Saturday, 1 August 2009

Pulau Perhentian, June 2009

After spending 2 nights in KL, we flew out to Kota Bharu in order to get to Petani Beach House on Pulau Perhentian, our island destination. At the airport we bought an official airport taxi transfer ticket to Kuala Besut's jetty. We had been told by Debbie (the lady who manages/owns Petani Beach House with her husband Hash) to not go for the cheaper combined taxi-boat tickets if we wanted a better "boat experience". She also advised to look for Kuala Besut Travel at the jetty. It was a little hidden away, but was worth looking for since we managed to get a boat ride before most of the other people who were waiting for their boats. The lady who manages Kuala Besut Travel was very efficient and quickly got us on our way. The jetty is quite chaotic and confusing, so having someone that takes control is very handy. By the way, since Pulau Perhentian has been made a "Marine Park" you now have to pay an admission fee of 5 MYR to get on the island.

We must have looked a bit "out of place" with our over-sized luggage (blame the city destinations), excessive hand luggage and Siân's white leather handbag. The boat ride itself was fast, very fast and a little bumpy.

Getting all our luggage from the boat onto the beach, being helped by Eddie, we were greeted by Bianca who looked slightly amazed at the amount of stuff we brought along. Luckily a few days later we felt much better when Paul and Georgina arrived on the island carrying hard shell suitcases ;-)

My partner Siân was slightly worried about the fact that we wouldn't have aircon nor hot showers, but she wanted a "perfect beach" destination. I discovered Petani Beach House by accident 10 years ago (was able to find my name in the early pages of the Register Book) and afterward never managed to find a beach that lived up to that particular beach setting, not even The Crane in Barbados.
Now, in order to get the perfect beach on an island such as Perhentian you have to be willing to make a trade-off between luxury and nature. It would be really difficult to build concrete aircon bungalows without affecting the surrounding nature and destroying some coral while at it.

I knew the accommodation was going to be quite basic (but not as basic as some other places on the island) and that we should expect some creepy crawlers inside (the backyard literally is jungle), but I was also hoping that the atmosphere and setting would compensate for all these minor issues. And it did! Big time!

Even though Siân had asked me to come up with a Perhentian back-up plan (meaning a place with aircon and hot showers), once we arrived at Petani Beach House she didn't want to leave anymore. The atmosphere at Petani Beach House was just amazing, which was mainly due to the setting and the people who are running the place.

The owners, Debbie and Hash, were visting family in South Africa when we went, so they left the management of Petani Beach House to their children, with their partners and friends. Bianca and David are excellent at running "front of house", while Icken and Raisa are producing amazing food in the kitchen. And even with everybody being very efficient at what they do, there is no trace of stress to be found on this beach. If you can't chill at Petani Beach House, you need valium and if you don't like the food, you need other taste buds.

Remember me saying Siân was initially slightly worried about staying at Petani Beach House, and I honestly was also slightly worried how she would react to it after the 5 star luxury in the cities ... well, have a look at her review on TripAdvisor and you'll see she also loved it!

Tips when staying at Petani Beach House:
  • Go for the "specials" at dinner time. Every evening Bianca or David came by the bungalow to say what the special was that evening (always fresh from the day and served at about 8pm) and we systematically just went for it. We had some amazing food, and I particularly remember the red snapper, calamari and crab.
  • David organises his own snorkel tour which is just amazing. Do it! With David being ex-military, a qualified diver and having a certificate for rescue at sea, he made us feel very safe and relaxed while we were just totally gobsmacked at seeing sea turtles from up close, giant rays, sharks, and the most techni-colour bunch of fishes ever.
  • Make sure to have an underwater camera. I'm still kicking myself for not having brought one to the island.
  • Bring some battery powered LED book lights and torches when staying at Petani.
  • If you are planning on keeping some snacks or food inside the bungalow, make sure to bring Tupperware style containers, because the ants seem to be able to find your food wherever it might be (even when hung, in a tightly knotted plastic bag).
  • Mosquito repellent! Loads of it, and go for the strong stuff! Even though Bianca and David hand out mosquito coils and use them under the tables at the restaurant, the mosquitoes are really aggressive. Seemingly Off is one of the most efficient mosquito repellents for the island according to them.
  • For the ladies, bring a mirror you can place on the deck outside if you want to do a bit of pampering. (the light inside the bungalows might not be bright enough)
  • Get yourself a local Malay SIM card before going to islands. All the major Malay mobile network providers have a decent signal on the island.
  • The nearby bigger Impani resort is handy for when you want a snack when Petani's restaurant is closed, or when you need extra rental snorkel equipment.
  • Try the local Orang Utang rum, also known as "Monkey Juice". It mixes very well with Coke or pineapple juice.
So, if you love a good beach, you want some relaxation, amazing snorkeling and don't mind rather basic accommodation ... this is the place to be!

Kuala Lumpur, June 2009

From Singapore it only took a very short, SilkAir-operated flight to get to Kuala Lumpur. On arrival at the impressive KLIA airport, we went straight for the official Airport Taxi Desk, which seems to be subsidised, offering really good rates for what is quite a long drive actually (almost one hour) to get to KL city. There are several types of official airport taxis so just make sure you specify the type you want: Budget, Premium, Family, ... We had booked Traders hotel after having read some really positive reviews on TripAdvisor. On arrival we were greeted by Ronaldo who took care of our luggage and made sure to show us to the check-in desk on the 32nd Floor of the hotel. We had booked a Traders Club room, which gave us access to the Club Lounge with its own reception desk for fast check-in and check-out. The Club Lounge is available for breakfast (instead of the more extensive breakfast selection on the 5th floor) and complimentary afternoon tea, but this place really gets buzzing from 5:30pm onwards when the complimentary cocktail hour starts (until 7:30pm). Even though it is advertised as "nibbles", the food during cocktail hour is actually really good and I'm sure it would be challenging for anyone's stomach to go out for dinner afterward. We enjoyed many G&Ts and snacks here, and also used cocktail hour to do some online research using the free WiFi. The Sky Bar on the 33rd floor of the hotel is a definite must-see and while during the day the same space functions as the pool area, it is at night that it is at its best. It feels and looks a bit weird during the day with people trying to catch some sun coming in via the open side windows. The loungy cushioned seats are being used as improvised sun loungers, so in the evening you might end up sitting where previously had been some sweaty backs.

Our room offered an excellent view, with the Petronas Towers just in front of us. The room itself was decent, but not as functional storage-wise as one would expect.

Even though Traders hotel caters mainly to a business crowd, some of the facilities such as the complimentary business centre (free Internet and printing) and free cocktails and nibbles in the Club Lounge make it enjoyable to the leisure traveler. A special mention for Nick at the Concierge Desk. His recommendations were excellent, he checked us in for our flight while we were having a chat and also introduced us to Shangri-La's new resort on the Maldives. We didn't have time to explore much of KL but we went to Chinatown for some compulsory
knock-off shopping and we picked up a Malay SIM card in order not to get hammered with roaming charges when making local calls. KL's Golden Triangle, where many of the popular hotels are located, is trendy, high-tech and looks very cosmopolitan. In the evenings we went to Bukit Bintang and had a few drinks, while Jalan Sultan Ismail also is a popular spot for bars and restaurants.

Even though Kuala Lumpur is a top-notch South-East Asian capital city, it didn't have that "unique" feeling you get when going to Bangkok or Singapore. Even though everything is really good, nothing really "stuck" with us except for
the quality of the hotels. Which leads me to the Mandarin Oriental hotel. We stayed there for one night on our way back home from Pulau Perhentian. Now, if there is one thing I will remember from KL, this will be it! Together with Ca' Sagredo in Venice (even while being very different), this is the best hotel we have ever stayed at.

Service was second to none, the room was fantastic, the bed and pillows were outstanding and the room service was of excellent quality (and the aircon worked properly all of the time, something that Sentosa Resort nor Traders Hotels seemed to manage).
We booked this last-minute on the phone, while staying on Pulau Perhentian. With it being weekend we were offered the room (and one breakfast) for less than £100. Amazing value for money! Since we had a late flight, we asked if it would be possible to accommodate us with a late check-out and we were immediately offered a complimentary 3pm check-out. This already made things much easier, but since we would only be leaving at 6:30pm we still needed "a solution" for the next 3 hours. Now, we had been told locker rooms and showers were available (near the pool) for us to change before our flight, but we didn't expect these to be as good as they actually were. The so called locker rooms offered dressing tables with toiletries, several different types of showers, a jacuzzi, sauna, steam bath and relaxation lounge. Absolutely flawless!

Before booking the Mandarin Oriental, I also called the Shangri-La hotel because of our previous positive experience in Traders, but the booking agent on the phone was much less helpful and when I asked what the options were to accommodate a late check-out I was immediately told "50% of the price for 1 night", nothing else. I even asked if they would have a complimentary late check-out (which I know they do from a couple we met on Pulau Perhentian), but I was told that we would need to pay an extra 50%. This was in stark comparison with the telephone booking agent for the Mandarin Oriental, who couldn't have been more helpful, accommodating and polite. The entire process from calling the Mandarin Oriental to book a room, to actually leaving the hotel was flawless. The words "benchmark" and "best practices" come to mind when thinking about the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Singapore, June 2009

Our latest holiday combined 5 star luxury in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur with quite basic island accommodation on Pulau Perhentian (Malaysia), and it was absolutely fantastic!

We started off our holiday by staying at the Manchester Airport Radisson SAS hotel. This allowed us to catch an early flight without needing to leave home extra early, nor getting stuck in stressful traffic jams. The hotel is actually situated within the airport grounds and allows direct access to Terminal 2. From hotel check-out to being checked in with Singapore Airlines, it took us about 10 minutes.
By choosing for the Room + 15 days of Parking bundle we managed to make our departure much more enjoyable, while not paying much more than airport parking.
This hotel gets very mixed reviews on TripAdvisor, but in our case it worked really well and we would certainly stay here again. The rooms (and most of the hotel) look a little dated, but staff was excellent and the convenience outweighed all the potential negatives.


A fully packed 13-hour flight later we landed in Singapore at 6am. I'm sure Singapore Airlines must have had a "
Nursery Promo Sale" earlier on, because I've never experienced so many babies on one flight. Needless to say it was absolutely impossible to sleep and the Emergency Exit looked disturbingly appealing, even at 35,000 feet.
On arrival we unfortunately made the mistake of trying to make our way to the hotel using public transportation and the hotel shuttle bus from Vivo City (shopping mall). Even though this was a good way of getting an immediate feel for Singapore, I wouldn't suggest this if you are traveling with much luggage. The MRT public transportation system is very efficient, but the many changes and stairs make it a bit of a drag, literally. Also, it is not that easy to find the Sentosa Resort shuttle pick-up area outside Vivo City. We ended up spending 2 hours getting to our resort while a taxi would have done it in less than 30 minutes, and taxi prices are very reasonable in Singapore.

We had booked The Sentosa Resort & Spa on Sentosa island via XO Private. Yvan and Isabelle from XO Private had suggested this place and it actually looked much better in real life than it does on The Sentosa's own web site. We checked in and after just a few minutes it was clear that this would make the perfect start to our holiday. The place looked great, the grounds were immaculate, the peacocks added yet another aesthetic touch, the service was very good, the concierge was faultless, the food and drinks were amazing and the big pool and sun loungers really gave this place an immediate holiday feel. We enjoyed the place that much and were really able to relax to such extend that I completely forgot to take daytime pics of Sentosa Resort and the island itself. At no point in time did the thought cross my mind "oh I should get my digital camera out" even though everything looked fantastic at the resort. There is a really good atmosphere at night time too with The Pavillion and The Cliff bar allowing you to enjoy a nice drink in a surrounding that is miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Which literally is only miles away ...

I did find some other pics online which might give you a better feel for the resort...

Singapore City itself was quite impressive and it definitely is the most "sanitised" (in a good way) of all South-East Asian capital cities I've experienced. Some people seem to have a bit of a problem with this, but what is not to like about a well organised graffiti-free city with extremely polite, helpful and highly educated people? This place makes you feel really safe, comfortable and "at home" in no time. Maybe that is the only concern, feeling "at home" while being on a long-haul holiday is probably not really the idea ... but it is very easy, I must admit, after a long haul flight and being jet-lagged.

Clarke Quay and Boat Quay offer a wide wide variety of bars and restaurants and you definitely have to go and experience the almost-Disneyland'esque atmosphere in some of these places. In Clarke Quay we ended up having dinner in a seafood restaurant along the water. It was absolutely packed, mainly with locals. I don't remember the name of the place, but I do remember the scallops main dish and the absolutely fabulous award winning Chili Crab.

We afterward had a drink at Le Noir and tried to get a taxi at closing time. From the taxi queue we spotted a few more bars that were still open and we ended up at Cuba Libre. You can't queue while being on a holiday, when there's a perfectly good bar around ;-) We ended up having a good night at this bar, chatting with a group of PE teachers out on an international sports event. Amongst them a Belgian expat now living in Manila and a German expat living in Kuala Lumpur. The Sunday evening BOGOF at Cuba Libre made it even more chatty.

We only briefly went to Chinatown and ended up eating in a Cantonese Restaurant that has been around for ages and that was quite busy with mainly locals and expats. The deco was a bit rubbish, but the food was excellent and we ate the best Roasted Peking Duck ever! I had read about a bar called The Breeze in TimeOut Singapore, so we decided to give this nearby bar a try.

The most impressive aspect of this bar is actually the hotel on top of which it is located. The Scarlet is absolutely amazing. Everything about it, just says "Absolutely Fabulous". The deco is glamorous and ornate, without being tacky. The attention to detail is amazing and even though the shapes and colours are bold, it just works. It takes a great designer to achieve such a "More is Less" interior.

The location of the hotel feels a bit weird however and its lack of an outdoor pool with sun loungers might not make it the ideal leisure hotel, but depending on the experience you are looking for this might just be a great place to spend a few days feeling like a rock star.

In the Old Colonial District we went for the compulsory Singapore Sling at Raffles' Long Bar.

It obviously is a bit of a tourist attraction with overpriced cocktails (don't stick to the Singapore Slings) and the obligatory peanut shells on the wooden floors, but the house band Moudique was very, very good.

We initially didn't intend on staying at Raffles all night, but the band was just too good and so we downed a few more drinks while getting into the groove ;-)

Raffles really is quite impressive and walking through its corridors gives a feel for the grandeur that Sir Thomas Raffles brought to Singapore in the early 1800's. It seems the entire neighbourhood has been Rafflesized actually.

Our only real daytime trip, was the have-to-do Orchard Road shopping trip. It is one big stretch of luxury shopping malls, but once you've seen one Louis Vuitton shop, you've seen them all ;-) Getting hungry we spotted a Food Centre and went for sushi, which again was really good. Sushi in South-East Asian shopping malls and food courts seems to systematically be so much better than what we are being offered in most European sushi restaurants.

Sentosa island itself has quite an artificial feel to it, and the little trains (not really on rails) running around the island give it a fair park feel. The man-made white sand beaches you find around the island are ok, but the big tanker ships cruising along spoil the view a little obviously. Now, I must admit this is purely based on first impressions because we didn't explore too much of the island. The pool at The Sentosa Resort & Spa was just too appealing for jet-lagged daytime leisure.

When flying Singapore Airlines, this is now going to be a regular stop-over because there is so much more to see and do in Singapore that it would be a shame to miss out on this.

We only spent 3 nights in Singapore, after which we flew out to Kuala Lumpur... see next Blog post!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Budget Airlines versus "Quality" Airlines

I started writing this blog post while waiting for a flight to Brussels at Manchester Airport. Reflecting on our latest experiences with SWISS and Singapore Airlines I am now looking forward to experiencing the budget air travel experience again with Ryanair.

Ryanair is very much WYPIWYG, "What You Pay Is What You Get". I have paid £12 for this return flight (all in) and since I don't expect anything service-wise it will be difficult to be disappointed. This is in stark comparison with flying SWISS to Venice and being seriously delayed and rerouted via Amsterdam (instead of Zurich) on our way back. Singapore Airlines equally let us down by canceling some of their flights between Manchester and Singapore (after we had booked) cutting short our long haul holiday by a day. Did any of them bother apologising or compensating us in any way? Nope!

The SWISS staff at Venice airport were actually bordering on being rude with a "can't be bothered attitude". We spent an extra 3 hours at the airport and SWISS didn't even offer us a drinks voucher. We had already checked in and made our way through security when the re-routing was announced to us. This meant we had to go back to a Luggage Reclaim counter, wait for our luggage, then go to the SWISS ticketing desk, get new tickets with KLM, check in again, and go through security again.
Being re-routed via Amsterdam also meant we ended up back in Manchester at a different Terminal, having to drag our luggage back to the Terminal car park where we had left our car. We initially chose to fly SWISS instead of Ryanair for convenience... well that wasn't exactly money well spent in this case.

For our yearly South-East Asia holiday we opted to fly Singapore Airlines and pay a little extra, again for convenience. A direct flight from Manchester to Singapore, to start off our holidays, sounded like a good plan but when Singapore Airlines decided to cut short our holiday by one day the aspect of convenience was completely out of the window. Since we had already booked some flights in Malaysia, we now find ourselves in a situation where we need to get back from a secluded beach on a remote island straight to Manchester ... all in one looooong trip, or we need to book an extra flight from Kota Bharu to Kuala Lumpur and leave our island destination one day earlier.
[next paragraph added after long-haul holiday] We finally opted for the latter and booked an earlier flight back to KL. I have been back for a week now and while I used to think Singapore Airlines was top-notch, I'm now not that sure. With Singapore Airlines canceling some of its weekly flights between Manchester and Singapore, the flights are jam-packed. This means you don't get to spread out over an eventual extra seat and also means that staff are pretty busy. The little pouch you receive for travel comfort is pretty empty in comparison with, for example, flying Emirates. Also, you don't get the "Do Not Disturb" stickers which are so handy when trying to sleep and food is being served. On our inbound flight, it was extremely difficult to get a drink. Twice, I asked for a Rum & Coke (was still in holiday mode I must admit!) and the first time I was asked to wait a little because drinks were going to be served soon. On the second occasion, I was again asked to wait because food was about to get served. I finally got my second drink 30 minutes after asking for it. Now, if I would have been drinking before boarding the flight I could understand if the cabin staff were reluctant to hurry to get me a drink ... but I was super-sober (water and coffee all day) and just wanted a nightcap really, trying to extend the holiday feel a little. I used to look forward to flying Singapore Airlines, but I'm not anymore unfortunately. It is good, but not better.

Now, back to budget airlines. When flying to European destinations, they very often are the fastest way to get to your destination (no capital city stop-overs). Budget airlines are obviously annoying with all the extras they charge for such as hold luggage, airport check-in, paying online, etc but when a flight is cheaper than the taxi ride to your hotel or the airport parking, who can blame them? The concept of paying for what you use is actually quite good (in principle) and the budget airlines need to create additional revenue streams somehow.

Impressions of Ryanair (even though not the first time I'm flying with them):

The Negatives:
The planes look quite recent but the inside is really ugly. Someone in marketing must have thought it would be a good idea to use the high visibility yellow of Ryanair's logo to decorate the inside of the planes. Well, it isn't! It would look much better to invert the yellow and blue on the planes.
Everything inside the plane is made for efficiency and easy cleaning ... fair enough.
I can't lean my seat back at all. However, not too bad for a short flight.
The in-flight menu offers food and drinks at overinflated prices. I just read in their in-flight magazine about a wonderful wine bar in Monaco where you can get a glass of wine for €4.50, while Ryanair charges €5.95 for its wine. Now, it's not the price itself that "doesn't work", it's the setting. Blue and Yellow plastic seats don't really trigger a luxury feeling that would justify spending a bit more. I don't mind paying over the odds if I get something in return, such as an exclusive setting, quality, amazing views, etc. It's about value for money really. Ryanair should try lowering its food and drinks prices (for a test period) and evaluate the bottom-line profit.
I am landing in Charleroi, which Ryanair calls Brussels South. Considering how small Belgium is, it's the equivalent of flying to Manchester for "London North" ;-)

The Positives:
The plane took off only 5 minutes later than planned and we will be landing prior to the scheduled arrival time (landed 20 minutes early actually).
Nothing is amazing ... but then again, everything is quite efficient.
Ryanair also has a good reputation for losing luggage much less often than other airlines. When flying with Ryanair I tend to go for cabin luggage only. Saves loads of money and Ryanair allows up to 10kg cabin luggage anyhow (55x40x20cm).
I can't find many more positives but the few positives often outweigh the negatives.

Flying Ryanair is like taking the bus, but with a check-in. No frills, but it's cheap, efficient and will do just fine in many cases or should I say when you don't have many cases, because once you start checking in luggage the additional costs tend to add up and make other budget and non-budget airlines seem more appealing.
Ryanair should focus some more efforts on branding and create a perception that says something different from just "cheap". It's in the details. Flight attendants uniforms, attitudes and overall communication could look less messy and a little trendier. It doesn't need to look cheap in order to be cheap! Ryanair could do with a bit of a branding make-over because in the end some of the other benefits such as flights who actually depart and land as scheduled; and luggage that also gets to the destination (shame on BA for its Terminal 5 chaos) could be appealing by themselves. As long as the rest of the experience is no major turn-off, people might even be willing to put up with the extra shuttle to actually get to the destination as long as it doesn't make the customers feel like cattle. Maybe in next year's season of The Apprentice, Sir Alan Sugar should come up with a task whereby the candidates need to create their own branded airline. If they do as good a job with airlines as with chocolates, Michael O'Leary should be watching closely just to "funk" things up a little.

Interesting Link:

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Venice 2009

Getting there
In order to get to Venice we had a few options, but we only short-listed flying from Manchester to Venice with SWISS (stop-over in Zurich) and flying from Liverpool to Venice with Ryanair (no stop-over).
We opted for SWISS because of the arrival time in Venice, which was ideally scheduled when looking at the hotel's check-in time. Manchester airport is closer anyway and SWISS flies to the international Marco Polo airport in Venice, while Ryanair flies to Treviso airport, which again is further away from where you ultimately need to be.

Getting from Marco Polo airport to our hotel Ca' Sagredo was actually easier than expected. I had read about many different options available to us, but one of the quickest and cheapest options was to simply take the ATVO private line bus to Piazzale Roma. From Piazzale Roma take the Vaporetto (Venice's floating equivalent of the public bus) Line 1.

ATVO Private Line bus tickets can be bought in the arrival terminal at Marco Polo airport (3 Euro), and the bus can be found just in front of you when you exit the terminal building. Just make sure to ask the ticketing desk when the bus is leaving, check the electronic display signs outside the terminal and aim for the blue bus. Don't forget to validate your ticket when you are getting on this bus, because you could risk a 40 Euro fine each.
When you get off the bus at Piazalle Roma, the Vaporetto boats actually leave from this square (please refer to this map). Look out for a ACTV ticketing office on a corner of the square (get yourself a single journey ticket at 6.5 Euro), the boats are docked just behind it. Try to go sit at the back of the Vaporetto, which is outdoor and allows you to take in the scenery. In order to get to our hotel we took Line 1 (leaves every 10 minutes) for a few stops and we got off at Ca' d'Oro, which was in front of our hotel. We just had to walk around the block to get to the main entry.
The entire journey didn't take more than 45 minutes and gave us a flavour of Venice.
When making this journey in the opposite direction, make sure not to make the same mistake I made and buy ACTV bus tickets to get back to the airport. These busses will take twice as long because they make several stops. I realised this after buying the ACTV tickets, so I had to buy new ATVO tickets again.

Places to Stay
When looking at hotels in Venice, we came across Ca' Sagredo on XO Private's web site. The pictures of the hotel looked absolutely amazing, so we decided not to go through our usual route of checking out all the hotels on TripAdvisor and booking direct, or through one of the popular booking sites. We saw something we really liked on XO Private and we just went ahead and booked via them. 

We had booked a "standard" Premier Room, but when we were shown to our room we realised we had been upgraded to a really nice Prestige Room with view on the Grand Canal. We also had some chocolate-dipped fresh strawberries in our room. Excellent start!

The hotel's interior looks absolutely amazing, while the exterior doesn't really give this away. Imagine having a room in a museum or palace, and you're about there.
Everything in the room and the hotel looked absolutely immaculate. Not the tiniest stain to be spotted, no signs of wear-and-tear and everything was impeccably clean (I mean flawlessly clean).
The staff at reception were very kind, efficient and service-minded. I asked to confirm (and reschedule) restaurant booking a few times, which was always done with a smile. When I went to the reception to ask for a bath robe, this was delivered to the room before I actually managed to get back to the room... speedy!
Service is always discreet but very efficient with a focus on guests' privacy.

When booking the hotel, I wasn't aware of how well it was located actually. The Traghetto (little ferry that gets you across the Canal) was just on the hotel's doorstep and this takes you to the vegetable and Pescheria fish market. 

Now, we didn't intend on making a 3-course meal ourselves but nearby this market square you find a high concentration of excellent Osteria (similar to a tavern, pub, restaurant) that are not solely aimed at tourists.

The Traghetti don't run at night time, but you can still easily cross the canal via the nearby Rialto bridge.

Some tips:
  • Since we had a view of the Grand Canal this also meant that the noise from the Vaporettos could be disturbing in the morning. Just pack some earplugs like we did and you will be fine.
  • Seemingly legislation doesn't allow hotels in Italy to have an iron and ironing board in the rooms. So try to be clever about packing or make sure you will know what you will be wearing in the evening or the next day and use the hotel's pressing service.

  • Ca' Sagredo is a fantastic hotel in an excellent location, especially if you will be sampling the local food. If/When we go back to Venice, there is no doubt in our minds we will be staying at Ca' Sagredo again.
  • XO Private's selection of hotels is spectacular and this experience has now changed my online hotel search habits. I will now start with XO Private first before looking further on other sites.

Places to Eat
First things first: order Venice Osterie, by Michela Scibilia. If you like your food, this will be your best few quid spent in preparation of a Venice trip.

On our first night in Venice, we decided to give Alle Testiere a try based on the review in Venice Osterie (a 10 minute walk from the hotel). We had booked during the week and we were only able to secure a table for 21:30. On arrival, there was a really nice buzz in the restaurant, both owners (I think) who manage front of house and the kitchen were standing behind the counter with a big smile on their faces. This happy vibe, of staff and customers, went along with excellent food. Since we had some chicetti earlier that evening, we asked if we could skip the starters, order the swordfish main to share, as a starter because we both fancied this, and afterwards have the mixed grilled fish. This was no problem whatsoever and they immediately understood what we meant. The swordfish dish was excellent and the grilled mixed fish was very good. The latter dish didn't come with condiments, nor cover-up sauces but was a dish of excellent fresh produce. We didn't even ask for anything to go with the fish because it was just that good (and it was a generous plate of food). The white wine that was suggested to us was good, but a little strong to my partner's taste (14 degrees for a white wine is quite strong). However it did work well with the food, but would be a little heavy as an aperitif wine. I unfortunately don't remember the name of the wine.
The almond ice cream and pistachio pannacota were really good deserts to finish off an excellent meal.
We would certainly go back and this restaurant really deserves its good reputation.

  • Even after 21:30 people were still coming in to have food. The restaurant was packed throughout the evening.
  • The same owners have opened Pesco Pronto at the Pescheria Fish market. An excellent place to have an excellent fresh quick lunch.

On our second evening we went to I Figli Delle Stelle, located on Giudecca. Getting there from our hotel was a bit of an expedition really. I had imagined it as having an enjoyable Vaporetto ride, enjoying dusk from the outdoor back-section of the Vaporetto and taking in the views of the Giudecca island opposite San Marco while jumping on a second Vaporetto that would get us to the restaurant.  It was more something like being in a rush because we wanted to have a rest after a long day of walking around Venice, meaning we were running late for the restaurant. The romantic-envisioned Vaporetto ride didn't really turn out that way. The outdoor section was not an option because it was freezing. Inside was more like being stuck on a damp public bus in England. You couldn't see anything outside and that was going to be our ride for over 30 minutes. Romantic ... not really! In my "Men are from Mars and can read maps" attitude, I had taken control of the Vaporetto lines' map, which unfortunately ended up with us shooting past our intended San Zaccharia stop. So we had to jump off and get the next Vaporetto back for one stop, before taking another Line to get to the island of Giudecca (Zitelle).  My partner, Siân, was not impressed with my restaurant selection by this point, and neither was I actually. One hour to get to a restaurant I had read about on TripAdvisor  and in Venice Encounter was just a bit much, especially considering that we had so many good Osteria near our hotel.
So, when we finally got to I Figli Delle Stelle it looked nice but there were only 4 other customers present at 20:55, and I do mean 4 customers not 4 tables, on a Saturday evening. This was a big contrast in comparison to our previous night at Alle Testiere. We had booked in advance, so we had been allocated a really good table at the window with views across the water of the Southern part of Venice.
I did kind of get why this restaurant would be a really good option during the summer when you are staying in a nearby hotel such as Danielli. Under the sun this must indeed be quite appealing if it is a short Vaporetto ride away, but in our case it just wasn't a good option.
Now, back to the food and wine. The Prosecco and our starter of crostinis with fish were tasty indeed, but unfortunately this is where the good news ended. Being in Venice, we again ordered the grilled mixed fish but this time the experience wasn't as positive. The filleted sea bass had gone cold, because it was put on a cold plate. This was quite unfortunate because the taste was good. The accompanying scallops were raw. We didn't want to make a completely fuss, so we quickly ate the sea bass before it was beneath freezing point, returned the scallops and proceeded to eat the langoustine which was nice. The same, slightly chopped up, scallops were heated up a bit longer and we got them back after a few minutes. The initially raw scallops were supposedly the Chef's way of cooking them ... hmmm!
When we mentioned that the sea bass had been quite cold, because of the cold plates, the lady who was serving us said "oh I will tell them in the kitchen because they are still very young". Did I hear this correctly? Who exactly had been cooking our food?
We proceeded with some desserts, a coffee semifredo and a white chocolate mousse, which didn't have the texture of a mousse at all (more of a froffy custard) but was still ok.
We had also ordered some coffee and were told a little later that our bills were ready at the till, which was probably the owner's way of letting us know it was time to go because we were the only ones left by that point.
So after this average dining experience we headed back to our hotel, only for my partner to be sick during the night. Was it food poisoning? It really looked like it (and was affecting her for several days) but according to a lady at the Farmacia a virus was currently affecting quite some people. So, it would probably not be fair to resolutely blame this on I Figli Delle Stelle's food, but with the raw scallops, lukewarm food and low turnaround I am not entirely dismissing the idea neither.

  • I Figli Delle Stelle specialises in Puglian food and just maybe we should have opted for some of the typically Puglian dishes instead of the fresh grilled fish?
  • This restaurant could still be a good option in the summer, if you stay at a nearby hotel and go for the more typical Puglian dishes while enjoying the scenery, which I'm sure must be amazing at sunset. The owner/manager even said "people come here for the location" and then hastily added "and for the food of course"... I guess that just about sums it up really.

On our last night in Venice, I went for a quick discovery tour of the nearby Osteria and from Ca' Sagredo we were spoiled for choice really. Ca' d'Oro, Banco Giro, Naranzaria, etc are all just a short walk from the hotel and favourites of Michela Scibilia, the author of Venice Osterie, and I can understand why. I really enjoyed the atmosphere at Campo San Giacometto where Banco Giro and Naranzaria are located, with people having a glass of wine while standing outside or having some wine and cicchetti inside. Both places also allowed for a seated meal (Naranzaria also does sushi which makes sense with the daily fresh fish). I went back to the hotel and did my best to get Siân, my partner, out of bed because she still wasn't feeling well. Some medication and loads of braverie from her part, and off we went to actually have a drink and some food at these Osteria (well I did most of the drinking and eating obviously).
I had some chicetti at Narazaria and they were good, but I must admit that Banco Giro's chicetti were excellent and topped Naranzaria's but both had a really good atmosphere and served nice spritzers and wines. Many of the places I wanted to try, such as Al Marca and All'Arco were unfortunately closed. Maybe because they needed some time off after the Carnival weekend that had taken place the previous week.

  • There is loads of great food in Venice, when you look beyond the beaten track and go on a cullinary discovery trip in little side alleys. But there is also loads of rubbish pastries and cakes being sold in the main shopping streets. And strangely, the more rubbish a place was, the more expensive the coffee. The nicer places only charge something like 1.5 euro and the rubbish tourist traps (not even on San Marco) charge 3.5 euro. The quality of a place is seemingly inversely proportional to the price of its coffee. (this might not apply for luxury hotels of course)
  • Get yourself Venice Osterie in order to have great food while staying in Venice. I'm really happy I did.
  • I haven't seen one overweight Italian in Venice, so I guess their diet, which is rich in fish, combined with loads of walking keeps the locals really fit.

It's quite simple really. If you are looking for designer brands head for the streets surrounding Piazza San Marco.

If you are looking for artisans' shops go to the Dorsoduro area. The shops there are quite different from the shops and stalls where mass produced items are being sold. We came across the artisan's shop who supplied many of the masks used in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. So, we bought a signed mask there and packed it carefully for our trip back.

You can buy Murano glass all over Venice but I didn't spend as much time investigating shops as I did places to eat. Michela Scibilia also wrote a book about shopping in Venice, which might be worth checking out if you're more of a shopaholic.

Venice, the verdict:
Venice is an amazing place, where I would definitely like to return to. Next time I might however opt to go in Spring or Summer, during the week, while avoiding bank holidays. Even during low season some of the streets get really crowded so I expect things to go a little mental during high-season bank holidays.

More pictures to give you a feel for the place.