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Where does the Lego lady go to unwind?

By Sean O'Neill
updated September 29, 2021
blog_cartoonlegolady_original.jpg

Cecilia Weckstrom has designed several toys for Lego, such as Exoforce, Power Racers, and Sponge Bob. Since April, her job title has been Experience & Innovation Director. She travels the globe spotting business opportunities for Lego. She's rarely at home for two weeks straight.

Clearly, Cecilia is a great person to ask for travel advice. She has broad travel experience as a Finn who works in the U.K. for a Danish company. Plus, she's a professional innovator, with a sharp eye for creative vacation spots.

So where in the world would Cecilia say you should go on vacation?

"My recommendation has to be Pietra Santa in Tuscany, Italy, a stone's throw from Pisa, known for the leaning tower. Pietra Santa is the home of sculptors from all over the world. Originally even Michelangelo lived here. It has the best foundries in the world, having cast sculptures for Ferdnando Botero, Henry Moore, Mitorai and many more. It further has countless marble-yards, where you can turn up, rent yourself a spot, a block of marble and the tools and have a go yourself and not forgetting the delicious food and cappuccinos in-between. Italians have turned having lunch into an art-form and if you want a piece of the real Italian culture, in an authentic setting unspoilt by truck-loads of tourists--look no further.

My dad moved there in the early nineties, which is when I discovered it too. I have visited many times--almost every year if I can make it! Pietra Santa is great for a day trip from Pisa, or you can stay at the many tiny little hotels around and in Pietra Santa itself, and go dip your toe into the sea at Forte di Marmi, the beach resort nearby. It is affordable, genuine and a wonderful place to get your creative juices flowing!"

Can you recommend a restaurant in Pietra Santa?

Restaurant Gato Negro just by the Piazza del Duomo is excellent and hugely

popular. So try to stop by earlier in the day to reserve a table to make

sure you get one. Another little known restaurant is Da Piero's, just over

the railway bridge, whose sea food pasta Frutti di Mare with a little

Frizzante white wine is the best I've ever had--all fresh ingredients and

simply unbeatable value.

I've tried both and each serve excellent food. Gato Negro is a little more expensive, but then they are in a prime location. Signora who runs Da Piero is very friendly and greets everyone like a long-lost relative, whether you can speak Italian or not.

A stroll around the city is good fun, try to stick your nose into the Duomo and the little chapel at one of the side streets to see amazing murals painted by Ferdnando Botero himself, another

resident of the town, make sure you also stumble into a marble yard and have a look at what people are working on, it's simply amazing and of course a cappuccino at the Piazza is a must.

Is this a place children will like?

Italians love children so wherever you go, don't be surprised if your little one becomes the centre of the attention in a shop, a restaurant or a cafe. The town is not a child-specific place as such, so not a lot of play areas or entertainment specifically for children, but then if it's a day trip make sure to visit ice-cream shop next to the Piazza del Duomo,

nothing beats proper Italian Ice-cream!

What is it about this place that draws you back?

The town is unique as the center for sculpture in the world, but it also is a quintessential little Italian town so it is a very genuine experience of what life is like away from the big tourist traps. It is a very beautiful place, a truly authentic Italian town at the foot of the mountains, it seems to time has stopped here--life has a different rhythm and it is very easy to relax here and it is impossible not to get infected by the creativity which seems to be abundant here--everyone is an artist and if you aren't already, you soon fancy being one too! And it makes for an easy daytrip from (or to!) Pisa, Florence, Lucca, and Forte di Marmi.

Any hotel or rental car recommendations?

I haven't stayed in hotels here, but there are plenty to choose from both around Pietra Santa and in the town itself, in many different price ranges so you are guaranteed to find something to your liking and budget. You can also rent a car at Pisa airport and go visit places like Lucca and Florence too, which are neat little day trips.

How to book it: Fly a U.S. discount airline to New York City, and then hop a flight to Bologna on Eurofly for about $700 round-trip during peak season. Or fly on Zoom to London, and hop a discount carrier (which you can find at WhichBudget) to Bologna, Rome, or Florence. Rent your car through AutoEurope for cheap rates. Look for hotels via online booking website Venere.

Related: 14 Top Questions About Italy, Answered.

Earlier: Where does the Guinness master brewer go on vacation?

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Travel Tips

Don't let your reward miles vanish

Many members of American's AAdvantage frequent flier program recently received an email reminder that their reward miles are in danger. Here's the key quote: "Effective December 15, 2007, mileage balances will expire from AAdvantage accounts that have not had miles either earned or redeemed within the previous eighteen (18) month period. This change will not impact you as long as you remain active in the AAdvantage program." In other words, American will be deleting the miles in any account that has been stagnant for 18 months, as of mid-December. Luckily, you can keep your miles alive--even if you don't fly. For example, you can redeem some of your miles to buy magazines or other products by shopping at aadvantageshopping.com. This spending counts as "activity," keeping the rest of your miles alive for another 18 months. One cheap option is to buy a bag of Starbucks coffee beans from--of all places--Sears.com, for $11. Budget Travel recently published an online chart of the best options for saving miles on American and seven other major airlines--Continental, Delta, JetBlue, Northwest, Southwest, United, and US Airways. Click here to see the online version of the chart. Correction: In the chart that accompanied this blog post and the article in the magazine, we erroneously said that a participant in American Airlines' reward program could keep their account active by buying a gift card from partner Starbucks. Instead, you need to buy a bag of coffee via Starbuck's retail website StarbucksStore.com. Thanks to reader R. Giovinazzo for noticing the error.

Travel Tips

What's "geotagging"?

New digital cameras allow you to link any photo you take to the exact latitude and longitude where you took it. For a rough idea of what this means, click here and check out the map of the world. Click on any of the numbers on the map, and you'll see the photos that the photographer took at the marked locations. Geotagging, as this process is called, leapt into the news today when Google announced that it is about to buy Panoramio, a website containing millions of photos whose exact locations are mapped via Google Earth. (For Budget Travel's explanation of Google Earth, click here.) Travelers who merely want to create an online map for their own use can do just that, too. You can upload your photos to a personalized map on Flickr, Yahoo, or Google, and showcase your years of globe-trotting. For any given photo, the camera--or a connected device--pinpoints its location by talking with satellites that orbit the Earth as part of the Global Positioning System. The camera notes the latitude and longitude. When the photographer later uploads the photo to an online map, the photo's exact location is plotted. Anyone else in the world reading that online map can see the photo. Why bother with geotagging? Well, the more trips you take, the more digital photos you'll have...and the more difficult it will become to remember where many of your photos were specifically taken. Geotagging will help you remember the "backstory" behind any photo. And, as technology progresses, new software will make it easier to use this information to organize your photos in an intuitive way. Even if you don't want to bother with the technology, you can still benefit. By going to a photo-sharing website such as Flickr.com, you can search for photos of your travel destination and do some armchair traveling. Just type in a destination, such as Croatia, at a website like Flickr.com/maps. Here's how you can get in on the fun if you want to start geotagging. First, you'll need a hi-tech device that can detect and record your camera's location. One example is Sony's GPS-CS1, which was invented to pinpoint your latitude, longitude, and time readings on Google Maps. The lightweight device costs $150. Other companies, such as Samsung and Jobo, also offer these devices. Note: The owners of online maps are picky about the types of photos they allow users to upload. For example, Google says it only uploads high-quality photos that tell something about a place and aren't just random photos of yourself, your pet, your car, etc.

Travel Tips

Blogging is better than writing big emails home

I must admit that if we were still relying on postcards my parents would probably have forgotten I existed by now. When I first traveled, I was delighted to see Internet cafes everywhere, and I tried to email as often as I could. I had two email groups. One was virtually everybody I had every met and the other was just family. That email home was also my journal -- it was dutifully printed out and filed by my father. I think my family was just happy to know I was safe but, as far as friends were concerned, the reactions were mixed. On my return one person told me my email was the highlight of their week -- a treat saved for a quiet coffee break. Others, I realized, hadn't read a word. I may as well have been telling them I was from the Bank of Nigeria and I had a million dollars just for them. I was spam. As any experienced traveler will tell you -- your tales are interesting for 15 minutes when you get home. Much the same goes for volunteering. "How was it?" "Where did you go again?" "Were the toilets really horrible?" "Were there cockroaches?" "Whose turn is it to get the beers in?" And that is pretty much it. You may have had the most incredible life changing experience but in the meantime, entirely understandably, your friends have been getting on with their own lives. So when I volunteered in Hanoi I promised myself no more big emails. Instead my weekly update would be via a blog. At the start it was written for family and friends but I loved it when visitors increased and people left comments. Unlike friends back home, these new commenters were people who a direct interest in traveling or volunteering or Vietnam. Those were the ones I started to write for. I'd like to turn that blog into a book one day. I have had a couple of sniffs but no one is yet to bite. For two and a half years everything went in there. The ups and the downs. As it turned out friends did read it, maybe they'd only check in once every couple of months, but they still wanted to know how my life was going. Blogging worked out a lot better than those nasty spam-like group messages. They're impersonal and no one likes them. Send personalized messages instead and keep a blog for everyone else to read -- if they want to. In fact, I reckon everyone traveling, volunteering, or finding themselves in exotic places for whatever the reason, should consider keeping a blog. I've read that 99 percent of all film pitches are about a "fish out of water." With that in mind, what better fish to write about than you? Even now I re-read my old Vietnam blog. It has so many memories and there are already little details that I had forgotten. Some stir up old memories. Some still move me to tears just as the events they documented did. I hope you enjoy the following links. These are my blogging Top Ten Moments. [These links may inspire you to blog your next trip -- or to seek out the many excellent travel blogs that others write.] 1. Hearing the good news (on my old Space Hardware blog) 2. Just Arrived 3. My first experience of the effects of Agent Orange 4. Christmas Miracles 5. Getting carried away, here and here. 6. The memories of this still move me to tears every time I read it 7. My adopted football team Hoa Phat Hanoi win the cup 8. The most incredible trip ever 9. I say goodbye to KOTO 10. I get that old, familiar feeling, this time in Nicaragua Finally it should be noted that I was in Vietnam to help fundraise for a charity restaurant. It was one of the greatest days of my life when it finally opened. Details here. Now I have the same job to do at CafeChavlos in Nicaragua. We need all the help we can get. Hope you enjoy the links and my time as guest blogger. I hope to see you all again at my current blog at www.ourmaningranada.com. Thanks to Budget Travel Online for the opportunity.

Travel Tips

Fare prediction made easier

Farecast, an airfare-prediction website, came out of beta-testing today and added new features. Farecast gives you an idea of what price is a fair value by predicting whether fares for your itinerary will rise or fall during the next week. This free online service uses a historical database of more than 175 billion airfare prices from most of the major airlines to try to crack the airfare guessing game. Currently, it predicts what prices will do for flights between 75 U.S. airports. The website also acts as an ordinary booking engine, listing the lowest fares available for your particular itinerary and allowing you to "click-through" to airline websites and purchase tickets. Farecast recently paid an outside company, Navigant, to audit its forecasting error rate. The findings: Farecast is right about three out of four times. This winter, travelers using Farecast saved about $54 off of the cost of purchasing two tickets on average, says the website. Here's how the service works... Say you're shopping for a flight from Houston to Chicago departing within two weeks. After you enter the cities and dates, Farecast will fetch the lowest fares available. It'll also give a prediction. For example, "Lowest fares holding steady or rising within the next 7 days. Confidence: more than 80%. Tip: Buy." If you're not ready to buy, a new service allows you to receive fare alerts by email. Unlike the fare alerts offered by other websites, Farecast's emails include updated predictions on whether you should purchase a fare on a particular itinerary. Like a few Web agencies, Farecast shows you how many seats are left at the fare displayed. It also allows you to filter your search results to only see fares according to your preferences, such as your preferred airline or departure time. If, for example, you don't like red-eye flights, you can filter your search results to see only flights departing during the day. Similarly, flexible travelers who have a choice of airports can quickly see which airport would be the cheapest to use as a gateway. For example, say you're choosing between flying into Chicago and you're indifferent about whether you fly into O'Hare or Midway airports. You can use Farecast to quickly see how many more dollars it will cost to fly into one airport instead of the other at a particular date and time. Flexible travelers who are able to shift dates on either end of their itinerary will particularly like Farecast. A clever online booking calendar allows flexible travelers to choose from a range of current fares. Enter your itinerary, and you'll see, in a grid format, different fares available for departures and returns at various hours on various days. One caveat: None of the online travel agencies or travel search players--including Farecast--have access to the fares of Southwest Airlines. But Farecast does include Southwest schedules and direct website booking links, which is a service that seems unique to Farecast. Overall, don't consider Farecast a magic bullet. Rather, think of it as yet another tool at your disposal.