Plan Ahead – Part 5: Other Tips

We finally made it to the 5th week of travel plans. We’ve found outRemainsViaAppia where we want to go. We’ve decided what to see and do while we’re there. It’s been determined when we are traveling. And we’ve figured out where to stay and how to keep a budget.  The journey to this point maybe has felt like walking the Via Appia, but believe me when I say it will pay off in the end.

I had not yet mentioned staying in free or super cheap places since Jennifer and I travel together, and we want the trips to be a bit nicer. Plus being older in our 30s we are passed the age in which that is an okay thing. If you don’t care there are a few options.

There is Couchsurfing which is a service that hooks you up with locals and allows you to stay on the couch for free.guy-sleeping-on-a-couch-660x439If you are a bit more adventurous and traveling during the proper season, you can check out the site Camp In My Garden. This is relatively new and does exactly what its name implies. The prices can range anywhere from $5 to $10 on average.lawn-campingThen there is always the well known Hostel. You can use Google to search for sites that list hostels – first on the list is HostelWorld. This is more accommodating for the backpacker who is venturing from location to location, instead of people who plan to stay in one place and venture out from there.hosteleuropelocker

Before Jennifer became Mrs. Jennifer she traveled by herself to Greece, staying at a hostel in Athens and in Crete. She doesn’t have any pictures of her stay there, sorry. Jennifer stayed at Pension George in Santorini and “absolutely loved it because it was very safe, very clean, fairly cheap.” Adding that is was “somewhere between a typical hostel and a hotel. You had your own room and bathroom. The owner was nice and informative about the local non-touristy events in the area.” When asked if she’d stay in a similar place now as a married adult, Jennifer replied “It’s a great place for adults who want to travel on a budget and I’d go back to a place like that now even.”5_ffee2447b152494b43d9816faaea83c8_sAnother travel tip is don’t be afraid to haggle. Obviously if you go into some swanky boutique or a Louis Vuitton store this is definitely NOT the place to haggle. However, if you visit a street market in, let’s say Berlin, this is the place and time to’s not  fair to most of us but you’ll get a better fare by flying out of a bigger airport, think JFK in New York City or Washington Dulles in the DC Metro-area. Or fly from a hub for the different airlines. More planes equals better rates for flying.

Since this Norris Family lives in the Central Texas Hill Country the closest choice we have is Austin or San Antonio. This will for some weird reason route us through Detroit’s Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) before crossing the Atlantic. Positive about DTW is that it makes you feel like you’re not in Detroit at a party or bar or simply not an airport (see picture below).flat,550x550,075,fDrinking water does not have to be limited to bottles of water in most of Europe. Not only is water super expensive – sometimes more than a glass of good wine – but it is just playing on the scared mind of Americans. Across most of Europe tap water is safe to drink, as well as wash in of course. Lots of street-side fountains and taps are perfectly safe to refill your water bottle. If you see a sign with a glass covered by a red “X” stay away from drinking this water. Not buying this public water idea? I then suggest getting a Brita sport water bottle that you can purify and fill on the go. These are sold in many stores across America. Prices vary.IMG_5330-800x533Toilets and hygiene can be a bit more tricky but just as easy to get as clean water if you know where to go and what to look for. Whether you are using a Squat Toilet, Water Closet, Pay Toilets, or Public “Pissoirs” there is something for everyone. Some tips here are keep some change handy because most places to relieve yourself cost, either for entry or toilet paper. Fun Awkward Fact: Shaking hands with your right hand is not only because most people are right handed, it’s also because the left is seen as unclean due to its use in the cleaning of one’s bottom. Public building will all have a fairly clean area familiar to most Americans. Although there won’t be signs to advertise them, ANY place that serves food and/or drinks will have a restroom. It will be out of sight in order for most to keep it out of mind. The most interesting are the self-disinfecting booths that are similar to the American port-o-potty. Here’s one from Paris.07boulevarddescapuchines-ruedaunouNo matter how much one plans ahead there will just be some things to experience in the moment. Hopefully these past 5 weeks have given you some new insight or travel tip to use on your next adventure. Now that you know what to do, get out there and Rome!




Plan Ahead – Part 4: Where to Stay Plus Keeping a Budget


simon-cowell-475886152-1Having planned out the destination, where to go and what to see, and when to travel, you can now figure out where you want to stay and for how much. Unless you are like this guy over here who seems to have so much money he’s printing his own, most of us have a budget to ahere to.

The best way to save is to use any airline or credit card rewards points. You’ve already accumulated these, if you have such earning cards, so use them on fun things like travel. If you are like most people, I happen to be one, and don’t have your money making you more money then it takes a bit more effort to achieve your dream trip.

Since you have already decided what you want to see and, more importantly, if you’ll need to get yourself there it’s now time to decide where to lay your head down. Jennifer and I prefer to stay near our favorite location(s) for the trip. We know what we want to see most and probably where most of our time will be spent, so why not stay as close to that location as possible? Time is money.

Getting to know the local cultures and casa-matilda-bed-andcustoms can always make a trip more enjoyable. A great way to kill 2 proverbial birds with one stone is to stay at a Bed & Breakfast. Not only will you get local warmth you will get a good rate that is typically half the price of hotels.

If you are not opposed to it, either renting a home, guest house, apartment or villa from a private owner can save some coinage. Jenn & I will look into renting a “gite” in France. Staying in either a 2 or 3 star hotel may also be found suitably comfortable for your stay in Europe. Additionally, European chain hotels are relatively inexpensive.

It works out well since my wife and I are traveling together, but if you are traveling by yourself it may be a tad harder. Hotels in Europe tend to charge supplements for single travellers. The single rooms tend to be quite basic. The cost of a double is almost the same as a single so it’s better if you can travel with a friend or partner. If not you may try choosing a luxury hostel. Check out this site if you are traveling solo.

Another great way to keep a budget is saving on transportation. Obviously public transportation is cheaper than renting a car or cab rides, put it typically gets you to locations you wanted to visit anyhow. Our Paris trip will involve extensive use of The Metro.

If Berlin believes it’s cool enough to make a music video about it, there’s NO way we are not going to ride it. On top of that purchasing a rail pass will save more money.

If you find a discount card that includes public transportation plus tourist attractions, it’s a deal to not pass up. You may care to buy passes, etc. a la carte if you are not going to be in the one location too long or if you are just planning to visit a single place of interest.

Traveling on foot or renting a bicycle is the other best way to travel. Not only is this better for your health, there are good deals. If you must rent a car, the best way to save is by getting a manuel transmission and desiel car.

A highly suggested recommendation is to exchange currency wisely. Obviously it’s best to spend foreign currency in the country of origin, so don’t over do it. When you need cash get it as needed. Get it a local branch of your bank, of if that isn’t possible, then go inside a bank. Europe is a fairly safe place to travel but bad people will be bad wherever. Exchanging currency in banks or even at bank ATMs is suggested over counters at the airport or train station kiosks.

The last of the bargin saving tips is to eat with the season. Get more for less by ordering what’s in season or menu specials. Speaking of food, try packing picnics. If you are planning on spending the day site-seeing for $10 US you can pick up really good food for you and a partner almost anywhere. P1010844Check out deli sections or street vendors to get what’s truly fresh. Bonus, you can haggle with vendors and some even give free samples saving you even more. Make sure to bring water bottles with you while out and about, which will save more coin.

If you’ve made it this far in the series or have even gone back to read previous editions then you’re already on your way to a great trip. Saving some money for other things will make your trip even better. I know I’m excited about Paris, I hope you’re excited about your future outings.  Keep on Rome-ing!

Coming Up…Plan Ahead – Part 5: Other Tips

Plan Ahead – Part 3: When to Travel

Frank Sinatra laid it out perfectly when he sang, “I love Paris in the spring time. I love Paris in the fall. I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles. I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles.”

From my great skills of deduction it’s basically hard to hate Paris according to The Chairman of the Board. If it’s good enough anytime of year for Frank, well, it’s good enough for me. Period.

With lots of things to celebrate in late December, the Missus and I decided to head to Paris for Christmas 2015 / New Year’s 2016. It will be a chance for us to get our feet wet in France, but not so wet frostbite sets in.

Piazza San Marco - Venice, ItalyWhen we were last in Venice, Italy we each got a pair of knee-high rubber boots that we’ll get to use again. Best 40 Euros we’ve spent while on vacation.

As I’m trying to plan out our trip, I’ve come to find out we’re not wanted in Paris…at least not yet. It seems that most travel sites (Travelocity, Orbitz, etc) want your business, but they only want it if you are within 10 months of your trip. Since this is August 2014, right now our plans don’t equate to dollar signs for these companies.

The same goes for airline websites and individual hotel websites. Train passes and rental cars cannot be booked either. Apparently nobody wants to bother with your plans this far in advance. Not to worry. This simply gives us all ample time to get the plans polished up.

According to this USA Today article by Laura Dixon, there is really no bad time to see Europe. It really depends on you. Do you want to be warmer or cooler on your trip? Do you care if it rains? Do you want prices that are a little lower? Do you want to be stuck amongst other Americans or tourists in general? These are all questions we have to account for.

Christmas is Jennifer’s FAVORITE holiday, hands down. Since wetumblr_mdiq27uecU1qi46ero1_400 both get a longer break from our jobs around this time of year it works out perfectly. This is also a period in which many tourists are not abroad since it is typically a big family holiday here in the states. The only thing we have to watch out for aside from the sad faces our families give us when we remind them we won’t be with either of them is closures of tourist destinations due to the holiday season.

For me, the easiest place to check on that was going directly to the source the city’s tourist office. For even more information you can visit the websites of the speicific locations you care to visit. For us we are going to The Eiffel Tower and The Louvre for starters.

Your computer is your best allie in figuring things out for you since information is at your finger tips. By sticking to your plan you will have details worked out ahead of time so your trip will be more enjoyable when you arrive. Till then keep on planning!

Coming Up…Plan Ahead – Part 4: Budget

Have your own Aeneid. Follow in the footsteps of Aeneas.

1024px-GiorcesBardo42Publius Vergilius Maro, aka Vergil or Virgil, is the greatest of the Classic Roman poets. Is it because he was the court poet for Augustus? Is it because Vergil has become the benchmark for Augustan Literature? Or is it simply because Vergil was born on October 15th just like me somebody else I know? A strong case can be made for all of these. However, I think he is tops for his writing of “The Aeneid“.

Vergil has been said to write in the same style as Classic Greek poet, Homer. In fact The Aeneid is said to be the Roman combination of Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey“. That’s neither here nor there. The Aeneid is about our hero, Aeneas, and his journey from the burning and sacked city of Troy to establish a new home for his people in Latium, Italy. The twist? Italy was the home of those people that founded Troy. Mind blown.

Aeneid MapOur journey begins in Ancient Troy, in what has become modern day Turkey. The now legendary Trojan Horse was brought inside the city walls allowing Achilles, Ulysses, and other Greeks bring the mighty city to the ground.


Since his present home is being destroyed, and his goddess mother Venus has instructed him to gather the remaining Trojans, Aeneas and his people trek across country to find safety in Antandros, which is still in Turkey. Due to its location on the coast, near the Gulf of Adramyttium, this is where Aeneas chooses to build his fleet before setting off for Italy.

Since this is an epic poem, and nothing is ever direct in ancient adventures, Aeneas and his fleet leave Antandros and sail North into the Aegean Sea where they make landfall in Thrace. The location is not exactly known but it’s believed to be the no-longer-existing Aenos which would be located still in Turkey, near the Greek border. Here in Thrace the reamains of fellow Trojan, Polydorus, are found.

All Aeneas wants to do is build a wall and establish a city. Not too much to ask for. While clearing the land in Thrace to create the wall, the plants that are uprooted spout blood and begin speaking to Aeneas. It’s Polydorus not crazy at all to have a dead person speak as a plant explaining what happened to him and to venture on.

More expelled Trojans are found as the group finally leaves Turkey and lands in Delos, Greece. Known as the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, Delos was home to a sacred oracle. VLUU L100  / Samsung L100Aeneas believes this is the place they have been searching for only to have Apollo say it’s not quite right for them. The sails are set again. Now it’s out into the Mediterrananean Sea and the Island of Crete. It’s basically the same story for Aeneas et al on this Greek island. They think the location is the one for them. Construction gets underway. Then one of the gods tells them to get moving.


As they hug the Greek coast, Aeneas and the fleet are driven to Strophados. This tiny set of twin islands was a perfect fit. Aeneas then encountered the Harpies and found Strophados to be their dwelling place. The Harpies kept stealing all of the Trojan’s food and made life even more difficult for these expatriots. I don’t think Aeneas to be wrong for leaving these female monsters that had the bodies of a bird with the head and face of a human.

After fleeing from the Harpies, Actium is the next place for landfall and to see if this is the right spot. This again is not the right place so the group sets sail. As they head North the fleet halts at Buthrotum in ancient Northwestern Greece, but the location is now modern Albania.Butrint,_Albania

Aeneas was happy to find Buthrotum the home of Helenus, another son of King Priam of Troy. Unlike his brother Polydorus who was killed after escaping Troy, Helenus was a survivor. This could be due to the fact that Helenus was a seer. It was Helenus who told Aeneas this was not the place for him and to carry on. Helenus had a vision that Aeneas would go on to found Rome, so they kept moving.

Crossing the Ionian Sea, Aeneas and company make their first landing on Italy at Castrum Minervae. Knowing this is not the place they carry on.

Castrum Minervae

Upon rounding Italy’s boot, the fleet arrives the ancient town of Aetna 1280px-Mount_Etna_from_the_south_060313on Trinacria, or modern day Sicily. This is also the Land of Cyclops. So the group shoves off hugging the island’s coastline. It is during this time thatTrapani_from_erice Anchises, the father of Aeneas, passes away. They end up at on the western coast at Drepanon. Just like at every other stop before, Aeneas and clan find that as they prepare to end their journey it is not the right spot. So they pack on up and head back out to see once again.

The vengeful Juno takes advantage of this and blows the Aeneas’s fleet off course, yet again. They now land in Carthage and are greeted by Queen Dido.Ruines_de_CarthageIt is here with Dido that Aeneas, just as Ulysses did on his travels, gets halted. The Carthaginians welcome in their Trojan guests and want Aeneas to be their king. During a mystical evening alone, Dido and Aeneas are thought to have relations, thus causing Dido to believe Aeneas is now her king too. This is when the messenger god Mercury, sent via Jupiter, reminds Aeneas he is not to stay in Carthage with his new-found love, Dido, but to sail on to Italy and found Rome.

Again landing on the western coast of Sicily, Aenea’s throws funeral games honoring the anniversary of his father’s death. While only the men are partaking in the games some women, under the spell of Juno, burn some of the boats so the men can no longer travel. The plan is to have Aeneas never reach Italy. This plan does not work and those that can sail on head out.

The fleet lands next at Cumae, where Aeneas is told he must venture into the underworld for guidance.


In the underworld, Aeneas meets his father once again. They discuss the prophetic future that is Rome and how Aeneas is to achieve it.

Upon returning to the land of the living, Aeneas knows what he must do. His people follow him once again to sea. They stop briefly at Caeita. It is here that Aeneas burries his wet-nurse prior to pressing on for his final destination.

Aeneas and his Trojans land in Latium. It is here that Aeneas falls in love with and courts Lavinia, daughter of King Latinus and Queen Amata.

Juno once again meddles with the happiness of Aeneas and his people by tricking the Latium Queen into starting trouble for the Trojans. The hatred for Aeneas get Turnus of the Rutuli people to battle The Trojans.

Since the story is meant to be a positive outcome for the survivors of Troy (Spoiler Alert) they are victorious in this outcome. Aeneas goes on to found Lavinium. The prophecy is now complete.


Although he did not found Rome himself, it Aeneas’s Lavinium was the center of the Latin League. It was from here that the people of Rome sprang, thus linking the the royal house of Troy to the newer Roman Republic.

Travel by land, sea or air and you too can now have your own Aeneid. Tutus Itinerarium (safe travels).

Plan Ahead – Part 2: What to See? What to Do?

So now we have started our trip planning by creating a list. We’ve decided where we want to travel, for Jenn & I it’s Paris, so the hard part has been taken care of.Make_a_List

Time to continue the list with Part 2: What to See? What to Do?

Knowing the things you’d like to go see or do while in your destination will further help ease the stress that is trip planning.

Just like in Part 1 where you were deciding what city (cities) to go in a specific country (countries), it is now time to fire off ideas about what you want to happen while you’re at your destination. Do you want an all-inclusive package? Do you want beach activities? How about museum tours? Did you want to try that restaurant your friend won’t stop talking about when she was overseas? Nothing is wrong or stupid at this point.

The more ideas about what you want to do will only make the trip more enjoyable for you.I’m certain there’s a reason you are going to your special city, and it doesn’t have to be due to a Roman site. That can just be the icing that makes your trip more special.

Thermes de Cluny - caldariumAside from going to the obvious locations in Paris (Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, Arc de Triomphe) we are going to check out the Thermes de Cluny. This is a picture of the caldarium, or hot water room. I wasn’t lying when I said The Empire was everywhere.

Jenn & I do not have kids to travel with so our choices are more for adults only. If you have kids you may want to choose things more age appropriate. I have a feeling that youngsters won’t do to well in a museum for a handful of hours.

We want to make this trip special for everyone partaking. If you’re traveling alone, then you can do whatever you feel like doing that’s not against the law. If traveling with a partner, obviously some compromises shall be made. If children are joining you good luck! include them in the plan. Make sure there is at least one thing each traveller is interested in included in this trip. I promise the trip will be better for everyone.

Once you’ve figured out where you want to go make sure you check for closures. Most big tourist locations have an individual website. For our trip to the Eiffel Tower we can check out the Official Site for hours of operation, tickets, etc. Same goes for Germany’s Cologne Cathedral or Austria’s Hofburg Palace. Sometimes technology is a wonderful thing.

A helpful tip to remember is that just because we are on holiday does not necessarily mean the places we want to see are open. Tour guides, shop owners and cafe staffs have lives as well. If traveling during a religious holiday, like this Paris trip, note some adjustments may need to be made. Another reason why planning ahead helps.

louvre-horaires-tarifsI’m certain Jenn & I will be stopping by the Louvre to look at some old magnificent things. By checking the Hours & Admissions page I see that Christmas Day and New Year’s Day the museum is closed. It’s also closed every Tuesday. This means that the only day we won’t have access to these treasured works of art would be 12/29/15. Unless things change by then, a potential situation has been avoided.

Now that we’ve done that I’m a bit hungry. Any easy interwebs search has given me some useful information about places to eat and where to grab a drink.

Wow. We did a lot today. I don’t know about you but Jenn & I are going to grab a bite somewhere close and discuss things further. Why don’t you do the same. Take a break and let things sink in a bit. I mean it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, right? Cheers!

Coming Up…Plan Ahead – Part 3: When to Travel