Italy

2 Days in Rome – Rome, Italy

Our second (and the last) day in rome, was all devoted to the city itself. Our first stop was Trevi fountain, but when we got there this was all we could see…

trevi rome

and this was our disappointed faces when we saw it

But oh well, you gotta do what you gotta do, and in Rome you do what Romans do! So we continued to Colosseum 😛

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Here, I also had pre-purchased tickets and we didn’t have to wait in line at all. A bit of pre-work gets you far in Rome, apparently!

rome colosseumcolosseum italy romerome italyrome italyrome italyThen there was the infamous Spanish steps

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and the closed doors of Pantheon… 😦rome italy

We spent very little time in Rome – less than 48 – and a few of the tourist spots were closed, but we enjoyed our time and it was time for us to come back to Madrid. But I must’ve been super exhausted from all these trips, because as soon as we got back to Madrid I got extremely sick and my boyfriend had to take care of me for the rest of his time in Madrid.

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Italy

2 Days in Rome – Vatican

After Lisbon, we had two more days to travel around before my school started again. While we were planning the trip we’ve discussed many different cities to end our travels for the break, and we decided to go to Rome. I was asking around to people who’ve already been to Rome, to see if 2 days actually was enough to see everything and I heard mixed reviews but we decided to try!

Our original plan was to see Rome on our first day and Vatican on our second=last day, but as I was getting the tickets for Vatican museum on-line I found out that Vatican was going to be closed!! So we changed the plans last minute. Also, we were so glad that we got our tickets beforehand, as people lined up to get the tickets for Vatican was RIDICULOUS. So if you are planning a trip to Rome, I cannot emphasize enough on the importance of getting the tickets BEFOREHAND!!!!! To be frank, if we didn’t get the tickets and had to wait in the line, I’m 99% sure that both me and my boyfriend would’ve just left the scene because there is no way that we would wait in a lineup for 3~4 hours. So plan out your trip, and take advantage of the world of internet.

The thing with getting into Vatican, is that if you pre-purchased the ticket you enter through a special entrance. There are so many ‘helpers’ on the streets that will ask you if you have already purchased the ticket, and they’ll tell you where to go. However, I am incredibly cautious of people when I travel, so when people come up to me to ask me something, etc., I flat out ignore them in most cases. And I honestly couldn’t tell if these ‘helpers’ were legitimate or just some kind of a scam, but turned out that they were telling us the right direction. But as I tell everyone that asks me if I’m not scared to travel alone – Be cautious at all times.

When we entered through the ‘special gate’ for pre-purchase ticket holders, we were surprised to see another set of lineup for these pre-purchase tickets to be exchanged for ‘real’ tickets. There is no clear instructions on where to go exactly, so you kind of have to guess and wander around to see what other people are doing. This was a very inefficient system I have to say, and when there are so many people inside the building it just gets too overwhelming.

After you go through this chaos successfully, then you see these:

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Then at the end of the walk through Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel, you see the famous painting of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, but taking picture is prohibited in that room.

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It was a shame that we weren’t there when Pope Francis makes his weekly appearances, but maybe I’ll be back!

p.s.: Apparently this post was my 100th post on my blog!! Time to celebrate with some chocolate 🙂

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Europe, France, Italy, Travel

Trip Planning: France and Italy Part 5

The day is fast approaching! In a week + one day, I’ll be on a plane from YVR to CDG and I’m puking with excitement! (Sorry, inside joke). I’ve been super busy with work and other things in my life so I wasn’t able to update this blog as often as I wanted… BUT I think I’ve already finished packing the important stuff (ie. swimsuits, beach towels, etc.) and I’m asking my friend that works at a bank to get some Euros for me since they get employee exchange rates. I’m thinking of bringing around 400 Euros with me in cash but I like using my credit care when I’m traveling – it’s easier to keep track of the money that I spent, and I feel it’s much more dangerous to walk around with a lot of Euro bills in my pocket. I’m leaving my debit card home, and just bringing Visa and Amex.

Nonetheless, one important thing about bringing credit cards when you are traveling, is to let the credit card company/financial institution know that you are going to be traveling. I’ve seen a couple of people who went traveling and when they tried to use their card in a new country, some of the more ‘sensitive’ credit card companies will enforce credit fraud protection on your card if you haven’t let them know in advance. And although it’s just one phone call to lift that protection, it can certainly be a pain in the bum to make that call, reiterate all your personal information, and not being able to purchase that fabulous something that you were trying to buy. Amex has made it easier for travelers so that they don’t need to let Amex know beforehand, but my main financial institution does ask for my travel plans to be stored in their database. And this registration process may take up to 2 days so if you have 10 minutes you can just have this process over with sooner. This actually is my first time traveling with Amex since the last time I only had my Visa with me when I was in Europe, so we’ll see how good they are with blocking the card only when appropriate (ie. when it actually gets stolen). Also, keep the call centre numbers for your credit cards with you so when you actually lose your card or get it stolen, you don’t have to furiously look for a wifi spot to google the number.

To update my status on the trip planning, I finished booking 2 out of 3 train trips that I’ll be taking. I’m traveling from & to the following cities:

  • Nice > La Spezia
  • La Spezia > Florence (booked)
  • Florence > Milan (booked)

Again, being a research-based project management person, I compared at least 4 different websites for these trips. The websites I looked at were: TrentItalia, RailEurope, Italo, and ItaliaRail. They give different prices/routes/trains/and schedules, so if you are a cost-conscious traveler like me it’s good to do your research. I booked my La Spezia > Florence train on ItaliaRail, and Florence > Milan on Italo. It seemed like the prices had gone up in the past few weeks, so just like the flight tickets it’s better so book them in advance if you are traveling during the busy season.

A little side note though, when I was trying to purchase my tickets on Italo with Amex, Amex actually enforced fraud protection on my card so I had to use Visa instead. I called Amex right after and lifted the protection, but again this is a good example of credit card companies blocking your card so keep in mind.

I guess that is about it on my status update! I was looking up on the weather forecast in Europe and it seems like they are already up in 30 degrees – when it’s below 15 and raining here in Vancouver (ummm, more like Raincouver). So I’m super looking forward for this vacation after the past few months not being the best times in my personal and professional life!

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Europe, Italy, Travel

Trip Planning: France and Italy Part 4

My last posting covered up to my accommodation in Nice, and I am extremely happy to say that I have ALL the hotels for this trip booked now! I booked the hotel for our final destination in Milan this morning, and I just can’t wait until July!!

The hardest place to find an accommodation probably was La Spezia. We originally wanted to stay in one of the Cinque terres, but most of the hotels/hostels/bnbs in Cinque terre were very expensive and options were limited as well. So we had to compromise a little bit, and decided to just stay in La Spezia. For La Spezia and Florence, we decided to go with Airbnb for the first time. Rather than staying at hotels or hostels, Airbnb provides the list of locals that are willing to let people rent out their place for a certain period of time, letting these travellers to experience how the locals actually live in the city. My manager actually suggested trying out Airbnb, and I am glad that he suggested this option because we are very happy with the places that we booked through this website. Of course I can’t say too much when I haven’t been there myself yet, but communicating with the house owner were very efficient and smooth for both of the cities, and their places look awesome in the pictures!

Then our last stop is in Milan, and we decided to go with Hilton. Usually when I travel in North America I stay at one of the Hiltons to save the points. And since all my friends are going to be visiting me in Milan, I wanted to stay in the city at a good location so I can go everywhere with ease. For more information on Hilton Milan, here’s TripAdvisor’s review on Hilton Milan

Now that everything’s planned and paid, I have be good and try not to go shopping before summer. Nonetheless, my small Austin, Texas trip is coming up next week so I am very excited for that as well! All these parties at SXSW and events are getting me excited for this year’s St. Patty’s weekend ❤

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Europe, France, Italy, Travel

Trip Planning: France and Italy Part 2

I’ve booked my flight tickets!!

..well, actually three days ago. I’ve been busy at work and outside of work so finally I get to write this posting. Anywho, As I always do, I’ve been researching like crazy and keeping track of the price trend. I had two options for my flights:
1. Round trip from Vancouver to Paris
2. Two separate trips, Vancouver to Paris and Milan to Vancouver

First I only thought of option 1 since Paris/London/Frankfurt are the cheaper options to fly to Europe from Vancouver. And for the past few weeks, prices were around $1200~$1300 for the round trip. And the option 2 was also around $1300~$1400. I know the trip is not happening for another four months, and for my last trip last year I only got the tickets about eight weeks before the trip. Nonetheless that was during low season (January-February) and I was flying from and to United States (from New York to Prague, from Paris to Seattle). So when I was searching for my ticket for this year’s trip I decided to go on the hunt earlier since July is very high season. Also I already got my vacation approved, so there was nothing that’d stop me from getting my tickets.

I was tracking the price trend for the past few weeks on various websites – Momondo, Bookingbuddy, StudentUniverse, and I also asked for a quote from Flight centre.

  • Momondo: Very user friendly UX, searches different European websites which tend to offer lower prices for tickets in Europe. But one downfall is that since they search up on European websites, some of those websites offer the price in Euros, or British Pounds. Therefore depending on the exchange rate the price might differ from what you saw on Momondo.
  • Bookingbuddy: It also combines many website searches into one. The usual websites are Expedia, Kayak, Orbitz, Priceline, CheapOair, etc. Shows you the correct US/CAD price.
  • StudentUniverse: Great website for students or people under 26. I found out about this website the year before last year when I was researching for my tickets to Europe and since I was a student I was looking to see if I can get some perks of being a student. It feels like it’s either hit or miss for StudentUniverse, because most of the times the prices offered are little more expensive than what you can find elsewhere; but if you are lucky (like I was the year before last year AND this year) you can find some great prices. However, I’m not sure if they changed the policy or not, you need to prove that you are a student by sending them a screen capture of your logged in page on your college website.
  • Flight centre: This one, also is a hit or miss. They got me an amazing price for my flights from/to Hong Kong for my exchange. Everywhere I searched I only could find $1900 and above, but they were able to find it for $1300. I was flabbergasted and have been going back constantly for quotes for all my trips, but since then I was always able to find better price than them. And when they say they’ll ‘beat the lowest price’, they mean it by a dollar and $20 credit for your next booking with them. But quite honestly, I was able to find prices that are much lower than what they offered and I didn’t want to bother going through them for $21 in savings. And some consultants are just not too nice 😦

As I was keeping track of the price trend, there was one day last week when I could get the option 2 flights, with KLM, for under $1300 on StudentUniverse (This definitely was another hit by StudentUniverse). That day the option 1 flights were also around $1300 but for option 1 I had to get another flight from Milan to Paris. So when I found that price on StudentUniverse, I just got my credit card and purchased it. It only stops once in Amsterdam, and I’ve heard that their airport is one of the best in Europe so I wouldn’t mind kicking around at the airport for a couple of hours. And the greatest thing is, when I checked the prices yesterday, the exact same tickets now – same airline, same time, same stops – are now over $2000! (I usually keep checking prices even after I purchase my tickets to see if I was smart or not). I’m usually good with purchasing the ticket at the right time, but since I paid $500 for what used to be $350 on my flights to Austin next month, I was determined to not make that mistake again.

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So… that’s my two pennies on booking tickets online. I guess it’s going to have to be a nickel from now since Bank of Canada has gotten rid of pennies! hahahaha 😛

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