Know Before You Go (For the First Time Traveler)

I have a dear friend who is planning to travel to Italy this year. It is her first time traveling outside of the United States.  I had written a blog for her Italian voyage which you can read, but I realized later I needed to write another blog for her trip:  what to expect on the way over there and on the way back.

Obviously, one needs to have a valid passport, but also be aware of the expiration date of that passport in relation to your travel.  Second, you will need to have your travel information (flight, hotel, etc.) printed out as well as stored in digital form (Evernote, OneNote, Google Drive, Google Keep, et. al.) for safe keeping.  Also, bring a photocopy of your passport with you. It’s also a good idea to keep your passport in an RFID shielded sleeve to protect against ID theft. Here is a list that I check before every travel:

Trip List on Evernote

Two things that you will need to keep in your carry on are a pen and earbud headphones.  The pen you will need to fill out customs forms before you arrive at your foreign destination, as well as your return trip back to the United States.  This includes any layovers not in the United States. You can also use this pen for doing crossword puzzles to pass the time either in the airport or in the air (check the free airline magazine provided in your front seat pocket).  The headphones will come in handy when you want to watch a movie or listen to music.  Often times airlines provide headphones, but sometimes they will ask a price to buy or use them.  Cheap headphones will work just fine, but you can also go high end by using a noise-cancelling headphone if you just want peace and quiet.  Some other items you may want to consider are:

  • Gum
  • Hand moisturizer
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Tissues

Manbag

Whether you like it or not, you will have to cross a security checkpoint once you have your ticket and checked your baggage.  Here’s how to make sure you go through this process without a hitch. While still in line, take everything out of your pockets, including keys and even gum wrapping.  Take off watches, bracelets, and any other “heavy” jewelry–wedding rings are okay, but I take it off anyway.  If you have a laptop, take it out because security wants to see that in a tray. Ask if they want to see a tablet, but usually border security will tell you.  Take out your plastic bag with your liquids.  Take off your coat, and you may have to remove your shoes. Security will want to see your boarding pass as well as your passport. Make sure to take your passport out of its sleeve.  If the sleeve is RFID protected, it will set off the scanning device.  After you’ve cleared the scanning device, gather all your belongings as quickly as possible.  There’s usually chairs or benches nearby so you can put on your shoes, coat, and make sure you have everything.  Keep in mind that you may have to go through this again if you have a layover, especially outside of the U.S.  Good news though, if your layover is in a European Union country and your final destination is in another EU country then you will not have to go through customs again once you make it to your destination.  For example, we had a layover in the Netherlands, a member of the European Union.  Our final destination was Venice, Italy and we didn’t have to go through customs again.

During your trip, try to keep track of how much money you’ve spent on souvenirs or anything that you will take back home with you.  You will be asked on the customs form on your flight back to the States the dollar value of goods you have with you from your trip (i.e. souvenirs, bottles of wine, cigarettes, et. al.)

If there is anything else I have missed, please let me know.  Happy travels and bon voyage!

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First Time Traveling to Italy

As fate would have it, a good friend of mine messaged me with questions about traveling to Italy–it’s her first time traveling there and traveling outside of the United States.  I said that I would do some research for her since I was excited for her upcoming trip to Italy with her family.  I have visited Italy several times before.  I decided to write this blog for her and to anyone else who might be traveling to Italy for their first time.  Since she doesn’t know yet what city she will be visiting, I’ll just cover the cities I have actually visited.  I won’t be going into a detailed review for each city, but rather listing some tourist attractions to visit. More information can be found by clicking on the links. Please feel free to add or correct any information I missed or misrepresented.

Firenze, Toscana (Florence the capital of Tuscany)

Florence is a romantic Tuscan city.  You can wander its narrow streets and discover wonderful restaurants, shops, and gelaterie.   It is filled with history:  museums, churches, statues, and fountains. I’ve included just a few things to see and visit, but the rest is up to you to discover.  Florence is a walking town and very picturesque. You can see a great view of Florence from Giardino Bardini.  Here are some sights to see and visit, and here is a link to the Florence Airport.

The town of Pisa is close by if you would like to visit the Leaning Tower.  Entrance to the tower is limited since only a certain number of people are allowed inside at a given time.

Travel Tip: Have coins handy in case you need to use a public restroom.  Prices will vary but they are usually between 1 to 3 euros.  Don’t be surprised to encounter a restroom attendant when you enter a facility.  And speaking of money, you can save on expensive transaction fees and exchange rates by getting Euros at a local ATM rather than at the exchange bureau at the airport (in the U.S. or abroad).  To save even more on exchange rates, ask your bank if they offer a rate free, pre-paid credit card for your travel.

Milano, Lombardia (Milan the capital of Lombardy)

Milan is a fashion capital and it is also a gateway to the Italian Alps.  You can visit the stunning Lake Como by train.  And if you arrive here by plane, you can take a train from the airport, Malpensa, right into the city of Milan.

  • Castello Sforzesco
  • Duomo di Milano.  This is an amazing cathedral.  You can even walk on its roof.
  • Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.  This place is free to walk around in.  There are shops and restaurants here.
  • La Scala Opera.  This is a historic opera house.  If you get a chance to visit its interior, it is worth it.
  • Santa Maria delle Grazie (to see the Last Supper “il Cenacolo”).  If you’re planning to see “The Last Supper”, I highly recommend getting your tickets ahead of time and finding out when they open.  The painting is highly visited, but they only allow a number of visitors at any time.  Please verify any information concerning this attraction.

Travel Tip:  You might be surprised to find that shops, banks, and other services are closed around noon.  Mind the hours as these places will be open for business later in the day. On Sundays, some shops and markets may be closed.

Napoli, Campania (Naples the capital of Campania

Napoli holds a special place for me because the people here are warm and welcoming, especially if you speak Italian.  They will suggest, however, that you learn the dialect, Neopolitano.  Their airport is Aeroporto Internazionale di Napoli. Naples is a crazy city–just watch the traffic.  Anywhere you go to eat, it will be exquisite and delicious.  There is a pizza rivalry between Naples and the neighboring city of Sorrento that you should take advantage of because the pizzas are incredible in this part of Italy.  One thing to be very aware of if you visit Naples:  do not wear jewelry.  Theft is rampant here, but you can avoid this by being careful of your belongings.

  • Capri.  This is the island you would see from Naples.  There are ferries and tours that you can take to visit the island.
  • Castel Nuovo
  • Castel dell’Ovo
  • Ercolano (Herculeneum).  Herculeneum is almost overshadowed by the popularity of Pompei, but you can take advantage of this as there are less crowd; however, this doesn’t mean that it is less spectacular than Pompei.
  • Galleria Umberto I
  • Museo di Capodimonte
  • Museo Nazionale della Ceramica Duca di Martina
  • Piazza del Plebiscito.  This is a large  piazza with many attractions near it:  Basilica Reale Pontificia San Francesco da Paola; Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli Vitorrio; Giardinoi del Molosiglio.
  • Pompeii.  This is the tourist attraction here in Naples, so there will be a lot of tourists.  The grounds can be cumbersome for people with mobility issues as most of the pathways are cobblestone.
  • Vesuvius. Beware of the walking stick scam before you climb up to the crater–they don’t tell you that they ask for a euro when you return the sticks. On the upside, you just might find some inexpensive souvenirs here.  I bought a cap for only 3 euros!  Be also aware that people with mobility issues will find this a very difficult activity to partake in.

Travel Tip: Protect yourself from theft by keeping wallets thin and in your front pocket–even better if you have a money belt.  I would be wary of carrying around a purse, but just be aware of your surroundings. Keep small bills handy, but hide larger notes and credit cards hidden away.  If you have access to a safe at your hotel, use it to store your passport.  And be sure to have a copy of your passport on you as well as a digital copy stored in a cloud service like Evernote, Google Drive, OneNote, etc.

Roma, Lazio (Rome the capital of Lazio as well as Italy

This is, of course, the capital of Italy; the city most people visit while in the country.  The airport is called  Fiumicino or Leonardo da Vinci Airport. With that in mind, you will encounter many groups of tourists.  There is a lot to see in this Eternal City so be prepared to walk and where the right shoes for the activity.  You can also take the subway or metro to save some distance.

  • Colosseo (Colosseum) Be aware that visitors need to be able to climb steps, sometimes uneven, if you’re planning to explore this attraction. There tends to be a lot of tourists.  Outside the Colosseum, you can take pictures with gladiators for a small fee.
  • Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain).  This is a delightful and awe-inspiring monument, but best of all it is free!  Be prepared to be surrounded, however, by groups of tourists.  And don’t forget to toss a coin over your left shoulder into the fountain to ensure you will return to Rome.  You may want to visit this twice:  during the day and the evening when the fountain is lit.
  • Metropolitana.  You can get around Rome using the metro.
  • Palatine Hills
  • Pantheon
  • Piazze (plural of piazza or town squares).  There are a lot of piazze to visit in Rome.  Here are some to visit:
    • Piazza Barberini
    • Piazza Navona
    • Piazza del Popolo
    • Piazza di Spagna
    • Piazza Venezia
  • Vatican City. Be careful when buying tickets for the Vatican City.  Make sure that you can enter St. Peter’s Basilica as well as other attractions like the Sistine Chapel.  Often times ticket bookings are not connected to one and another. Be also prepared for long lines and large crowds of tourists.  You can also climb to the top of the cathedral or the cupola.  Before entering the basilica, be sure to dress modestly.  Sending postcards might be a thing of the past, but you can mail a postcard from the Vatican and have it be stamped from the Vatican.

Travel Tip: Bring a second battery for cameras as well as an external battery charger for cell phones if you’re planning to take pictures with your phone.  Be sure you have enough space on your phone for pictures–I’m looking at you iPhone users.  If you are going to use a camera, be sure you have enough memory capacity on your memory card or bring extra cards just in case. If you’re using a camera without wifi capabilities and want to upload photos to Facebook or another internet service, you can connect the memory card to a laptop or you can connect it to your phone using this type of gadget.

Venezia, Veneto (Venice the capital of Veneto)

This is a unique Italian city, a wonderful place to go out and return by cruise ship.  If you’re flying into the Marco Polo Airport, it is easy to take the bus and arrive in Venice at the Piazzale Roma.  You can also take the water bus or water taxi known as a vaporetto. Be prepared to navigate through narrow streets and flooded squares–depending on the tide.  There are cheap plastic boots that you can buy if you’re encountering flooding in places, but the city does provide raised walkways when appropriate.  Be prepared to take massive amounts of photos!  Venice is one of the most picturesque Italian city you will visit.  It is breathtaking if you’re planning to leave here (or arrive here) on a cruise ship.

From Venice, you can take the train for a very reasonable fare to go visit Verona or Padua (Padova).  You can visit the “home” of Juliet, of “Romeo and Juliet” fame, in Verona.  Verona is a picturesque and quaint town.  In Padua, you can visit Saint Anthony’s Basilica or Basilica di Sant’Antonio.

Travel Trip:  When having an Italian dinner, take your time and savor your food.  It’s not out of the ordinary to spend two hours or more at dinner.  And it’s not out of the ordinary to order pizza as the first course (primi piatti on the menu)–don’t worry there are more choices for the second course (secondi piatti).  Try the tiramisù if you want to taste the real thing, but don’t forget all the other wonderful Italian desserts just waiting for you to enjoy.  And wherever you go in Italy, there will always be a handy gelateria nearby.

For further Italian tips, click on the link to a list of videos from Wolter’s World on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=wolters+world+travel+italy

And for other travel reviews, you can check out my reviews on TripAdvisor.  TripAdvisor is a great place to go to read reviews from travelers like yourself.

Review of the Astor Apartments in Brisbane, Australia

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Links to my reviews of some Brisbane attractions can be found at the bottom.

It’s rare that an apartment hotel would wow anyone as most travelers would stay at a hotel.  There are plenty of wonderful and well-appointed hotels in the world–I’m excluding luxury hotels as I am addressing the budget-conscious traveler.  Be that as it may, most travelers might not even think to stay at an apartment hotel (apart-hotel, residence, etc.); however, my partner and I find it more affordable to stay at an apartment hotel–or a hotel with a kitchenette–as it saves money having to dine at a restaurant for breakfast and dinner.

On a trip to Brisbane, Australia, we had reserved a room at the Astor Apartments.  We had just disembarked from a 28-day cruise, flew from Sydney to Brisbane, and we were looking forward to relaxing on terra firma.  After taking what I thought was a “shortcut”, we eventually found the Astor Apartments.  The lady at the front desk was friendly and welcoming.  She explained that though there was free wifi on the property, we could only access it on the third floor, which also happened to be where the pool and sauna are located.

After taking the elevator up to our floor, we opened the door to our room (1103) and we were immediately impressed with the spaciousness of the living area which also comprised a dining area.  Beyond the living area was a balcony with a view of the neighboring buildings.

Even the kitchen had a view.  It too was spacious.  The kitchen was well stocked, but there was no coffee maker nor a single drip coffee maker.  If you are a tea drinker, there is no problem.  Tea and instant coffee was provided, as well as sugar.  The usual kitchen appliances were there:  stove, refrigerator, microwave, toaster, and even a dishwasher.  There was also a pantry.

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Mind you, we were still floored as we kept exploring this apartment.  The bedroom was a separate room, as it would be in an apartment.  It was clean and rather chic for an apartment.

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Adjacent to the bedroom was a small laundry room, which, after a 28-day cruise, became our new best friend.  And the Astor does provide laundry detergent.  Right next to the laundry room was the bathroom which continued the theme of an actual apartment.

astor-apartments6

The building was well situated to the CBD (central business district). It was about a five-minute walk right into the heart of Brisbane.

Now for all the wonderful details to get there.

You can take a taxi directly to the apartments, but if you take the AirTrain from the airport (domestic or international) you will find yourself at Central Station. There is a shortcut to get to the Astor, but it’s too complicated to describe. If you are a first time visitor, like us, you want simple directions because you want to get to your destination without getting lost. Here’s the easiest way to get to the Astor from Central Station:

Exit the Station on Ann Street and turn right to Edward Street.
On Edward Street, make another right.
Cross Turbot Street.
Keep following Edward Street and you will cross Wickham Terrace.
Continue until you come to Astor Terrace, then turn right.
Astor Apartments will be located on your right.

 

astor-apartments

This is the entrance to the Astor.  There is another entrance further down, but it is for offices.

Be aware that the staff hours on weekends are from 9am to 10 am. Just one hour for Saturday and Sunday, so make sure you are able to talk with staff particularly if you want to set up a taxi pickup for early in the morning as we did.

There is a flat screen tv in the living area, and the apartment even comes with DVDs with such family favorites like “The Godfather” and the entire “Aliens” collection.

If there is something I would like to see changed, it would be to add a plastic mat in the bath tub because it can be slippery in there.

This is really the place to stay in Brisbane if you want more bang for your buck. You are within walking distance (about 5 minutes) of downtown, as well as two grocery stores (Woolworths). The one Woolworths is located in the CBD in MacArthur Central.  The one closest to the Astor is located on Turbot Street at Spring Hill.  There is also a corner store near the intersection of Astor Terrace and Upper Edward Street in case you just need to buy a snack or something to drink.

astor-apartments7

My partner and I really enjoyed our time in the city of Brisbane.  It was made even more memorable thanks to our stay at the Astor Apartments which felt like home. We recommend this place to other travelers.  In fact, if we revisit Brisbane–which we would love to come back for another visit–we would again stay here.
poolside-at-the-astor

Author slaving away on social media, poolside at the Astor.

I write reviews of places my partner and I travel to on TripAdvisor.  You can find my reviews of some Brisbane attractions here:

Using Evernote to Plan a Trip

With my friends, I go on and on about using Evernote, the note-taking application.  There are of course other note-taking applications like One Note and Google Keep, but Evernote is the one I use for my main repository of digital files (documents, articles, lists, etc.). Most importantly I use Evernote when my partner and I travel.  This is how I use Evernote when traveling abroad.

Before taking our first long trip abroad in 2013 to Salzburg, Austria, I made the plunge and upgraded to premium membership because I wanted to access certain files offline when I’m away from home (wifi and cell network).  I don’t expect to be always connected to the internet while on vacation, but I want to have access to those travel documents without having to hunt down a wifi signal nor pay for cellphone network access. As soon as I receive the plane and hotel confirmation via e-mail, I forward it to my Evernote account.  Being an Evernote user, you receive a unique e-mail address to where you can send documents, files, articles, and photos–pretty much anything you can send by e-mail.  Once the ball is rolling for our trip, I create a “notebook” called Austria 2013.  This is the notebook that I will be sending all of my information about our trip.  Meanwhile, on my laptop, which also has Evernote uploaded to it, I research places to see, public transport information, maps to save, and restaurants to try.  There is a web clipper application that Evernote uses and it’s linked to my account.

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Meanwhile on my laptop, which also has Evernote uploaded to it, I research places to see, public transport information, maps to save, and restaurants to try.  There is a web clipper application that Evernote uses and it’s linked to my account.  You can save links, web pages, or screenshots of web pages.

 

Here is a sample list of information that I keep in my trip folders:

  • Airline and hotel confirmation
  • Airport information (maps, public transportation)
  • Hotel accommodation
  • Travel insurance
  • Travel documents (visa, passport)
  • Cruise documents (if you’re going on a cruise)
  • Public transport information
  • Maps (metro, train, or bus)
  • Information about local tourist attractions
  • Information about stores or shopping centers
  • Train boarding passes (we receive ours via e-mail)

For the most part, Evernote is a dependable and reliable application for organizing and saving my travel information. I have saved nine trips in Evernote, and those saved information made our vacation that much more enjoyable, knowing we had all the information at our fingertips.

In particular, not only can I access Evernote on my laptop, cellphone, and tablet, but I can also access my Evernote account along with all my notes from any other device as long as I have access to the internet. Evernote can also make lists with check boxes. Before any trip, I make a checklist of any items we need for our trip. As I double check our travel bags, I mark the check box. So what are you waiting for? Check out Evernote and see how it can help organize your next trip.

So for your next trip, check out Evernote and see how it can help you organize your next trip.

(How to Use Evernote When Traveling Published by Joel Delizo, March 7th, 2014 in Blogger, updated for WordPress)

Pizza from Heaven

I’m bilingual, speaking English and French, but I used to be a polyglot being able to speak Italian as well while attending University of Oregon–Go Ducks! Predominantly speaking French for several years now, my Italian has fallen by the wayside. Fortunately, I retained enough of the language to get me by, and one instance during a vacation in Australia, speaking even just a little bit of Italian opened up a remarkable restaurant experience in Sydney.

I would imagine like any remarkable experience there is a good amount of serendipity involved.  One evening, my partner and I were walking along Oxford Street, near Darlinghurst, he spotted a meter long pizza coming out of a restaurant.  We both gazed at it with wonder and a newfound hunger–we had just eaten dinner.  The pizza was being paraded down the street by two people–fortunately, we were headed in the same direction.  The pizza finally arrived at its destination just a couple of doors down at a gathering in a bar.  My partner, André, turned to me and declared, “Faut qu’on essaie leur pizza!” We have to try their pizza. We subsequently turned around to pass by the pizza place so we could remember its name:  Napoli nel Cuore.  Naples in the heart.

The following evening we arrived at Napoli nel Cuore.  Closed!  It was closed because we arrived early.  We were hungry and really looked forward to eating some pizza.  After some time we returned to the restaurant to find another couple already seated; so we sat further down, closer to the wood oven at another table for two.  Seeing the wood oven was a good sign that Napoli nel Cuore would have an exceptional pizza. We perused the menu, my eyes taking in the Italian names of the pizzas as my stomach responded.  André and I decided on two pizzas.  Since my partner only speaks French, I was to order for us. The pizza chef actually took our order.  I may no longer be fluent in Italian, but I still know how to pronounce Italian words on a menu.  I ordered the Bianco, the Siciliana, and a bottle of Terre dei Portali.  If you are Italian or know how Italian pronunciation works, you know how to pronounce Siciliana.  Our pizza chef was pleasantly surprised with my Siciliana–I even said, “Grazie.”  I noted, too, that he had an Italian accent rather than an Australian one.

Meanwhile, the waitress brought out some cold water.  It had been a warm day and it was equally warm in the restaurant despite its front wall being open to Oxford Street; and since I spoke with a North American accent, our waitress asked us about our visit.  I explained our trip and how my partner doesn’t speak English–he’s shy.  We also learned that our waitress also speaks a little bit of French and that her name is Martina. It was a nice, friendly discussion:  a little bit of French, Italian, and English; and a lot of laughter.  Immediately after, Martina came back to offer us three fried balls in a bowl.  My partner and I were surprised since we didn’t order any appetizer.  Our waitress explained they were compliments of the chef.  We tried them and found them delicious.  I have never tasted these before even on my travels to Italy.  I was curious and asked our chef its name.  “Zeppolini,” he revealed, “Fried pizza dough.”  As soon as he left, I whispered to André to see if the couple behind me had any zeppolini.  He told me no.  And for that our evening felt special.

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Zeppolini

Eventually, our first pizza was brought to our table:  the Siciliana.  We each had a slice.  After having our first bite, my partner and I looked at each other in disbelief.  The only thing that ran through my brain was This pizza tastes like heaven!  When we could talk, my partner said, “Ça goûte le ciel!”  It tastes like heaven!  My partner and  I were so taken by the surprising flavor that I was moved to tell the chef how wonderful his pizza tasted.  And when I couldn’t find any more words to explain my emotion to him, I resorted to gesturing how enamored I was with his culinary creation.  He felt so proud of his work that he showed me his secret:  the pizza dough.  He explained to me that the dough was still moist and pliable.  Furthermore he used the family recipe that he had brought over from Naples.  Given this information, I admitted to knowing the pizza rivalry between Naples and the neighboring town of Sorrento.  Having only eaten pizza in Naples, I can simply say that pizza in Naples is absolutely delicious.  (Be that as it may, take advantage of both cities trying to outdo one another). Needless to say, the second pizza had the same effect as the first. Martina added, “It takes a Neopolitan to make a Neopolitan pizza.”

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Bianco: gorgonzola, mozzarella, and parmesan.

Towards the end of our evening, my partner tells me to make a reservation for the following evening.  In addition, he asked me to request to place a new bottle of the red wine we had in the refrigerator because the wine was warm that evening.  I was afraid Martina would find that unusual or wouldn’t believe us, but she didn’t bat an eye and looked forward to seeing us again the following evening.

Maybe she was surprised, but Martina seemed genuinely happy to see us the following evening.  At the same time, I was pleasantly amazed that she did place a bottle of wine in the refrigerator for us as was requested–it was better colder than “room temperature”.  On the other hand, our pizza chef was not there that evening.

For the second evening at Napoli nel Cuore, I ordered in Italian, “Vorrei una pizza classica.”  Martina and I locked eyes and both said in unison, “Pizza Margherita!”  We both laughed at our knowledge of a classic pizza.  André, however, ordered the lasagna.

During the meal, my partner discovered that the middle of the lasagna was frozen…solid!  We notified Martina who was aghast to learn about the frozen core.  André poked his lasagna with his fork to show he was not kidding. Conk. Conk. Conk.  She asked if she can bring out another one for him. He agreed, and she was very apologetic as she took back the lasagna. Luckily for my partner, I am a slow eater–even more so as I savor the pizza margaherita.

Towards the end of our dinner, the friendly Martina apologized again for the frozen lasagna and brought to our table another Italian classic:  tiramisù.  The majority of the tiramisù I have tasted outside of Italy is overpowered by too much alcohol taste, leaving this classic dessert unappetizing to me; however, I was confident about this tiramisù being made by authentic Italians.  As a matter of fact, their tiramisù was delectable.

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Tiramisù

Our ever friendly waitress didn’t charge us for the dessert.  We thanked her, and to her surprise, we requested another reservation for the following evening.  “Wine in the fridge,”  Martina asked.  I smiled and answered, “Yes please.” André and I once again enjoyed our dining experience in this little Italian restaurant.  Martina was quite surprised and even more so once André gave her a twenty dollar tip. (It’s not an obligation to tip in Australia like it is in North America).

Our last evening in Sydney and our last dinner at Napoli nel Cuore.  We were again greeted by Martina and sat at the same table as the evening before.  This time, at Martina’s suggestion, we were to try an Aperol spritz before she was to bring the wine.  She explained that Aperol spritz was an Italian aperitif and it helped with digestion before a meal.  For our last meal at this amazing restaurant, André and I wanted to celebrate before going back home to Canada.  Martina brought out the Aperol spritz.  I am not a big alcohol drinker–a glass or two of wine at dinner is the most I would drink–but this Italian aperitif tasted so good and did not have that strong alcohol taste. It was exquisite!

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Aperol spritz

To continue with our celebration, we ordered two pizzas:  Funghi and Vegetariana.  With two pizzas in mind, Martina suggested to combine the two orders into a half meter pizza.  Half a meter?!  YES!  We will probably never see this in Canada and it would  make a stunning foodie photo. Speak of the devil:

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Half a meter. Pizza al funghi e alla vegetariana.

André, to my surprise, ordered an appetizer. I did not because I knew we were going to have a lot of food.  Nevertheless, Martina brought out another bowl of zeppolini, again compliments of the pizza chef, Fabio. He was there for our first evening, but was absent on our second night.

Martina brought out André’s appetizer, Risotto Mare.  At that time, she asked us if we wanted another spritz.  I was planning to say no, but to my surprise André agreed to a second one.  Martina looked at me until I was able to spit out a yes.  It was a good thing that we were not driving that evening, but it would be an interesting walk back to the hotel.

Our last dinner at Napoli nel Cuore was astounding and sensational.  Despite not being able to eat another bite after the pizza, Martina brought us a dessert, Pastiera Napoletana–again compliments of Fabio, whom we later learned to be the owner of the restaurant!  As it turned out, we still had room for a couple of more bites, and it was well worth being gourmand.

Definitely, dining at Napoli nel Cuore was a wonderful, surprising, and marvelous experience we have ever had!  Not only was the service refreshingly friendly and impeccable, but they had authentic Neopolitan cuisine to back it up.  Fabio shook our hands before we left, and he was delighted to see that Martina received an even bigger tip than the eveing before–she deserved it because of the flawless and friendly manner she had waited us.

From our experience, being able to speak another language opens doors to a world of amazing people.  I have been to Naples back when I was quite fluent in Italian, and I had found the Neopolitans to be as warm as their climate.  They are proud of their city as well as their cuisine.  Having dinner at Napoli nel Cuore confirmed what I had already known.  For us, Napoli nel Cuore is the only place for Italian food in Sydney.  It is a restaurant that not only captured our stomach, but also our heart.  It is true to its name:  Napoli nel Cuore.

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Buon appetito

 

KP Sling and the Urban Pack

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Urban Pack ready for a trip to Auckland, New Zealand

As a traveler, and a man (man traveler), I need something to carry my various travel must-haves while on the plane and on an excursion.  Ladies  have an assortment of bags, totes, and purses, seemingly for every occasion–I may suffer from purse envy.  And men have backpacks? Okay, maybe it’s more messenger bag.  Or as the character, Cameron Tucker on Modern Family calls it, “tactical tote”. Luckily for us guys there are more and more choices beyond the ubiquitous backpack.  Don’t get me wrong; I just don’t need to carry a change of clothing with me along with my tablet, phone, battery charger, and a large bottle of water.  Over four trips I brought with me my KP Sling by Keep Pursuing and the Urban Pack by Loft of Cambie Design.  This is what I’ve discovered using these two man bags.

I bought the Urban Pack so I can transport my 11″ Samsung Chromebook on trips and on trips to the coffee shop.  Its dimensions are 13″ in length, 9″ in height, and 3.5″ in width.  On its first maiden voyage (to Paris, France), the Urban Pack held:

  • 11″ Chromebook
  • Its charger
  • Samsung Note 4
  • Its charger
  • Canon PowerShot SX700 HS
  • An extra battery for the camera
  • Maxway Power Bank 12000 mAh
  • Memory card reader
  • Mini tripod
  • Earbuds
  • Ear plugs
  • Passport
  • A pack of gum

In other words, I loaded the heck out of the Urban Pack.  On the flight to Paris, it was my small carry-on.  Packed as it was, I used it as a messenger bag, across my body.  It can also be used like a fanny pack, a shoulder bag, or a sling bag.  There is a security compartment where I stow my passport and cell phone.  While waiting in line for customs, reaching for my passport was easy.  The Urban Pack  continues to be my carry-on bag on all flights.

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Security compartment

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KP Sling

Whereas the Urban Pack is able to accommodate all those items, the KP Sling is made to be compact.  For this reason, I use the KP Sling for my out and about trips around a city.  The Sling is 14″ in length, 8″ in width, and 5″ in depth. Since I use the Urban Pack as my carry-on, I pack the Sling in my luggage during flight.  On the ground, I place the following in the KP Sling:

  • Passport
  • Samsung Note 4
  • Maxway Power Bank 12000 mAh
  • Canon PowerShot SX700 HS
  • Two memory cards
  • Mini tripod
  • An extra camera battery

In all honesty, the Sling is pushed to its capacity with the camera inside along with all the other contents. To provide more room, I have the camera in my hand instead–typically I’m taking pictures anyway while traipsing in a new place.

Much like the Urban Pack, the KP Sling also has a security compartment–completely out of general view.  Moreover, the KP Sling has a second security compartment, especially if I hide its zipper.  As an added defense against theft, the zippers can be placed in a loop which makes it very difficult to take out–trust me, it’s a pain trying to get it out so I can get at my phone or that extra battery for my camera.  The Sling is made with Cordura nylon, making it water resistant.  Equally the zippers are water resistant.

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Loop lock

In the final analysis, these two bags function well as a carry-on and the other as an everyday bag.

Tagonce: The Smart Luggage Tag

One of the great things about Kickstarter is browsing all the projects people display to be crowdfunded.  Tagonce, a project launched in the summer of 2015 by Brian Høj Andersen, is touted as the “next generation” luggage tag.  As a traveler, this new luggage tag appealed to me since most everyone now has a smartphone.

tagonce-tag

On traditional luggage tags, you have to write pretty small in order to fit your name, address, and maybe a phone number.  And if you had managed to fit all that information onto that tiny piece of paper, you may wonder if anyone else can actually decipher it.  With the Tagonce, all that information can be noted, clearly, within either the website or the mobile phone application.

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Not only can you enter your contact information, but also your destination’s address and phone number such as a hotel or a resort.  Moreover you can enter dates when you will be staying there.  After confirming a trip with an airline company and the accommodation, you can type in the hotel information on the Tagonce website, using your own login.  The website as well as the app also provide a map of where your hotel is located.

 

 

So if you are worried that your luggage might be left behind, at least you know that someone can contact you while on vacation or away from home, either through phone or e-mail.  Furthermore, you can allow what information to be displayed if your bag is found.  If someone does scan your tag, you will receive a notification about it–I’ve done this several times to see how it works.  The person scanning your tag, most importantly, does not need to have the Tagonce app.

Tagonce, however, does not locate where your luggage is.  It is not a bluetooth tracker like the Tile.  With this in mind, the Tagonce works as an updated luggage tag–simple and specific in its purpose.

By and large, the Tagonce does exactly what it is meant to do.  I have not experienced losing my luggage or bag, but I travel with the Tagonce on my luggage and my carry-on.  I even keep one on my everyday bag.  To facilitate improvements, the creator of these tags is open to hear your feedback–he is a nice guy.  Tagonce can be ordered from its website, and they come in various colors. There is even a tag with an NFC chip.

Progo: The Carry-On that Can

Expecting to travel, I saw this project, Progo, on Kickstarter for a carry-on luggage which interested me for two features:  a separate shoe compartment and a removable shelf.  At the time of this project, there was a similar project, SOLO, that was also available on Kickstarter, but it was the Progo that I was after for its two features.

When it finally arrived, the Progo also had dividers in its main compartment.  I had forgotten that it can also be used as a large camera bag.  So I took those out since I was going to use the Progo as a simple carry-on luggage.  I normally do not check my bag  when I fly since it saves time waiting for the luggage at the carousel.

I got to test drive how well the Progo actually was on a short weekend trip and then on a month-long vacation.

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Weekend Trip.

I was excited to use the removable shelf on this short three-day trip.  As I was loading the fabric shelf and placed it in the compartment, I knew it was going to be packed tight with not much room for anything else save for socks around the edges.  I managed to pack three t-shirts, two shorts, one button-down shirt, and a pair of pants.  It was just enough, but in the back of mind I was anxious to see how it would do for a longer trip.

Month-long Trip.

As I began to pack for a trip Down Under, I realized more and more that I had to change the way I would pack for this trip if I were to use Progo as my carry-on luggage.  First of all, I could not use the removable shelf.  I had two polo shirts, two running shirts and shorts, two casual shorts, and three v-neck t-shirts.  These could not fit into the shelf inside the compartment.  It was too thick.  I decided to roll these items, but what to do with the removable shelf that I wanted to bring along?  I stuffed it into the back compartment with the pull out backpack straps. It was the only place I can fit it into if I wanted to bring it on the trip, not realizing that there was another compartment conveniently hidden away.  This other compartment was for a laptop or tablet.

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Laptop or tablet compartment

Then I discovered some flaws which restricted space in three smaller compartments:  the front and back of the lid cover for the main compartment, and the smaller “secret” compartment on the side.  For the lid cover, after unzipping it and placing something inside (a book for example), only one side of the zipper is open while the other side is stitched closed.  The opening to the “secret” compartment is so tight that it is difficult to get any “secret” items in there.

On the plane going to my destination I placed my heavier shoes (running) in the shoe compartment, stuffed with rolled up socks.  But on the voyage home, I placed my lighter shoes, also stuffed with rolled socks, in the compartment and found I could stuff the compartment with other items to fill up the space.  My clear plastic bag with liquids, I placed in the padded compartment found on the back of the Progo–it was easy to take out before passing security checkpoints.

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Shoe compartment

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Secret compartment

I do admit that I still have not carried it as a backpack.  This is probably due to the fact that I had another bag over my shoulder, the Urban Pack by Loft of Cambie, which had my electronics and other necessities (i.e. granola bar, ear plugs).  Apart from the “flaws” that are personal to me, this is a good, functional carry-on luggage.  It fit nicely into the luggage compartments of the planes that we flew in.  It certainly is a roomy weekender, but if you’re planning longer than a weekend, you will certainly need to plan and trim down what you’re bringing.  The Progo has many compartments so it can easily accommodate clothes, shoes, and electronics.  All in all, the Progo does exactly it was meant to do:  be an organized carry-on luggage.  Moreover, it can also double as a camera bag with the compartment dividers that came along with the Progo when it was delivered to me.

Note:  If you are flying within Australia, be aware that they only allow a maximum of 7 kilograms (15.43 pounds) for carry-on luggage.  By that time in my vacation, my luggage was pushing 11 kg.

Long Line at the Louvre? No Problem

(Previously posted on Facebook 2015)
So you’re in Paris and you decided to visit the world famous museum, le Louvre, but there is a long line outside the Glass Pyramid–perhaps there is an even longer line than you had expected, depending on the time of year you are in Paris. Fortunately, there are solutions, or rather alternatives to entering the Louvre through the “front door”. Most tourists mistake the “main” entrance to the Louvre as “the” entrance to the museum, but it is not. There are three other options (entrances) that you can use.
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The first option is by métro. Take the métro line M1 and exit at the stop, Louvre Rivoli. As I recall, there is an entrance directly to the Louvre area by métro. As I’m writing this (November 2015), however, I noticed that the M1 was marked as having some work done; so I don’t know whether or not this entrance is open.
The second option is an entrance to the Carrousel, which is a small shopping entrance, near the corner of Rivoli and Place du Carrousel. There is a red awning with “Carrousel” with which you can identify this entrance.
The third option is my personal favorite because it’s practically a secret entrance. If you find yourself at the Glass Pyramid, disappointed seeing the number of tourists lined up to enter the museum, just turn around towards the Jardin des Tuileries. You will see an arch. Right next to its right–your left–there is what looks like a block or a little wall. It is in fact an entrance. This is what I call the “back door” to the Carrousel or, if you will, the Louvre. There are virtually no lines leading into this entrance!
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So once you are in the Louvre, you may want to leave your coat and/or bags that you might have with you–travel lightly when looking at art at the Louvre. Go to the coatcheck room or vestiaire to store your belongings. There may be some confused people when you enter. By pass them and go all the way to the end. You will see lockers with clear doors and a locking mechanism. If the locking mechanism is blinking red, it is locked. If it’s not blinking, you can use it and you can use your own four digit code. Here’s how it works. Press C then any four digits of your choice, then press the key icon. The light should be blinking red. To reopen it, press C; your four digits; and then the key icon.
To buy tickets, you can use the ticket dispensers. You can choose English to utilize this machine. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to use your French, they still have people manning the ticket booths.
If you have any questions or wish to add something that I had missed, please feel free to contact me.

Why You Should Bring an Actual Camera on Your Next Vacation

(Written November 15, 2015, posted on Facebook)
Before going on a trip to Venice, Italy and a cruise to the Greek Isles, I was debating whether or not bring my camera, a Canon PowerShot SX700 HS. Most people nowadays just use their cell phones which sport anywhere between 8MP (iPhone 6) to 16MP (Galaxy Note 5)–or 41MP if you have the Nokia Lumia 1020. It makes sense to just use my cell phone, right? Well, I decided to bring the camera anyway. What made me decide to bring the camera was battery life. Using the camera would save my cell phone battery from use. More than that, I learned on my trip why it was useful and advantageous to bring an actual camera.
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I mentioned that using a camera rather than a cell phone would save battery life on my cell phone–I typically have an extra battery for my camera–but it also saves on memory capacity. Rather than use the memory space in my cell phone, I put all the vacation pictures on a 4G SD memory card. 4G capacity memory card is sufficient to hold vacation pictures. In case it is not, I have an extra 1G memory card that I bring along.
The zoom on my camera is much better than the zoom on my cell phone. This is another advantage to having an actual camera. I can zoom in on structures far away and have it be relatively clear of noise. Have you ever tried zooming in on an object far away with your cell phone camera? Yes, you can buy those lens clips from Amazon, but make sure they are telephoto and not macro. My partner and I recently found this out while trying to buy him a lens clip for his iPhone 6. If you’re willing to dish out $90 for a lens with 2x zoom, go for it.
Editing pictures. Yes, this is one feature that my camera cannot do; however, my camera is wifi capable. There is an application for my Canon camera that I downloaded from Google Play onto my Galaxy Note 4 which allows my phone and my Canon camera to communicate. I can connect them either through a network or through my camera’s self-generated SSID and password. This came in handy when we had no wifi connection–it’s much too expensive to buy the connection on a cruise ship. I connected my phone to my camera, and I was able to choose the photos I wanted to download onto my phone. Once on my phone, I was able to edit and modify the photos using Snapseed. During our excursions off ship, when we were able to connect to a wifi, we shared our photos on Facebook.
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My point-and-shoot camera is fairly small so it doesn’t take up too much room.  You don’t need to have a hefty camera with a telephoto lens unless, of course, you are a professional photographer or you really know how to use such equipment.  While I’m traveling, I like to keep my one luggage as light as possible; so, this is another reason to bring along a little point-and-shoot camera.  It fits nicely into a pocket, backpack, or purse.
So when you travel, what do you use?