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.

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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 when I visited, I did really enjoy 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 go tee 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!

Here are a variety of my favourite photos from Venice Island itself. I’ll have another blog coming soon with photos from my wonderful day trip to Murano and seeing Murano glass being crafted.

Please click on any of the images below to see the full image.

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

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 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 seven day Mediterranean Cruise, please feel free to contact me stucker@tpi.ca

I have access to the latest and greatest deals on these amazing sailings from 2 for 1 to no single supplement sales, right through to on board credits and extra amenities.

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.

Air BnB – I found one – Now what?

You’ve spent hours looking at pictures of lovely homes in the area you want to visit. You’ve read so many reviews from happy travellers that they are all blending together, but now what?

Exactly what do you do once you find a rental that you like?

For me, I save it to my favourites and write a little note about why I like this particular home, what was unique or anything else that caught my eye – good or bad.

For example: Great location – close to train / great reviews / no internet / lots of natural light
For example: Third floor, no elevator / no kitchen / reviews say wifi slow / 20 minutes from town / great host reviews / great view and balcony / breakfast included

Once I’ve exhausted my searching and narrowed down to a little (or large) list of my favourites, I start sending messages to the hosts to check on availability and pricing. This is also your time to ask any questions about any of the rules.

Air BnB does a great job at making things easy for you. Once you’ve written your first message, the site automatically saves it for the next time you write to a host. You don’t even have to copy and paste the message and you most certainly don’t have to start from scratch! Just take a moment to make sure the details of the message are pertinent to the host and property you are interested in and then send away! You might want to update any questions you have about particulars of a specific location such as asking about the size of the pool and how often it is cleaned; this is only relevant if there is a pool!

A big tip prices ARE negotiable. That’s right, you can ask the hosts for a special offer or discount. They can say yes or no, but it never hurts to ask! I don’t suggest trying to bargain like you would at a market in the Caribbean, but asking for a better price is acceptable. Every single host that I wrote, I asked for a discount … in Cinque Terre I reasoned it with ‘because October is low season and I’m renting for five days’ … However, I also found out from several of the hosts that October isn’t low season at all and that they are actually still very busy that time of year! Having said that, almost all of the hosts that I wrote, who had availability for my dates, gave me at least a small discount.

One rental started at $840 CAD and went to $751 CAD for five nights stay.
Another rental started at $463 CAD and went to $407 CAD for five nights stay.

When the host agrees to a discount, they can form a special offer for you with the details / price at the discounted rate and then you can decide to book or decline it. This is all done through the Air BnB mailbox that you will have once you set up your profile. Don’t worry, it isn’t another email address to remember, just part of your Air BnB profile. They can also put a deadline on the special offer so that you don’t take a month to decide when they could be booking up with other people.

If you simply get an email from them stating that they will give you a discount, that is not good enough. In order for it to be official, you need to get the Special Offer from them (a link that you click) and accept it. If it is simply done through email, you could arrive and be expected to pay the original price. You don’t want that to happen!

For Cinque Terre, I wrote to about five different hosts. My favourite home was out of my price range, but I asked the host for a discount and he obliged as I was traveling solo and his location was meant for up to five people. However, in the end I decided to go with a cheaper option (1/2 the price). Interesting enough, the host from my favourite location had also mentioned that he is involved with a tour company that offers wine / boat / cooking tours that he could give me further information on if I was interested. Although I didn’t book in to stay at his rental, I made sure to write him back and get more details on his tour company. I’m working on it now to see if they work with travel agent partners. If they do, I’ll be sure to share the information soon!

I’m excited that I will be enjoying my very first Air BnB experience in the lovely little fishing village of Vernazza in Cinque Terre, Italy. As I mentioned above, it was not my favourite rental option, however, it was my favourite within my price range, which is very important!

Eva’s Rooms #3

Maurizia, the host, has been absolutely lovely to correspond with so far and I suspect she’ll be a lovely host on arrival. Of course, I’ll be keeping you posted if you’re following along on my journey!

If you are considering trying Air BnB for the first time, please take a moment to sign up with this promo code. When you book your first stay it will give you $27 off, and I will get a credit as well. Share the love!

*** NOTE: As a travel agent, Air BnB is not a product that I sell or that I can assist you with professionally. They are private home rentals and you enter into an agreement with the hosts at your own risk. I am simply sharing my personal experiences and thoughts about the product because I love travel … just like you!

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.

Air BnB – What’s that?

Just what is this Air BnB thing that you hear your traveling friends raving about? I’ve been hearing people talk about it for about the last year, but I’m sure it has been around much longer than that. There’s a long list of sites that offer similar (yet different variations) of private home rentals, Air BnB is one of them. Other variations are couch surfing, home away, flip key … the list goes on.

Since I started working in the travel industry and also running the Hello World meet up group I’ve been hearing great feedback about Air BnB. So, here’s the low-down for those of you who don’t know anything about it.

Air BnB is an online database of privately owned homes or rooms for rent around the world. Just like the real world, the homes vary in every way you can imagine! People can choose to rent out a room in their house or they can rent out their entire house. The ‘house’ could be an apartment, condo, shack, hut, mansion, castle or even a two person tented hammock.

As a travel agent, this is not something that I sell as it is dealing directly with private homeowners, so as an agency, we have no contracts in place for business partnerships with these individuals. It is something that you do *at your own risk*.

Air BnB is an online company dealing directly with homeowners, real estate agents or property management companies. They are not hotels or franchises of any kind and to my knowledge, do not work with travel agencies. They are simply homeowners like you and I … (oh wait, I sold my condo so I could go travel! So, not like me, but maybe just like you!)

People rent out their homes or a room for all different reasons …
1. To meet new people with similar travel interests and help travellers out.
2. To make money. They may own two or more homes, live in one and rent the others out. Or, they may be in the Property Management business.
3. To pay their bills. Maybe the owner is traveling, but has a place they have to pay for. Renting it out while they are away helps offset bill costs.
4. To boost their other travel related businesses. Many of the Air BnB hosts also run tour companies and although I haven’t found them pushy at all, they are certainly interested in having you try out their tours while you are there.

It is up to you as a traveler to decide what type of accommodations you are looking for and what price you are willing to pay. Do you want to be immersed in the culture and live with a local family? Do you want the privacy of your own apartment with the ability to cook meals? There’s a lot of variety out there, now it’s time to start sifting through it all.

The Air BnB website is very user friendly. I started browsing options immediately and only created a profile when I was starting to narrow down options and wanted to save them to my favourites.

Now, just why is a travel agent with access to thousands of hotels booking a product that she doesn’t even sell? Well, it’s pretty simple actually …

1. There are some places in the world that are very difficult to find hotels in.
2. I love to live locally and meet the people of the community. Hotels aren’t very social, usually. And, because I travel with so much equipment (camera / laptop etc), I can’t really stay comfortably in hostels for safety reasons.
3. Hotels can be incredibly expensive for a long term trip like my own, so for some parts of my trip, I’m doing Air BnB rentals to save money both on accommodation and on not eating every single meal at a restaurant.

Having said all of that, my fall trip is 80% hotel accommodations. I’m using Air BnB for my rental in Cinque Terre because it is a difficult location for hotels and I’ve chosen a rental in Dominican Republic that is an apartment with kitchen as I will be there more than a month. Doesn’t hurt to have a little variety throughout your travels!

Just in case you want to give Air BnB a try for somewhere you are planning to go, you can sign up with this special promotion link and we’ll both get a discount on our next booking! $27 off could be one free night for you AND for me!

Just keep in mind that Air BnB is not a product that I sell through the travel agency. We have no affiliation with it and take no responsibility if you have a bad experience. This is to be undertaken 100% at your own risk. This blog is purely from my personal perspective on traveling.

If private rentals just aren’t up your alley or you want a combination of hotels and private rentals, I’d be happy to help you out with finding great hotels / tours and packages for your next adventure!

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.