Friday, October 20, 2017

Sardinia Here We Come

You know Sardinia was never on my radar - until.....

We met Franco Patteri a head waiter with Princess on the Royal almost three years ago.  We instantlly hit it off and then meeting his lovely girlfriend Laura on one of the legs who he then formally proposed to I knew we would be life long friends.

When it came to planing their wedding we were honoured when they included us in their wedding.  This whole trip was planned around their big day.

Our flight to Sardinia is a short one, but somehow a 1 and half hour flight takes five hours - arriving at airport, dropping bags, clearing security, waiting for gate, waiting for boarding, actual flight, waiting for bags.  I really miss the train trips.

We flew with Easyjet (our first experience) and even though booking was easy, price was so right, the actual plane is not one you would want to be on for anything longer than two hours.  So overall we can't complain, and it got us to a beautiful place quickly.

As soon as I saw Sardinia from the air I nudged Bernie and said "this feels right".  

Laura and Franco were there to greet us with hugs and kisses and soon we were on the road to Orosei - about an hour's drive from Olbia where we flew in to.

Franco proudly describes his home and the surroundings.  We are impressed.  Traffic comes to a sudden halt because a truck is turning, but after 30 seconds we are on our way again with few cars in our way.  This is not the mainland of Italy anymore.  Bliss.

We are off to Franco's sister's home for a welcome lunch.  

As soon as we step out of the car we are greeted by kisses and hugs.  We feel like family!  We meet Laura's sister and her family (including two beautiful young girls), her Mom and Day, Laura's 2nd cousin and his wife, Franco's sister and her husband - the hosts.

As we are led to the house to the long table set for a feast we are stopped dead in our tracks by the view.  I swear I could be in a movie!  

We start with wine - made from the grape vines we are looking at.  Then pasta, roasted peppers, potatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, radicchio and so much more.  Patrina (hope i have that right) and her husband are such gracious hosts.  Just a mention of something and she is out with it!

For dessert we have a Sardinia favorite - a cheese filled pastry that is served with sugar or honey (also local).  OMG to die for!

The after dinner wines come out (again all homemade) and well I have to try both.  The first almost knocks me on off my feet... hmm Bernie can you finish.  The second made from a bean (sorry by this time I was feeling no pain) is still strong but very nice.  Thankfully these are small servings and we can savour them, like a fine Cognac.

Then of course espresso.   

As I sip it and stare out at the view, listen to those around this large table all I want to do is pinch myself.  How lucky are we.

I am living a dream.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Day in Mestre - Mainland of Venice - A Hidden Gem

Oh my, what a restful night we had.  We slept until 8 am and entirely through the night!

I wake feeling refreshed and no sinus pain!

We lay in bed for a few hours, reading, watching Grace and Frankie on Netflix and decide we should probably go out and explore.

We could easily catch the bus right outside the hotel to Venice but we both agree that we wanted to see the town nearby called Mestre.

Our 48hr bus pass works on the manland buses so we catch the #9 bus and after a few minutes we are in the small town.

We get some coffees and proceed strolling through shops, and even a mall.  

There is a street market happening so we window shop.

We spot a nice place for lunch and excellent it is vegetarian.  Oh and it was so good.  I enjoyed an eggplant, lettuce, chick pea spread sandwich with some baked potatoes.

We strolled around some more and we really like it here.  It is too bad so many visitors only see the islands of Venice and this is overlooked.  Oh and it is so much more reasonably priced too.  

It has been a relaxing day and it is just what we needed.  It appears I am over this stomach thing and able to keep food down. 

Tomorrow we fly to Sardinia.  

Thanks for following.

Day Three in Venice - Time for A Change

After another restless night for both of us we are just not comfortable.  The dampness in this apartment is getting to us.  My sinuses just won't ease up and laying in bed feels like I am camping outside in a rainstorm inside a tent.  

Nothing we seem to do makes it better.  Not to mention the bed is so hard we wake up sore.

Even though this is an Airbnb I can't blame them as this can happen in hotels too.  The apartment overall is great but this dampness is way too much.  It may of been better if we booked someplace that was on a higher floor.  Or was totally rennovated and had better insulation.  Or maybe this is common in Venice.  You tell me.  Have you stayed in Venice and not experienced the dampness in Fall. 

We are both tired, sore, cranky and Bernie says that is it.  We are older now and we can afford it so it is time for a change.  We quickly book a hotel room on the mainland (much cheaper than in Venice and modern).  

We booked the Hilton Garden Inn Venice which is located in Mestre just across the viaduct from Venice for two nights.  

Until we can check in we dress and walk to Plaza Roma for a trip on the valparetto to San Girgio Maggiore - the island with the beautiful church you see from St. Mark's.  

It is CRAZY foggy. In fact coming up the Canal Giudecca you can not see the land on either side.  I am sure the cruise ships were delayed today too.  

Today a warm jacket is necessary.  Very different weather than the last time we were here two years ago at the same time.

We get off the valparetto on the island and we are graced by the beauty of the church.  Which is free to enter.  And the place is deserted.

Also there is an art exhibit going on as well that we really enjoyed.

After spending around an hour here we hop back on the valparetto going the other way and get off at the Zattere stop and start walking back towards home. 

But first we need some lunch.  We find a quiet spot and take a seat.  Again you rarely feel welcomed into the restaurants.  Often we feel like we are bothering them as they put down their phones to attend to us.  

We share a house salad, and then we share a cheese and artichoke pizza.  I managed to eat a full slice of pizza and enjoyed the salad.

It is around 1400 when we get back to the apartment and we quickly pack up our stuff and say goodbye to the apartment. In my review (which you do for Airbnb) I will state how the apartment is fine except for the dampness and hard bed (although some people enjoy sleeping on a stone).  But I am glad to say goodbye and don't mind absorbing the cost of two nights at a hotel.

We walk to the Plaza Roma and catch the #19 bus that takes you over the viaduck and towards the airport.  We get off just after the viaduck and our hotel is right there.

The Hilton Garden Inn welcomes us and we are given a lovely fifth floor room that has a thermostat and a huge king size bed that is so comfortable we both lay down and sleep for two hours.

My sinuses are still bothering me but by the end of the evening they eased up completely.  

We dine downstairs as we are just too lazy to head out and enjoy a nice simple meal.  I had just a Caesar Salad and chat with a lovely couple from England beside us. 

Sure this hotel doesn't feel like Venice, but to tell you the truth we are sort of over Venice.

Maybe it was becasue I was ill.  But I am fine with saying I have seen Venice and I am okay with not coming back.  Italy has so many beautiful places to see that I will focus on.

For those wanting to stay at a hotel near Venice with easy access to the islands the Hilton is a great option.  Free wifi, comfortable rooms, large bathtub, transit right outside the door and for 1.40 E each way to Plaza Roma it is a deal.

Our final thoughts on Venice

Here are some thoughts I have about our time in Venice in no particular order
  • it is a beautiful city, with stunning views around each corner
  • a lot of history and sites to see
  • cultural act ivies abound and can fill your day/evening
  • easy to get around by valparetto or walking but it will be crowded
  • food/drink is hit or miss, you can get really bad and REALLY good.  Stay away from the touristy spots and seek out the small Family Run places for the "true" Italian experience
  • don't book a room on the ground level as it can be damp feeling
  • pack lightly as maneuvering that bag through Venice can be difficult
  • you need layers, it can be cool in the evenings/mornings and then hot in the afternoon
  • beware of pick pockets - note they don't always look like thieves but more like well off locals
  • be prepared for long queues and crowds at major sites, book tickets in advance if you can
  • locals don't seem to really like the tourists but if you engage with them they are very helpful
  • prices for everything here is high - but great tip is buy your produce/food at the market stalls for freshness and best prices
  • Italians don't mess around, if you are at a counter waiting to order and you don't speak up they will serve the next person.  If there is a crowded spot note you probably will end up with someone invading your space, it is just how it is, but something we are not use to. Be forceful even if it is not your nature.
  • try to speak some Italian even if you do it poorly
  • ask for recommendations when ordering, the waiter knows what is fresh.  When I tried a spritz and they asked me which kind I said "which one is your favorite" and ordered that
  • Gondola rides are great, but note only tourists use them. They are expensive and you feel like you are on a ride on a conveyor belt.  Be prepared for traffic jams of gondolas with tourists snapping selfies. But hey, it is still romantic and it is still Venice (or maybe Vegas).
  • Get lost, some of our best times here have been when we have just wandered.  We come to an intersection of narrow streets and look and think hmm that looks interesting and go there.
  • Often it was hard to look past all the garbage in the streets and floating in the canal, and the smell of urine. Don't recall this on our prior trip here so not sure what was up.
  • Venetians love their dogs and many have them and take them everywhere, including the buses, valparettos, restaurants and even grocery stores.  It is cute, but sadly many (like at home) don't pick up after them so watch your footing.
  • Smile and chat up the locals when you can, even with our broken minimal Italian it was fun, although probably annoying to them.

In the end Venice is a must see place.  I can now say I have been here twice and I am fine with that and don't really care if I come back.  It feels sort of fake to me now.  Kind of like Disneyland.  A place you have to go and see, but it is pricey and exhausting and not real (unless you venture away from the major sites).

I know I may get back lash but I know I prefer smaller towns that are quieter and not so crowded with tourists.  

The key to travel is to do what is right for you!   

Day Two - Evening and St. Mark's Bascillica

After a little nap we are up and on a mission.  This afternoon we want to get to St. Mark's Bascillica before it closes at 5 pm.

It is 3 pm now so no time to waste.  Just picture us quickly getting dressed, brushing hair, grabbing the essentials: phone, camera, money and map.

We agree the fastest way there will be the number 2 valparetto.  We make our way to Plaza Roma and buy a 48 hour transit pass 30E each good for 48 hours once you validate it.  Note a 24 hour pass is 20E so it made sense to get 48 hour pass for our next two days.

We know that they stop entry to the church at 1630 so we have no time to kill.

We hop on the valparetto making it's way passed the cruise terminal and along the Giudecca canal.  Hmm maybe this isn't the fastest way but it sure is pretty and I am enjoying the fresh air.

We get off at a stop that is way past San Marco - hmm again maybe this was not the best idea.  But no problem we get off and see a #1 Valparetto right there so we hop on it and get off righ near San Marco.  

Up over the bridge where everyone stops to take a picture of the bridge of sighs as we dodge the photo takers and the crowds.  Move we are in a rush!

We get to the Bascillica and there is a queue but it is moving very fast.  We made it - it is 1600.  Note if you have a backpack or large bag you will be asked to check it at the check in spot right under the clock tower - free of charge.

Once in the church we pull out our phones and listen to Rick Steve's audio guide all about the church.  Get the app and download the free guides before you go.

It is not busy inside and we are able to stop and enjoy the church at our leisure.  Note no picture taking inside at all!

Oh and beware of thieves here too so watch your bags.  While in the line security pulled out a young guy who I am guessing is known for petty crime as this is the third time we have seen him.

After about 40 minutes inside we wander out and take a break on the ledge.  But a few minutes later security is telling us all "NO SITTING".  Argh, I feel sorry for those that really need to rest.  

Bernie and I are starting to feel not welcomed in Venice.  Seems we are told no to a lot of things.  No sitting, no that no longer runs (when it does), pushing us out of the way, refusing to answer questions, speaking negatively about tourists (yeah we can understand some Italian) and so much more.  Now I am aware that Venice is a beautiful spot, and it survives because of tourists, but it seems the locals don't like the tourists.

So we are a little frustrated, especially after being in such a beautiful spot.  So we venture away as fast as we can from St. Mark's Square, away from the crowds, the guys selling every possible knock off, the waiters trying to draw us into their overpiced restuarants, all the people smoking, and then our impatience just adds to it.  

I want to explore the Castello and Arsenale area more so this is where we head and only a few streets from the bustling St. Mark's we are immediately embraced in calm.  It is a double edge sword as most tourist never get to see these areas, but then again that is why we love these areas.

Bernie kicks the soccer ball to some kids playing in the square.  A bunch of older ladies sitting on a park bench banter about who knows what, but I am pretty sure it is the same banter older ladies in Canada talk about too.  A nun strolls by and says "good evening" (in Italian of course) to us.  A mom struggles with her toddler who doesn't want to ride in the stroller.  And up above a woman hangs laundry as she sings a tune.  This is the real Venice.

After walking around for around an hour we are near the end of the "tail" of the Venice fish.  We board a valparetto and take it around to a spot where we can get on one going up the Grand Canal.

We are now on the #1 Valparetto and man is it PACKED.  So much for the peacefullness.  Thankfully we got a spot right at the edge that provides us with some personal space because trust me if there is space they will use it - and I even started to do this too as if you don't someone else will.

This long and I mean long boat ride crammed like sardines was hard and we were thankful when our stop arrived.

We are trying to go to a vegetarian restuarnat that was recommended to us today by our guide.  However when we get there - yup you got it - it was full for the evening.  And this is a Monday!

Okay the place across the way looks good and we take a table inside.  We would prefer outside but there are just way too many smokers.  

Again Bernie gets the house wine and I sparkling water.  We each order a vegetable soup, but somehow ended up with the soup of the day - pumpkin.  When we ask about it they say this is all they have.  Hmmm okay, it was good though and I did manage to eat half of it.

Bernie had pasta for his entre and I was full from the soup.  Overall the food was good, and the service fine but not really the best.

Again after eating a bit my tummy is not happy so we start heading home.  

Day Two In Venice - Food Walking Tour

When I awake after another restless night I know I am still not 100% but I am on the mend.  

Seems I wake throughout the night with tummy aches and a wicked sinus headache that just won't stop.  I am sure the dampness, which probably includes mold is affecting me.  

Nothing is going right it seems.  I feel downhearted and all I want is my home.  

Now anyone who has travelled knows this feeling. You just want to throw in the towel and give up. Suddenly the comforts of my bed, English television and my PVR, food I am use to, and heat that I can control easily are all I want.

Bernie wakes and tries to comfort me as we shower and get ready for the day.  

I am excited about today though.  We have a food walking tour through Viator.  Bernie stops for a cappuccino and pastry on the way (I am still not hungry).  When we get to the Rialto Bridge it is relatively quiet so I get Bernie to take a few shots of me.  You can see from my face, I am struggling.

We meet our guide on the other side of the Rialto Bridge where she greets us warmly and we meet the other couple who is also on our tour.

Our guide (so sorry I have forgotten her name) provides us with a bit of history, interesting stories, and details of Venice.  Most to do with the food and the culture of food/wine here but also a bit about history.  I loved her pictures that she displayed that took us back to what it use to be like.

We visit numerous spots for food and along with the stop are details about who made it, how it is made, and the history of where it is from.

Even going through the market we see it with different eyes through her.  I had never noticed the fish carved into the top of the pillars in the fish market area, or the shades that slide down in the fish market to keep the seagulls at bay.

She explains the water system and how early Venetians got their drinking water from the many town square wells.  Today a moder aqueduct provides water to the city.  The taps spotted all around provide clean drinking water.  And if the tap has a small hole at the top, just plug the spout with your finger and this forces the water out of the top hole to act like a drinking fountain.

We stop for cheese, slice meat and olives at the first spot.

Second stop is the fruit stalls where we sample some fresh fruit.

Third stop is a place recognize as we visited on our Cicchetti tour with Alessandro two years ago.  Read about it here.  Where we have some finger snacks.

Fourth stop is a bakery to try cookies.  It is here while we enjoy our cookies we hear a man yelling.  It is clear to see that he has caught a thief in the midst of pick pocketing some tourist, who did not even realize their wallet was taken from their back pack.  Someone calls the police and the old man holds the arm of the female thief while the young couple who are the victims stand beside the thief.  Apparently the thieves are often under 18, or are women who are pregnant as they are not kept in jail and are released the next day. It should be noted that this woman was nicely dressed, and looked like any other well presented Venetian. 

We then walk to the Dorsoduro section where we stop for gelato.  

Our last stop is a pastry stop and we are given two small dessert each.  But by this time most of us are full so we take it to go.  

I did manage a few little bites of things but ate very little, but I really did enjoy our guide and the information she provided.  I can highly recommend this tour.

It is now around 1 pm and it is crowded and busy and again the little food I have eaten is not agreeing with me so we make our way back to the apartment with breaks along the way when needed.

As soon as I am in the apartment I crawl into bed and I am fast asleep.  Time to listen to my body.

Evening of First day In Venice

After a good rest we are ready to head out again.

I will add that the dampness/humidity in the apartment is something we are having trouble with.  There is a few reasons for it:  we are on the ground level and it is Venice, it is October and it is cool and damp out (although it warms up quite nicely in the afternoon to around 20), the apartment is not well insulated, and there is no clothes dryer here so the clothes have to dry on a rack inside creating more humidity.

The apartment does have a humidifier and it is working hard and the reservoir has to be entied daily.

We ended up laying a wool blanket over the mattress then the sheet on top of that.  The cotton sheets do seem damp as they absorb the moisture.  Then there is a duvet that also holds the dampness.  The apartment is now warm though.  

We also would love to open the windows and let some fresh air in but the mosquitos are a killer. Just opening the windows for a few minutes lets in a lot mosquitos and we are scratching because of the bites.  So the windows remain closed.

Back to heading out for the night.  We know we want to stay away from the crazy busy spots so we venture north to the Cannaregio district.

It is busy around the train station but once we clear there we are walking among the locals and quiet streets and canals.  We even head so far north that we are the furtherst north you can go and there is a valparetto stop there that takes to you Murano.  

We spot a beautiful football field where I believe the Venice football team plays (not even sure if they have one but it did have a sign saying Venice league).  

We pass a walled in playground with the local kids playing with the parents watching on.

As we wander we stroll thru the old Jewish Ghetto where the Jews were forced to live until Napolean came and opened up the area for the Jews to live everywhere.  We are thinking of our friends Jo and Julia as we visited here last time together.

I should add we have noticed a much bigger pressence of armed guards here, and in pretty much all the cities we have visted at the main tourist spots.  Here is no expection, where we see gaurds with major guns just watching.  They are also noticeable in St. Mark's Square too, as well as other major sites in Venice.  A sign of the times I guess, but it is odd to see the kids kicking a football around with guards with guns nearby.

Bernie is hungry, and I am hanging in there.  We try a few places and the either tell us they are not open yet or they are full with reservation.  Even if they are serving drinks they are not open until 1900 for food.  

After about five rejections (and we are not even in a touristy area) we settle on a lovely little restaurant who warmly welcomes us and we sit at a table for two.  The place is cozy with tables close together and you can hear the banter from the kitchen.

Bernie orders some house wine, and I settle on sparking water.  I know I can't be feeling well if I am turning down wine! I order a simple spaghetti with tomato sauce.  Thinking that should be good for my first meal.  But nope, after two bites I can not put another bite of food in my mouth.  In fact just the smell of food is making me ill. 

I sit and patiently wait for Bernie to finish and even when the waiter comes by and is concerned that I don't like the food I smile and say "just way too much" as I try to move the pasta so it looks like I have eaten more than I have.

After Bernie has finished I say "it is time to go" and he gets it.  He is concerned and wishes I would of spoken up sooner. But I don't want to take away from his trip and his experience so I just kept quiet. 

We start walking back.  It is a beautiful night and every turn brings another photographic image that is worthy of being framed.

Just as we cross the bridge over the Grand Canal I feel like I need to rest as I feel I could faint.  I urge Bernie to some steps of a church and we sit and watch the people go by until I feel better.

One thing to note here is there are not a lot of places to sit in Venice unless you sit in a restaurant or cafe.  Not many public benches and many places that you could sit at, like a ledge, or small wall, have signs that say no sitting.  So the steps of the church are our saviour.  And if the church is open feel free to go in and rest inside - which we have done numerous times - and what a beautiful spot to rest too, even if you are not religious.

We finally make it back to the apartment and I immediately crawl into bed praying that tomorrow I will be better.

Lessons from today:

  • speak up when you don't feel well
  • take rests when needed
  • stay to the right when walking on the streets and don't stop in the middle of bridges, if you must stop go to the side so others can pass
  • the house wine is often very good and reasonably priced
  • food servings are huge here, don't be afraid to share a dish
  • litter is everywhere, and the garbage cans we passed seem to be overflowing
  • crowds are heavy in touristy areas so seek out the back out of the way spots for the "real" Venice
  • beware of pick pocketers - they are all around
  • don't book an apartment on the ground floor
  • I need to bring screens to Venice and make a killing

Day One In Venice

It is Sunday morning and neither of us have slept well.  It is a combination of things. The apartment is very damp feeling and the humidity is high.  The bed is rock hard (we prefer softer).  And I have been ill most of the night. 

But on very little sleep we both are showered and out the door at 8 am.  Today we have a walking tour of Venice with a gondola ride.  Meeting time is 9 in St. Mark's Square.

It is very foggy this morning!  Very foggy that even walking in the maze of Venice is more difficult.  We manage thanks to Google Maps App.  Sure we made a few wrong turns but we survived.

Bernie stops for espresso (I still don't want to eat anything) and he sips and enjoys it while the locals walk by on their way to work, church, family.  It feels great to be back.

We do notice how dirty the city is though - a lot of garbage left over from the previous night of party I guess.  But the workers are out cleaning up and washing down streets from the smells (I will let you figure out the smells).  But somehow the luster of beautiful Venice is lost to me at this moment.

We walk into St. Mark's Square and it is a glow with light from the sun trying to get through. Fog setteling in around us.  And so few people, and those that are here are setting up for their stalls for the soon to arrive tourists. It is a great spot to be early in the morning.

Our tour is an hour and a half walking tour around the area and our guide is fabulous.  Our group is around 12 people and we all have the radio transmitters so we an hear her clearly.  

We learned so much more about the city and we are so glad we took it.  We booked it through Viator.

After the tour we have a gondola ride.  This is our first time taking a gondola.  But going as 6 saves you and that is how many the gondola can hold.  Cost is 80E so divided amongst 6 it is reasonable. Here is the official pricing for gondolas. 

Now I am glad I did the ride, it was beautiful and I can cross it off my list.  But note it is a tourist thing to do, it is expensive, and you sort of feel like you are on a ride at a theme park.  As you ride down the canals in a convoy among all the other tourists, each one trying to capture the perfect picture it looses it's luster.  

We try to catch a traghetto at the San Marco stop.  A traghetto is a gondola like rowboat that shuttles locals across the Grand Canal.  There are designated ones and I went to the right spot.  When I asked a local worker at the pier he brushed me off and said "no longer works".  Okay guess we will walk back home the long way.  Note we later find out it does still work.

Walking back to the apartment we are slowed by the crowds.  Now this is October and it is lower season, but if this is low season I hate to think how it is in the summer.  We were told by our guide that is customary to stay to the right when walking.  So we try to fit in and push our way through the crowds (like the locals do).  Our walk home that should of taken 20 minutes takes 35.

As soon as we are in we crash - we are both tired and I am not feeling good still, but at least I am no longer tossing my cookies.

But to end on a positive note, we loved the tour, we loved being out early before the crowds, and we got to ride a gondola.

Travelling To Venice

We wake and gather our stuff.  Packing up is never fun and then moving from town to town is probably the biggest downside of a land vacation.  To ease this we have only one bag each and both are not full and are easy to manage.  We also each have a PacSafe knapsack that is easy to carry on our backs.  

One other way to ease the travel is to stay in places longer.  We had three nights in Lucca, and now five nights in Venice.  Remember to go at your own pace.

We pre purchased our train tickets to Venice when they had a sale.  Lucca to Florence and then Florence to Venice.  In total it will take just under four hours.  Trains here are comfortable, affordable and quite reliable.  Sure wish Canada had this kind of train services.

I forgot to mention that when I turned my phone on I got a message that my international phone plan had expired today.  What?  I bought a 30 day plan and did not activate it until Sept 26.  Will call Virgin later when I can speak with someone.

We easily change trains in Florence and this time we splurged for first class trains.  Although it is not a huge difference in cost (around 15E more) and it is much more comfortable.  

Food service comes by and we both go for the lunch plan.  It is 18E but includes bread, wine (or beer), coffee, bottle of water and a hot entree, and dessert.  I get the lasagna, bernie got the rice vegetable dish.

This turned out to be a bad idea.  My entree was heated in a microwave and the sides were HOT but the middle cool.  So I had to stir it around to get it hot.  The dish was lasagna with a cheese sauce and pears.  I ate most of it but it was so rich I could not finish it. This meal would come back to haunt me.

We arrive in Venice right on time and we make our way over the Constitution Bridge to Plazza Roma where we are suppose to meet Luca to take us to our Airbnb.  I quickly call him and he says he is running late as we are one of four meets he has today and the earlier one just arrived due to the fog their flight was delayed.  (we later find out that cruise ships sailing in were delayed hours). He asks us to go have a coffee and he will be with us shortly.

This gives me time to call Virgin about my phone plan.  Seems the plan I purchased activates the day you buy it. Silly me, and after talking with the nice rep she offers us another 30 day smaller plan for free.  That is nice and this will help us until the end of our trip.

Luca meets us and takes us to our Airbnb which is in the Santa Croce area and a short distance to walk with our bags.  Again pack light as this could be a pain in Venice.

The apartment is a large one bedroom on the first floor away from the street.  It is not as nice as our last place but that would be hard since our last place was amazing.  

We get settled and un pack a bit and we both notice that it is cold and damp in here.  The heavy fog and cool like Fall temps don't help.  We work hard to figure out how to turn on the heat radiators.  Some help from my followers on my page lead us to the switch at the boiler to turn on the hot water.  

I am not feeling the best.  My stomach is really acting up.  Must of been the lunch!  

We head out to do some groceries nearby and just being near food is making me nauseaus. Back at the apartment we decide it might be better to just stay in.  We did have a ghost walk tour planned for that evening but there is no way I can do that.  

I am pretty sure that lunch is the culprit.  I am quite sick all night and manage only to get a few hours of sleep. 

Lets hope tomorrow will be better.

Three Days In Lucca Italy

We had the pleasure of spending three nights and days in Lucca, Italy.  It is a place I had been wanting to visit after reading about it in Rick Steve’s books.  I knew a visit here from the ship would just not be enough.  So we made a point of adding it to this voyage and to explore it fully.

Lucca is a walled city that is located in Tuscany region.  Between Pisa and Florence.  It was a reasonable distance from the port of Civitivecchia and then reasonable distance to Venice, our next stop.

We booked an apartment with Airbnb within the walled city (that is important) that was actually a two bedroom two bath.  A lot more space than we needed but the price was right and it sure was nice to have that much space.  Heck the apartment was bigger than our apartment at home.

Our first night was all about exploring the town.  The entire town is easy to get around in the narrow streets that are mainly pedestrian with occasional cars in certain areas.  You do have to watch out for bikes and motorbikes though.  

The next day we took our time getting moving.  This is a vacation after all.  After so many ports on our cruise we were ready for some R and R and sleeping in and slowly getting ready was key.  We had breakfast (bought groceries the day prior – cereal, milk, fruit, juice, wine, and bread.  Remember here you get your fruit/veggies and then you weigh them and the sticker prints out that you have to place on the bag for checkout) in the apartment and we left the place around 11 am.

Remember to get your coffee in one of the many coffee shops – drinking it at the bar cost a bit cheaper and this is what the locals do.  1.20 E for cappuccino – boy a lot cheaper than the 5E Cappuccino in Sardinia. 

The town looks different during the day that at night.  Many shops/restaurants are open only during the day, and then at night different shops/restaurants and bars are open.  

We explore the town using some guides we have from Rick Steve’s and others.  For lunch we stopped by a bakery and bought some focaccia – mine with onions and Bernie’s with tomatoes and we sat on a bench and had an impromptu picnic.

We booked a walking tour of the town through Viator prior to arriving that started at 2 pm.  We met our guide at the designated spot.  There were about 16 of us.  With people from Italy, a family from Spain, US, and Britain.  A nice pot pourri which allowed us to get to know each other.  

Our guide started on the wall that is now a pedestrian/bike pathway.  The wall was originally a medevial wall that was built to protect the city from other cities like Pisa and Florence and it kept out bows and arrows.  However as time progressed so did the armory, this wall would not do.  A large fortified wall was built around the city at a huge expense to the residents.  Today that wall still stands.  Where many other walled cities in Europe tore down their walls to create roadways, Lucca kept theirs and it is a highlight to the city.  The tour is two hours in length, just right and we learned a lot.

Once home we enjoy some wine and then a nap is order.  

In the evening we venture out again.  We are not really hungry but agree a nice stroll and a stop for some wine and then a stop for a cocktail are perfect end to the evening.  There are numerous bars open and we find a great spot that has live music and the cocktails are even better.  What a great way to end a great day.

The next day is all about exploring the sites we haven’t seen yet.  Again we are slow getting moving but once we are out and we have our espresso we are good to go.  

We want to walk the entire wall.  We enter via the Western gate and we walk clockwise.  The entire wall is 4 km and it takes us one hour to complete at a normal pace with stops for pictures.

We go down the wall and make our way to the Bascillica – it cost 3E to enter but I felt it was worth it.  Make sure to check out the labyrinth etched into the wall just on the outside.

Last stop we need to do is the Guingi Tower – the highest tower in the town that has trees planted on the top with a beautiful lookout – cost is 4E for adults 3E for seniors/kids.  The climb is not too strenuous if you are physically able to climb the …… steps.  It starts out wide but does get narrow.  Once at the top there is a narrow path around the perimeter where you can pose for pictues but it is narrow.  It was relatively quiet when we were there but it was a pain when you needed to get by.  I would hate to see it when it is busy.

Okay we have earned a good meal and well of course wine.  We stop at a nice restaurant that is not fancy, run by a family and has been there for a long time. 

We order half liter of the house wine, a green salad each.  We each have pasta, for me it is porcini mushrooms that are in season currently and Bernie gets the ravioli with pumpkin, that is also in season.  We each have dessert, for me the biscuits with vino santé, and for Bernie a pistachio iced dessert.  All the food was good and the bill came to 60E total, not bad considering all we had.  

Note most restaurants in Italy have a Comperto or Service Charge – usually around 1.50 to 3 E per person.  This is standard and it is just a charge for being in the restaurant.  In North America this fee is not there but it is included in the price of the food.  But also remember that tipping here is not expected.  Usually we round up the bill, like when we get coffees in the morning and it comes to 2.60E we give 3E.  

After getting back to the apartment around 3 pm we rest.  For us it is key to go with the flow and listen to our bodies.  We don’t want to push it and we know the locals take breaks in the early afternoon so we are acting like the locals.  

I did some research and found a restaurant I really wanted to try and was close by, but when we get there at 8 pm it is full – darn I should of made a reservation.  So we start wandering and we find a small family run restaurant off one of the side streets.  We eat inside as the cigarette smoke on the terrace is just too much for us to handle here in Italy.  

Here the house wine is 8E for a whole liter – well that is a sign – we will take a bottle then.   We order mushroom crepe starter and it comes with two crepes so we find it works great to share.   Then a large mixed green salad which also is big enough to share.   We even share a plate of pasta and  a side of grilled vegetables which were sadly too salty.  But everything else was great.  This meal only came to 40E total and again the service charge of 2E per person.

It is now 10 pm and we are strolling the streets.  This place is quite safe and we never felt worried.  

The next morning we are up early, only because we have to catch a train at 1030.  We are sad to say goodbye to Lucca.

Overall we really loved Lucca and would definitely come back.  It is a great spot to call home base and to travel around to the outlying areas – Florence, Pisa, Sienna and all of Tuscany.  The town is easy to get around, quiet and authentic.  Yes tourists come here, but most leave at the end of the day.  Prices are also more reasonable than the bigger places.

More pictures will be added once at home.