brindisi, italy: don’t bother

The short story is that Brindisi sucks.

But it seems unfair to just leave it at that. Here’s a quick look at Brindisi, Italy and what I enjoyed and what I didn’t enjoy.

Brindisi is an industrial port. Due to its location on the Adriatic Sea, it’s a major trading port between Italy, Greece and the Middle East. Its leading industries are energy and chemical production and agriculture. If you’ve been following along, then you know that my fiance John and I have been on a 10-day cruise through the Adriatic. When we disembarked the ship, the walk into town was not picturesque. Once we got into town, the streets were slightly more appealing but nothing you’d tell friends and family back home about. Let’s put it this way: There wasn’t a whole lot of Instagram-ing going on, if you know what I mean. There’s lots of shopping on the main drag but again, nothing to get too excited about. In short: Brindisi didn’t seem to offer visitors all the charm we’ve come to expect from Italy. And since this is my first trip to Italy (I started in Venice a few days ago), and I’m full of high expectations, it sorely disappointed.

Streets and buildings like this did nothing to appeal to my senses. Italy? Is that you?

But turn a corner and you encounter this scene. Love the colours, the architecture and the typically Italian Juliet balconies.

Despite the fact that I found this town lacking in the looks department, you can usually count on Italy for good food. John and I broke down and sampled an Italian pastry for breakfast. This sugar-covered, white-chocolate stuffed doughnut was OMG-good. I think it was a diet doughnut, too, thank goodness.

There are a lot of churches in this small town but the one really worth seeing is the Brindisi Cathedral. The duomo was originally erected during the 11th and 12th centuries but what visitors see today is an 18th century reconstruction; an earthquake in 1743 destroyed the original church that stood here.

The old, somewhat dilapidated exterior belies the beauty that lies within the walls of the Brindisi Cathedral. Inside you’ll find soothing colours and soaring ceilings.

John was in need of a haircut and decided to visit an Italian barber for a trim. In a town with little else for tourists to do, it’s great to try and live like a local. The owners of this barbershop were wonderful and friendly and as we communicated in a comical exchange of broken English and broken Italian, this became the highlight of our day in Brindisi.

And last but not least, we had to try some real Italian food. Alas, the spaghetti pomodoro at a restaurant near the port was not quite as delizioso as we had hoped.

All in all, Brindisi failed to impress. What is it that makes some cities great and others disappointing? In this case, I would say that the town of Brindisi just wasn’t beautiful and it didn’t stir my soul. And maybe that’s okay … you need to know the ordinary in order to appreciate the extraordinary. I can’t wait to return to Italy but needless to say, Brindisi is one stop I won’t be making again.

corfu, greece on seabourn spirit

Back in 2009, my fiance Johnny Jet and I sailed on Seabourn Odyssey through Turkey and Greece. This week, on Seabourn Spirit, we traveled to Greece for the second time, this time to Corfu.


Corfu is one of the most popular of the Greek islands (and the first Ionian island at the mouth of the Adriatic), and we were among the throngs of tourists that flock to Greece during the summer months. But as Seabourn Spirit pulled into port, it was easy to see the draw. The vibrant blue waters of the Adriatic Sea and the rugged coastline are a perfect pair.


John and I climbed the rugged and sometimes slippery steps up to the top of the Fortress of San Marco, which was built by the Venetians between 1576 and 1645. (Corfu was under Venetian rule for about four centuries, beginning in the 15th century.) Even in the sweltering heat, the views from the top were worth the climb.


It was hot in Corfu – about 38 degrees Celsius hot. Cooling off in the Adriatic was not just nice. It was necessary! We found a small pebble beach (sand beaches seem to be rare in these parts) and spent the afternoon swimming. This particular beach was popular with locals too. Many of the kids spent hours diving off a wooden platform over and over again.


After strolling around the Old Town of Corfu (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), we asked a few locals for restaurant recommendations for lunch. The reponse was unanimous: Restaurant Rex. We dined al fresco and I had saganaki. Delicious and authentic. Opa!


Back on the ship, there was a performance of traditional Greek folk dancing for all passengers to enjoy. Afterwards, the dancers taught willing participants how to master their moves.


To eat at the outdoor restaurant The Veranda on Seabourn Spirit, you have to make advance reservations. Luckily John and I had. They were serving Indian food that evening and as usual, the food was first rate. My hat off to the chef, who consistently serves up delicious and varied meals for us each night.


After dinner, we were treated to a spectacular sunset, the perfect note on which to bid the day adieu.

exploring kotor, montenegro on seabourn spirit

The first stop on my 10-day Seabourn Spirit cruise on the Adriatic was Kotor, Montenegro. I’d never heard of Kotor so needless to say, I didn’t know quite what to expect. But I’d had dinner with the Captain the previous evening and he’d given me a small sense of the beauty that awaited us upon our arrival. And he wasn’t joking.


After hours at sea with nothing in sight but water, our approach into Kotor was breathtaking. The limestone mountains seemed to rise from the sea, dotted with the terra cotta rooftops of houses along the coast.

The Bay of Kotor is one of the most indented parts of the Adriatic Sea and the curves of the coastline make it pretty and picturesque. The old town in Kotor is especially well preserved, one of the most preserved of all the towns lining the Adriatic in fact, and is also a UNESCO world heritage site.


Visitors to Kotor’s old town are greeted at the entrance with a carving that reads: “What belongs to others we don’t want, what is ours we will never surrender.” The medieval old town reminded me of the setting of various fairy tales I’d read as a child; I had my eyes peeled for a prince or an evil queen at the very least. I loved the centuries-old, winding, narrow streets.


Wandering the streets of the old town is a must but even before you do that, I suggest climbing the mountain that provides the impressive backdrop of Kotor. The climb consists of some 1,500 steps and it’s a demanding walk. Do it early in the day before the afternoon sun gets too hot and be sure to wear comfortable shoes and a sun hat. And don’t forget to bring lots of water. Locals sell water along the way if you forget. When you reach the top of the citadel, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of Kotor. The mountains, the peaceful waters of the bay and the old town below make a postcard-perfect picture. On your way down the mountain, be sure to go slowly and hold on to the railings. It’s steep and many of the stone steps are slippery from wear; it’s easy to lose your footing.


The other great thing about climbing the mountain is that from way up there, it was easy to get a lay of the land and spot beaches where my fiance and I could go cool off when we got back down to the bottom.


The beach we found was a small pebble beach. The turquoise water was warm and inviting. A long swim was just what we needed to cool off after our hike in the hot sun and to work up an appetite for a fresh lunch back on the boat.


As Seabourn Spirit departed Montenegro, we passed a small church standing solitary on a small island in the bay. Our Captain had mentioned that he has a tradition of blowing the ship’s horn as he passes; if the local priest is there, he will ring the church bells in response. As we sailed by, the ship’s horn blew and we awaited an answer. And then it came. The church bells rang out loud and clear and as I soaked in that moment, in the most glorious natural surroundings, I felt God’s presence as sure as the warm summer breeze on my skin.

boarding seabourn spirit

I boarded Seabourn Spirit on Saturday, ready for a 10-day cruise along the Adriatic. Our itinerary goes like this: Venice, Italy; Kotor, Montenegro; Corfu, Greece; Brindisi, Italy; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Split, Croatia; Triluke Bay, Croatia; Rovinj, Croatia.

What I love about Seabourn ships are their small, intimate size. I was aboard Seabourn Odyssey two years ago, which has a capacity of 450 passengers. But Seabourn Spirit is even smaller, with a capacity of 208 passengers. Compared to huge cruise ships, which can carry thousands of passengers, Seabourn offers a quieter, more intimate experience. It’s easier to get to know the other passengers and overall, things just feel calmer aboard the ship. It really struck me when we docked in the small coastal town of Brindisi, Italy … as my fiance and I walked around, we barely saw any other tourists. I couldn’t help but think that if a cruise ship had pulled into port and spit out 3,000 tourists, we would have overrun this quaint little town (and not in a good way). Seabourn’s 200 passengers feel much less intrusive.


Our balcony suite is approximately 277 square feet and while that sounds tiny, it feels ample, spacious even, when you consider the fact that you’re on a boat! There’s a queen-size bed, a tub and a large vanity, plus a separate living room area with chairs, a small sofa and table for dining or working. Oh, and there’s a walk-in closet so you can unpack and hang all your clothes up. That’s another nice thing about cruising. You can unpack for a stretch and not feel like you’re living out of your suitcase. Our cabin attendant Aurelia, from Romania, is a great part of this experience. She’s lovely and after I met her, I felt like I’d made a friend straight away.


Decks 7 and 8 are where all the activity happens. There’s a pool, hot tubs, the Sky Grill for casual al fresco dining and lots of loungers for sun bathing. There are often performances out here, put on by the talented entertainment team. This is the place to hang out during a sea day, with a cold drink and a good book.


We were invited to dine with our Captain, David Bathgate, on the first night of the cruise. Hailing from Scotland, our Captain joined Seabourn in 2010 and it was our great privilege to spend the evening with him.

This is my third time aboard a Seabourn ship and each time, I’m reminded that besides the luxury accommodations and the dreamy destinations, the real appeal is the feeling on board the ship, created mostly by the friendly crew, from the cabin attendants like Aurelia, all the way up to the ship’s captain and everyone in between. Great job, Seabourn.

venice for the first time

This week, a lifelong dream of mine came true. I’ve been daydreaming of Italy for as long as I can remember and when my British Airways flight from London to Venice touched down, it felt like a special and unforgettable moment. Italy. Wow. For me, this is a really big deal!

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say about a place that so much has been written about. You don’t need me to tell you about the sites to see. Every guidebook will tell you where you need to go and what you need to see. Instead, I’ll try to share a few of the personal details that made my trip so great – and a few photos that will inspire you to visit Venice if it’s on your bucket list, too!


I flew from London to Venice on British Airways, a quick 90-minute flight. At Heathrow, our flight departed from gate A17 and what you may not know is that right around the corner from this tucked away gate is the perfect place to sit and do some planespotting. There are a number of seats and hardly anyone there, save a few Heathrow employees who obviously know that this is a quiet spot amidst the activity of the airport. Grab a seat here if you can for some peace and quiet in an otherwise loud and busy area.


My fiance Johnny Jet and I aboard our British Airways flight from London to Venice in Club Europe. Way excited.


When we arrived in Venice, we were greeted by John’s friend Cinzia and her husband Luigi. They met us at the airport, then Cinzia toured us around Venice. Her vast knowledge of the city combined with her savvy about avoiding the throngs of tourists was fantastic. Venice is teeming with tourists in July. Plus, it was so hot in the afternoon sun. Cinzia led us through shaded back streets, which were less crowded and much cooler. It was really to our advantage to have a guided tour by someone who knew where they were going and could lead us through the labyrinthine back streets of Venice. To book a tour with Cinzia, visit veniceguideandboat.it.

{Photo via: JohnnyJet.com}

The Bridge of Sighs or Ponte dei Sospiri in Italian. What can I say? It’s almost extraordinary and ordinary at the same time, but exquisite in the romance that Lord Byron’s literature lends it (though it’s said that little could be seen through the stonework covering the windows prisoners were believed to gaze longingly from). The bridge is made of white limestone and isn’t particularly special, especially when you consider some of the other architecture of the day. But the notion of prisoners sighing at their last glimpse of freedom is the stuff of poetry that perpetuates through the ages and it was still a sight to behold.


We met up with more friends in Venice. Jennifer and her husband Tim met us at our hotel, the Metropole, which was right on the lagoon and we explored Venice on foot – mostly in search of the best gelato we could find. Turns out Jennifer was a bit of an expert on the subject, explaining how differences in colour and fluffiness impact flavour. She led us to a great spot to stop on a hot day and we all enjoyed a scoop (or two!) of refreshing gelato. She’s got a great travel blog, too – you should definitely check it out at jdombstravels.com.



Venice is more than gondolas and gondoliers, canals and bridges. St. Mark’s Basilica is an imposing and beautiful structure and possibly one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture.


St. Mark’s Square, the central square in Venice, generally referred to simply as ‘the Piazza.’  See what I mean? Teeming with tourists. And tourists aren’t the only thing this place is overrun with. Used to be pigeons but Venice banned feeding the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square back in 2008.

I was only in Venice for about 24 hours before boarding Seabourn Spirit for a 10-day cruise through the Adriatic. Hopefully I’ll be back soon to see more of Italy in general and Venice in particular!

sailing on seabourn sojourn


It just doesn’t get any better than this. Delicious food. Inimitable service. Spectacular sunsets that wish you good night. This photo is of the sun setting over the Baltic Sea. I don’t think I ever want to get off this ship.  Image courtesy of JohnnyJet.com.

video: pack smart


I just boarded Seabourn’s incredible new ship Sojourn. I’m traveling for two full weeks and need a variety of clothing options – casual summer clothes, warm clothes for cold days, dresses for dinner, high heels, flip flops and even gym clothes and running shoes – travelling on a Seabourn ship means you’ll be indulging in the most delicious gourmet food at every turn, so hitting the treadmill is essential! In this video, I’ll show you how I was able to pack everything I needed and still travel with carry-on only.

welcome to the athenaeum intercontinental, athens

athenaeum2
athenaeum1
Our Seabourn Odyssey cruise deposited us in Athens. While the ship was continuing on through the Mediterranean, Athens was our last stop. And although I was sad to disembark the luxury vessel, I was very, very excited to explore the ancient city of Athens. More on that later. First, the hotel.

We checked into the Athenaeum Intercontinental. The lobby is vast and situated front and centre is an interesting piece of art (pictured above, top). During my short stay, I wasn’t able to learn more about the piece but it’s certainly eye-catching and memorable. But the real highlight at this hotel was our room, which had a view of the Acropolis. I’ve had some pretty incredible views during my travels (the Opera House from Sydney’s Four Seasons, the Bosphorus from Istanbul’s Ciragan Palace Kempinski, the Bund from Shanghai’s Park Hyatt) and the view from the Athenaeum Intercontinental is another to add to the list. It was nothing short of surreal to look out the window and see the Parthenon.

The nine-story hotel was renovated in 2008 and has 543 guest rooms and 60 suites. There’s a spa with an extensive menu (though they don’t offer manicures and pedicures, which I was disappointed to learn since my nails needed refreshing!) and a business centre with all the services you’re likely to need, including small meeting rooms that are available for rent. The rooms feature all the standard hotel features you’d expect (cable / satellite TV, CD player, flatscreen television), a working desk and ours had a full-length mirror – a nice touch that not all hotels have. The bathroom wasn’t too exciting – it was rather basic with a tub that was very narrow. But the robes were plush and I loved the Korres amenities (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion). Korres is a Greek manufacturer of hair, body and face products with highly concentrated natural active ingredients. They smelled good enough to eat. Check out their products online at korres.com; you can also order online. Hotel contact information: Athenaeum Athens, 89-93 Syngrou Avenue, Athens, 11745, Greece, Tel: +30-210-920-6000

seabourn odyssey takes us to navplion

navplion
Sometimes the places you have the lowest expectations of turn out to be the most wonderful. When Seabourn Odyssey deposited us off in Navplion, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Surprisingly, Navplion, the port I knew nothing about and, quite frankly, had never heard of, was perhaps the highlight of the entire cruise. From the moment I arrived, I was seduced by its European charm. It oozed romance. Now this was a place I knew I’d like. Clean and pretty, Navplion is not actually one of the Greek islands; it’s on Greece’s mainland. Buildings with old facades and Juliet balconies line the streets and it’s easy to forget just where you are. Someone said it looked like the French quarter in New Orleans while others compared it to Paris. It’s old. It’s historic. It’s beautiful. And it’s romantic. Like Santorini, there are lots of shops and tavernas to while away an afternoon in but the real treat is exploring the town on foot. You’ll come across the small but beautiful homes of the locals and lots of churches.

If you’re up for it, set out on foot to climb the 852 steps that lead up to the Palamidi Castle, which towers high above the town. Be sure to take water and sunscreen with you and wear a wide-brim hat. The views from the top are worth the huffing and puffing it’ll take you to get there and it’s because of this walk that we discovered a beautiful beach on the other side of the island. We took a taxi down. While the walk up was quite a workout, taking the stone and marble steps down seemed infinitely more dangerous – they’re slippery and there’s no guardrail. Cab, please! A five-euro ride brought us right back to the center of town where we began our trek to find the pretty pebble beach on the other side of the island.

Despite the heat, the walk could not have been more picturesque. We walked a path alongside the water until we found ourselves at the beach. The water was so warm and inviting, I never wanted to leave. I’m a very weak swimmer, paralyzed more by my fear of water than an innate inability to swim. But I have never felt calmer and more at ease than in Navplion’s clear and tranquil waters. I would visit this tiny town again in a heartbeat, just for this beautiful beach.

seabourn odyssey takes us to santorini

santorini1
As I mentioned yesterday, I traveled on Seabourn Odyssey through the Turkish and Greek islands. We went from Dikili, Kusadasi and Bodrum in Turkey to Santorini, Mylos, Navplion and Athens in Greece. While each port was beautiful in its own way, some, for me, were more special than others. My two favourites were Santorini and Navplion. Today, I’ll tell you about Santorini.

Perched almost precariously atop rugged cliffs (volcanic rock, actually), Santorini is picture perfect in every way. If you’ve never been, chances are you’ve seen photographs of this quaint island. The photos don’t do it justice. Photos simply can’t convey the magic of the island.

We arrived under the blazing sun, jostled by the populations of four cruise ships, all of which had reached port at about the same time. That’s a lot of tourists. Get out of the pulsing crowds as soon as possible. There are a variety of ways to get to the top of the island, where Santorini really begins. You can take a steep cable car ride; it’s quick but if you suffer from a fear of heights, may not be for you. You can walk or you can jump on one of the hundreds of donkeys waiting to trot you to the top. We paid five euros per person for the donkey ride, though I suspect the price varies depending on the day or the little Greek man you’re dealing with. There’s nothing organized about the trek to the top. It’s a free for all and if you take the donkey, be prepared to jump on and just go! The ride is a bit bumpy, the donkeys look hot, tired and thirsty and as they edge towards the wall and you look down, you may feel nauseous. Don’t look down.

Once at the summit, we found ourselves swimming in a pool of tourists. There are an endless number of cafes, restaurants and shops selling everything from cheap souvenirs to expensive clothing and jewelry. It would have been delightful up at the top but for the tourists. So, my BF and I made our escape. He guided, I followed and before we knew it, we were far from the madding crowd.

In the end, we walked clear across the island (or so it seemed; we walked for ages) and saw sweeping views of Santorini from various angles. We saw the island through the eyes of locals, far from the port where all the cruise ship passengers arrive and a safe distance from the tourist-trap souvenir shops. We lunched at a little restaurant that had only satisfactory food but spectacular views. We walked through streets where there wasn’t a soul in sight and the few people we did pass were locals going about their daily tasks. We passed so many churches, houses painted in a rainbow of pretty pastels and flowers, flowers everywhere.

Visiting in July, the islands are hot, hot, hot, with temperatures flirting with, and often surpassing, 40 degrees Celsius. Water, sunscreen and a wide-brim hat are essentials. If you visit Santorini, stray from the beaten path and explore on your own. You’re bound to find lesser-known treasures as you stroll the local streets and the opportunities for stunning photos are everywhere.

santorini4
The donkey ride up to the top of Santorini is bumpy but can be preferable to walking under the scorching summer sun or taking the cable car ride, especially if you’re afraid of heights.

santorini2
A weather-worn, sea-ravaged canoe or a piece of artwork sitting atop a rooftop in Santorini? I have no idea but it’s beautiful.

santorini3

Painted in shades of blue, green, pink and yellow, the homes on Santorini are clean and cheerful. The overall effect of the whitewashed walls and coloured doors and window frames is that visitors are welcome. Surrounded by a bright blue sky and deep blue sea, the setting is idyllic.