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

How to Plan a Visit to Machu Picchu Plus Checklist and Tips

June 14, 2014
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Visiting Machu Picchu; this is the whole point of going to Peru for the first time, right? And there are so many decisions to be made before you get there.

You can, of course, have a tour company take care of all the details for you, but if you want to do it yourself, and save some money in the process then there are several steps and decisions to be made.

Do we do a tour? How do we get tickets? How do we get there? Do we spend a night up there? Let’s tackle the questions one at a time. Also, lets assume we are not arriving to Machu Picchu via four day trek on the Inka Trail (because, um..no way) and these questions would have been taken care of for us.

Do we do a tour? 

After looking at the options and considering the costs, our decision was no, we did not need to do a tour. By taking care of everything ourselves, we saved 50% over the cost of going through our hotel and probably 30% over going with an outside tour company.

To give you an example, our hotel wanted $475 per person for a day tour to Machu Picchu which included train, bus, entrance ticket, guided tour, and buffet lunch (plus lots of hand holding, I’m sure). They were also willing to sell us the tickets without the tour, but the markup was still about 40% overall. We spent a total of $464 for the day for two of us for all the tickets (train, bus, entrance) and lunch. We also did not hire a guide for the visit to Machu Picchu itself and this was fine for us. The biggest part of the expense were the train tickets, about $155 per person

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Planning a Trip to Peru; Tips, Reviews and Recommendations

June 9, 2014
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We’ve wanted to visit Peru for over a decade but while it’s always been in the top five of places-we-want-to-go, it never made the cut until now. Perhaps we thought we needed to have two full weeks so we could include the Amazon and Lake Titicaca as well as Machu Picchu. In the end, we decided we were willing to go for only nine days and stick to the Sacred Valley, Cusco, and Lima for this trip and we’re certainly happy we did.

This visit to Peru was our first time in South America and qualifies as our 6th continent, but who’s counting? 😉

Booking the Flights:

One of the things which helped us decide to go on the trip was the availability of a non-stop flight from LAX to Lima on LAN Airlines. This cuts the travel time from a minimum of 12 hours with a layover somewhere like El Salvador (been there, done that) to 8.5 hours. The fact that it was a red-eye meant that we could leave after work on a Friday night and be in the Sacred Valley by Saturday afternoon after a change of planes in Lima to Cusco. Oh, the best laid plans…

While researching airfare, I learned that LAN usually does a Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving) sale so I waited. Indeed they had a sale and this saved us 10% on our four flights which were LAX to Cusco (connecting in Lima), Cucso back to Lima, and then Lima to LAX all on LAN Peru for about $1100 per person all in. Things were made more expensive because we were traveling during Easter week. Tickets just to Lima can often be found for a few hundred less (outside of holiday periods), but tickets to Cusco rarely seem to …

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Restaurants in Matera and Bernalda

June 1, 2014
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We arrived in Matera hungry, and as soon as we checked in to il Sextantio, set off on foot, up and up to the piazza del Duomo and then down via del Duomo to the cute little Piazza del Sedile where we sank gratefully into chairs outside on the piazza. I wish I could remember the name of the place, but all I can tell you is that there is a large sign over the arch which says “Trattoria” and “Pizzaria” (thanks to Google Maps street view). My mother ordered the mixed antipasti plate and I had a baked ziti with eggplant (as seen in the post’s top photo).

That night we had a lovely meal at Ristorante il Cantuccio at Via del Beccherie 33 (this is this street that via del Duomo turns into as you walk into the new part of Matera. The restaurant has a small dining room and reasonable prices ( 5 euro for the antipasti, 8 euro for the primi and 13-15 euro for the secondi). The food was uniformly well prepared and delicious and we shared each of the dishes.

We started with some vegetables; zucchini with apple cider vinegar and fennel seeds. It was a simple preparation, but so good I had to make it when I returned home.

The next dish was a classic pasta for this region and this version did not disappoint; orecchetti with rapini (or turnip greens), fried garlic, anchovies, and croutons (or typically, bread crumbs) with some peppery local extra virgin olive oil. You may think, bread crumbs and pasta? but it works, trust me.

We also shared some skinny veal sausages cooked in white wine and tomatoes.  With wine (2 glasses) and water, the meal was 40 euro.


On one of our days in Matera, we …

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Matera; Ancient Rock Churches, Modern Art and More

May 26, 2014
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On our last day in matera we had the opportunity to walk around and explore the winding streets of the town, visit the wonderful modern art museum set inside a series of caves and check out the Rupustrian rock churches which lay across the valley from our terrace.

I love modern art and the MUSMA di Matera is in one of the most stunning settings I’ve ever had the opportunity in which to view art. Set into arched caves which do down deep into the hillside the juxtaposition of the modern art pieces combined with the rough stone walls and peeling frescos from hundreds of years ago make for a one of a kind experience.

Our walk over to the museum took us through several winding pedestrian only streets and down onto the south east side of town from which we had lovely views of the valley and part of the sassi near San Peitro Caveoso.

Once inside the museum, you’ll be asked not to take photos of any specific pieces of art, but general photos of the rooms are acceptable. On the top level, there are several rooms containing original frescos.

Walking back up into the main part of town looked like this:

A drive across the valley took us to the caves we’d been viewing for days from our terrace. Some of those caves have been faced with stone and turned into chapels and churches. Some looked like they’d been lived in, not only in paleolithic times, but more recently (most likely by sheep or goat herders).

None of the churches were open, but it was possible to peer inside to see the frescos.

As we looked back across the valley, we could see our hotel and our terrace at il Sextantio.

When we returned back to …

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A Walking Tour Through the Sassi in Matera Italy

May 18, 2014
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If you’ve heard of Matera, then you’ve most likely heard of the Sassi. Matera sits on the border of Basilicata and Puglia in what would the arch of Italy’s “boot”. The word sassi translates to stones, but in this case refers to the two neighborhoods, the Sassi Caveoso and Sassi Barisano, which are comprised of caves dug into the ancient limestone cliffs in Matera. These caves have been shelter to humans since the Paleolithic age.

This region has long been one of Italy’s poorest and up until the 1950’s people lived in the caves, which had no running water or electricity, along with their children and livestock. Embarrassed by the deplorable conditions in which the sassi’s inhabitants lived, the Italian government enforced the relocation of 30,000 people to the newer part of town in the early 1950’s. In the late 1980’s they reopened the area for development (in hopes of encouraging tourism to the region) and people began to move back in, building restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and renovating homes.

In looking at the town from a distance, it’s hard to imagine the buildings you see are all mostly caves inside because on the outside they are faced with stone and have windows and doors. But inside there are rooms carved deep into the limestone cliffs.

On our first day in Matera we took a walking tour with lifetime resident Nadia Garlatti. Nadia met us in the new town’s Piazza Vittorio Veneto and from there we walked down into the first of the two sassi neighborhoods. But first, we got a private tour of the cistern which gave the town it’s first UNESCO World Heritage status. This is the second largest man made cistern next to the one in Istanbul. The Matera cistern was closed at …

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Il Sextantio Hotel- Sleeping in a Cave in Matera Italy

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 …

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Otranto and the Salentine Coast

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

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.


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



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



View of the marina from the castle ramparts, above.

Otranto Cathedral

Otranto’s Cathedral …

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

January 9, 2014
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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.




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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