Friday, December 2, 2011
After a ride on the bus from Rome, we arrive at Pompeii, one of the world's biggest archeological sites. The exterior of the site is uneventful and there are a handful of vendors outside the gates. It has been ten years since our last visit to the "dig" and we were anticipating an eventful stop. We meet our guide Maria and she is pleseant and takes us through the gates. Pompeii was a grand Roman city until 79 AD when Mt. Vesuvius erupted and sent volcanic ash to rain on the citizens of the area around the volcano elminating all its inhabitants. To understand the plight of Pompeii, it is necessary to know that the citizens did not know that they lived next to an active volcano they thought it was onlt a mountain. Next, in 62 or 63 AD there was a great earthquake that rocked the area but still the citizens did not understand that this was the precurser to the eruption. Vesuvius erupted more times to present in 472, 1631, and 1944 as well only serving to further hide the devastation of the original eruption.
Today, Pompeii still has a dense population at its feet and the next devastation seems inevitable. However, from a tourist and visitor perspective this is a dream into the past of a grand and luxurious Roman city. There are 37 bakeries in the city, a Roman spa with heating in the ceiling and floors, and a brothel. The informal devastation of the site is that it has fallen under budgetary cuts in recent years that led to subpar unkeep and preservation of the buildings and collapses of two of them. In the news today the world preservation agency UNESCO - an agency through the United Nations based in Paris, FR has agreed to assist the Italian Government in improving there efforts to continue Pompeii's rich heritage. UNESCO agreed to provide the expertise and Italy hasd agreed to provide the finances. In the current budget state of Italy, it remains how thisw effort and partnership will unfold. The fate of the city and the site seems as uncertain as the capricious nature of its volcano.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
On Sunday we indulged in a little La Dolce Vita. From our hotel we cabbed up to Piazza di Spagna (also known as the Spanish Steps). It was great to get back to the old neighborhood, all my dear friends were there, Prada, Dior, Gucci and Cartier all twinkled with a thousand lights and called softly to me. Of course like all of our prior visits when the reality of what they really wanted (money) and what I had (not much) we sadly parted. We then headed up the steps (the best place to see and be seen)and passed the Hotel Hassler where TomKat (Mr. and Mrs. Cruise) set up camp for their nuptials with their equally fantastic friends the Smiths (Will and Jada) as well as Mr. and Mrs. Brooke Shields. We had just passed our third Ferrari parked on the street when for the first time in our visits to Rome, a couple of gypsies tried to pickpocket David. He kept his head and yelled no, backing away so while they tried to grab his arm they couldn't get into his pockets. Being Rome is the closest place on Earth to Heaven, his guardian angel (an older Roman man and his wife) came upon the scene at the same time and he yelled at them "Basta!" (enough!) and they ran away. (Look for my travel security tips in an upcoming blog -safety first always).
Finally the bellasima Via Veneto and its shining hotels, boutiques and restaurants lay in front of us. We wound along the street made famous by Fellini in La Dolce Vita to Borghese Park (Rome's Central Park) to Rome's favorite museum, the Gallery Borghese home of Cardinal Borghese in the 17th century with works of art by Caravaggio, Bernini and countless other masters. Since we ended the day near the neighborhood where we usually stay, a visit to our favorite Roman restaurant - La Lampada was in order. Signore Salvatore did not disappoint serving steaming hot tagliatelle, gnocchi with gorgonzola and ravioli.
Monday dawn brings yet another breakfast and a short walk to the Colosseo and ancient ruins of the Roman Forum. The Colosseo was built in eight years and could hold 60,000 spectators for events. The ancient games were organized into first a parade of athletes 9all prisoners some slated to die and others to survive and then gain their freedom. The Roman empire was in full expanse at this point so prisoners could have been transported from practically any point in Europe and many other countries under Roman occupation. Both men and women fought both each other and lions in the games to the amusement of the crowds and the power mongers of the day. Carnage was the order of the day and the more it the better it seems. The Colosseo is truly a magical creation however and sits now in modern Rome as a reminder of splendor and power of the Roman Empire of the day.
Next we walked with the quite knowledgeable Gate 1 guide - Paolo - to the Forum. The Forum sits majestic in the ruins of its former self as a reminder of where Roman citizens and government officials would come to mingle and speak about events and policies of the day. The grounds contain two Arches - Titus and Constantine - both to honor victories and men of war and conquer. The armies would return through the Arches to the adoration of their citizens upon their victorious engagements. (The 'gladiators' at the Coliseum want you to pay 20 Euro to take a photo with them and we always pass. I couldn't resist sneaking this photo of two ancient warriors checking their Blackberrys).
Next, we walk a surprising number of stairs to the San Pietro in Vincolo - St Peter in Chains. The story goes that two sets of chains the first from Emperor Constantine's wife which were the shackles used to St Peter in Jerusalem and the second war chains used to bind St Peter when he was incarcerated while in Rome. The sets of chains were held by the Pope of the day and when both sets were brought together the miracle occurred where they fused into one. The Church is simple and symbolic.
Next, Santa Maria Maggore is a Church where in a dream the Blessed Virgin cam to the Poe of the day and told him to build the largest church on the highest hill in tribute to her. The Hill is Esqualine Hill and the Church is Santa Maria Maggore and certainly holds her tribute today.
Next, the Church Santa Della Vittoria tells the rather incredible story of a Nun St Theresa who is visited by an Angel and is moved physically and spiritually to love God both in private and in public. The Ecstasy of St Theresa is certainly worth a read and is a moving tribute both in sculpture and ornate decor inside this jewel.
We said arrivederchi to Rome on our last day with a private tour of the Sistine Chapel and the other Vatican museums (our first three days were 'on our own' and on Monday we joined the Gate 1 'Southern Italy' that begins in Rome and ends in Sorrento' As a customer and a travel agent, I love Gate 1. Their attention to detail is amazing and their European network of guides, hotels and local vendors is amazing. It has long been my 'secret weapon' for European travel.) Like everyday since our arrival, the November sun shone brightly across St. Peter's Square as we crossed the Tiber on the Ponte San Angelo (Bernini's bridge of Angels). The day wound down with a visit to Piazza Navonna's Natale Mercado (seasonal Christmas market) and shopping the fashionable Via del Corso - ciao Roma!
Saturday, November 26, 2011
As we left the modern highway with its modern traffic, our views changed from concrete and steel to ancient walls, columns and the 2000 year old basillica of St. Paul. We have returned to the Eternal City, Rome.
Our journey began at 7am EST as we said good bye to St. Clair County, 23 hours later we left our base camp, Grand Hotel Palantino headed towards Piazza del Poppolo. On our trek we passed the Roman Forum and Collesuem as well as Altare della Patria (affectionally known by Romans as 'The Wedding Cake' for its resemblance to a three tier frothy confection) on Rome's major retail shopping thorough fare the Via del Corso.
By lunchtime we came to the destination we had traveled thousands of miles to reach, Enoteca Antica home of in my humble opinion the best Pizza Marghereta I have ever sampled. The crust so thin, yet chewy and crispy at the same time. Tomato sauce sweet and savory a barely coating the crust layered with fresh mozzarella! A glass of the local Lazio region white wine completed our first Roman meal.
As dusk settled on the Eternal City, we wound our way back down the via Del Corso to the charming Monti neighbordhood of our hotel. We visited local stores purchasing wine, Italian cheeses, salamis and breadsticks to dine on in our room, following by an early bed time.
The following morning began as bright sunny and warm as the day before with temperatures in the middle 60s. Roman cabs are an inexpensive and quick way to navigate from our hotel to Vatican City.(Roman cabs are not for the faint of heart as traffic laws are merely a suggestion to Italians and Roman cab drivers take this as a personal credo. Oddly enough for all of you how know and love me despite what a worry wart I am, this mode of travel does not bother me. I get a secret thrill with every time we avoid a near miss with a Vespa driver).
Like everywhere in our world now, the security line for St. Peter's was long. But entering the basillica that all quickly fades away. The Pieta by Michaelangelo, the frescoes, paintings, the canopy of St. Peter, the Vatican grotto burial place of St, Peter and many other popes, never fails to remind me why author Pat Conroy refers to the Catholic religon as 'The Cadillac of religons'.
Crossing the Tiber River we returned from Vatican City to Campo dei Fiori the morning open air market serving Roman citizens since the time of the cesars. Dried fruits, nuts and local jams we purchased from the vendors for our evening meal. Following our pasta lunch we strolled to Piazza Navonna, a former chariott race track in the time of ceasers. Often referred as the most beautiul piazza in Rome, it provides an out door 'living room' to Romans living in small apartments. Families of all styles and sizes were enjoying gelatto and the late day sun on the square.
Our last sight stop on the day is Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a church but a hidden gem. Known to Romans as Rome;s Gothic church is dates back to the 8th century, where Sopra Miverna was literally built on top of (sopra) the remains of the pagan godess Minerva. However, in 1280 two Dominican Friars began reconstruction of Minerva in the Gothic style and based on a model of the Santa Maria Novella in Florence and it stands today glorious and hidden in it's Piazza for the clever traveler to discover. tHE Church contains a series of chapels designed by many of Italy's celebrated artists.
On the short leg of our day's 7.25 miles walk, we move through the alleys and Piazzas as Romans do on their Saturday stroll. The smells, sights and sounds exemplify the amazing eternal city at her best. Rome is another of the best walking cities in the world and why not since the days of charots and Cesears the city has been home to a seat of luxury and timeless accomplishments. What an amazing day. Off to buy meats, cheeses and wine for the dinner. Buona Sera.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
This has been a fantastic summer reuniting with old friends and meeting new people. While getting to know the new and catching up with the old, a common thread keeps coming up in the conversation, "You're a travel agent?!!!" Followed up quickly by, "I thought they went the way of the milkman", "Doesn't everyone just book on the internet?"
Regular readers of my blog know that before I joined the travel industry, I used the services of a travel agent. Even though I had thoroughly investigated where I was going and in many cases had already been there and wanted to replicate a former itinerary, I have always used an agent. Travel agents have access to travel companies (often with the best deals) the general public does not. They also are able to view multiple airline intineraries at the same time (many many more that are posted on internet wholesalers like Orbitz or Travelocity). And what most sets them apart from 'just booking on the internet' they are a living breathing resource for questions and comments and most importantly a traveler's advocate when something goes wrong.
According to a 2010 study by Forrester Research indicated "28% pf leisure travelers in the U.S. who booked their trips online said they'd by intersted in going to a good tradtional travel agent." That's up 23% from 2008. Another Forrester report finds "the number of leisure travelers who enjoyed using the Web to plan and book their vacations dropped to 46% in 2010, down 53% from 2007".
In a recent USA Today article, traveler Ken Kushnir 62says, while he conducts many transactions online, booking a vacation is no longer one of them. He veered away from tradtional travel agents for a short while, "but then after maneuvering around the internet trying to get some stuff done, I figured it wasn't worth it for any of vacations or trips that were the bit more complicated than buzzing down to LA." Kushmir who lives in Healdsburg, CA says he has dealt with broken links, pages that don't load correctly and travel websites that don't accomodate specific needs like bringing along a pet or making sure he gets a room on the ground floor due to his back problems."
So while you may not be able to get milk delivered to your home or soon to have mail delivered to your home on a Saturday - I am here to make sure you get the best bang for your hard earned travel buck. And most importantly to make sure not a minute of your precious vacation time is wasted.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Travel is my passion. Daily I consider myself lucky to be part of this excitnig industry and I know I have personally become a more well rounded person because of it. However, as much as I enjoy being a citizen of the world, in my heart I will always be a Midwesterner - soecifically my home state of Michigan.
As David and wound ourselves along the Lake Huron shore line through Alpena, Tawas, Cheboygan and Oscoda the 1800s home of my great great grandparents the combination of water and nature were a reminder that while Detroit may be the official face of our state, it is its backroads and small towns that are its heart. Mackinaw City was our destination for the evening. It my be bias, but I am happy to report that while I have visited towns the world over, I don't think I have come across an agragrate group of people who wanted to welcome me to their town. From the ladies in the Hush Puppy shoe store who recommended the best pizza in town (Mama Mias) to the the busy owner of the Lamplighter Hotel who took a moment to show us a room for my mom's upcoming visit to the nice lady in the liquor store who gave me some helpful tips to retreiving my lost sunglasses(which unfortunately remain lost) I remembered why I love this state.
Continuing s long tradition, since 1896 on the Island, we embarked on a "Carriage Tour". I captalize the words Carriage Tour as this is a specific company that in the 1940s was instrumental in changing and preserving the Island through the ban on motorized vehicles. Our first stop a real treat a tour of the Governor's summer residence. The house was originally built for the Young family from Chicago for $15k and then years later sold to the state of MI for the same money - amazing - is only open for tour for two hours and only on Wednesday. Lovely wood interior and touches from past Governors and the original family made this a treat for the senses. In addition, possibly to boost his new image or favor in the polls, Governor Synder came around to greet each person in line and thank them for coming. A classy move nevertheless and according to the lead historian something that has not happened at least in the last 20 years. The rest of the day was spent working through downtown and the surrounding area including a wonderful insight and carraige ride through the expansive State park and its rich history both militailary and culturally.
Like many Michiganders a stay at the world famous Grand Hotel has always been on my 'bucket list' (I'm going to have to live a little bit longer to make that dream a reality. Alternately, we chose the Island House Hotel which overlooks the Mackinac Marina.) We'd have to 'settle' for dinner and dancing at the Grand Hotel instead. Even though our luggage got its own private tour of the Island House when it was delivered to room 320 rather than our 226, at 7:30pm dressed in our best, our horse taxi wound through the much quieter downtown streets to the Grand Hotel. Stepping into the Grand after 6:30pm is a return to a more genteel time, the Grand Hotel diningroom decorated in white and green with its fine china and waiters in teal colored tails serving ladies and gentlemen in thier Sunday best. Our five course dinner was topped off by the Grand's signature dessert the decadant Pecan Ball. The evening ended with exploration of the world famous porches, dancing in the hotel ballroom and our horse taxi ride back to the Island House. Looling forward to tomorrow.
Sunday, June 5, 2011
Our Saturday morning embarkation on to the Carnival Triumph was long, hot and boring, (sort of like the line for Space Mountain or airport security). We got our 'past guest' room keys and headed to the Lido deck for lunch overlooking the Mississippi.
One of the cruise highlights for me was the five hour meander down the big river to the Gulf of Mexico. After visiting the great city of New Orleans for the previous two days, seeing it from the river was a new and exciting perspective. All around the nation's commerce was heading up and down the river. As I got ready for dinner, the show continued through my ocean view cabin, the rivers twisting and touring route at eye level.
Our first full day on the ship was a 'fun day at sea'. We headed up early to the Lido deck and after breakfast outside by the pool, we grabbed a couple prime location deck chairs (something to remember traveling folks, when it comes to deck chairs definitely it is early bird catches the worm). Soaking up the sun on a chair next to mine was the lovely Maria from Annapolis MD. We had a wonderful conversation and found we had many of the same interests. This was Maria's first cruise and while there we many things she liked about the ship there were others she didn't. I admitted I was on this Carnival cruise as a travel agent, I wanted to check out Carnival so I could better describe it to my customers. However, if I was booking a cruise for a client like my self or my husband, I would steer us towards another cruise line, one that catered more to my (ugh I hate when I say this) age group. The bulk of my fellow Triumph passengers appeared to be under 30 years old, many with small children who were enjoying Carnival's multi-level programs for kids from infant to 17 years old. Additionally the Triumph seemed to attract guests from Louisiana, Alabama and Texas as it would be an easy drive to the New Orleans port. The final group included recent high school graduates and college students as well.
Days two and three were spent at Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. From the first port of Progresso, we headed 2.5 hours into the Mexican interior to the sacred Mayan ruins of Chi- chen Itza. Dedicated to the Mayan god of the sun, the site features a large pyramid as well as a ball court where the different Mayan peoples met to participate in games not unlike the Greek Olympic games. The following day in Cozumel, we visited the Mayan ruins at San Gervasio, dedicated to the Mayan goddess of the moon, Ix Chel. After our visit to the site, we finished the day at Playa Azul, a private beach club where we enjoyed the crystal clear warm aqua Caribbean Sea.
Our final day on the ship was another 'fun day' at sea. Early in the day we met up with the amazing Maria and her super fun husband Ray. We all compared our experiences in Progresso and Cozumel. Maria and Ray opted for beach days at each port. They gave Progresso a mixed review but enjoyed their first time snorkeling and the beach in Cozumel. When it got too hot to sit out any longer, everyone headed back to their cabins with promises to stay in touch. (One of the unsung benefits of cruising, the new friends you will make!)
Like embarkation, disembarkation was long and boring. Unfortunately anytime you leave the US you have to go through immigration and customs. Keep in mind fellow travelers, it will continue to be difficult and then impossible to travel outside the US without a passport. I noticed passengers who were providing their birth certificates were not getting through immigration as quickly as those of us with our passports.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
As we pulled into the parking lot, the Natchez river cruise boat's steam calliope was playing 'Zippity do dah'. (Disney itself couldn't have scheduled it better). As we headed into the French Quarter, a horse drawn carriage passed by, and I quickly did a double take - with its long ears and long face this was no horse it was a mule! Ernie Beyer explained horses can't take the humid steamy New Orleans heat, but mules can!
Our walkiing tour of the quarter began at 130pm, so we headed to the Gumbo Shop, a long time New Orleans favorite. At 1130 the diningroom is packed with locals and tourists enjoying Gumbo. We sat with a couple from CA who said they visit the Big Easy yearly and the Gumbo Shop was always on their itinierary. MMM the French bread was some of the best I had every had and I know the others enjoyed their Gumbo.
Our tour started over looking the Missispi. We learned Louisiana is realtively new in world history 1718 it was founded by the French as a natural land barrier between their English enemies on the east and their Spanish enemeies on the west. Jackson Square lay at our feet the creation of a Spanish born resident and his daughter the famous Madam Cantabalo.
The tour wound through the twisting streets of NOLA and with my love for flowers and architecture it was fantastic. In addition to Victorian, Greek Revival and Italianate styles there were the uniquely New Orleans 'shot gun' homes and 'Creole' cottages (I'll post some photos later today).
The evening ended back at New Orleans City Park with a performance of "A Mid Summers Night Dream". We drank wine and enjoyed the NOLA sunset.
Off to the Carnival Triumph tomorrow - will check in then.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Today, I embark on my first trip as a travel agent(I'm like the Hair Club for men guy). You'll only hear from me on this trip as David is staying home to care for the critters. Back in January when I booked this trip (and made my first sale) I was a very nervous and green travel agent. Five months later I am happy to report things are going well, and I am as excited to plan others vacations as well as my own. Hawaii, Alaska, Disney, Europe, my clients are headed out to the four corners of the earth! (look for a big announcement soon about a travel business partnership
But, today is about myself, my mom as we fly out of Metro airport to New Orleans. Port of the Carnival Triumph, land of Creoles, Cajuns , Vampires and Witches (courtesy of Ann Rice, I am rereading "The Witching Hour" in my opinion Rice's love letter to the city in addition to fantasy) and most importantly my lovely cousins the Beyers, Ernie, Lila and Lisa as well as Lisa's boyfriend Brian Solito. Today and tomorrow I plan to live out my New Orleans dreams of: visiting the Garden District and the French Quarter as well as eating a Beignet. Lila and Ernie are the consumate hosts and I am giddy with excitement.
I'll report back with all my N'Awlins adventures soon. In the meantime in the words of my personal mentor and strangely sexy guy, Rick Steves, keep traveling, hopefully with me.
PS - Spent yesterday in the amazing Garden District, Ms. Rice's descriptions certainly lived up to the reality. Antebellum, Greek Revival Italianate mansions, they are all represented here, as well as the uniquely New Orleans Shotgun houses. After our Garden District tour and a peek into the locked gates of Lafayette Cemetery(dang it) we headed out to New Orleans City Park and enjoyed a jazz concert of the old standards. The evening was wrapped up with my enjoying my first authentic Po' Boy at Parkside Bakery. More NOLA details to follow with photos, sorry this has to be quick - Pam
Sunday, January 16, 2011
In the 80's movie, Baby Boom Diane Keaton is a high powered business woman who loses her job to find hapiness in motherhood and applesauce. The movie's message is pretty clear, left to her own devices Keaton would have continued on the wrong path had the universe not stepped in to change it.
I had my own 'Baby Boom' moment back in October when my company folded after 12 years. Left to my own devices I would have stayed in a job that while it paid well, did nothing to inspire or excite me. I took the universe's message, my life was a 'do over' and I had a chance to do something I was passionate about, travel. For years I have planned my own annual vacations and helped others plan theirs and now I am going to do it for a career. As of December 2010 I am a Mobile Agent with Expedia Cruise Ship Centers a division of Expedia http://www.cruiseshipcenters.com/PamPhillips
This blog will is going to evolve slightly. In additon to my own travel adventures, you'll read about other adventures, more travel tips and tricks, the latest travel destinations and steals and deals too.