The “Carry On Cat” Mission Plus Ten Tips for Flying with Cats

George the Kitten

This was George as a cute little furball – one of my nieces’ four cats

My nieces have four cats so when I visit, Smoky tries to sit by my head when I’m on the couch while George attempts to get me to pay attention to him by walking over my lap (the other two gave up a long time ago).  The cats know I’m a dog person and yet still try to win me over to their side. They seem to enjoy the tag team because we’re all family.  I’m still not a cat person and yet, here I was with my assigned cat, Calista, as my carry-on bag waiting to board the flight at Philadelphia International Airport.  My friend was moving to San Diego (over Pope weekend) and rather than drive the distance which is more stressful for the cats, she decided to fly the cats which is more stressful, in my opinion, for the owner.  It was my first time flying with cats as you need one person for each pet so my friend’s sister and I were in on the “Carry on Cat” mission. I definitely learned a few things about traveling with cats as carry on and the overall experience was better than anticipated.

American Airlines pet policy allows up to seven carry on pets on the flight but it’s first come, first served based on check in time. As we were traveling with three pets, we arrived at the airport three hours before the flight and went to the Customer Service desk. We didn’t think they would hit the pet limit but you don’t know. My friend was charged $125 per cat for the one way trip!   You don’t get anything extra for that fee so I wonder why it’s charged at all if the pet bag is replacing my (free) carry-on bag.

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Craving the Hard Rock Cafe Florence After Too Much Italian Food

Hard Rock Florence bar

A lounge fit for a king – fun seating options at the Hard Rock Florence

After nearly three weeks in Italy and way too many pastas, pizzas and bread sticks, when I arrived in Florence, I was on a mission to find The Hard Rock Café Florence.  I had left the U.S. a month before on a boat of mediocre food, practically overdosed on the fabulous Spanish foods and drinks and was now desperate for a grilled chicken sandwich with bacon, a side of fries and a lemonade.

When I first traveled to London in the late 80’s, the Hard Rock Café was a must see. It had a line to get in and this was before the massive expansion throughout the U.S. and the world.  There weren’t many cafes at the time so it was a big deal to get the t-shirt, view the rock memorabilia on the walls and have a burger at the counter.  Frankly, the food in the U.K. was pretty dreadful back then (thankfully, that’s changed over the years since that first visit) so the Hard Rock Café visit was a highlight.

Florence sunset Arno river

Sunset view in Florence over the Arno River

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Paris Boutique Hotel: Hip Glamour in the 15th at the Platine Hotel

Platine Paris Classic Room

Classic Room 407 in Paris at the Platine Hotel a boutique in the 15th arr

Marilyn Monroe was glamorous and her image lives on in Paris at the Platine Hotel, a four star boutique hotel find on Hotel Tonight under the “hip” category.  I booked a week in advance ($215 a night was awesome deal saving over $100 a night) which is a nice feature of the app since the original inception of “tonight only”.  A hotel based on the iconic movie star is a pretty cool concept but it’s so interesting that this concept of “old Hollywood glamour” is such a throwback it’s fun. Located in Paris just ups the glam factor.



The hotel is in a new part of Paris for me, located in the 15th arr about a block from the Seine and about a 10-15 minute walk to the Eiffel Tower. The hotel is located behind the Beaugrenelle mall which has a fantastic selection of shops, food (patisserie, chocolates and restaurants) and entertainment (a Pathe movie theatre).  Rather than fight the crowds in the center of Paris (i.e. H&M, Zara, etc.) you can easily shop at the mall and enjoy the experience.

Platine Hotel Paris boutique hotel

The boutique Platine hotel in Paris, unique 46 bedrooms in the 15th arr

Eiffel Tower view from 15th arr

View of the Eiffel Tower from the airport car as we near the hotel platine

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The Loire Valley: Castles, Wine and Royal Soap Operas

History can be a bit dry at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning in Paris sitting on a full tour bus of 45 people when the first attraction is more than a two-hour drive away and the tour is all day long (12.5 hrs).  You may want to sleep until you get there but you’d miss out on all of the drama, the intrigue and the scandal!  Today, our City Wonders bus would hit the tour guide lottery with Adam (from Canada) and Lillia (from Florida).  The bus would be split into two groups once we arrived in the Loire Valley and I would be part of Adam’s group (lucky me!).

Loire Valley castle Chateau de Chenonceau

A gorgeous day in the Loire Valley at the “Ever After” castle Chateau de Chenonceau

On my first visit to Paris in 1993, I rented a car to drive out to the Loire Valley with my friend.  We were able to visit the chateaus back then but I didn’t get the whole story to view them as anything other than really nice castles. Today, however, the history came alive and my Netflix queue is now filled with all of the drama of the royal courts.  I sat in my seat furiously taking notes on my phone which I’ve never, ever done before (ok, the guy next to me didn’t want to talk or acknowledge me so note taking kept me busy and engaged).  Kudos to Adam for making the stories so interesting in all of its soap opera drama peppered with a few snarky funny bits of commentary.

The Loire Valley view from the garden

The Loire Valley view just gorgeous

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Vogalonga: Row, Row, Row your Boat in the Grand Canal of Venice

Gondola Venice Vogalonga

Luckiy tourists navigating the Vogalonga for an interesting tour of the Grand Canal

I had to look twice as the train went over the Venice lagoon as we approached the city as I thought I saw a dragon boat and then a kayaker.  In a city long associated with the gondola I thought it odd but then I learned it was the weekend of the Vogalonga.  Vogalonga is a non-competitive rowing event opened to those who wish to reclaim a bit of the tradition of the oar. In the early 70’s, long before the cruise ships would cause problems, but in reaction to the increasing number of motorized boats in the city, a group created the Vogalonga.   It is an opportunity to row through the city of Venice to explore the 30km of waterways, which includes the Grand Canal and brings thousands to the city in late May. My view from the train? Rowers were quite literally testing the water as they prepared for the Sunday event.

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Solo Dining in the French Quarter of New Orleans

Food in New Orleans is legend, I had so many suggestions from my #foodiechats and #foodtravelchat friends before my New Orleans trip, everyone had a favorite food memory. As I was traveling on business for a conference, I wasn’t quite sure how much free time I would have to eat. I ended up solo dining in the French Quarter for most of my meals as I was staying at the W French Quarter.  I was a bit concerned that dining solo would prove to be difficult especially with all the groups and party people but it wasn’t, I felt fine everywhere I went.

Cathedral New Orleans

New Orleans cathedral next to Stanley and across from Cafe du Monde

Breakfast in the French Quarter

The hotel breakfast at SoBou was ok but I hate spending over $20 for breakfast when I don’t need to (yes, even on an expense account) so I asked for suggestions.

W French Quarter breakfast

The fancy breakfast at the W French Quarter hotel So Bou

For pancakes I was directed five blocks to Stanley and at 8am it was quiet inside but noisy outside (the street crew was still cleaning up last night’s fun) near the Cathedral. My blueberry pancakes were quite satisfying to fill me for the conference day I had ahead of me.

Stanley New Orleans dining room

The empty for now dining room at Stanley in New Orleans near the Cathedral

Stanley breakfast New Orleans syrup

Syrup anticipation at Stanley in New Orleans

Blueberry Pancakes New Orleans

Chock full of blueberries at Stanley in New Orleans

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I Didn’t Want To Leave this Airbnb Venice Flat with a Canal View

Airbnb Venice flat Fenice Apartment

The Airbnb gem in Venice near the Fenice Opera House

From the AirBnB site, it looked amazing! This large Airbnb Venice flat along the canals with a view of the gondolas outside the window. It seemed too good to be true. I looked at the calendar of availability and was immediately crestfallen as it was rented out for the whole summer save two nights during my stay. The minimum stay was three nights but I figured it doesn’t hurt to ask so I sent the owner, Maurizio, a friendly note.

He quickly replied that I could rent the Fenice apartment for two nights and I was thrilled. It was good that Maurizio manages a few properties and could move me elsewhere for another night. I was staying in Venice for five nights but the city was sold out due to Vogalonga rowing event and the Biennale (which started early this year due to Expo Milan) so I had to move from the Guesthouse to the Fenice apartment and then to the San Marco apartment.  Not ideal but I made it work.


Maurizio sent me multiple emails to prepare for my visit (Directions, Event Schedule, Public Transit prices/options, Venice Rental Tips, the Food Shopping Service and Lost Luggage Warning). These were a nice touch for a new visitor to the city as well as new to AirBnb. As I was staying at another property in the city prior to arrival, we arranged for Francesca (his wife) to meet me in the square near the Accademia bridge and walk me to the flat.

Venice gondola assembly line in canals

The assembly line of tourists in gondolas in Venice

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The Adorable Vintage Fiat 500 Tour of the Tuscan Hills of Florence

Fiat 500 Nuova Florence tour

The adorable vintage Fiat Nuova 500

The roof was leaking on my pants as the rain intensified and I kept laughing.  We were waiting on the side of the road for the rest of the tour group to catch up.  I leaned over to manually roll the window down and yell at the girl on the Vespa to throw her handbag (it was too nice to get wet) in the back of my car to keep it dry.  She quickly accepted my offer and added her husbands’ backpack telling me I was lucky to be dry, I said “my roof is leaking” and she laughed. I was on the Tuscan Hills of Florence Fiat500 tour hoping the sun would reappear soon.

Growing up, my parents made sure that my sister and I learned to drive manual stick shift.  Mom drove a manual Honda so if we wanted to borrow the car we had to learn to drive it.  Fiatreedom was our incentive to learn.  Knowing how to drive a manual car let me have fun in Spain with the Land Rover experience and now here in Florence in the cutest little car, the cinquecento, aka Fiat 500 tour.

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Categories: Activities/Experiences, Florence, Italy, Travel | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments