Posted by Jeff Martin on 07/29/2007
Sorry for my delay Michael. I hope this info helps.
Madrid: We stayed at the Hotel Florida Norte. It was a nice place and a great location. We could see the royal palace from our hotel room. There is also a large mall right across the street. Our first day we just settled in and explored around the palace area on our own. On our day two in Madrid we had a guide that showed us around the palace, we then hopped on a bus to get a quick tour of the city and then we went to the Prado which was very nice. The afternoon was free for exploration. I paid 6 euro to get a tour of the palace which was interesting. I also thought the Puerto Sol shopping area was nice. The trip from Madrid to Barcelona is LONG. We had a quick one hour stop at Zaragrossa to see the basilica and have lunch. In Barcelona we stayed at the Guillermo Tell Hotel. It was really nice. It was a bit of a walk to the city center but it was right on a subway line. Our day tour of Barcelona included a stop at Guell Park designed by Gaudi. Very unique place. We then took the bus with our guide to Sagrada Familia which was fascinating. After that our local guide took us by the Olympic Park and to a scenic overlook of Barcelona. Then we went to the Gothic Quarter which was nice. In the afternoon we had some people who went to the beach, some shopped on La Rambla, some climbed to the top of Sagrada Familia (highly recommended), and some went to the Picasso Museum and then found the cafe where Picasso used to hang out (4 Cats). After dinner we went to a water music and light show in front of the old Palace. It was not part of the tour but our local guide recommended it and it was pretty neat. Overall, I really liked Barcelona. I really liked the short stop at Carcassone in France. Great picture opportunities of an old fortified city. We stayed on the outskirts of Aigues Mortes which was 40 minutes from Nimes. Im not sure why we were so far away but it worked out. We stayed at La Mas De Sables. It was in the country side but had a really nice restaurant (our best meals - very French) and a pool which the kids liked. In Nimes we checked out the amphitheatre which had a good audio tour, Maison Carre which had a pretty cool 3D show, and then climbed to the top of the Tower overlooking the city - it is quite the hike to the top so be prepared. Since we stayed in Aigues Mortes we talked our guide into taking us there and we hung out for 3 hours. Most people shopped. Myself and some students walked around the entire ramparts which I would recommend. Nice was a great change of pace. We had plenty of time at the beach, visited Eze (skip the perfume factory and go up to the village to enjoy the sites), spent two hours in Monaco (really nice), and had plenty of time to shop and relax. The views of the Med. coast are astonishing. We stayed at Hotel Busby which was quite nice and was only 6 blocks from the beach. Our stop at the Cinque Terre region was my favorite. It was so pictuesque and breathtaking. Talk your guide into letting you hike from village to village. I would recommend the path from Corniglia to Manarola. It is easy enough for everyone to do it. The other paths are more challenging. After the Cinque Terre we stayed at Hotel Mondial in Rapallo. It was ok. No air conditioning could have been a big problem if it had been hotter. I would ask to not stay in Rapallo. It is a nice town right on the coast but we had to drive back an hour from Cinque Terre and then drove the same route to Pisa the next day which seemed like a waste. Pisa was a nice stop. Obviously the leaning tower provided lots of good picture opportunites. In Florence we had an unexpected hotel change. We were supposed to stay at Hotel Club which was in the city center but they switched us to Hotel Columbus which was out of the city center and on a bus line (about a 30 minute walk down the Arno River). Needless to say we were not happy but there was nothing we could do. Our first night we went to dinner and then took the kids to a disco. They had a great time. During our day tour we saw the David at the Accademia, the Doumo, and Santa Croce. The afternoon was open for shopping, visiting the Ponte Vechio, some of climbed to the top of the Doumo, some went to the Uffizi museum. It was a great afternoon because there are so many museums and historical things to do in Florence. Make sure you are not in Rome on a Sunday. If you are you will not get in the Sistine Chapel. We were and Passports was not real flexible in terms of trying to get into Rome early on Saturday. Instead we stopped for 3 hours in Assisi which is beautiful (the Basilica of St. Francis is great) but we would have rather gotten to Rome earlier. In Rome we stayed at Hotel Galles which was quite nice and right near the subway and bus hub. Our time in Rome was very busy with all of the sites. We did get to go into the Colosseum which was cool (it was added to our day since we could not get into the Sistine) and we went to the top of St. Peters (same situation) which I would recommend due to the great view. One thing to be sure to check on ahead of time is what night you will be having the “dinner with music”. We asked about it during our last day and our courier had no idea what we were talking about so it did not happen. Whew – lots of info. If you would like anything else, just let me know. Overall, it was a great trip. One of the keys is who your courier is. Ours was pretty average but everyone still had a very memorable experience.
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