Seven Cities in Seven Days

We recently cruised On Celebrity from Venice to Civitavecchia. Along the way we visited Venice, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro Greece, Naples and Rome.

Getting to Venice should have been easy, it wasn’t. We had tickets to fly from Phoenix to Chicago and then on to Venice. We planned to arrive three days before the cruise ship left port. Let’s face it airline travel can be a crap shoot. In Chicago apparently there were mechanical issues. American Airlines wasn’t exactly honest with us, first we were told there was a “catering issue,” then we were told there was a “minor mechanical issue”, finally we were told due to “multiple mechanical issues“ the flight was going to be cancelled! The airline wanted to give us vouchers for taxis and a hotel. They offered to get us to Venice THREE DAYS LATER after our cruise would have left! Typically we are proactive, so once we suspected the flight might get cancelled I got on the phone with the airlines. I cried and begged then they offered us a flight to London and then twelve hours later a flight to Venice. Sounded good to us. We had to run to another gate to hop on the flight, but that was no problem since we only had carry on luggage. Once in London we were able to wrangle a flight to Vienna and then a flight on to Venice. All of this maneuvering had us arriving in Venice only twelve hours later than originally planned. Basically, I think if you need to do your own research regarding flights. Don’t take no for an answer. In Europe think outside the box, think train, bus or rental car etc. to get you where you need to go.

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Landing in Venice….finally!

Venice is beautiful and welcoming and teeming with history and tourists.  Each morning we woke up early from our hotel the AC Marriott, just outside the city center. Greg picked the hotel and we were grateful to not lug our bags over all of the bridges and stairs in the city. Venice in the morning is it’s most beautiful. As the city is waking up it is easy to enjoy without crowds.

We toured St.Mark’s and the Doge palace. Great history, artwork and beauty. It is also best enjoyed on a morning tour.

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The view of St. Mark’s Square early in the morning.

We boarded the Celebrity Infinity and checked into our first suite. I consider myself a relatively low maintenance traveler. But it was really nice to have a larger space to have drinks with friends and enjoy breakfast on the spacious balcony. Our butler, Homer was more than accommodating and happily supplied us with all of the cold beer and fresh iced tea we desired. One perk of staying in a suite is that guests can enjoy Michael’s Club for drinks and lite bites. I would stay in a suite again if the price was right, but it did feel great to have a suite.

The large suite had a massive balcony, a big bathroom with tub and a lovely sitting area.

Koper, Slovenia was our first stop. We hired a driver with our friends for much less than the cruise line would have charged and and headed to Skocjan Cave, a UNESCO world heritage site.

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Inside the Skocjan cave with it’s rivers and canyons.
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As we left the cave you see the lush forest surrounding the area.

Split, Croatia was our next stop.  We had plans later in the month to spend a few days there.  The sixteen hundred year old  Diocletian Palace was one of our favorite places to tour.

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The palace was used for the filming of Game of Thrones

Kotor, Montenegro was our next port. This lush green paradise was stunning as we approached the port. Our hired guide drove us up the steep mountain road to a family farm and winery.  Following a tour of the beautiful farm we all sat down to enjoy a delicious meal in the vineyard. The setting and food were spectacular. Montenegro is a beautiful location and I would love to return and explore further. That is one of the benefits of cruising. You visit a place for several hours and return to the places you fall in love with.

High above the port, the beautiful view of the green mountains and blue waters of Kotor, Montenegro.
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In the mountains we arrived at the beautiful vineyard and family farm.

For our next stop Corfu Greece our friends had hired a sailboat to take the six of us along the Adriatic Sea. This was beyond spectacular! The scenery was gorgeous, the water was inviting and the captain and his son were very welcoming hosts. I highly recommend hiring a sailboat if you are traveling with a small group. It was such a nice way to visit the island. I’d love to return and stay on Corfu in the future.

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We loved sailing the Adriatic along the coast of Corfu, Greece.
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This was a Bucket List trip for Greg and I.

Naples was our last stop before we disembarked for Rome. We decided to do a Secret Food Tour. Marco was our host, a local who provided history of the city and had us partake in a great many of the city’s delicacies, including pastries, cheeses, wine, pizza, pasta, limoncello, more, wine, Italian ice cream, and finally espresso among other treats. We learned that espresso is served with a glass of water that you drink prior to the espresso to cleanse your palate. The espresso was strong and thick and gave me a buzz for the rest of the afternoon. Secret Food Tours are a great way to discover a city.

Naples is where the original Margarita pizza was invented.
We walked around Naples before our Secret Food Tour began and spotted other tourists taking pictures.

At the end of our cruise we spent three days in Rome. We were lucky enough to stay again at the very first Airbnb we stayed at. Our host Barry allowed us to check in early and our compact accommodation was perfect as expected. He had some sparkling wine for us and during our stay suggested some places to visit that were off the beaten tourist track. The best part of our Rome Airbnb is the balconies with views of the city and the Vatican. Sunrise was particularly spectacular.

Sunrise on our Airbnb balcony.

We tried something new with our friends for our first night in Rome. We booked Eatwith at Rocco and Fabio’s place. Eatwith is a cool concept where your book a dinner with a local couple. We were welcomed into their home and fed a multi course dinner with wine, lots of wine and lemoncello and great conversation with our hosts and other guests. It was a fun way to experience Rome like a local. Our taxi ride home was the only hiccup, somehow I left a single shoe in the cab (long story) however, unlike Cinderella no prince brought my shoe back to me!

EatWith dinner at Rocco and Fabio’s place. An amazing seafood dinner with new friends in the heart of Rome.

On subsequent days we walked to many of the tourist sites early in the day before the city was fully awake. We ate at local restaurants where they made the pasta in front of you and where Nonnative made sure you cleaned your plate of whatever she was cooking that night. We also discover that if you want a cappuccino go a little out of the way, see the locals and pay half price.

When you get up early you get to see all the tourist sites without all the tourists. We had Trevi Fountain to ourselves.
We were able to capture a special moment with this bride a groom at the Pantheon.

Why Photographs are My Favorite Souvenir

I love photography. For me its one of the most important souvenirs I take back from my travels. Because we travel with carry ons only it is definitely a choice to bring my SLR camera, including three lenses on our trips. Basically it means that I have less shoes and less everything else, but it’s entirely worth it.

We recently returned from an epic five week trip trip to Brazil, Cape Verde, Morocco, and Portugal. The trip included both land and cruise excursions. I am including some of my very favorite photos along with an explanation of why I love them.

BRAZIL

On a nighttime excursion in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil we were treated to a beautiful slide show on the outside of this art museum.

I enjoyed watching these two little boys play soccer with a barely intact ball in the shadow of the cathedral in Salvador de Bahia. I love how the older boy decided to photobomb his buddy.

We visited a colorful and massive food market loaded with fresh fish and produce.

On board the AZAMARA PURSUIT I had fun playing with this photo orb borrowed from fellow passenger and Instagrammer, Ade Roberts Insta @CruiseImage

CAPE VERDE

We visited the town of Mindelo, Cape Verde. It was absolutely gorgeous. One of the fishing villages we visited did not have running water in most of the homes so residents picked up water and carried it on their heads. This village was full of very happy and content people. What they may have lacked in everyday conveniences was made up by the most beautiful view of the ocean.

This happy little girl was bringing water home, she stopped to give me a sweet smile.

These very modest homes boast spectacular ocean views.

Colorful homes in Cape Verde.

The sands on Playa Grande are from the Sahara desert deposited there from sandstorms.

MOROCCO

We spent two days in Morocco in Casa Blanca and Agadir.

Sights and smells from the souk in Casa Blanca, Morocco

In Morocco we took part in a cooking class and watched this worms cook the tasty local bread in the traditional wood oven.

We visited Hassan II Mosque and were amazed at it’s beauty and size. It’s such a gift to visit and learn about other cultures,

 

PORTUGAL

An iconic streetcar in Lisbon, Portugal. The driver was laughing in spite of a traffic jam.

Get your walking shoes on in Lisbon.

Hills? Did somebody say hills? We were just happy to find the elevators between some of the streets in Lisbon.

One of the great things about walking all the hills in Portugal is it’s a great workout to enjoy all of the great Portuguese food and wine.

Evening time in Albufeira in southern Portugal.  This town had a great restaurant and bar scene with plenty of live entertainment every night.

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 Our AirBnB Super Host took us on a tour of the area, including bringing us to this tiny hand crafted bar built entirely from found shells and beach finds.  We had a drink here and the friendly owner insisted on taking Greg’s picture

We took a boat tour along the coastline and caves in the Algarve in Southern Portugal

This marina in Albufeira is so colorful.

This bridge in Porto was designed by Eiffel.

Our view at dinner in Porto. We found that asking our AirBnB hosts for suggestions was a great way to find hidden gems in town.

Our final stop was outside of the town of Sintra. The road up to the AirBnB was terrifying to say the least, but the view, the tiny town and the Cinderella castles were not to be missed. Once we arrived at our AirBnB we took Uber, which is very inexpensive in both Portugal and Brazil.

We enjoyed a great little hike from our flat, it was full of colorful surprises.

The ocean view from our balcony. We enjoyed the view and it was even better with some great Portuguese wine.

Imagine how excited we were to discover a charming vineyard with wine tasting walking distance from our AirBnb. The proprietor started the winery in his later years and placed his life motto on every bottle. “It’s never too late.” He lived to be 102

The colorful Pena Palace looked like a real life Disneyland castle. We arrived early and were happy to avoid some of the crowds.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of mean and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all ones’s lifetime.”  MARK TWAIN

Beautiful Brazil

I fell for Brazil.  I loved the architecture, the scenery, the music, the people and the foods of Brazil.

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Christ the Redeemer watches over Rio de Janeiro

Along the way we took a Tours By Locals for approximately $65 each of Rio.  Our tour guide had lived in the US previously and spoke perfect English.  He suggested we leave early on our city tour (7:30am) to beat some of the cruise crowds that would be arriving later in the day.  Great idea! We visited Christ The Redeemer on the very first tram.  The sight is spectacular and the view expansive. We avoided the crowds that were arriving just as we were leaving.

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The spectacular coastline in Rio.

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The Selaron Steps took nearly eight years to construct

Although Rio has the reputation for crime we were encouraged to not dress overtly fancy and be aware of our surrounding.   Greg and I ate in street cafes, drank caipharinas and Brahma beer and fresh empanadas.  We took Uber everywhere very inexpensively.  The architecture is spectacular and the graffiti covers most buildings along with beautiful street art.

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Some of the beautiful street murals in Rio

We also visited Sao Bento Monestary, the famous Selaron Steps and Ipenema  Beach. With all of it’s riches Rio and Brazil as a country is a dichotomy, the very rich and the brutally poor.

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The ornate church of Sao Bento Monastery.  The exterior is plain and the ornate interior is a delightful surprise.

Once we boarded our ship the Azamara Pursuit we journeyed up the coast of Brazil to a beautiful village of Salvador.  We took an art walk and I also took a photo excursion shooting the colorful city.

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Colorful Salvador

 

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Our last stop in Brazil was Recife.  The city is old, tired and not my favorite. The hilight might have been our visit to the Cachaca factory which included tasting of the National drink of Brazil a capharina made with lime, crystal sugar and the very potent cachaca.

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A local man selling jewelry along the sidewalk in Salvador

 

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One of the lovely African Queens who dress up in traditional Arifcan costumes to celebrate their Afro-Brazilian hearitage.

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The fishing village of Salvador

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Downtown Recife

 

 

Niagara on Viagra, Iguazu Falls

We visited Iguazu Falls which borders both Brazil and Argentina recently. The name Iguazu means “big water” and boy were they right. It is twice as tall and three times wider than Niagara and although not as tall as Victoria Falls, it is wider. We were really impressed with the beauty and enormity of this site. When visiting Brazil in the late summer expect heat and humidity and of course rain. Temperatures were warm, and muggy, our glasses and camera lenses fogged up many times.

The immense beauty of the Iguazu Falls is impossible to capture

Why visit Iguazu you may ask? Many reasons. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, a Bucket List Buster and its located inside a rain forest. It is spectacularly beautiful and along the way you will discover many unexpected delights. Foz Do Iguaçu is accessible from Rio de Janeiro by a two hour plane ride, and it is possible to visit as a do it yourself excursion.

We planned three nights in a lovely boutique home/hotel named Pousada El Refugio. The absolutely delightful host, Ole immediately made us feel welcome and comfortable in Foz Do Iguaçu. He was waiting for us at the airport and was very helpful in giving us rides to locations as well as lots of information about the falls. He assured us that we could visit both the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls with its expansive view of over 230 waterfalls and the Argentinian side with more up close views in the three days we had allotted for this trip.

Breakfast on the patio with a view of the pool and garden

Although rain was in the forecast for our first full day, sunny weather prevailed. At Ole’s suggestion we entered the park (for under $40) and walked along the boardwalk to view the falls with only moderate crowds. I took hundreds of photos and still have a difficult time deciding which ones are my favorite. Next up was the speed boat tour. On the way to the speed boat we rode an open air Jeep and hiked with an English speaking guide. She pointed out various flora and fauna to us along the way. Cameras and phones were placed in a locker and off we went to the speed boat. The ride was both exhilarating and terrifying. We sped through rapids, rode under the thundering waterfalls, were bounced and jostled and I for one screamed. By the end everyone was drenched and thrilled.

This is Greg just before we went under the falls.

Following the speed boat, we headed across the street to Parque Das Aves. The park is a combination bird park, sanctuary and botanical garden. I don’t necessarily consider myself a “bird person” but I kind of fell for these magnificent birds.  We completed our visit of the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls and Parque Das Aves in about six hours.  This included time to sit in the bird park and get a beer and listen to some live music.

The next day we arranged with our host to take us on a 45 minute trip into Argentina to see an up close look at the falls.  The weather was filled with rain, torrential rain.  Border crossing was seamless, with a brief stop in immigration. The Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls is filled with many trails and includes a 30 minute train ride to the end of the park with it’s greatest attraction,  Devil’s Throat where you can view the three largest waterfalls from above.

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Devil’s Throat Iguazu Falls

At the end of the train we followed the crowd out to a long, long metal bridge. We trudged along for about thirty minutes in the teeming rain  until we reached the end, “Devil’s Throat.”  Mist from the falls and rain from about was everywhere.  Most of my photos were covered with dew but the view was spectacular.

Many of the tourists were wearing long rain parkas available in the park gift shop, with the pointed hoods they looked like herds of Tellytubbies. We brought our own jackets, but have since learned that “water resistant” is vastly different from “water proof.”  We trudged back over the metal bridge among the sounds of rumbling thunder and the visions of unyielding rain and lightning. Each of us thinking silently to ourselves “maybe not the brightest idea to cross a very long metal bridge in the middle of a thunder storm.” Afterwards we were able to dry off a bit inside a little restaurant where Greg was able to enjoy a nice Argentinian beer and we agreed to call it a day and return to our hotel.

In the end we both agreed EXPERIENCES NOT THINGS matter.

Road Trip to Monument Valley

Recently we went on a road trip to Monument Valley located on the Arizona Utah border. We’ve lived in Arizona for over thirty years but this was our first time to to Monument Valley, considered one of the most photographed places on earth.

From Phoenix it’s about a five hour drive to Monument Valley. Monument Valley is located in the heart of the Navajo Nation Reservation. This rugged, remote landscape was both beautiful and familiar since Monument Valley is the backdrop of so many iconic Hollywood Westerns. Driving along we spy giant red sandstone buttes towering over the valley floor below. Just before the entrance to Valley Drive is the Visitor Center which offers handicrafts, souvenirs, rest rooms, a restaurant and a hotel.

We chose to drive the seventeen mile dirt road to enter this sacred land. We didn’t take a tour but instead paid the $20 to complete a self tour on the dusty but adequate 17 mile Valley Drive in a Toyota Corolla. The bumpy roads are open only to cars and trucks but closed to RVs and buses. I felt sorry for the bus riders who’s only choice to see more of the sights were open air Jeep tours. Temperatures were reaching nearly 100* and the path was extremely dusty for the captive tourists, sweating and choking on the dust in their attempt to see the iconic sights.

We took our time and Greg managed the road easily. There were plenty of opportunities to stop and take pictures and even purchase some handicrafts along the way. We took about two hours to visit. Bring plenty of water with you. Since it was in the height of the summer season hiking trails were closed.

This land is both spectacular and awe inspiring. It is an amazing place to visit and one I would like to return to again. It would be truly spectacular to see this landscape covered with snow.

A familiar backdrop of Hollywood Westerns

I’m unsure of the name of this rock formation but it does appear to smile at me

This unrelenting environment offers stark contrasts in the view of the sandstone buttes

The North Window

Three Sisters

The Allure of Lake Como

We recently spent a week in Lake Como. Loved it! Maybe because there was some real effort to get there, the final destination was even sweeter.

The previous week we visited Rome and of course it was wonderful, delicious and crowded. We had plans to visit Lake Como because we heard it was it was a special destination with expansive views, cooler weather and less crowds.

To get there first we took a train to Milan, then changed trains and went to Malpensa Airport to pick up a rental car. There my husband got behind the wheel of the very large rental car. Then the harrowing journey began. I am a nervous driver and passenger. The narrow roads and dozens of tunnels, bridges and hairpin curves along Lake Como were frightening. Together we navigated our way to our gorgeous Airbnb in Perlado. Perlado is a very small mountainside hamlet overlooking the town of Varenna on the shore of Lake Como. There were no less than a dozen hairpin turns up the mountain to get to the Airbnb. The views were spectacular, the area very quiet and the hike down into town was invigorating.

We are a competitive couple so we tried to beat each other’s Fitbit step count each day. I recently purchased a new Fitbit Versa and I have to say I just love it. It’s colorful, easy to read, versatile (lots of clock faces) and it gives me all of the information I need. Features include music, heart rate, step and mile count, calories burned and a bit of motivation. I bought mine on Amazon. To check it out just click the link below:

Fitbit Versa from Amazon
Fitbit Versa from Amazon

The road in front of our Airbnb is not for the faint of heart

The medieval town of Varenna was charming and much less touristy than it’s pretty neighbor of Bellagio. We enjoyed our mornings sipping cappuccino in the cafes along Lake Como. We found taking the ferry from Varenna was simple. For about 15 euros a day you can have unlimited trips across the lake to neighboring towns. The ferries come typically every 45 minutes and the trips across the lake were special as well.

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The cutest little coffee shop in Varenna recommended by our Airbnb host

From our Airbnb we were able to hike down to the town of Varenna, using a picturesque route filled with flowers and stone steps.

The stone stairs that lead down the mountain to Varenna

We explored the nearby towns of Bellagio, Menaggio, Cadenabbia, Vezio and Bellano by foot, by ferry and car.  We hiked as often as possible to go off the beaten path.  Although we visited the tourist destination, enjoyed shopping and sightseeing some of our best memories are when we are on foot discovering the charm of these beautiful towns.

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The gorgeous tulips in Mennagio

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Wisteria hysteria in springtime.

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View of the seaside village from Villa Monastero

It’s impossible not to fall in love with the beauty of Bellagio.  The food and wine were terrific and the shopping was incredible.

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Wine at a lakeside cafe in Bellagio.

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Visiting the waterfall in Bellano

Only a short drive, with lots of tunnels and narrow roads bring you to the  steep gorges and turquoise waterfall at Orrido di Bellano.

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For only a few euro you can visit Orrid di Bellano.

One of the best things about visiting Lake Como in early May is that it gave us an opportunity to rest, to relax, to breathe and to appreciate our surroundings without an agenda.  We took each day as we were given.  If it rained in the morning, we wore rain coats and adjusted our day accordingly.

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I love the look of the old church in Varenna with the fog  in the background and the trees in the foreground.

We had been traveling for nearly a month when we arrive in Lake Como.  Following two cruises with twelve ports and time in Rome it was time to recharge and live like a local in Lake Como.  Staying in an Airbnb allowed us to feel the local culture, and get a little taste of the Italian lifestyle.

If you would like to try Airbnb here is a discount link.

AirBnb Discount