Sunday, November 28, 2010

Oceania Cruise: Venice

I’ve never yet been on a cruise. That’s somewhat ironic because my late father was a yacht broker and owned a marina. As kids we slept many a summer’s weekend-night on our cabin cruiser, anchored in a cove on Old Hickory Lake. So yes, it is ironic that I’ve never been on a real cruise!

I do dream of a cruise, however -- a specific cruise.  It’s Oceania’s Grecian Glory, on the cruise line’s soon-to-be-launched new ship, Marina.

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Marina is one beautiful lady!

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The Grand Staircase


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Marina’s Veranda Stateroom -- I so want to drift off there!

So, with this post begins a ScheckTrek series that will mirror Oceania’s Grecian Glory itinerary. This will include Venice, Italy; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Ephesus, Turkey; and seven stops in the Greek Isles, including Santorini and Mykonos, ending in Athens.

Venice is the city of embarkation. While this series will primarily be virtual travel, it will begin with an overview of a actual 2009 trip to that enchanting city of canals. (All photos from ScheckTrek unless otherwise noted.)

This was taken from St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco). On the left is the Doge’s Palace, constructed largely in the early 1300s. To the right in the photo, but really across the Venetian Lagoon, is the island of San Giorgio Maggiore and its church, dating from 1566-1610.

The church/island of San Giorgio Maggiore


This was unposed.



So Venetian!

St. Mark’s Square is magical at night. By then the day-trippers have gone and the major cafes sponsor free open-air concerts. You only pay (dearly) if you take a seat at one of their outdoor tables.

Caffe Florian is one of the hosts of these concerts. Established in 1720, it may be the oldest coffee house in continuous operation, according to Wikipedia. In their respective times, the Florian was frequented by Charles Dickens, Goethe, Lord Byron, and Casanova—the latter probably because it was the only coffee house that allowed women. (Bravo for them for allowing women!) It came to be frequented by people from all walks of life and social classes.

Actually, all of Venice is magical at night. This was taken from the Rialto Bridge.

The ScheckTrek pick for Venice, if not staying onboard the Marina, is the Al Ponte Antico. It was one of our top-five, best hotel experiences ever!

The hotel, as seen from the water. Don’t be put off by the appearance of a crumbling exterior. This is TripAdvisor’s #1 rated hotel for Venice, and it comes in #6 on their list of Top 25 Hotels in Europe, based on user reviews.

Some of our fondest memories of the trip were sitting under that red awning — enjoying breakfast in the morning and spritzes in the evening — and watching all of Venice go by on the Grand Canal below.

This is a view from the hotel terrace. It’s only a stone’s throw from the Rialto Bridge.

We’d never imagined all the types of boat traffic we would see. Of course there are the ever present gondolas. But the city’s “busses” (vaporettos) are also boats. The mail carrier arrives in a boat, as do the hotels’ supplies of clean linens from their laundry service. We even saw an ambulance boat, with siren blaring, zooming by and splashing water over both sides of the canal!

Our room. The Venetian style can seem a bit over-the-top when taken out of context, but it looks perfect in its setting. The woods, whether of furniture or doors, are absolute works of art in themselves. Simply stunning.

The ceilings are really, really high — it was a lot of wall space to cover in that rich fabric. The chandelier is Murano.

The final clincher for splurging on this hotel was the glowing consensus of TripAdvisor reviewers who'd raved about it.  But even before reading the appraisals, I was pretty much sold on those banquettes! 

In cool weather this would have been a great place to eat breakfast, have drinks or just lounge. However, with the good weather we had, it was too hard to pass up the terrace all those times!

Another lovely spot for breakfast

In addition to the beautiful, ready-to-eat breakfast assortment, the owner, Mateo, offered to make us banana crepes each morning. We accepted. He also scrambled us some eggs that came from his grandmother’s farm.

Al Ponte Antico’s charming owner, Mateo. Long may his success continue!

ScheckTrek Travel, affiliated with Corporate Travel/The Travel Center USAis a travel agency specializing in individualized itineraries the world over.  We’d like to help you create a trip that will exceed your expectations.

If your plans call for travel, please contact us at

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Monterey Peninsula, Part 2

(All photos from ScheckTrek unless otherwise stated.)

It’s kind of funny how it took us 27 years to get back to the Monterey Peninsula after our 1983 trip (we went this past September) then only six weeks to return again. Some good friends invited us to share their vacation-club condo, and it was well worth the quick return visit!

Our mid-September trip was covered in my October 18 blog ( This will be a review of our early November jaunt.

Sightseeing on this trip included a walkabout in Carmel (with a legal name of Carmel-by-the-Sea, is it any wonder it’s one of the most charming villages in the U.S.?), San Lobos State Natural Reserve, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and a short stop at Mission Carmel.


I’m not normally one who wants to spend my travel time looking at things in an “artificial” setting, but I cannot possibly overestimate the appeal of this aquarium. I could have easily spent the whole day there.

Just look at the world around you
Right here on the ocean floor
Such wonderful things surround you
What more is you looking for?

Under the sea, under the sea
Darlin’, it’s better
Down where it’s wetter
Take it from me

--Lyrics, “Under the Sea”

Some of the color combinations were amazing.  This little fish almost appears to be wearing a crown from the reflection.

The otters were little entertainers who kept all ages amused.

Hitchin’ a ride

Lover Lips meets…

 (That was one scary looking eel!)

This well-camouflaged fish looked like it was filled with jewels and resting on porcelain flowers.  I really hope it was a girl fish because, what a waste on a guy!


I could have stood there for hours just watching the jellies (jellyfish).  How do they not become hopelessly tangled?


I had no idea there were so many different types.

This jelly reminds me of a dress my daughter had as a baby, but the animal is of course deceptively innocent looking.


Sunny Side Up jellyfish

Leafy Sea Dragon, beautifully attired!


Bat ray

Somewhat humorous, but with a message


Carmel's architecture is a mixture of early California + fairytale.



Lots of art galleries


Carmel is so cultured that even the dogs frequent its art galleries, though I think these two were really just more interested in meeting Uncle Al.

Don’t you love that hair-do?

And there were lots of upscale shops, peddling unusual and creative wares




The seas were rough, which made for some interesting photography opportunities.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen more tripods in use at one time.  That seagull continued to brave one big wave after another.

CARMEL MISSION, established in 1771

Those walls look over 200 years old!




In September we chose the Spindrift Inn in Monterey. This time we stayed about five miles away at the Highlands Inn, in Carmel. They’re both upscale properties with water views, but if sunsets over the water are your thing, you’d be well advised to consider Carmel, whose west-coast setting actually faces west, rather than Monterey, which faces north on the peninsula.

Below are some photos of and from the Highlands Inn. (For more information on the Spindrift Inn, please see my October 18, 2010 blog.)

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That tub was great!

And the sunsets were even better.

It was a wonderful four days, even if we had been there just six weeks earlier!

ScheckTrek Travel, affiliated with Corporate Travel/The Travel Center USAis a travel agency specializing in individualized itineraries the world over.  Our goal is to exceed our clients' expectations, both in terms of value and the experience. 

If your plans call for travel, please contact us at