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Sheree Zielke
World Traveler, Writer & Photographer

A Baby Boomer who loves travel, travel writing, photography, teaching digital camera and photography, and sharing travel tips and stories.

Labor Day Travel: A Perfect Time for Baby Boomer Travel Make Your Plans Now

Labor Day travel? It's the perfect time to take a vacation, especially a cruise to the Mediterranean , with its tempting golden sunshine and intoxicating views. You can start making plans right now. And if you choose the Mediterranean or the Greek Isles, you are in for the trip of a lifetime.

Locals are Back to Work

If you have never visited Italy , Greece , Turkey , or France , why not book a Labor Day travel cruise for next year? It's the perfect time to cruise in Europe because most people have returned to work, and school. That means (generally speaking) smaller crowds at the big tourist attractions like the ruins of Pompeii and Ephesus , or the Acropolis in Athens .

My husband and I took our first Mediterranean cruise over Labor Day in 2006. We spent nearly 20 days overseas, with 12 of those days onboard the Grand Princess cruise ship; it was money well spent. The weather was perfect; I slept outside on our stateroom's balcony on several nights—in a nightgown. What an experience! I have never slept under such a star-encrusted sky before, my skin kissed by warm Mediterranean breezes. Perfect!

We booked all elements of our Labor Day travel ourselves using a variety of Internet travel sites. Unlike our upcoming New Zealand/Australia 2008 cruise, onboard the Celebrity Mercury, we had complete control of our Mediterranean trip.

As a result, we added 4 days in Rome (staying at the Bettoja Hotel Mediterraneo) prior to the cruise, and an additional 3 days in Venice (staying at the Hotel Giorgione ) after disembarking from the ship.

A Typical Itinerary & Ports-of-Call

Our itinerary covered 4400 kilometers and included the following 11 ports-of-call:

  • Civitavecchia (about an hour long train trip north of Rome )
  • Monte Carlo
  • Livorno
  • Naples
  • Santorini
  • Kusadasi
  • Mykonos
  • Athens
  • Katakolon
  • Corfu
  • Venice


We always opt to ride a bus around a strange city—to get our bearings. Rome served up a gang of double-decker buses, just near the Termini of Roma (train station) directly across from our hotel. And although we were only semi-conscious from a long plane, airport tram, train and subway ride, we bought a two-day pass, and scurried to the upper deck. We didn't use any other transportation in Rome —there is no need because we hopped on and off at the sites that interested us along the route.

Rome became very dear to our hearts. We wandered through piazzas (public squares) like the serene Piazza de Popolo, we photographed statues and architecture burnished with the tawny rays of sunset, we drank crystal clear water from spouting public fountains (the water is pure); we tanned and ate roasted chestnuts on the crowded Spanish steps, where we also avoided pushy flower salesmen.

We toured the Vatican until we were “Poped-out” (my little impromptu joke—made my husband laugh), we visited the massive Coliseum during the day, and at night (a nighttime visit to this ancient structure, all lit up, is not to be missed).

We soaked in the Roman culture so unlike our own—I have never seen such SERIOUS public kissing in my life! So, not wanting to stand out from the crowd, my husband and I followed the Golden Rule: When in Rome , do as the Romans do. Oh my!


You are in for a surprise if you think your cruise ship is only a short way from the Rome Fiumicino airport. The pier where you will board your ship is about 50 miles up the coastline, in Civitavecchia . You'll need to book an airport shuttle, a taxi (about 160-200 Euros), or do what we did—what everyone should do—take a train.

You simply must ride a train in Italy ; it's a relaxing ride peppered with little stops, people of all nationalities fill the car, and piles of luggage. You may even be treated to impromptu entertainment—young boy with an accordion made his way through the cars expecting money for his short performances. He was kind of pushy, so I ignored him, especially after he pointed at his pocket, and said in perfect English, “money.”

Once you've arrived, the tough part is finding the pier's shuttle bus; it's the only way to get to the pier without needlessly exhausting yourself.

Our Princess ship staff was vey accommodating; our baggage was handled quickly and efficiently (thank goodness, we were tired from lugging it around in the hot sun); and clearing security didn't take too long.

Monte Carlo


A shore excursion took us along the French Riviera to a lovely open air market in Nice , France filled with bundles of fresh lavender, handmade soaps, aromatic crusty breads, and tangy olives. Being Canadian, I speak a little French, and so was able to make myself understood during transactions. Monte Carlo was a disappointment with its snobbish casino staff, and unreliable bus system.


Here we embarked on one of our best shore excursions ever, a walking tour of Florence or Firenze . Florence is the Renaissance capital of the world, once home to art geniuses like Michelangelo and DaVinci, and literary legends like Dante.

It was here, in a tiny crowded street café, I had my best cappuccino ever, artfully decorated with a foamy coffee fern leaf.

It was also here that I was brought to a stunned silence by a young actor performing the poetic works of Dante in an alleyway behind Dante's home. I would have sat for hours, entranced by the lilting cadence of his voice as he performed for absolutely no one, were it not for the prompting of our guide to move along (I stole away later on my own, to watch him again).

Florence is settled firmly in my heart as a place I shall always long to visit—again and again—as time allows.


Some ports are just too large and commercial for my tastes; Naples was such a port.

I was glad we were once more off on a shore excursion; this time to the ancient ruins of Pompeii , the city destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius , in 79 AD; 2000 lives were lost.

This wasn't one of my favorite sightseeing trips, but I would have missed so much history had I not gone. It took archaeologists over 200 years to unearth the ruins of Pompeii , and it will take you a fair bit of time—and energy—to explore this tourist attraction, too. Tip: Go well rested.

The bus trip to Pompeii is about 30 minutes long and took us by the Tower of Pisa ; it was miles and miles away, but we could still see it leaning in the distance.


You'll know this oft-photographed Greek island from magazine pictures with its pristine white buildings and deep blue seas.

Something else has made Santorini stand out in the tourists' minds: the donkey rides

The cliffs are steep and the only way up or down is either by walking 600 steps (hiking sandals are a must), taking a cable car, or astride a donkey. We chose the cable car. Due to the number of cruise ships in port, the line-up was long, but the alternative—a nauseating swaying ride downhill on a smelly sweaty donkey, was just not appealing.


This was our first official visit to Turkey , and its carpet traders.


But first, we took a side trip to Ephesus , an ancient city brought down by landslides, and the lowly mosquito. People were getting sick and they blamed bad air (malaria means, “bad air”). So, everyone packed up their bags and abandoned a city that once hosted Anthony and Cleopatra.

On our way back to the ship, we were accosted by one carpet salesman after another. We were savvy enough to turn down their offers of apple tea, because we knew a $12,000 carpet was close behind.


This is a sweet little Greek Island known for its huge windmills. It is easily reached by bus, taxi, or by walking—of which we did plenty.

There is a spot along the shoreline called, “Little Venice,” because it somewhat resembles its giant namesake. It's here that unknowing tourists become the source of great amusement for the locals. Boat wakes and sneaker waves regularly splash tourists who sit unsuspecting as they await their fresh calamari and tangy Greek salad. Digital cameras frequently become unwitting victims of the sea.


This sprawling Greek city is the oldest metropolis in the world. This capital city was begun in 3000 BC, and is now home to ¾ of a million people, 3.7 million if you include the greater Athens area.

I had visited Athens before, so I was looking forward to a return to the Acropolis (home of the Parthenon, the ancient Grecian tribute to the virgin goddess, Athena), and the Plaka ( Athens ' giant marketplace).

Tip: If two cruise ships are in port at the same time, be prepared for outrageous crowds at the Acropolis. Go early, and you'll get into the site. Arrive around lunch, and you will be shut out.)

When strolling around the Plaka, we visited a 2 nd century B.C. “Tower of the Winds.” The craggy remains of an old Roman marketplace drew our attention for awhile, but we were pretty much “ruined-out.”

We couldn't leave Athens without having at least one restaurant meal. We chose the Hermion restaurant and dined on delicious veal, pasta, and tzatziki (t?at????) one of the best Greek meals I've ever had, perfectly creamy, cucumbery, yoghurty, and garlicky. Yum!

On our way back to the ship, we carefully sidestepped the aggressive ladies in black selling the ivory table linens. We just aren't into overpriced tired-looking tablecloths, smelling of vile cigarette smoke.


In Katakalon, a tiny fishing town in the Peloponnese area of the Ionian coastline, we had an option for a shore excursion to a local winery. We also had a choice to visit Olympia , the site where the ancient Greeks first held their Olympic games, up until 393 BC. But I had toured Olympia before, and it was one of the most boring tours I have ever taken. So, the winery won. We were so glad it did.

We enjoyed ourselves immensely. We were treated—well—like family at this family-run winery, where picnic tables laden with food and bottles of wine awaited us. A top-rated shore excursion in our books.


This charming little place is one of the 3800 Greek islands. Our shore excursion bus shuttled us up to a Greek monastery, and after that Corfu Town . Corfu has been inhabited by so many different cultures, that one need only turn their head to see another style of architecture.

We found a tiny family-run bakery offering delicious fresh bread, hot from the oven. We bought a huge loaf of crusty bread filled with black olives, baklava, and Greek cookies, and then marveled at the cost. Only 7 Euros for everything. We ripped hunks from the bread and devoured the savory yeasty warmth right there in the street.

I picked up some handbags priced so low I just couldn't refuse. I had my first Cappuccino Freddo, chilled cappuccino. Delicious.

Corfu Town , one of the most charming villages you will ever see, deserves a second visit. Besides, you get to ride this cute little train out of the pier area.


Arriving in Venice by cruise ship is perhaps the only way to arrive at this ancient sea port. From high on an upper deck, we watched this fairy tale city come into view. It was remarkable. Once docked, we were allowed to get off the ship to explore St. Mark's Square. And since it was night, we were treated to a magical experience of light and sound.

Disembarking, the next morning, took a very long time since we weren't meeting any planes, so we bided our time. We had opted for the cruise ship's luggage-delivery service direct to our hotel, so we were free to explore once we made it back to shore. It proved to be a wise decision when we discovered how difficult it is to manoeuver luggage onto a water bus.

Impressions of Venice include crowds, and crowds, and crowds. And you can't take a step without seeing glassware for sale, Murano glass, of course. Free trips to Murano Island , and its glass-making factories are abundant, but be warned—you are there for a reason: to spend money, lots of it. You can choose not to spend a dime, but then be prepared to pay for your own water taxi back to Venice .

Then there are the tiny confusing alleyways, the gondoliers and their sleek black gondolas, glistening like Cadillacs in the hot Italian sun, and waterways, lots of waterways. Another magical city crying out for our attention, and our time.

We treated ourselves to a meal we shall always remember, a creamy plate of seafood risotto, a glass of rich red Italian wine, and a view of the canals, from our viewpoint under the Rialto Bridge , yes, the famous landmark. It cost us 75 Euros, but we would have spent twice as much to make that memory our own.

Beware: Read these Venice tips that include a true account of a simple Italian meal that ended up costing over $150 because we didn't understand that some foods, like fish, are sold by the ounce, not the piece.

We continued our meandering search for our hotel which actually wasn't that tough to find; over three bridges, then left down an alleyway, then through a piazza and then behind a church. Hotel Giorgione was to be our home for 3 days.

I had fretted from the moment I knew we would be flying out of Venice ; how did one get from Venice to the Venice airport, which is on another island, with a pile of luggage?

We are pros now – read this article on escaping Venice in 7 easy steps.

Labor Day travel 2007

My husband and decided to spend our 2007 Labor Day travel touring another of our treasured cities: New York City . While that trip didn't serve up the same exotic treats of our Mediterranean cruise, we found Labor Day travel to be a terrific idea, regardless of the ocean view, and regardless of the mode of transportation: plane, train, car, tram, bus or smelly donkey.


Sheree Zielke
Edmonton, Alberta Canada

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