Venice: Watching the World Float By Outside My Window

I’ve escaped my life at home and here I sit watching the world float by – literally watching people from around the world on what is presumably their first gondola ride in Venice. Watching their faces as they point at the buildings, others taking photos and some playing with their phones bored by it all. I remember being them twenty three years ago on my first gondola ride with the senior citizens I was traveling with. They had waited all of their lives to visit Italy and I was just so young they said and how lucky I was. We all sat there (before cell phones) marveling at this city of water. I had a film camera with me back then and took photos which can’t hardly compare with the technology of today.

Venice gondola assembly line in canals

The assembly line of tourists in gondolas in Venice

I wonder if the tourists today gliding by my window feel the same way I did back then? I remember the musicians on our boat filling the air with song to serenade us. It really was a bit of magic in the canals.

 

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Categories: Activities/Experiences, Italy, My Thoughts and Musings, The Good Stuff, Travel, Venice | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Florence: How Instagram Got Me a Table at Osteria dei Pazzi

Every day I get to travel the world through Instagram.  For sport, I try to guess the destination before reading the hashtags and comments.  The quality of photos is just stunning and if you didn’t have wanderlust before opening Instagram you are sure to catch it quickly. On my travel sabbatical, Instagram would prove beneficial during my trip – I would meet Shannon in Paris and Elena would get me a table in Florence.

Fountain of Neptune Florence

Fountain of Neptune in Florence, one of many Instagram photos I posted during my visit

With one food tour in Florence and a Fiat 500 tour, I had time to wander the city center and see that there were so many restaurant options it was confusing as to which one was best.  It was on my Florence photos that Elena “Chaser of Dreams at Live Do Grow”, commented that I had to visit Osteria dei Pazzi (they don’t have a website). It was on the corner of Via dei Lavatoi 1/3 r near Santa Croce.

Basilica Santa Croce Florence

Basilica Santa Croce Florence at night after the crowds have done is lovely

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Categories: Florence, Italy, Restaurants | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

It’s So Blue at the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra) in Capri

Blue is a popular color.  With so many shades of blue, it might be maddening to decipher the many hues when trying to put an outfit together but on a tour of the Blue Grotto (aka Grotta Azzurra) in Capri, Italy, there is no confusion, it’s just a magic blue. A blue you’ve never seen before, a blue that you definitely remember and a blue that is fleeting as your boat has only the one go around inside.  You will be torn whether to take video, photos or put the camera down and just absorb it all.

Blue Grotto Traffic Boats

Chaotic but organized traffic at the Blue Grotto in Capri, Italy

I decided to take the road less traveled on my Blue Grotto visit.  Most visitors arrive by tour boat originating at the harbor in Marina Grande which combines an island tour with a stop at the Blue Grotto. However, I would take the bus, actually two busses.  Traveling first to Anacapri (€1.80) from the Capri center bus terminal (you can also get the Anacapri bus from Marina Grande), I would walk the two blocks to the Anacapri bus terminal and board the Grotto Azzurra bus (€1.80).

Capri Bus to Anacapri

Anacapri bus – seats 8, standing up to 20+, a tight fit either way

Anacapri bus station

Anacapri bus station signage to Grotta Azzurra

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Budget Venice: An Affordable B&B in Dorsoduro

My first Airbnb stay would be a single room in the Dorsoduro section of Venice. I needed to find two nights in Venice to complete my lodging puzzle and the Santa Margherita Guesthouse, a private B&B, seemed a perfect base to explore the city.

Dorsoduro Canal Santa Margherita Guesthouse Venice

The quiet canal that I walked from the vaporetto to the guesthouse

 

Dorsoduro

Dorsoduro is one of the five sections of Venice and more residential.  Here you will see people walking their dogs and only a few copies of Rick Steves Italy books (tourist alert) at restaurants.  Streets are filled with art galleries, restaurants with outdoor gardens, students hanging out in the large square across the bridge in Santa Margherita. With the Accademia (as well as the bridge) and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection only a 10-15 minute walk away, this was a new side of Venice for me to explore.  I really liked the area as there was a daily produce boat to buy fruit, quiet canals to discover and it lacked the hoards of tourists (at least in May when I visited).

Venice Fruit and Produce Boat

Feeling like a local buying my daily fruit from the produce boat

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10 Reasons Airbnb for Business Travel Isn’t Good

Here’s an email I never received at work “I want to use an Airbnb property instead of the luxury Ritz Carlton, Starwood or Marriott property for my business travel happily forgoing my loyalty status and points”.  In my former role as a Corporate Travel and Finance Manager, I managed business travel full cycle from writing T&E policy, managing third party vendors and ensuring compliance for reimbursement.  I loved to research hotel properties and do site visits (inspections) for our recommended lists, however, Airbnb was not an option. For a variety of reasons I wasn’t a fan of Airbnb for business travel, first and foremost was risk management, second they were high touch premium travelers and third, I wasn’t able to vet the properties.

Venice Canal Luxury Flat Fenice

A great find in Venice and managed professionally as a business

 

I was curious about the “sharing economy” (which I think actually enables more people to travel which is a good thing) and on my recent travel sabbatical, I had the opportunity to try six different Airbnb properties as a leisure traveler in Europe.  My inner hotel inspector is always on so here is why I don’t think Airbnb (similar to a dating service in my opinion) is a good option for the business traveler (some of these are cautionary for the leisure traveler) based on my European experiences.

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The Posh Basement Flat in London, an Airbnb Gem

London Airbnb flat south kensington

Cute basement flat in London

Airbnb definitely has some hidden gems and finding the posh basement flat in London was one of them.  My journey to the flat was one of the worst travel days of my life so when I finally arrived I can’t tell you how happy I was to find that the flat was just like the photos – modern, clean, comfortable, stylish chic, quiet and it smelled good.

 

 

The Area (South Kensington)

I wasn’t familiar with the Chelsea/South Kensington area of London but first impression on the street was money, lots and lots of money.  People were parking their Maserati’s, Aston Martins, Porsche and other fancy cars on the street (!!!!) as well as their private driveways. Yes, private driveways in London!  There is a Ferrari dealership nearby as well as a Shell gas station!  Who knew there was a gas station in London?  I’ve never seen one in my twenty plus years traveling to the city!  This was such a sight to see the expensive cars like a Ferrari in queue behind the black cab and the family Rover. I wasn’t in the normal tourist area, I was in a dream neighborhood that I could afford only if I hit the lottery.

Aston Martin London Street South Kensington

Parking the Aston Martin on the street and not worried about it?

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Capri: It’s All About the Views at Hotel Weber Ambassador

Faraglioni Rocks Hotel Weber Ambasador Capri

This is the money shot at the Hotel Weber Ambassador

The Hotel Weber Ambassador in Capri – it has a weird name, an amazing location, the décor is dated and the first impression not great but the views quickly put me in a trance and the service was good.

Location

The location is a quiet side of Capri, a few minutes from the town center, in Marina Piccola. The hotel runs a shuttle to and from the town center for guests. This was a plus to booking the hotel. In the area, as it was May, I knew that nothing would be open around the hotel so I would be dependent on the shuttle. The views are the main selling point for the hotel.

Booking/Arrival

I booked a Superior Double with Faraglioni Rocks view on the hotel’s website directly. I was surprised that I didn’t get a pre-arrival email explaining how to contact the hotel shuttle once I arrived by ferry from Naples.

I asked the front desk of the Excelsior hotel in Naples call for me to inquire the procedure as I said “I don’t speak Italian”. When the hotel answered in English, I was handed the phone to talk (with a bit of a “you could have done this yourself” glare). I was to call the hotel once the ferry arrived in Capri to meet the shuttle (note that if you don’t have international phone option you are going to need to sort this ahead of time or by email). When I arrived in Capri, I was told to go to the red building on the left of the port near the pharmacy to wait. Within minutes hotel staff arrived, in the form of a young guy in a suit with a Hotel Weber Ambassador nametag, greeted me and took my bags.

View of Capri from ferry harbor

First view of Capri arriving by ferry from Naples

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Paris: Musee D’Orsay – Layers of Art, History and Architecture

Cezanne still life Musee D'Orsay

Cezanne used many layers in his still life paintings to create amazing realism

As we cruised the Seine last year, my niece pointed to the clock at the Musee D’Orsay and I explained it was once a train station and now is an art museum. After our Louvre treasure hunt, my niece, eleven at the time, had enough of art (and crowds) so we would only see the museum from the outside on this trip. When Context tours invited me to be a guest on their Musee D’Orsay and Paris in the 19th Century tour during my travel sabbatical, I happily said yes. My first visit, in 1993, for the Barnes Collection exhibition left little time to explore, so I was excited to actually learn about the museum, its collections and the history of Impressionism.

Waiting on the corner across from the café and the D’Orsay, our small group materialized. The guide, Isabelle, explained that we had four women on the tour today. With three of us on time, we waited as we chatted. Both were fans of Context having done many tours with them in Paris and elsewhere, I was new to Context. Isabelle checked her messages before proceeding with our tour of the Musee D’Orsay when it seemed the other guest was a no-show. When was the last time you had a tour with just three people? I already loved the small size and the fact that I didn’t have to wear a headset to listen to the guide.

Musee D'Orsay

Musee D’Orsay Paris, a former train station reimagined as an art museum

The View from the Bridge

We walked toward the museum and then passed it, crossing the street to walk along the Seine to the nearby bridge. Here as we saw a happy young couple going through their own love lock ceremony (now that the Pont de Arts locks are being removed) as we sat on the bench listening to the history of the building. Isabelle showed us historic photos of Paris and the railway station on her iPad. The railway station is one of a few buildings still standing from the 1900 Exposition (World’s Fair) and it happily survived a demolition request in 1970 to be added to the Historic register. We are lucky it didn’t become that hotel in the 70’s or a Madison Square Garden (the original NYC Pennsylvania Station was demolished and if you read the story, what a shame that was).

Musee D'Orsay view from bridge

Isabelle starting our tour with the history of the railway building

Paris Love Locks bridge

The Pont de Arts bridge may be off limits but this couple found a new bridge for their love lock

 

From the outside, I’ve always admired the building from the street and from the water. It’s impressive, it’s detailed, it’s gorgeous architecture. The design, by architect Victor Laloux, using steel at the time was surprising as were the stone flowers and high ceilings (all during the Industrial Revolution). And that’s just the outside, let’s go inside for even more impressive views of both the former railway station and the revolution that occurred by a group of painters who would be known as the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

Musee D'Orsay clock

The railway station clock now a work of art itself from inside and outside of Musee D’Orsay

Musee D'Orsay Architecture Design

The steel, stone, statues, glass and design all work in stunning detail in Paris at Musee D’Orsay

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Categories: Activities/Experiences, Art, Paris, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments