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Europe, Reviews, Travel Advice

The 8 Things that Surprised Me During My Trip to Rome, Italy

June 25, 2013 • By

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The Beauty of Rome

Rome, Italy was my second sojourn into Europe. Having visited Paris the year prior, I thought myself very fortunate to be going back so quickly. I had been intrigued with Rome for awhile, mostly through the lens of a movie camera.

There were so many great films like “Three Coins in the fountain” and “Roman Holiday” that set the tone for my romanticized (pun intended) and lofty expectations.

As wonderful as the city is, when I finally got the chance to visit this beautiful country, some things were were not as I expected.  Not everything one envisions matches the fantasy, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have a fantastic time anyway.READ MORE


Europe, Travel Advice

A Review of My Overnight Accommodations On Megabus UK

January 3, 2013 • By

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I’m always up for any alternatives to expensive airline or rail tickets.  Earlier, I’d written about the Chinese bus companies that had cropped up to go into head to head competition with the transportation stalwart, Greyhound.   Roughly six years ago, another company begin to make waves in the U.S. by offering newer, comfortable luxury buses with free wi-fi service (though not available on every bus) and a small but functional restroom in the rear.  For the longest time, their service was limited to the northeastern U.S., fortunately, they began to service the southeast by offering $1.00 introductory fares and the rest is history.  Megabus USA is experiencing phenomenal success, much like its parent company in the UK which launched in 2003.  

As I was planning my recent trip to Paris, I thought it would be nice to use Megabus UK to visit either London or Amsterdam while I was there.  We opted to go with Amsterdam since the trip time was considerably less (by two hours) as was the cost (by £8 each way).  Our fare for our trip to Amsterdam was a grand total of £20.50 roundtrip ( £10 per person plus a 50 pence booking fee which is charged for all reservations) and the trip time was a little over 7 hours.  Since our departure time was at 11:30 pm this worked to our advantage since we would be able to sleep overnight and wake up refreshed in Amsterdam the next morning.

The Megabus station is located at the Porte Maillot Coach park which is right across the street from the Palais des Congrès de Paris on Boulevard Pershing.  It is easily reached by the Metro on line 1 (Direction La Defense).   Simply go up the stairs and exit right outside the metro station.  The Palais des Congrès de Paris will be straight ahead and the coach park will be right beyond it.READ MORE


Europe, Reviews

The Top Five Things to Do in Amsterdam in 24 Hours

December 20, 2012 • By

Amsterdam

I have to admit, before my visit in November, my impression of Amsterdam was that it was a party town, a place to score mary jane and watch lots of live porn. Mind you, this was coming from a very uninformed point of view. The Amsterdam that I actually witnessed is the polar opposite. In fact, it struck me as being very family friendly, cultural, progressive, stylish and a historical bulwark of days gone by.

We’d decided that we wanted to take a day-trip while we were in Paris. My motto is if I am going to cross an ocean, I’m going to make it worth my while. So, what better way to maximize our experience than to visit a city that I had long wondered about after seeing so many beautiful pictures posted on various social media by my travel blogger friends. Maybe I should give the city a try despite the questionable reputation that preceded it?READ MORE


Europe, Reviews, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

A Review Of Two Sisters, The Hotel Taylor and Hotel L’Annexe in Paris, France

December 10, 2012 • By

Hotel Taylor

 

There is nothing more comforting when you visit a city far away from home than knowing that your newer and more temporary digs offers you that same warmth and familiarity. I felt that way as soon as I found my way to the second and third hotels that we would be staying at in Paris, France. I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary; a clean room with a comfortable bed were the limits to what I had hoped for.

Hotel Taylor would be the first of the twin or sister hotels that we would have the pleasure of staying during our last two days in Paris. The second was right next door, the Hotel L’Annexe. While they were both owned by the same couple, that is where the physical similarities ended. Both hotels were immaculate and traditional, very much what you would expect from a European boutique hotel. They are modern in the sense that all conveniences were provided like television, a buffet breakfast (at an additional cost of 15 euros) and updated bathrooms. Plush and comfortable mattresses were juxtaposed with traditional, period furniture, which seemed to give guests the best of both worlds.READ MORE


Europe, Travel Advice

The Black Beauty Problem in Paris

December 4, 2012 • By

Perhaps one of the worst kept secrets in the United States is the amount of money black women spend on their hair. I was once a slave to that multi-billion dollar industry, so I can testify how people have literally built fortunes on a societal construct that caused black women to do whatever it took to get their hair ‘right’. I started perming my hair at the age of 13 because I was tired of getting my ears singed by the family straightening comb. It would never do to walk around with the natural hair God gave you…..”nappiness” was the equivalent of four letter words that were not allowed in my household, neighborhood or the world in general.

We had all bought into the Madison Avenue version of what beautiful hair looked like. It was long, flowing, straight, unkinky, ‘manageable’ locks that men could run their fingers through with ease. To have anything less meant that you weren’t beautiful….of course, none of this was spoken. It didn’t need to be. All one needed to do was to visit the neighborhood beauty salons, check out the neighborhood beauty supply stores and they would have their irrefutable answer.

Even black men were not immune to this reality. Before the depression, black men began to chemically alter their hair using something called congolene. In order to ‘conk’ your hair, this chemical had to be quickly applied to the hair with protective gloves and rinsed out immediately because it was made of LYE. To this day, you will find some who use texturizers to straighten and give their hair a wavy texture.READ MORE


Europe, Reviews, Travel Advice

A Review of the Hotel Paradis in Paris, France

December 1, 2012 • By

Hotel Paradis

There’s one truth about large cities. There are lots of hotels. Lots. There will never be a shortage of them but there always seem to be a shortage of recommendations of which may be the best ones to stay at. I had the chance to stay at a hotel in Paris called Hotel Paradis. Paradise. That’s a lot to live up to and I was anxious to see how close the experience would come to it.

After a little confusion about my reservation, I was given a card key and directed to the very bijou elevator that would take me up to my room on the sixth floor. The room was the the hotel’s suite….it was larger than I thought it would be with plenty of room to mill about without feeling constrained. You immediately walked into a foyer which is always a great transition into the rest of the suite. The bathroom was just to the right of the sitting room. It was nice to see that the toilet was separated from the rest of the bathroom; an asset in certain situations. The bath was obviously a renovation and a very well done one at that. The furnishings were meager, but functional and the predominate color was a wine/mauve and silver medallion combo that seemed to suggest that couples were in mind when they decided on the decor for this suite.READ MORE


City Views, Europe, Travel Advice

Travel Photo Thursday – Piazza D’ Italia

June 16, 2011 • By

Today’s pic is a shot of the Piazza D’ Italia located right behind the Loews Hotel in New Orleans, LA. It’s a venue where outdoor events are held or is simply a place where you can relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

It was built in 1978 and restored in 2004 a year after the Loews debuted. It was conceived as a tribute to the contributions of Italian Americans to the city of New Orleans since most of the focus seemed to be directed at the French and Spanish.

On a side note:  I wasn’t quite aware of the Spanish connection as it relates to the city until I learned that after the great fire in 1788, most of the french architecture was destroyed. The Spanish rebuilt the city, so the architecture is decidedly in that style and was made even more-so six years later when a fire of similar scope destroyed even more french style buildings.


City Views, Europe, Travel Advice

Travel Photo Thursday – Chateaus and Castles of the Loire Valley

May 5, 2011 • By

 

During our trip to Paris in 2003, we decided to take a day trip to Tours, France where we were scheduled to meet at the (get this) Office of Tourism to meet the tour group (I’ve got a million of ‘em) for our tour (told ya!) of the Chateaus and Castles of the Loire Valley.

One of the major tenets that I ascribe to is “If you’re going to travel in a metal contraption with recirculated, stale air for over 8 hours, make it count!”  Therefore, we try to include day trips in our travels as a way of stretching our dollar as far as it will go.READ MORE


City Views, Europe, Travel Advice

Travel Photo Thursday – Beware Of The Romans

March 3, 2011 • By
Romans

Beware of  ROMANS bearing gifts

I choose this week’s photo because it reminded me of an unpleasant experience that I had at the Coliseum in Rome.  My daughter and I were walking past and noticed men dressed in all of the Roman regalia and decided to take a pic or two.  Within no time flat, one of them came up to us smiling ever so broadly and started to put his arm around my daughter asking me to take a picture of the two of them.  Ok, I didn’t see that coming, but it was a non-sexual, drape around her shoulder position and she seemed unconcerned about it and thought it would be a great souvenir, so I did.

Imagine our surprise when he held his hand out after I took the shot.  At first I thought he had taken leave of his senses, but he was serious and insistent.  He expected me to pay him for using my camera, SD card and batteries to photograph him.   I told him good luck with that and walked away.  At least, allow me the opportunity to offer you a tip before demanding one.  I decided to delete that picture anyway because it left a sour taste in my mouth.  So, word of caution….they are not dressed that way for nothing.  They expect to be recompensed.  Perhaps, it was my naivete, but it took me a little by surprise.  Be sure to take any and all pics from a distance and keep walking.

Please note that this post was not meant to disparage Rome, but only to relay my own personal experience.

For more Travel Photo Thursday pics check out: Budget Traveler’s Sandbox


Europe, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

The Most Conspicuous Escape From The UK…..Ever!

March 1, 2011 • By
Today, A View To A Thrill welcomes our second guest poster, Craig “Crash” Williams.  We met when he posted a comment on my article, Sailing the high seas on a…..freighter, which detailed the growing freight cruise industry.  Well, it’s one thing to write about it, but another to actually experience it.  I knew that he was planning his own voyage with his lovely wife, Shelley and was journaling the experience on his own website.  Now that his voyage has come to an end (or at least I think so), he has agreed to share his experience with the rest of us.  As you read his personal account, you will learn that he firmly believes in traveling on his own terms.  Hopefully, this will give someone much needed insight if they were contemplating doing the same one day.

 

During a cold, wet November day, my wife and I boarded the Grande Francia – a RORO (Roll On Roll Off) Cargo Ship, part of the Grimaldi shipping group. For us this was the culmination of several months planning, during which time we’d sold our house in London, bought another which we then rented out, all whilst finishing our jobs.  Jobs we’d held for ten plus years!
Many of our friends and family questioned us as to why we would take a Cargo Ship from London, through Africa, down past Brazil before finally arriving at our destination, Buenos Aires!  All we could tell them was that it was for the total adventure of sailing the open seas, not on a cruise ship but aboard a fully working Cargo Ship, one with very few passengers, no entertainment and no sign of any organised tours in any of the ports we docked at.  ‘Sounds fantastic’ they all chorused, ‘the pair of you must be crazy…’
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Craig and Shelley enjoying the wide expanse of the ocean

However, when it comes to looking back at the things you’ve done, a fourteen hour flight somewhere is hardly front of the queue for stories!  The ship itself is one of the largest container ships in the World measuring over 200 metres long by 32 metres wide; it’s also thirteen stories high with our cabin being on the twelfth! Until you’re actually stood alongside a Cargo Ship, you cannot comprehend how big these ships are – massive – and with a sense of awe, we boarded via the very busy ramp at the Stern, introducing ourselves to the duty officer whilst being careful not to be hit by the many vehicles loading and unloading.  We were taken aboard and shown to the lift.
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Grande Francia at night was a sight to behold

The inside of the Ship is cavernous – it’s at least 2 football pitches long and was a hive of activity – crew, wearing hi-viz jackets busily working around large agricultural plant destined for far flung shores, huge pieces of engineering plant; engines, cranes, parts of structures with vehicles everywhere – it was very apparent that this was a fully working ship and we were the Ship’s Guests.
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Inside the engine room

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Inside the cargo hold

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More vehicles occupying the cargo hold

Given we were aboard for a minimum of thirty-two days, we booked the best cabin on the ship; The Owners Cabin; with our neighbour on one side being the Master (Captain) and t’other neighbour being the First Officer – we were travelling in style, we had two sea facing portholes and a bath, luxury.  As mentioned, our expected journey time was to be for 32 days though we were told it could go a week either way depending on the ships schedule, whether it missed out a port, stayed longer due to more cargo or indeed, making a detour to a different port for a ‘pick-up’ – for the next 32 days our lives were in the hands of the Ship…

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Craig and Shelley prepping for Lifeboat drills

Our itinerary was as follows: Antwerp in Belgium, Le Havre in France, Dakar in Senegal, Conakry in Guinea, Freetown in Sierra Leone, Vitoria, Rio de Janeiro, Santos in Brazil, Montevideo in Uruguay, Zarate in Argentina before disembarking in Buenos Aires, from where the Grande Francia departed on her return leg.  In each place we had the opportunity to go ashore, though we were warned:   ‘…the Ship waits for no man…’
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The docks at Antwerp, Belgium

We had some excellent nights ashore in places we wouldn’t ordinarily see – nights out in Dakar will live long in our memories as will the nights out we had in Santos and Rio. We had afternoons off in some great Cities and the beauty of the ship was that you could arrive at any time of the day or night, you never ever knew or could, second guess.   In one instance we sat off the coast of Rio de Janerio for twelve hours – Rio was in front of us like a mirage yet we were mere spectators, desperate to get ashore and finally, when ashore, it’s all the more sweeter and memorable.
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Enjoying a taste of Yerba mate

Life on board passes slowly though it’s surprising how quickly you settle into the Ships Routine; breakfast at 07:30, lunch at 11:00 with dinner at 18:00. The food being excellent – we had an Italian Chef, Sicilian by birth – he prepared his own fresh pasta each day. One of the joys of this type of travel is that he was more than happy for me to spend a couple hours in the kitchen watching / helping whilst he prepared his pasta, it was a real honour and I felt particularly proud that the Crew and my fellow Passengers were eating the pasta we’d prepared several hours earlier.  Between meals your time is yours.
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Chef Nicola preparing fresh Pasta for the crew and guests as I look on

There’s a small but adequate gym, foosball and table tennis are pretty much all the activities the ship provides though to be fair the reason for being aboard a Cargo Ship is to enjoy the open seas, so all the Passengers would congregate on the upper deck, reading books, chatting, tuning in to World Service via a short-wave radio – there is absolutely nothing to do and it’s truly blissful.
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Most of my fellow passengers

We saw many Whales along with Hammerhead Sharks, Turtles, Seals off the Canary Islands, Dolphins – at one stage in the middle of the ocean there were at least three hundred plus Dolphins frolicking off the starboard side of the ship, truly magical and breathtakingly beautiful.  Looking back at the time we spent aboard the Grande Francia, is without doubt one of the best things we’re ever done; being in the middle of the Ocean at midnight, the sky is stunning – so many stars looking down at you; crossing the equator and sharing a wee dram of single malt whiskey with my wife, whilst pouring a drop overboard for Neptune! Partying with the Filipino Crew whilst in the middle of the Ocean; being invited to see the Bridge; going beneath deck to see the Engine Room; seeing the various decks and the cargo being carried – if you ever get the chance I recommend you explore the opportunity of travelling via a Cargo Ship.
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Partying with the crew!

We’re going to be in South America for a further four or so months and we’re already thinking about taking another voyage, this time across the Pacific, from Central America to Asia.  A journey of 28 days, give or take a week or two…
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Craig Williams is a former Royal Marine whose been living in London since 1997, working within the Recruitment and Staffing industry. Recently turned forty, chucked his job in and along with his wife Shelley, took a Cargo Ship to Buenos Aires and is currently living in said City…  Check out his website where he journals their adventures at http://crashwilliams.wordpress.com/.  He’s fond of pictures too, so be sure to check out his flickr account here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shelleyfroggy/sets/