Photo Essay: Light of Lisbon

Lisbon Tram

The famous ‘Light of Lisbon’ is no joke. If you’ve never heard of it, you should trust me and go experience it for yourself. With all of the intricate shining tiles of all different colours adorning the old houses, light reflects in every direction and creates a warm diffused glow. The light is especially spectacular in the late afternoon and early evening as the sun starts to wind down it’s day and slowly falls into the Atlantic Ocean for the night.

Below I have selection of my favourite photos from my time in Lisbon early in 2016. I hope they will entice you to visit Lisbon.

Enjoy!

Venice Water Taxis

Date: September 27th, 2014
(Also George Clooney’s Wedding weekend)

I set my alarm for 6:15am for the last morning on board the beautiful Royal Clipper. I went to the sun deck for our entrance in to Venice, passing by St. Mark’s Square just as the clock struck 7am, slightly before sunrise.

Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
St. Mark's Square, Venice, Italy
St. Mark’s Square, Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy

It was and overcast and dreary morning, but calm, peaceful and surreal. I enjoyed a few minutes lost in my own thoughts. It is incredibly hard to believe that I have already done and seen so much in seven days and that I would be on my own as soon as I stepped off the boat.

New friends were made, both with the guests and staff on board, and as always, it is bittersweet when you say goodbye to something you enjoyed so much.

I made my rounds to say goodbye to the guests I had met on board, as well as a handful of staff who had made the trip extra enjoyable. Most guests disembark as early as possible. We were advised that after docking, the ship would be cleared by approximately 8:45am. I believe it was actually cleared by about 8:15am and guests started checking out, most heading directly to the airport for onward flights.

Myself, since I wasn’t heading to the airport, I took my time. I wandered around and then sat in the Tropical Bar until shortly after 9:30am. Our luggage was already on shore and would only be guarded by Star Clippers staff until 10am. I followed the exit signs directly to my luggage which was one of about 10 bags remaining. And then the real adventure began!

From the port, I made my way across the bumpy pathway, with my rolling suitcase, camera gear back pack and shoulder laptop Lug bag (thanks Pat Currie), up and down over one little bridge with stairs that I had to life my luggage up, to the yellow water bus shelters and had a look around. It was about a five minute walk from where I had picked up my luggage, so not far. The cruise director had told me to catch the #1 or #6 water taxi into St. Mark’s square and then I would need to switch to a new water taxi to get to Rialto. It was easy enough to determine which water bus to load (or so I thought), but I had to ask someone to point me in the direction to buy tickets.

A couple of blocks away in a little convenience store, I purchased a one way ticket for the water taxi (7 Euro) and headed back to the shelter. There, I validated the ticket (or at least I think I did) by putting the bar code up to the machine. It didn’t get punched or stamped, just scanned. I guess if the water taxi staff ask to see it they can then determine when it was used or if it is valid, but I didn’t actually see any instructions on what to do when you scan it or how you know if it worked or not.

I looked at the sign outside the shelter and chose the one that showed both St. Mark’s Square and Rialto stops on it. I walked timidly into the water taxi shelter. Picture a bus shelter in the city, make it 10 times larger and bopping up and down on the Grand Canal while people wait for their water taxi.

When the #1 arrived, people piled off and then I got swept up in the crowd of people who were piling on. Don’t forget, all the while, manoeuvring my two carry ons and a heavy suitcase (on wheels).

After hearing so many horror stories of pick pockets in Venice, I had made sure that my money and passport were in a bag in front of me so that I wouldn’t be oblivious to someone trying to open a zipper on my bag. I found myself a spot (or rather made myself a spot) in the centre of the water taxi near the area that said luggage, planted my feet and hoped that my backpack wouldn’t be pilfered.

By about the second stop I had been bumped and jostled so many times that I wouldn’t have known if I was pick-pocketed or not. The water taxi was packed … just like sardines, as they say! I swear that every time 10 people got off the boat, 15 got on. The water taxi attendants constantly yelling at people to move inside. People continually ignoring the yelling and staying in the middle of the boat rather than moving in through the doors to take a seat. Normally staff would yell in Italian, but occasionally they would bark it out in English as well.

I wasn’t budging. You could not pay me enough to move all the way inside with my luggage when I could barely turn far enough to look over my shoulder. I figured it made more sense for someone traveling with no luggage to go inside. So, I stood my ground. He didn’t ask me to move, so I figured I was ok.

At the third or fourth stop a local lady started disgustedly talking to me in Italian. I’m sure you’ve heard that Italians are loud and use their hands and gesture a lot? Well, it’s true! This lady went on in a huff, speaking directly to me in Italian. Finally when I shrugged my shoulders as I had no idea what she was talking about she said to me in English ‘Don’t you understand me? Take your backpack off!’ and then she continued to push her way off the boat, complaining to the water taxi staff about my backpack.

At the time, I thought she was telling me to take my backpack off because it wasn’t safe to have it on my back due to pick pocketing. No, in this particular case she wasn’t trying to be nice and helpful to a tourist … instead she was annoyed because my backpack was in her way and makes it hard to manoeuvre on the boat!

I took my backpack off and set it between my feet with my laptop bag on top of my backpack and my rolling suitcase beside me.

Finally, I got off at St. Mark’s Square, nearly run over by the swarm of people (nearly the entire full water taxi) trying to get off at the same time.

Looking back, I’m really not sure how I kept my sanity. It was my first time in Venice, it happened to be a Saturday and loads of extra people were in town hoping for a glimpse of Clooney.

I looked around at the signs and had been told that I needed to catch a different vaporetto to the Rialto. Funny enough it was then that I realized if I had gotten on a different boat to begin with, it would have taken a different route and gone to the Rialto stop early on and then continued to St. Mark’s square. Ah well … it was just an hour of my time, no big deal right? It’s all about the experience!

Vaporetto signage in Venice
Vaporetto signage in Venice
Vaporetto signage in Venice
Vaporetto signage in Venice
Vaporetto Shelters in Venice
Vaporetto Shelters in Venice

I stopped at the ticket booth and asked how to get to the Rialto stop. They pointed me down the canal a few hundred meters to a different ‘station’ and told me that I needed a new ticket. So, I bought a new ticket, lugged all of my stuff to another station.

If you look at the photos above, you can see the signage that tells you which station you need to go to – ABCD etc, then a photo of the signage with the letter code and finally, a photo of the actual vaporetto shelter on the water (see the letter ‘D’ on the signs).

When I arrived at my station, I started the whole process over again; Shuffling on to the water taxi that was already full, trying to secure a spot with my luggage, making sure I took my backpack off and trying to keep my balance while also being aware of possible pick pockets.

Four or five stops later, I scrambled, as best I could, off the boat as not to annoy the locals with my slowness. I was exhausted from both the physical challenge of transporting my luggage, the walking, balancing on the boat while being bumped and jostled, not to mention all of the brain power it takes to find your way through a maze of a completely new area. Thankfully my hotel was only another few hundred meters away!

Oh wait, I still needed to go across one or two small bridges through a hoard of eager George Clooney stalkers who were lining the streets on both sides of the canal just waiting for his ‘possible’ appearance sometime in the next few hours.

Just in case you are wondering … I did not see him that weekend. Sadly, his schedule was full and he couldn’t fit me in for a lunch date.

Finally, I made it to my hotel but my room wasn’t ready yet. I opted to sit down in the lobby and wait rather than store my luggage and explore. My brain needed to unwind so that I could keep my sanity. Besides, I needed a shower in case I accidentally bumped into the groom!

Rovinj, Croatia Photo Essay

Boats in the harbour, Rovinj, Croatia

On our fifth day at sea on the beautiful Star Clippers Mediterranean sailing, we arrived in Rovinj, Croatia. Prior to booking this sailing trip, I had never heard of Rovinj and I had done no research on it, so I had no expectations.

I decided to explore the small community on my own rather than taking a tour. Despite the rain early in the day, I thoroughly enjoyed my solo walk through the narrow streets exploring and wondering what I would find around each corner or down the next alleyway. I wandered aimlessly, without a map, for a couple of hours throughout the community, stopping at several galleries and boutique stores along the way to the Church. I headed up the hill toward the church and then down the hill on the other side to the harbour.

The rain came and went, but only softly, no downpours, so it simply added to the charm of the town. Walking on the well trodden stones, that are rubbed smooth, was a challenge in the rain; even in sneakers, it was slippery.

One of my favourite memories of Rovinj was a saxophone busker near the main square. I could hear the beautiful sound of the saxophone from several streets away and followed my ears until I found a single man playing near a cafe. He happened to be playing ‘Happy’, which of course, made me happy! I stood in the small crowd and listened to him for a few minutes, then I decided to take a short video and of course throw a few dollars in his case. Who knew that the acoustics in this small little town would be delightful for street musicians. And who knew I’d hear the beautiful haunting sounds of a saxophone during my short little visit to Rovinj.

While I wandered, I stopped at the tourist market and bought a necklace, one of the few things I purchased on my travels. The market was full of jewelry, scarves, souvenirs … your regular ‘tourist’ market. I looked at a lot of jewelry and found only one necklace that really stood out, so I returned to the stall and haggled to get it for 140 Kuna (about $25 CAD which was probably still too much!) I also wandered through the local outdoor food market which was full of fresh fruits and vegetables, spices and fish.

In the main square and surrounding the harbour were endless cafes and restaurants waiting to invite you in. Some were fancy, some just little mom and pop shops. A little something for everyone.

Take a look at a few of my favourite photos of the community. Isn’t it a pretty little seaside town?

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Starting to plan the Unplan

The Unplan has always been that I would get 100% debt free before making any decisions about where / when I would travel, with the ‘loose’ idea of Central / South America this coming fall / winter. As you can see, that’s not much of a plan at all, hence calling it the Unplan.

Now that I am officially debt free. (Can I get a whoop! whoop!?) It is really time for me to buckle down and start making some slightly more firm plans about my upcoming travels. So, here’s take one at my plans for the fall and how they came to be.

Before I went to Vietnam to lead the photo tour in April 2014 I found out about a FAM (familiarization) tour with Intrepid Travel for Chile and Argentina. These are trips sponsored by a supplier for travel agents only to experience a new destination and their products. This was a great fit for me. I was planning on heading to South America in the fall sometime, I’ve never travelled with Intrepid and I’ve never visited Chile and Argentina. BINGO!

I sent my application in to Intrepid, and sadly, was told that this particular trip was already full. boo. I was really disappointed, but I knew there would be more opportunities.

I went away to Asia for three weeks and lead my Vietnam: Through the Lens Photo Tour which was a great success. A few days after my return to work I noticed that Intrepid had posted on their internal Facebook group that there were still spots on the Chile & Argentina tour. I immediately wrote to our rep to ask if it was a mistake, or if someone had cancelled.

Sure enough, there had been one cancellation. My heart started racing and I got super excited. There was room for me and I was sure it was meant to be! So, I re-submitted my application, waited a couple of days and then received confirmation that I had been accepted on the trip.

Yipee! These were the only travel plans I was willing to commit to prior to the closing of my house. After all, it was a trip to Chile & Argentina for free (+ cost of flights). Even if something fell through with my house, I was pretty sure I could find the money I needed to cover my flights to get there. So very little risk in taking on this awesome opportunity.

So, Nov 16 – 23 I’ll be doing a tour similar to this one, with other Intrepid staff and travel agents.

That decision was made back in May (seems sooooo long ago) and since then, I’ve been flirting with all kinds of ideas around it.

Next up is my next Photo Tour. I decided as soon as I came back from Vietnam that is was time to do another PERU: Through the Lens trip. I immediately put plans in place, created an itinerary and got it off to marketing. Dates were decided for Oct 18 – 28th and I am currently looking for a minimum of eight people to take part, maximum 15. I already have a couple of spots sold on the trip and am looking forward to finding the last few that are required to guarantee it. Deposits are due by July 18th, so I’m down to about three weeks to find six more people. If you are interested in coming along for a great combination of photography and tourism, get in touch and book soon!

Now, with the photo tour up in the air (needing 8 people to guarantee departure), I can’t make any specific plans until after deposit date (July 18th). So, everything else at this time is tentative and I’ll do another update mid July to see what has changed.

Through connections, I have been introduced to a tour operator in Turkey. Through discussions, we’ve discovered that we have a lot in common. He is working on arts tours of Turkey; photography, painting, drawing, weaving, pottery etc. Of course, I’m interested in the photography section of it. So, he’s offered to host me for 7-9 days in Turkey this fall so that I can check out the products that he offers and see the great country. How could I possibly pass up that opportunity??

It definitely comes with a small hitch though … the only time he can host me is in October. And my Peru photo tour is also in October. What this means is that I will have to go to Turkey for a week and then almost immediately head to Lima, Peru for the beginning of my photo tour.

Yuck! I only say yuck because it is a 17 – 24 hour travel time from Europe to South America. I’m looking at a few other options though. And, with this whole fall travel thing I’ve been trying to make plans so that I have time to rest and continue my travel agency work. I don’t want to be on the go all the time or I’ll burn out. The last thing I want to do is burn out early on in the trip! I need some stamina to get through everything that I’m looking forward to.

I have decided that I will take the opportunity in Turkey. I can’t pass it up. It is just a matter of arranging carefully for travel so that I don’t have to rush or get too tired.

Having said that, who goes all the way to Turkey for one week? Not me! With a great opportunity in Turkey, all I can say is that since I have to pay for my flights there anyway, I might as well make it worth while. Which brings me to the next part of my plans.

With Turkey tentatively scheduled for the first two weeks of October, I’ve been thinking about heading to Europe in late September to take in some of the other countries that I want to see. Mainly, Croatia where I have been considering doing a photo tour. So, I’ve begun researching options for Croatia. Do I do it in a small group tour? By land? By sail boat? By small 7-8 person sail boat? By larger 100 person sail boat? Do I do JUST Croatia or do I tie it in to the Balkans including Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia & Hertzagovina? And do I try to fit Greece in for a few days too seeing as it sits between Croatia and Turkey? Phew! How’s that for a lot of decisions to make?

I’m looking at the following tours for this section of my trip:

G Adventures
Western Balkans Adventure – Sept 19 – 30 – $2999 – Croatia / Bosnia / Montenegro

Sailing Croatia – Split to Dubrovnik – Sept 20 – 27 – $1499

Bamba
Croatia Ways – Zagreb to Dubrovnik – $494 USD – Hop on Hop off – This is a totally different experience than the others. It is transportation and a few activities included, but is independent travel and hotels are not included. Can start any day as long as my travel is complete by Sept 30th. And schedule is flexible so I can spend more time in some areas than others. Suggested 14 days.

Split to Athens – $989 USD – Suggested 18 days – Hop on Hop off

Dubrovnik to Athens – Podgorica Ways – $769 USD – Suggested 14 days – Hop on Hop Off

Croatia to Greece Road Trip – $925 USD – 6 day Adventure Trip – Departs Dubrovnik Saturdays only

Intrepid
Balkan Adventure – Sept 13 – 27 (1 spot left) – Bosnia & Herzegovina , Croatia , Hungary , Montenegro , Serbia – $2615

Dubrovnik to Santorini – Sept 13 – Oct 4 (1 spot left) – Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece from Dubrovnik to Santorini

Sail Trogir to Dubrovnik – Sept 20 – 27 – Croatia – $1478

Dubrovnik to Athens – Sept 13 – 27 – $3225 – Albania , Croatia , Greece , Macedonia , Montenegro

Star Clippers
Croatia & Montenegro (Venice to Venice) – Sept 20 – 27 -Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia. Sadly, I expect that this option is going to be too expensive for me to do on my own. If you want to be my travel partner … drop me a note!

Departing Halifax sometime between September 11 (at the earliest) and 19th ish – Seems kind of crazy. Don’t know I’m ready for that. It’s only 12 weeks away!

So here’s an overview of what I’m considering … tentatively ….

Sept 13 / 20 – October 1 – Croatia / The Balkans / Greece – undecided exactly where yet.

Oct 1 – 12 (ish) – Instanbul / Cappadocia, Turkey (possibly Gallipoli / Troy & the Mediterranean coast by Gulet boat)

Oct 12 / 13 – Fly from Istanbul to South America – possibly stopping back in Canada or US depending on flight routing.

Oct 14 – 17 – Relax in Lima, Peru prior to the start of the Peru: Through the Lens trip

Oct 18 – 28 – PERU: Through the Lens (Lima / Cuzco / Sacred Valley / Machu Picchu)

Oct 28 – Nov 15 – Not sure what to do in this time yet, but likely will be a combination of a few places that I haven’t seen in Peru + settling down for a week or more at an apartment somewhere new where I can relax, explore and concentrate a full week on working. I have to continue to sell travel while I’m away – that is my job. So, if you are planning to travel, you can support me by contacting me to book your travel. It will help me immensely!

Nov 15 – By this day, I need to be in Santiago, Chile where I will start my next tour on Nov 16th.

Nov 16 – 23 – Intrepid FAM (Santiago / Mendoza / Buenos Aires)

On Nov 23rd, I will end all of the organized portions of my trip and will be in Buenos Aires.

Nov 23 – Dec 15 (ish) – Undecided

Dec 15 (ish) – Jan 30 – Dominican Republic – In an apartment, not traveling around much, except that I want to get to Samana, as well as visiting friends in Punta Cana / Santo Domingo. Those are weekend trips though! And, if I find some friends to travel with, I might want to get to the lesser visited parks throughout the country. I’m photographing a friend’s wedding on Dec 28th near Cabarete in the Dominican. This is the same area where I studied Spanish for seven weeks in 2012 and I CANNOT wait to return!

Between Nov 23rd and approximately Dec 15 I have the following options (or combination of these):

Return home to Canada for a couple of weeks (although not sure where I would stay … parent’s in Fredericton? Maybe my sister’s?) And, flight wise, it is probably the most expensive option. South America to Dominican Republic should be much cheaper than South America to Halifax to Dominican Republic.
Settle down in Buenos Aires; many people have told me I will love it there.
Do a short trip to Iguazu Falls – on my bucket list.
Explore Patagonia (southern tip of Argentina & Chile) – this is the one I’m leaning toward.
Fly to Colombia and spend a few weeks exploring or studying Spanish, as it is an area I think I’d like to spend a longer period of time in.

Then, come the end of January I will have to decide if I want to stay longer in the Dominican or if I am ready to start moving around again. I love the Dominican and it feels like home to me, so staying is easy. It is a busy time of year for the travel industry so I will need to be somewhere with good internet and that I don’t feel the need to go out and explore every day. However, I am considering possibly heading to Nicaragua or Colombia for February and March.

Honestly … after traveling for four and a half months (mid-September to January), I don’t think there is any chance that I’m going to WANT to come back to Nova Scotia in the middle of winter. So, I might as well make the best of it and see a couple more places … Right?