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A Venetian Romance

You haven’t known what romance is unless you’ve been to Venezia….you’ll never truly understand beauty unless you go there. I fell in love in Venezia– it was love at first sight and it was an affair I’ll never forget!

You get out of the train station and Venice is like no other city I have ever seen.Water everywhere and water taxis and Vaporettos waiting to take you to your destination! It was amazing, overwhelming and quite literally magical. You dream about the canals of Venice. You have seen pictures of gondola rides but nothing prepares you for the beautiful energy of Venice, the magical sunlight, the singing boatmen and the energy in the air! There are two stations in Venice and the one that is easier to get to your hotel from is Santa Lucia as this is in the historic centre of Venice as opposed to Venezia Mestre which is in the heart of the mainland.

Our hotel was about 20 minutes by water taxi (which we hired for just the 2 of us…to make our arrival even more special!). There are several Vaporettos (water buses) however that can be easily taken at the station as well.

Our hotel deserves an entire paragraph. The Luna Baglioni , a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, was undoubtedly the BEST HOTEL we stayed at in Italy! I guess they quite literally saved the best for last! a minutes walk away from St. Marks Square (Piazza San Marco) the Luna Baglioni is on the waterfront. It is right in the heart of Venice facing the San Marco Basin and the island of San Giorgio and was the perfect choice. Our room …oh my Goodness our room could inspire poets. With walk-in closets (yes more than one), a magnificent drawing room, a plush bedroom and 2 bathrooms ,we were ensconced in plush fabric and ultimate luxury . Then we saw our own private terrace. Over looking the water with some beautiful sun beds , this was easily the finest position to catch the most glorious of sunsets and suddenly I was sad because we were only in Venice for a night.

I will go back. I must go back and I would only stay at  The Luna Baglioni.

Venice for us was about winding down, relaxing and just staying in the moment and if there’s one place you can do that…it’s Venice. We wandered the cobbled pathways, stopped in numerous cafes and shopped for Murano glass jewelry to my hearts content. Now most hotels will offer you a free boat ride to the Murano glass factory but as that would taken a few hours what with going there and back and then seeing the factory, we both felt our time would be better spent just enjoying Venice at our own leisure. The jewelry was beautiful though and I picked up some necklaces which I absolutely love. I loved climbing the little bridges and walking through every lane and bylane. Exploring new corners of Venice… every time you turned , you could create another picture perfect moment!

Piazza San Marco is glorious. The Piazza is dominated by the Church of St. Marks and a glorious ,old clock tower!  With lots of cafes, some of which have live artistic performances and with fabulous food- Venice is an explosion of your senses. There is beauty absolutely everywhere and inspiration in every step you take. I’d have loved to have visited the Doges Palace which stands so perfectly regal but we had no time and too mush to absorb! There’ll always be next time..that is one thing I’m sure of.

After a leisurely lunch and a warm cappuccino , we decided to enjoy a romantic gondola ride as the sun was setting. With a glass of champagne and a very musical boatman…we headed into the glorious canals of Venice. Hundreds of tourists , tens of gondolas and yet you felt like yours was the only story that mattered, the only ride that counted…Venice can do that to you. It can you feel special again and that’s what the gondola ride did… it made me feel special!

A beautiful sunset followed by a glorious sunrise, Venice is beautiful even when the world sleeps… I can see why realms of poetry and hundreds of sonnets has been written about this remarkable gem….

Here’s to another trip to Venice …

Best Times To Travel-:  May through to October – it’s summer and it’s wonderful…but prices also peak at this time!

Price Factor-:  EXPENSIVE!!! $400- $700 per night for a 5 star hotel and expect to pay at least 30-50% more on food, cappuccinos etc as compared to any other Italian city

Splendide Roma (Day One Travels)

To do justice to glorious Roma can never take just a single post so bear with me while I go on and on for a bit and then still dream of going back and exploring some more! I’m going to break my trip in Roma up by days , but promise that each post will be completely and totally unique. I also know the next time I go there will be completely different too because that’s what Roma celebrates- the more you see- the more you learn. The more you think you’ve seen it all , the more you’ll be surprised! Roma is a treasure trove for travel enthusiasts and it was one of my creates travel adventures ever!

The Rome trip had been in planning for a while. I had dreamt of the romance of Rome and it’s splendor and to be able to stay in Rome on my birthday (which I did btw), was easily the most special celebration ever!!!

So after a perfect stay in Florence we were up and out early to glorious Rome. Now we were told several times to watch our luggage, watch for crooks, pickpockets etc – but I have to say we did NOT have one single bad experience! The train ride was a quick one 1 hr. 23 minutes and we were in Rome!

This post will only cover Day 1 or the eve of my SUPERB BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION…so you’ll have to keep coming back to see some incredible photographs and hear more about this marvelous city!

Here we stayed at the Spanish Steps at the very quaint Hotel Splendide Royal part of the Small Luxury Hotels. Now I was a little worried about this hotel, what with all my expectations having been so built up in Capri and me not really loving that hotel. But here my worried were unfounded. The Small Luxury Hotels got this very cute hotel just right and it was pretty, charming and very central! Our room had been upgraded to a suite and we had a wonderful sitting room and a charming bedroom and my only complaint was that you got lost in all the reds and golds of the room! It was not very well lit and I often couldn’t find something especially if it by chance fell on the plush carpet or the wonderfully soft, uber plush bed cover! I wish there were more lights in the room! The hotel also has the Mirabelle Restaurant, said to be one of the finest in the city! But best of all is the fact that you’re walking distance form the famous shopping at Via Venetto and the marvelous Spanish Steps.

We checked in and then we were out to explore! The Spanish Steps were a 3 minute walk and the day was perfect. We were on top of the Spanish Steps which made walking down easy and fun! The 138 step climb with shopping later in the day proved to be a little less fun! The Spanish Steps are filled with tourists , young couples and lots of life! Couples hang out on the steps and watch the world go by. Tourists use the steps for fabulous photographs and often a much needed rest stop.  The Steps start from the Piazza Trinità dei Monti dominated by the Trinità dei Montichurch at the top and lead to  the Piazza di Spagna at the base. We had a quick bite to eat at the wonderful , highly recommended Canova Cafe and the most glorious cappuccino and then it was off to walk towards the Trevi fountain!

I was very waylaid in my walk though because I kept finding these incredible boutiques with superbly priced clothing that I just had to , had to , had to have! So what would have been a 15 minute slow walk took us a couple of hours because of my insistence to explore small bylanes and small shops! The clothes however were beautiful, the weather perfect and this for me was the best way to explore Rome- leisurely and allowing a complete indulgence of your senses- because there is so much to smell, see, feel, touch and do!

The Trevi Fountain was glorious! I threw several coins in a fountain believing in the superstition that if you threw a coin in the Trevi fountain you will return! I do hope to go back several times and I wished hard hoping that the Fountain Gods would hear me!

Dinner was at a small cafe in the Theatre district and was absolutely perfect! But an early night Day 1 was almost done and the big birthday blow out was tomorrow! Surprises galore and a trip to Vatican City for a special Papal visit…. but more on that next week!

Till then Ciao!

Price Factor-: Between $ 300- $ 500 but book something CENTRAL …cos the only way to explore Roma is to do it by foot!

Best times to travel-: May- October

Leaning on the Tower of Pisa!

The Leaning tower of Pisa is something I had always wanted to see and when you’re in Florence , Pisa is a measly 45 minutes by train and we knew we just HAD TO , HAD TO go!

If you want to climb the Tower, which is what we wanted to do, it’s better to book online so you don’t have to wait in cues or worse still miss the opportunity completely because the slots are totally full.

So up we were on a gloriously rainy, romantic Florence morning and after a hearty breakfast we took a 5 minute cab drive to the station. Now most of the trains in Italy are pretty wonderful, but the ones that take you to places very close by , like Pisa are just okay. We headed aboard and before we knew it we were in Pisa.

All the websites we had read said that you can see the Tower of Pisa from the station and it was really easy to get there once you arrived.

THIS IS WRONG!

You CAN’T see the Tower from the station. It is NOT  a five minute walk a way from it! It is NOT easy to find!

Pisa is a lovely little university town with cobbled lanes and quaint houses. The Tower is quite a walk a way (it took us over 30 minutes) especially if you have no idea how to get there! What is infinitely better is to take one of the many busses which head straight from the station to the Tower and which leave at regular intervals. These are local buses which make a few stops but get you to the Tower or back to the station in approximately 10 minutes. Take these buses! It’s a much less frustrating walk , especially if you had a booking time confirmed to walk up the Tower and we were so afraid we’d miss it!

The Tower is white, perfect, beautiful and very, very tilted!The Piazza del Duomo in Pisa,is also known as the Piazza del Miracoli or the Field of Miracles is where you will find the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is dominated by four great religious edifices: the Duomo (cathedral), the Campanile (the cathedral’s free standing bell tower/ The Leaning Tower ), the Baptistry and the Camposanto.

We just made it in time to rush into the end of the line and be ushered in.

The narrow winding staircases broken with the occasional small landing where you could see the glorious University town below made for beautiful photographs and though the climb was steep, the steps uneven and the corridors occasionally a little confined because of the number of people going up- the climb to the top was well worth it! The gorgeous clouds almost touched us as we reached the top and you could see why Gabriele d’Annunzio described the adjoining building and the Tower as being part of the Field of Miracles- the beauty was astounding!

The trip to the top was an experience and the view spectacular. It is a definite MUST DO!

In the Piazza below you will see tons of tourist shops with funny t-shirts and lots of small knick-knacks to commemorate your visit to Pisa. You can also stop and have a cappuccino or food at the many cafes in the Piazza.

Once our climb was completed we took a while to explore the beautiful college town and then took a BUS back to the station and was back to Florence in 45 minutes!

The afternoon was beautiful back at Florence and we explored the narrow cobbled roads and the quaint , family-owned cafes and I shopped! The shopping was wonderful, the people were friendly and the city was a from a time lost that I would have loved to be a part of!

It must be said again the Firenze or Florence was my favourite Italian city and when you do go there go climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

Price Factor-: 17 Euros per person! Well worth it!

What to Wear-: A jacket as the weather is a tad confusing- rainy one moment, bright sunshine the next! Wear comfortable shoes as it’s quite a climb !

Best times to travel-: May- October

Romance in Florence

Florence also known as Firenze is easily the most romantic city (save for Venice that we visited).

I must say the name of our hotel Hotel Rocco Forte- Savoy did not sound either impressive or grand and this was definitely the city I was least looking forward to traveling to! We arrived early in the morning as we were only spending 2 nights and wanted to make the best use of our very short trip! The hotel was barely a 5 minute cab drive away and the streets looked quaint and original… maybe our day could turn out to be pretty great!

We had arrived quite early and with a broken suitcase in tow- not exactly the ideal start to a super 2 days. As we entered the hotel and the room was not ready! Wow after a long train ride, no breakfast and carting a broken suitcase- this day was wasn’t getting any better. And then we went outside- a perfect Piazza (Piazza della Republica) complete with a musical merry-go-round and the nicest cafes surrounded us. With grey skies, threatening to rain sitting in a cafe with a warm cappuccino suddenly Firenze became the most romantic city in Italy- I guess when we were less hungry we actually appreciate the subtle beauty, the calm perfection of this very old yet extremely modern city! We finished a leisurely breakfast and headed to the a multi brand super store, – Rinascente in the Piazza open perfectly early- and lo and behold , we found the perfect suitcase.

We dragged that back to the hotel , only to have been met by a very apologetic General Manager. We should have been shown our room immediately, he apologized. After all what was the use of being A Leaders Club Member if we couldn’t be treated special. Room upgrade in place with a fabulous view of the amazing Piazza della Republica , Day 1 was about finding the Statue of David. I had bought these tickets online and this really helped. The day was rainy but the Gallery in the prestigious centre of the Scuola Grande of Santa Maria della Carità, one of the most ancient lay fraternal orders of the city. This meant we passed yet another beautiful Duomo (Cathedral). The destination was close and in 5 minutes we reached the Uffizzi Art Gallery. The Gallery was a celebration of art and colours and Masters and had an enviable collection of  Venetian paintings from Veneto as well, from the Bizantine and Gothic fourteenth century;  but I have to admit, I was keen on seeing Michaelangelo’s David.

This was a 10 minute walk the other way (our Piazza being almost a central point) and the line to see David was very long. However since we had our tickets which we’d exchanges at the Florence Accademia there was no line at all and we saw envious glances of those huddling up in the line , cold and wet because it was such a rainy, rainy day!

David was magnificent. Strong, posed and perfect, he stood confident and majestic. The guards there allowed a few photographs but none with flash and I was delighted to have been treated to this remarkable sculpture! On the way out you see a fake David with coloured hair and neon body parts staring at you and you can’t help but be overawed by the simplicity and beauty that you had just witnessed! And then it was time for gelato on a cold , rainy day and some fabulous shopping!

Hotel Rocco Forte is in the centre of the city and surrounded by high-end boutiques and fabulous Italian designers. Spoiled for choice the rest of the evening was about trying clothes, shopping and indulging our little extravagances. A few hours later we found a beautiful restaurant and with a nice warm drink and some bubbly and some impeccably made Italian food we treated ourselves to a personal, perfect romantic dinner.

Florence was perfect. Luxury and romance lived together on perfectly cobbled paths and we fell in love again with not just each other but the most artistic city we’d even been to!

We’d had a long day but we felt more alive in Florence than we ever had! The next day we were off to Pisa…and then we planned to rush back home to enjoy our last evening in this paradise… but more on that next week!

Price Factor-: About $300- $500 per night for a 5 star hotel. But remember most cafes also have a basic cover/sitting charge even if you are ordering a full meal.

Best times to travel-: June- October

A date with History- Pompeii and Vesuvius

Pompeii and Vesuvius are MUST -DO Trips from Naples. They’re not very far – Vesuvius is about 9 km from Naples and Pompeii 8 odd kms from it. The tour we booked was a small group tour on Viator and we found that Viator for the most part, gave us great deals and interesting tours! The tour started post a fabulous, filling breakfast at our beautiful hotel and soon we were on our way. We had barely 8 people on the tour and it was a small, quick bus ride to Pompeii.

I have never been particularly interested in history but had wanted to go to Pompeii and am so glad I did. The few hours that we spent in Pompeii took me to another time. The ruins are so well preserved and the city so incredibly planned , it takes almost no imagination to transport yourself to a forgotten time and to the 7th- 6th Century BC where this city flourished and thrived! Well laid out roads , perfect shop fronts with little houses on top, schools, gladiator training areas and theatres; the planning then was infinitely better than in some of our modern cities even now! Our guide was knowledgeable and interesting and I could imagine the life of a Roman man as he came to work in the city of Pompeii. I stared in awe at the amphitheater and marveled at the Roman spa. I saw holes in the footpath where horses could be tied to ‘park’ them. The vision and foresight was incredible ! I was amazed that a pizza oven even back then looks so similar to a pizza oven now. I also loved how the roads were tilted so that water and dirt could be swept downwards. Should you need to pass there were three rocks at regular intervals for you to walk across. Shopkeepers had a store front facing the road and most lived just above their store. Traders and visitors would come early in the day for trade into Pompeii and after trading through the day , eat lunch in the city. Then it was time for the spa and based on your status in society you’d move to the spa meant for you. Steam rooms and sauna rooms were still preserved and because the day we traveled was a particularly sunny day- I suddenly wished to have a quick plunge myself! They also had mosaic tiles which were still there.Bright and colorful- you could see that Romans really lived life King size!

Then there were also the brothels where in case you didn’t understand the language images were painted on the walls and you could choose what you’d like to do with the prostitute of your choice! An incredibly interesting time and an even more eye-opening experience for me!

What was also really fun were the drinking water taps all carved with Gods and Goddesses with the taps becoming the mouths- they also served as road names and helped in directions for the city. it was also interesting to see the water wells had a small indent for the left hand allowing you to drink with your right.It’salso interesting to note that the water can still be drunk and is drinkable even today!

Molds of people who died during the eruption can also be seeing which gives you an idea of how truly horrible that explosion was!

We saw temples and Piazzas(squares),remnants of a time once forgotten but so ahead of it’s time in planning and in structure, you couldn’t help but imagine what if? What if Vesuvius hadn’t erupted? What if the city hadn’t been lost? A tragic loss.I was privileged to have been able to gain just a little bit of insight into history. This is an absolute MUST DO on any trip to Naples!

And then after a quick pizza it was off to Mount Vesuvius. Here the tour got a little less interactive. You were now advised to trek on your own and meet back in an hour. Vesuvius is an active volcano and is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years. The climb is steep and the black volcanic mud makes climbing tricky. They offer sticks to help climb- take them! Even if you think you can do without them – they help you keep your footing firm. I didn’t take them- I regretted it! The climb is long with very few (almost none) stops to catch a breath. It gets hot. So wear comfortable clothes and very comfortable shoes. The walk down is also tricky because the black sand slips and moves quite a bit. You can also see a black river of ash from Vesuvius which gives you an idea of how the ash and steam moved down from the volcano! Truly terrifying!

An active volcano, a lost city, a dramatic past- history came to life for me that day!

Price Factor-: About $120 for the day trip! Absolutely worth it!

Dress-: Comfortably with very , very comfortable shoes and carry lots of water.

Best times to travel-: August to October.

Picture perfect Capri

And from Rome , it was off on the Trenitalia all the way to Naples a long 4 and a half hour journey and then a 45 minute hydrofoil to the brilliant and blue Isle of Capri! The First Class was comfortable and the wifi free IF and only IF you had a local number because you had to put in your local phone number and a code would be smsed to you! Since it was a long train journey at speeds of over 300 km/hr, we watched the country side, watched as we passed Rome and Florence (couldn’t wait to be there!) and then surfed social networking sites having been kindly given an access code by the Ticket Conductor.What was interesting was the colour of the ‘ORANGE’ Juice! It was RED! Later I learnt that the Orange Juice in many places in Italy is just as red 🙂

We arrived at Naples and took a taxi to the port which is about 5-10 minutes away. There we bought tickets to the hydrofoil and boarded.There are regular hydrofoils to and fro from the island. they are large boats seating approximately 300 odd passengers and take 45 minutes to get to one side.

The sea was incredibly rough and the boat incredibly large and unwieldy and unfortunately our ride to Capri was filled with passengers with green faces, some throwing up, most about to and lots of screams and shouts! It is a 45 minute boat ride and as much as I love the water I couldn’t wait to be back on land again!

And what a beautiful land. When you arrive in Capri, you are stunned by the bluest of blue waters, picture perfect views and the most glorious bay! A car from the hotel picked us up and in minutes the boat trip was forgotten and we were on our way to Anacapri. Ana means higher and so this is a point higher than Capri and looks over Capri and the bay.

The hotel we had chosen had was on a 1000 foot cliff edge with stunning views of Mount Vesuvious and the island and was the winner of 2012 Best European Hotel. It was called Hotel Caesar Augustus. The winner of numerous travel and luxury awards, this was the hotel I was most looking forward to! The hotel was beautiful- personal, private and with the most stunning views of the bay and of Mount Vesuvious. It seemed like a home converted into a luxury hotel and soon enough we met the owners who still actively run the hotel! We were shown to our suite and were enthralled by the balcony which had yet another spectacular room!

The day was windy unfortunately and the sea was rough and cold so after our long trip over there was little left to do but to laze in the hotel and completely relax!

The hotel was stunning but very unlike the other 2 Australian Relais and Chateaux that we have stayed at (Qualia and Saffire Freycinet) the rooms though comfortable were rather tiny and the hotel, though beautifully placed was more of a fabulous home with a warm homely feel as compared to these 2 properties which were luxury at it’s finest. Personally I love staying at the Leading Hotels of the World because you always know what to expect- an old world charm, a historical beauty and the finest of service. I was hoping that Relais and Chateaux would also have a certain common ground with their choices but though all the hotels are beautiful, I much preferred the space and professionalism that the Australian Hotels offered. When I travel, I don’t want to go to a home, no matter how beautiful it is. I’d like to stay in a hotel.

Must Do’s

  • A ten minute walk from the hotel is Piazza Vittoria and a chair lift which takes you to the highest point on the island. This is definitely a ride worth taking! It takes about 15 minutes up wards and 15 minutes down and will give you some of the most incredible photographs you will ever take. Have a warm Irish Coffee as you reach the top and be mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the island!
  • Spend a little time in the shops at Piazza Vittoria. Very reminiscent of Santorini for me, these small shops and cafes are stocked with local paintings, bright prints and fun gifts to take home! Don’t forget to eat a gelato while walking the white pebbled roads. This is a great place to while away an hour or so!
  • A tour of the Blue Grotto or the Grotto Azzura. The Blue grotto is so called because it is a cave with a very small opening with allows just enough light to illuminate the water such that the entire cave is lit up in the most brilliant of blues. Now the Blue Grotto is often shut based on the wind and water issues of any particular day and for our short trip it was closed because of a sudden dip in temperature accompanied by storm winds. However on our last day as we headed towards the hydrofoil we met the ‘President’ of the Blue Grotto who informed us that it was now open! Aditya and I ran to find a boat that would take us to the Blue Grotto and in minutes we were on our way!Once you reach the Grotto however, it is a wait for at least an hour as you must disembark from the boat you are in and move into a small , low boat which holds no more than 3-4 people. Then you must lie flat as you enter else you’ll be hit pretty badly on the head as you enter the grotto . And once you are in, you realise the wait was worth it. Bright blue, radiant and completely unique- this is a MUST DO on any trip to Capri!

Capri was my break in an otherwise super packed Italian Tour, it was beautiful, unexpected and relaxing.

Should you stop in Capri overnight….definitely – to relax, to unwind, to breathe and to do this Sapphire Beauty justice- stop over , relax and SEE the BLUE GROTTO!

Price Factor-: Expensive ! 400-600  Dollars a night …but can you put a price on complete relaxation.

Best times to travel-: End May-September. As it approaches June , the weather gets less unpredictable and a lot warmer….so if you’re traveling in May opt for the last few weeks!

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