Monthly Archives: June 2014

What do you Do to Prepare for a Trip?

How do you like to prepare for a trip? Since we are fairly new to traveling outside of this country, we do lots of research. There are places and things that I HAVE to see but on the other hand, I also like to see and do some things that aren’t as popular or are known primarily to the locals.

To begin with, I make a list of things that are known to me that I want to see. If I am going to Paris for the first time then I definitely want to see Notre Dame, The Louvre and The Eiffel Tower. I might also want to see the Catacombs of Paris and perhaps Moulan Rouge (just because I like the movie).

Next I go to Trip Advisor and see what they rank for attractions – there might be something there that I wasn’t aware of or is ranked higher than I thought it would be.   I also look in the internet for free walking tours of the area – that’s how we did a tour of Chinatown when we were in Singapore.  Many times Rick Steves offers free audio walking tours of major European cities.  Most major cities also have free walking tours – all you need is to tip the tour guide what you think the tour is worth.  We had a wonderful tour guide in Sydney with the Free Walking Tour guide that we had.

Speaking of the internet, I do a general search of “what to see in —“.  I also go to various forums like Fodors Travel Forum  and ask others who have been there for their suggestions.  I do the same thing when on a cruise only I go to Cruise Critic and explore the Ports of Call section.

I also go to group travel tour sites and see what they are offering their customers. When Blogger Hubby and I did a road trip to the southeastern states we were aware that Road Scholar was also doing a similar trip. We basically copied their itinerary but did it when we wanted to and spent as much time as we wanted to. We did a boat tour that we probably wouldn’t have done unless we read about it on their tour itinerary.

The final thing that I do is when I get to the city that I am visiting, I’ll ask locals “what must I see before leaving your city that most visitors wouldn’t know about?” We’ve received some excellent suggestions. I most recently did this in Savannah and everyone directed us to Bonaventure Cemetery. I’ll do the same thing when looking for restaurants that won’t “cost us an arm and leg and has very good food”.

What do you do to prepare for a trip?

The Romantic Danube Cruise Booked! Will you join us?

I have often written about my desire to sail on the Danube River.  After speaking with some friends, I knew that a few of them did as well.  The idea came to me to get a “group” together for this cruise.  The benefit would be traveling with friends as well as receiving a group discount of 5% off the fare.  To me that’s a win-win situation.

After weeks of research, reading countless reviews, looking at temperature charts (cooler in Prague, warmer in Budapest), when fares went up or down…I have finally made a decision and booked a cruise.

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I have booked with AMAWaterways which received excellent reviews from our travel agent and reviews I read about online. They offer both a land and cruise tour or a cruise only option.  This cruise is called The Romantic Danube.  They also offer The Legendary Danube but I liked The Romantic Danube’s itinerary better as it stops in Bratislava before ending in Budapest.

 

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The land/cruise itinerary would include three nights in Prague and begin on May 29th, 2015. When you arrive in Prague on the 29th you check into your hotel and have the balance of the day to get acclimated to Prague as well as beginning to get over jet lag. Your first  tour will take you to the historic city center which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will visit the 1,000 year old Prague Castle followed by walking over the Charles Bridge to the Old Town Square. That evening you will have an opportunity to go to an optional Folklore Dinner. The next day you have your choice of two optional excursions. You can visit either Terezin, the infamous Nazi WWII concentration camp that is now a memorial to those who perished or visit Lobkowicz Palace. Your last morning in Prague you will depart to transfer to the ship but on your way you will stop in Regensburg for a guided walking tour of one of Germany’s best preserved medieval cities – another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lunch will be on your own. You will continue on to Vilshafen, a 1,200 year old Bavarian town.

For those interested in the cruise only portion you begin your trip when you embark onto the ship in Vilshafen. Blogger Hubby and I are planning on doing the Cruise Only portion and doing Prague on our own. We can book through AMA Waterways seats with them to transfer from Prague to Vilshofen with the stop in Regensburg and the tour there.  That will run about $100 per person.  It’s nice to have the option to do Prague on your own as well as having transport to get to the ship.

We overnight in Vilshofen and are able to explore the city before we set sail for Passau. That afternoon we will have a guided tour of this 2,000 year old city noted for its Gothic and Italian Baroque architecture, cobblestone streets and St. Stephen’s Catherdral, home of the world’s largest pipe organ.

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We sail during the night and arrive in Linz, Austria home of the Linzer Torte. I know that I’ll need to find a bakery to taste (um, eat) some(lots) of them. We’ll have a walking tour of Linz which is the second largest city in Austria. Afterwards, we’ll have a choice of three different excursions. The first is to visit the Lake District in the scenic Salzammergu region, another UNESCO World Heritage Site; the second to the Czech town of Cesky Krumlov, a preserved medieval town nestled in the hills from the Austrian/Czech border. The final choice is to Salzburg, Mozart’s birthplace where you will take a walking tour of the historic center made famous from the “Sound of Music” We’ve been to Salzburg so we will probably choose either the Lake District or the Czech town. Free time will follow this tour.

Once again, we’ll travel during the evening, going through the numerous locks on the Danube River. During the morning we’ll cruise through the narrow Strudengau en route to Melk where once again we’ll have a guided tour through to Benedictine Abby, Europe’s largest and most famous monastic site. We’ll return to the ship and cruise through the breathtaking Wachau Valley to Krems. In Krems we will board a motorcoach that will take us to Durnstein. We will see this picturesque old town on our walking tour as well as the blu facade of the local abbey church and the ruins of a castle where Richard the Lionhearted was once imprisoned. After dinner on board the ship we will enjoy a wine tasting from a winery in Krems.

Vienna – what can I say about Vienna. We will spend a full day here where we will see the famed Opera House, the Ringstrasse and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The afternoon is free to stroll and explore the city, which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. You have an opportunity to take an optional excursion to Schonbrunn Palace. At night, you will have the opportunity to enjoy an optional Mozart and Strauss concert and then overnight in Vienna.

Next cruise stop is Bratislava, Slovakia and once we arrive we will have a walking tour that includes the Old Town Hall, Mirbach Palace, and St. Martin’s Cathedral. There is an alternative “Communist” tour that will include architectural landmarks as the Radio Building, Liberty Square and Soviet War Memorial.

This will be our last night of cruising as we sail toward Budapest. When we arrive we’ll see the Buda Castle which offers us a view of the river and the twin cities of Buda and Pest. We’ll go to the Fisherman’s Bastion, Royal Palace, St. Stephens Basilica and Heroes Square After dinner we will sail a special “illuminations cruise” past the illiminated river front of Budapest.

Finally, after breakfast, we will disembark. We plan to spend a few days in Budapest before heading home. Are you ready to join Blogger Hubby and me on this adventure?  Although we have group rates, we do not have to do things together but are a “group” in name only. Of course, if you want to have dinner, a drink or sit and chat with us, we would welcome it.

For the bicyclists amongst us, the boat does have 2 or 3 guided bike tours as well as having about 25 bikes on board for our use. WiFi is free as are the beer and wine with dinner. There is on board entertainment during the evenings as well though nothing like the ocean liners.

Please contact Michelle Bemis of McCabe World Travel in McLean, Virginia to become part of our group at 703-762-5049. Please let her know you are with Jane’s Group. You can also email Michelle at Michelle@mccabeworld.com You can discuss where you would like your stateroom to be located (on a riverboat there aren’t any “bad” rooms”). For those who are thinking about cruising solo, there is a single supplement and our travel agent Michelle will go over with you the various costs and options.

Please be aware that staterooms go fast since there are only 164 passengers on this river boat. Already the suites and category A staterooms are sold out and we are more than a year away from the cruise. If you are thinking about it, my suggestion is to not delay in talking about it or thinking it.  There are only about 18 staterooms left.  Finally, please share this cruise with any friends you think might be interested in joining us. I think the more friends we have, the more enjoyable the cruise will be.

Bonaventure Cemetery and Tybee Island, Sightseeing in Savannah, part 2

I never know when I am visiting a city if I should go to the “popular attractions and sights” or to be a little freer and see what else is out there.  I try to do both – the attractions that a city has is what draws me to it but I know there is more out there.  As we met people and traveled around, we would ask “what should we see before we leave Savannah”.  Everyone wanted to help us enjoy our time and the consensus was that we had to go to Bonaventure Cemetery.  We already knew that we were going to Tybee and this was somewhat on our way, at least according to my trusty Garmin GPS device.

After the free breakfast in the lobby, we got the car out of the garage under the hotel and we were off.  We tried to time it so we would miss rush hour and we did pretty good.  I wasn’t sure if the Garmin was correct because we were in a residential area that didn’t seem to me to have a famous cemetery but it did.

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As we pulled in we walked a little bit but unsure what we were seeing or where we should be going.  We did find the Administration Building that we went into (door on right side) where we could pick up a map of the cemetery.  We were given advice by the employee as to which section we should visit and walk around.  There is also restroom at the front of the building.  We were in awe at the beautiful sculptures of the various tombs.  I will say it was hauntingly beautiful.  This is a 100 acre cemetery that can be lush due to all the Spanish moss and its location along the Wilmington River and the marches.  I’ll let these photos speak about this cemetery:

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We weren’t the only ones here.  There was a tour taking place.  A van pulled up with a trailer carrying bicycles.  There were about 10 bicyclists who got their bikes off the trailer and biked around the cemetery.  I never thought about this being a destination for cyclists.  if you are interested, this is the van with their logo.

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The cemetery has among its section the Jewish Chapel and Circle, the Colonial Monument Garden, Order of Railroad Conductors, American Legion Field, Spanish American War veterans.  Four time Academy Award winner Johnny Mercer, born and bred in Savannah, is also buried here.  After we walked around around the cemetery, we decided to continue on with on day’s tour.  Time to head to Tybee Island.

I had been to Tybee before but never driven around much.  One of my excursions going to Tybee is to eat at the Crab Shack.  We had found it about ten years ago when when we stopped at a Visitor Center on I-95 and was told taht we HAD to go here by the woman working the counter.  How can you not do it  when it was so strongly suggested.  Well, she was right and every time we have driven by the area, we always make it a point to stop for a meal.  Now I would be introducing “Louise” to the Crab Shack.  She was somewhat concerned because it was still cold and she thought that the only seating was outside…surprise, they also have indoor seating with heaters around.

As we drove in and parked, there were lots of cages and fenced in area where there were lots of baby alligators, some larger.  It is a fun and eclectic place.

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Of course I ordered shrimp and it was delicious as was the corn, cole slaw and hush puppies.  After our meal we walked around.  It seems that most times I’ve been here has been at night so it was good to see it in the daylight.

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Wrapping up our visit to the Crab Shack, we headed toward Fort Pulaski, a National Park Service Monument.  We pulled in and saw that there weren’t many activities going on,  We got our of the car, looked around and then got back in the car.  We probably should have gone in but we were anxious to get to the Tybee Island Lighthouse as well as drive around the island.

The lighthouse has been guiding sailors to a  safe entrance into the Savannah River for over 270 years. The Tybee Island Light Station is one of America’s most intact lighthouses having all of its historic support buildings on its five-acre site.   I napped, oops meant sat, in the car while “Louise” climbed the steps into the lighthouse.  She was happy to add this to her growing list of lighthouses visited. If you look closely you can see “Louise” walking around the lighthouse walkway.

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We drove back to the hotel to get ready for our last night in Savannah before we turned our car northbound.  Once again the concierge directed us to another fantastic restaurant for us.  Since we had a big lunch at the Crab Shack, we didn’t want a huge meal for dinner.  She thought Jazz’d, a tapas restaurant with entertainment.  Once again she was right.  We had a leisurely stroll to the restaurant which is down a flight of stairs.  It somewhat reminded us of a speakeasy.  Lots of tapas for us to choose.  They even had a special where you could choose two tapas and a soup with dessert.  More than we wanted but who could resist.  While we ate there was a singer singing in the style of Sinatra with all the old classics.  A very enjoyable restaurant.

The next morning we said goodbye to our Spring Road Trip.  A trip that was fun for both of us.  I think next year we’ll do St. Augustine and Amelia Island.

Have you ever gone on a Road Trip with your best friend?  I’m so glad we did it and it has already given us such fun memories.  Hope you enjoyed traveling along with Thelma and Louise

 

 

Sightseeing in Savannah, part 1

Once again we were very close to the Visitors Center.  We walked around and acquainted ourselves with the exhibits.  In the parking lot next to the Visitors Center is where we boarded our Old Town Trolley for the tour of the city.  This one was recommend by the concierge at our hotel because there would be a surprise for us on the trolley.  It was similar to a Hop On Hop Off tour that you will find in many large cities.

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The original city of Savannah was built around 4 open squares.  As the city expanded, so did the number of squares.  There were originally 24 squares throughout the centuries though two have been lost.  As our tour guide told us, this is Savannah’s living room where everyone would come out with a drink, sit on a bench and converse with each other.  They take great pride in their squares and what it represents to their citizens and their way of life.   Savannah is such a pretty city that I would recommend getting out and just wandering around, walking the streets and visiting many of the squares.  It seems that each square has a piece of history attached to it.   I heard a story that people from Savannah instead of asking “how are you” will ask “what would you like to drink?”  After all, Savannah is known as the “Hostess City of the South”.

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All the tours guides were very informative and we enjoyed seeing the city, learning the history and folklore as well as some of the scandals (“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”).  When we stopped at the Lucas Theatre, an actress came on board our bus and acted as a southern antebellum lady.

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We elected to get off the trolley along the River for lunch and our boat tour to follow.  We had a great lunch at The Shrimp Factory.  Although I had been on a shrimp quest and eating as much as I could I couldn’t resist the fried green tomato BLT.  I like them both and together it was a great lunch.

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After lunch we had plenty of time to walk along the riverside.  This was a very, very cool day – bordering on cold.  I think the temperature was around 45 degrees and we had not dressed for weather this cold during the third week of April.  As much as we were looking forward to our river cruise, we didn’t relish the thought of sitting outside on the deck to view the sights.  We finally found a spot that allowed us to sit in the sun until, a few minutes before we left the dock when an announcement was made that the smokers could sit and smoke exactly where we were sitting.  Gesh…we had to find another seat and there were very few to choose from.  We actually went inside for a while due to the wind and cold.  There was not a lot to see and I would not recommend this cruise.

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After the cruise ended, we had an opportunity to walk around some more on River Street.  They had the most amazing candy store.  Several different sections all connected inside.  There was one “room” that was for making taffy; They were also making in other sections fudge, pralines, chocolate covered rice krispie treats on a stick…..so many treats.

We hopped back on the Old Towne Trolley and finished our tour of Savannah.  On the way back to the Visitor Center we went past the Thunderbird Motel and saw this cute hotel sign – guess it sums up the New South.

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Of course we couldn’t leave  the Visitor Center without some souvenir shopping.  Be aware, there are two shops inside the Visitors Center and only one of them supports the Museum inside the Visitors Center.

Back to the hotel where we rested a bit, actually rested our feet and legs.  For dinner that night, we walked a few blocks to Mellow Mushroom and brought a fantastic pizza back to the hotel.

The next day’s adventure – Bonaventure cemetary and Tybee Island.