July 09, 2011

Sunny Sorrento

Sorrento, May 2010 - Our last full day in Italy with Carrani Tours on the 3-day Naples, Pompeii and Sorrento tour was warm and sunny. After breakfast, we packed our bags, checked out of our room at the Hotel Michelangelo, and left the luggage in the hotel storage area. We had the morning free to explore Sorrento before departing for Rome in the afternoon.

Sorrento's Gorge

June 29, 2011

Trafalgar Train Tours

I've loved traveling by train ever since my first trip to Europe in the '80s. I purchased a Eurail Youthpass and journeyed from Amsterdam to Rome, to Florence, Vienna, Munich and Paris. In 2010 I returned, traveling this time with Trafalgar Tours on the Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy.

Tower Bridge, London

June 24, 2011

The Isle of Capri

Sorrento, May 2010 - Under blue skies and bright sunshine at last, we departed the Hotel Michelangelo for Marina Piccola where we would board a jet boat to the legendary Isle of Capri. We were greeted at the port by flowers and palm trees, sparkling blue-green waters and the towering cliffs of Sorrento. This was the Italy I had been waiting to see.

Cliffs of Sorrento

June 19, 2011

Naples, Pompeii and Sorrento

Roma, May 2010 - We'd been travelling through England, France and Italy on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour. And this morning we were about to embark on the second portion of our trip, a 3-day Naples, Pompeii and Sorrento Tour with Carrani Tours.

A shuttle picked us up from the Hotel Diana and transferred us to the tour bus that would carry us south from Rome to our first stop, the city of Naples. Travelling along the modern highway, we saw the Appian Way, lined on both sides by rows of umbrella pines. This ancient road ran southeast from Rome, to Brindisi on Italy's Adriatic coast.

We arrived at the port of Naples in the rain, and regrouped with other English-speaking travellers for our walking tour.

Castel Nuovo, Naples

June 15, 2011

Rome and the Vatican

Roma, May 2010 - We had been travelling through England, France and Italy with Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour. Now in Rome, this would be the group's final day together.

Visitors line up along the Vatican Wall

June 11, 2011

Grand Tour Rome

Firenze, May 2010 - We were about to embark on the final leg of our journey with Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy with a short trip from Florence to Rome's Termini station.

Before checking into our hotel, we took an orientation tour of those same ancient sights that had attracted earlier travellers on their Grand Tours of Europe. We drove past the Baths of Diocletian and the ruins of the Roman Forum to arrive near the Arch of Constantine for a tour of the Colosseum.

Arch of Constantine

June 06, 2011

Dinner in Tuscany

It was our second day in Florence on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy. The morning coffee on tour has been very good. And the coffee machine in the ornate breakfast room at the Boscolo Astoria was designed to dispense any number of variations on the standard cup of java - espresso, latte, cappuccino. It resembled a Las Vegas slot machine with its many lights and buttons.

Ceiling of the Boscolo  Astoria Breakfast Room

June 04, 2011

Renaissance Florence

Venezia, May 2010 - We were in Venice on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy. And now we were headed to the rail station for our morning journey to that Renaissance jewel, Florence.

It was a short trip from Venice, and too early for check-in, so we dropped off our bags at the Boscolo Astoria  before embarking on a city orientation tour. After returning to the hotel, we ventured out in search of lunch. We didn't walk far before we found the Trattoria La Madia and settled into a sidewalk table with a couple of fellow Canadians from our group. The sun wasn't shining, but at least it wasn't raining. And I enjoyed the tagliatelle with crab and lemon. This restaurant would also be the site for our group dinner that evening.

Trattoria La Madia, Florence

June 01, 2011

The Venetian Lagoon

Venezia, May 2010 - We were travelling on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy. It was our second day in Venice and I was becoming a little disappointed with my vacation to the "sunny Mediterranean". So far we had received more than our fair share of rain. And today looked no better.

San Giacometto Church, Venice

May 29, 2011

Venice, La Serenissima

Venezia, May 2010 - We had arrived in Mestre yesterday on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy. And this morning we would get our first view of the legendary city of Venice, La Serenissima.

Under a rainbow of umbrellas, we crossed the street to the Mestre rail station to board a train that would take us into Venice. As the train crossed the causeway that connects Venice with the mainland, the waters of the lagoon mirrored the dark, stormy skies, blurring the horizon and creating a a desolate grey seascape.

As we exited Santa Lucia Station, we were met at the bottom of the stairs by the Grand Canal.

Ferrovia Vaporetto Station on the Grand Canal

May 26, 2011

Ventimiglia to Venice

Nice, May 2010 - We were in Nice on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy. But the time had come for us to depart the French Riviera and resume our journey onward to Venice.

French Riviera Coastline

May 24, 2011

Exploring Nice

Nice, May 2010 - We were travelling on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy, having arrived on the French Riviera the night before. I had made great plans for our free day in Nice, but I was starting to feel a little worn out by the touring pace we had kept in London and Paris for the past week. And Nice was a charming city that begged for some wandering and aimless exploring.

Nice Craft Market

May 21, 2011

Riviera Fireworks

Paris, May 2010 - We had just spent three days in Paris on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy. Our trip to the French Riviera began at the Gare de Lyon, where we boarded the TGV Mediterranee high speed train to Nice. The six-hour journey took us through rolling hills dotted with charming farmhouses and grazing cattle.

The French Countryside

May 20, 2011

Paris - Left Bank

Paris, 2010 - We were in Paris on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour, with a free day ahead of us. The previous day we had spent exploring the Right Bank and today we would focus on the Left Bank, la Rive Gauche.

We started our morning on Ile de la Cité, the birthplace of this great city. Our first stop was the Gothic chapel Sainte-Chapelle to view the stained glass windows of the upper chapel. Our Museum Pass covered our admission here, and also allowed us to bypass the long line for tickets. Some of the windows were under renovation and covered by scaffolding, but the remaining windows in their rich reds and blues were an inspiring sight.

Upper Chapel of Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

May 18, 2011

Paris - Right Bank

Paris, May 2010 - We arrived in Paris yesterday on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy. And I was excited to find pains au chocolat on the breakfast buffet this morning to accompany my cafe au lait. We needed to fortify ourselves for the sunny but blustery day ahead of us that would start with a brief sightseeing tour, followed by a visit to the Eiffel Tower.

Les Invalides, Paris

May 15, 2011

How to Barbecue Mediterranean Style

Barbecue season has returned, and with it the first long weekend of the summer. But are you getting bored with the same old burgers and potato salad? You can excite both your palate and your imagination this summer by transforming your backyard barbecues into a Mediterranean adventure. It's easy to bring the rich cultures of the Mediterranean region home with healthy recipes starring elements of Greek, Italian, Provencal or Spanish cuisine. Add to the ambience with traditional music and rustic decor, and you can create a memorable outdoor dining experience for family and friends.

Chianti Vineyard

May 09, 2011

Bonjour Paris

London, 2010 - We were on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy, and after spending several days in London we were about to embark on the first leg of our journey by rail.

Eurostar Train, St. Pancras Station, London

May 05, 2011

Royal London

London, May 2010 (Bank Holiday) - We had been in London for three days. But this was our first day of touring on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour, starting with a morning of London sightseeing.

A local guide showed us sights such as Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey, London

May 02, 2011

Tea at the Ritz

London, May 2010 - It was arrival day for Trafalgar Tours' Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy. We had already spent two days in London for some extra sightseeing, and later we would be meeting the other members of our tour group.

Morning brought more rain (it was springtime in London, after all) so our concierge waved down a cab for our journey to the Ritz Hotel for Champagne Afternoon Tea in the Palm Court.

The Ritz Hotel, London

April 29, 2011

Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath

London, May 2010 - We were in London, spending a couple of extra days before the start of our Contrasts of Europe train tour with Trafalgar Tours. Today we were taking a full day Evan Evans tour to three of the country's most popular sights: Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath.

A shuttle bus transferred us from our hotel to Victoria Station, where we boarded our tour bus and met our guide for the day, who was both knowledgeable and entertaining.

Windsor Royal Shopping

April 25, 2011

London - The Adventure Begins

London, April 2010 - The day had finally arrived. We were on our way to London to begin Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy.

Fortunately, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland had stopped spewing ash long enough for our flight to safely cross the Atlantic to Heathrow Airport. The air traffic situation had been changing hourly in recent weeks, so we weren't sure that we would reach our destination until we actually touched down on the tarmac.

Big Ben, London

Europe, Then and Now

When the movie The Bucket List came out, it prompted me to put together a list of my own. That list quickly turned into an itinerary of travel destinations, and a reminder of what had been missing in my life.

For the past 20 years I had been an armchair traveller and I didn't know where to start. But fate intervened, first in the form of a fortune cookie which said "Stop waiting!  Buy a ticket and take that trip today!", and then in a lucky lottery ticket that made the dream a reality.

I hadn't been to Europe since the early 80s and lots had changed. Back then, I travelled with a Eurail Youthpass and a copy of Europe on $20 a Day. I made reservations at pensiones by mail, and paid in francs and lire. Now, communication has been revolutionized by the Internet and the Euro is the new currency. The Chunnel connects Britain with the Continent, the Iron Curtain has fallen, and a modern glass pyramid has risen in front of the Louvre.

Louvre Pyramid, Paris

And $20 just might buy you lunch.

I dug out my old travel journal, and what a disappointment it was. I had naively thought at the time that I would remember everything, so I didn't need to be detailed in my notes. But not only are my old photographs beginning to fade, so are the memories. Lesson learned.

Gone are the days when you had to carry rolls of film, and choose your shots carefully so as not to waste any. I vowed that my next European adventure would be fully documented in a journal and accompanied with lots of photos and video. So that's exactly what I did when I embarked on the Contrasts of Europe train tour with Trafalgar Tours in May 2010.

Next:  London - The Adventure Begins