My husband recently declared that the test of a good cruise line is if you’d sail them again. He said this as soon as we boarded the MSC Lirica for our very first MSC cruise.
We are avid cruises and have been for many years. We’ve sailed with pretty much all the major cruise lines that cater to the US market including Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and NCL. But this was our first cruise aboard an MSC ship which caters mostly to the European market.
Before I answer the all important question as to whether or not I would sail an MSC ship again, let me begin by telling you how this cruise came about. It was mid-March, we had no intention of traveling anywhere, much less cruising the Med. Our travel plans for the year weren’t set to begin until July when we are to go on a reunion cruise aboard RCCL’s Adventure of the Seas. But all this changed when my daughter Jaime decided to book an MSC cruise embarking from Venice.
You see Jaime and her family are currently living in an Italian town about 45 minutes away from Venice. She decided that she’d take advantage of the great fares MSC was offering on their 7 day Med cruises; the added bonus was that she didn’t have to pay for airfare to get to Venice, the cruise terminal is a short €6.50 train ride away. Of course as with everything in our family booking her cruise wasn’t as easy as it should have been, Jaime’s in the second trimester of her second pregnancy. We learned that she had to complete her cruise before she started the 24th. week of pregnancy, meaning the last cruise she could possibly take before she gives birth would be April 13.
She managed to book the last stateroom on the MSC Lirica’s April 13th. sailing. She was quite happy and set about preparing for her cruise that would take her to Bari, Heraklion, Mykono, Corfu, and Dubrovnik.
Then my husband decided it would be a great idea if we booked a stateroom on that same sailing so that we could surprise Jaime and family by popping up aboard her ship. Not only would my husband and I pop up on the cruise, but we’d take our grandson Devon too. Seemed like a tall order considering Jaime had booked the last stateroom the day before. But some how the gods must have been smiling on us because on the last day of March a stateroom for 3 people became available. Of course being a travel agent gave me access to updated inventory so when it popped up I grabbed it!
As I mentioned I’m a travel agent; I’ve been wanting to try MSC cruises. I love their prices and their new ships look awesome. So I figured this was a perfect opportunity to check things out. I really wanted to recommend MSC to my clients, in fact as soon I as booked the cruise I let several clients know I’d be checking it out for them. We were all very excited.
Now believe me when I say I boarded the MSC Lirica with high hopes. I really wanted it to be perfect. I sincerely wanted to recommend it to my clients. I tried very, very hard to find positive things to say about the experience. Sadly it was not to be, MSC fell short, very short of even my lowest expectations. But of course there were some good things so let me begin with a list of the cruise line’s pros.
Loyalty Status match
MSC will match the highest status you have on ANY loyalty program including cruise lines, hotels, airlines, and resort. Just send proof of your highest status on any of those programs and they will match it on your first cruise. In our case they matched my Elite status on Princess and Celebrity so we were able to get the perks for MSC black status, their highest status level.
Before the cruise we received a 5% discount off the current cruise fare. The difference was refunded to me after they verified my loyalty status. I was pretty impressed with the discount and all the other perks they listed.
But did we get all the perks? Well that’s another story!
Check in went smoothly and quickly – but only because you didn’t have to take a photo, register a credit card, or get your room key. More on this later.[spacer height=”-20px”]
The day we boarded was my grandson Devon’s 10th. birthday. I purchased a birthday cake for him on line before we left home and the staff served it after dinner in the main dining room. They even sang him “Happy Birthday” . He was pretty stoked!
Speaking of dining the reservation staff were pretty helpful.
They were kind enough to seat us all together on a nice window table. They promised we could have the same table at the same time every night we chose to dine at the dining room. On this cruise we ended up dining there just 2 nights. Again that’s a story for later as to how this came about.
We also tried the dining room for breakfast as we were told the dining room would be better able to accommodate my grandson Jett’s allergies, (better than the buffet), or so they said. Again that’s a story for later as it did not turn out quite that way.
They had a nice splash zone for the kids.
Unfortunately the weather during our cruise was pretty bad. The kids were only able to enjoy this splash area while the ship was at port.
Whenever the ship sailed it got very windy and cold. The splash zone remained closed for most of our cruise. I’m sure it will be better later in the summer when the weather is milder. The splash area will probably remain open all the time and the kids should have a great time.
They have the Do Re Mi club and mascot which hosts some fun activities for the kids.
For this activity the children made Gnocchi with the chef and Do Re Mi the MSC mascot.
There were also lego activities as it seems that MSC partnered with Lego in some way. Basically this meant that MSC was selling Lego kits in the gift shop.
I’m sure there were other activities, the kids just weren’t very interested.
We also attended a couple of dinner shows. The Magic show and the Pirate show. The Magic show was mediocre at best, but the Pirate show was pretty entertaining even though it made no sense.
Some of the staff seemed to be genuinely helpful and friendly. I saw several crew members who went out of their way to help older folks carry plates to their tables after going thru the buffet line.
Most of the staff we interacted with at the children’s play area were very pleasant. And many of the customer service people tried to be helpful. But these folks seemed to be the exception and not the norm.
Sailings into and out of Venice were spectacular.
I’m not sure if it’s because MSC is an Italian cruise line, but this was the closest to the Grand Canal I’ve ever gotten on a cruise ship. Perhaps it’s one of the perks of being locally owned. Other Venice sail aways I’ve experienced were done much farther away, building along the Grand Canal were much further and a telephoto lens was needed to get a good shop of Piazza San Marco.
I took this photo of Piazza San Marco from the deck of the MSC Lirica without the aid of a telephoto. Amazing!
One of the perks of being a Black Card holder are these chocolate sculptures of the MSC Lirica.
They were delivered to our room sometime during the cruise. We also got a draw string backpack and a bottle of prosecco to keep and thick terry robes and slippers to use while on the ship. [spacer height=”-20px”]
During the cruise we were invited to some member events including the Black party for Black Card holders only. That didn’t go so well when other black card members found out it was my first MSC cruise and my loyalty status was matched by the line.
They made it very clear they thought this was unfair and spent the party glaring at me. Not the most comfortable event for me!
Other perks including a dinner at their one and only specialty restaurant and chocolate covered strawberries never materialized. Oh well!
Okay! It’s sad, I know. I can only name 8 positives about my MSC Lirica cruise. Believe me I’m digging deep!
Now for the list of cons, I’ll try to be brief and list only the most glaring things. But oh there are so many! Where do I begin?
Guess I’ll start at the beginning, embarkation. Remember I said check-in went fairly smoothly and quickly? Well that’s because there wasn’t much to it.
We just showed our passport and boarding paper which was stamped at the check-in counter. We proceeded thru security then on to the ship. In the ship we were funneled thru a hallway and our photos taken. Then we were told to proceed to customer service which was down the hall and one floor down.
We proceeded down the hall and were greeted by various crew members touting dinner and drink packages, spa treatments, and shore excursions. Somewhere along this hall way we passed the kids’ club staff. They placed a plastic bracelet on Devon’s wrist and gave us a schedule of children’s activities which we could register for on deck 12 I think.
Anyway to say they were unorganized is an understatement. When I asked anyone how and where I would get my cruise card I was told to proceed to customer service, presumably all would be made clear at customer service.
I finally made it to customer service via the central stairway. I had entered the ship on deck 6 and customer service along with shore excursions and shops were on deck 5. At the bottom of the central stairway there was a crowded mess.
Cruisers were crowded between stachions that formed a zig zagging line from the bottom of the steps to the customer service counter. When I reached the bottom of the stairway a crew member asked me what I need from customer service!
Ummm, I was there because I was told to go there. When she pressed me for the reason I needed customer service it took a while to explain that I was there because everyone told me to go there.
All I really wanted were our cruise cards and I had no idea where and how to get them. You know that magical card that opens your stateroom door and allows one to make on board purchases. I was led to believe that the genies behind the counter would issue me my cruise cards. But alas I was wrong.
I learned that I did not need to go to customer service unless I was going to put a cash deposit down on my cruise card! I was told that our cruise cards were left on the bed in our stateroom; the stateroom door remained open until I retrieved my cards and locked the door. Very interesting!
I was further told that if I did not put a cash deposit on my cruise card (which is bound to my on board account) I would not be able to purchase anything on board until I registered a credit card and linked it to the cruise cards. To do this I must go to one on of credit card registration machines located on deck 5 not far from customer service. Ok, so this was new and different. But never mind I’d go get my cruise cards then look for my daughter, after all we were there to surprise them.
In my stateroom with the unlocked door I found our cruise cards. I guess it didn’t matter if anyone else got a hold of the cards as I hadn’t put a cash deposit down nor had I registered a credit card yet. In theory no one could buy anything using our cards.
After retrieving our cruise cards we went in search of my daughter and family. Thru text messaging I determined she was at the lego play area. We asked 3 different crew member where the lego area was, we got 3 different answers. They ranged from the location being on deck 6 to decks 11 and 12. In spite of the faulty directions we somehow managed to run into my daughter and family. So that turned out well, they were pleasantly surprised!
The disorganization continued. The next day I went to register my credit card on the machine. It didn’t work!
I proceeded to customer service (thankfully no long lines) and was told to keep trying on the machine. Of course it didn’t work, so back to customer service I went. This time a different lady told me I couldn’t register on the machine because they were also disembarking cruisers that day while we were docked in Bari, hence cruisers embarking from Venice the previous daycould not register on the machine. It had to be done at customer service! Ugh!
That night at dinner they mistakenly discarded our wine! Talk about a comedy of errors!
We had purchased a bottle of Lambrusco the previous night. What we didn’t finish they stored for us. At dinner the next day we were greeted by our waiter with the news that they had mistakenly tossed out our wine, but not to worry because they replaced it with a very nice (cheap) bottle of prosecco, you know the type I buy at Costco for $7! (The Lambrusco was over €20 a bottle)
The next day was a day at sea, unfortunately it was too cold to use the pools and the splash area, but the kids enjoyed making gnocchi with the chef and the MSC mascot.
It was also a formal night. We enjoy getting dressed up for dinner and Jaime, my daughter was very excited. She wanted to take some formal photos. Which she did and they came out pretty well.
The formal dinner did not. In fact that was a disaster!
On the MSC Lirica they offer an upgraded meal of either lobster or t-bone steak nightly. This means that in addition to the regular menu whose offerings are included in your cruise fare you can order a lobster or t-bone steak dinner for an up charge of €18 to €22. The €22 was for the lobster up charge. Both meals came with a glass of prosecco. (Again with the prosecco! They loved giving that stuff away!)
So during the formal dinner we decided to order 3 lobster meals, one each for Jaime, Devon, and myself. That’s a total of €66 plus a 15% service fee. Whatever, we wanted lobster. The lobster dinner was served with asparagus and fried onions I think, it’s pictured above.
Anyway when my daughter sliced into it she immediately asked me if it was still raw because the meat was sort of grayish with a very strong ammonia odor. In short it was very, very rotten.
We called the waiter over; he had no idea how to handle the situation, he just shook his head and smiled sweetly. The head waiter was called in and asked me what the issue was, I couldn’t tell him, instead I had him smell the lobster which I had skewered onto a fork. You should have seen the look on his face! It was apparent he knew something was very wrong.
He offered to make 3 new meals; no way that was going to happen, at least not at our table. In the end he made up some excuse about the kitchen thawing the lobster very fast to serve it to us. They had to do this because they don’t prep the lobster because not too many people order it. Really? Nah! That lobster was mishandled.
They agreed to void our bill and not charge us for the 3 lobster meals. Now don’t do us any favors! Of course you will not charge for the lobsters we could not eat. (The meals were not credited to us until 3 days later and then only after complaining to customer service!)
I told him and any other crew members who addressed this issue with me during the rest of the cruise that the lobster was mishandled and should never have been allowed to leave the kitchen! Imagine serving rotten lobster to a pregnant woman and a 10 year old child! Unbelievable!
Needless to say we never returned to the dining room again. We ate the rest of our meals at on shore restaurants or at the buffet.
The buffet, burger & hot dog bar, and pizza & pasta bar. All were in adequate with haphazard service and appalling food options.
I’d have to say the pizzas were the best thing there. This was proven by the fact that there was a constant wait for pizzas to come out of the oven. Of course they only set out 2 large pizzas and 1 foccacia at a time. This would be grabbed by the first 2-3 people in line.
The bufffet venue itself was tiny with a narrow walkway. So narrow that you could barely fit 2 people standing side by side.
There were 2 drink stations on either side of the ship in the very back. You could serve yourself hot coffee or tea. In the morning there were juices and hot chocolate available. At any other time of day if you want juice or ice tea it must be purchased from the small bar located at the back of the buffet.
If you want drink service at the buffet I can only say good luck at finding a waiter to help you. Waiters were hard to come by, they much preferred congregating in the corners chatting with each other. They seemed to treat the guests more as a bother and interruption. Heaven help anyone who asks for service.
Seating was very limited in the buffet and tables and chairs were practically stacked on each other. And did I mention the dirt?
Yes the tables were always filthy. I had to ask a waiter to wipe a table for me. Oh he wiped it all right. He wiped the crumbs right onto the floor and the chairs! I have never seen such lack of enthusiasm in a crew ever!
Oh and before I forget, on the MSC Lirica never touch the handrails on the stairways. They are forever sticky and filthy. I am as serious as a heart attack. Not once during the 7 day cruise did I see clean and shiney handrails! I was not the only one remarking on this, I saw many people look and touch them with disgust.
The public bathrooms were marginally cleaner, it depended on when and where you went. The busier ones by the buffet were almost always out of order or out of supplies. Don’t recall anyone cleaning public bathrooms either. Perhaps they were all busy consulting with each other on how to keep handrails spic and span?
Speaking of bathrooms, public bathrooms were few and far between on the public decks. I believe there were one set in the forward part of the ship by the theater and another set in the aft part by the photo gallery. There were never any bathrooms midship, at least none that I could find. And the public bathrooms were small, most of them only consisting of 2 stalls, one of which was almost always out of order.
Now back to the food, that’s an important part of cruising. On our first day we went to the buffet for breakfast. My daughter requested soy milk as her son Jett has milk and egg allergies. We were told that from then on we should go to the sit down dining room for breakfast as they were better equipped to handle food allergies. Although to be fair the buffet staff did manage to produce a cup of soy milk that morning after about a 20 minute wait.
So the next day we went to the dining room for breakfast. We were given menus but were encouraged to get our own food at the mini buffet they set up. We said we’d check out the buffet but wanted to order waffles as well as the cocoa puffs they had on the menu. Well that went well, they said they had no idea what cocoa puffs were and they came up with waffles that were cold hard and had a thin drizzle of syrup. When we asked for syrup they pretended they had no idea what that was.
My husband took himself to the buffet area for some cold scrambled eggs. He asked a waiter standing at the buffet for ketchup. The waiter snapped at him and said there was no ketchup period, sort of like the Soup Nazi on Seinfield – No Ketchup for You!
Fortunately for us a nice waiter had observed our problems; he went to the kitchen or where ever and came up with a bowl of cocoa puffs, a bowl of syrup, and a bottle of ketchup! Guess it was a magic moment, he found the condiment pantry! That was the one any only time we went to the dining room for breakfast.
For pretty much the rest of the cruise we ate hash browns for breakfast, they were pretty good and available most mornings at the hot dog grill, and warm croissants which were served at the pizza bar.
We bought a coffee card and had coffee and pastries at the coffee shop on deck 6, then we ate pizza for dinner. We tried to eat the burger and dogs, but they were just too disgusting to even bother with.
The buffet offerings were sparse and mainly unappetizing and after the lobster incident we refused to return to the main dining room. Over all the food and service on the MSC Lirica are disgraceful.
Another part important part of cruising are on board activities, specially on days at sea. On all the cruises I’ve ever been on the cruise director and his staff work very hard to find a variety of activities for guests to do.
On every other cruise I’ve been on I’ve always looked forward to the daily newsletter that my cabin attendant delivers to my stateroom every night. This newsletter gives me all the information I need to plan my day. It usually gives me the weather, date and port, opening times of ship board services and dining venues, and most importantly it lists the times and locations of all the activities on the ship. This usually includes lectures, movies, bands, dance lessons, exercise classes, demonstrations, sporting activities and challenges, trivia games, and much more. There’s always something for everyone! And of course the schedule of activities takes up about 2 pages of the newsletter.
Well it’s not quite the same on the MSC Lirica. Sure the staff have some activities planned. The schedule was a whole half page long!
It’s great if you love dance lessons. On our day at sea they offered 5 different dance lessons and 3 fitness activities with the dance instructors.
Most activities were scheduled to take place by the pool weather permitting. During our sailing the weather was not very cooperative so the activities ended up taking place in the Cabaret lounge on deck 6 I think. It was very crowded.
Their biggest activity was called meeting point. This was basically a portable booth they set up by the pool or where ever. It was stocked with a few board games and cards that guests could check out and use on board for the day.
The staff, at least those who weren’t giving dance lesson, would dress up in funny looking costumes and juggle, sing, dance, and generally act silly. I suppose the guests found this entertaining, we did not. I think part of the problem was the language barrier. English was not the main language, as expected Italian is the language of choice. Don’t get me wrong I speak and understand basic Italian, and most of the crew spoke English; but at times it was hard to understand even their English.
If gambling is more you thing you could try your luck at the tiny casino on deck 6. It had maybe 3 table games only one of which was ever open from what I saw. There were also maybe 20-30 types of machines. Not the most entertaining casino I’ve ever been to. It was sorely lacking in fun and energy!
Now back to the original question “Would I sail them again?” Surprisingly I would have to say YES! Ok I’m not a masochist or a glutton for punishment, but hear me out.
Knowing what now I know after having experienced an MSC cruise I have much lower expectations. I would sail them again more as a form of transportation and lodgings. The cost of sailing can be as little as $500 per person for a 7 day Med cruise. That’s cheaper than buying train or plane tickets to the ports of call!
I would use the ship to transport me from port to port, an easy way of getting around without the hassle of dragging luggage and going thru airport security. I would also have a somewhat decent place to stay and someplace to eat, even if it’s only pizza and hash browns every day. I would most definitely eat most meals off the ship it’s a great way to sample different types of cuisine at the ports of call. Besides it’s a Med cruise, eating souvlaki, tzatziki, and baklava daily is not a hardship!
I’d also choose a sailing during warmer weather. That way I could at least hang out at the pool during sea days.
I think the better question to ask me would be “Would you recommend MSC to your clients?” I would definitely not! Unless my client wants to use the cruise as a ferry to hop around the Greek isles or where ever the ship sails to.
It would definitely not be anyone’s idea of a dream vacation. I would never recommend it to clients planning a honeymoon, anniversary, or luxury cruise. It would fall very short! However it’s a great choice for college kids on Spring Break and for anyone with a limited budget and is willing to settle for mediocre or less.
This was my experience on the MSC Lirica. MSC has many other ships including the new MSC Seaside. I can’t say for sure what type of experience you would have on other ships. I can say that I’ve met several other cruisers who don’t give the MSC Poesia a better review. One guy was kind and said they were understaffed, that was his way of saying the service was terrible.
On the record I was not paid for this review. I purchased my own cruise ticket at the current rate less the black card member discount. I am in no way affiliated with MSC or any other cruise line.
Let me help you plan your next vacation. From budget to luxury travel we can help! Call Savvy Nana Travel for all your travel needs! 808-372-7734
Matera. Ancient city, shame of Italy, or hidden gem, which describes Matera best? The answer, all of the above.
Matera is a city and a province in the Basilicata region of Southern Italy; the area we fondly refer to as the heel of the boot.
The modern city like any other thriving city is filled with apartment buildings, businesses, and traffic. But that’s not the Matera people come to see. They travel there to see the Sassi districts, the historical city center whose buildings are built in caves on the walls of a steep ravine carved out over millennia by the Gravina River.
The Sassi (Italian word for “the stones”) di Matera is divided into two districts, Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano (named so because it lies in the direction of Bari). The Sassi districts along with the collection of Rupestrian (made of rock) Churches have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993.
Long before the site earned its esteemed UNESCO designation the Sassi caves were already occupied. They were first occupied in the Paleolithic Age some 7000 years ago. In fact it may be one of the longest continuously inhabited human settlements in the world.
Over the centuries local peasants and artisans gradually burrowed deeper into the natural soft limestone caves to create and expand living spaces. Over time “buildings” were built on top of and beside existing structures until some 1,500 cave dwellings filled the canyon.
By the 1950’s this ancient warren had become a slum housing as much as 16,000 people in horrific conditions. It became known as “the shame of Italy” for its dismal poverty, unsanitary living conditions, and high mortality. At this time the government forcibly relocated Sassi residents to government housing essentially abandoning the entire settlement.
The ancient Sassi stood abandoned into the 1980’s. Its cave dwellings uninhabitable. All this now government owned real estate was pretty much considered an area of poverty and given over to nature and the wolves.
This changed by the 1990’s when enterprising residents with the aid of the government began modernizing and renovating the caves. They’ve installed plumbing, electricity, ventilation, and even wi-fi. Cave hotels, cafes, and restaurants started cropping up and attracting tourist dollars. There’s still a lot to be done to modernize the entire area, but it has become the hip destination in Italy.
This fall we had the pleasure of visiting this amazing city. We took a day trip from our base in nearby Bari. It was easy enough to do and was definitely worth the time!
A visit to the Sassi di Matera is like stepping back in time. Think first century Jerusalem! The cave dwellings with their stone facades easily transport you to Biblical times. Indeed it so resembles ancient cities that film makers have used Matera as the setting for many Biblical movies and TV shows. Movies filmed there include most notably Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ (2004) and Timur Bekmambetov’s Ben-Hur (2016). Most recently it was used in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017).
We took the 10:05 Appulo Lucane train from Bari Centrale arriving in Matera Sud just before noon. Plenty of time to walk to the Piazetta Pascoli and grab a quick lunch before meeting up with our tour guide Antonio in front of the Palazzo Lanfranchi located at the top of the piazetta. (The Palazzo is home to the National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art.)
The Piazetta Pascoli is the perfect spot to catch your first glimpse of the Sassi.
The viewpoint on the left of the Palazzo Lanfranchi offers a panoramic view of Sasso Caveoso.
The viewpoint sits at the rim of the canyon and allows you to look down into the Sasso built on its side and across to the caves on the opposite side. The entrance to Sasso Caveoso is located right off the viewpoint. It’s the perfect place to begin your trek down into the ancient town.
Antonio, our local tour guide, started our tour at the viewpoint. There he gave us some history of the Sassi and other interesting facts. We then proceeded down the narrow walkway into the heart of the district.
Along the way Antonio pointed out interesting things such as the natural rock protruding from some of the modern building facades.
Many of the structures we passed were renovated or in the process of renovation. Some had been turned into hotels, restaurants, and shops. But I’d say an equal number of cave dwellings still laid abandoned awaiting a savvy entrepreneur to begin its transformation.
There are several preserved buildings that can be visited, the churches, cisterns, and even some restored homes have become museums that give visitors a peek at how they were back in the day.
One of the building we entered (admission is €3 per person) is the Palombaro or cistern. This water collection system is the main reason the Sassi di Matera became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This vast cavern fully excavated in the rock is 15 meters deep. It collected rainwater that was channeled to it from the top via a system of interconnecting cisterns.
You can also view a small well that provided water to a specific house. These wells were prevalent in the dwellings and I believe their overflow was channeled into the larger cisterns in the town.
We also visited the church of Santa Lucia Alle Malve, one of the Rupestrian churches in the Sassi. (admission is €3 per person; the ticket gives you entrance to all the Rupestrian churches in the Sassi).
The excavation has been dated back to the 9th. century. It was used as a church by a community of Benedictine monks until 1283. In 1797 a new church was constructed in the same caves.
The small church is laid out in the typical basilica style with 3 aisles. Only the right aisle was used for worship. The remaining aisles served various uses mainly habitation by humans and animals. All that remains are frescoes that date between the 11th. and 17th. centuries depicting various icons including the Virgin Mary, Michael the Archangel, and Saints John the Baptist and Benedict. There are also visible signs of the columns that once stood in the church. The columns were dismantled and recycled to create the kitchen when the area was used for housing.
We walked down to a clearing at the bottom of the settlement. The clearing once served as the town’s cemetery. The remains have been moved although one can still see outlines of the graves. From this vantage point you get a clear view of the river that carved this gorge as well as the caves on the opposite wall.
More adventurous folks can drive to the opposite side to explore the caves and hike down to the river. There’s a bridge that connects the two sides, but when we were there the bridge was closed.
Our guided tour ended at this point. Antonio encouraged us to explore on our own but we chose to head over to cafe for some much needed refreshments.
The bustling cafe sits in a little piazza on the lowest street of the Sasso. From here you can explore the the other churches and museums located in Sasso Caveoso or take the road that connects to Sasso Barisano. You can also walk or ride up the stone street to exit the ancient district.
We chose to ride the motorized “taxi” (I called them tuk-tuks because they are similar to the motorized vehicles I ride all over Bangkok.) Our driver dropped us off in front of the Cathedral which is located in the modern district at Piazza Duomo.
Around Piazza Duomo you can find panoramic viewpoints that overlook the Sasso Barisano. You can also find entrances to this part of the Sassi.
If you have the energy, we did not, you can trek on down Sasso Barisano and visit more churches and museums located in this area.
Otherwise you can stroll down this pedestrian zone to Piazza del Sedile and Piazza San Francesco d’Assisi where you’ll find the church of the same name.
Further along you’ll find yourself back at Piazzetta Pascoli where if you’re ready you can head back to the train station and return to Bari. Or you can explore the modern city of Matera where you’ll find the archaeological museum, Castello Tramontano, and a host of other churches.
We elected to return to Bari and luckily the next train back was still at the station.
Our day trip to Matera was one of the highlights of our stay in Puglia. Hiring a local tour guide was the best decision we made, Antonio Manicone of Matera Tour Guide made the day memorable. He was well informed, friendly and very helpful. I will not hesitate to recommend him to friends and family planning to visit Matera.
I believe a tour guide is a must, specially for first time visitors. Guides will explain the history of the district, answer any questions you may have, and point out interesting features in the Sassi. The Tourist Information booth on the corner of Via P. Vena and Via Lucana is a good first stop. There you can pickup a map and also book a Sassi tour. They have scheduled group tours for €20 per person.
We had booked Antonio’s tour before we ever left home. It was a bit more costly as it was a private tour, but it was well worth it. Antonio emailed me train schedules and maps to help me get to Matera and our meeting point. He answered all of my questions via email weeks before we ever met. His company offers group, semi-private, and private tours; in short he’s got something for every budget!
Click here for more information about Matera Tour Guide. Or email Antonio at firstname.lastname@example.org, tell him Savvy Nana sent you!
Getting to Matera from Bari Centrale:
At Bari Centrale (the main train station) head to the Ferrovie Appulo Lucane Station located on the right side of the Main station buillding.
You can buy round trip tickets at the ticket booth located on the right side of the hallway or at the tobacco shop on the left side at the end of the hallway. You can also buy tickets at the self service machine located in the middle of the hallway.
Tickets to Matera cost €4.90 each way.
Once you have the ticket go to the end of the hallway and up the stairs to the platform. There are 2 tracks. Be sure you take the train that says Matera Sud, this train goes directly, but slowly to Matera. Matera Sud is the last stop. The Matera Sud trains leave from Bari about every hour or so.
If you can’t find a train to fit your schedule you can buy a ticket to Matera Sud and get on the train from Bari Centrale to Altamura. At Altamura you can transfer on to a train to Matera. You don’t have to worry there are only 2 tracks at the Altamura train station and the trains will clearly state their destination on every car.
The ride to Matera is about an hour and forty five minutes.
Matera has 3 stops. The ones closest to the Sassi are Matera Centrale and Matera Sud. Centrale is closer to Sasso Barisano and Sud to Sasso Caveoso. Either one works, but I prefer Matera Sud, it’s a shorter walk to the Sassi.
Getting to the Sassi Districts from the train stations:
To Sasso Barisano
Get off at Matera Centrale and walk down Via Roma to Piazza Veneto. It’s about a 15 minute walk.
At the piazza you’ll find a viewpoint overlooking Sasso Barisano and stairs leading into this area.
To Sasso Caveoso
Get off at Matera Sud and walk down Via P. Vena to Via Lucana.
Turn right and cross the street. In about 10 feet or less you will spot a small alley called Via Duni on your left; walk down this alley and it will lead you to Piazzetta Pascoli. It’s a 7 minute walk.
Palazzo Lanfranchi will be on your right, walk straight ahead to the viewpoint and the stairs leading into the Sasso.
Can’t wait to visit this incredible place? Contact Savvy Nana Travel to help you plan your Matera adventure!
Puglia or Apulia in Italian, is a region in southern Italy that borders the Adriatic and Ionian Seas on the east and the Strait of Otranto and Gulf of Taranto on the south. It’s the southern most portion of the country known as the Salento Pennisula which forms the “heel of the boot of Italy.”
Bari the capital city of the Puglia region has a population of 1.3 million residing within the city and it’s suburbs. It’s a good place to base yourself while exploring the wonderful sites around Puglia. Of course Bari has many sites worth exploring as well, I’ll discuss that in a future article.
We recently spent several days in Puglia basing ourselves at the excellent HI Hotel Bari.
Bari is connected to many of the towns in the area and beyond by a good network of roads and by a less comprehensive railway system. Renting a car is arguably the best way to see the area.
Of course we did not rent a car, instead we relied on public transportation for our day trips. Not necessarily the best option, but definitely a workable one.
Now there are many, many places to see in the Puglia region, in fact you can spend weeks here and still not see everything. When you’re limited by time and opt to use public transportation your options are a bit limited.
So with three days to spend in Puglia we choose day trips to towns easily accessible by train.
Now taking trains in and around Bari is a bit more complicated than say taking trains around Rome. This is because there are 3 different rail companies that service the area.
They are: the state railway or Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane also known Trenitalia, Ferrovie Sud-Est (FSE) which is part of the Trenitalia network, Ferrotramviaria, and Ferrovie Appulo Lucane.
The state owned Trenitalia connects Bari to all the major Italian cities as well as some smaller towns in the region and its subsidiary FSE (slow train) connects the city to the southern and south eastern towns. The Ferrotramviaria connects Bari to its airport and other municipalities to the north. And lastly Appulo Locane connects it to neighboring regions and towns in the west. Confusing right?
Well don’t worry I’ll walk you through it!
For our first day trip we elected to go south using the FSE trains. We left fairly early in the morning and took the FSE train that runs from Bari to Martina Franca passing the interesting towns of Locorotundo, Grotte de Castillana, and Alberobello along the way. It’s a very slow train making lots of stops. Once you pass the ugly urban sprawl of Bari you can enjoy the scenery. Look out for Trulli, those round whitewashed huts with conical roofs, that dot the Apulian country side!
Martina Franca is the second most populated town in the Taranto municipality in the Puglia region of Italy. Its main products are white wine and olive oil. It has hosted the Festival della Valle d’Itria, the summer opera season, since 1975.
The walled old town, or centro storico, which is entered thru Porto Santo Stefano, an ornate Baroque gate on one corner of Piazza XX Settembre, is the town’s main attraction.
The town features an awesome mix of extravagant Baroque buildings and simple whitewashed houses. They line the piazzas and narrow streets that wind thru the old town.
Once you pass thru the beautiful Porto Santo Stefamo gate you’ll find yourself in Piazza Roma. The main focal points of this piazza is the small triangle of grass surrounding the fountain and the Palazzo Ducale across.
Built in 1668 the Palazzo Ducale is Martina Franca’s grandest civic building. It was once home to the dukes who presided over the town during its glory days. Today it serves as the town hall and houses a library and Martina Franca’s tourist information office. You can pick up a town map at the TI office or you can opt to just wander thru the town and explore.
Further along the main street leading from Piazza Roma you’ll run into the Basilica di San Martino. San Martino is the town’s patron saint and the basilica sits at the heart of the centro storico in Piazza Plebiscito.
This ornate church is a magnificent example of Baroque architecture inside and out. Look out for dangling cherubs and fake marble altars!
Another church worth a look at is the Chiesa di San Domineco.
The town is charming and definitely has a lived in feel. Don’t be surprised to see laundry hanging from clotheslines and bicycles stored on balconies!
It’s a bit off the beaten path making it an ideal place to wander if you’re looking to get away from the hustle of the larger cities. Spend an hour or two wandering the town and don’t forget to stop at one of the cafes for some wine and foccacia!
It really didn’t take us long to stroll the narrow streets and marvel at the architecture. The hour and a half we spent in town was more than enough, we even had time to stop at the Cafe Tripoli for a snack!
To make the most of the day we decided to catch the train back towards Bari and stop at Aberobello.
We had considered a short stop at Locorotundo but decided against it as we didn’t feel like walking up the hill. The centro storico of Locorotundo is about a 20 minute uphill walk from the train station.
For travelers with more energy than I could muster that day a stop at Locorotundo is definitely doable. It’s about a 10 minute train ride from Martina Franca when you’re headed in the Bari direction.
Another stop you can make along this route is at Castellana Grotte. Here you can explore the town’s spectacular caves.
Alberobello is further along the train route, about 10 minutes from the Locorotundo stop. This little town is best known for its high concentration of Trulli. In fact the Trulli of Alberobello has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.
What you may ask is are Trulli? Trulli are conical buildings made of local limestone that are scattered throughout the Itria valley. They are a fine example of Corbelling, a dry stacked (mortarless) construction technique which dates back to pre-historic times. Alberobello boasts the highest concentration of Trulli in one town. The Trulli of Alberobello date back from the 14th. Century. It is said they were constructed to avoid paying high property taxes. The buildings could quickly be dismantled before the tax assessor came to town.
So really the main attraction of Alberobello are its trulli districts. Wandering the narrow streets that weave between these cute little buildings makes you feel like you’ve wandered into Smurfville or Hobbit town! If you truly want a trulli experience rent one for a couple of days, I hear it’s pretty cool!
When you’ve had your fill of Trulli houses and Trulli churches, that’s in about hour or so, check out the Alberobello Cathedral. It’s right in front of one of the Trulli zones.
You can grab a table at the cafe about a block down the street and relax with a nice cup of cold Cafe Nocciola.
The cafe has outdoor tables that have a nice view of the cathedral.
After wandering around Alberobello we called it a day and opted to return to our hotel in Bari. We caught the next train back and were at Bari Centrale just as the local restaurants were opening for dinner.
A perfect way to end such a delightful day!
From Bari to Martina Franca via FSE:
Take the FSE from Bari Centrale – the train station and ticket office for FSE is located behind the left side of the Bari main station. To get there go to the left side of the train station until you find the stairs going down.
Go down the stairs that leads to the passageway under the train tracks, follow the signs to Ferrovie Sud-Est. Almost at the end of the passageway on the right side is the stairs that go to the FSE station and platform.
Buy tickets from the ticket office to Martina Franca it cost €5.90 one way. The best train to take so that you get the most out of your day trip is the 8:22 am. It arrives in Martina Franca at about 10:20 am.
You can buy a return ticket as well, but if you’re combining the trip with stops at other towns along the route it’s best to buy tickets at each train station on the way back.
From the Martina Franca train station to centro storico:
Walk out of the station and cross the street. On your left you will see a sidewalk with railings.
Walk up this road, it will curve towards the right.
Keep walking up the street until you see a small piazza on your left (the piazza is at the end of a short street on your left)
Take the short street to the small piazza. Go across the piazza heading towards the right side of the piazza where you will find another short street leading from the right side of the piazza.
Go up this short street it will take you to Piazza XX Settembre – that’s a large piazza, you can’t miss it.
Walk thru Piazza XX Settembre (you will turn left to get into this piazza from the short street you were on) on the far side of this piazza you will see the large ornate Porto Santo Stefano. That’s the gate into the walled old town.
To Alberobello from Martina Franca:
At the train station you can purchase a ticket to Alberobello (or Locorotundo, Castellana Grotte, or other towns on the route) from the machine located in front of the building on the train track side, not the street side.
Ticket price to Alberobello is €1.10 (tickets from one town to the next town are priced about the same).
Catch the train that goes to Bari Centrale. Get off at the Alberobello stop (it’s the 3rd. stop from Martina Franca).
From the Alberobello train station to the Trulli zone:
Walk up the road that starts in front of the station. This road will end at the Alberobello Cathedral. One of the Trulli zones starts directly behind the cathedral.
The other smaller Trulli zone is downhill on the road that will be on your right if you’re facing the cathedral.
Alberobello is a very small town. You’ll run across trulli pretty much everywhere, they are not all located in the trulli zones. The zones just have a concentration of trulli and are pedestrian zones.
Ready for a winter getaway? Let Savvy Nana Travel help you plan your next vacation! If you can dream it, we can plan it!
Escaping The Rut
You’re in a rut. You’re tired. Life doesn’t have the zing it did before, and in the back of your mind, you think it never will again. But you’re wrong. You know how you get out of a rut? You realize you’re in one, and make a concerted effort to change. You may think you’ve seen everything. That’s just depression prompting you into complacency.
Proof positive: have you ever been to Australia? Yes? How about Antarctica? Alaska? Russia? Hawaii? The Redwoods of the west coast? Niagara Falls? Have you seen the Wailing Wall, or the great pyramids? When was the last time you zip-lined down an Aztec temple in some Indiana Jones-style tourist shenanigans?
Of course, these are some more expensive travel suggestions. But you don’t have to go globetrotting just to get out of your rut. You may be able to do some traveling around your own backyard that reinvigorates your joie de vivre—your joy of life. For example, have you been hiking lately?
Hitting The Trail
What if you took a discount flight to the Rockies for a weekend and hiked a “fourteen-er”, as the locals call 14,000-foot peaks? Of course, you’ll want to be careful to keep your body in shape prior the hike. Sleep right the night before!
There’s more to having a pillow than just comfort; according to HikersOnRun.com, “…your body must be in [a] proper state for you to be able to make the best out of the hike.” If you’re trekking up the mountain with a crick in your neck, you’re going to get worn out more quickly, and you’re less likely to enjoy the hike.
Additionally, if you find yourself in a rut and in need of travel, your best bet is going to be avoiding areas which are over-ridden with fellow travelers. Traveling during the holidays isn’t advisable, but here are some tips to help you if you can’t avoid it.
Another way to reinvigorate your life through travel is to go the nomad route. Have you ever lived on the road? Have you ever slept out under the stars for weeks on end? Certainly this is easier said than done. There’s a reason “snow birds” are usually older couples in big-ticket RVs: they can afford the finer things as they pertain to nomadic travel.
But you don’t have to be rich to switch out apartment living for mobile living. Have you heard of the “van-dwelling” movement? Here’s the thing: larger RVs are going for super cheap right now because you can’t park them anywhere. You’ve got to be very strategic, they’re hard to drive, they’re expensive to fix, and something always breaks on them.
This may sound crazy, but you can get a full-sized RV with less than 50,000 miles on it from the mid-nineties for around $5k, depending on where you go. Check out this craigslist page just to get an idea how true this is. You can find RVs in the $2k range, you can find them in the $10k range.
If you live full-time in an RV for nine months to a year, and purchasing it, licensing it, repairing it, and selling it puts you out a total of $10k over the course of that time, you’ve paid less than your monthly rent to travel wherever you want to and have your home with you.
Workspace Virtualization: Increasingly Attractive
Now: if you’re going to be mobile, you’ll need to have a way of making money remotely. This isn’t feasible for everyone, but technology is in your court on this one. Did you know that virtualized offices are quickly coming to phase out traditional office solutions? It’s true, and you’ll see why in a moment.
A desktop computer is $1k, minimum—if it’s to be relied on. An office downtown with 100 employees likely isn’t going to cost less than $10k a month in rental. That’s $110k, altogether, which can be saved through virtualization. Cut 90% of the office through BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and now office space is $12k a year rather than $120k.
If employees bring their own computers, that’s an additional $90k in savings. This over time can save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many offices have crunched the numbers and decided that vying for traditional modes of employment just isn’t as cost-effective as the virtualized solution.
If you are in a situation where your workplace may be considering such a switch, why don’t you volunteer? Do a good enough job and you may be able to retain a mobile work solution. This could allow you to follow through on all your nomad designs!
Finding The Travel Solutions You Most Enjoy
But certainly, not everyone wants to live on the road perennially, even if it is cost-effectively possible today—and in a way that’s less expensive than traditional rental is. Most prefer to put down roots and vacation every now and again. This makes a lot of sense, and it doesn’t have to break the bank.
The simplest trips can be the most rewarding. You may find your perfect vacation is just a day’s drive away. But one thing is worth thinking about, and that’s broadening your horizons. The truth is, today we feel as though we’ve seen and done everything there is to see and to do because so much data is immediately available at our fingertips via technology.
But in reality, until you do the things you watch, you haven’t truly experienced them; you’ve only had a sort of waking dream as to what they’re like. You can’t feel the wind in your hair, or see the waves beneath you, or hear the water crashing into shore, or smell the somehow-pleasant salty effluvia that is the ocean, if you’re just watching a documentary on parasailing.
But if you actually get a kite and a surfboard for yourself, you can have an experience that may just change your life. A change of scenery, a change of pace—this can be just what you need to reinvigorate your existence. Today’s travel options make the world your oyster; so open it up!
Ready for your next adventure? Call Savvy Nana Travel! We’ll help you plan your dream trip! If you can dream it, we can plan it!
Kotor Montenegró is arguably one of Europe’s hidden gems. This picturesque town nestled at the foot of Mt. Lovcen is the end point of the Bay of Kotor. It is a fairly new port of call for cruise ships sailing the Adriatic Coast.
Montenegró is a new country having gained her independence in May 2006. It’s tourist industry is just getting off the ground which is great for us tourists. We were quite surprised to find everything in town very inexpensive.
Kotor, Montenegró although new to the tourist scene is steeped in history. First settled by the ancient Romans, Kotor was founded as early as the 5th. Century B.C. It was later fortified by Emperor Justinian in the Byzantine era.
Kotor has deep maritime roots. Hailed as the center of sailing since the 12th. Century with a rich naval history Kotor helped build the communities along the country’s Adriatic coast.
In short there are many things to see and do in and around Kotor Montenegró. Here are my 5 favorite things to do in Kotor.
Explore the Old Town a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Wander the maze of cobblestone streets lined with simple buildings topped with sepia colored roofs, Romanesque churches, and quaint shops and cafés.
In the Old Town you’ll find St. Triphon’s Cathedral built in 1166, the Church of St. Nicholas built in 1909, as well as other churches, monasteries, palaces, and museums.
You’ll also find the entrance to the fortification that runs up the mountain and protected the city in ancient times.
You can pay the €3 fee and walk up the 1355 steps to the fortress of St. John then hike further up to see other structures and of course enjoy the spectacular view of the town and bay below.
Those not as athletic can enjoy the view by driving to a lookout just out of town. A taxi will take you up for a few Euro.
While in the Old Town you might be lucky enough to catch a performance of Montenegrin fold dancers. They preform in the square right in front of the main gate into town.
Old Town is filled with small squares and alleys where you’ll find restaurants and cafés. Grab a table and enjoy a glass of wine or better yet a meal. Kotor is known for great fresh seafood. [spacer height=”-20px”]
Take a cruise along Boka Bay.
Boka Kotorska or Boka (Kotor) Bay is one of the most indented portions of the Adriatic Seas. Although it is widely known as Europe’s southern most fjord it’s actually a submerged river canyon.
Picturesque towns line the coasts of the bay as it meanders from the entrance from the Adriatic to its end in Kotor.
You can hop on one of the tourist boats that ply the day all day long, or hire a private boat. Which ever way you choose this scenic boat ride is a definite must!
Visit the Our Lady of the Rocks Island.
The church is located in Boka Bay on a man made island of the same name. It is one of the 2 islands in the bay, the other is St. George.
Legend has it that the islet was built over the centuries by local seamen who kept an ancient oath after finding the icon of Madonna and Child on the rock in the sea on July 22, 1452. When the seamen returned from each successful voyage, they laid a rock in the Bay. Over time the island was built. The custom of throwing rocks into the sea is alive even nowadays. Every year on the sunset of July 22, an event called fašinada in the local dialect, when local residents take their boats and throw rocks into the sea, widening the surface of the island, takes place.
The islet is home to Our Lady of the Rocks Catholic church which houses a museum. The church display 68 paintings by Tripo Kokolja, a famous 17th-century baroque artist from Perast and a collection of silver votives and paintings by other Italian artists. The museum displays many artifacts, paintings, and tapestries.
The most famous tapestry was embroidered by Jacinta Kunić-Mijović from Perast. She embroidered the tapestry while waiting for her husband to return from a long sea voyage. She used gold and silver thread as well as her own hair. It took her 25 years to finish this intricate tapestry; you can see the hair she used turn from blond to white.
Visit the town of Perast.
Perast is a well preserved Baroque city on Boka Bay. It flourished in the 1700’s due to its busy shipyards.
It is one of the loveliest towns on Boka Bay. Its narrow streets and Baroque palaces reflect its inhabitants wealth and luxurious lifestyle in days gone by.
The waterfront is lined with outdoor cafés where you can stop for a cold drink and snack.
Try the fried stuffed olives, they’re delightful! [spacer height=”-20px”]
Take a drive to Budva.
Budva is a fortified city on the Adriatic coast. It’s 2500 years old making it one of the oldest towns along this coast.
Today it’s know for its Old Town as well as its sandy beaches and night clubs some of which are located just outside the town’s ancient walls.
Budva is a center of Montenegrin tourism and is known as Budva Riviera. It is known has having some of the best beaches on the Adriatic coast and stretches out from the city.
Unlike Kotor, Budva has a more modern feel. Historical sites are contained within the walled Old Town. The surrounding areas are sprouting with new hotels, condos, shops, restaurants, and bars.
Located on a wide swatch of sand is Jaz Beach. It serves as a venue for concerts and festivals.
While in Budva do sit down at one of the restaurants and try an order of Palacinke. The Montenegrin version of pancakes or crepes. They can be either sweet or savory filled with anything from jam to ham, cheese, veggies, and even tuna.
I had the Palacinke Salzburg. They were delicious!
Getting around Kotor is easy. There are many modes of transportation.
In Kotor itself there is a public bus that services the town and the coastal villages around the coast. Tourist can choose to take the hop on – hop off bus that runs all day from Kotor to Risan with stops in Perast and Bajova Kula. Tickets cost €20 and includes tickets for the Roman Mosaics in the town of Risan, tickets for the Museum of Old Town Perast, and a guided walking tour of Kotor’s Old Town.
Taxis are abundant and reasonably prices. They offer day tours to other towns including Budva, Njegusi, and Lastva. We hired a taxi for 4 hours and headed to Budva, it cost us €40. Our driver spoke English very well and doubled as a tour guide.
But since most everything around Kotor centers around the bay the easiest way to get around is by boat. You can take one of the boat tours sold around town or hire a private boat and explore the bay at your leisure.
Ready to plan your trip to Kotor Montenegro? Let Savvy Nana Travel help you plan your dream vacation! I specialize in cruises and custom itineraries, what ever your interest and your budget I’m sure I can help you plan the perfect vacation.