Cruising In Amsterdam

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As was mentioned in the last Blog Message, a Cruise was arranged by David and Ellen to see Amsterdam from the view of the many canals in the city. This was simply 2 hours of great views. I will try to upload the photos to SmugMug, but it may take some time as the internet access at the hotel is very slow. I will add a link to the SmugMug website to a future Blog when I have some photos too show. The following is the website for the photos: http://ljl-photos.llanie.com/2015-Europe-RiverCruise
Please check the photos website for updates, which will occur depending on Internet Connection availability and speed.

Made it to Amsterdam

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Our flight arrived at 11:30 into Amsterdam and was slightly early. Randy/Kathy & John/Kathy were waiting for us at a restaurant in front of the baggage claim. I got a Text from Ellen letting me know that she was on the way to the airport to meet us and surprise Vicki!

Vicki and I went with Ellen to their Apt and the rest of the travel gang went to their hotel, which is close to the train station and close to the Red Light District!!! They are filming a movie in Ellen’s neighborhood, so we also have some excitement.

Ellen and David have planned a cruise in Amsterdam for this afternoon and then plan to get to bed at a reasonable hour, considering that we had very little sleep on the plane.

Photo’s will follow in the next message!

Everyone Now Has Their Boarding Passes

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Upon the receipt of their boarding passes from AMA Waterways yesterday by Randy & Kathy, everyone has their boarding passes for the trip!

Train reservations have been made between Amsterdam and Basel and the focus is now on the train reservations from Basel into other areas of the Swiss countryside

Amsterdam/RiverCruise Trip

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This is the first Blog about our up coming trip to Amsterdam and a River Cruise from Basel to Amsterdam in late July, 2015. Trip participants include the San Antonio Lanie’s, Randy & Kathy Lanie, John & Kathy Francis and David and Ellen Buck. The trip begins on July 22 with flights from San Antonio and Wichita to Amsterdam by the Lanie & Francis couples where the parties will join the Bucks, who are living in Amsterdam.

Once in Amsterdam, the plan is to take a train to Basel on the 24th where we will spend three nights before boarding an AMS Waterways River Boat for a 7 day cruise to Amsterdam. We have purchased a 2 month Eurail Select Pass that provides train access to Switzerland, Germany, France and the Benelux Countries. So, during the three days in Basel we will plan additional train trips into Switzerland. An additional 3 nights will be spent in Amsterdam after the River Cruise during which we will also look for additional train travel to other cities. Our return flight back to the U.S. is on the 3rd of August..

San Gimignano, Volterra, Rome and then to San Antonio

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Sorry about the delay in the posting to the Blog.  Our last posting was about our outing on the 10th of October, which was posted on the 11th.  On the 12th we left Tuscany for Rome and the Empire Palace Hotel in Rome had very poor internet service, so I could not post.  This post will cover the remaining days of our trip, which were spent touring Rome and returning home to San Antonio on the 17th.  I will  upload limited photos directly to the Blog as I have uploaded over 2,000+ photos and a few videos to my Photo Website, which can be found at http://ljl.smugmug.com.  Click on Browse and then the “Italy, Sept 20-Oct 17, 2013” folder to see the photos. You can download any photo for printing (Check out the HDR enhanced photos) in case you want any of the landscapes.

Last Full day in Tuscany
On the last day in Tuscany we left the Villa mid morning and drove to San Gimignano and Volterra, two medieval towns to the west.  San Gimignano is on the outskirts of the Chianti region of Tuscany and is known for its towers with 14 of the original 70 towers still standing.

After spending a few hours in San Gimignano we ventured to the medieval village of Volterra, which was 20km+ up the road.  This quaint village, which we liked better than San Gimignano,  was highlighted by it’s St. Maria Assunta Church.  This town has a history of over 2,000″ years and they claim that it is the birthplace of St. Linus, the first Pope after the Apostle Peter.  It also claims to be the home of Saints Justus, Clement, Octavian, Attinia and Greciniana.  This town was not as touristy and a lot of fun to explore.  See the photos at: http://ljl.smugmug.com/Italy-Sept-29Oct-17-2013/San-Gimignano-Volterra

On To Rome on the 12th and in Rome through the 16th
We left the Villa at 9:30 for the drive to Florence to catch the train to Rome.  Based upon our trip from Florence we gave ourselves a lot of time to return the car and catch the train as our train left at 2:00!  We had no tours scheduled for the day, so after arriving we spent the afternoon exploring Rome on our own.

Rome City Tour – October 13
Our driver picked us up at 9:00 AM to take us on a 6 hour tour of the city of Rome.  Concluded the day with another Italian dinner augmented by plenty of vino!

Rome, The Vatican – October 14
We caught a cab to the Vatican at 9:00 AM to meet our tour guide outside the Vatican Museum to begin our tour of the Museum, St. Peters, the Sistine Chapel and the various grounds inside the Vatican.    What an amazing place!  After the tour we had lunch featuring Italian food and wine, which was highlighted by Bill knocking over his wine glass!  We decided to walk to the hotel after lunch (Bill is an excellent navigator) and then capped the day with dinner at an upscale restaurant within walking distance from our hotel.

Roman Castles Tour – October 15
Our driver picked us up at 9:00 AM for a tour of the Roman Castles, which is a standard tour provided by many of the limo companies.  We expected to see and tour fabulous castles, but were disappointed to find that they just were not available.  Our tour went along the Appian Way, a road that was build in 312 B.C.  Along the way our tour guide identified the spot where St. Peter was arrested and we were able to visit the Catacombs, see the Roman Aqueducts and visit the small village where the Pope’s vacation villa is located.  The day ended with an Italian dinner complete with wine (I know that surprises everyone)!

Our advice with respect to the “Roman Castles Tour” is that if you are going to take this one you need to plan well ahead as to what you want to see.  And, don’t expect to see fantastic Castles!

Tivoli Gardens and to the Airport Hotel – October 16
Our last full day in Italy was spent with a 6 hour tour and drive to see the Tivoli Gardens. The Tivoli Gardens is worth seeing, but unfortunately the water in the fountains was not working.  After the trip to the Gardens we arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn at the Airport at approximately 4:00 and prepared for the long flight back to San Antonio.

Flight Home — October 17
Our flight left the Rome Airport at 11:15 AM and the Wisecarver’s flight left at 12:55.  The advice from the hotel was to be at the airport to check-in at approximately 3 hours before our flight.  So, we took the 8:00 AM shuttle from the hotel to the airport, but we made it through the check-in process in 45 minutes!  We used AA frequent flyer miles to book Business Class (which is the preferred way to go) and the food and wine was fantastic again!  Upon arriving in Chicago we got our first experience with the Global Entry Trusted Traveler Program.  With this program we went through a pre-screening process we avoided the long lines at Customs and were able to make it through Customs in 10-15 minutes!  We would highly recommend enrolling in this program if you travel as it really makes the airport experience much better. Their website is: https://goes-app.cbp.dhs.gov/ ).

We arrived home at 9:15 PM and it was great to be back in San Antonio.

Summary and Conclusion Comments
Vicki and I would both comment that the trip was simply fantastic.  We enjoyed all aspects of Italy, but there are regions of the country that we did not visit that just might be reserved for another trip.  We enjoyed the time with Bill and Ann and would like to thank Sara at Elite Travel for helping fill in the blanks to augment our planning.  And, a special thanks to our daughter, Kerry, for staying at the house and keeping Shelby while we were gone (Including Shelby being sprayed by a skunk).  Skype and Viber kept us in touch with the girls and friends, so if you are making a trip outside of the U.S. these tools are essential.  Vicki and I are looking forward to our next scheduled trip to Costa Rica with 9 other couples in early 2014, and we expect to experience more good food and vino!

Greve, Castellina in Chianti, Radda and Panzano in Chianti – Oct. 10, 2013

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The day started in mid morning with our focus toward seeing the small towns in Tuscany. The first stop was in Greve where we had an early lunch and planned our day. Then we drove to Montefioralle, which was a very small town approximately 1 KM from Greve — not much to see! The second stop was in Castellina in Chianti for a quick walk through the old section of this Tuscany village. Then we were on to Radda, which was advertised as an old medieval village somewhat off the main path. To this point in our day the highlights were the great photo opportunities with the Tuscan landscape. On the way to Panzano the girls found a winery with free wine tasting, so we had to make a stop for something free! The Tasting Room actually represented two vineyards, Livernano and Casalvento SS and the wine and Grappa was excellent. Our “free” wine tasting ended with our purchase of a case of their wines, which they will ship home to San Antonio.

After Radda and the wine tasting the next stop was in Panzano where we had dinner reservations at SOLO CICCIA, which was recommended by both our Villa owners and our Florence driver. We parked the car a long way away from the restaurant, but found it after about a 30 minute walk. Bill and Larry were designated to get the car to find a closer parking spot while Ann and Vicki volunteered to visit the shops in the area of the restaurant. Upon returning to the area of the restaurant the guys found their wives in the butcher shop across the street from the restaurant where they were drinking free wine and eating various meats and breads. Their host was Dario Cecchini, the owner of the butcher shop and the restaurant, who we came to learn was world famous for his serving of Tuscan style beef (see www.dariocecchini.com). Dario owns two restaurants where he uses virtually all of the meat from the steer to serve family style. The evening at SOLO CICCIA concluded with Dario serving all of his patrons shots of Grappa at his butcher store. Bill was the designated driver to the Villa as he was a “light Grappa drinker”!

Florence, October 9, 2013

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After the late night (back to the Villa at 11:00) last night we started the day with the tour company picking us up at 9:00 to take us to Florence. As we were leaving the Villa the workers were hard at work harvesting the grapes from the vineyard.

We met our guide, a young gal from Pisa (Diletta Masi), at 10:00 and went on a 4 hour walking tour with her. Our tour included the Duomo, which is the 4th largest church in the world. In addition to the Duomo we toured the Galleria Degli Uffize and the Galleria Dell Accademia. Our guide was trained in the arts, spoke four languages and had a great command of art history. Included in the things we saw was the sculpture of David by Da Vinci, and additional works of Italian artists dating from the 11th century. Unlike the prior days we have limited photos as they were prohibited in most of the exhibits.

Our plans for the next two days involve visits to various small villages in Tuscany.

Pisa and Lucca, October 8, 2013

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Bill, Ann, Vicki and I struck out for Pisa today and visited Lucca, which was to the east of Pisa close to the mountains. On the way to Pisa we were able to once again snap some good photos of the Tuscan countryside. Our visit to Pisa focused entirely upon the Leaning Tower and the surrounding area, which included the Duomo and related buildings. The Duomo was not quite as fantastic as that of Siena, but it was still a marvelous building.

The town of Lucca was quite unique as it was a walled city, but it had an extensive shopping area and it’s own personality. It has a very old history and has not been involved in a war since the 1400’s

On the trip back we took the Auto Strada, a fast toll road to Florence and once again got lost trying to get back to our Villa. We stopped in Greve for dinner and ran into two couples with ties to Houston, Texas and West Monroe, La. They had mutual friends of Bill and Ann-really a small world! We made it to the Villa at 11:00 PM and did not get into bed until after midnight. Ready for the trip into Florence tomorrow!!!

Siena And Small Towns On The Way

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Our original plans were to go to Florence for the day, but the tour driver did not know how to get to our Villa. So, the 4 hour walking tour of Florence was rescheduled for Wednesday and we drove to Siena today. We got to Siena at about noon and did not leave until 4:00+PM. On the way to Siena we traveled through the heart of the Chianti Classico wine country and enjoyed the countryside views.

 

 

When we arrived in Siena we parked at the parking area for the local Futball (Soccer) stadium and then walked to see the Duomo. Vicki and I both commented on the Soccer facility in light of the years we spent at Soccer fields with our girls.

 

We bought the All-inclusive pass to get us into all of the major areas. We started with the Duomo, which is the Catholic Church that was started in 1220 and completed in 1370. The church as simply amazing considering considering when it was built. And it was a reminder of the power and wealth of the Church during that era. After the Doumo we moved to the city center to see the large plaza.

 

While in Siena we had a light lunch at a small restaurant that was recommended by Rick Steves! It was as advertised. Following lunch Vicki and Ann had to shop on the way back to the car.

After Siena we drove back to the Villa through Chianti and stopped at Greve in Chianti to have dinner. Greve has a very quaint City Center and lots of vino. Greve is known as the heart of Chianti country and the home of the best Chianti wine in the world. Based upon our sampling we can attest to that claim!

After a week in Italy we have not had a day that was not highlighted by excellent Vino and Italian food. Fortunately, we have also been doing a lot of walking to offset the impact of food and wine.

Tomorrow are plans are to go to Pisa and then to Florence on Wednesday. We are taking between 150-250 photos each day, so look for them on my SmugMug photo site after we return.