Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Summer Travel, 2016

The London Shard...
Travel Gremlin here.  Its been about a month since I went on vacation, and all I can say is that it stinks that all of us don't get more time for stuff like this.  Such is the world.  Anyways, I've been busy since I got home, with a job transition currently underway and all the usual stuff on top of that.  So for starters, my plan for upcoming months will be to have three (3) posts each month.  I used to aim for four (4), but with new responsibilities and the course of life it is clear that will not remain nominally feasible.  Still, this is a post that I am extremely excited to write because it is about the fun stuff in life.  Do not worry though, I will begin with a little financial recap.

Our Journey:

We (my wife, I, and a friend) ventured to sunny - sorta - England to visit some friends.  We stayed in the UK for a week seeing parts of England and Wales.  Afterwards, the three of us hopped a flight to Italy, then met back up with our friends in Pisa and scooted around that part of Italy.  Our total time in Italy was around 7 days, for a total journey of around two weeks, and now my wife is staying she wants to travel again.  Traveling once makes you want to go again (having perfect weather helps too).

My favorite part about this journey is that we were able to go at all.  Our flights cost (my wife and I) $360 round trip.  That included flying to the UK from the US, to Italy from the UK, and back.  This was done using points transferred from my Chase Sapphire credit card to my United Frequent Flyer number.  Had we just purchased tickets it would have been over $3k.

When we went to Wales, I used hotel points through Hilton to acquire us three rooms in a hotel for three nights, with the final cost being $20 - just taxes.  Plus we stayed with our friends in England.  In Italy, we used AirBnB and found some real steals in the heart of a bunch of cities.  I am not promoting those products, but merely stating if you look hard enough (not that hard), you can find these deals are rampant.  The point here is most people can travel, if they are willing to listen and learn from pros online or in person who do this all the time.  I am far, far from an expert - so don't just take my word for it.

The United Kingdom:

Well for now it is anyway.  We went to two parts, England and Wales.  Also we benefited from a deep monetary discount, thanks to the Brexit.  30 year low in the Pound to USD.  Simply stunning.


Tower Bridge.
It is hard to describe any place, when you only see fractions of it.  Those parts we saw were really fun.  We spent most of our time in London and Cambridge, both gave a very unique cosmopolitan feel.  In some ways it reminded me of the USA (not just cause of the language), but the demeanor of the people.  They were hard working, but matched that with a hard play attitude.  That is right up my alley.  In addition, we saw some of the old towns in the Cotswolds  that sometimes show up in movies.  Among those was a town featuring the oldest 'inn' in England, and yes we got a beer there.  Favorite drink: Speckled Hen - cask. 


The view from Pen-y-Fan, Southern Wales' highest peak.
If the UK has a West Virginia, I've been told its Wales.  Of all the places in the UK I saw, I liked Wales the most.  Why?  Mountains.  We only saw the southern range, but those views and the effort to get there are some of the things that I enjoy the most.  We also sampled Cardiff, which is a nice small urban contrast to the mountains nearby.  Of extreme note, amazing Indian food was had in Wales - by far the best I've ever had.  Honestly it might have been my favorite food from the whole trip.  Favorite drink: Brains Amber cask (I don't remember the full name).


We arrived in Venice, made our way to Pisa, saw the Cinque Terre, and ended in Florence.  So many wows, oohs, and ahhs.  Places I likely will never see againMy favorite drink was red wine: specifically any house wine and definitely those 'Supertuscan' wines.  Though there was a microbrewery in Pisa that was excellent, so look for that if you are ever there.

A view of Venice from the Tower of San Marco.
Venice: This city has intrigued me for a long time.  As a person who thinks a lot about engineering, science, and urban planning - this city is a model in so many ways.  It is south of mountains and on the sea (near to the Adriatic), which are my two favorite types of places.  The streets are small and old, but it is a feel that cannot be replicated.  Of all the places in Italy we visited, this is the one I feel I need more time to see (not to belittle other places).

The Dolomites
One tour we did in Venice that I would recommend heavily, is to see the Dolomites.  Or if you are in Slovenia their mountains count too.  The Alps in general are gorgeous, and the Dolomites and the towns among them have their own outstanding charm. 

The Tuscan Countryside.
Tuscany: After Venice we went to Tuscany, and some neighboring areas.  We started in Pisa, went to Cinque Terre, and ended in Florence.  Of those three places I thought Pisa had the best nightlife for hanging out and mingling with locals.  Cinque Terre is well and beyond the most scenic.  Florence reigns in architecture.  The best food went to a few small places in both bigger cities, a fried seafood place in Cinque Terre, and to the Tuscan countryside where we went on a wine tour.  If you could only see one of the three, the answer is Cinque Terre its so unique and despite the crowds it feels more open than Florence.  In Cinque Terre you must hike the trails, but they are not easy.  The second one to see is Florence, which despite its architectural works, is just so crowded during the day.  I have no desire to be surrounded by 100 person tour groups, fair warning.

Manarola, part of the Cinque Terre.
Overlooking Florence.

Wrap up: The biggest mistake of this trip is that we are no longer on it, am I right?  Truly, all of these places hold their own unique charm.  I would gladly venture to any of them, just to get a fuller experience. 

I hope everyone has had or is having a great summer!
- Gremlin
- Long all beers and wines drank
- Sadly Short Pasta Carbonara right now.
*All pictures taken by me or someone riding shotgun.


  1. Thanks for sharing...looks like you had a great trip. Love the drinks mentioned in each place :)

    Also I lol'd at the ending comment on the 'long' and 'short' :)


    1. It was a great trip, full of great times.

      Thanks for appreciating the humor!

      - Gremlin

  2. Great photos. London is one of my favorite cities to spend a few days in. As a business traveler, I've been there a bunch of times. I always seem to find new and interesting things to do and see. I agree with you, the people play hard. So do I, maybe this is why I get along there so well. Thanks for sharing.

    1. IH,

      I could see that, I wish I had spent more time in every place. Never seems like enough time.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Summer travel. What's not to like? Looks like you had an amazing time visiting England and Italy. I agree, that once you venture out and travel you simply want to see and explore more. Thanks for sharing.

    1. DH,

      Thanks for the comment. I think you're spot on, how once you do it once you simply need to see more (in your mind anyway).


  4. Great post with really exciting things about Holiday Planning and execution. I will take clues and will wish to travel to these places plus balooning adventure at cappadocia hot air balloon. Keep Posting more.

    1. SB,
      Thanks for the comment. Hopefully, I will be able to do a few more of these soon. I have seen the balloons in Cappadocia, I would love to just do a flyover of that area.
      - Gremlin