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.
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!
On our recent trip to Corfu Town, Greece, Dan and I had an amazing dinner at Salto Wine Bistro & Bar. This is my review of our amazing dinner.
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.
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.
After spending a week in Albania, Dan and I ferried to Corfu Town, Greece for three nights before flying back home from Corfu’s airport. I was blow away by the beauty of Corfu Town and had an amazing three days! This article details what we got up to if you are planning a similar stopover.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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 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!
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO EATS
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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. 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!
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!
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.
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!
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!)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
Have you seen those luxury tented campsites set against red rocks that looks like Mars?! Well, that’s exactly where Dan and I stayed for two days on our vacation to Jordan! And, yes, they are just as magical and Instagrammable as pictures make the out to be!
Jordan opened to tourists post-pandemic in February 2021, and Dan and I promptly booked Emirates flights for the end of May in the hopes of visiting Petra sans tourists. And, we were successful! We visited Petra and only saw 12 other tourists! It was amazing. While tourism is definitely rebounding as the pandemic subsides, I still think there is time to visit Petra before the hoards of tourists return. We had a wonderful visit and literally everyone who has seen our pictures is like OMG that’s Jordan?! Go now. Don’t wait.
As you probably know, Dan and I went to Jordan last month for almost two weeks! Our trip was amazing, but the main point of it was, obviously, Petra!! Petra had just re-opened during our visit and we only saw 12 other tourists, which was crazy! I will be posting a full write up and guide on Tuesday, but here are some of our favorite pictures for your Friday viewing pleasure! Happy Weekend!!
When I heard that the site of Jesus’ baptism was only a 20 minute drive from where I was staying in the Dead Sea, I decided that I needed to see it, despite not being religious (I did grow up Christian). We arranged for our excellent driver to take us to the Baptism site before driving the few hours south to Petra. Since it’s close to the Dead Sea, the baptism site can be visited as day trip from either the Dead Sea or Amman. The entire visit takes about 2 – 2.5 hours, depending on how long you need to wait for the next tour. And, for those looking for information, the site is actually called Bethany Beyond The Jordan. There are signs on the highway leading up to it.
Jordan, a small country in the Middle East existing between Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia (!), recently reopened for travel, and Dan and I spent almost two weeks in Jordan in May 2021 right when it opened up post-COVID lockdown! While I will write more about our trip as a whole, we started our trip with a weekend on the Dead Sea, which was lovely and a great way to start a trip! And yes, while visiting the Dead Sea from Israel is well-known, you can also visit the Dead Sea from Jordan!
WHAT IS THE DEAD SEA
The Dead Sea is actually a salt lake – not a proper Sea – sandwiched between Jordan and Israel and the West Bank. The Dead Sea is in the Jordan Rift Valley and its main tributary is the Jordan River, of biblical fame. The Dead Sea is called the Dead Sea because of its salinity (i.e. saltiness); it’s so salty that nothing can live in the Dead Sea for any extended period of time.
After a somewhat disappointing visit to the new American Express Centurion Lounge at JFK two weeks ago, Dan and I made our way to JFK’s Emirates Lounge for a proper breakfast and drinks before departing on Emirates’ morning flight to Dubai. Spoiler alert, the Emirates Lounge was great and service was fantastic. We both prefer this lounge to the new American Express Centurion Lounge.
Dan and I finally made our long anticipated visit to New York JFK’s American Express Centurion Lounge two weeks ago! We have been waiting for this lounge to open for over a year and honestly, I kept my Platinum Card just for this experience. We visited JFK’s Centurion Lounge on a Thursday morning around 8:00 AM, prior to boarding an 11:20 AM Emirates flight to Dubai. We wanted a place to respond to a few last minute work emails, drink some breakfast beverages, and eat a small breakfast. In short, the American Express Centurion Lounge in Terminal 4 did provide what we were looking for, but it was not as great as I imagined. And it was very crowded, even on a Thursday non-holiday weekend morning. Here is our review; be prepared for crowds and waits as travel continues to pick up.
I have to add to this post prior to publicly publishing that Dan and I went to Iceland in February 2020 – pre-pandemic. Things were normal and COVID was just a slight thought in the back of our minds causing us to carry extra hand sanitizer. While things have certainly changed since February 2020, Iceland remains a great destination and it looks like they are some what opening up in 2021 (fingers crossed)! Happy future planning (February 2022?).
Dan and my last international trip pre-Coronavirus was an escape to Reykjavik, the largest city in Iceland, over Valentine’s Day weekend. Yes, another cold-climate country in the Winter (read about my prior cold-climate February trips here and here)… We enjoy visiting cities in their off-season, as you can usually find deeply discounted flights, particularly from the NYC area (hopefully that’s not a pre-corona memory of the past) and these destinations are less crowded in off-season, yet almost everything we want to do, see, and eat is open for business. And, honestly, its often colder in New York than the winter destination we visit, which was the case last February in Iceland. Further, Iceland is a super easy, five and a half hour flight from NYC and a long weekend (Wednesday night – Monday evening in our case) is a good amount of time to see the highlights. However, had I known that this would be our last trip pre-Coronavirus, I would have definitely stayed longer and seen more of Iceland.
When researching things to do in Dubai, I learned that Friday Brunch is a very popular thing in Dubai. So, clearly we had to sign up! There are so many options for Friday brunch in Dubai, from pub fare at Dubliners Irish Pub to super upscale experiences at top notch restaurants. We opted for the renowned Traiteur Brunch at the Park Hyatt Dubai! Known to be one of the best and most popular brunches in town, we booked a table before we left the US and were not disappointed. When planning, however, I had a lot of questions. Hopefully this post helps to answer some of your questions.
En route to the Maldives last November, Dan and I spent four fabulous days in Dubai! Partly as a stop over en route, but mostly to see some of Dubai! It was our first time in Dubai, and given its location and good flight connections, I’m confident we will return. There’s a ton to do in Dubai and we had a difficult time deciding exactly what to do and how to fit everything into four days! For those planning a trip, here’s a recap of what we did during our four day stay. Feel free to replicate!
FIRST DAY IN DUBAI – 12.5 HOUR FLIGHT & ARRIVAL IN DUBAI!
Emirates’ direct flight from New York to Dubai departs around 10:30 PM and arrives the following evening, around 8:30 PM local time. After a very, very long flight, we finally arrived in Dubai shortly after sunset! Customs in Dubai, where we presented our COVID-19 negative results (a simple PCR print out in English – nothing like French Polynesia), was quick and easy and we soon had our luggage and were en route to our hotel, the Intercontinental Festival City. We arrived shortly before 10:00 PM and were excited to see the entire hotel was decked out for Dubai’s national day on December 2nd. Very fun.
Of everywhere I’ve traveled and eaten the last few years, I receive the most questions about the underwater restaurant I visited in the Maldives! Named Ithaa, meaning “pearl” in Dhivehi, the local language, Ithaa is a restaurant 5 meters underwater at the Conrad Rangali Island resort!
If you read my last post, you know that my husband, Dan (a bit of a points guru), found a crazy deal for a week in the Maldives at the Conrad Rangali Island, Maldives the first week of December – 5 nights in an overwater bungalow totally on points. So that became our Thanksgiving vacation! I was a little iffy about staying a full 5 nights and 6 days on a remote island with no realistic ability to leave, but we had a wonderful time and it was perfect during the pandemic. And actually, Dan and I both felt that our Maldives vacation FLEW by and we easily could have spent another week. Big surprise! Here’s a run down of our week if you are curious (or hesitant) about what you would do on such a stay!
Dan and I spent a week at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island in December 2020, during the COVID global pandemic. The resort was at around 35% capacity, we felt totally safe, and we had a lovely time, particularly enjoying the resort without other people! Here is our review of the resort, which may change slightly once COVID ends… In any case, I hope that this helps you plan your trip!
The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is obviously in the Maldives, a national of many, many islands located off the south west coast of India (making it fun to combine with a trip to India or Sri Lanka). The Conrad is in the South Ari Atoll of the Maldives, and is comprised of three private islands. It takes exactly 29 minute to arrive via sea plane from Malé, the capital of Maldives and home to its major airport.
Dan and I attended our friends Pryor’s and Bryan’s wedding earlier this month in Richmond, Virginia and, since my parents live in Virginia and I had not seen them alllll of quarantine, we met them for two fun-filled days of wine tasting in Charlottesville, Virginia before the wedding! While Dan and I have wine tasted all over the world, from Mendoza, to Stellenbosh, to Bordeaux, we had not spent a lot of time in Central Virginia, so we were pumped to try some VA wines, especially since I am from Central Viriginia!
As you may know from my prior posts, Dan and I took an almost proper vacation to Mo’orea in August on our summer getaway to French Polynesia (after Georgia, Azerbaijan, Puerto Rico, and Puglia were cancelled …I know it could be much worse)! We had an absolutely lovely trip and recommend Mo’orea to others for sure! This details how we spent our four days on Mo’orea and provides some logistical information that is hopefully helpful. I would 100% do this exact trip all over again!
Dan and I stayed a few nights at the Conrad Bora Bora in August, shortly after French Polynesia re-opened to Americans on July 15th. We had an amazing time at the Conrad. The Conrad is top notch, super classy, and much fancier than the Hilton that we stayed at on Mo’orea or the Intercontinental Tahiti. But, it was also more expensive and difficult to reach. This is Dan and my review of the Conrad for those planning a visit – happy trip planning!
Dan & I traveled to French Polynesia in August on a whim after it reopened to Americans on July 15th! After spending nearly two weeks in the islands, these are our budget tips for traveling to French Polynesia. Because French Polynesia is expensive and really, who doesn’t love to save some money for that next trip?!!
After a very, very long year with hardly any travel since mid-March (aside from a quick getaway to Antigua over the July 4th holiday), Dan and I spontaneously booked a real live getaway to French Polynesia just as it reopened to the World in mid-July! There were a lot of unknowns due to COVID, but everything ended up working out splendidly. However, literally until we boarded our Air Tahiti Nui flight, we were not certain our getaway to French Polynesia would happen… I’ve detailed our trip for those visiting, or dreaming of visiting, French Polynesia!
Mount Otemanu in beautiful Bora Bora, French Polynesia. August 2020. Continue reading
Yep, we did it. After strictly locking down for 3.5 months in New Jersey (and missing 3 trips along the way), we were majorly itching for a getaway when restrictions were finally lifted. We initially planned to travel within the US but honestly, the US is going to shit with its handling of the pandemic. So we looked else where and realized that a number of Caribbean destinations were open/opening to US travelers. We settled on Antigua, which was one of the first Caribbean countries to open to the US back on June 4th, and upon researching, Antigua handled the pandemic quite well. We decided on a short trip over the 4th of July, from Thursday, July 2nd – Tuesday, July 7th. This article details our travels and hopefully will shed some light on the issue for those trying to decide whether to travel this year.
Its Cinco de Mayo on a Taco Tuesday people, and we’re stuck inside. That’s mighty cruel. So in an effort to boost my own sprits, I wrote this post about a tasty little cafe in Condesa, Mexico City that Dan and I visited in 2018! I had meant to write about it before and never got around to it, but now seems like a better time than ever!
Dan and I visited South Korea in November 2019 and, like many tourists, we had a few discussions about whether to visit the North/South Korean border, referred to as the Demilitarized Zone or the “DMZ.” I very much wanted to and quite frankly, could not imagine going all the way to South Korea without at least trying to catch a glimpse of the infamous country. Dan, on the other hand, had zero interest and preferred to spend his time on more “positive” things. We compromised by doing a half-day guided tour from Seoul to the DMZ with I Love Seoul Tour, which tour got totally restructured due to an “African Swine Flu outbreak.” Reflecting back on our half-day tour, Dan enjoyed it more than he thought he would, and I was underwhelmed. Interesting and historical for sure, but not a “must see” in my opinion. This post is about our personal experience in November 2019. Information and safety at the Korean border changes daily, as do what things tourists can access, and travelers should always review the most up-to-date information before engaging in such a trip.
In planning our trop to Seoul, Korea, Dan and I were very excited to try allll of the food, but we also knew that we would have some trouble accessing some of the more local cuisine, especially of the street food variety, so I booked three (!!!) food tours during the course of our six day trip. Nope, I do not regret it at all and each one was quite delicious. Our first food tour was centered around Gwangjang Market, a busy market frequented by locals, as well as some tourists in the know. More so now with the release of Netflix’s Street Food Seoul episode – featuring Gwangjang Market.
We entered Gwangjang Market early on a Sunday morning and despite it being rainy and cold, the market was largely open and packed with people, mostly Koreans. Our tour guide walked us through the most famous intersection of Gwangjang, as seen on Netflix’s Street Food Seoul edition, and pointed out some less authentic, more tourist oriented stalls in this popular area. He advised us to avoid them at all costs.
Our tour guide then led us to our fist proper stop – a humble stall serving noodles and dumplings – as featured on Netflix’s Street Food Seoul edition (!!), and we sat down for our first taste of the day (well, we did have some breakfast, which would later regret). Sitting at this food stall was quite exciting, as we did not realize this famous one was on the tour! Second surprise, the benches affixed around the cooking area are all heated! Totally genius and this perk made our meal much more comfortable on a cold morning. Our first food was two bowls of kimchi – the traditional red version that we often see is the US and a green variety that, according to our guide, is only found in Korea. We were also given a bottle of soju – Korean liquor – to drink with our breakfast… The kimchi was, as expected, way better than anything I’ve ever had in the US, and the green kimchi was my favorite of the two. It was absolutely delicious! The soju was a little much for a Sunday morning but, when in Seoul? We managed to finish the bottle.
Seoul is the capital of South Korea, the lower portion of the Korean peninsula (the upper portion being North Korea). Seoul is a huge city located in the northwest part of South Korea on the Han River. I have been wanting to visit Seoul for a few years, and Dan and I finally pulled the trigger and visited for six days in November as part of a Seoul/Tokyo trip over our Thanksgiving holiday. I had a bit of a difficult planning our trip and figuring out what to see and eat, so here are the highlights of our trip, as two thirty-something American travelers who are certainly not experts on Korea! We loved our time, found Seoul to be a surprising budget destination, and we absolutely need to go back for the cherry blossoms!
Excitingly, JFK recently added two (!!) Priority Pass lounges to its roster: the Primeclass Lounge in Terminal 1 and the Air India Maharaja Lounge in Terminal 4. This makes 3 Priority Pass lounges in Terminal 1 and 2 Priority Pass lounges in Terminal 4! Very exciting since the current Priority Pass lounge situation in both terminals is busting at the seams. For example, a 30 minute wait for Wingtips Lounge last summer…
Both the Primeclass Lounge and the Air India Maharaja Lounge opened to Priority Pass members in mid-November 2020, and Dan and I just happened to be flying out of Terminal 1 on Thanksgiving Eve for our trip to South Korea and Japan – perfect timing! Of course, we had to visit the new Primeclass Lounge in Terminal 1! Plus, a visit to the Primeclass Lounge fit perfectly into our late night departure (or rather, early morning – 12:50 AM), as the other Priority Pass lounges were not open during the majority of our time in Terminal 1. For example, Korean Air Lounge closes at 8:30 PM and the Air France Lounge does not permit Priority Pass members until 11:30 PM (they do also allow Priority Pass guests in the morning).
The Primeclass Lounge is located in JFK’s Terminal 1 post-security all the way in the back of the terminal, near Gates 8 and 9. Walk all the way down the terminal to find the entrance; a bar/shop in front of the entrance to the Prime Class lounge nearly blocks view of the entrance entirely from a distance.
Our flight left the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and Terminal 1 was, not surprisingly, super crowded when we arrived, even though it was already late in the evening. after searching for the Primeclass Lounge, we eventually found it, and luckily only had to wait behind one person to check in. However, a line multiple people deep quickly formed behind us. Sign-in was not as quick as it should have been, and required our Priority Pass and boarding passes, per usual. The person doing the check-in also gave us two free drink tickets and explained how the lounge works. I think this “explanation” is part of the reason why checkin was not quick. The same could have been accomplished by a handout of signage inside the lounge.
Access to the lounge is down the stairs behind the check-in desk; the lounge is actually located below Gates 8 and 9. There is also an elevator.
Upon entry into the actual lounge, our first impression was that the Primeclass Lounge is crowded. I’m not sure if this is due to the date we flew, the newness of the lounge, or if its always this way, but it was packed. We managed to snag two seats at the bar and set up there, as that was all that was available. The crowds did disburse by the time we left at 11:00 PM, but not until just before then (Terminal 1 is know to have some very late flights!).
Setting aside the crowds on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, guests enter the lounge in the bar area, which consists of a bar and some bar top seating, then opens up into a room with a food buffet and standard lounge seats, which were almost all taken on our visit. Toward the back of the lounge, there is a non-alcoholic beverage station, as well as private bathrooms (which could have been cleaner). Primeclass was decorated nicely, with some very cool New York famed pictures around the lounge and mirrored ceilings.
Since we sat at the bar, I’ll start with my review of the drinks. As mentioned, every patron receives two complimentary drink tickets to be exchanged for an alcoholic beverage at the bar – but only certain beverages, which are explained on a little menus sprinkled around the bar. On our visit the complimentary drinks were a selection of red, white, or sparkling wine and a few types of beers. However, the fancier beers, such as Blue Moon, took two tickets. In addition to the complimentary beverages, cocktails were on sale for $18 US (!!) and you could buy extra wine and beer, too. I tried the complimentary sparkling and red wines. Both were just ok; I would have been annoyed if I had paid for them. The bartender was pleasant and she made drinks pretty quickly.
In terms of the food, all food is set up on a buffet in one corner of the lounge. Almost as soon as we arrived, the lounge announced that it would stop serving food in a few minutes. We visited the buffet shortly after that announcement, but there was almost nothing left (in the lounge’s defense, it was nearly 10 PM at this hour). In fact, the only things left were a few yogurts, a couple pieces of fruit, a bowl of pasta, and some couscous. I imagine the buffet would be more robust during normal dining hours. I would like to come back and try the lounge when it is fully functional. We did try the pasta, and it was quite good. Know that if you have a late flight, there may not be food in Primeclass.
I also grabbed a lot of bottled waters and a Diet Coke from the self-serve drink area near the restrooms. I also