How to Tackle the Cinque Terre

While still in California and planning for the Cinque Terre (five villages) hike, I must say there was an overwhelming amount of online reviews and advice on how to tackle this popular hike. From everything I’d read and photos I’d seen, I deduced it was a beautiful hike along the coast, but you had to be prepared and forewarned. Total hike time ranged from 5 hours to 8 hours, depending on physical ability and how much time you spent touring the villages. Everyone agreed to start from the southernmost town of Riomaggiore and work northwards to end up in Monterosso. If you got tired, one reviewer suggested taking the train or ferry to the next town. I decided to get one more person’s advice — the hotel (Hotel Villa Anita) owner, Sandro. Since he had given us such great advice and directions for the hike to San Fruttuoso, I knew we could rely on him again. After a hearty breakfast, we filled up our water bottles (a must!) and set out for our excursion.

This was our plan:

1. 1-hour train ride south from Santa Margherita Ligure to Riommagiore, walk around the town for a few minutes, start the hike at the coast and walk the “Lover’s Path”. Yes, we can now understand why it’s called this. The view is beautiful and romantic. We were charmed by something else. To express a couple’s love for each other, the path over the years has been decorated with locks. Attached to rails and fences, these locks come in a splendid array of various sizes and metal finishes, etched with initials and hearts.

2. After a 30-minute walk through Lover’s Path, arrive in Manarola and visit the town for a few minutes.The seaside is quite stunning. Gigantic rocks used as diving platforms for the young and daring. Small, colorful boats anchored waiting for their passengers. Waves splashing onto shore.

3. Take a short train ride to Vernazza, skipping Corniglia because the trail was still closed from the mudslides in 2011. (Or, you could take the ferry.) While walking around the town, affects of the mudslide were visible, though much of the town was in great shape. We saw some building basements full of dirt and debris, with workers repairing broken walls. The water at the beach was a murky green from excess mud. We decided to take a gelato break, and I snacked on calamari wrapped in a small newspaper cone. Reminds me of chips doused with salt and vinegar wrapped the English way.

4. Continue the hike on the coast to Monterosso. Have a snack and cold drink, enjoy a swim. The hike from Vernazza to Monterosso was spectacular, but arduous. Steep inclines, dramatic descents, shady in areas, and full-sun in others. Always a welcoming view of the sea. The hills are terraced with vineyards, though no grapes at this time of year. Once in awhile we would see a grape-picking contraption — since I don’t know the name, that’s the best way I can describe it. It is a small buggy, gripping a very narrow metal track, with a seat for the driver, and a metal container to fill up with grapes. The track winds itself around and up the steep incline of the mountain. Brave driver, picking grapes and not afraid that the buggy might slip and fall into the sea!

5. Finally, take the train back to Santa Margherita Ligure. We were tired, but satisfied from a full-day’s adventure and memories.

Need help with an upcoming vacation? Contact me.

How To Do a 4-Week Summer Trip in Europe with Kids

We were in Europe for about four weeks this summer — Madrid, Northern Italy and Croatia. Our family of five includes three kids ages 11, 12 and 15. We’ve taken long trips before and I have learned that the key to an enjoyable and memorable trip is to balance the needs and wants of everyone in the family, even if it means skipping that one important activity, or place, in your itinerary. Here are some tried and true strategies for long trips that work for our family. (Although I’m writing this after our trip in Europe, these strategies also worked for us in Asia a few years ago.)

1. Europe is hot in the summer. When booking accommodations, make sure you stay in a few places with a swimming pool. Pools might be scarce in big cities, but they are available in other towns and you don’t have to always select 5-star hotels. They will provide a place to refresh and reenergize everyone after a good day’s worth of walking and sightseeing in the heat.The kids, especially, have something to look forward to after you’ve dragged them to yet another tourist site. Our small, 2-star hotel in Santa Margherita Ligure (Hotel Villa Anita) had a new, small pool with several jets that entertained the kids endlessly. Although we stayed just one night at the small Hotel Kapetanovic in Opatija, Croatia, the pool was just what the kids needed after a long drive through the country. After two weeks of culture in Northern Italy, we were ready to unwind in Rovinj, Croatia. We spent three days splashing and swimming in the pools of the 5-star Monte Mulini, our favorite hotel during our 4-week trip.
2. Give the kids ice cream or a cold drink as often as they want. Forget the calories, forget how much sugar they’re taking in. You will have quieter, happier kids. After all, you do want them to come along with you to visit museums, churches, towers and look at all the interesting architecture, right? Besides, this gives all of you a chance to sit down, talk and cool off. Better yet, find an air-conditioned gelateria or heladeria.
3. Be flexible. It’s okay to not do everything you planned to do. When planning our 3-day stay in Verona, Italy, I had the idea of renting bikes to see the town and surrounding area. Bike tours were certainly promoted as one of the things to do in the city and its outskirts. The weather was so hot and humid (it was 103 F one day!) that there was no way I would be able to convince my family to do a bike tour. No big loss, especially since I didn’t book anything in advance. We walked around instead and came back to our air-conditioned b&b when we got too hot. Another example, prior to our trip, I had reserved a car for our third day in Rovinj, so that we could do some sightseeing to neighboring towns. When we got to the hotel, all we wanted to do was hang out and not leave. We had already been traveling three weeks and we needed some R&R. So, we postponed the car for the next day and relaxed for three days.
4. Schedule a few guided tours. I selected Context Travel for Segovia, Florence and Venice. You can sign up for an already-scheduled tour (10+ people), or decide to take a private tour for up to 6 people. The private tours, though I thought pricey, was well worth the money. The online registration form asked me to give the company a brief description about our family (ages, interests, etc.), so that they could match us with an appropriate guide. Of course, I asked to have young, energetic guides to capture (and maintain) our children’s attention. We were very happy with our guides. They were knowledgeable, service-oriented and personable. Especially nice was the boat tour through Venice — we were happy to not do a walking tour in the heat. We had our own guide, water taxi and driver and this allowed us to photograph the not-so touristy highlights of the city.
5. Get out after breakfast, rest in the afternoon, be reenergized for the evening. After breakfast, our routine would be to walk around a neighborhood, stop for ice cream, visit a church, museum, or other historical site, then stop for another ice cream or snack. At about 3:00 pm, we would be exhausted. We would head back for the hotel or b&b and rest and enjoy the air-conditioning. The kids occupied that time with their books, electronic gadgets, or swam in the pool. My husband and I read, checked email, and occasionally had a siesta. At around 6:00 pm, we were ready to explore again and slowly make our way to dinner at the restaurant of choice.
6. Do not overdose the kids on big cities with too many museums and churches. Europe is full of these, but DO plan to visit towns that are along the coast or near lakes. This will give everyone a much-needed change of pace. You will enjoy refreshing breezes, cooler temperatures, and wide open spaces. Also, we established a rule of one museum and one church per town. Better to get an in-depth understanding of a few, rather than an overload from too many. Of course, this might not be possible in Florence.

Kauai: My Favorite Island

In recent weeks, seems I’ve been asked many times about recommendations for Hawaii. The Islands remain a top tourist destination for their abundant sunshine and warm weather, gorgeous beaches, and hospitality. Plus, from the mainland, fares are cheaper (many direct flights) than overseas destinations and you don’t have the hassle of passports and visas. Which island is my favorite? Which hotels would I recommend?

Kauai is absolutely my favorite. My family has been going there for years. It is quiet, lush, unpretentious, with gorgeous views and the real feeling of aloha. There are so many activities to choose from: kayaking, hiking, swimming, ziplining, renting atv’s, stand up paddleboarding, surfing, snorkeling and much more. The north shore, especially, confirms the image you have in mind of what an island should be: waterfalls, jagged cliffs, secluded beaches, quaint towns, jungles of greens. Yes, the north shore is the rainier side of the island, but you are rewarded with regular citings of gushing waterfalls and rainbows.
Where should you stay? If you can afford it, renting a house on Hanalei Bay would be my first choice. Kauai Vacation Rentals offers an excellent selection of homes. The homes are of great quality and clean. Or, again if you can afford it, the St. Regis in Princeville has,

hands down, the best view on the island, in fact, on any of the islands. Very pricey, with a small beachfront, but you can’t beat the views and quality service. Maybe spend just a few nights here, then combine with a stay on the south shore at Kiahuna Plantations (condos) or the Hyatt Regency, both in Poipu.

Photo credit: St. Regis Hotel

I do have recommendations of what to do and where to stay on the other islands. Contact me, if you really want to go to the other islands, after I’ve painted such a remarkable picture of Kauai.

New Travel Magazine, AFAR

While browsing at the bookstore yesterday, I came across a travel magazine I had not seen before. I LOVE it! It jumped out at me because of its catchy name, AFAR, and the non-glossy cover. The look and feel of the magazine is a refreshing change from the high-gloss, luxury feel of the other travel magazines. This magazine feels organic, authentic. AFAR seems like it caters to people like me: wanting to have unique experiences with a destination’s people, culture and history. Not so much about the fancy amenities of a 5-star hotel, nor whether the rich and famous have made a certain locale their favorite vacation spot. Check out the article about the Russian Summer – outdoor festivals in St. Petersburg. Or, the article about Hoi An’s (Vietnam) street food, cao lau.

Hotels for Seniors with Disabilities

Sometimes trip planning gets tricky for families, especially when combining requirements of kids, as well as grandparents. Even trickier is if the grandparents require wheelchair accessible hotel rooms. Here are a few hotels in Europe that provide accessible rooms, yet can satisfy requirements of comfort and location. This blog is submitted by a member of my family with a disability.

What to look for:

– an excellent location in the center of the town and close to the main sights (for town
hotels);
– access without stairs to the hotel itself, to the restaurant etc. and to the room;
– fairly spacious rooms with separate beds
– a well adapted bathroom, with separate shower and tub if possible, or else at least a separate shower.
Berlin, Germany
NH Hotel Berlin
On Friedrichstrasse, a very centrally located modern 4-star business hotel, in walking distance (with wheelchair) of the museum island, the Brandenburger Tor, Unter den Linden, and many other sights. Hotel is well accessible from street and also inside; the breakfast room is reachable via a ramp. Well-equipped bathroom with separate tub and shower (in selected rooms). Good breakfast and dinner, very friendly and helpful staff.
           Photo credit: NH Hotel
Vienna, Austria
Hotel-Pension Pertschy
Even more centrally located, the Pension Pertschy is housed in the baroque Cavriani palace, a listed building which traces back to the 14th century. The entire centre of Vienna, from the St. Stephens cathedral to the “Neue Burg”, the imperial palace, is in convenient walking distance. The pension has 55 rooms of very different shapes and sizes and differing facilities. It helps to be quite specific when ordering. The staff is very helpful and will try their best to satisfy your requests. Bathrooms are mostly simple with only a shower, but reasonably complete. The buffet breakfast is generous and ample. There is no restaurant. The house was to be refurbished and overhauled last year and presumably improved again within the limits of monument protection regulations. Accessibility with a wheelchair is good, movement inside the hotel is unproblematic.
                                               Photo credit: Ethan Prater
Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
Hotel Anthelia
Spacious and comfortable 4/5 star hotel at the seaside. Access with wheelchair to the hotel is unproblematic, movement within the hotel likewise. Also, easy access behind the hotel to the paved seaside promenade. Room size is sufficient for wheelchair. The hotel offers several rooms which are specifically equipped for people with disabilities. Bathrooms in standard rooms are well equipped but don´t have separate shower and tub. The large breakfast buffet is delicious, as is dinner in the two restaurants. A quick snack
for lunch is available at a bistro besides the pool. The staff is both local and international and generally very friendly and helpful. All together the house offers a very relaxing and enjoyable holiday experience also for handicapped people.
Photo credit: sunshine.co.uk

Help! Too Many Travel Web Sites!

There have been online articles lately reviewing travel web sites and how social media can help the traveler with planning an itinerary. While it’s great that you have so many resources at your finger tips and while I agree that these web sites can help plan one’s trip, you have to be willing to invest a substantial amount of time navigating these web sites, comparing reviews, selecting hotels, and refining itineraries before deciding on the final plan. Many people have full-time jobs and don’t have the time to do the research, or find this process daunting and would rather pay for the service of a travel consultant who can make sense of it all. Especially challenging are family trips with young kids to overseas destinations. I am a travel consultant and can plan a trip from scratch or fine tune the details of an itinerary. An example of a 2-week, U.S. itinerary I’m working on for a client, so far, has taken me 18 hours — starting with three potential itineraries, narrowing it to one, then refining; contacting hotels and making reservations; and researching activities. The 18 hours does not include the time I will spend putting the itinerary into a format that my client can bring on the road with her. I’d love to hear how many hours you spend planning a family trip. Contact me.

Tech, Social Media and Travel

 Check out this article, “How Tech and Social Media Are Changing Travel”. Brought to you by Lab 42, it discusses the many apps and web sites used by the techie traveler before, during and after a trip. I can agree that travelers are now more savvy figuring out where to go, what to do, and can much sooner and easier share their memories with their friends and family.