My Venice Tips

I’ve only been to Venice once, but I learned a handful of things during my trip to this  surreal northern Italian town. My tips for the first time visitor to Venice include:

  1. Book a private water taxi from the airport.

It’s a splurge, but so worth it! There’s something very special about being whisked away from the airport in a private speedboat and approaching the floating city via the water. The taxi will drop you off directly at your hotel or as close to it as possible (an added convenience when you consider your wheeled luggage and the fact that Venice has 400 bridges with a ton of stairs). I recommend booking online ahead of time because it is more expensive at the airport (100 E versus 120 E). There is a bit of a walk to the airport dock, but our boat was waiting for us when we got there. If it’s raining the boat has a covered sitting area.

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  1. Stay in a small hotel off the beaten track, yet close enough to the main sights.

Why? I liked the idea and feel of “going home” for the night. Our small, quaint hotel had that feel. Also, I feel like you get more personalized attention when you stay some place small. We stayed at Locanda la Corte. It has a private dock (yes, it requires one bridge crossing) and a staircase you must scale to get to your room (but the man at the front desk will carry your luggage for you to the room). There’s a garden and courtyard where you can have breakfast or an afternoon drink. Breakfast is included in the room rate and offers meats, cheese, eggs, fruits, toast, cereals, and assorted beverages. Wifi was strong and I had no problem using it in my room (Room 106) The men at the front desk were friendly, helpful, and personable.  If I ever come back to Venice, I’d love to book one of their apartments because I’d enjoy the opportunity to shop and cook in my own kitchen. There’s an abundance of fruits, vegetables, and fish you can buy at various outdoor markets. Our hotel was an 8 minute walk to St. Mark’s Basilica or the Rialto Bridge.

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  1. Reserve “skip the line” vouchers for St. Mark’s Basilica.

I am so glad we did this! The regular line was ridiculously long. There was a “line” for the skip the line, but we were inside within 5 minutes for a mere 2 E per person. The guards do check to see if you are wearing appropriate attire. It was 90-odd degrees so long shorts were fine, but I brought a scarf to cover my shoulders. They have paper gowns to cover your legs or shoulders if dressed inappropriately.

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  1. Get up early and walk the empty streets of Venice.

It’s a different experience seeing the city as it wakes up. The streets are empty, the gondolas are sleeping with their blue covers, and the streets are peacefully quiet except for cooing of pigeons. If you enjoy taking pictures, this is the time to snap photos of the sights since you most likely won’t have any random strangers photobombing you.

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  1. To find the best food, use TripAdvisor instead of picking those touristy places you stumble upon.

It’s downright tempting to pick a café positioned by the Grand Canal or in a popular campo or piazza. I mean who wants to go down a small alley to a 5 table restaurant when they are in Venice for the first time? Well, it wasn’t until after too many lackluster meals and a quick check of their 2-star average review rating on TA that I had this “Ahh-Ha” moment. Yes, I had done my research ahead of time and had addresses of excellent foodie restaurants, but we didn’t eat at those places. We were lured by the ambiance or location of an outdoor, waterfront restaurant, but ultimately we regretted this. Alas, on our final night we did finally make reservations at one of my bookmarked restaurant. Guess what….? IT WAS AMAZING. Lesson learned!

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{Trip Report} LAVA LAVA LAVA

NOTE: This trip report details the Big Island portion of our 2 week Hawaiian adventure. To read about Maui, click HERE.

Day Eight:  Even though we had to say goodbye to Maui, a new adventure awaited us on the Big Island. We flew via Hawaiian Airlines (booked for $100 per person via Orbitz.com), and we found the quick flight pleasant and refreshing (mist shoots out from overhead- a welcome after sitting in the hot airport). The plane flew over Maui, so I ‘sorta’ got to see the road to Hana. The staggering terrain looked lush, unpopulated, and very, very green. I determined in that moment to come back and see more of that beautiful island.

We soon lost sight of Maui, flying over the azure waters before making our descent to Kona. The ride was so brief; maybe 20 minutes total flight time- barely enough time for the attendants to pass out juice cups.

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Outdoor baggage claim

We landed on time and pulled right up to the outdoor airport. Literally! We hopped off the plane, walked through a flimsy fence to a covered waiting area. The airport was basically a cluster of pavilions! Xander kept saying “This isn’t an airport.” Our suitcases arrived promptly, and we picked up our Malibu rental from National soon thereafter. The agency had many more fees than Hotwire estimated- $75 more! I wasn’t happy about that.

My first reaction when I saw the Big Island from above was to say “wow!” Its has a unique, unusual, surreal landscape. Rugged black lava rock is everywhere. There’s so much of it that it’s shocking,  and … well, pretty cool.

I spy lava!

I spy lava… AND a peace sign.

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#TBT- Fort Myers Beach vacay, 2012

One of the vacations that I never blogged about was our 2012 trip to Ft. Myers Beach. I think the reason behind it was that as soon as we returned to NY, I began looking for employment. I was prepping my resume, getting my fingerprints, and applying for my license. This trip was  a celebration trip- I was finished with my Master’s of Science in Teaching degree. Granted I had to finish my final project while ON this trip, but once I clicked SEND, I still had half the trip to savor and party like a rockstar.

I love Ft. Myers Beach (FMB). I have been vacationing here since elementary school. During my childhood, FMB was were we went to celebrate the end of the school year and my birthday during Memorial Day weekend. Thus, it seemed fitting for me to celebrate the conclusion of my degree here.

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{Trip Report} Montreal is not Paris

Scenario: It seems sacrilegious to post this report since I haven’t yet publicly documented the Big Island or Sanibel, but I was strongly motivated for some odd reason to write about this most recent adventure. Montreal has been in our sights since we lived in New Hampshire. I had always heard it was a city reminiscent of Paris, so it intrigued me. Last year, I decided we HAD to check it out. Ultimately, Christmas break seemed the most logical considering our remaining vacation time. In the end, we booked a two night stay.

Friday– We loaded the car and set out from NY for Montreal by 9 a.m. With no winter weather to delay us, the four hour drive was quite smooth. Nick wasn’t feeling 100% (too much Christmas egg nog), so I drove the entire way. The wait at the border was less than 10 minutes, and we had a pleasant agent interview us. The 1000 Islands looked quite pretty as we crossed the handful of tall bridges from the USA to Ontario. It is on my list of places to check out one summer. The Canadian portion of the drive was simple thanks to my GPS which still worked in airplane mode since I had downloaded the map prior to crossing the border.
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As we approached the city, the traffic picked up and Nick kept remarking, “It looks like WWIII.” I agree, there were industrial areas, graffiti, trash, and an abundance of train tracks. The gray day did not improve the scenery. We did experience a couple hiccups though once we got to Montreal. I had selected 3 restaurants to try, but once we got to Montreal, they were all closed!
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Closed 😦

What a disappointment! In fact, everything seemed to be closed due to the holiday season. We were starved by this point since it was nearly 2pm so we had to settle on a less than desirable place. As expected, the food was subpar and I left most of my poutine untouched. Once we had some sustenance (Nick ate everything on his plate) we were in better spirits to explore this new city.

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{Trip Report} Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Our epic 15 day journey to the alluring, rainbow-infused state of Hawaii is something we shall not forget. It was magical and filled with adventure. It’s a place where “trouble melts like lemon drops.” Here is my brief (?) trip report from our August, 2014 vacation to Maui and the Big Island. IMG_8707x

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Through my Lens: The Essence of Fall Camping

The photographs below are from our recent (and last for the year) camping trip to Old Forge, NY. This quaint little town is a base camp for many Adirondack activities such as paddling, hiking, and scenic train rides. We love it because it’s only a 2 hour drive from our house. The crisp, damp air is always wonderfully refreshing. See you in the spring ADK!

{Trip Report} The FL Keys for Winter Break

Those who live in colder regions of the USA typically get a wonderful week off in February called ‘Winter Break.’ Throngs of people take advantage of the time off from school to get an actual break from the brutal winter weather. Most of us are plain SICK of snow and freezing temperatures by February. Last year I regretted not booking a warm weather vacation, but I did check for last minute deals: there were none left. Flights were booked solid with the exception of a few $1,000 seats left. Um, no thank you! I vowed not to make that mistake again. I budgeted our family of 3 approximately $2,500 (see expense report at the bottom) and began to research possible destinations that would fit my small (teacher) budget. In the end, the Florida Keys won.

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Saturday: We are loyal Southwest Airline customers, especially after they integrated the A/B/C lineup concept; we despised the first-come, first-serve lineup gig they had years and years ago. Eight or so years ago we got rid of all our credit cards and signed up for the Visa Southwest Reward card. We get points for all our purchases, and we find that it helps fund our vacations. For instance, last year we cashed in our points and scored six free round trip flights to places like Florida and Puerto Rico. We currently have three free flights waiting to be used for our next trip. Since Southwest bought Airtrain, more and more international flights are coming available; soon we’ll be able to use our points easily to book flights on Southwest.com to Aruba, Mexico, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Bermuda, and the Dominican Republic. In a nutshell, we love Southwest, and we used points to help ease the cost of flying down to Florida during a prime time.

Our nonstop flight out of Buffalo was set to depart mid afternoon.  We were a little anxious about our flight being cancelled or delayed due to a storm that had wreaked havoc in many nearby cities. Just the day before we had received an additional 9″ of snow.

At 7:30 in the morning, Southwest text me to say that our 3:30 pm flight was already delayed. That didn’t sound promising! We hit the road just before noon and made it to Buffalo with plenty of time to spare. We were ushered to the prescreen TSA line where we didn’t have to remove our shoes or sweatshirts. They did test Nick’s hands, though. They also pulled his carry on because he had a big, big box cutter in it. Awesome.

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{Trip Report} NYC Holiday Style

I’m sooo behind on my trip reports! Since December I’ve been to NYC, FL, and Lake Placid; plus, I have another trip in a week. I must get cracking! Okay, so here we go….. All last year I thought about going to NYC for a weekend. Originally, I hoped to go in June. But, plans fell through. As the year grew older, I realized that a holiday trip would be ideal. Christmas decorations make the city such a magical place, so in December I made the trek with some beautiful friends of mine. 

DAY 1: With Dunkin Donuts coffees and a full tank of diesel, Keri (my next door neighbor) and I set off for NYC in the morning in my trusty Jetta. The drive through NY, PA, and NJ was mostly boring, though we did cut through some mountains near the end of the four hour trek. We opted to stop once for some lunch and a bathroom break. I had no desire to drive into Manhattan or compete with the aggressive taxi drivers, so I valet parked at Seacacus Junction at exit 15x off the NJ highway. As we unloaded our bags, the valet raised an eyebrow, and questioned us: “and HOW long are you staying?!” Okay, so we may have packed a ton of shoes and wine, but this was a much needed girls trip! We definitely regretted our packing choices as we lugged those heavy bags around the train station, then on the NJ train to Penhttps://leighuf.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1044&action=edit&message=10n Station, and THEN to the Metro, and THEN on the E train, and FINALLY the three blocks to our hotel. Both Keri and I had sore muscles the rest of the trip, but we had plenty of wine. And shoes.

Packing Must Haves

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NYC digressions

*I think helping a neighbor’s son with his common college application essay may have prompted this post. Hmmmm…

Ahhh, the BIG apple! This infamous city has grown on me.

The first time I set foot in Manhattan in 2004 I wasn’t smitten. I found NYC to be overwhelming, smelly, crass, and packed to the seams with people, honking taxis, and obnoxious sounds. It kinda frightened me; it was sensory overload. I sat on the red double decker tour bus, amazed at the sights yet feeling incredibly small under the soaring buildings we passed. A vivid memory from the trip was a taxi ride. I recall jumping in a cab near Central Park during an intense thunderstorm one hot August afternoon. The welcome relief from the humid, wet air was short lived; the driver roared the car toward a massive puddle, and the water shot up like a tsunami to soak a dozen smartly dressed professionals waiting to cross the street. The driver deviously laughed as the people yelled obscenities at us. I sat back, silent, as I watched horns pop out of the driver’s temple. I was horrified.

Okay… I may have exaggerated one part. Regardless, it left a lasting impression.

In retrospect, I have realized something (call it self-reflection): I was young and naive and uncultured. No that doesn’t excuse the taxi driver’s actions…. New York City was nothing like my innocent Disney-esque hometown Orlando or any “biggish city” that I ;had ever been to. Heck, I was a naive young 20-something living in the middle of New Hampshire at the time! I had a bubble complex. I was unaccustomed to the “hard knock life” of big cities.

Since then, however, I’ve blossomed into a foodie, obsessed with farm to table cuisine and international dishes; I consider myaself an adventurer who longs to travel and embrace the change and tastes of unfamiliar places. I have since seen and experienced much more of the world. In short,  I now have an intense curiosity: I am a wanderlust.

Perhaps my 2004 NYC trip was the turning point?

Since then I’ve visited  other true big cities like London, Rome, Florence, and Barcelona. I’ve become more confident in foreign situations, like navigating large unfamiliar airports by myself in Japan (where they temporarily lost my bag), Spain (where I had to practice using my Mexican sounding Spanish to find out where to go), and South Korea (where I had to spend the night … and HAD to locate the next book in the Twilight series- in English of course).  I’ve learned how to deal with language barriers on public transit systems in Paris, Monte Carlo, and Naples; how to “fit in” at community mess halls in remote parts of Yukon, Canada; and the importance of not taking a nap as soon as you arrive on the other side of the earth. I’ve learned to embrace unusual travel activities such as Zorbing down a hill, jumping backwards off a waterfall into a dark New Zealand cave filled with glowworms, snorkeling with sting rays in the Caymans, ziplining in the rainforests of Belize, or landing on a glacier in Alaska. Additionally, I’ve learned to appreciate different varieties of food, customs, and appearances. Nothing beats a warm croissant from a Parisian bakery, or champagne with a splash of Kir from a French bistro, or the smell of fresh lavender in Provence, or hot chips with a splash of vinegar in a dark London pub, or figuring out how to eat noodle soup without a spoon in Japan, or  receiving shot of limoncello with a glass of free champagne courtesy a cute Italian restauranteur in Italy, or accidentally ordering a huge seafood meal with oysters and shrimp in Barcelona (btw, I hate seafood), or being reminded to take off your shoes before sitting on the floor at your table at a restaurant in Tokyo.  Ahh, but I digress…..

New York City, the international mecca in all her beautiful glory, overwhelmingly appeals to me now, and I can’t wait to see her soon.

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{Trip Report} Southern Caribbean Cruise

Warning: This trip report is rather long! It’s nearly 6400 words, in fact! I mostly detail my experiences in the ports of call rather than the cruise ship experience. I’ve cruised numerous times to the Caribbean and even to Alaska and the Mediterranean. I now have diamond status on Royal Caribbean, so for me, the ship is a means of transportation. It is not the destination. I do love food, so I will take note of that in my report. The purpose of trip reports, in my mind, is to help future travelers and to document the vacation experience so the memories are never forgotten. We traveled with our neighbors: Sal, Meow and their two little kiddos.

Day 1: PRECRUISE

The Sleep Inn of Buffalo, NY is where I laid my head the night prior to our trip. We had enough points to book two free flights to San Juan (a 400-odd dollar per ticket in savings), but we had to fly out of Buffalo, a two hour drive from home, at the crack of dawn. We like the Sleep Inn because they offer modernized rooms and an excellent sleep and park package (my opinion changed later… more on that at the end). My alarm went off at 3:45 a.m., announcing the beginning of our vacation. Xander popped up exclaiming, “See, I’m not cranky!” We had a quick breakfast, before meeting the shuttle. We texted our travel partners (who were flying out of a differ airport) with a pic of our exhausted, yet excited faces, and they returned the favor. Our uneventful Southwest flight took off at 6:15 and landed on time in San Juan, Puerto Rico at noon.

Ahh, hello San Juan. It’s been 10 years since I’ve seen you last! And how I have missed you!

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