Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hop dilemma...

So Bill and I really do want to take a hop.  It's a good time to take one because he has all this time off and is still being paid.  However, he's also still job hunting and probably should keep plugging away at that task.  There is no telling how long it will take for him to get work, though I hope his looming unemployment won't go on for too long.

We're trying to decide if we want to risk taking a trip.  If we do take one, he can still look for and apply to jobs as long as we have Internet access.  But what if someone wants to interview him?  Again, if it's over the phone or even via Skype, he could probably do it if he had to.  But an in person interview might be tough… and then there's the issue of the money we'll be spending.  There's food, lodging, and boarding the boys.  And there's the fact that we want to get out of this house and that will involve spending money too.

We probably shouldn't take a trip… but boy do we want to.  And the time is right, even if there are a number of issues that may make traveling unwise.  I want to go to England and Ireland in the worst way.  But I don't want to be broke.  So we may have to wait on this plan…




Friday, April 25, 2014

Delta's hilarious throwback safety video...

If you were around in the 80s, this video will mean a lot to you.



Bill saw it on his flights to and from New York.  It makes paying attention to the safety presentation worthwhile.  Be sure to watch until the very end!


Monday, April 21, 2014

England next month? Dare to dream!

So Bill is about done with the Army and has until July 1 before he's unemployed.  In these last weeks, he and I have been thinking about going on another Space A trip.  Once July 1 rolls around, he will be a retiree with less priority on Space A trips than he has now.

We both want to visit Ireland and there are regular trips to Mildenhall AFB that leave from McConnell AFB near Wichita, Kansas.  If we can get to Mildenhall, it wouldn't be too difficult to get to Ireland.  We could just take a train to the Welsh coast and then hop on a ferry to Dublin.  Of course, when it comes to Space A travel, one must stay very flexible.  It could turn out we start this trip and end up somewhere totally different.  Or it could turn out we end up nowhere.

Bill has a job interview this week.  If it goes well and they offer him a position, we could take this trip as a way of saying goodbye to Army life.  If it doesn't go well, maybe we won't…  We probably shouldn't spend the money.  But travel memories are precious and can't be repossessed.

It's fun to think about it.  I would love to take one last trip before we become civilians.  And it seems fitting that we would visit Mildenhall, since that's where my dad ended his Air Force career.






Wednesday, April 16, 2014

18 months for pissing on The Alamo!

Don't mess with Texas!

A man who peed on The Alamo got sentenced to 18 months in prison.  Back in April 2012, 23 year old Daniel Athens of El  Paso, Texas took a whiz on the landmark and just got slapped with the time and a $4000 fine.

I have to wonder if Athens was drunk when he made this faux pas.  He was spotted by a ranger who happened to see him in an area that was not intended for the general public.  He probably would have been better off jumping into the San Antonio River from the Riverwalk and relieving himself there.


Best find a restroom before you hit the Alamo…

While I know it's not good to deface national monuments, I think this punishment is a bit extreme and not all that beneficial to society.  I think it would have made more sense to fine the guy and make him clean up the area around The Alamo in 100 degree heat.  Now he's going to go to prison and the prisoners are going to ask him what he's in for…  "Pissing on the Alamo" probably won't get him much street cred.  In all seriousness, this could damage this guy's future.  Yes, it was a dumb mistake, but I think in the grand scheme of things, he could have done much worse.

But then, I'm from Virginia and Virginia is for lovers…  ;)



    

Monday, April 14, 2014

Working at USAirways' customer service desk must be tough...

For some strange reason, someone at USAirways tweeted a photo of a naked woman pleasuring herself with a model airplane.  According to Jalopnik.com, the tweet was up for a full 22 minutes before it was finally removed.  If you click the link, you can see the photo in question.  I wouldn't recommend it, though, if you are in a place where kids or bosses are around.  The photo is definitely not safe for work.

Salon.com also has a very entertaining article about this incident.  I have to wonder if whoever posted that photo wants to be fired and go out with a big bang?   The girl in the photo does not look very comfortable, which is consistent with the flight experience on USAirways in my view…

Ouch.

  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lunch at Grimaldi's at the Shops at La Cantera...

Yesterday, Bill and I went shopping for some new work clothes for him.  After a successful trip to Saks Off Fifth, we went to the Shops at La Cantera, which is a huge upscale shopping center where I happen to see my dentist.  Bill had heard about Grimaldi's, a New York pizzeria style chain in a few states.  They have a coal fire oven there and it's been awhile since we last had decent pizza.

When we got to Grimaldi's, it was very busy.  They gave us a "beeper" shaped like a slice of pizza and told us to stay in the area.  We went next door to Teavana, where a very aggressive salesman proceeded to try to sell us a complete tea set.  We did end up going back and buying some tea from the guy, even though he was really pushy!  They had a lot of nice samples there.


Bill looks hungry...


We each ordered a glass of wine, which came to us in little carafes.  Mine was an unexciting glass of Sangiovese that was priced at $10.  Bill had a glass of Super Tuscan for $7.  I think his was better for the money spent.    



We ordered a large regular pizza with spinach, red peppers, and Italian sausage.  The crust was really thin and the sauce was a bit bland.  Still, it was pretty decent compared to some of the other pizza I've had in San Antonio.  Grimaldi's offers white pizza (no sauce) and pizzas with pesto instead of sauce, too.


I was ready for pizza.  After two slices, we packed up the leftovers.  You can get a small or personal pizza if you prefer it.  I like sharing with Bill, though.  


For dessert, we split a piece of Bailey's Irish Cream cheesecake.  It was very nice; not too heavy and a delicious chocolate cookie crust.  The plate was drizzled with Hershey's Chocolate Syrup.

Our waiter was very friendly and attentive and we got good service.  Our bill came to about $49 before the tip.  All in all, it wasn't a bad experience, though it doesn't come close to our experience at Dough.  We need to go back there sometime soon for some really great pizza!    


Saturday, April 12, 2014

A whole lotta puking going on...

I just read about another cruise ship with passengers who have fallen ill thanks to the norovirus.  About 100 passengers and crew members on Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas have been puking and pooping with wild abandon thanks to the bug, which apparently also afflicted passengers on the cruise that left the previous week.  This is the second ship I've read about this week that is full of shitting.

Apparently, Princess Cruise Lines' Crown Princess has also been sailing with sick people.  That ship left Los Angeles last weekend and soon there were 94 passengers and 23 crew members who were hit with the norovirus.  Norovirus causes vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and dehydration.

Bill and I prefer small ships when we cruise, even though I usually get seasick.  Fortunately, neither of us has ever gotten a true sickness from being on a cruise ship.  I did have a nasty cold the last time I was on SeaDream, though.  I see from a Forbes news article, there have been eight outbreaks of the virus this year.  I don't have any cruises planned in the near future, but I might hesitate to book one right now.  I definitely would be liberal about using the hand sanitizers most cruise ships offer and washing my hands.  It's no good being sick while on vacation!

Interestingly enough, eleven people decided to disembark Crown Princess in San Diego.  Because they got off the ship at a different port than where the ship originated and they didn't stop at a foreign country beforehand, each passenger was fined $300.  Apparently, Princess Cruises is going to pay those fines, rather than the passengers.  I think that's only right.  

Best thing to do while on a cruise ship is avoid buffets and practice good hygiene!  I feel sorry for the people who got sick.  I bet a lot of them will want to avoid cruise ships now.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

New York City...

In a couple of weeks, Bill may have to visit New York City for the first time.  I've been there a few times, though my most recent visit was in March 1998.  I went there for a job interview.  If Bill goes there, he will also be interviewing for a job.

In 1998, I was totally broke.  I had only been back from Armenia since September and was temping at the College of William and Mary, not making a whole lot of money.  I got a call for an interview in New York City, but I had to pay for transportation and lodging.  I ended up taking a train from Williamsburg, Virginia and staying in a cheap dive.  I want to say the place was called Hudson House, but I can't remember for sure.   I found it in a New York City travel guide.

I took the train to the Big Apple and managed to take the subway from Penn Station to the area where the hotel was.  I had booked a cheap room… it was $80 with a bathroom in the hall.  I got the sense I was the only one staying at the hotel, though, so it was no biggie.  The room was kind of drafty and cold, but had a TV and harsh fluorescent lighting.

The interview was not successful, but I had an interesting two night jaunt in Manhattan… all alone.

If Bill goes to New York, he'll probably be very busy the whole time.  I expect the company interviewing will pay for his transportation and lodging and they'll probably take him out to dinner.  It's a big four consulting firm.  I feel pretty confident they will interview him, but he won't know until next week.

I'd like to go with him, since we've been wanting to visit New York for awhile now.  Maybe if he gets a job offer, we'll take the time to go…  Chances are, if they do hire him, we'll have to move.  But I'd like to go to New York just so we can visit Eataly.  We went to the flagship one in Torino.  Eataly is a very cool gourmet Italian store.  There are several locations in Italy now, but when we visited in 2008, it was still very new.  The store in Torino is amazing.  I'm sure the New York location is equally interesting, though probably ridiculously expensive.  Seems like a lot of things in New York are pricey.

The other times I've been to New York, I went as a member of a choir.  Those were very different experiences, since we were there for a specific purpose and we were all in a group.  New York on your own is a solitary experience.

I remember being in New York during a big snowstorm and being trapped…  we watched people skiing down Broadway.  I'll probably never see anything like that again.  The first time I went to New York, I hated it.  But every time I've gone back, I've liked it more.  Paris had the same effect on me.


  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Pleasant Italian food memories...

Last night, I made baked ziti for dinner.  It was purely American style, which means that no Italian would touch it with a ten foot fork.  But Bill and I enjoyed it.  As we were eating dinner, we reminisced about visiting the Piedmont region of Italy back in May 2008.  It was our first trip after we moved to Germany.  I kick myself for not taking a trip earlier; we were in Germany for over six months before we went anywhere, unless you count a quick trip over the Swiss border that we took when our dogs were being temperament tested at a dog hotel.

Anyway, we started our trip at a small hotel near Lake Como.  We were just over the Swiss border, high in the mountains that overlook the lake.  We spent a few peaceful days there, enjoying the beautiful views and good food.  It was Bill's first trip to Italy and he was loving it.

Our trip was to last about ten days, including four nights at Bella Baita, an adorable little B&B in Serre Marchetto, near Pinasca, Italy, and a couple of nights in Thun, Switzerland.  While all parts of our trip were fun, we especially enjoyed Bella Baita.  I found this little retreat while searching for accommodations near Torino.  Bella Baita is maybe 30 miles from Torino, very close to the French border.  Owned and operated by Marla and Fabrizio Roncaglia, this place is totally secluded with beautiful views of the French Alps.


View of the French Alps from our Italian B&B, Bella Baita.  France is about a 90 minute drive.

But what Bill and I were remembering last night was the wonderful food we ate on that trip.  Marla and Fabrizio are chefs and we signed up for a cooking class with them.  Bill requested to cook rabbit and Marla and Fabrizio were delighted, since that was a local specialty and almost no one asks to cook rabbit.  Frankly, I'm not a fan of rabbit… they are too cute to eat.  But Bill is an Arkansan (sort of) and loves game.    

Marla took us to the market in Pinerolo, where we purchased all the ingredients for our meal.  She knew all the vendors and where the best food was.  As I made the ziti with ricotta last night, Bill was reminded that we bought ricotta at the market for a fruit tart we made at Bella Baita.  I don't eat uncooked/unmelted cheese, but Bill tasted it and said it was unlike anything you could ever find in a United States supermarket.

The duomo in Pinerolo...

As he commented about that cheese, I was reminded of a delightful meal we enjoyed in Pinerolo.  We were looking for a place for lunch when I stumbled across a brand new restaurant that opened in May 2008 called Perbacco.  The owner's mom came out.  The restaurant wasn't open for lunch, but was open for dinner.  She didn't speak any English, but she gave us a business card and wrote Aperto: 19:00 on it.  She made it clear that we should come back for dinner.  We did… and boy, was it a great experience.

I remember having this delicious carrot spinach flan there that was nothing like I had ever tasted before.  I wish I had taken a photo of it.  I wasn't all that excited about the flan; I picked it by default.  It turned out to be amazing.  For my main course, I want to say I had steak.  But the one thing that really sticks out in my mind was the wine.  Bill asked the sommelier what we should have.  He made a suggestion and advised us to let it sit for a few minutes.  We did and it opened up beautifully.

A table of Italian men sat nearby and they were all enjoying steak.  They were loud and obviously having a great time.  The sommelier was fascinated to be serving Americans.  He wondered what on earth we were doing in Pinerolo when most Americans go to Florence, Rome, and Venice!  We told him about Bella Baita.  It wasn't until last year that Bill and I did the so-called "Holy Trinity".


A small shrine near Bella Baita…

When we got back to Bella Baita, we told Marla and Fabrizio about the new restaurant and showed them our bill.  Marla, who is an American, commented that the food was cheap and they must be trying to build up a clientele.  She told us that Italians won't pay a lot for untested cuisine.  She assured us the prices would eventually go up and we were lucky to visit when we did.  She also noted that the table of men were there enjoying beef because the prices were so good.  We encouraged her to go there with Fabrizio and check it out.  We still talk about that meal six years later!

Another great meal we had was at the tiny restaurant next to Bella Baita.  I'm not sure if the place is still open, since during our visit, Marla commented that they didn't get much business.  She said the place was called (in Italian) The Ant and the Giant, because the husband/wife owners were respectively very large and very tiny.

When Bill and I dined there, we were one of two couples.  The restaurant was very charming and the food was exquisite.  Bill ordered branzino, which is a delicious fish that has a lot of bones in it.  The chef brought it to our table and deboned it for him.  It was one of the more memorable experiences we had on our trip.

Of course, Italy has been the site of many a wonderful culinary experience.  Last year, when we went to Italy and Greece, we enjoyed an amazing meal at a small restaurant near our secluded inn.  Half the staff did not speak English, but they brought out the most amazing food.  And one waiter spoke English, Italian, French, and German flawlessly.    

*Sigh*…  I wish I could live in Europe again.  For now, I'll keep making my American style baked ziti.


My ziti.

An old review I wrote about Bella Baita...

Beautiful views and blissful times at Bella Baita in Pinasca, Italy...

 May 28, 2008 (Updated Jul 22, 2008)
Review by   
Rated a Very Helpful Review

    Pros:Beautiful setting. Warm welcome from our hosts. Good food and cooking seminars. Inexpensive.

    Cons:Difficult to access without a car. Credit cards not accepted.

    The Bottom Line: Bella Baita definitely lives up to the hype!

    My husband, Bill, and I just got back from a wonderful vacation to Italy and Switzerland, with a couple of day trips into France. It was Bill's first time in Italy, though I was there last in 1997. He wanted to visit the Turin (aka Torino) area and put me in charge of finding us lodging. I plugged Turin into my favorite search engine and soon found myself reading many wonderful reviews of a B&B called Bella Baita. Intrigued, I visited Bella Baita's Web site.

    As it turns out, Bella Baita is not actually that close to the city of Turin. It's in the province of Torino in a little town called Pinasca. Situated about six kilometers up a mountainside, Bella Baita offers plenty of good views and peace and quiet. The B&B, which consists of three rooms, is run by American born Marla and her Italian husband, Fabrizio. Both Marla and Fabrizio are chefs who, besides offering lodging, cook meals for their guests and teach cooking seminars. Since Bill and I are amateur foodies, this was a definite plus for us.

    When I noticed the room prices, I was actually very surprised. At this writing, a double room at Bella Baita runs just 50 euros a night (approximately $80 by today's exchange rate). I had a feeling the place would be rustic and, at that price, I wondered just how rustic a room there would be. But the endless stream of positive reviews on Trip Advisor won me over, so we booked four nights and a cooking seminar.

    The B&B... off the beaten path

    Both the reviews I read and Bella Baita's Web site warn that Bella Baita is located on a long and winding road that goes up the side of a large mountain. For that reason, it's best for visitors to have access to a car. Bill and I currently live in Germany, so we drove to Italy. I remember being very impressed and a little scared on our first trip up the zig zagging little road to Bella Baita. The views on the way up are breathtaking, but it definitely pays to drive carefully. The road is not very wide and some of the local drivers we encountered were pretty cavalier about taking the hairpin turns. Happily, by the time we were finished with our visit, Bill and I were more comfortable with the road.

    Our arrival

    We found Fabrizio doing some work outside when we arrived at Bella Baita. He greeted us with a big smile and helped us get settled in our room, inviting us for a drink after we'd had a short rest. Marla fixed us some coffee and cookies, plus gave us a taste of some local liqueurs. Since we didn't have dinner plans, we ate dinner with Marla and Fabrizio. We enjoyed Marla's fresh foccacia bread, a turkey and spinach roulade, local wine, and a banana crepe dessert for a total charge of 36 euros-- definitely a steal.

    It was chilly our first night, so Fabrizio brought us a space heater to use in our room. The heater, coupled with the cozy flannel sheets on the bed, made our room quite comfortable. I'm also glad to report that the bed was also very nice; we had plenty of room and the mattress was neither too hard nor too soft for my tastes. An added bonus is free wireless Internet.

    The bathroom

    During our trip to Bella Baita, I encountered something I had never seen before, the "sit bath". I'm sure there is a technical term for this apparatus, which resembles a short bathtub with a little seat built into it, but I don't know what it is. Anyway, the sit bath has a faucet and a sprayer. You fill up the tub and then use the sprayer to rinse off and wash your hair. It takes a little getting used to, but I got the hang of it quickly and actually enjoyed using it.

    Besides the usual toilet and sink, the bathroom also includes a bidet and a hairdryer. I was glad I had brought my own toiletries since there was only hand soap in the room and there definitely aren't any stores nearby!

    Breakfast

    Each day, Marla served us breakfast consisting of warm pastries and bread, fresh fruit, cereal, juice, and hot coffee. I particularly enjoyed the fruit and pastries while gazing out at the spectacular view of the mountains from the kitchen window.

    Cooking seminar

    My husband, being an Arkansas native, wanted to try cooking braised rabbit and risotto. I was a little skittish about cooking rabbit, but I needn't have worried. As it turns out, game is a specialty at Bella Baita. Marla told us that she was happy when Bill asked if she and Fabrizio could teach us how to prepare rabbit. Apparently it's not a request they get very often.

    Cooking seminars at Bella Baita are definitely an experience to savor. Our Wednesday started with a trip to the market in Pinerolo, a good sized town not far from Pinasca. Marla took us around to meet her favorite vendors, charming Italians who didn't seem to be too jaded about Americans. We really enjoyed the sights and sounds of the market and Bill got to try some wonderful cheeses and locally produced salami. I'm not as much of a cheese fan as he is, but even I was impressed by the delicious local ricotta we tried, which is nothing at all like ricotta you can get from an American supermarket.

    Later that day, Bill and I donned aprons and submitted to Fabrizio's tutelage, as he showed us how to cut and peel vegetables for our risotto and braise the rabbit. We also got some great tips on finding good cookware and knives. Marla prepared a delicious fruit tart made with ricotta cheese and fresh strawberries and pineapple. Then, we enjoyed eating our meal with our hosts. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the rabbit was. You know the old joke about rabbit tasting like chicken? Our braised rabbit at Bella Baita tasted much better than chicken. Marla printed out the recipes for us so we can try them at home. We paid 90 euros (45 euros apiece) for the cooking seminar-- again, money well spent.

    Other things we did

    Bella Baita is in a very beautiful and unspoiled part of Italy. It's about a 90 minute drive from the French border, so we took a drive to Briancon, France and had lunch, passing through Sestriere, Italy on the way. Sestriere is where the 2006 Winter Olympic village is located and the place where many of the ski events were held. The scenery in this part of Italy is amazing and again, not teeming with tourists.

    We also visited Turin and checked out a great Italian gourmet store called Eataly, where we loaded up on pasta, risotto, cheese, chocolate, and some special canned tuna. Afterwards, we strolled through Turin's old town until we got rained on by a surprise storm. For dinner, we stopped at Perbacco, a wonderful new restaurant/wine bar in Pinerolo, and enjoyed a very nice meal with wine for only 54 euros.

    Things to know about Bella Baita...

    As much as I enjoyed my stay at Bella Baita, there are a few things I think prospective visitors should know before they book a stay there.

    * It's best to have a car. Public transportation is available to Pinasca, but it won't get you up the mountain! Marla and Fabrizio will pick you up on your arrival and drop you off when it's time to go, but if you want to go into town during your stay, you might have a problem finding transportation.

    * A GPS will help you find the B&B, but bear in mind that many GPS systems give incorrect directions for the last three miles. Our GPS lost the signal once we got close. Take heed of the directions posted on Bella Baita's Web site and the signs posted on the road if you're planning on driving.

    * There is a restaurant located next to the B&B which offers excellent food and good service, but it's not open every day. Likewise, grocery stores, laundromats, and gas are also located at the bottom of the mountain. That's another reason why you might want to have a car available.

    * The area around Bella Baita offers great opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, and biking, especially if you're in good shape! Mushroom hunting and wildflower picking are also popular pursuits. But it does get cool on the mountain, so make sure you bring some warm clothes and sturdy shoes.

    * We found Bella Baita's accommodations to be very comfortable and affordable-- especially for Europe-- but they are not necessarily luxury accommodations by American standards. Be sure to bring your own shampoo and don't expect a big screen TV or a jacuzzi (what do you want for 50 euros a night?)!

    * Bring your laptop computer. Bella Baita offers free wireless Internet.

    * Bring cash. Bella Baita does not accept credit cards.

    Overall...

    I would not hesitate to recommend Bella Baita to anyone looking for a peaceful, homey, and affordable vacation spot. We found Marla and Fabrizio to be wonderful hosts who went the extra mile to help us have a good time. I had originally intended to book three nights at Bella Baita, but ended up going with four. I'm so glad I did that because our time in Pinasca was the highlight of our trip. We left Bella Baita feeling like we had gotten a slice of Italy that we never could have gotten had we stayed in a hotel. Needless to say, Bella Baita gets five stars from me!

    Bella Baita's Web site: www.bellabaita.com

    Wednesday, April 2, 2014

    Repost of Rome Cabs review… and need a ride in Athens?

    I'm reposting these reviews because I notice people are often wondering about private taxi services in Rome and Athens…  Both of these services are excellent and get my whole-hearted endorsement!  Since Epinions is going away, I wanted to make sure I saved these reviews.

    Need a ride in Rome?

     May 24, 2013 (Updated May 24, 2013) 
    Review by    is a Top Reviewer on Epinions in Hotels & Travel
    Rated a Very Helpful Review
    • User Rating:Excellent

    • How informative was your tour? 
    • Transportation quality: 
    • Knowledge of tour guide(s): 
    • How strenuous was your tour? 

    Pros:Excellent drivers.  Safe, prompt, courteous.

    Cons:You have to pay in cash.  Pricey, but worth it.

    The Bottom Line:RomeCabs will get you where you're going in style and comfort.

    My husband Bill and I needed a ride from our Roman hotel room to Civitavecchia, the pier where we would be catching our cruise on SeaDream I.  I frequent Cruise Critic and, in particular, the messageboard for SeaDream I cruisers.  When I asked about the best way to get to the ship, several regular posters recommended RomeCabs.  Indeed, RomeCabs is currently ranked #1 of 449 activities in Rome.

    Not just a taxi service...

    We used RomeCabs just to get to the pier, but RomeCabs can also arrange tours with a driver and a tour guide.  Checking their Web site, I see that they have a wide variety of tours available to places in and around Rome and Tuscany, as well as along the western coastline.  Looking back on our two nights in Rome, I kind of wonder if maybe we should have booked a tour with RomeCabs.  We tend to be lazy about getting out and seeing things.

    Besides tours and transfers, RomeCabs also offers different levels of service.  For instance, if you book a VIP transfer from the Rome airport, you will get a mini-tour of Rome.  Your driver will speak English and can tell you historical facts about the best known monuments of Rome.  If you don't book a VIP transfer, you will still have an excellent driver, but he may not speak English.

    BookingRomeCabs has a handy form on their Web site.  You choose your date of departure, destination, number of people, and time of service.    When you enter that information, you're given a quote of how much it will cost.  The prices include Italy's VAT and toll charges.  Our trip from the Relais Orso hotel to Civitavecchia cost 130 euros, which was to be paid in cash the day of service.  Once I booked, I got a confirmation email.  The day before the service, I got a reminder email to let them know if our plans had changed.

    Our experience

    I booked our service for 1:00pm on May 11th.  Our driver, Marco, showed up a little early and easily spotted us.  I guess it was because we looked like we were expecting him.  Marco drove a small Mercedes van, which was very clean and tidy, and he spoke excellent English.  As he drove us out of Rome, he was careful to point out some of the sights.  He also mentioned his company's high ratings on TripAdvisor, which I told him I had already noticed.

    RomeCabs' drivers have a special permit, which allows them to drive right up to the ships in Civitavecchia.  That's an advantage over regular cabs, which have to drop you off outside the gate.  Marco drove us right to the tent where SeaDream was set up.  He helped us with our bags and it was literally minutes later that we were on the ship.  Bill tipped him well, which I'm sure he appreciated.

    Overall

    We had an excellent experience with RomeCabs and wouldn't hesitate to book with them again.   Marco was prompt, courteous, safe, and obviously knows Rome very well.  His vehicle was clean and pleasant and it was very convenient to be driven right up to the ship, rather than having to schlep our bags.  Yes, the service is pricey, but I thought it was worth every euro.  If you need a ride in Rome, I highly recommend checking out RomeCabs.

    For more information: www.romecabs.com

    Recommend this product? Yes

    Best Suited For: Couples
    Tour length: One Hour
    Tour type: Individual

    Very reliable taxi service in Athens...

     May 25, 2013
    Review by    is a Top Reviewer on Epinions in Hotels & Travel
    Rated a Very Helpful Review
    • User Rating:Excellent

    • Knowledge of tour guide(s): 
    • Transportation quality: 

    Pros:Prompt, professional, clean and safe cabs.  You can pre-pay online.

    Cons:None.

    The Bottom Line:StarGroup Taxi Services is excellent and priced very reasonably.  I wholeheartedly recommend them if you need transportation in Athens.

    A friend of mine who had sailed on SeaDream I with me in November 2011 tipped me off to StarGroup Taxi Services when I told him I needed to find transportation from the pier to our hotel in Athens and to the Athens airport.  He said StarGroup Taxi Sevices was very reliable and reasonably priced.  Having used their services twice in the last week, I have to agree with my cruising friend.

    Booking


    Booking was no problem at all.  StarGroup Taxi Services has a Web site which lists all its services and prices.  I needed a taxi to take me and my husband Bill from the Piraeus Port last Saturday and a taxi to get us from our hotel to the airport.  StarGroup Taxi Services charges  25 euros to get from the port to any Athens hotel.  They charge 50 euros to get from Athens to the airport.  I requested both transfers online and paid for them via PayPal, then got my husband to print out the vouchers.  The total cost for both trips was a little over $100, which was a lot less than what SeaDream was charging people who booked through them.

    Our experiences in the cab(s)


    We had two different drivers.  Both spoke excellent English and seemed very proud of their city.  One driver made a point of telling us that Athens is very safe, though we needed to watch out for the Romanian street people who try to scam tourists.  Both drivers pointed out places of interest and told us a little about Athens.  Both were on time and courteous. And both times, the yellow Mercedes cabs they drove were spotlessly clean, well-maintained, and safe.  Bill tipped generously and it appeared that both drivers were pleasantly surprised; they didn't seem to be expecting a gratuity.

    We did not use StarGroup Taxi Services for tours, but if we ever go back to Athens and have a couple of days to kill, I would not hesitate to hire them for that purpose.  They had reasonable prices and were set up to accept prepayment, plus they were very prompt and professional.  A number of different tours are available, including ones that are designed for kids.

    Overall

    If you need a taxi service in Athens, I would definitely recommend StarGroup Taxi Services.  They are very good at what they do and they won't rip you off.

    For more information:  http://www.stargroup.gr/index.html

    Recommend this product? Yes

    Best Suited For: Couples
    Tour type: Individual

    My review of Andrew McCarthy's The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest For the Courage to Settle Down...

    I just finished Andrew McCarthy's book, The Longest Way Home.  I found it a couple of years ago after reading a CNN article about actor Andrew McCarthy and his blossoming career as a travel writer.  Being a child of the 70s and 80s, I grew up watching McCarthy on the silver screen.  While he's always struck me as kind of cute, he also annoyed me to some extent.  I wouldn't say he was my favorite member of the so-called "Brat Pack"of the 80s.

    Who knew he would one day enjoy a successful career at National Geographic Traveler?  McCarthy is still involved in the entertainment business, but now he also travels and writes for a living.  When I read about his burgeoning new career, I decided I wanted to read his book.  I downloaded it in 2012, but I've only just now read it.  I just couldn't bring myself to start reading it.  But then, once I started reading it, I was very pleasantly surprised.

    The Longest Way Home is an interesting look at Andrew McCarthy's life.  Yes, he includes some discussion of his early years and his acting career, but this book is not about what Andrew McCarthy was first famous for doing.  The discussion about his acting career is really more to explain how it is that he became a travel writer.  He also writes about his relationship with his second wife, a charming Irish woman he refers to as "D".  Later, he identifies her as Delores.  "D" is the mother of McCarthy's second child, a girl.  His ex-wife is the mother of his son.  Both children figure prominently within McCarthy's book and, I'm happy to report, it seems like everybody gets along reasonably well.

    The rest of the book is about Andrew McCarthy's exotic travels.  He writes of taking a cruise on the Amazon on a ship that I suspect is part of Aqua Expeditions, a very cool looking cruise line that offers cruises on the Amazon and Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Mekong.  I'm not totally sure, since McCarthy isn't so much about touting specific cruise lines as he is about writing about his experiences.  He includes anecdotes about visiting Vienna, Baltimore, Costa Rica, Tanzania, and  Patagonia.  He usually travels alone, with people who don't know who he is/was...

    In another chapter, he writes about hiking Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, getting all the way to the summit.  I was pretty riveted by his story.  He describes others who happened to be on the trip with him in colorful detail; I particularly enjoyed his comments about the cranky tour guide, who was constantly insisting that everyone use a pulse oximeter to make sure no one's blood oxygen levels got too low.  He also writes about his frustration when one of the people in the group decided he wanted to camp at the frigid summit of the mountain.  You would think he would have been outvoted, but one of the rules followed by the tour guide is that if one person wants to stay, everyone has to stay.  So there McCarthy was, on the top of a huge mountain at about 15000 feet… it was freezing and there was little oxygen.  He had a headache, a tight chest, and a correspondingly nasty disposition.

    In the midst of all this travel, McCarthy and "D" are trying to plan their wedding in Dublin, Ireland, which is apparently not as simple as one might think.  A series of mishaps and oversights conspire to put off the big day.  Some of them are due to McCarthy's fear of commitment and some are due to plain bad luck.

    Anyway, I did enjoy the book and it really made me look at Andrew McCarthy in a different light.  The Longest Way Home is more than just a travel memoir; it's a fascinating book about life.  And now, having read it, I want to go to the Amazon… and read more of McCarthy's writings about his travels.