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Italy: a 30,000-Foot View

Posted by on Oct 6, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Past midnight, we are zipping through Rome in the back of a cab, street lights flying by, windows down. It has taken 4 flights to get us to this point, and, after all that time in planes and airport terminals, the outside air feels delicious.

Italy map

In about an hour, we will have checked into our hotel. We will sleep like logs (or maybe like a pair of felled Corinthian columns) our first night in Italy. And that will be even more delicious.

Roma Room

Over the next two weeks, Phillip and I would be traveling from Rome to Venice to the central Italian countryside to Florence and back to Rome. Here’s some of the stuff we were up to.

Colosseum

Rome I

Arrived by: plane – Delta + Ryanair | Lodging: Hotel Roma Room | Food / drinks: Hotel Roma Room + Lettrere Caffè + Locanda Del Gelato

Our first day in Rome, we took a Colosseum tour and visited the Forum and Palatine Hills archaelogical sites.

From there, we walked the length of the Circus Maximus into the Trastevere neighborhood, ate enough apertifs to equal dinner, and then were irresistibly drawn into the gleaming gelato shop across the street.

The next morning we were on a train to Venice.

Bridge of Sighs, Venice

Venice

Arrived by: train – Italo Treno | Lodging: Couzy House in Venice (Airbnb) | Food / drinks: Un Mondo DiVino + Gelato Di Natura (at San Giacomo dall’Orio)

From Venice’s Santa Lucia train station, we lugged our rolling suitcases over stairs and bridges and bridges with stairs to get to the quiet street where our Airbnb apartment was.

Venice bridges

We had timed our visit so we could see both the annual Regata Storica gondola parade and race AND the  premiere of the opera “L’Occasione fa il ladro” at Teatro La Fenice.

Of course, we saw some of the city’s more permanent sights, as well.

Doge's Palace, Venice

At the Doge’s Palace, we wound our way through the ornate apartments, stuffy prison cells, and across the Bridge of Sighs. Afterwards, we went to the Basilica San Marco, craning our necks to marvel at the detail of its ceilings covered in gold mosaics.

Venice Grand Canal

We rode a water bus down the Grand Canal but mostly did a lot of walking and got lost so, so many times.

When we were just starting to maybe get the slightest grasp on getting around, it was time to retrace our path back over stepped bridges towards the edge of Venice – and into a car rental office.

 

Le Marche

Getting there: car rental – Auto Europe | Lodging: La Tavola Marche | Food / drinks: La Tavola Marche + Crazy Bar

Pears in wine

We were already behind schedule when we picked up our cute two-seater Smart car and began the (supposedly) 4-hour drive toward our next stop in the countryside of the Le Marche region.

Of course, it took us longer.

Le Marche

Winding through mountain roads well after dark, we finally arrived at La Tavola Marche, the inn/cooking school/agriturismo where we’d be staying. It’s run by a pair of American expats, chef Jason and marketing-genius Ashley, who have spent the last 10 years immersing themselves in the local culture and cuisine.

The “agriturismo” classification means all the food they serve must come from their own property or the local area. So they have fruit trees, chickens, and a big vegetable garden. We got to check it out the next afternoon, picking tomatoes for our cooking class.

Our last full day there we hiked a bit, and then got to sit back and enjoy a five-course dinner Chef Jason prepared just for two other guests, Phillip, and I.

Piobicco

At checkout time, we packed up our rental car, stopped briefly in the nearby town of Piobocco for postcards and an espresso, and then drove on to Florence.

 

Il Duomo, Florence

Florence

Getting there: car rental – Auto Europe | Lodging: Hotel Ferretti | Food / drinks: Gelateria Vivoli + cafeteria in the Uffizi

Arriving in the city to a tangle of traffic, we were glad to leave our rental car behind and head to the Hotel Ferretti, walking distance from all the sights we were planning to cram into our single-night stay.

We visited the Piazza del Duomo, the Uffizi Gallery, and (lesser-known) Vivoli, a gelateria that’s a contender for having the world’s best gelato.

We were also a short walk from the train station, where Italo Treno would take us back to Rome.

St. Peters ceiling

Rome II

Getting there: Italo Treno | Lodging: Mallory’s Guest House (Airbnb) | Food / drinks: Trattoria Sora Lella

Rome window

This time, we stayed in an apartment building built by our Airbnb host’s great grandfather. It was a lovely place to hang out when we stayed in to rest one rainy morning.

The day before we had wandered through the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. We managed to make into the Vatican Post Office before closing time, so Phillip could check out the stamps.

At some point, we crossed the invisible borderline from Vatican City back into Italy. Instead of going straight to the Metro, we opted to walk by Castel Sant’Angelo (Hadrian’s Tomb) and hop on at the Spanish Steps.

Tiber River in Rome

Our final evening in Rome, we went to dinner on an island in the Tiber River. A couple different locals had recommended Trattoria Sora Lella for authentically Roman food, so we got the tasting menu and savored every forkful.

The next morning we were back in a cab, zipping through city streets on a circuitous route to the airport, grateful for our time in Italy.




We received media passes from Teatro La Fenice and Italo Treno. 

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Virtually Visit Italy

Posted by on Aug 28, 2017 in Travel | 5 comments

If you can’t take a plane to Italy, there are still ways to see the sights from where you are.

Florence Duomo by Petar Milošević • CC BY-SA 4.0

If you can’t take a plane to Italy, there are still ways to see the sights from where you are.

Museums and monuments sometimes have “virtual tours” that allow you to see 3D views of a place and (usually) click to navigate through it – like Google Street View but inside.

A group of Russian photographers has taken incredible 360-degree photographs around the world. You can probably get lost in their site, AirPano, for days. I’ve linked to some of the AirPano pages for Italian cities (below).

Skyline Webcams allows you to search for live camera feeds of public places by country or category (city views, landscapes, etc.) I’ve included a few live cams from Italy in the lists below, but there are lots more on their site.

 

David selfie

Florence

Milan

 

Galleria Umberto, Naples

Naples and Pompeii

Pisa

 

Vatican

Rome and the Vatican

 

regata storica venice http://www.regatastoricavenezia.it/mg.php?fg=2016&pg=2&lang=it

Venice

Where would you like to “travel” to without leaving home?

Happy virtual trails!


*Not mobile friendly.


 

Microblog Mondays: Write in your own space




Photo credits —

  1. Florence (Duomo): Petar Milošević • CC BY-SA 4.0
  2. Florence (David): La Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze
  3. Naples: Italy Guides
  4. Rome: Vatican City State
  5. Venice: Regata Storica
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Make a Plan to See Smithsonian Museums in D.C.

Posted by on Aug 17, 2017 in Travel | 2 comments

Smithsonian visitor center castle

If you’re traveling to Washington D.C. for the first time and your list of things to do includes “see the Smithsonian,” you might be in for a surprise.

The Smithsonian Institution is not a single sight you can check off in an afternoon. It’s a collection of 19 different museums of varying sizes, research centers, gardens, galleries, and a zoo. There’s just way too much stuff to see it all in one trip, let alone a day.

In fact, a couple of the museums aren’t even in D.C., they’re in New York. A few more are scattered throughout the D.C. metro area. However, most of them (13 or so) are clustered right around the National Mall.

I’m calling them the “Mall Smithsonians” for short.

National Mall

In the coming weeks, Phillip will be sharing what it was like inside the Mall Smithsonians he was able to visit during our short D.C. trip – specifically, the American History Museum, Air and Space Museum, and café of the Native American Museum.

But, first, I wanted to give you some practical information about how to tackle the Mall Smithsonians.

Depending on how much time you have, you’ll probably want to pick 1-3 museums and prioritize the parts of each you want to see most. Choosing what you’re interested in is the easy part, though. Figuring out how to get there, when you can go, and where you can eat or find wifi or store your stuff gets a bit more confusing.

So here are some tips to help you make the most of these Mall museums.


DC

6 Things to Know about the Mall Smithsonians

1. Admission is free.

Donations are, of course, accepted and appreciated.

Since you’re not tied to paying a daily entrance fee, you can be more flexible in how you experience the museums.

You don’t have to spend the whole day in one museum…

  • If you’re short on time, stop in for an hour or two. Or just long enough to see whatever you were dying to see before leaving town.
  • If you’re tied up during the day (with business, a conference, or other obligations), check the hours. You may be able to do an evening visit.
  • Go museum hopping, seeing just the exhibits you’re most interested in at each.

You don’t have to see it all in one day…

  • Take your time checking out a museum you’re particularly interested in. Come back the next day if there’s more you want to see.
  • Instead of one long day, break a visit up into two weekday afternoons or weekend mornings, when crowds are typically lighter.
  • Leave when your (or your kid/s, travel companion/s, etc.) energy begins to wane, knowing you can pick up where you left off after a nap, a change in activity, or another day.

There are a few activities that do require free or paid tickets (like the IMAX theaters), but these are the exception rather than the rule.

Smithsonian visitor center castle

2. They’re open daily.

Mall Smithsonians are typically open every day, unless it’s Christmas (December 25) or if they’re closed for renovation.

  • Most have opening hours from 10am to 5:30pm (exceptions below).
  • In addition, some have extended hours on certain days or close early for special events. Double check the Smithsonian Special Hours Calendar to see what’s up before you go.

3. Large bags are not recommended.

  • Some museums (noted below) have storage lockers available for smallish items (like maybe under-your-airplane-seat sized bags).
  • For larger luggage, ask if you can leave it where you are/were staying (most hotels and Airbnbs will allow guests to store luggage before check in or after check out).
  • Otherwise, your best bet is the Tiburon Lockers Baggage Check Counter at Union Station, Gate A ($6/hour). (From there, you can take the DC Circulator to the Mall.)

4. You’ll need to go through security as you enter.

  • Bags will be checked either by hand or X-ray machine, even if you’re planning to store them in a locker.
  • During peak times, this can cause lines, especially at the Air and Space Museum. So, even though you don’t have to pay admission, you may have to wait to get in.

DC Museum cafe

5. Many of the museums have a café or food court.

  • You can also bring your own food for a picnic on the Mall’s lawn or in the Portrait Gallery’s courtyard.
  • As long as everything is sealed up well, you can carry food and water with you in your bag or store it in a locker.
  • Map of food vendors on the National Mall – with menus. Or check the list below.

6. Parking: don’t count on it.

  • None of the Mall Smithsonians have their own designated parking.
  • The Smithsonian Parking Map (PDF) lists other local lots.
  • Consider alternative transportation, like the DC Circulator (which stops near all the Mall-area Smithsonians) or the Metrorail (which has a stop – literally called “Smithsonian” – that exits onto the Mall itself in the middle of a bunch of museums.)

With this in mind, driving (and attempting to park) in the area may be more trouble than it’s worth – unless you need a place to stash your oversized luggage (see #3).

 

Air and Space Museum

Museum by Museum Guide

Here are the Smithsonian museums located around the National Mall listed geographically, roughly west to east – from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol Building (Smithsonian National Mall Map PDF).

I’ve gathered information about each to help you with planning:

  • Nearest Metrorail stop/s and where to exit*
  • Nearest Capital Bikeshare rental station/s and station number/s*
  • Hours (if different than 10am to 5:30pm)
  • Important things to note (closed to the public, requires a timed ticket, etc.)
  • If there are cafés (or food courts, carts, kiosks, etc.), wifi, storage lockers, and/or bike racks on site.
  • Other features (garden, planetarium, etc.)

*More info in our post on transportation tips for the National Mall!
Washington DC

On the Mall –

National Museum of African American History and Culture

1400 Constitution Avenue, NW

  • Metro: Federal Triangle or Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: 15th St & Constitution Ave NW, Bike station 31321
  • Requires timed ticket.
  • Café

National Museum of American History

1300 Constitution Avenue, NW

  • Metro: Federal Triangle or Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: 10th St & Constitution Ave NW, Bike station 31219 or Smithsonian-National Mall / Jefferson Dr & 12th St SW, Bike station 31248
  • Cafés on lower level and 1st floor
  • Wifi in Welcome Center and cafés (free)
  • Lockers available
  • Bike racks outside

National Museum of Natural History

10th St. and Constitution Ave., NW

  • Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: 10th St & Constitution Ave NW, Bike station 31219 or Smithsonian-National Mall / Jefferson Dr & 12th St SW, Bike station 31248
  • Butterfly Pavilion – tickets $6. Free admission on Tuesdays with timed ticket.
  • IMAX Theatre – tickets required (about $9-15/adult).
  • Cafés on ground level, food carts outside
  • Lockers available
  • Bike racks outside (Constitution Avenue entrance)

Freer Gallery of Art (Asian art)

Jefferson Dr. and 12th St., SW

  • Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: USDA / 12th & Independence Ave SW, Bike station 31217 or Smithsonian-National Mall / Jefferson Dr & 12th St SW, Bike station 31248
  • Closed to the public until October 14, 2017.
  • Lockers available

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (Asian art)

1050 Independence Ave., SW

  • Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: Independence Ave & L’Enfant Plaza SW/DOE, Bike station 31633
  • Closed to the public until October 14, 2017.

National Museum of African Art

950 Independence Ave., SW

  • Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: Independence Ave & L’Enfant Plaza SW/DOE, Bike station 31633
  • Lockers available
  • Bike racks outside (between African Art Museum and Sacker Gallery, outside Haupt Garden gates on Independence Avenue)

Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle)

1000 Jefferson Dr., SW

  • Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: Independence Ave & L’Enfant Plaza SW/DOE, Bike station 31633 or Smithsonian-National Mall / Jefferson Dr & 12th St SW, Bike station 31248
  • Smithsonian Visitor Center
  • Daily hours: 8:30am – 5:30pm. It opens earlier than the other museums, so you can start there and get oriented.
  • Café, food carts outside seasonally
  • Wifi (free)
  • Bike racks outside

Hirshhorn Museum (international modern and contemporary art)

Independence Ave. and 7th St., SW

  • Metro: L’Enfant Plaza (Maryland Ave. exit)
  • Bikeshare: L’Enfant Plaza / 7th & C St SW, Bike station 31218 or Independence Ave & L’Enfant Plaza SW/DOE, Bike station 31633
  • Sculpture Garden – open 7:30 a.m. to dusk
  • Café (dessert and coffee)
  • Wifi (free)
  • Lockers available
  • Bike racks outside

National Air and Space Museum

Independence Ave. and 6th St., SW

  • Metro: L’Enfant Plaza (Maryland Ave. exit)
  • Bikeshare: Maryland & Independence Ave SW, Bike station 31243
  • Open until 7:30pm on select dates.
  • Entrances on Independence Avenue and the Mall/Jefferson Avenue. If lines are long at one entrance, try the other.
  • IMAX Theatre – tickets required (about $9-15/adult).
  • Planetarium – tickets required (some shows are free, others may be about $9/adult).
  • Observatory
  • Food Court (First Floor-East Wing), food carts outside
  • Bike racks outside
  • Wifi (free)

National Museum of the American Indian

4th St. & Jefferson Dr., SW

  • Metro: L’Enfant Plaza (Maryland Ave. exit)
  • Bikeshare: Maryland & Independence Ave SW, Bike station 31243
  • Café, espresso bar
  • Wifi (free)
  • Bike racks outside

 

Walking in DC - treasury

Near the Mall –

Renwick Gallery (contemporary craft and decorative art)

1700 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

  • Metro: Farragut West or Farragut North
  • Bikeshare: 17th & G St NW, Bike station 31277
  • Barrier-free access at 17th Street entrance.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery

8th and F Sts., NW

  • Metro: Gallery Place-Chinatown (9th St. exit)
  • Bikeshare: 7th & F St NW/Portrait Gallery, Bike station 31232
  • Both museums are inside the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture.
  • Daily hours: 11:30am – 7pm
  • Kogod Courtyard – bag lunches allowed.
  • Café
  • Wifi (free)
  • Lockers and self-check coat room (near the F Street Lobby) available

National Postal Museum

2 Massachusetts Avenue, NE

  • Metro: Union Station (Mass. Ave. exit)
  • Bikeshare: North Capitol St & F St NW, Bike station 31624
  • Lockers available
  • Bike racks outside

National Mall, Washington DC


Have anything to add? Did you use this on a trip to D.C.? Leave a comment and share your experience!

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National Mall Transportation Tips

Posted by on Aug 11, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Lincoln memorial

The National Mall in Washington D.C. is bigger and more spread out than many first-time visitors expect.

While seeing the sights usually means a lot of walking, you may want to switch it up at some point. Here are a few other transportation options.

 

DC traffic and Washington Monument

Car

Traffic often gets very congested as you get close to the Mall. However, it can be an even bigger challenge to find parking once you get there.

  • Sights around the Mall tend not to have designated parking.
  • You may be able to find street parking, but it’s tricky.
  • There are several parking garages in the area with varying rates.

Car + Metro

  • To avoid the traffic, leave your car at your hotel and take the Metro in.
  • You can also park in Metro lots for about $5/day and pay with your SmarTrip Card.
  • Metro lots are free on weekends and federal holidays!

If you’re still in the trip planning stage, be aware that many of the hotels closer to the Mall charge guests for parking.

DC Metro

Metrorail

Washington D.C.’s Metro (subway/underground) system is a really convenient way to get to and from the National Mall.

Smartrip fare machines dc

Bus

DC Circulator

  • The National Mall route goes from the Lincoln Memorial to Union Station, then around the other side of the Mall and Tidal Basin, back to the Lincoln Memorial.
  • Route maps are available online, as a printable PDF, or via mail. There’s also an interactive map for finding the stop closest to you.
  • Frequency: Every 10 minutes from 7am to 8pm (9am start time on weekends).
  • Fare: $1 per ride. Pay with cash or a SmarTrip Card.
  • Order in advance for a 1-day pass ($3) or 3-day pass ($7).
  • Not a guided tour, just a (cheap) transportation option – although it might be a good way to get at least a visual overview of the Mall.

Big Bus Tours

  • Commentary via recording or live tour guide.
  • 3 different hop-on/hop-off routes available.
  • Tickets: $39-49 for 1 day.
  • Wifi on board.
  • Sightseeing bus recommended by Destination DC.

National mall dc pano

Bicycle

There are bike racks throughout the Mall to lock up your bike while you visit a museum, monument, or gallery.

Rental

You can rent a bike for short rides via Capital Bikeshare.


 

Have you been to D.C.? How did you get around?

National mall sign

– Resources for Finding Your Way in D.C. –

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Navigating Fabulous Las Vegas

Posted by on May 18, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Las Vegas sign

Apparently, it was a big controversy when some Las Vegas casinos started charging for parking.

As long as The Strip had been there, there had been acres and acres on which to park your ride free of charge.

Las Vegas Flamingo

Then MGM decided to charge at all of their properties. Some casinos followed suit, others didn’t, but free parking in Vegas is no longer a given – even for hotel guests.

Las Vegas Strip

Free Parking

  • You can currently still park for free at Tropicana.
  • Parking at Flamingo and Caesar’s Palace is free for the first hour.
  • There is a small lot where you can park at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign for a short amount of time to get a photo of the sign. Enter from southbound Las Vegas Blvd.
  • Many nearby hotels have shuttles that will take you to The Strip, and you can skip parking altogether.

Las Vegas - Mandalay Bay

Transportation on The Strip

Once you’re there, there are several transportation options. Everything is so oversized that it’s farther to walk from one place to another than it may appear.

Bus: $8 for 24 hours (unlimited rides).

  • The Deuce bus route goes the entire length of the Strip up to the Fremont Street Experience in Downtown Las Vegas. It runs 24 hours a day and stops at most hotels.
  • The Strip and Downtown Express (SDX) makes fewer stops and goes farther into Downtown Las Vegas. It runs 9am to midnight.

Monorail: $12 for 24 hours. Runs from MGM Grand to SLS Las Vegas. 7am to at least midnight.

Aria Tram: Free. Runs from the Monte Carlo to Bellagio. 8am to 4am.
Las Vegas sign

– More Vegas Parking and Transit Info –

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