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Rickmav Comes Home Trip Report Overview (England & Italy)

Rickmav Comes Home Trip Report Overview (England & Italy)

Jan 28th, 2007, 01:48 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 897
Rickmav Comes Home Trip Report Overview (England & Italy)

Hello everyone. We are finally home from our wonderful, four-month adventure and I cannot believe all the things we saw and experienced. I'd love to share some of our journey with you in payment for all the wonderful suggestions I received from this board. I thought I might do it in different sections � a general overview of where we went, and then specific reports on Yorkshire, Suffolk, Italy, etc. But if anyone has advice on a better way to do it, please let me know.

My husband and I are both unabashed Anglophiles and have long dreamed of living in England. We visit for 4-6 weeks every two years or so, but felt it was time, with my husband retiring, for a longer stay. We'd also always wanted to see Italy and so planned a three-week visit in the middle of our time in England. In retrospect, it was not long enough for Italy, but we now know that we must, and will, return.

I also saw this as an opportunity to realize another dream, to spend Christmas in England. Over the past few years, with dramatic upheavals in my extended family, I have lost the Christmas spirit. I felt the loss keenly, and hoped that I might recover some of the magic in another place, with just my husband and me, focusing on those things we have always loved about the Christmas season. I have to say that the magic has been returned to me. Christmas in England was far better than I could have hoped.

We left from Calgary on September 6, 2006 and returned to Canada on Dec. 30. We were pleasantly surprised with Air Canada, based on previous trips we weren't expecting much. But the service has certainly improved. We flew British Airways from Gatwick to Venice, which was okay, and Ryanair from Pisa to Stansted � which was a disaster. We would never fly Ryanair again. We took the train twice in Italy, once on the Eurostar from Venice to Florence, and the other from Florence to Pisa. We didn't book ahead and travelling by train was easy and comfortable.

We spent about $25,000 (Canadian) on four months of travel. We carried the significant amount of money required for our cottage rentals and hotels in American Express travellers' cheques and planned ahead where we would need money and where the nearest office would be. This worked out very well. In England, you can cash American Express travellers' cheques at Lloyds Banks for free. Just to test the system we tried to cash a traveller's cheque at a bank in Italy. Everyone is right when they tell you not to do it. It was a farce.

We used our bankcard to get money, as we needed it. Just to be safe, we used cards from two different institutions, in case one wouldn't work. We also took a credit card each, American Express and Visa, but didn't use them as often as we thought we might, although all our airline tickets, cars, etc. paid for ahead of time were put on Visa in order for the insurance protection to kick in.

We purchased travel and health insurance through the Royal Bank/Visa and it was very comprehensive. We actually had to use it when my husband's back tooth collapsed and everything worked as it should.

Most of the time we rented cottages in England and Italy, but in between also stayed in hotels, inns, and bed and breakfasts. Wherever possible, we rented cars, all booked through Auto Europe.

We had wonderful weather, except for a few cold days in Chianti and Umbria and the 'gauzy fog' just before Xmas in England. But a rainy day in England or Italy is far better than a snowy one in Canada.

We took two Air Canada suitcases, measuring 23 cm x 40 cm x 55 cm (9" x 15.5" x 21.5"), and one carry-on bag each. When we went to Italy, we packed everything we needed into one suitcase, with two carry-ons. The secret for us was to have enough clothes for three days. After that, we were usually in a cottage with laundry facilities or had to wash things out in the sink at night and use heaters or the outdoors to dry them. I kept our packing list, so if anyone is thinking of a similar trip, I can make it available to you.

In planning the trip, we relied a lot on this site, as well as doing a lot of internet surfing for up-to-date information. Slowtrav was invaluable in planning Italy and TripAdvisor was sometimes helpful in choosing hotels and bed and breakfasts. We used Rick Steves' guide to Italy, I like the fact that Steves actually travels regularly to the places he talks about. Because we weren't visiting all of the places covered in the book � don't shudder � I tore out those bits I needed and took them with us. Then I just threw them away as we used them. To supplement Steves, I borrowed the most recent copies of all the other guidebooks from the local library (although I didn't tear any pages out of them!).

By the time we left, our 'itinerary' was 68 pages long. I stapled it into sections and threw those away when we were done. I keep a detailed journal, so anything important I either noted there, or e-mailed to my sister at home. We used the e-mail services provided free at most public libraries in England; in Italy, we used internet cafes.

I started writing down the names of recommended restaurants, but realized I was going to drive myself crazy worrying about finding them all. We decided to rely on recommendations from our hotels or landlords, or even better the woman (usually) running the local shop and post office. It Italy, we tried to pick out those places that seemed to have the most Italians sitting down to eat. It usually meant we had to use some of the Italian we'd been studying, which was always appreciated, but we never really had trouble using a combination of Italian words, sign language and English.

We bought Instant Immersion Italian v2.0 (5 CD-ROMS) from Costco for $17.99 and found it well presented and easy to learn from, although the last two CDs were certainly more difficult. We also used a phrasebook, "Just Enough Italian � How to Get By and Be Easily Understood" by McGraw Hill. We bought it at Chapter's for $8.95. It was all right, but I never seemed to be able to find what I wanted quickly enough when I needed it.

We obtained free maps of Rome, Venice and Florence from Global Refund and bought a touring map of Tuscany and Umbria produced by the Touring Club Italian (TCI). We supplemented these with Rick Steves' maps and those obtained from local tourist offices and hotels. We also received a free map of Chianti from Consorzio del Marchio Storico (http://www.chianticlassico.com).

In England, we used the AA Road Atlas Britain. We also found a number of walking tours of the different towns and cities we visited on the Internet and found them helpful (I'll include more information about them in the specific trip reports).

We had no problems going through security at the airports - and we flew in and out of Heathrow - but there were many delays, particularly flying out of Pisa to Stansted (our passports were checked at five different places!). Getting through the airport has to be the least fun part of travelling nowadays. I can't imagine how people who are flying in and out of Europe for business all the time manage it.

I hope I've supplied some information that is helpful. If anyone has any questions, please ask. I'm working on the first report covering Yorkshire � "Compo, Heartbeat and a dash of Harry Potter" � and will post it soon. Thanks again for everyone's help in planning our trip and for the hours of comradeship these many years.

rickmav is offline  
Jan 28th, 2007, 02:23 PM
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What a wonderful trip this must have been for you both. I'm looking forward to reading about your adventures.

My husband and I travel to Europe twice a year for 2 to 3 weeks. Can't imagine the luxury of traveling there for 4 months.

Looking forward to reading your trip report.

Katie2 is offline  
Jan 28th, 2007, 02:24 PM
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PS--Welcome back!
Katie2 is offline  
Jan 28th, 2007, 02:57 PM
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Such valuable information rickmay, I will pass on the England part to a friend who is going to England for the first time in March.

I so look forward to your trip report, what fun! And four months sounds delightful. I have been fortunate to have two months in Italy at times and that is ever enough.

Getting away to rediscover the spirit of Christmas..that is priceless!
LoveItaly is offline  
Jan 28th, 2007, 03:56 PM
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Thanks Katie2 and LoveItaly for your comments. I didn't really think about this before but writing the trip report I get to re-live it all again - hooray!

Do either of you have an opinion about the format I should use for posting - should I do it in separate chunks, because we were in so many different areas, or one report? Thanks.
rickmav is offline  
Jan 28th, 2007, 04:17 PM
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Lucky you, spending 4 months in England and Italy! I can't wait to hear all about it.

Please post all of the reports as replies to your original post. Otherwise, they will be separated by other people's posts (you know how busy this forum is) and the continuity will be lost.
just_me is offline  
Jan 28th, 2007, 04:38 PM
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Welcome back Rickmav! Can't wait to read your reports.

Posting it all on one thread is probably best - some of the really interesting reports get really REALLY long w/ all of our comments tacked on. So maybe one thread for England and one for Italy would cut back on the length a bit.

But really, all on one thread is probably best/easiest. Just title each new post for what it covers.
janisj is offline  
Jan 28th, 2007, 05:27 PM
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Hi rickmay, I agree, just add to this thread as you go along. I can hardly wait to read it! A fun thought while shivering here in "nonsunny" California.

BTW, I meant to type "never enough" (regarding Italy). I need to use the edit button, lol.
LoveItaly is offline  
Jan 29th, 2007, 07:13 AM
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Thanks for the advice janicej, justme and loveitaly. I will do as you suggest. Hopefully, will have the Yorkshire report posted today. I'll look forward to your comments janisj - seeing you are one of the experts on this board on England. Thanks again for your encouragment.
rickmav is offline  
Jan 29th, 2007, 07:35 AM
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What a wonderful opportunity!
Welcome home and I hope the holidays were good for you.
SuzieC is offline  
Jan 29th, 2007, 09:11 AM
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Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh rickmay, a FOUR MONTH adventure. Envy seethes from my every pore...
kamahinaohoku is offline  
Jan 29th, 2007, 09:26 AM
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Maybe you should consider posting on different threads (and adding the links to those threads as a comment to this thread.) For your reporst to be the most useful (and to get them seen by more people), you should "index" the reports to the particular countries when you post ("United Kingdom" and "Italy"). This thread is not so indexed. People will not find this thread when they search by country - or when they surf by country. Most times when I go to Fodor's, I am looking just at posts for the countries of interest to me. In other words, I always check what's current on "United Kingdom".
noe847 is offline  
Jan 29th, 2007, 03:47 PM
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rickmav--If I may make a suggestion, please post your trip report in this same thread. It's easier for us who are interested in reading about your trip.

Just start at the beginning of your trip and please post a little report each day.

Looking forward to reading about your journey.
Katie2 is offline  
Jan 29th, 2007, 03:52 PM
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Thanks again for the feedback. I think I will post the first part of the trip here and see whether it makes sense to section it out later. Part I of Yorkshire follows, hopefully I'll finish the second half tonight. Noe847 - do you know if you can index a post after the fact?

Yorkshire "Compo, Heartbeat and a Dash of Harry Potter"

The flight from Calgary to Heathrow on Air Canada was fine, although a strange thing happened when I sat in my seat. I realized I was sitting next to a colleague I'd taught with in the Communications program at Mount Royal Calgary in Calgary. Her and her husband were visiting their daughter who has just been transferred to London. Made me wish I was that young again, with the opportunity to live in London. Geesh!

We chatted about travelling and world events, one of those conversations that is always lovely at the beginning of a great adventure. Stimulates your thinking and connects you to the universe - gets you in the mood for all the amazing things you are about to experience.

Getting through security and customs at Calgary and Heathrow was fine, although there was one strange woman who kept yelling at the security guards that she wasn't a terrorist - just because they'd asked to check inside her purse. I was expecting her to be locked up at any moment. I was also expecting someone to question the fact that we were staying for four months, but the passport official didn't bat an eyelid (later, however, our homelessness does become an issue this is known as foreshadowing!).

The National Car rental shuttle took forever (booked through Auto Europe), the driver was rude and it seemed as if everyone in the world was renting a car from them. And it didn't get any better when we got to the office. There was a line-up almost out the door. What was exasperating was that they had three staff at the VIP counter, doing nothing, and two poor slobs dealing with the rest of the riff-raff. We were in the riff-raff line.

There was a lot of confusion about what cars were and weren't available; we were told to go outside and pick one from a certain lot, but when we went there only one was available a Ford compact that looked like a big, purple grape. You also had to do your own walk-around check, filling out a form in duplicate, one copy for you, the other for the company. My husband took the responsibiity seriously, even counting the exact number of chips in the windshield. It was a good thing he did because when we returned the car, the clerk tried to ding us for a new windshield. My husband calmly took out the original form and pointed out that every chip was accounted for. A bit anal-retentive, but it saved us from paying for a new windshield.

Chatted to our first Americans of the trip. The husband had just finished singing with his church group in Wales and he and his wife were off to explore the Cotswolds on their own. They'd never been before, had no idea where they were going, had picked up an ancient Fodor's guidebook at a second hand bookstore and were leaving their fate in the hands of the gods and the global positioning system they'd hired with their car. I gave them some ideas about things we'd seen and done in the Cotswolds on previous trips and the wife wrote it all down. I hope they had a great time; I was in awe of their 'que sera sera' attitude. There I was with 68 pages of our itinerary burning a hole in my purse. It was another thunk on the side of the head to remember not to be so stuck to the itinerary and abandon myself to the journey.

We spent our first night on the way to Yorkshire at Bellows Inn at Eaton Bray, Dunstable (http://www.bellowsmill.co.uk/). I booked it based on the pictures and description on its website (later I found two reviews on tripadvisor). The setting was gorgeous, 21 acres of lush, green countryside with a pond outside our window. It was only 45 miles from Heathrow and it was reasonable (70 pounds with breakfast). It was decorated in what I call English shabby chic, where they use the best chintz for the drapes, but there are a pile of ancient, dead bugs in the bottom of the clothes closet.

I felt like I was in one of those pre-World War II mysteries where I've come for the weekend and have been 'put up' in the old stables. I'll be expected to play doubles tennis before tea, have cocktails before dinner and wear red lipstick and a hat when I'm in public.

This atmosphere must have influenced my jet-lagged, foggy dreams because I kept trying to piece together the disjointed conversations I heard in the hallway, or outside the window, and woke up in the morning convinced I was going to find a body by the boathouse.

The bed was comfortable though, the owners friendly and the breakfast generous and served in a lovely on-site restaurant.

The next morning we headed for Holmfirth, a picturesque town in the Holme Valley in West Yorkshire. The area is used as the setting for the BBC's long-running comedy series 'Last of The Summer Wine'. It's a favourite with both my husband and I, and our families, so it was a real treat to see for ourselves some of the amazing scenery we watch every week on television. In fact, those of you who love English movies, sit-coms and mysteries will quickly realize that the planning for our visit to England was inspired a lot by the places we've seen so many times on television or in movies, or read about in books.

We stayed in the Old Bridge Hotel (www.oldbridgehotel.com) in the center of town, overlooking the River Holme. The hotel was quite lively, popular with locals, wedding receptions and English tourists following the Last of the Summer Wine trail. And it stayed that way until the wee hours. But the bedrooms were beautifully outfitted, it was very clean and the breakfast, served in the bar, was generous. All for 65 pounds.

We wondered about the town, visiting many of the sights that are in the series like Sid's Cafe (with a statue of Compo outside) and Nora Batty's home (which you can also rent on a self-catering basis). We had a pint at the White Horse Inn, just outside town, where the three mischevious gents who are the main stars of the show frequently drink, and are just as frequently thrown out of. We ate at Hervey's Cafe Bar, just next to the hotel, and found the food tasty, the service friendly and we could sit outside with umbrellas shading us from the hot, September sun. My husband had a big weiner on a bun with fried onions (this was before he discovered he had gallstones), and I had a chicken salad sandwich on flatbread with a side salad. We each had a pint of the Copper Dragon, which was very good. Total cost came to 14 pounds.

The next morning we wandered about the town, tickled that we could recognize so many of the sights from the television series, checking out charity shops and loading up on secondhand paperbacks from the sale in the church across from the hotel. We would both return to the area in a heartbeat.

Stay tuned for Part II - Heartbeat and Harry Potter...
rickmav is offline  
Jan 29th, 2007, 04:07 PM
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I have no doubt that the success of and satisfaction delivered by your trip was directly related to the orderly, disciplined, way in which you prepared. A lesson to us all!
weber6560 is offline  
Jan 29th, 2007, 08:57 PM
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What a lovely beginning, rickmav! Such a luxury to travel for four months - I can't wait to read more.
LCBoniti is offline  
Jan 29th, 2007, 09:14 PM
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Sono Gelosa. Four months of traveling sounds so wonderful.

Thank you for a all the little details that is so helpful when planning a long trip. I am enjoying reading your report so far. Your format is very good. I wish I was as organized us you
cafegoddess is offline  
Jan 29th, 2007, 09:21 PM
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I just knew this was going to be a fantastic trip report..and the beginning certainly is! Don't make it a short report rickmay..I love your style of writing and your descriptions and thought process. How fun!
LoveItaly is offline  
Jan 30th, 2007, 12:00 AM
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rickmav, love your report so far. I am planning our first trip to England and Scotland this June so I am really looking forward to reading more!

I love your description of Bellows Inn. Classic!

Do keep adding onto this thread - it makes it easier for those of us who are following it closely. (If it gets crazy long, then start a separate one for Italy as others have suggested.)
hausfrau is offline  
Jan 30th, 2007, 04:24 AM
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I don't know of any way that you could add that indexing after the fact, but you could do a separate post that is indexed and gives the link to this thread.
noe847 is offline  

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