So much research goes into self guided travel…

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I spend hours upon hours pouring over the old Lonely Planet Italy guide book and days  on the internet.

My initial website search on train travel form Venice to Naples led me to believe that I had to wait till 30 days out before booking the midnight train, sleeper car accommodations.  So I did just that.  Now it seems that the midnight direct train no longer exists.   Crap.  Our lodgings in Venice, Ischia and Rome are already booked and there is a gap of July 3rd with no place to stay.  What to do?  Do we try to extend our stay in Venice if possible, spend a night in Naples or see if we can arrive a day earlier at our hotel in Ischia? I went  into scramble mode.  First Jene said he would try to book Ischia for the additional day yesterday, but weary from working 14 hour days, it completely slipped his mind.   Back and forth on whether to stay in Venice an extra day or book an overnight in Naples.  We opted for Naples (since that’s where we must go to tour Pompeii, etc).  So that’s done, phew!  Next: I booked our train travel:Venice to Naples/ Naples to Rome

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In my www perusing, I came upon a more economical way to get from Naples to Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius and Herculaneum – by commuter train (Circumvesuivian) from the Stazione Centrale.  I’ve read reviews from other travelers.  It’s a graffiti clad old train full of pocket- picking gypsies so traveler beware.  Other than being a little seedy,  I’m sure  it’s fine.  One traveler’s review said that descending the stairs at the station to the Circumvesuivian’s lower platform was like going from heaven to hell.   Pick-pocketers are everywhere and yes befuddled tourists are their main targets.  (Jene’s wallet was lifted in an internet cafe in St. Petersburg).  We certainly won’t put the girls in harm’s way.  Spending 400-500 Euro for a private tour ride plus entrance fees seems like highway robbery to me.  I’d rather take my chances with the pickpockets, at least they entertain you with music as they steal from you.

Because we waited on line for 2 hours without moving up to see the David when we were in Florence in Oct. 2006, we never got in to see the David, group tours were allowed access with a short wait).  We believe that it has become necessary to book tours in the eternal city in the height of the summer tourist season.  So which one?  More hours on the internet reading about different guided tour companies and reviews, comparing prices.  Most of which don’t include the price of admission to the attractions.  (Please let me hit the lottery for big bucks).  But in reading recent reviews about “fast trak” tickets, people were saying that the “fast trak” line was longer than the regular ticket line.  So, I/m a bit perplexed.  I’d hate to spend additional money just to wait in a longer line

So what have I done so far:  Not much!  Flights, all accommodations are booked, train travel between Venice /Naples and Naples/Rome.  I have ferry schedules and early morning check-outs to make our connections.  In the process of booking a 2 hour painting mini course for me and the girls at Ca’Macana .

_MG_0114Me, I’m looking forward to my morning coffee in Venice.  I can almost taste the robust (but not bitter) taste of it’s richness.

Aside from the mask making course and hand painting, we will do the touristy things:  St. Mark’s, a gondola ride on the Grand Canal, glass making tour on Murano Island.  Jene and I had been to Venice once before and I hope we can find the little local restaurant that we ate at twice.

It is a glorious world and I want them to know that it is open to them.  12 days and counting…





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It’s been 1-1/2 years since our last trip…

I must be slipping…  How did I let that happen?  Why did I let that happen?  The why is easier to answer.  Why –  life sometimes gets in the way = lack of money.  We are saving for our grandaughter’s sweet 16 BD vacation.    Sara turned 16 this past Xmas and like Rose before her, she got to choose anyway in the world that she wanted to go.  Her choice – ITALY.  And so it begins, the planning stage is underway.  2 weeks: 2 travel days and 3 cities in 12 days.  The flights are booked for the end of their school year.  We will fly nonstop to Venice, take a train to Naples, ferry over to Ischia.  Ferry back to Naples and take a train to Rome.  Nonstop flight home from there.  So much to do and see and so little time to do it in.

Sara loves history and in Italy it’s around every turn and corner.  It’ll be my 4th trip and Jene’s second.  We will be revisiting some of the places we’ve been before but with 2 teenage girls the experience will be somewhat different.

Our first time in Venice, I opted out of what I considered an unnecessary expense, an overpriced 1 hour gondola ride on the crowded grand canal.  But this time, if the girls want to, I will give them the experience.  Because of time constraints and lack of knowledge we didn’t have time to arrange Venetian mask painting classes at one of the two places that still make the masks of papier mache.  Now we know better and we will book a spot for the 4 of us.

While in Ischia, if the girls want to go snorkeling we will arrange that.  Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius and Herculaneum bare places of interest.  If the tides and weather permit, we will ferry over to the Blue Grotto in Capri or at least spend a day on that island.


Rome, we will retrace our steps to the all the main attractions.

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I have spent days upon days researching on the internet, reading reviews on TripAdvisor, looking for deals (there are none, this is Italy at the height of the travel season).  My preference has always been to travel off season to get value for my dollar. However when you travel with kids, you do so within the constraints of the school year.  You find yourself in the midst of throngs of tourists and very long queues to each popular attraction.  That’s just the way it goes and I am resigning myself to be a part of the masses.

I put an itinerary together for them to peruse so that Sara can say yay or nay.  After all , it’s her birthday gift and I want it to be a trip she will remember forever.

20 days and counting.  Our lodgings are booked but if seems that the midnight train from Venice to Naples in no longer on Trentitalia or EuroRails train schedule.




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Fleeing winter

Winters take a toll on us, especially as we get older and so although we were originally planning a road trip to the Florida Keys, an invitation to spend a few weeks in Hawaii won out.

This trip we decided to fly into San Francisco, rent a car and spend a few days in Mendocino with my long time friends, Denise and Ken.  We hadn’t been to that area in 4 years.  It was a long travel day and Denise greeted us with a hot bowl of kale soup.

Days were quiet and laid back.  We gathered beach glass for my granddaughter, walked the headlands, strolled shops and galleries in Ft Bragg, ate, shared bottles of wine, laughter and watched the sunset from the deck.  Perfect!

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Next stop – the Big Island.  This was our 4th trip there, I guess the perfect weather 84 degrees and sunshine is the main reason for the return trip.

Relaxing at Hapuna beach, taking rides into Kona, Waimea and other beaches along the way.  I did cook a few nights for the 4 of us. The evenings found us sitting by the pool looking up at the sky glistening with stars.


surf lookout… checking out the waves and calling surfers

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We went to some of our favorite restaurants The Blue Dragon for chicken and savory waffles, Pau in Waimea for lunch and found a new cafe in Hawi called “local dish”  A little pricey but so-o-o-o-o worth it.  I had an avocado gazpacho soup and half sandwich.  The soup was so delectable that I bought 2 containers to take home for another day.

After 2 weeks on the Big Island we flew to Maui and stayed a few days at The Bicycle Inn on the north shore (on the Road to Hana).  The “surfer” town of Paia is a throw back to the 60’s.  We relaxed, ate and enjoyed the island sites.


full moon – from the deck of the Bicycle Inn

Took the famous Road to Hana drive, stopping at various waterfalls, hiking through a local farmers property.

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We watched surfers on various beaches and soaked up some sunshine.

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On the way home we spent a few days in Venice Beach with Jene’s friends, Bill and Judy.  It was a pleasure getting to know them.  Rented a car and toured the area where Jene used to live, the beaches and The Getty Museum.  Ate, drank and were merry.





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homeward bound



On our return, we stopped to see the Giant Talking Penguin statue in Cut Bank, Montana off Rt 2, which claims to be one of the coldest places in America.  Trying to find places of interest on Roadside America’s website.  Just to make the trip a little quirky.

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Jene inadvertently snapped off my windshield wiper while cleaning the windshield when we stopped for gas.  A temporary quick fix with rubber bands led us to an auto parts store where I struck up a conversion with a local customer, who asked what are we doing in these parts (White Surfur Springs).  Somehow we got on the subject of old cars and I mentioned that originally we were going to take the ’70 Courgar XR7,  Wes has more than a 1/2 dozen classics and he had us follow him to various garages where they are kept.  Jene was just as thrilled as he was to talk.  He recommended that we stop off in the quaint town of Big Timber, Montana for the night . Searching the internet Jene found The haunted Grand Hotel.  The Grand is a 1800’s Victorian, old western hotel.  I half expected to see Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty at the saloon. (Great food too)


The Town of Big Timber

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Custer’s Last Stand in Crow Agency off of Rt 90 in Big Horn, Montana was interesting.  And then to Casper, WY for the night at a somewhat seedy National 9 Showboat Motel.  (Slim pickin’s).  Such a lose/lose situation.  When word got back to the east that Custer and his men died, the Indians were displaced and gold diggers got the rights to the land (some things in this country never change).

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Day 38 and it appears that the song of the day will once again be “Windshield Wipers Slappin Time… Bobbie McGee”  Rain and grey skies.   Jene is so over spending any length of time in the car even with breaks to gas up, have lunch and stretch our legs.  Me, all I want to do is get home quickly.  The middle of the country is nothing but flat farmland as far as the eye can see.  Finally in Nebraska, the skies cleared and we spent the night in North Platt at the Knight’s Inn.  Stopped at a local tourist trap called The Golden Spike. A visitors center and rail yard for Union Pacific.  The actual golden spike happens to reside in Provo, Utah (the end of the line).  The tower which was buit at the rail yard in the 1960s to commemorate the laying of the rails was supposed to be painted gold but due to budget concerns, it remains white.  I sat in the lobby while Jene paid the admission fee to get a view of the rail yard from above.

On the road again… Des Moines, Iowa we laid on heads down at the Baymont Inn.  We donned our swimsuits and headed down the hall to the indoor pool and jacuzzi.  The hottub was cold and the pool water was warm.  Humph!

How far will we get is the question of the day.  I cheer as we cross another state line.  Corn and wheat fields to the right and left as the miles are clocked on the car.  We passed Gary, Indiana, couldn’t find anyplace to stay in South Bend (a Notre Dame game this weekend). Settled for a Travel Inn in Howe, Indiana (wherever that is?)  Close to the Ohio border.

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Do we push on and make for home by 10- 11 pm or play it safe and stop at the Roadside Motel in Clearfield, PA.  We stopped after seeing several deer carcasses on the side of the road.  Didn’t want to take any chances on the darkened highway.  One more night and then home sweet home.

This road trip was going to be within a set budget but with only camping for 8 nights out of 56 we broke the bank.  Rarely did we find lodgings for under $80.  Most were upward of $100 to $180 (some of which were motel 6 type of accomodations).  It’s only money and some experiences were priceless.

But oh Auntie Em – there’s no place like home.

The holidays were closing in on us quickly – Thanksgiving was just around the corner and the then the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping.  Jene’s boss wanted us to come out to his house in Hawaii in January.


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Bryce Canyon and then some

A short drive to Byrce and we found a campsite on the outskirts of the National Park called Ruby’s campgrounds and we managed to stay in an authentic tepee.  How cool is that.  We are now at 7000 foot elevation so the heat of the previous weeks have dissapated.  Time to layer the clothes.  Bryce is not unlike the Grand Canyon with many hoo doos (spire columns)  We drove to the natural bridge when it started to rain and we hurried back to our site to make dinner before the skies really opened up.  Hotdogs, pork and beans and canned corn – standard campers fare.


Bryce Canyon

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The rains came, ugh! – an authentic tepee has an opening at the top…  drip, drip, drip.  We moved our air mattress to one side and pulled a tarp over us when we bedded down so that at least we stayed dry.  In the morning I went to the office and got towels to mop the puddles on the canvas floor.  With more rain in our forecast, we set up our tent inside the tepee. Necessity is the mother of invention.

(Pleasant surprise, we stopped along the way in Beaver, UT for lunch at the Timberline Restaurant.  OMG, I had the most delicious french dip sandwich EVER and Jene had a scrumptious chicken and avocado sandwich).

Next stop – Yellowstone,  we were there on our last road trip, camping in the park.  On our way, we were in search of the elusive golden aspens.  I say elusive because on our 1st RR trip cross country, we were too late, then our 1st camping trip, we were too early.  They say the third time is a charm and we found a trove of glistening yellow and orange leaves quivering in the breeze.




Summer folded into autumn and all the campsites were closed except for a few in Mammouth Hot Springs so we stayed at the Angler’s Lodge outside the park.  What a lovely place, overlooking Park Island, Idaho.  Luxury log cabin room ($167 per night)  on the corner with sweeping views of the river and meadow.

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Jene went in search of more aspens that we had seen along the way and was hoping to get the warm light of the sunset.  I wanted some riverside sunsets.  We both had fish dinners at their restaurant which was good but not great.

We spanned 3 states to reach Yellowstone National Park (Idaho, Montana and Wyoming).  A mere 40-45 minute haul.  We saw grazing bison, Old Faithful, geyser pools and vents and a bull elk sitting by the side of the road.


Falls at Yellowstone National Park


Ol’ Faithful Geyser



The Glacier Red Bus runs through the park


The next night we ate at a neighboring restaurant, The Trout Hunter’s Lodge – Last Chance Bar & Grill where all the locals hang out and it was superb.  I had an elk burger with huckleberry jam, tomatoes, grilled onions, lettuce, blu cheese on the side and sweet potato fries, Jene had a tender steak fillet with truffle fires that were to die for.  We complimented the chef, Andy and chatted for a few minutes while he took a break.

The next day we headed north – a hop, skip and a jump to the western end of Yellowstone. and stayed at The Moose Lodge.  Spent the day at Mammouth Hot Springs,  the drive was long since the direct route was closed for reconstruction.


Mammouth Hot Springs

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The end of our trip is near, Glacier National Park, we stayed in Kalispell’s Motel 6.   We whizzed passed Flat Head Lake which was enormous.  

Overcast weather, flat lighting and very few glaciers to be seen.  I was disappointed in it.  Going to the Sun Road was closed at the half way point, also due to construction.  The inns and cabins had closed for the season.



Lake McDonald reflections on a cloudy day

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If we had thought about it, we would have carried  our passports along and headed up through Canada to cross the Rockies as a scenic route home.  DUH

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Heading North to Coral Pink Sand Dunes and Zion

Coral Pink Sand Dunes is a state park in Kanab, UT.  Never heard of it (neither had we).  But it was on our way to Zion and Bryce Canyons so we thought why not.  This part of the country is so vast and the terrain changes dramatically as we travel.  Flat grassy areas morph into rugged peaks and lush valleys.  Mounds of sandstone sculpted into various shapes and colors.  Blue grey hues from volcanic ash striped with reddish browns and sandstones that merged together oven ions of time.

Coral Pink Sund Dunes State Pk, UT

Coral Pink Sund Dunes State Pk, UT

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What we found was dune buggy heaven, not the stripped down VW versions of years gone by but $35,000+ jacked upped versions.  All decked out with LED lites that sparkled like stars in the night.  The campsite was full of hugh RVs pulling trailers.  Dusk set in, we drove to an observation deck as a caravan of buggies took to the dunes disappearing over the mounds.  Vroom, vroom.  

The dust settled, night fell – the milky way and constellations splayed out above our heads.  We searched the heavens for shooting stars.  We stayed 3 nights.

Then drove an hour to Zion.  Zion with it’s majestic towering shards of red and sandstone.  Jene and I hiked  a 1+ mile Riverside trail.  He went 9/10ths of the way and I continued waded knee deep in the Virginia River.  I wanted to continue to The Narrows but didn’t want to cause Jene any undue concern that I would attempt swimming in the swift currents trying to hold my camera out of the water.  Should have brought my GoPro instead of lugging my Canon Mark II5D  We enjoyed a picnic lunch on the edge of the river.

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The next day we went back to Zion.  If there’s one feeling I left with about Zion is that only in person can you visualize the magnitude of the sheer cliffs as they jut upward to the sky.  We did another hike to the emerald pools.  Which had there been more rain, may have been worth the plodding up and down the trail for 3+ miles in the heat of the day.


Emerald Pools

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Of course I wanted to see the sunrise but the fog rolled in.  We drove from one overlook to another waiting for the mist to lift.

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Antelope Slots Canyon…a picture’s worth a thousand words

and being there was priceless.  A place where time stood still and where mother nature was in her glory.

Antelope Slots Canyon

Antelope Slots Canyon
















This was a highlight of our trip, a destination that I longed to experience for years.  They offer 2 types of tours, a rushed walk through point and shoot and a photographers’ tour (35mm camera and tripod required) that was more leisurely.  We chose the latter.  With just 2 other people and our Navajo guide from Chief Tsosie tours, who ushered us around the hordes of visitors, leaving us a few shots without the crowds in our images.  What a magical place.

Walking through ever-changing sandstone swirls, sculpted by flash floods and winds was simply awesome.

We also learned about the plight that still exists on reservations.  The power plant that is on native american soil does not supply 1 iota of electricity to the tribes.  Same goes for the water supply, they rely on well water, so droughts negatively effect their agriculture and daily lives.  Tourism is a big portion of their existence and the 2 tour agencies are Navajo owned and operated.

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