About Me

My photo

I'm a 30 something who loves to travel.  I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels.  I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt.  I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney.  My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

Website Recommendation: Visa Stamper

Visa Stamper is a website where you can recreate your passport(s).  It's a fun little site that is still in Beta. 

What you do is set up an account and add in all your stamps from you passport, the website then recreats the pages for you to view online.  You can even add stamps for locations you went to, but didn't get a stamp for.

The site is still in Beta and could use a little work to make it better, such as differentiating between a land and an air entry or adding visas.  But, it does its simple functions well and all the stamps that I have matched the ones that were shown. 

http://visastamper.com/

Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter: Travelingiraffe

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Livorno Ship Tour: Pisa and A Taste Of Tuscany

When my cruise on the Norwegian Epic stopped in Livorno I decided to do the tour called: Pisa and A Taste of Tuscany.  Although the port of Livorno is primarily known for servicing Florence, Florence is actually an hour to two from the port.  Having been to Florence previously I decided to do something different. Pisa and Tuscany!


This is one of those big group tours from the cruise line and when I say big group I mean that there were multiple busses doing the same tour, so we're talking about over 200 people on this tour.  But, compared to some other big bus tours I have taken, this one didn't feel quite as heardy or touristy as I've experienced in the past.

We had an early meeting in a dining room, though not nearly as early as some of the other tours that left the ship this day, 8:30 am.  Sailing alone I had hoped to meet some people on excursions, it turned out I had already met several people who were on my tour and was on a bus with 3 of them.

The first part of the tour went to Pisa, on the way our tour guide spoke about the region of Tuscany. Once we arrived we parked in a bus parking area we took a 5-10 minute walk to the tower and then got some information about the leaning tower and the other buildings.  Then we got some free time, I think we had an hour before our meeting time, plenty of time to take photos and do some shopping or have a drink at one of the local street vendors.  I will talk about the Pisa in the next few weeks, but I will say that if you got rid of the hordes of tourists, this would be a nice place to visit.

After Pisa we went to a winery for a tour and lunch.  This winery had a stunning setting - it had that old, fancy farm feel and was nestled within the surrounding hills.  We got a quick tour, which was just fine with me since I've been on winery tours in the past.  If you want an in-depth tour of a winery, this is not it. Though the staff was very friendly and answered any questions asked.  We also learned a little bit about making olive oil.

After that we had lunch, lunch was served in tents outside, which we had perfect weather for.  There were some smaller tents (see the photos) that were heavenly.  However, we were in a much larger tent that fit several busses of guests.  This was a nice setting, but not as dreamy as the smaller tents. But the food was fabulous and we were given suggestions on which wines to drink with each course.  I personally didn't like any of the wines, they were too dry for me.  But, they had the best balsamic vinegar ever! The olive oil was also very good. We were given the opportunity to purchase the olive oil and vinegar as well as a few other items. The lunch was a couple different courses of light foods - pasta, meats, breads.


After that we returned to the ship with a little time to enjoy the ship before all the full day tours returned to the ship.  This tour only took about 5 and a half to 6 hours.  I thought it was a very nice tour for anyone who wants to have an experience other then Florence.  While I do try to avoid some of the big group tours, they tend to have a much less authentic feel, this was one of the better big group tours I have taken with a cruise line.  It also allowed me to save my energy for the next day in Rome!

Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter: Travelingiraffe

Monday, January 23, 2012

Photo of the Week: France

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter: Travelingiraffe

Friday, January 20, 2012

Travel Tip - STEP - Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

In light of the recent sinking of the Costa Concordia my travel tip for Americans is to register for STEP -https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

STEP is a US State Department program where you can register your trip information in case of an emergency.  While we all assume nothing will happen while we are away, the reality is that things do happen (London tube bombings, Madrid train bombings) and when we're overseas it's much more complicated.  You may need a new passport, clothing, basic necessities, money or transportation.  The US Government, your hotel/travel company and your family will know you're overseas.  The easier it is to get in touch with you the easier it is to take care of all of those issues.

Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter: Travelingiraffe

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Love Pisa, and I'm proud of it!

Pisa has a bad reputation as just being a tourist trap - it's just a tower that happens to lean.

I'm not going to say that's not true, but I did find a certain charm in Pisa.

It's quant little town with fortress walls around it.  It gives a nice feeling of what an old Italian town might have looked like, if you can tune out the throngs of tourists.

As for the tower, it's actually quite pretty with a very clean look to it.  One thing I don't like in Italy is that the colors of the buildings (oranges and yellows) make them look dirty, but the tower was white and looked very clean.  It was such a contrast to what you normally see that it stood out the second I turned the corner and it came into my vision.  On top of that it has two matching buildings, the Baptistry and the Cathedral.
I'm not going to tell you run to Italy and put Pisa on the top of your list of things to do.  But, if you're in the area I think it is worth visiting.  If you want to go to the top though, you'll want to book that in advance.

Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter: Travelingiraffe

Monday, January 16, 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

Recommendation

This weeks Trip/Recommendation is Contiki.

Contiki does tours for 18-35 year olds.  Since I'm turning 36 years old this year I have maybe one more chance to take a tour and then I'll have to move on to taking different vacations and using different tour companies.  So I'm leaving Contiki to the next generation.

Contiki offers tours of Europe, North America (US, Canada, Mexico), Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and South America.

Contiki isn't for everyone.  I think it's great for young, less experienced travelers.  For the experienced or independent travelers, Contiki may not be a good fit.  While you do get a lot of free time, there are times when you are traveling in a big group and there is at times a schedule (unless you want to find your own way to the next city).  But it takes away the stress of planning transportation, choosing hotels, and it provides about half your meals.  This is even more comforting when you're traveling somewhere that they speak another language.

If you've never traveled to Europe before I would suggest a whirlwind tour that goes to a lot of places, that gives the opportunity to get to know different cultures and find out what you like.  If you've traveled a bit then I would suggest a regional tour, they go slower and you get a better feel for the areas you're visiting.

The tours I've taken, and they were all great -
California Highlights (kinda short and it's the last week of the Wild Western which can be weird)
European Discovery
Scandinavia and Russia
Egypt
England and Scotland

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Last Minute Travel Plans

At the end of 2011 I was thinking that maybe I should go to Disney World with my annual pass in January or February before I have surgery in March, enjoy the nicer weather and have a quick fun break.

Then last week I got an email from Amex, they were offering a $100 Amex Gift Card if you purchased a round trip ticket with Delta.  So I started looking for flights to Orlando and found flights for a long weekend for $205, and with the $100 Gift Card it would only really cost me $105.  I was sold, and asked my sister if she wanted to come.  She said yes, and she's bringing my two nephews too!

Of course no good plan goes unpunished.  With the 4 of us and the overnight change in the price of the flight we're actually going to fly Jetblue (my preferred airline when flying domestically) and go for 4 days instead of 3.  We'll be staying at the Polynesian, one of the resorts I've wanted to stay at (and will cost me a lot less then if I had to pay for it myself).

So here's to last minute trips!

Oh, and I have a friend going down for the leap day festivities and since I still have that Amex offer who knows what else could happen.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Iphone 4s

I own a bunch of cameras.  My primary camera is the Canon xsi, but I also own a Canon point and shoot and a camera that is water resistant.  But my new favorite camera is the one on my IPhone 4s.

On my December trip to Disney I took my DSLR and my Iphone, I left the point and shoot at home in favor of the Iphone.  From the bit of testing I had done with it I knew it took good pictures and since it's my phone I always have it with me.  While there were a few pictures that I had issues with, I also found that the Iphone was always with me and handy and that makes a big difference. 

So for this week, I'm going to suggest the Iphone 4s (I hear the Iphone 4 has a pretty good camera too).  I'm also going to suggest that you practice with it a bit and maybe get a tripod for it if you want to stretch your photography skills.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Civitavecchia - Rome On Your Own


When I sailed on the Norwegian Epic and was stopping in Rome I decided to make it an easier day on myself.  I've been to Rome previously and really just wanted to see the Colosseum and The Forum.  I would have taken the NCL transfer to Rome, but it was $99.  I don't mind paying a premium for convenience, but that was rediculous!  Instead I took the train for 9 euros, which includes the Rome metro.

I can tell you how to do that, but this review is way more detialed then I could ever imagine writing so for step by step directions - Civitavecchia to Rome by train.  The short story is that you take the free shuttle out of the port into town (5 minute bus ride), walk 5-10 minutes to the train, by tickets and get on the next train.  I HIGHLY suggest getting a train schedule before taking the cruise, NCL did not have one available onboard.  But the train seemed to run every 30-60 minutes.

I'm also going to suggest Cruize Cast Podcast #4 on Rome if you would like to try and do all the major highlights of Rome in one day.

I did things slightly differently then suggested, which was good and bad.  When I got off the shuttle bus I went into the Tourist Information booth, here they tried to sell me the "fast" train for 15 euros, but it didn't leave for over an hour.  The "slow" train was leaving in about 20 minutes.  Also, the "fast" train only seemed to have 1 return time, but the "slow" train left every 30 minutes to an hour.  The difference in the ride time was about 20-30 minutes.  The "fast" train took 40 minutes the "slow" train took just over an hour, Italian time.  I had a little fight with the woman here, she wouldn't answer any of my questions, just kept trying to push the fast train on me and then every other tour she could.  I got annoyed and yelled at her then I bought my slow train ticket and tickets to the Colosseum/Forum.  Buying the Colosseum/Forum tickets here was a FABULOUS idea, it meant I didn't have to wait on line in Rome and I was able to kill the 20 minutes I had to wait for the train anyway.

Once in Rome my friend (I met him on the ship) and I walked to the Colossum.  We got a little lost and it took a while.  I would suggest taking the metro unless you want the exercise (you might after eating all that good food on the ship), the walk was not in the nice touristy area of the city.  I LOVED Rome the first time I went there, after walking through regular areas (for all I know I was in the ghetto, ack!) I lost some of my love for the city.  It had a dirty, rundown feeling and look to it, which the tourist areas do not have.  But it was also an adventure.

It was hot, I needed it!
After the Colossum and The Forum, which I'll discuss in another post, we walked to the Wedding Cake and found a nice little sidewalk cafe for lunch. 

After lunch we walked back to the train station, getting pretty lost this time, we had to pull out maps and ask complete strangers for directions multiple times.  This did allow us to stop and throw coins in the Trevi Fountain and just miss a train back to the port.  But at least this walk was in nicer area of Rome.  But if we had gotten any more lost we would have had to take a Taxi back to the train station.

I always show nice pictures, but the true Trevi Fountain has construction in front.
Unless you're interested in doing a tour in Rome, I would highly suggest taking the train into Rome, just get the schedule before you leave.  It's economical, and although the train was a little run down, we didn't hit any traffic and we got to travel with Italians, who don't speak English so I have no idea what any of them said. No, I didn't expect them to speak English, but it makes it hard to find out what the locals are talking about when they're not speaking in English.  You will find plenty of other cruise passengers on the train too, you wont be alone.