Murano, Italy

September 2014

Hotel Rialto offers a transfer and tour of a Murano glass factory for free, so I decided to give it a try while I was in Venice. After-all, I had wanted to visit Murano anyway and I love seeing artisans at work.

I gave the front desk about 15 minutes notice and they had a boat and driver pick me up right at the hotel for 3pm. It ended up being a private taxi-boat, one of the fancy ones and I was the only person on the boat. I guess it is less busy on Sunday and I was taking the last tour of the day.

The private taxi had a covered inside section with windows and leather seats – room for about 10 people. I, however, stayed up front in the fresh air and sea breeze with my driver. He was friendly, but didn’t seem to want to talk, so I took pictures and video on the 15 minute transfer to Marco Polo glass Factory on the island of Murano.

Private boat-taxi Venice, Italy
Private boat-taxi Venice, Italy
Murano, Italy
Murano, Italy

As soon as my boat arrived, I was greeted by Alex, who immediately made me feel welcome with his warm, friendly personality and his excellent English. He ushered me right in to the factory where I got my own private showing of a Master glass blower at work. The blower’s name is Mariano and he is well known for his art.

Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy
Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy
Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy
Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy
Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy
Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy
Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy
Mariano, Glass blowing artist, Murano, Italy

I then got a tour of the factory’s art gallery which houses hundreds of unique, one of a kind master pieces by the artists who work in this particular factory. There are about 600 glass blowing artists in Venice and about 40 of them work out of this particular factory. Each section of the gallery was a new discovery. Sadly, but also understandably, no photos or videos are allowed as these are one of a kind pieces of art. It is like a museum of the best glass works in Murano. Some artists have collections of items in the gallery, others have only one or two master pieces. The artist that I saw at work is known for making chandeliers and most of the ones in the gallery were hand-crafted by him. The detail in each and every tiny little piece is magnificent.

I learned about the different styles of glass work and the family history behind glass blowing. Glass blowing has been handed down through generations from fathers to sons. The trade nearly always stays within the family and only ends if there are no further sons born into the family (no pressure ladies!). There are no women glass blowers, however many women in the family are talented artists and do much of the painting and finish work on different styles of glass works, such as the gold or silver plating.

One of my favorite sections of the gallery was from the family who creates only animals. On display were about 30 different one-of-a-kind animals from turtles to owls, cats to ducks, horses and more. My favourite ones were the jellyfish with their detailed tentacles and bubbles coming out of the ‘glass’ water around them.

It was explained that there are three types of commercial glass works.

  1. Master artists who create one of a kind art that is sold to collectors and often to buyers for large businesses, or groups of businesses.
  2. Regular glass blowers who create mass market products mainly for the tourist industry.
  3. Regular glass blowers who work with recycled materials to create lower grade quality items that may have imperfections. Also for the tourist market, but also ensuring that remnants of glass from all of the works are recycled.

Alex was very excited to answer all of my questions. He was very proud to share this part of his history and culture with me. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide and all for free! Of course, I stopped at the store on the way out to buy a souvenir (or two) … it was the least I could do after having an hour long, private tour with such a fantastic guide.

After the tour, Alex was quick to give me a map and invite me to visit the rest of the island as well as direct me to the vaporettos for when I was ready to return to San Marco square.

Murano, Italy
Murano, Italy

I spent about an hour wandering the main streets of Murano and taking a few photos, looking at store after store of beautiful, but completely different styles of glass works. Around 5pm, I returned to the vaporetto stand to head back to Venice Island. It was a lovely day learning about the artistry of blown glass and the history of Murano, Italy.

Look both ways before you make a decision.

Sept 29th, 2014 – Venice, Italy

I finished packing late last night. It amazes me how my suitcase grows even though I swear I haven’t bought anything sizeable for souvenirs! Maybe it’s because I’ve been shoving my dirty laundry in the outside pocket of my suitcase and it just looks larger. And maybe it’s heavier because my clothes are soiled? ha ha Or, maybe I’m just crazy.

I got up early in the morning, showered and went for breakfast making sure to eat lots because I didn’t want to have to buy lunch on the train to Florence. I didn’t know if it would be available and I figured it would be expensive.

From 9am to 10am I wandered around Venice one last time looking for a specially requested gift to take home. Many of the shops were just opening and many were still closed.

Funny how I spent two days and two nights in Venice wandering the streets and then on my last day there I found the ‘easy’ and short route to San Marco square. All along, I had been leaving the square from the wrong exit, which meant I wasn’t getting to the easy route. Here, on my last day, heading toward the square, I saw street signs noting the way. Note to self for next time!

I checked out around 10:30am and went to the Rialto vaporetto stop that was nearly in front of my hotel. A few minutes later, I hopped on the vaporetto heading to the train station, which was just one stop away (about 10 minutes). I found myself a spot in the centre near the very small luggage storage area and ignored the staff who were yelling at everyone to move inside so that more people could fit. It is just simply too difficult to move inside with all of your luggage. Only one stop to go … easy enough, right?

Right.

I got off the vaporetto in rushing wave of people with luggage stampeding to get off like the boat would leave before they could jump ship. I was getting bumped and jostled until I hit the main street. I took a quick look at a map and decided I needed to take the first street on my left. Great! Follow the sea of luggage bouncing along on the bumpy streets and soon enough I’d be at the train station.

Now, keep in mind, I’m carrying a 35 lb backpack with camera gear, a 10 – 15 lb Lug bag with two laptops, paperwork and backup hard drive and my nearly 50 lb suitcase, thankfully on wheels.

With my luggage trailing along behind me bumping it’s way down the uneven streets, occasionally getting caught in an indent, I followed the stream of suitcases ahead of me.

I walked and walked and walked … I had looked at my first left, but it was a tiny little street and nothing that looked like a train station, so I continued on, going with the flow.

Finally I came to a bridge. I headed for the ramp (rather than the stairs) so that I could roll my luggage up. I could see a big building on the other side and thought ‘That must be it.’ When I reached the top of the bridge, both of my hands were falling asleep, I had a kink in my neck and I was dripping sweat. I might as well be carrying an extra person with me.

To my dismay, when I got to the top of the bridge, I realized that the building on the other side was not the train station. I’m pretty sure I sighed out loud. I stepped off to the side of the bridge (not over the side) and took a few deep breaths. I then asked the older couple standing near me if they spoke English and if they knew where the train station was.

You guessed it, they pointed me back in the direction I had come from. The gentleman said I would come to the Grand Canal and it would be ahead and on my right. ‘You can’t miss it. Big modern looking building.’

Back down the ramp on the bridge I tiredly sauntered. Back through the streets in the opposite direction of everyone and their luggage. Back past a few street vendors who had tried to sell me something along the way the first time. Back past large buildings with no signs, wondering if one of those was the train station. Back past the vaporetto station that I had disembarked from about 15 – 20 minutes prior

And then I saw it. The big modern looking building on my right, just in front of me. I still didn’t see any sign to tell me it was the train station, but it somehow was obvious this time.

How did I miss it the first time around? When I got off the vaporetto I was distracted by the bumping and jostling to get on to land. I stopped to look at a map and saw that the train station was on my left. However, I didn’t take into consideration where the Grand Canal was in relation to it. If I had looked a little longer, I would have realized that I needed to go left immediately (not right and then left on to a street) and the station would be immediately on my right.

When I say ‘immediately’, I really mean it. The map that I looked at was on my left as I got off the vaporetto and the train station was behind it (literally, the train station building was behind the physical map / sign that I was looking at), but I was so busy looking at the map and following people with luggage that I didn’t look to my left!

For those of you who know me well, I actually have a pretty good sense of direction and can follow maps quite well. But, I am one of those people who has to turn the map in the direction that I am facing in order to truly understand it. This is a little bit difficult when the map is fixed to a stand in the ground.

Lesson learned – look both ways before making a decision.

Venice Photo Essay

Despite how busy Venice was on the last weekend in September 2014 when I visited, I really enjoyed wandering the streets and canals. A bit frustrated with the overflowing vaporettos, I spent most of my time exploring by foot. I arrived on a Friday afternoon and left on Monday morning, so I had two full days to explore, plus time to work. Looking back, I could have spent another day or two there exploring. I didn’t go into any of the museums or churches and I did not make it to Burano. Although I feel like two full days is enough for most people, there is certainly enough to keep you busy for a few days if you like to explore at a slower pace.

I’ll forever remember Venice as the fist place that I ate a waffle with a mountain of nutella and then walked through the dark winding streets back to my hotel to find out that despite having used a napkin, I had a nutella goatee on my chin. Oh the benefits of traveling alone and not having anyone to tell you when you have something embarrassing on your face or in your teeth. On the bright side, it was dark … I didn’t talk to anyone on the way home and even if I did, they would never see me again!

And don’t forget, if you are planning a trip to Italy, I’d love to help you out! Just drop me a message.

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!

Review: Hotel Rialto – Venice, Italy

HOTEL RIALTO

Location – Venice, Italy

Hotel Rialto is centrally located immediately at the bottom of the stairs to the famous Rialto bridge along Canal Grande.

Being centrally located, it is well accessed by vaporettos, gondolas and private water taxis. No matter where you are in Venice, if you ask how to get to Rialto Bridge, people will help you find your way as it is one of the main attractions in Venice.

If you don’t get lost, it is about a 10 – 15 minute walk to San Marco square, or about 15 – 20 minutes via vaporetto depending on the number of stops. Of course, if you have a good sense of direction, I would suggest wandering the narrow, crooked, charm-filled streets rather than riding the crowded vaporettos.

The hotel is urrounded by delicious tourist restaurants located directly overlooking the canal, many tourist shops and pop-up vendors and gelaterias. If you wander a few streets away, you can find quaint restaurants hidden amongst the winding streets, all of your favorite brand names (Gucci / Louis Vatton etc) and unending canals full of gondolas, small bridges and Venitian architecture.

The Annex

The Annex, Hotel Rialto, Venice, Italy
The Annex, Hotel Rialto, Venice, Italy

The main hotel is complimented by a few extra rooms located in the Annex.

The Annex is located about 2 – 3 minutes walk from the main reception area through a couple of narrow back streets. Although I had no difficulties, it is a little bit sketchy entering the hotel through a back door and some people may not be comfortable with this.

You access the Annex through a green, unmarked door in the back alley. In fact, the first night I was there, after venturing out on my own, I came back and couldn’t get my key to work in the green door. I headed around to the front of the building to get assistance at the lobby and then decided to return and give the key one more try. It was on my second attempt that I discovered there are two sets of green doors side by side and I was trying my keys in the wrong door. Common mistake, I’m sure. I’m glad that no one came out yelling at me for trying to break in to their home or shop!

Once inside, The Annex has a flight of stairs to climb and no lift / elevator. So, it is not good for anyone with a lot of luggage or mobility issues.

The hallway smells a bit funky, but not unbearable and a hotel this old and steeped with history shouldn’t smell like aromatherapy anyway, it would take away from it’s authenticity.

The Room

Hotel Rialto, Venice, Italy
Hotel Rialto, Venice, Italy

I had a twin room (two single beds) overlooking the canal (a lovely surprise). The room was larger than a standard bedroom in a house and seemed even larger with extra high ceilings (approx. 14 feet high or more). The walls are green broqued material (yes you read that right) and the furniture is all painted green with a pink flower design delicately placed on each piece. A desk, vanity, two end tables, three chairs and an old style love seat plus a square stand and large stand up closet furnished the room.

Let’s not forget the huge, beautiful Murano glass chandelier lighting the entire room, as well as three lamps and an art light over one of the lovely old-style paintings.

The bathroom was simple and clean with a corner shower (no tub).

There was a flat screen tv and air conditioning. WIFI worked occasionally, but not regularly. However, it was free and worked very well in the lobby area.

Breakfast

Breakfast is included and served from 7 – 10 am near the main lobby. It is a small dining area inside, but during breakfast hours they share the outside terrace of the bar next door.

Self-serve breakfast consisted of a few different pastries, boiled eggs, soft bacon, yogurt, whole fruit and cereal. Additional items were available at extra cost. The food was good and options were better than continental, but I wouldn’t call it a buffet either.

Overall, the hotel was good quality and excellent location. It certainly had charm and history. It was pricey as most hotels in Venice are. I don’t think I would have wanted to stay in anything cheaper though and the view of the canal was a lovely surprise.

Falling in Love with Sailing – Part 2

SAIL-AWAY

WOW! I had no idea I would be so completely amazed and in awe by the beauty of the send off. The sun had already set and sunset itself was kind of lack-luster, but when the music started, the deck filled with people, the deck hands started raising the sails and the Captain started commanding the ship, it was a magical, beautiful moment. It was then that I started to get excited about my big adventure. There had been too much stress leading up to the trip, that until I saw the sails of the ship I don’t think I really believed it was happening.

With the sails raised we started our slow sail through Venice, seeing St. Mark’s square off one side of the ship and the Molino Stucky hotel (where I almost stayed) off the right-hand side. With the sail-off anthem playing and the beauty of the lights and sails against the dark blue night sky, I got a little lost in my own little world.

Molino Stucky in Venice
Molino Stucky in Venice

The process probably takes about half an hour to 45 minutes and they do the sail-away ceremony every single night that you leave port. For me, it did not lose its charm. I watched every single night, even when it was cold and misty. Looking up up up as the sails come down, spread out and begin to catch the wind. Every night I spent 30 – 45 minutes lost in my own thoughts, amazed at the beauty and gentle power of the wind in the sails.

A couple of nights I actually helped the deck hands with the process, not that I feel I really did a lot, but I learned how to coil the rope properly and how to let the rope out slowly. I felt like it was an insignificant task, but yet there were six or ten different staff doing the exact same thing at different stations on the boat, so it couldn’t have been worthless. And I got to chat with one of the staff from Goa, India. He was really a great guy and so friendly! Sorry I made your job more difficult Shalesh! Glad you could at least have a laugh at me. (I admit, coiling rope shouldn’t be difficult, but somehow, it just wasn’t my thing!)

 

Deck hands raising the sails
Shalesh showing me how to coil rope (making fun of me actually).

Even though the process is the same every night, the light is different and the port is different. Some nights departure is after dark and the sails are raised into the dark night sky full of stars, other nights they are raised just as the sun is setting. Each night with a beauty all its own.

Royal Clipper Sail-Away from Venice
Royal Clipper Sail-Away from Venice
Royal Clipper Sail-Away from Venice
Royal Clipper Sail-Away from Venice

Each night I noticed something new, found a new process to watch or just simply breathed in the calm energy and beauty of the sails lifting to the sky as we were lulled away to our next destination.

Most people congregated at the front of the boat (bow) where the Captain was commanding the ship and where passengers could take turns learning how to steer. Although I didn’t take a turn at the wheel, I photographed several of my group mates giving it a shot.

Deanna steering the ship
Deanna steering the ship

 

Michelle steering the ship
Michelle steering the ship
Francine steering the ship
Francine steering the ship
Captain Sergei
Captain Sergei
Florentina steering the ship
Florentina steering the ship

What a different atmosphere from a regular cruise ship where you only interact with the wait staff. All around, staff on the ship, were wonderful, fun, friendly and accommodating. After all, I’m sure that Shalesh probably had to redo all of my rope coiling after I turned my back!

Royal Clipper Ropes
Royal Clipper Ropes

On our last sail-away from Porek, Slovenia the last tender to the boat was at 6pm. 6:30pm was set for sail-away. I arrived back on that last tender as I had been on a tour of stunning Ljubljana and our tour had run late returning. I didn’t even go to my room when I returned, I went straight to the sun deck for send-off because it was golden hour and I just knew it was going to be simply beautiful.

When I arrived on deck, I went to the bow where there were surprisingly few passengers. Just one or two. I thought it was unusual, but convinced myself it was just early and people would come in a few minutes. Then the music started and deck hands were everywhere working away. I was busy snapping a few pictures and taking it all in, but felt like I had missed something because no one was on deck!

Slovenia at sunset
Slovenia at sunset
Porek, Slovenia at sunset
Porek, Slovenia at sunset

Just then, one of the deck hands said to me ‘Why are you here? Why aren’t you out on the tender?’ I said ‘What tender?’ He pointed to the tender that was already out in the water staring back at the beautiful Royal Clipper with sails being raised in the setting sun. A perfect moment and I was missing it. My heart sank instantly. Then he told me that there was another tender and hurried me along to go catch it. And I did just that. I arrived at the second tender just on time.

I suspect there had been announcements earlier during the day on board, but because I arrived on the last tender back, I had missed them.

As we moved away from the ship to a better vantage point on the tender, the beauty of the ship, the perfect sunset and the beautiful week I had enjoyed on board all culminated together for a fantastic memory.

Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia
Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia

IMG_8717

Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia
Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia

I sat on the tender with 30 or so other passengers who were equally enamored with the beauty. Our two staff members, the tender Captain and Shalesh (deck hand) did a great job taking us to all of the best vantage points to see the beautiful Royal Clipper as she started to sail away.

We were treated to the opportunity to sail along beside her, to see her with the sun shining on her and the sun setting behind her. I climbed all over the boat, standing on seats, poking my head out above the top and standing precariously on the edge to take a few photos. I think my jaw was open the entire time as I just could not even believe I was part of something so stunning.

Royal Clipper at Sunset
Royal Clipper at Sunset
Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia
Royal Clipper at Sunset in Slovenia

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we were taken to the bow of the ship in our tender where about 14 of our crew members walked to the very tip to give us a grand send off with a bow and wave. An amazing end to a very memorable trip.

Royal Clipper send off wave
Royal Clipper send off wave
Royal Clipper send off wave
Royal Clipper send off wave

The next day, I went back on deck to find the deck hand who had pointed me toward the tender, to say a huge thank you for telling me to go as I definitely would have regretted it if I hadn’t caught that second tender. Thanks to his extra care, I shared in one of the most beautiful moments of the entire trip. He didn’t have to tell me about it, but he did and I am most thankful. The sunset was beautiful, but if it hadn’t been for the exceptional staff, I would have missed out.

What do you think? Are you ready for an adventure with Star Clippers tall ship sailings? I can’t wait to do another one. I’m not a fan of cruising, because isn’t adventurous enough for me, but somehow sailing has completely captured my heart.

If you are interested in more information on Star Clippers and the beautiful ports that I visited while I was on this seven day Mediterranean Cruise, please feel free to contact me stucker@tpi.ca

I would truly love for you to have an experience as wonderful as I did.

A quick note. I am not being paid to write this post. I simply adored my travels with Star Clippers and believe they are an amazing company with an interesting background, amazing ships, unique and fun products. I’m sure if you try them you will not be disappointed! I will be a repeat customer for sure.

What's love got to do with it?

What’s Love got to do with it?

Having dated some really great guys over the past 7 or 8 years since my divorce and some really rotten ones, I find myself 35 and still single. There’s potential out there, but yet I haven’t found the ‘one’ yet.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, first off, some of you may remember my blog posts back in March / April where I was talking about a lovely man that I had met and although I was planning to move forward with my travel plans, they were changing to accommodate someone special in my life. I was considering traveling for a shorter period of time, possibly having him join me for portions of the trip and just in general, making choices with someone else in mind. I don’t say this in a bad way, just that I was open to seeing where things would go with he and I. I remember saying that I didn’t want to give up on a chance for love just because I had decided to go travel, yet I didn’t want miss my big journey for a relationship that may or may not be ever-lasting.

I’ve been asked about this mystery man regularly by my readers over the past few months. Sadly, we decided to part ways. We still remain close friends, but are no longer in a relationship. This happened months ago but I just wasn’t sure how to write about a break up. Months later, much less emotional it is easier to write it from a practical perspective.

When we parted ways, more than ever it drove the lesson home and reminded me that I need this trip for me, for my life for my health, for my happiness. I needed to make sure I was making decisions that were best for me, not best for anyone else. It’s something a lot of people struggle with … trying to please others before themselves.

Being 35 and single, successful and independent, many people say ‘what do you need a man for?’ Well it is true, I don’t need a man, but I am one of those ladies who does really want to find the right one and settle down. By the way, settling down does not mean quitting travel, maybe just smaller trips. Or, you never know. Maybe I’ll find a man who wishes to travel with me!

I think my biggest realization over the past few months was that even though I was open to finding that special someone, it just hadn’t been working out in Halifax. I felt like I was wasting my precious ‘young’ years looking for a special man rather than living the life I wanted to live. I was caught in the trap of what a ‘normal’ life looks like. What was the point in staying home in Nova Scotia waiting for a man to build a life with when I could be strengthening and building my own life while traveling the world.

Many people in my age group continually tell me they are jealous of my lifestyle. Most of them have partners and kids … or ex-partners and kids and feel like they missed out on the opportunity to see the world they way they want. I’m constantly reminding them that it’s a double edged sword …. Although I can go see the world and enjoy, I don’t have the pleasure and joy of raising children or a loving man to come home to each night. No point in being jealous of someone else’s life, you have to make the best of your own life. I’ve learned that my life will be what I make it and it’s up to me to make the choices to have the life that I dreamed of. In February 2012 I decided to design my life. I’m a doer and a dreamer and I am going to live a happy life with or without a partner.

So …. Here I am. I’m writing this post while sailing the Mediterranean between Italy and Croatia on the Royal Clipper. (although posting a few days later) I’m soaking up the afternoon sun with a warm breeze and ocean as far as the eye can see in any direction. I’m in the middle of nowhere, all alone, but surrounded by people and 100% completely relaxed and happy.

With about 120 guests on board, probably 50% of them are sitting at one of the several bars. A few are listening to the Captain’s lecture, and many are lounging on the sundeck …. Relaxing, chatting or reading.

For me, I’m on the sundeck, near the bar, drinking water … although I may splurge on a pina colada soon. Instead of reading a book, I’m writing one. A blog about my life, my travels and lessons that I’ve learned along the way. That’s pretty much a book right?

So, what does love have to do with all of this?

I’ve learned that love is everywhere, within everyone and its not just about finding a special someone. Before I left Halifax I realized that I am surrounded by love every day. Single or married, it doesn’t matter. Love matters, but love from friends and family and love for yourself, are the best way to live a happy life. And, isn’t that what everyone wants – a happy life?

Before I left to go away I moved everything (again) into my sister’s house. The first morning I woke up to my niece squeaking in through my bedroom door to come crawl in bed with me. As exhausted as I was, it was a moment that I cherished. What’s better than a morning cuddle from a child? Hmmmm not much. I felt loved and welcomed and content. So instead of focusing on love from only one person (an unknown man that I was looking for), I’m making a decision to make sure I fully appreciate the love of all of my friends and family … all of the time.

Life is good. Love is everywhere. You just have to open your eyes and heart to appreciate the love you already have rather than always wanting more!

And that, my friends is what love has to do with it.

Shari's Epic Adventure 2014

For those of you who want to know what I’m up to and where I’m going this fall, here’s the quick version. Blogs with more details on each country to come soon.

Facts:

I’ll be visiting nine amazing countries in four short months.
Italy, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Greece, Chile, Argentina and Dominican Republic.

Eight of those countries are places I have never been to before.

This is NOT vacation for me. I know this is hard for most of you to fathom, but I will be working while traveling. I will be working as a travel agent the entire time I am traveling. I will have a mobile office that just happens to be in a different country every couple of weeks. The only way I can travel is if I continue to work while I’m on the road, on a boat or in the air, so please, drop me a note if you are planning to travel. I’d love to help arrange your next adventure, big or small!

Highlights:
I don’t doubt that there will be an endless number of highlights that stand out from this trip and only a few of them are things that are planned. Most of the highlights are likely to be unplanned moments that spontaneously happen. For now, here are the things that I am most looking forward to:

Tall Ship Sailing on the Mediterranean. (Star Clippers, Royal Clipper – 7 days Venice to Venice) – Send your best wishes as I try to muster the guts (and a balanced stomach) in order to climb to the crow’s nest on the ship. Fully harnessed of course!

Cinque Terre, Italy – This is an area that I dream of visiting and I can’t wait to experience it’s beauty. The main highlight here will be hiking from town to town along the coast and up the mountains through tiny towns, lush vineyards, past monasteries and castles.

Cappadocia, Turkey – A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the valley. How does it get any better?

Visiting an estancia (ranch) near Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Patagonia – The southern most tip of South America crossing through both Chile and Argentina. Torres del Paine National Park and visiting a Penguin colony.

Studying Spanish in the Dominican Republic. I’m heading back to Sosua to Casa Goethe to study Spanish. I studied for 5 or 6 weeks in 2012 and lived in the Dominican for a total of 7 weeks. I can’t wait to go back to continue learning this beautiful language and visit with friends from all over the world.

I have one month before departure. I have no less than a million things to get done, but I have faith that it will all come together and that anything that doesn’t get done wasn’t that important.

Follow along on my Epic Adventure by entering your email to get notifications when I publish a new story (in the right side column on this blog). If you want to see photos, you should check out one (or all) of the following:

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Air BnB – the ins and outs

When I first decided to really look into Air BnB, I started my Air BnB search with Cinque Terre, Italy. It is series of five fishing villages in the Italian Riviera where there are very few hotels. I’ve been looking for accommodations for two sets of honeymoon clients recently and coming up with nothing acceptable, only very basic or very luxurious accommodations, nothing in between. Both of these honeymoon couples decided to use Air BnB for their stay in this region, but still chose to book hotels with me in other locations, so now I’m giving it a go for part of my travels too!

I started looking through the listings which you can filter by price and various amenities. I found no shortage of great options in all five of the Cinque Terre villages.

What should you look for?
First of all, determine your wants and needs for accommodation and set up your filters to narrow down your search and make it less overwhelming. No point in sorting through 300 options if only 10 of them meet your price range! I set the filters to choose my price range and then in the amenities, only listings with internet as I will be working, not vacationing. I also choose if I want a private room, apartment or entire house, or sometimes I leave all three just to compare my options and the pricing variations.

Just like renting in your home town, if you rent a room from someone within their house, rent is cheaper than if you rent an apartment. And, renting an apartment is cheaper than renting a stand-alone home.

Once you have your filters set and hit search, you’ll be given all of your matches which you should look through thoroughly. They show up with the basic information: a photo, price and location. For me, I look at the main photo of the home on the profile and then I go directly to the written details. I look for what amenities are included (kitchen / internet / Air Conditioning / TV / Cable etc), how they describe the location, house rules, any extra charges (sometimes you have to pay electricity separate on longer rentals) and often if they give discounts for longer rentals it will be mentioned in the profile.

You’ll also want to take quick note of the cancellation policy category. If it is flexible, strict or long term. You can find descriptions for each of these here. It’s up to you, how confident are you that you are making a firm booking on those specific dates? If you are unsure, you may want the flexible option so that you don’t lose too much money. But, understand … not everyone offers flexible cancellation. If folks are in this to make money and you cancel your month long rental two days before you arrive, they may not be able to re-rent it. So, it is understandable if they put partial refund policy in place instead of full.

Further down the page you can check out the reviews. There are two types of reviews you can access. There are reviews on the specific property you are looking at and then there are reviews for all of the properties that the host has. Both are good to check out as you want to verify that the property you are looking at is as it says, but you also want to verify that the host is reliable, personable and honest.

On the right side of the website you can also see stats on the host’s response rate and timeliness. This is a great way to tell which hosts are organized and on top of things. If they have a 90% response rate within one day, you can be pretty sure they are going to get back to you quickly. If they have poor stats, that might be an indication that they will be difficult to track down in destination to get your keys or if a problem arrises. Something to keep an eye on.

One really great thing about Air BnB is that you get the chance to review every place you stay at AND the host cannot delete the review. That means if you give them a bad review, it shows up in their list and they can’t hide it. However, I would say about 90% of the hundreds of reviews I’ve read on various properties have been good. They seem to be more genuine and much less picky than Trip Advisor Reviews which you have to take with a grain of salt.

If the property and the host have good reviews, then I’ll check out all of the photos that they have.

Things to look for when you are reviewing the photos of a property:
1. Do they show all of the rooms? Kitchen / bedroom / bathroom / sitting areas / outside the property / pool
2. If it is listed as a two bedroom, do they show photos of both bedrooms or just one?
3. Do they show two or three photos of the kitchen (for example), but you notice that each one has different cupboards or layout? Then you need to ask which photo is correct for the property you are enquiring about. Sometimes it is a mistake, other times the same host has two apartments to rent within the same facility so they post photos of both. If you notice discrepancies though, it is in your best interest to ask before booking.
4. Do the photos match the amenities listed? If a pool is listed, is there a photo? Is it a full size pool or a lap pool? In the bedroom if you can see the entire room, is there only a fan or can you see an air conditioning unit? Does the kitchen have fridge / stove or cooktop / microwave? Or, is it just a kettle and a sink?

If everything seems to match your criteria for a good rental, then save it to your favourites and move on to the next one. Hopefully there will be a handful of really great options that become your favourites and a few others that would work if your top choices don’t pan out.

To Rome or not to Rome …

Over the last week or so I’ve started doing a little research for my own little adventure to Italy. I arrive in Venice on September 19th (OMG! That’s soon) and then do my Star Clippers sailing for seven days to Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia before returning to Venice to really begin my Italian Adventure.

I’m thrilled to have one of my best friends, Stephanie, traveling with me for the sailing portion of the trip and then she’s staying in Venice with me for a couple of days to explore as well. After that, I venture out on my own. I must admit, it is a bit of a soft launch into my solo adventures because she’ll be on the plane with me when I leave Halifax.

Since Cinque Terre is top priority for me in Italy, it is the place that I want to make sure that I visit. Everything else is secondary. Cinque Terre is an area in the North west of Italy with five quaint little villages, each with their own charm. It is a national park and pedestrian only within the communities which are delicately balanced on the edge of cliffs facing the ocean. These communities are what dreams are made of. I just know that I’m going to love them! I will book a villa / apartment there for 4 – 5 days and then I will try to spend one day in each community, as well as walking between a couple of them. They are known for the beautiful hiking trails and stunning vistas. My camera is begging me to take it there!

After Cinque Terre, my second priority is Tuscany. It is an area in North-Central Italy with beautiful rolling hills, known for harvest time and wines. You may remember the movie ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’? Yes … yes… yes … That’s what it’s all about. I’ll likely stay close to Florence, but take a couple of day trips or tours through the countryside and maybe even just hop off the train in an unknown community along the way just to see what I can see. Florence, Siena, Pisa, Lucca are all in the Tuscany Region. I’m sure I could use a week in the area, but I just simply don’t have that much time.

Which brings me to the Rome dilemma. Can I go all the way to Italy and not visit Rome? Rome, the historically amazing Italian Capital … home to Vatican City, a country within a country and unlimited amazing well known attractions such as the Spainsh steps, Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum and so much more!

How could I possibly not visit Rome? I feel like I’m cheating if I go to Italy and don’t visit this amazing city.

I posted on my Facebook page one day to see if others thought I was crazy for leaving Rome out and I’d say it was almost 50/50 from the people who responded.

I did some soul searching … To Rome or not to Rome …

And I’ve decided …

Generally speaking I’ve never been a fan of big cities when I travel. Although they each have their own interesting attractions and vibe, I’ve never said WOW I want to go back to that city!

Instead, I get the warm fuzzies when I think about my local living and home stay experiences, interacting with the locals, learning a bit of the language, helping prepare food or photographing people in their homes or at work.

I tend to like peace and quiet in life and that overflows into my travels. Hectic cities are fun to see, but I find them a little stressful. Do I really want to be stressed during this trip? Let’s go with No.

I am also far far far from being a history buff. In fact, although I find history interesting in the moment that I’m learning about it, I rarely recall any of the facts the next day. I’ve been to many museums, but very few that really impacted me. (The Holocaust museum in Berlin, the Agent Orange section of the War Remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh City and S21 in Cambodia are the exceptions).

I don’t find pleasure in exploring old art either. So, while I don’t mind browsing an ancient art gallery, I tend to only need an hour, not three and I know for sure that I won’t want a whole day of museums and galleries.

Although I’ll be in Italy in late September / early October, which is shoulder season, I still don’t want to spend half of my time waiting in line to see any of these big tourist attractions that I’m really not that interested in. Even with the ‘skip the line’ tickets, you still end up in a line, just a sizeably smaller one. Instead of waiting 2 – 6 hours to enter, you might only wait one hour.

I feel like I’m being really negative here, but in the end it’s actually all positive! In making the decision not to see Rome this time around, I have made extra room for Cinque Terre and Tuscany which I think are more my style and size. There is still a tonne of history as well as museums and galleries to be seen throughout these areas if I choose to, but I think instead I’ll spend my time people watching, cycling through the rolling hills, wandering local markets, hiking cliff-side paths between fishing communities and watching the sun set each night.

My point here is that every traveller is different. For some people history and art are the draw. For others, they want to see the tourist attractions that ‘everyone is talking about’. People travel for all sorts of different reasons, with different interests and purposes.

For me, it isn’t so much about what statues, buildings, monuments attract people to an area, but rather the natural beauty, the way of life and the local community. There will be another trip to Italy, I’m sure of it. And, who knows … maybe at that time I’ll be craving a big city or some ancient history. For now, I need a little bit more of a slow pace.

Forward I go, bypassing Rome on this trip, in order to stay true to myself and the things that inspire me to travel more.