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Travel With Marilyn

The benefits of a Eurail Pass

Marilyn Jones 

I appreciate the convenience of traveling by train throughout Europe on many levels. Generally speaking, it is a very reliable. Almost down to the second, the train you’re waiting for arrives. If it’s going to be delayed, this is communicated on a platform sign, most of the time in English (along with the local language).

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I also don’t have to worry about renting a car. Understanding local laws and navigating traffic and roads in an area I have never been to before are stressful. I would much rather sit back and watch the scenery go by.

It’s a great way to see the sites. You always arrive in the city center where shops, restaurants, and hotels are close by.

What is a Eurail Pass?

Anyone in the world can buy a Eurail Pass (if they don’t live in Europe) before they leave on their trip. The pass was introduced in 1959 and has provided millions of travelers this convenient service.

On a recent trip to Italy, for example, I ordered a Eurail Italy Pass. I was able to travel from Florence to Chiusi-Chianciano Terme close to Adler THERMAE Spa & Resort. After three days at the resort, I traveled to Venice and two days later back to Florence.

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By using the pass I knew up front the exact cost and, with the exception of getting the pass activated before using it the first time, I didn’t have to stand in line unless I had a question about train arrival times.

Logistics

Before the conductor comes around, write the date and where you are traveling to on the ticket and its accompanying folder. If you don’t, you are subject to a 50 euro fine.

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Tickets are sold in increments of how many days and how much time. For example, you could get a “three days within one month” Italy Eurail Pass for 159 euros. You can hop on and off wherever you like during each of these three days. Other Italy Eurail Passes available are “four days within one month,” “five days within one month,” and “eight days within one month.”

Expanding your travels? Passes are also sold for the number of countries you are visiting along with number of days and time span. With a Eurail Pass you have access to the rail networks and some ferries in 28 European countries, depending on pass specifications.

Before you leave home, check on train times so all you have to do is show up and get on the train. Conductors are used to Eurail passes and other than documenting the date and journey, there’s nothing to do except enjoy the journey.

The fine print

  • You need to activate your Eurail Pass within 11 months of the issue date. You can do this at a European train station, or online using a free activation service at checkout.
  • Most high-speed and night trains require a reservation at an additional cost.
  • A first-class Adult Pass is valid in both first and second-class coaches.
  • All standard Eurail Passes are refundable or exchangeable if they are returned unused.
  • Promotional Eurail Passes are nonrefundable and nonexchangeable.
  • Adult, youth (up to 27-years-old), and children passes are available, and discounts are offered for groups of two to five travelers and families with children ages 4 to 11. Children under 4 years old travel free.

 Get on the email list so that you’ll know when specials are being offered. Eurail is a convenient, easy way to travel through Europe and makes for one less thing to worry about.

Disclosure: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided a Eurail Pass. but the excellent experience and recommendations are all her own.

Burano Island is a Venetian Treasure

Marilyn Jones 

Burano, with its brightly colored houses and businesses, is part of Venice but much removed from the crowds of St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal. It only takes a short water taxi ride across the Venetian Lagoon to get to this magical island with its gift shops, restaurants, and narrow canals.

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Historians believe the island was probably settled by the Romans in the sixth century. Most agree the houses were painted brilliant colors so fishermen could see their homes when they were far out to sea or to find them when they’d had a little too much to drink.

From the Burano dock I wander past several open-air booths selling traditional souvenirs. Along a narrow alleyway I come to a shop specializing in lacework. Burano is famous for its needle lace and a woman sits in the center of the shop surrounded by elegant lace tablecloths, lace-trimmed linens, and other finery. She meticulously creates another piece of lace artwork. Handmade lace is labor intensive and very expensive. La Perla Gallery is a good place to purchase Burano lace.

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It was in the 16th century that women began making lace. The lace was exported across Europe. Although the trade began to decline in the 18th century, in 1872 a school of lace making was opened. Lace making on the island boomed once again.

After watching the lacemaker for several minutes and admiring her talent, I head out along the canals and into neighborhoods to photograph the pink, red, blue, plum, yellow, peach, and golden houses; many trimmed in contrasting colors with flower boxes filled to overflowing.

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I wander along other boardwalks next to canals and stop for gelato before heading back to the dock to take the water taxi back to Venice and my hotel.

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Many Venice visitors make their way to Murano to see the famous glass being made, but try to also make time for Burano, a treasure of color and lace.

If you go:

Plan to spend at least half a day on Burano.

If you are traveling from throughout Italy or Europe, check out the Eurail passes. They provide a convenient and economical way to travel from city to city, including Venice.

 

Relax, Renew, and Have Fun at an Italian Wellness Resort

Marilyn Jones
“We want you to relax,” says the desk clerk as I check into ADLER Thermae Wellness & Spa Resort. Located at Bagno Vignoni in the heart of Tuscany, the resort is known as a place of luxury combined with slowing down, pampering, and leisure.

Like everyone else in this fast-paced world, I am looking for all three and I believe at this this 5-star hotel, one of Italy’s leading wellness destinations, I’ll find everything I need for a fantastic stay.

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My room is understated and spacious with a fantastic view of the Tuscan landscape. A white terry bathrobe and flip flops are provided and become my official clothing for most of my visit, along with every other guest.

The Grounds

The 122 degree Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) thermal springs pool and a second pool heated slightly by the thermal waters takes center stage in front of the palazzo-style hotel. Surrounding the pools are gardens of maze-like flowering shrubs and flower beds blooming in a rainbow of colors this spring day.

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On the opposite side of the resort and beyond the spa are a relaxation zone and several saunas, including a modern wood-clad Finnish sauna and a biosauna that helps open up the respiratory tract, promote relaxation, release muscle tension, and cleanse the body.

Cave of the Philosopher is a beautiful and magical place where a high level of humidity and jets of brine based on an ionized salt solution detoxify the body and cleanse the skin.

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I quickly learn the hotel is about traditional and modern health science wrapped in a natural and relaxed atmosphere.

Fitness

A multipurpose sports ground offers a place for basketball, volleyball, and football. Yoga, stretching, palates, and several water activities such as hydro-biking and Aqua Gym are offered

The fitness center with its staff trainers help guests gets the most from their workouts. Participation in group activities is free and includes the guidance of professional supervision.

The resort also offers hiking, biking, e-bike, and e-car outings as well as van excursions to other locations in Tuscany.

Bagno Vignoni

Near the resort is Bagno Vignoni, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tiny village dates to ancient times. The central area of the community, with less than 50 inhabitants, is a large 16th century thermal bath. Because the village is located on the Via Francigena (once serving as the main route followed by pilgrims who went to Rome), the thermal waters were discovered and have been in use since Roman times.

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The waters, from the same source as the thermal waters at the resort, originate from a subterranean aquifer of volcanic origins. The Etruscans and later the aristocratic Romans recognized the curative effects of the waters.

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Archaeological finds prove the village was a destination visited by important individuals of the time including Pope Pius II, Saint Catherine of Siena, and Lorenzo the Magnificent. Most of the village remains essentially unchanged since the Renaissance.

If you go:

I relaxed, enjoyed the excellent meals offered at the resort, took advantage of the excursions, and am very impressed with services and amenities the resort offers as well as the setting.

The resort also welcomes children aged 4 and above. The AKI Kids' Club offers a full daily program of games, sports, wellness and action, making ADLER Thermae a great family destination as well.

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To get to the resort I took the train using my Eurail Pass from Florence to Chiusi-Chianciano Terme train station. The resort is about 40 minutes from the train station. ADLER Thermae arranged for my transportation from the train station to the resort.

Getting to Know Florence, Italy, One Meal at a Time

Marilyn Jones 

I arrive by taxi at the tour meeting point, Piazza Santo Spirito, early enough to enjoy exploring the neighborhood, do a little shopping, photograph nearby Palazzo Pitti, and enjoy a Coca-Cola Light at Caffe Ricchi.

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At the appropriate time, I head for the fountain in the middle of the piazza. Here I meet Gaia Ancilotti, a cheerful young woman, and a couple from New York who are also on the tour.

The “Sunset Food Tour” is new to Eating Italy. While “The Other Side of Florence” runs during the day in the neighborhood of Oltrano, the evening tour takes visitors through the neighborhood of Santo Spirito surrounding the piazza and the Church of Santo Spirito.

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Gaia, who lives in this neighborhood, explains we’ll be making six stops over the next 3 1/2 hours as we walk along cobblestone streets and meet several locals along the way.

Our first stop is at a small grocery store where we sample truffle cheese and Finocchiona salami. Gaia explains the difference between black truffles and white truffles, the season when they are hunted, and that pigs are no longer used to find the truffles because they more often than not eat the truffles before the hunter can get to them. Today, highly-trained dogs are used for the task.

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Next, we head for a bar that Gaia explains is also open for meals, including breakfast, and is the center of the neighborhood.  Although I am strictly a Coca-Cola Light drinker, I enjoy watching how Italian cocktails are made, including Americano, Negroni, and Negroni Spagliato.

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The “loose wine” shop, an Italian tradition, is next. Gaia explains that much of the cost of wine is in the bottling. In a Vinaino, guests drink wine straight from the barrel. We also make a stop at a traditional wine shop before heading for I’ Raddi and the main course, Bistecca alla Fiorentin.

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Here we are invited into the kitchen where we watch as the chef chops the steak from the side of beef. Soon the beautiful cut of meat is brought to the table along with cannellini beans.

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Of course, what would a meal be without dessert? At the last stop we sample Cantucci, a biscotti made to dip in Vin Santo, a sweet wine.

I enjoyed the food as much as the experience of visiting this historic neighborhood in this beautiful city. Saluti to a fantastic evening, wonderful food, and great company!

DisclosureAs is common in the travel industry, the writer was a guest of Eating Italy, but the excellent evening experience was all her own.

15th century Hotel Il Salviatino welcomes guests to Florence

Marilyn Jones 

From my home in Texas to Florence, Italy, is, more or less, a 24-hour journey. When my plane touches down, all I can think about is getting to my hotel for some rest before exploring the city.

Sunday morning traffic is light and within a half hour the taxi driver has deposited me at Il Salviatino, a 15th century villa now serving as a 44-room luxury hotel.

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Inside I am immediately impressed by the architectural detail, artwork, and grand staircase. My room is decorated in red and gold, and my view is of Tuscany with its rolling hills and signature spruce trees.

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History

Historians suggest the original structure built on this site was a Roman fortress. It makes sense, with the hotel’s location high above Florence. The first recorded documents date back to the 14th century when the property was a villa.  

Through the centuries, the villa was refurbished by some of Florence’s elite families, ultimately landing in the hands of the Salviati family in the 16th century.

The Salviatis undertook an enormous restoration, adding frescoes and furnishings to create a warm and inviting space for their guests. They officially named Il Salviatino. At the end of the 19th century, American Phelps Thomas purchased the property and hired artist Augusto Bruschi to add decorative works, including the beautiful fresco that can still be admired in the Affresco Suite.

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At the turn of the last century, poet, journalist, and art critic Ugo Ojetti became the owner and added the library, which was visited regularly by celebrities in their fields, including Salvador Dalì and Gabriele D’Annunzio.

After Ojetti’s death, the villa was passed down to his heirs. During the '70s and '80s, it became Stanford University’s Italian headquarters. When the university left, the villa sat vacant for 20 years until it was once again renovated to bring back its 19th century splendor and opened as a hotel in 2010.

Exploring

I am entranced by the hotel’s beauty and, after settling in my room, I decide to investigate the public spaces. I start with the library and its books focusing on Italian art, history, and architecture; museum-quality paintings; and vases filled with flowers grown on the property.

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I wander into other rooms, admiring the attention to detail. The beautiful furnishings, original vaulted ceilings, and terracotta floors remind me of the villa’s rich history.

One young man suggests that I take in the view from the terrace, where I will later have dinner, before wandering though the ornate gardens. Laid out before me are the Brunelleschi’s Duomo and the red-roofed buildings of Florence. In closer view are the nearly 12 acres of formal gardens and park.

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Stairs lead down from the terrace to the formal gardens. From here I follow a footpath to the pool and spa.

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Soon I will take the shuttle into the heart of Florence. I know there will be swarms of people in the city, but right now I am enjoying the beauty of a centuries-old villa brought back to life; once again welcoming road-weary guests.

 

Disclosure: As is common in the travel industry, Marilyn Jones was provided with accommodations for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced her review, Grit.com believes in full disclosure.

 

Find Packing Accessories to Fit Your Trip

Marilyn JonesEvery trip poses a new set of circumstances. How long are you going to be gone? Will you have access to laundry service? Are you flying? Will you need your passport? What about security?

I recently returned from a trip to South Africa. I used my new suitcase which was fantastic. It made it through airline abuse without a scratch. The downside was that it was a little too small for two weeks, so I also took a piece of carry-on luggage.

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With my backpack (made of the same heavy material as my suitcase) stuffed with my computer, cameras, extra set of clothes, and medications, I had two carry-ons. Even if I locked my backpack and my identification and credit cards were safe, there are two problems: getting everything out at the airport for security and boarding, and my backpack is not RFID-secure.

RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track information attached to objects including credit cards and passports. Although it has been around for years, its relatively new use is identity and digital theft. RFID skimming enables information from RFID-based smart cards to be read and duplicated.

So, I have an RFID neck stash that acts as a little purse.

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In it I put my passport, driver’s license, boarding pass, credit cards, a little cash, and any receipts I collect at the airport. It is small. If I get stopped for having three items (and yes, it happened one time out of dozens of flights), it easily fits into my backpack. It is also very easy to conceal under my jacket or sweater. I actually leave it on when I am on the airplane. I have heard too many horror stories of things being stolen while you are asleep or in the restroom. But that’s another story.

For an upcoming trip to Italy, I will be catching buses and trains to move around Tuscany and Le Marche regions. Although my South Africa plan worked, I don’t want to have two suitcases in tow. With the help of Eagle Creek, I will be touring around this magical country with a Gear Warrior AWD 29 — the bigger version of the suitcase I took to South Africa. Problem solved.

I’m currently in the process of packing and realized my toiletry bag has seen better days, so I set out to find a new one. I usually shy away from hanging toiletry bags, but I found one that was different. The bottom part is three inches wide with little sleeves to hold items such as hairspray, mouthwash, shampoo, and conditioner. There is room in the bottom for other items, as well as a front pouch, two pouches on the top part that fold out to hang, and a pouch on the front of the folded-up kit. I was sold.

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In Cambodia, a monkey attacked my RFID purse that I carry for the usual reasons as well as for water and extra camera batteries and SD cards. Fortunately, no travel writers were injured in the attack, but my purse did suffer a few ill effects, so I ordered a new one. It converts to either a cross-over bag or a backpack. And while I was at it, I found a zippered, leather, RFID clutch for evenings out.

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I always use packing cubes. I think of them as mini dresser drawers: one for tops, another for undergarments and pajamas, and so forth. After packing the cubes, they fit neatly into my suitcase. When I am at a hotel looking for clothes, I simply take out the cube, get what I want, and put the cube back; no fuss, no muss, no stress.

I also discovered packing tubes. Eagle Creek offers a tube cube that fits perfectly between the ribs caused by the suitcase handle. I ordered two. They are excellent for socks and other small items, and they save me even more space in the suitcase.             

While in Italy, the two cities I will be visiting are Florence and Venice. I found two travel guides I will be taking along: Secret Florence and Secret Venice to help me explore the legendary cities.

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I must brag, too, on my favorite travel shoes. They are lightweight,don’t take up a lot of space in a suitcase, and are so comfortable! I actually wore one pair out hiking in the Galapagos Islands, South Africa, Easter Island, all over Europe and the United States. CMUK shoes go everywhere with me when I travel!

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I’d say I’m ready: right luggage, RFID purses, new toiletry bag, packing cubes, packing tubes, guidebooks, and travel shoes.

Italy, here I come!!

           

A Luxurious Afternoon at Sea

Marilyn JonesCape Town is a beautiful city on the Atlantic Ocean and a must-see destination in South Africa. Naturally, because of its location, locals and tourists alike take advantage of all the leisure activities available, including an afternoon cruise.

 

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My cruise was aboard the Mirage. The 76-foot luxury catamaran was built to be able to host yacht parties as well as host smaller groups out to enjoy the sea breeze, scenic beauty, and marine animal life.

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Almost immediately, we started to see dolphins following the yacht; soon after, we came upon several African penguins floating on the surf hunting for fish. Along the shoreline we watched athletes parachuting off the face of the mountain and drifting toward the water in the shadow of Table Mountain.

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We passed seals and cormorants on rocks lining the shoreline, and a beach with its sunbathers and colorful umbrellas.

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The yacht was designed for luxury, and almost as soon as we boarded a shipmate brought a bottle of champagne and began to pour. I requested my usual Diet Coke, but they delivered it with just as much elegance as they had the bubbly for my friends.

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For private parties gourmet cuisine is offered, making the yacht the perfect location for any number of occasions — anniversaries, birthdays, corporate functions, and special events. The surroundings couldn’t be better, with the beautifully-appointed yacht and the glorious scenery of Cape Town, Table Mountain, and the ocean’s wildlife. Plus, the yacht was customized to withstand the unpredictable weather conditions of the Cape.

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Our excursion was a lovely way to experience Cape Town.

Back on shore, we stood and watched a seal clap its flippers and do “handstands" in the water just off the dock as a final anecdote from the cruise. The sea-air, sunshine, and natural beauty offered the perfect way to relax and enjoy another chapter of my South African experience.