Monday, November 22, 2010

A day in Florence between food and art

Let’s start with wine bars and cafes! In Italy bars are literally on every corner. Do not confuse them with the classic American bars. Italian bars ( or caffè) serve café, cappuccinos, hot chocolates, tea, light snacks and aperitifs. We recommend in particular 2 historic places.

The Gilli which is a wine bar and restaurant and since 1733 it has been serving also all kinds of treats and light meals.. (Piazza della Repubblica,ph: +39 055 213 896). And just in front the Giubbe Rosse Cafè where you can have brunch from 9€ or a complete menu from 18€ ( Piazza della Repubblica 13/14; ph: +39 055 212 280).

Tip: a coffee is way too cheaper (up to 1€) at the counter that at your sit at the table. In this way you can enjoy a good coffee-break in fantastic places without spending a fortune!

Once stuffed with an excellent Italian Breakfast with cappuccino and brioche you are ready to visit the Uffizi Museum, probably the reason why you got your flight ticket to Florence!

Palazzo Vecchio (Uffizi) is an amazing palace set just around Piazza della Signoria, once the centre of political power and city life. Just behind there is the spectacular Ponte Vecchio housing numerous antique and modern jewellery shops and the Signoria open arched gallery

In the Uffizi Gallery you can enjoy Italian masterpieces from Medieval period to Modern. Just to give you some masters’ names: you will be meeting Leonardo, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Caravaggio.

There are also periodic modern art exhibitions Check the official website to get all info and the ticket reservations to avoid extenuate queues. The main entrance is under the portico of the Palazzo degli Uffizi 6 and it is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 8.15am until 6.35pm (last entry 6pm). Admission: €9.50 (plus €3 to online reservations); concessions available. ( One of the best ways to reach the city centre is to get the n. 23 bus or line B.

To get an affordable accommodation while in Florence you can check the following nice Bed and Breakfast ( B&B) providing clean accommodations and friendly atmosphere. The Abatjour B&B close to the train station, Soggiorno Primavera, the central B&B Cinque Sensi, Althea rooms B&B, Cimarosa Armony BB, a Casa di Dante BB; Bed and Breakfast tourist house, Bed and breakfast Montebello B&B. Usually a double room costs around 50-70 euros per night.

If you prefer a guest house or a budget hotel you can try this selection where the prices are very good for the quality and the services they offer. Hotel Castri which is set in a Renascent villa with a green park, hotel Palazzuolo, hotel Guelfa, il Ghiro guest house. There are also studios and apartments or upper scale hotels where you start form 50 euros per person per night at the Gemini Studio, Alex house, Leopolda hotel, hotel Autopark, hotel Erina, Alamanni Hotel, Hotel Beatrice, Goldoni hotel. This prices are for a night stay and they are subject to changings but in general they include breakfast, linen and towels.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Day At Koh Larn

Visiting Koh Larn, or the coral island is a great change of pace from Pattaya.

My first trip to Koh Larn was a spur of the moment mini-adventure. I was talking with a young lady in a bar and she asked me where I had visited in Thailand. I rattled off a bunch of cities from north to south and then she asked if I had ever been to Koh Larn. I told her no and she said she had never been either.

It was decided then and there that we would take the short trip the next day. We spent the night together and made arrangements for the boat ride and tour at one of the many street vendor tour ladies.

We booked for a 10 AM boat ride and we were told we would be back at about 4 PM. The price was a whopping 10 US dollars each and this included lunch.

We walked down from Second Road to Beach Road and met out small, longboat that would take us out to the bigger boat for the trip to Koh Larn.

But first, we stopped at a square dock and were offered a kite-flying ride for an additional ten dollars. We declined but watched a couple of the others from our boat get the short round the dock ride.

We then boarded a bigger boat and chugged on out to the island. The ride took about 45 minutes and we were met by another small, long boat to get us to shore. This boat had a glass bottom to observe the coral, but the water was too murky to see anything.

We got ashore and since this was a spur of the moment trip, I bought my girl a swimsuit. We staked out a patch of beach and got 2 lounge chairs for about one dollar for the day for both and just kicked back and relaxed.

The water was clean and refreshing and we just splashed about and lay around on the chairs. We were offered a variety of sea activities from underwater walking to banana boat rides. We declined and just took it easy.

We were served lunch with the rest of the group and it was OK but nothing special. Rice, pork, French fries and a cold drink.

There were a handful of vendors trying to sell their wares but they were not pests. They came by once and left with a smile when I declined.

At about 3 PM it was time to head back. We took the small boat to the bigger boat and relaxed and listened to some music on the way back. The boat moved at a snail's pace and there was just enough of a breeze to keep things cool.

We met the small boat and were taken back to Pattaya Beach. I dropped my smart card off at the photo processing place and showered, changed, picked up the photos and went back to her bar.

I gave her a set of the pictures to show her friends and to keep for herself. All in all a very nice day that set me back $20 for the trip and another $10 to get her a bathing suit.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Basic Traveller’s Kit Guide

Never be caught unprepared during a trip. Plan ahead and stuff your bag with essentials things you need. The better prepared you are, the more fun you will have on the trip. Here’s a checklist of what should be inside your traveler’s kit.

*Medicine Kit
Never assume that no mishaps will happen on a trip. Even minor bruises should be taken care of. Always keep your first- aid kit handy.

Treating wounds
Bring along a roll of bandage, safety pins and scissors. Tweezers might be needed to pull out foreign materials that penetrate the skin. Bring ointments and alcohols for treating abrasions. If you are prone to allergies and itching, antihistamine medications like Benadryl should be handy.

Common medicine
Carry along medicines that you are likely to use, like aspirin for headaches, laxative for proper bowel movement and pain relievers. If you have a runny nose, buy a couple of decongestant. Dehydration and motion sickness is common when traveling, consult your doctor on which medicine is appropriate for you.

Prescription drugs
Remember to bring along whatever medication you are taking. Bring enough supply to last for the entire trip.

*Personal Hygiene Kit
This kit must include all your toiletries. This will keep you looking fresh all the time.

Bring along your toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss. Buy a small bottled mouthwash or if you have plenty of supply left, just transfer it to a smaller container.

Carry along your favorite brush, comb and shampoo. Stuff in your hair spray, hair cream and gels if you are using one.

Personal effects
This will include your make-up kit. Remember to bring only the cosmetics that you are likely to use. Carry with you a handy mirror. You can bring your manicure set too.

Skin protection
Keep your skin healthy by putting on sunscreen and lip balm as often as you need them.

Bathroom needs
Bring along with you sets of toilet papers, soaps, towels and washcloth.

*Emergency Kit
This includes the stuff you might need like flashlights, lighters, pocket knife and duct tapes. Mobile phones are important in case of emergency, be sure to bring your charger and an extra battery.

*Leisure Kit
For added fun, you can bring along your travel journal, reading materials and the locale’s language book. Make the most out of fantastic views with your binoculars and your camera.

There is no such thing as a standard traveler’s kit. It varies upon the place and the activities you’ll do in a certain place. The above kits are basically the essentials. Be sure to keep everything checked and have a fun trip ahead!

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Friday, November 19, 2010

22 Lanzarote Attractions - Mirador Del Rio, Jameous Del Agua and La Cueva de los Verdes

It is possible to do these three attractions in a single day providing you set out early and plan your day.

As we live in Playa Blanca, we travelled north on the LZ-2 via San Bartholme and Teguise into the mountains in the north where we made our first stop at the Mirador Del Rio. This is a cafeteria cut into the mountains in the north and has the most spectacular views of the island you could possible want to see, so a camera is a must.

After a drink and a snack, we continued North and then turned at the top of the island and made our descent to sea level, where we saw an array of different coloured sands blown across the sea from the Sahara desert. If you are into beaches, you might want to stop off here to explore the many bays on offer.

Shortly after this we arrived at our second attraction, the Jameos del Agua. Enchanting, Mystical & Magical, the three most common words used to describe a place created as a result of a formation of gas explosions within a volcanic bubble. Over the years, seawater has flooded the tunnels so that eventually a lagoon has been left behind. A lagoon that is home to thousands of tiny white crabs that have become blind through many years of living in poor light, a lagoon that has a bar and a restaurant and even a nightclub three times a week !

Almost next door, we found our second attraction of the day - La Cueva de los Verdes, one of the longest volcanic galleries in the world at 6km long and there is surprise element to this tour which I cannot tell you about otherwise it would spoil your visit. You need to be reasonably fit and healthy as you need to climb several stairs and bend over in order to get under many low recesses. It is impossible to take a pushchair into the caves, so go prepared.

We had an hour to kill at the end of the day, so we stopped off at the Jardin de Cactus which is on the way back. Here we saw 1,400 different species all planted together in a small area of land to create the beautiful Cactus Garden.

A great day out and the children really enjoyed it and they slept like logs that night !

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

21 Lanzarote Attractions - Timanfaya

The Montañas del Fuego (Fire Mountains), to give them there proper name were created in the 1730’s when more than 100 volcanos in what is now the National Park, rose up to devastate the southern part of the island. Eruptions lasted for six years and several villages were completely destroyed. The last eruption on the island was in 1824.

Because Lanzarote has such low rainfall (and therefore a lack of erosion) the area appears much as it did at the time and in 1968 the area was declared a national park “Parque Nacional de Timanfaya”.

We decided to make a full day of this trip and we firmly believe that this a must see for any visitor to the island, because of its unique 'martian' landscape and rare plant species. On entry to the national park (entrance was around 8 euros per person, as I recall, and the small children were free as is usual at many of the islands attractions), the first thing to catch our eye were camels and of course we had to stop because the children wanted a ride !

An hour or so later, we arrived at the Car park of the Islote de Hilario, where we saw a crowd of people standing around a hole. This was to be the first of two quite stunning demonstrations of just how hot the area is just below the ground. We were told that temperatures a few metres below ground are a staggering 400°C to 600°C.

Dry bushes were thrown into a hole and in less than a minute, it caught fire !

Water was then poured into a bore hole and seconds later the water erupted back into the air as steam and we all got a warm shower because we were standing on the wrong side.

Next up was the 'El Diablo' restaurant, another creation of the famous artist (Cesar Manrique), whose influence is everywhere on the island. Here we find traditional Canarian food cooked using geothermal heat (A cast-iron grill placed over a large hole in the ground). Where else in the world can you get your food cooked on a volcano !

We then went on a coach trip of the National Park (part of the entrance fee). If your feeling a little queasy or don’t like heights don’t sit by the window as it can be quite scary (but very safe and the children absolutely loved it). The coach stops at several strategic points in order that you can get some amazing pictures and film (so don’t forget to take the camera/video with you). During the trip we listened to recorded narration based on words captured by the priest of Yaiza at the time of the eruptions.

Another great day and another great attraction.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

20 Safety Tips for Budget Travelers

1) When taking taxis from an airport to your hotel, travel in the more expensive airport taxis and ensure that the drivers have official identification. Never take a taxi waiting outside the airport grounds.

I know this sounds extreme, but it is by far better to be safe then sorry.

2) When traveling from your hotel to the airport, go with a taxi recommended by the hotel.

Again, taxi’s can be very dangerous. I can’t express that enough.

3) Try not to arrive in a new city or town late at night.

This can just go wrong in a number of ways. It is much easier getting checked in during the day time and security at night in certain areas is just horrendous.

4) Travel in a group if possible.

Since when is traveling in numbers not a good idea?

5) Learn the basics in the local language before you arrive. Don't expect that people will speak English.

English is becoming more widely spoken these days, but you want to be sure. You should always check on these things before your arrival.

6) Keep your valuables hidden.

A money belt is great if it is an option that you willing to look into. There are many different styles of money belt. One of the most popular is an “over the shoulder” style wallet on a strap that you were underneath your top. This makes it very difficult for a thief to make off with your valuables.

7) Avoid going on your own to remote areas/ruins where tourist would be expected to go. Seek local advice or take a guide.

8) Read the guide books and talk with other tourists to find out which areas are best avoided.

9) When leaving discos late at night take a taxi home no matter how close your hostel is. Outside most discos you'll find a street vendor selling cigarettes. Usually these people know all the taxi drivers and can recommend a safe one.

10) When arriving in a new town, keep to your original plan and stay in the hostel that you have decided on. Don't let the taxi driver persuade you that your hostel is fully booked and that he knows a cheaper and better one. He'll be working on commission and the hostel probably won't be in a safe part of town.

11) Even better, when arriving lane/train in a new city, try to reserve your hotel in advance, preferably with a hotel that has an airport/station collection service.

12) Don't wear expensive looking jewelry.

13) On public transport have your day pack close to you at all times, preferably with the straps around your legs or padlocked to the luggage rack. On buses your backpack will normally go outside, either on top of the roof or in the external luggage compartments. On long distance buses ask for a receipt for your bags. On short rides just keep a careful eye out each time the bus stops to off-load bags. In the event of having your bags stolen, stay with the bus - you will probably require a declaration from the bus company accepting responsibility for the loss in order to claim any money from your insurance company.

14) Leave your valuables in your hotel safe when making day trips or longer tours. Obtain a receipt not just for your money belt/wallet etc. but for its contents, with each item listed.

15) If you have to leave your passport and credits cards together, place the credit card in a sealed envelope and sign your name across the flap. This way when you return you will know that nothing has been tampered with.

16) If planning on going to market areas, crowded streets, fiestas etc. don't go with all your valuables. Leave them in the hotel. If you’re planning on buying something expensive keep your money safely in a money belt. Try to be discreet when opening it! To protect small change in your pockets you can stuff a handkerchief in after.

17) If the pavements are really crowded, especially in market areas, walk in the road.

18) If you suspect someone is following you, stop and stare them in the eye until they go. If you really get a bad feeling about a place, go with your first instincts and leave. Bag slashing is rare nowadays but for added safety you can wear your day pack on your chest.

19) If it's on your back try to walk without stopping. If you need to stop, sway your pack gently from side to side so that you can feel if anyone is tampering with it.

20) When putting your bag down on the floor, to take a photo or just to sit in a café, remember to put your foot through the strap. Not only will it be impossible to snatch, you also won't forget it! This is the most common type of theft - tourists forgetting bags in cafes and on returning to ask if anyone has seen it, you've guessed it, it's gone.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

17 Lanzarote Beaches - Haria

Haria is the most northern of Lanzarotes seven municipalities. It can thank the Sahara Desert and strong winds for what some regard as Lanzarote finest beaches.

The entire coastline is known as Malpaís de la Corona (“badlands”) and is strewn with white and golden sand which mingles intimately with volcanic magma forming small sheltered bays (a number of which are featured in this article), which are ideal for swimming. This preominently rural area harbours many of the natural marvels of Lanzarote such as Jameos del Agua and La Cueva de Los Verdes (See my related article 23xx on these attractions).
Our first of five beaches being reviewed in this area is known as El Caletón Blanco (“The big inlet”) measuring half a kilometre long and 9 m. wide, consisting of fine white sand.

Camping is also permitted on the beach, but you’ll need to get prior municipal approval at the Lanzarote Town Council (Cabildo). There is ample space for parking and the guaguas (autobus) also stops here.

Our second beach is known as El Risco, measuring 845m long and 8m wide and consisting of fine white sand. This beach gets very windy, although Isla Graciosa shelters it to a degree from the rougher seas. It is a 400m climb down (and back up !), so not for the faint hearted. The waves are moderate.

Our third Beach is known as Caleta Caballo, measuring 60 m long and 7m wide and consisting of white sand with pebbles. It is windy with moderate waves offering good conditions for windsurfing. This is accessible by guaguas (autobus).

Our fourth Beach in this area is known as Caleta del Mojón, measuring 100 m long and 13m wide and consisting of fine white sand and picon (the small black lava stones often found in gardens).

Our fifth and final Beach in this area is known as La Garita, measuring 810m long and 5m wide and consisting of fine white/golden sand. Calm waters make this a good practising ground before you take on the stronger waves elsewhere in the area. Unlike the other rural beaches, this one is in a semi-urban area, has a boardwalk and services such as restaurants, refreshment stands, telephones, parking area, washrooms and even a children’s play area. It is accessible by guaguas (autobus).

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