This is a blog about our holiday to Europe in 2014. We started off our travels in Venice, where we began a cruise of the Adriatic and Aegean seas, ending in Rome. We then travelled from Rome to the Netherlands by rail, stopping in various places along the way. We are: Me - Gill, my husband - Grant, my daughter - Paula; my father - Neil and his partner - Astrid. We are South Africans, from the lovely province of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Our friends Lisa and Trevor joined us from the UK for the cruise portion of our holiday.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nuts and Bolts

For my own personal record, and also in case anyone wants information on which hotels, tour-operators etc we used, below is a list of the "nuts and bolts" of our holiday.


I booked our flights through Kathy Cowie of Carlson Wagonlit (she's in their Ballito office) - she was lovely to deal with, highly recommended. We flew Emirates and they were good as usual.


Our transfers were arranged through our hotel. I highly recommend arriving by water taxi if at all possible, it is SO much less schlep than dragging suitcases over the hundreds of bridges that are scattered around Venice.

Our hotel: The Hotel Becher. We thoroughly enjoyed staying in this hotel. The location couldn't be more perfect, so close to St Mark's Square and everything within easy walking distance. The hotel is not overly fancy, but is charming in a very Venetian way and the staff were lovely and friendly. We had booked a triple room and it turned out that Paula had her own room, with an en-suite bathroom, adjoining ours, which was a very pleasant surprise.  Paula left her ipad at the hotel by mistake (yeah... not her brightest moment!) and they very kindly arranged for it to be couriered to our Rome hotel.  Superb service.

Our tour to the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello was booked through It was not a private tour, but I would recommend it as an easy and cost-effective way to see the islands.


Our cruise was on-board the Celebrity Equinox. I loved cruising with Celebrity. Having cruised with Royal Caribbean (Celebrity's sister company) before, I would say the two are fairly similar. Royal Caribbean gets my vote for the quality of their shows (although the Cirque de Soleil type show on Celebrity was outstanding) as far as food goes, I would say Celebrity is slightly better, friendliness of staff I would say was better on Celebrity, our stateroom seemed bigger on Celebrity. Celebrity seems to be targeted more at a slightly more mature demographic, while RCCL seems to target families with younger children.

Our ship was the Equinox and I thought it was lovely.


We didn't use a tour operator in Dubrovnik. It was very simple to catch a taxi at the port (the taxis lined up right at the exit) and the taxi operators were very keen to offer a "panoramic tour" before dropping one off at the Pile Gate (sort of the "main entrance" to Dubrovnik old town). We chose not to do the panoramic tour as the weather was grotty.

Tom's Port Guides are an invaluable resource when planning a cruise and he has one on Dubrovnik.


We arranged our boat trip with Nautilus Daily Cruises. On a scale of 1 to 10 this shore excursion gets a 10! We had the best day EVER with Iakis. Highly, highly recommended.


We had a private tour with George of Taxi Katakolon. George was a pleasure to deal with and was very efficient, pleasant and helpful, he was a fantastic driver and even went so far as to offer free wi-fi in his vehicles.


We spent a wonderful day with Patricia of OceanWave Tours. Patricia was a lovely guide, so friendly, warm and knowledgeable. Highly recommended.


We had a private tour with HelloEphesus tours. I found HelloEphesus to be a fantastic company to deal with - very organised. Our guide, Susanna, was absolutely lovely and knowledgeable and the restaurant they took us to for lunch was very, very good.


We did two tours in Istanbul, but I didn't organise either of them - the first was organised through a lady on the CruiseCritic group for our cruise and the other was a Celebrity shore excursion. Both were very enjoyable.


We did our own thing in Mykonos, using information from Tom's Port Guides (see link to the right) Mykonos is VERY simple to do on your own, I didn't feel a tour was necessary.


We did a private tour through Private Greece Tours. Nikos was a pleasure to deal with, so organised and quick to answer emails. Our guide, Tarsus, was delightful. Highly recommended.


I organised our tour through Amy Pace. I found Amy very pleasant to deal with. She is clearly passionate about her country and very knowledgeable. I have no hesitation in recommending her.


We did a private tour with RomeinLimo. Rome in Limo are always fantastic to deal with, very professional and efficient. Our guide, Luca, was lovely and we spent a wonderful day with him. Highly recommended.


We did a private tour with RomeinLimo. As mentioned above, they are brilliant. Our guide, Stefano, was so sweet and we had a lovely day touring the Amalfi coast. The roads in that area are pretty terrifying, but Stefano put us completely at ease.


We did a transfer and tour in one - again we used Rome in Limo and their service was brilliant.

Our hotel in Rome was the Relais Giulia. I highly recommend this hotel. It is a lovely, intimate little hotel, perfectly located for sight-seeing on the ancient Via Giulia. Lovely rooms, atmospheric hotel, very good service.

Transport in Rome - we used the City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off bus. They were okaaaay.

Food tour - We did an Eating Italy food tour. Highly, highly recommended, we LOVED it.


For our transfers I used Autoservizi Davide Guerrera- professional, great drivers and vehicles, punctual - highly recommended.

Our hotel was the Hotel Metropole Bellagio. This hotel is not new and flashy, but rather an "old dame". The location is absolutely brilliant. If at all possible, reserve the rooms with terraces... to laze on your terrace overlooking the lake is amazing. The rooms are nice, the bathrooms are good and the breakfast was a nice continental buffet. I would certainly pick this hotel if I was ever fortunate enough to visit Bellagio again.

Our tour on the lake was with Bellagio Water Taxis, very friendly, nice people, great tour.


We used the City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off bus to get around Milan. They were okaaaay.


Our hotel was the Hotel Bernina. We were given free upgrades, the rooms were lovely.

Bernina Express: We booked our tickets for this awesome rail journey through the Rhaetian Railway


We stayed in the Hotel Alexander. I am in two minds about this hotel. The reception is quite off-putting, but the rooms were nice and the bathrooms were fine. The location is in Old Town which is quite fun, lots of pubs, beer halls, nice restaurants, shops. It's just a short walk from the train station. BUT the cost of this hotel was a LOT more than the other hotels we stayed in and although not bad, I think it was probably the least pleasant hotel we stayed in - that could just be that Zurich is expensive though.

Our tour of Zurich was with Best of Switzerland tours


We had arranged a transfer with MyDriver but unfortunately they did not arrive as arranged, so we caught a taxi. Thumbs down to MyDriver!

We stayed in the Hotel Torbrau - it was ideally located within walking distance to the Marienplatz. The hotel was upmarket, lovely rooms, breakfast room etc. Highly recommended.


Our transfers and tours were all arranged through Prague Experience. Everything ran according to plan and they were a pleasure to deal with.

Our hotel in Prague was Hotel16. A small, boutique hotel. Their staff were the friendliest I have ever come across in any hotel! The rooms were lovely - in fact, in the triple room we booked, Paula had her own little room leading off ours. The location is an easy walk from Wenceslas Square. Highly recommended.


Our hotel was the lovely Hotel Estherea. A beautiful hotel on the Singel canal, just a short walk from all the attractions in Amsterdam. The rooms were lovely.

Our canal bus tickets and the tickets to the Heineken Experience and the Ice Bar were bought through the Canal Co.

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