Old School Souvenir Shopping in Italy – Disco Swimsuits, Man Purses and Johnny Carson Jackets

We went to Italy last summer and all I have to show for it is a leather man purse … Oh yeah, and some Disco-era swim trunks as well as a jacket that either Johnny Carson or Rodney Dangerfield would have been proud to wear in their heydays.

Some of my best souvenir finds arise from the unexpected. For example, after checking into the Hotel Marincanto, our beautiful lodgings in Positano, my Partner F and I decided to hit the streets of this gorgeous seaside town in order to get our bearings.  A few steps away from the hotel, we spotted the following two gentlemen in a store window:

Maria Lampo Positano Mannequins in the Window

Maria Lampo is the owner of the shop and a longstanding fixture on the Positano resort apparel scene. I’d describe her design style as bold, colorful and harking back to a peasant influenced, Disco-era aesthetic.  In my opinion, the late 1970s will NEVER go out to style.

As we browsed the racks of colorful clothing we noticed framed photos on the walls of the various celebrities who have made their way to this little boutique. In my halting Italian, I asked one of the salespeople whether they carried a particular style of paisley-patterned “disco swimsuit” in a men’s husky size. Over the course of our conversation I commented on the familiar faces on the wall posing with the proprietor.  Suddenly, out of the corner of the room I hear a loud and cheery voice exclaim: I AM MARIA!!!

Maria Lampo Positano with Celebrities

Maria graciously let us take a picture with her and we followed in the footsteps of such stars as Dustin Hoffman, Billy Zane and Colin Farrell. I don’t think we’ll make it on the store’s “celebrity wall.”  However, we did receive a lovely red handkerchief as a complimentary parting gift from this very sweet woman.

Maria Lampo
Via Pasitea, 12/14/16
Website:  www.marialampo.it
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Maria-Lampo/104880459665
Telephone: 089 875021

A few days later, we left the Amalfi Coast and took the high-speed train from Naples to Florence. Florence is one of our favorite destinations in the world.  Once we enjoyed the city’s marvelous culture, food, and views, our attention turned towards SHOPPING.

We spent a long morning wandering around Florence’s San Lorenzo Market.  After a few hours of exploring the multiple stalls, we were about to reach our “shopping saturation point” when we made one last stop at a vendor of high quality leather goods. Adriano Pelletteria’s shop was located right behind the stall and we stepped inside.

I don’t know. Maybe it was the thrill of being surrounded by such beautifully crafted leather goods. Alternatively, it could have been the heat of the day that clouded our judgment.  However, after a few minutes in the store the concept of owning a “man purse” suddenly seemed very logical.

Pelletteria Adriano Leather Florence Shopping for Man Purses

After all, it was big enough to carry our iPhones, guidebooks and spare change so the bag was PRACTICAL, wasn’t it?  Plus, there were all those Italian, French and Spanish guys walking around and THEY looked perfectly naturally sporting the bags.  I guess the only question that remained was “Who wore it best?”  (note: Please be gentle with your comments folks!).

Adriano Pelletaria
Stand n. 83 – Via dell’Ariento, 43
Website: www.pelletteriadriano.it
Telephone: 055 281654

Finally, we were on our way to visit Santa Croce when all of a sudden another bright and sparkly item distracted us. Well, actually in the case it was a plaid jacket that caught my Partner F’s attention. We just had to pop into this clothing store for a few minutes …

Barnaba Clothing Store Florence Exterior

Barnaba carries a full line of tailored men’s and women’s apparel (much of it with an English influence). It seems like it had been a slow shopping day prior to our arrival.  Once the Americans gushing over “vintage this and vintage that” walked in, the two women working in the shop that day sprung into action and started bringing out various for items for us to look over …

Barnaba Clothing Store Florence Ties on Display

Of course, our main reason for being there were those plaid jackets that we just had to have …

Barnaba Clothing Store Our Purchases

Via Martiri del Popolo, 47-55r
Telephone: 055 240707

I’ll be the first to admit that when on holiday I’ve been known to suspend any normal sensibilities regarding practicality or taste when I’m in a souvenir-shopping mode.  Therefore, I’ll bet you’re wondering just how many of our Italian purchases made it out onto the streets of our hometown. Well I did hang out at the pool in my disco swimsuit … but with a towel strategically draped over me most of the time.  Oh, and sadly the man purse is still enjoying a restful slumber in the pretty felt bag it came in.  However, as for that plaid green jacket …


… I come up with any excuse possible to wear it!

Yes, we do tend to “over buy” when we go away on vacation.  However, in addition to coming home with overstuffed suitcases that bump up against most airlines’ allotted weight limits, we also return with some fun stories about how we came across those particular souvenirs as well.

How about you? Do you have any “souvenir stories” to tell? I’d love to hear them!

Redeeming Frequent Flyer Miles – Mixing and Matching Awards to get us Back to Bangkok

Earlier this year I was going through a period of travel withdrawal. I was sitting in our condo reminiscing about our great summer trip to Italy and London.

Positano Fruit Stand Lemons

Our new jobs on the Amalfi Coast

Posing with Londi Character on Thames South Bank Centre London

New Friend in London

In addition, we just returned from spending our New Year Holiday in Amsterdam and Paris …

Amsterdam Canal and Houseboats December 2013

Eiffel Tower Paris January 2014

… and I realized we had no travel plans on the horizon. It was time to start planning our next trip!

My Partner F and I funded both of those journeys largely through the redemption of our household stock of miles and points – our Points Kitty.  In fact, it’s through Pointing that we’ve been able to afford to treat ourselves during the limited amount of vacation time that we both have.  Since, I booked those trips about ten months earlier, through a strategic use of credit cards for our daily spending, we were able to rebuild a pretty healthy miles and points balance.

However, my diversification strategy meant that my miles and points were spread out across various accounts. How, then, do you craft an itinerary that gets you where you want to go ? The key to mixing and matching is through the use of two features of many frequent flyer programs: One-Way Awards and Airline Alliances.

For example, most of the major airlines allow you to redeem one-way rewards for half the cost of a round-trip award.  There are, however, notable exceptions (e.g., US Airways charges you the round-trip mileage price for one-way awards) so it’s important that you check the specific rules for the airline on which you’re redeeming your frequent flyer miles.

In addition, you should realize that you don’t have to redeem the miles on the airline you usually fly.  The major legacy U.S. carriers each belong to one of the three major airline alliances. Specifically, United is aligned with Star Alliance, Delta with SkyTeam and American with OneWorld.  What this means is that passengers can earn as well redeem miles with any of the members of your “home” airline’s alliance partners.  In addition, the upcoming merger of American and US Airways also creates additional opportunities for redeeming awards with the OneWorld alliance.

So where do we go from here? Well, having survived the Midwest Polar Vortex and the transformation of my hometown into Chi-beria, I knew that I wanted to go someplace warm for our next winter holiday.

Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort Infinity Pool

Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort

In addition, with United’s major devaluation earlier in the year, I knew I wanted to burn up the remaining stock of MileagePlus miles on which I was sitting before the new award chart kicked in. As I geeked around on United’s website running through various potential itineraries, I discovered availability for two First Class award seats from Chicago to Bangkok for the late Winter dates I was seeking.

Wat Arun Bangkok Sitting on the temple steps

Wat Arun  – Temple of Dawn Bangkok

Although we’ll be flying United on the initial leg of the trip, the airline’s Star Alliance affiliation enabled me to book space for the next segment on Thai Airway’s new Airbus A380 super jumbo jet (something very important for an aviation geek like me!). One of the great things about United’s reservation website is that it allows you to check award availability not only on its own planes but also those of most of its Star Alliance partners (LOT Polish Airlines and Singapore Airlines being notable exceptions).

Star Alliance LogoI find United’s website the most user-friendly for Pointing newbies and for researching relatively straightforward award itineraries.  Other options for searching Star Alliance availability include the reservation sites for ANA and Air Canada’s Aeroplan.

However, once we made it to Thailand, how were we going to make our way home? Since I had just used up my MileagePlus reserve, I turned next to my bank of American Airlines AAdvantage miles.  American is part of the OneWorld alliance.

OneWorld Logo

The airline’s reservation website only allows you to search partner award inventories for airberlin, British Airways, Finnair, Qantas, Royal Jordanian and US Airways.  Since we were returning home from Asia and I needed to check availability on partner carriers originating in that region, I used British Airways’ award reservation site to check for availability. Fortunately, I found two Business Class award seats on Cathay Pacific that would get us home via Hong Kong. Once I found the flight numbers, I called back American and booked the itinerary over the phone using my AAdvantage miles.

In the end, our mix-and-match award itinerary looked like this:

Chicago to Frankfurt in United First Class (Star Alliance)
Frankfurt to Bangkok in Thai Airways First Class (Star Alliance)
Bangkok to Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific Business Class (OneWorld)
Hong Kong to Chicago in Cathay Pacific Business Class (OneWorld)

We’re definitely looking forward to this trip and to escaping the Chicago winter. In addition, we’ll have the opportunity to experience premium class service on Thai Airways and Cathay Pacific – two airlines I’ve heard great things about and which will be “new” to us.  Finally, this trip will represent another travel “first” for us.  As you can see, this itinerary will enable us to circumnavigate the globe on a single trip. In other words, we’ll be going “Around-the-Word in 12 Days.” I see some fun trip reports ahead for us – stay tuned!

How about you? Have you ever booked an award trip by mixing-and-matching loyalty programs? I’d love to hear about it.

Best Views in Florence – Is there room for another view?

As much as we’ve enjoyed our last couple of stays at the Hotel Brunelleschi, I have to admit that we’ve never had a classic “room with a view” in Florence. However, this never really bothered us since Firenze is a city that’s meant to be experienced by walking the streets and not by gazing out of a hotel room window.

A logical first place to catch the “view” that we were seeking was the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Just around the corner from the hotel, this Florence Cathedral is popularly known simply as Il Duomo. Of course, once we arrived at the church, we were confronted with lines that seemed to go on forever. I’m sure the views from the top of the Duomo’s iconic dome would be great. However, we also didn’t want to spend half our day waiting in line.

As an alternative, we decided to head out across the Arno river to the Piazzale Michelangelo. This square features a bronze copy of its namesake sculptor’s statue of David. However, the true draw of this popular vantage point is the panoramic view of Florence.

Best Views in Florence Piazzale Michelangelo

Of course, a lot of other travelers will have the same idea, so be prepared for a bit of a carnival-like (at times honky-tonk) environment with numerous food, drink and souvenir vendors scattered about. In addition, make sure you bring a hat and some sunscreen since there aren’t a lot of shaded areas that offer relief from the sun.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere of the area is festive and offers some great people-watching opportunities. One place to take a break is VIP’s Bar which offers outdoor seating and a prime location for taking in the views.

Best Views in Florence VIP's Bar Piazzale Michelangelo Florence for Drinks with a View Firenze

This venue is best suited for a cold drink, ice cream or some coffee. Although I wouldn’t build my evening meal round the VIP Bar, I would try to time a pre-dinner visit so that you could enjoy the sunset over Florence.

Best Views in Florence Piazzale Michelangelo at Sunset

You also discover views in some unexpected places. For example, last summer we attended a music concert at theOrsanmichele. This church was used as a chapel by the city’s powerful trade and craft guilds during the 13th and 14th centuries. The concert took place in the museum located on the church’s upper floors. During the intermission, we wandered about and enjoyed some wonderful nighttime views of Il Duomo.

Orsanmichele Museum Florence View of Duomo

Finally, after soaking in the atmosphere of the lively Piazza della Signoria, another copy of the Michelangelo’s David (the original was moved to the Accademia Gallery in 1873) caught our attention and drew us towards the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Best Views in Florence Entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio with Michelangelo's David in the background

This large fortress-turned-palace served as the city’s town hall and housed the Signoria, or ruling body, of the Republic of Florence during the Medieval and Renaissance periods.

We opted for an entrance ticket that provided us admission to both the palace museum as well as the building’s Tower. As we made our way up the structure’s stone steps, we caught some peaks of the view outside.

Best Views in Florence View of the Duomo from the Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio

At the top, we were rewarded for our climb with a postcard-worthy view of Il Duomo.

Best Views in Florence Panoramic View of the Duomo from the Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio

Before, my vertigo kicked in, my Partner F and I took a moment to wave at our fellow travelers atop the Duomo’s dome.   Although those folks probably had to wait significantly longer in line than we did, I’ll have to admit that we were ALL pretty fortunate to be able to enjoy the views of the beautiful city laid out at our feet.

How about you? Do you have any suggestions for places to take in the view while in Florence?