Venice Travel Tips

italy, Travel

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Happy Travels!

Visiting Cinque Terre

History, italy, Travel

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.
    • Allow time
    • 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!

Memories of Chianti

europe, italy, Travel

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.

Locations

Day Trips – to go or not to go?

Caribbean, Cruising, europe, France, Ireland, italy, mexico, Scotland, Throwback Thursday, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

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!

  1. Start 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.
  2. Review 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.
    1. For 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.
  3. Read up 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.
    1. 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”.
  4. Read as 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.
  5. Ask your 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.
  6. Ask an 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!
  7. 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.

Seven Wonders of the World

History, italy, mexico, Travel
The “new” Seven Wonders of the World are not exactly “new” in any sense of the world. In fact the list makes up wonders and beautiful creations from cultures and peoples in the past. Which maybe makes them more impressive and engaging than if it were a list of mega stadiums and mansions from today. Not that engineering feats from the last 100 years are not important or impressive, but there is something whimsical and magical about those buildings that were created for a purpose centuries before we had cranes, automobiles. trains and other modern technologies that make building significantly easier.
What inspires me is that I am slowly, but surely, marking locations off of the list and I currently stand at two out of seven in my 26 years on planet earth. With two being seen in the last four and a half years! #killingIt
The list is as follows:
1. The Great Wall of China- China
2. Christ the Redeemer- Brazil
3. Machu Picchu- Peru
4. Chichen Itza- Mexico
5. The Roman Colosseum- Italy
6. Taj Mahal- India
7. Petra- Jordan
 
So far I have been able to visit 4 and 5 on my adventures and they have been nothing short of remarkable!
My first visit was in the summer of 2013 to The Roman Colosseum on my study abroad in Italy, where….well when in Rome, I had to take an absurd photo.
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The Colosseum was one of those odd locations where when you are fully aware of the blood and sacrifice that went into the stones you are standing on, it’s kind of eerie. This is also true for location five…
However, The Roman Colosseum is a fantastic gateway int the history of the region, especially when paired with the Roman forum which offers a full explanation on the life and times of the nobility in Rome. Besides the fact that the Colosseum was used for a bloody display of “sport” it is also an engineering marvel. Beyond that, did you know that the majority of the damage has nothing to do with time and wear over two millenia? Instead it is a reflection of thievery and people stealing materials in the middle ages, renaissance and into the 19th century for new buildings and moments. Which is pretty damn cool, and impressive that their skills and abilities have stood so greatly through the test of time.
Additionally, it is a part of Rome that is impossible to miss, a testament to the vastness and power of the Roman Empire, and the eternal city, showing the strength of the empire at its height. 
However, like all great things, they come to an end eventually. Which also brings us to Chichen Itza. 
Chichen Itza was found by Western explorers in the 19th century covered in jungle and abandoned for centuries.  Here it is in the 1890s:
 Castillo_Maler.jpg
Due to being covered oh so romantically in greenery, some believed that the Maya people had lived “as one” with the planet and had a somewhat Utopian society. However, upon further research going into the next 100 years it was learned that they in fact had been a society that utilized slash and burn techniques and other methods to clear forests. This meant land for growing crops of corn and beans along with building an extensive road network that connected places like Chichen Itza with the rest of the Maya Empire.
Anyway, not to bore you with too much history, but the reality is that this city and subsequent cities in the area were home to a vast and powerful society. Additionally the use of sound techniques for spying, entertainment, religion and building the entirety of the area with the solar system, equinoxes, and celestial events in mind make it even more exciting. 

Photo Dec 08, 8 46 47 AM.jpg

Chichen Itza circa 2017

Naturally, the list of “wows” go on. Such as depictions of North American tribes that were visiting the area, such as the Mohicans. Then, there are mysterious pieces such as a man depicted with a long beard (most Native peoples don’t grow facial hair) and others showing a Star of David. Additionally, the auditory nature of the buildings is still somewhat puzzling and no one is positive how bird whistles and rattle snack sounds could be replicated. These aspects leave more questions than answers, that I look forward to hearing about in the future. 
To wrap up on the Maya, it’s important to remember this city also acted as a sacrificial area to the gods and especially Kukulkan. Many times slaves, prisoners, and even the “strongest” warriors and gamers were sacrificed for the benefit of all people in a bloody removal of organs, or sometimes drowning in a cenote.
Anyway, I’ll share more on Chichen Itza shortly, but I want to mostly say, it’s always a thrill to work through a list of exciting places in the world.
I do believe my next stop will be Peru and Machu Picchu where I am planning to hike the Inca trail and walk in the foot steps of another great civilization.

There are a ton of videos and blogs on this subject. But welcome to my take on the situation. I have only found a few things to be true when travelling and the rest to be crap.

I don’t put necklaces through straws so they don’t get tangled, because I only take one set of jewelry with me so I lessen the risk of losing something (or having it stolen). I don’t take much shampoo in little bottles because it’s far more logical to “buy it when you get there” and in small quantities.

Perhaps this sounds a little rugged and I know we have favorite hair products, BUT the reality is that one exploded bottle of shampoo or lotion in your suitcase can make a mess that’s way worse to deal with than messy hair. And unless you are going somewhere where you know they won’t sell cosmetics, then just buy something when you get there. You often can find better products in places like Europe, that will work better in the water/sun/humidity in that location.

For instance, a pharmacist in Rome noted how pasty I was, and insisted I buy some SPF50. “Blanca, blanca, come here” she told me and shoved the bottle in my hand with some tampons. This was the best sunscreen I have ever used and I wish I could find it here in the states! It didn’t cause me to break out, it was light and it worked to keep “blanca” from being “rosso”.

Travel Hacks No One Actually Tells You

Cruising, Ireland, musings, Photography, Travel

When in Rome…

italy, Travel

Study Abroad in Florence at SRISA

If you are studying in Florence it is likely you will find yourself in Rome for at least one weekend. This is a must for any trip to Italy and an absolutely wonderful experience.

So, when in Rome…

DSC_0552

DO take photos with the men in Gladiator or Roman Guard uniforms. They will give you a fond memory and make your family and friends laugh!

DON’T eat in the heavy tourist areas, if you have the time seek out a place off the beaten path, do it. This is a reality for all of Italy, look around and find a smaller family-owned “locals eat here” place. The food, service, and most likely the prices will be much better!

DO join a tour, if you go to the big tourist areas, especially on the weekends the guides will be a bit more, BUT they get you in much sooner, and you learn…

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Faces of Italy, Part II- Calcio Storica

europe, History, italy, Photography, Travel

This photo essay explores the traditional clothing and roles of individuals in the parade that precludes Calcio Storico in Florence, Italy on St. John the Baptist’s Feast Day in June 2013.

This is part II of my Faces of Italy series. Please visit part I, Faces of Italy.

Faces of Italy

europe, History, italy, Travel

In the summer of 2013 I decided to do my study abroad in Italy, and more specifically in Florence. As a person deeply intrigued by history and the art and changes of the Italian Renaissance there was really no better city in the world I could pick to live in for six weeks. So I signed up for a program that sent me to the Santa Reparata International School of Art where I took a class for fun in Modern Italian History and a class for knowledge in the Italian Fashion Industry, maybe I got it backwards.

While in Italy I learned more than I thought humanly possible about the culture, food, people, history, art, characters, politics and many other stories that have shaped Italy in the past and continue to shape it today. What was most intriguing for me was how honest the Italian people felt. They were honest about their vanity, honest about their lust, their passion, their vulgarity and their existence as what they were and what they are today. Though eccentric or even crazy to some people; I found Italians to be a truly great people, willing to welcome you into their lives and take you into their hearts at any moment. They are benevolent in their stories, regardless of the embarrassment or secrets hidden in them. They also want you to become just a little bit Italian, and will do anything to make sure you understand, La Dolce Vita.

These photographs, mostly taken in secret, reflect what I felt and experienced in Italy, I hope they give you a similar sense of passion and love that i feel about them. Thanks for viewing.

For Part II, Calcio Storico click here.

 

The following video clip is a trailer for a documentary that is being made of Calcio Fiorentino or Calcio Storico. For more information on the match and more video clips visit their official website. The video is for educational and contextual purposes only.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/25512336″>MODERN GLADIATORS – CALCIO STORICO</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/battistella”>David Battistella</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Gluten Free in the Land of Bread and Pasta

Allergen-free eating on the road, italy, Travel

“Una pizza margarita, senza glutine, por favore.” poured from my tongue, an attempt at accented Italian. The server smiled “one pizza, senza glutine, okay!” in response as she scribbled my order followed by my friends. We sat in a circa 1980’s green back room of a small restaurant only a block away from lines of tourists surrounding Micheangelo’s David.

The smell of mouthwatering plates was overpowering as it drifted from the small kitchen,  while waiting was torture for our hungry and impatient stomachs as a dusty boar’s head stared suspiciously from above the bathroom. Once the food arrived it was no time at all before it was gone, and I was left doing a seated happy dance about how I had just eaten the best pizza of my life. Italy was proving to have the best dining options for my gluten-free life.

Anyone can find eating while traveling hard enough, let alone attempting to do it with food allergies, yet with a little research one can find a world full of edibles that won’t leave your stomach and self, miserable during a well-earned vacation.

I myself have to remember that no, I am not the only person on the planet that is gluten free or dairy free. The reality is that in this day of easier global exploration, the world has become smaller and more connected to different eating concepts. In places like Italy 1 out of 250 people are thought to have celiac disease, and as a result more restaurants in Italy are trying to accommodate for the disease.

In Italy, the government is even aware of the problem and they sell Gluten-Free products at pharmacies, an aid for locals and tourists alike. “Thanks to the public health system my sister can place an order each month to the pharmacy and get all the main food for free.” Enrica Guidato informed me, her twin sister has celiac disease and is doing just fine in her native Lecce, Italy. For the tourist there will be no free pasta, but to know that a country acknowledges the disease is a step in the right direction.

When I was in Florence in 2013 Guidato was a helping hand, she pointed me in the right direction for food, which restaurants were the best, which cared enough to offer gluten free, her list was a mile long of the best gluten free eats. Her experiences with her sister meant she knew great places to eat, and new things to try. It also made me realize just asking others meant a whole hidden knowledge could be opened.

So I asked Roger Elliot, a celiac since his mid-twenties who started a website specifically to share stories of his own eating experiences around the world. He believes that people can go and eat anywhere with celiac disease it just takes a little work. “I think you should take time to properly research the food in the destination you’re travelling to.” Says Roger “That said, there’s always plain meat, fish and veg, and if you have access to self-catering facilities, you should always be able to get by I reckon.”

Roger and his wife also came up with a great idea to overcome language barriers, by making little cards that state exactly what one is allergic to, to show at restaurants. They come in 54 languages and are completely free on his website: celiactravel.com, and are an innovative and easy way to keep one’s digestive system happy.

Another thing about asking, are the pleasant surprises that come with it. I give you one night in Rome.

Since I was studying abroad, we had a side trip to Rome. I was in Rome with my program director, where we had a meal at a place near our hotel and just off the beaten tourist path, Rinaldi al Quirinale. According to its website it served Gluten-Free, but I assumed like most places in the states, there would be a salad or maybe some spaghetti involved and that would be it. I went into the location head held high however, since first of all I was in Rome, and second I was out to dinner with two new friends, and excited at the chance of getting to know both better. Not only did that set the scene for a perfect night, but the restaurant set a standard of excellent dining well beyond anything we could have imagined.

When I asked the server about gluten free he informed me I could have anything I wanted on the menu, and to top that off when real bread was brought for my dinner buddies I got my own, fresh from the oven, gluten free bread roll all to myself. I ended up ordering the mushroom risotto but I swear it was the best I ever had, and with a wait staff willing to bend over backwards for our every need it was a great feeling. It was everything you dream of Italy, a solid and happy relationship with your food, making new friends, and watching the sun set over the eternal city.

In the end, asking for senza glutine proved to be a ticket to winning a great meal and beautiful experience all over Italy. Whether I was eating a pizza, plate of pesto, or a truffle risotto, being celiac opened doors to meeting and understanding people in a new light that I don’t believe would have been there with a normal diet. Maybe I just appreciated having options that I never got at home, or maybe Italy’s food just gives everyone that loving, warm feeling; as if your own grandma poured her love into it.

SURVIVAL- Quick tips

COOKING

As expensive as eating gluten-free in the states can be, expect the same for Europe, but add on an exchange rate, and that rice pasta for €4 becomes about $6. However, if you look around for new ideas you can cook for much less. Risotto, a huge box, will usually only run €1 and make about 10 servings, and fresh veggies in Italy are cheap, delicious, locally grown, and worth the preparation.

DINING OUT

When eating out look around at prices and expect for a Pizza Margarita that is Senza Glutine to be about €11-15 or $15-20 which is pretty normal for eating in the states.  But if you are skipping the pizza, look for risotto specials, salads, and other things especially at restaurants that don’t do a lot gluten-free bread-like products.

GLUTEN FREE FOODS TO TRY
Risotto- rice based and full of endless possibilities, whether it’s mushroom, truffle, vegetable or seafood you will never be disappointed.
Salmon and Arugula- a great plate served with some multi-course meals and perfect for the pescetarian or meat eater
Pizza- many places advertise if they make GF pizza, but don’t be afraid to ask too. Some even have different crust choices!
Pasta- This is the most common bread-like dish you can find, as many places keep a bag of rice pasta on hand, just in case someone like you wanders in. They can usually make it with any sauce you want, or kind. Pesto pasta in Italy is to die for.
Salad- If you have numerous allergies this is a great place to start, no dressing but a little olive oil and lemon juice are the norm, and you can usually get it with no meat but plenty of fresh vegetables, and egg. Tuna is also common if you do fish.
Caprese- cheese and tomatoes, with oil? What’s not to love?
Meat specialties (if you eat meat)- Try some prosciutto with melon, wild boar, steak or just about anything else, never did I hear a complaint.
Polenta- corn based, and delicious. It can come in deep-fried cubes, or under sauce, but all around it’s fantastic.
WINE!- hey you may not be able to get some cheap beer, but you can drink wine, and for a good price. If in Tuscany, you must have some Chianti- you can’t leave the country if you don’t.
How do you say that?
ENGLISH ITALIAN
Gluten- Free Senza Glutine
Dairy / lactose/ milk/ cheese Caseificio/ lattosio/ latte/ formaggio
Wheat/ barley/ rye Grano/ orzo/ segale
Soy soia

red tilesDSC_0091

lady with gelato

Happy Eating!

~Rebecca Lee Robinson