The Journey Home

San Francisco Travel Blog

 › entry 26 of 26 › view all entries
I originally intended to write this blog for my family and maybe a record for the boys they could use for their travels.  I don't even remember joining TravBuddy way back when but saw the blog feature and decided to use it instead of Blogger, etc.  I liked the Travmap that follows one's journeys.
I was pleasantly surprised by the feedback and encouragement of many TravBuddy travelers (big up to Gpat who sent me my first smiles but really appreciate everyone's comments and input).  I have tried my best to provide useful information to the traveler and write hotel reviews and links.  In the weeks ahead I'll be adding TravBuddy restaurant reviews and after reading Vikram's blog I need to step up my descriptive game.

Here are some general observations I have from our trip:

1: Paris was great.  I don't know if we were lucky but the hassles were non existent and contrary to popular folklore everyone was nice.

2: Developed after many years of traveling the best way to deal with scammers, unwanted touts, salesmen, etc when they approach is just to smile, say a "no thanks" in the local language, then break eye contact and move on.   Works everywhere in the world except Kuta Beach Bali!!

3: Does anyone know if children under 12 for French museums get in free for all nationalities or just for kids born in the EU?  In France the boys were free everywhere but in Italy they were strict on asking where the children were born.  I would think it would be Italy that had the more laissez-faire attitude.

4: The Paris Museum Pass is worth its weight in gold.

5: The Venice bus/vaparetto bus is well worth it if a traveler plans on taking more than two vaparetto rides in a day.  Most locals don't seem to validate their tickets at teh vaparetto stations or on the bus but I have seen sporadic enforcement at the gates.  The buses are usually too crowded and the bus drivers don't seem to care but bus fares are relatively cheap. 

6: San Giorgio, just across from Saint Mark's Square is well worth the visit.  No crowds and if you want to go up a tower go up this one.  The church itself is nice and you may be lucky enough to be there when a choir is singing.

7: Italy is not Japan.   Trains might leave a little late and usually a little late in arriving.

8: Did I mention that you should avoid the MSNSUITES Palazzo dei Ciompi in Florence?   Generally when I was in a rush and needed to book a hotel Expedia came through (though I know that Expedia usually does not have the best prices) but a traveler should really call ahead to the hotel and double check on reception hours and check in policies and not rely on the hotel's or Expedia's information.  

9: Don't bother to bring traveler's checks to Italy.  Hard to exchange, worse rates, big commission.  Bring more cash that you have exchanged for a more favorable rate at home and rely on a credit card for emergency cash.  

10: Before the trip I read there was a lot of issues with using US credit cards and stores that could only accept the European pin code system.  For all the restaurants and hotels this was not an issue.  We used cash in the supermarkets so can't say about there.

11: For all the popular museums and attractions in Italy book your tickets online or go line up very early.   We managed to see the Uffuzi but missed the Academy in Florence because we didn't book ahead and a crappy hotel there wasted our first afternoon.  Booking our Vatican Museum tickets online was a lifesaver.

12: Rome and Florence in late June are hot.  I would plan less sightseeing and more time there so one could be more leisurely in getting around, take siestas, etc.

13: Next time (and I really hope there is a next time) I think the better plan would be a direct flight to London, Paris or another city on the western side of Europe.  Spend a night or two and then take overnight trains to where we want to visit instead of taking the longer flights back from busy airports like Rome and playing connection roulette in the US.

Our journey home was something else.  When I booked the tickets I made sure we flew direct to Paris.  No slam on Charlotte, North Carolina but I didn't want to miss a connection on our way over and have to spend the night there instead of Paris.  On the way home we had longer flights from Rome to NYC and then from NY to SFO.   My thinking was that if we missed our connection on the way home then we could spend a night or two in NYC and show the boys the sites there.   As it was at the end of our trip we just wanted to get home and when it seemed we might actually miss our connection to SFO I was dreading the whole find a hotel, cab negotiation, unpack bags, pack bags, cab negotiation, and the United States airport ordeal again. 

We took a taxi at 0900.  The drive to Terminal 5 took an hour and I guess the driver was finishing the night shift with our fare because he looked drowsy and I had to stay ready to shake him or grab the wheel.

When we arrived at Terminal 5 there was hardly any cars and none of that unloading bags and double parked confusion of the Terminals we had just passed by.  I should have known better because immediately upon entering I see three long and confused lines.   Two lines were for a Delta flight to Atlanta and the longer single line was for the NYC flight.   Eventually one of the Atlanta lines close and changed to our flight and we finally started making some progress.    As we approach the counter we realize that this isn't check in but just a passport check.   Our passports duly checked we now enter the main terminal and join the long line for check in.  

Michiyo spots the automatic ticket kiosks and there is a nice lady there to help me validate our passports and enter the information.  It seemed that the boy's names were entered into the system incorrectly so we went through the whole procedure twice only to be told at the end to see a ticket agent.  I looked over at the check in line that was only growing and was dismayed until the lady told me we could go directly to the counter.  The lady at the bag check in for the auto kiosk was able to call up our reservations and we were soon able to join the line for the shuttle bus that took us to the main airport.

I guess Terminal 5 was for all the US airlines (I also noticed an Israeli airline) and their tighter security requirements.  This link starts out by saying that this airport is chaos itself and I can believe it.  Very crowded and too many people and stores crammed into too little space.

Our flight is delayed.  We wait around 90 minutes on the tarmac for European air control in Brussels to assign our flight a time slot for the flight across the Atlantic.    In the air I was surprised to be charged for a small can of Pringles chips that Ray ordered.   The meals on international flights for Delta are still free but I guess they try to make some money on certain snacks.  I forgot if they charged for alcohol or not.

The pilot made up for lost time and we arrived at JFK about 40 minutes early.  Unfortunately our gate was still being used by another aircraft and we had a 45 minute taxi across the airport to our gate anyway.  We had two hours to make our connection.  By the time we reached our gate we lost 20 minutes of that.   There was an announcement asking that folks remain seated so a group with a very tight connection could leave the plane first.   It was a bunch of young kids trying to make a flight to Detroit that were seated in the back of the aircraft.   As they were scurrying out we decided to follow behind them as we also had a connection and during the flight I could tell by overhearing the loud conversations that everyone around us was from the NYC area.   Ray and I get out but a little while later I look around and don't see Michael or Michiyo.  I thought that these local New Yorkers cut them off and started arguing with them.  Later Michiyo told me they were just late in getting into the aisle but we get off the plane without incident. 

Immigration was easy and quick and after a short wait for the bags we were through Customs.  Dropped the bags back off and made it to our gate with time to spare.   On this flight there were two young couples from Spain that were moved from the emergency exit row because they couldn't speak English.   They were upset as they booked their tickets like everyone else and didn't know of this rule (need to speak English to follow instructions to open the door, etc in case of an emergency).   The flight was fully booked so there was some confusion while seats were swapped but we were eventually aloft and arrived at SFO early.   We had another half hour wait on the tarmac while we waited for our gate and then finally we can debark.  

Get our bags, shuttle to the long term parking, car still works no flat tires!  Easy drive home.  About 26 hours door to door.

ladyluck13and7 says:
Thanks, if I ever make a trip to Europe I will def. remember this stuff!
Posted on: Aug 03, 2010
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!