Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Top Tips for Visiting Venice

When traveling to Venice, I honestly believe that there are a few tips one should at least take into consideration. My short time in Venice was an amazing experience and before I left, I read up about the dos and don’ts when traveling to the area…here are mine.

1. Unless you want the “romantic,” “Venetian” experience, don’t take a gondola ride

If you’re on a tight budget, take the water taxi and ride down the canal and see the beauty that is Venice. Gondola rides can be extremely expensive, going high above $100 depending upon the time of day, number of “riders,” and the extent of what you want for your experience (ex: gondolier, accordion player, singer, etc…)

2. If you buy anything, buy an authentic mask and Murano glass

I used to collect porcelain masks when I was younger and although I no longer display them along my walls, I still have a bit of an eye for unique-looking masks. All I heard while in France was that if I was visiting Venice, one thing I had to buy was a mask, but not just any mask. No, I had to find a shop where someone was actually making them, and so I did. Surprisingly, the mask I bought cost me only 15 euros, so it didn’t break the bank.

Also, make sure to buy some Murano glass. We didn’t get a chance to visit the island of Murano; however, we did manage to find a wine stopper and a pair of beautifully made earrings for my mom. Although a bit pricier, it was well worth the price as my mom now wears those earrings more than any others.

3. Take galoshes and an umbrella

For those of you who read my previous post about wearing galoshes while in Venice, this does not need further explanation.

4. Go with the Flow

When visiting a local restaurant, my sister and I were treated…well, let me put it this way, because we were not Italians, we were not worthy of “top notch” service. However, I knew going into this that Italians are much more laid back and do not hurry when it comes to things like bringing the check. As Americans, we are so accustomed to getting things done as fast as possible and to be honest, it is nice to be able to just sit back and relax for a while.

5. Do not visit in July

According to some of the tour guides, the months of July and August are the most brutal when it comes to heat. Now, my sister and I visited in June so the temperature was ideal. While we were there, we visited Doge’s Palace and according to the guide, they do not do a lot of tours in July because of the severe heat.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Visiting Versailles

After several hours of searching, scouring, and praying that we would find the wonder that is Versailles, we finally arrived at the golden gates. Amazed that this massive palace was before my very eyes, I fired up the video camera and ordered my sister to start taking pictures. Realizing that I officially looked like “a tourist,” I honestly could have cared less…I was thrilled to be entering a place where so much history took place.

Realizing we only had about an hour before the museum closed, my sister and I agreed, although it was an unfortunate agreement, that we would have to become the Griswold’s in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” if we wanted to see as much as we could inside. Once we finally discovered where the freaking entrance into the museum was, I made a mad dash towards the Hall of Mirrors. I remember literally stopping in my tracks and standing there in complete awe of the sight before me.

Inside the Palace

Entering Hall of Mirrors

The brainchild of King Louis XIV of France, the Hall of Mirrors is considered to be one of the most popular rooms in the world. Filled with gold statues and glass mirrors and chandeliers, Louis XV met his mistress, Marie Antoinette here during one of his many grand parties. As interested as I am in pre-20th century world history, my reason for shock and awe was due to the knowledge that the Treaty of Versailles was signed in that very room, the treaty that ended World War I and started the League of Nations. I simply couldn’t believe how beautiful this room was and how much took place within its confines.

Quickly (almost running) through much of the rest of the museum and passing many of the paintings devoted to the King himself, we made it to the gardens. It looked as if the land went on for an eternity. The Versailles Gardens are quite a sight to see. Let me put it this way, I would HATE to be the gardener and maintenance crew…your job would never end.

The sculptures, the fountains, the manicured lawns, all of it drew me in as I pictured hundreds of guests walking around, men and women wearing proper 17th and 18th century European attire (depending on who was ruling and when of course), and admiring the splendors that Versailles presents to those who enter its gates. To call this place a garden is in my opinion, one of the biggest understatements. The “Gardens” are works of art, created by various men who showcased their work beautifully. Never have I seen such art displayed in such an enormous and thought out way. My only wish was that I could have seen more.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tips for Cruising

When preparing to go on a cruise, there are many things that new cruisers are unaware of prior to saying “bon voyage.” As someone who has cruised 9 times, my family and I have picked up a few tips that we believe are quite helpful when deciding to take a cruise vacation.

1. Watch your onboard budget
Once you board your cruise liner, you will forgo the cash and instead, be given a handy-dandy little card with your name on it. That my friend is your “cash” while on the ship. Now everyone knows that when paying with actual cash, it is much more difficult to part with; however, once you slide a plastic card into someone’s hand, well…you could easily end up with heart palpitations and your mouth agape once you see the bill at the end of your cruise. My tip: Alcohol and gambling seem to be the main reason why so many people have outrageous bills at the end of their cruises. Set a limit for yourself. When it comes to gambling, I set aside a specific amount of cash before I leave and I budget myself every night. If I lose it, it’s gone, if not, great! With alcohol, allot yourself maybe 1-2 or 2-3 drinks a day. Trust me, after being in the sun as much as you will be, you’ll appreciate the FREE WATER!!!

2. Pack a large water bottle
This is something that my dad picked up on quickly. Although you are provided small cups for water on the boat, you will constantly be getting up and down to refill your drink. When you’re laying outside, getting some sun and enjoying a good book on a “day at sea” day, the last thing you want is to pick up your cup and realize that you’re out of water, especially when you are sweating bullets. My tip: Pack a water bottle and fill that baby up before stepping outside in your shades and swimsuit…trust me, once you get comfortable on that lounge chair, and you realize that you have a nice, big, tall bottle of ice water next to you, you’ll thank me for this.

3. Watch your waistband
In a previous post, I wrote about the food that can be found on a cruise ship. If you are new to the cruising world, you might just be amazed, no, completely in awe, of what you might see when walking through the buffet line. Not only is every ethnic food made available to you, but you don’t receive just a plate, no, you receive a platter for your food. Piling on your pickings can result in a pooched out belly, tiredness, and the “why did I eat that much” comment. Think about it, when we’re at home, we eat only what is on our plate (our regularly sized plates at least) most of the time. We do not eat pancakes, oatmeal, cereal, fruit, muffins, bacon AND an omelet every morning; however, on a cruise, you can most definitely do that. My tip: I am as guilty as anyone else, but one thing I’ve learned, harder you work out before the cruise, the harder it will be to get back into the routine once you arrive back home. After a week of gorging yourself full of food and slacking on the work outs, the last thing you’ll feel like doing is hopping back on the treadmill. Watch your food intake on the ship. Besides, if you go to the nice evening dinner in the dining room; THAT is where you want to make sure that you’re hungry.

4. Pack Reasonably
When going on a cruise, if you are going to the Caribbean or a warm weather area, pack accordingly. If there are several days at sea, or you know you’ll be spending much of your time in port on the beach, pack plenty of bathing suits, flip flops, and athletic shorts (if you’re me that is). Don’t bog your suitcase down with fancy wedges, designer shorts and tops, thinking that you’ll be wearing this every day, etc…9 times out of 10, you won’t wear it. My tip: I tend to go for comfort when on a cruise. I tend to take flip flops (don’t take up much room), 1 nice pair of heels and/or wedges for nice dinner evenings, 1 pair of cute sandals for port days that don’t involve water and/or beaches, a few swimsuits, athletic shorts and t-shirts. Throw in a few sundresses, Bermuda shorts and cute tops for nights on the ship (going to shows, the casino, or clubs).

5. Tip the Appropriate People
Considering the fact that all of the cruises I’ve taken have been with my family, my parents have always fit the bill for things; however, I do understand the process of it all. At the end of your cruise, make sure to tip those who have made your cruise a joyful experience, after all, once you get back home, there will be no one there to make your bed and turn it down every day, cook your meals, clean up after you, and greet you with a smile at every turn. My tip: Tip your cabin steward, your maĆ®tre d’, your waiter, any good casino dealers (mine usually go to the blackjack dealers), and anyone else who has gone above and beyond and made your cruising experience one you’ll never forget.

So, there are just a few tips I have for a great cruising experience. I have many more but in an effort to keep this post somewhat short, I’ll only give you 5 for now. Keep these in mind when thinking about a cruise. It is a great way to see various parts of the world and being on the ship can be just as fun as being off the ship!!!

For more great tips...go check out one of my favorite blogs by Alyssa!!!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Top Five Things You Must Do in St. Petersburg, Florida

Having spent many of my summer vacations in this lovely city, I have learned many of the ins and outs of St. Petersburg. Not only is it an ideal location for rest and relaxation, but as someone who has vacationed here ever since the age of well, a baby, I have to say…it is a place that is close to my heart.

1. Go to Fort De Soto Beach

Many would say that a beach is a beach, but there’s something special about Fort De Soto. Not only have I found hundreds and hundreds of shells along this beach, but I have built many a sand castles too. It may not be the softest sand, say like, Destin beaches, but it truly is a beautiful beach. My family once found a seahorse bobbing up and down in the water…and it was pregnant! (Side Note: Male seahorses carry the babies…HA)

2. Visit The Pier

Looking much like an upside down pyramid, The Pier is a staple in St. Petersburg. Filled with shops and restaurants, this is a great place to have some excellent food, listen to great music, and look out onto the great Florida water. Many times we have eaten at the Columbia Restaurant before retreating to the top deck and kicking back with a daiquiri and warm breeze, all while listening to a steel drum band…you can’t beat it for a nice night out.

3. Go to the Don Cesar Hotel

Unfortunately, this hotel is a bit out of our price range, but it sure does make for a nice little visit. Drowning in the color of Pepto Bismol pink, this hotel has been a St. Pete attraction for quite a long time. For those of us who can’t afford the lavish stay, a nice jaunt through a few of the shops, a stroll along the pathways leading throughout the hotel, and a gorgeous view of the beach makes for a nice and memorable day.

4. Visit St. Pete Beach

This is just one of the other many beaches I have frequented during my many stays in Florida. Hundreds upon hundreds of photographs have been taken of me in my bathing suit (as a small child of course), building sand castles and splashing in the waves. In all fairness, I do believe this is a much nicer beach, however, if you’re looking for seashells, you’ll have better luck at Fort De Soto Beach.

5. Drive a short way to Busch Gardens in Tampa

This is by far one of my all-time favorite amusement parks in the country. I have done Universal Studios, Disneyworld, Epcot, MGM, Kentucky Kingdom, and many more, but this place is very special to me. Not only do you get the exhilarating rides, which include inverted roller coasters and all-time classics like the Kumba, but you get to see animals, visit the Crown Colony Restaurant (which is the ideal place to go after spending all day in the hot sun because it has AC), and one of our favorite places was Das Festhaus. Apparently, in 2004, it was transformed into ‘Desert Grill,’ but it used to be a German eatery and while you ate, you could watch German dance performances.

So, there you have my friends…my top 5 things to do in St. Petersburg. I have not been back in almost 10 years and it saddens me greatly. I hope to return soon and enjoy all of the great things that I have mentioned above, as well as a few new additions that St. Pete now has for its visitors. I must say, this place is not for everyone; however, it is a great place to stay and relax. Besides, you’re not very far from some excellent amusement parks.