An American Tourist’s Guide to Vacationing in Italy

An American Tourist’s Guide to Vacationing in Italy

Italy - coastal townPeople often ask me, “Tim, how do you know so much about other countries?” It’s true. I consider myself an authority on world geography. For example, did you know that Africa is not actually a country? Don’t worry. Donald Trump didn’t know either – and soon he’ll be our overlord, er, I mean, president.

I don’t like to brag, but I know many important things about the world’s nations, primarily from consistently losing in the board game RISK during college. (I always went for Australia. Bad strategy.) So this week, let’s discuss what you need to know about what is arguably the most popular vacation destination for Americans – that is, if you don’t count the country of North America. I am, of course, talking about Italy.

Let’s face it. You’re way too busy binge-watching Game of Thrones to read Rick Steves’ 874-page guide book on Italy that your wife asked you to read. So, I have done the work for you by highlighting everything you need to know. Follow my advice to the letter and you’ll have a wonderful time – and probably won’t get arrested. On a completely unrelated topic, Italian policemen have no sense of humor. This I discovered when I offered one 5,000 liras to try out his riot gear and Taser. [Travel Tip: When attempting to bribe a “poliziotto” do NOT offer liras. Seems they’re not appreciated ever since Italy transitioned over to the euro.]

History: Italy is an extremely old country. I mean seriously old. It’s amazing it can still stand after all these centuries. If Italy were a pet, it would have been put down decades ago. But it has an amazing history that dates back to well before the American Civil War. Its history can be divided into four periods:

The Roman Empire: The country was ruled by emperors called Caesars, who loved salad (in fact, a staple of every household was the Caesar salad). They wore amusing wreaths on their heads and long, flowing togas – just like the ones worn in the acclaimed film Animal House. They built elaborate marble temples to a bunch of pagan gods they stole from Greece without paying for them. And if you did not believe in these gods, you’d be executed. Continue reading “An American Tourist’s Guide to Vacationing in Italy” »

A Survival Guide for coping with air travel

A Survival Guide for coping with air travel

Airline travel - delaysWhen Orville Wright first took flight over the beaches of Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903, he couldn’t have imagined that a century later, millions of people the world over would be getting into shouting matches with ticket agents, security screeners and baggage handlers over the nearly universal frustration caused by his invention. Thanks for the 12-inch gash in the side of my Louis Vuitton suitcase, Orville.

Singapore, New Delhi, and Buenos Aires are just a few of the famous world cities I will probably never get to visit because I refuse to put up with the headaches required to fly there. Also because, like most Americans, I’m not sure exactly where those cities are on a map. (I think New Delhi might be in Belgium.)

But sometimes air travel is unavoidable. If you simply must book a flight, here are a few helpful tips to reduce your stress level. These just might help you resist your urge to strangle the Delta Airlines ticket agent in Concourse C.

Booking your flight – Choosing the right airline 

The first rule of air travel is simple: Don’t fly if you can possibly avoid it. But if you absolutely must fly, for example, to attend a family reunion, I recommend Qantas, the official airline of Australia. The last time Qantas had a fatality was in 1951. Of course, if your family reunion is in say, Chicago, you may need to make a couple connections through Sydney, Tokyo and New York. But you will arrive there safely, albeit two days later than the rest of your family, who opted for the nonstop on United.

Continue reading “A Survival Guide for coping with air travel” »

My harrowing Italian adventure

My harrowing Italian adventure

Italy vacation - Tim and MicheleI just returned from a two-week vacation to Italy, and I have to tell you, it was a nightmare. The first thing I did when our plane touched down in Seattle was to kiss the tarmac. The second thing I did was to find a restroom to wash my mouth. That tarmac was disgusting.

A few months ago, my wife convinced me to go on a European vacation. So we took a two-week tour of Southern Italy. The brochures make it look charming and relaxing: Rome for three nights, followed by visits to quaint mountainside villages along Italy’s rugged coast. Even a boat ride to the fabled Isle of Capri. But the entire experience was anything but tranquil.

We went on an organized tour with 15 other very nice people, who were fairly willing to make limited eye contact with me, despite the fact they found out I was a humor writer. But the moment we arrived in Rome, I knew that I was in for a bumpy ride. Turns out the taxis in Rome have really bad suspensions.

Before the trip I watched several films with notable actors of Italian heritage: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, even Sylvester Stallone. But it was no use. I still could not understand a word of Italian – except “Yo, Adrian”, which, strangely, not one Italian uttered. So I knew I would have to improvise in Italy. Upon our arrival at our first hotel, I attempted to communicate with the hotel clerk by speaking English but using my best Italian accent – which unfortunately sounds eerily close to my best Norwegian accent. It was no use. He couldn’t understand a word I was saying. I quickly discovered that Italians have a different word from ours for just about everything.

Continue reading “My harrowing Italian adventure” »

Niagara Falls’ Latest Thrill Ride – The Quality Hotel and Suites

Niagara Falls’ Latest Thrill Ride – The Quality Hotel and Suites

At the Quality Hotel and Suites, Niagara Falls, NY, the hotel even provided us with pets to keep us company – at no extra charge. Meet Buster. Of the hundreds of ants in our hotel bedroom, this guy was my favorite.

At the Quality Hotel and Suites, Niagara Falls, NY, the hotel even provided us with pets to keep us company – at no extra charge. Meet Buster. Of the hundreds of ants in our hotel bedroom, this guy was my favorite.

Recently, my daughter Rachel and I took a vacation to visit friends and family in the Eastern USA. As part of our holiday adventure, we spent a night in world-famous Niagara Falls, NY. This short visit was a high point of our vacation – except for one small disappointment – our accommodations at the Quality Hotel and Suites, Niagara Falls, NY. (Yes, it’s a real hotel.)

If you would like a relaxing, restful, clean hotel room for an evening, might I propose an alternate place of lodging? But if unexpected surprises are what you look for in your vacation destination, then the Quality Hotel and Suites, Niagara Falls, NY may be just the thrill ride for you.

Below is a copy of my actual thank-you letter to the hotel after our recent stay. (Disclaimer: the photos below are not actual photos from the Quality Hotel and Suites, Niagara Falls, NY and were not included in the letter I sent. I include them here to give you a sense of the adventure we experienced. – tj)

July 5th,

To the staff and management of the Quality Hotel and Suites, Niagara Falls, NY

I just had to write to thank you and your staff for a most memorable stay last week at your hotel. It surely is one that neither my daughter nor I will ever forget. Rest assured, we will be telling all our friends about our unforgettable one-night stay at the Quality Hotel and Suites, Niagara Falls, NY.

It is so hard to pick my favorite memory from our short stay. There were so many. Perhaps it was when we first entered our hotel room, having come out of the oppressive heat and humidity of a 95-degree July afternoon. As we entered our room, we were not jolted by the typical arctic cold blast of air conditioning you find in most mid-priced hotels.  Instead, your fine hotel helped ease our transition from the heat of the outdoors with a gentle transitional room temperature of 92. After awhile, when the air conditioning unit did not seem to moderate the Amazon Rain Forest climate conditions of our room, I got just the slightest bit uncomfortable, as rivers of sweat flowed off my body and converged into a small pond on the carpet. So I approached your front desk person, Brad, about the situation.

Without even needing to personally inspect the air conditioning unit, Brad intuitively surmised that the cause of the lack of apparent cooling in our room was not a defective air conditioning unit at all but rather an accumulation of the collective body heat radiating from me and my daughter, having been outdoors in the intense heat. Brad surely must have been right. The sweat pouring down my brow must have been the result of my own body heat and could not possibly be the result of a completely malfunctioning, defective air conditioning unit. Besides, I’ve read that sweat is the human body’s natural air conditioning system. Your hotel was no doubt just trying to be eco-friendly. Thank you for caring about our planet like that. Sorry about the sweat stains on your carpet. Please bill me for any cleaning expense.

The Quality Hotel and Suites, Niagara Falls, NY billed itself as having a view of the world-famous Niagara Falls. So, I was a little nervous about what the view from our room might actually be. Might my precious daughter lean a little too far out the window and fall to her death over the falls? Well, I am happy to report that this concern quickly evaporated when we went to open up the blinds of our hotel room window. Instead of a view of the falls, I was relieved to see a view of a Motel 6 across the street, safely obscuring any possible view of the falls. I immediately felt 100% safer. Turns out it was just a brisk 20-minute walk through the 95-degree heat, to get to the Falls. Thanks for letting me get a much needed aerobic workout.

Another thing I appreciated about our stay at the Quality Hotel and Suites, Niagara Falls, NY was your “pet-friendly” policy. Of course, when I read about that on your web site, I thought it referred to guests who might want to bring their own pets. But I now understand that the Quality Hotel and Suites, Niagara Falls, NY goes the extra mile by providing its guests with pets from the hotel at no extra charge. Imagine my surprise when I felt one of your little pets – a half-inch long black ant – crawling up my back in my bed. I have to admit, at first I was somewhat startled. But after awhile he kind of tickled.

Apparently, we hit the “pet-friendly” jackpot because this little fella must have invited 40 or 50 of his closest friends to join the party – on the bathroom floor, the walls of our room – and just for good measure, my daughter’s pillow. I will never forget the look of stunned surprise on her face as she opened her eyes the next morning to see two black ants staring back at her from point blank range. The screams of terror were over in an instant. The eventual laughter she will experience when retelling this story years from now will last a lifetime.

I called down to the front desk to ask about changing rooms. I called five times over the course of 90 minutes. I was never able to get a hold of a live person. I can only conclude the reason no one ever answered at the front desk was because Brad was out and about helping other guests feel every bit as welcome as we were feeling, wearing his “I our guests” button.

Perhaps in part because of the company I was keeping with my little black ant bed mates, I did not sleep quite as well as I might have otherwise. But that’s totally fine. Honest. I’m told most adults don’t really need more than 3 hours’ sleep a night anyway – unless they want to be coherent the following day. Coherence is overrated anyway. When I placed my call the night before, requesting a 6am wake-up call, your morning staff must have anticipated my impending lack of sleep. They were gracious enough not to disturb my morning slumber, wisely choosing instead not to give me the requested wake-up call. Thank you for your thoughtful decision to let me and the ants sleep in a bit longer.

Whether it was the Cable TV that kept losing its signal or the empty roll of toilet paper that came with our bathroom or the advertised “whirlpool bathtub in every room” that came equipped with everything but a functioning whirlpool, your capable staff made sure our stay was comfortable. Compared to sleeping in a mosquito-infested, mildewed tent in the Everglades in August, our room felt palatial. The only thing I might have suggested to go along with the whirlpool bath tub besides the missing whirlpool might be a clean shower curtain … Oh, and perhaps something vaguely resembling water pressure …. Oh, and perhaps a tad fewer ants in the tub.

Finally, thanks for helping me “shut down” from work mode. This was, after all, my vacation. Noticing your advertisement for “Free Internet in every room”, I tried to log onto the Internet to check my work email. But your hotel wisely knew that what I really needed was to get unplugged, and thoughtfully made sure your hotel’s Internet access was “down for repairs” during our stay. God bless you for keeping me focused on having fun.

In looking back at my time at your lovely hotel, my only regret is that I wasted so much time at the Falls when I could have been enjoying the comforts and convenience of your establishment. The thunderous crashing torrents of the icy blue water of the world famous falls could not possibly compare to the green bubbly water of your hotel swimming pool’s hot tub – had it not been “closed for maintenance” during our visit, that is.

I can certainly understand why the Quality Hotel and Suites, Niagara Falls, NY prides itself on providing first class service second to none – unless of course you include any European youth hostel I have ever stayed at – including the one in Venice, Italy with the sign at the front desk that read “No masturbating in your room”.

It’s also clear that the Quality Hotel and Suites, Niagara Falls, NY spared no expense (other than for normal maintenance and repairs) to make me feel like a king! Where did I leave my crown and scepter? I am confident your hotel would pass almost any third world nation’s health inspection (with a bribe), with only a smattering of minor sanitation code violations.

I felt a tug in my heart as we checked out of the Quality Hotel and Suites, Niagara Falls, NY. I wanted to stay longer. When checking out, I shared some of the highlights of our stay with Heather, the morning front desk person. I told her about the cozy, warm 92-degree room temperature in our room, the 40 or more surprise house guests, the lovely view of the hotel dumpster, and the out-of-order vending machine on our floor. I started to tear up, thinking about all the wonderful memories from our short visit. I will never forget Heather’s caring, compassionate words when I finished sharing my story. She looked at me, smiled tenderly and said, “Your total comes to $167.89. I see there were no additional room charges. Will that be Visa or MasterCard?” Heather, thank you for listening.  You had me at “Your total comes to $167.89.”

Oh, just one more thing. Turns out, unbeknownst to me, a few of your little black ant hotel pets hopped in my suitcase and made the journey home with me – a fitting reminder of our time at your hotel.  Let me know if you’d like me to return the ants to you. But I have to tell you, I’m starting to get attached to the little fellas.

PS: I will be sharing a copy of this letter at my blog site in the hopes that the thousands of people who read my weekly blog might pass along this letter about my wonderful experience at the Quality Hotel and Suites, Niagara Falls, NY to others who might be planning to visit your fair city. I would hate for anyone to misinterpret this heartfelt letter and come away with the errant impression that my stay at your fine hotel was anything less than memorable. Please give my best to Brad and Heather.

With fond memories and deep appreciation,

Tim Jones

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2010 – 2011