Travel Diary: Venice & Burano Island

Buongiorno!!

Now that we’ve had a chance to get settled back at home, I’ve had time to upload some of our photos and give you a little glimpse into each city we visited on our 2 week Italy trip.

Day 1:

Our first stop was Venice.  We arrived in Venice on Wednesday mid-morning and left early afternoon on Friday so we had 2.5 days to explore Venice.  This was plenty of time to see all the beauty and charm this romantic city has to offer.**Fun Fact** Venice is the capital of the province of Venezia and the region of Venato in northern Italy which is known for its art, beauty and canals.  It’s an island city and the only way to get around is by foot or water.  The streets are only made for pedestrians so be prepared to walk and wander.

Although the side streets and small alleys can get tricky, Venice is fairly small and there are signs everywhere so don’t be afraid to get “lost” because you’ll eventually find your way back.  Honestly, getting lost is the best way to really immerse yourself in the city and to truly see what Venice has to offer. Just make sure to have a map on hand!  On our last night in Venice we actually did get lost.  Both of our phones died and we only had our good ol’ trusted paper map that the hotel gave us to help navigate. Thankfully John is direction savvy and actually knows how to read a map so we found our way back within 30 minutes even in the dark.  Venice was really safe and no one bothered us.  Everyone is still out and about even after 10pm so if you do get lost and need directions, I’m sure someone will be able to help you out.

Where We Stayed:

We stayed at Hotel Papadopoli by Sofitel which was located off the Grand Canal in Santa Croce, near the Piazzale Roma, the principal arrival point in Venice (about a 20 minute drive from Marco Polo airport).  We had a private transfer which was included in our travel package (read about our Costco travel package here) who dropped us off at our hotel.  Although our hotel was within walking distance from the main transportation hub, once you reach a certain point, you can’t enter with a car.  Luckily our hotel was less than 10 yards from where the driver had to park and he was nice enough to walk us all the way to our hotel and help with our luggage.

We arrived at our hotel just before noon so we just dropped our stuff off and ventured out for the day. We chose a canal side restaurant for lunch by Ponte delle Guglie.  It’s one of two bridges to span the Cannaregio Canal in Venice. Venetians aren’t really known for their cuisine so I didn’t make it a point to remember the names of the restaurants we dined at, plus there’s one restaurant after another so you can honestly just pick anywhere to eat.  I’d suggest staying away from restaurants with photos on the menu as those are known for being more touristy.  The owner or manager of the restaurant we had lunch at was this cute little Italian man who was extremely friendly, barely spoke any English and really made our first meal in Italy that much more enjoyable. After lunch we spent the day wandering and exploring the city.  Our hotel was about 25 minutes walking from Piazza San Marco or St. Mark’s Square which is the main square of Venice.  **Note** St. Mark’s Basilica is the cathedral church of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice.  It’s free entry, but it was a bit crowded so we didn’t go in.After a looong day of wandering the city, John and I stopped at Hotel Monoco which has a cute outdoor patio for some cocktails while we enjoyed the peacefulness while overlooking the Grand Canal.

Day 2:

On our second day in Venice, we purchased ferry tickets to Burano.  I think we paid about €40 round trip for both of us.  We stopped at the Rialto Bridge (the oldest of 4 bridges spanning the Grand Canal) for a quick photo op on the way to St. Mark’s.  Isn’t it a gorgeous view??  It was a lot less crowded than at sunset (sunset photos at the end of the post). **Fun Fact** Bridge of Sighs was built at the beginning of the seventeenth century with the intention of connecting the Old Prison and interrogation rooms in Doge’s Palace to the New Prison.  There are a couple of theories as to how the bridge got its name.  One is that the prisoners who walked across the bridge on their way to the executioner would “sigh” as they crossed the bridge while getting their last glimpse of the outside world.  The other theory is much more romantic.  If a couple kisses under the bridge while on a gondola during sunset, they will enjoy eternal love and so the lovers’ “sighs” would be due to an overwhelming feeling of romance of the whole scene.  Which theory do you prefer?

Burano Island:

Burano is an island in the Venetian lagoon known for its brightly colored fisherman’s houses and lace work.  It’s about a 45 minute ferry ride from the pier. There are several restaurants and little shops all over so we just walked around and had lunch before we went back.  If I had woken up earlier, we would’ve probably stopped in Murano as well which is only 20 minutes from the pier and is known for its glass making factories.  Since we had to choose, we both thought Burano would be more worth seeing and it really was.  Isn’t it just stunning??

P.S. All of our photos were taken with my Iphone camera.  I didn’t feel like lugging around my bigger camera, but it worked just as well. After a couple hours in Burano, we stopped back at Hotel Monaco to find a gondolier to take us out at sunset. They had quite a bit of gondoliers in front of the hotel the night before, but honestly, they’re everywhere along the canal so you can easily find one.  It costs about €120 for a 40 minute gondola ride so make sure to find a gondolier you really like since they do expect a tip and consider bringing a bottle of wine to make it even more romantic.  Our gondolier just whistled which wasn’t worth an extra tip, but he did get a really good sunset photo of us right in front of the Rialto Bridge so we’ll give him that. We ended the evening with dinner at a restaurant with outdoor seating overlooking the Rialto Bridge.  Again, there are so many restaurants to choose from so I didn’t write down the name, but I don’t think you can go wrong.On on our last morning before heading out to Florence, I slept in and so I didn’t get a chance to have a cappuccino at Caffè Florian, an iconic cafe from the early 1700s and the oldest coffee house in the world.  (Bummer!)  At least one of us did..

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How We Booked Two Weeks in Italy through Costco Travel

We’re baaack!  Gaaahh!!  Where do I even begin? I’m not even exaggerating when I say our 2 week trip to Italy was nothing short of ah-mazing!!  From the flavorful and luscious cuisine made of only the freshest ingredients, to the crisp Prosecco after a long day of walking and sightseeing, to the rosso vino della casa (house red) that never gave us hangovers,🍷😋the architecture and the beautiful art, to the museums and cathedrals, the history, and last but not least, the incredible views (Oh the views!!).  Italy will forever hold a special place in our hearts, and yes, we’re already dreaming of our next visit.

As first time travelers to Italy, we visited four cities/regions with a couple of day trips in-between for a total of 15 nights.  May is typically considered the start of “high” season which goes all the way through September with June through August being at its peak with the most crowds, uncomfortably hot weather and the priciest hotel rates.  We traveled between April 17-May 2, but much to our our surprise, it seemed as if the high season had already begun.  There were quite a bit of students and tourists, but it was still bearable so I can only imagine the craziness that summer will bring.  Also, we really lucked out with perfect weather during our entire trip with highs in the 70s and a lot of sunshine!  I hate to admit it, but we slightly overpacked.  Although we kept checking the weather forecast, we for sure thought it would be cooler so we brought a few sweaters, long sleeve tops and I brought 4 jackets (eek!) which of course I didn’t need.  We knew the dress code in Italy was casual and laid back so we didn’t bring anything fancy.  I brought one pair of wedges that I didn’t even wear, but because of how warm it was, we could’ve easily gotten away with just one large suitcase between the two of us.  Now we know for next time.

For a 2 week holiday in Italy, we booked our travel package through Costcotravel.com.  I know what you’re thinking.  We didn’t know they had a travel agency either, but they do, and it’s the best!  A co-worker had told me about it last year and before we decided to book through Costco, we compared prices on Orbitz, Expedia, a couple of other travel agencies and directly through the hotels and airlines before determining Costco was the way to go. We honestly have nothing negative to say about our experience using Costco Travel and we would highly recommend using them for your upcoming travels.  I know we will.

Costco Travel offers a variety of different packages to choose from including airfare.  We had been “planning” this trip for some time (almost 4 years) and after doing quite a bit of research and the feedback we received from others, we knew which cities were our top priority and so we booked the Venice, Florence, Rome and Sorrento: Your Way package.  You can view a sample itinerary here.  Our package included round-trip airfare, lodging, private ground transportation to/from our hotel and airport, first-class train passes between Venice, Florence and Rome, private ground transportation from Rome to Sorrento and a private driver for a day of sightseeing in the Amalfi Coast on the last leg of the trip.  Our package also had quite a bit of perks such as free breakfast at each hotel (I never woke up early enough), complimentary welcome drinks at each hotel in the hotel bar, a free dinner for two at our hotel in Sorrento, plus a $40 credit towards our final bill and discounts at all the hotel restaurants, in addition to earning 2% reward on our travel package as Executive Card Members.

Costco works with a variety of moderately priced and high-end luxury hotel chains including Westin, NH Hotel Group, Sofitel, StarWood and Manniello, to name a few, allowing you to customize your trip any way you want for as many nights at the hotels of your choice (depending on availability of course) which would then determine your bottom line.  Since we had pushed back visiting Italy for the past couple of years and we just so happened to travel around our 4th wedding anniversary, we splurged and flew first class (hehe).  We flew Delta One on the way there and Air France on the way back.  Let’s just say we can certainly get used to this kind of travel. 🙂 As for travel times and the logistics, ORD only has direct flights to/from Rome so we flew into JFK in under 2 hours with a 1 hour layover before flying direct to Venice (a little over 8 hours).  We flew out of Naples into Paris (almost 2 hours) and then into ORD (a little over 9 hours).  I had previously heard Naples International Airport was considered the most incompetent airport in the world, but we had no issues.  In fact, I thought it was fairly easy to get around and out of, but then again, our flight was at 6:30am so that may have had something to do with it.

So now that we’ve got all of the logistics out of the way, make sure to check out my travel diaries for Venice, Tuscany, Rome and Sorrento & The Amalfi Coast.   You can also read my Italy Packing List: Spring and Summer for tips on how to pack and some suggestions on what to bring.

Shop my travel outfit below:

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Our Destination Wedding at Secrets The Vine Cancun

12-Sylvia JohnTwo years ago, we traveled down to Cancun, Mexico with 68 of our friends and family members to host our long-awaited, tropical destination wedding. After visiting a handful of cities in Mexico over the years, John and I felt that Cancun was the ideal destination because of its convenience and picturesque location with pristine-white sand beaches and turquoise waters of vibrant teal and bright blue hues.

We chose Secrets The Vine Cancun, a chic and contemporary adults-only hotel, in Cancun’s hotel zone, to host our wedding and accommodate our fairly large group. We were fortunate to have been able to stay at the hotel when they first opened in late 2012 when we flew down for a site visit giving us a true experience of what we could expect if we chose to host our wedding there. After an extensive search and narrowing down our choices to six hotels in Cancun and Riviera-Maya, not one compared to the service, cleanliness, location and style that Secrets The Vine provided. From the refreshing glasses of champagne and cold towels that were handed to us upon arriving, to the modern ambiance and simplistic interior decor, to the chill-down lounge music playing in the lobby, the exceptional cuisine between their six à la carte gourmet restaurants and 24 hour room service to choose from and the genuinely friendly and attentive staff that made sure our stay wasn’t anything short of excellent, we had no doubt that this was the perfect location to host our May 10, 2014 wedding.11316_10152223719706105_554513598927907020_n6-Sylvia John10689633_10152223719336105_2418843319931966655_n2-Sylvia John20-Sylvia John38-Sylvia JohnOur family’s travel agent assisted our guests with all travel arrangements including flights, hotel and round-trip shuttle services to and from the airport since everyone’s arrival and departure days varied. We reserved a block of rooms at the hotel to make sure everyone stayed on the same property and we included detailed information on how to go about booking hotel reservations on our wedding website which was included on our Save the Dates. Our Save The Dates were mailed nine months out and our wedding invitations were mailed out about four months before the wedding.

We put together welcome bags for our guests which included a personalized itinerary, beach towel clips, a first aid and hangover kit and miscellaneous travel size items such as sunscreen, Aloe Vera Gel and lip balm that we dropped off to our guests’ rooms on the days they arrived. The night before the wedding, we hosted a welcome dinner for all of our guests at Sea Salt Grill and then had everyone come back to our suite for after dinner cocktails. The Master Suite that hotel management so graciously upgraded us to, was over 1,300 square feet with a wrap around balcony and an ocean front view, making it an ideal intimate setting to spend time with our guests. 151-Sylvia John182-Sylvia John172-Sylvia John10694310_10152220677891105_6529438452089430716_oOn the morning of our wedding day, I got ready in our room and I had my bridal party join me so we could spend the day together. I selected ombré themed purple and lavender chiffon gowns for my bridesmaids while my adult flower girl stood out in a gray chiffon gown to offset the rest of the bridal party. I wore a strapless tulle mermaid style bridal gown with sweetheart neckline that was custom made by Rachel Alvia of Avail & Co and I chose a classic white rose bouquet while my bridesmaids’ bouquets were a mix of white hydrangeas and lavender roses. John wore a light gray suit that was custom made by Durus’ Custom Tailors while his groomsmen went with a laid back casual look with gray pants, white button ups and black suspenders.

Even though John and I had decided to forgo exchanging wedding gifts on our wedding day, he surprised me with an iPad that was hand delivered to me while I was getting ready with an uploaded personal video message from him and video montage of his childhood. It was by far the sweetest and most thoughtful gift that he has ever given to me and one that I will cherish for many years to come.10672389_10152223734271105_3936480171696235087_n 10676410_10152223734396105_2023999456137285047_n223-Sylvia John copy1907438_10152223733721105_2032759706044607825_n219-Sylvia John263-Sylvia John249-Sylvia John246-Sylvia John53-Sylvia John76-Sylvia John71-Sylvia John89-Sylvia JohnWe opted for a first-look photo session with our wedding party and family before our ceremony. The wedding ceremony took place on the Lounge Terrace at 5:30 pm followed by cocktail hour on the bridge and a 7:30 pm poolside reception. During cocktail hour, John and I ventured off with our photographers for a beach photography session and you can view more of those photos here.

Our reception was one of the most entertaining and lively receptions I have ever been a part of and one that turned into a non-stop dance party that kicked off in the middle of dinner and went into all hours of the night. John and our best man put together the evening’s play list with a variety of 80s, 90s and current Top 40 pop music which included tunes by our favorite artists such as George Michael and Sade that played during dinner and later transitioned into EDM beats that kept everyone on the dance floor through the end of the night.10336671_10152223773131105_1857224469096751751_n16089_10152223772426105_8243885202863052096_n336-Sylvia John10645023_10152223771776105_27518783428165402_n384-Sylvia John415-Sylvia John copy

597-Sylvia John604-Sylvia John 621-Sylvia John612-Sylvia John 608-Sylvia John648-Sylvia John - Copy669-Sylvia JohnOur wedding day was absolutely a day to remember and we will be forever grateful to have had our friends and family travel the distance to be able to celebrate the day (and week) with us. Although the day has passed and today officially marks our second wedding anniversary, we are so lucky to have had Bethany Petersen of BP Film & Photo fly down from Utah to capture the day’s events through photo and film which will always bring back warm memories as we relive our perfect day. You can watch our wedding film by clicking below.

[Photography credit]: Bethany Petersen of BP Film & Photo

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Ski Weekend in Park City

WestgatelobbyJohn and I traveled to Park City, Utah with a couple friends on a five day skiing and snowboarding trip the last week in February. We flew into Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday which is about a 3.5 hour flight from Chicago and a 35 minute drive to Park City. Renting a car is definitely your best bet if you want to venture off the resort since there is quite a bit to do and see in or around Park City.

We lodged at the Westgate Park City Resort & Spa, a fairly large ski resort sitting at the base of the Canyons ski area and about 5 miles from Downtown Park City.  Upon arriving, we were greeted by a friendly and accommodating staff with homemade cookies and bottles of water. We reserved a luxury suite through Expedia averaging around $400 a night, but we were pleasantly surprised to walk into what looked more like a 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom condo with a kitchenette, dining area, balcony, living room, fireplace, whirl pool, 2 flat screen TVs and a steam sauna shower. It was spacious and comfortable for two adults. Being that it was just the two of us and we didn’t spend a lot of time at the resort, I would have preferred to stay in a smaller boutique hotel, but this is a great resort for families and large groups. We ate a late lunch at Drafts Sports Bar & Grill, one of the resort’s two dining options with a variety of pub food and appetizers to choose from ranging from hand-crafted burgers, pizzas, tacos, chili and desserts. It was a favorable choice on an empty stomach.

wgpc-drafts-1wgpc-drafts-4On our first night, we went into town and walked up and down Park City’s historic Main street until we decided to go into No Name Saloon & Grill. It’s a two-story bar and restaurant with an outdoor patio on the second floor, perfect for those warm, summer nights. The interior gives you a laid back, biker-type feel to it with a mixed crowd of people, men and women between the ages of 30 and 60. If you’re looking for a lively atmosphere with high energy, upbeat music and don’t mind a crowd, you should definitely check it out if you’re ever in the area.

no name saloonJ&SThursday was our first day out on the mountain. We had beautiful weather all weekend with sunny skies and temperatures in the high 50’s, low 60’s which is unusual for this time of year.  We spent all morning and early afternoon on Park City Mountain with over 7,300 skiable acres ranging from beginner,intermediate and advanced terrain.  I am not a strong skier and I don’t own skis so if you need to rent your gear, we rented my skis and boots from Cole Sport for $32 for the day. The staff was helpful and there were only a couple people in front of me so I was in and out within 45 minutes. They don’t rent helmets so we walked a few doors down to Breeze Ski Rental where I was able to rent one for $11. Ski lift tickets through Park City Mountain were roughly $100 a dayIMG_3965-1 copy616257_455376004494622_1820597950_oThursday evening we had dinner reservations at Apex at Montage Deer Valley Resort. Apex is an upscale restaurant in a high-end, luxury resort located atop Empire Pass, 4 miles from Park City. The trees leading up the driveway to the resort were strung with clear lights giving you a warm and welcoming entrance with a Christmas time feel to it. We had 7:00pm reservations, but surprisingly the restaurant was uncrowded and we appeared to be the youngest diners. The menu included steak and seafood options, handcrafted cocktails and an extensive wine list to choose from (we were introduced to our own private sommelier to give us her recommendations.)  If you want a cool and refreshing cocktail, I would suggest their Park City Mule, but if you are a wine drinker, we ordered a couple bottles of Machete by Orin Swift and Saldo by The Prisoner Wine Company. Superb options to quench your palette. After a few appetizers, three entrees, wine and dessert, our dinner totaled $400 a couple.

P.S. What do you think of the distinct label on the Machete?

machete 2macheteThe next day, we went on a 4 hour guided snowmobile tour through Thousand Peaks which cost $300 a person. It was one of the most memorable and exhilarating activities I’ve done and is a must if you ever get out west. They offer 2, 3 and 4 hour tours to choose from and our tour guide, Doug, made you feel relaxed, comfortable and at ease, making our tour that much more enjoyable. The skies were the bluest blue without a cloud in sight and the views from the summit overlooking Utah were spectacular.IMG_3986me in helmet mountains 2 sky mountainFor dinner that evening, we stumbled upon Blind Dog Restaurant & Sushi. We didn’t have reservations booked, but we were able to get right in. The food was appetizing and superior over our dinner from the evening before and the menu options ranged from sushi, seafood, premium steaks and burgers, a wine, sake and cocktail list.

When we decided to book our trip, I had reached out to our wedding photographer/videographer, Bethany Petersen from BP Film and Photo since she happens to live an hour away from Park City. She was awesome to work with and captured our wedding day in such a fun and creative manner that I just had to see her during our trip and hire her for a lifestyle shoot.  John and I never booked an engagement session before we were married so this was the perfect opportunity to make up for it with a couples shoot and we were able to do so on Saturday. You can view the photos on the Lifestyle page.

One of my greatest faults is procrastinating. I didn’t consider finding a makeup artist for the day of the shoot before our trip, so of course, I scrambled a few hours before and made a couple calls until I was referred to Splendor Beauty Emporium. It was one of three convenient options from our hotel and the only one that was able to get me in on such late notice.  I feel fortunate to have been able to discover such a pretty, feminine and charming little shop decorated with pink colored walls, a ceiling strung with crystal and white chandeliers and be enchanted upon entering by sweet smelling candles, fragrances, skin-care and cosmetic products galore. Some of the fabulous brands they carry include Nars, Smashbox, Laura Mercier, St. Tropez, L’Occitane and Dermalogica, to name a few.  The staff was exceedingly knowledgeable, welcoming, and I was paired with the talented Jude Mallory Marsh who did a beautiful job applying my makeup, exactly the way I wanted. A makeup application at Splendor Beauty Emporium costs $40 worth of product purchase. You can’t beat that! They are located in Park City’s Redstone Center, only 10 minutes from our resort and is a go-to for all beauty seekers.

On our last night in Park City, we dined at Oishi Sushi and Grill, an unpretentious ma and pa restaurant. It was noisy, crowded and the service was subpar, but the food was tasty with a variety of Maki rolls to choose from. We concluded our evening indulging in s’mores and sipping on wine at our friends’ hotel, Waldorf Astoria, an ideal ending to our adventurous and action packed getaway.

Please feel free to leave a comment or email me. I would love to hear your thoughts!

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