Saturday, February 27, 2010

WRA 2010 Italy Tour

Dear Travelers on and Family and Friends of the WRA 2010 Performance Tour to Italy. Mrs Karam informed us that there will be a special parent meeting next week where she will go over all the details from her end, in the meantime, please find a slightly more detailed itinerary below. We thank you for contacting our office and understand your interest in knowing all the ins and outs of the wonderful journey that we are so honored to plan for the choir and ensemble, but ask you to understand that WRA is in charge and we can only provide you with limited information until we receive the okay to send out more. Arriverderci!


• See and experience both major cities and off-the-beaten path gems of beautiful Italy
• Three unique performances for the WRA Choir & Ensemble
• Plenty of opportunities for immersion into local cultures
• Educational and entertaining sightseeing
• Quality hotels in good locations, great food...


• High Mass: St. Mark‘s Basilica —VENICE
• Santa Maria Assunta in Calvi dell'Umbria—FLORENCE & TUSCANY
• High Mass with strings: Basilica San Pietro (confirmed) - VATICAN CITY

DAY 1 Wednesday, March 17
Overnight flights from Cleveland via Chicago and Germany to Venice on United and Lufthansa

DAY 2 Thursday, March 18
Benvenuti to Italy
As you arrive early in the day, you‘ll have plenty time to enjoy the magic of Venice Island with your tour manager prior to a welcome dinner with local specialties at Ristoranta La Brindisi. Overnight stay on Venice Island at Hotel Belle Epoque.

DAY 3 Friday, March 19
Venice in-depth - High Mass at St. Mark's
Take a private boat ride, then see the highlights of Venice (Rialto Bridge, St. Mark‘s Basilica and Square, Bridge of Sighs etc) with a local guide. Afternoon of leisure with optional visit to a Murano Glass Factory prior to singing High Mass at St. Mark's Basilica followed by dinner in a nearby restaurant.

DAY 4 Saturday, March 20
Verona Visit
Explore the nearby musical city of Verona with a local guide and visit Juliet‘s house. Some free time for shopping. Overnight stay near Verona in Caselle di Sommacampagna at Hotel Saccardi. As a special treat, you will be visiting the beautiful town of Valeggio sul Mincio in the early evening.

DAY 5 Sunday, March 21
Scenic Road to Tuscany
Take in the beautiful countryside as you travel to Montecatini Terme, a spa town outside of Florence very much beloved by composer Guiseppe Verdi. Overnight at Hotel Imperial Garden.

DAY 6 Monday, March 22
Pisa & Lucca
Full-day excursion to Pisa - see the leaning tower and other highlights such as the magnificent Duomo where WRA will present a recital - and Lucca, a true Tuscan gem followed by a traditional farmhouse dinner. Return to Montecatini. Overnight at Hotel Imperial Garden.

DAY 7 Tuesday, March 23
Florence in-depth
Guided city tour of Florence’s many highlights, including entrance to the Accademia Museum to see Michelangelo's David. Return to Montecatini. Overnight at Hotel Imperial Garden.

DAY 8 Wednesday, March 24
Umbria: Orvieto Excursion, Workshop and gourmet dinner
You will visit the hilltop town of Orvieto, experience a special Gregorian chant workshop and then continue to Magliano Sabina for check-in at Hotel La Pergola and a very special dinner.

DAY 9 Thursday, March 25
Calvi dell'Umbria Highlight Concert, Reception, Pizza-Workshop etc.
You are in for many treats today as she head to beautiful Calvi for the highlight concert preparation, a likely exchange with local youth, a special reception from the towns people and last not least a tour of local cheese, olive oil and ostrich farms followed by a pizza making workshop.

DAY 10 Friday, March 26
Eternal Rome
Continue to the capital city of Italy, and see the ancient part amazing Rome, walk through the Colloseo & Foro Romano, then take in some of the magic squares with the famous Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain etc.

DAY 11 Saturday, March 27
Vatican Visit & High Mass at St. Peter's Basilica
Explore the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter‘s Basilica with your local guide. The WRA choir and ensemble are the featured guest performers for a special Palm Saturday High Mass at the magnificent cathedral. A fantastic farewell feast with local specialties and music concludes the day.

DAY 12 Sunday, March 28
Rome Departure
Early transfer to the airport for your flight home to the US.

How about a rustic famhouse dinner in the Tuscan countryside?

We sure love great food at Incantato Tours and want to share our passion to explore typical eateries with our travellers. Italians love to dine in the countryside and over recent years many traditional farms added restaurants to their offerings. These so-called agriturismo offer great food in a more rustic environment. On Monday, March 22, after visiting Pisa and Lucca, the WRA tour members will dine just outside of Lucca at "Agriturismo Il Poggio" and are sure in for a treat.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Meet your Incantato Tour Manager Stefania...

... as she dances the night away with Dr. McCarthy on the CSULB Incantato Italy Tour 2008.
Ms. Stefania LaRosa - who is welcoming WRA at Venice airport and traveling with the group until the departure from Rome - is a native of Civitavecchia, Italy and now resides in beautiful Florence. Stefania is an experienced tour manager and certified Rome guide. She has been with Incantato Tours from the very beginning and while she did take some time off from other assignements to complete her studies as certified local guide for Florence and the region, we are honored to have her aboard for all 2010 Incantato tours to Italy with the WRA's upcoming journey being her season opener. Stefania loves music, the arts, good food and she is the most stylish in our team.
Stefania's cell phone number is being provided to all tour participants, but we ask those of you remaining behind in the US or other countries to not contact her directly. If you wish or need to reach anyone on the tour, please send an email to and our European team will pass the information on and get back to you.

Ready for some real Italian food?

We sure hope you are getting hungry to sample the many flavors of Italy and hereby share a link to the restaurant awaiting you with a three course welcome dinner on your first night abroad in Italy. "Ristorante Al Brindisi" is a local favorite and being well over 100 years old it is well known for its traditional Venetian cuisine. Located in the Cannareggio district and within easy reach to your Incantato Tour Hotel "Belle Epoque", the WRA singers, musicians, family and friends are in for a fun evening out at "La Brindisi" in one of the most magical places on earth, Venice Island.

Monday, February 22, 2010

WRA Italy Tour - Itinerary updates

Dear WRA Italy tour participants, you must be surely getting excited about the journey with the departure less than a month away! What a great opportunity for the singers, musicians, their friends and family to travel together with Mrs. Karam and Mr. Wiles to Venice, Verona, Florence, Pisa and Rome - plus to see magical places off the beaten path. Most of our tours are planned at least a year in advance and we are thrilled to put together your journey in much less than that.
We sure hope to get the final missing details from the travelers this week to present you the detailed itinerary latest this weekend. Your tour organizer Sandra is currently in Italy to double-check everythingone last time and after giving your WRA tour hosts a chance to go over the itinerary, it will be posted on the blog with a more detailed version being mailed via the school to all participants.
Arriverderci! Cu soon!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Travel Tips: Money Matters

Money is a delicate subject. The exchange rate at the moment is not the best as it changes continiously for the last few weeks(1 Euro= $1.35 to $1.59). And yes, it is possible to travel in Europe on a small budget. The best way to use your money is to have a debit card; this allows you to withdraw money from any ATM machine with only being charged a small withdrawal fee. The fee differs between banks. Be sure to call your bank before your departure to tell them where you are going and for how long so they won't freeze your account. The debit cards given by the bank has the compatibility of Visa, MasterCard, however, Visa is the most widely accepted worldwide. If you bring cash, you can exchange it but you will lose more money as they charge for their services. Most places in Europe won't accept traveler's checks anymore. Also, be prepared to pay for water and a fee for restroom use (between 30 to 70 Euro cent). Last not least, there are no free refills on soft drinks in Europe which is why most Europeans ask for little to no ice in their drinks.
Remember that two meals daily are covered as part of the WRA Incantato Tour - breakfast and usually dinner, sometimes a lunch instead. In addition, we suggest you have some spending money available and our recommendation is around 12 to 15 Euro per day for the meal not included, snacks, drinks, postcards, some souvenirs. It is not imperative that you have this amount of money. There are many ways to lower your expenses such as:
· Most restaurants have menus outside so you can check their price range.
· Venture off the main roads to find a restaurant. These usually have more character, better food, and better prices.
· Bring your own water bottle. Most places have good and safe tap water to fill up with.
· Buy food from the "convenient" stores. You don't have to sit down in the restaurant for every meal.
· Shop around for souvenirs; many stores have the same things on sale for very different prices. Sometimes you may even be able to use your haggling skills for a real bargain. This is particularly true when buying from street vendors. But be careful, if it is too much of a bargain, you may not be buying a real fancy bag, but just a knock-off - Versaze instead of Versace ; )

Last not least, remember that your Incantato Tour Manager Stefania is with you pretty much 24/7 and as a native of Italy and also a highly skilled professional, she is there to help you make the right choices.

Travel Tips: What to pack?

Dear Travelers, please find below a link to very detailed information on the baggage allowance for your upcoming flight with Lufthansa. There is no charge for ONE checked bags on international flights as long as your suitcase is within the weight limit of 44 pounds. Remember, you are only allowed ONE checked suitcase per person coming on your Incantato Tour plus ONE small/normal size carry-on as luggage capacity on the bus is limited. Please go to the Lufthansa website for detailed information on what is considered a carry-on and a checked bag, but please keep in mind that we can only fit ONE checked bag per person on the coach.
For most people, packing is the most difficult part. The solution for many is to just pack as much as you possibly can into your suitcase and backpack, but as a colleague explains it: "You'll be thanking me later when you don't break your back from having to carry everything on your own. Don't do it!" Her advice: "Pack as lightly as you can. The best way to get it all to fit nicely into your suitcase is to fold it nicely and then roll it tightly. It can all fit into your bag like a puzzle."

Keep in mind, however, that many cathedrals have a dress code and will not allow you to walk in if you are wearing tank tops or shorts. A scarf is a good solution to this code. And shorts should always go to your knees (both for Ladies and Gents). Incantato also plans a farewell dinner for the tour groups, so bring something comfortable and dressy.
Here are a few things that we think are essential to have to be comfortable with what the weather brings (March in Italy is very similar to Ohio - it will very likely be quite humid too) and with the weight of your bag - remember, we allow only one checked bag per person and a small carry-on such as a bag pack or small duffel. Yes Ladies, you may have a small purse in addition, gents a camera case is fine too, but again, you will be the one carrying it all from the bus to the hotel and vice versa, so better test if you can move all your travel belongings without needing to make two trips or help from someone else.

A sample packing list (just a suggestion!)

* Rain jacket, maybe with fleece insert
* Umbrella
* An adapter plug/converter (if bringing electronic devices)
* Camera and batteries or charger with adapter
* At least two pair of jeans/pants, ladies may want to bring a couple skirts or dresses too
* a sweater or two
* Plenty of shirts, including a polo or two and at least two dress shirts (Europeans dress much more formal than Americans)
* Plenty of undergarments and socks for daily changes
* A watch, make-up and jewelry if applicable (carry on any valuables)
* Choir music and attire
* Don't forget shoes, we recommend a maximum of three pairs (tennis shoes, good everyday shoes, dress shoes). Bring nice concert shoes, but make sure that you will be able to walk long distances in them. Europeans do not wear flip flops other than to the pool or at the beach.
* Put all liquids that are in your carry-on into a zip-lock bag. And remember the 311 rules.
* All scissors, fingernail clippers, etc. are better packed in your check-in luggage along with liquids over 3 ounzes. Bring enough contact lense solution and prescription medication that you may need for the whole duration of the trip.

If you forget anything there are plenty of little "pharmacies" where you can by shampoo, toothpaste, etc.

Travel Q&A's

Questions & Answers for the WRA Italy Tour:

What should everyone carry at all times, real passport or a photo copy?

Ideally, your passport should be on your person at all times. Please be “street-smart” and don’t wave it around for all to see. Photocopies of the passport should be packed in your suitcase, available in your e-mail and also your parents should have a copy too AND WRA plus Incantato should have a copy as well.

Is the tap water safe to drink?

Fortunately, Italy has some of the best drinking water in Europe. Some cities, mostly Rome, have the ancient aqueducts that are still functioning with good, clean water. Venice is an exception as the water here tastes a little funny, it is however save to drink?

How many meals are included? Which do we need money for?

Breakfast and either a lunch or a dinner are included daily. You will be responsible for one meal a day and your tour manager will assist you in finding the right spots for your cravings and budget. Your tour meals are set menues that introduce you to local specialties. Water is always included.

Do you have recommendations or suggestions on the type of power adapter needed and what wattage?

Electricity in Italy, as in the rest of Europe, comes out of the wall socket at 220 volts alternating at a 50 cycles per second. In the US, electricity comes out of the wall socket at 110 volts, alternating at 60 cycles per second. Not only the voltages and frequencies, but the sockets themselves are different. Adapters and converters may be found at Target, Walmart and radio shack etc.

What is the average meal cost? How much money should students bring?

As long as the students are wise about their choices, meals can easily be 15Euro or less. They don’t have to go to sit down restaurants to get decent food. But when they do want to sit down, they should check the menu outside to see if they have a “menu special”- you can get an entrée, dessert and a drink for a set price.

What is the weight limit for check-in baggage?

1 suitcase weighing 44lbs.

Check the Lufthansa website.

What the size limit and number of items is for carry on?

You may have 1 carry-on bag – it must be able to fit either under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin. We recommend a backpack.

What are the airline carryon container regulations?

No containers holding more that 3ozs of liquid or (100g for toothpaste) is allowed in the carryon luggage. They also must be in a plastic zip-lock bag

What has the best exchange rate, using a debit card to pull money out or exchanging US currency?

By far the best way is to use your debit card. Most banks only charge around $2 per withdraw and they also take care of the exchange rate for you. You do need a 4 digit pin and also let your bank know that you are travelling abroad. DO NOT BRING TRAVELLERS' CHEQUES!

What is the approximate exchange rate right now?

It’s about $1.45 to 1 EUR

What happens if someone gets injured while in tour? Medical care and cost wise? Do they need a medical consent form for treatment?

We strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance. You find a link to our recommended partner on this blog.

Is any of Rome still affected by the earthquake?

Most of the damage was outside of Rome and is pretty well cleaned up now.

If needed, is there laundry service?

It’s really expensive to do laundry overseas as it is dry-cleaning only. There are no irons in the hotel room.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Travel Tips: Voltage and Converters

Voltage differences in the world are not so shocking!
Voltage in the world differs for each country 220 volt or 110 volts. Plug shapes, plug holes and plug sizes are also different in each country. Some countries like USA and Canada run on 120 volt 60 cycles (60hz) and most of the worlds run on 220/240 volt 50 cycles (50hz). This difference in the voltage can be solved by using an appropriate voltage converter. These converter devices are usually available at superstores and over the internet. While you can also buy them overseas, we recommend purchasing them before you leave if you need them - some items such as ipods, laptops, cameras may only need a two or three round prong adapter plug (pictured on the left, the middle plug is not essential).