The Secret Happy Hour in Venice

My first AirBnb host mapped out the route to what she said was “a fantastic happy hour along the Grand Canal”. She said that you only need to buy a drink and pay a slight fee for the food. I put it on my list and set out to find Taverna al Remer with her instructions and the map. Rialto Bridge make a left follow the street over a bridge and turn in the alley – if you go past the second bridge you’ve gone too far.

Grand Canal Venice Sunset

Great view of the Grand Canal in Venice

I walked back and forth trying to find the Taverna and my stomach gave up and led me elsewhere for a proper dinner chalking it up to it being such a “secret” that I needed a password or something.

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Tasting the Cava in the Penedes Region of Spain

We were going to watch the sunset in Gozo and brought a bottle of Cava with us. It just seems the right thing to do opening bottle of sparkling wine to sit and relax on the overlook as the sun sets over the sea. My new appreciation for Spanish Cava started a few months ago after touring two vineyards, Llopart and Cava Bertha as part of a TBEX post conference press trip (my first one) as well as having it with my second breakfast when Devouring Barcelona.

Llopart wall of wine and cava

The wall of wine and cava at Llopart

For many of us, our sparkling wine knowledge stops at champagne/sparkling section of the liquor store. We look at the cost and pretty label and call it a day – it’s all the same right? Wrong!  Chances are that you’ve actually tried Cava if you’ve ever bought the black bottle of Freixenet, one of the largest producers. France has a (legal) lockdown on the Champagne name, Italy has prosecco and Spain has Cava. Each country has strict guidelines. All are made from grapes grown in the vineyard, all sparkling and frankly, all worth trying for everyday occasions. The Spanish cava is made by blending three varieties of grapes, macabeu, xarel-lo and parellada. They are also allowed to add chardonnay, pinot noir and subirat grapes and still be called cava.

Cava Bertha colored bottles

Simple colored bottles of Cava Bertha

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Venice Boat Tour with Walks of Italy

It was a rainy day in Venice and St. Mark’s Square had less traffic than normal. The courtyard tables were empty as people huddled under cover crowding the inside tables of the cafes. Those who did brave the square for photos (and **ugh** selfies) had colorful umbrellas or had bought the plastic raincoats being sold throughout the city.  With my umbrella, I found the statue to meet the Walks of Italy guide for the Venice boat tour, a small private adventure.

Venice Canal Homes

Venice Canals – history, elegance and color in the rain

Piazza San Marco cafes in rain

Weird to see the tables and chairs of a bustling San Marco square empty meaning it’s raining

Jennifer, an Australian who, like so many, fell in love and became a local, introduced herself and gave me a lanyard with headsets to wear around my neck so she could narrate as we walked and within the boat. I’m not usually a fan of this type of device but in this case with people in and out of the boat it was needed.

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Barcelona: A Day of Fun, Adventure and Archery at Les Comes

Les Comes Land Rover Experience Spain

Les Comes Barcelona – home of the Land Rover Experience Spain

I had no idea when I woke up that my day would be filled with adventure, laughter, fun, food and a lot cava (sparkling wine) starting at Les Comes, forty five minutes outside of Barcelona. Joining the TBEX blogger press tour, I was one of six on the Fast and Chic to highlight that a visit to Barcelona is “Much More” once you get out of the city.

We were scheduled to do a team building activity which would include our guide and driver but we had no clue what that would entail. So I put on my jeans and sneakers expecting to get dirty – this was not the time to be fashionable despite our private fashion show/tour of La Roca Village, a chic outlet shopping center, the day before. As the bus turned off the road, I wasn’t sure where we were going, I just saw dirt and mountains (or were they just big hills?) for about five minutes as we drove into the compound toward the stone villa/house in the distance.

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Florence Food Tour – Wine, Markets and Gelato

I’m a newbie to food walking tours and fresh off the heels of the Barcelona food tour, I was excited to experience Florence’s food tour offerings with Walks of Italy as a way to orient myself to the city. Having a small food tour allows you time to quiz the guide as well as the other guests as to what they love best in the city and then go eat! It’s best to schedule a food tour the first few days in a new city to give yourself time to then indulge for the rest of the trip.

Florence at Sunset

Florence at Sunset

Meeting the guide, Ismael,  our small group of 12 was given an overview of the 3.5 hour tour – wine, markets and gelato and I was glad I didn’t eat a big breakfast this time.  Ismael would pepper in the history of Florence, the neighborhood we were walking through as well as the buildings when he wasn’t talking about the foods. This was a good mix of food and history as we walked from each stop.

Santa Croce Florence Lion

Hard to miss the lion at the Basilica of Santa Croce – an easy meeting point for the Walks of Italy food tour

Walks of Italy Florence Walking Food Tour

Walking the side streets of Florence on the Food Tour with Walks of Italy

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Seduced by the View in Capri of the Faraglioni Rocks

Twenty years ago, I had a day tour of Capri on my Italian Bus Tour with the Senior Citizens. I remember waiting for the funicular to ride to the top of the town and skipping my tour of the streets lined with shops to go to the Faraglioni Rocks. That was the picture I wanted from Capri (of course, along with the Blue Grotto). My one day on the island was not enough so when I quickly planned my European sabbatical, I knew I wanted to properly visit Capri and go back to the Faraglioni Rocks.

Fraglioni Rocks Capri

This is the view that seduced me in Capri – I couldn’t get enough of it

Capri is (or was to me) a bit of magic on the Amalfi Coast. I now needed a bit of magic in my life, a place to really escape reality. Playing with my lodging options – there are many ranging from rooms, AirBnb rentals, hotels and luxury resorts (think celebrity type places with prices to match), I found an odd hotel sticking out of the list. It was advertised as a four star hotel a few minutes from town (with free shuttle service) but had a killer view, one that I wanted, one that I needed and it was surprisingly reasonable (almost cheap in comparison) to other places so I booked it. There had to be a catch, right?  I was willing to gamble and hope for the best.

Hotel Weber Ambassador Capri

View of Hotel Weber Ambassador from the boat tour around the island

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Escaping Reality and Life: The Three Month Travel Sabbatical in Europe

Almost three months ago, I lost my job of ten years and ran away to Europe on my EPIC Adventure (travel sabbatical). Everything was pretty last-minute – the research of the hotels, flights, trains, etc. to put together a preliminary itinerary. What would normally take months to plan, I did in two weeks mostly staying up to nearly 3 a.m. each night.  I had to set up holds (mail, newspaper and magazine), cancel trash collection, pay/schedule bills in advance, set up cash transfers for ATM withdrawals, find a friend to be my go to person here at home.  Plus a whole lot more.  I shopped for new clothes to bring with me as I attempted to pack in one new suitcase for temperatures that would vary from 50 to 90 degrees taking me from Spring to Summer. In a word, my friends and family (and the voices in my head) all seemed to agree that I was “crazy”.

Capri Faraglioni Rocks

Seduced by this view in Capri of the Faraglioni Rocks


My friend from Washington State who I call “country mouse” was amazing to just drop everything and join me on the first leg of my adventure – the EPIC transatlantic cruise from Miami to Barcelona (which I’m calling Adult summer camp with alcohol).  While I planned out April and May, I left June open in my attempt to be spontaneous.  Packing my laptop for the first time, I planned to blog from the road a few times a week to see if I could handle the nomadic lifestyle (spoiler alert!  I failed miserably). Well, I returned from my EPIC Adventure a few days ago and I can’t lie – I’m sad to be back to reality.  My mom texted me “Welcome Home!  Back to reality, it sucks!”  Gotta love Mom and her words of wisdom!

Archery at Les Comes Barcelona

First time trying archery at Les Comes

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London Shoreditch Street Art Tour with a Tween

Last summer in London, my niece will tell you I tortured her with art.  If I tell the story, while I’m sure I should say it was an educational experience (which it was), it was actually a bit of revenge for her shopping torture I endured in Paris. At eleven, she wasn’t quite so keen on the hip, edgy and temporary displays of art in Shoreditch and Brick Lane.

Tween bored in London

Body language of a tween says it all! She really wanted to go shopping instead of learning about Street Art

I thought rather than explore the standard museums – British and Tate Modern, I would introduce her to the world of street art.  I’m sure I should have cared about her feelings but frankly, Aunt Sue wanted to do just one thing in the ten days and that was the Shoreditch Street Art tour.

Banksy London Street Art

Famous Banksy street art in London – behind a cafe, they added plexiglass and a bench

Shoreditch Street Art Tour

Love this Jimmy C Street Art in Shoreditch London

Having seen the street art of Melbourne, Paris and Santiago during my travels, London was next on my list.  The more I learned about street art, the more fascinating it became even more so after viewing the documentary “Exit from the Gift Shop” (which is brilliant).   If nothing else, street art allows you a bespoke adventure as the art on the walls today will be gone tomorrow.  Just like life, the art is fleeting….

Yarn bombing street art London

Yarn bombing street art in London

Street Art London

Street Art London – the shortened names make a statement

My niece and I journeyed over to Spitalfields Market, which in itself is a destination of market stalls and shops.  It was a warm, sunny, blue skied June day and perfect for a walking tour.  Despite visiting London many times over the years, I hadn’t been to Shoreditch (very trendy now) or Brick Lane area so in addition to the art, I would explore the neighborhoods too.  Our guide met the small group of ten (we paid in cash £15 for me and £10 for my niece) and he began showing us small street art in the form of stickers along the street post.

Street Art London

This is not the bird of happiness – the street art in London

And thus our exploration began as every surface became a canvas for artistic expression in the form of stickers, paint, yarn, large scale pieces and small modifications.  Street Art becomes a game when you start trying to find it mixed into the everyday minutae of life.

Street Art London

Street Art “I’m Not a Machine” in London – great reminder to stop and smell the roses

London Street Art

This was located in a back alley and a week later gone

For the next three hours we would turn down streets and alleys, told to look up, over and down to see the art that was hidden in plain site.  For some of the art, there is no way that I would have found it without a guide or had the background to know more about the work and the artist so the guided tour was invaluable.

Street Art London Thought Control

Street Art London Thought Control

Just like the other street art tours in Paris and Melburne, I took hundreds of photos, unlike those tours this time I had a tween asking me “are we done yet?  when can we go shopping” while I was pointing out a Banksy and trying to explain it to her.  Let’s hope when she gets older it all clicks (one can hope).

Shoreditch Street Art in London Stix Otto Schade

Street Art by Stix (left) and Otto Schade (right)

I’m back in London on the way home from my European sabbatical soon and look forward to wandering the streets of London in search of more fantastic works of street art. That’s the fun of street art, it’s never the same thing twice.  If you are planning a visit to London do add the Shoreditch Street Art tour to your MUST list but leave the tween at TopShop (with supervision of course)!

London Street Art r-o-n-e

The realistic street art in London by r-o-n-e

TopShop Happy Tween London

TopShop is all it takes to make a tween happy in London

Categories: Art, London, London Sightseeing, Look Up and See, Travel, Travel with Niece(s) | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment