Day 16, 17

Day 16 found us relaxing poolside at the Villa where we are staying and doing a little shopping in the cooler evening air of Sorrento. This little city comes to life after sunset and there are a myriad of shops tucked away in the back streets just waiting to be explored. Gelato was of course the main event of the evening. There is nothing better than enjoying the cool and delicious flavors of this creamy delight as you walk slowly and without direction through the crowds of any Italian town. But this night with our dear friends, it was even more enjoyable.

Day 17 proved to be one of the most breathtaking of all our days in Italy. We have said over and over again how hard it is to decide which of the many activities to do. This coupled with our time quickly coming to an end in Sorrento caused us to look for ways to combine as many of the activities together as possible. We still wanted to go to Capri, Positano and Amalfi and capture the spender and awe of this beautiful coastline. We also knew we didn’t have enough time to do them all by car and Capri was only accessible by boat.

We searched online and found the perfect solution. For 39 Euros you can catch a sightseeing boat at the docks or port of Sorrento. It is called the Blue Mini Cruise and combined all of our dreams into one perfect package. One thing we failed to gather from our online research was exactly when the boat departed. From what we could surmise is that it was around or just after 8am and it returned around 5:30pm. When we arrived at the ticket counter the window to the cruise we had seen online was not open but the one next to it was. We inquired about the cruise and the gentleman gave us literature on a similar cruise going to the exact same places but was only 24 Euros per person. After checking out the boat, making sure we weren’t going to be on a world war two tugboat, we purchased the tickets and with a few extra dollars and time to spare before departure we explored the local venders selling their goods to the tourists. We picked up some water and other needed supplies and then headed for our boat.

The boat had about 50 or more reclining chairs like you would find poolside. Some of them on top with full access to the bright, hot Amalfi sun, while others around the main deck and with full or partial, yet much needed shade. Even with good seating location of partial shade, I turned a bright shade myself by the end of the day. I was not quite as diligent with the application of sunscreen as my wife and daughter.

Our first stop was to the isle of Capri. I swear that no mater the depth, you can always see to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea and it is the most beautiful blue. However is was a bit choppy and both Michelle and Marissa felt every wave and despite their preplanning for sea sickness both felt the effects before we arrived at Capri. Capri is really two giant rocks jetting straight way out of the sea and is spectacular upon approach. The plan here wasn’t to dock and explore but to merely enjoy the cool waters near the white cave or Grotto. Of course Capri is most famous for its Blue Grotto and we had thought long and hard about visiting this marvel but opted to skip it this time after hearing from others that it is beautiful, but you are so rushed in and out it is hardly worth the cost. So from the coast the boatload jumped in the water for a much welcomed cool dip among the cliffs and caves of this island paradise.

After the swim we headed off to port of Positano. While sailing to this enchanting port we passed by Nerano Bay and the “Li Galli”, also known as the mermaids island. At Positano you had your choice to debark here for two and a half hours and explore or continue on to the port of Amalfi. I had my sights set on Amalfi, but my two sea weary companions needed dry land so we gathered our items to get ready to explore but failed to do so quick enough. Note for next time… Be ready to hop off as soon as the ship docks. The time allowed seems more like seconds than minutes. Either way, we weren’t ready and I got my wish as we sailed on to Amalfi.

I will have to say that approaching both Positano and Amalfi from the water as was done in years gone by when this was the only way to visit these ancient maritime Republics is, in my opinion, the only way to really capture their grandeur. We did our best to try and capture the magnificence in pictures but it truly has to be seen in person to get the full effect. To see more pictures you can visit our facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Have-Kids-Will-Travel/115869822169. Both ports are breathtaking and the buildings, something out of an enchanted fairy book story. As we walked the streets of Amalfi we imagined the painstaking task of building these towns on shear rock, which explodes out of the sea straight up to the sky.

After a little more than an hour, admiring the shops and finding a few bargains and again seeing if the gelato is any better here, we headed back to the ship for our ride back to Sorrento. The sun was a bit lower and was perfectly set on the side of the mountains which popped the colors of the building like never before. A quick stop to pick up those who stayed in Positano provided yet another chance to capture the city at a different angel and better lighting.

Arriving home the day was long but well worth the money and time spent. By the way, lunch on the boat was not only extremely affordable but very good as well, with several choices of sandwiches, salads or pasta all around 4 Euro each. A quick swim in the pool at the Villa to cool down was the perfect ending to a perfect day. 

Day 15

I find it fascinating how connected the royal and ruling families of Europe were. At Schonbrunn we were reminded that Marie Antoinette’s mother was Empress Maria Theresia of Austria and today at the Caserta Palace we see how each ruler tried to outdo each other in their palaces. 

The Caserta Palace was created by the Bourbon king Charles III in the mid-18th century. His goal was to rival the Palace at Versailles and the Royal Palace in Madrid. As for the inside of the palace I believe he succeeded. This is a magnificent very stately palace and is very tastefully built with 1200 rooms. I think the most impressive part of the palace is the entryway of 116 steps all carved from one giant block of stone.  The gardens however, though immense are not as beautiful as Versailles but are still magnificent with a huge waterfall about 2 miles from the main palace feeding into a fountain of Diana and Acteaon. It then flows into the dolphin fountain, down through the “fish pond”, which is where mock sea battles were performed for the royal court. The Bosco Vecchio is where it all ends up and was built as the “little castle” and a playhouse for the Bourbon princes.

We drove to Caserta although you could take a 45-minute train from Naples central station. It is mostly visited by Italian tourists and isn’t on most Americans list, but it is a must see if you are in the Naples area. Make sure you visit however during the week, as the weekend gets very busy. They offer special pricing for students who are from the European Union countries only but when asked they gave us the discount as well. Make sure you have your walking shoes on if you are going to walk the gardens, but for those of you who are unable to travel the distance by foot they have shuttle busses that only cost 1 Euro per person. I recommend walking up and riding back as you will gain a greater appreciation of how expansive these gardens are. 

Days 13 & 14

Sorrento is beautiful to say the least but very interesting and tricky to drive to. We headed south from Florence and kept to the freeway so that we could make good time due to the distance we needed to travel. It about killed me not to stop at the incredible hill towns and different places we saw on our way. The fields of sunflowers and cities that looked like they were an extension of the rock base they sat on, tempted me at every turn. The ride was both beautiful and uneventful until we turned off the E45 into the town of castellammare di stabia. From here the ride really got interesting. It appeared that they were having a garbage strike as garbage was piled up everywhere and on top of that they had no sidewalks so everyone was walking in the same streets as the cars and the ten million motorcycles and scooters who drive where ever they want. Once we made it through that city we wound our way around the side of the mountains along the coast. It winds through tunnels, towns and along cliffs that make you appear you are hanging off the edge of the world. The small towns were the toughest to work your way through as the roads were very narrow and the traffic was heavy, but we managed our way through. Michelle has learned to just close her eyes and tries not to scream too much.

Sorrento is gorgeous and is on the other side of the mountain from Amalfi. From here you have good access to Capri, the Blue Grotto, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Amalfi and so much more. Trying to decide which of the many option you have will probably be your hardest decision but don’t forget to just sit back, relax and take it all in. Pick up some lemons and make some lemonade while you forget about any cares of the world. While checking out the lemons you will find some extremely large ones, some about the size of a Childs head.

Our first outing was to Pompeii. The easiest way to get there is by train. 2.10 Euro drops you off only steps away from the entrance and beats fighting the traffic we described earlier. Pompeii is much larger than I expected so be prepared to do some walking. You can get a good walking tour map online or even get an app for your iPhone or iPod, man I’ve learned to love iPod apps while on this trip. You can also get private tours from guides at each place, they run about 10 Euro per person. Keep in mind it is very open and gets very hot. If you have little kids they will get worn out quickly under the sun. We were very lucky and went on a day that was overcast and had a few welcomed sprinkles, these are rare this time of year so bring the sunscreen or an umbrella to provide your own shade. Despite the heat, it is well worth it and if you begin early you can get both Pompeii and Herculaneum in on the same day. (just keep in mind it could be a long hot day)

Days12, 13

The apartment we arranged through our Homespun Hospitality site was perfect. Situated close to downtown and located under a grocery store, this cute well maintained apartment is a perfect place to set up camp on your next trip to Florence. It sleeps 4 and has a full kitchen, large bathroom and is air-conditioned. Having the grocery store just above you is perfect as we bought our food for the next few days for about half the cost of one meal out. The first thing we did was to go into the center of town and do a little shopping and exploring. The open market is huge and is a great place to pick up those few special trinkets to remind you of your stay in Italy. We also found an Internet café as neither the farmhouse nor the apartment had Internet.

It seems that on this trip we have been doing deserts before dinner and enjoyed some delicious Gelato first before heading home to make dinner.  We decided it was time for hamburgers, so we purchased form Italian sausage and hamburger and mixed it all together with herbs, olive oil and some balsamic to make a delicious Italian hamburger toped with fresh tomatoes, lettuce.

On Sunday, after a good night sleep we decided to find a church nearby to attend. It is always fun to attend church in different counties. You may not be able to understand everything, but it is a good place to be and to meet others who can help direct you to new and interesting places to visit that you may not have thought of. Before we arrived we looked for some places to provide some humanitarian service but had a hard time finding any. While at church we met a lady who told us about two places we will add to our humanitarian portion of Homespun Hospitality and which we will go to next time when we can better arrange it.

We finished the day by exploring more of Florence and enjoying the warm sun and beautiful day. 

Days 11, 12

Of all of the places we have stayed in Italy, Capezzana has to be our favorite. I’m not sure if its the quite out of the way location, the wonderful memories and friendships we developed over the years or simply a combination of the all, but this place holds a certain magic for our family. Set in the Tuscan hills just outside Florence among olive groves and vineyards the main villa is the home of the Count and Countess Bonacossi. The villa dates back to the Medici family as it was originally built for one of their daughters. On our first stay here a few years ago we rented from the daughter and son in-law of the Bonaccosi’s in their 600-year-old restored farmhouse. Since that time, Saundra, their daughter passed away and Marcello has moved from their home in Florence into the farmhouse so we rented a farmhouse directly from the Villa just down the road from where we stayed previously. I was surprised how quickly everything came back to our memory. The roads, buildings and landmarks all came flooding back as we wound our way through the narrow roads of the region of Carmignano in Tuscany.

Because we were planning on visiting Florence on Saturday and Sunday we just took this time to relax and unwind in Capezzana from the nonstop adventures and there is no better place to do this. Here we became real Italians, in no rush just living life and even taking a nap in the afternoon while the rain fell outside. We also renewed old friendships with Marcello and his family and simply recharged our batteries.

Two days wasn’t enough at the farmhouse but was all we could do this trip through. On this trip we wanted to stay in an apartment that is listed on our new accommodation site, www.homespunhospitality.com

As we have traveled around the world we have found three ways to drastically reduce or even eliminate the cost of accommodations. Originally we looked at home exchanges, but soon discovered a little known opportunity of hospitality exchange and then also inexpensive rentals. The problem we encountered however was finding a place where all of these elements come together and provide an easy way to search for whatever works best for you. Homespun Hospitality is this kind of site. First of all we created this site with three different search options, home exchange, hospitality exchange and vacation rentals. Second we made the decision to keep this site free for everyone to use whether you are listing or searching. This is in hope to create the largest accommodation site on the Internet allowing the most options to the most number of people.


Day 8 – 9

Day 8 was a travel day. We slept in and got some much needed rest and then packed up for our flight to Milan. Flying around Europe is both easy and cheap. With discount airlines like Ryan Air and Easy Jet, the bigger airlines have been forced to compete in a very crowded European market. Our Lufthansa flight from Prague was only $38 and they also didn’t charge us for our checked bags and gave us lunch. Makes you really wonder about US airlines. We landed in Milan and rented our car, a supposed 5 passenger with luggage space for 4. Because our oldest daughter and her husband flew to Paris we only had 4 of us and figured a smaller car would work just fine. It did, but it was a tight fit. On our way to Venice we stopped off in Verona where the story of Romeo and Juliet was set, but the tomb of Juliet was closed, so we had to settle for a few pictures through the gate.

We were also hungry and so our first meal in Italy was Mexican. We found a great little Mexican restaurant on the corner and it sounded good to everyone, so viva la Italiano. We arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Piave in Mestre late and had the wonderful surprise of an upgrade to a Jr. Suite at no additional charge. The Hotel Piave is located near the centre of Mestre and was very close to a bus stop that could take us into Venice. We prefer to stay in Mestre because the prices are much better than in Venice. This was a quaint older hotel but very clean and well maintained. 1.20 Euro gets you into Venice by bus and from there you can explore until your hearts content.

Day 9 was spent both in Venice and Murano. Venice is such a romantic city. Michelle and I will really have to come back just the two of us. We were told that Venice is really struggling for money, which surprised me because it was packed with tourists. But I guess they are still coming but not spending as much while there so it seemed like the whole city was on sale. In fact, we write in our book, Have Kids – Will Travel that it is best to wait to buy Murano glass items until you go the island of Murano. But this time around Venice had as good if not better prices on many of the items we wanted. I think we took a little too much advantage of the low prices while walking around today.

Getting around is easy. You can wind your way through the narrow passageways, which is my favorite way or you can take the waterbuses. We did a little of both, but I think we did more walking than riding, or at least that is what my feet were telling me when we were done. We stayed all day and had a wonderful dinner nearby the Rialto Bridge. A good note to remember, if you buy you food to go in Italy, it is one price. If you sit and eat at the same place it will cost more, but keep in mind that does include the tip. After a long day of walking in new sandals, it was well worth the small extra price to sit.

Tonight we enjoy the comfort of our room and tomorrow we head to Florence. We are staying just outside of Florence in Capazzana. This is where we stayed on our frist trip to Italy. It will be good to renew old friendships and just relax among the vineyards and olive groves. 

Day 7

As with all of our destinations we were quite sad to leave Vienna, mainly because there was so much more to see. This however only gives us more reason to return. We drove back to Prague stopping at the Bone Church in Kutna Hora and the Karlstejn Castle. The bone church was very interesting. It is decorated with the bones of the people who died during the Plague. There are tens of thousands of bones creating chandeliers, wall creations and more. Probably the best part was meeting a young couple that has spent 10 months traveling through Asia and Europe and just talking about travel.

Note to self… The Karlstejn Castle is closed on Mondays. This castle is just 15 minutes from the Prague airport by car. The castle is magnificently set on a hill overlooking the very small town of Karlstejn. Because the castle was closed most everything else was too, so we walked around and took beautiful pictures. The drive there and back was also beautiful as we drove through the countryside and small villages into the mountains.

We then returned to the Marriott Courtyard where we had two free rooms waiting for us. Prague airport is very interesting. It isn’t a big airport but had great facilities and even a grocery store, which we used to buy items for breakfast. We then relaxed for the evening and got ready for our flight out the next day to Milan Italy.

We really have jumped around more on this trip than we usually do, trying new things as far as accommodations and such. Probably the best tip we could give you for both Czech and Austria is to get a place where you can fix your own meals. Restaurants weren’t too bad, but with six people it still adds up. Groceries were very reasonable and in the Czech I believe they were even less than in the US.

See you in Italy!

Day 6

We began the day at the Spanish Riding School watching the most magnificent horses perform. The Lipizzaner horses are among the most beautiful in the world and when Marissa  found out we were going to be in Vienna and could watch them, she had to go. The show was magnificent. I grew up training horses and couldn’t believe the discipline and training that has gone into this Lipizzaner performance. There are several ticket choices from the very expensive, for the upfront and personal view, to standing tickets for 26 Euro, which is what we got. Also there were only three of us who went, Marissa, my son in-law and myself. I would also recommend purchasing them no later than the day before and preferably online well before the show. There are only limited shows and they sell out quick.

After the show we met up with the rest of our crew and went to the Shonbrunn Palace, which was only a few blocks from our hotel. This was the summer home to the Imperial family who ruled Europe. As mentioned in our last blog Prague had a very old Europe, medieval feel while Vienna had an imperial high class feel to it. The Imperial family built palaces throughout the region of grand elegance and this palace was no exception. It had a similar feel to the Versailles with grand rooms and incredible grounds that now house a zoo. There is a cost to get in the Palace but it includes an audio tour, which is amazing. The fee also includes the maze and entrance to the top of the building on the hill behind the palace.

After the Visit to the Palace we took the metro beck into town where we had the most incredible Apple Strudel at the Café Sperl a very old authentic café. We made it just in time for the last four pieces and devoured them before the waitress could bring us our water. They didn’t serve dinner there so after our desert we slipped into a wonderful noodle café and had Thai noodles and Pa-Thai and everyone was full and very happy.

As mentioned before, everywhere you go someone is trying to sell you a performance. Keep in mind you are in the land of Mozart and Strauss and it would almost be a crime not to see a performance while here. We negotiated what we thought was a good price for both a Mozart and Strauss concert. It was to take place in the concert hall that is part of the Hofburg Palace in the place where Mozart had his first performance with his father and sister.  The concert was very nice, but it was over sold by the salesman who was telling us about the number of people in the orchestra etc. For the price is was a great night of culture in the city of culture.

Tomorrow we leave Vienna and travel back to Prague with a few stops along the way to see more of the Czech countryside. 

Day 5

When planning this trip we hadn’t planned on coming to Vienna but we were told by many, that it was their favorite city and was even more beautiful than Prague. After seeing pictures of Prague I couldn’t believe that could be possible so we had to see for ourselves.  Now having seen both, I can see why people love it so. The architecture and feel is much different however from Prague. Prague has an older more rustic kingdom type feel to it, where Vienna has a more majestic monarch or imperial feel. Instead of castles, you have palaces and Vienna also has a more metropolitan feel to it. Both are incredible and both should be on your list to visit.

Over the years we have had about 14 or so exchange students. Our second one was Milena from Germany. We have kept in contact with them all over the years and found out that she had moved to Vienna to go to school. We had the privilege today in reuniting with her and spending the afternoon catching up on her life and having her be our tour guide for this beautiful city. It was interesting to note that she was Marissa’s age when she first came to visit our family 10 years ago. Also her family was the first hospitality exchange we had done in Europe and were the inspiration behind our new site www.homespunhospitality.com.

Vienna has an incredible metro transportation system and I recommend getting the 24-hour pass, which cost 5 Euro and allows you full access. It is very clean and very easy to use. You pop up out of any station and your mouth drops at yet another Palace or Opera house or the magnificent Cathedral or church. One thing we found was that on ever corner, no, every 10 feet there is someone there to sell you tickets to a performance. Negotiation is the key here and walk away if you feel they are working the deal too hard. They will tell you that they only have a few seats left and if you wait you wont get any by each other. We waited, got a better deal and tomorrow we will find out if there was any problems with sitting in the seats we were assigned. We ended up with tickets to The Best of Mozart and Strauss in the Hofburg Palace for 20 Euro each. Marissa, Tim and I are also going to see the Lipizzaner Stallion performance in the morning. Marissa loves horses and is so excited to see these magnificent horses in action.

Most of the day was spent exploring, and just taking in the city. We are so glad we added it to our itinerary, it was well worth the small side trip. Oh and the free hotel at the Marriott was not a bad price as well.