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).

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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

It's Never Too Early To Make Memories

Posted by Tammy Murphy

July 6, 2017 at 10:53 AM

You Don't Only Have 18 Summers!
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“One day...we’re going to take the kids to Hawaii!”, “We really want to travel over to Europe, but we’re waiting until the kids are older”; “We really want to go out West and see the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, but our summers are just too busy”. Do any of those statements sound familiar to you? The average American family doesn’t think they spend enough time together (guilty). Between school, work, sports, and extracurricular activities it’s no surprise that we are all feeling disconnected and burned out. The best way to reconnect with your loved ones is to get away. No distractions and no excuses: just you and your kids (or Grandkids) spending “quality time”, enjoying each other’s company and maybe even experiencing an unfamiliar culture together. “Next Year, maybe” turns into the year after that...and so forth...until you “blink” and are sitting at their high school graduation wondering what the hell happened!
 
Travel is proven to be a wonderful learning tool for children. Seeing how people live in other countries can open their minds and hearts and expand their imagination exponentially. Here are a few things that travel can provide for your family:
 
1. It can create lasting relationships...both between your own family members and people you meet while on the road. These folks that you run into along the way give you a glimpse of what life is like outside your regular circle of friends and can give you a fresh perspective on how other cultures live.  
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2. You can learn another language...There is something very exciting about being able to throw around a few words of French, knowing how to say hello and thank you in Portuguese, or ordering off of a menu written totally in Italian and hoping you don’t end up with something inedible! And...knowing that if you do accidentally order goat’s testicles, that your whole family will still be laughing about it 20 years from now!
 
3. It gives you and your kids perspective...Meeting folks from other cultures will teach you that the way you look at the world (maybe through the distorted lens of our mass media) is not the way everybody does – and that you could be dead wrong about some things! We have had many meaningful conversations about why Europe is so far ahead of the U.S. in its transportation infrastructure, why people of Native Hawaiian descent still protest becoming a part of the US, and why so few French and Italian teenagers feel the deep temptation to drink alcohol to excess like ours do here in America. 
 
Are you reading this and thinking “Boy...I’ve always wanted to see the Pacific Ocean with my kids”? If you want to do it now, you’ve probably always wanted to. You’ve imagined it, daydreamed about it, envisioned it. Guess what? Now’s the time to DO IT! I had several vacations this summer for folks just like you, who are wanting to finally take their 16 and 21 year olds to Europe before they are “gone”...or who are celebrating a high school graduation with a trip to Canada – the destination chosen by their daughter. Remember...you don't only have 18 summers!
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Topics: #girlstrip, #bestvacation, #viptravelexperience, travel planner, planning the right trip, Italy, #reunion, travel concierge, travel consultant, #passportpassion, why use a travel agent, Best Vacation Value, First Time Tips to Italy, LOVEITALY, #group travel, paradiseescape, Paris is Always a Good Idea

7 Easy Ways to Avoid Money Disasters While Traveling

Posted by Tammy Murphy

June 29, 2017 at 9:38 AM

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While VIP Travel Experience does not advocate overthinking potential travel mishaps, we do like to prepare our clients with some simple travel tips IF circumstances may not happen according to plan.
 
1.  Notify your bank and credit card company of your destination and dates of travel before you leave.
You can usually take care of this on-line, although I recommend posting this several weeks in advance of trip so there are no delays.  If you don't think about it until the week of travel, you may be best advised to call and speak to a representative.   Take this opportunity to ask about any security measures they may enforce while you are traveling abroad.   One of the great things about security of our bank and credit cards could catch you off guard while trying to make a purchase on your vacation if you skip this tip, charges may be temporarily blocked if banks are unaware of your travel plans.
 
2.  Take multiple cards with you.Time flies. It's up to you to be the navigator..png
Don't be surprised if American Express is not accepted abroad or in small mom and pop establishments.  American Express charges high fees from the companies that accept it, and is therefore not as commonly accepted as Visa and MasterCard.

3.  Make copies of your credit cards and "if lost phone numbers"
In the unfortunate event that your cards are lost or stolen, having copies of your cards and the contact phone numbers on the back of them stored in your hotel safe will allow you access to your bank's international contact numbers.  Please note, this is different than the typical 1-800 number.
 
UNPLUG! LET GO & LET LIVE.png4.  Cash on hand for emergencies
In the unfortunate event that internet is down, establishments may enforce "cash only" policy.  In addition,  I have happened upon an ATM machine that is not working appropriately, so it is nice to have a Plan B until you can locate another working ATM. US currency can be exchanged for local currency in times of emergency.
 
5.  Best Conversion Rates
Generally, credit cards offer the best conversion rates, but please check with your bank before you leave.  I generally get a small amount of destination currency before I leave from my local bank, and I will use ATM when I arrive for better rates, however, credit card purchases are my first preference.  Note:  Confirm that ATM machines are available in your destination prior to leaving.
 
6.  Don't use public WIFI for banking purposes
If you do not have international ready cell phone or want to incur roaming charges, using public WIFI (internet cafe, airport, cafes, hotel, etc) is great.  However, please do not use for banking or sensitive information as it is rarely secure.
 
7.  Know your ATM daily limits
Check with your bank before you leave to know your daily limits of withdrawals per person and per account.  Having access to several accounts is recommended in case someone's card is lost or stolen.
 
I'm sure that everything will be great for your next international trip, however, heeding these simple tips may save you a world of stress IF things go awry.
 
 
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Topics: #girlstrip, #bestvacation, #viptravelexperience, travel planner, planning the right trip, Italy, #reunion, travel concierge, travel consultant, #passportpassion, why use a travel agent, Best Vacation Value, First Time Tips to Italy, LOVEITALY, #group travel, paradiseescape, Paris is Always a Good Idea

7 Easy Ways to Avoid Money Disasters While Traveling Abroad

Posted by Tammy Murphy

June 1, 2017 at 5:40 AM

lake garda castle-1.jpg
While VIP Travel Experience does not advocate overthinking potential travel mishaps, we do like to prepare our clients with some simple travel tips IF circumstances may not happen according to plan.
 
1.  Notify your bank and credit card company of your destination and dates of travel before you leave.
You can usually take care of this on-line, although I recommend posting this several weeks in advance of trip so there are no delays.  If you don't think about it until the week of travel, you may be best advised to call and speak to a representative.   Take this opportunity to ask about any security measures they may enforce while you are traveling abroad.   One of the great things about security of our bank and credit cards could catch you off guard while trying to make a purchase on your vacation if you skip this tip, charges may be temporarily blocked if banks are unaware of your travel plans.
 
2.  Take multiple cards with you.Time flies. It's up to you to be the navigator..png
Don't be surprised if American Express is not accepted abroad or in small mom and pop establishments.  American Express charges high fees from the companies that accept it, and is therefore not as commonly accepted as Visa and MasterCard.

3.  Make copies of your credit cards and "if lost phone numbers"
In the unfortunate event that your cards are lost or stolen, having copies of your cards and the contact phone numbers on the back of them stored in your hotel safe will allow you access to your bank's international contact numbers.  Please note, this is different than the typical 1-800 number.
 
UNPLUG! LET GO & LET LIVE.png4.  Cash on hand for emergencies
In the unfortunate event that internet is down, establishments may enforce "cash only" policy.  In addition,  I have happened upon an ATM machine that is not working appropriately, so it is nice to have a Plan B until you can locate another working ATM. US currency can be exchanged for local currency in times of emergency.
 
5.  Best Conversion Rates
Generally, credit cards offer the best conversion rates, but please check with your bank before you leave.  I generally get a small amount of destination currency before I leave from my local bank, and I will use ATM when I arrive for better rates, however, credit card purchases are my first preference.  Note:  Confirm that ATM machines are available in your destination prior to leaving.
 
6.  Don't use public WIFI for banking purposes
If you do not have international ready cell phone or want to incur roaming charges, using public WIFI (internet cafe, airport, cafes, hotel, etc) is great.  However, please do not use for banking or sensitive information as it is rarely secure.
 
7.  Know your ATM daily limits
Check with your bank before you leave to know your daily limits of withdrawals per person and per account.  Having access to several accounts is recommended in case someone's card is lost or stolen.
 
I'm sure that everything will be great for your next international trip, however, heeding these simple tips may save you a world of stress IF things go awry.
 
 
Click here MORE BLOG STORIES for more inspiration and ideas for a travel inspired life. 
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Topics: #girlstrip, #bestvacation, #viptravelexperience, travel planner, planning the right trip, Italy, #reunion, travel concierge, travel consultant, #passportpassion, why use a travel agent, Best Vacation Value, First Time Tips to Italy, LOVEITALY, #group travel, paradiseescape, Paris is Always a Good Idea

Take off to Tahiti & Bora Bora Bound

Posted by Tammy Murphy

May 25, 2017 at 9:28 AM

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A trip to Bora Bora and the Tahiti Islands is your first class ticket into discovering and exploring a new and colorful world of its own. Plush green mountains crystal clear lagoons will be waiting for in this picture perfect paradise. Tahiti and Bora Bora are reknowned as a honeymooners' and lovers' heaven on Earth. Every island in French Polynesia offers a multitude of activities and endless possibilities: a dive in Rangiroa, a hike in Moorea, an unbelievable encounter with manta rays in Bora Bora, swim in Tahiti's cascades, or even a chance to enjoy the authentic Polynesian culture in Raiatea. A vacation to Bora Bora and Tahiti is a one of kind experience, a unique discovery which you can only understand while there.
 
For being such quaint places Bora Bora and Tahiti offers endless adventures abound: 
  • Underwater cycling on aqua bikes. Perched on a white seat, you descend slowly as the hydraulic platform of the pontoon boat you ride out to the spot lowers us into the waves – the warm, tropical waters gradually creeping up to your bikini tops. Once in the water, spot the coral gardens looming ahead – tree-like elk horn corals and cauliflower corals, dappled by shafts of sunlight piercing through the blue. Your guides, point out a starfish 30 centimeters (1 foot) in diameter, a parrot fish hovering over an undulating welcome mat of hot-pink anemone, and what looks suspiciously like a shark shooting out from under a craggy outcrop and disappearing into the murk.
  • Aqua safari via helmet dive. This enterprise involves donning a cubed yellow-and-white helmet that keeps your head completely dry as you descend a ladder to the sandy ocean floor. Feet clad in rubbery boots, walk in slow motion through craggy outcrops of coral and lengths of seaweed fluttering in the currents, feeling like a puppet as you carefully lift one foot and then the other, hands buoyed and bobbing at waist level.Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 1.43.05 PM.png
  • Snorkeling in Bora Bora’s coral reefs. Bora Bora’s famed coral reef, which encircles the island and is accessible within 15 minutes by speedboat, has some of the best snorkeling in the world. Home to approximately 700 species of tropical fish, Coral Garden is our first stop, followed by a few other choice locations known to the crew. Slipping into the water, our guide coaxes curious moray eels from their hiding places and points out the distinctive diamond shapes of manta and eagle rays gliding through the blue.  You won't believe the feel of the manta rays and how exciting it is to swim with them.
  • Island cruises and fresh seafood. Learn that Bora Bora’s outer ring of reef and motu (small reef islets) makes its calm lagoon waters ideal for exploration by kayak or paddle board, and private boat tours abound. You can book a 23-foot Jeanneau Cap Camarat motorboat, a trimaran, a catamaran, a pontoon boat or an aluminum Quintrex boat perfect for a small group, and most excursions include a picnic on a private beach.  This was definitely my favorite!!!  We chartered a small yacht and were treated to the most relaxing day I could ever imagine, ate barbequed fish fresh from the side of the boat, and our hosts sang the sweetest tunes while dancing to show their gratitude to us for visiting. 
  • Swimming with sharks. Saving the biggest thrill for last. Adventurous streak notwithstanding, you get the willies at the idea of being a few meters away from sharks in a feeding frenzy, then you can opt for a purely observational excursion. Even so, there’s something about dipping into cooler, deeper water and being surrounded by dozens of these sleek, mysterious animals that makes your breath catch in your throat. When you immediately spot a large lemon shark below striped continuously by the black and gray bodies of reef sharks cruising above it. As I take a deep breath and dive down, I see another, and another. You are enmeshed within a sliding grid of curving, muscular bodies. Exhilarating right?   This absolutely FREAKED me out, but I did it-conquer your fears right?  I was definitely making sure I saw the black tipped tail.
For those not looking for a boost of adrenaline, but instead a stress relieving and relaxing sun bath on the deck of your over water bungalow Bora Bora and Tahiti are still perfect for you!  Call me, let's get you there!

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Topics: #overwaterbungalow, #islandparadise #, #girlstrip, #bestvacation, #viptravelexperience, travel planner, planning the right trip, Italy, #reunion, travel concierge, travel consultant, #passportpassion, why use a travel agent, Best Vacation Value, First Time Tips to Italy, LOVEITALY, #group travel, paradiseescape, Paris is Always a Good Idea

Abundantly Experience Italy

Posted by Tammy Murphy

May 4, 2017 at 8:00 AM

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Italy has as many variables as a calculus equation. The vast differences between each region and landscape is majestic, yet breathtaking. You’ve roamed Rome. You’ve feasted in Florence. You’ve ventured to Venice. You've been taken to Tuscany. 

What’s left to see in Italy? Moltissimo (so much), my friend! From snow-capped Alps to the sumptuous shores of Lake Garda, Italy brims with astounding escapes. Italy is one of those destinations that you can return to again and again and never grow tired.

There’s just so much… to see… to do… to EAT!

This year, I toured the Veneto region with one of my trusted Italian travel partners.

We walked Venice's winding back streets. Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 11.17.30 AM.png

We cruised canals, drifting past Renaissance villas.

We sipped fizzy wine in the ancient cellars of Prosecco.

Traveling with a local expert makes all the difference! You see the main sights, of course, but you’ll also discover the secret spots tour books never mention – the ristorante run by a grandma or the family-run vineyards that are closed to the public. You don't feel like a tourist... you feel part of someone else's world.
For me, the city of Verona is one of these secret local gems. Just an hour from Venice by train, Verona has a romantic charm all its own. In its historic center, you'll see the Ancient Roman arena. Like the Colosseum in Rome, this stone arena housed tens of thousands of spectators in ancient times. During the summer months, you can even enjoy opera outside at this ancient site!

On a hidden medieval alley, you clamber over cobblestone to arrive at Verona's most romantic place: Juliet's balcony. Yes, ::the:: Juliet from Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. A coat of arms located in the courtyard indicates that the home once belonged to the "Dal Cappello" or "Cappelletti" family. Don't be surprised if you see young lovers proposing to each other as you stand on Juliet's famed perch.

This is the real Italy. This is why you travel. I’m here to make it happen.

Ciao, ciao from Italy!
 
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Topics: #girlstrip, #bestvacation, #viptravelexperience, travel planner, planning the right trip, Italy, #reunion, travel concierge, travel consultant, #passportpassion, why use a travel agent, Best Vacation Value, First Time Tips to Italy, LOVEITALY, #group travel, paradiseescape, Paris is Always a Good Idea

Italy Means Food. Lots of it.

Posted by Tammy Murphy

April 20, 2017 at 9:38 AM

 
  • ITALY is ALWAYS a DELICOUS Idea
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    Who's ready for a visit to ITALY? It's always a great time to go to Italy!!   
     
    WARNING:  You will have an urgent desire to visit ITALY  soon . . . and when you do, we would LOVE to plan every detail for you (including free time, of course).  Keep reading if bespoke ITALY speaks to you, making an ITALY trip even more MAGICAL.
     
    Earlier this month, I was delighted to travel through Italy's #Veneto region.  The Veneto is the region that houses Venice--brimming with delizioso dishes. Renaissance villas, undiscovered lakes and Alpine views . . . 
     
    If you mention FOOD to Italians, they'll wax poetically about grandma's Sunday suppers.  Sooner or later, they'll also tell you "Visit Veneto".  They're right.  From pumpkin risotto to hand-carved cheese wheels.  I was treated to a bounty of flavors here.
     
    The Veneto is a land of slow food, famous for dishes that took centuries to perfect:
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    Cheese, aged up to 20 months!
  • Prosciutto cured for up to 2 years
  • Bubbly prosecco grown on green hills
  • Red wine, made like the Romans did
  • Risotto with local cheese and slow broth

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    During my tour, I went behind-the-scenes (and you can too) where they make these foods the old-fashioned way. I tasted time-tested recipes, listening as locals explained the artistry behind their products.  Outside of Venice --often overlooked by tourists - lies the Valpolicella wine region (my fav).  Green hills, ancient vineyards and millennia of wine know-how fuse in this one place.
     
     
     
     
    In Valpolicella, you can taste amarone wine -- a varietal first perfected by the Ancient Romans.  That's right, this wine has been in production for century after century . . . not just a generation or two.  The grapes are left on the vine long after others have been plucked.  In fact, the wine is only made once the grapes are well on their way to becoming raisins.  The result?  A wine that is rich and robust.
     
     
     

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Once you've toured the Veneto's wine region, you can head to the nearby Lake Garda for an unforgettable lunch.  The water here -- let me tell you --lies somewhere between blue and green, a shimmering gem crowned in Renaissance villas.  From the shores of Garda,you can board a private boat.  With your local captain, you'll explore local towns and hidden coves -- experiencing Italy, not as a tourist, but as an Italian might.

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This was one stunning area.  Why be a tourist when you can explore the ITALY you didn't even know existed?

Since it is the mission of  VIP Travel Experience to take you BEYOND the highlights for bespoke or unique EXPERIENCES, stay tuned for more little secrets of Italy.  

I can't wait to share more of Veneto with you, it was an honor to explore this gorgeous region of Italy and find more little secrets to share with you!

 
  • Sneak into to see a private art collection (not open to the public)
  • A private, personalized excursion with a local tour guide to take you to the most interesting sites of Veneto to discover the mom and pop restaurants and Renaissance areas you've always to see, or some you may not have heard of.
  • An unforgettable, simply magical night in a Castle.
  • A Michelin dinner that reminded me of the waltz
  • Private driver through gorgeous Veneto countryside.  You will absolutely LOVE it and feel like you stepped back in time  


So depending on how much time you have and how far you want to stray from Venice, Rome, Florence . . .  don't miss out on the many little hidden gems of Italy.

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Topics: #girlstrip, #bestvacation, #viptravelexperience, travel planner, planning the right trip, Italy, #reunion, travel concierge, travel consultant, #passportpassion, why use a travel agent, Best Vacation Value, First Time Tips to Italy, LOVEITALY, #group travel, paradiseescape, Paris is Always a Good Idea

Adventures In The Land Down Under

Posted by Justin Murphy

March 23, 2017 at 7:56 AM

   
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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 (I was lucky enough to ring in 2017 there). 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 exhilirating 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 places, but not just the beach, the street art is also remarkably intricate. Take the harbour 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 my favorite memory of my trip was when we got lost on our way back to the hotel and happened into this little Irish bar  playing "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.   It was an AMAZING trip and I hope you get to go there.  When you do, please reach out to me, I would love to share my experiences and plan your trip.
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Topics: #girlstrip, #bestvacation, #viptravelexperience, travel planner, planning the right trip, Italy, #reunion, travel concierge, travel consultant, #passportpassion, #RiverCruise, why use a travel agent, Best Vacation Value, First Time Tips to Italy, LOVEITALY, #group travel, paradiseescape

Cruising Through Countries

Posted by Tammy Murphy

March 16, 2017 at 7:43 AM

 

Would you rather go TO a country, or THROUGH a country?

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Unless you have had your head buried in the sand for the past couple of years, you are probably aware that Ocean Cruising, with its bellyflop contests and buckets of beer, has some stiff competition from the ever-growing popularity of  –River Cruising. Most commonly thought of in Europe, on the Rhine, Danube, Seine, Rhone, Douro and even Po rivers. River Cruising is also extending itself to Russia, China, Vietnam & Cambodia and – yes...even the United States (though US River Cruising is a whole different animal). 
 
Many of the voyages are “themed”, for special interests such as “wine immersion”, “Tulip Time”, “Jewish Heritage”, a popular “beer tasting cruise” along the Rhine, and the ever-popular “Christmas Markets” cruises during the months of November and December. Here are several reasons why so many travelers are switching to River cruising...and very few of them will ever go back to the oceans!

  1. It is as close to hassle-free as you can get. There are no lines to get on or off the boat and, when you arrive at your next stop, you can usually walk right off and be immersed in your destination. Europe grew up along its rivers, so there are some very charming and interesting small towns and big cities to explore. Very few ports require bus transfers, which makes it easy to come and go at your leisure. (And I personally LOVE the option of using bikes from the ship to bike around town).  The trip can be totally all-inclusive, depending on the cruise line and ship you have chosen. I had the great pleasure to experience a 7-day cruise on the Rhone River last March with AMA River Cruises and my bill at check-out was $50, to cover a massage I splurged on. And those of you who know me, know that I had at least a couple glasses of wine  during the awesome week (Ahem!)...AMA even includes first class shore excursions in every port, airport transfers, and Wi-Fi.   Some of the cruise lines even have butlers which you are not allowed to tip . . . imagine your coffee being delivered or breakfast every morning while you are admiring the beauty of castles and vineyards from your stateroom!

    I am a HUGE fan of independent travel, but this is definitely a great choice for the convenience!!  Imagine that you see multiple villages or countries but you only UNPACK once!!!  You can shower and dine while in route to your next village or country.  I never tired of seeing the variety & beauty as we cruised down the Rhone River.

  2. The boats are smaller and more intimate (100-170 passengers) so you can actually get to know your fellow guests and not feel like you are being herded along like cattle...You may eat with whom you choose each evening and have a choice of a few onboard dining venues for variety.   We especially enjoyed the experience at the Chef's Table Restaurant (3 tables).  AMA Waterways is the only river cruise to be part of the Chaine Des Rotisseurs, a culinary society.  Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 3.12.11 PM.png
  3. Being on the river, there are no waves, so seasickness is not an issue.   Also, most cruises include transferring through a series of “locks” to accommodate the changes in elevation, which most people find super interesting to watch. (I was so geeked out with this pastime that I was usually late to dinner because I couldn't miss one of them).  You can literally touch the walls of the locks from your balcony as you pass through! Evening entertainment can be a little sparse, not the lively entertainment of an ocean cruise, but there is always live music in the lounge (I can neither confirm, nor deny that someone hijacked the mic and jam box to really LIVEN the crowd), lots of movies and entertainment on your in-cabin TVs and most cruise lines bring on local entertainers in some ports, such as an OomPah band in Passau Germany or Gypsy dancers in Budapest. (Personally, I preferred this low key, authentic entertainment).  Plus, there are informative talks on the ports-of-call and cocktails with your newly-made friends from around the world.  We even had wine tastings and wine class on board.
     
    The price tag of a River Cruise can cause a little bit of “sticker shock”, but when you figure out everything you are getting for the cost, it becomes much more manageable, and quite a good value. Viking River Cruises is the most well-known of the River Cruise lines because they spend boatloads (literally) of money on television and print advertising, and they have done a lot to introduce travelers to the River Cruise concept. However, there are many other River Cruise lines with higher customer satisfaction rates and more complimentary inclusions just waiting to show you the time of your lives as well. A travel agent who specializes in European River cruising (like me!) and who has actually experienced a cruise and has relationships with the sales reps from all the different lines can be incredibly valuable in helping you sort through all of the options and find the perfect fit!

    River cruising is also a great option for small groups of friends, family or even work colleagues who would like to travel together ....whenever I book a River Cruise, I always ask if there is anyone who might want to join you on the trip....most times at least 1 or 2 additional couples come forward! Who would you like to sip champagne with as you cruise through the incredible Wachau Valley in Austria’s wine country?

    So, if you think you are finished with the hairy chest contests and waiting in line with 3998 of your new best friends on the Ocean cruise megaships, why not give River Cruising a try? 96% of first time River Cruisers say they would recommend the experience to a friend!  VIP Travel Experience is authorized to sell all the lines and we would love to help match you (and your friends) to the perfect experience! Get on board the “civilized” River Cruise movement! I know I am already planning my next one!   

    But don't take just my word for it, DISNEY even chose AMA Waterways to host their Adventures by Disney cruises.  AND we all know the high standards Disney imposes.Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 3.14.50 PM.png
     
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Topics: #girlstrip, #bestvacation, #viptravelexperience, travel planner, planning the right trip, Italy, #reunion, travel concierge, travel consultant, #passportpassion, #RiverCruise, why use a travel agent, Best Vacation Value, First Time Tips to Italy, LOVEITALY, #group travel, paradiseescape

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