My Guide to Venice, Italy

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

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

Venice is luxuriously self-indulgent.

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

Where to Stay:

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Eat:

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

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

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

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

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

What to see:

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

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

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

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

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

How to Get Around:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy travels!

 

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

Day 11 – Naples, Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Day 10 – Messina, Sicily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here are the “Dailies” for Day 10:

Next up… Naples, Italy!

 

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

Day 3 – Cagliari, Sardinia (Italy)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here are the “dailies” for Day 3:

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Next up… A relaxing day at sea…

 

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

Day 2 – Livorno (Florence)

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

Livorno by WanderlustJourney.ca

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

NCL Spirit AFT - WanderlustJourney.ca

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

Livorno by WanderlustJourney.ca

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

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

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

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

Mercato di San Lorenzo in Florence - WanderlustJourney.ca

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

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

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

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

Next up… Cagliari, Sardinia!

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

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