on the A, C or E line downtown to ground zero where the freedom tower has recently opened. Upon leaving the subway station, we were a little disoriented and unsure which direction to take but we turned a corner there it was and the sight takes your breath away. (more…)

Sorrento and Amalfi Coast Itinerary

A few people have asked me how we planned our recent trip that covered Sorrento, Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius, Herculaneum, Capri and the Amalfi Coast so I thought it would be easier to point people to this blog post and show how you can make this dream trip a reality without breaking the bank.

Tour operators and travel agents will try to convince you that trips like this are too hard too plan on your own and you should be paying around £1,200 per person to let someone else do this for you, but it really isn’t unrealistic to book a holiday like this for around £900 (or less) per couple in June which makes this beautiful trip much more affordable.

Depending on where you are located in the UK, your first job is to secure cheap flights to Naples and you need to do this sooner rather than later, but once you have your flights, the fun part of planning the trip can begin.  (more…)

Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome in 10 days

For our honeymoon, we planned our romantic dream trip of covering Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome in 10 days without spending a fortune, by using a budget airline flight from the UK into Venice and making our way through the Italian Cities via train before returning to the UK on a flight from Rome.

Venice (2 days)

Our Italian Trip began with a cheap flight to Venice from Birmingham in the UK and after leaving the airport, our first task was to find our hotel in this floating city with a few lines of instructions that you could write on the back of a cigarette packet.

Upon leaving the airport, we hopped on the Alilaguna public boat service (blue line) and disembarked at the Fondamente Nuove stop and which is less than a 5 minute walk away from our accommodation, the Ca’ Zanardi.

If you are the kind of person that enjoys luxury in a soulless corporate hotel where you could be in any city in the world as they all look the same but don’t mind because it’s right by the main tourist attractions then this is not the hotel for you.

However, if you want to soak up the real Venice with an authentic stay complete with a perfect host in a 16th century palace full of character at a reasonable price then look no further than the Ca’ Zanardi.

As you arrive at the giant door, you enter into what feels like a completely different world before being greeted by the perfect host Andrea. When he found out we were on our honeymoon, he upgraded us to a room overlooking the canal and even presented us with a bottle of wine.
The location is simply perfect and you are far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the tourism area but equally at the same time within easy walking distance to everything.

A short 5 minute walk from the tourist area and you are back in a quiet patio garden area where you enjoy a bottle of chilled wine, as Andrea lets you use the fridge in the main kitchen.

venice

People who have given poor reviews seem to be completely missing the point of Ca’ Zanardi, it might not be luxury tourist hotel but it all the better for just that. If you are a fan of history, art and want a unique Venetian experience then will want to come back for more.

Special mention to Andrea who is always armed with helpfulness and cheerfulness and really gives the impression that he enjoyed his guests enjoying themselves.

We spent three days in this beautiful city soaking up sites such as St Mark’s Square, Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge, Saint Mark’s Basilica and the Bridge of Sighs but the biggest magic of Venice is simply wandering aimlessly through its streets and alleys. By wandering (especially if you point yourself in the exact opposite of the direction where the herd is going) you can find Venice’s many charming and often-empty squares and streets, which goes a long way toward helping you appreciate the city.

After 3 days of zero traffic and wandering through the endless alleys Venice we said goodbye to Andrea and a 15 minute walk later we arrived at the train station for a 2 hour journey to Florence for only 19 Euros.

I strongly recommend that you purchase a ticket a few months in advance if you can to secure this low fair, and if you have any problems making the payment, you can always use Pay Pal.

Florence (4 Days)

In less than 5 minutes from getting off the train, we crossed the road and were settled in our room B&B Il Cielo. Greeted with the incredibly helpful Elisa who made us feel welcome and passed on the all-important free wi-fi password to plan our trip.

The B&B itself is a lovely, cosy and artistic only a short 10-15 minute walk to Piazza del Duomo
The daily breakfast consists of coffee, tea, juice, yogurt, pecorino and pears, pastries was excellent and I guarantee you will walk away loving the taste sensation of pears and cheese.

florence
Lovely people, artistic b&b and a perfect location ensured we have a wonderful time in Florence and many happy memories were made soaking up this beautiful city and ticking off the sites such as Uffizi Gallery, Giotto Bell Tower, Piazza del Duomo, Piazza della Signoria, Centro Storico and the Statue of David.

Pisa (Half a day)

With a day to spare, we crossed the road from our B&B in Florence and hopped on a train to Pisa which is only just under an hour away.

pisa

Pisa is quite small so recommend you avoid looking for further transport and take a steady stroll to the tower which is around a mile away but gives you chance to soak up the city too.

After securing the obligatory tower photos it was back on the train for an evening meal in Florence.

Rome (4 Days)

The final leg of our trip involves a 2 hour trip on the train for around 19 Euros to Rome for 4 days, once again I strongly recommend buying the tickets in advance from Trenitalia using the guide at Seat 61 where the tickets are much cheaper than buying from any travel agent or UK based ticket agency.

Once in Rome, you can pick up a Rome Travel Passes  for 1,3 & 7 days that is valid on the Metro, Buses, Trams And Some Train Services and will save your feet from getting tired when there is so much to see and do.

rome

Our biggest annoyance of our trip in Rome was the seemingly omnipresent salesmen on the street, offering umbrellas, scarves, knock–off purses, parasols, and—the biggest scam—“free roses.” They can be quite insistent by putting a rose in your hand and then tried to charge you for it. Just avoid direct eye contact, say no, and keep walking.

The only other tip is if you are visiting the Vatican, make sure you get there very early to avoid coach loads of people and very long queues along with being stopped every 30 seconds asking if you want a personal tour guide.

You will be very busy soaking up the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and so much more, so I won’t bore you too much as I’m sure you already have a good idea of what you want to see and do.

This trip cost just over £400 each to arrange for travel in June to enjoy Venice, Florence, Pisa and Rome in 10 days without feeling hurried. Itineraries like this are often seen in holiday brochures for £800 each and it really is the easiest trip to organise and is very romantic to enjoy a journey like this with someone special.

If you can arm yourself with Google, Trip Advisor, a cheap flight checker and Seat 61 you really can book a trip of a lifetime without breaking the bank.

Travel Expert Simon Calder

Travel Chaos is something that the media love to exaggerate in this age of 24 hour news channels that have too much time on their hands so spend most of the time looping the same footage for hours at a time. However what has amused me over the last few years is that when a travel crisis hits anywhere in the world, there is only one man that will know the answers and that mans name is Simon Calder.

The name on its own probably means little too most of you but I can guarantee that you will know his face. It would appear if you a run a newspaper or TV Station, the name that must be in your phone is Simon’s number filed under “Travel Expert” and he will be in the studio before you can say “Volcanic Ash”.

It has been a source of amusement to me for sometime how he seems to be the only “Travel Expert” that we have so thought it was about time I delved into this man’s past to see exactly who he is and how is able to get the entire British Media eating out of his hand. (more…)