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Old 08-19-2019, 11:17 AM   #1
bigdog
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Default Planning a trip abroad

This is off topic from usual Winnie Forum subjects, but I thought I could get some valuable feedback from Forum, sine there are over 10,000 members !

I'm planning a trip abroad in the Spring (April or early May), to either Italy or a Greek cruise.Italy trips hitting the major tourist stops: Rome, Florence, Venice, , Tuscany, Lake Como, etc. Greek cruise: Athens, Santorini, Myokos, Corfu, Patmos, Turkey, etc.

I've been abroad before (Israel), and had the good fortune to be in a very small group, 14 people ! I didn't plan it that way, it just happened !
The tour operator I used does not have the itinerary I want for the Spring 2020 trip. I want to go or 9-12 days. In that amount of time, itís going to be a fast paced tour, but thatís OK.

On our last trip, I saw massive amounts of tourists, climbing on grey-hound type buses, carrying 40-50 people. and driving from place to place in a caravan, it looked like a horrible way to travel, not something that appeals to me !!!! I donít want to have to deal with the mass crowds, which would be a negative side of such a trip.

Our group of 14 on our trip to Israel, was fantastic, as we were on a 16 passenger mini-bus and were able to zip ahead and around the big buses. Iím looking to travel in this style to Italy and Greece.

If any Forum members have been on trips to Italy or Greek cruises, Iíd love to hear your comments and suggestions, especially Tour Operators, Shopping, what to be cautious about etc.
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Old 08-19-2019, 02:53 PM   #2
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Default Greek Islands

We did a Greek Island Tour a few years ago with "Classic Journeys". Six in our group although they would have gone to 10. At 12-14, they would have considered splitting the group.

We spent three days in Athens, guided by new friends in a local Rotary Club we met the first day. Our discussions were a little English, some Greek from a CD and French. Drove to several "local spots", and eateries, and had a great local experience. Skipped the Acropolis, been there, done that.
Flew to Crete (Hania) where we met our guide and the rest of the group. Three and 1/2 days in Crete, what they called a "Cultural Walking Tour". More travel on foot although we were shadowed by our Mercedes mini-bus. Stopped in small villages, walked all over Knossus (Labyrinth), Minoan grave/caves 3000 years old, etc. Then a high speed ferry to Santorini, for another three days in a boutique hotel. We did all sorts of stuff. The cruise ships came in at noon, dropped anchor and off loaded busloads for 3-4 hours to an area of tourist shops and then bused them all back and left. We were so glad that we weren't on the ships or the buses.
If you like to cruise, the ships are set up for that. If you want to see Greece or Italy, IMHO, avoid the ships. I've spent time on Sicily, Malta, Crete, Santorini, Gibraltar and Mallorca. Looking at Monaco, Corsica and Sardinia next. Classic Journeys was 5 star all the way.
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Old 08-19-2019, 03:09 PM   #3
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Default Alps

I got nothing on Greece or tour operators, just a suggestion if you go to Italy...I was just in the Swiss alps 2 months ago and was agog the whole time. If you have the option to see them from the Italian side I say take it!

I've backpacked the Smokies, the Rockies, the Cascades, the Olympics. Flew in a float plane through the Alaska range. Even drove to a short way into the Tian-Shan (north side of Himalayan plateau ) but I was floored by the alps... GO!
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Old 08-19-2019, 05:34 PM   #4
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Kawishewi - it was not clear to me if your Italy tour was by land or Sea.

If by sea, keep in mind that the city of Rome (all the sights) are a 1 hour drive from the seaport. This becomes important depending on how many days at port you have — Rome itself (in my opinion) is a 3 Day event to properly see. For example, you could blow an entire day (lines etc) at the Vatican - a must see. For Venice, you HAVE to take a gondola ride ( a must).


If you are doing italy by land, I highly recommend city to city transfer by rail (get first class tickets). Florence to Rome- Rome to Venice. Way better than a bus tour.
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Old 08-19-2019, 07:07 PM   #5
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Kawishewi - it was not clear to me if your Italy tour was by land or Sea.

If by sea, keep in mind that the city of Rome (all the sights) are a 1 hour drive from the seaport. This becomes important depending on how many days at port you have — Rome itself (in my opinion) is a 3 Day event to properly see. For example, you could blow an entire day (lines etc) at the Vatican - a must see. For Venice, you HAVE to take a gondola ride ( a must).


If you are doing italy by land, I highly recommend city to city transfer by rail (get first class tickets). Florence to Rome- Rome to Venice. Way better than a bus tour.
I've never been to italy, just close in Switzerland.
I was saying if you are in Italy and have a choice to see the alps from the Italian side that I would encourage you to make that choice.
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Old 08-19-2019, 11:40 PM   #6
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Default X Cruise?

Not many replies so far. Not surprising as this isn't a lakes region topic. Nevertheless, nobody yet has said "Take this cruise"? Perhaps a river cruise is a better choice? We're looking at a hotel barge cruise, 10-14 people, gourmet chef, bicycles to tour while you're waiting for the locks. For cheap, you can rent :Le Barge" and drive yourself, subject to your own cooking.
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Old 08-20-2019, 07:02 AM   #7
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a few years back we took a NCL cruise from Barcelona, stopped in Malta, Civitavecchia, Venice, and Cannes France. We found this to be a great way to get a taste of many of the different cultures. Hired our own tour guide in each port, which was key, they picked us up right at the ship, new all of the timing to avoid major lines, they were all terrific.
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Old 08-20-2019, 07:04 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Descant View Post
Not many replies so far. Not surprising as this isn't a lakes region topic. Nevertheless, nobody yet has said "Take this cruise"? Perhaps a river cruise is a better choice? We're looking at a hotel barge cruise, 10-14 people, gourmet chef, bicycles to tour while you're waiting for the locks. For cheap, you can rent :Le Barge" and drive yourself, subject to your own cooking.
I've never been a big cruise fan but the river cruises sound interesting. When I went on a cruise I found that there was too much Sea time and not enough land time.
When you're headed home it seems like your vacation is over and that trip home is just too long, JMO.
I'm interested in this thread as I would also like to go to Italy.
I've only been over sea's twice to Sweden and Czech Republic.
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Old 08-20-2019, 08:24 AM   #9
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Did a 2 week tour in Italy many years ago. First, I would agree that Rome needs 3 days. 2 in Venice was fine for me and the same for Florence. The Italian alps and the big lakes (Garda and Como) are not to be missed either but be sure to absolutely have the southern coast on the itinerary. The Amalfi coast is not to be missed. South of Naples and the Isle of Capri. I think you need 2 weeks to do much of what I just mentioned.
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Old 08-20-2019, 10:24 AM   #10
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Default Italy and Greece tips

I was born overseas and have been to both countries countless times.

I would choose May over April. It's warmer and everything is green and flowering at that time.

Most folks speak fairly good English, so not sold on tours as I think you can get a lot more "local" flavor by going at it with a group of 2 or 4. As long as you have your places to stay booked (recommend air-b-n-b's) and a good data plan for GPS, no reason you can't drive, take ferries, trains, etc. to various destinations.

Contact your credit card company, mobile phone carrier and bank in advance to advise them of your trip so you don't have any issues. Both Italy and Greece are still big cash societies, but many places will take plastic. You're better off asking your bank to make sure your debit card will work and hit the ATM's for cash every few days.

I typically take paper copies of everything, but in todayís age, I use my phone to take pictures of credit cards, travel documents, hotel reservation confirmations, etc. Even if you donít have Wi-Fi, you can still get your pictures

You will need an electric converter for charging all your electronics. Make sure to get a universal one.

If you're going to the museum at the base of the Acropolis, they have glass floors; make sure any of the ladies wear shorts or pants and no skirts.

Good walking shoes and a good back pack as in all places you'll be doing quite a bit of walking. Taxis are typically cheaper in Italy and Greece vs Uber.

You can barter with the small shop owners; typically about a 15% or greater discount on the posted price. Especially if you pay cash. In Florence, there is a whole street for leather goods. Highly recommend you do some shopping there for wallets, pocketbooks, etc.

The trains in Italy are fantastic and high-speed. No need to drive to and from major locations as the trains work out well and will typically drop you in the city center and will be much faster than buses or driving.

For car rentals, unless you have a specific company you use, I'd go with SIXT rent-a-car. They are everywhere you mentioned.

The metro system in Athens is also very good; I wouldn't drive there, but elsewhere for sure. Santorini is my favorite island. Make sure to spend a few days there for awesome sunsets and black sand beaches. Rent a moped to get around for a day or two. Warning - the black sand gets really hot so wear your flip flops all the way to the water's edge.

In Florence, Iím not a big museum guy, but you MUST go to the Uffizi Gallery museum. I believe youíll need to buy tickets for a specific time slot in advance. Itís worth it for the guided tour.
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Old 08-21-2019, 05:44 PM   #11
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EXCELLENT well documented points -

I too am fairly well traveled and you hit all the key points spot on !
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Old 08-22-2019, 07:40 AM   #12
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One additional thing. If you do not want to activate your phone while away the gps will still work. You can download and save the google maps for the areas you will be traveling before you leave and you will be able to navigate with the google maps app. However, you will not get traffic info. Also, if you can get a WiFi connection at hotel, ab&b, coffee shop, etc., and you & the person you are communicating with have iPhones, you will be able to text each other. If not iPhones get an app like WhatsApp.


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Old 08-22-2019, 07:48 AM   #13
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Also, if females are bringing hair dryers, curling irons, etc. remember that Europe uses 220v current and each country might have a different plug configuration. Make sure you get a converter with a transformer, not one that changes the plug configuration. Some of the packaging doesnít necessarily make it clear what you are buying. I believe that most phone chargers will work with both 110 & 220 so if that is all you will need just get the pin changing converter.


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Old 08-23-2019, 07:38 AM   #14
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An additional phone note.

SIM cards and large capacity data plans are cheap in Europe and available ALL over the place. They will pull out your SIM and put in theirs and you have European data access, including traffic navigation. $25 for 10G of data. My wife's son doesn't get a telephony plan (more expensive) but instead uses Voice Over IP (VOIP) apps for the voice communication he does over there. Plus, VOIP is higher quality. VOIP allows international phone access. I believe you can use it to call regular phone numbers, i.e. the person you call doesn't need to be using a VOIP app.

When he gets home he swaps his US SIM card back in and he is good to go. It is that easy.

If your iPad has broadband capability, you can get a SIM for it as well.

One note, your phone needs to be UNLOCKED, i.e. free to be moved onto another provider network. Most US phones are and some can be if you ask. Your own provider will try to sell you their VERY EXPENSIVE international data plan. You might be better off renting an unlocked phone when you get there. A quick check shows you could rent an iPhone 5 with 10G of data and telephony for 2 weeks for around $140.

Bon voyage!
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Old 08-23-2019, 08:19 AM   #15
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Lightbulb Porsche in Europe..

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EXCELLENT well documented points - I too am fairly well traveled and you hit all the key points spot on !
One other point: If you have a few days in one spot, you can rent a Porsche! The rental is very reasonable (considering) and insurance is included. And they'll deliver it to your door.

Ferraris can also be rented, but my natural inclinations towards driving Porsches and the added expense of Ferrari (while not too bad) put me in the Porsche.

Not sure what the speed limits are today on the Autostrada.
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