OBE

Overcome By Events (OBE).

That’s my excuse for why I’ve been MIA from this blog forever two weeks. After the terrible events at the Boston Marathon last Monday, and the horrible explosion in West, Texas, I decided to take a little break from blogging. Being a runner, what happened in Boston really hit home and my heart goes out to all of those affected. I took some time to hug my puppy a little tighter; even though he really doesn’t like it, and ended up biting me and jump kicking me running away. I spent some time with the husband and friends, and did some crafting therapy to snap me out of my funk.

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I’m still working on that Florence post, but in the meantime, check out these interesting posts about travel:

Ten Tips for Smoother Travel – This is one of my favorite DIY blogs. This dynamic duo has been traveling around the US (and then some) promoting their new DIY Book and they have a few great tips on how to make travel easy, breezy.

Rome Travel: Why You Should Skip the Colosseum. Forget the Vatican Too. – When this article showed up on my Twitter feed, I was pretty shocked by the title. What do you mean, ‘Skip the Colosseum?!’, but once I read through it, I wished I had seen it before our Italy tripCondé Nast Traveler put together a list of sites to see instead of the typical tourist jaunts like the Colosseum and the Vatican. While I don’t necessarily agree that you should miss the big sites, the ones offered in this article provide good, alternative sightseeing off the beaten path. I think if you were spending some extra time in Rome, or if you were making a return trip, that these should be on your must see list.

London’s Secret Small Hotels – This post has a few hotels (some a little more affordable than others) that never came across my radar when we were searching for places to stay last December or this past March. Check them out as a different alternative to your everyday chain hotel.

If there are any runners out there, I’d love to hear how you stay in shape while traveling.  Hope everyone has a great weekend! 

*The YHL book link above is an affiliate link, and will not cost you anything extra.*

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Sweepstakes: Condè Nast Readers’ Choice Survey

Conde Nast 2013 Sweepstakes

Source: Condè Nast Traveler

I just started following Condè Nast Traveler on Twitter this week and saw they were offering an awesome trip package in exchange for hearing readers’ travel experiences. They want to hear what you have to say about the cities, islands, resorts, airlines, hotels, spas and cruise ships you’ve experienced in the past year.

The Sweepstakes ends April 30th, 2013, so head on over to their website to enter to win a Grand Prize of a 3-night stay at the One&Only Palmilla in Los Cabos, Mexico and a First Prize trip to Australia for a a 3-night stay at Qualia. Honestly, both trips sound amazing and I’ve only heard great things about both locations.

Beware, the survey is a little long if you’ve been to more than 2-3 places over the past year. Good luck!

Are Los Cabos, Mexico or Australia on your future trips list?

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with or being compensated by Condè Nast Traveler to talk about this sweepstakes. I just wanted to share this awesome chance to win a great vacation.

Venice: The City of Canals and Crepes

 

I’m surprised my Type-A self was able to wait until November to buy plane tickets for our trip in March. I’m so glad I did though, because by about that time prices had dropped $200 from their price a few weeks earlier. I knew it was the right time to buy, so our group of six met to book the flights and apartments. We used Airbnb.com for the apartment rentals and CheapOAir.com for the airfare.

Both the out and back flights had layovers in London. We had a 12+ hour layover in London on the way to Venice, but had to switch from Heathrow Airport to Gatwick. What do you do with that much time in a city? Not much when your flight gets in late and you don’t actually get into the city until 9:30pm on a Sunday.  We decided to get an inexpensive hotel room; just somewhere to stash our bags and maybe sleep for a few hours. We had dinner at a little Indian restaurant Bryan and I ate at during our December London trip (more on that in another post). After dinner, pretty much everything was closed down and there wasn’t anything to do but head back to the hotel.

When we got back to the hotel, we asked the front desk to book a taxi to pick us up early and drive by each of the sights so we could at least see them and take some pictures. We went back to the room, took showers and slept for a few hours before getting picked up and driven to Gatwick.

The drive there wasn’t too bad and it only took about 45 minutes. One thing I’ve noticed about international airports is that their check-in and security process is way faster than in the states. Our flight from Gatwick to Venice was short and uneventful. I slept for the entire thing and only woke up to see the Swiss Alps out my window.  We landed around 10:30am Venice time, got our bags and made our way to the water taxi booth. Based on some of the information I read before we left, there were a couple options for getting to Venice: bus, the Alilaguna, or a private water taxi. The bus is a good option if you don’t have much luggage; this wouldn’t work for us because we each had a bag or two. The Alilguana was cheaper than the private water taxi, but from what I had read, it’s often crowded and takes longer. We chose the private water taxi because it was just a few euro more than the other options and it would only take about 30 minutes to get within a block of our apartment. There was a desk right outside of baggage claim with a few companies to choose from. I don’t remember which one we used, but they all had the same prices listed.

We were dropped off on the opposite side of the Rialto Bridge from our apartment. It was a bitch little difficult getting our bags over the steps on the bridge, but we made it and eventually found our apartment after getting a lot little lost in the windy, tiny streets of Venice. Our apartment was on a great little side street, right by the Rialto Market, and just as it was pictured online. Everyone had their own room and it was super clean, which made my germaphobe heart sing. The only downside was the listing said it had two bathrooms, which I took to mean that it had two showers, but it only ended up having one shower and two toilets. It ended up being fine and we made it work.

 

After we got settled, we walked around by the Grand Canal. It was around 1pm and it was pretty deserted. A gondolier was cleaning his boat and asked if we wanted a ride offering to take us all for 80€. It was reasonable price, similar to what I had seen online, so we decided to go for it. The gondola ride was really nice. Our gondolier stayed mostly on the ‘side streets’, and it was really nice how quiet it was.

We did a little more walking after our gondola ride and stumbled upon what just happened to be one of my favorite things the entire trip. Nutella Crepes. Now, this may come as a shock to some of you, but I’ve never had Nutella in my life. Ever. I know…talk about deprived. I watched the vendor make a crepe for someone else and it looked amazing, so I ponied up the 3.50€ for the little slice of heaven. And let me tell you, this guy knew how to make the perfect crepe. Like party in my mouth, dance around the plaza like a fool amazingness. During the twoish days we were in Venice, I think I had at least five and I’m kicking myself for not having more. Seriously. I want to go back to Venice just to have another crepe. He’s in the Campo Santo Stefano by the Rialto Bridge. Make him a visit and you won’t be disappointed.

After gorging myself on crepes, we found a table at one of those tourist-trap-of-a-restaurants right on the water. The sun was shining, it was warm out and we were starving, so we caved and ordered three pizzas to share and a carafe of wine. The pizza was sub-par, but the wine was good. We walked around a little more, checked out some shops and headed back to the apartment. As soon as Bryan and I got to our room, we were out like a light. The rest of the group stayed up and went out to a lackluster dinner.

 

The next day, we got a pastry at one of the bakeries near our apartment and headed over to St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco). As we read in a few guide books, it was packed that early in the day, so we took a stroll down by the water. We checked out the Bridge of Sighs, took pictures in front of the naval museum’s huge anchor and found a really cute park to wander through.

 

On our way back, we found a decent restaurant to have lunch with a really nice maitre’d. The food was ok and the price wasn’t bad either. After lunch, we headed back to St. Mark’s, which was empty, and made our way through the church. St. Mark’s has beautiful mosaic work and a great view of the plaza from the second floor balcony. We were going to climb the bell tower next, but the line was kind of long, so we opted out.

Instead we got some gelato (and maybe another crepe or two) and started wandering around Venice. We got pretty turned around, but to be honest, you really can’t get lost because the island is so small. We thought about trying to take one of the boats to Lido, Murano, or Burano, but everyone was so tired at that point that we decided to just head back to the apartment. On the way, we found this little ‘dive bar’ looking place that had a Happy Hour sign in the door with a buy one, get one special for 8€. There’s always time for drinks. Count me in.

This bar was so amazing that they gave us all a free shot before we left. Yes, please. I would definitely go back there if I ended up back in Venice. We were actually pretty upset we didn’t find this place sooner.  We hung out at that bar until about 7pm or so and headed back to the apartment to get ready for dinner. On the way we stopped at a little shop and got some wine and booze for later that night. Dinner was an utter and abysmal failure. I don’t even want to post about it because it was honestly that bad. The food was meh and the service/treatment was so horrible that I seriously considered leaving without paying. Yep. That bad. Don’t be like me…plan your Venice restaurants very carefully. Do research your and then some.

After dinner we got some more gelato. Yes, more. Unfortunately the crepe guy was closed for the night. I may or may not have almost cried. We went back to the jazz bar we were at earlier to get some more drinks. By that point in the night, the crowd had changed and pretty much every person in the closet of a bar turned to look at us as if we had ‘TOURISTS!’ tattooed on our heads. We found a table in the back, had a drink, and got the heck outta there.

Back in the apartment we listened to some music, and played card games.  We called it quits around midnight to rest up for the train to Florence the next day.

We were all packed and ready to go by 8am, so we took one last stroll through the shops to get some final souveniers. I probably should have bought something, but I was too busy smearing Nutella all over my face from those delicious crepes. Yep. Everyone else shopped and Bryan and I stuffed our faces. We took the Vaporetti Line 2 on the other side of the Rialto Bridge to the train station and hopped on the 9:38am train to Florence. There was a small delay (about 15 minutes) and we ran into a little hiccup with the seating arrangements. Apparently they don’t really assign seats to everyone in your party; only a few people. Strange, right? A couple of our tickets basically said that someone was standing in the aisle. That was their seat. Luggage was also an issue. There was zero room to put larger bags, like none. Luckily, the train ended up being fairly empty and we all had seats near each other and we used an entire aisle to put our bags in. The whole experience kind of ticked me off because we ended up buying first class seats based on Rick Steeve’s suggestion just so we could get seats. Fail. But at least we got free beverages and a little snack.

Overall, the train ride was uneventful. Less scenic than I was hoping, but that just left more time for reading and sleeping. Venice was a beautiful city, and I’m glad we went, but I won’t put it on my ‘places to go back to’ list.

Next up…Florence!

Have you been to Venice? Would you go back?

Sweepstakes: Volvo Road Trip of a Lifetime

Volvo Road Trip of a Lifetime

I was reading through my email this morning and came across an email from Volvo about their Road Trip of a Lifetime Sweepstakes. Volvo flies you and a guest out to the Volvo Factory, gives you a facility tour, and then lets you drive one of their cars around Western and Southern Sweden. The sweepstakes is promoting their Oversees Delivery Program. I first heard about this last year from Kevin and Amanda’s Blog. Amanda was lucky enough to be contacted by Volvo and given the chance to experience the prizes in this giveaway. You can read about her experience here.

Funny enough, a few weeks after reading her recap I found myself heading to Sweden for work. I didn’t get that much extra time to explore Sweden, but what I did see definitely made me interested in exploring more of that area of the world. I have a draft post for my Sweden trip waiting for some final edits, but in the meantime, take a look at what this contest has to offer.

I chose the Volvo XC60, because I’m dying to buy an SUV so Gus has a comfy ride around town. Yep, I want a bigger car just for my dog…he’s a beast! As you step through the website, it guides you through selecting activities for each day that you add to your itinerary. You can also pick one of the pre-planned itineraries based on your interests. While the pre-planned itineraries looked amazing, I ended up wanting a mix of of historical, culinary and outdoors activities. My final itinerary looked like this:

DAY 1

SAS TRAVEL DAY

Stay at: The Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel

DAY 2

PICK UP VOLVO

  • Volvo Factory Delivery Center
  • Volvo Cars Brand Experience Center
  • Volvo Café and Shop
  • The Volvo Museum

DAY 3 & 4

WEST SWEDEN

Stay at: Bjertorp Slott
Activities:

DAY 5 & 6

SKÅNE (SOUTH SWEDEN)

Stay at: Ystad Saltsjöbad
Activities:

Map of my Sweden Itinerary

Map of my Sweden Itinerary

Good luck if you enter!

Have you been to Sweden before, or would winning this contest be your first time there? What do you think would be your favorite part of the trip?

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with or being compensated by Volvo to talk about this giveaway. I just wanted to share this awesome chance to road trip around a really cool part of the world.