Is a truffle hunt like a snipe hunt?

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Ever been on a snipe hunt? Or sent someone on a snipe hunt? Hopefully, you answered no to the first and yes to the second! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s a prank that kids (of all ages) pull when they send someone into the woods to catch a snipe. Except there is no such thing. But, it does get rid of pesky little brothers for a while.

A truffle hunt, on the other hand is a genuine treasure hunt for something almost as rare as a snipe.  Often sprinkled over dishes or blended into oils and salts, truffles have been highly sought after since Greek and Roman times. Truffles are so elusive that neither man nor machine can locate them on their own, relying on canines’ or pigs’ keen sense of smell to find them. Which brings us to the next section of my Italy series.

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Part 2 of 3 – Florence

Birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is an art lover’s paradise. Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus are two of the most famous artworks in the world. The Accademia, Uffizi Gallery, and Duomo Museum are not to be missed if you’re in Florence.

Is your passion culinary? A food and wine tour through Tuscany, will be at the top of your “to do” list. Truffle hunting, olive festivals, wine tasting, and exquisite Italian cuisine are a few of the region’s experiences. The hills and valleys of Tuscany are rich in tradition and old-world flavor.

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Looking for some exquisite scenery and aha moments? Picturesque towns, terraced vineyards, rolling olive groves, and beautiful villas beckon throughout the Tuscan countryside. Whether you spend a few nights exploring, or go for a day from your Florence base, Tuscany is an experience. Sam Gimignano, Montepulciano, Cortona, and Siena are just a few of these village treasures.

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And for the cultural aficionado, stunning architectural wonders await. The Cathedral of Florence’s Duomo is synonymous with Florence. Brunelleschi designed the famous Duomo (dome), the first of modern history. Enjoy it inside or out – you can climb the cupola. And if you’re into climbing, try the Campanile (bell tower) for outstanding city vistas. The Medici family commissioned many of the city’s famous buildings, including the Palazzo Pitti, and Palazzo Vecchio and you can learn about the opulent lifestyle through exhibits and museums. For an unusual view of Medici family, check out their tombs, designed and carved by Michelangelo in the Medici Chapels.

And, for a different style of architecture, Pisa, home of the Leaning Tower, is an easy day trip from Florence.

Are you ready to design your perfect Italian vacation? I’d love to help. Call 888-429-1929 or email travel@sevenwondersgrouptravel.com today to schedule a complimentary consultation and we’ll start the planning!

When in Rome...

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Whether it is your first or tenth visit to the Eternal City, there is an abundance to experience in Rome and her surroundings. Not to mention just soaking up the atmosphere. Strolling through the winding streets while savoring a new gelato flavor or sipping an espresso all'aperto is sheer escapism.

A common mistake made by travelers is trying to cover too much distance in a short span. You end up traveling more than experiencing. Italy, with its beautiful architecture, scenery, famous museums and monuments, food and wine stature is such a destination. There is just too much to do in one trip, or even ten trips. For the next three weeks, I’ll “chunk it down” and focus on three regions and their centerpiece cities: Rome, Florence, Venice.

Today – A very small sampler of Rome.

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1) History buffs will always want to visit ‘Old Rome’ in the historic center with Colosseum, Roman Forum, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Circus Maximus, and Roman Baths to name just a few. Pompeii, the longest continually excavated site in the world, is easily managed in a day-trip. The city was consumed by volcanic ash when Mt Vesuvius erupted 79AD.

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2) If your passion is culinary, a food tour through Trastevere, one of Rome’s most picturesque neighborhoods with its winding cobblestone streets can’t be missed. Visit food stalls and restaurants that have been owned by the same family for generations.

Learn to blend wine or create pasta from scratch. Spend a day with a local chef preparing your own farm to table meal and pairing it with the perfect local wines. And not too far away is Naples. Not only a great jumping off point for the Amalfi Coast and Capri but there’s the pizza! Even the Italians from other regions admit Napoli has the best pizza in the world.

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3) Looking for dramatic scenery and outdoor adventure? The Amalfi Coast, where the mountains meet the sea and 13 villages make up a vertical landscape connected by winding roads and stairways. Take a ferry to the Island of Capri, known for it’s beautiful, rugged landscape with deep pools and lagoons, including the famed Blue Grotto. Also home to the Sirens of Homer’s Odyssey - beware you're not bewitched by the Sirens’ song!

4) Home to numerous museums, Rome is an art lover’s destination in itself. Frescos, monuments, public artworks abound throughout the city. If more formal collections are your preference, The Galleria Borghese, National Museum of Rome, Vatican Museums, and the Sistine Chapel will keep you occupied for days. Your art and culture gene will be very happy.

Are you ready to design your perfect Italian vacation? I’d love to help. Call 888-429-1929 or email travel@sevenwondersgrouptravel.com today to schedule a complimentary consultation and we’ll start the planning!

Four Worst Cruise Decisions

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You’ve decided on an ocean cruise for vacation this year. Mediterranean? Alaskan? Caribbean? Australian? Big ship? Small ship? Luxury, main stream, specialty? A lot of the fun is in the planning – those slick websites and brochures are FUN to look at. Whatever you do, don’t make these mistakes:

Same Day Flight. I get it. You don’t want to waste a precious vacation day, so you book a flight to arrive on the same day as departure. Don’t do it. Airlines are flying at maximum capacity and if a flight is cancelled or you’re delayed and miss a connection there isn’t a lot of wiggle room to re-accommodate you.

Arriving a day or two early affords you the chance to recover from jet-lag, explore your departure city, or just enjoy some decompression as you transition to vacay mode. Wouldn’t you rather check out Seattle’s Pike Place Market and the Space Needle, spend a couple of days exploring Rome, or enjoy a relaxing day at the beach than trying to catch up with your cruise? Even if you catch up to the ship a day or two later, you’ve missed the beginning of your vacation and you’ve spent the first few days stressing instead of relaxing.

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Wait until on-board to book shore excursions. Spontaneity is great, especially when traveling. Not with shore excursions. If there is an excursion you know you want to do, book it early. Don’t wait until you are on board. Otherwise, there’s an excellent chance it may be sold out. Some of the more popular excursions sell out months prior to sailing.

And, you don’t have to book your excursions through the cruise line. Many cruise ports of call have reputable, local guides and tours available and there are companies that specialize in shore excursions. Would you rather see the Acropolis with a numbered sticker on your chest while jostling for position with 60 of your “best” friends? Or explore it with a group of six, enjoying commentary from a licensed, passionate docent?

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Pick the wrong ship. It’s not just big vs small. Are you traveling with kids and want them to be welcomed and entertained rather than frowned at disapprovingly? Or, do you think a ship that is shriek-free is more your cup of tea? Speaking of tea - do you expect high tea every day? Country-club ambience or more laid back? Do you favor a ship that rolls up the carpet by 11 every evening or do you plan on partying until dawn? With clothes or clothing optional? OK, that one is obvious. But, selecting the wrong ship for your personality or travel style can make a wonderful ship less than appealing.

Consider price only. There’s a reason Caribbean cruises are cheap in October and November. Harvey, Irma, or Maria ring any bells? Or Alaska in May, late August/September – rain anyone? Yes, it rains all summer in Alaska, but it can get downright torrential in the Spring and Fall. European cruises in the fall can be cold. What are your on-board expectations and utilizations? You might find that paying more for a cruise with more included is actually less expensive than one that is cheaper up front but only includes the proverbial “nickel and diming" amenities.

If you’re flexible and understand why a cruise is discounted, some bargains can be a great value. During hurricane season, ships are generally able to avoid the storms. Just, be okay with having the itinerary changed or having a shortened or lengthened cruise. A Mediterranean cruise in the fall, in my opinion, is the best. Fewer crowds and no stifling heat. It can get chilly, but if you’re prepared for it, not a problem. Remember, you want to get best value – not the lowest price.

Are you ready to find the perfect cruise for you? I’d love to help. Call 888-429-1929 or email travel@sevenwondersgrouptravel.com today to schedule a complimentary consultation and we’ll start the planning!

Six Reasons Not to Use a Travel Professional

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Do you believe travel professionals are extinct or unnecessary? The advent of on-line booking engines has made it very easy for consumers to reserve and pay for air, hotels, cars, etc. And, honestly, for many basic pieces, it makes perfect sense to do-it-yourself.

But what about when things are a little more complicated? Your long-awaited trip of a life-time, the 50th anniversary celebration for your grandparents, or your book club’s “DaVinci Code” tour? Do you need a professional to help you out or should you DIY?

Everyone has a different level of expertise and what works for you may not work for another. Here are six instances when you probably won’t need a travel professional’s services:

1) You love spending hours and hours of your time researching prices, locations, amenities, inclusions/exclusions, added fees, hours of operation, etc. You enjoy trying to figure out if the farm to table cooking class includes tasting or a full meal, if a small group tour means 6 people or 60, or if the hotel you selected is hosting a middle school cheer-leading competition.

2) You think it’s an adventure when you arrive to your hotel, B&B, apartment at 1 am, jet-lagged, and find it non-admissible, non-habitable, or just non-existent.

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3) You realize everything on the internet is true. All reviews are legitimate – no competitors posting negative feedback, or employees/owners praising their own cuisine or accommodations. All tour operators, guides, apartments, drivers, restaurants, hotels, and experiences are exactly as depicted on the web.

4) You appreciate that the on-line review sites never block, restrict, or manipulate feedback. Of course, all the restaurants, sites, etc. being reviewed actually exist. You think I’m kidding? “The Shed”, a non-existent restaurant, became London’s highest rated on Trip Advisor a few months ago.

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5) You’re more interested in lowest price than value. You scored the cheapest room with a nice view of the HVAC unit next door. Never mind that you might get more bang for your buck if you upgrade your room to an ocean-view and combine it with a spa/golf/breakfast/whatever package.

6) You enjoy wasting time. What difference does it make if you spend 2-3 hours of your vacation everyday commuting to/from the city center because you didn’t realize the hotel was a suburban property? Spending that extra time cruising along the Seine, enjoying a spa treatment, or biking through a vineyard is not as significant as the money you maybe saved.

OK, this is a little snarky, but my point is there is way more to a travel professional’s expertise than just booking airline tickets. If you don’t need to save money, time, avoid headaches and heartaches, know someone has your back if something does go awry, as well as ensure you get the custom experience you deserve, then you should definitely DIY.

Are you ready to start planning your next vacation? I’d love to help. Call 888-429-1929 or email travel@sevenwondersgrouptravel.com to schedule a complimentary planning session.

Hawaii - Ten Fun, Trivial Facts

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Hawaiʽi is an exotic destination with a rich and culturally diverse history. Whether you travel for adventure, culinary experiences, culture, art and history, sports and activity, Hawaiʽi is the place. Oh, and there is also a beach or two.

After last week’s adventure on Oʽahu, I thought I’d share a few interesting tidbits about this enchanting destination that you may or may not know.

1) Lei, (pronounced lay) is the same when singular or plural. There is no such word as “leis”.

2) It is bad form and bad luck to give a pregnant woman a closed lei. Gift her with an open lei.

3) The “w” in Hawaiʽi is pronounced like a “v”. Unless it is the first letter in a name – such as Waikiki, “w” will sound like “v”.

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4) There are 13 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet and five of those are vowels. The ʽokina (backwards looking apostrophe) is considered a consonant and signifies a pause or glottal stop. Words with an ʽokina have different pronunciations and meanings - “kai” means “ocean” and “kaʽi” means “to lead”.

5) Hawaiʽi is the only US state that was once a Kingdom. Ruled as a monarchy until 1893 when US colonists overthrew the Hawaiian Kingdom in a coup. Five years later, it became a US territory. King Kamehameha Day is a state holiday.

6) Hula is performed by male and female dancers. Female-only hula is “Hollywood hula”.

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7) Kilauea is currently the world’s most active volcano, erupting continuously since 1983. The island grows by 42 acres a year due to lava deposits.

8) The state is home to ten of the world’s 14 climate zones and all ten can be found on the Island of Hawaiʽi, or “big island”

9) The Hoary bat and Monk Seal are the only native mammals. The islands are too remote for land mammals to have made way to the archipelago. Their most famous mammal, the mongoose, was actually imported.

10) Aloha is not just a word or greeting. It is a way of life – love, charity, hospitality, warmth. The Aloha spirit is part of the culture of the Hawaiian people, a mantra spread by all and infused in everyday life. When you visit Hawaii you are embraced and enveloped by the Aloha Spirit.

Ready to go to Hawaii? Call 888-429-1929 or email travel@sevenwondersgrouptravel.com today to schedule a free consultation.