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…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My Guide to Santorini, Greece

Santorini is one of my all time favourite destinations to visit. I absolutely LOVE this island. I love it so much, I’ve already travelled here twice in the course of just over a year. It’s more than just romantic, it feels like another world. The sunsets here are incredible, and the charming towns that line the clifftops are beyond beautiful.

You can get to the Cyclades island of Santorini a few ways. Located in the Aegean Sea, most people visit Santorini for the day via cruise ship. You can also fly in (airport code JTR) and even arrive by ferry from Athens (or from many of the other Greek Islands) for longer stays.

If you’re visiting by cruise ship, you will have to tender (your cruise ship anchors out in the caldera and you are ferried onto the bottom of the cliff of Thira (Fira). You will then have a few choices. You can take a gondola/cable car to the top of the cliff side, a boat to Oia (sounds like EE YA), walk up the stairs or ride a donkey up. I’m going to be very honest, please, please, please do not ride the donkeys up the hill. They are overworked, working in very hot conditions and getting injured. Conde Nast Traveller wrote an article on the donkeys of Santorini that you can find here. Please keep in mind being a socially responsible traveller, especially when it comes to animal welfare. The cable car up is €6 per person, per direction, so €12 per person round trip. I recently did the boat to Oia option on my last trip, taking a boat from where the cruise ship tenders drop off. This option was €15 per person which includes the boat to Oia, bus ride up the hill into Oia and then the bus ride back to Thira.

Getting Around Santorini:

If you decide to check out Thira first, once at the top of the hill, you can’t help but take in the magnificent views. This island is just beautiful everywhere. Thira is one of the main towns on Santorini. It’s where you will find the main bus terminal (public bus system run by KTEL). A bus ticket to most areas on the island is around a €1.80 to €2.50 per direction, honestly it’s a great deal and the public buses are coach style buses. A bus from Thira to Oia will cost you €1.80 per direction.

Here’s how to get to the bus station from the cable car (red dot is the cable car, yellow dot is the bus depot, it’s about a 10 minute walk):

IMG_4073

Taxis on Santorini are limited and can be expensive. Renting a car, motorbike and/or ATV is the other option most visitors opt for. Rough costs for this depend on the depot and rental company used.

Things to see and do:

There are so many things to see and experience on Santorini. It’s a place to take in the beauty, relax and unwind. I’ve broke down some of the top sights and things to do based on each town.

Oia – Probably the most iconic town that tourists flock to. Here in Oia, my favourite thing to do is just to wander the streets and enjoy the sights. I love photographing the whitewashed homes, clinging to the cliffside. It’s just an incredible view. If you’re here for the day, visit early in the morning before the cruise ship crowds descend on this small village. Once 11:00am rolls around it can be very busy here as it is such a popular destination. Crowds don’t dissipate until later in the afternoon depending on the cruise ship schedules. Sunsets are absolutely amazing, however Oia can still feel quite busy if there is still a ship in port. There are several restaurants that have stunning sunset views, where you can order a bottle of prosecco or champagne and enjoy the experience. Oia is a tourist town, however there are a few locals shops here offering some beautiful unique products and gifts (don’t miss the Atlantis Books Store and a store called Nama). Oia to me it’s one of those places to explore, take amazing photos, grab a seat at a restaurant, enjoy a glass of wine with some amazing Greek food and ponder life while taking in the view over the caldera.

Thira – Thira is a place that most tourists arrive, it’s where the cable car brings thousands of tourists almost everyday in the busy season. There are a few local shops here, however it can also be a great starting point to exploring the island of Santorini. Santorini has some amazing wineries and breweries. One wine tour in particular is with Santorini Wine Adventures, they offer a great half day tour visiting three local wineries on Santorini learning about how the volcanic earth here help creates some great wines.

Red Beach (Akrotiri) – One of the most scenic beaches on Santorini, within walking distance from the Akrotiri Archaeological Site, a site not to miss. The site is covered and  enclosed to protect the discovered and very well preserved ruins from the Minoan Bronze Age. Red Beach itself can be a bit tricky to get onto depending on the level of erosion, but it’s a beautiful and unique beach.

Where to eat on Santorini:

Oia – My favourite place to eat in Oia is Lotza Restaurant. The food here is fresh, home cooked and just delicious. It’s a very quaint restaurant with amazing views overlooking the caldera.

Other restaurant options in Oia are Karma and 1800, for something sweet try Lolita’s Gelato on a hot day and Melenio Cafe for an amazing dessert.

Thira – Located a short walk from the Thira cable car, Volkan On The Rocks serves up amazing locally sourced food, their very own wines and beer called Volkan Beer.

IMG_1123

Other restaurant options in Thira are Fanari and Theoni’s Kitchen.

Whatever you see and experience on Santorini, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a beautiful island to discover and is full of history. Santorini is one of my favourite places I’ve ever travelled to and has a very special place in my heart.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you have any questions about travelling to Santorini, leave me a message!

 

 

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!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Norwegian Bliss Christening Celebration Cruise ~ May 30th to June 2nd, 2018

I was very grateful to have been personally invited by Norwegian Cruise Lines to take part in the brand new Norwegian Bliss’ christening and four day celebration cruise on May 30th, 2018 out of Seattle, Washington.

Honestly, it was an amazing experience. I had watched the Bliss from her steel cutting ceremony, through her entire build. So being onboard, especially for her christening was a proud moment for me.

The Norwegian Bliss was my first mega ship, all other ships I have ever sailed on had a maximum capacity of 3200 guest, the Bliss has an almost 5000 passenger maximum. She broke the record for the largest passenger ship to ever sail through the Panama Canal and now to sail to Alaska.

Day 1

I arrived at Pier 66 in Seattle quite early, at about 9:30am. I used www.cruiseseattleparking.com (Republic Parking Northwest) to park conveniently right across the street from the pier. The lot also has a skybridge attached to the pier for easy access.

IMG_4558

IMG_4559

Once there I lined up to check in, as there were quite a few VIP guests and events, boarding was delayed a bit, but I was onboard by 11:30am.

I headed up to my room, cabin 14116. It was a beautiful balcony cabin (thanks NCL!). It was really well designed and loved the colour palette.

IMG_4731

IMG_4733

Once settled in, I headed to Taste for lunch with a celebratory glass of wine. The food onboard was really good. Then it was time to start exploring the ship.

IMG_4560

I can’t believe the feel of this ship. With over 3100 onboard, she feels half empty, or like a small ship even. She’s designed so well that I never noticed any crazy crowds! After muster, I headed straight upstairs to the Observation Lounge where I was to be for the christening events. It was a great experience and had a lot of fun and bumped into several other travel industry friends. It was great to celebrate all together and toast to the Bliss and wishing everyone who sails on her health and happiness.

IMG_4575

IMG_4902

IMG_4903

After the christening it was time to relax for a bit back in the cabin and get ready for a special dinner I was invited to by my Norwegian Cruise Line Business Development Manager. I ate dinner in the beautiful Manhattan Room, one of the main dining rooms on the Norwegian Bliss.

IMG_4594

IMG_4595

IMG_4596

IMG_4597

IMG_4598

IMG_4904

Everything food wise was AMAZING! After dinner, it was time to check out the sail away party that was moved to the Atrium instead of the pool deck. I partied the night away until about 11:30pm, then headed back to my room, where I found my daily for tomorrow, an invite to a cocktail reception tomorrow evening and a mouse in my coffee cup…

IMG_4605

Day 2

If you’ve read my other cruise blog posts, you know I’m an early riser. This gave me an amazing advantage on this ship during this preview. I was able to see and get some great photos of places without anyone…

IMG_4606

IMG_4607

First stop… Starbucks… Yes, it is a proper Starbucks and you can use your Starbucks Card here to collect Stars, however you cannot redeem rewards onboard.

IMG_4641

This is the main Atrium, where guest services is located, Starbucks and a great sitting area. Upstairs you see The Local, a great bar with a bowling alley (yes, a bowling alley).

IMG_4613

IMG_4614

IMG_4615

Next up, the heart of 678 Ocean Place…

IMG_4617

IMG_4618

IMG_4619

IMG_4620

IMG_4621

IMG_4623

IMG_4625

IMG_4630

IMG_4632

IMG_4633

IMG_4634

IMG_4637

IMG_4638

IMG_4751

IMG_4753

IMG_4754

After my walk, it was time to relax for a bit, so I did that in the gorgeous Observation Lounge…

IMG_4643

IMG_4646

As I was relaxing, I noticed a few spouts of water in the air, we were following two humpback whales!

IMG_4647

IMG_4652

IMG_4654

The Observations Lounge is one of my favourite places on the ship by far! Checked out more of the ship, had breakfast at Savor (eggs benny), then toured the pool decks and the Haven Suites.

IMG_4658

IMG_4726

IMG_4727

IMG_4728

IMG_4896

After, I headed down to the Bliss Theatre for the Partners First Executive Presentation, where the President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines spoke to us about the Bliss and the future of Norwegian Cruise Lines.

IMG_4781

It was the Seafood Extravaganza up at Garden Cafe, so I had to take part in some Alaska King Crab and Lobster…

IMG_4786

IMG_4788

I went back to the Atrium as Wyland (who painted the hull of the Norwegian Bliss) was signing posters. I’m a geek like that, so I did get one lol…

It was time for energy in the form of sugar… So I tried Coco’s…

IMG_4748

IMG_4784

I tried the Tiramisu Coupe, and it was as good as it looked…

We then heard an announcement that the rumours were true… Pitbull was onboard and he was going to do a motivational talk with us… Back to the Bliss Theatre…

IMG_4799

IMG_4798

He’s honestly a great speaker. But it was time to get ready for a cocktail party I was invited to in the Observation Lounge, followed by dinner at Taste.

IMG_4802

IMG_4804

IMG_4805

IMG_4806

IMG_4808

IMG_4809

Tonight was Jersey Boys, it was such a great show! It does have a bit of swearing (quite a few f-bombs), but it’s such a great show and the cast was amazing. The entire last song was a standing ovation. By the time the show ended, I was beat…

IMG_4810

IMG_4812

Such a great day exploring the ship, followed by a perfect sunset with a glass of prosecco on my balcony…

Day 3

5:15am I was wide awake…

Had an amazing sunset, well this morning’s sunrise was just as beautiful…

IMG_4814

Grabbed a Starbucks then watched us sail into Victoria from the Garden Cafe.

IMG_4815

After breakfast and once we were docked at Victoria, it was time to try out the go carts onboard. They. were. awesome! Totally worth it!!!

IMG_4816

IMG_4817

After my carting session, I wanted to grab a few photos of the ship as it was really hard to get any in Seattle… On my walk along the breakwater I had a friend show up…

IMG_4837

IMG_4845

IMG_4846

IMG_4826

I didn’t spend much time off the ship as I can see Victoria whenever I want as I live so close, I didn’t want to waste any precious time so I headed back onboard.

Once onboard I wanted to try a couple of the specialty dining restaurants as most weren’t open to us due to all the special events onboard. So I was able to try “Q” for lunch.

IMG_4608

IMG_4609

IMG_4847

IMG_4848

I ordered the platter, but was so hungry I dug in before taking a photo… Oops…

On to dessert… A macaron, Grand Marnier Cupcake and a cup of Gelato later… Relaxed on the Waterfront for a little while, then again went to walk it all off (or waddle, not sure, but needed to move)…

IMG_4853

IMG_4854

Teppanyaki…

IMG_4852

Skyline Bar near the Casino…

IMG_4765

IMG_4760

IMG_4761

Sugarcane… Home of my FAV mojitos onboard, seriously try the Raspberry Guava and the Pineapple Coconut, even a classic mojito from here is HEAVEN!

IMG_4762

IMG_4763

IMG_4764

Eventually my feet got tired again, I hit my daily walking target by noon everyday on this cruise haha! So I relaxed in the Atrium while Wyland was painting, it was so amazing watching him paint. I think I actually picked up some tips for our next sip and paint that I may want to try out. It was so nice just listening to the jazz music and enjoying an artist at work.

IMG_4859

IMG_4870

It was then time to hit another cocktail party, then enjoy my last dinner in the Manhattan Room…

IMG_4766

IMG_4767

IMG_4769

IMG_4907

IMG_4871

Again, sorry, no food photos.. I was hungry…

After dinner it was time to try out the other production show called “Havana!”. It was good, costumes and dancing was great, but the Jersey Boys was better.

IMG_4877

After Havana! it was time for bed… It was an amazing cruise preview. Upon arriving back to my room I had a few extra goodies waiting for me so I did a “swag” photo of all the moments I collected this cruise…

IMG_4880

Day 4

A very sad day… Disembarkation day is never a happy day for an avid cruiser… I loved this ship, I can’t say enough about the staff and how beautiful the Bliss is. I was off the ship by 9:30am and sadly scanned my cruise card for the last time and dragged my luggage down the gangway…

Until next time Bliss, until next time…

A huge “thank you” again to Norwegian Cruise Line for the personal invitation to be apart of this special cruise. It’s something I’ll never forget and beyond grateful for being onboard for all the celebrations. I can’t wait to be back onboard on September 8th when I cruise to Alaska for the third time.

xoxo

WanderlustJourney

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.

IMG_1995

IMG_1998

IMG_2002

IMG_1999

IMG_3863

IMG_3862

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”.

IMG_2079

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

IMG_1378

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!

IMG_1383

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!

IMG_1392

IMG_1395

IMG_3898

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.

IMG_1398IMG_1399

Here are the “Dailies” for Day 10:

Next up… Naples, Italy!

 

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 9

Day 9 – Valletta, Malta

I woke up early and made myself some coffee, opening the balcony door was like hitting a brick wall, even at 6:45am it was hot and muggy. First time on this trip I felt the heat this early in the morning and the mugginess. I was actually somewhat surprised that it didn’t seem like there was too much humidity with the heat (which was great) on more days of this cruise, it seemed quite dry the air most of the time, except for today.

I ate at Cagney’s this morning, had my french press of Lavazza, followed by Tahitian Vanilla French Toast with Mascarpone and Berries. Soooo good…

IMG_1209

This morning we were also able to pick up our passports, it was recommended that only one person from each cabin go to pick up the passports at Shogun. Once I had my passport, I headed upstairs to the Galaxy of the Stars to attend the Captain and Officer Q & A session. There was an interesting handout on the mechanical and operational facts of the Norwegian Spirit. As the session was wrapping up, you could tell that Malta was a busy port. The captain even mentioned it, there were so many ships anchored and on approach just like us into Malta.

IMG_1210IMG_4118IMG_4119IMG_4120

Only one ship can enter and leave the port at a time, so the queue was starting. After the session finished, I headed up to Deck 13, outside at the very forward of the ship to watch sail in. As NCL also sells to a European market, I found out that Malta is an optional staring and disembarkation point. It was great to chat to a few Maltese families as we were approaching for their tips of the city (they were disembarking here today).

Sailing into the Valletta harbour was stunning.

IMG_3782IMG_1982

There is so much history here, the forts, bastions on both sides and just the way you sail in, you can tell that this was an important port and it was impressive.

Once docked, this was another port that I was wandering on my own (no excursion booked). I walked to the Upper Barrakka Lift, just down the street from where we were docked. It costs €1 per person to ride up, free to ride down. At the top, you are in the public gardens of Valletta and on one of the historic bastions over looking the harbour. I took some more photos from here and stumbled upon an info plaque of some of the movies that were filmed here, very interesting.

IMG_1983IMG_1224

After, I started to head towards the downtown core, as I wanted to catch a historical film about Malta. At the movie theatre complex downtown, there is a film called “Valletta Living History”. There are other films that play around Valletta that are similar, however this one was close to where I was. I thought the film was quite good, gave me a great historical lesson before I really started to wander around.

Valletta is gorgeous. It has an intriguing appeal to it. You can tell that the architecture had changed over the years to make concessions for those who arrived here. The built in balconies for example were added when the Arabs took over as the women were not allowed to be really seen in public, by making the balconies a built extension of the homes, they were able to sit there viewing the outside life without trouble.

IMG_1984

I do try to stay true when it comes to souvenir purchases, and here on Malta, it’s silver filagree and lace. I purchased a beautiful silver filagree ring for a pretty good price of €12 from a jewelry store (don’t trust what they sell on the streets from vendors). There are several local jewelry stores along a street on the way to another of Valletta’s main attractions, the Church of St. Pauls Shipwreck. So according to history and the Bible, Paul was shipwrecked here in Malta on his way to Rome. This church is home to a few of the relics. As this is a church, be sure that if you do enter, you are dressed appropriately and are respectful. They are also very strict on the “no photos” rule. At this church they claim to have the pedestal that John the Baptizer was beheaded on, and a wrist bone of the Apostle Paul.

IMG_1990

I then weaved my way back to the main centre of Valletta, taking many photo stops along the way. Malta’s history ended with the British not too many years ago, signs that the British were here last were scattered in the ways of bright red letter boxes and telephone booths.

IMG_1987IMG_1989IMG_1988

Valletta was beautiful, but it was time to hop a dgħajsa (a traditional boat) for the ride across the harbour to Vittoriosa (Birgu). It costs €2 per person and is quite a fun ride across. Once on the other side, it was clear that it was more residential than touristic. It was beautiful to see how the locals lived, slightly jealous. I found a cute cafe in an alleyway and relaxed with a beer and a water. It was very hot and I had been going since we arrived in Valletta, the movie theatre did provide some air conditioned relief, however it was time to rest the feet too haha.

IMG_3786IMG_3785

I walked around Vittoriosa, taking photos of some of the unique details of some of the homes. It was stunning to see some of the buildings, being over hundreds of years old some of them, in pretty good condition still. I took the dgħajsa back to Valletta, where we had to linger a bit as the Seabourn Encore was coming into the harbour to dock.

IMG_1992IMG_1991IMG_3783IMG_3788

After, I decided it was time to head back to the ship and grab some food. I wanted a change, so I ate in The Garden Room, a midship MDR. I started off with the Lime and Dill Shrimp, followed by the Grilled New York Steak with Potatoes Au Gratin, then Apple Pie for dessert.

IMG_1290IMG_1293IMG_1294IMG_1295IMG_1297

After dinner, I went up to the Bier Garten to watch sail away out of Valletta, taking in the fantastic night views. Sailing out of Valletta was a highlight, it was so beautiful.

IMG_1994IMG_3789IMG_3790

It was another busy day in the sun, so I was off to sleep getting ready for Sicily tomorrow.

IMG_1389

Here are the “Dailies” for Day 9 – Valletta, Malta:

IMG_4115IMG_4116IMG_4117

Next… Messina, Sicily…

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 8

Day 8 – Katakolon (Olympia)

I woke up this morning quite early, about 6:30am. I’m a bit strange as I sleep with the curtains wide open in my balcony stateroom, so the natural light wakes me. I also wake up sometimes in the middle of the night to beautiful starry skies and just take it all in. I love travelling and I love cruising. We arrived into Katakolon just after 7:00am, its a very small, quaint (and lush) town, right near where we docked.

IMG_3973IMG_1143

I went up to Raffles and has a light breakfast at the aft of the ship and noticed another ship sailing towards us in the distance. So far we’ve been lucky. We had just us docked in Livorno, us and an MSC ship in Cagliari, just us again in Heraklion, us and 3 ships in Athens (Seabourn, Celestyal and Princess) and just us in Santorini. As I finished my meal, the Royal Princess came into full view. We were able to get off the ship before the Royal was docked and I knew we had the advantage… it was going to get crazy here by this afternoon…

I did book a shore excursion here, I did the Exclusive Ancient Olympia tour though Shore Excursions Group. Our group was about 14 passengers just from the Spirit, so once we were all there, off we went (thankfully ahead of the Royal Princess guests). It was about a 45 minute drive stunning drive through the Greek countryside to Olympia. I actually really like Greece, it’s a beautiful country. It has quite a diverse landscape as well. Very much reminded me of the Okanagan Valley here at home in British Columbia, just with more olive trees 😉

IMG_3781

Once we arrived in Olympia, we parked and were each handed a bottle of ice cold water for our walk. We walked to the gate of the archeological site and were given the opportunity to use the washrooms before we started off (thank goodness as on the way back we found out they were no longer in service as they got back logged once the big excursions arrived), “eww” I know, but it’s reality haha…

Our guide did an amazing job of walking us around the site, stopping under trees for shade whilst explaining the history of the Olympic Games and the sites we were walking though. She had diagrams of what the buildings would have looked like back in the day and how far they needed to excavate to reveal the site we were walking through today.

IMG_3992

I was also thankful our tour was here when it was, we were one of the first tours here, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves for the first hour and a half (which was amazing for photos), then the cruise ship tours arrived just as we were sent on our way for free time.

IMG_1146

The hill in the distance shows how far down they had to excavate to uncover Ancient Olympia

IMG_1151IMG_1149IMG_1153IMG_3981IMG_3978IMG_3986IMG_1168IMG_1160IMG_1179IMG_1180IMG_1185IMG_3775IMG_1971

We also got to see the place where the Olympic Torches are lit before the Summer and Winter games. I was here in August and they would be lighting the torch for the Pyeongchang Winter Games at this very spot in October. Humbling…

IMG_1164IMG_4006IMG_3998

It was so neat to wander and see the different types of architecture and it’s evolution and additions through the years this place was used. The stadium here is actually the very birthplace of the metric system and units of measure as we know it. The measurement of this stadium became the measurements of a “stade” about 600 feet or 180 metres.

IMG_4027IMG_4023

IMG_3776

After numerous photos, we had some free time to explore the village of Olympia. So, back to the favourite pastime… shopping. I needed some new shoes badly. A few of my shoes had been tattered from the walking and cobblestones by this point (one pair broke within the first 250m of walking in Rome), so shoe shopping I went. Looking back, I should have bought the store. I found a brand of shoes called Parex. Amazingly comfortable and lightweight. I bought a pair on the shoe sale rack for €25 and am now fully regretting not buying a suitcase full. They are honestly the most comfortable and durable pair of sandals I’ve ever owned. I can’t wait to go back to Greece this October and literally buy the stores out. After shoe shopping, magnet shopping and a gelato later, it was time to board the bus back to Katakolon.

Once back in Katakolon, we were dropped near the port, however I walked to the town to check it out as I wasn’t ready to board just yet. This was our last stop in Greece, so I was still on the hunt for a couple more souvenirs aka Ouzo. I headed into a cute store closest to the pier and bought some Ouzo, along with a “Greece” magnet. I did find more of the Parex sandals and shoes in a couple boutiques here too, but didn’t buy another pair (again, full of regret)… Along the waterfront of Katakolon, there are plenty of restaurants and bars offering fresh seafood to ice cold beers (with free wifi of course), so I grabbed a chair, ordered a Mythos and checked in with home.

IMG_1193

Heading back to the ship, the line was quite long while waiting to board. They had an issue with one of the check in security computers, so it was one line in for about 20 minutes. The staff did try to help by handing out ice cold towels (ice cubes still attached) and cold drinks which helped as we waited in the hot sun. I was actually surprised that the Royal Princess departed before us, even though she arrived a good hour after us.

Once back on board, I changed and headed for the pool and relaxed for awhile. I was in a journalling mood today, so that night I relaxed in Galaxy of the Stars for awhile listening to the live band, sipping a refreshing gin and tonic as we sailed out of Katakolon. For being such a great lounge, I was taken back by how empty it was sometimes. After enjoying a beautiful sunset, I had a light dinner in Raffles and called it a night.

IMG_1195IMG_1197IMG_1199IMG_1200IMG_1201IMG_1202IMG_1207IMG_1208

Here are the “Dailies” for Day 8 – Katakolon:

IMG_4104IMG_4105IMG_4106

Next up… Valletta, Malta!

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 7

Day 7 – Santorini, Greece

Visiting Santorini has been a place on my travel bucket list for years. I woke up again before sunrise as we were sailing into Santorini. I was so excited!

IMG_1901

I wanted to be one of the first ones off the ship as I knew the gondola up was going to get full very quickly, so I went down to Cagney’s for breakfast at 7:00am, had my french press Lavazza and one eggs benedict. After breakfast, Karin (the concierge) informed myself and another couple that the first tender was ready to accept passengers. We were then escorted downstairs, past everyone that had lined up for the tender (we didn’t even need a priority tender card), and walked onto the first tender in front of the line. Upon arrival to the gondola, I noticed another error in the Greece Lonely Planet guide, it said the gondola was €5 round trip. Its actually €6 each direction, so €12 round trip. It wasn’t a long wait as I was on the first gondola ride up.

IMG_1022IMG_3842

At the top, once in Fira, it was time to rush to get to the public bus stop, I only had an idea where it was, so I did miss the bus by five minutes which was slightly annoying. Here is the map of Fira, the red dot is the top of the Santorini Cable Car, the blue lines are the easiest walking route, yellow dot is where the bus station is located (it’s about a 10 minute walk):

IMG_4073

So I had a bit of time to kill (about 35 minutes), so I walked around that immediate area. As it was so early in the morning (about 8:00am), there wasn’t a whole lot open, so went back to the bus stop and waited for the bus to Oia to arrive. The bus arrived and I’m glad I was early as the crowd had tripled in size waiting for the same bus. I scrambled onboard and grabbed a seat. The ticket agent came onboard and took our €1.80 for a one way ticket to Oia. Not a bad deal. About 20 minutes or so later, we were in Oia.

I can’t describe the complete beauty of this place. It’s absolutely stunning…

IMG_1902

From the bus stop, its a block into one of the main streets, where you can just wander and take in all of Oia’s magnificent views. I was so glad I did Oia this way, I was here ages before most of the crowds from the ship. I think we lucked out anyways as it was only our ship here, with a few day tours from a ferry I believe. I was shocked I was able to get so many photos with NO ONE in them 🙂

IMG_1907IMG_1908IMG_1903IMG_1909IMG_1914IMG_1916IMG_2175IMG_3730IMG_1920

This place is honestly incredible, I knew it was going to be beautiful, but this place took my breath away around every corner. I did buy a few souvenirs here and after a morning of really walking around, I worked up an appetite. I found a really cute cafe with a balcony overlooking Oia with incredible views. It was called Lotza Restaurant. I ordered a bottle of sparkling water (I needed it at this point, it was again a hot day) and Tzatziki, followed by a Greek Salad and a Spinach Pie. The food here is AMAZING, just like the view from the patio! I’ll be going back here this year in October during my next Mediterranean Cruise!

IMG_3733IMG_1917

It was then time to start wandering back to the bus stop to head back to Fira, I was so glad to have just wandered Oia. I really got to relax, take my time and take in the atmosphere here. I would have hated to be ushered around like in some of the ship tours I saw. I found a few cute boutiques on the way back to the bus, and did buy a few knick nacks.

IMG_3737

On the bus, I paid my €1.80 and stared out the window, totally melancholy, taking in the wondrous day I just experienced. Again, so grateful…

Once back at Fira, I walked back to the gondola, however still had a bit of time to kill. I found a bar with a view, this time of the bay with the Norwegian Spirit anchored below and free wifi. I ordered a beer called Volkan, a local beer made here on Santorini. It was really refreshing and great tasting! I’m normally a wine drinker, but this trip seemed to be more beers haha…

IMG_1123IMG_1924

It was then time to head back down to the ship. I boarded the gondola, again reminiscing of the perfect day I had. The tender line wasn’t too bad, I was actually expecting worse, perhaps because it was only us in port today. Once back onboard, I went to my room and changed into my swimsuit and headed to the pool and went swimming. About an hour later the ship sounded it’s horn, probably a 30 minute warning to passengers already not onboard that we were leaving soon. As we raised anchor, I headed back to my stateroom and watched our sail away from my balcony. I opened another bottle of prosecco and “cheered” Oia as we sailed by, thanking the universe for such a great day…

It was then time to get into my white cocktail dress (it was the “White Hot Party” tonight), and head to the Latitudes cocktail party. Again it was nice to connect with the officers and some of the other guests. Had a couple more glasses of prosecco and a glass of white wine to go, where I met up with friends again to watch “Mistika” Magic Show at 7:30pm. I thought it was going to be tacky, however the show was great! I actually really liked it! We then went to the Garden Room (another MDR) and had a late dinner. I had a spring roll to start, followed by a primi of carbonara then my main course of chicken cordon bleu. I had an amazing tiramisu for dessert.

IMG_1126IMG_1128IMG_1129IMG_1130

It was then time to head up for Norwegian Cruise Line’s Signature “White Hot Party”. As soon as I got upstairs, I honestly was beat. It was a long day in the heat again, and the tiredness hit me full on. I stayed for awhile to enjoy the music and a bit of the party. Then it was time to call it a night…

IMG_1135IMG_1138IMG_1131

Here are the “Dailies” for Day 7 – Santorini:

IMG_4069IMG_4070IMG_4071

Next up… Katakolon (Olympia)…

 

 

 

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 6

Day 6 – Piraeus (Athens)

Woke up quite early this morning, just before sunrise and was very thankful I did. As this trip went on, I felt a new theme in a sense for more than just the cruise but in how these places were effecting me personally… Gratitude… It was a beautiful sunrise this morning just as we were docking in Piraeus, the main port area near Athens. I sat on my balcony for quite some time, drinking coffee watching the sun rising and just relaxing, with the ferry traffic coming and going. We docked at about 6:30am, earlier than our 9:00am scheduled arrival.

IMG_3405

IMG_0953

I then headed up to Raffles and ate outside aft, again overlooking the port. This is another favourite place for me on the ship by far! After a light breakfast, I headed back to my cabin, grabbed a few items then ventured out to meet up with my tour. The tour I did here in Athens was through Shore Excursions Group called “Exclusive Athens with Free Time in the Plaka”. We met our tour guide just outside the terminal and boarded a bus to Athens. We did a driving tour of the city, making a few photo stops along the way. We drove by the now mostly abandoned 2014 Olympic venues. Some they are renovating and trying to utilize, others are just now in a state where they’ve been abandoned for too long and are in need of more repair than it’s worth.

IMG_3540

One of my favourite photo stops on the tour was of the Ancient Olympic Stadium, I love history. With Peyongchang 2018 on my mind, it’s crazy to see how far the games have come. This is where I also felt the first touches of Greek mythology come to life. Statues dedicated to Athena, Apollo and Zeus abounded throughout the city.

FullSizeRender 2

IMG_3582

IMG_3426

After our city tour, we were dropped at the Acropolis and most of the group opted to do the guided tour of the Acropolis. I decided to skip it as I knew one day I’d be back. It was getting hot and the Acropolis had quite a bit of scaffolding around it, so I thought I would just wander the streets of the Plaka. I was so happy I did this. We were each given an ice cold water bottle at no charge after departing the bus, which came in handy let me tell you. The Plaka has some very touristy spots, but there are some spots that are very “local”. I was worried about visiting Athens, as most clients and friends tell me it’s not a nice place to visit, dirty and just not pleasant. I actually had quite the opposite experience.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Walking and wandering the streets of the Plaka was great. Athens does have a bylaw that no buildings in certain areas of the city are over six stories tall, this is so that where ever you are in the city, you can view the Acropolis. I spent the last while at the Temple of Zeus and the Arch of Hadrian. I did do quite a bit of research on historical architecture before I left for Italy and Greece, so it was awe inspiring to see the different types of columns and just imagining how these massive structures were built in that day and age. The Temple of Zeus utilized a Corinthian style of column, whilst the Arch of Hadrian an smaller version of the same style.

IMG_0964

IMG_0972

Arch of Hadrian with the view of the Acropolis through it…

Temple of Zeus by WanderlustJourney.ca

Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus

After a day in the heat, I had an hour to kill, so I found a rooftop patio and had a beer overlooking the Plaka and the Acropolis in full view.

IMG_3484

It was then time to say “good bye” to Athens and head back to the ship. Once back onboard, I changed into my swimsuit and took a much needed swim in the pool. I bumped into friends in the pool and had a drink with them in the Bier Garten afterwards. After sail away I headed to my cabin and got ready for dinner, I was eating at Windows again. I was again seated at the very back of the ship at the large windows, which was a great view of leaving Piraeus. I was hungry after all the walking I did today, so I ordered two appetizers tonight, a tortellini caprese starter and an order of shrimp pot stickers, my main course was the beef brisket (they had me at Guinness mustard sauce) and a white chocolate coconut mousse for dessert.

IMG_0992IMG_0993IMG_0994IMG_0997IMG_0998

I then caught the 7:30pm showing of the Spirit production cast in “Soul Rockin’ Nights”. It was pretty good, great singing and dancing. After the show, I changed back into my swimsuit and headed back up to the pool. At this time the pool seems to be empty and you can normally get an entire hot tub to yourself. After, I wrapped up and went a deck up to the Bier Garten and had a gin and tonic under the stars, with fading sunlight in the distance. I noticed at this point we were cruising very slowly, many large ferries leaving us in their wakes, next up was Santorini, so it wasn’t too far away. As this was the case, I headed to bed, I wanted to be well rested for the next day. When I got back to my room, a little bear friend was waiting for me…

IMG_1006IMG_1011IMG_1012

Here are the “Dailies” for Day 6 – Piraeus (Athens):

IMG_4063IMG_4064IMG_4065

Next up… Santorini!

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 5

Day 5 – Iraklion (Heraklion), Crete (Greece)

Today I was officially in Greece…

Woke up around 8:00am local time to views of the Island of Crete, the clocks did go ahead one hour last night. I went for breakfast at Cagney’s again, ordering only one eggs benny as two is just too much for me. I did have to deal with an overcharge at the gift shop this morning, so headed down there and got that sorted. How did I notice there was an overcharge? I use the Norwegian iConcierge app when sailing on a Norwegian ship. Once you’re onboard, you can track your onboard account, what’s happening that day on the ship (even get a sneak peek to other activities on other days before you receive the daily), and you can pay to use it to message others.

IMG_3677

After dealing with that I headed back to my stateroom to watch the sail into Iraklion, Crete. It was quite an interesting, busy port, with a historic fort still attached to one end. There were several ferries, and an airport very close, so spent a bit of time watching the planes take off as boats were coming and going while we waited to be cleared by the port authority.

IMG_3683

Cruise ship leaving, plane taking off as we arrive…

IMG_3322

Arriving to Heraklion, pilot boat on it’s way

IMG_3332

Pilot boarding the Norwegian Spirit

Iraklion (or Heraklion), is the fourth largest city in Greece, and is close to ruins of the Palace of Knossos, where my name was first found anywhere, Ariadne. Princess Ariadne helped Theseus to overcome the Minotaur, which to Greek mythology was under the Palace of Knossos. Heraklion is known as Hercules’ city, and is full of history.

IMG_0927

Once off the ship, you board a free shuttle to the port terminal. If you want the best price to get around, I did the public bus. It costs €5 for a day pass. Once you exit the terminal, you will see the small manned kiosk to the left across the roundabout. From here you can take a bus up to the Palace of Knossos. Today was HOT. This is also where the Greece Lonely Planet guide let me down, it mentioned that the entry price was €6 per person in the guide I had (only a year since printed). Once at the admission gates, there was a massive line and the price was €25 per person… Mmmmm nope, don’t need to see it that badly. I got fed up standing in the heat and decided to hop back on the bus to go explore Heraklion. I realized afterwards that this also could have been a “cruise ship day” price…

IMG_0933IMG_0930IMG_0932IMG_3724

I collect Starbucks mugs from all over the world (just kinda started to happen, so I kept going with it), so I found a Starbucks and got a set of two demitasse mugs. I like the idea, as I can grab a mug and sip a coffee with memories of the place I picked them up at…

This is the one place I wished I had actually done a tour. I enjoyed walking around, but it’s just another seaside city. I think doing a wine tour here would have been a lot more fun, heading into the lusher valleys. I had a Greek beer near the end of the pedestrianized road after you guessed it… shopping, and just enjoyed the view in the shade. I found out a bit later that they did have wifi, so again checked in at home. From here the sun was starting to set a bit, so instead of bussing it back to the port, I did walk. It was maybe a kilometre or so to the terminal from here.

IMG_0938IMG_3391

Once at the terminal, I boarded a shuttle that took me back to the ship, where a cool towel and drink were waiting on the gangway for us. Once back on board, I headed up to my room, relaxed then started to get ready for dinner at Le Bistro.

IMG_3360

I noticed we hadn’t left the dock quite yet and walking outside the wind had definitely picked up. I watched the final bit of the sunset on the promenade before my dinner reservation was ready. I was seated by the window and at that time I noticed that we were trying to leave but couldn’t. The wind was pushing us back to the dock. Even mid ship at Le Bistro, I could feel the ship trying to maneuver, but wasn’t going anywhere.

Dinner at Le Bistro was heaven. I had the scallops to start, followed by the most amazing french onion soup. My main course was the beef tenderloin and dessert was a hazelnut chocolate torte. Everything was beyond amazing.

IMG_0942IMG_0944IMG_0946IMG_0947IMG_0950

By the time I finished dinner, we had finally started to move, probably three hours or so after we were originally set to depart. I could tell that it was full steam ahead to keep on schedule. After, I headed up to the Galaxy of the Stars, had a nightcap of a Moscow Mule (in the souvenir tin mug) and listened to the live music for about an hour, then called it a night. When I arrived back into my room, a towel rabbit and my daily were waiting for me…

IMG_0941

Here are the “Dailies” for Day 5:

IMG_4058IMG_4059IMG_4060

Next up… Piraeus (Athens)…