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When most people think of ski resorts, they naturally picture mountains full of fresh fallen snow and people huddled around a roaring fire enjoying a cup of hot cocoa. While this image is certainly accurate, and ski resorts are some of the most popular of all vacation destinations, the prices of these resort getaways can often be beyond the means of the budget traveler.There is another way, however, to enjoy these upscale resorts for a fraction of their in season costs. Many ski resort locations stay open all year round, and the prices of lodging, meals and local entertainment often drops precipitously after winter has passed.Visiting a ski resort in the middle of the summer does not mean there will be nothing to do. In fact, many people prefer visiting these resorts in the off season, since their mountain locations provides for a comfortable, activity packed getaway.For instance, most ski resorts have ample hiking trails through beautiful mountain vistas. All those great cross country ski trails become wonderful hiking and biking trails after the snow has melted, and the scenery can be even more spectacular, and more comfortable, without the cold and snow of winter.Besides hiking and biking, there are a great many other activities to be offered as well, including horseback riding, fishing swimming, and other outdoor activities. In addition, many ski resorts use their ski lifts as fun summer sky rides, and open their slopes to such summertime activities as tobogganing down the side of the mountain. The kids in particular love these fun rides.Another great thing about visiting a ski resort area in summer is that the mountain location often means cooler temperatures. Even when the lowland temperature is stiflingly hot, the temperature in the mountains can be refreshingly cool and comfortable. Of course, it is important to check the monthly weather for your destination and to avoid the rainy seasonThere are ski resorts in many states around the country, and the northeastern and western parts of the country have a great wealth of these resorts. While many of them stay open year round and offer a host of off season activities, not all do, so it is important to verify the summer activities of the resort you are considering. It is also a good idea to research the activities that are offered by each resort. With the concentration of ski resorts in some areas of the country, it will be easy to compare the various offerings and choose the one that best suits your individuals needs.It is also important to research the surrounding area and see what else there is to do when you are not at the resort. While many ski resorts have plenty of activities to keep you busy for days, you will probably want to venture off the property at least a few times.
Wildlife SouvenirsBe careful when you buy articles made from animals and plants or when you purchase live, wild animals to bring back as pets. Some items, such as those made from elephant ivory, sea turtles, crocodile leather, or fur from endangered cats, and many species of live animals cannot be brought legally into the United States. Your wildlife souvenirs could be confiscated by government inspectors, and you could face other penalties for attempting to bring them into the United States. Do not buy wildlife or wildlife products unless you are certain that they are legal for import into the United States.Glazed CeramicsBeware of purchasing glazed ceramic ware abroad. It is possible to suffer lead poisoning, if you consume food or beverages that are stored or served in improperly glazed ceramics. Unless the ceramics are made by a firm with an international reputation, there is no immediate way to be certain that a particular item is safe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that ceramic tableware purchased abroad be tested for lead release by a commercial laboratory on your return or be used for decorative purposes only.AntiquesCertain countries consider antiques to be national treasures and the "inalienable property of the nation." In some countries, customs authorities seize illegally purchased antiques without compensation, and they may also levy fines on the purchaser. Americans have been arrested and prosecuted for purchasing antiques without a permit. Americans have even been arrested for purchasing reproductions of antiques from street vendors because a local authority believed the purchase was a national treasure.Protect yourself. In countries where antiques are important, document your purchases as reproductions, if that is the case, or, if they are authentic, secure the necessary export permit. The documentation or "export permit" may be available through the country's national museum. A reputable dealer may provide the export permit or information on how to secure one. If you have questions about "purchasing antiques" , the country's tourist office can guide you. If you still have doubts, consult the Consular Section of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. In places where Americans have had problems because of purchasing antiques, the Consular Section is usually well aware of such situations. Consular officers can inform you about the local laws and the correct procedures to follow.
You have just arrived in the Renaissance capital of the art world with a couple of days to spare, so where do you go and what highlights can you see in such a short time? This is the guide for you to get the maximum out of a short stay in Florence.14:00Now is probably a good time to familiarise yourself with the central city, if its late summer it will be beginning to cool down and hopefully the crush of the tourist crowds will be starting to diminish. The centre of Florence is easy to walk around as the streets are narrow and most are closed to traffic.Starting off around the main station there is the Piazza Santa Maria Novella with the church that gives the train station its name. Opposite the church there is the Piazza Nazionale and a road which leads down to the Piazza del Mercato Centrale. Here there are a few market stalls selling leather goods, souvenirs and other items. The 2 famous buildings to see here are the Cappelle Medici and the San Lorenzo e Biblioteca Laurenziana.15:00You will see the Duomo before you reach the piazza it resides in as you walk down Via Borgo San Lorenzo. The squat building in front of the cathedral is the Baptistery, built on the foundations of a Roman temple. The golden doors facing the cathedral are replicas of an original set made by Lorenzo Ghiberti and regarded by Michelangelo as the doors to paradise. But the sight most visitors are bowled over by is Brunelleschis dome, the cap on the already impressive Chiesa Santa Maria del Fiori. Standing guard beside it is the campanile, or bell tower built by Giotto.The view from the top of the Duomo is incredible on a clear day and well worth the trek to the top. Entry to the church itself is free but there is a charge to make the climb. You can also climb the bell tower but run the risk of the bells going off at some point and there is no lift if you need assistance to get back down.16:00Many of the original works that were used to decorate the exteriors and interiors of the baptistery, church and campanile are house inside the Museo dellOpera del Duomo, behind the cathedral, the museum rooms that catalogue the history of the buildings. There are many pieces by Michelangelo, including his Pieta that he partially destroyed, which was finished later by a student. The original baptistery doors are housed here along with Duomo plans from Brunelleschi, statues and bas reliefs by Donatello and others.17:00Walking down Via Roma you will reach Piazza della Repubblica, the edges are taken up with expensive hotels and even more expensive cafes. There are some stalls selling various touristy type things, including more belts, wallets and handbags. Keep walking down Via Calimara until you reach the loggia that houses more market stalls. Here you can test your skills at spotting a fake leather item although you dont want to make this too obvious. Better still you can drop a coin from the mouth of il Porcolino, the bronze statue of a boar, and make a wish.17:30Looking straight ahead you will see what resembles a crowded street rising up at the end of Via Porta Santa Maria. This is actually a bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, the Old Bridge, which was the only one spared by the Nazis in WWII. The original shops were butchers, dropping their leftovers into the Arno below. The stench got up the Medicis noses in the 16thC so much that Grand Duke Ferdinando I ordered them to move out and the more aesthetically pleasing goldsmiths to move in. This is also one of 3 bridges in the world to house shops.18:00Make your way back to the northern end of the bridge where there is a covered colonnade heading left alongside the river. This was built as a secret passageway for the Medicis as they walked above the populace between the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace. At the far end of the walkway you can look back to see the rear of the shops as they overhang the river below.Behind you is also the entrance to the Piazza Degli Uffizi, a three sided piazza filled with statues and busts of famous artists from over the centuries, and of course home to the world famous Uffizi Gallery. The collection inside is second only to that of the one held at the Vatican in terms of artistic significance. Giotto, Fra Angelico, Lippi, Botticelli, Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo the list goes on. The gallery is closed on Mondays and needs at least half a day to get around, as well as to be booked in advance if you wish to view it in summer. The piazza is commonly filled during the summer with outdoor exhibitions, street artists and performers, mainly to entertain the long meandering line of tourists queuing up to get in.Carry on through the narrow piazza away from the river until you reach Piazza Signoria. This wide open space is most recognisable by the statue of David, a copy put there in 1873 as the original had to moved inside the Accademia to protect it from the elements. Underneath the loggia is a collection of other famous statues including The Rape of the Sabines, Hercules and the Centaur Nessus, by Giambologna and Cellinis bronze statue of Perseus.The main space is overlooked by the rather imposing statue of Il Nettuno, the watery figure of Neptune standing at the opposite end of Palazzo Vecchio. Close by is the mounted figure of Cosimo I Medici and the bronze plaque that marks the spot where the priest Savonarola was hanged and burned for heresy in 1498. For the super sleuths there is a another sculpture to look out for. On the wall of the Palazzo Vecchio is the carved outline of a mans face. One legend tells that Michelangelo, in a fit of pique, was proving to Donatello he was able to sculpt great works of art, even with his hands behind his back.18:30Inside Palazzo Vecchio the entrance shows ornate ceilings and wall decoration for this building was once the seat of Florentine government during the 13th and 14th Centuries. For a fee you can view the opulent apartments upstairs that were occupied by Medicis and other notables as well as reach the battlements for another view out over the city.The remainder of the evening can be best spent wandering the narrow streets and enjoying a meal from one of the many restaurants and trattorias. Later on there is the night life as many bars and clubs open up after 10pm and carry on until very early in the morning.08:00Florence is a tourist magnet all year round so an early start is essential if you dont wish to spend countless hours queuing. A surefire way to avoid this is to part with a little extra cash in the busy summer months and pre book your tickets online or over the phone. You then pick them up at a designated time from the ticket office with your booking number. This way you can easily get to see the Uffizi and possibly another museum in the same day. To do this simply log onto www.firenzemusei.it or www.weekendafirenze.com or book through your hotel.The Uffizi opens at 8.15am, closing at 7pm, with the artworks divided between a series of rooms all featuring a certain artistic style or period. The gallery is not restricted to just greats of the Italian renaissance but the collection also includes works by German and Flemish artists. To appreciate much of the work you would need to devote at least several hours to get round.15:00Either as an afternoon escape or a morning alternative there is also the Galleria DellAccademia, most famous for its prize possession, Michelangelos David, the original sculpture that stood in Piazza della Signoria. The 5m tall statue was carved from a single slab of marble which some tales relate as having a fault line running through it. Michelangelo was said to have found it at abandoned at the rear of the artisan school and decided he would use it to create a symbol of Florentine spirit.The Accademia also has other well known statues, paintings and carvings by many artists on display, well worth an hour or two looking around.For a plesant way to round off the day there is a walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo from the southern river bank, where you will find yet another copy of Michelangelos David, a bronze version overlooking the city. A great place to watch the city change colour at sunset and sometimes there are public events held in the piazza during the summer.17:00If there is still enough energy left to view one more church Chiesa di San Miniato al Monte is worth the extra effort. Situated in the parklands up behind Piazzale Michelangelo the exterior is one of the best examples of Tuscan Romanesque architecture while the interior is home to some extraordinary 13-15th C frescoes.08:00Depending on your time table you may have time for another set of museums or just a gentle stroll in the park. Head up to the Pitti Palace, another Brunelleschi creation for a wealthy banker that was eventually taken up by the Medici family. Inside are a series of museum rooms all dedicated to various items such silver, porcelain and renaissance clothing as well as more modern artworks from the 18th and 20th Centuries.11:00When the art intake has finally reached its limit there is respite in the shape of the Boboli gardens to the rear of the palace. Designed in the mid 16th C it contains typical grottoes and garden follies of the renaissance aristocracy. A chance to leave the narrow streets and tourist crowds for a while.Your time in Florence is at an end but you may still have a chance to do a bit of that last minute shopping before bidding farewell to all the masters.
Here's how to get great Las Vegas room rates:Preferably a few months before you go to Las Vegas (but even a few weeks before you go would probably work) sign as many Las Vegas hotel online guestbooks as you can, eg www.excalibur.com, www.mandalaybay.com.They'll start sending you emails of special room offers. Don't worry, you shouldn't be deluged with tons of email, even if you've signed more than ten guestbooks. I average about one per month per hotel. Or you can open a special free email account just for your guestbook signings. If you do this make sure you check it frequently so you can read the special offers you'll receive.When you're ready to make your booking, if you're calling the hotel, make sure you have the email offer in front of you. There's usually a code you need to quote in order to get the special offer.Also, when you make the booking, double check you're getting the rate that was offered in the email to you, just to make sure. If you're calling the hotel, not all the operators know about the special email offers which is why you need to quote the code and double check you're getting the right rate.You'll also need a credit card when making your booking so make sure you have that in front of you too.A couple of days before I'm due to arrive in Las Vegas, I always call the hotel and confirm my reservation. I have the email offer in front of me and I make sure they have the details of that, along with the code and special room rate.It's a good idea to also find out when check in time is and how long they hold your reservation for if you're late checking in. If you know you won't arrive until early/late evening it's advisable to tell them that and ask if they can hold your room for you because you'll definitely be there.I've received great "room rates" by doing this that I normally wouldn't have. I hope you do too!