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Italy Bellissimo Pt. 2

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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

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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?

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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!

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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

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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

Toulouse, Tarn and L’Ariege- Villages of Southern France

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As a Europe Specialist and Certified France Agent with Totem Travel I often receive wonderful reviews of specific places from tour operators or representatives and I thought I’d share this from a recent review.

Toulouse is ideally situated in the heart of Southern France, between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. Both modern and historic, bustling with fresh markets, winding streets surrounding the main square with charming shops, boulangeries, and more. The Golden Age in Toulouse was between 1500 and 1700. Merchants thrived on the pastel trade, from the WOAD plant providing a blue pigment and became Consuls, or Capitouls, finding power and prestige.

During the same period (between 1544 and 1662), the oldest bridge of Toulouse, the Pont Neuf, was built. You could spend days in Toulouse just exploring the shops, markets and museums.
A couple other sight not to be missed are the Saint-Sernin Basilica, which was built during the Romanesque Period between AD 1080 and 1120.

The Bemburg Foundation where you can tour Georges Bemberg’s art collection in the Hotel d’Assezat, a  XVII century mansion built for Pierre d’Assezat who made his fortune from WOAD, Mr. Bemberg is an avid art collector who divides his time between Paris, New York and Buenos Aires. Without a direct heir, Mr Bemberg became anxious in the late 1980’s about the fate his collection and developed the idea of a Foundation as a mean of preserving the integrity of his collection, while opening it to the public. The collection contains Matisse, Degas, Gauguin, Bonnard, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso and opened in 1993.
And lastly don’t miss the House of Pastel to find to about the aforementioned WOAD. These dyes were the original source of wealth for the area of Toulouse. From 1463 to 1560 Toulouse enjoyed a real Golden Age thanks to the Pastel trade. The pastel leaves crushed and rolled-up in balls called “coques” gave the region of Toulouse its nickname of “pays de cocagne” or “land of riches” and has been used as far back as the Egyptians, who used it to dye the cloth wrappings used for the mummies.

l’Ariege boasts the Caves of Niaux. The Grotte de Niaux is one of the few cave systems where wall paintings are still open to the public. You enter from the hillside into a natural site of incredible history and beauty. About 350 m from the cave entrance is a large rock with a vertical surface. This surface is covered with dots and short lines in red and black. That is the first glimpse of prehistoric art a visitor to the cave sees. Its meaning is still unknown. Some see dots as female symbols and lines as male symbols. Much more impressive and interesting is the art in the Black chamber. There are extraordinary drawings of horses and bison. The visits to the Grotte de Niaux are extremely restricted to save the prehistoric cave paintings; only 11 visits per day so make sure you plan ahead for your tour.

Tarn is still in the Montagne Noire region and brings the stone building of the Soreze Abbey, home to the most prestigious school in France. Promoted to the rank of Ecole Royale (Royal School) it had 400 students living there from all over the world for 12 centuries; studying humanities, music, drawing and fine arts. Its sheer size and architecture give it both an air of majesty and a sense of military order. It closed in  1991 and has been renovated into a center for the arts including a beautiful hotel with a restaurant, after 1200 years the historic abbey has a new life.

Thanks to Laurelee Graham for this fun information about France. If you’d like help traveling to Southern France call Jennefer the Europe Expert at Totem Travel at (425) 765-4379 or shoot me an email at I am here to assist in planning your dream holiday in France!

Five more unusual thing to see in London

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As a BRITagent and SCOTSmaster at Totem Travel I am blessed to travel often and a favorite stop is always London. It’s one of my favorite cities and I am always looking for new and different ways to explore the city.

In an earlier Blog I talked about the 5 unusual things to see in London and here I will tell you about the next 5 on my list.

6. The ceremony of the keys is one of the best-kept secrets of the Tower of London. It has to be the best (and shortest) ceremony in London and has been a nightly event for the last 700 years. Led by the Chief Yeoman Warder, dressed in a scarlet Tudor coat, carrying a lantern and with foot guard escort, he makes his way to the gates at exactly 21:53. There are a limited number of tickets available and you must write in advance to the governor of the Tower. I can get the address for you. Just do it, but don’t be late!

7. There has been a church on the site of the present Southwark cathedral, next to London Bridge for over 1000 years. Many of Southwark Cathedral’s treasures include a Jacobean communion table, a tiny Saxon coffin and one of the earliest wooden effigies in England, a figure of a knight dating from the last quarter of the 13th century.

8. City Hall is one of London’s most spectacular new buildings and home to the Greater London Authority and Mayor of London. This landmark is at the heart of the more new London development next to Tower Bridge. It has several public areas that have been landscaped with seating, water features and trees and includes a viewing platform in the building to provide superb panoramas of the Pool of London. City Hall is open on set weekends throughout the year.

9. If blood and guts is more your thing, then the Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garrett is definitely worth a visit.  Hidden in the roof of a church, a 300-year old herb garret houses Britain’s only surviving 19th century operating theatre which was used between 1821 and 1862 in the days before anesthetic and antiseptic surgery were the norm. On display is a variety of very sharp instruments used to ‘help’ the desperate patients!

10. . It is not every day that you can see glassblowing in London. Situated in the Leather market, a distinctive 19th century building erected by the Leather Warehouse Company the London Glassblowing workshop’s are as hot as hell, since there are several ovens burning to melt the glass. Here, mostly art pieces are made in limited editions and are exhibited in the adjoining art gallery.

So, the next time you’re in London, definitely see  Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey and Hyde Park, but take a day off the beaten path and check out some unusual sight in London.

If you’d like more information about travel to Europe and the UK please call Jennefer at (425) 821-4100 or shoot me an email, I am a Europe Expert and would be delighted to assist you in planning your holiday in the UK and Europe.

How to choose the best escorted European tour –

As a Europe Expert I am often asked how to choose the best European tour and believe me there are quite a few tour companies to choose from. Trafalgar, Globus, Brendan, Cosmos, Tauck, Contiki, Collette and even more, so where do you begin, what do you look for?

Let’s start with the itinerary as that’s pretty important, first you need to choose which itinerary you’d like. For that you could decide to see just one country in depth, like France or Italy. Or you can choose a region, such Scandinavia or Eastern Europe including Prague or Tallinn or maybe just go for the gold and see a little of a lot of places for a taste of each.

Once you’ve chosen a place or region, next figure out how long you can be gone. Escorted tours start at about 8 days and range on up to traveling for more than a month. I find that most settle for somewhere in between. A couple weeks is just about perfect for me, I think that when traveling you should always come home just a bit BEFORE you’re ready rather than waiting until you’re tired of traveling.

So let’s say you’ve decided on a country, like Ireland, with timeframe of 2 weeks, now we can narrow down the tour company that is right for you.

Cosmos is a budget company that offers wonderful tours with 3 star hotels a bit farther out of town, daily breakfast and a couple excursions included.

Trafalgar and Brendan are a bump up with 3-3 ½ star hotels nearer the center of each city, daily breakfast, some dinners and more sightseeing excursions included.

Globus and Collette bump up another notch with many very central 4 star hotels, daily breakfast, a few more dinners, a maximum of 40 seats on each coach and even more sightseeing excursions included. Collette even adds in door to door service, they’ll pick you up and drop you at your door, so from the time you leave home Collette is taking care of you.

Tauck is one of the most inclusive with 4-5 star city center hotels, daily breakfast, dinners included almost every night and all sightseeing excursions included with some added benefits such as small groups and special personalized service.

Contiki is strictly for 18-35 year olds that would rather travel with a younger crowd and has excursions with a more adventurous flair.

As you can see, no matter your personality or travel preferences there is an Escorted tour company that will fit for you. So when you are ready to plan your European tour call or email the Europe Specialists at Totem Travel. We look forward to working with you!

Cash, credit and money matters for international travel

As a travel agency specializing in international travel we are frequently asked about cash, credit and debit cards, travelers checks and other money matters as it relates to traveling abroad.  Here’s our recommendation for most destinations including Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Fiji, Mexico and Central America –

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 credit cards have fraud protection and will reverse the charge if challenged and documented.

If you have other questions about international travel or need assistance planning your next trip call the experts at Totem Travel.  We have travel agents that specialize in the most popular destinations.

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