Venice is one of those places one dreams about visiting. It’s a bucket list destination full of legends, art, myths and plenty to explore!
If you are heading to Venice, here are a few things to remember before you hit the road…. I mean lagoon.
There are no cars allowed on Venice. No cars. This means you need to take a train, or boat to the city. Trains arrive on the main island through Santa Lucia station. Planes are at the Marco Polo airport, where the train or a bit can be taken into the lagoon. If you have a car leave your car parked and take the ferry to Venice, Lido or other island.
Take the Gondola ride! It’s expensive but worth every second. You wouldn’t go to Paris and miss the Eiffel Tower, don’t miss the Gondolas!
Travel in the off season! Avoid the crowds and have a better time. Go in the fall or early spring to see more with less chaos.
Learn a little. Pick up a book or two before you go and learn some about the rich history of Venice. This will bring everything you see more to life.
Get off the main island. If you have time, get out and explore the Venice Lagoon islands such as Burano and Murano for charming villages and awesome art. If a beach is more your style, head to Lido.
Located on the west coast of Italy, a part of the Italian Riviera is the ever increasingly popular National Park of Cinque Terre. Millions visit the area every year from Florence and Rome, making it a top destination for travelers.
The appeal of The “five lands” is its sweeping landscapes, rich views, and unique adventures.
Here are my tips for visiting this enchanting location.
Catch an early train
Most people start from Florence, catch a regional train from Santa Maria Novella to La Spezia. At La Spezia you can buy your day or multi-day pass to the National Park and access to the train network in the region
If you are renting a car, park in La Spezia, and buy your pass just the same.
A small train network links the five villages (lands) running approximately every 20 minutes in each direction (north or south). This is the easiest way to get from city to city.
Note that there are no cars allowed in the cities and that there is a bus line that also connects the region but it’s less consistent and requires more walking.
The earlier you go, the better! This will help you avoid crowds and heat.
Bring your hiking shoes
There are over 70 miles of trails that links the five villages are region. The views from these trails are magnificent and offer amazing photo opportunities.
The trails are tough, but you do escape the crowds and enjoy some fantastic nature along the way.
Check trail conditions before you go, as wash outs are common.
Check your trains
Train schedules are more of a guideline than a rule in Italy. Therefore, make sure you read the schedules and allow extra time to get back to La Spezia and then your “home base” if you’re doing a day trip.
If you can, stay a couple nights and truly take in the cities!
Off season or bust
If you can, go right at the end of summer (September/October) or right at the beginning of summer (March) so that you can enjoy the region sans millions of tourists. This allows a local connections that is often missed in June and July!
As about 10% of College Students in the United States do, I did a study abroad program. I chose Italy before I started college, and stuck with Italy, specifically Florence. While the fees were high and the time away from my partner (now husband) was hard, it was worth EVERY SINGLE PENNY and every hard day to have the experience.
Reflecting on this trip is a constant aid to my work today, and a reminder of just how much I have seen and enjoyed since I graduated from high school in 2009.
Today, I share a little video on the PERFECT Day in Chianti and where you should head on your next journey to Tuscany.
Many times we are reminded that theme parks are for kids. They are money sucks of candy and cartoons and memorable characters and wild rides that make many adults queasy. We are reminded to take our kids to this and that so they have fun and memories and pictures. But I say, hold up, theme parks are as much for adults as kids, and you damn well can have a great time.
This year, if anything, is becoming my year of theme parks. For a long time I shied away from the parks. Well, I didn’t actively shy away, but I didn’t try to go to theme parks. I had not been to anything since 2015 on my last trip to Florida, and I decided to change that.
The last eight months have been a stressful, but mostly positive experience in my family. My husband had a job change, I am having two surgeries this year (more on this later next week), I have had promotions and job trainings. It has been crazy, an emotional roller coaster (pun intended), and stressful. I decided that my stepdaughter and I needed some fun on a day we had free together and that’s what we did.
We took a whole Saturday, grabbed Lily’s friend Josiah, and spent a whole day eating junk food, riding rides, and weaving through crowds at Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colorado. It was silly, it was fun, we made goofy jokes, we laughed at the rides, we got dizzy on the tea cups and we had an overall great day.
We enjoyed it so much we are looking forward to going next week with our Girl Scout Troop! There is even a new ride based on Meow Wolf, the Kaleidescape, which is an amazing art installation! It’s classic fun, in a local setting, full of all the grease and Dippin’ Dots that made a 90s childhood amazing.
So, fellow adults, and adult adjacents, get off your ass and enjoy the insane stupid fun of your local theme park this year. You will blow off steam, you’ll get some sun, you’ll walk like five miles so don’t stress about the calories, and you will make some memories.
The first castle I ever visited was not one I ever expected to see. It was never on a list, but it was a pure treasure!
Circa 2010 when my trip was interrupted by a volcano, I found myself with an extra week in Germany.
My amazing host friends, military based near Stuttgart, decided it was a great time to help me explore more of Germany.
The first choice was to get me into a castle and southern Germany has some of the best examples of castle architecture in the world! The magnificent Hohenzollern is no exception. While many people head to Neuschwanstein Castle near Munich, few recognize the choices and variety of castles that exist in and outside of Bavaria.
Hohenzollern is just south of Stuttgart in Bisingen, and it’s a fabulous example of what Prussian architecture created. Parts of the castle date back to 1267 with some structures in place as far back as 1061. Often referred to as the “Crown of all Castles in Swabia”all was lost in 1454. While other owners built up the fortress at times, the castle was never fully restored and was practically abandoned by the 19th century.
It was then that Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussiadecided to rebuild the castle. Started in 1850 the castle was built to reflect the heritage and culture of the region and the Prussian monarch. For reference, Neuschwanstein Castle was built around the same time by the Bavarian monarchy.
Hohenzollern shocked me on numerous levels, the first was the way it reflected the fantastical ideals we encompass about castles in Europe. Hohenzollern has majestic spires, endless walls, and magical paintings and frescoes.
The vast and rich green forests that also surround the area are amazing. As the landscape moves into being the dark forest you see where imagination could run wild. It was these forests and these castles and beautiful buildings that so deeply rooted Germans and Victorians and Americans to a love of fairytales and medieval revival. These forests birthed Grimm’s fairytales and much more to a Euro-American psyche.
If you are looking for an escape from the tourist trail, stunning views, and some prime architecture of the medieval reimagining of the 19th century, this place is for you!
HOURS: Monday to Sunday: 10:00am to 5:30 pm (4:30pm November to March) (closed most holidays)
There are times in life where preconceived notions have to
be put to the test and nothing has challenged me more than the subject of day
trips (in regards to travel anyway). Well before I started venturing into the world
on my own I had in my head that the best way to travel was to travel with no
rules, no script, and no one telling you where and when to do things. I thought
of all the school trips and family vacations I had been dragged around on and
knew that there was no way I wanted to travel in a massive bus with less than knowledgeable
guides trying to sell people on things. No, I wanted to explore on my own and
find the best things without rules. I wanted to wander and forge my own path
and take the path less taken and be amazing! All without any knowledge or experience!
In 2010 I obsessively made my own plans and scheduled in times to pee and blow my nose and shove an apple in my mouth. Read more here. Which in reality all went to shit within one week, because of nature, thank you Icelandic Volcano. The truth was that I had no idea how to plan or manage two months, let alone a week, or a day traveling because I didn’t have a clue. My trip went okay, I saw plenty of things, but I also learned where to worry and what to forget, and how to get help when I needed it.
Fast forward to 2013 and a study abroad trip opened my eyes
to the value of guides in foreign countries, especially when you don’t speak
the language. What I realized is that no matter how many signs or guide books
or snippets I read, I was missing valuable information whenever I looked around
at the world, the castle, the street, the odd carving in a wall. I missed the
stories, myths, and legends that made different corners of the world
remarkable. It was then that I realized that, in fact, guides are invaluable
and important people when visiting a city for the first time.
Even in a day of endless information and content, guides
offer insight, and an intimacy that no amount of paper and signs can ever give
to an experience. Having a guide walk you around Florence will allow you to
truly experience the details of the experience, versus aimlessly wandering
trying to make sense of everything that is around you. Having a guide takes you
to the best gelato, or the tastiest lunch in a town, and it lets you better
understand the people that are hosting you in their home. Since 2013 I make
sure every trip has at least one tour, but I am very selective on how and where
I take these tours. Here are some of my fast tips on selecting the best tour
for you and your travel companions!
with researching and finding as many tour providers as you can that will
cover what you need. This includes group and private tours, and companies like
Viator, or independent companies that you find.
all of the itineraries and inclusions, then figure out what seems like a
reasonable price for the tour either for a large, small, or private tour and
then decide what is friendliest for your budget.
private tours you will likely need to email guides, and explain what you want.
However, they will be able to fully customize your adventure from the locations
seen, the time spent in each place, and the routing taken. This is definitely worth
paying extra for, if you can afford it.
on the vehicles being offered. This seems silly, but sometimes something
will be listed that won’t actually work with your family of six, and two car
seats. Read up, email with questions, and call if you have any concerns.
My husband can attest to the discomfort of small
Mexican vans for 5 hours of driving to Chichen Itza, I majorly failed on
researching that one. My short self is now much more mindful that 6’4” doesn’t
fit in cars as well as 5’2”.
many reviews as you can, either through TripAdvisor, Facebook, viator, etc.
this will give you a better idea of what to expect and what to watch out for.
Remember, most people will complain before they complement, but it’s important
to check all the resources for consistency and safety.
travel companions about their preferences. Sometimes they won’t care, but
brain storming may mean they think of unforeseen issues, or other ideas to make
the trip better.
expert for advice! This is especially important if you are working with a
travel agent for your trip. They will likely have direct connections to some of
the best guides and experts in an area, and if they don’t they will know who to
ask for help.However, experts can
be other people like friends that know the region, a hotel concierge, or your
credit card concierge and travel departments!
Make a choice – yes you have to pick. It’s
far better to pick SOMETHING and not have the best tour, but get to SEE
something versus never going at all. I say this because so many people hesitate
to take a tour and then they don’t ever get the experience they should have
tried for. It’s scary to put trust in another company or guide, but I promise
that it’s worthwhile more than staying behind.
I am a natural born stubborn control freak. STUBBORN.
I am so stubborn that when I was a toddler I would get angry
that I wouldn’t get my way and I would hold my breath until I passed out. My
mom would ignore me, my grandma thought I was dying and would fuss over me. I
gave up the stunt after I realized it wouldn’t get me very far.
I am so stubborn that I will be mid discussion with my
husband and be looking up articles that validate my opinion and information I
am sharing. This “discussion” has been known to go on for days…I can blame him,
but it’s really my doing.
When I planned my first trip to Europe in 2010 I literally
planned everything down to the hour and half hour. This included each museum,
how to walk, where to eat, how long it took on the train/public transportation.
It was planned to the wire. Then an Icelandic Volcano blew up and ruined the
plan and I had to adjust everything.
Going into college I had a straight and narrow plan on
getting my BA, getting my MA and getting the dream job. I would work my ass off
and ta-da I would have it and in no time I could be at Conde Nast or the Times
and one day I would move abroad and work for the Guardian.
I thought a lot of
Life likes to shit on these thoughts and dreams.
It’s not that the universe, or life, or God, or Goddess, or
Cat (whatever you’re into man) wants you to suffer, it’s that the universe is
chaotic and nothing is promised. You can do everything the way you think you
should, and it will all go to hell regardless. It’s just our existence on this
I like to think I am a recovering control freak, but I think
I am still more control freak than recovering. I will probably never be someone
that can just show up on a rip with no plan or preconceived notions. Instead, I
will show up with a folder of details, receipts, and schedules that I will
refer to all week. I will have a mind full of facts and ideas and images and
expectations as to what I should be experiencing on said trip. I will be well
informed on food choices and activity prices, shoe and age requirements,
cultural norms and common sayings. In many respects I am over prepared, in
other respects I have spent a disgusting amount of time preparing myself for
things that won’t go any set way.
I dislike chaos and disorganization, I dislike not being
able to find things and things that go missing. I dislike the natural chaos of
existence and I have done little things to try and shelter myself. I have a
hard time committing to anything in a solid way, jobs, friendships, clubs,
romances, etc. I WANT to, but I also fear if I come up with something more
important to do, or a need, that if I can’t be there I am letting people down,
and more importantly myself. This is not to say I don’t take risks, traveling
is inherent risk, going to college is risk, my job is constant risk. I risk a
lot, but it all is comfortable risk, risk that builds into something better.
Emotional risk is something else.
Emotional risk, and inevitable failure, is heartbreak and tears and pain. It is not getting the job(s) you apply for, all 200 of them, and settling for a different field entirely. It is facing that marriage and long partnerships are not all wine and roses but something better, though scarier. It is learning to grow where you are planted, not demanding the perfect climate at the start. It is being vulnerable and real and going with chaos. It is the ultimate lemonade with lemons, no matter how sour they are, and no matter the sugar that is poured in the pitcher. It is daily getting up and trying to be better than the day before.
I am still learning in my recovery, I think each day my walls crumble a little more.
The drive to my parents’ home is far from a thrilling one. Three and a half hours one sits in one direction. About 230 miles. Northward we go. The car sits in cruise control at 80 mph and we listen to audio books or favorite road trip songs and we go. We travel along swaths of interstate where you can see no one for miles. We pass ancient stone features and the occasional exits that resemble towns. It’s desolate.
Compared to Colorado it’s vast nothingness. It’s open rolling hills dotted by specks if cows, sometimes domesticated American Bison, sometimes horses. This time of year it’s all the color of straw. Last years’ grass turning into remnants before bursting with new life. It’s not much.
I see this same scenarios time after time in my job:
My client wants to travel overseas and check off some places on their bucket list. They have one week, three kids, and they want to cram as much culture in their little brains as they possibly can. They want to see ALL of Italy in a week.
My client is taking his dad to Europe, his dad is 80 years old, they want to see ALL of Europe in three weeks.
I research their top places and assemble a schedule that I think is ideal. I find options that match their budget, and activities that all extra time if someone needs a break or a coffee or if a train is late. The savvy travelers agree to my suggestions. The wild ones try to break records, or so it seems, on how many countries they can visit in no time.
While a week, or three weeks seems like a long time, the truth is there will never be seeing ALL of anything in a week, or a month, or a lifetime. It is literally impossible to see everything Rick Steves tells you to, or eat at every Michelin restaurant. It’s just not something that can be done. Besides, the best travel experiences are the unexpected, the moments when nothing was planned, and the stars seem to align. It’s when you actually take time to ENJOY traveling that good things come together.
My favorite meals, or my most loved memories don’t come from the days I planned out hour-by-hour they are finding randomness on this planet we call home. Sometimes it has been a funeral procession or a wedding. Other times it has been making friends with a child or getting lost on a side street. Sometimes it was simply sitting in a train station and people watching while I ate a sandwich. I saw the Queen of England when I just wanted to enjoy being in London in a park. I made friends while hanging out at pubs and hostels. I have always fallen in love with cities I never expected to, or never planned to originally visit.
When one takes time to slow down and breath in their time in a new location, then one REALLY understands the heart and soul of why people travel. It’s a cafe in Paris, or a bakery in Dublin, and taking the time to eat a pastry or drink a cup of coffee. It is a club in Edinburgh or a pub in London that opens up conversation and connection. It’s never when you have museum after museum planned. It’s never when you follow a massive group from sea of people to sea of people. It is always the in between.
As I have seen more and more of the world over ten years I have moved from racing to one place and another, and instead I have craved more of the in between. When I mentally picture a trip back to Paris, I see a mosey instead of a rush. When I mentally picture a visit to China, it’s sitting on the Great Wall and listening to others speak in awe. I imagine crying at finally seeing the Pyramids of Giza and sitting in the sand as I feel the centuries of life in front of and around me. I want the cups of teas and messy foods as much too. I want making friends and photographs of new connections too.
So, dear reader, slow down your plans. See two cities instead of five. See one less museum, and add in a park. Walk everywhere you can so that you can absorb the essence of what is around you. Speak to everyone you can so that you know the people better. Try new foods that would otherwise freak you out. Most importantly, live it all, as much as you can.