Turkey 2012

Visiting Turkey; Istanbul and Ephesus in 2012

Turkey 2012 Turkey 2012

Vietnam & Bangkok 2009

Vietnam & Bangkok- 17 days July 2009

Vietnam & Bangkok 2009 Vietnam & Bangkok 2009

Morocco 2012

Morocco; Marrakech, Fez, Volubilis, Meknes and Casablanca in October of 2012

Morocco 2012 Morocco 2012

Japan 2011

Sushi, Shrines and Shinkansen; 8 Days in Tokyo and Kyoto in April 2011

Japan 2011 Japan 2011

Rome 2009

Mozzarella, Museums & Macchiato; A Week in Rome, October 2009

Rome 2009 Rome 2009

Il Sextantio Hotel- Sleeping in a Cave in Matera Italy

by wired2theworld on March 30, 2014

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We are in a cave. Yes, a cave, but we are not spelunking. This is no ordinary cave (are there such things anyway?) for it was also once a monastery, so there are pointed arches separating the rooms. It’s neither cold nor humid inside, though it can be a little dark. Electric lighting is subtle, and for the most part, hidden and angled for dramatic effect rather than to allow one to put on her mascara.

Flickering candles everywhere add to the ambiance, as do the pieces of roughly carved wood furniture, homespun linens, and high iron bed stands. But then there are modern bath fixtures and wifi (though no tv nor telephone) lest you forget in what century you are sleeping.

When I was first researching for this trip I came across Il Sextantio in Matera and was immediately enthralled by its style and the allure of sleeping in a cave, albeit a luxurious one. The hotel sits in the restored sassi of Matera. The literal translation of sassi is stones, but really refers to the caves carved out of the stones in the ancient town which had been home to the people of the area for hundreds of years all the way up until the 1950s when the government forcefully relocated most of the population to the “new” town section of Matera. In the 1990′s the area was reopened to development and private citizens. It’s now filled with hotels, hostels, and restaurants yet many empty structures remain.

Several months later I came across an auction on www.luxurylink.com for three nights at this property and the price made it too tempting to pass up. When we arrived, there was one more surprise. Because the hotel was almost full on our first night there with a tour group from National Geographic, we were given one of the very best rooms, a suite at the top of the hill, Cave 21.

Above, the entrance to our room, left. At right, are the steps which lead both to our room and up the hillside to the piazza del duomo. The wrought iron railing in the left of the photo is our terrace. Because we were on the main path, we often had people trying to peer into our room, which was a little odd at times.

The space is actually several cave rooms joined together. The only natural light comes from the front door and the window next to it.

Above left, a space opposite the bed. In the wooden cabinet above the table is a mini-fridge. At right, the entrance to the room with small desk area with light. Below, the large bed with two twin beds in a separate alcove.

To the right of the alcove seen above, is the bathroom area, seen below. There is a room with just a bath tub in it and to the right, a room with glassed in shower, toilet, bidet and sink. The walls, ceiling and floor are all stone.

The downside in the quest for the authentic experience a lack of light (both natural and electric) and comfortable seating both inside and out. Our room had a lovely terrace with a smashing view, but nowhere to sit. Inside there are two horribly uncomfortable, tiny chairs.

The terrace below is in desperate need of a bench or some other type of seating to enjoy the views. But those downsides are small when everything else is considered. The hotel has a stark rustic beauty both inside and out and something as trivial as lack of reading light was easily solved by the hotel staff bringing us an extra lamp. Fortunately, there are no shortage of electrical outlets in the room.

Below, the view from our terrace (pictured above).

 

Below, across from the town of Matera and in full view from the hotel, are caves which were used as houses and churches over 900 years ago, before the town of Matera was settled.

While we were there, a balloon festival was being held and it was magical to watch them fill with air and float overhead.

Below, entrance to the breakfast room.


Breakfast is fantastic and varied, but traditional. There are several locally made cheeses including fresh and creamy ricotta, mozzarella, burrata and smoked cheeses.

There are various pizza rusticas but my favorite was a flaky, savory pastry pie made from a filo type dough with layers of eggplant, mushrooms and mozzarella. I enjoyed a version of this every morning with such glee usually reserved for a condemned man’s last supper. In addition to the savory breads there were at least five or six different sweet cakes and always a big bowl of fruit salad. Freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee are available.

We very much enjoyed our stay at Il Sexantio and would return again in a heartbeat. If you go, do be prepared to do a lot of walking. The entire town is accessible, but the ability to climb stairs, and a lot of them, is a must. Don’t plan on driving to get around the town; the roads are narrow and in the old quarter, dead end to no where. Free parking is available in a lot about 100 meters from the hotel.

Disclaimer: As always, I received no compensation for this post and paid for my stay out my own pocket.

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Otranto and the Salentine Coast

by wired2theworld on February 6, 2014

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On our last day in Lecce we decamped our car from its parking space, drove around in circles a bit and headed out of town going east, in a straight line on highway 364 to San Cataldo on the coast. I’m not sure what we expected, but there wasn’t much “there” there. In October everything was shuttered, but I’m sure in August it’s hopping. So we turned the car south and followed the coastal road with the goal of stopping in Otranto and making it to the “end of the earth” (or at least the very tip of the heel of the boot) in Santa Maria di Leuca.

Our first stop was in a tiny town about mid way between San Cataldo and Otranto. I can’t remember the name (it might have been Torre dell’Orso) but it had a nice hotel (with a fantastic bathroom) high on a cliff overlooking the sea. This was the first of many “torre” ruins we’d see along the coast.

Salentine-Coast

Salentine Coast

The next stop was the town of Otranto which boasts a small castle and cathedral. The old part of town is charming and the port is incredibly picturesque. Once again, not knowing where to park in the town, we ended up down at the marina where we found free parking. There’s a tourist information spot there (free map!), public restrooms, and behind the restaurant at the end of the building on the right, are access stairs up into the old part of town. It could not have been easier.

Otranto

Above, part of the castle fortifications as seen from down at the marina. Below, the castle from the old part of town.

Otranto

Otranto

Inside the castle, above, and below, frescos from one of the castle rooms.

Otranto

Otranto

View of the marina from the castle ramparts, above.

Otranto Cathedral

Otranto’s Cathedral di Annunziata dates back to 1088. Inside, the entire floor of the nave is covered with a mosaic depicting the tree of life (below) which was completed by a monk in 1166.

Otranto CathedralThe cathedral has a bit of a macabre past. On August 14th 1480, Otranto was attacked by the Turks and most of its citizens were massacred. In the chapel, behind glass and a statue of the Virgin Mary, are the skulls and bones of “800 martyrs” slaughtered on that day.

Otranto Cathedral

Otranto

OtrantoThis cat kept going from door to door trying to get someone to let him in (above).

By the time we were done walking around the town we found ourselves at that awkward time of day when it’s just a little too early for lunch, but if we’d left, by the time we got anywhere else, it might be too late. We settled on a little place called il Corsaro. The food was good, but expensive for what it was and the service was horribly slow.

Otranto

OtrantoThe water in Otranto’s bay was absolutely crystal clear.

Santa Maria Di LeucaAfter Otranto we drove down to the tip of the heel of Italy’s boot to Santa Maria di Leuca where the Ionian and Adriatic seas converge. There we found a vast open square with a giant lighthouse and a small church (above and below). On the edge of the square is a small cafe where we had a gelato before heading back up the autostrada to Lecce.

Santa Maria Di LeucaBeautiful view from finibus terrae (the end of the earth), below.

Santa Maria Di Leuca

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Restaurants in Lecce-Il Vico Del Gusto, Trattoria Nonna Tetti, Trattoria Le Zie

January 9, 2014
Thumbnail image for Restaurants in Lecce-Il Vico Del Gusto, Trattoria Nonna Tetti, Trattoria Le Zie

Lecce was no exception in terms of the high quality of the food we had all over Puglia. When researching for the trip, several restaurant’s names came up over and over again and I dutifully added them to my list. Yet in the end, the one we liked the best was one we chose at random, totally under the radar, and we enjoyed it so much, we ate there twice in three days.

Trattoria Nonna Tetti

Our first meal in Lecce was lunch at Trattoria Nonna Tetti, shortly after we arrived. The restaurant was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. We ordered the antipasti to share and it was quite generous with five different plates hitting the table. There was a plate of typical Puglian roasted eggplant with tomato, a shredded carrot and red cabbage salad which seemed a bit out of place, sauteed mushrooms, roasted peppers over fava puree which were over salted, and a sausage stew served in an earthenware crock.

TrattoriaNonnaTettiAntipast

TrattoriaNonnaTetti

TrattoriaNonnaTettiOctopus

For our main course we shared a plate of fried octopus which was served over fava puree and topped with fresh arugula and grated pecorino. This was delicious and the octopus was perfectly cooked. It was here we had our first bottle of the delicious Salice Salentino wine (half bottle, 7 euro). Lunch, with water and wine was 33 euro total.

Dinner that night was a disappointing  meal (every trip has to have at least one, right?) at Il Latini. My pizza was decent (plain, with burrata) but my mother ordered a “soup” with mussels and garbanzo beans and asked if she could have it without the mussels. What she got was something that which turned out to be a mound of garbanzo beans (like 3 cans), dumped into a bowl.

Trattoria Le

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Palazzo Gorgoni in Lecce, Italy

December 7, 2013
Thumbnail image for Palazzo Gorgoni in Lecce, Italy

There are tons of hotels and B&Bs in Lecce and searching through them was more of a challenge than I expected. Then we found Palazzo Gorgoni, recommended to us by Silvestro Silvestori who owns The Awaiting Table, a cooking school based in Lecce.  My mother had “met” Silvestro on Twitter and he’d recommended the B&B which is about 100 feet from his school on the same street. While we did not take any classes there, we did take a short tour of the school and meet Silvestro in person. The place looks like a lot of fun.

In the end, we chose Palazzo Gorgoni because of its location right in the center and because the rooms looked nice. In addition, the price was right. At the time, we got a single rate for two of the rooms at 60 euro each a night. We could have shared a room for 80 euro a night, and they are fairly spacious, but it’s nice to have some space during the trip, so we splurged on two separate rooms. We found the location to be perfect for walking anywhere in the center of Lecce.

Piazza near Palazzo Gorgoni Lecce

 Above, the piazza where we parked our car (white one, bottom right corner). Below, the street leading back to the piazza from the B&B.

Street next to Palazzo Gorgoni LeccePalazzo Gorgoni  is essentially a three room B&B without the “B” for “breakfast”. One of the rooms is extra large, basically two rooms together with multiple beds, so would be good for a family share. The walls of all the rooms are built from the original beautiful golden pietra leccese (stone from the area around Lecce).

Connecting the two of the rooms is a wide hallway which has a coffee and tea maker, water dispenser, and several books. Marta, Palazzo Gorgoni’s owner, often puts out …

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Lecce, Puglia’s Baroque City

December 1, 2013
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It’s about an hour’s drive from the Valle d’Itria to Lecce on the main highway. Finding our way to our B&B, the Palazzo Gorgoni, right in the historical center took almost half an hour, even though on the map it looked so simple. The challenge in Lecce, like most towns first constructed before the time of cars, is that the streets are narrow, winding, and in many places, one way. Once we finally found a place to park (thankfully only about 100 feet from the B&B) and checked in, we headed out in search of lunch (more on this later) and a walk about town.

Over the next several days, we walked everywhere we could in town, exploring the piazza with it’s Roman amphitheater, the modern art museum, and admiring half a dozen Baroque churches and all the beautiful architecture around town. Lecce is incredibly photogenic. It’s not hard with all the Baroque detail on the churches and building, the quaint streets, and even the food!

Lecce Doors

One of the places we really enjoyed visiting was is a place for which I have no photos however, because the light inside was so poor. It’s the tiny Museo Archeologico Faggiano which is inside a three story building in the historical center. In what was once a private residence, they discovered the remains of a 16th century convent and other ruins dating back over 2000 years. There are frescos, old tiles on the walls, water storage tanks, tombs, a granary, and underground walkways. http://www.museofaggiano.it/en/

I’d read that everything shuts up tight in Lecce during mid-day and this is most certainly true. Done expect to visit shops, churches or museums between 2 and 5pm. This can certainly put a cramp in your sightseeing so plan accordingly. Our first stop was the famous Santa Croce …

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Valle D’ Itria, Puglia Italy Part 2-Martina Franca

November 22, 2013
Thumbnail image for Valle D’ Itria, Puglia Italy Part 2-Martina Franca

On our last day in the Valle d’Itria we drove to Martina Franca. We lucked out and parked on the street which led straight to the the main square at the Piazza XX Settembre where the walking tour in the Thomas Cook Puglia Guide begins. Street parking was paid to an attendant who stopped traffic on the narrow street, guided us into the space, asked how long we’d be, and then presented us with an official receipt for 1.80 euros for 2 hours. It was efficient, though labor intensive.

At the far end of the square, just next to the Arco di Sant’Antonio (which is the entrance to the centro storico), is an information office where we picked up a free map to the town. Pass through the arch and to the right is a lovely 17th century Pallazo Ducale (ducal palace) in one of the (now) municipal buildings. At first it appears uninteresting inside, but climb to the third floor you are rewarded with some of the original (now empty) rooms, complete with ceiling frescos, family portraits and painted doors and walls. There was a very cool modern photography exhibit there as well.

Martina Franca Ducal Palace

Martina Franca Ducal Palace

Martina Franca Ducal Palace

The old center, like most in the Valle d’ Itria appeared to be mostly a pedestrian only zone with the occasional scooter and car coming through. It felt like a very small town, but when I look at a map now, I realize we only saw about 25% of the main streets, so I think it would certainly be worth more time than we gave it (or rather, than we had available on that day).
Martina Franca

Martina Franca

Martina Franca

We followed the main street away from the Ducal Palace and toward the Basilica de San Martino, built in the mid 1700′s, complete with a candy confection of a Baroque …

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Il Cortiletto Restaurant-A Fresh Look at Puglian Food

November 13, 2013
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Lunch at Il Cortiletto in Speziale, Puglia

In Italy, Sunday is traditionally a big day for families to go out to eat for lunch. At 1:30pm, the tiny dining room of Il Cortiletto, which has only five or six tables, is already full. On the covered patio out back we’re offered our choice of tables with only other table occupied. Within twenty minutes it’s almost full so clearly Sunday lunch is a late event in these parts.

The patio has white washed stucco walls and is mostly covered by an arched solid roof so we’re protected once a warm rain starts. Plates are chipped in an unapologetic, shabby-chic kind of way, but nice glasses are used with good bottles of wine. The staff appears to be mostly in their 20′s and 30′s, and the young chef appears a couple of times to speak with the obvious regulars; he in chef’s coat, bushy hipster beard, and baggy chefs pants with a loud print the kind of which I have not seen since I was a chef the late 90′s. The servers, all female, are dressed in jeans and deftly juggle armloads of dishes while trying not to slip on wet pavement between the covered patio and the kitchen’s open back door.

While we don’t really know what to expect with the food, it turns out to be a refreshing take on the regional cuisine, using local organic produce with updated plate presentations from the more traditional fare we encounter later in the trip.

Il Cortiletto Patio

A small bowl of warm fried olives arrives at the table before our order is even taken. I’d never eaten fried olives before in the Pugliese style (these are not battered or stuffed, just fried) and they have a very soft texture and more subtle flavor. This article

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Valle D’ Itria, Puglia Italy Part 1

November 11, 2013
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The coastal region south of Bari in Puglia is called the Valle D’ Itria and encompasses part of the provinces of both Bari and Brindisi. It’s probably best known for the thousands of trulli (whitewashed round houses with conical roofs made of stacked stone) in and around the town of Alberobello and the Baroque towns of Martina Franca and Ostuni.

We awoke on our second day to yet more rain and overcast skies, but what can you do, sit inside all day? Not us! We got in the car and headed first to Alberobello with the hopes of arriving before the hoards of tourists buses. Somehow we managed to arrive in town (thanks to the mifi and GPS) a bit away from where all the buses park and right next to the Trulli Museum. We had no idea where the “center” was at this point so we visited the museum which I would say was well worth the 4 euro admission. Built into adjoining trulli, the museum covers construction, history, and shows exactly how people used to live in these buildings before the town became a tourist thronged UNESCO site.

Alberobello Museum

Alberobello Museum

 

From the museum we walked over to the church and from the elevated vantage we could see that if we went down some stairs and across the street we would be in the thick of it.

alberbelloPan2

 

Yes, what you may have heard about every single trulli having been turned into a souvenir shop is absolutely true, at least in this area which is about 6 square blocks. But it’s still worth about an hour to walk around and some of it is really quite charming. But you can tell the shop keepers are jaded, especially when they can tell you’re not interested in buying anything. Besides a few …

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