2019 ~ A Year (and Decade) in Review

Looking back at this past year (and decade), I summed it up during my New Year meditation and intention ceremony down to one word… Overwhelming.

2019 and this past decade has been so hard but so f*@&ing necessary.

This past decade I dealt with the fallout of my father’s death on my family, I left a controlling religion that held me back since childhood, my marriage falling apart because my husband cheated, restarting my life from two suitcases, loss of fur babies due to old age, divorce, started a proper career in travel, traveled to 22 new countries, started to go hiking, skiing, downhill mountain biking and enjoying other things that make me happy again, climbing the corporate ladder very quickly to have my own shop, closure of my shop, growing my travel influencer/business coaching/marketing business, launched a podcast to landing on my feet finally on the ground floor of a brand new premium travel agency brand.

Reading back this list, I can’t help but feel proud. It’s been overwhelming, but so amazing at the same time. I found my authentic self.

I grew as a person so much over this past 10 years. I gained so much strength from within to deal with everything. I didn’t let my situations define me. I learned what I want and what I didn’t in my relationships (for love and in friends and family), and I won’t settle. I learned so many valuable lessons in life this past year and decade and also in business.

So now let’s dial in how this past year was for me.

What did 2019 teach me overall about myself? It taught me to be open, trust the path I’m on, manifestations do come true. I needed to see the value of me, my health and put myself first. I felt feelings of failure and vulnerability. I realized that there are always ebbs and flows to life and it’s how we react to situations that determines if we’ve grown or taken a step backwards.

In 2019, what are you most grateful for? I’m grateful for all the lessons learned, positive and negative. I’m grateful for my friends (old and new), my family and my clients. I made some great new connections in my business this year. I’m grateful for my travels, being able to recharge and the ability to see five new countries this year (Netherlands, Spain, Hungary, Austria and Slovakia). I’m grateful that I believed in myself and had the courage to start and launch a podcast (The Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast).

My biggest accomplishments in 2019 was being a store manager for a Flight Centre store and all the learnings that came from that. Also, focusing on my business coaching, targeted growth on my social media platforms, working on my own business projects and launching a podcast this year all by myself. Landing a position in a new brand of Flight Centre, the first one in Western Canada, a new premium travel agency called Laurier Du Vallon.

2020 and this upcoming decade is a blank canvas for me.

During my intention setting and meditation ceremony I ended with how I want 2020 and beyond to look. I got very specific in my goals and set metrics for them. I even did a few exercises to come up with my “words” and “mantra” for this new year. So I’m going into this next year with a positive outlook and a mantra of “I am worthy of love, peace, balance and abundance”. I’ve set my new goals personally and in my career using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based) goals. The words that I chose for this year are Success, Abundance, Love, Health, Wealth and Positivity. I summed it down to “I am worthy” of these things – so my one word for 2020 is Worth.

I’ve got so much planned for 2020 already. In travel, I’m heading to Norway, Germany, France and England in May. In July, I’m heading back to England to take in the British Formula One Grand Prix, then flying to Denmark to do a Baltic Cruise and visit Germany, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Sweden. My last trip on the books as of right now for this year is in September, I’m leading a river cruise from Switzerland through France, Germany, Luxembourg and finally ending in the Netherlands. If you’re interested in joining me on this cruise please contact me. I do still have cabins available on this sailing through the Rhine Gorge. It’s going to be a great year, I’ll be adding a minimum of eight new countries to my list! I’ve got some great guests coming up on my podcast this year and excited to see where this goes and takes me.

2019 and this past decade were so f%$ing necessary. It’s set me up to absolutely slay in 2020 and this decade to come.

2020, I’m ready.

Ariane

Ep. 5 Surviving the Holiday Travel Season

Aloha from The Big Island of Hawai’i! Today on the podcast I’m chatting about Holiday Season travel tips.

I’m diving into my own recent flight woes and how to prepare yourself and your family for a busy travel season. Stresses are high and tempers are short, but there are ways you can alleviate some anxieties while travelling during the Christmas Holidays.

Here is the link to find out your rights when it comes to compensation from the airlines due to delays, cancellations, etc with flights departing to, from and within Canada: https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/air-passenger-protection-regulations-highlights

To listen to this episode of the Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast or past episodes, visit one of these links (click on which platform you use to listen):

Let me know what you thought of the episode on Instagram! Find me @WanderlustJourney.ca Share a screenshot of you enjoying the episode to your Instagram and Facebook with your instant thoughts! Also be sure to subscribe which ever platform you use listen to your podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Anchor, etc), leave a five star rating and review.

Thanks again for listening, as always if you’d like to get in touch to be a guest on my podcast or to give an idea on an upcoming episode topic, please contact me.

Ep. 4 Travel Safety Tips and Tricks with David

I chat again with a really good friend David about travel safety tips and tricks. We chat about muggings, natural disasters and travel scams we’ve seen on our travels and how to do your best to prepare yourself. Knowledge and preparation empowers you to be a more confident traveller.

The Government of Canada has a great travel information website: https://www.travel.gc.ca On this website you can find travel warnings, safety information, visa entry requirements and health information.

Follow David on Instagram at @attraversiamoinsieme

To listen to this episode of the Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast or past episodes, visit one of these links (click on which platform you use to listen):

Let me know what you thought of the episode on Instagram! Find me @WanderlustJourney.ca Share a screenshot of you enjoying the episode to your Instagram and Facebook with your instant thoughts! Also be sure to subscribe which ever platform you use listen to your podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Anchor, etc), leave a five star rating and review.

Thanks again for listening, as always if you’d like to get in touch to be a guest on my podcast or to give an idea on an upcoming episode topic, please contact me.

Ep. 3 Solo Travel Questions Answered

In this episode I’m solo answering some solo travel questions that I received through Instagram and Facebook.

I answer questions such as “Isn’t is weird to eat alone?” to “Do you find it lonely travelling by yourself?”. I discuss why I personally love to travel solo to some of the challenges faced when travelling alone. The biggest takeaway is that solo travel should not hold you back! It’s so rewarding if you’re prepared.

A great resource for cruising (especially if your travelling alone) is Cruise Critic, you can join roll calls for cruises you are travelling on, etc – https://boards.cruisecritic.com

The Government of Canada has a great travel information website: https://www.travel.gc.ca On this website you can find travel warnings, safety information, visa entry requirements and health information.

Some of the apps that I use when I travel are: Google Translate (make sure to download the languages so you can use while off data, etc), Google Maps/Streetview, WhatsApp/Facebook Messenger (to stay connected to home), Airline apps (Air Canada, WestJet, etc, whomever I am flying as some planes don’t have in seat entertainment, they require that you have the app to watch movies, etc), Various Hotel apps (Marriott Bonvoy, etc), the Weather Network (to get up to date weather information to plan your days) and of course Uber/Lyft.

To listen to this episode of the Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast or past episodes, visit one of these links (click on which platform you use to listen):

Let me know what you thought of the episode on Instagram! Find me @WanderlustJourney.ca Share a screenshot of you enjoying the episode to your Instagram and Facebook with your instant thoughts! Also be sure to subscribe which ever platform you use listen to your podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Anchor, etc), leave a five star rating and review.

Thanks again for listening, as always if you’d like to get in touch to be a guest on my podcast or to give an idea on an upcoming episode topic, please contact me.

Ep. 2 Talking Travel Anxieties with David

I chat with a really good friend David about travel anxieties that we’ve experienced with planning our last trips to Brazil and Italy. We also cover anxieties in the airport, flying and once you arrive in a new destination. We share our tips and tricks to help you prepare and manage stress while travelling.

For information on what you can and can’t bring through security check points in your carry on or personal item, visit the CATSA website: https://www.catsa-acsta.gc.ca/en

Did you know YVR (the Vancouver International Airport) has a “quiet area” to meditate and relax prior to your flight: http://www.yvr.ca/en/passengers/navigate-yvr/quiet-area

YVR also has some great Autism Travel Resources found here for families: http://www.yvr.ca/en/passengers/navigate-yvr/accessibility-at-yvr/autism-travel-resources

A great app for travelling (or just even for relaxation at home after work, etc) is the Calm app. You can find it in your Apple App Store, Google Play or where ever you download your apps.

Follow David on Instagram at @attraversiamoinsieme

To listen to this episode of the Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast or past episodes, visit one of these links (click on which platform you use to listen):

Let me know what you thought of the episode on Instagram! Find me @WanderlustJourney.ca Share a screenshot of you enjoying the episode to your Instagram and Facebook with your instant thoughts! Also be sure to subscribe which ever platform you use listen to your podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Anchor, etc), leave a five star rating and review.

Thanks again for listening, as always if you’d like to get in touch to be a guest on my podcast or to give an idea on an upcoming episode topic, please contact me.

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 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):

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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).

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Next up, the heart of 678 Ocean Place…

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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…

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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…

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

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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!!!

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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…

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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.

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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)…

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Teppanyaki…

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Skyline Bar near the Casino…

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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!