Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

The Big Trip: Bari

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

After leaving Venice with the cruise ship, we cruised through the night towards the south at full speed (we could always check the map and local info on the TV in our cabin). By the next day, after we had breakfast, the ship already reached the main port of Bari, where we took a “powerslide” 😛 and docked with the front facing out of the port.

We were unsure if we really needed to book any excursion provided by the cruise while we were in Bari, since we were so close to the city center. We did not know exactly which way it was, but we knew we were close 🙂 . Anyway, we were informed, that there were buses standing in line to take anyone to and back from the city center at any time while we were docked in Bari for the humble amount of €8.50 (payable of course with our magic MSC Card). We decided to hop onto one of these buses and visit the city on our own.
The bus ride itself took about 5-6 minutes and it left us right at the city center. From there we just had to try and figure out where to go. There were some tourist panels with a map, they just forgot the “You are here” sign from it… (well, we were in southern Italy, so that should not have come as a surprise 😛 ). After some careful examination of the streets around us and on the map, we were able to pinpoint our location and find our first destination: Via Venezia, a very nice pathway around the old city center with a picturesque view of the blue sea surrounding Bari. We followed the path for a while and then turned into the narrow, busy Italian streets to check out how the old city looks like.

We basically admired the main cathedral, Basilica di San Nicola which offered us a bonus: a wedding ceremony was taking place just when we visited, so we could also have a look at how things like this are done in Bari 🙂 . After this we took a few wrong turns among the white houses until we managed to find our way out of the maze, just in front of Castello Normanno-Svevo, an imposing Norman castle built in the 12th century and acting as a nice tourist attraction today. We walked around it, took a few photos and decided we should grab something at the local “gelatteria”-s.

We sat down just across the entrance of the castle to a cosy restaurant, where we were served by a kind old man (probably the owner of the family-shop) with some of the most delicious gelato I ate in Italy. It was really refreshing, especially because according to the street thermometers there were around 40 °C in the sun. After cooling down, we slowly strolled back to the bus stop and went back to the ship.

Every evening on the ship, we had a recommended dress-code after 6 PM. It was not mandatory to wear the indicated clothing, but you could take part. This evening, it was “Italian night”, so we had to wear something red, something white and something green. Well, I wore blue 😛 . Anyway, the atmosphere that evening was very… well, Italian 😀 . The evening show at the theater was all about Italian music, everyone was loud and cheerful and dinner was also all about Italian food, plus some special spices added to it:

This night we even checked out the disco (Liquid Disco on deck 16), where the music was again all Italian. After some partying we were ready to retreat to our cabin, because the next day, another destination awaited us…

I have uploaded some photos here.


The Big Trip: D-Day

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Having settled our expenses in the hotel in Maribor, we were off to Venice, the departure port or our cruise, in no time. It took us a little more than 3 and a half hours to get there, following the lovely Slovenian highways and then the busy Italian ones. One thing to note about the Italian highways, is that these are toll-roads: there is no need to pay a general vignette, but you’ll have to get a ticket when entering them and pay when you get off. For us the toll-machine showed the price of €10.80 when getting off near Venice, so I think it is not as cheap as any of the other Highways.

Upon arriving to the pre-booked parking (P5) at Marco Polo Airport, the barrier automatically opened up as it recognized the license plates (it would have opened up anyway because there were enough free spaces 😛 ) and a ticket was issued. We parked the car at a convenient place, memorized the location (:) ) and headed off with our luggage towards the arrivals terminal, where we could hop on to the ATVO bus bound to Piazzale Roma in Venice. From there we took the People Mover and we got under the MSC flags at the port in no time (some details about how to get there are in my previous post). From there, checking in to the MSC Fantasia was not a quick process. Even though the company does everything to speed things up, the sheer number of passengers (~4000) takes time to get processed, so it is done in steps.
Step 1 – show your boarding pass and drop off your suit-cases: You have to stand at the end of one of the long-long queues and patiently wait until you get up front to show the ticket, get a bunch of welcome papers, and directions about where to leave your luggage and where to continue to proceed with checking in.
Step 2 – MSC Cards: Take the usual (as I was later informed) “on-boarding picture” and carry on to receive your MSC Card, get our ID-picture taken so that they do not loose you anymore ( 😛 ) and get a bunch of more papers about your cruise. After this you also get a bonus walk-through of all the discounts you can get if you buy one of the drinks packages you actually don’t need… no thanks 🙂 .
Step 3 – security: Almost as checking in to an airplane, you have to walk through a metal detector (somewhat lighter version) and then you may proceed to the ship.

When first encountering the MSC Fantasia in it’s full size, I had to stop: It was HUGE… I took a moment to take a video to try and capture this feeling for the future. No more words here, just watch:

After waking up from the initial shock of encountering the ship, the next challenge is to find your room. Everything is well labeled, but still it is a labyrinth. We had a windowless, interior room, on the 12th floor, because we figured we would not stay too much in the cabin during the day (and boy we were right… ). The initial encounter was not bad: everything was well prepared (apart from the Russian (!) language welcome paper, which was cordially switched after we notified it) and very tastefully decorated. Entering the room was possible with our MSC Cards (which we later found that had even more powers 😀 ).

Our luggage did not arrive to our room, yet, so we went to the reception and here… I had to take another video:

There was one more important thing to do at the reception: giving our MSC Cards some more power. This was achievable by going to the reception and ask the man at the desk to fill it up with the amount we payed by cash (minimum of €250 ). After this was done, we had all the power to freely move around and access (almost) all facilities of the ship.

Next stop, was the Zanzibar bar on the 14th floor, where we could take a plate and just fill it up with any kind of food. The selection was huge. And because we were hungry, the pile on the plates got huge, too. It was a nice first meal 😉 . This was the first time we had to use one of our MSC Cards for payment, too: every type of food is free at the buffet, but you have to pay for the beverages (apart from water and the liquid called coffee coming from the machine). The price for a coke (0.33l) was €2.5 plus 15% service charge.

After our delightful lunch, we were ready to take part in the compulsory safety training, so we had to go to our meeting point (indicated by our cards) together with our life-vests (from our room) and listen to the instructions. This was necessary to be done by all guests and we could not leave before this training was done. Once this finished, we were ready to go up to the sun-deck (15th floor) and take part on the departure ceremony. This meant basically a reasonable fight to get to a good position at the side of the ship, wave around (“smile and wave” 😀 ) to the people in Venice and listen to the music selection compiled specifically to this occasion:

By the time the houses of Venice got small enough to be boring, we went back to our cabin, and to our delight, we have found our suitcases already delivered there. This was wonderful news: we could at last get a shower and prepare for the evening show at the theater. We were 2nd seating diners, this meant that the show for us started at 19:45. It was OK, I was not that hungry, yet, anyway… The first show was very interesting: full of acrobatic moves, singing and dancing. It was a lovely 45 minutes, where we first encountered the animator team of the ship also.

The next big event of the day, was the dinner (from 21:00). Dinner on the ship for us meant gourmet-style dining, complete with white dress waiters and words you cannot even pronounce from your menu. All the food was included in the ticket price, so we just had to choose what to eat and eat it. Again, drinking was not free of charge even in the restaurant (which was called “Il Cerchio d’Oro”). Again, we had to use our MSC Cards for water and wine that we wanted to consume during our dinner. The prices were OK: a quite tasty glass of wine was for instance €5.50, plus 15% service charge.

After a tasteful dinner, we were ready to go to bed: it was a long day, with a lot of new things and we already had to be ready for the first destination of the cruise the next day…


The Big Trip

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

While living in Genova, every Sunday (well, almost every… 🙂 ), I used to go out to the port to admire a huge cruise-ship (the largest in the Mediterranean at the time) as it left port at around 6 PM. I always went with a camera (which has very good zoom) and tried to make close-up photos of what life could be like on the ship. Well… I could not get much out from outside I must admit… Anyway, I decided, that when I had the chance, I would book a trip on it, to find out directly what life could be like on such a ship.
MSC Fantasia
Time has passed since then (around 5 years): the cruise-ship, MSC Fantasia, is not the biggest in the Mediterranean anymore and it follows a different circuit then back then but my will to get on it never faded 🙂 . Sooo… having quite the adequate occasion (got married 😀 ), I decided to book a 7-day trip on the ship and enjoy our Honeymoon on a cruise. To book a voyage on such a ship, I had to apply for the help of a tourism-agency, so that part was taken care of quite easily. We chose a 7-day trip in the Eastern-Mediterranean in the end of September starting from and returning to Venice.

I did not ask, however, for anything else from the agency. I wanted to arrange everything else myself (as I usually do 🙂 ).
So first thing’s first: how to get there on time? Well from Cluj, there are mainly 2 options: by plane or by car. By plane getting to Venice is not very easy, as there are no daily flights between the two cities, so additionally to the plane tickets, we would have needed to take into account hotel stays also in Venice. This would not have been such a bad idea, if we had not visited Venice already
The second option is of course: by car. This was not such a relaxing option, but if I counted with a 2 day trip (one way) with staying at a hotel somewhere in the middle, it did not seem to be such a bad idea… It also had the added value of no limits with our luggage… So the decision has been made: get to Venice in a 2 day trip by car and get back again following the same route.
The plan was ready. But what about the details? Well, one important detail was: what to do with the car once we get there? After some Google-ing around, I found the long term parking at Venice Airport to offer the best prices. You can book ahead (I used the license plate recognition system) and get a discounted price.
Getting from there to the ship terminal was the same as if you had arrived by plane: jump up to the ATVO line which leaves every 30 minutes and in about 20 minutes it gets you to Piazzale Roma. The ticket costs €6.00 (one way, because a two way ticket is only valid for 7 days). From Piazzale Roma, you can get a ticket on the fancy People Mover (€1.30 one way trip) and get to the ship terminal). Actually there is a detailed guide about how to get there on this website.

The next important detail was: what places to choose as stopping points on the two way trips? Well on the “to”-trip we needed a place close enough to Venice, but not too far from Cluj. For this I chose a location I already knew: the Slovenian town of Maribor. In Maribor I chose also a hotel that I knew very well: hotel Orel, which is basically in the city center, offers free parking and has a decent price. On the return trip the location was Budapest, just cuz we were familiar with it, too.

So there you have it. The plan ready made, we just had to try and follow the checkpoints in a journey which took us 10 days and I will write about it in the following posts.


Islands of Venice

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

While in Venezia, we have dedicated half a day to visiting two islands near the main island: Murano and Burano.
Murano is famous for its glass making industry. Basically the island is full of small workshops owned by different families specializing in artistic glass production. Getting to Murano is quite simple: ACTV, the local transportation agency, operates some ferry lines to the island (~10-15 minutes). We used number 12, which stops at the light-tower of Murano every 40 minutes. From there on one can follow the pathways among the channels, that split the island into smaller pieces (connected by bridges), where there is a line of shops with different glass-based decorative items. Some of them are funny, some of them just amazing and some about which I have no idea how on Earth they could make it.

There is also a glass-museum in Murano, which is part of Musei Civici Venezia group (MUVE), hence our Museum Pass was valid and we could enter. One thing to note about the museum: although in some places it says that it is closed on Wednesday, we have actually payed a visit on Wednesday. Also on the official site it says nothing about being closed on Wednesday.
Our route took from Murano to Burano, a smaller island to the north, about 20-25 minute boat ride from Murano (again, with route no. 12). Burano is an interesting place to visit due to its colorful houses and it’s lace production. As in Murano, here too, there are a lot of shops, but instead of glasses, people are selling lace.
The lace museum of Burano is also part of the MUVE group, so we have payed a visit. It is not a big museum, but it features a movie at the entrance which tells the story of lace production in Burano. Also on the second floor there was a group of women working with laces. I have no idea whether they were part of the “decorations” or just working there, but it was a good opportunity to have a look at how laces are made.

Originally we planned to eat lunch at one of the islands, however, I think we would have received the same food for a bit more money as in Venezia. For that reason we decided to head back to the main island and continue our tour there.

The islands conclude our two and a half day visit to Venezia, so my stories about the trip will end here. I think visiting Venezia is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so nobody should miss it out, if they have the chance to visit. Some pictures of the trip can be found here.


A few days in Venice (part 2)

Monday, March 12th, 2012

So what else is important about Venezia, that should be written down? Well, one thing I had to take into account when planning the trip, was where, what and for how much can we eat? I have calculated with an average of €15 per person per meal (yes, it was a low-cost menu) and I must say, the estimation was not that far from reality.
Venezia Gondole
A meal in Venezia can range from the €4.50 Involitos (a type of sandwich) to €40 full course meals. It depends on what you desire and what are your standards. For us it was more like trying to get the taste of Italian food, and not to go and get fancy dining. There are tons of restaurants in the main island (and not only) so there is a quite big variety of places to choose from. At many locations a “kind” (bit pushy) gentleman invites (in all possible languages) the tourists passing by to have lunch or dinner, so I guess there is no way one can get out of the city without a stuffed stomach. It does not really matter whether you are in a central position or not, the prices are really similar at the Rialto Bridge, in a small alley near Piazza San Marco or the seaside. I have seen, however, that the prices are a bit higher on the islands, especially Burano. Of course if you do not want to taste Italian food, then there is the possibility to get to the only fast-food-restaurant chain that took hold on the main island: McDonald’s. They will surely offer the same food people all over the world are used to and at reasonable price.

When you want to see so many places in such a short time period, you will surely not eat that much. For example on one of the days, our lunch was a simple Involito which we ate along the way between two museums. Speaking of museums, there is on more type of museum which is pretty popular in Venezia: entrance to some of the 17th century palaces among Canal Grande. Unfortunately they are closed on specific days of the week (each one on a different day) so plan your visit carefully. We only managed to visit Ca’ Rezzonico (which was closed on Tuesdays) but I guess most houses display the same values as this one. On several floors a typical rich Venetian palace is presented in Ca’ Rezzonico, the rooms ranging from large galleries to bedrooms. Also, from the upper floors of the house there is a beautiful view of the Grand Canal.

GondolaFinally I have left one of the main attractions of Venezia: the Gondolas. As I have written in the previous post, there is quite a number of gondolas in the main island some quite nice, some a bit old looking and dusty. Make sure, however, that you do get on a gondola and not on a Sandolo which is a simpler version of it, but not the real deal 🙂 .
A gondola ride usually cost €100 (for around half an hour), but one can negotiate the price to €80 (for which we got a ride of about 20-25 minutes). The gondolier we went with spoke fluent English and took us near historic buildings like the house where Casanova lived, a house where the German poet, Goethe lived and some other important buildings. We mostly went along the narrow canals, where I must say I was amazed by the skills of the gondolier: you can bet on the fact that the gondola will not even touch another boat or any of the walls. Our gondola ride ended with a short trip among the Grand Canal after which we were taken back to the initial starting point. In my opinion it was one of the highlights of our stay, so if you’re in Venezia, you cannot skip this, even if it seems a bit pricy.