traveling back in time.

I had originally planned to share the story of our recent Adriatic Explorer cruise in chronological order from start to finish, but today I simply had to jump ahead to the end.

Why?

Well, two reasons really.  First of all, our visit to the Luigi Bevilacqua workshop inspired a craft project that I want to share with you later this week.  And second, I just couldn’t wait any longer to share this post!

People always ask, ‘what was your favorite part of your trip’ and the answer this time is definitely our tour with Luisella Romeo, a private guide in Venice.

Let me start at the beginning.  Shortly after we booked our cruise, Mr. Q was chatting with someone and she mentioned having toured this incredible workshop in Venice where they still make velvet fabrics by hand.  She said it was one of the coolest places she’d ever toured.  When Mr. Q mentioned it to me, I was intrigued.  Right around that same time, not only was I looking into hiring some private guides for our trip but I was also looking for something unique to do in Venice.  Since we were going to be there on my birthday we were willing to splurge a bit on something special.

That was when I found Luisella Romeo’s website.  Her carefully curated selection of tours looked fantastic and her website was so beautiful, so I checked her out on tripadvisor.com.  She had over 650 reviews and every. single. person. rated her as excellent and many wrote positively glowing reviews.  This is almost unheard of, right?  I mean it’s nearly impossible to make everyone happy.  Usually there is at least one incredibly picky customer that you simply can’t please, but not so with Luisella.

So I contacted her via email and asked if she could arrange a tour for us that would include the Luigi Bevilacqua workshop.  Several exchanges of emails later, we had an itinerary planned and everything arranged.

Luisella met us in Piazzale Roma at the end of the Venice People Mover.  The People Mover is a monorail system that has just three stops, the Tronchetto parking island, the Marittima cruise terminal and Piazzale Roma which is pretty much the entry point into Venice for most people.

Luisella was so charming and enthusiastic right from the start.  I knew we were going to have an amazing morning with her.  She started off leading us through the Piazzale Roma which was thronged with people coming and going.  But after just a few moments we were deeper into the Santa Croce neighborhood on some nearly empty … um, what do you call them? surely not streets … alleys?  corridors?  sidewalks?  passageways?

Whatever you want to call them, there is just no other city like Venice!

Luisella led us up to this very unassuming building.  Once there I’m pretty sure she used a secret password or some kind of coded knock on the door.

This reminded me of that moment in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Willy Wonka opens the door to reveal the magical wonderland of chocolate inside.

Only instead of chocolate, this place was filled with delicious velvet fabrics.

And one of the other things that caught my eye immediately was this old door that was just tucked behind some equipment.

You can probably just imagine how badly I wanted to dig that door out and get a better photo of it (and then possibly tuck it into my suitcase to bring it home with me), but instead I reminded myself that we were there to see some velvet weaving, not a fabulous old door.

Once upon a time there were as many as 1,200 weavers in Venice making silk fabrics.  However, over time such things as Napoleon’s decree that such fabrics should be made in France rather than in Italy, as well as the industrial revolution and the invention of mechanized production methods, contributed to the downward slide of hand weaving velvet out of silk threads.

Then along came Luigi Bevilacqua in 1875 and he saved several 18th century wooden looms from their imminent demise.

It’s tempting to think that I took that photo in a museum, but this is no museum.  It’s a functioning velvet weaving workshop.  There were a couple of women working on the looms while we were there, although I didn’t take their pictures.

One of the many challenges facing the Luigi Bevilacqua workshop is finding craftsmen who can maintain and repair these looms.  Clearly they need a ‘Ken’, or more accurately they probably have a ‘Ken’ but simply don’t know what they will do when he gets too old to continue working on the looms (I can totally relate to this feeling).

By the way you guys, this was a completely private tour.  It was just Mr. Q and I, our guide Luisella and the Bevilacqua employee who was a lovely woman named Anna who only spoke Italian.  Luisella translated everything for us.

The first thing we saw were all of the patterns.

Don’t quote me on this, but I think our guide said they have more than 3,500 patterns.  The patterns are made with punched holes in cardboard.  Each hole in the pattern corresponds to just one thread.

Honestly, I am totally unable to comprehend how these pieces of cardboard with holes punched in them translate to these gorgeous patterns of velvet …

but somehow they do.

All of the silk threads that are used in making the velvet are hand-knotted onto bobbins, and each bobbin is individually weighted to maintain the proper tension (you can see the little lead weights hanging from each one).

The number of bobbins depends upon the complexity of the design and can range from 400 to as many as 16,000!

And then the weavers take these threads and turn them into this.

It really does seem as though there is some kind of magic at work.

Before the end of our tour we learned the difference between ‘cut’ and ‘curly’ threads.

The ‘curly’ threads are uncut loops of silk while the ‘cut’ threads started out as ‘curly’ threads but were cut by the weaver.  The same color of thread can look so different depending on whether it is cut or curly.

After seeing all that goes in to making this fabric, and learning that a weaver can only produce about 12″ of fabric in one day, I quickly realized that this beautiful handmade velvet was never going to be in my price range.  So I wondered, who buys it and what do they use it for?

Originally the velvet was mainly used for either upholstery, draperies or wall coverings.  Can you just imagine what it would cost to cover an entire wall with this stuff?  Customers have included the White House, the Kremlin, and the Göteborg Stadsteater (that’s City Theatre) in Sweden.  But these days some high end designers are using the velvet for clothing and accessories as well.

At the end of our tour we stopped in at the tiny little showroom where there were some items for sale including handbags and belts.  The one handbag I asked about was €1,500 (or about $1,700 American).

Yep, definitely out of my price range.

Still, it was amazing to tour the workshop and learn about the process of making these beautiful velvet’s.  It was perhaps the closest thing to traveling back in time that I’ve ever experienced.

This beautiful hot pink velvet on a gold background inspired me to try something creative, so be sure to check back on Friday to see how it turned out!

And if you happen to be traveling to Venice any time soon, I can’t recommend both Luisella and touring the Luigi Bevilacqua workshop enough.  They are absolutely worth the splurge!

the only thing that makes you richer.

I recently read a quote somewhere that said travel is the one thing you can spend money on that only makes you richer.

Hmmmm.  Well, that and possibly gambling in Monte Carlo.  But that’s definitely not guaranteed.  I wouldn’t know though because we never actually made it to the Casino de Monte-Carlo while docked in Monaco, the 2nd port of call on our recent cruise.  Instead we took a side trip to Eze (which I’ll share in another post) and then spent the afternoon wandering around Monaco-Ville on our own.

In contrast to our first port of call in rainy Genoa, we woke up to a lovely sunrise and blue skies on day two.  This was the view from our stateroom balcony.

For those of you not familiar, Monaco is 2nd smallest country in the world.  The only one smaller is the Vatican, which apparently technically qualifies as its own ‘country’.  Monaco encompasses a mere .78 square miles although it has been growing recently as they continue to reclaim land from the sea.  It is bordered on three sides by France and by the Mediterranean on the 4th side.  I suppose France would frown on them trying to expand on those other three sides, so the sea it is.

Monaco also has the world’s lowest poverty rate, highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capita, and most expensive real estate.  Accordingly Monaco also has one of the largest police forces per capita in the world, and thus an incredibly low crime rate.  And trust me, it shows.  By the way, I say ‘accordingly’ not because Monaco has expensive things to protect, but because a large police force is expensive to maintain and Monaco can afford to do that.

There was such a difference between Genoa and Monaco.  Genoa was dark, moody, gritty, and I’ll admit just a little intimidating, not to mention overcast and rainy.  In contrast, Monaco was bright, clean, very welcoming and sunny.  Yes, it’s possible that the weather had something to do with it, but I think it was more than that too.

Our ship was docked in Port Hercules, which is an incredibly convenient location.

I took that photo from Le Rocher (the rock) or Monaco-VilleMonaco-Ville is the historic district of Monaco that contains the Prince’s Palace, the Oceanographic Museum, St Martin Gardens and the Cathedral of Our Lady Immaculate where Grace Kelly is buried.

As you can see, we were the only ship docked that day.  When I was originally posting about this trip I mentioned that we were going in the off-season because it’s cheaper and less crowded.  The trade off is less predictable weather.  Our plan definitely paid off here.  It was a beautiful sunny day with temps in the 60’s, and there were no crowds anywhere.  Mr. Q and I practically felt as though we had the entire place to ourselves most of the time.

From the dock there is a series of elevators, walking paths and escalators that take you to the top of Le Rocher.  How cool is that?  They made it incredibly simple to just hop off the ship and start exploring Monaco.

Here is part of the path that takes you there.

And here’s the view looking over that little wall.

The people staying in this place must have an amazing view of the sea …

And aren’t those aqua shutters to die for?

Although we didn’t take the time to go inside, the Oceanographic Museum looks amazing from the outside.

It’s a gorgeous building that is built right into the side of the cliff.

This is one of those moments where I wish I had a drone.  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  But since I don’t have a drone, I borrowed this next photo from the web so I could just show you how amazing this place is.

Incredible, right?

Once we made it to the top we wandered around in Jardin de Saint-Martin a bit.

Next we took a look at the Prince’s Palace.

We missed seeing the changing of the guard, which takes place every day at noon.

We walked around the cathedral, but didn’t go inside there either.  It was such a lovely afternoon and we didn’t want to waste any of it indoors.

And I have one last lovely building in Monaco-Ville to share with you today, the Palais de Justice.

Tourists aren’t allowed inside this one though, so I don’t have to feel bad about only having seen the outside.

After a very pleasant afternoon wandering around on Le Rocher, we made our way back to our ship where once again we enjoyed the view from our balcony as we sailed away.

We’d been sailing back out to sea for about 30 minutes when the strangest thing happened.  Our ship turned around and went back!

I’m fairly sure this has never happened on any cruise I’ve ever been on.  Had our captain forgotten something back on the dock?

The captain made an announcement at that point, there was a medical emergency of some kind on board and we were turning around to meet an ambulance boat that would off-load the person and take them to a hospital.

So we said goodbye to Monaco once again, but this time feeling a little bit sad for whomever it was that had a medical emergency only two days into our itinerary.  That being said, it is nice to know that if you ever have a serious medical issue on board a cruise ship, they are willing to turn that ship around for you!

Be sure to check back next Wednesday for the third installment in my Adriatic Explorer series!

 

rainy days and mondays.

The very first port of call on our recent Adriatic cruise was Genoa, Italy.  If you know your geography, you’ll realize that Genoa isn’t on the Adriatic at all.  Instead it sits on the northwest coast of Italy south of Milan on the Ligurian Sea.

We arrived in Genoa on a rainy Monday morning and I’m not gonna lie, we still hadn’t quite recovered from the almost 20 hours of travel we endured the day before and the overcast, wet conditions didn’t help matters much.

Nonetheless, we were not going to let rainy days and Mondays get us down!

If you’ve been paying attention to my posts about this trip you may realize that initially we were planning to visit the aquarium in Genoa.  However, a few weeks before we left I’d been doing some web surfing and I discovered a company called Do Eat Better that was offering street food tours.  Although Mr. Q and I are hardly ‘foodies’, we thought a street food walking tour might be a great way to see Genoa with a local, so we booked it.  For just under $65 each, we got a 3.5 hour walking tour with five stops for food and/or drink included.

Can I just say, thank goodness we did this.  This tour probably saved our day in Genoa.  As Lonely Planet says, “Italy’s largest sea port is indefatigably contradictory, full at once of grandeur, squalor, sparkling light and deep shade” and that is a very apt description.  On a gloomy November day, the deep shade of Genoa’s narrow, dark alleyways is not terribly inviting.

I’m not sure we would have enjoyed wandering around Genoa on our own in search of that sparkling light.

But we didn’t have to.  Our lovely and personable guide, Marina, met us near the Neptune Galleon which was just a short walk from where our ship was docked.  There was just one other couple at our meeting point and they were also from our ship, although we hadn’t met them yet.

Here’s a little q-tip for you regarding cruising.  After you’ve booked a cruise, check out the roll call page for your specific cruise on cruisecritic.com.  You can post messages for other passengers that will be on your ship.  When I initially found this street food tour I saw that it required a minimum of 3 people to operate, so I posted the info about it on cruisecritic.com hoping that I would encourage other passengers on our ship to sign up.  Sure enough, Sharon and Bill saw my posting and booked the tour.

So the five of us headed into town and to the first stop on our tour, a local focaccia place.

We started with the simple olive oil and salt-based focaccia alla genovese which originated in Genoa.  It was warm and fresh out of the oven.  We tried the plain version rather than the focaccia with cheese and olives shown above.  Since my stomach was only just starting to wake up and get used to the time difference, this was the perfect thing for beginning our tour.

Our next stop was a local Sciamadda where we tried something called Socca or Farinata.

Farinata is made with chickpea flour, water, salt and olive oil.  Marina explained that it starts out as a fairly liquid batter that solidifies as it cooks and turns this lovely golden yellow.  The bottom gets nice and crusty.  It is served plain or with pesto or Stracchino cheese.  I have to admit, I wasn’t particularly a fan of this dish.  But it was interesting hearing how it was made and giving it a try.

Our next stop was back towards the waterfront where we tried the local seafood.

Keep in mind that this was specifically a ‘street food’ tour.  Most of the dishes we tried were things a local would buy from a small shop and then eat on the go.  This was fried calamari and shrimp that was served in a paper cone with some lemon wedges and it was delizioso.  Mr. Q loves seafood, so he really enjoyed this stop.

After the seafood, we headed uphill towards the Porta Soprana, or one of the gates into the city.

Sidebar to my local readers, I’m not sure what the TC logo on top of that building was for, but it sure did make me feel at home 😉

Nearby we found Locanda Tortuga which was our next stop where we tried focaccia col formaggio, or cheese stuffed focaccia.

Oh my gosh you guys, this stuff was so good.  You could have it plain, with some thinly shaved Parma ham on top, or my favorite, with pesto alla genovese.

Yum.  This was by far the most delicious pesto I’ve ever eaten.  As it turns out, Genoa is known for having the best pesto in the world and that is because there is a specific variety of basil that grows in that region and it gives the pesto alla genovese its superb flavor.  Apparently the basil we grow here in the U.S. is simply not the same at all.

I loved the pesto so much that I later purchased several jars of it to bring home.  I’m obviously going to have to hoard it and ration it out as long as possible!

We did sit down at this restaurant and enjoy a glass of wine with our focaccia col formaggio.  We also were able to watch the focaccia being made by this guy.

After leaving Locanda Tortuga we headed towards some of that grandeur that Lonely Planet was talking about.  Via Giuseppe Garibaldi is lined with palaces that were build by the Genoese aristocracy during the Renaissance.

This street is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Many of the palazzos are open to the public as museums, but unfortunately like many museums throughout the world, many are closed on Monday’s.

This is definitely something to keep in mind when planning a trip, especially if it’s a cruise and you’ll be in port for one day only.  Make sure that the things you want to see are open.  In addition to many museums being closed on Monday’s, in Europe most shops and other things are still closed on Sunday’s too.

Despite not touring any of the palazzos, we did get to admire some glimpses of their beauty like this one.

I couldn’t resist getting just a little bit closer …

Naturally the final stop on our food tour was for gelato and coffee.

If you’ve ever been to Italy you know that gelato beats ice cream hands down.  It’s creamier, more dense and has a richer flavor even though it’s actually made with less cream or more milk so has a lower fat content.  Regardless of the technical details, it’s yummy.  I had Pistachio and Almond.

By the time we finished our Street Food Tour we were stuffed!  The jet lag was rapidly catching up with us, and it was starting to get dark (it gets dark early in November), so we headed back to our ship on foot.  Marina gave us directions and we were easily able to find our way.

If you are planing a trip to Italy any time soon, I can’t recommend the Do Eat Better Experience enough.  In addition to the tours they offer in Genoa, they also offer tours in many other Italian cities.  At the conclusion of our tour, they sent me an email with an offer of a 10% discount for my friends.  Just use the code DEB4FRIENDS when booking.

This post was not sponsored in any way by Do Eat Better, I paid full price for the tour and all opinions shared here are my own.

Be sure to tune in next Wednesday when I’ll share our 2nd port of call, Monte Carlo!

of mice and men.

And bam!  Just like that we’re back home from our whirlwind vacation.  Trips like these always go by in the blink of an eye.  One minute you are trying to make sure you remembered to pack everything, and the next thing you know you are back home in your own bed and wondering how it went by so fast.  But I have a confession to make, I’m always happy to be back home again in my familiar surroundings.  I’m also anxious to get back to my painting!

Don’t worry (although conversely, do worry if you aren’t into travel posts), I plan to share all of the details of our Adriatic Cruise much like I did last year with our Norway/Scotland cruise.  I’ll post about a different port each week until I get through them all.  I think some might even take more than one post because there was so much to see!

If you are one of those people who would rather poke your eye out with a sharp stick than look at someone’s travel photos you may want to avoid my blog on Wednesday’s for the next several months.

But for the rest of you, I’ll be saving one of the most awesome things we did for last.

We hired a private guide to take us on a tour of the Luigi Bevilacqua artisanal weaving workshop in Venice where they still make Soprarizzo velvet by hand using 18th century looms.  It was incredible and I’m looking forward to sharing more details of that with you guys.

I’ll start the travel posts this week with the details of our Street Food Tour in Genoa, so be sure to check back on Wednesday for that.

But in the meantime, today is a special day because it’s my fifth blogiversary.    I started q is for quandie on November 26, 2013.  At the time I remember thinking that if my blog lasted five years, I’d be lucky.  It seems like so many bloggers come and go, and believe me I can totally understand why.  Blogging is a time consuming activity and if you are hoping to make a bunch of money doing it, you are likely to be disappointed.

However, as it has turned out, I really enjoy blogging.  I love almost every aspect; the writing, the photography, the interaction with my readers, the brainstorming to come up with creative ideas for posts and of course the furniture painting and other projects that I blog about.  In the end, even if I wasn’t blogging, I would still be refurbishing furniture.  So as long as I keep that up, it seems to go hand in hand with blogging.

The one incredible benefit that I never anticipated when starting my blog has been the opportunity to work with some great companies like Homestead House Paint Co (which also includes Fusion Mineral Paint and Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint), Dixie Belle Paint Company and Prima Marketing.

So in anticipation of my blogiversary I reached out to all three of these companies and asked them if they would be willing to help me celebrate five years of blogging by providing some of my favorite products that I could include in a ‘give away’ today.

They all very graciously said yes.

However, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.  Something always manages to go awry.  I was hoping that all of the items would arrive in the mail while I was gone on my trip.  My neighbor Ken was in charge of keeping an eye out for delivery trucks and bringing in any packages so they wouldn’t sit on the porch.  I told him to expect at least three boxes, if not more.

Unfortunately the only box waiting for me when I got home Friday night was the one from Homestead House, so that left me with a conundrum.  Even though I was planning to have just one giant, fabulous prize for my blogiversary post today, I didn’t have everything yet.  So, should I delay my blogiversary post?  Or should I break it down and have multiple giveaways?  Maybe one per week up until Christmas?  The more I thought about it, the more that sounded like a great solution.

And this way I can pay homage to each line of products individually and focus on why they made it onto my list of favorites.

It makes sense to start with the first paint line that I really fell in love with, Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint.  One of the first pieces I painted with MMS milk paint was an antique oak buffet that I had in my piano room.

I painted this with Kitchen Scale and then used Miss Mustard Seed’s Hemp Oil as a finish.

That was the start of a long line of pieces painted in this same combination.  I love the way the hemp oil brings out the vibrant color of the Kitchen Scale.  I also love that hemp oil is so simple to use.  I apply it with a cheap chip brush and then wipe away any excess.  Another incredible feature of the hemp oil is that it is totally safe for both you and the environment.  In fact, it is even food safe and can be used to rejuvenate your wooden cutting boards.

Another MMS color that I absolutely love is Linen.  It’s the perfect creamy white.  Not so white that it makes other whites look dingy by comparison.  It’s a white that plays well with others.

I’ve used this color on a countless number of pieces over the years as well.

Another favorite of mine is the Miss Mustard Seed’s lavender scented furniture wax.  It really makes the work of waxing a piece so much more enjoyable when you’re surrounded by the relaxing scent of lavender.  And the MMS wax is so creamy and smooth, making it easier to apply.  I also love the fact that it does not contain aromatic hydrocarbons making it safe for indoor use in the winter.

This was a limited edition product and I’m not sure how readily available it is anymore, but I was able to snag a jar of it for my giveaway (thank you Miss Mustard Seed)!

I’ll also be adding a couple of things to this giveaway that I picked up on my trip including a Nadalina (a prize winning Croatian chocolate maker according to this article) chocolate bar in dark chocolate with Adriatic Sea Salt.

That little wrapped item that looks like a bon bon is actually lavender soap, also from Croatia.

Plus I’m including an Italian decorating magazine called Shabby Style.  You know I love checking out the foreign decorating magazines whenever I’m traveling.  I picked this one up at a news stand in Ravenna, Italy.  In case you are wondering, no, I don’t understand a word of Italian, but I still enjoy looking at the photos.  And apparently some things are universal, such as an admiration for vintage glass tree toppers.

And a love for worn, chippy, painted finishes on furniture.  As they say, it adds un tocco romantico e nostalgico alla stanza.

You could easily achieve this look using Miss Mustard Seed’s milk paint and I think the color is very similar to her Grain Sack which is a white with a grey undertone.

So to recap, today’s prize includes:  the Italian magazine, the Croatian soap and chocolate bar, Miss Mustard Seed’s Kitchen Scale and Linen paint, a 7 oz. lavender scented furniture wax and 250 mL of hemp oil.

The basic rules:  to be eligible to win today’s prize leave a comment of any kind on this blog post.  Your comment must be left on the blog, not on Facebook or Instagram.  You are not required to follow my blog, although it would be awesome if you did!

Normally I make a point of answering every comment left on my blog.  If someone takes the time to leave a comment, I like to acknowledge that.  I usually only get 10 to 20 comments so it’s easy to fulfill that promise.  But I suspect I’ll get a few more comments on this post so I’m going to warn you up front that I may not be able to answer each one, so I hope you guys will cut me some slack on that this week.

I will randomly draw the name of a winner for today’s prize from all of the comments left on this post by Friday, November 30, 2018 at the stroke of midnight (U.S. Central time).

The fine print: no purchase necessary, you must be 18 years of age or older to win, void where prohibited by law, the number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning, approximate retail value of prize is $110, if the prize is not claimed by Sunday, December 2, another name will be drawn at random to win, blah, blah, blah.

Good luck!

q is for quandie, unplugged.

Oh my goodness, I can hardly believe it’s finally here!  Mr. Q and I are off on an adventure.  Way back in June I posted about booking a cruise on the Adriatic Sea.  It felt like it was a long way off then, and I didn’t want to wish the summer away being too excited for our trip.  But as we all know, time flies … and here we are in November!

Our itinerary mainly features smaller ports that we haven’t been to like Valletta (Malta) and Kotor (Montenegro).  Plus a couple of favorites that we are happy to return to, Venice and Monte Carlo.

The day in Venice also just happens to be my birthday.  Who wouldn’t want to spend their birthday in Venice?  Even if it is just a tad flooded at the moment.

This is the off-season for travel in Europe, so that made the trip much more affordable.  Plus not as many crowds, and definitely cooler weather.  Hopefully those things will work in our favor, but if you’ve been following the news you’ll know that the weather has been a bit crazy lately in Italy.  So we’ve packed our umbrellas and are just hoping for the best.

Here are the ports we will visit.

Genoa, Italy where we have booked a street food tour and we also plan to visit the aquarium.

Monte Carlo, Monaco where we’ve booked a side trip to Eze, France.

Naples, Italy where we’ll visit Herculaneum.

Messina, Italy  where we’ve booked a Godfather themed tour.  We’re not really big Godfather fans, but the tour itself goes to some small hillside towns that look really charming.

In Malta we’ve hired a private guide for the entire day.  It looks like such a fascinating place and we really want to see it all.  We had such an amazing time with the private guide we hired in Scotland, so we’re going to splurge this time as well.

We’ll see the famous balconies of Valletta …

Hagar Qim, a megalithic temple complex dating to 3,600 – 3,200 B.C.  How in the world did they move those huge stones back then?  I hope we’ll learn more about that …

Marsaxlokk, a small fishing village known for its colorful boats …

And Mdina, a medieval fortified city.

Mr. Q is looking forward to Kotor, Montenegro where we plan to do some exploring on our own.

But we also plan to take a boat over to Our Lady of the Rocks …

Split, Croatia is another spot that will be easy to navigate on our own …

Ravenna, Italy is famous for its Byzantine mosaics so we plan to take a look at them.  Just look at those beautiful colors!

And finally, our cruise ends in Venice, Italy.  We’ve spent time in Venice before, so we’ve seen all of the major sites.  This time I want to do something special, plus since it’s my birthday I get to choose what we do!  So we’ve hired another private guide who will take us to some unique spots in Venice that are off the beaten path.  Hopefully we won’t have to wade through too much water to get to them.

We’ll be back home just in time for my 5th blogiversary!  I’m planning an amazing giveaway after we return to celebrate five years of blogging.  I’ll be giving away a bunch of my favorite products plus I hope to find a few goodies to include while on my trip.  So be sure to check back for that in two weeks.

In the meantime, I’m going to take a bit of a blogging break.  I tend to mostly ‘unplug’ when I’m on a cruise.  I definitely won’t splurge and pay for the expensive WiFi on the ship.  My sister Debbie will be in charge of everything while we’re gone.  She’ll be house sitting and watching over our cat Lucy, and maybe I can convince her to occasionally check for blog comments too.  But I doubt I can get her to paint any furniture or write any blog posts for me 😉

I do plan on posting the occasional quick picture or two to Instagram on the fly though (when I have cell service), so if you don’t already follow me on Instagram be sure to do it now!  Otherwise, I’ll be back in a couple of weeks, so be sure to check back then!

the adriatic.

Before I continue on with the rest of today’s post I wanted to make a short public service announcement.  I’ve got some amazing giveaways sponsored by Prima Marketing scheduled for next week.  They’ve sent me a fantastic selection of their gorgeous transfers and I’ll be sharing some projects I’ve finished using the them.  I’ll also be giving away a bunch of them with all three (or maybe more?) of my posts next week, so be sure to stay tuned.

Now, on with today’s entirely unrelated post.

A while back I shared the fact that Mr. Q and I were striking out when it came to planning a trip for this year.  We tried booking five different selections and were denied for each and every one.  It was so frustrating that we decided to quit looking for a while and possibly nix the idea of taking a trip in 2018.  Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.

Mr. Q and I were discussing this and he brought up the fact that in 2019 we will be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary, so maybe it would make sense to skip a trip this year and plan something really amazing for our 30th.

We looked at the possibility of something a little further afield than Europe, maybe Japan or Thailand.  We were seriously considering this idea and had narrowed things down to a cruise from Bangkok to Bali with an extension to see Angkor Wat (which has always been on my bucket list).  But there were a few things about this trip that made us hesitate.  First, the 20+ hour flight to Bangkok.  Yikes!  That’s a really long time on a plane.  Second, the weather in that part of the world.  It’s basically just a question of varying degrees of hot and humid.  Ugh, my least favorite weather conditions.  Third, the crowds.  I’ve seen beautiful photos of Angkor Wat looking so tranquil, but the reality is that over 2 million people visit annually.  The crowds have become an issue and we’re just not good with crowds.  Finally, the cost.  It was going to be a fairly expensive proposition.

While we were doing all of this research we came across another option that made more sense for us, a cruise on the Adriatic Sea.  We’ve been on the Adriatic before, but this itinerary mainly features ports that we haven’t been to like Valletta (Malta) and Kotor (Montenegro).  Plus a couple of favorites that we are happy to return to, Venice and Monte Carlo.

The day in Venice also just happens to be my birthday.  Who wouldn’t want to spend their birthday in Venice?

This trip is during the off-season (November) and is also on a very small ship, only 670 passengers rather than the 2,500+ on the bigger ships.  So not as many crowds (both on the ship and off), and definitely cooler weather.  Hopefully those things will work in our favor.  Not to mention, travel is cheaper in the off-season.  Our airline tickets were half the price of our previous trips to Europe.

Here are the ports we will visit.

Genoa, Italy where we plan to visit the aquarium.

Monte Carlo, Monaco where we’ve booked a side trip to Eze, France.

Naples, Italy where we’ll visit Herculaneum.

Messina, Italy  where we might do a wine tasting excursion, or possibly a Godfather themed tour.  We’re still contemplating that one.

In Malta we’ve hired a private guide for the entire day.  It looks like such a fascinating place and we really want to see it all.  We had such an amazing time with the private guide we hired in Scotland, so we’re going to splurge this time as well.

We’ll see the famous balconies of Valletta …

Hagar Qim, a megalithic temple complex dating to 3,600 – 3,200 B.C.  How in the world did they move those huge stones back then?  I hope we’ll learn more about that …

Marsaxlokk, a small fishing village known for its colorful boats …

And Mdina, a medieval fortified city.

Mr. Q is looking forward to Kotor, Montenegro where we plan to just explore on our own.

Split, Croatia is another spot that will be easy to navigate on our own.

Ravenna, Italy is famous for its Byzantine mosaics so we plan to take a look at them.  Just look at those beautiful colors!

And finally, our cruise ends in Venice, Italy.  We spent a few days in Venice several years ago with my bff and her husband, so we’ve seen all of the major sites.  This time I want to do something special, plus since it’s my birthday I get to choose what we do!  So we’re hiring another private guide who will take us to some unique spots in Venice that are off the beaten path.

We’re still working out the exact details of our day in Venice, so you’ll have to wait to hear more about that one!

We are really looking forward to this trip, but I’m trying not to wish the summer away hoping that November gets here sooner!  I also have to laugh at myself.  The last time I went to Europe in November I vowed never again.  But we’ll be a bit further south this time so fingers crossed that the entire two weeks aren’t dreary and cold.  And as I like to say, never say never!

In the meantime, be sure to check back next week for the Prima Marketing giveaways!

spring beauty.

One year ago today Mr. Q and I were in Copenhagen about to board our cruise ship to sail off to Norway, Scotland and England.

We had such an amazing time on that trip (to see all of my travel posts click on ‘travel.’ over to the right under ‘stuff.’).  We loved it so much that we tried to do something similar again this year.  We had a British Isles cruise all picked out.  In addition to visiting some ports in Scotland, it also stopped at several ports in Ireland, a couple of spots in England and even one port on the coast of France.

We were literally minutes away from booking it when Mr. Q remembered that he had some other obligations in May this year that meant the timing wasn’t going to work.

We next looked at the option of going later in the summer, but the price was more than $2,000 higher for the same trip.  Yikes!  We just couldn’t justify that.

Since then we have tried four more times to book a trip for this year and each one has fallen through for some reason or another.  So we decided maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.  At least for now.  Our travel agent (a.k.a. my mom) is keeping an eye out for some last minute deals, but otherwise maybe we’ll just try again next May.

But in the meantime, I’m feeling a little sad that we aren’t heading off to Ireland this month so I thought I’d re-live our last trip today by sharing some of the beautiful spring gardens that we saw.

Just before we left on our trip last year I was lamenting the fact that I would most likely miss seeing the lilacs bloom in my garden.  They last for such a short time, and sure enough I did miss it.  But in hindsight, it was really ridiculous to be worried about that.  Of course the gardens that I saw on my trip were spectacular, and I saw plenty of lilacs in bloom starting with these in Copenhagen

And these in Stavanger

I needn’t have worried about missing the last of the tulips either.  I saw plenty of tulips everywhere we went.  Hot pink tulips in Copenhagen …

Yellow tulips in Kristiansand

And these gorgeous red and white tulips at Dunrobin Castle.

I’m guessing that the growing climate in Norway, Denmark and Scotland is very similar to ours in Minnesota because I saw lots of plants that I recognized and that I grow in my own gardens, like hostas and allium.

But there were a few I wasn’t sure about, like this blooming shrub in Stavanger …

I’m guessing that is some sort of rhododendron or azalea?  Does anyone recognize it?

Here’s a close up of the flowers, which grow in a cluster.

I also didn’t recognize this blooming tree I saw in Kristiansand, Norway.

And I’m not at all sure what this pretty wildflower in Flåm is, but I think it might be called Spring Beauty.

Some flowers were unique to the areas we were in, like the Scotch broom.

and the Scottish Bluebells.

Although we saw this flower in Bergen too, so I don’t think Scotland can totally claim it as their own.

We enjoyed fields of wildflowers everywhere, like this one in Flåm, Norway.

We saw huge formal gardens in the French style at Dunrobin Castle.

And a little smaller but still formal garden at the Beamish.

 And charming little kitchen gardens at the Beamish also.

You know what I just realized?  Writing this blog post is not helping.  Now I’m wishing even more that we were heading off to sail around the British Isles this week!  Dang!

Well, at least I won’t miss seeing the lilacs bloom in my own garden this year.  How about you, any fantastic summer travel plans for 2018?  I’d love to hear about them, so be sure to leave a comment so I can live vicariously through you!