Just a Few Days to Add Pre or Post? Pick a Great City and Go for It!
I joined two friends on a Norway-bound Celebrity ship out of Southampton this spring. It was a gorgeous cruise but only 7 days so why not take advantage of the long flight and enjoy a few extra days? This go-round, we selected one of my favorite cities in the world – London!
It does not matter how many times you visit this iconic city, there is always something new. And in London, the old never gets old. Here, a few highlights from our 4 days:
Day 1. The best advice after a long flight from the US is to stay awake till the sun sets! We settled in to our accommodations in Fitzrovia and walked to the corner pub for a light lunch and to explore the neighborhood. I highly recommend boutique hotels or apartments in one of London’s many neighborhoods. Shopping, restaurants, pubs, and museums abound whether you’re in Fitzrovia, Mayfair, Knightsbridge – or many other fabulous areas of this colorful city. And when you have just a few days, make sure to have a “must-do” list. For us, a must-do was fish & chips which we enjoyed at the Golden Hind – a mile walk down the road followed by a quick trip to the neighborhood Tesco to get a bottle of wine and some snacks for our apartment.
Ginger and I have both recently returned from European river cruises with Ama Waterways – me on the Garonne River in Bordeaux for a wine-themed cruise and Ginger on the enchanting Rhine. What a way to go! Here are our top 10 things we love about river cruising.
1. Easy on easy off. River cruising is a hassle free way to get right into the heart of amazing cities and towns along the way. Whether your preference is exploring on your own via Ama-supplied bikes, on foot, or by public transportation, guided walks or bike rides, you’ll find yourself in the center of historic towns. I had the pleasure of spending 3 days in Bordeaux, a historic trading center which lost its lustre in the 19th century but which has been beautifully restored. We took a brisk (VERY brisk) walk with a local resident tour guide to get a fantastic overview, then later explored on our own, seeking (and finding) the famous Dune cake from Patisserie David
55 intrepid sailors, many of them members of the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club, traveled with Bay World Travel on board the Royal Clipper, the world’s largest sailing ship, in September.
Our itinerary took us from Venice, then across the Adriatic, to the beautiful Dalmatian coast, where we anchored off the picturesque landscapes of Montenegro, Croatia, and Slovenia. The perfectly preserved or restored medieval towns of Kotor, Dubrovnik (thanks to UNESCO and humanitarian aid its immaculate walled city is completely restored since the devastating 1990’s Serbo-Croatian wars), Hvar, Rovinj, and Piran charmed us all.
For the past 20 years, I have traveled with my dear friends Chris and Kate every 5 years for our milestones (we share the same birth year). Over that span of time, I’ve taken the time away from children, responsibilities, and husband Bill to enjoy quality time with friends for a week to 10 days per trip. We’ve been to Napa, Lake Tahoe, Ireland, Spain, Alaska, and have even done a couple “staycations” together. We are perfect travel companions!
My children are now grown, Bill is still working but headed for retirement, and I’m getting close to 65. While Chris, Kate, and I were on our last official milestone trip when we turned 60 – to Barcelona and the Costa Brava of Spain – we agreed we had to accelerate our schedule if we want to see everything we want to in our lives.
Yes, it’s challenging to balance obligations and responsibilities, but the rewards of traveling with close friends and family are priceless. Let me share a couple client stories with you.
Christine and her husband have been all over the world. But when she was ready to celebrate a milestone birthday at 50, she decided she wanted to share the experience with a group of friends who share her love of Italian food and cooking. This group of six included sophisticated world travelers like Christine and first-time to Europe travelers, but they share a bond of friendship and common interests together. After almost a year of planning, the group headed to Florence, the Tuscan countryside for 3 days of cooking classes, and Rome in November. They enjoyed each other’s company, great food and conversation, and new recipes to showcase at home. They toured the Uffizi in Florence, had a wonderful private tour at the Vatican, and cooked, laughed and drank wine together. When I met with them after their return, what they most valued about this amazing trip was the time they got to hang out together. Because they shared typical small European hotel rooms, they appreciated the intimate public areas of the Hotel Cellai in Florence and especially loved the small Villa Fattoria Valle in Panzano where they were the only guests.
Flo and Vivian are friends but their relationship is really more like that of sisters (it’s equally awesome to travel with sisters as I can attest to!). They love to travel together and have discovered the joys of river cruising. They are inveterate shoppers and their first river cruise experience was an Ama Waterways cruise on the Danube from Budapest to Prague for the Christmas market season. I was so impressed with these two women – they went to each of the markets and each stand at each market. In Salzburg alone, they visited 120 stalls and came away with fabulous and unique treasures for friends and family. They had such a great time they signed up for another Ama Waterways cruise – this one along the Rhine and waterways of Germany and the Netherlands to experience tulip time. They were delighted with the 125th anniversary commemoration of the death of Van Gogh with a spectacular “Van Gogh” tulip display at Keukenhof fields. They exuberantly shared photos, their treasures, and even recipes from Ama Waterways which focuses on the regional cuisine of its destinations.
When you have friends who share that kind of enthusiasm and interests, why not channel it into a trip together? Life is too short not to go. Here’s my short list of tips to make traveling with friends the perfect experience:
Plan ahead to minimize surprises. The planning process helps crystallize what is important for all the friends traveling together. A travel professional – such as any one of our team members at Bay World Travel – is an objective and collaborative partner in making sure it’s an experience you’ll all find amazing.
Allow for downtime on your trip to make time for what friends value most – conversation and companionship.
Consider cruising. Whether a small vessel like AmaWaterways or a large ship, there’s opportunity for friends to do things together or separately. When I went on the Alaska cruise with friends and family, we always gathered for a pre-dinner cocktail and dinner – sometimes sharing stories of what we did together and sometimes what we did on our own.
Do a trial run. Haven’t traveled with this friend or group of friends before? Try a weekend getaway to see just how compatible you are as travel companions.
Get extra amenities. If you want to invite friends along on a cruise, tour or resort stay, there are often extra benefits we can negotiate to help sweeten the deal.
Call Bay World Travel today to start planning your next adventure with friends and family!
This Spring, my husband and I took a long, leisurely trip that started with a cruise to Barcelona and proceeded by train, staying in small towns on our way to Paris, and then via the Chunnel to London.
We went with First Class; unlike plane tickets, the price difference between first- and second-class on the trains is minimal, but the comfort level difference is huge! Who wouldn’t want large, reclining seats with lots of leg room, tables, and huge windows on a long trip?
The trains were really comfortable, there was plenty of food in most stations, and there was food available on all trains except the short local ones. The restrooms on the long-distance trains were plentiful and comfortable, although I did not notice any on the local trains.
There is a new, high-speed train between Barcelona and Paris that takes only a few hours, but we were meandering through France, so we needed a number of train trips. We had a wonderful adventure and thoroughly enjoyed the train journeys, but it did take some careful planning ahead to make it all work.
First of all, we each bought a First Class, flexible, two-country Europass, which allowed us ten days of unlimited travel in Spain and France. This particular pass is about $700 per adult, but it more than paid for itself by the end of our trip, and the convenience of not having to queue up to buy tickets in each station was invaluable.
The pass does not give you seats on the high-speed trains, you still have to reserve and pay for those seats, but it saved us a bundle; local trains do not offer reserved seats, but those were free with the pass. One leg of our trip, from Barcelona to Toulouse, for example, would have been about $160 each without the pass, and was about $17 with it, so that day alone paid for $143 of each pass…you can see how the savings add up!
You do need to be diligent about reading the instructions on the pass and following them! Each night before we traveled, I sat and filled out the next day’s date on the pass, and the cities, date and times of each train on the pass folder. It takes only a few minutes, but if you do not do that, you could be double charged for the ticket.
Some people have asked if they really need advanced reserved seats… no, no more than you need to reserve a seat on an airplane. You can always take your chance on showing up at the station and buying a last-minute ticket, but many trains (and all high-speed trains) require reservations, and they do sell out.
Here are a few tips I gleaned from our travels:
Download Eurail’s free RailPlanner app to use for local, non-reserved trains; it’s easy and gives you departure and arrival times, as well as letting you know if you have a change of train required. With wifi, it will give you live schedule updates, but offline you can see routes you have saved in advance.
Here’s one time where it really saved us: the posted schedules at Chenonceaux “station” (some tiny local stations are more like bus stops), were entirely wrong due to construction that caused the trains to be rescheduled. Checking ahead on RailPlanner meant we knew to catch the posted ‘4:45 train’ at 4pm, instead of missing it and having to wait for the 6pm train!
When you travel, do pay attention to the train number and not just your destination. Our train to Toulouse, for instance, actually continued on, so there was no train on the board that said “Toulouse”… just the departure time, Carcassonne, and the train number.
It’s wise to know the name of your arrival station [there are sometimes multiple stations in a town] and what is 1-2 stops before it, so you aren’t scrambling to get to the doors!
Like the Europeans, pack as light as you are able. The trains are not easy with heavy bags! Elevators are few and often far off in the wrong end of the station, so you’ll have to double back a long way, or haul your bags down 2 flights, around a corner, up a flight, and down a hallway [or worse], and your seats may be on the upper level of the car…great for views, but more stairs to climb.
Keep your passport with your train pass and tickets, as often all three are checked before you are allowed to board, especially on trains crossing a border.
If you can get to the station early, scope out where the train boards and gates are. Some stations are huge and it’s comforting to know where you’ll need to be when your train is announced, as you usually will have 15- 20 minutes to find your car from the time the gate is announced.
Buy your “Chunnel” tickets well in advance, as there are only a couple of Eurostars each day between Paris and London, and they sell out. A lovely meal is served at your seat, so you can really sit back and enjoy the beautiful countryside.
People were almost universally really nice and happy to answer questions, and the views from the trains were really wonderful; even at high speeds you see more than you would from the highways and there is no stress of driving on unknown roads!
That’s the summary…you can ask me if you want more details or help planning your own rail journey. And yes, we’d do it again… in fact, rail is absolutely the only way the two of us would choose to get around inside Europe.