Author Topic: London 11 Hours, Venice, Florence 6 Hours, Rome, Israel, November 2018  (Read 1368 times)

Offline Mootkim

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Haven't gone away in quite some time due to school etc. and finally had the opportunity to get away with DW for nearly 2 weeks. I had plenty of points saved up so I was definitely not being cheap on the points. Our trip consisted of flying from JFK to Venice on Tuesday night with an 11 hour stopover in London for Wednesday, arrived in Venice Wednesday night, Departed to Florence Sunday morning spending most of that day there, arrived in Rome Sunday evening, departing Rome to Israel Wednesday afternoon, staying until Sunday morning, and taking a 1.5 hour stopover flight in Paris en route to JFK.

Offline Mootkim

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Re: London 11 Hours, Venice, Florence 6 Hours, Rome, Israel, November 2018
« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2018, 02:29:17 PM »
LONDON

I started by booking with 22.5k AA miles (low season is 22.5k as opposed to 30k) in economy from JFK to Venice with an 11 hour stop in London. I had a bunch of different stopover lengths available but chose the longest possible. I didn't want to spend 57.5k for business when the entire second half of the flights would be on a "European Business" seat where just the middle seat is empty (I ended up getting that anyway in economy by booking the 2 outer seats and the middle remained empty. Minus the service  ;)). The flight I chose was on AA plane to London and then BA to Venice. By doing this and not taking BA for both legs, I saved literally hundreds on the ridiculous taxes. Taxes were $24.99 per ticket like this. We took 2 big check-in bags that were sent directly to Venice without needing to pick up in London and 2 knapsacks with essentials (chargers...) for trecking around Europe. We went at the end of November and I just brought along a jacket that was a little warm and had a hood for some rain. Along with gloves and regular winter clothes, we were fine.

Our flight was at 8:30 PM and landed in LHR at 8:30 AM Wednesday. We took along some food for London being that I couldn't find any convenient food options there without having to travel out. I wanted to make it to Buckingham for Changing of the Guards at 11 but then we got stuck in line for nearly 2 hours at customs there! When we finally got through we still did have the option of rushing there so we booked tickets on the Heathrow Express to Paddington with the intent of taking an Uber directly to the palace. They have ticket agents throughout your way out of the airport so bought from one of them but he told us that we needed to hurry to catch the next train. We ran as fast as we can but when we got there the train was pulling away! We scrapped those plans and therefore decided to make a big circle around London to see the parts that we wanted before heading back to the airport. I put on teffilin and davened in the station in some secluded area while waiting for the next train which I think was every 20 minutes. There was a praying chappel area right before you go out of the airport towards the station but we were already through the gates and at the train.

We got to Paddington which is in the north west part of Central London. From there I bought the day pass for subways/busses which comes out to be worth it if you are going to take 2 or more rides that day. We took the underground from there (I think the Circle line) to Kings Cross to see the Harry Potter spot. At platform 9 3/4 there was a massive line with people waiting to get a picture at the trolley halfway through the wall and they dress you up with scarves and wands etc. for the photo. We went to look around the shop right there which is cool if you are into it. Now it has a lot of the "Fantastic Beast" stuff as well.

From there we continued on the Circle line underground to Tower of London. We spent maybe 2 hours there exploring the tower as well as the dungeons and the Crown Jewels which I thought was pretty cool. We then went over to Tower Bridge for pictures but didn't go up. At that point our phones died and was planning on continuing over to London Eye. We took a double decker bus from that area and ended up somewhere in town (I have no idea where) as we were looking for a pharmacy for something (called Boots). We were told there that we needed to go to Waterloo station for London Eye so we took the underground there. Over there we sat down at a Starbucks in the station to eat, sit down, and charge our phones.

From there we walked over to London Eye, walked across the bridge to Big Ben which was completely unrecognizable due to it being under construction :( . At that point we were already exhausted so took an Uber to Buckingham just to see it which wasn't that major. We then went to Piccadilly square and then took the Piccadilly line underground to the airport. Getting through security took pretty quick but it seems like they don't announce the gate until shortly before the flight. We ended up walking to a priority pass lounge which turned out to be at the opposite end from where our gate ended up being announced. Our flight to Venice was at 7 PM and arrived at around 10 PM Wednesday.

Offline Mootkim

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Re: London 11 Hours, Venice, Florence 6 Hours, Rome, Israel, November 2018
« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2018, 04:06:32 PM »
VENICE

We arrived in Venice airport at around 10 PM Wednesday night and picked up our luggage pretty quickly. When we got out I bought a bus ticket that brings you to the main train station in Venice. I think it was 8 Euro a ticket. We stayed at the Carnival Palace hotel (through Chase points with reserve 1.5 value) which is a relatively new modern hotel about 4 minutes up from Gam Gam. They are very Shabbos-friendly as they have keys available for Shabbos and they have a second front door which is manual (They think it is fancy to leave their hallways literally pitch dark aside for tiny spotlights ::)) If you are taking the Vaporetto there, you need to go to the "Tre Archi" stop. The water bus 5.1 or 5.2 (can't remember which one exactly) goes right there from in front of the train station. Otherwise, it is about a 12 - 15 minute walk to the hotel but over some annoying bridges with luggage. We got to our room and literally collapsed into bed after nearly 2 full days of running.

We woke up late the next morning, Thursday, and had a small breakfast that we had brought along with us. We took the Vaporetto from there to St. Mark's Square (it goes around the outside of the island and not down the Grand Canal). We got out at the Danielli and walked to the square. Important, around Europe NOBODY is giving you anything for free. They constantly come over and give you either a rose, jewelry, or other garbage and insist it is for free and even let you walk away a little and then they come running after you with some story about how they need money for something and will even take it back if you don't give them money.

We had a little pack of crackers that they gave out on the plane and we had a lot of fun having the birds stampede all over us for the food. Eventually the police came over and said that we cant feed the birds anything but feed. I gave the rest to another family and they had their own fun.

We then did the Doggi Palace there which is basically a huge palace that served as the main parliament building years ago. It was pretty cool seeing the massive painted rooms and all the weapons. From there we walked the streets making our way back to the ghetto where we went straight to Gam Gam restaurant. On the way we stopped for a few minutes at Frulala which is a smoothie bar owned by a Jew (they are closed for Shabbos) and has a bunch of drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, that are kosher. We sipped on that as we continued to the restaurant. We had a great meal there and then had an early night.

The next morning, Friday, we woke up early due to it being one of the shortest Friday's of the year. I had booked the upgraded suite for Shabbos so we first transferred over our stuff. We went to Gam Gam Goodies but it was packed. We decided to just get some pastries from the bakery instead and then took it on the Vaporetto to Murano from the Gugli stop at Gam Gam (4.1 or 4.2). We got to Murano and got off at the first stop which is Colonna (mistake). At the stop there was a guy directing everyone into his shop saying that the factory was that way to the left. It ended up just being a store of which there are literally hundreds like it but, hey, he got everyone. We were looking to see a glass blowing presentation so we left. We should have continued on the boat to a further stop (maybe Faro or Da Mula) where the actual showings are but we ended up walking there. Near the Faro district we found a couple of really cool shows or people just making glass. We sat in on one show which we popped in in the middle so afterwards we continued a little further to another place and saw the full show. We ended up spending 10 euro on some cool glass stuff after the show. We took the Vaporetto back to Gam Gam and went to grab lunch at goodies. Now it was empty so we sat in the store and ate pizza and had some drinks. We also bought a kosher milk (cholov stam) for cereal that we had brought along. We went back to hotel and got ready for Shabbos.

The suite turned out to be great for Shabbos as you get a separate sitting area where we were able to leave the lights on and close the door at night to sleep! Idk what I would have done otherwise besides leaving the room pitch black for Shabbos. For the meals opted for the donation only option which is usually held in the shul/yeshiva, however, for some reason, that Shabbos everyone was "upgraded" to the gallery meal which turned out to be amazing. We had a great time meeting other couples and spending Shabbos with them. The food was standard and the wine was great. Plenty of both to go around. We finally finished, stopped of at Gam Gam for some more singing etc. and then went to sleep.

Shabbos morning davening was at 10, however, during this time of year they have something called "aqua alta" which literally means high tide. Every morning from around 10 until 1 the water levels rise to crazy heights. You literally could not go out of the hotel at that time without proper boots. The hotel sells them for 10 euro a pair and so I got one so that I can get to shul. We were wading through water that came halfway up our calves but the boots were amazing and kept us totally dry. After davening they had a Kiddush outside which basically consisted of cakes and pizza?? We then went to the gallery for the meal which felt more simple, food-wise, than the night meal. After the meal it was already too late to go to sleep before mincha. We hung around until Mincha at the other synagogue which I wanted to see. It was actually pretty cool and interesting that the Chazzan is basically by the ceiling in the back of the shul. After Mincha we took a walk down to the Rialto and back. There was a shalosh seudos in the yeshiva but we passed. After Maariv they brought out a violin and bongo and we had a lively havdallah with singing and dancing. Motzei Shabbos we walked back to the Rialto to take a Gondola ride (IMO a must). Afterwards we walked straight to Ghimmel Gardens which was packed. The food was really good but service not amazing (probably because they were overwhelmed).

Sunday morning we woke up really early to make an 8 am train to Florence. We took the Vaporetto to the train station and bought a direct ticket to Florence. The train takes 2 hours when going direct. Off to Florence...

Offline Mootkim

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Re: London 11 Hours, Venice, Florence 6 Hours, Rome, Israel, November 2018
« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2018, 06:12:09 PM »
FLORENCE

We took the train at 8 AM direct to Florence and got there at around 10 AM. The train station is called Firenze Santa Maria Novelle. We had our 2 big suitcases with us so we gave it to a luggage hold service right outside the station. You go out to the left and make an immediate left and it is at the far end on the side of the outside of the train station building. They charge per hour and then after 6 hours it is the same price until 24 hours. It was pretty cheap and easy. I didn't buy tickets to Rome yet (mistake) because we were still debating on going to Pisa.

From there we walked to the Academia which was around a 15 minute walk. I did not buy tickets in advance but luckily there was an extremely small line to get in and buy tickets (about 5 minutes). Inside we used the Rick Steve's app to get a great understanding about Michelangelo and what was going on. It really was amazing to see the David statue and even better to hear Rick explain the history behind it. (Caught a great picture of someone setting up a picture similar to the famous leaning tower of Pisa pictures, just in a slightly different scenario LOL).

From there, we walked another 10 minutes down to the Florence synagogue. I read here that there are tours but when we went there were definitely no guided tours (maybe Sunday?). Either way, it was fine doing it ourselves. We went through the entire shul and then upstairs to the museum part and saw a small video playing explaining the WW2 history of the shul. We then went to eat and charge our phones in Ruth's which was pretty good.

After eating, we walked about 20 minutes to Ponte Vecchio which is the only bridge in Florence that the Nazis did not blow up when they were retreating. Along the way, we passed through some famous square with the fake David statue (pales in comparison) as well as another few replicas of statues that we had just seen in the Academia. We finally made it to the bridge which basically has a lot of watch stores on it as well as 1 Judaica store on the bridge. Went down a little just to see the Uffizzi outside and saw a huge line although I had no interest in going in anyway.

From there we walked up the river to the next bridge which is where the famous designer shopping district begins. We had fun exploring all the leather stores as well as some of the designer shops. We walked through this district until we arrived back at the train station. We basically did a big clockwise circle around the whole city portion of Florence. At that point we decided that we did not want to do Pisa anymore as you can't really go from Pisa to Rome without coming back to Florence. It would have added 3 hours of traveling just to see the tower (an hour train each way and 20 minutes walking to the tower and back). We decided to pass on it and went to book tickets to Rome. Important: When booking these trains last minute they are a fortune. The Italo company had nothing available for the soonest train and only first class available an hour later. Trenitalio company had available leaving then but only in first. I ended up getting those tickets ($300 travel credit), picked up our luggage, and got on the train at about 4:30 PM direct to Rome. Next Stop: Roma Termini...

Offline Mootkim

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Re: London 11 Hours, Venice, Florence 6 Hours, Rome, Israel, November 2018
« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2018, 04:20:46 PM »
ROME

We arrived in Rome on Sunday night at around 6:30 at Roma Termini. We were staying in the St. Regis there which is pretty much a block from the train station. Spent 180k Marriott (60k SPG) for 3 nights. We walked with our 2 suitcases to the hotel and was quickly checked in. Although the rooms in Europe are generally small, I thought that the room we got was really nice and elegant. They even have an old style elevator that was the 13th elevator ever created in Italy (supposedly) and it is still in working condition. The staff was really nice and showed us around the hotel and our room as we got checked in. We took an Uber over to the Ghetto to eat and we settled on BaGhetto Meat (first we needed to get Gelato that we were craving from our entire time in Venice). The food that we got there was actually amazing! from the appetizers to the main, everything the waiter suggested was spot on. FYI, in Rome, the Uber app gives you an estimated price for the trip beforehand which always looked quite high. It always ended up being significantly less than that as it really goes based on meter. Afterwards, we decided to walk back to our hotel so that we can see the city and it was really cool seeing all the random old ruins all over the place. We passed by piazza Venezia which is in front of a huge memorial building with a huge statue overlooking it. We got back to the hotel and actually noticed that right next to the St. Regis there are a few huge statue sculptures by a fountain which is the end of the aqueduct that depict Moshe with horns and Aaron with the full Kohen garb.

The next morning we went to the colosseum and the Forums. I bought tickets the night before online for a specific half hour time slot to get there and it was well worth it as there was a long line there. (otherwise I would have gone across to the forums to do that trick). We used the Rick Steve's app in the colosseum and it was amazing. After the audio tour we walked around on our own to see the temporary exhibits that they had set up. Afterwards, we went across the street to the Forums and used Rick Steve for that as well and again his tour was amazing. After the Forums we went back to the hotel to rest up a little bit. I had originally scheduled the free Rome walking tour for that Monday evening but at that point we decided to just skip it. I looked up Rick Steve's walking tour around Rome and it seemed to begin near the Ghetto and end pretty close to our hotel so decided to do it that night. We then taxied to the Ghetto and went to eat in BaGhetto Milky. We were not so impressed with their food although others have given great reviews about it (we got the chili pepper pizza which was literally inedible due to it being so spicy). After that, we got more Gelato and walked to the starting point of Rick's tour. This audio tour goes through all these random alleys and ends up in middle of these random beautiful piazzas or at fountains. The tour was quite lengthy but was really unbelievable. It brings you to the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and finishes at the Spanish steps. We walked back to our hotel and collapsed after a full amazing day on our feet.

The next day, Tuesday morning, we went to eat brunch in Yotvata. The food there was really good and the waiter (owner?) was really helpful and passionate about the food. From there we decided to walk to the Vatican for a 2:30 tour with David from Jews for Rome. It was about a 35 minute walk but we had never been to this part of town so it was nice walking along the water as we made our way to Vatican City. We met up with David and there were another 2 couples on the tour with us. I know people had said that they didn't find the tour interesting but we thought that David was great. He does talk very fast and tries to cram in as much information as possible but he was extremely interesting and entertaining. It really gives you an appreciation for Judaism and the Torah. Afterwards, we took a cab back to the Ghetto and went to eat in the sushi store there. The prices look pretty good there, however, be aware that they only give you a half a roll so it is actually expensive. They also charge for each thing of spicy mayo or sweet sauce (.50 each) which we thought was weird. After that we did the quick audio tour of the ghetto from Rick Steve which not surprisingly was his worst one yet and then went back to the hotel.

The next day, we had a flight leaving to Israel on Alitalia at 2:30 (Chase reserve points at 1.5 value). We woke up a little late so we checked out, and went with our luggage to Flour Café which is in a totally different area of the city. It is a cool coffee shop with some pastries that we got as a snack. We then took the Uber straight to the train station and took the Leonardo Express direct to the airport (14 euro). We checked in and had time to use our priority pass to relax in the lounge there and take a shower. For some reason when I was checking in on my phone on our way to the airport, it let me switch my seat to any available seat including the premium economy seats in the front. We ended up getting the entire 6th row which had plenty of leg room while the whole back of the plane looked stuffed and cramped.

ISRAEL

We landed at around 6:45 and rushed out of the airport so that we can make the new high speed train to Jerusalem. We made it for the last train at 7:30 and it was super convenient at just 20 shekels a ticket. Getting out of the station in Jerusalem though was annoying being that you are really far below ground and everyone is rushing to the elevators that only bring you  up one floor at a time so you basically need to take 2 elevators and an escalator. We were staying at a family member in Maalot Dafne so we took a taxi there from the train station. In Israel we basically just relaxed and went to the Kosel and Kever Rochel and did the basic eating places.

Sunday morning we had an early 7:30 am flight to JFK on Air France via Paris. I davened in the Dan lounge before the flight and was able to grab a coffee and some food before the flight. In Paris we needed to go through security again and there was a huge line which took forever. Our next flight was on the A380 which was actually really comfortable even in regular economy.

All in all, I feel like the amount of time that we spent in each place was the perfect amount of time to do what we wanted and anything longer would have been a waste.

Offline eandd

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Re: London 11 Hours, Venice, Florence 6 Hours, Rome, Israel, November 2018
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2018, 09:01:25 AM »
Thanks for taking the time to type up! We were going to do a very similar trip (London, Venice, Israel)

Offline shaulyaakov

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Re: London 11 Hours, Venice, Florence 6 Hours, Rome, Israel, November 2018
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2018, 09:10:34 AM »
11 hours in London was the perfect amount of time?

Offline Mootkim

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Re: London 11 Hours, Venice, Florence 6 Hours, Rome, Israel, November 2018
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2018, 01:18:16 PM »
11 hours in London was the perfect amount of time?
As that was not the main point of our trip and was just meant to be a stopover, I was not referring to London when I wrote that.

Offline myi

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Re: London 11 Hours, Venice, Florence 6 Hours, Rome, Israel, November 2018
« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2019, 06:25:30 AM »
Beautiful. Well written.
Don't try to be someone else , be who you are because everyone else is taken.

Offline Mootkim

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Re: London 11 Hours, Venice, Florence 6 Hours, Rome, Israel, November 2018
« Reply #9 on: February 24, 2019, 09:16:54 AM »
Beautiful. Well written.
Thank you