Cruising the Aegion Sea on Royal Caribbean- Greece, Montenegro and Croatia

It’s been over 6 months since my cruise on June 15, 2019. (Sometimes I like to wait to blog about trips which gives me the opportunity go back down memory lane and relive the experiences all over again). The cruise was a part of my “Visiting Italy: A Dream Come True” trip, except the cruise took us to 3 other European Countries: Croatia, Montenegro and Greece. We embarked from Venice on Royal Caribbean’s-(RC) Rhapsody of the Seas ship.

The Room

A little over a month before sailing, I received an email from RC inviting me to participate in the RoyalUp program, where you can bid on an upgraded stateroom for your sailing. Since this was a part of a Dream Come True Summer vacation for me I definitely was interested in going all out, so of course I put in a bid and a month later I received the good news that our bid had been accepted and our room had been upgraded to a Junior Suite. I was very happy about this because our original stateroom was on deck 2 and I prefer to be on a higher deck. In my opinion the lower the deck the more waves you feel. I’m pretty sure I overpaid for this Suite but I had no regrets especially after seeing it and enjoying it for 7 days. Suites are definitely the way to go on cruises. I give the suite an 8 out of 10. In this area- RC takes the crown. However, it is the only cruise line that I’ve stayed in a suite so far.

Our Upgraded Stateroom- Junior Suite

Good Information to Know

‘The Key’: Darryl purchased this added amenity for us which gave us some exclusive benefits: Early drop off and delivery of all of our luggage including carry-on, an exclusive lunch at Chops Grille on boarding day, 1-device each internet usage, private hours at ship activities on port days, priority debarkation and tender service from ship to shore and a la carte breakfast in the Giovanni’s Table on departure day. The Key is worth it.

Alcohol: You can take alcohol on board. Each stateroom may bring up to two 750 ml bottles of wine or champagne on boarding day. You can get creative and carry on additional alcohol in smuggle bottles but that would be illegal. You could also spend a few hundred dollars and buy the alcohol package legally. A deluxe beverage package, including alcohol, could run you any where from $50-90 per day per person. Sometimes they run BOGO specials. We did not purchase a beverage package. You can take on-alcoholic beverages on board as well but they may not exceed 12 standard (17 oz.) cans, bottles or cartons per stateroom. We purchased water on a couple of the ports and were allowed to bring them onboard. In this area Norwegian takes the crown because alcohol was included in our cruise to Cuba.

The Food

Like other cruises food is inclusive. I found the buffet to be pretty good and with many choices for a regular person. For this vegan though, things were a little rough. I spoke to several of the executive chefs and food managers about my preferences and they tried their best to accommodate me but when your kitchen staff is not well trained it is only so much you can do. The service got better as the cruise went on but I pretty much knew I would just have to eat some seafood. I find it such a money grab that the other restaurant’s, that are not included, food is significantly of better quality. For instance, the exclusive lunch at Chops Restaurant, that we got with ‘the Key’, was very good and the one night we splurged and ate at Izumi Japanese restaurant we were blown away by how delicious the food was. I do have to mention other cruise lines that I’ve been on have more late night food options than Royal Caribbean does. It was difficult to find food after 10 pm and almost impossible after midnight especially for a semi-vegan. I would give the food a 6 out of 10. In the area of food and service- Norwegian takes the crown. The attention they gave to me in ensuring I still enjoyed my food as a vegan was amazing. Also I never had to remind the kitchen staff.

Activities

Let me first say, my husband and I do not mind making fools out of ourselves when having a good time. We are very competitive and love a good game. If you do not have fun on cruise ships you are just BORING. Now that, that is out of the way, I found RC’s activities to be very safe, not Risque enough and I found the shows to be lackluster. However, when Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery are on board we always find some fun. The most fun activities hands down were: The 70’s Disco Inferno Street Party, Battle of the Sexes and The Sexiest Man on Board. I may be a little biased because we participated in these. We called ahead of the cruise to find out about the theme nights and the only one that the CSR was sure on was the 70’s Party so we were prepared for that one. Our party of 4 were the only ones properly prepared for this party outside of the crew. We were dressed in our 70’s clothes and afros and cut the rug. We stole the show. In the Battle of the Sexes game show the women won and of course Darryl and I were right in the thick of it all, busting balloons in awkward, sexual positions and getting the crowds applause. I didn’t give my approval for Darryl to participate in the Sexiest Man on Board game after several women came up to him asking and after I became a judge he couldn’t participate anyway lol. I had the punch lines and helped to make the game exciting. Outside of these games the White Night party was fun as well as the International Crew Parade of Flags. I thought the Newlywed game was kind of boring and I don’t think kids should have been allowed in the room. I prefer the All adult crowd games. (I’m looking into the all adult cruise next). The shows on RC were boring and very cheap. I give the activities and shows a 6 out of 10. In this area- Carnival Cruise Line takes the crown; their adult only game show is one not to be missed.

On one of our at sea days, there was a time change and we missed our sushi cooking class. RC was very accommodating and credited our account. On another sea day we purchased the Bottomless Galley Brunch, where we toured the ship galley-kitchen area, had a nice meal and drank unlimited champagne and mimosa. We were even allowed to take a bottle with us to our room. Needless to say, we didn’t do much else that day.

Ports of Call

Our first Port of call was on Fathers’ day and was in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Darryl and I are big Game of Throne fans so we booked an excursion through trip advisor to travel where some scenes from GOT was filmed. It was so exciting seeing this country that GOT basically put on the map and hearing facts about things that occurred during the filming. The most exciting parts were seeing where the ‘Walk of Shame’ took place and comparing the actual location to the scene and hearing that the place is often policed because many people try to reenact the scene of Cersei doing the walk of shame naked. The tour guid also had some props that we used to reenact some scenes.

The next Port of Call was to Kotor, Montenegro. This port was breathtaking. At first all you see is mountains, then you sail inwards and see this hidden island nestled in between them. You must tender to this port- take a smaller boat from the cruise ship to land. We booked the Blue Cave Speed Boat Adventure excursion through RC for this port. We saw caves where submarines were once hidden along the way. There was a small entryway into the cave and cold blue waters. We all climbed out of the boat for a short swim in the grotto. We all wished we could spend more time there but the cave had to be shared with other cave goers. After the cave we went to a beach where we got some food and a few beers. The sun was bright and the beach too rocky to swim but we did not let that keep us from enjoying this beautiful place.

Santorini was our third port of call. We opted to explore this country on our own since it was so pretty and none of the ship excursions appealed to us. This port was also tendered and once we arrived at port we had to take a tram car up the mountain to reach Santorini town. We walked around in and out of shops checking out the merchandise and Roman attire. I found Santorini to be quite expensive but picturesque. If I go again, I will check out trip advisor for some excursions or rent a 4X4 for the day from one of the many shops to see more of the country.

The last port of call was Katakolon, Greece. We booked an excursion with RC to visit Ancient Olympia and Kourouta Beach. We ran where the old olympic games took place and listened to how the old Romans competed in their birthday suits. We saw where they still light the torch to kick off the olympic games. Then we cooled off in the refreshing waters at the beach.

We had a really good time on this cruise and met some very nice people from as far as Australia. RC does try to nickel and dime you for everything and they push the alcohol package big time. Fortunately for us, we had enough of our own alcohol that we only purchased a few beers here and there- we’re not big drinkers. They even charge for fitness classes. I wish the food quality was the same across the board and that more options for eating were available late hours. They can make small improvement like adding popcorn for movie nights. Also they have to get better prepared in serving vegans as more and more people are turning to plant based diets. The pool was too small and there needs to be more adult only options. Highlights for me were the check in and check out procedures, much more efficient than Norwegian, housekeeping was wonderful, the cookies were good lol, the suite was a great size, ‘the key’- great add on, the amount of activities, movies under the stars, staff were nice, bottomless brunch, ports of call and friendships we made.

Sunrise over the Aegion Sea

Black Excellence

I have received many certificates in my life but this one was up there with my Bachelors, not because I had put in a lot of work but because it took a lot of strength for me to come this far.

A few weeks ago, there was an advertisement in the BSOQ group for the Black Excellence ball that was coming up. I considered buying a ticket to attend, but never acted upon this. A few days later I received an email stating that I was nominated for an award, from an anonymous person, and because of my nomination my attendance would be complimentary. So I purchased one ticket for my husband.

I was asked to submit a brief biography of myself to the organizer, The Brofessor. Once I submitted my bio, The Brofessor asked me to mention alopecia in my bio. That is when I realized I was being recognized for being a courageous women with Alopecia. My advocacy for women embracing their bald crown did not go un-noticed. I had impressed inspired someone and my heart was overflowing with humility and pride.

I went all out for my husband and myself. I purchased a dress but decided it wasn’t enough and decided to get a dress professionally made for myself and a jacket and pant suit made for Darryl. I called my girl Nazma, and she hooked me up with a beautiful henna design for my crown and glory. I have received many certificates in my life but this one was up there with my Bachelors, not because I had put in a lot of work but because it took a lot of strength for me to come this far. To be recognized as someone with courage is one of the biggest compliments I could have received.

For years, I was so ashamed and would never think of venturing outside uncovered. Like many other women who live with Alopecia, I was embarrassed more than anything. I still cover my head, mostly in Qatar- where hair is such a sense of pride and any deviation from normalcy is frowned upon-but it is not because I am embarrassed. It is because I don’t always want to be stared at like a zoo animal. I love to stand out but I prefer it be a choice. Alopecia is not a choice. But deciding when to reveal it, is MY choice. Embracing it, other than allowing it to take over my life, depress me and make me feel less than what I am, is MY choice. (There are some positives to having a bald head that I’ll keep to myself.)

But this post isn’t just about me. Many wonderful people were honored and awarded due to their work in Qatar, outside of Qatar and moves they are making. There were many professionals in attendance and not just Black. There were doctors, an Ambassador, a pastor, an opera singer (whom blessed us with a song), photographers, engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers, journalist and so much more! Even a young Achiever in the making was honored. You couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride being among such amazing people and hearing their stories. There was food, dancing, networking and an overall good time. Women shined and men were handsomely dressed in suits and ethnic attire.

The Black Excellence ball was a celebration of Greatness; a time to come together and say: WE SEE YOU! WE HONOR YOU! WE ARE HERE! And above all, WE LOVE YOU!

It is an event not to be missed. I know this event can only get bigger and better and I can’t wait to be in attendance next year!

[click here to view The honorees video]

Eyes Forward

I enjoy having people in my life that I can have deep conversations with, I mean like conversations about goals and future aspirations.

The first break of the school year is here and I have no plans. I think this is the first time since I’ve been here where I didn’t genuinely NEED a break. So far this school year has been wonderful. I am loving my new position and all of the work that has come with it. I think I’ve found my niche, for now anyway. I am one of those people that tire of things after a few years, so we shall see. As the only official elementary Reading Specialist at the school, everything is kind of new. I’ve been allowed to create my own schedule, and order the curriculum that I know works. I’ve been given a lot of autonomy and I feel like a professional again. Working with small groups has been effective for the students and maintaining my own low stress level. Working alone is also rewarding. I have accepted that I work better alone, however I do maintain a professional relationship with the teachers that I work along and we do have a better relationship this year probably due to the distance.

Working outside of the classroom allows for more flexibility to do other things. I’ve been able to attend some Professional Developments of my choice to hone in on some skills. I passed the Level 1 Google Certified Educator exam and am working on Level 2. I facilitated a couple of PD’s as well in Guided Reading and have been supporting the teachers in implementing Guided Reading within the classroom. I’m much happier at work and it shows. I’ve set up my small classroom as a place of zen and solace with positive words, plants, cushions and aromatherapy. Co-workers have been asking me what’s the secret… here’s my answer.

I’m having a great year and I just don’t have space for bullshit.

I chose not to travel during this break instead I stayed home to take care of some appointments and catch up on some rest. I haven’t had a massage in months so I’m going tomorrow and I haven’t been in a gym in about a month either, that has to change and soon. My eyesight is getting worse. I wonder if the bright Qatar sun has anything to do with it or is a combo of age and amount of time spent in front of the television and computer screen. Speaking of Qatar sun, I’m wondering when the weather will break. This girl needs to see some actual rain.

This school year has only just begun but it feels like one of those years that will move very quickly. Already this year, I’ve seen death and new life. I’ve hugged, loved and cried for others. Being so far away is hard sometimes, especially when you can’t physically be there for others in their time of need and have to navigate through difficult situations in a foreign country. Things change, people change, babies are born and people die but life goes on.

As life goes on, I’ve been especially blessed with accomplishing several of my goals and a few of my dreams and here I am in the midst of year 4. It was about 8 years ago when I first thought of this as only a dream but with determination some dreams become goals and with hard work those goals can become reality. Speaking of life, can we take a minute and talk about dreams because the days are long but the years are short. I enjoy having people in my life that I can have deep conversations with, I mean like conversations about goals and future aspirations.

I’m listening…

I actually should have done this years ago but eyes forward, I won’t be able to do what I’m doing forever and neither do I want to so I’ve created a 15 year timeline and I encourage everyone to do the same. This timeline consists of 1 and then 5 year intervals including goals and dreams covering financial, career, family, attitude, artistic, education, physical, living, pleasure and public service. Time to start following the plan, because what good are goals without a plan. What are some of your dreams and goals and what are you doing to get there? Eyes forward, let’s talk about goals.

Life After Detox- Back to Work and In New Spaces

When I left The LifeCo, the last things I wanted to see were juices and salads.  After 5 days of salads and juices, I was done. We ordered a raw bag to go, which consisted of breakfast- Chia pudding with crackers or vegan Turkish breakfast, lunch- Raw wrap or sushi, dinner- hummus wrap or vegetable platter, dessert- brownie, and supplements.  This way we could post-detox appropriately. To detox correctly, you first must pre-detox, then detox of course, post-detox and then eat mindfully and healthier. You have to post-detox to wean yourself back into your regular diet to avoid an upset stomach. You don’t start feeding a baby chicken right away, so treat your body like a baby afterwards and slowly introduce things back into your diet and life.  

Day 1 and day 2 after detox should include raw meals.  On day 3, you can re-introduce starches back into your diet- wheat bread, pasta, but no fried food.  You can begin to incorporate protein back in by day 4 and fish and other things by day 5. You can still eat your guilty pleasure items but in moderation, once or twice a week.  Alcohol, should be minimized to 1-2 glasses of wine or 1 glass of liquor. It is good to drink 2 glasses of water when you first wake up and drink plenty of water throughout the day.  Your water should contain a pH8 or higher. Probiotics are a good supplement to take to help with digestion which in turn will increase your energy.

After detox, I felt weak but I knew that eventually it would be time to return to work, and with work comes stress.  Stress does not only come with work, it comes with life. I know that yoga helps me with stress and so does exercise.  I’ve learned that I need to incorporate more strengthening exercise into my regiment. My plan is to get back to the gym, regularly, find a good yoga class or find a good routine online, lift weights, and continue to run.  Last year, I focused on self-care a lot and I plan to continue my monthly massages, waxes, trips to the nailery and weekly dry brush. I also want to fast at least once a month, even if just for a day. I plan to continue to eat healthy and try not to eat within 3 hours of bedtime.  I had 9 days before the school year started, which gave me time to relax a little, prepare and move to my new flat. 

My new flat has a gym right downstairs and it’s unisex, so hubby and I can work out together.  Who needs a personal trainer, when you have a husband. Our living and dining rooms are bigger, so we can practice yoga here.  It’s also surrounded by grass and trees. Darryl is specifically happy about this and the supermarket which is a 3 minute walk away.  We are thinking about purchasing bikes since there is a running and biking trail.  

Work started a week ago.  The first week is always filled with Professional Development and time to prepare for your new students.  This year, in my new role, I didn’t have all the stresses that come with setting up a new classroom. I feel blessed and extremely positive about the school year.   I set up my new smaller room with an atmosphere of Zen including plants, comfy seating, aromatherapy, inspiring pictures and a minimalist attitude. And to connect the many new faces, I threw a welcoming social at my new place.  Week 1 is over and we have a one week break for the Islamic holiday of Eid. I am not traveling; I am relaxing and preparing for a fresh new start. 

A Well-Being Trip to Bodrum, Turkey- and why everyone should detox

Take some time to slow down and appreciate your body, food and LIFE.

If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you may remember a post I wrote back in October about a trip to Phuket, Thailand where my friend Jennifer and I had our first detox retreat experience.  If you haven’t read it, here’s the link, Detoxing in Thailand.  Well as my last trip for the summer vacation, I went back to The LifeCo and took my husband along with me.  However this time, we went to the Bodrum, Turkey location. 

Bodrum is a port city, that sits on the southern Aegean coast of Turkey.  I’d never been to Turkey before and I felt like I needed to restart this engine especially after all the good food I ate and beer I drank during summer vacation.  Also, my husband had never detoxed before and I figured we’d be good support for one another. 

A Panoramic view of Bodrum port

The Bodrum LifeCo is a bigger facility with more to offer than the one in Thailand.  They actually have two sights in Bodrum within 5 minutes walking distance from each other.  One is at the beach.  We opted to stay at the other since that is where all the services and treatments are.  If you stay at the beach resort, you have to walk to the sister resort every day for treatments.  From my experience, during detoxing, your body has a lot of weak moments and you can spend a significant amount of time in your room so it’s best to be close to services.  The Bodrum facility has a fitness center and two yoga studios.  Phuket only had 1 yoga studio which also served as the gym.  Besides that, the Bodrum facility also has more equipment and the kitchen eating area for those whom are eating food is separate from the other areas where guest that are doing juice and water cleanses don’t have to see the food.  Also, two yoga sessions a day are offered for guest, as well as other classes like Bootcamp fitness and Chi-Gong.  There is a biophoton machine that you are encouraged to use daily along with Luminette Light Therapy and Oxygen Therapy.  The other services are the same, daily sauna and steam room usage, pool, Angel of Water, etc…  The Thailand facility does have two pools, is lakeside and the rooms are bigger but it is not as well maintained as this one.

Darryl and I went for 7 days.  We pre-detoxed for 3 days prior.  They say pre-detox makes the transition smoother and I have to agree now that I’ve done both detoxing without pre-detox and with.   For those 3 days we had a raw juice drink in the morning, raw green salad at 12:30, another raw drink in between as well as vegetable soup broth, another salad at 6:30 and more soup broth if we felt the need and nothing else. Within those 3 days, my weight dropped by 5 lbs and Darryl’s dropped by 8lbs.  Of course, men lose so much faster than women.  We flew direct to Bodrum from Qatar on Qatar Airways.  The flight was a short 3.5 hours. 

Upon arrival we met with our program manager and selected our program.  She then gave us a tour, our salad, and our schedule.  We chose to do one more day of green salad and then switch to master detox program.  The Green Salad program is very similar to what we had done at home but with added supplements.  On the master detox you get a shake at 8:00am that is mostly water with some fruit or vegetables in it with Bentonite clay and Psyllium Husk.  Bentonite clay sucks toxins like a sponge and puts it in your colon.  Psyllium husk is the fiber to brush out the colon and helps curb hunger somewhat.  At home I use Psyllium husk for a good bowel movement alone with Cascara Sagrada.  Both are really good herbs that my mom taught me about years ago.  At 9:30am you get herbs, a Wheat grass shot and lemon water shot.  You get another shake at 11:00 and it rotates every 1.5 hours, shake then herbs wheat grass and lemon water shot or Himalayan sea salt and water shot.  You get your last shake at 8:00pm with 2 probiotics to take at 9:30pm.  In between you must drink lots of room temperature water.  At the facility the water is pH 10 antioxidant alkalized and ionized.  In between you are also encouraged to drink 3-4 cups of the broth/soup which is basically made up of red cabbage, red onion, celery and some other stuff.  No chunks no frills, not good but you are allowed to add seasonings like red pepper, cumin, sumac, oregano, salt and pepper.   It’s supposed to keep electrolytes in your system and help with hunger.  We did the master detox program for 5 full days and on the 7th day, we switched back to the green salad program to get us ready to go home.  We also purchased a raw vegan box to go which included breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner, 800 calories.

On the morning of our flight home, we weighed in again.  I lost 3.5 kgs or about 7 lbs and Darryl lost 6 kgs or about 13 lbs.  But what we gained was more important: relaxed bodies, more flexibility, cleansed colons, peace of mind, a sense of accomplishment, flatter bellies, a reboot to a healthy lifestyle and probably a few more years added to our lives- at least health wise. 

enjoying the view after a sunset walk
Zen atmosphere
Totally relaxed. No clothes necessary when you’re detoxing

I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy because it is not, so why detox at all…

  1. Boost your healing process.  By ridding your body of toxins and giving your digestive system a break, it can have time to do other things like heal you from within, boost your immune system and help you feel better.
  2. Regenerate.  Flush your system so that it can restart.  If you’ve hit a plateau with your ability to lose weight, detox can give you that needed push.  Detoxing helps regenerate our biggest organ, our skin.  Your skin will look better after a detox.
  3. Clear your mind.  At a detox retreat, you are only required to relax, follow your program and listen to your body.  This way you can think clearer and return home with a sound mind and clear head space. Studies have shown that stress takes years off of your life, so take back those years.
  4. Learn.  You can learn a lot about yourself when there aren’t distractions.  At a retreat you can also learn a lot about health through lectures and demonstrations.
  5. Because you deserve a break.  We all need a break mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Our bodies need one too.  Take some time to slow down and appreciate your body, food and LIFE. 
Stretching on the beach after an early morning walk
TAKE SOME TIME AND JUST BE

Whether you choose to go to a retreat or not, you should detox at least twice a year, at the beginning of each season is ideal.  There is no set amount of days you have to detox, but 1 is better than 0 and 5 is better than 2.  So what are you waiting for because your body is your temple, if you take care of it, it will take care of you!

GO DETOX, WE DID!

Visiting Italy: A Dream Come True- Part 4: Venice

During our mini European tour this summer, We spent 3 nights in Venice. I mean who travels to Italy and does not visit Venice? We spent 1 night before our cruise and 2 nights on the back end. While in Venice, we also visited three of the surrounding islands: Burano, Murano and Torcello. We stayed in two different Airbnbs. Here’s a link to one of the Airbnbs we stayed. It’s a lovely two bedroom, within close walking distance to many sights and right off of the canal. The hosts are very nice and knowledgeable. I highly recommend their place. If you choose to stay elsewhere, I suggest to try and avoid ground level accommodations directly on the canal, especially if you suffer with allergies or asthma. The mold is real in Venice.

Getting around in Venice

We arrived in Venice, Porto Nuova train station via train from Verona. The ride took a little over 1 hour. Venice sits on water. Transportation is by way of boats. The train station is directly in front of the grand canal. When we weren’t walking we used vaporettos during our entire stay. We purchased a 2 day Tourist Travel Card or ACTV after our cruise for our stay in Venice, which makes perfect sense, since each ride is 7 Euros. The 48 hour countdown begins the first time you scan the pass outside of the vaporetto. The card paid for itself many times over. The transportation is on an honors system. No one asked us for tickets, not once. However you are supposed to scan your ticket into the machine before you board the vaporetto. I went to Venice, intent on taking a romantic gondola ride but with the amount of vaporetto trips we took, I didn’t feel the need and so we skipped it. Sorry no beautiful pictures on a gondola.

Catching a cruise ship from Venice

Depending on where you stay in Venice there are few options to get to the Marittima Cruise terminal, which is where most large cruise liners dock. Piazzale Roma is not far from the cruise terminal and it is where the buses stop and the only place people park. You can hire a private taxi or take a shuttle to the cruise ship from here. We took the cheapest route. We walked about 7 minutes with our luggage, from our Airbnb which was near Ponte de Guglie, to Constitution Bridge. Constitution bridge stretches across the Grand Canal and leads to Piazzale Roma. From there we purchased a ticket for the People Mover shuttle. It costs us 1.50 Euro each. You take the shuttle to the cruise terminal. (When going through the People Mover turn-style be sure to place your luggage under or over first. If you put your luggage through the turn-style, you won’t be able to go through because it only turns once per payment. Unless you’re short enough to go under like me.) Go down the steps and follow the crowd across the street. Have your ID and cruise ship paperwork handy because you will be asked for it by security before you are allowed in the terminal. The cheaper route is a bit inconvenient because the bridge is pretty big, however the bridge does have a ramp that allows you to drag your luggage, but it is doable especially with a strong man by your side. You can also pay people to move your luggage for you.

Sights not to miss

Of course there are the historic sights that you must see: St. Marks Square, St. Marks Basilica, The Campanile Tower, Rialto Bridge. We also tried to make it to the Rialto Market but by the time we got there it was closed. I would recommend getting there early. There was some sort of celebration going on while we were there, so there were a lot of decorated boats. Which was nice. We also caught happy hour at this Jazz bar called Bacaro. Many women leave their bras there to be displayed on the ceiling. If I had been wearing one, I would have left mine too. lol

St. Marks Basilica
St. Marks Basilica
St. Marks Campanile Tower
St. Marks Square
Rialto Bridge
other bridges
Happy hour
Bras
More Bras
Chocolate
Celebrating

Visiting Murano, Burano and Torcello

You can visit all three of the neighboring islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello in one day. I would suggest putting aside more time to spend in Burano as it is the prettiest of the three islands and you’ll want to take lots of pictures. The ride through the Grand Canal to the different islands is nice too. Be sure to find out the times of the vaporettos and don’t wait ’til rush hour or lunch hour, or it will be quite crowded.

We went to Murano first where I picked up a glass bottle stopper, and a beautiful jewelry set. It’s Swarovski and the crystals reflect a different color light depending on the background. It’s the most beautiful piece of jewelry I own. We also saw a glass blowing demonstration and learned a lot about how glass is made and shaped. Outside of the Murano glass there isn’t much else to see here.

I found Burano to be absolutely beautiful. Everywhere you look there is color. I couldn’t help but to keep taking pictures. We grabbed lunch here and I tasted black ink spaghetti from Darryl’s plate. It is a strong, pungent, fishy taste and you will see the color when it comes back out the other way.

Torcello was our last stop. We visited the Church of Santa Fosca and someone was getting married there that day. We also took some pictures on the Ponte de Diavolo bridge or Devils bridge. Not much else to see here.

Food

I didn’t find the food in Venice to be great. I can only remember one restaurant that was really good and it was recommended by our Airbnb host. The restaurant was called Ai Promessi Sposi. Here I cheated and enjoyed some seafood, Branzino fish, mussels and Capesante alla Piastra (tiny scallops in a shell). It was really close to the flat too, in a tiny alley. Venice has many tiny alleys that pass for streets. Quite spooky at night time.

I tried pizza from a local shop and asked them to hold the cheese and the slice was gross. There was one vegan place that we took food to go from and it was okay. The restaurant was called La tecia.

Would I Revisit Venice

Yes indeed. The vibe was very laid back. People were just minding their own business enjoying life. It was difficult for me to shop there, because I couldn’t figure out if the products were genuine or not. Venice looks just like the pictures you see online and a lot like I imagined. Greenery was absent but I’ve done some research and discovered there are some parks there. Maybe I’ll find them next time when I have more time.

Visiting Italy: A Dream Come True, Part 3: Verona

It only took 1 day in Verona to fall in love with the city of love. Here’s why!

Quantum of Solace, Romeo & Juliet, Letters to Juliet are all movies filmed in Verona. Verona is called the city of Love and for good reason.

Quick Facts

Verona is located in Northern Italy, in the Veneto region. It has a medieval old town and romantic vibe. It is easy to get to from Milan. You can purchase tickets on the Trainline app and choose which train you want to take. When we went in June 2019, the ticket prices started from 15 USD and up. The cheapest tickets follow a longer route to Verona, is less comfortable and does not offer space to store your luggage. The quickest route takes about 1 hour 13 minutes and cost upwards of 30 USD.

Sights in Verona to Visit

There is a lot to see in Verona but because the city is so small, you can see it all on foot in one day. I followed the advice on delightfullyitaly.com as a guide.

The Roman Arena- One of the first and easiest sights to find. It is located in Piazza Bra and is hard to miss. With the Verona card, you have free admittance and can bypass the line to go inside. It’s pretty at night too. If you’re lucky you can catch an opera there or see them setting up for one.

Arena at night
Equipment for the opera
Arena Wing
Inside the Arena
Tunnels around the Arena

Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s house)- there is some tradition about rubbing the breast of the bronze statue of Juliet located in the courtyard of the house, but I didn’t do that. Suit yourself. Take pictures beside the wall where many people have stuck notes. Go inside the museum and take pictures next to Juliet and finally kiss your lover on the balcony.

Juliette’s house
Juliette’s room
Julietter
On Juliets’ balcony
Juliette’s courtyard
Letters of love

Torre dei Lamberti- walk up 238 steps or take the elevator up and enjoy the view of Verona from above.

On the steps of the Tower
Palazzo della Ragione
The view from Lamberti
A kiss above Verona

The Arche Scaligere- Gothic funeral monuments

Around the corner from there you can see what is supposed to be Romeo’s house. You can skip this sight. No thrills here…

The Adige river- A big river that runs through Verona with bridges to cross. The water is very dark and looks pretty disgusting but the bridges are nice.

Some of the many Piazza’s and pretty architecture of Verona.

Why I loved Verona

We stayed at Opera Relais de Charme‘, a cute boutique hotel. We were two couples and our 2 bedroom hotel room offered just enough space for us. It included a kitchenette and outside sitting area. I would stay there again if I went back.

Verona is filled with unique boutique shops where you can get one of kind items. There are also big name stores and flea markets. Whatever kind of shopper you are, you are bound to find something.

Using the HappyCow app, Darryl and I went to Flora for dinner. Flora is a vegan restaurant where you can enjoy upscale food in casual clothing. We had a 4 course delicious meal.

Verona is underrated and as such, does not have the big crowds like some of Italy’s other cities. As mentioned before you can visit all the sights in one day and not worry about crowds too much. The only sight that was kind of crowded was Juliet’s house. Verona was a breath of fresh air, compared to Rome.

Tips and Suggestions

Purchase the Verona Card for 20 Euros to avoid crowds, long lines, and to gain free or discounted entrance fees to sights. We brought ours right in the train station before you exit towards the taxis and bus stations.

Take paper and pen with you to Juliet’s house. Leave a letter of love.

Although you can see all the sights in 1 day, it is good to give Verona at least 2 or 3 days. You will need one day to sightsee and another to shop and explore.

Do not bypass Verona. It really is a charming city and well worth a visit.

Visiting Italy: A Dream Come True, Part 2: Lake Como, a Day trip from Milan

The highlight of our trip to Milan was our day trip to Lake Como.

QUICK FACTS

Como di Lago is located in Italy’s northern Lombardy region. It is situated in the foothills of the Alps, Europe’s largest mountain range. It is a large lake, surrounded by businesses, residences and villages and it is STUNNING!

HOW TO GET THERE FROM MILAN

While I was planning our trip to Milan, I debated whether to book a day trip to Lake Como through a tour guide or if it was possible to do this independently. I searched all over the internet and found two very helpful blogs Wander Wisdom and Travel Alphas. You can click on the names to go directly to the info on a day trip from Milan to Como.

We decided to try this independently to save money and to use our time as we chose. We didn’t book anything in advance. In the morning, we went directly to the nearest local metro station and caught the train to Milano Centrale. (cost 1.50 Euros) From there we purchased tickets to Como San Giovanni Station. (cost 15 E)

While there you should check out some other villages. We visited Varenna and Bellagio which are both located to the north. You can catch a ferry from Como to Bellagio for 13 E and then from Bellagio to Varenna for an additional 9 E. Then take the ferry from Varenna-Esino train station back to Como. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out for us. Due to flooding no trains were coming back up to Varenna so we were forced to take a local ferry back to Como for 11 E and then catch the train back to Milano Centrale and finally back to our flat. The ferry ride back to Como was long but at least it had a bar and great scenery and someone brought cards, so we were able to play some spades.

WHILE IN LAKE COMO

Once you arrive to Como San Giovanni Station, pick up a map in the store. Walk through the station and directly across the street to some stairs. The stairs are surrounded by trees and greenery and at the bottom is a statue of a hand that you can high five and another that you can sit in.

Cross the street and keep straight until you run into a plaza. Walk through the plaza and you will be greeted by beautiful Lake Como, boats, hotels and eateries. As soon as you get to the water, go to the line for the ferries to purchase your tickets to the next village you plan to visit. The line can get very long, so it is important to purchase your tickets as soon as you arrive and give yourself at least 2-3 hours to explore Como.

After purchasing your tickets, walk the shoreline, dip your feet in the water and admire. Then head to the funicular, pay 5.50 E and take the ride up to marvel some more at Lake Como from above. Grab something to eat and walk the small town but do give yourself enough time to take the funicular back down and to get back to the ferry line.

WHILE IN BELLAGIO and VARENNA

…purchase your ferry ticket to your next destination, get lost in the cobblestoned hills and streets, make purchases in the local shops. We spent some time in a pretty park and had lunch by the water. We didn’t see George Clooney’s home or the expensive villas people talk about. We didn’t do our homework on Bellagio or Varenna.

We didn’t get to spend a significant amount of time in Varenna. When we arrived in Varenna we headed straight for the train station to purchase our tickets for later to go back to Milan. On the way we spotted a vegan food place that I had to check out, so while Shelly and I enjoyed a vegan beer, the men went on to the train station. But as I mentioned above, the men found out that we couldn’t purchase a return train ticket because the trains were not coming up to Varenna due to flooding from rainstorms in the previous days. So we had to find another way home. We walked back to the water and purchased a ticket to catch a ferry all the way back to Como. Shelly and I managed to make a few purchases before hopping on the ferry.

MY TIPS

Lake Como is not one to be missed while in Northern Italy. I can’t say enough about how beautiful it is and pictures do not do it justice. It is very easy to get to from Milan on your own. I suggest buying your tickets when you get to places, versus in advance. If we had purchased our return train ticket in advance, we would have lost out on our money. You can only purchase your ferry tickets on location, but they are reasonable. If you are doing a day trip start your journey early to have time to admire all aspects. Do your homework on the surrounding villages to get the most out of your visits. Better yet, if you can, book a stay in Lake Como. I plan on returning but it will be for days instead of mere hours. I just can’t seem to get Lake Como off my mind!

Visiting Italy: A Dream Come True- Part I: Milan

Eight years ago when Darryl and I married, we said we’d go to Italy for our 5 year anniversary, well it was that year when I left the United States of America to follow my dreams of teaching overseas. Needless to say, we did not make it to Italy that year. But this summer we finally did.

After Amsterdam, we caught a Vueling Airlines flight to Milan. The flight from Amsterdam to Milan was 150 Euros for 2 people including baggage. It was a short and reasonably priced flight. We stayed in an Airbnb between the design district and historical center in Lombardy. I highly recommend the accommodation so here is the link and a few pictures of the outside and courtyard.

We didn’t have any tours scheduled in Milan so we spent the first day exploring on our own. We walked the Navigli area of Milan and ate at Fud restaurant which is on a pedestrian street just off of the canal. After eating we walked along the canal. We found the local supermarket, Pam, and went food shopping.

Beef burger
Veggie Burger
A walk through the neighborhood
A bridge in Navigli

The next day Darryl and I took a local train to Garibaldi stop to see the Naviglio de Martesana. I read some blogs that recommended riding a bike the entirety of the canal to Gorgonzola, so I expected to get there and find a place to rent a bike to do just that. Unfortunately, I didn’t. First we had to find the canal. Thanks to google maps, after about a 15 minute walk through dirt roads, over a bridge and through grasslands, we found the canal but there was nothing there, just a canal. There was no where to rent bikes and barely any people around. The few people we did encounter spoke Italian and we don’t. Instead of simply turning around and going home defeated, we decided to walk the length of the canal and enjoy the scenery. I mean we were in Italy so how could we feel defeated. We did find the sign for Gorgonzola and a duck family.

Eerie dirt road
Over bridges and through grasslands
Graffiti bridge
Naviglio de Martesano
Duck family

On our way back we found the Piazza Del Duomo and the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele- Golden Triangle of shopping.

The Beautiful Duomo Cathedral
A close up of the door
The details are amazing
Galleria Vittoria Emanuele- designer window shopping

The one tour that was planned from Milan was a self-guided day trip and it was to one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited in my life: LAKE COMO! Check back for that post, you don’t want to miss the pictures.

Amsterdam-The Beginning of an Amazing Summer Vacation

Amsterdam is the capital city of the Netherlands, known for its coffee shops, canals, bikes, tulip blooms and red light district. It was the first stop of our summer vacation. Growing up in a pretty liberating country, the United States of America and then to move to a very modest country, Qatar, can start to weigh on you after awhile.  So I decided that a visit to Amsterdam for some fun was long overdue.  Darryl and I flew into AMS on Friday, June 7, for the weekend, and my sista Michele and her husband Charles met us there.  We were first timers to this city that everyone talks about and we couldn’t wait to explore. 

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very welcoming.  It was cold and rainy and our hotel was located outside of the city center.   We stayed at the Residence Inn in Houthavens.  It is a nice hotel overlooking the docks, with a mini kitchen, bed and sitting area.  There is a bar, restaurant, pool, gym and spa. We cooked most of our own food in the room and breakfast was included with our stay. The hotel staff were very friendly.  In fact, everyone we encountered in Amsterdam was friendly.  It’s a very chill country.  

We really only had 2 days to explore and one day was a complete wash but we made the best of our visit.  On the rainy day, we visited a few coffee shops and supermarkets.  In the evening, the weather let up some and we went out into the Red Light District.  We weren’t aware that this was a holiday weekend in Amsterdam and it was quite crowded.  Everywhere people were smiling, laughing, smoking or drinking, gawking at half naked women in front of red curtains or going in to establishments in search of something more.  We decided to take in a show, it was rather boring until I coerced my husband into becoming part of the show. That made the 50 Euro price tag worth it in the end. Sorry, no photos allowed.

On our second day, it warmed up some and the rain held off.  We were able to enjoy our booked small group canal cruise and tour. There were only two other couples besides us. I highly recommend this tour which came with drinks and snacks. Besides James, our guide, was very nice and knowledgable. You can book this tour by clicking the blue link above. It was an Airbnb experience. This was a much easier way to see some sights around Amsterdam.

We also took in some sights by foot and shopped on 9 streets. We tried Stroopwafel; they’re truly delicious when you get them fresh.

At night, we went to the Ice bar. It’s very touristy but it was a fun experience. You can purchase your tickets online using the link above and you get 3 free drinks. You will need them to warm you up.

overlooking the canals from a bridge
They provide the jackets and gloves
shots, shots, shots
Him keeping me warm. My cheeks are so red.

We never got around to riding a bike or visiting Anne Frank house. Does that warrant another trip to Amsterdam, probably along with a few other reasons. We had a good time visiting this city but it was only the beginning of our month long trip to Europe.

Suggestions, Tips, Recommendations:

Where to stay: This depends on what you want. I do recommend the Residence Inn if you don’t want to be in the city center. However, when I return, I will stay somewhere in the city because uber trips add up. By the way the Ubers are super fancy, Audis and Mercedes.

Fancy uber

Vegan Eats: Vegan Junk Food was the only vegan restaurant I tried since it came highly recommended by a friend. I had a burger and loaded fries which were delicious. The supermarkets have a lot of vegan food as well. This was my first time trying Beyond Meat. My husband cooked it up for me and it taste like a grilled burger. I think it was meat.

Sights: If you want to visit Anne Frank house, buy your tickets online 60 days in advance when they are first released. You can also get them online on the day of your visit if your lucky and are amongst the first 100 online to purchase them. Some tickets are sold on the same day on the website at 9am, they say, but I went online both days around 8:50 and there was already a queue of 100+ people. Needless to say I wasn’t lucky but good luck to you if you choose this route. I do not recommend it.

The IAmsterdam sign moves around, however, we spotted one near the Sky Lounge but we never made it there. If you want that picture go there. You can also ride the swing and get a great view of the city from up there. The weather prevented us from doing this.

Definitely check the weather when visiting Amsterdam and pack a jacket. Be prepared to walk or bike around to take in the sights.

The canals at night