Part 3 – Cruising Venice, The Greek Isles, and the Eastern Mediterranean

We had one more full day in Venice.  And by “full day” I mean we spent 4 hours going back and forth to the airport…again!  This time…TaDa!!! They had my suitcase!! But wait, we are missing 2 suitcases, mine and TJ’s…Searching, searching, searching…Nope…no second suitcase.  Now the only option is to see if they get it before we get on the ship tomorrow.  They will deliver it to the ship if they do, however, given how things had gone so far, I don’t have very high hopes!  So we spent our last full day in Venice trying to find enough clothes for my 14 year old son to wear on an 11 night cruise through the Mediterranean.  It’s not like we can run to Walmart or Old Navy…we are in Venice, there are no cars here.  I am pretty sure that Amazon doesn’t have same day deliver here (although TBH I didn’t check).  To the rescue??? H&M!!! Yep, in Venice and open on Sunday!  So we spent several hours shopping for a kid who honestly would just as soon stay in PJ’s for days on end…but whatever!   At least he had clothes!

We grabbed some food at a restaurant that promised they had A/C (they may have, but we couldn’t tell).  This meal was probably our only disappointing meal in Venice.  And we shoulda known…it was exactly the kind of place our tour guide had said to avoid…and like the child that touches the stove after the parents warn that its hot, we didn’t listen and had to find out for ourselves…lesson learned.  But back to the apartment to rearrange suitcases with the new clothes, and then a relaxing time on our balcony with a bottle of wine to end the evening…The view over Venice from our balcony is priceless…

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And as the big cruise ships sailed in and out we could see the tops of the ships!  As we were boarding a big cruise ship the very next day, it was very cool to watch them sail past.

The next morning, we cleaned and packed up the apartment and headed to the port.  It was only about 10:00 in the morning, and I was anticipating not being able to check in, but we walked right in, handed over our luggage and walked right up to the check in desk.  Having only cruised from US ports before, I was also anticipating a delay between check-in and boarding, but nope.  Once we were checked in with our magic Set Sail cards in hand, we walked through the security gate and right on board.  We were actually on board right around 11am…before the Windjammer even opened!!  And that was even accounting for the fact that we had to stop once on board and hand over our passports (typical when the itinerary includes a Turkish port).  Speaking of itinerary, here is ours:

25 July – Venice
26 July – At Sea
27 July – Katakolon, Greece
28 July – Chania, Crete
29 July – Athens, Greece
30 July – Thessaloniki, Greece
31 July – Kusadasi, Turkey
01 August – Santorini, Greece
02 August – At Sea
03 August – Dubrovnik, Croatia
04 August – Venice, Italy
05 August – Venice, Italy
06 August – Flight home

So you see…a total Bucket List cruise!  Venice, Athens and Santorini have been on my bucket list forever so I was super excited about those three.  Dubrovnik I had added to my list more recently…I mean, who doesn’t want to go to Kings Landing!! And the rest were kind of just icing for me.  That is not exactly how they ended up!

First up, a day at sea.  How do I usually spend my sea days? Well, since the casino pays for a bunch of my cruises, I do spend some time there, but most of the day looks something like this:

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Yep! Drink in hand, watching the ocean.  BTW – That is the famous Aperol Spritz.  Don’t you love that orange color?  I do!!  This is obviously early in the cruise…they ran out of Aperol about midway thorough, totally NOT my fault (ok, maybe my fault).

Next up – Katakolon!  We have a tour scheduled to Olympia – the birthplace of the Olympic Games.

This weekend is my AWESOME brother-in-law’s birthday.  Guess what I’m bringing over?? APEROL!!! See you next week!!!

 

 

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Cruising Venice, The Greek Isles, and the Eastern Mediterranean

After missing one entire day in Venice, and with only my carry-on luggage available, I was still super excited for our Walking Tour of Venice scheduled for today.  This was a free walking tour and since OD and I had had such a great experience on our Free London Walking Tours, I was really looking forward to this one!

I used Venice Free Walking Tour.  It was a super easy sign up process, immediate email confirmation, and plenty of tour times to choose from.  One thing to remember…you will not tour St. Mark’s Square area at all.  These tours are designed to show you the non-touristy parts of Venice, which is why I take them.  I can find the big tourist attractions on my own.  I want to find cool places that aren’t totally packed, and we did as well as got some great pizza and learned about so much history along the way.

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Our tour guide was Giada (pronounced just like the Food Network star) and she has lived her whole life in Venice.  Our tour group was fairly diverse, young couples, old couples, families…a pretty good mix.  I would say that the youngest was maybe 9 years old and I wouldn’t even venture a guess at the oldest.  I will say this: Venice is not the city to visit if you have mobility issues.  The cobblestone “streets,” bridges, stairs, etc. do not make for easy walking.  The fact that there are no cars allowed on the island makes it seem like it might be pedestrian friendly…and it is, it is just not mobility friendly.  But if you are able to take a walking tour of Venice, you absolutely should!

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We learned quite a lot about the history and legends of Venice: Marco Polo, Casanova, the Lions, the origin of Carnival and the masks and many other cool tidbits!

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We visited a cute little bookstore that had this staircase made out of books!

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We found “interesting” restaurants and shops.

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We learned that you can tell the age of the buildings by the shape of the windows.

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We learned about the Gondolas and the meaning of the ferro (it represents the six neighborhoods in Venice and is in the shape of the Doge’s hat).  How long it takes to build a gondola (about three months), and how many gondoliers there are (424 men, 1 woman).

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And we learned that Venice has its own “Leaning Tower.” in fact there are several of them around the island.  I guess that is one of the dangers of building on such little islands.

In addition, Giada gave us some tips on choosing restaurants in Venice and, in one life changing moment, introduced me to a Venice staple:  Aperol Spritz.  Look it up, really.  Or, swing by my place around 5pm…I’m sure I will be pouring one (or two…alright three!).

After the tour, I wasted several hours going back and forth to the airport to see if our baggage had arrived (no!) and we then set out to find some dinner and Gelato.

We ended up at Ristorante Terrazza Del Casin Dei Nobili.  This restaurant is right along the Bay of Venice and has an amazing view.  I ordered Sea Bass and my first ever Aperol Spritz and both were amazing!  All in all, a great day…maybe luggage tomorrow??

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Cruising Venice, The Greek Isles, and the Eastern Mediterranean

There are two things that are more important than anything in my world, family and travel.  With one child graduating high school and heading to college and another entering high school, I am acutely aware of time passing…and passing quickly.  This summer, I got to slow time down just a bit as we took a two week vacation to Italy, Greece, Turkey and Croatia.  I have been planning this trip for almost a full year and I can honestly say, it didn’t disappoint.

I wanted to sail from Venice because there is talk that large cruise ships will not be allowed to sail in/out of Venice proper very much longer, and from all accounts, it is a sail in not to be missed.  There were very few dates that would work with college, theater and soccer scheduling all to deal with, so we settled on an 11 night cruise out of Venice going to Katakolon (Greece), Chania (Crete), Athens (Greece), Thessoloniki (Greece), Ephesus (Turkey), Santorini (Greece), and Dubrovnik (Croatia).

Venice, Athens, Santorini, and Dubrovnik were all on my “Travel Bucket List,” so my excitement was pretty high for this one.  I was not too familiar with some of the other ports, but I was so happy to be going, I was sure I would love them.

The Mediterranean in July/August can be brutal, and (spoiler alert) it was.  But really no more so than the south so I was pretty used to it.  The biggest difference was the overall lack of A/C venues to escape in to every so often. BUT!  That was offset somewhat by the breeze from the ocean that followed us everywhere we went (cruising perk!).

We were spending three days in Venice prior to the cruise and I had booked an apartment on HomeAway.  We had our flights reserved, we had split into two groups in order to use miles on two different airlines so TJ and I were flying Delta, while Mom and OD flew United.  Only one of these flights would actually happen…(hint:  It wasn’t mine!).

My flight from CLT to Atlanta was delayed, so I missed my connection to Venice.  This started a chain of events that would see us re-routed to Paris, before eventually arriving in Venice much later and without our checked baggage.

Taking the AliLaguna from the airport into Venice is an amazing experience for first time visitors.  Its almost surreal how beautiful it is, and seeing it nearly the same as visitors have seen it for hundreds of years, is humbling to say the least.

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So, while I was hungry, tired, frustrated and in desperate need of a shower, I was still enchanted by my first views of this amazing island.

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Because of the long travel delays, my first day in Venice consisted of dinner and bed…okay, okay…and wine!  The apartment we were staying in was in the Dorsodoro area of Venice and we literally just went to the first open place we found…Trattoria Ai Cugnai.   The food was good hearty Italian home cooking and the wine was good so all in all, not a bad first stop.  We had a walking tour scheduled for the next day, so no late night for us!  It was gonna be a long day of walking for us!!