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

Palazzo Gorgoni in Lecce, Italy

December 7, 2013
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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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Masseria Salamina-Agritourismo Hotel in Puglia, Italy

November 4, 2013
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At first, driving up to the masseria feels a bit odd, as if you are driving down a private road (you are), through olive groves (you are), and then suddenly you see a what looks like a small castle in front of you, complete with tower and crenelations around the roof line. This property has been here since the 1600’s and is currently home to four generations of the Angelini family who live in a house adjacent to the main building.

Masseria Salamina sits in the middle of olive groves outside the one street town of Pezze di Greco on the SS16 south of Fasano in the Puglia region of Italy. A masseria is a fortified farm house and this one has been converted into an agritourismo as many in the area have. Agritourismi are a working farms (according to Italian law an agritourismo must make more money from farming than it does from tourism) which also offers lodging and often serve food from their own farm and those of the surrounding area.

Masseria Salamina Olive Tree

There are 20 guest rooms; those in the main building are called “manor rooms” and are filled with period antiques original to the house and some may have a view of the sea (and are priced to match), “mezzanine” rooms off the interior courtyard with two levels, and “farm house” rooms off the back of the building which are like small 1 bedroom apartments complete with kitchen.

I had originally booked a mezzanine room (the least expensive at 100 euro/night in low season) but we were shown to a farm house room when we arrived. Confused, and with a bit of a language barrier, we asked to see the 2 level room. As it turned out, the farm house room was nicer (same decor but larger) than …

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Monopoli and Cisternino in Puglia, Italy

November 1, 2013
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Getting out of the airport was smooth enough and we made it to the highway going south toward our first night’s stay just outside Fasano in the small town of Pezze di Greco. It was lunch time and I had several towns listed in my notes as possible places to stop for a meal, but jet lagged and hungry is not really the time to go exploring too much.

When we got near Monopoli we pulled off the highway and used the GPS to guide us into the town. Unfortunately, we didn’t really know where we were going and when we saw an open parking space, we thought we’d take it. It was at this point my mother discovered that she had not figured out how to get the stick shift into reverse (note to self; this should always be figured out before leaving the rental car parking lot. Note to self #2, get an automatic!).

Ten minutes later we are still in the parallel space, getting closer and closer to the car in front of us as the car rolls forward with every attempt to put it in reverse. Mom is getting a little more frantic and I’m trying to keep her calm (by “keeping her calm” I mean standing outside of the car because I don’t want to be in it when she hits something). Finally we ask a group of twenty-somethings passing by if any of them speak English. One does, and when we explain the problem, he very nicely gets in the car and shows us that the gear shift needs to be pushed down and then moved back to get it into reverse. Who knew??

Arch in Monopoli looking out onto the port.

At this point we were too embarrassed to park the car there so we moved on and ended up …

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Puglia and Basilicata 2013; Travel Tips, Resources and Logistics

October 30, 2013
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In October 2013 my mother and I spent nine days in the Puglia and Basilicata regions of southern Italy. Before I left, whenever I told people where I was going, the response I got was “Oooh, you’re going to Italy? Where?“, My answer, “Puglia”, usually evoked quizzical looks, fully expecting my answer to be “Tuscany” or “Venice” or some place they recognized. If you find yourself wondering as well, picture Italy as a boot and those regions make up most of the heel of the boot.

I flew from Los Angeles to Bari Italy where I met up with my mother who was already there traveling on her own. This trip was in honor of my 45th birthday (the plane ticket was my present, thanks mom!!) and our plan was to eat and drink ourselves silly, see lots of quaint little towns, and stay in some cool places. I would say it was a rousing success.

We spent 3 days in the area around Fasano south of Bari which included such towns as Alberobello, Monopoli, Cisternino, Martina Franca, Locorotondo and Ostuni. We then moved to Lecce and explored that city, plus the Salentine Coast and Otranto. From there it was 3 days in Matera and the area around that town.

Below I’d like to share some of the logistical details, experiences and resources so if you are planning your own trip you might benefit from my research.

Planes, trains and automobiles:

TheLastHeraldTribune

Flights: My flights were on United and Lufthansa, LAX-IAD-MUC-BRI and BRI-MUC-LAX. On UA I upgraded flight #2 to Munich to Economy Plus and I think it was worth it to have the extra space. The personal entertainment was good on the transatlantic flight (lots of choices with video on demand) but fee-only on the domestic flight. On …

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