Bella Italy: Part 3 Classic Florence

Imagine you awake and your bags have already been picked up, you wander down and have your last breakfast in Venice, although you are sad that you are leaving this amazing city you know that you are going to experience another Italian classic, the city of Florence.  We board a train for a short ride to the Tuscan town of Florence.  We get step off the train and you can immediately feel the difference, the laid-back quiet town of Venice is gone and you hear traffic and horns honk and feel the hustle and bustle of the city. There is a short walk to our hotel. Garibaldi Blu, in Santa Maria Novella piazza.  Where there are musician playing in the square.  We are greeted warmly by the hotel staff.  The hotel was wonderful, you walk into the lobby where Palm trees stand and, in the back, a small little bar with an amazing bartender.   We are shown to our room where our luggage is brought to us.  I never realized that extra step of portage makes everything so easy.  It is definitely the way to travel in Europe.  We meet the group for a short leisurely tour of the area and of course an Aperitivo.  Bert and I chose not to dine with the group and enjoyed the evening, strolling through the city, we walked to a nearby restaurant and had a lovely dinner.  Then visited with the bartender while he introduced us to some valuable wine information.

The next morning, we awoke had a great breakfast and joined the group for a day sightseeing. We met our local guide and followed him through the streets of Florence.  We visited the magnificent architecture of the Duomo and learned much about the formidable Medici family.  We also went into the Galleria Dell Accademia, to see the breathtaking “David”.  It was so amazing, pictures could not do it justice.  We visited a couple different Piazzas where you really experience the heart of Florence. The leather works there was incredible, you can see the pride in each by the craftmanship and heart put into it.

After the morning of touring a few of us went to the Uffizi gallery.  The numerous paintings and collection of ancient statuary was so impressive.  We spent 3 hours in the amazing building and still didn’t see everything.  You really need an entire day to experience every room in this very large building.  I would also suggest that you purchase your tickets in advance to avoid the long lines.

After leaving the Uffizi we strolled into the Piazza, sat at an outdoor café and had a wonderful pizza and wine, as we reminisced about what we were blessed to see, take in the atmosphere and enjoy the sights and sounds of Florence.

The evening was magical as we met back up with the group and walked over the Ponte Vecchio, again the sights, sounds and smells of Florence were everywhere.  People were singing, shopping and of course taking numerous selfies. We were headed to Piazzale Michelangelo, where we overlooked the entire city, we enjoy a cocktail some appetizers and a musician playing while the sun went down over this spectacular town.  I am sure this is not a regular stop for most tourists, but this hidden gem made visiting this town even more memorable.  As we walked back to town we left the group to find a little restaurant and a friend had suggested just over the bridge, but away from the tourists, Ristorante Santa Felicita, was a local spot with good food, great wine and you could tell by the friendliness of the staff a neighborhood favorite.  After dinner we leisurely walked back to the hotel as we anticipated another great day in Tuscany tomorrow.

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Bella Italy, Part 2 of our Venice adventure, Gems of Venice, Gelato, and Gondola’s

We awaken with excitement of what today may bring, I open our window and as I look out to see water taxis going by, I hear the sounds of the city, I take in a deep breath and remind myself how blessed I am to be in this amazing city and tell myself to appreciate every site and sound. We join the group for a traditional breakfast.  Croissants, fresh bread, sweet rolls, eggs, prosciutto, cheese fresh fruit and yogurt, as well as strong coffee, this is the kind of breakfast the will greet us every morning for the next 8 days.  We meet our guide and will get to experience the Gem’s of Venice, The Basilica San Marco, the Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs and the Prisons of Venice. There have been many days of flooding over the past few weeks as we get to the Piazza San Marco it is dry, but you can see that they are expecting more water as the raised walk ways are beginning to be put up.  We enter the Basilica also known as St Mark’s Basilica.  To think that this church was supposed to be only for the Doge family is unbelievable. The artwork, mosaic and architecture are a thing of beauty. We moved through the Doge Palace, in amazement as it was so grandiose.  The bridge of Sighs and the prison gave us such a solemn feeling thinking of how many people last act was to walk across this bridge and that this would be the last time they would see the magical site of Venice, before they entered their imprisonment. By the time we exited the Piazza was flooded the many people were now walking on the walkways although there were the young at heart that kicked off their shoes and walked through the water, as you could see they were thoroughly enjoying the experience of this land called Venice.  We then we boarded a water taxi that took us across the canal to the island of Murano, to visit the Murano Glass factory. We were treated to a sample of how these precious items are made. The craftsmanship is perfection. We got a tour of the showroom where we were able to see these works of art up close. We returned on the water taxi, where we were on our own until we met for the Gondola ride.  A few of us found a quaint little restaurant and had lunch outside enjoying a wonderful glass of wine and gnocchi that were little pillows of heaven, as well as good company. After lunch we found a gelato shop that was amazing. It was Bert’s first taste of gelato in Italy, although I told him how wonderful it was 30 years earlier he never realized how good it could be.  You just don’t understand the difference in the taste of gelato in Italy, until you actually experience it. Bert and I used some of this free time to wander in and out of the stores, and just soak in the atmosphere. We rejoined the group for a traditional gondola ride. It was exactly what I imagined. The music that drifted around us, the friendly gondolier that chatted with us. We floated out into the grand canal to see the sunset, it was an experience that I will never forget.  We had an Aperitivo with the group and then walked to the Rialto bridge. The view was enchanting, we left the group for a wonderful walk and an amazing dinner for two. We found a great little restaurant write on the Grand Canal, we sat outside and made friends with a wonderful waiter.  I stepped out of my box and tried a cuttlefish pasta paired with a couple bottles of Moscato dinner was perfect.  We strolled back to the hotel to get ready to experience Florence tomorrow.

Bella Italy, A land of beautiful people, amazing culture and remarkable scenery

 

Venice, part 1

Imagine, you step off you train with wide eyed anticipation and you see the Grand Canal, your first stop of this Italy adventure, the ancient city of Venice.  Your greeted by a lady with a the Italian accent you dreamed of hearing and she leads you to your private water taxi.  The young man helps you aboard his vessel and off you go up the Grand Canal. You are awe struck that you are actually in the land of your ancestors, a dream you never though would come true. After a short ride you stop in front of a quaint hotel and as you leave the boat you enter a hotel lobby with old world charm.  You are greeted like family, given your key and escorted to your room.  You enter your room and open the shutters on the window to hear the sound of a gondolier singing and people clapping along as it passes under a bridge.  You are filled with excitement.  You go down to lobby to meet your group and your tour captain.  A bright bubbly woman who even though you know she’s been there before, is displaying all the excitement that you are feeling.  You are also greeted by 7 couples and there is an immediate connection, because you are all waiting to experience this picturesque land together.

You set off for a short tour with your tour captain to give you lay of the land, you have so many thoughts going through your mind you can’t even take in all the info, except were to she points out to get the best Gelato.  You stroll through Piazza San Marco as you listen to the sound of the music coming from Caffe Florian. Your tour ends at a little café that looks out onto the Grand Canal and as the sun sets you enjoy and learn what an Aperitivo is, early evening appetizers and a toast with wonderful sparkling prosecco that will become your favorite drink.  You slowly walk back through the cobble stone street taking in all the sights and sounds to the hotel, so you can dress for dinner.

Eating is an experience of it own and with Story’s small group tour the food is endless at their welcome dinner as well as their other dinners.   Together we walked to a small little restaurant where, the smell was amazing and we sat for at least 2 and half hours, course after course. It began with plates of fresh prosciutto and melon, delicious cheeses, grilled vegetables, stuffed artichoke blossoms, a delicate appetizer stuffed with fresh ricotta and deep fried. The food kept coming with homemade pastas, veggies, steak and fish and it was topped off by frozen fruit sorbets served in the original fruit.  The amazing dinner along with the many bottles of wine, the laughter and the stories, we stopped being a small group and became friends.  It was a night to remember.  Following me on my next blog as the adventure continues and friendships grow a true testament to traveling with a small group

Group travel can be exciting and fun but can also cause stress and anxiety.  Group Cruise part 2

Group travel can be exciting and fun but can also cause stress and anxiety.  That is why I suggest a cruise or one of my small group vendors.  These types of options allow you to have that personal experience along the memories made by being together with friend, or family.

On this cruise, there were lots of expectations.  It was our first time aboard the Freedom of the Sea ship, there were plenty of activities to explore and many exciting excursions in some amazing destinations.

Our ship was beautiful, filled with plenty of things to do and places to eat. We didn’t get to them all. We relaxed along side of the great pool and watched all the entertainment on the pool deck, there were dance contests, exercise classes, and fun games. A perfect place to get involved or just people watch. There was a plenty for the sports enthusiast, a putt put course, jogging track, ping pong tables, ice skating, basketball court, gym, great pools, hot tubs and a water slide and arcade, something for everyone.  Having this many choice of activities is a nice thing for a group as you can all do your own activity.  There were some great classes offered from cooking to wellness in the amazing spa. We enjoyed the live nightly entertainment, a Broadway style show of Saturday night Fever, an Ice-skating show, piano bar, Movies at night on the deck, casino, and the club after hours where we danced the night away to a great DJ.

One thing that really worked well as a group is, one of friends gave us a magnetic dry erase board to put on the outside of our door, so instead of waiting on everyone, we could leave notes, saying we went to lunch or were out by the pool, or went to the club. This really worked well. A great tip for traveling as a group.  Being in a group whether it is 8 or 80 can cause anxiety because there are so many opinions and you can spend a lot of time trying to organize everyone.  This little magnetic board really eliminated that.  We all met for dinner in the evening and I must say food on the Royal Caribbean ship was exceptional.

A lot of people don’t understand why you are charged for tips either in advance or on your ship board account, but after receiving the great service I can see why. Everyone on board whether is be your cabin person, the reception/information desk attendant, the bartenders, or the wait staff, everyone gives 100%.  Now you can leave that little bit extra if you think someone went over and above.  So, it is wise if you have a favorite, to get their name, so that you can leave them an envelope when you depart.

There are also plenty of things to do in each port, whether you want to something exciting and adventurous, relax in town or on the beach or shop in the numerous little shops.  Each cruise line has their own excursions. A lot of passengers take these excursions while other, like us, utilized one of my vendors the run smaller more intimate excursions.  We Zip-lined and cave tubed in Belize, we took an underwater glass bottom boat and visited a jade museum in Roatan and road an ATV in Cozumel.  All without the crowds and big bus excursions.  Our private drivers were informative and even stopped for us if something along the way caught our eye.  All while guaranteeing, we get back to the ship on time. A great tip if you want to avoid the crowds.

Having all these choices made it easy for a group to do there own thing in port, regroup back on ship and share our experiences over a great drink, and if you didn’t want to leave the ship you could do that to and experience the ship with very few people on board.   Like I have said numerous times, something for everyone.

I hope this blog post helps you start thinking about getting your own group together, whether it be a couple of friends, a family reunion, some old classmates, a social group or a work or church group.  Traveling as a group can create some wonderful memories, that will last a lifetime.  My next blog will give you insight and some tips to a small group trip to Italy.  Remember travelling opens the heart and mind to new experiences in a big world that is there for you to explore.

Cruising together, makes wonderful memories. Some tips and expert advice for cruising as a group.

It was wonderful to spend some quality time with friends on a  group cruise.  We were able to get 4 couples together that have been friends for 50 years to experience a wonderful vacation, visit some new destinations and celebrate some wonderful life events.  Many people think a group vacation is too much, they love their family and friends but not 24 hrs a day. A cruise allows you to have that freedom of individual time, and group time so you have a balanced vacation.  Our cruise was wonderful, we spent a week on the Liberty of the seas in the Caribbean.  We visited Belize, Rotan and Cozumel, but started the vacation in Galveston the night before the departure.  I always suggest a pre-night hotel at your embarkation port. This allows you a stress-free start to your vacation.  We flew into Houston and had a transfer pick us up, another couple flew in at a different time and a couple of the group drove.  We all met in Galveston a great little city, it has many restaurant choices, 32 miles of beach and some nice resorts, tropical scenery, Victorian architecture, an amusement park on the boardwalk and world-class sport fishing, a great place to start a cruise vacation and little easier to fly to than the East Coast.  Usually your cruise will leave from a destination that has a lot to offer, so adding a night or two here gives you time to experience the city as more than just a shipyard.

We all met at the hotel, had a great dinner to unwind and relax from a day of travel.  Our departure day started with a transfer for those of us that flew in to the port and the group that drove went directly to port.  If you have the luxury to live close to a port city, driving is great way to save a little money, but don’t forget to add in the parking cost to your budget as to avoid any surprises.

Once we got to the port, Royal had a smooth check in process.  The thing to remember here is to make sure you check in online early, the earlier the better.  This way your boarding process is smooth.  When you wait or check in last minute it can cause some delays with your boarding passes, and cruise IDs.  I have been on a couple of cruises and Royal did have a smooth process and got a lot of people through quickly.

Make sure you have your swimming suite and or a change of clothes in your carry-on, as well as any medications you may need.  Your large luggage will be deposited into your room which may not be immediately ready. Being prepared will help you start your relaxation as soon as you board.  We met our friends poolside and started our trip with a toast.  We got to our cabins, all of us picked a superior balcony and had connecting rooms, so our balconies opened to each other and allowed us to have one big place to party.   As the sun began to set and we started to sail away, the excitement started, and we were ready to go.  Watch for my next blog, on activities on board, dining and excursions.

 

Luxury destinations, unique experiences and what to watch for in 2019

We are one week into 2019 and it was nice to look back at our trip to Israel over the holiday season. I hope you enjoyed reading about our holy land adventure, this destination is unique and one I would definitely put on a bucket list. It offers something for everyone and is an affordable luxury destination that provides a wonderful experience for all ages.

As I look back on 2018 it was a year filled with travel to new luxury destinations and new adventures that I look forward to sharing with you in 2019, from zip-lining in Belize and riding ATVs in Cozumel, to experiencing traditional Bavarian food in Germany and getting to know the land of my ancestors in Italy.  I look forward to sharing these incredible adventures with you over the next few months as well as bringing you some luxury travel tips and showing you a few hidden gems.

I use the word luxury as I describe many of my adventures because that is what I am proud to be able to provide to my clients. In 2018 I became a Certified Luxury Travel Specialist, which means I learned how to bring Luxury travel experiences that fulfill your dreams to each of my clients. But when I ask people what luxury travel means to them, I never get the same answer. It can be as simple as upgrading your seat on an airplane to economy premium or staying in a 5-star resort for the 1st time.  To some it means personalized service and private transfers, while to others it may means a small group tour with unique experiences.   It can be first-class seat on a high-speed train to a new destination in Europe or getting a balcony cabin on their first cruise. One thing that reigns true is everyone wants a unique experience that allows them to create remarkable memories that will last a lifetime.  It doesn’t mean you need to spend millions of dollars, (although that would be nice), it does mean that everyone wants good value for their money.  Value doesn’t mean it going to be the cheapest option, it means that they want to get something unique, to feel like they are treated like a VIP and come back being able to say WOW what an amazing trip.  Luxury isn’t only for the rich and famous it can be attainable by everyone.  Setting a goal, planning and letting me use my tools and expertise will ensure that you to can have that luxury experience you have always desired.

In my upcoming blogs I will show you some unique destinations, luxury experiences, and tours that are all available to you.  So keep dreaming, set your goals high and have faith that you will reach your travel dreams and let me and my team at GLK DREAM TRAVEL help you see the world.

Jerusalem the last stop in the Land of Jesus

On our way to Jerusalem we made two stops at the river Jordan. The Yardenit and Qasr al-Yahud traditional baptismal sites.  To think that in this spot or at least near this spot, John the Baptist, baptized Jesus was remarkable.  To see the Pilgrimage of people, line up to receive this sacrament was amazing/ All, races, religions, genders and ages, came together to accept and renew their Christian faith this was awe inspiring especially as across the river in Jordan stood solders with guns protecting their country. A couple from our group were baptized and witnessing this left us all very reflective of this holy site.

A second stop on the way was the wailing wall. I had heard stories of the wonderful site but hearing the people praise the lord, shed tears of joy and sadness was beyond my imagination.  We did take a moment to put our special prayers in the wall and spent a moment reflecting on the immense amount of prayers that passed through these cracks and nooks.  That many believers in one area was a site I will never forget.

We then travel on to Jerusalem, where we stayed at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel, a very nice hotel very near the old town.  That evening we went in the old town and watched an outdoor Night Spectacular at the tower of David.  A light show, that is shown on the walls of the Citadel in the old city, it was a beautiful way to watch to story of Jerusalem through the ages.

The next day we toured the old city and the city of David.  Walking the street of Jerusalem, seeing where Jesus entered the city on Palm Sunday, visiting the spot of the crucifixion was in itself a spiritually moving moment and really brought all the stories from the Bible to life, but what impacted me most was again the number of faithful people there just to see the stones, and feel the sacredness of the surroundings.  It showed me that no matter what corner of the world you live in we are all connected.

That afternoon we switched gears and experience a food tour, tasting the street food of Israel at the Manchane Yehuda Market which was very interesting.  We finished the day on a Segway tour to the top of hill where we could look down on the city.   After dinner we had a nightlife tour in that same market, having cocktails and listening to music, it really showed us that the there is something for everyone and every age in this beautiful Country. Next, some final thoughts.