Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Duty Free tips from our trip

To say we learned a ton is an understatement. The most amazing thing about this trip was seeing things you had read about in textbooks. It was awesome to re-learn all the facts and actually have a few stick. I wouldn't want to bore you with facts and figures that you could read in a textbook, but I will tell you some helpful life lessons we learned on the trip.

1.) Get to Know Rick Steves - We have totally drank the Kool-aid as true followers of Rick Steves! To think in a year we can go from not even knowing who this guy is to not wanting to travel without him. Especially on this Italy trip he saved us so much money from his tips and more than anything with his free audiotours. Yes, he is totally cheesy at times, but I like to imagine him as my dad with all his lame jokes and just shrug and smile.
Don't forget your trusty ipod with free Rick Steves audiotours. Can't you tell they are lovin' it?

2.) Make Reservations - One huge tip for anyone traveling in Italy or anywhere in Europe for that matter is making reservations. This was a HUGE time saver and totally worth the the extra charge. The three museums that you should definitely make reservations at are the Uffizi and Accademia in Florence and the Vatican in Rome. No joke we walked passed hundreds of people by just going online and making a reservation.

I look so happy because I didn't have to wait in a line or in the sweltering hear.

3.) When Renting, Don't Assume - Ask the right questions! Make sure when you go to Tuscany in July to ask if they have A/C or a pool. We just assumed we would have one or the other, like my mom says assuming makes an ass out you and me. So no A/C and no pool made for a sweaty time in Tuscany. Really I would ask this about even a hotel anywhere it is hot.

I know it looks beautiful, but don't be fooled.....we were sweating our butts off.

4.) When it Comes to Luggage, Make Like Home Depot - We learned very quickly a 5 euro cab ride is really 8 euros when you have 3 pieces of luggage. They don't tell you that until they are lifting your bags out of the trunk and say," That will be 5 euros and 3 for the luggage so 8 euros." Just like that. My suggestion is either lift your own luggage or put it on your lap if you don't want the extra charge.

5.) Remember Bed, Bath, and Beyond - There is definitely a difference in stars on hotels. We were lucky enough to have stayed in a 2, 3, and 4 star hotels. In our eyes the 5 star system is based on three elements which we will call bed bath and beyond. With each star the bedroom, bathroom and breakfast get bigger and better.

Our 4 star hotel in Florence had the most amazing breakfast including the happiest staff I have seen.

6.) Bare in Mind... - When in Italy don't forget to bring something to cover your shoulders, if not you will be sporting one of these.

7.) Don't Try to Win the "Most Likely to Be Underdressed" Award - When packing for a trip make sure to think of ALL the things you are doing. We kind of forgot about the cruise when packing because all we knew was that we were going to be in Italy in July and that means shorts and tank tops, and the one pair of jeans for the Vatican (no shorts or bare shoulders allowed in there). Well on our cruise, not sure about other cruise lines, but after 6pm it was smart casual and that means a collared shirt for Justin. Thank God Justin packed one collared shirt and we liked to call this his dinner shirt. Halfway through the cruise we picked him up a five euro Ralph Lauren knock-off Polo in Turkey and he was able to rotate between two dinner shirts.

Dinner shirt #2 and our amazing servers Adi and Paola.

8.)  Know Where the Boat is Stopping - As first time cruisers, when we read our itinerary of all of the amazing places that we would be stopping to see, we had no idea that in many cases the boat does not actually drop you off in the downtown area of say, Athens for example.  Believe it or not, you can't actually park a big ass boat right next to the Acropolis for your convenience.  With that in mind, your cruise line will have prepared shore excursions for you to choose from.....at an additional cost of $25-$100 per person....per excursion.  So if you thought that once you paid to be on the boat, you would be home free.....think again!  Our suggestion is to find out where the ports of call are exactly, figure out how far it is to where you want to go, and decide beforehand which excursions you might want to book.  On the other hand, we found that many people call ahead and hire private tour guides and vans in those cities - oftentimes they are cheaper or comparable, offer more to see, and don't subject you to someone else's schedule.

Looks amazing right? The part you don't see is us taking a train from port only to wait for a bus to go up the hill for 45 minutes and only getting about an hour and a half to walk around before we have to catch the train to make it back on the boat before it takes off. 

9.)  Snack Carts in Rome.....Forget About It - After sweating through our tour of the Forum in the center of Rome, we found ourselves thirsty and starving in the center of a touristy area - not a great combo.  We ran into a sandwich/snack cart that looked suspiciously expensive, but we tried it anyways.  The sandwiches were only 4 Euros, which we thought was reasonable, so we got two sandwiches and two drinks......not thinking to ask how much the drinks were.  After we popped the tops on our drinks, took a sip, and grabbed our sandwiches the man says "that'll be 16 Euros".  After dusting myself off after falling over at the audacity of the statement, I found that the man was not shitting me.........the coke really was 4 Euros!  For some reason soft drinks are a luxury item in Rome, so watch out........or "Cave Cokum"!

10.)  A Gelato a Day Keeps the Scurvy Away - Italian gelato is about as close as it gets to cold, creamy, perfection.  While I stay true to some Mayfield and Ben and Jerry's back home......the Italians are legit on some gelato and it is worth a try.  I was put off at first at the thought of spending 2.50 Euros on one scoop of gelato when I know that they sell it for 1 Euro or less per scoop in Germany, once I gave it a try I could taste the difference and they give you a generous scoop in Italy.  However, the Italians do use real fruit in their gelato so our advice is not to try "lemon" or "watermelon".  The former made Marisa pucker up like it was lemon "Warheads" flavor and the latter had me spitting watermelon seeds all over the city of Siena.  You can't go wrong with anything else.

Pineapple was good along with chocolate, orange, strawberry, blueberry, cookies, and Marisa's fav peanut butter.

Lemon not so good.

11.)  I Pity the Fool that Don't Take Naps - I know some people like to "get their money's worth" while on vacation by pulling marathon days and trying to do everything in the guide book.  We also like to do some damage when we visit a new place, but one thing that is essential is the mid-afternoon nap.  We like to get up and kill it until lunch, eat, then crash at the hotel for a couple of hours in order to be renewed for an enjoyable evening stroll.  Trust me, there will be enough time to see it all.

12.)  Husbands, Say Yes to the Purchase.....the First Time They Ask - Lastly, when you find something that you really like for a price that is reasonable......go with your gut instead of waiting to find it later for a lower price.  Marisa found a leather purse in a market in Florence that she really liked at a decent price, but it was the second day of a 26-day trip and we didn't want to shoot our proverbial load too soon.  Long story short, we ended up finding two more versions of the same thing along the trip.....both for more money than the original offer.  We ended up buying it in Rome for 20 Euros more than the original asking price in Florence because we weren't going back to Florence before going home.

13.) People should smile more- Literally! Justin really took this to heart.

--Marisa (#1-7 & 13) Justin (#8-12)
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