My Guide to Rome, Italy

Rome is one of my favourite cities hands down.

The Eternal City has a draw to it that I can’t quite put my finger on. It might be that I’ve made so many amazing memories here, or simply that to me it feels like “home”. So with my recent trips here and heading back yet again I thought I would update this blog post as there are so many new experiences and places to see and do I’ve been recommending to clients and friends.

Arriving into Rome

The Fiumicino airport is easy to navigate, customs was a breeze, the tricky part is trying to make it to the taxi stand. I did plenty of research, arriving into Rome for a single traveller you have a few options, pre arrange a transfer in a shared vehicle, take the Leonardo Express (the train) into Termini Station or get a taxi. Taxis (white cabs, in the taxi line) do have a fixed fare of €48 to get you into the walled city of Rome. My suggestion if you arrive at night is to take a taxi, it’s safe, gets you directly where you are going and the drivers can be very polite and willing to chat. As I mentioned it’s just getting to the taxi stand that can be a bit of an issue, you will have people approach you for a transfer, just ignore them and keep walking. Black cabs in Rome aren’t legal (you will find them just as overpriced on Uber), they are private transfer companies they aren’t supposed to be taking extra travellers.

Where to Stay

Jet lag to Europe is somewhat easier than jet lag to Asia, still not fun, but more tolerable and has it’s benefits. I typically wake up bright and early at 4:30am local time in Rome and venture out of my hotel room by 5:30/6:00am depending on the time of year. Venture out early. You see how the locals live, enjoy Rome’s busiest sights without any tourists to be found and take some pretty amazing photos with the soft warm sunrise lighting. Down side streets that normally look like cattle herding gates with all the crowds and are shoulder to shoulder with tourists come 2:00pm, you’ll find are empty and peaceful. You see the local deliveries to restaurants and hotels, the true bustle of local life in Roma. “Buongiorno!” echos down the streets. It’s a magical time to explore Rome in my opinion.

I typically stay in the vicinity of the Trevi Fountain & Spanish Steps. I just find it’s a great spot to stay as that’s where most of my favourite restaurants are.

Hotel de Petris (basic/mid range accommodations) – Staying at Hotel de Petris (or the area) you are so close to quite a few main sights, you are a five minute walk from the Trevi Fountain and about eight minutes walk from the Spanish Steps. Some of the rooms have been updated, the hotel has a beautiful rooftop patio, where they serve breakfast and a beautiful place to relax at night.

NH Collection Roma Centro Hotel (great mid range property) – I stayed here on one of my last trips to Rome. It’s a great location in regards to walkability to many top sights, it’s on the West side of the Tiber River (same side as Vatican City). I woke up quite early and easily got to the Vatican with no one around. Property is in quite good condition, breakfast was very good and lots of choices. The cappuccino/espresso machine I would have loved to have taken home haha. Love the bathrooms at the hotel as well, the bathrooms featured bathtubs, which are so nice at the end of a long day walking around Rome. Rooms are also well furnished, beds are very comfortable and I slept very well.

Hotel Modigliani (mid range accommodations) – I was highly recommended this property by a friend and it’s got great reviews on TripAdvisor. It’s a boutique hotel owned by husband and wife Giulia and Marco. Hotel features an inner garden, an extensive continental breakfast and most rooms feature a small balcony. Breakfast was good and had both hot and cold items.

La Griffe Roma, MGallery by Sofitel (mid range/luxury accommodations) – I recommend this hotel to many of my clients due to location and service level. Great location to Roma Termini (train station) and the hop on hop off routes.

The Westin Excelsior (luxury accommodations) – I stayed here for a night and loved this hotel. It’s so classy and again near the area of Spanish Steps, so close to my favourite part of Rome to wander. Everything and more you would expect at a Westin Hotel. Rooms are more of a traditional style, however to me very respective of Rome.

The St. Regis Rome (luxury accommodations) – Absolutely stunning and beautiful hotel. All the service and amenities you would expect at a St. Regis property. Rooms have been renovated recently and look amazing.

Getting Around Rome

Ok, I enjoy a good quintessential touristy way to get around. The first time I was in Rome, I opted for a hop on, hop off pass with City Sightseeing. Honestly I think they are good value, a great way to get around the city and has the highlights of what to see along it’s routes. I usually ride one loop around so I know exactly where stops are and to listen to the commentary that is provided.

Other ways to get around Rome reasonably are the public buses, it does take a little more figuring out, but is a very cheap way to get around Rome. Taxis line up at taxi stands (orange sign, black lettering), you can find most near main Piazzas. If you do call for a cab from your hotel, etc, they do start their meter when they receive the call to pick you up. Taxis are very reasonable and have found them all to be quite good and honest with the routes taken.

Rome does have Uber now, however the prices are very expensive compared to other places where Uber exists. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rome or Italy in general no longer supports Uber like some cities like Barcelona.

Eating in Rome

Breakfast in Rome (or anywhere else in Italy) is simple, “caffe e cornetto” (espresso and a pastry) are all the words you need to mutter. Be sure to order at the cashier first, then go to the counter with your receipt. Standing at a counter is typical European way, if you sit in for breakfast or just a coffee, you do get charged an extra service fee. A great cafe would be the Antico Caffe Greco, located just down the street from the Spanish Steps, it bears the plaque of a Roma Historical Site and locals argue it’s one of the best places in Rome for a coffee. Another morning drink to try would be a “cappuccino al ginseng”, a cappuccino with ginseng extract which is surprisingly amazing and gives you quite a kick to start your day, try Tazza D’Oro for one of these right near the Pantheon. Asking for your coffee to go is sacrilege in Italian culture. It’s the one time to stop, and literally smell the coffee.

Lunch and Dinner in Rome was for me, street food time. This is a newish concept to Italy, however the bakeries can be centuries old. Forno Campo de’ Fiori has some of the best pizza I have ever tasted. Try the Pizza Bianca with mortadella and figs, absolutely amazing. Near by another bakery serves up pizza by the slice (no, not like you would typically find here in Canada) and the best arancini I’ve ever had, check out Antico Forno Roscioli.

If pasta is more your thing, try “Cacio e pepe”, a traditional Roman pasta dish of butter, fresh cracked pepper and pecorino or parmesan cheese, aka heaven in a bowl. Pastifico Guerra is located on Via della Croce (street connecting to the Piazza di Spagna, or Spanish Steps), this place offers a choice from two pastas for lunch and dinner, a glass of wine for €4. Yes, no joke, €4. They don’t have a place to sit in, they actually make and sell pasta, but offer a “taste” of their labours at this very reasonable price. The choices the night I went was a linguine with arribiata, pecorino and pancetta, or a vegetarian option of linguine with fresh pesto and zucchini.

A few of my favourite restaurants are:

Fiaschetteria Beltramme (near Spanish Steps, 39 Via della Croce) – Honestly the BEST carbonara you will eat on this planet. Period. They also serve up amazing appetizers such as Burrata and Prosciutto, Caprese Salad and other great dishes including a great Cacio e pepe. Glasses of house wine are also really good quality and like the food prices, very reasonable.

Ristorante All’Oro (slightly North of Piazza del Popolo, 23/25 Via Giuseppe Pisanelli) – An intimate Michelin Starred restaurant with the best seven course tasting menu I’ve probably ever had. Staff are incredible, friendly and very good with food preferences and sensitivities. It’s well worth the price to experience the full dinner here, so memorable.

Piccolo Arancio (near Trevi Fountain, Vicolo Scanderbeg 112) – Located very close to the Trevi Fountain but in an alleyway that is very “local Roman”. Try the amazing Ravioli All’Arancia, ravioli pasta filled with ricotta cheese and orange served in a cream sauce. Delicious!

Dessert in Rome is simple, you need to try Pompi’s tiramisu. Literally kitty corner from Pastifico near the Spanish Steps, this is the best tiramisu I’ve ever had. The gelato there is pretty good too.

Roman Fountains

I always travel with a refillable water bottle, you don’t know what each countries rules are for recycling are, so it’s just something that makes me feel better. What I didn’t realize and was so happy to hear that you can drink out of the fountains in Rome. There are specific places to refill your water bottles at each fountain and is completely safe to drink. The water comes from an artisanal well and is looked after and tested daily by the Italian government. Buying bottled water in Rome therefore is really unnecessary. On a hot day, the water is cool and refreshing, and always available.

The Vatican

I’m not a religious person, however the Vatican is still a sight to see. I did a guided tour of the Vatican, while I did enjoy it, I think I would have just enjoyed wandering around on my own. I felt like we were being rushed around (yes, even a 4 hour tour felt rushed) and really only skimmed the surface. If the Vatican interests you, do it on your own, arrive early to beat the crowds and just wander. There is a lot of history held within those walls and some artwork by some fantastic artists. While I was there in one of the courtyards they had an Egyptian exhibit, some of the historical pieces were a delight to see.

So a bit of an update here… I had another amazing experience at the Vatican which I would HIGHLY suggest if you can book a tour that offers it. I had a private after hours tour of the Vatican Museums followed by dinner in the gardens after hours! It was so amazing to see the Vatican again in this way with NO crowds. We could take our time and we were the only ones in the Sistine Chapel! Such an amazing experience!

Other Experiences in Rome

I highly recommend doing an Urban Adventures tour in Rome. I did the “Rome Highlights” tour and it was a great introduction to the city the first time I was here. Tours are very small groups (one paid passenger means the tour is guaranteed to go) and the local guides are amazing! Guides in Rome are very highly trained and especially have PhD’s because of the historical significance of pretty well everything you walk on or look at.

Of course there are so many of the iconic things to see and do such as the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Piazza Navona, the markets (don’t miss the market at Campo de’ Fiore, it’s where I buy my kitchenwares such as ravioli presses, pasta tools, etc, however the flowers here are stunning!). I could go on and on. Rome is full of so much stunning architecture and history. If you do go and see the Colosseum and Roman Forum on your own, buy your ticket at the ticket office located on Via dei Fori Imperiali (the main street near Piazza Venezia). The line was maybe five minutes wait and was stamped with an entrance time to see the Colosseum. The lines to buy tickets at the Colosseum were crazy, I got to basically walk right in (just a small line for security).

Rome Overall

I always have an amazing time in Rome, it’s actually a place I could totally see myself living. Everywhere you look and corner you turn there is more and more history. I find the city to be quite safe if you knew what to look out for, I saw a few of the scams I had read up on in the Lonely Planet guide and online on various blogs, but didn’t have any problems personally. I found Rome to be clean and welcoming. Whilst I did find some unfriendliness in the city, many of the locals are chatty and quite nice. Travelling as a single woman in Rome didn’t make me uneasy at all.

My most recent “pinch me moment” was on one of my early morning walks to Vatican City in May 2019, standing in the empty Piazza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. As I was standing there all alone with the sun rising on this beautiful scene, an all girls children’s choir singing “Ave Maria”, followed by “Hallelujah”. I seriously started to cry as it was such a beautiful moment.

I’ll always be looking forward to the day I come back to Rome. Yes, I always throw my coin over my shoulder at the Trevi Fountain, so it will only be a matter of time…

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My Guide to Venice, Italy

I heard a quote once about Venice:  “Visiting Venice is like eating a box of chocolate liqueurs in one go…” (author unknown).

Now it might not be just like that… It depends if eating an entire box of chocolates makes you sick or not lol. But I do understand the decadence the author might have been referring to…

Venice is luxuriously self-indulgent.

I envy any true Venetian who calls this incredible city “home”. The art scene in Venice rivals any museum, the city itself you could argue is an open-air museum and art gallery on display for the world to admire. Venice captured my heart.

Where to Stay:

Venice is expensive. I’ll be honest though, spend the money, it’s worth it. Some of the hotels you can stay in here are incredible, impeccably pristine and are an experience in themselves. Venice is not as large of an area as you may think. The alleyways and crowds can make getting from point “A” to point “B” a little longer than usual, but wandering the streets of Venice is part of the romance of this place.

Hotel Ca’ d’Oro – 3 Star – Located near the Cannaregio area of Venice, this 3 star property is great value. It’s about 15-20 minutes walk from Piazza San Marco, 7-10 minute walk from the famous Rialto Bridge and Market. Hotel Ca’ d’Oro is clean comfortable and reasonably easy to get to by Vaporetto (nearest station is within 5 minutes).

Santa Chiara Hotel – 4 Star – I booked this hotel solely on location on the way back from my cruise. It’s across the street from the People Mover to the Cruise Ship Terminals and across the bridge from the train station. It’s one of the only hotels on Venice that you can physically drive to. The buses to and from the airport also depart and arrive right behind the hotel, as well as several different vaporetto stops, so for location and ease it’s amazing. The service of the staff and rooms are amazing as well. I booked a Deluxe Canal View room and it didn’t disappoint. It’s been recently renovated, the rooms are very well appointed and a deluxe breakfast buffet was also included.

Hotel Danieli – 5 Star – This hotel is a Venice classic. Featured in so many films, once you stay here, you’ll understand why it’s a must. Part of the Starwood hotel brand, Hotel Danieli has the most perfect of locations, located mere steps from St. Marks Square and the Doge’s Palace. The restaurant here is incredible and overlooks the Grand Canal.

Other hotels to note: The Gritti Palace, Hilton Molino Stucky, JW Marriott Venice and The Westin Europa & Regina.

Where to Eat:

When you visit to visit Venice, “foodie town” is probably not what you are thinking. Sure Venice probably is in the place you want to have certain Italian foods if it’s your only stop in this amazing country, however Venice has amazing gastronomical offerings available to it’s visitors. Venetians have a very different way of living, but they’re definitely doing it right. Typical Venetian breakfast would be your cappuccino and cornetto (as with most of Italy). Lunch could be a slice of pizza at a local bakery, a Panini or even a calzone from one of the small bakeries you’ll find along one of the winding pathways. Remember, any good restaurant doesn’t need to have waiters outside trying to get you to sit down to eat with a “free glass of wine” or a “tourist menu”, all the good places are already busy.

Venice is known for its seafood and still to this day there is a fish market at the Rialto Market every Monday, definitely something to check out. Most cantinas and restaurants send their chefs every day to get local produce, fish and other daily finds for amazing daily creations and specials.

But early evening/late afternoon, is strictly for cicchetti. Cicchetti is similar to tapas, it’s a variety of small bites that you enjoy with a glass of house wine or as Venetians call it “umbra”, which literally translates as a glass of “shade”. Usually when ordering cicchetti, you can have an entire meal with a couple glasses of wine for under €20 per person. For dinner Venice boasts some of Italy’s best restaurants. In Venice you can find several Michelin star restaurants, and several restaurants that cater to the locals which in my opinion are just good. 

The local drink of choice, that depends where you go. As mentioned, house wines in Venice are amazing whether you choose white or red. However with Venice’s location to the DOC and DOCG areas (regionally protected wines) means the prosecco here is super fresh, crisp and reasonable. Check out Al Prosecco to try some amazing local prosecco by the glass in this hip wine bar setting. Also, Venice is the birth place of the real Bellini. Make sure you try this very refreshing cocktail at least once. I enjoyed mine whilst watching people go by near Piazza San Marco.

Some of my favourite restaurants in Venice include Ristorante Wildner which is located on the Grand Canal near San Marcos Piazza, walk along past Hotel Danieli near the San Zaccaria vaporetto stops, you’ll find this amazing restaurant. They had a delicious 3 course meal for €25 including a starter, main and dessert. For Michelin star dining, try Il Ridotto behind Hotel Danieli in a small piazza. I tried their tasting menu and it was INCREDIBLE! They also own a trattoria right across in the piazza, called Aciugheta. I had a pizza, Aperol Spritz and a few glasses of wine here for lunch after trying Il Ridotto for dinner one night. Good atmosphere and great selection of local wines. For cicchetti, favourite of many locals would be Cantina do Spade near Rialto, and Al Timon in Cannareggio.

What to see:

Venice is one of those magical places where you want to get up early to take advantage of the true local life or what’s left there of. Venice at sunrise overlooking the Grand Canal is one the most beautiful moments that I’ve ever experienced. Simply wandering the alleyways of Venice (and getting lost) is something that you definitely need to do. Taking in the sights, the smells, the atmosphere and truly the soul of this place. Sometimes that’s the great part of travelling. While wandering the streets of Venice I turned the corner and came across a gentleman playing the violin on the steps of a church. I stood there, for a few minutes, peering through an archway, whilst the locals went about their daily life. Again, one of those moments I was so happy to have come across. It can be easy to get lost in Venice, however follow the signs to the nearest popular points of interest (yellow signs on most buildings pointing the way down alleys to Rialto, San Marco, and other popular areas of Venice).

For museums, Doge’s Palace, St. Marks Basilica and the Peggy Guggenheim Museum were my favourites. I also wandered the area around the Accademia which is near where the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is located.

I also did trips over to Murano, Burano and Torcello. You can do a guided half day tour, which I did, however I revisited all the islands myself with vaporettos (the ferry system in Venice). Torcello holds most of the history of Venice, as this was the first of the islands in the lagoon that was inhabited when Treviso was invaded (more on Treviso in another post soon). Burano, is know for its beautiful lace making and colourful houses. It’s a stunning fishing village that you want to visit in the early morning or early evening once all the tour groups have left. Murano is the island of world renown glass. True Murano glass is still made here on this island and crafted by amazing artisans. I did purchase a few pieces, just be sure that you are buying from a reputable shop as some do sell glass from China.

Another thing to do whilst in Venice is to try to take in a performance at the opera (or at least try to do a tour of the opera house). It’s one of those things that truly gives you a glimpse of life into Venice’s luxurious and opulent past.

If you’re looking for a great local tour option, check out Urban Adventures. They offer some great small group tour options in Venice. I love Urban Adventures as they are typically food based tours and are also run by in the know locals, so you get a true taste of what local life is like in the place where you take a tour with them. They take you places that not many tourists go, so it’s very well worth it!

How to Get Around:

So as you may know their are no cars on Venice proper.

So getting around involves walking or taking water transport of some sort. There are multiple water transport options. To and from the airport you have the Alilaguna ferries. Around Venice and to the other islands, you have the vaporetto system (run by ACTV), which is very similar to city buses just on water. You can also hire private boats (water taxis) to take you from point A to point B in VIP style. Water taxis are by far the most expensive way to get around Venice when it comes to transport.

Finally, you then have the very touristic water transportation of gondolas. A gondola ride can cost you upwards of €80 for an hour and is not typical a mode of transportation anymore, but really just a tour of the canals. It’s still a beautiful way to enjoy Venice’s past and see the city from a different angle.

I did do a lot of walking around Venice, but found it very nice to use the vaporetto system. I would highly suggest buying the pass for as many days is you feel you need it, as it is a better rate, however you can buy a 24 hour pass (also a pass with the bus transfer to and from the airport). You do need to validate the pass before you get onto the vaporetto, you will see a validation machine, which you just hold the RFID embedded pass in front of until it goes green and beeps. If you failed to validate your vaporetto pass (ACTV pass), you can be fined. The passes are good for all ferries and vaporettos with ACTV, so day trips to the other islands of Murano, Burano, Torcello and Lido are all included.

Honestly I LOVED Venice. Italy to me as a country feels like home, but Venice even more so. My Great Grandfather is from the Veneto area, so I feel a connection to Venice. I can’t wait to come back here.

I know over-tourism is a problem, the “No Grandi Navi” (No Large Ships) debate is still strong, however after visiting, it seems the vaporettos and water taxis create more of a wake and waves than the large ships. Cruise ships at that speed really create no wake, but it’s a big debate. Where I think the true problem lies is the large amount of cruise ship passengers and tour groups that just visit Venice for the day only. I can see the frustration, I myself got frustrated with one tour group in an alleyway, I guided an elderly “nonna” past them whilst they took up the entire space, not being considerate to the passers by. These passengers also don’t necessarily support the true local businesses. The true locals who own restaurants, artisan shops and stores are being left out to the street vendors who hawk products made in China where they buy a magnet or a tacky tourist bag with “Venezia” written across it. I know this is a whole other conversation, but I think it comes down to being a conscious traveller. We do our best to support local at home, we need to strive to do this abroad as well.

I hope you are able to visit Venice for more than a day, it’s truly an amazing, romantic and unique city.

If you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you! Please contact me if you’d like more recommendations.

Happy travels!

 

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Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 11

Day 11 – Naples, Italy

Today I celebrated my birthday in one of the most beautiful places on this planet… The Amalfi Coast.

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We arrived into Naples quite early, just after 6:30am. Had coffee on the balcony, taking in what today meant to me, I was grateful. Grateful that I was spending my 32nd birthday here. Grateful that I had the chance to re-start my life the way I was able to on my terms. Today was exciting and both sad. Excited that I would be seeing the Amalfi Coast, but sad this was the last full day of my cruise. After coffee, I had breakfast down at Cagney’s. After, I headed downstairs to depart the ship and meet up with my tour. I booked “Explore the Amalfi Coast” tour though Shore Excursions Group. There was about 20 of us all together, I lined up first and grabbed a window seat on the right side of the bus when looking out the from window (when getting on the bus, sit to your left), this is the best view of the Amalfi Coast as it’s on the right side as you travel.

Driving towards the Amalfi Coast, we passed by Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius while listening to Marco our guide give us a history of the area. We then entered some crazy long tunnels to eventually arrive at Sorrento. We did a stop at a limoncello factory, did some tastings and I bought a small “Sorrento” ceramic mug. I was more interested in the view of Sorrento and taking in it’s beauty.

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We then continued on and arrived to the Amalfi Coast. The drive is incredible. It’s stunning. The roadway winds along the mountain, as the cliffs go straight down to the water, many hundreds of metres in some spots below. We continued on to Positano, where as we arrived, the entire bus sang “Happy Birthday” to me. This was honestly the best birthday ever. Positano was beautiful. I’ve wanted to come here for years and it took my breath away. I honestly can’t wait to come back here.

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The ceramics from this area were also equally as stunning. I was on the hunt for an olive oil pourer and I knew I would be able to find one today. We stopped for lunch just on the other side of Positano, at a restaurant over looking the water, perched on the cliffside. Lunch was included and consisted of bread, salad and a bowl of fresh made pasta (the pasta was a specialty to the Amalfi area). We sampled some of the olive oils with lunch and fell in love with a lemon infused olive oil (we are in the land of lemons), little did I know this was going to change my kitchen decor once I got home lol. I purchased the lemon olive oil as it was just so good.

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We continued on to the town of Amalfi, this is where we had the most free time. Some opted to go out on a boat tour, I just wanted to wander. I headed into the main square where I found a limoncello maker on the corner, right beside the Cathedral. I walked in and was immediately welcomed. I spent quite a bit of time here learning about limoncello and speaking to the son of the family run business. They not only sell limoncello but some beautiful ceramics which I found my olive oil pourer! I bought some Crema di Limoncello (please try this limoncello, if you don’t, you’re missing out!) and a few bottles of regular limoncello for gifts for friends.

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Heading down to the water, I stopped for some gelato at Savoia, which apparently has the most amazing cakes as well. Tip: Wear a swimsuit under your clothes! I waded in the water for a bit, it was so inviting and warm, it was really the only time I actually swam in the Mediterranean! So many said they would have loved to have gone in, but they didn’t have their swimsuit. Dried off  just in time to meet the bus to continue on to Ravello.

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This entire area is gorgeous. I can’t wait to come back and actually spend a week or longer here. The Amalfi Coast is where my great-grandmother is from before she moved to Scotland to marry my great-grandfather. It was so nice to have that deeper connection to this area. Unfortunately there were quite a few forest fires in the area, it did hinder slightly the blue skies, but it was still beautiful weather nonetheless.

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Instead of back tracking, we found out that tour buses (even the smaller ones) are only allowed to travel eastbound on the Amalfi Coast highway. It’s so narrow in places that it would be too dangerous. So we went over the mountains to head back to Naples. It was such a great trip. I totally recommend it! I am actually doing another Mediterranean Cruise in May 2019 and will be doing a similar tour again, this time spending more time in Positano and Sorrento.

Once back onboard the ship, I entered my room to it completely decorated for my birthday. It was such a nice surprise! I had another two bottles of prosecco, one from the Captain another from the Hotel Director and a huge cake! My towel animal was also a turtle (this one and the elephant towel animal was my favourite).

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I caught the “Farewell Show” tonight and it was great to see the final goodbye from the staff. Upon leaving the theatre, it was nice that the Hotel Director and other officers greeted me by name and wished me a “Happy Birthday”, honestly I can’t say enough how great the service was on the Spirit!

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I then had my last dinner at Windows with friends, again staff singing Happy Birthday and shared my cake with everyone who wanted a piece (it was huge). We all sadly said our goodbyes, I headed back to my room and regrettably packed. I tagged my luggage with my “priority” tags and placed my bag outside my cabin door.

The next morning, I had my last breakfast at Cagney’s and said my goodbye’s to all the staff. I picked up my luggage from the Priority area off the ship and boarded the shuttle to the port entrance. I took another shuttle to the train station and bought a €5 ticket back to Rome. This was almost the same train that I paid €16 for on the way here, just made two or three more stops. Once back at Rome, I checked into my hotel (Hotel De Petris) and headed out for my Vatican tour.

This cruise was amazing, the itinerary was incredible. Yes the ship is older, but I still would sail on the Norwegian Spirit again in a heartbeat. I loved the staff and the size of the ship. You could easily make friends and bump into people again and again. Nothing felt too busy. Food was very good, didn’t really have a bad meal anywhere.

I can’t wait to travel with Norwegian Cruise Lines again in the future!

 

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 10

Day 10 – Messina, Sicily

Today is my last day of year 31. It’s been a heavy year, but it’s ending on an extreme high. I couldn’t be more grateful for spending my birthday away and experiencing such an amazing cruise. We arrived into Messina just after 7:15am and ate breakfast at Raffles. After, it was time to head down at catch my shore excursion, Exclusive Taormina and Messina from Shore Excursions Group. Once we were all on our bus (about 10 of us), we left the port and got a bit of history on Messina before we got onto the motorway which consisted of over 68 bridges and 39 tunnels to get to Taormina. As we arrived, Mt Etna came into view, still erupting and smoking in the distance.

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We had a walking tour of Taormina, then had a bit of free time wander and enjoy the local foods, Cannolis and Arancini. Taormina was beautiful. I really enjoyed walking around this village, you can really sense you were in the land of the “Godfather”.

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Walking back to the meeting point, I noticed that Mt Etna had really got quite active since we arrived earlier.

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I ended my visit in Taormina on a high note with more gelato, then enjoyed the relaxing drive back to Messina. Once back in Messina, we did a driving tour of the town, then ended at the church near the cruise port. I thought the bell tower was really interesting. It had a full astrological chart on the side with the moon phases and what chart we were in. It was really neat!

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After, I decided I was going to head back to the ship and enjoy the pool for the last time. There was only one more full day left of my cruise! It was so nice to relax and cool down after a few busy days. With only one sea day on this itinerary, I take the relaxation where I can…

I had saved a bottle of wine for today, so I opened it on my balcony for sail away out of Messina. It was nice to just sit on my balcony and just enjoy. As we sailed through the Strait of Messina, two dolphins put on a show right beside us. So good!

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I then took in the performance of Tre Amici. It was their second performance onboard this cruise, however I missed it the first time and was told I had missed out. They were AWESOME! Kind of reminded me of an Il Divo performance. Honestly the last two songs brought tears to my eyes, they were amazing.

After the performance I headed to Le Bistro to use some onboard credits. I had the Napoleon de Legumes and a Creme Brûlée for dessert. It was so delicious.

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Here are the “Dailies” for Day 10:

Next up… Naples, Italy!

 

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 3

Day 3 – Cagliari, Sardinia (Italy)

Slept in this morning… 7:30am! Progress on the “jetlag”… I always sleep so well on a cruise. The beds I think are new, the Norwegian Spirit did go through a dry dock about 4 months prior to my boarding her and it showed. Carpets were new, most of the seating had been replaced and my stateroom (cabin 9052) was in a good state and not much show of any ware. Today was the first day I felt like I was really in vacation mode (not exploration mode) and could relax, we didn’t arrive into Cagliari until 12:00pm

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As mentioned before, I had “Partners First” benefits added to my cruise by NCL, so part of that was to enjoy breakfast and lunch in Cagney’s for the duration of my cruise (usually just a Haven or suite perk on the NCL Spirit). I had a Eggs Benedict and fully enjoyed the french press Lavazza coffee.

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I then headed up to the outdoor area behind Raffles and enjoyed the sail in to Cagliari, with the MSC Splendida right on our tail, docking right beside us, she was the only other ship with us in port.

I didn’t plan a shore excursion in Cagliari, which I was totally ok with. Back into exploration mode, I departed the ship, walked through the visitors centre and caught the free shuttle to the waterfront area of Cagliari city. I knew by reading the Lonely Planet guide the town/city was quite walkable, so I found the street that would wind the streets and up into the bastion, the walled part of the city.

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The views from the bastion once on them was beautiful, the panoramic views from here were stunning. Not to mention all the side streets here, narrow cobblestone roads, looking up to views of local life, laundry hanging in the windows along with beautiful potted plants. It’s exactly how I pictured a small Italian town to be.

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Once back at the main Piazza, I saw a tuk tuk and got a one hour tour. It was recommended to me by Elizabetta (an Urban Adventures guide in Rome) who was from Sardinia, so when I saw it, I was in the mainframe of “let’s do it”!. Who knew that Cagliari’s beaches were a protected habitat for flamingos lol? Well, there are flamingos in Italy on Sardinia apparently. We retraced some of my steps from earlier, however this time was getting more historical information on the places I had seen. An hour flew by, I was dropped back off at the main Piazza where I grabbed a beer and connected to wi-fi to upload some photos and check in with family.

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After my rest stop, it was on to my other favourite pastime… Shopping. Again, a few items of cute clothing later from a boutique and a magnet from a souvenir shop, it was back to the ship for me. Once back onboard, I arrived to my stateroom to find a bottle of prosecco chilling on ice, another bottle of red wine and a cheese tray. Thank goodness I didn’t get the UBP (unlimited beverage package). I ate again at Windows tonight, this time with a table by the window, enjoying a beautiful sunset just as we were sailing out of Cagliari.  Tonight I had a Ceasar Salad to start, followed by an Israeli Couscous with Lamb Meatballs, then for dessert, Chocolate Eclairs. Sooo yummy! Afterwards it was to Stardust Theatre… The show tonight was called “Ineffable Two”, it was two performers doing cirque style acts and it was amazing.

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Here are the “dailies” for Day 3:

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Next up… A relaxing day at sea…

 

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 2

Day 2 – Livorno (Florence)

Woke up early again… 5:15am this time. Probably didn’t help that I was in bed by 7:30pm the previous night. We sailed into Livorno just before sunrise and I watched docking from my balcony with coffee in hand.

Livorno by WanderlustJourney.ca

Once docked I headed up to Raffles for breakfast. Most people don’t realize there is a great outdoor space attached to Raffles , where you can eat at the very aft of the ship.

NCL Spirit AFT - WanderlustJourney.ca

After breakfast, I headed downstairs once we were cleared by the port authority and left the ship. As they don’t want passengers walking through the port area, you do have to pay €5 round trip, per person for a shuttle to the centre of Livorno. From here I met my bus transfer that was going to take me into Florence.

Livorno by WanderlustJourney.ca

For this trip, I didn’t do any shore excursions through Norwegian Cruise Lines. The excursions through NCL are quite expensive and usually have quite a large group. I used Shore Excursions Group for my excursions for this trip and always book them for my clients on other cruises all the time. Like the cruise lines, they guarantee that they will get you back to your ship on time, or they will catch you up with the ship on their dime. Usually the groups are a lot smaller, I think the most people we had was this one, as it was a bus transfer to Florence at 36 people, followed by Athens at a group of 24. Most of the groups I experienced on this trip were between 10 and 18, that alone is much better than the cruise lines.

Once we arrived into Florence, our bus dropped us off at the Florence Centro Rail Station, right in the heart of Florence. From there I wandered the streets and enjoyed the sights (Ponte Vecchio, Ufizzi Galleria, and the Duomo). Unfortunately we were visiting on a Monday, so the Ufizzi Galleria was closed (most museums and national historic sites in Italy are closed on Mondays).

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The Duomo of Florence is amazing. It’s so stunning and intricate and it’s history is equally so, involving many intriguing families including the Medici’s. The dome over the main alter was an engineering feat of it’s era.

Afterwards, I headed to the Mercato di San Lorenzo for some market style shopping. This is a great place to pick up Chianti wine in mini bottles, spices, balsamic vinegars and other Tuscan specialties for souvenirs and gifts for friends and family back home.

Mercato di San Lorenzo in Florence - WanderlustJourney.ca

I always work up an appetite after shopping, lucky I found a great looking pizzeria out the back of the Mercato di San Lorenzo. It’s called Pizzeria i Camaldoli.  It didn’t disappoint. Honestly, probably the best pizza I’ve had… EVER. Check it out, it a great place to grab a pizza margherita and a “birra”. Don’t believe me? Check out the reviews here on TripAdvisor…

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After a great, well appreciated air conditioned food stop, it was time to start to wandering back to the train station for the transfer back to the ship. On the way back I got caught up in more shopping and bought myself a few pieces of clothing (it’s Italy, what can I say lol). It was a beautiful scenic ride back to the ship, however the bus had wi-fi so used some of that time to check back home and FaceTime with my Grama (I didn’t buy an internet package onboard the ship).

Once back onboard it was time to hit the pool and cool down after a long day walking around in the heat. Seems like I hit it just in time before everyone else arrived back, so had a good 45 minutes of peace in the pool before it was just too busy. I had dinner in Windows (one of the MDR’s aka Main Dining Room) which is a complementary dining room and the largest one on the NCL Spirit. I started off with the Brie with Cranberry Compote, followed by a Ceasar Salad. My main course was a Grilled New York Strip Steak (cooked to medium rare perfection) with a Peppercorn Sauce and Gratin Potatoes. My dessert was the Raspberry Chocolate Torte. So good!

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After dinner, I caught the late show which was a singer, Leanne Jarvis from the UK version of The Voice. She was pretty good, but I was so sleepy after the day in the sun. Back in my room, there was a towel dog and tomorrow’s Freestyle Daily waiting for me.

Next up… Cagliari, Sardinia!

Here are the “dailies” for Day 2 Livorno (Florence):

NCL Spirit Dailies by WanderlustJourney.caNCL Spirit Dailies by WanderlustJourney.caNCL Spirit Dailies by WanderlustJourney.ca

 

 

 

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 1

This cruise for me was a symbolic restart. The day before I left Canada for Italy, I received my final divorce papers. The last time I sailed on the Norwegian Spirit was on my honeymoon, about 12 years to the day of boarding her this time. Getting onboard was like an ultimate “letting go” for me, new cruise, new memories, fresh start… In the Med (and Italy) of all places 😉

I chose this cruise for the amazing itinerary, that’s the one thing I find NCL does really well. Here was the itinerary for my sailing:

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Day 1 – Civitavecchia (Rome) – Embarkation Day

I woke up crazy early again (4:30am) as I still hadn’t got quite acquainted to the time zone in Rome, did my last walk around to Trevi Fountain and had my last coffee (espresso) near Spanish Steps. One thing about being an early riser in Rome is that you have most of these amazing places to yourself. Headed back to the Hotel de Petris, checked out and ordered a cab around 10:30am. Of all the personal research I’ve done, taking a train to Civitavecchia from Rome was actually the most cost effective option. It’s about 80 kilometres outside of Rome, so taxis are horribly expensive. The one way on the express train was €16 per person. Trains are efficient and run on time (in most cases).

Buying tickets at Termini was an experience. I was approached by someone trying to “help” out, however my senses were screaming “don’t trust her” and “watch your bags”, I knew this was some type of scam. I told her “no grazie” several times and then physically kind of body checked her gently out of my way, blocking her from the ticketing kiosk. She got the point then and moved on to another set of tourists. In this situation, it’s best to look like you know what you’re doing, if you have no idea how to buy tickets through the kiosks, just go stand in line at the ticketing counter. With luggage securely in front of me, I purchased my ticket from the ticket kiosk and headed for Civitavecchia.

The train was pretty quick, it’s about an hour journey (90 minutes by car, so the train is faster). Once at the station I’ll give you a heads up. There are no elevators if you are dropped off on one of the centre platforms. Its stairs down into the corridor, then stairs up to exit the station. There are rumours that they are working on this, however everyone else is in the same boat, so cruise passengers I think tend to help each other. I know I did. Once at the station, head into the small convenience store attached to the station and get a ticket for the shuttle bus to the terminal, it was €2 per person, however just ask if they are actually running when you buy and not on a siesta like they were when I arrived. If that’s the case, there are several vans just outside the station touting rides for €5 per person, this was my choice, I was done waiting in the hot sun. Ride to the terminal was quick, just over a mile away, it probably is walkable, maybe 20 minutes walk from the train station, however with luggage I thought it would be too much work in 42C heat haha. Once at the terminal (more like a bus stop), you file into lines for your cruise ship and board another bus to the actual cruise terminal that your ship is docked at (this is free from this point to the ship).

Once at the cruise ship terminal, you walk your bags into the drop off area, then into the check in area. Another quick tip for you is to take a photo of your luggage before you hand it over (I do this for flights as well), if something does wrong and you luggage goes MIA or gets damaged, you can at least provide an exact photo of your luggage and in what condition it was handed over in. As they were already boarding the ship by the time I arrived, the check in line was super quick. Just a note about passports, they do keep them for safe keeping from this point onwards (it was Day 9 when I got mine back), however I always have a photocopy kept on me of my passport (and another photo of my passport on my phone in case that one goes missing), but I could see how this could make some worried, it’s just standard procedure. There she was, the Norwegian Spirit!

Norwegian Spirit WanderlustJourney.ca

Once onboard, the rooms were ready, so I headed up to mine (balcony cabin 9052) to find it filled with goodies. As I am a travel agent (a certified Norwegian Cruise Specialist) and sell quite a bit of Norwegian, my NCL Business Development Manager added some goodies to my file, which are called Partners First perks. I essentially was upgraded to the same benefits as a suite guest and then some. My room was filled will welcome gifts (2 bottles of sparking wine, 1 bottle of red wine, 2 trays of chocolate covered strawberries and a fruit basket) from the Hotel Director, Concierge and Group Services Coordinator. I could totally get used to this! I was slightly regretting not getting a beverage package before leaving for the cruise, but that feeling melted away very quickly.

Norwegian Spirit Cabin 9052

I then did a walk around the ship to get reacquainted and ended up settling on lunch at Raffles (the buffet area). After lunch, it was back to the room to unpack and settle in before the Muster Drill at 4:00pm. After muster and a few glasses of sparkling wine on my balcony later, I attended the Spa Raffle (didn’t win anything this time) then relaxed in Galaxy of the Stars (the forward facing lounge) for sail away, it was so nice and quiet in the lounge (I think most people were either at dinner or at the sail away party on the pool deck). I was exhausted, so decided to actually call it a night.

Here are the “dailies” for Day 1 (Embarkation Day):

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Next up… Day 2 – Livorno (Florence)…

Getting the Most out of the Italian Grand Prix in Monza

The Italian Grand Prix in Monza was honestly a bucket list item for me. As a Ferrari fan, it’s the one race out of the year that true fans strive to attend. The tifosi are a passionate bunch, you can feel the excitement for the sport and especially for the home team. Monza is also one of the most historical tracks still on the race calendar to date. The track dates back to 1922, however it has changed since then. The unbelievably banked corners haven’t been used since 1969, however some of the original track are still in use, primarily through the pit straight.

It was an amazing experience but there were a lot of unknowns or answers I couldn’t find online. I’m going to try to answer some questions I had before the race that I found out just experiencing the grounds.

How to get to the Italian Grand Prix in Monza from Milan:

This is actually easier than it sounded. I stayed in the Ibis Milano Centro Hotel, which was about a 10-15 minute walk to the Milano Centrale train station. I wanted to arrive to the track early each day as I wanted the full experience of the weekend. There are trains to Monza every 10-20 minutes from Milan and the cost for the tickets were €5.50 per person, per direction. Monza is 12 minutes from Milano Centrale (depending on the train). Once at Monza Station, follow the signs for the shuttle bus to the autodromo. Once outside of the station, there was a line to purchase the tickets at a cost of €5.00 round trip per day. If you don’t like crowds, don’t do to an F1 race.  At no point did I ever feel unsafe, or worried about someone ripping me off, however I was diligent. Getting onto the shuttle bus, they try to pack as many people on them as possible, personal space does not exist. It’s about a 15 minute ride to the autodromo from the station, they drop you off along one of the roadways within the park. From this point it is about a 2 km walk to Gate “G”. See the map for where I’ve circled the drop off point for the shuttle.

Map of the F1 Race at Monza

Picking up Formula One tickets at Ticket Collection:

As my trip to Europe started earlier than the tickets would have arrived in Canada, I opted for ticket pick up at the race. I was actually glad I did this as I wouldn’t have wanted to carry around F1 tickets all over Europe with me, would have been awful if I lost them. As I mentioned earlier, I arrived by shuttle from the Monza train station, walked towards Ingresso G (Gate G), then turned left and continued walking down the path to Ingresso A (Gate A). Once there, there is a portable to the right for Ticket Collection. I was stressing that I had forgot my confirmation in my hotel room, however they were very accommodating and gave the tickets to me with presentation of my ID.

Going through security:

The longest line (other than a beer line), will be the security line. Keep in mind that security on Friday and Saturday will differ from Sunday (race day). Arrive early. You think a time is early, say 7 am to leave your hotel, leave at 6 am. Not joking. I arrived Sunday to lines that took 2 hours to get inside the secure area, took less than 10 minutes any of the other days. Don’t bother to bring alcohol or even a water bottle. I brought my BLK water bottle and pleaded to keep it, as I had no warning that Sunday they were not allowing anything with a lid through security, thankfully he allowed it. However the number of thermoses, water bottles, wine bottles, tall cans of beer and other items that were confiscated was just crazy. Be prepared for a pat down (by a woman if you’re a woman), a bag check and have your tickets ready to be scanned.

Getting the most out of your race weekend:

There are so many events, things to see and do on a race weekend. I’m a planner so I had the time table with me. Just keep in mind, there are lines everywhere.

Fan Zone: If you are a fan of the sport, you will find some pretty cool activities in the Fan Zone. They have a stage for talks with drivers, technical staff and higher ups in F1, live DJ’s, bands and other acts. Want to see how fast you can change a tire, try the “Pit Stop Challenge”. Fly a drone, wave the flag, jump on the podium, cast F1 news and see some pretty awesome F1 memorabilia. This year was Ferrari’s 70th anniversary, so there was a tent set up with Ferrari’s from many different years. There was also an Ayrton Senna tent, with his car, helmet and a few other historical items of interest. There is also the official Formula One Souvenir tent here. I picked up a ticket holder/protector (so that my tickets didn’t get wet) and an official programme.

Food and Drink Stands: Bring cash and again, be prepared to wait in very long lines. Beers went for €8 each and a bottle of water or Coke was €4. I had packed a lunch (a cornetto with provolone and salami) from my hotel, that was allowed in through security.

Historic Race Oval: The easiest way to access the race oval, especially the banked corner is near Gate G. The trails go up on either side of the bridge (it is a dirt trail, not a paved one). It is pretty impressive. Make sure you are wearing good shoes, particularly if you want to climb to the top of the track (it’s steep).

After the Race: Be prepared to run… Right after the last car is in the pit straight, the marshals will open the track. Run… Get on track and run to the finish line and get in with the infamous tifosi. If you were lucky like I was, a Ferrari driver will be on the podium and the celebrations are legendary.

Most importantly, have fun. Enjoy the fan energy that this special place brings.

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