A Long Weekend in Venice, Italy

Venice is actually a city that spans 118 small islands located in the Venetian Lagoon, an enclosed bay that sits between the mouths of the Po and the Piave rivers.  The canals that separate the islands are spanned by over 400 bridges, but Venice is so much more than bridges and canals.

If you aren’t fond of crowds, the best time to see Venice is during the low season. There are fewer crowds, prices are lower, and best of all there are no lines. Even parking on the island is cheaper during the low season. On our long weekend stay in Venice, we were able to walk right into the splendor of St. Mark’s Basilica, one of the best-known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. And without crowds, the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square were excited to see us as we posed for photos holding the birds.

While some of the restaurants in the city are closed during the low season, many of the local dining options are still open, giving you a better glimpse into daily life for Venetians, and a delightful sampling of local pizza, pasta, Limoncello and Aperol. Dining in a local establishment can be a more accurate taste of what the culture and food are about. Authentic recipes often include ingredients that tourist spots do not invest in so the real food is missed. Some of the local pubs even have local musicians performing in the evenings.

Many stores have significant low season sales on leather bags, clothing, purses, perfume, and even some of the high-end couture featured during Venice’s annual Fashion Week. Shops like Nardi in St. Mark’s Square feature beautiful jewel-encrusted Moretto brooches, a wide variety of wearable jewelry, decorative trinket boxes, and silverware in the traditional sense, which includes candelabras and other dinner table accouterments. Stop in and look around even if you have no intention to buy! The treasures are sure to delight your inner prince or princess. The Fondaco dei Tedeschi serves as a high-end shopping mall for designer wear, restaurants and free art shows in its top floor space. Be sure to check out the spectacular views from the roof terrace! The back alleyways house many small stalls and shops that have vendors looking for clients. Stop in, make conversation and see what they have to offer. You can probably bargain for a lower price if you are friendly about it!  

A short ferry ride will take you to nearby Murano and Burano Islands where you will find a myriad of things to explore. Murano is famous for its glass factories and gelato while Burano is home to colorful buildings and shops with amazingly intricate lacework. Murano glass can be seen in the big shops and factories but we prefer to wander into the small shops and see what the individual glass blowers were working on right then. Some were making huge abstract art and others were working with tweezers to fashion Christmas ornaments. If you are purchasing glass souvenirs, make sure they have the official “Murano Glass” trademark, as foreign-made cheap knock-offs are plentiful.

Burano is a storybook island with picturesque buildings in every color of the rainbow, and then some. Stores here display a wispy array of spectacular and beautiful lace, tablecloths and napkins, curtains and even dresses and clothing. Take the time to enjoy a coffee or gelato and watch the world go by or watch a local artisan at their craft.

No visit to Venice is complete without a boat ride in the canals.  Whether it is in a classic black gondola, or up and down the main canal, be sure to take daytime and nighttime rides in order to experience the strikingly different views. While the daytime tour allows you to appreciate the details of the architecture, a nighttime tour brings the energy of the city to life as the lights twinkle on the water around you. If you’re looking for a “Bargain Tour” check out the Vaporetto, a local water bus that slowly takes passengers from point to point through the city. It’s an inexpensive and fantastic way to tour the Grand Canal, riding from the lagoon, past the Rialto Bridge, all the way to the train station. Regardless of how you spend your day, make sure to be at the pier point for sunset. Get there early and bring a bottle of wine and your camera. Locals and tourists alike gather and this is the location where many iconic photos of Venice have been taken as it’s a favorite of professional photographers and Instagrammers from around the world.

Venice has been captured in thousands of images, films and books, but nothing can beat exploring this ancient city in person by foot and by boat, making memories that will last forever. Endless Travel can help make your gondola riding dreams a reality, so call us today.


Recommended reading:

Dead Lagoon by Michael Dibdin, Candide by Voltaire, and Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

Guatemala – Land of Eternal Spring

By Alison Barnes

This past January, I had the opportunity to travel to the beautiful country of Guatemala in Central America. Why Guatemala? First, a little history… In Summer 2018, I was in Cabo San Lucas researching hotels and met a fellow travel advisor from Guatemala. The pictures, stories and enthusiasm he shared about his country were contagious and I was determined to visit and experience Guatemala firsthand. Fast-forward to January 2019, and a colleague and I were on our way to Guatemala, also known as the Land of Eternal Spring.

We spent our first night at the AC Hotel by Marriott in the city. We had a gorgeous view of the bustling city from our ultra modern room. The next morning, we left early to avoid traffic and started our tour of the countryside. On our way, we stopped for a traditional Guatemalan breakfast of cheese-stuffed tortillas, beans and fried plantains along with a steaming cup of sipping chocolate.

Our first stop was the small village of Chichicastenango (ChiChi) for shopping in the local market. It was mid-morning and already bustling with residents and a few tourists. Everything you could imagine was on display in blocks and blocks of booths manned by entire families selling their handmade and homegrown goods. The colors and weaves of the clothing differed depending on the village they were from. Vibrant reds, pinks, blues and even black mixed with all of the colors of fruits, veggies and spices made for a fantastic sensory display! Negotiating is encouraged when purchasing, but we did not feel any pressure to buy.

After a refreshing cup of papaya, mango and pineapple, we continued through local villages until we arrived at Lake Atitlan, one of the crown jewels of Guatemala. It is

Guatemalan Market

the largest lake in Central America in a volcanic valley basin. The lake is surrounded by small villages, each with its own culture and traditions, with Mayan and Spanish influences. There is no road connecting villages around the lake, but you can take water taxis to each one for a unique experience. We stayed at the lakefront Hotel Posada Don Rodrigo in Panajachel (Pana) where the afternoon was spent in a hammock with a drink and a snack. That evening, we listened to the waves lapping at the shore while watching the sunset. Ready for more adventure, the next day we ventured onto the lake in kayaks. Once on the lake, we felt the true enormity of the landscape; surrounded on three sides by towering, extinct volcanoes and green, terraced-farmed mountains opposite. Just like the village before, Pana was filled with the warm, friendly faces of the Guatemalan people. In addition, and true to its claim of the Land of Eternal Spring, the weather was gorgeous—cool in the morning and evening with a nice warm-up during the day. The majority of the restaurants were open air and the food is full of flavor, yet not spicy. A daily afternoon coffee and dessert kept us going for a later dinner at a taco stand along the main street.

The next morning, we said goodbye to Pana and arrived in Antigua, one of the more popular tourist destinations. Antigua qualifies as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) city by the World Heritage Convention (WHO) for its cultural, economic, religious, political and educational influences in Guatemala. As a UNESCO city, Antigua is full of a variety of museums, activities, tours, restaurants, markets and experiences.

We checked into our hotel, Hotel Camino Real. The interior reveals beautiful, lush courtyards with fountains, flowers and luxury accommodations. However, sunsets in Antigua are an event not to be missed. The first part of the evening was spent at Cerro San Cristobal (with coffee and dessert, of course) watching the sun set behind one of Guatemala’s active volcanoes, Fuego. During our time in Antigua, we actually heard Fuego “talking” a bit with small booms and puffs of smoke—quite a unique sound for someone from the Rocky Mountains!

 

Guatemalan Countryside
Guatemalan Countryside

The following day, we took advantage of the cultural offerings of Santo Domingo del Cerro Museum and Sculpture Garden. What a gem! We enjoyed the peaceful displays both inside and out. They also had an exhibit of influential Guatemalan artists through the country’s history including the artist who designed and decorated many of the government buildings we saw in Guatemala City. We had lunch at the museum’s restaurant, El Tenedor del Cerro, that included a lovely view of Antigua’s hillsides. Another highlight of Antigua was a visit to Filadelfia Coffee Resort  &  Tours.   The  tour was informative and included a tasting of freshly dried, roasted and brewed coffee. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and explained how the volcanic soil lends to a unique flavor of the coffee in Guatemala. I think they may have created a coffee aficionado!

After Antigua, it was back to Guatemala City for a night on the town with dinner and dancing! After seeing the Mayan and Spanish influences in the country and so much history in Antigua, it was wonderful to see the connection in the city. Guatemala’s history, people and landscape now hold a permanent place in my heart, and I am anxious to return. Next up—the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala. Who’s with me?! Call Endless Travel to book your experience to Guatemala or any of your travel needs!

Antigua Sunset

 

 

Cinque Terre, The Five Lands

The area known in Cinque Terre, a series of five villages along the Italian Riviera northwest of Florence, is mentioned in documents dating as far back as the 11th century.  Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore and the coastline connecting them make up the Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Limoni
The little path that winds down
along the slope plunges through cane-tufts
and opens suddenly into the orchard
among the moss-green trunks
of the lemon trees.
— Nobel Laureate in Literature, Eugenio Montale, 1921

While Montale originally trekked to the village on foot, these days there is a train from La Spezia that will take you to any of the five villages within a half an hour. Even if you have a car, it is recommended that you park in La Spezia and take the train the rest of the way, as the mountain roads are often only one lane, and the main road stops about a kilometer from Vernazza. Walking the historic trails, however, is something not to be skipped. The walking (and biking) paths spider web across the area, connecting the villages and surrounding sights.  Plan for a multiple day visit to give yourself enough time to walk through the vineyards and olive orchards, to trek between villages, and just to explore.

While many of the trails are perfect for a short walk, for some of the village to village paths, plan on bringing a picnic lunch and enjoying the view of the Mediterranean as you eat. You will need a trekking pass to access the trails during peak season, but during the off season it’s not something you need to worry about.

At the end of a long day’s scenic walk, you can enjoy one of the area’s many divine restaurants featuring such specialties as Monterosso Anchovies, Ligurian Pesto, and Farinata, a savory pancake-like snack made from chickpea flour. And, of course, the gelato made with honey from Corniglia is the perfect dessert. Once your appetite has been properly satiated, it’s simple to catch a train or shuttle back to your starting point. It’s actually a bit safer to do that than walk back as the area is populated by wild boar who like to roam the trails at night.

The predominant industry in Cinque Terre was traditionally grapes and olives, but in the 1970s, the brightly painted fishermen’s cottages perched on the terraced cliffs and hills began to be marketed as a tourist attraction, and tourism has been the primary industry since. In fact, tourism has become so important in Cinque Terre that even when there is a transport strike, at least half the trains through the area continue to run to ensure that vacations go on as planned.

With beaches, exceptional hiking trails and historic World War II bunkers, there is a little something for everyone in Cinque Terre. Endless Travel can make your trip to Italy a walk in the woods. Reach out to us today.

Literary and Popular Media References

Dante compares the rugged cliffs of Purgatory with Cinque Terre in the Divine Comedy.

In Faville del Maglio, Gabriele D’Annunzio mentions the region’s Sciachetrà white wine.

Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street shot scenes in Cinque Terre.

Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast

In 79 AD Mt. Vesuvius erupted in what may be one of the most famous disasters of all time. While eyewitness accounts of the eruption were recorded, records of the towns surrounding Vesuvius’ base, including Pompeii, were lost to history. The city lay buried in volcanic ash until 1592, but excavation wouldn’t start in earnest until 1764, and since then Pompeii and its sister town of Herculaneum have been popular tourist destinations, attracting nearly 2.6 million visitors a year by the early part of the 21st century.

The ruins of Pompeii

Even though barely a third of the excavated buildings are accessible to the public, the open sections of the city are extensive, and you may be better off hiring a guide to take you through the ruins — it’s worth every penny. You should set aside at LEAST a whole day to explore Pompeii to get a solid understanding of the city and its history.

There is a weighty seriousness as you walk around the arena and cemetery… the people who lived here fled in terror nearly two thousand years ago, and some of those who didn’t escape have been preserved as plaster casts which are viewable near the public entrance. But their homes and their art have been left behind for us to explore. Frescos, mosaics, and beautifully carved fountains are around every corner. And every one of those fountains is carved differently as they served as street signs as well as meeting point designators. Finally, at the end of the day, when your feet are tired and your brain is full, stop and enjoy the mystical sunset.

If time permits, spend a second day exploring the city of Herculaneum. Unlike Pompeii, the ash and lava that encased Herculaneum carbonized, preserving wood and other organic materials such as beds, food, and skeletons.  Herculaneum’s library was found to contain over 1800 carbonized scrolls, which are slowly being unrolled and deciphered digitally thanks to modern technology that allows us to differentiate between ink and carbonized papyrus.

When your historic explorations are done, it’s time to hop in a car and head south towards Sorrento. Sitting on the southern shore of the Bay of Naples, Sorrento is one of the most notable tourist destinations in Italy.  Visited by such venerable figures as Charles Dickens, Lord Byron, Goethe, Henrik Ibsen, Keats and Walter Scott, it is a popular tourist spot for many reasons. First and foremost, the views from Sorrento and the surrounding area are beyond picturesque. The city itself may be one of the most photogenic spots in all of Europe. With small shops, museums, and the 14th century Cathedral of Sorrento, it is a picturesque stop on your way towards the Amalfi Coast.

The part of the Mediterranean Sea surrounded by Italy, Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily is more commonly known as the Tyrrhenian Sea. Jutting out from the ankle of Italy’s boot, on the southern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula, is the Amalfi Coast. As you drive through the mountains and along the shore, you may recognize some of the vistas as the island of Themyscira from 2017’s Wonder Woman. Stopping in Positano for gelato, you’ll find yourself in the middle of some of the filming locations from Under the Tuscan Sun. And if you are a fan of Fellini, you may recognize shots from his movie Roma while you make your way back towards mainland Italy.

Rich with history and breathtaking vistas, the area around the Gulf of Naples could occupy a significant part of any Italian adventure. Let Endless Travel help you plan your trip so you get the most out of your time under the Salerno sun.


Literary References:
John Webster’s tragedy The Duchess of Malfi.
John Steinbeck’s short story Positano.
William James’ Finding Positano, A Love Story.
You can also find several works by M.C. Escher featuring the Amalfi Coast.

The Yukon: Larger than Life

By Susan Hammond

Last month, I was invited by Anderson Vacations and Yukon’s Department of Tourism and Culture to experience the spectacular and truly unique place they call home: Canada’s Yukon. With pristine landscapes, abundant wildlife, a rich cultural heritage and outstanding services, I quickly found out that the Yukon has something for absolutely every kind of traveler—even in the winter.

So, off I went with six other travel advisors (I was the only American) and our hosts to Whitehorse, Yukon (the territory’s capital) to hunt the dancing aurora, snowmobile through the woods, experience a dogsled “limo” and try to ice fish for the first time. Working in the travel industry for most of my adult life, I really thought I was pretty good in geography, however since I have never been to Northern Canada, I really didn’t know exactly where Whitehorse was located in North America. After spending my first night in Vancouver, we all took an approximate 2-hour nonstop flight the next morning on Air North, which is the Yukon’s airline, headquartered in Whitehorse. Now I know that this small city of approximately 28,000 in population is a couple hours north of British Colombia and a 2.5 hour drive northeast of Skagway traveling along the Klondike Highway.

After visiting Air North’s headquarters and their brand-new hanger near the Whitehorse airport, we checked into our hotel for the next five nights, anxiously awaiting the adventures ahead. Well, I would like to let you in on a little secret—the Yukon gets even more intriguing in winter. Almost 80 percent of the Yukon is pristine wilderness. That’s over 350,000 square kilometers (218,000 square miles) of mountain vistas, boreal forests, wild rivers and crystal clear lakes. And since there are 10 times more moose, bears, wolves, caribou, goats and sheep than people, there’s the possibility of seeing wildlife around every bend. We actually saw a lynx quickly creeping across a frozen lake our first day out. I can now say the Yukon compares to Alaska—without all the people and it’s more laid back with less tourists.

The Yukon River winds through Whitehorse, which is nestled in a broad, forested valley, with mountains flanking either side. The Yukon’s capital city is steeped in culture and history, with wonderful restaurants, vibrant arts community, world class attractions and top-notch tourist services. I found all the amenities of a large city with an endearing small-town personality. Whitehorse doesn’t come without its characters though. As we took a quick city tour, we stopped at the 98 Hotel Breakfast Club at 10 am one morn-ing to visit with some of the local characters. This bar is home to the famed breakfast club, a badge of honor worn by morning drinkers; he establishment opens at 9 am and closes at 11 pm. There’s an air of mystery around the place.

“People will either tell you to avoid the 98 like the plague, or make a point of going for an authentic Yukon experience,” says General Manager Angel S. “We’ve got the most colorful people in town. There’s nothing fake in this place.” I personally love this experience!

Our first day started around 8:30 am with a hearty breakfast as we prepared to drive about 45 minutes south of Whitehorse to an area called Carcross in the Southern Lakes region. The vilage of Carcross is home to the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. It boasts incred-ible scenery, cross-country ski and snowshoe trails and a variety of visitor’s services. Some of the Yukon’s oldest buildings dating back to the days of 1898 are located in this community. The year 1898 is significant in the Yukon because that is the year that the Klondike Gold Rush was coming to an end. Carcross got its name years ago since it was a major migration crossing for woodland caribou prior to the gold rush. It’s easy to feel the draw to Carcross because the compelling First Nation culture invites you to experience their heritage. We had the opportunity to stand in the presence of totem poles master carver—Keith Wolfe Smarch, as we were invited inside a carving shed to watch and learn the significance of his artwork’s shapes and colors. I quickly learned that wherever you travel in this territory, Yukon First Nation’s history and culture is part of what makes the Yukon the special place it is.

Upon sunrise (around 10 am) the next morning, we headed over to the start of the 36th annual Yukon Quest. This event is a dogsled race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska. For the last 36 years, dog teams have answered the call to endure 1,000 miles of rugged terrain across the heart of Alaska and the Yukon. The Yukon Quest poses challenges that no other race on Earth can boast. Extremely cold temperatures are guaranteed, and long distances up to 200 miles between checkpoints means a musher and dog team must be mentally and physically prepared for the worst Mother Nature can dish out. As we all were waiting for the race to start, the temperatures were hovering around -33 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, our hosts provided us all cold weather gear to keep us warm in the extreme

dogsledding3
Carcross Visitor Center

temperatures, however my heart went out to the dogs that were so eager to take off and run! This year, they had 31 teams that took on this challenge, representing six different countries. The race takes preparation, knowledge, skill and strategy just to finish and was a once in a lifetime experience for all seven travel advisors that attended this event for the first time!

After watching most of the teams head out on their journey, we were taken to the Lumel Studio in downtown Whitehorse for some hands-on glassblowing. Upon entering the warm studio, we each were allowed to select a piece we wanted to make and take home. I chose to make a small bowl with assistance from one of the apprentices of the studio: Angus. Angus was very patient as I selected the colors of my personal piece and success-fully made a bowl that is actually round and sits level on my desk holding candy for my clients’ enjoyment.

The following days we encountered snowmobiling through the woods, ice fishing on a lake for trout, conducted site inspections at a few local hotels/inns and spent a couple evenings hunting for the northern lights. Leaving at 10:30 pm both evenings and driv-ing 30 minutes south of Whitehorse to get away from the small city’s lights, we came upon three very comfortable and warm yurts and two teepees with bonfires roaring inside. These outer buildings offered hot chocolate, tea and s’mores fixings while we waited for the weather to gift us with this other light source. Unfortunately, we did not get a break in the clouds either of those nights, however we loved the hospitality from our hosts and Aurorae guides.

As I look back at my short journey in Northern Canada, I am already thinking about taking my family back in the summer for some hiking, canoeing down the Yukon River, attending one of the many festivals offered each season and enjoying the midnight sun. The creative spirit is strong in the North, and any of our professional advisors at Endless Travel can assist you experience this territory’s wildness, beauty and contradictions.