Totem Travel (425) 821-4100   (800) 321-7907

Will my credit card be accepted in Europe, Australia, Fiji…


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Totem Travel specializes in international travel so we get a lot of questions about foreign currency, cash and credit cards while traveling abroad. Here’s my recommendation for all but a handful of destinations including most European countries, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific Islands of Fiji and Tahiti, the Caribbean, Mexico, Belize and Costa Rica

Travel with $2-300 in cash, an ATM card and two major credit cards. Call the customer service number on the back of each card before you leave to advise that you’ll be out of the country. The bank will note your travel dates and destinations and this will forestall a security hold for “unusual activity”. You should also verify your daily limit for ATM transactions and check on any credit/debit card fees for international purchases.

ATM machines are located in all major airports, near major tourist attractions and throughout the cities and towns just as there are here. Plus most hotels, restaurants and stores accept major credit cards. The ATM is normally the least expensive and most convenient way to get cash and the only trick is to convert your daily limit in U.S. dollars to the local currency then take out that amount. That way you get the bank rate of exchange with the lowest possible fee.

The worst place to get cash is a currency exchange counter! They either charge astronomical fees or have a terrible exchange rate and they are masters at advertising only one aspect of the transaction… We also do not recommend travelers check unless you don’t have credit/debit cards. Travelers checks are not widely accepted and they are a hassle to use.

One more suggestion – if you are buying something expensive (e.g. jewelry, original art) use a credit card and make sure your receipt states specifics for the purchase. Fraud is not a common problem but if your emeralds turn out to be green glass most major credit cards have fraud protection and will reverse the charge if challenged and documented.

I hope you find this information helpful and call or email if you need help planning the perfect vacation in Europe or Australia. My passion is helping clients get the most of every travel experience and I love designing customized itineraries to meet your special wish list whether that is wine tasting in Florence Italy or scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef!

See Europe up close, experience European River Cruising


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Click for slide show of European River Cruising

Touring Europe has been on my wish list for a long time.  The one thing that has held me back is that I want to see the small towns, and experience the local culture. Doing that on an escorted tour through Europe is one way, renting a car and driving through the countryside is another, but neither sounded like the best option for me. Enter: European River Cruising!  This is definitely my cup of tea. I love cruising and the thought of seeing Europe close-up, and having to unpack only once, sounds like a dream come true!

Imagine floating along the calm rivers, docking right in the center of an ancient village, and stepping right of the ship ready to shop in the markets, attend music performances, and enjoy the local cuisine. No long lines to disembark, no tenders into the port, and no bus rides to the village….it’s right there!! And the shore excursions are included. Local guides will lead you on wonderful tours, with a running commentary of genuine behind the scenes experiences. In additional you will have the benefit of personal headsets for the sightseeing excursions, so that you can wander through the attractions without missing any of the narration.

Food is always a big part of the cruising experience! Dining on a river cruise is part of the journey. Chefs incorporate local culinary specialties paired with regional wines, into each dinner. Concerned about where to dine, and what to order, when you are touring the towns along the way? The cruise lines have thought of that too! Throughout the cruise, a local chef will come on board to prepare a special meal, so you will learn about the different dishes, and how to order them. Don’t worry….if you are a fussy eater, and prefer foods that are more familiar to you, there’s always a meat, fowl, fish, and vegetarian choice, too.

Have you ever been on an ocean cruise and picked up a local wine to enjoy on board? Only to find out that there is a corkage fee (about $15-$20), or security takes the wine from you, to be returned at the end of the cruise. This won’t happen on a river cruise! They welcome your regional wine purchase, and do not charge for corkage! So enjoy!

The ships are small, but include an amazing number of amenities: staterooms with balconies, heated floors in the bathroom, libraries for reading & playing board games, lounges with local entertainment, and lovely outdoor decks for watching the world go by! Some of the ships even have a beauty salons, swimming pools and fitness centers!

Sample cruises include tours of Holland and the spectacular tulips; wine tours in France; Eastern European cruises throughout Hungary and Romania; enjoy the sights and sounds which have inspired musicians and poets……the Danube.  Themed cruises are also very popular: Wine Appreciation cruises, Jewish Heritage cruise, and a Jazz cruise to list just a few of the choices. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are to be celebrated, and the river cruise lines have some wonderful options.

If this sounds like perfect way to enjoy Europe, please contact me or even book on-line! I am happy to go over the many options available. sandi@totemtravel.com or 1 800 321-7907

 

Tips on dining and sightseeing in Paris France


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Paris ranks high on the list of European capitals to see and enjoy and many of the “must do’s” sights are obvious – the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame. Most visitors also enjoy shopping on the Champs Elysees, strolling the banks of the Seine, browsing tiny shops and eateries in the Left Bank or enjoying a leisurely dinner cruise to see the City of Lights in all its glory.

Art lovers can spend days exploring the Louvre, National Museum of Modern Art, Orsay, Rodin, Cluny and other museums and for those interested in the history behind the art and artists a walking tour of the Marais and Montmartre Districts is highly recommended. But some say the true joy of France is the food and make it a point to return again and again for that pleasure alone. To quote a long time client and foodie

The French worship the food gods. They eat seasonally (don’t expect asparagus in October) and freshness is important. Day old bread is considered a mortal sin which is why people stop in the bakery on the way home to dinner. To have gotten the bread in the morning would have made it stale by dinner.

Reservations – For dinner always make reservations. Period. It is sometimes advisable to make a reservation in person the first time you visit a restaurant. If you do this you can get an idea of the English fluency. A phone reservation can be chancy with both sides thinking they understand what is being said and, in reality, you have just booked a table for 27 next month.

Courtesy – Turn off your phone or whatever electronic device you carry. It is extremely rude to talk on a phone in a restaurant. I have seen people asked to leave in the middle of their meal because their phone was ringing. I have also seen a man apologize to an entire room full of customers because he forgot to turn his phone off and it rang. If you can’t wait to get a call stay at home or go to Italy – they’ve got no manners.

Dinner – is a 3 course meal (starter, main course, dessert) and the prices do not include, aperitifs, wine, coffee, etc. Sparkling water is also extra but still water is usually no additional charge. By law all restaurants in France must display their offerings outside the restaurant so you can get an idea of prices/food before you go inside. There will also be “le Menu”, the daily specials that offer a few (2- 5) choices for each course for a fixed price. Usually a good deal if it meets your tastes.

Wine – Good wine is available at reasonable prices and if you don’t know what to order ask the waiter or, in nicer places, the sommelier. The important grades of wine are Domaine, Premier Cru, Grand Cru. About .1 of 1% of the vineyards in France are Grand Cru and are priced accordingly – very high. Premier Cru is excellent, not common and priced less then Grand Cru but still expensive. All the rest are just good wines. Some are blends and some are single grape. If you are serious do a little reading before you go because it is too late once you are in the restaurant. Sample wines from different regions as you eat different meals. The differences in the regions are huge and your tastes may direct you to a particular type of wine or region. Even the differences between vineyards in a local area can be significant.

Tipping – In France tips are included in the price of the meal. If you get average or poor service don’t leave anything extra. If the service is better, then leave anything up to 10% more depending on how good the service was. How helpful? Did the waiter/waitress make suggestions or guide you away from something you might not like? Did he/she go get someone else with better English? If you are in a Michelin starred restaurant then leave 20-25% unless you got poor service but that’s not likely. French credit card receipts do not have a place to add a gratuity. It would be rude to do this in their culture. The easiest thing to do is to leave cash for the tip. There are other ways but my French is not up to the task.

Language – Someone else with better English (see above) may not exist. Don’t ever make a communication failure a reason for not tipping. You are in their country. If you want things like they are at home, stay at home. Take a food dictionary and carry it with you. It will save some difficult moments. Even with a food dictionary house specialties and regional preparations may not translate. Also, learn the days of the week in French. Restaurant hours/days are usually posted on the door and frequently vary by day and many places are closed at least one day a week. Time will be military style – 2:00 pm equals 1400 hours. Most of the restaurants open for lunch and close in early afternoon and then open for dinner at 7:00 or 8:00 pm.

Paying – Getting the check may take some time. Just because you have finished eating/drinking does not mean you are ready to leave. You must request the check and it may take some time. Be patient, dinner is supposed to take 2 hours. Most places accept credit cards and display the standard VISA/Mastercard signs. A few places accept only debit cards or cash so always carry all three. The French bring a portable credit card reader/transmitter/printer to the table. It is considered rude/dishonest to take your credit card away from the table. Most of these machines have a stripe reader but they don’t work all that well. Have your credit card company issue you a credit card with an embedded chip before you travel and your card can be used just like European cards. It will work better, it is faster and the French will appreciate your consideration.

As an independent traveler, I find Paris easy to explore with mostly safe city streets well connected by a clean, well managed metro system. Most Parisians welcome tourists and are willing and able to assist in English especially if first greeted in French. So practice your “Bon jour madame or monsieur “, pack up the food dictionary and get out and enjoy! Whether you have a weekend in Paris, a week or two in France or months to explore the top destinations in Europe, all agree that Paris should be on your itinerary. Call or email linda@totemtravel.com if you’d like help planning your European vacation.

Top 10 Spots for a Honeymoon include Europe, Hawaii & Caribbean


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According to US News Travel Section, the top ten spots for a honeymoon in 2013 are Europe with 5 cities in the top 10 list, the Caribbean with 3 islands on the list and Hawaii with 2 islands in the top 10 honeymoon list.

#1 this year is Santorini, Greece followed closely by Maui, Hawaii. Greece and the Hawaiian islands have always been popular destinations for honeymooners and have consistently been in the top ten honeymoon lists. Crete bursts in on the scene and grabbed the third spot followed by another Hawaiian Island, Kauai. Rounding out the top ten honeymoon spots in 5th and 6th place are two other exciting cities in Italy, Florence and Venice. Both European cities are very romantic and remain popular each year. Florence and Venice are followed by some stunning islands in the Caribbean, Turks & Caicos, Martinique and St. Martin-St. Maarten.

A top ten honeymoon list could not be complete without the always romantic and popular, Paris France. What a way to complete the top ten! If none of these destinations appeal, we have lots of other suggestions including an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora, adult only resort in Fiji, all inclusive resort in St. Lucia or a treehouse in  Belize  to name a few. We have specialists and packages available for all these destinations and work with honeymooners every day.

Our destination specialists  can help you find the best spot for your honeymoon at all budget levels, so just give us a call at 1-800-321-7907 or you can fill out a request a quote. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Italy Bellissimo Pt. 2



Click here for more photos of Italy Bellissimo pt. 2

As a travel agent that specializes in vacations to Europe, my first experience in Italy was with Trafalgar Tours on their  – Italy Bellissimo. This is part two of my Italian adventure!

The next morning we headed down to the marina for the crossing to Naples and the journey north to Assisi.  The drive through the Umbrian hills to Assisi was spectacular as was the view of the Church of St. Mary of the Angels. After quickly checking in at the hotel, we headed up for our guided tour of the basilica of St Francis.  Entering the lower basilica, one sees at the other side of the vestibule the chapel of St. Catherine of Alexandria. One of the best thing about the basilica is the Giotto frescos. The depth and brilliance of the story of the New Testament on the walls is incredible.

The following morning we started out early with Venice in our sights. Before Venice we stopped in Ravenna to visit the Basilica of Saint Apollinaris with its glittering mosaics.  After taking time to stop in Padua for lunch we head over to the city of canals.  On arrival our tour guide took us to the main gondola station and we all got serenaded while we cruised down the Grand Canal towards St Marks Square. Once there he took us through some of the winding and intricate back alleys to visit some interesting historical but little known buildings on our way to the glass blowing factory.

After getting a good night sleep we head off to visit the Doges Palace and St Marks Cathedral on another chosen optional excursion. Following the excursion we had another optional over to Murano and Burano for a fantastic seafood lunch.  The rest of the day was spent shopping and exploring.

On our way to Florence the next day, we encountered a car accident but the tour guide and driver were nonplussed and took us to this charming town of Ferrara. This was probably the unexpected highlight of the trip – all cobblestone streets and people on their bikes with baskets.  The castle in town had a moat surrounding it.  The area buildings were very well preserved and the smell of fresh baked bread invaded my senses.  Moving on to Florence we stopped at the hotel to check in and have some lunch in their beautiful courtyard before heading off to Pisa. The drive to Pisa was beautiful country with rolling hills and fields of sunflowers, grapes and apple orchards.

On arrival into Pisa before you get the Campo de Miracoli, you are welcomed by various street vendors selling their trinkets and cold soda and oddly enough hot dogs. The leaning tower of Pisa – Torre Pendente- was originally built as the bell tower for the Duomo. Tickets into the Duomo were included as part of our escorted tour so off we went to see the amazing interior of this Cathedral built in the 1100’s. Artwork in the cathedral is from such artists as Della Robbia. Having never heard of this artist before, I was astounded and amazed. Everything in the cathedral is beautiful and intricate from the carved archways as you enter to the gilded staircase over the pulpit.

That evening we were taken to a fabulous restaurant on a hillside over looking the town of Montecatini. Needless to say the food was heavenly and the music and entertainment was well worth the cost of the optional excursion. It included wine as well.  After an early morning wake up call and a hearty breakfast we went to explore Florence. We had a wonderful local city guide take us to the Santa Croce cathedral.

After a guided visit through the cathedral, we headed off for a walking tour of Florence with a local guide. I loved Florence! The way the city is laid out made it so easy to navigate using the Duomo and the tower as your point of reference you can get anywhere without getting lost. We asked our Trafalgar tour director to help us buy tickets to the Uffizi gallery and head off own our own for a couple hours before meeting up with our travel companions at the Accademia gallery to see Michaelangelo’s David. The rest of the afternoon was ours to explore on our own.

The next day we had our sights set on Siena before continuing on to Rome. In Siena we had our Trafalgar guide walk us through the narrow stone streets up to the Piazza Del Campo. After a brief history of the city he set us loose to go shopping and exploring on our own.  Sienna was amazing with its maze of streets and shops and beautiful churches and colorful windowsills.

After we leave Siena we headed south through the Tuscan hills to Rome. On arrival into Rome, the guide had us dropped off at the Piazza Navona and he gave us a walking tour of Rome through the city streets giving us the local history of the city, in particular the Trevi Fountain.  Started by Bernini and finished by Salvi – your ears are greeted by the sound of thundering water even before you see it. From there we were taken past the Spanish Steps and down to the Piazza De Popolo  where we had a fabulous included dinner  with music and singing at Cavona. The restaurant had a retractable roof so we could enjoy the night skies and stars above. After dinner, we walked out and the Piazza was lit up and was breathtaking with all the fountains lit from behind. It was magical.

After a solid’s night sleep, the next morning we head off to the Vatican. Being part of a guided tour of the Vatican, I was literally one of the first 3 people in the Vatican that day.  Our local city historian gave us so much wonderful information on the art, history and legends surrounding the Vatican.  We spent 3 hours meandering through the Sistine Chapel and St Peters basilica and then we headed over to the Colosseum. I could envision the animals kept in the lower levels and having Nero watch as the brave souls fought for fame. After a fascinating tour with our guide we wandered around for an hour on our own before we headed back to the hotel for a bit of lunch and the rest of the afternoon was free. I decided on a trip to the Pantheon and walked around a couple of the lovely squares – the Piazza Republicca and the Piazza Barberini. That evening we had a wonderful farewell dinner at hotel. In the morning we said arrivederci to our new found friends.

It was a great experience and look forward to going back to Italy soon! The next time I might decide to explore Italy on my own or try a city tour so I can explore places like Siena and Parma in depth.

If you would like to have more information about Trafalgar’s Italy Bellissimo or any other guided tour of Italy, please feel free to call me@ (425) 821.4100 or send me an email.

Part 1 of my 12 day escorted tour adventure: Italy Bellissimo



Click here for a slideshow of Italy Bellissimo

As a travel agent that specializes invacations to Europe, my first experience in Italy was withTrafalgar Tours on their  – Italy Bellissimo. This is a moderately paced 12 day tour that runs from April through October so you can choose the best time that works for your busy schedule. I also liked that it started on a Sunday and ended on a Thursday which would give me the weekend to recuperate before heading back to work on Monday. When deciding on a tourthe number of days in each city was important to me so I chose this tour because it has two night stays in all the places I had ever dreamed of visiting in Italy, plus it offered a trip to Pisa and Assisi as part of the included itinerary. How could I resist? This is part one of my Italian adventure with Trafalgar tours!

The trip started off with my overnight flight on American Airlines via Chicago. On arrival into Rome we were met by our Trafalgar tour director Dominic. After clearing customs we were taken to our hotel the Sheraton Golf. The hotel was a little outside city center but it had free shuttle transportation that dropped us off right by the Circus Maximus. After taking a hot shower and a power nap, I jumped on the shuttle to explore on my own. I walked down the middle of the Circus Maximus and stared in wonder at the historical ruins of the Forum.

As I turned left I was absolutely stunned by the view of the Coloseum and the Arch of Constantine. To my right was a view of the Roman Forum. A taxi station is conveniently located directly in front of the Coloseum. From the Coloseum I took a taxi over to the Piazza Navona and as we drove the taxi driver showed me Palantine Hill and the River Tiber. The square is lined with restaurants and cafes and artists capturing a moment in history. The sounds of the various marble fountains and the aromas of all the restaurants dazzle the senses.

After exploring on my own, I took the hotel’s transfer back to the hotel for another power nap and went downstairs to meet the tour director for a glass of wine and introductions to the other guests traveling with us.  The day by day itinerary did not have dinner included this evening; however, he suggested a fantastic place with traditional Italian Margarita pizza.

The following morning we set off for the Isle of Capri via Pompeii. On the way down, our incredible tour guide, Dominic, filled our heads with information about the role Italy played in WWII.

Whilst at Pompeii we were joined by a local guide that took us through the vast ruins of the city that was decimated by Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. The guide was brilliant and took us down alleys and hidden courtyards and displays of human frames that were left intact after the explosion of the volcano. After spending two hours with the local historian we stopped outside for a glass of the most amazing lemonade I have ever had in my life!

From Pompeii, we headed down to Sorrento. On the way we stopped and did one of the optional excursions offered by Trafalgar and that was lunch at a traditional olive farm. After Dominic and the owner of the farm met us at the motor coach, they gave us a short tour of the self-sustaining farm, we met the famous Mama and watched her strain milk and turn the curds and whey into amazing mozzarella cheese! After the demonstration they took us the restaurant and gave us samples of limoncello made right there on the farm. After lunch we stopped in Sorrento to tootle around the town for a couple hours and had a tour of the inlaid wood factory to see an example of traditional Italian craftsmanship. I was amazed at the number of vespas being driven by the locals. It seems to be the popular mode of transportation!

Sorrento was so charming and beautiful and the drive down to the pier was breathtaking! The city literally sits on a wall of cliffs. We took the ferry over to Capri and everything you see when you sail up to the pier is all white roofs and sails and greenery everywhere, with teal and aqua water all around. The street signs are dark blue and white tile, everything is done in style! The view from out hotel was of the city of Capri, but one you walk out the hotel and down about a half a block and you have this amazing sea view that brings Audrey Hepburn to mind.

While in Capri we decided to do the Blue grotto optional excursion with lunch. The cruise around Capri to the grotto was awe inspiring. I do not think I have ever seen such a vast variety of the color blue in my life and the incandescent glow inside the cave is beautiful.  After the sail around we traveled up to Anacapri for lunch and time to shop before returning to our hotel for the night for dinner.

Stay tuned for Part two of my Italian adventure with Trafalgar tours. Until then do not miss out on these amazing deals!

Last Minute Deals from Trafalgar for this Summer: Don’t wait! These deals won’t last long!

Tour Name                      Depart  /     Was     /     Now     /   Savings

Grand tour of Italy          Aug 05 / US$ 3550 / US$ 3018 / US$ 532

Flavours of Italy              Aug 19 / US$ 2625 / US$ 2231 / US$ 394

Italian Holiday                 Aug 20 / US$ 1725 / US$ 1466 / US$ 259

Best of France                 Aug 21 / US$ 2999 / US$ 2549 / US$ 450

Best of Scotland              Aug 21 / US$ 1625 / US$ 1381 / US$ 244

If you would like more information about an escorted tour of Europe please email me or call 425-821-4100.  I look forward to working with you on your dream vacation!

Why choose an Escorted European Tour?



Click here for a slideshow of Escorted Tours

It is no secret to those who know me that I love escorted tours. and as the European travel specialist for Totem Travel, people frequently ask me “why?”

The number one best thing about an escorted tour is the convenience.  Forget all the hassles and headaches.   All the planning, hotels, meals, sightseeing and transportation are already done. Someone else is doing the driving so I can sit back and actually relax and enjoy the view and the commentary of a knowledgeable tour director.  From picking you up at the airport to suggesting local restaurants so you can experience the best local cuisine – they do it all!

Another point worth mentioning is someone else is handling your baggage and all the hotel check ins and outs. We have all heard horror stories about hotels in Europe being notorious for not having small, slow or nonexistent elevators. On an escorted tour, the cost of baggage handling is included in the tour and someone else will schlep the luggage in and out of the hotel.  The only thing I have to worry about getting up the stairs – is me!

My biggest pet peeve when I travel is waking up in the morning and having my boyfriend ask me, what do you want to do today? Then we spend the next two hours wasting time deciding what we want to do and how to get there. With an escorted tour, daily sightseeing is included on most days. They give plenty of free time in the afternoon and evenings to explore on your own as well.  Plus the cost of sightseeing tours are already included in the price of the tour so there is no  out of pocket expense unless I want to do things on my own or add one of the optional excursions offered on tour during my free time.

One of the things that I consider when traveling is the language barrier. If I do not speak the language, how would I know the road rules if I chose to rent a car? I wouldn’t be able to read the road signs. When you are on an escorted tour, the driver and the guide are fluent in the language of the country or countries you are touring.  Plus while someone else is driving, you have the tour director who gives detailed history about the area and the sights you will be visiting. Sometimes they pass out examples of local delicacies or informational maps about the upcoming cities we will visit. The  tour director on my escorted tour in Italy passed out information about local shopping in Florence so when we stopped we knew we were buying authentic, local goods, not ones made in China!

In my opinion, the biggest benefit of escorted travel is the ability to experience a destination in comfort.  The tour director helps you not only with what is listed in the daily itinerary but also can assist you with special requests at the hotel such as wheelchair accessible rooms or help  you plan something special for your 25th anniversary. The Tour Directors and the local city guides are knowledgeable and experienced. On my escorted tour of France with Insight Vacations the local guide was amazing. She took us through the chateau country and really made the history and legends come alive. It was like walking through the pages of a living breathing fairy tale story.

Most people think an escorted tour  is a nonstop frenetic pace. To be honest, that is what it used to be. However, escorted touring has evolved because traveller’s tastes have evolved. They understand that some guests seek more in depth experiences and want more time to explore on their own.  Now you can select a tour and tour company that has exactly what you are looking for!

Throughout your escorted tour, you will have the choice between participating in the scheduled activity, exploring on your own, and just taking it easy. Typical time spent on the motor coach between stops is only 1 ½ hours. This not only allows you to pursue some of your personal interests, but it also allows you to set your own pace.  Just because a tour has an activity listed for the day does not mean you have to participate in it. Just let your tour director know you won’t be tagging along for that portion.

All in all – The tour company takes care of all the details and tells you what to expect at each leg of your journey. You know your costs up front, and you don’t get many surprises. Escorted tours can take you to see the maximum number of sights in the minimum amount of time with the least amount of hassle.

  • You will enjoy a hassle-free vacation without car rental or accommodation worries
  • They have the finest Tour Directors in the industry to help you make the most of every moment
  • You will stay in quality hotels, carefully selected and monitored by the tour company for quality
  • You will travel in modern and comfortable coaches
  • You will enjoy authentic cultural experiences with expert Local Guides
  • You will experience all the ‘must-see’ attractions without the long lines

Looking to take your dream vacation? With airfares continuing to rise, there’s no better time than now to book your 2011 European guided vacation. Book by April 29 and take advantage of our incredible savings: of up to 700.00 per couple on air inclusive tours.

If you would like more information about an escorted tour of Europe please email me or call 425-821-4100.

I look forward to working with you on your dream vacation!

 

Fabulous Florence, my favorite place to vacation in Italy!



Click here for a slideshow of Florence, Italy

As a travel agent specializing in Europe vacation packages and tours, everyone asks me the same question? What is your favorite place in Italy? My favorite city in Italy is Florence.  After wandering the complicated and concentric streets of Rome and the maze of side streets and plazas in Venice, the layout of Florence was refreshing.

Florence is the home of Michelangelo, Machiavelli and the Medici family.  Under the rule of the Medici family Florence blossomed into Italy’s cultural capital with artists such as Alberti, Brunelleschi, and Donatello. In the Uffizi you will see the works of my favorite Boticelli and Titian as well as, Caravaggio, Tintoretto, Raphael, and Giotto.

From the Uffizi you can either exit the front of the plaza or the rear. From the front you can turn left and go to the famous Ponte Vecchio and do some leather shopping or turn right and walk down to Santa Croce and the piazza and find some religion.  If you exit the rear of the Piazzale Degli Uffizi, you can easily walk from the Uffizi down Via Dei Calzaiuoli to the Piazza della Signoria with its open air museum and statues that rival David – straight to the amazing Duomo and the Baptistry with its golden doors. On the way to the Duomo if you look to the left down just as you reach  Via Del Corso you will see the Pizza della Repubblica. You can easily walk from the Uffizi down Via Dei Calzaiuoli to the Piazza della Signoria straight to the amazing Duomo and the Baptistry with its golden doors.  Just past the baptistry you can take a right down Via Ricasoli and walk to the Accademia gallery, home of Michelangelo’s David. Just around the corner from the Accademia is the Museo Archeologico.

As you are walking you have visual eye candy everywhere. You see either the top of the Duomo or the Piazza Vecchio tower high over the roof tops of the city  not to mention the random statues virtually on every corner. Not only do you have eye candy but the mouthwatering aroma of the bakeries and restaurants that dot every street as you are walking is heavenly! The best view is from across the river Arno either at the Palazzo Piti or the Piazzale Michelangelo with its David’s in miniature. The view from here is simply breathtaking.
The second best thing about Florence other than it being easy to navigate is its strategic location. It is the heart of Tuscany. From Florence you can visit Pisa, Lucca, Siena, Chianti and other quaint villages like Volterra and Pienza.

If you would like more information about visiting Florence or the surrounding Tuscan villages either on an escorted tour of Italy or as a city stay package, please email me or call 425-821-4100 and ask me how you can save up to  $1000.00 per couple on a trip to Italy.

Ireland a favorite European country for Totem Travel Europe Specialist


As Totem Travel’s Europe Specialist I have had the pleasure of traveling to many wonderful places and one of my favorites is Ireland. When you think of Ireland, what do you think of? I think of Kissing the Blarney Stone, beautiful stone churches, mythical stone circles and colorful green fields as far as the eye can see.  Another thought is Castles!

Picture a fairy tale castle with long winding drive up to the castle gates as the road passes an enticing blue lake and glistening green fields.  On the slope just as you ‘round the bend is the castle! It is a slate grey stone fantasy which stands out from the greenery that surrounds it. As you enter, the stained glass windows on each of side of the entrance along with the knights armor standing against the wall adds character as well as charm to the place.  Period furniture, oak paneled walls, and a 2 story high lobby with crystal chandelier complete the picture.  Which castle is being described? All of them! But the castle in question is none other the Dromoland Castle about 20 miles from Limerick.

Many people visit Ireland but I daresay not enough actually spend the night in a castle. In my opinion is the best way to experience Ireland. You are immersing yourself in the myth, the history and the people. Plus the people who work at the castle estates usually have worked there for years and can enchant you with the history of the area.

Why Dromoland Castle? Location, location location!  With its location in the countryside outside of Limerick you are a stones throw from the airport in Shannon which makes getting to the castle a breeze.  Plus you’re a short drive from the Ring of Kerry and the charming town of Killarney, Galway and the Cliffs of Moher. In Shannon, Clare and Limerick which are the surrounding towns around the castle there is traditional music and entertainment all year round in the many pubs as well as in the captivating capital- Dublin.

Ahhh Dublin! It’s perfect for those people wanting museums, pubs and history.  It’s humming with activity and gracious people. No need to rent a car while visiting Dublin. It has easy train access from the airport to downtown. I have never strolled through a more walking friendly city. The walk along the River Liffey is beautiful and colorful. You will have strangers stopping you and asking you if you need help with directions instead of you asking them. Along with those directions you will probably get a story about Dublin itself. Ireland truly does have the friendliest folks anywhere!

If Castles are not something you would consider you can always choose to stay at a traditional Irish hotel or Inn or include a few days in Ireland on a multi country escorted tour. Treasures of Ireland is a favorite tour of mine but there are many more to choose from including Contiki tours for 18-35 year olds,  and Globus escorted tours of Ireland.

Please call or email me to plan your vacation in Ireland.  I can’t wait to show you the magic!

Some of the best sites of Sicily in less than a week



Click here for a Slideshow of Sicily, Italy

Many people who travel to Italy neglect to make it to the wonderful island of Sicily which is really a shame because they are missing out on some spectacular historical sites and breathtaking attractions that are worth taking an extra week to go see.  My husband’s family is from a tiny town called Via Grande near the base of Mount Etna and not too far away from the city of Catania, so I have been fortunate enough to take in some of the best sites of Sicily on day trips.

If you are able to add a week to your mainland Italy travels, some of the best sites to see in Sicily would be Taormina, Mount Etna and the city of Siracusa.  Taormina is a small town built into the cliff high above the sea.  Once you make it up to the town not only are the views panoramic and outstanding, but you begin to understand how effective this location must have been from a historically point of view.  From the main shopping street “Corson Umberto” to the medieval quarter there are many things to do while you are in this town perched high atop the hillside.  Taormina is also home to a historic Greek Theatre that sits on the edge of the cliff and if you go during the summer months, you can even take in a concert.  If you decide you aren’t high enough, you can venture uphill another 5 minutes to the town of Castelmola which sits perched above Taormina and perhaps take in a “bird” show.

Mount Etna is a wonderful day trip.  Standing at around 11,000 feet, Mount Etna is the most active volcano in the world.  Even though the volcano is active, you may still trek across the mountain, as tours to the heart of the mountain are readily available.  For the more adventurous hiker, check in with the tourist office in Catania to get the latest eruption news and head to the northern slope where recent activity has been.  While touring the volcano a few years ago, my husband and son even burnt the bottoms of their shoes, so you can get much closer to an active volcano than maybe you even want to be!

Finally, Siracusa is a city rich with historical sites and influenced heavily by both the Romans and the Greeks, as is much of Sicily.  Rome has the Colosseum and Roman Forum, but Siracusa has its own main attractions.  In Ortigia which is the medieval city’s historic center, you may take in ancient sights such as the Greek Temple, Roman Amphitheater, Castello di Eurialo or the famous Ear of Dionysius.  The Ear of Dionysius is an interesting cave carved out of limestone out of Temenites Hill.  The tyrant Dionysius used the cave as a prison for political dissidents and by means of perfect acoustics eavesdropped on plans and secrets of his captives, as even the smallest sound at the back of the cave can be heard.  If you have had enough of ruins, ancient prisons, temples etc., there a many nice swimmable beaches located just outside of the city.

And of course, if you want to immerse yourself into the culture, you can stay at our family agricultural hotel which is located on the family vineyard of Blandano where you can easily access all of these wonderful sites of Sicily!!   If you are interested in travelling to Sicily, give us a call at 1-800-321-7907 or email me at patty@totemtravel.com

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