Category Archives: Italy

cruise ships off of Santorini ccImage courtesy of Nunavut on Flickr

Escape with Mediterranean Cruises in 2014

If you ask any seasoned travel expert what the most popular cruise destination is, chances are they will tell you that it is the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean has long held this esteemed position in the cruising world, and it does not look like it is going to give up its reign any time soon. Sure, some people are more inclined to go cruising in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, preferring sunny deck chairs and umbrella drinks to Europe’s historic landmarks and ancient port cities.

cruise ships off of Santorini ccImage courtesy of Nunavut on Flickr

Not every traveller wants a cultural holiday, and sometimes the frivolity of sun, sand and surf is exactly what the doctor ordered. On the other hand, not everyone likes the beach and blazing ninety-degree days. For them, a two-week trip to the tropics is like a journey through the rings of Dante’s Inferno. In the end, the Mediterranean has more diversity, and this is what makes the region such a huge draw.  There are some great deals on Mediterranean Cruises. Give them a look over if you’re planning on visiting the Mediterranean, you might find a suitable package faster than you’d think.

So Many Countries, So Little Time

The Mediterranean not only offers abundant amounts of sunshine and tranquil waters, but you will have the chance to get your passport stamped in numerous countries. Many of the world’s best tourist sites are located in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean. In a sense, the Med is like a highlight reel of the best that Europe has to offer. Whether you are embarking on a honeymoon or taking the kids on their first European holiday, cruising is an organized and affordable way to see the sites. From romantic Venice and Felliniesque Rome to glitzy Monte Carlo and Barcelona, cruising is the easiest way to see the world.

The Western and Eastern Med

Spain, Portugal, France and Italy are the major countries in the Western Mediterranean, and these countries have some of the busiest cruise ports in the world. What makes the Western Med so popular? There are stunning beaches, glamorous ports of call and all of the big sightseeing attractions are easily accessible. In other words, one day you are sunbathing in Nice and gambling in Monaco, and the next day you are visiting the Trevi Fountain in Rome. In the Mediterranean, diversity is the number one attractions.

Cruising in Style ccImage courtesy of Theo0023 on Flickr

While the Western Mediterranean may be more popular amongst travellers, the Eastern Med is not without its charms, especially if you want to beat the crowds in the middle of summer. Highlights in the east include Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Malta and Croatia. The beach resorts in the east are more laid-back that their western counterparts, and the cities, although less travelled, are every bit as magical. If you have never climbed aboard a cruise ship or visited the Mediterranean, make 2014 the year of the cruise.

bed-bug-bite-picture

How to Not Have Bedbugs Eat You Alive

Ughhhh! Bedbugs! When I used to manage the hostels in Hawaii, we had a few run ins with bedbugs. Travelers coming down in the morning with bites covering their entire bodies. In some cases we would throw out all the mattresses on an entire floor, fumigate, and then re-open the rooms to travelers.

In fact though, not all hostels take bed bugs so seriously or even know how to deal with them. I realize, that because of my quick jaunt to Morocco to see my wife, things are out of sequence here, but this is important enough to let you know about a quick trip I took to Rome. I figured that Rome in winter would be an easy place to find accommodations, but I was wrong. Rome is always filled with people. My first choice in hostel was booked full. (and apparently so were all the couchsurfing hosts since even Roman friends of mine were packed with guests and couldn’t host me), so the first rule is to book ahead in Rome. I hate to do it too, but I think it’s essential.

bedbugs in Rome
The first hostel sent me to their sister property where I hadn’t read the reviews on Hostelworld. The Hotel Beautiful seemed like a great place, except in the night when I started to itch. I had looked at the mattress before checking in, but the mattress was black and I thought to myself, huh, maybe that keeps the bedbugs away. Wrong! I woke up feeling itchy but not seeing the bites yet. Luckily, I had put my bags on hard surfaces away from the beds, so none of the critters could hitchhike. A hot shower and a change of clothes and I was out of there.

Later, after finding other hostels full, I accepted the offer of the Hotel Beautiful 2 and thought, I’ll rent a private room and relax a bit. Within minutes of lying in the bed, I found, guess what, a bedbug biting my hand. They work fast, I wasn’t there twenty minutes and my right hand was covered with bites. This time, I hadn’t checked the mattress and I’m itching myself for it. both hands and my neck were covered with more than sixty bites. Again, my bag and clothes were on a hard surface away from the bed, this time I think it was the pillow that housed the buggers judging by the bites on hand and neck and face.

I grabbed my things and went to the desk to complain. “But it was just fumigated last week!” she told me. Later, on trip advisor, I saw more than a few complaints about bed bugs for this dump. I asked them to find me a different accommodation but the best they would do was give me a refund and send me out in the street. If you have aninfestation of bedbugs, for christ sake throw out the pillows!

Finally, after wandering the streets of Rome in the dark and finding nearly everything booked because of a coming festival and a rugby match, I checked into the Hotel Charter, a two star place that deserved three for their magnificently redone bathrooms, incredibly comfortable beds, and great staff. The price was out of my budget but they dropped it to 45 euros per night which i was glad to pay. A scalding shower, my clothes into a plastic bag, and myself in the clean, new sheets on a great mattress with no bug signs.

I would have preferred paying 90 Euros for two nights there than the 20 and 35 I paid at the bed bug hostels. The moral of the story is twofold. In Rome, book ahead and read the reviews on HostelWorld and on Trip Advisor.

The nightmare of every traveler is to become afflicted by bedbugs. In recent years even some of the top hotels in the world have suffered infestations of these nasty little creatures. Many people think you only find them in dirty or cheap hotels, but the truth is, they can be found anywhere. However, you find them in the cheap places more often than the quality ones. Don’t worry though, learn from my bad experience and miss out on this awful travel nightmare.

With a few easy precautions you can make sure to keep them out of your life. First of all read the independent reviews of hotels you plan to stay at using third party sites like Trip Advisor. If there are bedbugs there, someone will have mentioned it. While it is possible to get rid of infestations, it’s difficult, so your best bet is to avoid places where bed bugs are mentioned.

Once you check into the hotel, you want to also check the room and the beds for signs of the pests. Pull the bedding off the mattress and look for the black eggs or reddish marks left by bedbugs. The eggs are usually in the seams and look like black sand or coffee grounds. Don’t put your luggage on the bed or couch. Use the luggage rack or hard furniture instead. Pull the headboard from the wall and look for the exoskeletons which have been molted. Don’t forget to check the box spring seams too!
bed bugs suck
If there are bedbugs, the chances are that you will see some sign of them (but if the mattress is black, beware!) . One last thing, when you get back home, be sure to unpack on a hard, light colored surface (even the bathtub!) just in case you managed to pick up a hitch-hiker. You wouldn’t want him to get in your bed!

If I had followed my own advice, I wouldn’t be so itchy right now. Sometimes a little planning makes a big difference. Plan ahead using the Vagobond Hostel Planner. or better yet, find a luxury hotel in Rome

Venice Italy

Five Free Things To Do In Venice

For anyone heading to Italy, Venice will probably be one of the first destinations that you aim for. A historical maritime trading republic cloaked (literally) in golden opulence, Venice’s “golden age” in the late middle ages and early modern period left it endowed with a unique legacy of neo-classical bronze artwork and architecture. It is this legacy that still continues to astound millions on a yearly basis. 

Unfortunately, this attractive wealth and prestige means that Venice can end up as a very expensive place to visit for the uninformed. However, you don’t necessarily need the bank balance of a Doge to enjoy the city if you know what you are looking for. Here are five of the best Venetian attractions that are absolutely free to visit and explore.

Ghetto Ebraico di Venezia

Venice Italy
One of the lesser known parts of Venice, the historical Jewish ghetto still forms the hub of Orthodox culture in the city. Exclusively home to Venice’s Semitic population between 1516 and 1797, the series of enclosed squares offers an authentic look at the traditional Venice that many feel has been lost in some of the more “touristy” areas. The five synagogues are well worth visiting, and Kosher restaurants abound for those so inclined. Please remain respectful while visiting; the area is still very much an active neighbourhood, and the Shabbat (Friday evening and most of Saturday) is almost universally observed.

Basilica di San Marco

Although many churches in Venice increasingly charge for entry, the iconic early twelfth century St. Mark’s Basilica remains completely free to visit. The spectacular Italo-Byzantine façade and soaring, elaborate exterior arches mark out the cathedral as one of the finest examples of classic Catholic architecture in existence. Inside and outside, the famous golden mosaics, latticework and painted domes provide visitors with a glimpse into a world of beautiful religious artefacts and artwork. Please keep in mind cultural concerns, in that you must be what the Catholic church considers “dressed respectably” to visit. Bare shoulders or limbs (above the cuff or lower leg) are generally forbidden for religious reasons.

Rialto Bridge

rialto bridge venice
A trip to this iconic building should be added to every traveller’s list of necessities (amongst travel insurance and so on.) The symmetrical white clad stone structure is instantly recognisable, and is considered one of Italy’s finest examples of late renaissance design. Built in 1591 to bridge the districts of San Marco and San Polo, the Ponte di Rialto gives (and contributes to) fantastic views of the heavily trafficked, world famous Grand Canal.

San Giorgio Maggiore

This small, unassuming island lagoon houses some of Venice’s best known landmarks. The seventeenth century church gives the island its name, and the striking marble façade is well worth seeing. It is also worth making time to take a good look at St. Mark’s Campanile. One of the defining symbols of Venice, the bell tower and clock mechanism are available for viewing if you pre-book a guided tour.

La Zecca (The Mint)

venice italy
The historical mint of Venice may not immediately strike you, but it is one of Venice’s best kept secrets. The mint served from the sixteenth century as Venice’s main source of currency, and the elaborate, rich decoration that remains in place is reflective of that former status. Often home to special exhibitions, the building now houses most of the main reading rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana.