Book Review: Cattra’s Legacy by Anna Mackenzie

21 Oct

Cattra's LegacyWhen Risha’s father dies and her holding is taken from her by the village leader, she decides to travel with the traders and find one of her father’s old friends. She doesn’t realize that the journey will bring her much more than she bargained for and turn her life on its head in ways she couldn’t imagine.

This was an excellent find at the library and I plan on purchasing my own copy soon. It had everything I like in a book: fiery female lead, politics galore, a hint of magic, an array of supporting characters, and a page-turning plot. It was well-written, too, with words and sentences that seemed to flow effortlessly, painting a beautiful picture of this world and the people who live in it.

That said, I knocked a star off my Goodreads review because it was a bit too much plot in too small a space. I felt like the information and events we were presented in this book could easily have been expanded to suit a trilogy rather than just one book. It was just 350 pages long, and covered over a year of important events that helped to develop the main character. I just think that some things could have been slowed down and explained more thoroughly if the author had been given more space to do so. I was often confused by the names of places and the people leading them and their place in this world. The politics were complex, which is excellent, but not enough time was given to explain them, and I was often confused by that as well.

There were also too many characters which I call “characters of convenience”–those that pop up to serve a purpose but are then discarded. Honestly, the “characters of convenience” in this book were realistic. If Risha were to experience what she experienced in the “real world” she probably wouldn’t see half the people she met along the way again… but as a reader, those characters take up space in my mind, not to mention space on the page, that would be better used by explanations of the things I named above. When the author has but so many words and pages to work with, it doesn’t make sense to waste them on characters that we will never see again. I’m talking Sulba’s family, Fenn, Clik… I just think the book could have been reworked to avoid these characters.

I was also confused by some of Risha’s actions and lack of action. For instance, when she decides to go along with a bunch of strange men and they’re just riding along and it’s ages until she asks who they are and where they’re going and what they intend to do with her. And when she realizes she’s safe, she doesn’t ask any questions at all–which just isn’t what I’d expect from her character at the time. Yes, she was a bit meek at the start, but she grows into herself pretty quickly and I’d expect her to expect more answers. She gets a lot of them in the end, it’s true, but they took forever to be revealed.

Lastly, the voice in her head. We never get a clear explanation of who this voice is, and though we’re given a pretty big hint, we aren’t told why this happens to her or what is causing it or how it works. Then suddenly she was able to talk to her cousin through her mind? And they don’t hash it out until ages after? I assume we’ll get these answers in the sequel, but I really would have liked to have them in this book. Perhaps I was missing something? I don’t know. But this is a prime example of what I mean when I said there wasn’t enough space for all of the elements of this story.

I know I’ve been pretty critical here, but like I said, I only knocked one star off for all this–this book was really, really excellent and engaging and page-turning, and you can bet I’ll be reading the sequel as soon as I can! I highly recommend this book despite these few issues that I had with it. And you should know I’m only super critical of books that I loved. Can’t wait for the next one!

Book Review: Child of the Prophecy (Sevenwaters #3) by Juliet Marillier

20 Oct

ChildoftheProphecyFainne, daughter of Niamh of Sevenwaters and Ciaran the sorcerer, has grown up with her father in a place called the Honeycomb in Kerry. They live a reclusive lifestyle filled with magic and learning. Shy and awkward Fainne is only friends with Darragh, one of the traveler’s children. Life in Kerry seems almost perfect–that is, until her father decides to send her away to Sevenwaters and have her grandmother, the Lady Oonagh, teach her how to be a lady. The Lady Oonagh sets Fainne an impossible task: stop Sevenwaters from reclaiming the islands which are so important to the Fair Folk, and kill the Child of the Prophecy. But the more time Fainne spends with her relatives, the more she comes to care for them, and the more difficult it is to work against them… but she must, because if she doesn’t her grandmother will do terrible things to the people she loves…

This is the last book in the initial Sevenwaters Trilogy by Juliet Marillier (there are now more Sevenwaters books available, which I plan to read later!). While this book is just as skillfully written as all of Juliet Marillier’s other books–with a wonderful setting and interesting characters–I liked it the least of the trilogy simply because the plot was a bit more meandering than the other two. Not that it wasn’t still enjoyable (I feel like I need to stress that when I say I liked something least in a series–I still liked it!), I just thought that it lacked the progressive action of the other two.

I did quite like that Fainne wasn’t necessarily a “good” character–that is, for most of the book she’s almost the antagonist. She has a lot of choices to make and often made the wrong decision. Her mistakes made her stronger, and by the end of it all her ultimate decision was one that was believable. I loved seeing her character grow and change, even though she could frustrate me with her stubbornness sometimes!

A must-read conclusion to an excellent series. To see my reviews of books 1 and 2 in the Sevenwaters trilogy, Daughter of the Forest and Son of the Shadows, click the links.

What I Read in Europe + Kobo Review

17 Oct

Hey everyone! So, that’s a wrap on all of the “what we did in Europe” reviews. I still have a few posts I want to type up–including backpack reviews, budget, and itinerary–but I thought we’d go back to more or less your regularly scheduled programming with some book reviews.

I read three books in the three weeks we were in Europe but didn’t have the time to write up reviews (or great internet to post them!) so I’m doing this from memory. As such, I’m combining the three into one post. They’re going to be a bit shorter than usual because I don’t want to get details wrong if I can’t remember correctly.

Worth noting is that I read all of these on Kobo. I had a Kindle before this, but aside from some moral issues I have with purchasing from Amazon, the screen developed major issues at random one day when it was just out of warranty (the same thing happened to my husband’s Kindle just a few days into our trip, so those things are NOT recommended!). I purchased a Kobo shortly before we left because I’d heard good things.

Kobo Review

My Kobo is just the regular, no-frills, no-Glo Kobo which is very similar to the regular, no-frills, no-Fire, no-keyboard Kindle. They’re about the same size–screen size is about 6 inches–and lightweight. The major difference is that the Kobo doesn’t have buttons to turn pages; it’s a touch screen. The touch screen is one of my biggest issues because it’s not always responsive. Sometimes I have to tap the screen five times before it will turn a page; other times, one tap will do, but it will turn two pages instead of one. As you can probably imagine, it’s pretty frustrating but didn’t turn me off the Kobo completely as it the issues seem to come and go.

Some cool Kobo features are the reading tracker, which tells you how many books you’ve read on your Kobo, how many more you have yet to read, and how long it’s taken you to read them.

Kobo has tons of books available and lots of freebie deals as well. Their website and apps are easy to use and navigate. Plus, Kobo has teamed up with Indiebound. Check out your local bookstore and see if they have Kobo on their websites–sometimes you can support your local bookstore by purchasing Kobo books through their online store. They get a percentage of the purchase, and you get that book you wanted–even if it’s on an e-reader!

All in all, I am much more comfortable with the Kobo than I ever was with the Kindle. I do wish it had buttons since I find the touch screen to be finnicky, but so far that’s my only complaint.

Book #1: The Kiss of Deception (Remnant Chronicles #1) by Mary E. Pearson

Kiss of DeceptionPrincess Lia is expected to marry someone she’s never met for the sake of uniting her country with his, but she’s always been headstrong. On her wedding day, she runs away with her lady’s maid and sets up a new life at a small town inn. But there are people who are after her–one to kill her and the other to… well, he’s not quite sure. One thing’s certain: Lia can’t escape her past, and her newfound happiness is sure to be short-lived.

I was skeptical about this book because of the title, but I found it was a fast-paced page-turner! I did get a bit confused because it’s told in three different perspectives, all of which are in first-person. Each chapter was named for the person whose perspective it was, but it was still a bit confusing at times. I won’t give too much away, but I will say that for the thing that happens that you’re guessing the whole way through, well, I got it wrong. And that doesn’t happen often, which means this book is a good one!

Well-written, the characters are fun and interesting, the places embroiled in political turmoil–and there’s a hint of magic that is sure to be expanded upon in the next book. I’m excited to read the sequel!

Book #2: The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry

Amaranth EnchantmentI have been meaning to read this book forever! It didn’t disappoint, but I will say that it is definitely for younger readers. This is a typical “fairytale” style book. Lucinda Chapdelaine’s parents died when she was young and she has been kept in her evil aunt’s servitude ever since. But when a witch and a prince appear in her aunt’s jewelry shop in one day, it sets into motion a series of events that will change Lucinda’s life forever.

This book was short and sweet. I got through it in just a few hours, but it was fun and light-hearted and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were a few unexpected twists and turns, the characters weren’t particularly deep but they were well-written and I thoroughly cared about each of them by the end and was rooting for them. The setting was your typical sort of “castle and village” which didn’t go too much into politics and what have you–like I said, this is for younger readers. I found it enjoyable for what it was, but if you’re looking for something a bit more serious you might want to turn elsewhere.

Book #3: The Mind’s Eye by K.C. Finn

The Mind's EyeI picked this book up in the Kobo freebies section and, to be honest, didn’t have high hopes. But I found that I really enjoyed this book and I plan to read the sequel soon.

The Mind’s Eye follows Kit Cavendish, a fifteen year old girl who suffers from childhood arthritis which leaves her stuck in a wheelchair. She is sent away from London during World War II to a town where a doctor might be able to help her overcome the disease. But Kit hates her doctor and the exercises he assigns her–she’d far rather exercise her mind. Kit can enter the minds of other people and see through their eyes and feel what they feel. But with a war going on, this isn’t always a good thing…

I feel like a terrible person, but when I learned that Kit was in a wheelchair, I sort of groaned. I have had terrible experiences reading books where the main character has a disability–it seems like all they ever do is moan about their lot, which isn’t at all realistic to me–real people with disabilities don’t do that! But Kit was REAL (I mean, aside from her awesome powers). She was frustrated by her wheelchair, certainly, but sort of accepted that was how it was and didn’t expect anyone to feel sorry for her. She was an awesome character and I loved reading about her.

I thought her powers were an interesting way to see the war, too, and to help out–and the love story and secrets that unfolded were awesome, too. I wasn’t necessarily surprised by any of the twists and turns in the plot, but I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. As with the other two books, I recommend this one!

Travel Review: Four Days In Rome, Italy

16 Oct

The very last leg of our Europe trip was Rome. This was one of my husband’s top choices, and it was high on my list of places I wanted to visit as well. I mean, my pre-teen Lizzie McGuire dreams had to be satisfied, am I right?

We arrived at the Roma Termini station and walked to our first hotel. We actually stayed in two hotels during our time in Rome; the second was a request of my husband’s. The first was one of the cheapest places we could find in the city–B&B Trinity.

Accommodation Review: B&B Trinity

This hotel is about a 10-15 minute walk from the Termini station and was easy to find with the directions provided. We were greeted by a friendly staff member on our arrival and shown to our room, which was a private double with an ensuite. Everything was clean and comfortable. The room seemed huge! It had air conditioning, which was an added bonus, and free wifi which worked wonderfully in our room.

Breakfast was included in the price, as it is with most B&Bs, and we found it was more of the same that we’d experienced at our other Italian hotels–croissant, those big crouton things, juice, and tea or coffee. It’s actually delivered to your door at a time that you request, which was pretty handy though I suppose if you don’t know what time you’re going to get up the next day it could be a bit of a nuisance.

I will say, the staff were super helpful. My sister-in-law joined us for our last few days in Rome and was going to be arriving late one evening and staying at Trinity. The owner ended up not being able to be there for the late arrival and arranged for another place for her to stay, which was close, and informed us about the change.

We’d highly recommend this as a basic sort of accommodation within easy walking distance of many of the main attractions.

Accommodation Review: Hotel Teatro di Pompeo

Our last night we stayed at Hotel Teatro di Pompeo, which is a higher-end hotel located in the heart of Rome. My husband chose this hotel because it’s supposedly built around the area where Julius Caesar was murdered, and he wanted “to see Caesar’s ghost.” ;) It was a bit expensive, but whatever!

The hotel was almost impossible to find. We knew we were in the right area, but it was tucked into a back alley and we struggled for a long time, having to ask at several different shops and getting different directions from each person we asked. Finally,we arrived and were greeted by a lady who was very nice in giving us tons of warnings about the “gypsies” that were around who would steal everything we had if we gave them half a chance. ;) We thought it was nice that she was looking after the guests’ best interests.

The room was clean with lots of extras like slippers, shoe shining polish, soap, shampoo… We felt like we pretty much got our money’s worth. Breakfast was included in the morning and it was a buffet style with many more options than we’d had the rest of our time in Italy; eggs, meats, yoghurt, various fruits and pastries (and yes, more of those crouton things!). All in all, a good stay, even if we didn’t see Caeasar’s ghost.

Day One

815Because we didn’t arrive until midday on our first day in Rome, we decided to take it easy and simply did a bit of cursory exploring, scoping out what we would do in the next few days. We walked over to the Colosseum and walked around a bit, buying lunch at one of the MANY vans with the brown overhangs that was parked around. The food there was actually pretty good, and it was only about 4 Euro per sandwich or pizza, which was pretty good value compared to going to a restaurant.

When we’d soaked in our fill and made something of a plan for the next day, we headed back to our hotel for a while. We ended up going back to the Termini station for dinner that night to eat at Ciao Ristorante, a self-service restaurant on the upper floor. We’d become fans of self-service over our time in Italy as we found it was a cheap, easy, no-fuss way to get food (in other words, our favourite way!). We went rather late for us (about 9 p.m.) and there wasn’t a ton of food out. But the chefs made up some pasta and pizza for us which was pretty good, and cheap too!

Day Two

741On the second day we headed out early to go inside the Colosseum. I had heard horror stories about the lines, but it wasn’t bad at all (we were there at probably 9:00 a.m. on a September weekday). It looked a bit intimidating at first, but it moved fast and we ended up standing in line for only about 10 minutes. While we were wandering around the outside, we were set upon by dozens of “tour guides” offering a “skip the line” tour… we weren’t sure if these guys were legit or not and decided it was best to avoid them. We also enjoyed the freedom of wandering around on our own without a tour weighing us down.

I’d say that a visit to the Colosseum is well worth the visit. It was a bit crowded inside, but there was so much history there it was difficult to know where to turn next! We had fun roaming and reading the various plaques and wandering through the museum. Tons of stuff to see!

When we had our fill, we headed up to Palantine Hill and the Roman Forum–these were actually included in our Colosseum771 tickets. Again, we wandered and read signs and soaked in the history. There was a lot here too, and the setting made for some picturesque photo ops.

It was also really cool to see some of the archaeological digs going on near to here–what I wouldn’t give to be part of that!

After our time in the forum, it was getting to be the hottest part of the day. Rome, we discovered, was ridiculously hot, even nearing the end of September. We headed back to our room to cool off and rest up before our ghost tour that evening.

Worth a mention is our dinner that night, near to where our ghost tour started — Pizzeria Florida on the Largo di Torre Argentina was some of the BEST pizza we had in Italy (and, indeed, our entire lives). It’s pay-by-weight, and we managed a large dinner for under 7 Euro altogether. Tons of different types of pizza, which they change each day (yes, we were back the next day… and the next.) I was satisfied with plain old margherita, while my husband swears by the one with a pumpkin cream sauce. Check it out if you’re in Rome!!

Activity Review: Dark Heart of Rome Walking Tour

This tour was serviced by the same people who did the Dark Heart of Florence walking tour. If you read my last review, you’ll know that I wasn’t hugely impressed by that tour, so I went into the Dark Heart of Rome with some trepidation. However, I found it was MUCH more to my liking. Loved it!

784The tour starts just past the Largo di Torre Argentina. Apparently so many people had booked that they split us into two groups. Because we were early, we went with the first group. Our guide was American but had been living in the city for something like six years, so he knew it well. He did warn us that it wasn’t so much a ghost tour as a history tour, which suited me. As we walked around, we heard stories about famous people and not-so-famous people, ghosts, reasons why some things were the way they were in Rome, tips and tricks for getting around the city… we learned SO much and had a great time. Highly recommended!

Day Three

On our third day, we decided to head to the Vatican. Neither of us is religious at all, but hey–it’s one of those “must sees” right?788

We walked all the way there from our hotel, which was quite a walk but we stopped and saw various ruins along the way. The Vatican is gorgeous, lots of pretty buildings. There were priests, nuns, and brides everywhere. Plus, tons of rosaries. I mean, this is the place to be if you’re into that sort of thing!

Confession time, though (see what I did there?) — we didn’t go into the Sistine Chapel. the line was hugely long, it was hot, and we just weren’t feeling it. So, we just wandered around outside for a while. Apparently we had just missed hearing the Pope speak, which would have been a cool. I’m not sure how much notice they give for that sort of thing, but definitely have a look and see if he has any scheduled appearances on the days that you’re there.

Day Four

On our last day in Rome we met up with my husband’s sister. She had already been to Rome and was really just stopping 789by to see us on her way to Naples (we live in Australia, but she lives in New York, and it’d been about a year since we’d seen her!). We decided to see a few things we hadn’t seen yet–the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and Pantheon.

On our meandering route, we actually found the Pantheon first. It was really neat–a very cool building, and free to walk into. Worth a look on your way past!

The Trevi Fountain was a huge disappointment. Remember what I said about my Lizzie McGuire dreams? Dashed! The Trevi Fountain was empty and there was tons of scaffolding all around it–it was being cleaned as part of a huge Rome clean-up effort (the Colosseum was also partially affected by this, though it was still accessible). So, while I appreciated the clean-up, I was sad that I wasn’t able to toss a coin in the fountain.LizzieMcGuire

The Spanish Steps, to be honest, were a bit underwhelming as well. I don’t know what I was expecting here. The view from the top was really nice, but there were tons of those people with roses and trinkets trying to sell us stuff (word to the wise: it is illegal for them to sell you these things AND it is illegal for you to buy, so don’t do it!).

Overview

Okay, so we weren’t quite as lame in Rome as we were in Florence, but we still didn’t see as much as we could have. My husband’s favorite part was the Pizzeria Florida and the Largo di Torre Argentina, where there were tons of cats! I really do recommend that ghost tour we went on–it was really well done. I’d like to go back to Rome one day when we aren’t so exhausted and have another look around. There’s so much to see it seems impossible to see it all in one trip!

Travel Review: Two Days in Florence, Italy

15 Oct

I mentioned in my last post that the Italy portion of our trip became sort of a “fail” because we had exhausted ourselves in Germany. Venice might not have seemed quite so much of a failure, but Florence certainly was! We didn’t get out and about nearly as much as we should have and spent a lot of our time here sleeping. Oops! Oh, well–it turned out that Florence wasn’t quite up our alley anyway. While there is TONS of stuff to see–art, architecture, museums–we just weren’t all that into it.

We arrived around 2 p.m. that first day and honestly, spent the rest of the afternoon in our room before heading to a “ghost tour” (more on that later!) in the evening. After, we simply went back to the room and fell asleep again.

728On the second day, a Sunday, we decided to get our laundry done at a laundromat. We had washed our clothes in a sink back in Germany but we knew we wouldn’t have enough time for everything to dry without a fan in our room, so Cal took everything off to a laundromat in the morning while I was still waiting in line for a shower (more on THAT later too). After, we wandered around a bit… and went back to the room and took a nap.

I KNOW, you guys, I know! LAME. We were in FLORENCE, for goodness’ sake! But we were seriously just so exhausted. I write this post as a warning to everyone of what can happen while you’re travelling. Seriously, if you’re going for more than a few weeks, schedule in some time for yourself so that you can take a breather. Don’t wear yourself out like we did.

So, because of your lameness, I leave you with just these two reviews:

Accommodation Review: Hotel Garden

Hotel Garden was an easy enough walk from the Santa Maria Novella train station, and the directions provided were easy to follow. When we arrived, we were given our keys and the man behind the counter showed us to our room, which wasn’t in the building at all, but one block over. We thought this was a bit odd but didn’t think much of it–the street we were on was actually a bit less busy than the street the Hotel Garden building was on, so I think we might have escaped some road noise.

Our room was a private double, but with a shared bathroom. We hadn’t run into any problems with shared bathrooms so far in our travels, but this one was a big problem! There was one bathroom (shower + toilet together in one room, not separated) for at least six double rooms, all of which were full that first night. There was something about locking the bathroom door when you left, too, so it was impossible to know if anyone was in there, making it awkward to knock every time there wasn’t a line outside. I HATE the idea of people waiting for me, so I always felt awkward when I was in there and once took all of 7 minutes to shower, brush my teeth, and put make up on–a record!

Aside from the annoying bathroom situation, the room was clean, comfortable, and the staff service was good. Breakfast, which was included, was in the Hotel Garden building (short walk, honestly, and not that big of an issue to get to in the morning). It was pretty basic, the standard fare that we ended up getting in all our Italy accommodation–croissant, those weird giant crouton things, various condiments, juice, and a selection of hot beverages.

All in all, an okay stay, but I would definitely recommend paying extra for a private bathroom and avoiding that whole mess!

Activity Review: Dark Heart of Florence Walking Tour

729This tour, offered by Dark Rome, is advertised as a “ghost tour” with ghost stories, historical stories, legends, myths, etc. I thought it would be something I’d enjoy, but I have to say that I was sorely disappointed! We found the place where the tour met up easily enough, and when we got there we had to put in headphones and listen to our tour guide through them–I guess I understand that this was to a) make sure everyone could hear and b) others not on the tour couldn’t join in without paying. But it was difficult to understand our tour guide through these devices, the sound kept cutting in and out, and every time we all tried to fix it, there wasn’t much of a fix.

The tour itself was not at all what I was expecting. The tour guide went over things like architecture and art, which was interesting enough for some but I was expecting history and legends and stories. I’m not going to lie, I was SO bored! The most interesting part was when we were told a story about the Medici brothers, but that was the only story that was told that I can remember. :/

I will say, my husband was much more interested than I was and took it all in stride. At the end of the tour, we were treated to a generous cone of gelato at an excellent gelateria. While this was a fun surprise at the end of the tour, overall I was not impressed and wouldn’t go on this tour again.

The Misadventures of Thor And Loki – A True Story #1

10 Oct

4:00 a.m. – MoreThanOnePage Household

Thor: Hey. Hey. Hey. I need into your room. Hey. Hey.

Thor: Hey.

Thor: Hey.

4:05 a.m.

Me: *get up to let Thor into our room*

4:06 a.m.
Thor: Hey. Hey. I need out on the balcony. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey.

4:10 a.m.

Thor: Hey. Heeeeey. Heeeeyyyy.

Loki: HEY THOR!

Thor: OMG WEPRIUWPEJRP)SURPRISE. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO A PERSON.

Loki: Hey Thor, are we going outside?

Thor: No, Loki. I am going outside. *head bop* You are not. Heeey. I need outside. Heeeeeyyyyy.

Loki: That’s not very kind. *ear bite*

Thor: Bad Loki! *head bop*

4:26 a.m.

Me: OMG. *stomps out of bed*

Thor: Uh oh, we’re in trouble. *dives under bed*

Me: I swear to Zeus, Thor, if I have to get out of bed again… *grumble grumble fall into bed*

Loki: Mew what are we doing under the bed Thor mew.

4:28 a.m.

Thor: Hey!

Me: *turn to see Thor’s face right by my head*

Thor: I need outside!

Me: *mad grab for cat*

Struggle ensues. Human wins by a small margin. Firm grasp on cat maintained. Thor is thrown into spare room. Meanwhile, Loki runs down the hallway thinking he’s getting breakfast. Human falls back into bed.

4:37 a.m.

Loki: Uh… scuse me! Where’s my breakfast?

Me: O________________O

Travel Review: Three Days in Venice

10 Oct

661In my last review I mentioned how well-rested we were after our CNL experience. In the short term, this was true. That said, we were just weary and exhausted by the time we hit Italy, and it’s going to show in these next few reviews. Going from doing very little each day to walking many miles and seeing so many new things wasn’t just physically exhausting, it was mentally exhausting too! We felt like we had to pack everything we could into this trip and not take any breaks–so by the time we arrived in Italy, halfway through, the pace had caught up with us. I highly recommend throwing in a few rest days here and there if you have a trip longer than a week or two–and don’t push yourselves too hard, or you’ll burn out!

Accommodation Review: B&B Ca’Contarini

We started off our time in Venice trying to find our B&B. I had already been to Venice once before for a few days, so I knew how difficult it could be to navigate the canals. Nevertheless, we headed off from the train station with the directions from the B&B and… found ourselves hopelessly lost. My advice is to print off your own directions before you start out, because Ca’Contarini’s just weren’t up to snuff. The first thing it tells you is to find the Accademia Bridge. There are signs pointing to this, but we couldn’t see any from where we exited the train station. This was one of the most difficult parts of getting to the hotel.

Just past the Accademia Bridge is Campo San Stefano, which is where we needed to be to find the hotel–BUT the directions say “campo san stefano and there ask on calle dei orbi( corte de la vida) door number 3025.” This makes it sound like Calle Dei Orbi is just off Campo San Stefano. Really it’s off another road that’s off Campo San Stefano, which we figured out by looking at the building numbers. If you’re curious, it’s on the left between two restaurants with outdoor seating.

We arrived early of course, but we were able to leave our bags in an open area by the door which felt safe enough as the owner’s office was just above this and he had to open the door for anyone without keys to come in. When we came back, we discovered our room was very clean, open, and comfortable. The owner is very friendly and made us feel very welcome.

The bathroom was shared, but we never had any trouble with having to wait for it to be open. I will say, the shower is a bit small so shaving was not the easiest of tasks, and it drained very slowly. We found the best method was to get hair wet, turn the water off, lather up shampoo, rinse, turn water off, etc. Not hugely inconvenient and you’re saving water that way anyway!

Breakfast was a lot of packaged foods, which some people complain about, but they were filling. Breakfast is served in a small room with a single dining table, which leads itself to either eating awkwardly with people you don’t know, or making friends! We experienced both. The first morning we were joined by couples from other rooms who clearly knew each other and didn’t speak much English, so it was a pretty awkward, silent meal. The next morning we ate with a couple from Brazil, one of whom did speak English, and we had a great conversation about our travels.

Ca’Contarini is convenient to the Rialto and Piazza San Marco, but removed enough that you can get a quiet, restful night’s sleep. I’d stay there again if we ever visit Venice again!

Getting Lost in Venice

645Before going to Venice the first time, I read that the best way to see the place is to get lost there. Wander around until you have no idea where you are and try out a restaurant you stumble across, or simply enjoy a stroll down some canal or other. This method of tourism is obviously best done with the accompaniment of a map so you can make your way back to where you’re staying, but my friend and I had fun with it back in 2011 and my husband and I had fun with it on this trip.

That said, it’s nearly impossible to escape the crowds that swarm Venice, so be prepared for that–there are people and tacky souvenir shops wherever you go. I knew from experience that I wanted a bit more out of the city this time, so I looked for things that would allow us to learn a bit more about Venice’s history than we did on the last trip. I ended up finding a few things to fill our three nights. So while we simply wandered around Venice by day, stuffing our faces with as much pizza and gelato as we could find, our nights were a bit more structured.

We did do a few different things during the day — we went to the Doge’s Palace and Murano. The Doge’s Palace was the662 same as I remembered it–gorgeous and filled with lots of different information inside. It was fun being able to cross the Bridge of Sighs (which, this time, had no construction around it!). I’d call the palace a must-see in Venice. Murano, on the other hand, was a bit disappointing. If you don’t know, Murano is where a lot of Venetian glass is made. I think our disappointment arose from lack of research–I don’t think we got off the boat at the right stop. We didn’t get to see much of anything, it was a rainy, dreary day, and we were exhausted. So we didn’t spend much time there and opted instead to go back to the hotel and take a nap. If you’re going to Murano, I’d recommend researching where you’re supposed to get off the boat to see the most stuff!

Night #1: Venice Ghost Walking Tour

652This ghost tour, offered by Viator, starts on the Rialto Bridge and covers a lot of ground and stories about Venice. It was a bit different than I expected, as many of the stories were told nowhere near where they happened, but I didn’t find this to be too disruptive to the overall spooky feel of the tour. We learned about some famous Venetian ghosts, some haunted places including hotels where some members of the tour were staying, where the Venitian graveyards were, and other helpful information like why streets were named the way they were (after the businesses that were on the street, mostly– Rio Terra dei Assassini, anyone?)

While it wasn’t the best ghost tour I’ve ever been on, it certainly wasn’t the worst either. I thought we learned a lot of history and folklore, which I loved, and we ducked down various streets that we likely wouldn’t have come across if we hadn’t gone on the tour in the first place. Worth the money!

Night #2: Teatro San Gallo and Venezia!

I had seen mixed reviews about the Venezia play at Teatro San Gallo but decided to give it a shot. My husband and I purchased the “dinner and a show” tickets. I was under the impression that we were served dinner at the theatre, but actually we were sent to a nearby restaurant to eat. If you purchase your tickets online, you may be just as confused as we were because they don’t send you a receipt or any information about where you’re supposed to go when. We ended up inquiring at the theatre itself earlier in the day, and they said we could come earlier for the dinner or we could eat after the show let out (around 9).

672We opted to arrive around 6. The friendly staff printed our tickets and pointed us in the direction of the restaurant which was just a short walk away. The staff there knew we were coming and led us to a table. There was no one else there, which was a bit of a shame–the restaurant across the street seemed to be full of people, and the food at our restaurant was actually quite good! We ordered off a set menu and both had lasagna as our first course (YUM!). I had chicken as my second course, and y husband had a mixed seafood plate–again, both were very good! The meal was accompanied by a bread basket, water, and glass of wine each. We left stuffed!

Afterwards, we headed back to the theatre to see a short movie before the play (included in the ticket price). I could see why the reviews were mixed–this movie must have been filmed in the 70’s and it was a bit cheesy, BUT it did include a lot of history of Venice that I didn’t know before and I enjoyed watching it.

The play is performed by 5 people in various costumes and it goes over some of the information covered in the movie, but it does so in a humorous way. The English spoken by everyone was excellent (we had an inkling that one of the actresses actually was English, but can’t confirm our suspicions!) so the play was very easy to understand. They kept us laughing for the duration, and we enjoyed ourselves and–again–learned a lot.

I probably wouldn’t go again, but if you’re in Venice it’s definitely worth checking out once.

Night #3: Gondola Ride and Serenade

645Several months before our trip I received an e-mail from British Airways saying my Avios Points from my trip to and from London in 2011 were about to expire. I hopped on to see what I could get, and it turns out a Venice gondola ride was one of the options listed. I had to pay a bit extra on top of the points to get a gondola ride for two, but it was much less than it would have cost for both of us to go otherwise.

Gondola rides are quite expensive for what they are, but they’re also part of the Venice experience, so I knew we had to go! This particular gondola ride and serenade probably wasn’t worth the money (apparently some people spent 80 Euro on theirs!), but because we got ours mostly free I didn’t mind it.

Basically, we were packed in to a gondola with two other couples and shoved off as part of a flotilla onto the Grand Canal while a musician and singer in another boat serenaded the lot of us (though we could barely hear him at times!). The boats kept knocking into each other. I think all up we were on the water for 20 minutes. Seriously, not worth it. But I know I’m not going to convince most people of that–if you’re in Venice, you have to do the gondola thing, right? But if you’re on the fence, know that the whole experience isn’t really that great and if you don’t do it, you’re not missing out on much.

THE BEST GELATO IN VENICE: Suso Gelatoteca

This place is so worth a mention. We stumbled on it by chance and found it was the best, most reasonably priced gelato place in Venice. It’s on Calle della Bissa near Piazza San Marco, but because that’s probably going to be difficult to find if you look at a map, here’s how we found it: at the Rialto, follow the signs to San Marco. At some point, you’ll go through this little “tunnel” area with lots of shops. Suso is noticeable by its big sign in the shop.

There aren’t as many flavour options here as there are at other places, but the quality and price is amazing. It was 1.60 Euro for a very generous scoop (there are some places on Piazza San Marco that offer it for 1 Euro and give you the a little bite of gelato and that’s it–not worth it!). Our favourite flavour by far was “Opera” which was essentially a hazelnut gelato with a thick layer of Nutella-like substance on top. So. GOOD.

Needless to say, we were back every single day, multiple times a day. We didn’t find gelato this good in Florence or Rome either–so if you’re there, check it out! LOVED it!

**Oh, and by the way… Venice flooded while we were there! That didn’t happen last time. The whole Piazza San Marco was under water for a few hours each day. Fun times.

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