Affordable Europe: Florence discounts
In Florence’s crowded historic center, it can feel like there are as many Americans as locals—and tourism board and province officials want it to stay that way. They were in New York recently to introduce the Fiorino Effect, a series of wide-ranging discounts they hope will keep Americans visiting despite the weak dollar.
The promotion kicks off May 15—timed to the start of Il Genio Fiorentino, a 10-day festival—and runs through December 31. It provides a 10 percent discount at participating hotels and restaurants in Florence and neighboring small towns like Reggello and Barberino Val D’Elsa.
Among the more affordable options, Giovanni da Verrazano, a 10-room hotel overlooking the main piazza of Greve, Chianti, made the cut for our Secret Hotels of Tuscany feature. And we’ve previously recommended the family-run Albergo Serena, an 18th-century building with patterned stone-tile floors, well-worn furnishings, and a convenient location by Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station.
Americans will also get free admission to the Palazzo Medici, a 20 percent discount on exhibits at the Palazzo Strozzi, and a 15 percent discount on performances at the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.
Be sure to mention the Fiorino Effect when booking your hotel room and download the voucher before you go. It has an image of the fiorino (florin), a gold coin introduced in the 1200s by Florentine bankers and that enjoyed a heyday as the preferred currency for trade. The promoters are quick to compare it to the role played by the dollar—for now, anyway.
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Family Travel: 3 moms share stories
Here are few amusing excerpts from a new anthology, How to Fit a Car Seat on a Camel and Other Misadventures Traveling with Kids. For the record, I am fairly certain that one of our wedding vows included a promise to never fly across the country (any country) with the hypothetical fruit of our union during peak travel times. My husband, Steve, does not remember it this way, but I have a clear recollection of swearing that we would never become two of those poor souls we had so often pitied during our seven years of child-free travel. From the safety of the airport bar we would watch the traveling families barrel past: harried, hurried, and weighed down.… "No way," I remember saying. "We will resist. We will blaze new paths and forge new traditions. We will restrict our travel to balmy months like May and September and we will only fly on Tuesday afternoons. We will not bring everything we own to entertain a five-month-old baby on a ninety-minute flight. We will not distract the busy steward (who is, after all, just there for our safety) with instructions on how to microwave the child's soy milk for exactly 33 seconds at 75 percent power because he only will drink it hot but not too hot.…" Thus spoke the prechild me. Steve and I now have one son, Patrick, and he has spent every major holiday since his birth in 2002 lovingly surrounded by extended family despite the fact that we live at least eight hundred miles from our nearest relatives. How did this happen, you wonder? We schlepped him to them. What about my vow, you ask? "Just tell them," I would hiss at my husband as he picked up the phone to discuss another upcoming holiday with his family. "Just say it. Say we'll see them the following week. Say we'll come the month before. Be strong. Offer a tempting selection of alternate dates. Just..." "Dad!" my husband would say. "So, um, we were thinking about maybe not flying in for Thanksg— Oh. Oh, sure. Of course. Right! Of course! Great! We're looking forward to it! See you then!" Five seconds into the call and his father would clear his throat or something, at which moment my husband would fold like an origami crane. Every. Single. Time. And then there we would be again, buying airline tickets with a seasonal markup best calculated by NASA and realizing that there is a very good reason why people travel by the millions on those busy dates: ancestral guilt. —From Julia Litton's story, "Consider Atlanta." *** Over the span of a four-hour car trip, my husband can sing the so-called "ABCB Spider" song exactly four hundred and eighty-eight times. Figuring it takes twenty-three seconds to sing one round of the Spider, approximately one and a half seconds for a two-year-old to say, "ABCB Spider again?," and four seconds for my husband to sigh, roll his eyes, and resume singing, that works out to four hundred and eighty-eight times over the span of two hundred and forty minutes. I should know. I did the math. I also took the trip.…. To be fair, though, we didn't sing the "ABCB Spider" song the entire way. We also sang the more traditionally known ABC song, both to the original tune and to the snazzy, jazzed-up version made popular by LeapFrog. We sang "I'm a Little Teapot." We sang "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." We sang "Old MacDonald's Farm," complete with a full complement of entities on said farm that neither God nor nature ever intended. "Had a farm E-I-E-I-O again?" the songmistress trills from the backseat, interrupting the train of thought steaming through my mind, full speed ahead toward the academic conference at which I'm going to present on a panel tomorrow. My husband sighs and rolls his eyes, catching mine. "Old MacDonald had a farm," we obediently sing out. "E-I-E-I-O!" I wonder what's going to land on Old MacDonald's farm this time—we've already exhausted all the normal farm animals, zoo animals, and every single animal featured on Baby Noah, including the wombat. (For the record, the wombat makes a ticka-ticka sound, here, there, and everywhere.)…" —From Elrena Evans's story, "Traveling Songs". **** Traveling with a child is like having the common cold. Everyone offers advice. "Bring a stroller" and "Whatever you do, don't use the stroller." "Don't go in December, too hot." "Only go in December; otherwise it is far too cold for children!" Everyone has a tip, even if they have not been to the place you will be traveling, even if they don't have kids themselves. Laos, like most Southeast Asian countries still holds a strong association of war for many Americans. It is not exactly a typical holiday to take with a two-year old in tow. But…we were looking forward to it… We were particularly looking forward to … Luang Prabang, of which our trusty copy of the Lonely Planet said, "the city's mix of gleaming temple roofs, crumbling French provincial architecture and multiethnic inhabitants tends to enthrall even the most jaded travelers."… Luang Prabang is indeed an enchanted place. We were also getting into the traveling groove and started to feel the benefits of traveling together as a family. For one we were up before all the tourists who stayed up late drinking cheap cocktails and falling in and out of love at the hostels. We saw pristine waterfalls at dawn and could imagine ourselves prehistoric and pure without the constant company of camera flashes. Luc was an instant celebrity wherever we went. Everyone from old women to teenage boys came up to pinch his pink cheeks, rub his curly blond hair and offer him sweets and fruit. Through Luc, we were able to connect with people who would otherwise never have given us the time of day….We were part of the universal equation of family, something that transcends the vast gaps of language and culture…" —From Willow King's story, "Laos with Lucien." EXCERPTS COURTESY OF How to Fit a Car Seat on a Camel and Other Misadventures Traveling with Kids (Seal Press; $16) EARLIER ON THE BLOG Hostels that are friendly to families. Ban kids from planes? More than 60 readers weigh in.
Istanbul: Where to get your sugar fix
My girlfriends and I had our share of adventures during a week in Istanbul. There was the time I almost got left behind at a bus stop somewhere outside the city, and the many times we fended off catcalls from Turkish guys, as I blogged about earlier. One afternoon we took a break from the mosques and bazaars to try the dessert restaurant Özsüt in Sultanahmet, which reportedly has the best rice pudding in the city. I was immediately overwhelmed by the menu—a dozen pages filled with pictures of mouthwatering pastries, cakes, puddings, and ice cream. Our waiter told us some of the delicacies were finished, meaning not available, but there was still plenty to choose from. I finally settled on the çikolata framuaz, a decadent cake with layers of chocolate and raspberry mousses. I didn't realize until I got home that Özsüt was a chain—there are 40 locations in Istanbul alone, according to the website. Even so, I feel like I've discovered a secret I should pass on to anyone planning a visit to Istanbul. —Liz Webber RELATED Sleep Tomorrow: Where to eat and drink in Istanbul
This Weekend: The nation's largest garden tour
It's easy to laugh at Virginia's tourism slogan, Virginia is for lovers—I should know, because I'm from there and that's been the slogan for as long as I can remember. So just put the slogan aside. Virginia is a beautiful state, and right now its springtime beauty is on display in a big way: There are a few days left in Virginia’s 75th Historic Garden Week, which ends on April 27. The Garden Club of Virginia sponsors the event and says that it is "the oldest and largest statewide home and garden tour in the county." It's definitely large, with more than 250 gardens, homes, and historic sites taking part. A handful of hotels and B&Bs; have special offers connected to Historic Garden Week, which you can view here. Highlights include the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond and Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, just outside of Charlottesville in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And if you can't make it by this weekend, keep in mind that both of those places, and many others on the tour, are open year-round. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL We asked experts to recommend a garden anywhere in the world. You'll dig their answers. What's new in Charlottesville, Va. A dozen distinctive destinations nationwide to visit this weekend.
Deals: Travel like Indiana Jones
In honor of the new movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Expedia has created travel deals either based on or inspired by Indy's escapades. Trips go to locales such as India, Nepal, Jordan, and Egypt, and include thrills such as an elephant safari and a night tour of the Amazon (without snakes, hopefully). The full list of deals is available at www.expedia.com/indianajones. Sample deal: Egypt Tour from $2,299 A 10-day escorted tour round trip from Cairo with transfers and local transportation (train, plane, bus, boat), five nights' hotel, a three-night Nile cruise, one overnight train, a desert camel ride, and more. International airfare isn't included. Book by: Sept. 31. When: Until Dec. 31, 2009. Single supplement: $1,200. Expedia, 866/925-1793, expedia.com. MORE Watch BudgetTravel.com's narrated video of the ancient desert city of Petra, where Indy is pictured above. [CORRECTION: This blog post originally said that the picture above was a still from Raiders. In fact, it's a still from The Last Crusade. We regret the error.]