Where did the summer go?

How is it already September?!? Although I couldn’t be happier!

Seems like just yesterday we were still trying to figure out how we were going to manage this weird, wild summer! But we made it through, just like we always do, even with our minimal staff, i.e., just Hubby and me. The parks were a lot busier than anticipated. Of course, occupancy was down, but wow, these Alaskans came out in huge numbers. Historically our parks don’t reach capacity except for a few random occasions, but our two most popular parks reached capacity on multiple weekends. Definitely a swing to the “weekend warrior” crowd this year sprinkled with plenty of newbie RV’ers. Unfortunately, I think we had a record year for vandalism and just general entitled assholes. What does that say, I wonder? Yes, it was evident that people were on edge this season. But all you can do is smile and nod and then completely rip them apart in the privacy of your own cardboard walls!

Liv did a great job managing the RV park. I know we asked a lot of our 15-year-old, and at times perhaps too much, but I suppose she’ll be a better person because of it. She has officially committed the next 2 seasons to the park, and then I guess she leaves me?! Yikes! All in all, I think she enjoyed her summer. Not only did she prove she could manage an RV park, but she also rocked an “A” in her first college course.

Instead of camp, this season, Ryder has been filling his time with school, LARP, and sleepovers. It’s fair to say he’s had one of his best summers up here yet, although camp is pretty hard to beat, hopefully, next year! He’s officially a Freshman, and he’s off to a better start than I ever could have imagined. I don’t know why I was so worried, but that’s all in the past, and he has really proven himself in these short few weeks.

I don’t know how we got so lucky to have these 2 amazing kiddos, but I say it’s a win!

Hubby and I will start closing down the bathrooms and preparing the gates for lockdown. It is an exciting time. Kind of fun to experience closure from season to season. Definitely, a job well done this year. Perhaps the parks aren’t as “kempt” as they typically are, but there’s no doubt that we did our best and kept this place afloat!

Per usual we are headed south for the long winter ahead. It was an interesting time to weigh our travel/adventure options this year. We opted to keep it low key, I suppose we took a few measures to “play it safe” and if the opportunity comes along to get out of the states for a bit I have no doubt we’ll take it. For now, though we’ll focus on a little down time before the tree farm. I see nails, hair, massages, and good food in our future! And the kiddos want to try Universal, so I think we’ll scoop up passes for them. With all the deals right now it’s hard to pass up. Dad and I haven’t decided if we’ll get passes too. The kiddos are going to scope it out and see if it’s a good fit. As we all know I’m not a theme park person necessarily, I am a Disney person! But, with everything going on, I have ZERO desire to do Disney right now, except for the water parks, which we hope open soon. Time will tell. It sure is a weird wide world we live in.

But, when you think about it, most of us have the ability to create our own little bubble of comfort, and compared to the horrendous things that go on day after day for much of the world, we still have it pretty easy!

For now, we’ll keep the kiddos focused on school and continue to tie up loose ends. Soon enough, wheels up!

We’re back, Alaska!

As you can see, Alaska is still quite snowy. Although we’ve had quite a bit of melt over the last few days. It always surprises me how fast it goes once it gets started. We still have a ways to go but because of the wonky way of the world right now, I don’t think anyone is in a hurry.

Hubby has been picking away at the campgrounds, but then he was met with this wet mess a few days ago…

The water has since subsided, but it’s crazy to see the campsites underwater. We’ve never had it happen this late in the season, perhaps the new and improved culverts DOT dug for us last year have had a mind of their own!

In any case, we are working towards our summer plans. Fortunately, we are one of the lucky few who still have jobs. I couldn’t be more grateful! Getting through our 14 days of quarantine was pretty easy. Alaska’s different. Quarantine for us is just another wintery day up here. Other than not being able to pop into the store for a gallon of milk, life under quarantine went fairly unnoticed.

The state is starting to open up a bit. As of yesterday, we entered phase 1 of our 5 phase plan of reopening Alaska. Because of the various businesses we work with, I’ve had to read the mandates thoroughly, and oh my, when you actually dig into reading these things in their entirety, it becomes quite evident what a weird wide world we live in right now.

But so goes. We are all anxious to see what our season will shake out like. In the meantime, Liv’s has gotten back behind the wheel, and we made our regular trip to the end of the spit to get a view of the mountains and such.

It’s still quite chilly outside, we’ve just barely started hitting the 40’s which makes me long for our warm sunny Florida days…

We did catch a glimpse of this Cruise America as we headed home from Kenai. It did make me wonder where they might have picked up the camper, but perhaps RV rentals will see a surge in popularity this season. For now, we’ll just plug away as usual and wait for the crowds to dictate our season.

Ok, we have to do a couple of weeks of fast forward here… It’s taken me quite a while to finalize this post!

It’s now starting to feel like summer in Alaska! It’s still pretty freaking cold outside ,but at least the snow is gone ,and the sun is shining. It’s been a bit of a mess getting the campgrounds going this year due to this whole health woes thing. But so goes. Still, first world problems considering what the rest of the globe is faced with typically. We finally got moved to our summer spot. Pretty great!

And because of a wonky summer, Liv’s will most likely be spending her days here as the new RV park camp host!

We’ve been hard at work getting the office ready and she’s very excited to welcome the first guests. Pretty awesome view from her office though, right?!?

It will be an interesting summer for us all…

Back in the states

We kept a pretty low profile while in London. Lots of Judge Judy and gas station food.

The day finally came and we boarded our very empty plane back to the states.

A quick, not really, ten hours later we had made it to Miami. After a few basic checks we were officially on the other side of immigration and had made it back “home”. Whew!

It was pretty exciting to be back on US soil. Just something about the comforts of the known.

While in London the kiddos and Dad had convinced me to book a house in Orlando with a pool and  spa while we awaited our flight back to the cold white North.

Oh man am I happy I humored them! Ha!

Not only did we get a deal because, well, Airbnb’s aren’t exactly thriving at the moment but it has given us a chance to “self isolate”.  And of course it’s been pretty awesome to soak up some sun and enjoy the water.

We’ve got a few more days here and then we head north. We’ll face a 14 day mandatory quarantine up there, but it sounds like there’s still a ridiculous amount of snow on the ground so what else are you going to do, right?!?

Today we made a video recapping our European Adventure.

I’m so grateful we got this experience. Even with a health crisis at our heels. I mean would the Cunningham’s do it any other way?!?


Check out my new page “Pompeii”

“Pompeii”

Where to start:

When I first started planning our Europe trip, it obviously started with a budget. You can find lots of information on how to prepare for any trip HERE! So at this point, I’ll assume you’re all caught up, and we can move on with Europe specific planning.

First off, you’ll need to set your time frame and determine your locations. Then you’ll need to plan your route and decide what types of lodging fit your budget and style. Simultaneously you should research flight options and activities and keep plugging all this info into your spreadsheet.

 

CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW WE DID POMPEII!

 

LODGING

Obviously, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where we were going to stay. Typically down in Central America, it’s all about the hostel. But if you’ve read my budget travel tips, when you’re traveling as a group, hostels are not always the best value. Think about it, if the going rate for a bed in a mixed dorm is $10, you’ve already committed to spending $40, and you don’t even have your own bathroom. So it’s best to expand your search to everything from traditional hotels to renting private homes. We never stayed in a hostel during our European tour. Mostly we used Airbnb and Booking.com with a few random sites here and there. All the prices listed include taxes and fees.

POMPEII- Airbnb – $47 per night

CLICK HERE FOR WEBSITE

There are several neighborhoods that you can stay in to enjoy the highlights of southern Italy. As with all lodging, you have to determine what type of transportation you have, what sites you are interested in, and overall what kind of vibe you want to experience with your stay. Initially, we were just going to stay in Naples, which is probably what most people do. It’s a large city, plenty of restaurants, shopping, and a major transportation hub.

But once I started learning about the surrounding areas, I realized that a smaller suburb like Pompeii would be a better fit. I don’t love being in the heart of a big city unless I can literally walk to everything I’m interested in. But to explore southern Italy the way we wanted to, we realized we were going to need a car, so that opened up a lot of other areas to stay. Specifically, we stayed in Torre Annunziata just on the outskirts of Pompeii. This location would allow us to stay central to Herculaneum, Pompeii, Matera, and Naples. Overall the neighborhood was great. Lots of food options and markets, although they really stretch out their siesta time at both. Very cheap too! It was a very centralized location, right off the main highway. I would happily stay here again.

ACTIVITIES

We figured this part of our adventure was going to be pretty busy. We wanted to visit Herculaneum, Vesuvius, Pompeii, the Almalfi Coast, Matera, and maybe a quick tour of Naples. We didn’t pre-book anything for this visit, as it was the low season, and because our adventures were weather dependent, we wanted as much flexibility as possible.  We had the advantage of time, if you don’t know by now, we really like to take things slow, so more often than not, we spread out our activities to keep it leisurely.

A few notes on activities. When you’re researching things to do in an area, it’s really easy to get lost in the mix. And it seems as though it gets harder and harder to find Official Websites. There are so many skip-the-line websites, and perhaps you decide that the increased fee is worth it, but first, you have to locate the base price on the official website to make that determination.

  • Vesuvius – $60 – We made the drive from our Airbnb to the base of Vesuvius. You can only drive so far up the mountain, and then you can either walk or take a shuttle to the entry. During low season the parking is free, and it’s approximately $3 per person for the shuttle. CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS AND INFO The shuttle bus takes you farther up the mountain approximately 2-3 miles. After you exit the shuttle bus, you will pay for your entry tickets and walk the short distance to the trail. Keep in mind there are no bathrooms anywhere. Once on the trail, it’s a steep climb to the crater. It takes about 20-30 minutes to reach the first lookout. There are a few souvenir shops and snacks and drinks for sale at the top. Once on top, you can walk about half the crater and enjoy the different vantage points. This is a must-see for sure! It’s an easy enough walk down, if not a little slippery, but overall it was a great short hike! All in all, it took us about 3 hours from the time we parked the car to make the round trip.
  • Drive the Amalfi Coast – Free – We took advantage of our rental car and decided to drive the Amalfi coast. From Pompeii, it’s about a 3-hour loop without any stops. It was quite cold, so we weren’t interested in doing any beach time, but we wanted to see the breathtaking views and experience the famous road. We definitely got our money’s worth! The drive is not for the faint of heart. I would never consider driving it, but luckily my Hubby was up for the challenge. I definitely recommend making the drive, whether you drive the loop, stop for a quick bite, or head to the beach, the views from the coast do not disappoint. I wouldn’t, however, make the trip on one of the many buses that are available unless you are staying somewhere on the coast, but for a leisurely drive doing it in your own vehicle is a must!
  • Herculaneum – $30 – The drive to Herculaneum was not as challenging as others might make you think. Other than a slight wrong turn, it was pretty easy to find the site, as well as parking. And as far as I could tell, there are no ZTL’s in the area, more on this down below. CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS AND INFO Herculaneum is a relatively small site, we easily saw everything we wanted in just a few hours. We didn’t hire a guide as the onsite guides were asking for a minimum of approximately $75 for about 45 minutes. If you are interested in hiring a guide, I would look elsewhere, just based on my short experience in talking with the guides. I downloaded the official online guides, map, and itinerary, but it was a bit of a challenge to find your way around. There are lots of audio guides available in the app store that might be a good option, but overall if you have the patience to scroll through the online guide, you’ll get an overall idea of what you’re looking at.
  • Matera – FREE – Matera is about a 3-hour drive from Pompeii. We opted not to stay in the area, but rather make the drive, tour the city and the caves, and head back to Pompeii. The cost of lodging was a bit pricey in Matera, and I didn’t feel we needed a ton of time to tour the city. Turns out, we accomplished everything we wanted on our day trip. The roads are very easy heading out to Matera, wide and well maintained. Arriving in the city is a bit confusing. There’s lots of information regarding ZTL’s, parking, and where to view the Sassi. We attempted to find a parking garage, but we later discovered that this lot was in the ZTL, and there was no way we were going to make it there. There is one main garage in the modern city that has plenty of space. We actually parked at the castle for free and didn’t have any problems. Of course, if you’re staying there, you’ll want to contact your hotel and arrange it with them. Once we parked, we walked in on the main road, and there was a little snack shop with a bathroom and free wifi. Matera is kind of weird. When you watch the vlogs and such, you are expecting something totally different than what you see, at least at first. Matera is very much a bustling modern town, but the moment you walk to the riverside of Matera, you are transported in time, and you find yourself in the old city. The city of caves. This is the Matera that everyone knows. It’s a very small, easy town to navigate. Once we had our fill of the actual village, we wanted to explore the area across the ravine, The Murgia National Park. This area was amazing. The central spot is Belvedere. When we were there, you could either walk the 1.2 miles to the lookout, or you could take the shuttle. At 5 pm, they let you drive your own vehicle down the road. We drove to a couple of churches and explored the caves. I was hoping to drive to the Belvedere lookout at sunset, this is the best time to view the town, but we didn’t quite make it. Our day in Matera was a little shorter than I anticipated. I would allow just a couple of hours to walk around the city, and maybe another hour or two to tour the caves. So time your day accordingly so that you can make it to Belvedere and view the city as it lights up.
  • Pompeii – $35 – Once again, the drive was easy, and parking was even easier than Herculaneum. As soon as you exit the highway, you will see numerous lots charging approximately $10 for all-day parking. I definitely wouldn’t pay more than this. CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS AND INFO Some even offer free parking if you eat at a particular restaurant, probably overpriced, but it’s free parking. There are some ZTL’s in the area, but they can be easily avoided. Pompeii is huge. The map is confusing, and following the itinerary can be a challenge. Again, I didn’t hire a guide, they were quoting a minimum of $100. If I were to do things again, I think I would hire a guide, but I would definitely find an outside source. I hate to say it, but there was just something about the onsite guides that I didn’t love. Airbnb experiences seem to have some really good options. We got around with the help of signs and such, and quite honestly, at the end of the day, all of the ruins kind of bleed together. The highlights of Pompeii are the castes, and these can be found by using the signboards.

FOOD

We were fortunate enough to find a great little pizzeria literally just a few minutes up the steps from our Airbnb. Pizzeria Del Corso was amazing! The best owners and such amazing pizza and paninis. We relied on this restaurant primarily for dinner options and opted to purchase breakfast items at the market. Again, the area was very reasonably priced for food options. We did find the “siesta” to be somewhat of a hindrance, though. We are definitely not on siesta time. Luckily for us lazy Americans, it was McDonald’s to the rescue. You see, the markets and restaurants shut down between about 1 pm and 7 pm. And just because they open back up at  7 pm doesn’t mean they’re going to have food, that may take an hour or so. Definitely, not a problem, just a part of their culture, you just need to plan for food accordingly. Needless to say, we kind of got sucked into the McDonald’s vortex while in Pompeii. It was easy, convenient, and familiar!

TRANSPORTATION

We did not take any public transit while in Pompeii as we utilized our rental car the entire time. We picked up our rental in Rome at CIA and made the drive down to Pompeii. We had been warned about the roads, moreover the drivers, in Italy but for the most part, we did ok. The highways are wide and well maintained. They should be considering the tolls that are collected. Of course, when you get in a little town or something the roads get pretty narrow and indeed the drivers don’t slow down one bit. If you are a hesitant driver, I would not recommend driving in Italy, it is intense. But for someone who enjoys going fast and pushing the limits on the narrow winding roads, it looks like a lot of fun. Of course, I wouldn’t know because I had my eyes closed at least half the time!

  • Dollar Rental Car – $145 – Expedia – I had a lot of hesitation with renting a car in a foreign country. My first questions was insurance. Of course, the rental company provides liability insurance, but you also need to cover yourself against theft, vandalism, and damage. I learned that my insurance, Progressive, did not cover any damage to the vehicle like it does here in the states. It’s my understanding the most US insurance companies do not extend to international rentals aside from maybe Mexico/Canada. Be sure to check your current provider. So then I was left with a choice to purchase an additional insurer like Allianz for approximately $11 per day, or the other alternative is to rely on your credit card benefits. Another option is to purchase directly from the rental company, but these rates are approximately $30 per day, entirely unreasonable. Information regarding renting in Italy makes things even more confusing as the rules have changed recently. I was not forced to purchase their CDW, I solely relied on my credit card benefits. Thankfully we didn’t have any issues, but my hope would be that the credit card company would come through. Just be sure to check the terms with your credit card provider. I was also hesitant about navigating the roads in a different language and parking. We used Google maps to navigate, it was easy, even in the little towns. Parking definitely would have been a challenge if we would have been forced to park on the street. That is not something I would feel comfortable with, especially in a rental car. I saw people actually slide their bumper along the wall in order to fit. That’s crazy! We just committed to taking extras time to find a suitable space and/or pay the extra money to park in a dedicated lot. We never found it to be a problem.
  • Tolls/Fuel/Parking – $150 – We drove a lot in this area and got hit with a lot of tolls. I didn’t have a problem using a route that contained tolls because I felt this was usually a safer option and worth the money. Overall our fuel was fairly inexpensive, the cars here get excellent gas mileage, but the fact is it all adds up. If I were to do it again, I would have no hesitation about renting a car and paying the fees that comes with that choice, as long as hubby’s diving, of course!
  • ZTL (Zona Traffica Limitado) – I had no idea what this was until I happened to come across a random forum when I was in search of a car park for Herculaneum. It’s just not something that had ever come up. Basically, these are zones, primarily in the big cities, Rome, Venice, Florence, maybe Naples, that are literally areas where traffic is prohibited, and you may face hefty fines if found driving in these zones without a permit, which as a visitor you cannot obtain. I saw these signs in Matera and Pompeii, although they could be avoided fairly easily. The bottom line is if you are planning on going to one of the bigger cities, I would do a little more research. These zones don’t show up on google maps or anything, so it may take a little digging, but as far as I understand, they don’t impact major highways, it’s more in neighborhoods to keep traffic off the streets.

TOTAL BUDGET

Lodging Total Lodging Per Night
$326 $47
Food and Misc Total Food and Misc Per Day
$320 $46
Transportation
$293
Activities
$124
Total Pompeii Expenses Total Per Day Total Per Person Per Day
$1,064 $152 $38

 

Check out my new page “Rome”

“Rome”

Where to start:

When I first started planning our Europe trip, it obviously started with a budget. You can find lots of information on how to prepare for any trip HERE! So at this point, I’ll assume you’re all caught up, and we can move on with Europe specific planning.

First off, you’ll need to set your time frame and determine your locations. Then you’ll need to plan your route and decide what types of lodging fit your budget and style. Simultaneously you should research flight options and activities and keep plugging all this info into your spreadsheet.

 

CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW WE DID ROME!

 

LODGING

Obviously, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where we were going to stay. Typically down in Central America, it’s all about the hostel. But if you’ve read my budget travel tips, when you’re traveling as a group, hostels are not always the best value. Think about it, if the going rate for a bed in a mixed dorm is $10, you’ve already committed to spending $40 and you don’t even have your own bathroom. So it’s best to expand your search to everything from traditional hotels to renting private homes. We never stayed in a hostel during our European tour. Mostly we used Airbnb and Booking.com with a few random sites here and there. All the prices listed include taxes and fees.

ROME – Airbnb – Near San Lorenzo – $69 per night

CLICK HERE FOR WEBSITE

Rome is another pricey location. Rome is a fairly condensed city, but at the same time, it’s impossible to position yourself within walking distance to everything. This Airbnb was situated near the Colosseum and within a 15-minute walk from the Termini Station. I actually really liked the neighborhood, there were lots of supermarkets and clubs, and restaurants. All very reasonably priced because the area is not a main tourist hub. Plus, you can either walk to the termini or catch the bus, and within a few stops on the metro, you will find yourself in Piazza Navona or Trevi Fountain. From that aspect, Rome is very small. There’s also a tram stop just outside of the home that takes you to Vatican City.

One thing to note when staying in Rome is that when lodging at an Airbnb, the host will ask you to pay a city tax on top of the posted Airbnb rate. This is roughly $4 per day per person, that’s quite a bit when you think about it. So, when you’re doing your research and comparing prices, just make sure you account for the tax. Most hotels had it included in their price, but any direct owner lodging you will most likely need to add it in. Something else to keep in mind is the lack of a living room. During our stays in Rome and Pompeii, we lacked a living room. Not a big deal for us, but something that you may not realize at the time of booking.

ACTIVITIES

It’s true what they say. Rome really is just an open-air museum. You can walk around the entire city absolutely free and see many of the famous sites that make Rome one of the most visited cities around the world. With that said, there may be a few things you wish to pay for. A few notes on activities. When you’re researching things to do in an area, it’s really easy to get lost in the mix. And it seems as though it gets harder and harder to find Official Websites. There are so many skip-the-line websites, and perhaps you decide that the increased fee is worth it, but first, you have to locate the base price on the official website to make that determination. There are also many audio/walking guides available on your phone as an app. However, some of these require internet access.

  • Trevi Fountain – Free – We started at the Trevi Fountain and found it easy to walk to many of the famous sites.
  • Pantheon – Free – The Pantheon is completely free to enter, you do need to assure that you are dressed properly as it is a place of worship. 10 FACTS ABOUT THE PANTHEON
  • Church of Saint Louis of the French – Free – This beautiful church is also free. And you can see beautiful works from Caravaggio. Once again, ensure that you are appropriately dressed. INFO ABOUT THE CHURCH
  • Piazza Navona – Free – Another famous landmark. A beautiful fountain sits in the plaza among the shops and restaurants. INFO ABOUT PIAZZA NAVONA
  • The Spanish Steps – Free – And yet another famous landmark. INFO ABOUT THE SPANISH STEPS
  • Columns and Obelisks of Rome – Free – As you wind your way through the streets of the city, you will come across many famous obelisks and columns. All free to view as they are huge landmarks in the many plazas. CLICK HERE FOR A WALKING TOUR OF THE COLUMNS AND OBELISKS OF ROME

All of the above activities were easily accomplished by walking around the city in just one afternoon. As you can see, visiting the highlights of Rome is easy and very affordable.

We opted to purchase a guided tour of the Colosseum, which included an upgraded underground tour as well as entry to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. There are many guided tours available, and it can be hard to sift through all the info. See below for specific information.

  • Colosseum Underground/Area Floor, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum Tour – $340 – The Colosseum can be toured a number of ways at varying fees. OFFICIAL WEBSITE CLICK HERE FOR BASE PRICES AND INFO I used the previous website as a baseline when deciding how we wanted to tour the colosseum. I was very excited about doing the underground tour and having a guide. I often feel that a guide can make history come alive. Otherwise, sometimes it just feels like you’re looking at yet another old rock or column. Also, with some of the more popular sites, they can have very long lines. Even during low season while we were there in February 2020, the colosseum still shut down by 11 am. So if you hadn’t arranged tickets, you would not be getting in. With that said, we could have done the Colosseum for far less than $340 for the four of us. So, was the underground tour worth it? Yes and no. Had I gone to Rome and not done the tour, I would always wonder if we would have had a richer experience by doing a tour. However, many of these sites are under construction, which definitely takes away from the experience, especially in the underground of the Colosseum. Our guide was great, she had lots of information, but I’ve definitely had more personal and educational tours. Knowing what I know now, I still would have prepurchased tickets as I would want to have my entry guaranteed, but I don’t know that I would pay the extra money for the underground. If you are interested in a guided tour I would highly recommend THE ROMAN GUY I do feel that their prices were the best and as I said our guide was great!
  • The Vatican – $70 – This was a late addition in our travels, but I am so glad we did it. I can’t imagine going to Rome and not visiting the Vatican. The collection of the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel are so special you just can’t miss it! We purchased base tickets and opted to tour the Vatican on our own, but our tickets guaranteed us entry within our time slot. I didn’t feel like we needed a guide, although guides always add more to the experience. OFFICIAL WEBSITE CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS

FOOD

There’s no way around it. The food in Rome is expensive. We really cut down on our costs by doing a lot of supermarket shopping and cooking in the Airbnb. However, we did have a great little pizzeria near our house, which was great to try some traditional Italian food at great prices. It was definitely a locals place, which probably helped account for the good value. Plan to spend at least $15 on a mediocre plate near Piazza Navona and the like. My best suggestion is to eat off the beaten path. It happens to the best of us. We get hungry in the most touristy stop we can find, and when that happens to our family, we try and get just enough to tide us over until we can get somewhere with reasonable prices. Sometimes all it takes is gelato or one slice of pizza. Pizzeria La Casetta in San Lorenzo was our favorite. Great little locals place with a traditional carbonara to die for. Carrefour was our supermarket of choice as we found good variety at really good prices.

TRANSPORTATION

Before our arrival, we arranged our airport transfer through the Airbnb host. Most of you know by now that when we arrive in a new location, especially in the evening, we like to make things as simple as possible, and that usually means more costly. We paid $55 for our airport transfer. Our Airbnb was approximately 45 minutes from CIA. That’s something else to remember about Rome. They have two main airports. FCO and CIA, very important you know which one you are arriving and departing from. As for our transportation around town, we walked to and from the termini, which was about a 15-minute walk from our lodging. We did hop on the metro a couple of times and utilized the tram system.

The metro in Rome is very simple, nothing like the underground in London. There are just a few lines, and honestly, it’s quite a small network. It seems that every time they attempt a new tunnel, more ruins are found. CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS AND INFO The Rome metro tickets are about the same as in other European cities. You can purchase a ticket for a couple of Euros, which is good for approximately 75 minutes. These tickets can always be used on all methods of transit. While the underground system is quite small, the bus system in Rome is one of the world’s largest. You can also purchase 24 hour, 3 day, and week-long passes. It really just depends on where you’re staying and how you will utilize public transit. There’s also a tram system that is easy to use. It doesn’t necessarily get you to the tourist hubs, but there is a tram that gets you to the Vatican that we found very useful. From where we were staying, it was just about door to door service. You can purchase tickets at digital kiosks and at most tabacchi shops. If you know you’re going to be traveling roundtrip, I always recommend purchasing extra tickets. The tickets are not valid until scanned, so you can put them in your bag and save them for later. We’ve found that the kiosks are often down in some of the remote stations, and you don’t want to get caught without a valid ticket!

For us, for our departure, it was easy enough to walk to the main termini and catch a Terravision bus back to the airport. You can easily purchase tickets on their website HERE It’s only about $6 for a one way, and it’s a direct route from the termini. You don’t even need to print the tickets, just simply present the image on your phone.

TOTAL BUDGET

Lodging Total Lodging Per Night
$548 $78
Food and Misc Total Food and Misc Per Day
$353 $50
Transportation
$105
Activities
$399
Total Rome Expenses Total Per Day Total Per Person Per Day
$1,405 $201 $50

Check out my new page “Europe Flights”

“Europe Flights”

Where to start:

When I first started planning our Europe trip, it obviously started with a budget. You can find lots of information on how to prepare for any trip HERE! So at this point, I’ll assume you’re all caught up, and we can move on with Europe specific planning.

First off, you’ll need to set your time frame and determine your locations. Then you’ll need to plan your route and decide what modes of transportation you will use. Simultaneously you should research lodging options and activities and keep plugging all this info into your spreadsheet.

I determined that we had about 7 weeks, and it was in our best interest, mostly for financial reasons, to fly to each new location. Train travel sounds like a dream, but it is expensive, at least for the short time frame I was looking at. Perhaps if you had months and several different countries, a Eurail pass might be beneficial, but every situation is unique, and you just have to find the sweet spot for what you’re doing. We are primarily hopping from city to city via budget airlines. We also plan on renting a car in a couple of spots. Once I determined that flying was our main mode of transportation, I hit Google Flights and started checking routes and prices.

How did we determine our route?

It took me a long time to decide what path we should take. I literally have columns and columns on a spreadsheet where I took each location and priced our flights in every direction. Here’s a little glimpse into the madness:

As you can see, we had a set of areas that we wanted to travel to, and it was just about finding the right order. Cost is always at the forefront of my decision making, but if the price difference is negligible, then I start thinking about flight Length, flight departure and arrival time, and overall flow of the trip. You may have an experience that limits your dates in a specific location, or perhaps prices are significantly higher at one time or another. All these things need to be considered when planning your route.

After I sifted through my research and got a rough idea of our itinerary, I was confident in booking our big flights. We decided to fly to London and fly out of Paris. This was mostly driven by cost. Overall the cheapest cities that I found to fly in and out of were London, Barcelona, and Paris.

Our Long Haul Flights:

We opted for Norwegian Air. It’s here that it pains me to say I overpaid for my flights, ugh! I hate it when that happens. I purchased our flights in late August for a February Departure and a March Arrival. I was so close. Basically, the flights went down about a week after I made my purchase. I overpaid but about $20 on our departure and about $40 for our Arrival. I was happy with the price I paid, but obviously, I could have saved a little more, I just get too trigger happy I suppose! Now that I’ve been tracking the price, I can see that the flights have been roughly the same since the beginning of September and don’t appear to be fluctuating.

Total for our Long Haul Flights:

Norwegian Air (No Seats/Cabin Bag 10kg)

MCO-LGW $160pp

CDG-FLL $189pp

Roundtrip $349pp

Family Total $1396

While it’s not the best price in the world, I still think it was a fair price. This does not include seat selection or baggage. Every passenger on Norwegian gets 1 bag at 10kg or roughly 20lbs. And while we did not pay to select seats, we did wind up getting seated together. In fact, it was one of the best flights I’ver ever taken. No frills, no food, no perks. But we were very satisfied.

Our Hopper Fights:

After we got our long haul flights booked, I was able to hit our reservations at both ends. For anyone who knows me, they know that I am horribly noncommital. But for anyone who understands budget travel, they realize that spontaneity and budget don’t go hand in hand. So for me, I start with the things I know are not going to change, leaving what little room I do have for spontaneity along the way.

The first flight I booked was from LGW-ATH. This was a must because no matter what, we had to get out of London, and once again, it came down to price. Based on all of the research, I determined that this was the cheapest way to get to Athens.

Easy Jet (Prepaid Seats/Cabin Bag 10kg)

LGW-ATH$34pp

Family Total $136

The next flight I booked was from RAK-TLS. Now, this is where it gets a little weird. We really hadn’t talked about Marrakesch, but one of us got a wild hair, and I ran with it. I happened to find an amazing flight from Marrakesch to Toulouse, France. Only $25 per person. I thought, WOW, this was a deal. Marrakesch is generally a little more expensive than say getting from Paris to Rome, so coming across something like this was awesome.

Plus, Olivia had gone on her European tour over the summer and really wanted to take us to some spots along the coast of France and Spain, and the only way this was going to happen was on a road trip. So, we decided that we would fly into Toulouse, rent a car, dip down into Spain and then drive back up to Paris. Back to the amazing flight, I decided to take a chance and book a flight out of Marrakesch even before I had a flight to the city, but I figured it would all work out.

Easy Jet (Prepaid Seats/Cabin Bag 10kg)

RAK-TLS $25pp

Family Total $100

Next up, I booked our flight from ATH-CIA. By now, I had a pretty good plan of where we would be staying and for how long. Marrakesch was still a bit up in the air, but once again, I only had us going as far as Athens, so we had to get somewhere, and Rome made the most sense. At the time of booking, we were either going to fly out of Naples or Rome to get to Marrakesch, either way, flying into Rome from Athens was way cheaper than Naples.

Ryan Air (Prepaid Seats/Cabin Bag 10kg)

ATH-CIA $34pp

Family Total $136

Lastly, I booked our flight from NAP-RAK. This one really got dicey. I track flights regularly, review historical averages, and scour the blogs for good prices. But sometimes you just get sucked into wanting to save even more. It’s kind of like a gambler’s mentality, ha! Anyways, I missed out on a good flight, and then the price shot up and wouldn’t come down. Day after day, I waited and refreshed with no luck. Then one day, the price finally came down, and I jumped on it immediately. This was the last piece of the flight puzzle. While it wound up being an expensive flight, I am pleased with the price we paid.

Ryan Air (Prepaid Seats/Cabin Bag 10kg)

NAP-RAK $75pp

Family Total $300

Check out my new page “Athens”

“Athens, Greece”

Where to start:

When I first started planning our Europe trip, it obviously started with a budget. You can find lots of information on how to prepare for any trip HERE! So at this point, I’ll assume you’re all caught up, and we can move on with Europe specific planning.

First off, you’ll need to set your time frame and determine your locations. Then you’ll need to plan your route and decide what activities fit your budget and pique your interest. If I’m not familiar with an area I usually do a search for Top 10 (insert city here) and that typically gets you started. Then of course as you dive into a specific area the options are endless, literally, you will get so overwhelmed with tour overload, but I’ll give you some tips to avoid option fatigue. Simultaneously you should research flight options and lodging and keep plugging all this info into your spreadsheet.

 

CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT WE DID IN ATHENS

 

LODGING

Obviously, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where we were going to stay. Typically down in Central America, it’s all about the hostel. But if you’ve read my budget travel tips, when you’re traveling as a group, hostels are not always the best value. Think about it, if the going rate for a bed in a mixed dorm is $10, you’ve already committed to spending $40 and you don’t even have your own bathroom. So it’s best to expand your search to everything from traditional hotels to renting private homes. We never stayed in a hostel during our European tour. Mostly we used Airbnb and Booking.com with a few random sites here and there. All the prices listed include taxes and fees.

Athens – Airbnb – $43 per night

CLICK HERE FOR WEBSITE

When looking for lodging it’s all about location. Who doesn’t want to find the best location for the best price? Airbnb is a great resource when it comes to opening up budget areas that traditional hotels can’t access, but it comes with some risk. Reviews are critical when booking an Airbnb. For me, I won’t book on any type of Airbnb site without at least a handful of recent, relevant reviews.

For Athens, I wanted something close to the Acropolis. I suppose that goes without saying, but I wanted to be as close to the main attractions as possible. It can be a little tricky on Airbnb because they give you such a large circle of where the house is located but once I get my circle and I determine how close it is to the main sites, I then do a little research on Google Maps to determine what type of shopping is available and what kind of restaurants are around. I check reviews and I map walking directions from the center of the circle that is given on Airbnb. This will give you a pretty good idea of services, what type of neighborhood you’re in, and exactly what those walks are going to entail.

This Airbnb was great. We did use public transit but only for a few specific things, otherwise we easily walked from the neighborhood to the major sites around Athens in around 20 minutes. The hotels in the area are far more expensive and really the neighborhoods aren’t any better.

ACTIVITIES

If there was ever a destination that came with cheap ready-made activities it’s Athens. What’s great about this city is proximity. It really doesn’t matter where you are as long as you’re near the Acropolis you have access to everything that Athens is famous for. Basically, one area feeds into the other. From the Acropolis, you run into Plaka. As you zig-zag through Plaka, you’ll then find yourself in Monastiraki, and from there you’ll wind your way into Syntagma Square. Athens is an easy city.

A few notes on activities. When you’re researching things to do in an area it’s really easy to get lost in the mix. And it seems as though it gets harder and harder to find Official Websites. There are so many skip-the-line websites and perhaps you decide that the increased fee is worth it, but first, you have to locate the base price on the official website to make that determination. You also need to pay close attention to high season vs. low season prices as these can vary quite a bit.

  • Acropolis – $45 The Acropolis is the large hill that the Parthenon among other buildings sits atop. You can walk around the entire base of the Acropolis for free. To get to the top of the hill and see the Parthenon and other sites you will need a ticket. CLICK HERE FOR CURRENT RATES AND HOURS OFFICIAL WEBSITE The entry fee listed is for 2 Adults and 2 Children during low season. Note that everyone receives the reduced rate during low season, so children and adults will pay the same. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE TICKETS ONLINE OFFICIAL WEBSITE You can also purchase tickets onsite and at a little digital kiosk at the base of the hill next to the lower entrance. We did not pay to get into the other monuments around the city, however if you are interested in entering these areas there is a comprehensive ticket that may save you money.
  • Plaka – Free – Plaka is considered the old neighborhood. Basically, the Plaka area consists of shops, restaurants, and a few lesser-known ruins. The area sits at the base of the Acropolis and can be easily incorporated before or after a trip to the hill.
  • Areopagus Hill – Free – If you follow the walkway and continue past the Acropolis Museum then eventually you will see a large hill on the left-hand side. It’s very easy to reach via the footpath and stairs. This is one of the best areas to view the city of Athens, and it’s completely free.
  • The Acropolis Museum – $17 – Funny enough the British Museum has an incredible collection from the Acropolis, but with the entry to this museum you get to see the original statues from the Erecthyion as well as several reliefs, statues, and frescoes from the Parthenon and other sites. Due to the low price, I would say it’s a good deal. Plus you gain entry to the excavation below the museum. CLICK HERE FOR CURRENT RATES AND HOURS OFFICIAL WEBSITE The entry fee listed is for 2 Adults and 2 Children during low season.
  • Monastiraki – Free – If you continue through Plaka you will come to the area of Monastiraki. Streets lined with shops, restaurants, and the Athens Flea Market.
  • Syntagma Square – Free This is the center of Athens. You’ll find the main underground station, several major bus lines, as well as the tram system. It’s along the main road within a 5-minute walk from Monastiraki. You’ll also find the tomb of the unknown soldier here with the guards who protect the area. And every hour on the hour round the clock you can watch the changing of the guard in this center area.

FOOD

So this has to be my favorite spot for food. I could eat gyros all day every day, seriously! I talked about finding the perfect location for lodging and our Airbnb happened to be next to an amazing little gyro shop. I’m telling you it was the most delicious food I’ve ever had. And so cheap! Plus all over the city, they have these amazing little bakeries with coffees and pastries. All at a great price!

Be sure to try pastries and a coffee for breakfast. Try PAX in Monastiraki for great burgers and fries, and top your day off at Filaraki for the best gyro of your life! And don’t forget to pick up some traditional Greek yogurt topped with honey and walnuts or greek donuts for a treat.

TRANSPORTATION

As I said we did quite a bit of walking while in Athens. For us, we try and save money whenever possible so if we can walk it, that’s our go-to. Often times in these bigger cities they offer some sort of travel card. Usually, they start at a 24-Hour pass and go to maybe 7 days or so. We have yet to purchase a pass like this, except for London, but that’s more of a daily pass with per day spending caps. In Athens they have the Athena Card, you can find lots of information on the different passes HERE.

  • Airport Transfer ATH to Airbnb – Welcome Pickups – $45 – I actually used Welcome Pickups. I happened to find them online in search of Airport transfers. As you’ve heard me say before when we are getting to a new city, especially after dark, sometimes we like prepaid dedicated transportation. Then on the way back to the airport wee try and save a little money by taking a more DIY approach. I found Welcome Pickups to be reasonably priced and very easy. The driver was there waiting for us with a sign, had internet available in the vehicle, and waited until our Airbnb host confirmed our entry. Well worth the money.
  • Local Transportation – The only local transportation wee used was the underground for a few stops to the tram line and back. We walked to Syntagma Square purchased an Athena Card good for 90 minutes for approximately $2 per person and used this for our underground and tram ride down the coast. Otherwise, we didn’t use any transit because everything was so close to walk to.
  • Airport Transfer Syntagma Square to ATH – X95 Direct Bus – $25 – Because we had spent so much on our transfer from the airport we thought we would try and save by walking to the city center and then hopping on the direct bus. We pre-purchased our tickets at the metro station the day before, you can easily use the digital kiosks provided as they are quick, take cards or cash, and have language options. I don’t recommend using your credit card at these machines because they have been known to have card readers in them. We been forced to use our card on occasion for whatever reason or another and have never had any problems but we always try cash first. Yes, it meant walking for about 25 minutes with our bags through town, but it saved us almost half the cost of the fancy airport transfer.

TOTAL BUDGET

Lodging Total Lodging Per Night
$296 $42
Food and Misc Total Food and Misc Per Day
$413 $59
Transportation
$79
Activities
$61
Total Athens Expenses Total Per Day Total Per Person Per Day
$850 $121 $30

 

 

 

 

 

Check out my new page “London”

“London”

Where to start:

When I first started planning our Europe trip, it obviously started with a budget. You can find lots of information on how to prepare for any trip HERE! So at this point, I’ll assume you’re all caught up, and we can move on with Europe specific planning.

First off, you’ll need to set your time frame and determine your locations. Then you’ll need to plan your route and decide what types of lodging fit your budget and style. Simultaneously you should research flight options and activities and keep plugging all this info into your spreadsheet.

 

CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW WE DID LONDON!

 

LODGING

Obviously, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where we were going to stay. Typically down in Central America, it’s all about the hostel. But if you’ve read my budget travel tips, when you’re traveling as a group, hostels are not always the best value. Think about it, if the going rate for a bed in a mixed dorm is $10, you’ve already committed to spending $40 and you don’t even have your own bathroom. So it’s best to expand your search to everything from traditional hotels to renting private homes. We never stayed in a hostel during our European tour. Mostly we used Airbnb and Booking.com with a few random sites here and there. All the prices listed include taxes and fees.

LONDON – Hotel – Premier Inn St.Pancras – $85 per night

Click Here for Website

It took me a while to find lodging in London. It is a very expensive city. First I started with hostels but I found that on average a bed was about $15 – $20 per person with a shared bath. I also checked to rent from a private party but these rates were high as well. Somehow during my search, I came across this chain, Premier Inn. They’re everywhere in London. In fact, it was a little hard to determine which location we were actually staying at because there are two within 5 minutes’ walk of each other.

Ultimately we chose the St.Pancras location. Only a 10-minute walk from St. Pancras International/Kings Cross. And leaving from Kings Cross you’ll be to all the sites of London within minutes using the underground. Plus we were able to take the Thameslink direct from Gatwick to St. Pancras Intl., the trip was only about 30 minutes. There are also many eateries and markets within walking distance.

 

We also selected this location due to it’s proximity to the Original London Hop on Hop off bus tour stop. We used this tour as a means of transportation but more on that later.

We did opt to purchase the breakfast option which I highly recommend. It depends on what kind of traveler you are, but for us, sometimes we just like things to be easy. And waking up in the morning, knowing all we had to do was walk downstairs and there would be unlimited food waiting for us, was awesome! They have everything from croissants and coffee to juices and what they call a “full English” breakfast. It was definitely worth the money. The total cost for breakfast came to $180. That comes to only $6.40 per person per day. And believe me, for London, this was by far our cheapest meal of the day!

The staff was very helpful, they even printed our boarding passes, and let us check-in early.

ACTIVITIES

One of our major expenses was the London Hop on Hop off Bus Tour. We purchased a 3-day pass for $149, which covered all 4 of us for 72 hours. We opted for The Original Tour but I am certain all the lines are roughly the same. Our closest stop was only minutes away from our hotel and we could easily swap lines. We enjoyed the fact that it took you around the city offering views of many sites you may not see on the underground. They also offer the Thames river cruise, included in your ticket, and this was probably the highlight of our tour.

We didn’t have a very full list when it came to sightseeing in London, we were just happy to be there and see the sights, plus the activities in London seemed quite expensive and we were saving our budget for other things.

We did, however, love the free museums.  CLICK HERE to learn about all the free museums in London

Our favorite thing we did in London was a day with friends. They took us out to Greenwich and we enjoyed a traditional London Pie and Mash. Easy to get to on the underground, or on the hop on hop off tour. If you do anything in London go to Goddard’s at Greenwich they have the most amazing prices on these yummy savory pies and of course you can’t leave without having some custard. A must-do whilst in London.

 

FOOD

What can I say about the food in London? It is so stupidly expensive! My biggest suggestion is to load up at Breakfast and utilize the Tescos and Prets for their cheap on the go food. We also hit the market for things like snacks and treats, pretty reasonable prices.

Pret A Manger is great for sandwiches, wraps, fruit bowls, coffee, soups, and pastries. On average you can get a really delicious and fresh premade sandwich for around $3 to $4. Honestly, I wish more cities had this kind of grab and go food. Tesco Express has much of the same but it’s more akin to a convenience store rather than only serving food.

Otherwise, I can’t say much about the food in London. Now keep in mind we don’t ever go out to a nice dinner. It’s just not who we are. We like to eat street food and find cheap authentic local eateries. We found this to be quite difficult in London. When our friends took us to the Pie and Mash shop in Greenwich, we were sooooo happy! It was definitely the best food we had!

TRANSPORTATION

Like I said earlier we used the bus tour for a good portion of our transportation, but we also did a lot of walking, and of course, we took the underground. It did take me a while to find a direct route to our hotel. I don’t know about you but when I’m traveling to a new place I like to have my lodging set up and I like it to be as easy as possible, especially if arriving after dark. Departing is a different story, usually, you’re a little more comfortable with the area and feel a little more adventurous.

ThamesLink was a great find. One of the few routes that is direct from Gatwick. It was quite cheap only $70 round trip for the family.

Here’s where it starts to get complicated. Because the underground has designated zones and typically you’ll only be visiting zones 1 and 2 you will most likely need a dedicated train/bus ticket to and from the airport that you purchase outside your underground fare. For more information on the underground/travel cards/oyster cards CLICK HERE

I will say that the employees at the ticket office at Kings Cross were very helpful. She asked me how long we would be traveling on the underground and what locations we were going to. She then loaded a travel card onto an oyster card, and even set the children up with reduced rates, and put the appropriate amount of money onto each card. You can always top up your if you need more, and you don’t have to worry about putting too much on because they will refund not only your deposit but any remaining amount. You can do so at any underground ticket office, even at the airport.

TOTAL BUDGET

Lodging Total Lodging Per Night
$590 $84
Food and Misc Total Food and Misc Per Day
$673 $96
Transportation
$121
Activities
$149
Total London Expenses Total Per Day Total Per Person Per Day
$1,533 $219 $55

Check out my new page “Europe with Teens”

Europe with Teens

We’ve dreamed of visiting Europe for years, I mean, who hasn’t? And for 2020, we finally made it happen. The countries on our list:

England

Greece

Italy

Morocco (Yes, I understand this is part of Africa)

Spain

France

More specifically, we will be spending:

7 nights in London

7 nights in Athens

7 nights in Rome

7 nights just outside of Pompeii

6 nights in Marrakesch

6 nights on a road trip through Spain and France

3 nights at Disneyland Paris

and

7 nights in Paris

Obviously, Europe is a big place. But I think we are hitting the touristy highlights. Some would say that getting off the beaten path is a truer way to soak up the culture and have a meaningful trip, but when it comes to Europe, I think I’ll save that for my second tour. For now, I want to see what has made Europe famous, the Louvre, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. All the greats!

You also may be wondering how Morocco got put on the list. To be honest, I did want a little bit of an authentic experience, and I felt that Marrakesch may offer that, but mostly it came down to cheap flights. You’ll find plenty of budget specific information on each countries page.

As for the kiddos, they are now 15 and 13 and have really matured quite a bit since that first trek to Central America. They’ve been exposed to so much world history over the years, and we really hit the books and You Tube hard prior to our trip just trying to soak in all the history and prepare for actually being here.

During the summer of 2019, I really began to realize that my kiddos were starting to become their own little people. Actually big people. At 13 and 15 I just don’t have much time left with these guys, and quite honestly I wanted to do a big trip to capture this moment in time. Of course, we will continue to travel and vacation and spend time with each other, but you never again have what you’ve got right now, so you might as well do something with it!

Plus, Europe was the only general destination that I could get the kids to agree on, moreover they were both really excited about Europe. So away we went!

France Road Trip Days 3-6

Ok. We’ve got some catching up to do…

Day 3 and all hell broke loose.

After the president made his announcement it didn’t take long for things to ramp up in Europe.

We awoke to the news that Disney Paris was going to shut down and Airbnb announced a refund plan that would finally work for our pending reservations. Part of the reason we were dragging our feet was that we still had thousands of dollars in reservations that, at the time, we had no hope of getting back, but all that was changing.

It was time for action. We literally spent all day in the chalet desperately searching for a new plan. Every time we would come close to pressing go it seemed there was a new turn of events that muddled said plan.

Now I’m not saying that several thousand dollars wouldn’t have fixed our woes. It definitely would have. And if I’m being honest we could afford it, kind of, I guess. I definitely am not playing the victim card like so many of these lame articles I read. We’re not stuck, we’re just logistically challenged.

And the bottom line is we just didn’t want to shell out the cash and put ourselves in an unsafe situation. That may seem crazy to some. But for us, we were so concerned about reacting rather than devising a sound plan. And I have no regrets about not purchasing a flight sooner, especially after seeing the pictures and videos of the airport chaos.

We would have been one of those people. There was no way we could get back before the deadline so we would have been slammed in with the masses. We have managed to stay healthy through many days at Disney prior to leaving for Europe, and then trekking across 2 continents and 5 countries. We have been in control of our surroundings every step of the way.

All that would have changed upon our arrival into US Customs with hundreds of other travelers for hours on end, no thank you!

Of course, I’m writing this prior to return, so I guess we still have yet to see how all this will shake out for us, but we are optimistic.

We went to bed with the idea that we would fly back to London and catch a direct flight back to the states. The prices were far better than leaving out of Paris. The only problem was the flight was still several days away. But we thought we’d make the best of the situation and enjoy our little road trip through France. We would be able to lay low and not have a lot of contact with the masses. And wait for things in the states to calm down a bit.

We left the chalet and headed for San Sebastian.

This was our first experience with “the lockdown” of a country. As we walked through the quiet town it was becoming abundantly clear that things were progressing and fast. Most of the town was shut down or in the midst of shutting down. You would walk past one tapas bar and things were in full swing, crowds and plenty of pintxos to go around. But then there would be a long line of stores filled with frenzied workers trying to close up shop. The fliers posted around the town read that closures would start immediately and would run through April.

Upon attempting to enter McDonald’s, the only place we felt comfortable with trying to enter, we were quickly banished by the manager who again seemed frantic to get the doors shut.

Shoot, even McDonalds is shutting down?!?

After that, we got to the car as quick as possible and headed back over the border into France. As we drove along the deserted highway and traveled past the quaint towns we realized that our time in France may be coming to an even quicker end.

We were hungry but it seemed that every restaurant we passed was closed. We finally arrived at our destination, a little hotel just outside of Biarritz, and once again searched for food. We finally found a McDonalds that was open and stocked up on sandwiches. Wow, this was getting really weird.

On the beach in Biarritz, things were a bit more lively, nothing too crazy but it didn’t look abandoned.

We even found the crepe stand that Liv’s visited on her summer trip. We walked along the sand, picked up a couple of crepes and then went in search of hand sanitizer. We are big fans of soap and water but when out and about as we are so often lately hand sanitizer is a big deal. Of course, there was none to be found, the Pharmacist looked at us like we were crazy to even ask. It was a quiet drive back to the hotel, I think we were all feeling a little pressed to figure something different out.

Originally we thought that it didn’t really matter where we were, it’s not like there was any hurry to get back to the states, but when basic services start to fizzle out it makes you rethink things.

The next morning really did it for us. At this point, we had learned that the entire country of Spain was on lockdown, and from the looks of it, France was next. Not to mention the rumblings of the UK closing its borders. Yikes.

We knew all the restaurants were closed but word on the street was that grocery stores were still open. As we continued our way north, closer to CDG airport, we hit the same McDonald’s and found a very confused group of employees. They definitely weren’t open and again based on the fact that there were employees just standing around the front doors it seemed that there was a lack of communication on all sides. At this point, we gave up on cafes and restaurants in search of markets. That was looking grim as well. Every store we passed was closed. Finally, 2 hours later we came across France’s equivalent of Aldi, and they were open! Hubby and walked in and started grabbing a few things but within minutes we were told that they too were shutting down and we needed to check out immediately. We split up and grabbed the last of what we thought we needed, happy with our haul.

As we drove north we rehashed all of our options again. Once again looking at flights that were far from reasonable, and still not wanting to drop down into the chaos that was US customs.

We decided that with the potential shutdown of the border it was in our best interest to get to the UK ASAP. France was definitely headed in the direction of full lockdown and even if the UK followed suit they were probably a few days behind. So I changed our flights and got us on the next flight out of CDG to London. But first, we’d find respite in Rivarness, France.

Originally I booked this mobile home in an RV park because this was the portion of our road trip that we were going to tour the Chateaus of Loire Valley. It was still kind of fun to be at an RV park, a little bit of normalcy I suppose. I can imagine this place in the summer is quite popular! It was adorable. We had an easy night and no internet. So even if the world fell apart we wouldn’t know it until the next morning. There is definitely something to be said about not being dialed into the craziness. We made some pasta, that we had picked up at the Lidl earlier that day, and watched a dart tournament in French on the cute little TV. It was nice.

We woke up to a drizzly day. Just a couple of hours and we would be in the heart of Paris. I couldn’t leave France without at least seeing the Eiffel tower.

Here’s the outside of Chateau De Usse, dubbed the Disney Chateau. It’s said the Walt himself based Cinderella’s castle at WDW on this particular Chateau. It was beautiful outside, I can only imagine what it was like on the inside. And hubby had to deal with me saying “I feel like I’m in Cinderella” every time we hit another tiny french village!

Finally Paris!

We hopped out of the car real quick and took a few pictures of the Eiffel tower, and then at the giant roundabout around the Arc De Triomphe Hubby dropped me off and did circles while I snapped a few pics. Not exactly what we had come all the way to France for, but all things considered I think we’re doing pretty good!

In fact great. This is a big deal apparently. Probably one of the biggest things I’ve seen in my short little lifetime. And experiencing all this in foreign countries is an even bigger deal. But this is what sets people apart. These are the things that build character. And these are the moments that make you focus on what matters. The kiddos are handling things great, yes there have been a few tears, mostly frustrated ones from me, but all in all, our family has never been stronger!

Now, off to the airport! We dropped our rental car, headed for the gate, and anxiously awaited our flight. Despite the lack of hand sanitizer, not a drop to be found anywhere at CDG, it was a relatively painless process. And we even found coffee. Hooray for a hot cup of coffee!

Quickest flight ever across the pond. And if there were 40 people on the plane I would be shocked. It was easy enough to find our way through the Gatwick Airport, it was quite familiar after all. And our hotel is literally minutes away. We wanted to be as close to the airport as possible just in case. Four nights here and then it’s on a plane back to the states. I have many questions as to how all that’s going to go, it’s kind of impossible to actually talk to a person, but either way, I think we’ll make it somewhere that’s not here!

France Road Trip Day 2

Needless to say, it was less than a restful night’s sleep. I know we’re adults and all, but how in the world are you supposed to know what to do in this situation?

You don’t want to be foolish and take things too lightly, but at the same time you want to be vigilant in staying calm, cool, and collected in a state of chaos.

When we went to bed all I kept thinking was that this couldn’t possibly pertain to US nationals, at least not to the degree that was presented in the President’s speech. Could it?

We again conferred as we tried to drift off to sleep that between the flights we were just looking at and the questionable information we had we would sleep on it and tackle the day with a clear head.

We awoke early and immediately hit our phones for news, and of course lots of messages from friends and family. It turns out that the ban didn’t totally apply to US citizens. We learned that we wouldn’t be turned away but we would face a higher level of health screens at dedicated airports and possibly a quarantine if we came in after the deadline. As they said, more to come on this in the next 48 hours.

At this point, the flights were outrageous. Anything that would get us there before the hypothetical deadline was going to cost us at least $1700 per ticket. And anything affordable like $500 or less would require a minimum of a 37-hour flight on top of the 8-hour drive to the airport, so nowhere close to meeting the midnight curfew. And who knew at this point if Friday at midnight meant boarding the plane, arriving, in the air? Who knows?

I hid under the covers briefly but Hubby and I talked it through.

We were going to keep on keeping on. That’s typically what the Cunninghams do!

We figured that we would let all the chaos shake out and go from there. We had a great little place in the Pyrenees all booked and selfishly we have stuck it out for the payoff of Disneyland Paris. Either way, we felt like driving 8 hours to Paris and trying to figure out flights with the masses was probably not for us.

We packed up and headed for the mountains and honestly with every passing moment I felt a little more confident in our decision. I mean who knows if we have put ourselves at a major disadvantage but at the time it felt right.
As the day has worn on, and we’ve seen more and more information come about I feel absolutely content with our decision to stay. The airport in Barcelona looked like a madhouse, and CDG was even worse. We’ve read stories about 5k-20k flights, and based on the wait times at the airport, and the insane crowds of people in the videos, I am way ok with taking refuge at our little Airbnb in the hills.

What exactly are they going to do with all those Americans who show up just after midnight? I’m not sure, and I don’t exactly know that “they’re” sure either.

We’ll pay our dues when the time comes, but I would rather sit and wait, content in my little French bubble with wine and cheese, and wait for the chaos to die down.

Until then… As you know, it’s always an adventure!

Anyone see the hidden mickey? We obviously took it as a sign!

 

France Road Trip Day 1

So sad to say goodbye to Morocco. I can say without a doubt that we will visit again! I am in awe of this city. From the landscape to the people, Morocco has me wanting more, lots more.

In an effort to stick to our itinerary, we headed north to France. It seems that we got out of Italy just in time, but we were headed into the thick of the coronavirus, and unbeknownst to us, things were about to get a lot more complicated.

We landed in Toulouse, France, in the evening, ready to pick up our rental car and head for the Pyrenees. We had already altered our plans slightly, due to quarantine in Northern Spain, which was a little too close for comfort.

The flight was easy, rather full all things considered though. But no masks or chaos.

We disembarked, no health screens, and went through immigration with ease.

We picked up our rental car, headed for McDonald’s, I mean we’re gluttonous Americans how could we resist, and then carried on to our Airbnb.

It was showers all around and lots of laundry. Remember, we still had camel clothes! It was supposed to be an early bed, but I quickly found out that Trump would be announcing some pretty significant travel alerts for Europe, so Hubby and I eagerly stayed tuned in. Around 2 am our time the news finally came.

All travelers from Europe would be banned for the next 30 days, starting at midnight Friday.

Wow! WTF do we do now?!? Could this be real?

We talked it over. Looked at some ridiculous/questionable/disappearing flights. Between flights that were way too expensive and flights that were more reasonable but still wouldn’t get us there in time for the deadline, we opted to reconvene in the morning.

Morocco Days 5 and 6

Our first day out and about in Marrakesch was a short one. Quite honestly, other than doing a little browsing around the Jemaa El Fna market, we didn’t have much left on the to-do list in the city. There is so much to see in this area, but our big highlight was our desert tour. We did manage to have a wonderful, fancy for us, meal at M Rooftop. After our quick trek out, we made our way back to the riad, surprisingly with little help from Google maps. I’m not kidding though, it’s like a maze through here. You can easily get lost in the narrow alleys that make up the medina.

We did manage to get out again for dinner, with a little protest from me and the kiddos, sometimes finding food is a lot of effort in a new place, ha! However, Chez Yassmine is absolutely our new favorite place, mostly because of Zora, the owner, who is adorable and feisty and awesome!

The next day was much of the same, lunch at Chez Yassmine, and then a tour around the souk. We managed to pick up al the items we set out for. A couple of shirts, a bracelet for me, and some traditional incense.

And here’s a little glimpse of the winding alleys of the medina.

It’s a lot easier than it looks, as long as you pay real close attention the first time you head out.

We attempted to eat at Chez Yassmine again for dinner, but as it happened, we spent all of our Dirham earlier in the day, and we needed more cash from the ATM, but we just couldn’t find one that would cooperate. So no money means no dinner. It happens. We had just enough Dirham leftover for one bottle of water and a bag of chips, ha! Wouldn’t be the first time this happened, and hopefully not our last. It’s just one of those things that you sign up for when you travel internationally. All part of the experience.

Next up France… I guess!?!

 

 

Morocco Day 4

After a quick rest we were up and at it again. A wonderful breakfast and back on the camels. Just in time for sunrise.

Back to the bus our adventure had come to a close. And now it was time for the long drive back to Marrakesh.

I am so grateful that we had this experience. Can’t even believe I considered not doing it. Even though we’ll be feeling that camel ride for days, seriously how did they cross the Sahara on those things? Ha! It was such a cool tour and has definitely opened me up to doing more tours. I seriously felt like I was living the life of luxury!

After several stops and a few mint teas we arrived back in Marrakesh.

Our driver hooked us up with Amin who graciously took our bags and walked us to our riad. We were staying at the heart of the Medina, the old City, it’s seriously like a maze in here.

After he dropped us off and asked for Liv’s hand in marriage, we were wiped out. Showers all around and straight to bed.

Morocco Day 3

Yalla, yalla!Hurry up, let’s go!We woke up crazy early and enjoyed a delicious traditional Moroccan breakfast. We had those amazing little tortilla pancake things again, except this time they were sweet and you could add preserves or Nutella. We also had olives, cheese, eggs, and with every meal you are offered a traditional mint tea. It’s really tasty and refreshing.With little time to spare we headed for the bus and met up with our group.We continued deeper into the desert as we awaited our sunset camel ride to camp.

By the end of the day we would be just on this side of the border of Algeria!

We made it to a little Berber village and met up with our guide Ali. Ali not only speaks French, Arabic, and Berber, the main languages here on Morocco but he speaks about a dozen other languages. That’s amazing! In fact most people here speak at least a few languages.Here we are checking out the local brick building yard. Still just water, hay, and dirt. It’s kind of amazing!

Ali took us to the local family Berber rug shop. We sat with the family and drank tea and learned about how the rugs were made. They make the rugs out of sheep’s wool as well as camel. And most of the rugs tell a story.

The rugs are adorned with symbols of spiders, farms, the tattoo art the women receive when they are engaged and married, the merging of tribes, and so on. I also learned that the spider is a sacred animal for the Berber women because of it’s web spinning abilities relating to the women who make the rugs. Passed down from grandmother to mother to child.

The colors are all natural derived from things like saffron, indigo, alfalfa, and natural black and white from the sheep. After viewing the rugs Ali took us for a walk around the village.

Then we went to the gorge where the natural spring is located.

Driving through the Desert

It was definitely a long drive out to the camp, but it was beautiful and so different. I loved the fact that all of the sudden you were in this amazing town out in the middle of nothing. I was hesitant to book the trip because of all the driving but the guides keep you engaged and they stop often. And by the time the tour was done I had absolutely no questions bas to wether or not it was worth it. This has been one of the most amazing things we’ve ever done.Last stop before we meet our camels. Another incredible overlook.

You can see some dunes back there now.The moment we’ve been waiting for.

Liv’s was trying hard to keep her shit together and I must say she did a great job. Me on the other hand I kind of don’t see new/scary things through sometimes, otherwise I probably wouldn’t do them, so for me the camel thing was like holy shit I’m 50 feet in the air and on a camel. Yikes!

For those of you who have never been on a camel let me tell you that it’s not as majestic as one might think. Ha! They never spit but man do they stink!

I was definitely white knuckling it to our first stop. They don’t go fast or anything but they’re a bit wobbly and when you’re on the ridge of a dune it can make you feel a bit uneasy.

But if you just focus on that view it was pretty awesome. After about 45 minutes we stopped at a big dune so we could catch the sunset and do some sand boarding.

SunsetYalla, yalla little camel we’ve got to ride into camp!

We arrived at camp and had our bags waiting for us. They brought us in the dining tent and we all enjoyed some traditional tea. Then it was off to our tent to get ready for dinner.

After a wonderful dinner of Chicken Tagine, rice, and fruit it was time for music around the campfire.

And look we made it to the border!

The perfect end to a perfect day. And now back up at 6 am for our sunrise camel ride back to the bus. At this point it felt like we had been trekking along in the Sahara for weeks, and I live for that feeling when I travel. It was absolutely the best!

Morocco Day 2

Our guides picked us up bright and early in a fancy shuttle bus. It was only 6:45 am and I was already impressed.

We drove around scooping up passengers here and there and we were ready to roll.

First stop High Atlas.

Traditional Moroccan Village

Bus fun!

Our first Tagine on our lunch stop. It was pretty delicious!

After lunch we got hooked up with a local tour guide and he showed us around Ben Ait Haddou.

It is one of the original Kasbahs in Morocco and they’ve used the site to film many movies.

A Kasbah is essentially a castle or palace. And to be considered a Kasbah it must have “the four towers”.

We also learned that a traditional home is made of three ingredients. Water, hay, and dirt. The roof consists of palm leaves, and wood or bamboo. It’s amazing that these houses are so durable. And it gives you a lot of insight to how little rain this area receives because obviously the homes wouldn’t fair very well.

We wanted to get geared up for the desert so our guide brought us to the official Saharan scarf shop.

The tour was going great. So much more than I expected. Before arriving at the hotel for the night we stopped at an awesome lookout.

Happy to be off the bus we got settled into our room before dinner. We had to be up by 6 am for breakfast to continue our trek into the Sahara.

By the end of our day we had seen and done so much. The country is absolutely beautiful. And the people are so gracious and friendly.

Maybe it’s just the tour talking. I absolutely love having someone else figuring it all out. I know most people wouldn’t consider this luxury travel but I’m hooked. This is about as fancy as we get but I couldn’t be happier with our adventure so far!

Morocco Day 1

Ciao Italia. It’s been real!

Wow. This whole corona virus thing has take over the entire globe. I have to admit I was quite anxious about getting out of Italy. We’ve been checking travel advisories and continuing to ensure that Morocco would still take us in.

Definitely had some butterflies today!

We made the short drive from Pompeii to Naples airport and dropped off the rental car, unscathed. Whew!

Next we had to head to the Ryanair desk and inquire about an ominous email I received. Turns out it was absolutely nothing but thank you for taking up an hour of my day airline!

Next we headed to our gate, grabbed some rather delicious airport food, seriously it was so good! And waited to board our flight, hopefully out of Italy 🙂

People were on high alert that’s for sure. And it didn’t get any better once we landed.

But I appreciate the diligence with the health questionnaires, temperature scanning, and health checkpoints.

We were prepared for long waits upon arrival in Marrakesh so we were all good. But I definitely felt a sigh of relief after passing our health screen and getting through immigration.

Hooray. We actually made it! Africa here we come!

Our guide was waiting for us at the exit and we began our walk to the riad.

Wow. We certainly weren’t in Kansas anymore. It was kind of surreal. In such an awesome way.

Everyone was so friendly. Smiling. And as we were walking into the main square the prayer came over the speaker. It was just so special!

We checked into our room and headed out in search of food.

We found something totally delicious. And we got 4 of them for $1.20. This is my kinda of place!

They’re kind of like a crepe, tortilla, flat bread, cheesey, spice thing. Whatever it is they’re fantastic!

Back at the room. We needed to head off to bed. We were headed to the desert at 6:45 the next morning.

Off to the Sahara we go!

Pompeii Days 6 and 7

This is going to be a short one folks!

We got tired and maybe a little virus phobic and opted to sit at the Airbnb for the remainder of our stay.

We accomplished all of our goals Except eating at a particular pizzeria in Naples, which would have required public transit. And to be honest we had gone the whole stay with the rental car with no need to hop on a crowded metro, and pizza just wasn’t worth it.

So we hit the market and stocked up on groceries. Plus we got to save some money. It’s a win!

We did however need to do laundry and for the amazing low price of 5 Euros we dropped off our giant bag and picked it up the next day all folded and ready to go. Seriously our clothes have never been this clean!

Good thing because we’re about to hit the Sahara!

Africa here we come 🙂

Pompeii Day 5

Seriously. 5 days in a row and we’ve managed to get out and about. This must be a record!

They say what sets Herculaneum apart from Pompeii is the preservation. And perhaps from an archaeologists perspective that’s the case. But honestly I was a little more impressed with Pompeii. At the very least I think they’re on the same level.

That said it is true that Pompeii is a much larger site. But to be honest at the end of the day, unless you have an archaeologist guiding you with fun stories, once you’ve seen one shop or house or bath they all kind of blur together.

And when we did have our guide for Rome, she definitely made me realize that much of the information these guides share is completely hypothetical. It seems so easy to believe this fountain was named after that God and this Emperor enjoyed bathing at this pool, and so on. That’s not to say that there’s not information left behind that’s reliable. But I think archaeologists take a lot of liberty when they’re retelling the past.

In any case we opted not to hire a guide, and just enjoyed the sites on our own.

We’ve watched a lot of documentaries and such to prepare and anything we can’t answer on-site we quickly look up when we get back to the internet.

On with the tour!

The Grounds

The Casts

The Art

The Artifacts

Pompeii Day 4

Wow. We have really been productive so far. And we’ll keep the ball rolling with a visit to Matera. It was about a 3 hour drive from Pompeii, but really easy. Good roads. No windy mountain passes or anything. And plenty of services along the way.

Matera is one of the oldest inhabited cities of the world dating back nearly 10,000 years.

Matera includes the Sassi area, a complex of cave dwellings
carved into the mountainside. Evacuated in 1952 due to poor living conditions, like malaria. The Sassi now houses museums and rock churches, but as you can see indicated by a line of drying clothes there are still plenty of homes that are inhabited.

Across from the city is Murgia National Park. It’s these Paleolithic caves that paved the way for the city. The cave dwellings and rock churches on this side of the ravine are just as spectacular.

Getting there is easy, until you reach the very modern town that is. Getting down to the Sassi areas can be quite complicated when driving.

We parked at the castle and walked in because of the ZTL’s. This is really the only way to get to the town if you’re in a vehicle.

It’s an easy walk and once you’re on the other side of the modern town it’s a complete transformation. Instantly you know you’re in the, “Matera from the pictures”.

Around the Sassi

A view of Murgia from the city

We wandered around the narrow roads of the Sassi for a bit and decided to head over to the national park. We really enjoyed being at the park and exploring the caves. Even if I still freak out and tell the children, and Dad, not to get too close to the edge!

And on our way out we were met with these guys, kinda funny! I don’t know if I have ever seen a cow bell actually attached to said cow before 🙂

Pompeii Day 3

So today was our visit to Herculaneum.

We’ve all heard of Pompeii of course, but Herculaneum lies at the foot of Vesuvius just NW of Pompeii.

Herculaneum is far better preserved than Pompeii and gives a much clearer picture into the lives of the over 4000 people who inhabited the town before that fateful day in 79 A.D.

The thick layer of ash that blanketed the town also protected it against looting and the elements. Unlike Pompeii, the mainly pyroclastic material that covered Herculaneum preserved more wood in objects such as roofs, beds, and doors, as well as other organic-based materials such as food.

It is much smaller than Pompeii and only bout 10% is uncovered today.

I think we forget how much color was used because typically when we tour ruins all the colors have been lost. But the ruins of Herculaneum give us a great view of original flooring as well as frescoes.

It was definitely an eye opening experience especially down in the boat yard.

The Grounds

The Art

The Boatyard

The Structures

The Museum