France/Spain 2016 Itinerary and Planning

Another year, another trip…Italy with a 15 month old didn’t completely turn us off from traveling – though we did need a full year to get back on that horse.

Itinerary

We’ll be stopping at 6 different places and are spending a full 3 weeks in Europe.  A summary of the itinerary is below.  The full story of how we arrived at it follows…

  • San Sebastian, Spain – 4 nights
  • Saint Emilion (in the Bordeaux region), France – 3 nights
  • Dordogne countryside (outside of Daglan/Domme), France – 4 nights
  • Collioure, France – 2 nights
  • Barcelona, Spain – 4 nights
  • Madrid, Spain – 4 nights

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We’ll take a high speed train between Barcelona and Madrid, saving 6 hours of driving.

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Wine Country Advice/Suggestions

Let me start with this…I don’t claim to be a wine country expert by any means.  But I tend to get asked a lot about it, so I figured I’d type out a post as a primer.  That said, we have been out there 4 times now and actually had another stop planned that we had to cancel.  Hopefully, this post will help you get started with planning your own trip.

I’d also recommend reading my wrap ups/retro reviews from our Napa trips: 2016, 2013, 2012, 2010.

Sonoma Valley vs. Napa Valley

One of your first decisions is on where to go because there is a mountain range between the two regions that you don’t want to be traversing on a daily basis.  It depends on a couple things…

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What sort of wine do you like?  Cabernets – you’re much better off in Napa.  Pinots and Zinfandels – you’re probably better off in Sonoma.  These are gross generalizations, but they’re true more often than not. Continue reading

2016 Points, Miles, etc. Update

It’s been a year and a half since my last points and miles update post, and nearly 3 years since my original series on points/hotels/flights/etc.  It’s probably time for an update…

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not as deep into the weeds on this stuff as I was 4 years ago when I was planning our 2013 Big Trip.  But, most of the principles are the same.

Hotels/Lodging

Our personal travel patterns have changed a lot in the last 2 years.  The biggest change is that there are now 3 of us, one of whom takes a 2-3 hour nap in the middle of the day and goes to bed at 8:00 (No, I’m not talking about Alyce…at least not most of the time).  If you’re staying in a hotel room, that makes for a very dark, quiet, and boring time during those hours.  That’s a major reason why we’ve spent more time in vacation rentals – in addition to the extra space.

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Secondly, we’ve been traveling in Europe.  My favorite hotel brand – Hyatt – is not too prevalent in many European locations.  Plus, I haven’t been Diamond for over a year, and European hotels just aren’t as impressive as the Asian hotels in general. And as I just described, hotel rooms don’t really work for us unless we have a suite.  We didn’t stay in a traditional hotel in Italy at all and likely will not on our upcoming France trip. Continue reading

Napa – March 2016

Back to wine country…Yet again.  Fortunately (at least for Alyce), she was not pregnant this time.  Also, we were finally able to work it out so that some friends could join us.  Patrick, who grew up with Alyce and I, along with his wife Stephanie met us late the first night from Houston.

This trip was a Wednesday through Sunday.  That timing worked out for a couple reasons.  First, I used award miles and that was when flights were available within Alyce’s possible vacation time.  Second, I booked the hotel using the 4th night free benefit of the Citi Prestige card.  With that, they give you a credit for the 4th night’s room rate + taxes.  And it is the actual 4th night – not an average of the 4.  So having that be a Saturday got us a much bigger credit.

This was our first trip to wine country in Winter (even though it was a week or two from Spring).  The temperatures weren’t bad, but we had rain every day.  And not misty light rain…We had legitimate hard rain.  We must have heard the following line 10 times over the trip – “Sorry y’all had rain the whole trip…well actually, not really because we can use it.”

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That is the downside of traveling December through March to wine country – rain.  It’s not that it’s a guarantee you’ll get rain (the weekend before and after ours were beautiful), but you are far more likely to get rained on than the other times of the year.  The plus side is that room rates are less and things are generally less crowded. Continue reading

Italy 2015 Wrap Up

[So uhh…Disclaimer.  This post is long.  Like makes previous posts that I’ve had a disclaimer on look short.  It’s just shy of 20,000 words.  A professional typist typing at 80 wpm would take 4 hours just to retype this post.  I don’t blame anyone if you don’t want to read through it entirely.  You can search the area/town you might be interested in or skip down to the concluding thoughts where I give more opinions/advice based on our experience.  The day by day portion is more of a travel journal.  Also, Alyce has a talent for saying more than I do in much fewer words, so you can read her posts too.  Good luck.]

 

Italy…Finally.  This one had been on both of our wish lists for a while.

Me – I’ve always been fascinated with Roman history.  The Romans were an incredible society and were more advanced than any other that would show up for quite some time.  My engineering side has always been impressed by what they were able to accomplish 2000 years ago.  My law side is similarly impressed with Rome.  The Louisiana Civil Code that we use today is a direct descendant from Roman law – one of the few things I took from the Legal Traditions class we had to take at LSU.  It equally influenced just about all of the Western legal systems.

Alyce – She has a strong Italian heritage on her mom’s side.  Her Nonna (the Italian word for grandmother) cooked all sorts of delicious Italian meals, many of which I was fortunate enough to get eat too.  Pasta, Pizza, Italian meats and cheeses are many of her favorite foods.  She loves the history too, just as I enjoy the food, markets, etc. as well.

As is usually the case, Alyce had to rein me in on the planning/scope of the trip.  I wanted 3 weeks.  Alyce shut that down being as we had never even traveled with James when she was submitting her vacation request.  Also, she had only been at her new job a couple weeks when vacation requests were due.  Going right for a 3 weeker would have been a little bold.  In fact, she just submitted her vacation requests for 2016, and the same situation played out.  I wanted three weeks; she settled at two.  I’ll get the three weeker in 2017… [Editors note: Since writing this, we have changed our 2016 fall vacation to 3 weeks.  Persistence pays off.]

Two weeks sounds like a lot – and it is for US vacations – but it really isn’t that long to see a country.  You lose one night to travel, so you’re down to 13 nights before you even get started.  Plus, we had a 15 month old with us.  We don’t quite see/do as much as we used to…

Speaking of which, I planned about half of what I usually would (in terms of meals/activities/wine/etc.), and we still ended up skipping half of what we had planned.  And that is fine and somewhat expected.  No one wins if we wake up a baby and have him scream through a lunch because we wanted to go to a particular place.  That’s not enjoyable for us or the others around us.

Similarly, I probably planned our stops a little differently in the past.  I definitely would have stopped a lot more along the way during our transits.  We drove right through the heart of the Chianti wine region and didn’t stop at a single place.  As it was, we stayed at 5 different spots over the 13 days…That’s moving when travelling with a one year old.

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Life is Fragile

This post is a little different than our typical post.  The title says it all:

Life is fragile.

That is something I’ve always believed.  We are on this planet for an unbelievably short time.  Even if you live to be 100, it is just a fraction of a blink in the grand scheme of things.  You must make the most of the time you have.  This belief has led me to making several work/life decisions that others considered odd or out of the ordinary.

On our big trip, we stayed with our friends Tommy and Mallory on our final stop of the trip in Abu Dhabi, where Tommy was stationed for his job with Exxon.  I went to high school with Tommy, and Alyce went to high school with Mallory.  They got a bit of a head start on family life on us and had two beautiful daughters when we visited.  Mallory was also newly pregnant with a son when we stayed with them in Abu Dhabi.

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Fast forward a couple years…We have our own son and are wrapping up our trip to Italy.  Alyce tells me that something sounds bad on facebook our last night in Venice.  Mallory is asking for prayers for their son (something we knew was serious based on the people/circumstances involved).  Two days later, we are back in New Orleans.  Alyce filled me in on the news – Tommy and Mallory’s son, Austin, had passed.

We were both devastated.  We know that accidents happen and are a part of life, but that fact doesn’t make it any more palatable when it happens to someone you know.  Plus, it hit really close to home considering we have a son just a little bit younger than Austin.

Today we went to Austin’s service, and it was every bit as sad as you would expect.  There is really not much you can say in such a circumstance, but I think just being there and giving a hug helps.

So hug your loved ones tight.  Don’t put off things for the future that are important to you.  You never know what will happen.  And keep Austin, Tommy, Mallory, and their girls in your thoughts/prayers.

Austin

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Italy 2015 Itinerary

We’re here in Italy after a rough journey over (new plane, new seats on the plane, unhappy baby, etc.), but we made it and are glad to be here.  We’re going to try to keep up with blog – hopefully we do.  Chasing around a 15 month old occupies a lot of our time.

Alyce will follow up with more on our flights.  I just wanted to get a post in with out itinerary.  We fly into Rome and out of Venice, and this is where we’ll be stopping along the way:

Rome – 3 nights

Florence – 3 nights

Montalcino – 2 Nights

Castiglione Falletto (Barolo area in Piedmont) – 3 nights

Venice – 2 nights

That makes it 13 nights total, plus one night spent on the flight on the way over.  Here is the itinerary on Google Maps – though we are taking the train from Rome to Florence.

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