Rovinj, Croatia – Photo Essay

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. Flip flops were nearly impossible for those wearing them.

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 nice 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?
(Click on any of the photos to bring up the full image)

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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.

Montenegro – Photo Essay

Early in the morning on our third day, a strong cold breeze ushered us in through the mountains to the beautiful Bay of Kotor. From the warm summer breezes on the Mediterranean to a brisk, fresh wind winding through the crooked mountain maze, it was definitely a change in scenery and temperature. The water was a choppy, deep blue and the mountains towered above us in every direction.

I headed in on the first tender to explore the old walled city of Kotor.

(Click on any of the photos to open full view)

After an hour exploring Kotor, I headed back to the ship on the tender to have lunch and then head back out again for the afternoon tour of Perast.

The tender trip back to the ship was a rough one. Much to the amusement of my fellow travelers, I bundled up in my rain jacket and tried to catch some of the action. Here’s a little video of how rough (and wet) it was. At least I got soaked on purpose, many of the passengers got soaked without warning! In the last few seconds of the video, watch the wave that sprays well up over the entire front of the tender … I was not the only one to get wet from that one!

After lunch on the ship, I headed back to Kotor for our group tour to Perast. It is a beautiful little sea-side town, lazy and sleepy but full of charm. It is best known for being featured in movies such as November Man with Pearce Brosnan. Too bad he wasn’t there when I was!

Aside from the little town of Perast which I got to explore for about 30 minutes or so, there are two islands in the middle of the sea near the most narrow part of the passage. One of the islands is natural, the other was man-made, built on top of a large rock. Each island is home to an interesting Chapel. We had the opportunity to visit Our Lady of the Rock and the Chapel. The art inside was quite interesting and a couple of beautiful paintings are shown the the photo essay below.

Interested in visiting beautiful Montenegro or taking an amazing Star Clippers sailing of the Mediterranean? Get in touch. I’d love to help you out and I am working while I’m traveling, so I’m always happy to assist with your travel needs.

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Thanks for reading.

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 IMG_8714

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 7 day Mediterranean Cruise, please join me for a Free Travel Talk at the Merit Travel Halifax office on November 10th. Exploring the Balkans by land and sea. Please RSVP here.

We also have some great 2 for 1 deals with Star Clippers, but they are only available until the end of October. If you’ve already made up your mind that this is the adventure for you, please get in touch and we can review options to see if one of the specials will suit your needs! STucker@MeritTravel.com

They do also run ‘No single supplement specials’ as well, so if you’re traveling solo, let me know and I’ll keep an eye out for deals for you. There were lots of solo travellers and all were welcomed and made new friends quickly!

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!

Falling in love with Sailing – Part 1

Star Clippers

When the opportunity came for me to set sail on the Star Clipper’s Royal Clipper in the Mediterranean, I couldn’t believe it. I had almost booked my flights that day, but hadn’t finalized them yet, when the call came from my Star Clipper’s rep, Florentina. She had a space available for me on a 7-day sailing adventure departing from Venice, with stops in Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia. I had been considering doing these areas (at minimum Croatia) by land and now, here she was, offering me the chance to do them by land and sea.

Taking the opportunity would mean leaving Canada a week earlier than I had planned and finding a way to deal with the sea-sickness that I’m prone to. I love the ocean. I love boats. I love sailing (and the cute sailors in white don’t hurt!). But, about 75% of the time I’ve been on boats, I’ve been horribly ill. Could I really go on a Mediterranean sailing and enjoy it? I was really worried about being sick the entire time.

In the end, my thirst for adventure and love of the ocean far outweighed my hatred of being sick. I researched some options and decided to get the ear patch and hope that it would work.

I’m a believer that when good opportunities throw themselves at your feet, you don’t walk away, you give it a try. So, I excitedly accepted the opportunity and a couple of days later I booked my flights for the European part of my epic adventure!

When the time came to depart, of course it wouldn’t be a Shari-Adventure without some difficulties getting off the ground! You can read about my experience with the Air France strike here. But, eventually, I landed in Venice, took a cab directly to the port and saw her sitting there … just waiting for me to meet her! (The boat that is!)

Royal Clipper

Royal Clipper docked in Venice

Before boarding, we filled out a tiny bit of paperwork and then streamed through security and walked to the gangway. Easey peasy! With only 200 people to board and only half of them there at beginning, wait times were non-existent.

Royal Clipper boarding

Royal Clipper boarding

We were greeted with a welcome drink, snacks and music and then I filed through the short line up and one of the staff members eagerly showed me to my cabin, gave me a quick overview and left me to settle in.

ROOMS

I was really quite impressed with the cabins. They are beautiful, clean, lots of storage space and have two port holes and lots of lighting. The beds were comfortable and everything you needed was there for you. I was especially impressed with the beautiful bathrooms. I felt right at home, except for the tiny corner shower, but that’s to be expected on a boat! There’s no room for a tub! The shower worked well, had lots of pressure and hot water. There were toiletries available and replaced daily just like a hotel would and the towels were fresh and clean (except of course when you ask for them not to be replaced to save water!)

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Royal Clipper Cabins

Florentina had made arrangements for a group of us to meet for supper, so I took a few minutes and unpacked my entire suitcase. One of the best parts about a cruise is that you can unpack because you stay in the same room for the duration of your trip. I hung up my dresses, stored my shoes and put my toiletries in the bathroom. After cleaning myself up from a long day of travel, I got dressed up and headed up to the sun deck for our very first sail-away, from Venice, at 7pm.

Part 2, coming soon!

If you are interested in a sailing adventure, I highly recommend Star Clippers and would love to help you find the destinations that are perfect for you! We also have some current specials for 2 for 1 sailings or save the single supplement, but you’ll have to get in touch to get details! You can reach me at stucker@merittravel.com

I’ll be doing a FREE Travel Talk on Nov 10th – Exploring the Balkans by Land and Sea. If you’d like to hear more, please RSVP!

Dubrovnik, Croatia – Photo Essay

On September 22nd, 2014 Dubrovnik, Croatia was the port of call from my Star Clippers Mediterranean sailing. It was our first stop and the one that I was most anticipating.

The old city of Dubrovnik is a Unesco World Heritage site. The old city is surrounded by approximately 2 kms of city walls protecting it from intruders in all directions. From the moment I saw the city from the sun deck of my tall ship, I knew why people were amazed at the beauty.

We anchored off shore and tendered in to the lagoon which is hidden by a portion of the city walls. I spent an hour or so wandering the flat part of the internal city and meandering through the very crowded, tiny streets. When I was tired of the crowds, I bought a ticket ($10 US approx) and headed up, up, up to the city wall and started slowly making my way around the entire city from above.

There are over 1000 steps along the 2 km stretch of city walls, and I decided to hike it in the hot mid-afternoon sun. Phew! Luckily there are a few small shops / cafes along the wall with water and snacks. You could likely walk the walls in about an hour if you moved along at a good pace without stopping, but what would be the point? You should plan for 2 – 3 hours, stop and take in the stunning views in every direction. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Even at the end of September, Dubrovnik is a busy spot for tourists. My tall ship was able to anchor nearby and we tendered in to the city, but several cruise ships dock each day as well and send bus-loads of passengers into the old city. Upwards of 6000 people a day, usually between 10am and 4pm. Be prepared for crowded streets and chaos during the day. If you have the opportunity to stay around after 4pm, the crowds thin out and you get a better feel for the city rather than the tourism.

After walking over 1000 stairs in the blazing hot sun, I came down from the wall and met up with my Legends & Curiosities city tour. The guide took us through many small streets and pointed out interesting buildings, as well as sharing the history of some of the lesser known sites.

Although I did not stay on land in the evening, Dubrovnik is known to have a nice little night life with many nice restaurants, bars and even some clubs.

Please click on any of the photos below to see larger images. Images will be available for purchase – details coming soon. Please send me a message if you are interested in purchasing images for your home or office.

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.

Air Canada Rouge Review

Air Canada Rouge – Toronto to Venice – Review

Being Air Canada’s lower cost counterpart, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect for my first Rouge Flight. I was surprisingly welcomed by friendly and gracious staff with stylish uniforms and fedoras. Friendly, helpful, polite … can’t ask for much more from an airline. Compared to the regular Air Canada flight that I had just gotten off, where staff seemed to just be getting by, it was truly a pleasant surprise.

Not having much time before take off, I asked one of the attendants to assist with getting their inflight entertainment set up on my electronics. I was pleased to find out, all I had to do was download the app on my computer and my iphone before leaving and once we were up in air I’d be able to access a full variety of entertainment options – movies, tv, news, music, kids programming. Although I managed to sleep through about five hours of the flight, I still found time to give the Air Canada Rouge player a go. I successfully watched two episodes of Big Bang Theory (my go to on planes) at good resolution on my MacBook Air with no interruptions. It was simple to use. Just remember that you need your own headphones and a device. The service is free to use and the app free to download. Just go into your app store on your iphone and download the free Air Canada app. I’m sure it has many more great features, but I only checked out the bare minimum and valued my sleep instead.

Also remember that you have to have the app downloaded prior to take off as it is only wifi for their specific rouge app, not for surfing safari or checking email. I was a little disappointed by this as I was hoping to keep in touch via social media and had gotten excited at the wifi idea. Ah well … it’s coming, just not quite yet.

Seating was comfortable and being in the plus section (not business), you could certainly feel the difference of the little extra leg room. Sadly I was late boarding (at final call because my previous flight was delayed) so carryon storage space was limited. I found room for my large camera bag, but wasn’t able to fit my laptop case in anywhere nearby. Sitting at the front of the section with a wall in front of me gave me a bit of extra leg room, but with the loss of room to store anything under the seat. Luckily a kind man beside me allowed me to invade his under seat space with my laptop bag for the duration of the flight. Thank you kind stranger! It’s never fun to have your carryon luggage spread all over the cabin when you go to get off the plane. Especially if you have to walk toward the back to get one of your items through the sea of impatient people crowding the aisles waiting for their turn to get off the plane even though the plane has barely come to a hault.

We were served a hot meal for supper about an hour after take off. Choices were pasta – beef stroganoff, or chicken and veggies. Although not the best plane meal I’ve ever had, the chicken was definitely sufficient, piping hot and decent flavor. The best part? The brownie for dessert … yumm!

Breakfast, about an hour and a half before landing was a piece of banana bread. Now, it was white banana bread … not at all the same as my momma makes! I’m used to banana bread that is marbled or spotted a bit. This bread was yellow and so banana-y flavoried that it may have been flavor-added rather than just au-natural. Regardless, it was moist and delicious.

Overall, happy with my first Air Canada Rouge experience. Although not the most luxurious that I’ve been on, it was still clearly well above a low cost carrier in space, options and meals.

Super happy that after having my Air France flights cancelled due to strike that I was able to switch on to Air Canada, collect my aeroplan points, try out Air Canada Rouge product and get to Venice with only one stop in Toronto.

Rouge is definitely a worthy option in the competitive world of airlines.

Working my way around the world

Working my way around the world.

By now, most of you know that I’m in Europe. Some people understand what I’m doing … others have no clue … so here it is, all spelled out for you … The who, what, where, when, why of my current world.

WHO: Me – traveling all alone and happy about it

WHAT: Working my way around the world. This is not a vacation

WHERE: Europe / South America / Caribbean

WHEN: September 19 – unknown (anticipating returning in March / April 2015)

WHY: I am passionate about traveling, trying new things, being outdoors, discovering new foods and cultures. I have no commitments and no home, so I can live a free life … at least for this point in time.

Although I have my sister and my parents, I have not made a family of my own. Therefore, if I’m going to travel I need to do it sooner rather than later as I might be having a baby later (or not … who knows!) I can only live in the present, I can’t predict the future, so I have to do what’s right for me right now.

Pretty simple isn’t it?

Now, on to the work part of all of this travel …

Contrary to popular belief, I am not rich. I did sell my condo to pay off bills and become debt free, but the profit did not go into an account to ‘fund’ my extended travels. I am not lucky. Luck is not planned and I have planned how to make this all happen.

When I say I’m working my way around the world, I truly mean it. I am a full time travel agent, but also an entrepreneur. I work under the umbrella of Merit Travel, a Canadian based travel agency, but I manage my own clients and own hours. This has given me the full capability to work from anywhere in the world … so I’m doing just that! If you give me a call, shoot me an email or care to skype with me, you’ll still be able to reach me … I just might be eating delicious gelato in Dubrovnik or sitting at a café in Kotor. It doesn’t stop me from being able to work … it’s just a different environment.

The goal for me is to travel a lot over the next year, but continue to sell travel to my clients who are mostly in Nova Scotia (although they don’t have to be!). How does that work you ask? Well, just about all of my research, planning and consulting is done via internet. I only have a few clients who I meet face to face regularly. So I still offer the exact same services as I did when I was working 9-5 in office, but now I do it from a café when I’m in Halifax, or I could be in a European café, an Argentinian estancia or a hotel wherever I may be at that time.

I know it is hard for people to understand, but I am exploring the world, seeing as much as I can, but also balancing it with enough work to keep my clients happy and food in my tummy.

My travel agent colleagues on the ship keep telling me I work too much. Even they can’t seem to understand that I’m not on vacation. And, I’m actually not working that much. And really, if I wasn’t working right now, what would they expect me to do? Drink? Well … we all know that’s not going to get too far as I’m not much of a drinker. Maybe when they ask me if I’m a workaholic, I’ll ask them if they are an alcoholic? Ha ha

Because I am not rich and I do not have a travel fund to keep me going for 6 months, I absolutely must continue to work as a travel agent. I don’t mind; I love my job. I know you are all thinking that’s fantastic, and it is, but it has its downfalls too!

My three biggest struggles at the moment are:

  1. Lack of reliable internet. Although I was very confident internet would be easy to find and accessible on my cruise, it isn’t as easy as I expected. I can purchase internet on the ship (which I don’t mind), but it is intermittent which means if I’m in the middle of something important and it cuts out I have to start over. That’s not particularly productive.
  2. I could go in to shore each day and access internet, but often it is a 15 – 20 minute tender each way from the ship to shore. If I go in to the city to work in the morning I have to take all of my camera gear and both laptops and then take them walking around or on tour with me. Not only is it cumbersome, but heavy too!
  3. Balance (which is funny to write about as I sit in the piano lounge of the bar on board the Royal Clipper with it listing). Now, I knew this was going to be a difficult one and it would take some practice, but I somehow thought it would be easier. It is incredibly difficult to balance wanting to see and do everything in all of these new amazing countries (Croatia & Montenegro so far) with needing to attend to work clients. I suspect it will get much better once I’m settled in one spot for a few days, but for now, this first few days have been very unbalanced. Having said that, I have had a fantastic time exploring Croatia & Montenegro so far and it just makes me more determined to catch up on work as soon as I can.

Now that you know what it is that I’m doing, I hope you’ll follow along for the upcoming blogs about each of my destinations … the fun times and interesting conversations I’ve had and reviews about many of the suppliers and products that I’ve been involved with.

At this point (Sept 25), I only have two days left on the ship and then I’m heading through Italy for 12 days. Posts will hopefully be more regular from here on out and photos coming soon too!

Air France Strike

Air France Strike

With my flight originally scheduled from Halifax to Venice on Sept 18th, when Air France pilots officially went on strike on Sept 15th it was devastating. I had been so incredibly busy with finishing up work files and trying to plan my own trip that I already felt maxed.

Air France had a release out that said they would be operating at 48% of flights. For those affected by cancellations, they could reschedule free of charge within specific date ranges (and within their original class of service or they could get a full refund.

Being only four days from departure, I knew that changing my flights would be nearly impossible because everything would be sold out and even if I found new flights with Air France that fit the restrictions, it was possible that those flights could be cancelled too seeing as they weren’t announcing cancellations until 24 hours in advance.

I got busy making phone calls as soon as the strike was confirmed. I started by calling my insurance company to see what the procedure would be and when I could officially make a claim. After much discussion, I was advised that my plan actually wouldn’t cover anything to do with strike action even though I had booked the flights months before the strike was announced. So, in this particular case I was SOL because insurance wasn’t going to help me out with the cost of new flights or with the money lost for and expensive hotel in Venice that was non-refundable.

Right then and there I was super frustrated. I looked my insurance policy up, but sadly, with the lower package that I had purchased, strike was not included.

Next up, I called my credit card company as I have insurance with them as well … good news … I had medical and baggage coverage with my credit card. Bad news, I did not have interruption insurance. So …. No luck with the credit card.

What does all of that mean?

If my flight was cancelled I could get my money back from the airline (about $1200). I could then use that money to buy a brand new ticket (on short notice), which was going to cost closer to $4000. Hmmm … see the disconnect here?

I started searching for new flight options on my own to see what I could get for the cheapest and still reach Venice on time. I came up with an Air Canada itinerary departing on Sept 19 (a day later), but arriving on Sept 20th, in time for my embarkation. And it even had better routing – Halifax / Toronto / Venice. It would mean forfeiting a night in Venice at a non-refundable hotel and paying about $500 extra for my flight. It sucked, but it was certainly better than not going at all.

Tuesday I tried to forget about it. After all it was possible that my flights might be on the ‘fly’ list instead of cancellation list. Then I’d be all set, nothing would change and I’d arrive in Venice one day early, as planned.

Wednesday the 17th came and I checked for flight updates as soon as I woke up. Sadly, mine was one of the cancelled ones.

I got on the phone to Air France right away. First I tried their public reservations number, which wasn’t open that early in the morning. I was not impressed. In the middle of a strike and customer service / reservations weren’t even taking calls?

Then I found our agent line to Air France and not only did someone answer, but he was super helpful and nice. I went through the situation with him and he began looking for new routing options with me. Finally he found one that would still leave on Sept 18th, but routing would be Halifax / Montreal / Paris … then I would overnight in Paris before heading on to Venice the next morning … still in time for my embarkation. I told him to put those on hold.

A couple of problems though …

No change in flight price, but it would cost me an extra hotel in Paris, as well as transportation. No way I could visit Paris for 24 hours and stay in a hotel room the whole time!

The flights were still with Air France which means they could still be cancelled and then I would be back to square 1.

Once the rep had them on hold I tried to find a later flight from Halifax to Montreal so that I wouldn’t have an 8 hour layover in Montreal. The rep wasn’t able to make changes to that particular portion of the trip as he was only able to change the Air France segments. He put me through to their booking department and I had a nice chat with a rep there who went above and beyond to get me exactly what I needed.

She checked Air France, KLM and Delta flighs again, but everything was sold out. This is what happens when one company cancels half of their flights, the other airlines fill up very quickly. Having not found anything suitable, she asked if it would be ok if I checked with other airlines. Hell yes! I don’t have any particular loyalties to airline companies. I just wanted to get to Venice on time for my Star Clippers cruise. I was not prepared to miss that!

As soon as she asked me that, I told her about the good Air Canada flights that I had found and I just thought she wasn’t able to switch me to them. After about 20 – 30 minutes on the phone with her, she had cancelled the ‘on hold’ flights with the overnight in Paris, rounded up my new request for flights and had sent it off to get confirmation.

Phew! Was I ever happy when she told me that Air Canada approved the change and she sent me a new eticket.

What does that mean? It meant that I didn’t have to pay to reroute or change my date, I didn’t have to get a refund and then pay a crazy amount more for flights with another airline, I got better routing and got to collect Aeroplan points for the flight which I wouldn’t have been able to do with the other routing. It still left me missing out on a night in Venice and a $300 hotel, but in the grand scheme of things, that was pretty minor and I was thrilled to have it taken care of.

Besides, I barely made it to the airport on time on Friday because I was still packing and doing errands. There’s no way that I would have gotten it all done to leave on Thursday!

The lesson here for all of you is two fold:

  1. Check all of your insurance policies (work / credit card / purchased through an agent) to see if your policy covers airline strike.
  2. Use a travel agent to book your trip. I spent an hour and a half on the phone with Air France plus a couple of hours looking at new routing myself. And, if I hadn’t had access to the travel agent emergency line I have no idea how long it would have taken to get it all settled and how frustrated I would have been as a regular customer not knowing what all of my options were.

Despite the incredible number of customers from that 52% of flights that were cancelled, the staff that I spoke to both gave wonderful customer service despite working over time and likely having to deal with a lot of agents (or customers) looking for miracle solutions.

Although I was happy to gain my Aeroplan points and have better routing, I mostly was just pleased with the knowledge and friendliness of the Air France staff who did exactly what I needed.