24 Hour Layover: Athens, Greece Edition.

Dan and I had 24 hours in Athens at the end of our Greece trip last summer. We had been to Athens twice previously, so just wanted to hit the highlights and enjoy our last day of vacation. It felt like a Bourdain The Layover episode. Our 24 hours began with a short 25 minute flight from Milos to Athens International Airport, arriving at 10:20 AM.

Approach into Athens.

We quickly grabbed a taxi and went directly to our hotel – the Fresh Hotel. We checked in and set out for, at least what we call, traditional Greek food – AKA a gyro and saganaki. We found generally what we were looking for at a casual restaurant called Oavaons (my English spelling of Greek letters…) just off Monastiriki Square. The food was pretty good and satisfied our “traditional Greek food” request. That being said, I would not necessarily recommend Oavaons over other similar places.

Saganaki cheese with lemon! A personal Greek favorite.

Finally, a proper gyro!

Another view.

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A Lovely Food Tour Through Trastevere, Roma!

As part of our big family trip to Italy in November 2021, Dan and I signed everyone up for an evening food tour through Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood. We did this for three reasons: (1) several of us on this tour love a good food tour, (2) Dan and I lived in Trastevere when we studied in Rome wayyyy back in 2008 and we wanted our families to see the area, and (3) we previously did a food tour through Testaccio and really loved it!  We booked our tour with Eating Italy Food Tours for our first evening in Rome, meeting on Tiber Island around 5:00 PM. Unfortunately, we got hit with an insane rain storm en route to the meeting point and we all got soaked… In any case, the tour went on! Due to the rain, we quickly moved to our first location in Trastevere, which I was verrrrry excited about!

En route back from our food tour, without rain!

Stop 1: Trattoria Da Enzo al 29

Yes, you read that correctly. Our first stop was at the famous Trattoria Da Enzo al 29. Da Enzo is a well known Roman trattoria that is very, very popular. You will frequently find it on “best food in Rome” lists. Da Enzo does not take reservations and there is almost always a wait. As such, our group actually got in before the restaurant opened to the public, something we never could have pulled off on our own! Our group and another couple on the tour were seated between two tables dressed in red checkered tablecloths. Classic southern Italy. Our guide poured everyone a glass of Prosecco and out came the food. First, the famous carciofi alla giudìa (or Jewish fried artichokes). These artichokes are  famous Rome and not difficult to find when in season, but tough to find elsewhere in Italy. Basically, this is a deep fried artichoke topped with quality sea salt. Very simple, yet incredibly good. On the table was also Italian bread, burrata, tomatoes, and olive oil, which were suggested together as a type of little bruschetta. I loved the burrata and actually preferred it to the artichoke. Stop 1 was off to a good start.

The famous Carciofi alla Giudìa.

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How to Spend Three Nights in Berat, Albania!

Berat was Dan and my first stop on our Albania vacation this summer. This article provides some information on traveling to Berat, as I could not find much good information online prior to our visit.

Berat, Albania!

BERAT ALBANIA – BACKGROUND

Berat, Albania is an Ottoman city in central Albania on the Osum River. Referred to as the “city of 1,000 windows,” Berat is located around a 1.5 hour drive from Albania’s capital, Tirana, and a 5 hour drive from Saranda.  Berat is famous for its well preserved architecture influenced by the Ottomans and Byzantines, including both churches and mosques and those famous windowed buildings. Designated a UNSECO site in 2008, Berat is also famous for its hill top castle that is still inhabited to-date. I recommend spending at least 1 full day and 2 nights in Berat to see everything Berat has to offer, longer if you have more time or want to visit surrounding wineries.

Roadside in Berat pointing toward the Kala.

For tourist purposes, Berat is split into three areas: the Kala, the Mangalem, and the Gorica area. The Kala is at the verrrry top of Berat and is an inhabited old castle. The Mangalem the old part of Berat, and in my opinion the most important for tourists purposes. When you look at the 1000 Windows view, you are looking at the Mangalem. Gorcia is across the Osum River from the Managlem and is, from what I heard, a bit more modern. All are pretty close to each other and easy to walk between (except the Kala, which is up a steeeeeep hill).

WHAT WE DID IN BERAT, ALBANIA

Compact Berat can be quickly “done” in a day, or can occupy several relaxing days. Dan and I spent three nights and two full days in Berat. We felt like we had plenty of time to see and do everything, but we were not rushed.  Here’s what we did, and a few things we missed.

1000 Windows view.  The “1000 Windows” view is the postcard of Berat. Catching the view takes only a few minutes, but its worth catching at different times of the day. To see the famous view, cross the Old Bridge to the Gorica area. The best views, IMHO, are from both sides of the Old Bridge.

The famous view. Just as pretty in person.

The Kala (aka Castle of Berat). The Kala is Berat’s second most famous site (again, IMHO). Located a very steep walk (or short taxi ride) from Berat’s town center, the Kala is a somewhat intact citadel built in the 13th century, but apparently dating back centuries longer. Once at the Kala, you will notice that it’s still inhabited and a number of shops and restaurants operate for tourists.

Long way up to the Kala.

Almost at the top! Starts to look al little like Italy!

Views from Berat Castle.

Inside Berat Castle. Again, looks like Italy!

The Onufri Iconography Museum. This museum inside the Kala is dedicated to Byzantine art and iconography and is worth a 30 minute (or longer if you are interested in this area of art) visit. The Onufri Museum is actually inside the 18th-century St. Mary’s Church and holds some fantastic orthodox iconographic paintings, including by its namesake Onufri, a painting headmaster of the 16th century!

A highlight of the Onufri Iconography Museum.

Church of St. Mary of Vllaherna. Also in the Kala, the Church of St. Mary of Vllaherna is a bit of a walk from the Kala’s entrance. Due to this, and the 100 F weather, we skipped this church.  That being said, its supposed to be well-preserved and I’m confident the views would be great.  You can see it way up on on the hill from the Gorica area.

We didn’t walk up to the Church – this is a view from below.

The Ethnographic Museum. In addition to the Onufri Iconography Museum, the Ethnographic Museum gets high marks from visitors. We skipped this museum in favor of an air conditioned nap, but I heard it’s quite nice inside a traditional house.

The Bulevardi Republika. Bulevardi Republika is a pedestrian promenade at the bottom of Berat near the Ostuni river. The promenade is lined with cafes and makes for fantastic people watching in the late evening, especially on the weekends. We loved watching multigenerational families taking their evening promenade and enjoying the day. To do this, we simply set up with drinks and/or shisha at an outdoor table at one of the many cafes (Bar Bazar, with relatively decent cocktails and shisha, was our favorite).  If you are more for a promenade yourself, street vendors set up in the evening (corn is particularly popular!) and dogs seemingly without masters will be joining you!

Bulevardi Republika.

Shisha on the Bulevardi Republika.

Loved the people watching here!

Drinks on Bulevardi Republika.

A statute at the end of the Boulevard of a girl playing a flute. She was apparently a heroine and member of the anti-nazi resistance during the second world war.

The Old and New Bridges. While not necessarily a “sight,” two bridges in Berat cross the Osum River, linking the Mangalem and Gorica districts. Both are worth a cross over if that interests you. While the Old Bridge is much prettier, the new one sways a tiny bit when you cross it.

The Old Bridge.

The new bridge.

Churches and Mosques. Berat is home to numerous churches and mosques that frame the small city’s skyline. Definitely photographable.

St. Demetrius Cathedral.

Albania wineries. Berat is right in the middle of Albania’s small “wine country.” Yes, like its neighbors Montenegro and Serbia, Albania also produces its own wine, mostly for domestic consumption. In fact, many restaurants will serve their own wine produced by family members. We visited two wineries within about 20 – 30 minutes via car from Berat: the Cobo Winery and Alpeta. We preferred Alpeta due to its stunning setting, but either or both are worth a visit.

Cobo Winery.

Alpeta winery in Berat.

WHERE WE ATE IN BERAT, ALBANIA

We definitely did not miss out on good food in Albania. Berat is home to many restaurants, most serving traditional Berati fare – think meats, fresh vegetables, local wine, etc. Here are some of the places we ate – reservations probably not required except at Lili!

LiLi Homemade Food. LiLi Homemade Food is a restaurant actually inside Lili’s home in the Mangalem district of Berat serving local Berati food. And, true to its name, everything is homemade! We loved our meal at LiLi, and it was probably the best of the trip (certainly in Berat)! I’m going to write more on LiLi, but in sum, the food was fantastic, the service top notch, and the entirety of the below pictured table was only $26 USD. Make a reservation and eat here if you are in town.

$26 US meal at LiLi.

Restaurant Onufri. Located inside Hotel Onufri, we had our first Berati dinner here. Arriving late, we split a salad and the Vienz or “Berati Beef,” and it was the best Vienz that we had in Berat! The Vienz or Berati beef is actually not beef at all, but fried pork stuffed with cheese. Hotel Onufri’s was excellent. The salad was basically a Greek salad and was quite fresh. We would have dined at Restaurant Onufri again had we stayed more days in Berat.

Albanian version of a Greek salad.

The Vienz.

Eni Traditional Food.  Our second dinner in Berat was in the Gorica area, across the Old Bridge from the Mangalem district. Receiving very high ratings on Trip Advisor, Eni serves a simple menu of traditional Berati food. We opted for the Vienz, stuffed peppers and eggplant, a dish of potatoes topped with a local sauce, and local Berati bread with olive oil and garlic. The food was good, but not fantastic as portrayed on Trip Advisor. The homemade red wine, however, was excellent. Our waiter, the owners’ son, also spoke great English.

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Menu at Eni.

Piccolo Grande Amore. We had our first lunch at Piccolo Grande Amore based on its Trip Advisor reviews. Piccolo Grande Amore is located on the top floor of a building in the Mangolem very close to the Saint Demetrius Cathedral. After climbing about three flights of stairs, we reached the restaurant and were treated to phenomeal views of Berat, which was definitely the best part about Piccolo Grande Amore. In terms of food, my pizza was meh (and I got ham in lieu of mushrooms…), but Dan’s local lamb stewed in something like collared greens was quite good, especially with local garlic bread.

Stunning views from Piccolo Grande Amore.

My “mushroom pizza” at Piccolo Grande Amore…

Dan’s local dish. Very good!

Complimentary fruit for dessert. This was common almost everywhere we went.

Heaven Kitchen. We opted here for an early lunch before our wine tour based on the fact that I thought they were serving gyro style sandwiches. In any case, they were not serving same when we visited, but we did split a good sandwich with cheese, tomato, lettuce, onion, and french fries. I also ordered some fries topped with cheese and ham. Both dishes were terribly inexpensive, made to order right in front of us, and were pretty tasty. We came back a second day.

Veggie sandwich with frites.

Fries with cheese and pork; breakfast of champions.

Hotel Bar Kalaja. Hotel Bar Kalaja is a bar and casual restaurant located near to the entrance of the Kala with indoor and outdoor seating. We stopped here post exploring the castle for Birra Tirana, the national beer. The beer was cold and cheap, and the bar was pretty packed when we visited before noon!

Hotel Bar Kalaja.

My very first Tirana beer at Hotel Bar Kalaja.

WHERE WE STAYED IN BERAT, ALBANIA

Dan and I stayed at the homey Hotel Onfru in the Mangalem district of Berat. Hotel Onufri was very nice, especially for the price. Our room, while basic, included a King size bed, a toilet with a small but large enough shower, and excellent air conditioning and Wifi (both surprising). The total for our room was $45 USD/night and included a basic breakfast. A steal! The feel of hotel was old-school, almost like something out of the 70s that had not been updated. We had no complaints, however, and would stay here again. Wifi and air conditioning were fantastic.

The outside of Hotel Onufri.

Not our room, but a similar room in Hotel Onufri (our window was much smaller).

Selections from the breakfast buffet at Hotel Onufri.

For those looking for a place to stay in Berat, I recommend staying the Mangalem or Gorica districts. This will put you within walking distance of most of the town. Anything further out may require a car and staying at the castle is a far walk from most of Berat’s restaurants and bars.

A ONE DAY ITINERARY FOR BERAT, ALBANIA

For those spending two nights and one day in Berat, I recommend starting your full day with a walk or taxi ride up to the castle. Make your way first to the Church of St. Mary of Vllaherna then back to the the Onufri Iconography Museum. Stop for a snack and a beer before walking back down into town.  On your way into town, if of interest, visit the Ethnographic Museum.  In the late afternoon, cross the New Bridge and walk over to the Old Bridge, crossing back. You will get the famous 1000 Windows view on this week. In the evening, find a spot to people watch, or promenade yourself, down Bulevardi Republika. End your day with dinner at LiLi HomeMade Food. This is a packed day, especially if its hot, but gets in everything!

TIPS FOR VISITING BERAT ALBANIA

First, the entire town of Berat felt like it was under construction, and would be for years to come. I’m talking half built buildings, downed wires, very unstable walking paths, and the like. As such be sure to wear appropriate footwear and know that Berat is probably not the best destination for those with mobility issues. We walked and climbed a lot of stairs. It was treacherous.

On that note, take care walking around. The driving was a bit crazy from my point of view.

Carry cash in Albanian LEK. Many restaurants only accept cash. ATMs are easy to find in the tourist center of town.

There is a grocery store at the corner of the road leading up to the Kala (credit cards accepted). A good stop for edible souvenirs and food for rentals.

In terms of food, you can’t rely on Trip Advisor or Yelp for good recommendations. Neither are frequently used here.

Also in terms of food, there are lots of veggie options available. That being said, there can be translation issues. Be very specific about what you cannot eat if you have restrictions (maybe even bring it in writing in Albanian?). I ordered a mushroom pizza for lunch one day and received a pizza with ham and peppers…. Proceed accordingly.

There are a lot of dogs in Berat that seem to run around freely without masters. The dogs that we encountered were all friendly but this could be a problem for people afraid of dogs.

STEAL OUR TRIP

Hotel Onufri: Basic hotel right in the center of Berat. Excellent air conditioning and wifi (both up to US standards). Small breakfast buffet included. Credit card accepted. This is also the home of the Onufri Restaurant.

LiLi Homemade Food:  Rruga Llambi Guxhumani, Berat, Albania. Reservations absolutely necessary. We made them by walking by 1 day in advance, which was a big gamble, but we could find a working number. Cash only. Excellent English spoken.

Eni Traditional Food: Rruga Nikolla Buhuri, 5001, Albania.

Piccolo Grande Amore: 1 minute walk from Saint Demetrius Cathedral on, Rruga Rilindja 5001, Berat, Albania. Pizza restaurant serving local fare, too. Many steps to reach the restaurant. No elevator.

Heaven Kitchen: No website. Very close to the Old Bridge. Open pretty much all day. Budget food.

Hotel Bar Kalaja: Super casual bar/restaurant for a stop after visiting the castle. Inexpensive.

Cobo Winery: Ura Vajgurore, 1001, Albania.  While we did see tourists walk up for a tasting, I recommend reaching out in advance to ensure Corbo is open and a spot is available for a tour and tasting.

Vice’s: The BEST Irish Coffee in All of Dublin!

Dan and I loooove Ireland, and we also love Irish Coffee! When we visited Dublin last February over President’s Day weekend, we found a new spot on a food tour with Delicious Dublin Food Tours – Vice’s! Vice’s was our first stop on the food tour and according to our guide, home to the best Irish Coffee in Dublin. I was a bit skeptical, but kept an open mind. Well, spoiler alert, Vice’s was so great that we went back every day of our stay for an Irish Coffee!

Vice’s!

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Bonus Lounge Review: American Express Centurion Suite, US Open Tennis Tournament (New York)!

Monday night I finally got to experience the American Express Centurion Suite at the US Open tennis tournament in Queens, New York! It was so much fun and great for American Express Centurion or Platinum card holders. This article shares my experience at the American Express Centurion Suite!

THE LOCATION AND OPEN HOURS

The American Express Centurion Suite at the US Open is located on the second floor of the Louis Armstrong stadium, directly above the Wilson store. You do not need to enter the Louis Armstrong stadium to access the lounge, nor do you need tickets to the Louis Armstrong stadium to access the Centurion Suite, making it convenient for those with tickets to the larger Arthur Ashe stadium. The Centurion Suite is open from 12:00 PM – 8:00 PM August 29 – September 7, with the last reservation being around 7:30 PM. Note – if you have evening tickets to the US Open, you cannot access the grounds, and thus the Centurion Suite, until 6:00 PM (meaning you are limited on what reservation you can make).

There she is – the American Express Centurion Suite!

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Bonus Lounge Review: The Chase Lounge US Open Tennis Tournament (New York)!

After visiting the American Express Centurion Suite at the US Open tennis tournament in Queens, New York on Monday night, I learned that there is also a Chase lounge, called The Chase Lounge, that I could visit. Loving a good lounge experience, I gave it a go and while not as luxe as the Centurion Suite, it was a nice experience and a welcome break from the heat and crowds.

THE LOCATION AND OPEN HOURS

The Chase Lounge at the US Open is located on the second floor of the Chase Center, close to the grounds’ entrance on the right just after you walk in. To access the Chase Lounge, you simply need a ticket to the US Open grounds. Since the Chase Lounge is not in a stadium, there is no live viewing of the matches from the Chase Lounge, but many screens play the matches at all times. The Chase Lounge is open August 29 – September 7, with the Chase Lounge closing promptly at 8:30 PM.

The Chase Lounge!

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Airport Lounge Review: American Express Centurion Lounge, London Heathrow Terminal 3

Dan and I flew through the dreaded Heathrow airport earlier this year, connecting en route to Tirana, Albania. We had a 5.5 hour connection, which was decreased to about 4 due to delays, and were luckily able to visit the American Express Centurion Lounge in Terminal 3! Much having enjoyed our time in other American Express Centurion Lounges (read about it here, here, here, and here), we had high hopes for Heathrow’s outpost, and it did not disappoint.

LOCATION & CHECK-IN TO LONDON’S AMEX CENTURION LOUNGE

Heathrow’s American Express Centurion Lounge is located in Terminal 3’s “A Area” on the second floor above the bulk of the shops, stores, and restaurants (not near the gates where most of the other Terminal 3 lounges are located). We followed signs and took the elevator up to the lounge entrance. While there was a small line to check-in, we entered without delay by showing our American Express Platinum card and boarding passes. And just like that, we were in strolling past the famous greenery wall!

Love this wall!

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Ksamil: A Weekend on the Jewel of the Albanian Riviera

When I planned my trip to Albania, I went back and forth on whether to stay in Saranda, the large beach city in Southern Albania, or Ksamil, a small town just south of Saranda with “the most beautiful beaches.” I elected for the latter based on the promise of the most beautiful beaches. After staying there, I am not confident that it indeed has the most beautiful beaches, but it was a relaxing stay for a few days with a gorgeous coastline.  This article provides valuable information for those planning a trip to Ksamil.  Side note – this information is from the July; Ksamil is different off season.

KSAMIL, ALBANIA

Ksamil (silent “K”) is a tiny beach town 12 kilometers south of Saranda, Albania. Located between the turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea and the mussel filled waters of Butrint Lagoon, with three idyllic islands within swimming distance of Ksamil, Ksamil is extremely popular with Albanian and foreign beachgoers in the summer. The fact that its directly across from Corfu, Greece and accessible by a 30 minute ferry adds to its charm.

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Eating Our Way Around The Tourist Heart Of Rome – A Surprisingly Good Experience!

If you read this blog at all, you know we LOVE a food tour, and have taken a few in Italy (here, here, and here)! On our most recent trip to Italy, we booked a tour with a new (to us) tour company visiting restaurants in Rome’s Centro Storico, or historical center. Think Campo di’Fiori, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, etc.  It ended up being a surprisingly good tour and resulted in us finding some new recommendations. Here is my review of our tour and information on how you can take the same tour!

STOP ONE – A VERO NORCINERIA IN ROMA

Our first stop on this food tour was at a “norcineria” that I have certainly passed numerous times and never gave it a second look: Norcineria Viola 1890!  A norcineria is a shop generally particular to the Umbrian town of Norcia, where its very common to salt and cure certain types of wild boar and pigs, as well as make other products out of them. Prior to this food tour, I had never once visited a norcineria. This one, however, is quite accessible, located right on Campo d’Fiori. True to its name, Norcineria Viola 1890 is a butcher and cheese shop selling products from Norcia and Umbira in general. Here, we tasted five types of salami. Yes, five, including the traditional salami, salami with truffle, a spicy salami, a more fatty salami than normal, and a jerky style salami. We also tasted bread in local olive oil (duh), three types of cheese, and wine from Umbria (our favorite)!

Seriously, this is right on Campo di’Fiori.

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Dani Maison: Our First Experience At A Two Michelin Star Restaurant in Ischia, Italy!

Dan and I dined at our first restaurant with two Michelin stars in May – Daní Maison in Ischia! The entire experience was excellent, and it was not as expensive as expected (although don’t get me wrong, it was expensive). This post details our experience at Daní Maison with their chef’s tasting menu in May 2022.

For a bit of background, Daní Maison is chef Nino di Costanzo’s restaurant. Costanzo’s family is from the Campania region, the region in Southern Italy in which Ischia sits, and his dishes focus on Ischia’s best foods with a modern, artistic flair. The restaurant is located in his family’s former home and is currently filled with works of art by Lello Esposito, who, per his bio, specializes in the relation between contemporary art and tradition by conceiving and re-elaborating the symbols of Neapolitan culture. Very cool!

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A Long Weekend on Ischia, Italy: Travel & Leisure’s “Best Island in the World”

I love Italy. My husband is an Italian citizen. I have been to Italy many, many times.  However, Ischia was never on my radar until we planned a last minute trip this Summer and were looking for a sunny spot without too many American tourists.  I landed on Ischia, not knowing much about it and thinking that it even may be “too Italian” (i.e. no fast internet or English) for a short stay. We decided to give it a go and spent a lovely five days in Ischia.

Beautiful Ischia Porto.

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How To Spend A Day At Negombo Thermal Spa In Ischia, Italy!

Ischia, one of the most popular islands in the world this summer (2022), is well known for its thermal spa parks. And what is a thermal park you may ask? It’s basically a waterpark for adults – an outdoor park filled with pools of varying heat, some with special mineral properties, others with special massage water features, and others just for fun. Thermal parks abound on Ischia. Even our little hotel had a small thermal bath for guests. Indeed, no official visit to Ischia is complete without a visit to a thermal spa. On Dan and my recent trip to Ischia, we spent a day at Negombo Spa, which is rumored to be the nicest thermal park on the island. This is my review of our day there, including everything you need to know to visit a thermal park in Ischia!

Negombo. It’s a big park!

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Airport Lounge Review: Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, Johannesburg (JNB)

After our lovely visit to Newark’s Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in February, I was totally excited to visit Virgin’s Clubhouse at the Johannesburg, South Africa International Airport. In fact, it was the only thing getting me through the depression of going home, LOL.

Happy in Cape Town, South Africa the day before departure.

ENTRANCE TO THE VIRGIN ATLANTIC CLUBHOUSE.

Despite a number of lounge options in Johannesburg’s international terminal between Priority Pass and our American Express Plaitnum card, we heard that the Virgin Clubhouse was the nicest and went promptly there (after a little shopping in the Out of Africa shop!). The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse is located on the second floor of the international terminal, just a bit further down from the aforementioned Out of Africa store. We took the elevator up. Checkin was quick and consisted of presenting an American Express Platinum card and boarding passes. I particularly loved the flower wall at the entrance.

Entrance to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, Johannesburg from inside the club.

Said flower wall! Small, but mighty cute!

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Vuyani Safari Lodge, Hoedspruit, South Africa: Review of my Lovely 5 Day Stay.

Dan and I spent five nights at the Vuyani Safari Lodge in South Africa with our friends in April 2022. This was our second stay at Vuyani (first back in 2015), and we had a lovely time. This is my detailed review of Vuyani for those considering it for safari! In short, I highly recommend it, but of course there are pros and cons. Keep reading for all of the information!

On safari!

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La Zanzara Restaurant Review: A Solid Spot Near The Vatican.

If you’ve ever planned a day at the Vatican, I’m sure you are very familiar with the mediocre food options in the area. Why the mediocre food? The Vatican is full of tourists, not locals returning for meals in the area, so, similar to Venice, there is not much incentive to produce excellent food. In other words, quantity over quality, and high prices to boot. I paid 5 euro for a Coke Light in 2008 … In any case, when for my family’s lunch break between visiting Vatican City and the Colosseum (yes, HUGE day, read about it here), I was determined to find a good, sit down restaurant for a break.

Yep, big day. Two hard hitters in 12 hours.

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Restaurant Review: TTK Fledglings, Cape Town, South Africa

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that Dan and I went to South Africa with our friends Pryor and Bryan in April 2022. We started on a safari and ended with a few lovely days in Cape Town. This was Dan and my second visit, and I really wanted to eat at one of Luke Dale Roberts’ restaurants, particularly South Africa’s (possibly) most famous restaurant, The Test Kitchen. We missed it our first trip to Cape Town, because we waited too late to make a reservation. Unfortunately, The Test Kitchen has permanently closed, but Roberts and his wife have opened up a new venture in Cape Town: TKK Fledglings. I made a reservation months in advance, LOL.

Here we are in Cape Town in 2022!

TKK Fledglings is a “learning kitchen,” where people without no specific knowledge of the hospitality industry train on site while working at the restaurant and earning a salary. Pretty cool idea. While I was a little concerned that TKK Fledglings, as a result, would not be at the level of service I desired, but my concerns were 100% unfounded. Our experience was amazing: the service was impeccable, the food fantastic, and the interior gorgeous. I think it was our favorite meal. The prices were reasonable, as well.

TTK Fledglings.

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Airport Lounge Review: Prime Vista Lounge, FCO Terminal 3 – E Gates

I’ve visited the Prima Vista Lounge (formerly the “Passenger Lounge”) in Rome FCO’s Terminal 3 at least four times, and three times in the last nine months, but I’ve never written a review on it.  So, here we are! In short, Prima Vista is a good lounge that has adapted well to Covid, but it’s FAAAAR from checkin. Don’t plan to spend too much time here for that reason alone (you’ll board by the time you arrive!). Entrance is free with Priority Pass, so there’s a plus!

Aeroporti di Roma! Always so exciting to land in Rome!

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Airport Lounge Review: Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, Newark International Terminal B

Dan and I flew to Dublin in February 2022 with Aer Lingus. We were not expecting lounge access due to the terminal assigned (Newark’s sparse Terminal B), but Dan just happened to see a sign for the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse when walking to our gate. The sign seemed to indicate that the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse was open and we could enter with our American Express Centurion Card. We decided to give it a shot. When we arrived at about 3:25, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse looked totally closed, but we knocked and they opened the door, stating that they formally open in 5 minutes. So we waited the couple minutes and went inside!

Kind of a vague sign.

Upon further discussion with the staff, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse only reopened a few days prior to our visit after being closed for nearly 2 years due to Covid. We also learned that the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse is now operated by the Plaza Premium Group. We did not visit this lounge pre-Covid, so I cannot compared it to its pre-2020 state. We really enjoyed it this time though!

ENTRANCE TO THE VIRGIN ATLANTIC CLUBHOUSE

The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse is located in Newark’s Terminal B. Terminal B is split into 3 areas, each with its own security, and the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse is located in the B2 area, near Gates B51 – B57. After clearing security, all passengers walk down a pretty depressing hall toward the gates. Entrance to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse is at the beginning of this hall via an elevator. Had there not been a sign, we would have totally missed it. We took the elevator to the second level and there it was, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse! Its right next to the British Airways Lounge.

Entrance. Dan was very excited to locate this lounge!

Once the doors officially open at the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at 3:30, we checked in with our boarding pass and American Express Centurion card. While we both have the card, we used Dan’s and I got in as his guest. It was unclear how many guests are allowed per card. This lounge used to be on Priority Pass, but that is no longer the case. Dragon Pass appears to still work.

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Visiting the Vatican & Colosseum in One Crazy Day!

Rome has A LOT of sights to see. So many that you could stay for more than a week in Rome and not see everything. Seriously. This poses a problem for many tourists, who often only spend 1 or 2 days in Rome (which I think leads to the common and, frankly wrong, opinion that Rome is not a favorite Italian city). Of all the sites, two of the most popular are Vatican City and the Colosseum. Most information will advise that you should not visit these two sites on the same day due to time constraints, etc., and I agree. But sometimes you just don’t have the time to split them up, and that’s exactly the position I found myself in in November when I was in Rome for 3 days with 8 family members! Due to a strong desire to see both sights, I bit the bullet and planned a perfectly timed day visiting both Vatican City and the Colosseum in the same day! While I would not necessarily recommend this if you have plenty of time, it is doable, and here’s how!

IN BRIEF: 8 – 11:30, the Vatican Museums, 11:30 – 11:50, walk to St. Peter’s Basilica, 12:00 – 1:45 St. Peter’s Basilica interior OR a proper sit down lunch, 1:45 – 2:15 transfer to the Colosseum, 2:30 – 4:30, Colosseum!

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Ten Pubs That Guinness Lovers Cannot Miss In Dublin, Ireland!

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day – my favorite holiday – I am rounding up 12 of my favorite places to have a Guinness in its home, Dublin, Ireland! Full disclosure, I am not from Dublin or even Ireland. That being said, I have been several times and I consider myself a Guinness connoisseur. Do be sure to visit some of these pubs if you are lucky enough to find yourself in Dublin!

A Guinness at Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse. A must-do in Dublin.  See my “Bonus” pub below!

1.   John Kavanaugh The Gravediggers. 1 Prospect Square, Glasnevin, Dublin.

Go for: Paying homage to Bourdain, lunch, a great pint in a really old school setting, before or after a visit to Glasnevin Cemetery and/or the Botanical Gardens.

John Kavanaugh’s is a family-run pub located next to Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery. Kavanaugh’s is about a 45 minute walk outside of central Dublin, and it was made famous by an appearance on Bourdain’s The Layover. Kavanaugh’s has two sides with separate entrances – one a bit more modern with a kitchen and the other just a really old school bar serving only drinks. Check out both sides if you have time. We enjoyed lunch and then a Guinness on the other side.

A perfect pint!

Potato soup and Guinness.

Kavanaugh’s coddle, just as Bourdain ate!

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A Review Of Lounge T1 And Getting Through US Pre-Clearance At Dublin International

Dan and I flew back to New York from Dublin International in February and visited a nice lounge before going through US Pre-Clearance and boarding our flight. Since US Pre-Clearance can be a bit confusing, here is a post on both our longe experience and US Pre-Clearance at Dublin International Airport.

Dublin – one of our favorite cities!

ARRIVAL AND SEARCHING FOR THE LOUNGE T1

Our journey home because by checking in for our Aer Lingus flight in Terminal 2 and clearing Dublin International’s security. Once through, we began looking for the The Lounge T2, to which we have complimentary access through our Priority Pass card.  We had some extra time to kill, and even though we needed to go though Pre-Clearance, we felt there was still time for a lounge (and we were right!).  We located The Lounge T2 easily enough, between Dublin’s Security and US Pre-Clearance, but the Lounge T2 was closed (Covid!)! However, there was a sign for its sister lounge, The Lounge T1, in Terminal 1, so we followed them to see if we could possibly access The Lounge T1 without having to re-clear security. Luck for us, you can walk between Dublin’s Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 post-security and its a pretty quick walk. Upon reaching Terminal 1, The Lounge T1 is located on the second floor of the Terminal, above the security area.

ENTRANCE TO THE LOUNGE T1

After spinning for a few minutes looking for the entrance to The Lounge T1, we found it right in front of us, LOL. Checkin was easy on the ground – presenting our boarding passes and Priority Pass.

The checkin area for The Lounge T1. We almost missed it!

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Eating Our Way Around Dublin With Delicious Dublin Food Tours

Dan and I were recently in Dublin over President’s Day weekend (mid-February), and we spent our first full day on a food tour with Ketty of Delicious Dublin Food Tours! This was our first food tour in Dublin, although not Ireland, and it was a really fun way to spend a morning. We even found the very best Irish Coffee that we have ever had.

MEETING POINT – DUBLIN’S SPIRE.

Our tour started on a rainy Saturday morning, meeting a group of six others under the Spire (AKA Dublin’s tall pointy modern monument). The Spire is on the opposite side of the River Liffey from most of Dublin’s main tourist sites, so this was an interesting place to start. Ketty, our guide, explained a bit about the tour and food history of Ireland, before the group walked a few minutes to our first stop for that fantastic Irish Coffee that I mentioned!

The Spire, on a sunnier day than that of our tour!

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Restaurant Review: Gallagher’s Boxty House, Dublin, Ireland

In light of my upcoming favorite holiday – St. Patrick’s Day – I am posting about our recent trip to Dublin, Ireland for the next two weeks!  Here’s a review of one of Dan and my favorite restaurants in Dublin, Gallagher’s Boxty House!

Gallagher’s Boxty House is an established Dublin restaurant located right in the middle of touristy Temple Bar. Despite this, Gallagher’s Boxty House is no tourist trap. Dan and I first ate here a decade ago and continue to return on every trip. Gallagher’s Boxty House specializes in the potato and almost all of its dishes are potato based. As the name implies, Gallagher’s also specializes in the Irish boxty, or a potato pancake. Eat at Gallagher’s for a taste of traditional, and delicious, Irish food.

As the napkin says, this place is really into potatoes!

The menu at Gallagher’s is on the small side, but as long as you eat potatoes, you should be able to find something.  Here is the menu from February 2022. It seemed a bit smaller this time, likely due to Covid. One pro of the menu (and this is common in Ireland generally), allergins are clearly listed on the menu.

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5 Years Later, Another Thanksgiving Cicchetti Tour in Venice, Italy!

Five years ago, Dan and I spent Thanksgiving in Venice, Italy with my mom, my friend and her mom, and Dan’s aunt. This year, we returned to Venice for Thanksgiving and decided to repeat one of our favorite activities, a Cicchetti progressive dinner tour! Cicchetti are small, elaborate bites, similar to Spanish tapas, that Venetians like to eat throughout the day, often served with an adult beverage. Cicchetti bars, or small restaurants serving Cicchetti and drinks, can be found throughout Venice and if you aren’t familiar with the concept, a Cicchetti tour is a great way to dive in! We loved, loved, loved our tour 5 years ago but unfortunately the tour guides no longer live in Venice. I found another online that provided a similar experience.

Venice – exactly 5 years ago!

Our Cicchetti tour started by meeting just next to the Rialto Bridge in front of the Chiesa di San Giacomo di Rialto. After some photos and mulled wine, we met our guide and got started our our tour!  Despite Covid persisting, most places were open and hopping with locals.

Mulled wine overlooking Venice.

FIRST STOP: DESSERT AT PANIFICIO MAURO EL FORNER DE CANTON.

Our first stop on this Cicchetti tour was Panificio Mauro el Forner de Canton for dessert. We stopped here first because it closed shortly after our visit! This bakery has been around for nearly 80 years and goes back four generations. Panificio Mauro el Forner de Canton was packed with locals on our visit, so much so that we had to wait outside for space. According to our guide, Panificio Mauro el Forner de Canton is famous for its tiramisu, and that is exactly what we tried. Actually, we tried tiramisu and another baked good. Both were excellent and this was a great way to start our tour.

Some of the dessert offerings at Panificio Mauro el Forner de Canton.

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A Packed 72 Hours Hitting Rome’s Highlights!

If you’ve been following along, you know that Dan and I went to Italy with our immediate families over Thanksgiving in 2021. Our trip ended with 72 hours in Rome, after visiting Alba for its White Truffle Festival and Venice. Normally I would not have included Rome on a Northern Italy focused trip, but we love Rome and our last 72 hours ended up being some of the best of the trip! Here is our itinerary if you are considering a similar trip for yourself.

I love Rome!

DAY 1 – ARRIVAL VIA FRECCIAROSSA & A FOOD TOUR OF TRASTEVERE

We arrived in Rome via a 3.45 hour train ride from Venice’s Santa Lucia train station on Trenitalia’s fast Frecciarossa train. The ride was easy enough – we brought snacks and drinks and the wifi worked really well (a happy surprise!).

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How To Spend Three Prefect Days In Venice in November!

Our on our recent Thanksgiving family getaway to Italy, we spent three days in Venice, including Thanksgiving day!  Dan and I have actually spent Thanksgiving in Venice before, and its a great way to spend the holiday. Here is a run down of what we did and where we stayed and ate over our three days, as well as lots of pictures to make you wish you were in Venice. #sorrynotsorry.

Me & Dan in Piazza San Marco.

Gorgeous Venice in November.

Gondolas ready for riding.

From the Grand Canal. Marco libero (or Free Marco, left corner) was a popular sign that we say everywhere. Despite Googling, I’m still not 100% what it meant.

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A Thanksgiving Wine Tour In The Prosecco Region!

As you may know from this blog or chatting with me or Dan, or literally anyone in our family, our entire immediate family went to Italy for Thanksgiving in November! Yes, all 8 of us!! For the actual day of Thanksgiving, we toured the Prosecco wine region on a day trip from Venice. It was a great day, and we drank way too much tasty Prosecco!  This is a recap of our tour if you are planning something similar. I highly recommend the Prosecco region as a quick getaway from Venice!

Late Fall in the Prosecco wine region.

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Excellent Non-Michelin Starred Restaurants in Alba, Piedmont!

Alba is a foodie town home to no less than 12 restaurants holding Michelin Stars in the surrounding area. Had just Dan and I visited Alba in November, we would have certainly eaten at one. However, we traveled to Alba with our entire immediate family (read about that here and here), so we had to find something a little more economical. Luckily for us, in addition to Michelian-starred restaurants, Alba has great reasonably priced restaurants, most offering seasonal white truffle menus.  Here are some of our favorites.

A sample of what I’m talking about!

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How To Visit Alba’s White Truffle Festival In Piedmont, Italy!

WELCOME TO ALBA & THE WHITE TRUFFLE FESTIVAL

In 2016, Dan and I, as well as a few others, flew all the way to San Miniato for its white truffle festival! We had a blast. So much so that when we visited Italy with our family in November 2021, we added Alba to our itinerary for the sole purpose of visiting Alba’s legendary white truffle festival!   For those unfamiliar, Alba is a small town in Northern Italy in the Piedmont region. Alba is located about 1 hour from Torino and 2 hours from Milan’s airport, where we flew in. Alba is a foodie town, complete with numerous Michelin starred restaurants, and its most well know for its white truffle festival – Fiera Internazionale Tartufo Bianco d’Alba. This year was the 91st festival and despite Covid, it was operating in full force. First person experiences were difficult to find online when I was planning our trip, so here is some helpful information for the truffle lovers our there.

Alba decked out for the truffle festival.

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A Thanksgiving Tour Of Italy With Eight Family Members!

As some of you may know, one of Dan and my recent trips was a trip to Italy with 6 of our family members – my parents, Dan’s parents, and Dan’s siblings – for about 10 days. Yes, 8 people in Italy for 10 days. It was a wild ride and I’ll be writing more about specific bits of our trip later, but here is a summary for those interested in doing something similar!

DAYS 1 – 2: ALBA, ITALY

After an overnight flight from New York, we landed in Milan early in the morning. A van was waiting for us and drove us 2 hours to Alba in the Piedmont region.  We checked into our hotel and promptly hit the streets to explore Alba’s famous International White Truffle Festival. We spent two days in Alba, largely at the truffle festival. We also checked out some delicious Piedmontese restaurants!

Gorgeous white truffles.

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A Fun Spot in Isla Verde: Ocean Lab Brewing Company

When planning my trip to Isla Verde last Spring, an Instagrammer I followed lunched at Ocean Lab Brewing Company while staying at my Isla Verde hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde. It looked pretty good, so I added it to our list!

Entrance!

We ended up walking along the beach from the Courtyard Isla Verde to Ocean Lab Brewing around noon. The walk was easy and on the beach the entire way. When we arrived at Ocean Lab Brewing, finding the entrance was a bit confusing. Ocean Lab Brewing is attached to the back of the Vivo Beach Club, which is quite swanky! We ended up walking around the Vivo Beach Club and entering Ocean Lab from the side opposite the ocean – no big deal.

Vivo Beach Club from Ocean Lab.

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An Afternoon In Juncos, Puerto Rico At Bacoa Finca + Fogón

For Dan’s birthday trip to Puerto Rico, his one wish was to head to Juncos, Puerto Rico for lunch at Bacoa Finca + Fogón! While it was almost an hour away from our hotel and I had never heard of the restaurant, we booked a car and made reservations weeks in advance for a Sunday morning lunch! And good thing I made the reservation, because Bacoa Finca + Fogón is really popular.

Dan and his sister at Bacoa!

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Top Eats & Drinks in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Dan and I really enjoy our food and drink, and we think that Puerto Rico has some of the best in the United States!  I’ve compiled a list of some of our old and new favorites – be sure to check them our if you find yourself in lovely Puerto Rico!

Old San Juan. In addition to good food, its also gorgeous!

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO EATS

Jose Enrique

Jose Enrique is certainly my and Dan’s absolute favorite restaurant in San Juan. I wrote about it at length here. I won’t rehash my entire post, but Jose Enrique is an excellent restaurant with upscale, delicious Puerto Rican dishes in the Condado area.  Make a reservation in advance. Don’t miss it. You will thank me.

A recent meal at Jose Enrique.

Not the best picture, but the BEST fried steak! Circa 2013, but its still on the menu from time to time .

El Jabrito

El Jabrito is a classic Puerto Rican restaurant in Old San Juan. If you read guide books, El Jabrito will likely come up. Nothing super fancy or expensive, just quality, local food. You will find tourists and locals here lining up for dinner (as there are no reservations). We’ve visited a couple times, most recently in April 2021, and will return. Definitely go with a Puerto Rican dish, and don’t forget the pitcher of sangria!

Beef turnovers made of fried plantain with local sauces!

Shrimp in garlic sauce!

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A Long Weekend In Sunny Isla Verde, Puerto Rico!

New year, new vacation bank! Yes, it’s that time of year again. Time to plan your 2022 getaways and vacations. Last Spring, me, Dan, and Dan’s sister took a five day trip down to Isla Verde, Puerto Rico to celebrate Dan’s birthday! The trip was easy, fun, and the perfect few days away from New York City. If you are planning a similar trip this year (which you should!), here’s a summary of our lovely trip.

Palm trees in Puerto Rico.

ISLA VERDE

Isla Verde, Puerto Rico is a gorgeous strip of beach located just outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico in Carolina. While technically in Carolina, Isla Verde is extremely close to San Juan and nearly borders San Juan’s international airport. For this reason, Isla Verde often lumped into San Juan vacation speak, often referred to as the best beaches in the San Juan area. I cannot vouch for the validity of this statement, but Isla Verde is gorgeous, much more so than the Condado area if you are looking for beaches. And beaches were exactly why we decided to stay in Isla Verde. Aside from beaches, Isla Verde has numerous restaurants and tourist activities, but we ventured into San Juan for most of our non-beach activities.

Beautiful Isla Verde!

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One Of Our Top 10 Restaurants In The World: Jose Enrique, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Happy New Year to readers of this blog! I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2022 filled with travels near and far! I am starting this year’s blogging by sharing one of Dan and my favorite restaurants in the World – Jose Enrique in sunny San Juan, Puerto Rico!

San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Dan and I keep a running list of all of our favorite restaurants around the World, and Jose Enrique in San Juan, Puerto Rico always makes the list! Introduced to us by one of Dan’s college friends, we first dined at Jose Enrique in 2013. Still raving eight years later, Jose Enrique was just as good as we imagined, albeit in a new location! Now in swanky Condado, Jose Enrique is located in a somewhat unimpressive looking building without a sign (a carry over from before). Inside is pretty casual, with a few paintings scattered around.

Interior of Jose Enrique.

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Day Trip to Bari, Italy in Photographs.

When I was in Polignano a Mare earlier this year, I spent the better part of a day exploring Puglia’s largest city, Bari! I had always heard that Bari is a run-down and dangerous city but to my surprise, it was not at all! Bari is an adorable old school Italian city with lots of character and charm. I would absolutely spend a few nights here on another trip! Since we didn’t have much time in Bari, here are some photographs from our afternoon. I’ll link the places we visited below!

Bari. Lots of Italian pride!

The most adorable elderly lady watching over the piazza.

Il fruttivendolo.

We saw the most gorgeous wedding.

And we ate the most delicious meat and cheese platter.

Loved these awnings.

Also loved these old buildings.

Una donna italiana making pasta on Arco Basso, the famous street for pasta!

Teatro.

A beautiful church, seemingly around every corner.

All the deli meats.

Wine from the proprietor’s own vintage at Le Sagagliozze.

Gorgeous greenery and flowers.

Gentile gelato.

Old school.

Homemade orecchiette – the pasta of Bari – at Le Sgagliozze.

Cool courtyard.

Fresh fried polenta from Le Sgagliozze.

Felt great to be back on European trains. Ciao, Bari!

STEAL OUR TRIP

Veloservice Tours and Rentals: Strada Vallisa, 81, 70122 Bari BA, Italy. We booked the street food tour, which, unfortunately, turned into a combination walking tour and cooking course. The tour was very disjointed and not what we expected (or booked) at all. Book with caution.

Gentile: Piazza Federico II di Svevia, 33, 70122 Bari BA, Italy.  Open daily from 11:00 – 1:00.  The gelato shop we visited – delicious!  There is also a location in Brooklyn – 253 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249.

Le Sagagliozze: Largo Albicocca, 70122 Bari BA, Italy. Closed Monday. Open other days until 22h.

Trenitalia: Italian local train service. You don’t need to pre-book your tickets but if traveling from Polignano a Mare like us, check the schedule because there are some quick trains and others that take about an hour.  Downloading the Trenitlian app is very helpful.

Acro Basso: The famous street for the pasta making! You can buy from the ladies, but you can only bring it back to the US if its dried (i.e. not fresh).

ON A BUDGET

We took the train to and from Polignano a Mare for only a few euros each way. Our afternoon in Bari could be easily recreated on your own by just walking around the old town (15 walk from Bari’s train station).

Matera: A Perfect Mix Of Ancient Cave Dwellings, Dalí, Hip Bars, and Wine!!

Matera. The name sounds like a place you should know, but you just don’t. Well surprise, surprise, Matera is Italy’s newest, hottest tourist destination. Thanks to being named a European Capital of Culture in 2019, Matera is on the travel radar, but, at least for now, still retains lots of Italian character and charm! Dan and I spent too few days here in September 2019. This is our trip report for those planning a similar trip!

The Sassi of Matera.

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L’Aratro: An Excellent Slow Food Restaurant In Alberobello.

As promised in my recent review of Alberobello, I had lunch at an excellent restaurant  recommended by our Puglitaly guide: L’Aratro. L’Aratro means “the plow” in English, and that is is an appropriate name for this essentially “farm to table” restaurant. To wit, L’Aratro is part of the Slow Italy movement and it sources almost all of its menu items from the local area, and certainly from within Puglia. Look for local delicacies highlighted on the menu!

The entrance to L’Aratro.

Located on one of Alberobello’s main tourist streets, L’Aratro is located inside a beautifully decorated trullo, with both indoor and outdoor seating.  Its not uncommon to see the main chef hanging around outside the restaurant in his signature brightly colored chef pants! We sat in L’Aratro’s open air courtyard overlooking a few trulli domes. The views from the courtyard are not fantastic, but certainly good enough. The interior, however, is beautiful. I would have sat inside were it not for COVID-19.

Gorgeous interior of L”Aratro. This would be a magical spot for a fall or winer meal.

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How To Spend A Day in Alberobello, Puglia: Trulli, Slow Italian Food, And Delicious Wine!

You’re probably familiar with Alberobello in Puglia, Italy, even if you don’t know its name. Alberobello is the Southern Italian town filled with trulli (trullo, singular) houses, or those small white stone houses with domed roof tops that seem to be straight out of fairy tale. Its a super cute town, but also very , very touristy, even during the light travel summer of 2021. Here is how my husband and I spent a day in Alberobello if you are planning your own trip!

A real life trullo in Alberobello!

TOP TIPS: Arrive early, bring cash, dress in layers, wear walking shoes, and be sure to see inside a trullo by visiting the shops or restaurants.

SOME CONS: Super duper touristy, hilly with cobblestones making walking somewhat difficult, not as many people as we expected spoke English (this may be a positive!)

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Grotta Palazzese: A Review Of That Gorgeous Cliffside Restaurant in Puglia

If you have any form of social media, you have probably seen the gorgeous cliffside restaurant in Polignano a Mare, Grotta Palazzese. Yes, the one light up in blue with white tables perched on a sharp cliff above the Adriatic (or maybe Ionian) sea. The location is truly stunning.

View looking out to the sea. There is another “lagoon” on the other side. I tried to take a picture but it did not turn out well. Keep reading, LOL.

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How To Spend A Weekend In Montefalco, Umbria

Most blog readers probably know that Dan and I love to travel and particularly enjoy wine travel. Our two favorite wine grapes are big reds: Tannat, which we went all the way to Uruguay to drink a few years ago, and Sagrantino, a grape from the land surrounding the Umbrian town of Montefalco. Hence, we decided to start our [first] 2021 Italian adventure in Montefalco precisely to drink Montefalco’s wines! And they were fantastic. We left with no less than 3 cases…and this was our first stop. Whoopsie.

Sagrantino on Piazza del Commune, Montefalco’s main square.

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Trattoria Il Postaccio: Our Best Meal In Montefalco, Umbria!!

Dan and I spent a weekend in Montefalco in September 2021 for the sole purpose of drinking its magical Sagrantino wine. We took a wine tour with Gusto Wines so that we could drink alllll the wine, and our tour guide recommended a dinner at Trattoria “il postaccio.” We took him up on his recommendation, as he lives in the area and had excellent taste on the wine tour. This ended up being one of the best pieces of advice of the entire trip!

Trattoria Il Postaccio.

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Caramella, Trastevere (Rome): A Really Delicious Lunch That Shouldn’t Be Missed!

Dan and I were super excited to return to Rome in September, because (1) we LOVE Rome and (2) we LOVE to eat all of the delicious Roman food! As such, I plan our Roman meals meticulously, especially on short trips, like our recent one. We had one lunch spot open and Dan, unexpectedly, suggested a causal restaurant in Trastevere called Caramella. We ate there on our last trip to Rome and apparently, Dan liked it a lot more than I remember. Done, added to the list.

Caramella!

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The Perfect 40 Hours In Rome, Italy.

Dan and I spent a magical 40 hours in Rome to finish our Italy trip in September 2021, which is definitely NOT enough time to properly see Rome. However, we were only in Rome because our flight departed from Rome’s FCO and we will be back in Rome with our whole family in November. This was just a little taster of Roman goodness! While not the most popular Italian tourist destination (wrongfully so IMO), Dan and I spent a summer in Rome back in 2008 (yes, we’re that old) and have looooved Rome ever since. So this 40 hours was a real treat for us! Here’s what we did if you have your own 40 hours to explore Rome if you like to eat, drink, and shop.

Gorgeous, gorgeous Rome!

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Four Fabulous Days In Polignano a Mare, Puglia!

After our planned Puglia trip last summer was COVID-cancelled, we rescheduled to this September! While we originally planned to explore a bit more of Puglia, we ended up adding Umbria to the trip (highly recommended!) and based our time in posh Polignano a Mare. This article tells what we did, where we ate, and where we stayed or those planning a similar trip to Polignano a Mare!

The most famous foto of Polignano a Mare from the Roman Bridge.

POLIGNANO A MARE

Polignano a Mare is a small, yet swanky, Italian beach town in Northern Puglia, located 45 minutes south of Bari by car on the intersection of the Adriatic and Ionian coasts, directly across from southern Croatia and Montenegro. While in Northern Puglia, Polignano a Mare is firmly in southern Italy, and as such, stays warmer and summery much longer than its northern counterparts. Reachable by its tiny train station or car, Polignano a Mare is definitely on the Italian-tourist’s radar, but I didn’t find it quite as touristy as some more popular destinations, such as Amalfi or Cinque Terre (at least not yet…). Dan and I spent 3 nights and 4 days in Polignano a Mare and we thought this was the perfect amount of time to see Polignano a Mare and explore a bit of Puglia.

Crystal clear waters in Polignano a Mare.

We choose to stay in Polignano a Mare because it just looked so cute in the pictures! We were happy with our decision: Polignano a Mare was easy enough to reach, close to some places we wanted to day trip, such as Bari and Alberobello, and had lots of restaurants and shops. On a return visit, however, we will probably visit another town; Polignano a Mare is more expensive than other towns in the area and its a bit more foreign-tourist heavy than its neighbors.

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Where to Find a COVID-19 RAPID Test In Rome, Italy.

Italy, thankfully (!!), re-opened its borders to residents of the US in June 2019, and many of us Americans booked trips, including Dan and me! Ha, we actually booked two – in September and November. We just returned and had an amazing trip, but we were a bit stressed finding a COVID-19 test in Rome for our return flight to the US. Turns out, it was really easy! Here is the latest information as of September 20, 2021.

Back in Roma!! Unrelated to COVID testing, but this is just outside of the Pantheon!

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Restaurant Review: The Delicious & Inventive Taverna Piatakia, Rhodes Town, Rhodes, Greece.

Telling people that Dan and I were traveling to Rhodes, we received a lot of feedback stating that it was too touristy, too crowded, and that we would find “meh” food, at least for Greece (where honestly, even some “meh” food is great!). So I made it my missing to pre-book some, what I thought would be excellent dinners. In researching good food in Rhodes Town, I came across Taverna Piatakia, and it was a fantastic find. Definitely good high-end food at a very reasonable price! And spoiler alert, Rhodes, especially Rhodes Town, is super touristy and you can certainly find a not-so-great meal that is over priced; I do recommend doing some researching in choosing dinner spots.

Piatakia Taverna on Leontos Street, Rhodes Town.

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Aljoun Castle, Jordan: A Very Cool Castle In Northern Jordan!

Dan and I found ourselves at Aljoun Castle earlier this year on a day trip from Amman. We had previously never heard of Aljoun Castle, but it was a super cool castle with well-preserved exterior that tourists can walk around around. We would never had visited it without the stop being included on our day trip. Here are some pictures and information if you want to include a stop at Aljoun on your own Jordan tour!

Aljoun Castle. Stairs up to the roof.

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Fakhreldine, Amman: So Delicious I Dined There Twice!

Amman is a large city, Jordan’s capital, and largely filled with picturesque white square buildings. It’s quite beautiful. But again, its large and it takes time to get from here to there, so I went back and forth on where to dine when we were in town! After much research, I found the BEST restaurant just a 10 minute walk from our hotel – Fakhreldine Restaurant & Cafe. In fact, it was so good we went back twice (rare for us)!! Please don’t miss this gem in Amman.

En route to Fakereldine.

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Airport Lounge Review: Crown Lounge, Amman International Airport

On our departure from Amman, Jordan, Dan and I had two airport lounge options though our Priority Pass: Royal Jordanian’s Crown Lounge or the unaffiliated Petra Lounge. After googling some other reviews, we started with the Crown Lounge and it was so nice that we never left to check out the Petra Lounge! The Crown Lounge was quite luxurious – definitely an upgrade from many Priority Pass lounges!

Luxurious sofas welcome guests.

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Jerash, Amman: Pompeii Of The East.

Dan and I spent an afternoon visiting the ancient city of Jerash (or rather, Gerasa) back in May on our trip to Jordan. It was a great experience and recommended! Here is some information on our visit.

WHAT IS “JERASH” A/K/A THE POMPEII OF THE EAST?

Jerash is now a modern city in Northern Jordan, a little less than 1 hour from Amman by car. While being its own city, Jerash is best known as the home of the ancient Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, which is known, at least amongst archaeologist and historians, to be one of the best preserved Greco-Roman cities in the world. Frequently referred to as the “Pompeii of the East” by those in the know (because its so well preserved, not because of any volcano eruptions), it’s definitely some of the best preserved ruins that I’ve seen worldwide. Modern-day Jerash is very much a tourist town, but ancient Gerasa enjoyed much success as a trading post and a favorite city of Roman Emperor Hadrian, before eventually falling out of favor and into ruin. Modern-day Jerash is now the perfect place to day trip from Amman.

The ruins of Ancient Gerasa, with modern Jerash in the background (the white square buildings similar to Amman)

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Highlights of Amman, Jordan!

Amman, located in the Northern part of Jordan, is its capital. A number of travel advice suggested that I skip Amman when visiting Jordan, and I am very glad that I didn’t listen! While perhaps less exciting than some of Jordan’s other heavy hitters (Petra, Dead Sea, Wadi Rum, etc.), Amman is a gorgeous city that is often referred to as the “white city” due to the many, many white homes filling its hills; very picturesque and photographic, especially in Spring with all its flowers in bloom. Also, a great entrance or end to Jordan! In addition to its gorgeous white structures, Jordan is a fairly modern city, especially for the Middle East, with lots of Instagrammable spots! We spent 3 nights and 2 days in Amman, with a half-day trip to Jerash. We thought this was a perfect amount of time, but you could definitely squeeze it into 1 day. Here are the highlights from our time Amman!

Amman on a map!

Beautiful Amman!

More pretty Amman. This is a stair case that we stumbled upon just walking around.

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48 Gorgeous Hours At Al Manara, Aqaba Jordan!

On our recent trip to Jordan, Dan and I spent some time in Aqaba (yes, we continuously called Agraba!), and Aqaba turned out to be my favorite stop on our trip through Jordan. Which is kind of crazy given that we almost skipped it. As luck would have it, our flight was moved back by more than 24 hours and we had some extra time in Jordan, so I slotted in Aqaba on a whim. I recommend others making time for Aqaba even if you only have 1 day!