Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Mobile phone use while in Europe

I learned a bit back that my Aldi mobile plan doesn't do roaming. So I've been keeping half an ear out for alternative solutions. Ideally, I'd be able to seamlessly forward calls to my current number, but that might be a pipe dream. Alternatively, I'd like a single number to reach me on for the whole time I'm over there, preferably one know before I leave.

When looking around the RACV website for info regarding the International Drivers Permit, I found a page about RoamingSIM. The idea sounds great: reasonably low call and text rates in around 200 countries; call forwarding works, and you also get an Australian landline number that locals can ring to connect to you.

Being the smart little cookie that I am, I checked out some reviews. They were not good. In fact, they were rather damning. It looks like the various other equivalents (eg Woolworths) can be just as bad. And I'm not the only one unimpressed with the choices. (Here's an explanation of how Global SIMs work, and why the sound quality and customer service is often lousy.)

It looks like I might have to get au fait with Skype, a WiFi Dialer app (various options), and/or local SIMs. Fortunately, WiFi seems fairly ubiquitous throughout the bits of Europe we're going to. Oh, and FWIW, my new phone is a Samsung Galaxy S5 (3G).

Here are a couple of other links that might be useful:

  • Lots of useful comments to the SMH article linked above
  • Pay as you go SIM with Data wiki (the Australia page seems fairly comprehensive). 
    • The Italian option page notes that you might need a codice fiscale for online purchases and ID.
    • Given our relatively remote location in France, I might enquire which network would be best.
  • Whirlpool discussion re SIMs for a month in Europe (hint: buy a UK one)

Do you have any experience with buying SIMs for travel in Europe? Good, bad or otherwise?

Friday, 18 July 2014

Air travel: still the safest way to get there

In the wee small hours of this morning (AEST), Fri 18 July 2014, a Malaysian Airlines plane flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, with 298 souls on board, was shot down over eastern Ukraine. There is an enormous amount of finger pointing, much of it at pro-Russian separatists who reportedly mistook the flight for a Ukrainian cargo plane. There are also questions being asked about why the flight path took MH17 over Ukraine (by far the most direct route). Which is a little bit like asking why the girl who got raped was in that part of town in the first place: really not the point.

My deepest sympathies go out to those who have lost loved ones. There's one poor family who lost family members to both the MH370 (which disappeared en route from KL to Beijing in March) and MH17 disasters. I cannot begin to imagine how they are coping.

But it won't stop us flying to, and around, Europe in a couple of months.

Air travel remains the safest way to get anywhere on a distance-travelled basis. It ranks roughly second-equal safest (with rail) on a fatalities per billion hours travelled (around 30). It drops down the rankings on a per-journey basis (117 fatalities per billion journeys), but is still incredibly low risk. (Figures from here, based on pre 9/11 data.) (Main take-away from that report: whichever way you look at it, motorcycles are a magnitude worse than the second worst, no matter which way you count it.)

Let's look at it another way. Of the 25 most likely ways you'll die, heart disease, cancer and stroke take out the top three places (leaving aside Chuck Norris). Car accidents come in at number five (1 in 100), bicycle accidents at number 11 (1 in 5717), and air travel at number 14 (1 in 20,000).

From a more fatalistic perspective, all four of us are travelling together. If one of us were to die in a plane crash, there's a bloody good chance all of us will. None of us would have to go on without the others. The boys wouldn't be left orphaned, and I wouldn't have endure without any of the three people I love most. It'll be a pain in the arse (and heart) for everyone else, but not for us 'cos we'll all be dead!

That's not to say that it's not a good time to make sure the paperwork is all sorted. I've already organised comprehensive travel insurance, and will have electronic copies of all relevant documents (passports, birth certificates, etc) with us and others. We will also confirm that our executrices (two of our sisters) know where the wills and other important documents are, that we want our Facebook accounts deleted (not memorialised, thank you!), and to please clear our internet caches before you do anything else.

Think of travel insurance like the Umbrella Principle: if you take a brolly with you, it probably won't rain, but if you don't take one, you can be pretty confident it'll pour. And I'd much rather have travel insurance and not need it, than the other way around.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Europe 2014 : Pre-travel 'To Do' list

Again, jotting down a few mental notes in no particular order, which I will add to, and cross off, as I go.

  • Advise banks of travel plans so they don't cancel cards while away
  • Find, and load currency travel (debit) card (after checking fees etc)
  • Top up Bankwest credit card (no currency conversion fees, not linked to main bank accounts)
  • Investigate local/overseas SIM options (costs, availability) given Aldi Mobile don't do roaming
  • Set up Voicemail on phone to advise alternate phone number(s)
  • Day before we leave, save maps for offline use (30 day expiry), and pin hotels/train stations etc
  • Ask Jeanne to keep eye on house/collect mail/etc
  • Catch up with builder/tradies to sort out as many details as possible before we go, advise contact methods while away.
  • Advise boys' school of their planned absence
  • Fill prescriptions so have enough meds to cope with extended delays (already made doctor appointment to renew scripts)
  • Confirm no additional vaccinations required (got fully dosed up before we went to India)
  • Ensure fresh haircuts for everyone before we go so we don't look unnecessarily daggy in photos
  • Ditto eyebrow wax for me
  • Test all new charging majiggers (had a brand new one go 'bang' and smell of smoke just this evening)
  • Register travel with DFAT, maybe. At the very least, ensure friends and family (both travelling and not travelling with us) have copies of itineraries
  • In light of MH17 being shot down, confirm executrices know where our wills and other critical documents are, together with copies of key passwords.
  • Electronic copies of passports, drivers licence etc
  • Get International Drivers Permits for JD and me (RACV shop, need passport photo) (required in Italy and France)

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Random aside: travel toiletries - Yellow Stick

Yellow Stick

A friend, Petunia, is about to head off for a week in the French countryside.
I am packed and ready for vacation. I feel like it took me all weekend to get ready. I'm an experienced traveler, it shouldn't take this much work to get ready for a little vacation. And I have packed way too much crap. I look at all my toiletry type items and I don't know why there is so much crap but I don't know how to reduce it. I have have hair stuff (conditioner and leave in shiny stuff), skin stuff (lotion for the body and lotion for the face, fake tanner), make up (basic BB cream, powder, mascara, eyebrows crap), toothpaste and toothbrush, mouth guard, various ailment things like antacids and ibuprofen. What can I leave behind? I don't want to buy stuff there because I already have this stuff and then I like my stuff. 

And I have too many clothes. But I need clothes to hang out in and clothes to go out in and clothes to sleep in and what if it rains? 

I feel like I have enough stuff for a week or a year.

To which another seasoned traveller friend, Cake, replied
Re: Packing

Leave the conditioner, leave-in shiny stuff, the body lotion, fake tanner and either the bb cream or the powder. 

Pack yourself a little bottle of olive oil or Yellow Stick (a 1 ounce solid stick of cocoa butter in a yellow plastic tube, usually a buck or so at CVS) and use that for all your moisturizing/conditioning/hair shining needs. In the summer I prefer Yellow Stick because it doesn't spill or count against my liquid limit and when I want to use it as an all over lotion I just warm it with my hands. The olive oil works well, too. It's actually pretty much all I use at home in the warmer months.
And because I'm intrigued, and because I've been on a bit of an online shopping spree, I thought I'd try this. Of course, including shipping here to Straya, one tube costs more like $7 than $1, but I figure it's worth a try. I'll report back once I find out what it's like.

And because I found the link, here's Cake's homemade body butter recipe from her tragically short-lived blog, After Plumcake. And here's more info about Yellow Stick from an earlier blog, Manolo for the Big Girl (scroll to bottom of the post). There, she said:
I first started using Yellow Stick, which is a solid tube of 100% pure cocoa butter, when I was a volunteer at the cold weather shelter and I needed something I could stick in my pocket without worrying about spillage or leakage. I needed to be able to use it on my hands, lips and any place that got dry, without it irritating my skin or smelling too strongly of anything I didn’t want on my face. Plus, it’s easy to disinfect with a Lysol wipe, which is always a plus in my borderline germaphobe book. I use it for everything now, especially my cuticles and lips, and it makes a great stocking stuffer…you know, in case the jumper cables don’t fit.
And when I checked with Cake and Petunia whether I could quote them, Cake generously added this:
I'm high maintenance and a fanatic about my skin but I also believe in traveling light. A large weekender carry-on will do me just fine for six weeks in five countries because I always try to pack items that do double (or triple, or sextuple) duty, like Yellow Stick. It's solid with a high melting point (I used it religiously through a decade of long Texas summers) so it won't melt or spill and doesn't count against my liquid limit.
I use it for pretty much everything. On the plane I give my face and hands (especially my cuticles which otherwise I might be tempted to bite if they cracked on a long, boring flight) a good application straight from the stick then rub some on my lips. At the hotel I'll usually warm it in my hands and use it as a moisturizer and run whatever's left over on my hands through my hair as non-greasy conditioner and frizz controller and of course I always put one in my pocket or handbag when I'm out and about. It's especially useful then because I tend to wash my hands a lot or, if I'm traveling in someplace less developed, rely on hand sanitizer. Both of those are hugely drying so it's convenient to be able to just pull out the Yellow Stick, roll it between my hands for a few seconds, pop it back in the tube and not feel like my hands are going to crack open. 
(They're both American, so please excuse their single 'l's in travelling/traveller, and 'z's in moisturise.)

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Cahus: where we're staying and how to get there

Noodling around on Google Maps, I have used satellite version to find exactly where we're staying.

You can see the pool!

It's actually about a kilometre north of Cahus as the crow flies, or a 20min walk

And while I'm here, Brive train station (where we pick up the hire car) to Sireysol (where we're staying) is about an hour's drive. (Step by step directions are after the jump.)

How hot/cold will it be there?

Other than Dubai (which I knew about), the temperatures in Europe in early autumn are going to be very similar to Melbourne in early spring. Guess we'll be packing more warmish clothes than I thought!

Temperatures taken from and/or; Sunset times from and/or (Aurillac substituting for Cahus), Melb sunset adjusted for daylight savings (starts first weekend of October).

Friday, 11 July 2014

Links to travel-related lifehack type posts/ideas

Because that way I can find them when I'm looking. Have you got any nifty ideas to add?

"35 Genius Travel Tips That Will Change Your Life Forever" (just a wee bit hyperbolic, ya think?)
"23 Awesome Travel Hacks That Add Fun To Your Trip"
"52 travel tips you really should know"
"Fifty best-ever travel tips"
  • Use the USB slot on a TV to charge devices
  • Take a USB hub, with power cables pre-plugged in and organised, or a multi-port charger (NB don't work with older Apple devices)
  • invest in a battery pack (portable re-charger)
  • Scan (rather than photocopy) important documents (eg passports etc) before leaving, then save them to iBooks or similar so you have offline access
  • Take a photo of your hire car and its licence plate, in case you can't remember which one is yours. And drop a pin on your phone map app, so you can remember where you parked.
  • Sew a washcloth into a pouch for soap, or toothbrush and toothpaste caddy
  • When reserving seats for two people, book the aisle and the window - you're more likely to have the middle seat left vacant, else offer to swap with interloper.
  • When you're at the airport, add "?.jpg" to the end of any URL to get around the ludicrously expensive WiFi. Or, try sitting right outside an airport club lounge
  • Take your own water bottle - just empty it to go through security, fill it up when you get the chance
  • Use ATMs to get currency - much better value than forex converters
  • Shop for basic groceries when you arrive, not at the hotel, and also for picnic lunches
  • download an offline foreign language dictionary app eg Google Translate
  • when you start a new SD card on your camera, take a selfie makes it easier to prove it's yours when claiming it from lost&found (or, make the first one a photo of your business card and a request to mail it to that address if found).
  • take a travel sized bottle of laundry detergent (and a multi-size sink plug) so you can wash jocks and socks in the hotel sink
  • carry baby wipes/face wipes, and a stash of spare ziploc bags in a range of sizes (dirty laundry thru to snacks)
  • use a button to keep earrings together
  • apparently there's an outdoor rooftop swimming pool at Changi airport!
  • a pashmina can double as a blanket; a sarong as a long skirt or a beach towel or a pillow
  • take a small electronic luggage scale so you don't get caught out at the airport check-in
  • remember to tell your credit card (and mobile phone) provider that you're heading overseas (so they don't cancel your cards due to suspected fraudulent activity)
  • always remove all your luggage from the taxi before paying the fare (they can't drive off with it in case of a dispute)
  • a bandana soaked in cold water and then tied around your neck will help keep you cool
  • pack a skipping rope and a theraband as a mini-gym
  • save maps for offline viewing (use 'OK Maps' in Google maps)
  • carry enough medicines to cover unforeseen delays (volcanic ash clouds, anyone?)
(or: hide money in a tampon box - also unlikely to be rummaged through)

Packing list - mental notes

There have been a few things buzzing around my head, and know if I write them down then I'll be able to let them out of my head. So, in no particular order ...


We will be travelling with carry-on luggage only (it's a matter of pride as much as one of practicality).

The internal flights (EasyJet, Vueling, Alitalia) allow one smaller cabin bag only, and no additional 'personal bag' (handbag type thing), but with no weight limit. Size restriction is 50cm x 40cm x 20cm to be guaranteed to be in the cabin; slightly larger 56 x 45 x 25cm might have to go in the hold but will not count as stowed luggage (additional charge). You are allowed an overcoat as well, so we'll milk that to its limits.

As I have chosen not to pay extra for any stowed luggage, we'll need to be sure that (a) our main bags meet the size restrictions and (b) our personal bags can be folded up into our main bag.

Emirates Airlines looks like they have similar rules - one piece of carry on luggage only (first and business class get one bag plus and handbag/laptop bag). Weight limit is 7kg. Maximum size is 55cm x 38cm x 20cm. (Serves me right for assuming they allow one personal plus one main cabin bag, which is my experience for every other flight I've been on.) We might need to stow one bag on the way home if we buy much extra stuff while we're away.

Personal bags
The boys will again use their Kathmandu packs, which fold up into themselves to something about the size of a sandwich. I've used this as an excuse to buy a new handbag. JD and I have also each bought a new Scott-E-Vest jacket/vest each of which has two dozen or so pockets. I'll review these separately when they arrive.

In addition to power point adaptor(s), we will also take at powerboard. That means we can charge up to four things using one adaptor (this was very useful on the cruise ship (limited power points) and in Japan (limited adaptors)).

WiFi is freely available throughout Europe, so I may not need to take an ethernet-capable netbook. On the other hand, my Asus Transformer gets sucky WiFi signal. The boys have a Samsung Galaxy phone and a 7" mini-tablet respectively, so they're sorted, and JD will have his phone, and will probably take his 7" Nexus too (reading material). I'll take a phone plus one or other of the netbooks.

I need to investigate what mobile phone plan options I have. JD will keep his (work-paid) phone on; I might use my Aldi-plan one, or buy a SIM card over there. International roaming charges in Australia are extortionate, so I'll need to weigh up the cost of doing that vs the pain-in-the-arse-ness of switching numbers.

(EDITED to add: Aldi mobile doesn't do international roaming, so that answers that one. JD will keep his Australian number, I'll get a local SIM over there.)

I've also decided not to take the DSLR - it's just too bulky. I've got a good compact camera which will fit in a small pocket and is WiFi capable to boot.

I've tabulated likely weather conditions for each of our locations to help decide the balance of warmer vs cooler weather clothes. We're not particularly fashion conscious, which makes travelling light so much more feasible.

I found a pretty maxi skirt on special which will cover my knees/legs, making it appropriate for entering mosques and churches. Between that, another travel-suitable skirt and/or a summery dress, a pair of knee-length shorts, a pair of jeans and one other pair of long pants, I'm sorted. A selection of short and long sleeved tops to match, a light sweatshirt and a cardigan, plus my Scottevest jacket and I'm all but packed.

One pair of lace up walking shoes and one pair of black comfortable sandals will suffice, together with an appropriate number of socks, jocks and bras. I'll also throw in a silk scarf or two, with which to cover my head in Dubai, and dress up an outfit in Europe (25 ways to wear a scarf, heck, there's even an app for that) . And a pair of togs (swimming costume), and a hat.

JD and the boys will need a similar range of clothes - jeans plus another pair of long pants, two pair of shorts, sandals plus runners/walking shoes, range of t-shirts, light jumper plus softshell jacket, togs, hat, jocks & socks.

Of course, all clothes need to be crush-resistant/not require ironing, lightweight, quick-drying, and dirt-resistant. Not all that difficult in this day and age, thankfully.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Europe 2014: Naples

We have half of Thursday, and all of Friday to 'do' Naples

Of course, we're not going to Naples to see Naples; we're going for Pompei and Herculaneum and Vesuvius. I expect that will be a full-day trip. And the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, where all the good stuff from Pompei etc is. (That might be Thu arvo)

And apparently eat pizza (being as this is the birthplace and all that). And sfogliatelle. And wander about in the storico antico, the old centre of town, given that's about all we'll have time left for I think.

Is there anything I'm missing that should be on our must-see list?

Europe 2014: Sicily

At Dad's recommendation, I've scheduled a full week in Sicily. I will also arrange a hire car, to give us a fair bit of flexibility.

We'll fly into Catania (only direct flights from Barcelona), and then drive overland for two hours towards Palermo. At this stage, we're looking at accommodation in Solunto, about half an hour short of Palermo.

Sicily has been controlled by everyone from the area - Phoenicians, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, Norman, Aragon, and more. But for heaven's sake, don't mention the Mafia.

I haven't done any research, other than confirming that the daily maximums will be in the mid twenties, and the sea temperature in the lower twenties.

Again, I expect we'll have a day or two of sitting around/strolling through Palermo, but what else should be put on our must-see list?

Europe 2014: Barcelona

We have three nights/two days (Tue, Wed) in Barcelona. And not falling prey to pickpockets sounds like the most important thing to do here.

Me, I want to see La Sagrada Familia, of course - the booking schedule makes it seem like this will take the better part of a day if we include a guided tour and climb one of the towers. And it will cost €22.80 each (avg) (or AU135 for the four of us) (entry to the basilica only - ie excluding the guide and tower - costs € €13.80 avg ea€)

I've now booked for Wednesday, 24Sep 1Oct: entry @ 10:30, tour @11:15, nativity tower @ 12:45.
(BTW English-language tours are 11:15, 12:30, 13:45, and 15:00 in summer and go for an hour.)

Ky's already expressed interest in the Parc Guell by Gaudi, and there's also the Illa de la Discordia with several other Gaudi creations.

The Barrio Gotico (Gothic quarter) sounds fascinating, but we might go for the Barcelona History Museum instead, for a pre-digested version.

My well-travelled friend, Cake/Rhiannon, recommends getting out of Barcelona and taking the funicular up to Monserrat. A quick google suggests we definitely need to do this.

What else should we do or avoid?

Europe 2014: Cahus

We're staying here (seriously, click on the link).

With a pool, there will be a suitable amount of lounging around and recuperating from our no-doubt hectic-so-far trip. However, we will have a hire car, and plan to do various day trips. Options include:
  • Carcassonne, a medieval fortress town, about 3.5 hrs away by car, via Toulouse
  • Lascaux, with the famous paleolithic cave paintings, about 2hrs drive from Cahus
  • Cahors reputably has the best market in the region (Saturday mornings), also about 2 hours
  • Leaving the kids with mum & dad, and heading off for a night or two on our own (I understand this is El's plan!)
This place is less than an hour's drive SE from Cahus:

Europe 2014: Paris

I've spent a bit of time in Paris. I climbed the Eiffel tower in its centenary year, and spent New Year's Eve 1989 in a bar in Paris somewhere. (Still annoyed at myself that I didn't go to Berlin instead - that was the year the wall came down.)

We have two nights, but only one day (arriving early evening on Saturday, and departing very early Monday morning).

The boys want to see the Eiffel Tower, and L'Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame. And they *will* see Sainte-Chapelle.

They really should see the Louvre (not for the Mona Lisa, which is astonishingly underwhelming, but for more of Michalangelo's slaves and all the other fabulous art), but I might be pushing shit uphill for that one, particularly given our time constraints. There's also L'Orangerie (w Monet's waterlilies) and the wonderful Musee d'Orsay. While I could easily spend a day in each of the Louvre and d'Orsay, we might have to skip them this time.

Versailles might be worth squeezing in, although Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre might be easier to fit in.

What would be on your one-day-in-Paris list? What if you had a teen and a tween with you?

Europe 2014: Pisa

With barely three hours free time in Pisa, we should have just enough time to visit the Leaning Tower, and the rest of the Piazza dei Miricoli. I just remember stark white buildings on an immaculate green lawn, surrounded by stalls selling hideous plaster knick-knacks. When I was there, you couldn't climb the campanile, but it may or may not be open this time around.

I doubt we'll have time for much more than seeing this, and grabbing some lunch somewhere. On the other hand, if you have some must-see (or must-eat) advice, I'd love to hear it.

Europe 2014: Florence

Florence remains one of my favourite cities - I love the architecture and the art, and Renaissance is my favorite era (then the Impressionists). Between the boys playing Assassin's Creed, and Jos doing an assignment on the duomo, I hope they love it too.

We'll have three nights/two full days here.

First up, of course, is the Duomo (cathedral), campanile (bell tower) and the baptistry. Ideally we'd climb at least one of the cupola or the campanile. (Lonely Planet suggests waiting until after 4pm when the tour buses have gone.)

Assuming the queues aren't too long and/or we pre-book, we'd need to do at least one of the Uffizi (Renaissance art out the wazoo) or the Galleria dell'Accademia (incl Michelangelo's David, and Slaves).

The boys might be more keen on fortress palaces, like Palazzo Vecchio.

And I'm still kicking myself for not getting a soft florentine leather jacket all those years ago - that might be on the list this time around.

What do you think we should do/avoid?

Europe 2014: Rome

We have three nights/two full days in Rome, so can only touch on a few highlights.

I've been to Rome a couple of times, and the Sistine chapel is top of my list - they had just finished the ceiling, but not The Last Judgement when I was last there. Of course, that includes St Peter's Basilica and the rest of the Vatican Museums, as well as the Castel Sant'Angelo

The stark simplicity of the Pantheon (one of the earliest buildings made from concrete) is also worth a visit, and the nearby Trevi fountain and Piazza Navona.

For the boys, we'll have to do the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.

What else should we try to squeeze in there? The boys won't want to do too many museums/art galleries/churches, and I saw many of them twenty-mumble years ago.

Europe 2014: Dubai

Here are some of the things I know we should try to do in our 36 hours in Dubai. I gather the weather will likely have highs in the mid-high thirties (nineties, farenheit), so not ideal to be wandering outside with the mad dogs and Englishmen, out in the noonday sun. We'll also be hideously tired after a 17 hour flight, so will spend at least the first few hours having a shower and a nap.

Burj Khalifa - Around $140 for the four of us to go the observation deck (general admission). Opening hours are 10am to 10pm, and around sunset might be quite spectacular. (Suggestion is to book a time for around an hour before sunset (6:25pm), to allow for queues etc)

The Dubai Fountains (show every half hour, 6pm-11pm) are visible from the observation deck and again at ground level, free.

Jumeirah Mosque Public tours: must arrive by 9:45am, for a 75min tour starting at 10am (no reservation required) (abayas can be borrowed if required)

Might possibly go instead go to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, which seems to be utterly over the top.
Visiting at sunset is recommended, but we only have one sunset in Dubai. Tours are available at 10am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm, 7pm. Arrive 15mins before, and allow 45-60mins for the tour. It appears that no bookings are required, nor fees applicable. Abayas are available for loan if required.
OTOH, it's a two (!) hour bus/taxi trip each way from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. Might play that one by ear.

Dubai Museum - relevant visiting hours 8:30am - 8:30pm daily. Token entry (less than AUD1 each)

Bastakiya quarter, the old/pre-oil bit of town

One of the souqs (eg Deira Gold Souq, or possibly the Textile Souk to get me started on my next quilt) typical opening hours are 7am-noon; 5pm-7pm

Maybe the Wild Wadi Waterpark? Entry is around AU$100 pp, but could be a great way to wake up and deal with the heat. Opening hours are 10am-7pm, crappy amusement park food only option. At the foot of Burj Al Arab.

Possibly afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab (cheapest way to get in):
 - Skyview bar (AED560/AUD170pp!!!) very English afternoon tea, but grand view; 1pm and 4pm AYCE
 - Sahn Eddar (AED510 w champagne; AED450/AUD130 without), 1pm-6pm - base of atrium
 - Junsui AED360/AUD105pp for seven course Asian afternoon tea
Or maybe not. For four of us, that's a heck of a lot of money!!!

I found this blog post interesting and helpful.

What are your recommendations?

Europe 2014 overview

Bump. Long time, no parley.

So, I'm putting the finishing touches on our European itinerary with a lot of help from my friend, Emma Edge. We had a few parameters to work within/around, including:

  • school holidays run 20 Sep to 6 Oct, so must include those (we've ended up adding a week either end);
  • my parents (K&G) have booked a holiday house in Cahus, France, for the fortnight of the school holidays; me and mine will stay with K&G for the first week, and El and her family will stay the second week;
  • car hire depot in Brive (nearest train station to Cahus) is closed Sundays;
  • the boys used to play a lot of Assassins Creed, scampering over the outside of medieval Florence's buildings - they need to see the inside
  • we considered doing the standards (London, Paris, Rome etc), but I've already been to these, and the others weren't enthusiastic/too fussed; 
  • Dad has been raving about Sicily, and I've never been to Spain

So here's the itinerary, hyperlinked to a post for each of the places we're staying. I'd be most grateful if you could add your thoughts experiences - must do, must avoid, must book ahead - as comments to the relevant pages. 
  • Fri 12/9: Depart MEL, via SIN, heading to Dubai (DXB)
    • Dubai, one night/36hrs (arr 5am Sat, dep 4pm next day) 
  • Sun 14/9: fly to Rome (FCO), arr 8pm
    • Rome, three nights
  • Wed 17/9: train to Florence (middle of the day-ish)
  • Sat 20/9: train to Pisa (dep 10am, say)
    • Pisa - five hour stopover middle of the day (Sat)
  • Sat 20/9: fly to Paris (ORY), arr 6:30pm
    • Paris, two nights/36hrs
  • Mon 22/9: train to Brive (dep 7:45am, arr noon), collect hire car
  • Mon 29/9 return hire car, train to Barcelona via Narbonne (dep 2pm, arr 8:40pm)
  • Thu 2/10: fly to Catania (CTA), arr 2:30pm, collect hire car
  • Thu 9/10: return hire car, fly to Naples (NAP), arr 12:30pm
  • Sat 11/10:train to Rome (dep 10am, say), fly home (dep FCO 10pm, arr MEL 9am Mon)
And with thank to Emma, all accom, flights and TGV trains have now been booked. Well under $10k for four people for all transport and accom. Woo-hoo!!!