Ever Wonder About The Land Down Under

Posted by Justin Murphy

February 13, 2020 at 10:25 AM

Adventures In The Land Down Under
   
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Anything is possible In the Land of Aus (Oz), and Dorothy you are definitely not in Kansas anymore. Australia is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. It’s known as a major backpacking, camping, road trip, and diving destination, but no matter your travel style, there is something to draw you here. The country is filled with incredible natural beauty from Uluru to the Outback, rainforests to pristine white sand beaches, and of course, the Great Barrier Reef. Sydney’s Harbor Bridge and Opera House are iconic man-made wonders, and Melbourne’s café culture will make you feel like you are in Europe. Coupled with world-class surfing, and it is no wonder people never leave. Some of my favorite spots would be Cairns, The Gold Coast, Sydney, and Melbourne.
 
Cairns is Australia's northern gateway to Queensland. It is a tropical town with a lively nightlife. This amazing place is also where you will find the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest, Atherton tablelands, Cape Tribulation, and much much more. Right in the city's center is a man made "lagoon" for local and out of towners to swim and enjoy away from the hungry crocs. The weather is very tropical and changes with the wind. The night market is also an interesting place to checkout.
 
 The Gold Coast, Australia is east of Brisbane and full of sun, surf, and sand! It’s known foIMG_0167.jpgr its sunny subtropical climate, surfing, beaches, a rainforest hinterland, and a wild nightlife. The most famous city in the area is Surfer’s Paradise, a major stop for travelers and backpackers looking to get some sun, surf, and spend time partying. If you have time take a day trip up to Tamborine Mountain for some breathtaking views and at the peak walk among the tree canopy on a rickety bridge and the awe-inspiring bird sanctuary. Also a short drive from Surfer's Paradise is Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary where you can see many of the indigenous species of Australia and even hold a Koala, pet kangaroos, and much much more.
 
Melbourne is Australia’s bar capital and live music hub—often called the country’s “European enclave”. Melbourne is the first place in the world to ring in the New Year and thus has one of the most spectacular firework shows. The central business district not only serves its after-work drinkers, but also attracts a young, trendy crowd. Across the Yarra River, Southgate provides the arts precinct with a strip of bars and riverside views. With plenty of culture, activities, art exhibitions, and live music, you could easily spend over a week here and not regret it. There is so much to see and do even the street art has history behind it. The sporting arena is huge and cricket games can usually be viewed, the botanical garden are beautiful you can even go for a romantic gondola ride. Queen Victoria Market is a huge farmers' market that you can find anything and everything for a very competitive price. 
 
Sydney is a cosmopolitan city surrounded by iconic beaches, world heritage sites, and acclaimed wine regions. Besides being Australia’s largest city, Sydney is also its’ most visited. (And, contrary to popular belief, not the country’s capital!) With an incredible variety of attractions and sights to see, including the very famous Bondi and Manly beaches, it’s easy to see why people come here and stay a while—try to stay at least a week if you can. 
 
This was definitely my favorite city in Australia. It is just so vast and diverse you can do anything and everything that you could ever want. From seeing an amazing show in the iconic Sydney Opera House to the exhilarating climb to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge I did it all and so much more. Bondi Beach is one of the most beautiful but not just the beach, the street art is also remarkably intricate. Take the harbor cruise to get views straight from postcards, and learn all about the Opera House and Bridge.
 
The city is not based off of a grid system so it is not as easy to navigate as Melbourne, but one my favorite memories from my trip after being lost trying to find our back to the hotel and happening by this little Irish bar and hearing "Sweet Home Alabama" . . .  so of course we had to go inside. It was such an awesome atmosphere and so many friendly people. The live band was amazed that we knew the words until they figured out we were from the USA. 
 
Australia was everything I dreamed it would be and even more.  Like my mom feels about Italy, I feel about Australia. I truly hope each of you get to visit one day.  I hope I've peaked your interest a little, and when you are ready to go to the land of AUZ, please reach out, I would love to share my experiences and help you plan a perfect adventure to Australia.
 
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Have an awesome week!

 

 

 

When you feel like it's a dream come true, it just keeps getting better!

The most important thing is to enjoy your Italy vacation.  Be  a  aIMG_6323 traveler, not a tourist. 

Sharpen your photography skills so you can capture "a snapshot in time" to remember the experience and preserve the memories forever  as you explore Venice, the city on water. Looking at my photos BRINGS ME BACK and its always such a beautiful memory! 

I truly hope you get to go to Venice.  If this sounds like the kind of ITALY trip you would enjoy, call me, I would LOVE to help you plan the perfect Trip of a Lifetime!  Please tag us when you show off your Venice Travel Adventure  @VIPTravelExperience! (P.S.  don't get too caught up in the photos that you MISS the moment).

Read more

Topics: why use a travel agent, luxurytravel, #australia

Cruising Through A Country

Posted by Justin Murphy

January 30, 2020 at 10:20 AM

Cruising Through Provence

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To begin our journey we boarded our flight from the US and hopped across the pond to Lyon, France. Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France with all the best eateries in as many variations you could imagine.  Here we were picked up and transferred straight to the ship. There was no line or assigned boarding time you just get to the ship and walk right on it was amazing. The ships decor was very elegant, yet casual and the main room was very spacious and staff extremely welcoming. We were ushered to our cabin which was also almost double what I have experienced on ocean cruise ship. We dropped our bags and then got right back off the ship to explore Lyon on our own for the rest of the evening.  Upon returning to the ship, we stopped in the lounge and the staff set down a favorite wine that he had recommended earlier in the day (I was floored that he remembered that already-we had only met once).   That was the first thing I loved is that there were less than 150 people on board at max capacity.

 

 

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The next morning, day 2, we got up early to discover dynamic Lyon, starting in Fourvière Hill, part of the city’s historic region that is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the 19th-century basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière. We continued on to the old town of Lyon, followed by a guided walk through the St. Jean district, where you will be introduced to the city’s unique covered walkways, known as “traboules.” During the afternoon we took a walking food tour around old town, I was amazed by the murals of local living on the buildings. We boarded the ship, enjoyed the complimentary cocktail hour then headed to dinner. As we were eating dinner the ship departed for our next destination so we were able to see Lyon's skyline lit up as we cruised down the river.  Not only did we enjoy the cultural sites in the country but each day fresh local produce and wines were brought on board so that you have the convenice of traveling on the ship, but you are tasting the farm to table foods and wines of that region.  Next day, different area and different locals foods and wines. 

 

IMG_4506Day 3, this morning we woke up and headed to breakfast.  Starting with breakfast, all of the meals on board were fabulous. As we were eating breakfast we realized that we were docked once again in the small town in the middle of the Beaujolais wine region—known as the Pays d’Or or “land of the golden stones.” We had the option to indulge in a wine tasting at a traditional winery and learn about the history and techniques of their vineyard. We enjoyed the afternoon at leisure exploring the town and its quaint charm before boarding the ship and sailing to Vienne. Also something I loved about traveling during the day you can sit on the upper decks and have amazing views of the surrounding areas while coasting along this beautiful river or laugh at Tammy rushing to the front of the ship to watch every detail of passing through the locks (she did not miss one of them).

 

Day 4, We arrived in Vienne situated between the wine regions of Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhône. Vienne 's  alignment with its Roman past can be seen in its marvelously preserved ruins. We had several excursion options (regular departure, late risers or active) to follow the footsteps of the ancient Romans on a walking tour to see the amazingly well-preserved

IMG_8312Augustus and Livia Temple, the Saint Maurice Cathedral, a Gothic church that took more than 500 years to build, and St. Pierre Abbey—one of the oldest surviving churches in France, and now an Archaeological Museum. For those wishing to be more active (Like me), you can either take a guided bike tour along aportion of the ViaRhôna bike route or a guided hike (Mom) from the ship to the Monastery at Mount Pipet. The bike ride is the tour I chose. It was beautiful we crossed bridges, rode through vineyards, rode along the river, and through farm land passing chateaus and beautiful ruins.  Each night we gathered in the main lounge for a brief local entertainment from that particular village.  We ended each night with a little music and dancing and wine.   There was a small wine club group from New York on board and they welcomed us to their group and we enjoyed meeting up each evening to discuss the different excursions and experiences everyone had enjoyed separately.

 

Day 5, After breakfast we were given the choice of three excursions. Take a train ride past 

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magnificent landscape carved along the Gorge du Doux, stopping at the charming little station of Colombier le Vieux-Saint Barthélemy le Plain, where the train maneuvers in preparation for its return journey. Alternatively, lovers of wine and chocolate will want to visit Le Château de Tournon for a presentation and tasting on the pairing of red wine and chocolate . For a more active adventure, cycle through the French countryside or take a hike through the vineyards of Tain l’Hermitage, followed by a visit to a local winery where you’ll sample some of the wines.

I chose the wine tasting with chocolate pairing at Le Château de Tournon. It was an amazing experience. We were brought under the "castle" to a private room and learned about the history of this Chateau, wine region, and culture of Tournon. It was such a cool environment and the wine & chocolates were delicious. Afterwards we had the afternoon on our own to explore this 

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riverside town and check out all of the shops and buy some wine to take home.   You could walk at leisure exploring or people watching or you could use the complimentary bikes on board the ship.  The ship stayed in port until 11pm that night so Tammy participated in a baguette making class as the famous Guarmandisi Bakery.  The aroma was amazing as they all returned to the ship with their freshly baked baguettes.    Did I mention that all of these awesome excursions are included in the cost of the cruise.   

 

 

Day 6, Advancing to Avignon, aptly named the “City of Popes,” was the center of the Catholic Church in the 14th century when its “Palais des Papes” was the equivalent of today’s Vatican. Depending on your interests, we had three choices of excursions. Discover the history of Avignon on a guided walking tour that includes the Papal Palace and the well-preserved medieval walls surrounding the historic center of town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Alternatively, if you enjoy cooking you can go into a local chef's restaurant to learn how to prepare a traditional meal.

IMG_8623If you preferred, you could visit three venues around Avignon to taste regional specialties including macaroons, cheese and wine, and tapenades. We decided to do the cooking class and it was the ABSOLUTE highlight of our trip. It was so much fun to learn from a local chef in his own restaurant. During the afternoon, we enjoyed free time in Avignon touring the Palais des Papes. After visiting this enchanting Provençal town, we went in search of the highly prized “Black Diamond” truffles with a farmer and his trustworthy canine companion followed by a visit to an olive farm where you’ll learn about age-old Provençial traditions from a master olive miller as well as sample the olive oils. In the evening, we enjoyed an illuminations cruise around Avignon to see the city aglow along the river. This night we had dinner at the Chef's table  Dining Experience (complimentary and reservations required) for an open kitchen meal experience. We watched the chef prepare each of our 6 courses each as scrumptious as the previous. It is located at the back of the boat with floor to ceiling windows so the views were enchanting sunset as we sailed away from Avignon.

 

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Day 6, Artistic Arles, considered one of the most beautiful cities in France. For art lovers, you’ll wish to visit Saint Paul de Mausole Asylum, where Vincent van Gogh once lived and painted.  Afterwards, we went to the Carrières de Lumières, where we were treated to a spectacular presentation of art, sound and history projected on the walls of caves. Alternatively, you could have chosen to venture to the medieval hilltop village, Les Baux de Provence, or for a different adventure, journey to Aigues-Mortes, known for its well preserved medieval walls and guard towers, followed by a visit to the beautiful Camargue National Park, a protected natural territory with more than 400 different species of birds. During the afternoon, we joined a walking tour of Arles highlighting top sights, including the Romanesque cathedral and Roman amphitheater; Also offered for those who wish to delve further into Van Gogh’s Arles, join a special walking tour along with a visit to the Vincent van Gogh Foundation, showcasing his legacy.

 

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Day 7, we had breakfast and then disembarked this magnificent journey. Not quite having our fill of adventure. We opted into their post-cruise extension and boarded a motorcoach to Barcelona, Spain. There we spent 3 magnificent nights exploring that amazing city, but that is a story for another day. I hope you enjoyed and can now envision yourself cruising down the Rhine, Rhone, Danube, Moselle, and/or Main Rivers.

 

Some of the highlights for us on river cruising were virtually everything was included so there were less decisions to be made.  Our dining, shore excursions, entertainment, wine, beer and soft drinks included during lunch and dinner.  We could tour in the mornings, return to ship for lunch then stroll the city on our own in the afternoon.  The towns/cities were small and we felt completely safe to walk around on our own.  The ship docking in the city center was a huge plus, high quality tours were high quality.   I also like the casual dinners, I wore jeans all nights with exception of the Captain's farewell dinner.

 

There are many choices of river cruise ships and itineraries.  Activities vary based on the river and destinations.  If you would think river cruising may be in your future, don't hesitate to call us.  There are some big differences by ship, we would LOVE to chat and hear which things are most important to you and help you choose the ship that is just right for you.   We have incredible connections with several cruise lines and also have some added amenities that are exclusive to our agency, we would love to share those with you on your next travel experience.  


Have an awesome week!

 

 

 

When you feel like it's a dream come true, it just keeps getting better!

The most important thing is to enjoy your Italy vacation.  Be  a  aIMG_6323 traveler, not a tourist. 

Sharpen your photography skills so you can capture "a snapshot in time" to remember the experience and preserve the memories forever  as you explore Venice, the city on water. Looking at my photos BRINGS ME BACK and its always such a beautiful memory! 

I truly hope you get to go to Venice.  If this sounds like the kind of ITALY trip you would enjoy, call me, I would LOVE to help you plan the perfect Trip of a Lifetime!  Please tag us when you show off your Venice Travel Adventure  @VIPTravelExperience! (P.S.  don't get too caught up in the photos that you MISS the moment).

Read more

Topics: river cruise, #VIPRiverCruise, #RiverCruise, why use a travel agent, luxurytravel

Rolling On To Roma!

Posted by Justin Murphy

January 24, 2020 at 9:00 AM

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Leaving Florence we boarded a private transfer traveling through the scenic Tuscany region, stopping in the town of Orvieto for a wine & light bite pairing. It was great to get out and stretch our legs and break up the ride into two smaller segments. After lunch we rolled on over to Rome. 

 

Upon arrival into Rome we dropped off our luggage and freshened up a bit before we were met by our local guide to explore this great city through a panoramic walking tour hitting most of the highlights. We started at the Spanish steps, 

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winding through piazzas, to the Roman Pantheon, stopped to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain (or trying to, I accidentally hit someone-WHOOPS), and ended the evening in Piazza Navona for some people watching. After our stroll we went to a local trattoria for some aperitivos and some really good red wine. After dinner, we went exploring on our own. I took this time to try quite a few different gelato stands HAHA.

 

Day 2 in Rome, I woke up early to have breakfast (cured meats, bread, and fresh fruit) before embarking on our journey through Ancient Rome. We boarded our private transfer and headed to our first stop-THE COLOSSEUM! It was much Snapseed (3)bigger than I had anticipated. We entered through the lower section to see where the gladiators were held before entering combat. Then proceeded to the upper decks to get a birds eye view of the arena. It was a site to behold and you could also get a panoramic view of the city from atop the Colosseum. We headed out the back to get a glimpse of the Roman Forum and then onto the Circus Maximus where they held in ancient times the hugely popular chariot races. From there we headed down the Appian Way, one of the oldest and most strategic roadways of the ancient republic. Getting a little extra insight into Ancient Rome we left the hustle and bustle of the big city to Castelli Romani, green foothills outside of Rome proper. Here we enjoyed lunch at a family run fraschettina (trattoria-style, informal eatery beloved by the locals) where I devoured the best carbonara I 

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have ever tasted in my life along with some delicious Frascati wine. After lunch we had a brief walking tour of the Castel Gandolfo- home to the Pope's summer palace! We made our way back into the city in the late afternoon to have the evening at leisure. I squeezed in a  few new hotel inspections and found the amazing LIVE Restaurant (city center and right next to the hotel). This was my favorite meal of the entire trip. For my first course I had the black truffle sea-bass carpaccio (OHH MY GOSH AH-MAZING). Second course was a caesar salad with fresh anchovies that I picked off of course LOL. My entree I had grilled salmon with some type of creme sauce that I wish I could spell, but it was delicious with fresh grilled vegetables. To end this meal we ALL ordered different flavors of gelato, and left with a shot of limoncello which is apparently the only way to end a meal in Roma. After this extremely busy day we called it an early night and went back to the hotel for a good night sleep.

 

The next morning, day 3, we woke up early again for early access into the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican, and St. Peters Basilica. We started with skip the line tickets IMG_6730to the Sistine Chapel which was actually way smaller than I expected, but never the less a sight to be seen. It was breathtaking to see all of the intricate work that was put into this artistic phenomena. Next we went up to the top of St. Peter's Basilica to see inside from above. Then we were asked if we wanted to climb to the top of the dome. It was a trek with over 551 steps to reach the top for an unbelievably spectacular view of Vatican City. I am deathly afraid of heights so I was hugging the walls, but it was an absolutely incredible experience. After reaching our viewing pleasure we descended the stairs to go in St. Peter's to see the many immaculate sculptures and Michelangelo's Pieta. Exiting St. Peter's basilica we walked around St. Peter's Square stopping to grab a traditional Roman pizza for another amazing meal. IMG_6750That afternoon we did some shopping and tried more gelato-I JUST COULDN'T GET ENOUGH! That evening we toured the Trastevere neighborhood, the Jewish Quarter, coming across a lot of stumbling stones, golden squares on the ground to remember those taken by the Holocaust. Trastevere is a very quaint residential area that has a charm all its own. For dinner, we joined Barbara, a local, in her home to have a one of a kind experience and ate way too much food and drank maybe too much wine-if that's even possible. We toasted to a wonderful time and to have experienced it with such amazing friends. It was the perfect exclamation point to end this wonderful journey. We laughed, we cried, and relived our time in this magical place.

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When you feel like it's a dream come true, it just keeps getting better!

The most important thing is to enjoy your Italy vacation.  Be  a  aIMG_6323 traveler, not a tourist. 

Sharpen your photography skills so you can capture "a snapshot in time" to remember the experience and preserve the memories forever  as you explore Venice, the city on water. Looking at my photos BRINGS ME BACK and its always such a beautiful memory! 

I truly hope you get to go to Venice.  If this sounds like the kind of ITALY trip you would enjoy, call me, I would LOVE to help you plan the perfect Trip of a Lifetime!  Please tag us when you show off your Venice Travel Adventure  @VIPTravelExperience! (P.S.  don't get too caught up in the photos that you MISS the moment).

Read more

Topics: why use a travel agent, First Time Tips to Italy, LOVEITALY, Italy Vacation, Italy Travel, luxurytravel

Venice, Italy and all of its Charms

Posted by Justin Murphy

January 17, 2020 at 8:45 AM

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Last month I was able to experience my mom and business partner's happy place that reignited such a passion for travel in her. The one and only ITALY. Though Italy is such a vast and diverse destination, a piece of my heart will always be left in Venice. This is the first excerpt of a 3 part email series detailing my time in this magical world across the Atlantic.  I spent 4 days getting lost in Venice (which is very easy to do) which is another thing that I believe gives this quaint city a charm about itself. The first day I just explored the main sites- Rialto Bridge, St. Marks Basilica, Doges Palace, and the winding canals ending the day with a cichetti crawl with our very own local friend.  Cinzia is very passionate about her home and she took us to some of her favorite spots to enjoy lite bites and an Aperol Spritz (venetian favorite).   I hope I get to introduce her to you!!

 

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The second day was one of my favorites! We spent the morning wandering the less touristy parts of Venice and were invited into a local's (Lucia) home for an authentic venetian lunch (TONS OF FOOD ). During lunch we were surprised with one of Lucia's friends who is a poet. He asked us each to come up with a wordand he made it into a poem. My word was Love and my poem was "Justin that owns in his eyes, the deep sweetness of a child, a happy & thoughtful child"  Italians like to call it a "light" lunch, but it was at least 4 courses. Seared salmon on bread, buffalo mozzarella, 2 types of pasta, and entree was a grilled sea bass (AMAZING). We had the afternoon/evening on our own to explore a bit more. That night we had a private behind the scenes tour of St. Marks Basilica (amazing after all the tourists leave). We walked in and took a seat in complete darkness when all of a sudden the gold inlayed mosaics started to light up with splendor. It was truly a magical experience. After the light show we toured the basilica and the below with a local guide. 

 

The third day we embarked on a traditional venetian boat to explore the Venetians lagoons. We wound through Murano made famous by the glass blowing. Circled around Burano, known for its lace making, which is a photographers dream with its brightly colored building and picturesque canals. 

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We stopped on the island of Torcello, which was the first of the islands to be inhabited in 452 AD, for lunch. It was another delicious 4 course meal. After lunch we made our way back into the city. On our way back to the hotel we enjoyed a private chocolate tasting with a local chef that makes her own special tiramisu (DELICIOUS). After our calorie intake was met we continued on to a traditional Carnival mask workshop. The master artisan demonstrated 3 different techniques and explained what certain types of masks meant and how it all came to be. It was extremely interesting. After we toured his shop, a few of us left with our very own masks.

 

On our last day we left the hotel early for a photography tour, stopping at a traditional oar maker's shop, and exploring the Jewish ghetto. Enjoying the wonder of strolling Venice's scenic streets and back canals. Soaking in all that this magical city has to offer and getting one last look before continuing south to Florence to continue our Italian Adventure.  

 

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When you feel like it's a dream come true, it just keeps getting better!

The most important thing is to enjoy your Italy vacation.  Be  a  aIMG_6323 traveler, not a tourist. 

Sharpen your photography skills so you can capture "a snapshot in time" to remember the experience and preserve the memories forever  as you explore Venice, the city on water. Looking at my photos BRINGS ME BACK and its always such a beautiful memory! 

I truly hope you get to go to Venice.  If this sounds like the kind of ITALY trip you would enjoy, call me, I would LOVE to help you plan the perfect Trip of a Lifetime!  Please tag us when you show off your Venice Travel Adventure  @VIPTravelExperience! (P.S.  don't get too caught up in the photos that you MISS the moment).

Read more

Topics: why use a travel agent, First Time Tips to Italy, LOVEITALY, Italy Vacation, Italy Travel, luxurytravel

Forward To Florence

Posted by Justin Murphy

January 16, 2020 at 11:38 AM

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Italy Trip:  Part 2
I boarded a morning train ride in First Class Venice to Florence. It was only about 2 and a half hours where they served beverages and snacks. Upon arrival we were picked up by private transfer and checked into our hotel in a perfect city center location.

 

After dropping off our luggage and freshening up a bit we were brought to 

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a private cellar lunch with local tuscan delicacies. I had a delicious glass of Tuscan red to start off with the duck confit crostini. The next course was short ribs that was marinated in red wine for 24 hrs- DELICIOUS!

We finished with a pistachio truffle gelato with chocolate. After lunch we joined our local guide 

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Francesca (AMAZING) for a Private Florentine Artisans tour. We were taken on a behind-the-scenes tour observing local artisans of the leather school, met a goldsmith in a Florentine mosaic workshop, and ended the tour in a jeweler's workshop. We wrapped up the night at a trattoria near our hotel for MORE WINE and lite bites.

 

My second day in Florence I woke up before dawn for a 15 minute trek to

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the Piazzale Michelangelo crossing the famed Ponte Vecchio Bridge to see the AMAZING sunrise over the city. A magical view-DEFINITELY recommended for early risers.   After breakfast, we met Francesca again in the hotel lobby and went to visit the Accademia Gallery to see the Statue of David. WOW, he was much bigger than I expected. We were amazed at St. Johns Baptistry  doors and went inside to get a closer look of the bible stories on the ceiling mosaics. After visiting the Baptistry we visited the Duomo to see the inside of this magnificent structure, and had the opportunity to climb to the top of the dome for a panoramic view of the city. 

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I lunched at this amazing little pizza joint right near the hotel, the margherita pizza was so good that I ate the whole thing by myself . I spent the rest of the afternoon just walking around this beautiful renaissance city exploring on my own. Later that evening we attended a cooking class in a locals house where we learned how to prepare gnocchi and were introduced to their typical ingredients & spices used on a daily basis. AMAZING EXPERIENCE- but I am a very picky eater and I don't like potatoes so I didn't eat much. 

Waking up my last morning in Florence I had breakfast in the hotel before checking out and meeting our private driver in the lobby. We stopped in the small town of Orvieto at a beautiful vineyard and bed & breakfast, Locanda Palazzone, for a tour of the vineyard and wine tasting paired with lite bites. We sampled 2 whites and 3 reds along with a bean stew, fish, and duck confit crostini. All of the wines were delicious and I brought back 6 bottles (2 whites & 4 reds).   We walked  around the vineyard enjoying the views and we were on the road again rolling on to Rome! 

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Topics: why use a travel agent, First Time Tips to Italy, LOVEITALY, Italy Vacation, Italy Travel, luxurytravel

Top 10 Greek Island Vacations

Posted by Tammy Murphy

November 21, 2019 at 6:00 AM

 
10 Top Greek Island Destinations   

#11 Navagio Beach
 
 

Greece has always been an ideal Mediterranean vacation destination.  Located in southeastern Europe, with over 2,500 islands (230 inhabited), it can be hard to choose which one to visit first.  Greece is a country with great, ancient history, one that gave birth to the concepts of democracy and philosophy, the Olympic Games, and drama.  

The landscape offers a picturesque variety, from whitewashed homes and blue domed churches to 18th century architecture and traditional authentic villages in the mountainous areas.

Hopefully, these eight guidelines will inspire your decision. 

#8 Greek Islands - ultimate romance destination
 
Best Couples Getaway:  Folegandros does not get the crowded tourist scene as most Greek towns do.  They have a broad selection of restaurants and cafes.  Chora is the main village and has been preserved well, noting open landscapes and clifftop housing.
 
Best Food:  Cretan cuisine focuses on all-natural ingredients and can be enjoyed at any local tavern throughout the islands.  Some dishes include Dakos, Gamapilafo, Mizithropita and Apaki.
 
#1 Greek diet - flavorful and healthy
 
Best Traditional Village Life:  The island, Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades and has a little over 6,500 inhabitants and a bit over 20 small villages.  Naxos has ancient towers, paved streets and has maintained its unique Venetian architecture.
 
Best Dramatic Views:  The southernmost of the Greek Cyclades, has to be on of the world's most dramatic landscapes.  It's unique topography is the result of a massive volcanic eruption over 3,600 years ago, blowing the middle out of the island, thereby creating a caldera (volcanic crater filled with deep blue water) from the Mediterranean Sea. Known for its cobbled alleys, white cubic buildings, gourmet restaurants and unforgettable sunsets.
 
Best Faith Based:  Follow the footsteps of Apostle Paul, experience Greek history and culture and learn more about early Christianity and the New Testament.  Athens, Thessalonika, Patmos, Corinth are just a few.
 
Best kiteboarding and windsurfing:  With gusty winds that can be seen from a mile away; Paros island is the best known for kiteboarding and windsurfing sports goers.  Santa Maria, Prassonisi and Pounda are the main beaches where the sport is practiced.  The Thalasea Sports Center is the bay of Mikli Vigla and is a popular hub for the sport.
 
#7 Benefits of cruising around the Greek Islands
 
Best Beaches:  Located in the Aegan Sea, Milos is a beautiful volcanic island that is rich in minerals as well as rich history.  Firopotamos, Kastanas and Paliorema are some top beach destinations in Milos.  The white-washed Cycladic villages and black sands are picturesque backdrops.  Although some may be only accessible by boat, there are over 80 mini beaches throughout Milos that you can explore.
 
Best for Nature Lovers:  Ikaria has some of the World's most pristine and untouched nature territories.  It has been identified as a place that promotes life longevity and better overall health.
 
Best Robinson Crusoe Destination:  Koufonisia is comprised of two islands, Pano (upper) and Kato (lower).  The preferred way to navigate the area is by foot or cycling as everything is within walking distance.  The island has a museum and many sightseeing options.
 
Best Nightlife:  Mykonos, also known as "The Island of the Winds", is world renowned for their vibrant nightlife.  Little Venice and Paradise Beach are popular party destinations.  Working with a travel advisor, you will want to ask which beaches are family friendly.  July & August are the main months for tourism, but also sometimes the wildest parties.  
 
The absolute minimum stay for a quick look at the main sights would be 8 days, you can't overlook a few days needed to simply relax in this warm climate and watch the world go by.
 
In June, 2022, we will be hosting a small group trip to Greece, I hope you can join us.
 
#10 - Greek Islands fun facts
 
 
Email me tammy@viptravelexperience.com I would love to hear where your visions are taking you?  Together we can create the best vacation experience for YOU.  It's a big world out there -- we hope you EXPERIENCE it
 
 
 
 
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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Greece

It's Your First Time to Italy?

Posted by Tammy Murphy

November 15, 2019 at 7:49 AM

 
"No problem, We Are Here For You!!" 
 
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Tip 1:  Plan your Trip to Italy well in advance and know the best times to go before you book.

Italy is one of the most visited countries and it tops almost everyone's bucket list.  It's a busy tourism place all year long.  The hot spots are Venice, Florence, Rome, Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre. 

Positano is a precious little town with a finite number of hotels that sell out years in advance, particularly for groups of 6 or more.  The same is true for other towns along the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre.   If you are planning to travel to these towns in the summer or fall, it's not uncommon to plan and book a year in advance.  Not only is space limited, but pricing is usually tricky.  The further in advance that you book, the more accommodation options you will have at better values.

Italy is typically a destination you would not want to wait until the last minute to book.  We have great partners and can be sometimes pull a rabbit out of the hat, but planning 9 months to one year out is ideal for you.

Tip 2:  Hotel star ratings and descriptions can be deceiving

Enlist the help of a professional when booking your hotel in Italy.  A 5 star rating in Italy is not the same as a 5 star hotel in the United States, star rating in Italy may not be the best measure to go by when booking your hotel.    Also, don't assume there will be air conditioning or elevators.  Sometimes you may think you are getting a truly "luxury" experience, please pay close attention to the location of the accommodation.  "Steps away from Trevi Fountain" does not mean there won't be a busy intersection between accommodation and Trevi Fountain.  Hotels can be complicated ... wouldn't you prefer to work with professionals that have personally visited the hotels and know the staff.  

Tip 3. Italy is larger than it appears on a map 

Surely, you have heard that Rome was not built in a day and it can't be seen in a lifetime.  Most travelers that I work with want to see 6 or more Italian cities in  8 days or several countries in 10 days.  While you can sometimes  fit it all in, I hope you will reconsider.  Changing hotels every day or 2 days will leave you exhausted and you may well miss the most special things that make ITALY the best travel destination.  Relax and enjoy the authentic parts of each city.  Never underestimate how much time it takes to pack, transfer, unpack from one destination to the next--that usually takes about 1/2 day.

 
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Tip 4:  Allow enough time to book tickets well in advance to major sites of interest

Skip the line tickets to places like Vatican City in Rome, the Uffizi and Accademia galleries in Florence and Cennacolo where Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper resides requires reservations approximately 6 months in advance, maybe longer if you are traveling with more than 4 people.

Tip 5:  Private drivers and private tours

For groups of 3+ travelers, we recommend a private driver and private tours for the best experience.    Many of our clients return to tell us all the tips and tricks their drivers gave them and how much it enhanced their stay.

Tip 6:  Avoid the Tourist Menu

Part of the fun is finding cool little spots for dinner, but please beware.  Big photos of pasta or multiple choices on a menu is a sure sign that it is a tourist trap.  I would venture a couple blocks to the back and look for a restaurant with one main meal written on chalkboard in Italian.  Where you dine, who you dine with and the neighborhood you dine in makes a big difference in your experience.

Plan on an hour or two for dinner.  Scheduling in advance wine tastings and cellar tours with a "lite lunch" is a golden opportunity.  You will not only dine, but have a truly cultural experience. 


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Tip 7:  Know where to avoid driving

Some of the most popular cities are the most difficult to and dangerous to drive.  I honestly can't think of any town on a first visit that I would recommend driving.   Parking is very expensive (sometimes 100 Euros a day) and leaving your car unattended is not a great idea.  It is very confusing getting around, even for the locals, and many areas prohibit driving, even locals.  And never drink and drive, there is zero tolerance. 

Tip 8:  Know before you go

Cruises can be great fun, but consider what you want to see and do.  After much discussion, most travelers realize they would like to have a more immersive, authentic experience while visiting one of the most beautiful destinations in the world.   Consider that you may only have 5 hours in a particular town along with hundreds of other cruise passengers all trying to see the same iconic sites at the same time.  Cruises can be perfect for some destinations, but I HIGHLY recommend a land experience for Italy.

For more relevant information about your next vacation, we would love to help you.

Why not let VIP Travel Experience help you plan that all-important trip soon...One of my favorite quotes:
 
"The Trouble is...you think you have time"

 

Travel now while you are healthy and able.  Please reconsider skipping your next vacation. Vacations are healthy and really good for your employer for you to rest and recharge. 

 
 
Email me tammy@viptravelexperience.com I would love to hear where your visions are taking you?  Together we can create the best vacation experience for YOU.  It's a big world out there -- we hope you EXPERIENCE it. 
 
 
 
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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy

What is the Perfect Souvenir?

Posted by Tammy Murphy

October 17, 2019 at 1:05 AM

 
"What is the Perfect Souvenir?" 
 
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Wikipedia says that souvenir is a reminder of a place visited, and occasion or momento.
Long ago I decided that bringing souvenirs home (unless edible or drinkable lol) really aren't worth my money.  If the person didn't go, it is likely to be in the bags of their next purge.    What I do HIGHLY recommend is a painting, or enlarge a photo from your trip .  Sure, selfies are a wonderful way to get everyone in the photo, but some vacations deserve more than selfies.  That's why we teamed up with Flytographer who have photographers all over the world.  We handle all of the details for you for a 30 minute (or longer if you desire) and all you have to do is show up.  The  photographers from Flytographer will capture your vacation memories in the best photogenic or iconic sites because they shoot there all of the time.  Within a few days, you receive a  link to digitally download the high res images from your photo shoot.  The results are stunning.
 
Here are just a few from our family trip to Ireland.  Since we had five people in our group, I chose the 60 minute session so that we could walk to a few areas of Dublin. We met our Flytographer at St. Stephen Park and shot some there and then we walked a few blocks away for some other "city" photos.  Our photographer not only captured incredible memories but was a great resource for what to eat and little known spots to check out around  the city.  I'm including four of the six locations we visited during our shoot.  For your next trip, please ask us to set this up for you.
 
Note:  Before we were back home, Justin had used one of the images to order a canvas from Sam's and I see it every morning during breakfast and it takes me back to so many wonderful memories of this special time with my adult children.  
 
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Email me tammy@viptravelexperience.com I would love to hear where your visions are taking you?  Together we can create the best vacation experience for YOU.  It's a big world out there -- we hope you EXPERIENCE it. 
 
 
 
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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy

When Should you Use a Travel Advisor

Posted by Tammy Murphy

October 3, 2019 at 9:33 AM

 
"How to Have a Stress Free Vacation" 
 
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So, we work really hard, sometimes 9-12 months on creating the perfect vacation.  It can be so easy, it begins with a "Discovery Call" where we talk about your hopes and dreams for your bucket list trip.  If it sounds like something we can add value to and we both decide to work together.  We begin brainstorming, putting all the little pieces together. One thing we hear quite often is, "Thank you so much, I would have never known how to put all of these trains, transfers, hotels, etc.  and sometimes after hearing what their interests are, the puzzle may change completely.   It's so much fun watching the joy in their faces when we meet to go over the visual of what this bucketlist would look like.  I know we save our clients so much time, stress and energy doing what we do best, while they can go back to doing what they do best.   But truthfully, the airlines hold that last piece to the puzzle.  I can pretty much make sure everything is covered except the weather and the airlines.. .  This became quite evident the last couple of weeks when airlines (all different airlines), cancelled flights days before travel and we were left scrambling.  
 
On this particular trip, the day of departure they learned that their connecting flight in New York was delayed 1.5 hours so that in turn cancelled their connection in Rome to Naples because with that change by airlines it became an illegal connection in Rome.  You may ask why was there such a tight connection in Rome - well airlines changed that after tickets was booked as well.   If we had gone ahead with the airlines decision to put them on the next flight to Naples, they would have missed their lunch reservations and Pompeii tour.  I knew how important this was to them and just could not give up.   I convinced  them to sleep on the plane I would take care of all the details & they would awake to a text of how to proceed.  So while they were in route:
 
 
Plan B:   I was praying the plane would make up the time in the air which usually happens and about midnight I would be able to switch the flight back to the earlier time.
Plan C: We hired a driver to be on standby to drive them to Pompeii in time for their tour;
 
One thing occurred to me while I was on hold for hours . . .   what are the other travelers on that flight doing that didn't have a Travel Expert? Are you missing the last piece of the puzzle?
 
Thankfully, I was able to text them about 2 hours before they landed that they would be arriving at 8am and  I was able to rebook them on original flight and VIP Meet & Greet in Rome would whisk them through passport control & to their connecting flight, easy peasy.
 
1) You know how crazy schedules are the day or two before you leave to go on vacation?  Would your work schedule allow you to sit on hold for hours making alternate arrangements?  OR
2)  What if you didn't know YOU COULD make alternate plans?  Many travelers just accept that they will be left in airports for hours and hours OR miss the connection and in turn tours lined up that day.    
3)  What if your flight is delayed and you miss your connecting flight?  Where will you stay for the night?  Will I lose that day at my resort? How will I beat the crowd to get on the next flight?  (Sometimes, there is only one flight going to that destination per day per airline).
 
If I had a dollar for every time I am asked "Do people still use travel agents?"  My response is all day, everyday (keep reading, I think you will be surprised at what a travel ADVISOR is).  And the really well informed travelers are using a travel Advisor INSTEAD of a travel agent or online booking site which is actually a travel agent without the service. 

If you have asked the question, "What can a travel expert do for me that I can't do for myself online?" 
A quick example of what a travel expert would do:  If your flight was delayed and your connecting flight would be missed, your travel expert could re book your flight before you landed saving you from standing in long lines of angry travelers at the ticket counter, book you in a hotel for the night* if no other flights for that day and make alternate arrangements at your original destination resort.   Of course, no one wants to HAVE to be the hero in this story, but sometimes travel plans go awry despite the BEST laid plans. Travel Advisors frequently are holding extra pieces of the puzzle, just in case.. .
 
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Travel Advisors take pride in offering incredible service and value for our clients hard-earned vacation time and budget.  Service that begins with their dream and ends when they are unpacking after the trip.  This goes WAY beyond clicking BUY NOW on a computer screen.  Travel Advisors spend hours custom-crafting YOUR vacation to provide you with the EXPERIENCE you are dreaming of, collaborating with colleagues to check the best values, amenities. Travel Advisors don't "sell travel", we won't try to fit a square peg in a round hole . . . we research hotels, resorts, destinations with YOUR interests and hobbies in mind, if we have not visited the particular property or destination, we have long lists of vetted properties and excursions, in addition to being an engaged member of luxury consortia to obtain unbiased opinions (you can't exactly believe all opinions you read online). 
 
ARE WE A GOOD FIT?
You may not need all the services we provide?  We will let you know if you don't need our services.  We will ask questions to find out  what a perfect vacation looks like to you? WE CARE!  If your anniversary dream includes relaxing at a kid-free pool cabana with an umbrella drink?  I'm going to steer you towards an Adult-Only property with amazing service!  Are you looking for a hopping, party atmosphere or some place to relax and disconnect? That may be yet a different resort or destination.
 
Are you dying to show your children the Caribbean, but you really want a resort that has a nice adult-only section to sneak away to while the children take advantage of sports clinics or learn to fly on a trapeze before you all meet up a few hours later for some quality family fun?  I have the perfect place in mind to make everyone happy.
 
We can also provide benefits to the traveler that loves the challenge of researching travel and finds the exact hotel and excursions they want.  That's when our inventory to properties that may show sold out online or our vetted suppliers come in handy.  We may have amenities or upgrades at the resort you've chosen without the added cost.  We may have a vetted supplier for excursion or a private tour excursion which provides a much more authentic experience than a  big group tour.

WHY SO MANY QUESTIONS?
So these are why we ask so many questions, not to be nosy, we want you to have the best EXPERIENCE possible.  We take all of your answers and put together the puzzle to match little dream in your head.  It takes  hours and hours of detailed research and planning to put each little piece together
 
Many times, we have access to things that YOU may not be aware of.  Would you like to visit the Sistine Chapel after hours?  Would you like a photopher on location? Would you like a cooking lesson in the chef's home as opposed to cooking institution or restaurant?  Would your kids love a truffle hunt?  And much more, we can't reveal all of our secrets, right. 
 
Will you really get what you think you're getting online? Buyer beware, last week a client sent me an email asking if I could get them a room for 4 at a specific price at a specific resort during Christmas holidays.  Well, turns out I could get the room (which appeared sold out online), however the price shown online did not accommodate 4 people, the price for the room that would accommodate 4 people was significantly higher.  Saving money is great, and I'm all for staying within budget and getting a good value for your hard-earned travel dollars.  That is why we ask for your budget.  I really do have your best interest in mind . . . trust me, I will do my best to find you the perfect fit for the greatest value.  
 
Many think they are saving money "booking themselves", but what they may not realize is that the booking engine is a "large corporation travel agent", you will receive confirmation numbers and that is the end of that story, there is no service during and after the sale.  AND if something is not as you perceived it to be, you probably won't receive a live person that sincerely cares about your time and money.  When you give me or any other hard working travel professional, the "go ahead" to book that same vacation (often at the same price or better), most times, you are not paying in full on that day, you will receive first class service, well-organized travel documents, app with your day-to-day itinerary plans via mobile phone, destination information, restaurant recommendations and sightseeing recommendations, along with the peace of mind that we are available for you each step of the way.  If anything goes wrong on the trip, we typically have affiliates on-location and/or good working relationships with the hotels, resorts, cruise lines.  We sincerely advocate FOR YOU. Just ask yourself or the agent you are working with, what is included in the sale.
 
And lastly, Insure your vacation
Your travel advisor can help you choose the best policy for YOU.  One of the greatest surprises why you may want travel insurance is not just for trip cancellation.  Some countries are beginning to require travel insurance before they allow entry into their country.  We encourage you to purchase third party insurance, we almost never recommend purchasing the supplier insurance, we want someone that is looking out for you, not the supplier.
 
So I hope I've put all the pieces together for you on when to use a travel advisor and hope we can help you again in the future.  
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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy

Professional Drivers and Guides Enhance the Best of Vacations

Posted by Tammy Murphy

October 1, 2019 at 7:55 AM

 
"Let Us Handle It" 
 

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I have written many times about the importance of using a local guide or local English speaking driver. It's just one of the many we encourage our clients to give back to the destination they are visiting.   It's so important that we support the local communities that we enjoy visiting.  Otherwise, there won't be anyone to driver or guide when we need them.  Beyond that, we encourage the use of  a local guide or driver is to make the most efficient use of your precious leisure time.  There is no lost time and expense of parking, finding the best route and in most countries there is zero tolerence of driving under the influence.   You are too important for us to risk any of these situations hendering your time away with your traveling companions.  Wouldn't it be better for everyone on the trip to enjoy their time relaxing and enjoying the scenery?  You probably can't even imagine the things that CAN go wrong while driving in another country.  Is it worth flying back for a court date?  Believe me, these things happen and sometimes you don't know until you have returned home.

 

IMG_3348Do you have a tight connection in Rome?  We have you covered... we have meet and greet partners to meet you & escort you through passport control in record times.

I know sometimes you have to experience it to understand.  Here is what a few of our clients have shared with us:

"We saw wonderful places and the views were so much better and I know we would not have been able to see as much as we did, if we had tried to drive ourselves!!" Sara 

"Our favorite part of the whole trip were the drivers! They were all awesome!! Especially in Ireland our driver searched for 3 days to get the perfect authentic shillelagh” -Linda

"Thank you for suggesting the private driver in St. Thomas/St. John."  We saw so much more than we imagined AND hearing the stories and suggestions of local, good eats--great value!" Lynn

 

Having a driver serves multiple benefits from punctuality to the ability to seamlessly handle rough weather with a drivers’ years of experience, hiring a professional driver for your next trip could change the way you feel about transportation to the airport, make a country side tour much more insightful, an exploration into hidden gems only the locals know about, and with that one on one experience that lets you decide what you want to do and where you want to go offering wide range of other locations off the beaten path waiting to be explored.  Another added bonus is that they love their home, they will share much more about local restaurants, non-touristy places for you to visit, even AFTER the drive.

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As I hope you can see by now, hiring a professional, vetted guide or driver has many diverse benefits. These are just the few reasons we want to help your next experience in a new land something that you’ll always remember and to adventure somewhere you’ll never forget. So call VIP Travel Experience the next time you need a stress free vacation.

 
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Topics: travel ideas, travel tips, Italy

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