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DansDeals Forum => Trip Reports => Topic started by: Eli on July 18, 2008, 04:35:10 AM

Title: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: Eli on July 18, 2008, 04:35:10 AM
I'll start from the end of my trip and move my way backwards toward the beginning.

Virgin Atlantic - First Class - London Heathrow to Newark. Oh. My. God. Really really nice. I've heard that there are nicer first classes, like Singapore Airlines, but Virgin's is definitely up there. Each person has a small cabin with a seat, surrounded by a divider that allows you some privacy. The seat leans back pretty far, and there is a foot rest in front of every seat for your pleasure. They actually allow you to have your seat reclined during takeoff and landing. With a push of a button, the seat folds up and converts to a fully flat bed. Just ask the stwardess and she'll be more than happy to make you a bed, with a blnket, pillow and all. This was the first time in my life that when the captain said it will be a 7 hour trip, I was thinking "Oh man, I wish it was longer". If you ever have a chance to fly Virgin, try to make it first class. It's unbelievable. But the unbelievableness of it doesn't stop there.

Before the flight, you get entry to the "Clubhouse". Now I was thinking why it wasn't called a lounge like every other one, but once you walk in, you'll realize why. The place is HUGE! About 200 chairs and couches are available for you to sit, and in case one type is not so comfortable for you, there are many others. There is a full, free restaurant for you to enjoy (which I imagine most of DansDeals readers will not be able to make use of), and a full, free bar (which I imagine most of DansDeals readers will definitely make use of). There is a huge business center with computers and free internet access, along with, of course, wi-fi throughout the club. Moving my way to the back of the club, I found a full-featured spa. Barbershop, Massage Parlor, showers, sauna, and jacuzzi. If you want to use this area, get there early. I got there over 2 hours before my flight and the barber and masseuse were both fully booked until my flight.

In London, we stayed at the Mercente Palace - a nice hotel. When we got there, we were sure to leave the 3rd guy outside since in Europe they charge per person, and we booked a priceline reservation which is a default 2 people. The room they gave us had a pretty small bed, so I went down to ask them for a cot. Initially they refused, but after begging, they upgraded me to a double-queen room which was enough for us.

Down the block from the hotel is the famous Buckingham Palace. Changing of the Guards starts at 11:30 every morning during certain months and every other morning during others. Get there early - the croud is huge. I don't really know where the best place is to stand to see it well. Unfortunately, I missed most of it. I just saw them marching in, but didn't see the inside procession. It's pretty cool though, and I would consider it a must see if you're in London.

Directly outside the hotel is the first stop for what's called the Big Bus Tours. For 24 Pounds (about $48), you can get on and off this bus for 24 hours straight. They run very often, and there are different lines which go to different places. The main attractions are all part of the route - The London Eye, the London Tower, the shopping streets, Maddame Tousaddes etc. We happened to have gotten on a bus with a live tour guide (some busses have headphones) and this guy was great. It made the whole tour that much better. If you get on a bus with a crappy tour guide, just get off and wait to get on the next bus which will come a few minutes later. There are representatives from Big Bus Tours at every stop to help you figure out where to go.

The night we got there, it was already late so we took the "Tube" (London's famous underground subway) to Golder's Green (the Jewish area) and ate at a chinese place called ChopStix open until 1AM. I'll be honest, the food was pretty bad. If you're there early enough, I've heard that there's a place across the street that's good. Speaking of the Tube, it's 4 Pounds for a single ticket - about $8 USD. Consider getting a day pass for 7 Pounds but remember it only works on the day you buy it, so don't buy one at 11PM.

One great thing about London is that everyone is really nice, so if you ever need anything, just ask and most likely they will be more than happy to help you.

Before London was a flight on Al Italia from Rome. I sat first class there as well, but it was totally not worth it. It's the same as coach, just with a guaranteed middle seat open.

Rome was really nice. We weren't there for long, but we got a chance to see the Vatican (no, we didn't go in, just chilled in St. Peter's Square). For about 20 Euro you can get a tour of the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum which I believe is ok to go into since it is not part of the church. There are people standing in the square offering tickets for slightly more, but it's an English tour and you get to cut the lines. It may be worth it. We also visited the Colleseum, but didn't go in since the line was forever. We went to the Great Synagogue but didn't go in since the next tour was an hour later and we had a flight to catch. All in all, Rome was pretty nice - from the outside.

The night we got there, we went to the Jewish Ghetto area and ate at a Milchig restaurant. Be careful of the Hashgochos there though...one place we went to that was under the Rabbanut Reishit of Rome had 1 item on their menu that was not Glatt, and it get's cooked on the same grill. We didn't eat there, or the place next to it that had the same Hechsher.

One interesting thing that happened while we were there, was that we were on the subway and it stopped at a station, the conductor made an announcement, and everyone packed out. Upon further investigation we found out that someone had jumped in front of a train, and they shut down the entire subway for 3 hours. It was a bit of a pain. It probably hurt more for the guy who jumped in front of it though, so I guess we got away easy.

Before Rome, we were in Pisa. We basically went there just to look at the Leaning Tower. Again, we did not go in since the line was too long, but it's a really nice area. We then took the train to Rome - it was about 3 hours and we sat first class which really wasn't that big of a deal.

The morning of Pisa we had taken a train from Florence. Don't be tempted to buy a first class train ticket for the 1 hour train. We did, and it turned out there was no first class, but we got our money back later on.

Florence was pretty much just a stopover. We went to eat at Ruth's, a vegetarian style restaurant right next to the Shul. We also took a tour of the Shul, which was really nice. In the morning, we went to the Kosher market and got pizza for breakfast, and turkey sandwiches to go for lunch. Yes, it sounds wierd but it's a good Hashgocha and everything is separate.

Before Florence was Venice. Ahhh, Venice. There's nothing like it. Absolutely beautiful. The Vapretti's or however you spell it (water busses) are a great chill, and a great way to get around. A ticket will run you 6 Euro. If you're taking boats in the city, you can generally get on and off without a ticket, but be careful...if the ACTV guys get on and check, they will slam you with a 33 Euro fine plus the cost of the fare. And if you make believe you don't speak english and you have no idea what they are talking about, they will call the cops on you, like they did to me :(

We were in Venice from Thursday night until our Monday afternoon train to Florence. When we got to Venice we immediately walked to Gam Gam for a decent tasting steak. Be careful when booking hotels in Venice...you must stay near Gam Gam or else it will be a big pain - especially if you are there for Shabbos. Friday we walked around a little and...I can't remember what we did. Friday night we ate at Gam Gam but be prepared - there may not be that much food. You might want to have some munchies in your hotel room just in case you are still hungry. Shabbos morning/afternoon we ate at Gam Gam again - we were the 4th shift. The people there are amazing. Food is free on Shabbos, and so is conversation - especially if you want to talk a lot about the Rebbe.

Saturday night we went out to an area called Rialto, but it was a little stupid. Sunday we took a morning water bus to Murano where you can see how they make glass, and then we headed to another hotel in Lido, which is an island off of Venice. Unfortunately it rained once we got there for the rest of the day, so our plan to rent bikes or scooters didn't really work out. Monday morning we went across the street to the beach for a few hours, and then headed to Florence.

Before Venice, we visited Paris. Our flight from EWR to Paris wasn't too bad, although here I was sitting coach. We arrived in Paris at about 8AM, so we got a solid day-and-a-half there. I can't remember everything we did in Paris, but I know we went to the Arc Di Triumph, and then walked down Champs Elysee (pronounceds "shomps ee-lee-zay"). Of course we also went to the Eiffel tower - 3 times! Once a few hours after we got to Paris, but the lines were long so we didn't go up, the second time at night which is really really nice, and the third time at 8:30 AM the next morning when the lines weren't so bad. The view from the top is breathtaking. I think we visited the Jewish area there and went out to eat, but I cannot remember. We then took a flight from Paris to Venice.

And there you have it, my trip report for the last 10 days - backwards. Now I'm sitting at EWR after having arrived at midnight, waiting for a 5:45 AM flight to ORD. Don't ever stay in EWR overnight - it's really boring.
Title: Re: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: Charles The Govenor on July 18, 2008, 05:11:41 AM
Wow sounds pretty awesome what airline you flying to ord?
Title: Re: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: moish on July 18, 2008, 05:13:37 AM
nice report. i have a question though. the train tickets from venice to florence, florence to pisa, and pisa to rome, did you buy them in the states before the trip? can you buy them in italy? where? 
Title: Re: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: moish on July 18, 2008, 08:37:46 AM
did you feel any antisemitism on your trip? i assume you look like jews (beard?)
Title: Re: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: levi on July 18, 2008, 10:53:36 AM
I was only there for the first 4 days of the trip (paris, venice) and no we did not experience any anti semitism at all. (no beards)
Title: Re: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: moish on July 18, 2008, 12:02:35 PM
what about the train tickets?
Title: Re: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: levi on July 18, 2008, 05:26:40 PM
I can only tell you that they were bought on the spot more than that I don't know
Title: Re: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: Smirk on July 19, 2008, 10:40:07 PM
Eli,
Wow you know how to write, (did you write any of those letters?? ;) )
We actually stayed in the Thistle Westminster in London and the Mercente Palace was where we stayed in Rome

"Saturday night we went out to an area called Rialto, but it was a little stupid."
BLA BLA BLA it was awesome!!!!!!!
nice report. i have a question though. the train tickets from venice to florence, florence to pisa, and pisa to rome, did you buy them in the states before the trip? can you buy them in italy? where? 
We bought them there, there are self service machines (in english)
did you feel any antisemitism on your trip? i assume you look like jews (beard?)
No anti semitisim whatsoever EXCEPT one hilarious time. In the cab from CDG to the hotel we were at a red light and this dude walked by holding 3 cellphones, and Eli says to him wow 3 phones?!? and the guy turns around and says "Go back home!"
Title: Re: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: moish on July 20, 2008, 08:30:33 AM
We bought them there, there are self service machines (in english)
even for the fast eurostar where you need a reservation with a seat?
Title: Re: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: Eli on July 20, 2008, 12:50:24 PM
I also thought that I needed to book rail tickets in advance, but once we got there we realized it was no big deal. Every train station has a booth with a live agent to help you, and many self serve machines for you to buy tickets. The machines have English as an option and are very straightforward. We never had a problem.

Anti-Semitism did not seem to be a problem. We wore caps the whole time, but I can assure you that even with that, people knew we were Jewish.

I remember now that we also did the Louve in Paris, and on Friday in Venice we went to St. Marks Square and to the Doji Palace (which is spelled "dolce" I think).
Title: Re: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: ash on July 20, 2008, 12:53:59 PM
how much did the entire trip cost ?
Title: Re: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: Eli on July 20, 2008, 12:55:12 PM
About $1,500 not including tickets, because those were free :)
Title: Re: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: moish on July 20, 2008, 03:24:07 PM
I also thought that I needed to book rail tickets in advance, but once we got there we realized it was no big deal. Every train station has a booth with a live agent to help you, and many self serve machines for you to buy tickets. The machines have English as an option and are very straightforward. We never had a problem.

Anti-Semitism did not seem to be a problem. We wore caps the whole time, but I can assure you that even with that, people knew we were Jewish.

I remember now that we also did the Louve in Paris, and on Friday in Venice we went to St. Marks Square and to the Doji Palace (which is spelled "dolce" I think).
did you go on the super fast eurostar at all? i understand that for that particular train you need a res
Title: Re: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: Eli on July 20, 2008, 03:29:29 PM
We did. From Venice to Florence. We simply bought a ticket from the ticket booth. I would say just get there early. Who cares if you have a specific seat? It's either first class or second class and whatever seat they give you, they give you.
Title: Re: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: moish on July 20, 2008, 03:31:04 PM
sounds great i just thought it was necessary to have one
Title: Re: Trip Report: Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and London
Post by: Dan on July 21, 2008, 01:14:20 AM
Great report!