Posts Tagged With: travel+photography

This is Polignano a Mare

Volare, oh-oh. Cantare, oh-oh-oh-oh. Everybody!

When you stroll the winding streets of Polignano a Mare in Puglia, one of the first things you’ll notice is that everyone is humming the same song. Everyone except the locals that is. They still wont forget that Volare singer Domenico Modungo who left Polignano a Mare as a child never mentioned the city much as an adult. Maybe the reason the residents turned his statue around to face them, instead of the sea, was to throw produce at him on occasion. They probably do it with Calabrian tomatoes as they are very proud of their own. My youngest will be the first to tell you that we couldn’t get enough of Puglia tomatoes.

Nel blu dipinto di blu. I wish there was a way to embed videos here. Wait… Googling… looks like not only there is, but I’ve done it before.

Volare means to fly. And Polignano a Mare, with its limestone cliffs, and majestic balcony views will make you wish you could. You can see what inspired Modungo within minutes of your arrival. Just 30 minutes from Bari, and a short drive from Monopoli, another stunner, Polignano is one of Puglia’s biggest gems. Its not exactly a secret in Europe these days. But in the US, pretty much anything outside the Rome-Florence-Venice express is fairly unknown. Polignano a Mare is exhibit 1-A why it makes sense to veer off the route, or come back to see the rest.

You can start your flying lessons by diving from those cliffs as many do. Polignano after all is home to the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. For American readers, this World Series involves athletes and teams from all over the world. A curious concept. The beaches here are rocky, but the water is crazy inviting. We opted for a swim in one of the many caves off a boat.

I’m not necessarily advocating to stay here for a few days. I havent done it so I dont know what its like. But Polignano is as touristy as they come, for good reason. Exploring it on one day, and from the water on another, would compliment your Puglia adventure nicely. Doing both on the same day is a tough task, especially if you want to include a nice seafood fest at the excellent Antiche Mura. Or if you are strictly after a setting like no other with no budget in mind, you got the famed Grotta Palazzese and its cave restaurant.

You will also want to spend some time in San Vito, where most of the boats take off. Easy to get there with a car or a short Tuk Tuk taxi from Polignano. The San Vito Monastery, beach and picturesque port will make you stick around a bit, while waiting for a Dorino boat. Seeing the cliffs, the mesmerizing caves, and swimming within one is an experience you wont quickly forget. The slightly X rated Dorino stories can only add to the experience. This is a great way to see Poligano a Mare from the water

San Vito

You can easily get lost in the old town, but keep going until you reach yet another terrace. You will take the same pictures again and again, and be thankful for all those photography classes you took. I didnt as you can see. Your best bet is to stop reading immediately, and look at Google. In my defense, I didnt know I will resume blogging when we visited Puglia. In my defense when I used to blog, shaky hands, excessive drinking.

After lunch at Antiche Mura, you may want to visit Super Mago del Gelo Mario Campanella, or Super Mario in short. Skip the hyped ice cream in favor of the specialty coffee with lemon and Amaro. Turns out we’ve been drinking coffee wrong for centuries.

Another tip: Combine Monopoli and the boat tour from San Vito on one day, and spend a day in Polignano on another, for a more leisurely visit to the coast. Or consider staying in Monopoli for a few days, especially if you are not driving. Not only more subdued, but positioned well for day trips, and beaches.

In closing I should mention that my thoughts are with the residents of Fort Myers and area. Although we lived through Sandy, and even lived in South Florida briefly, I cant even begin to imagine what they are going through. Its really tough to watch, and scary that Ian is regaining strength and about to strike again. In the small chance you are reading this from Ian’s path, I hope you stay safe.

Categories: Italy, Puglia | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iceland – The Things They Dont Tell You

Ok, I get it now. You hear about Iceland for much of your adult life. You watch countless of pictures of waterfalls, sheep, sometimes together. You realize that its an easy hop and a skip away. But for some reason you keep postponing this giant national park in favor of places with better food and more culture. The reality is nothing you’ll see and hear will properly prepare you for the Iceland experience. When you come back, Iceland will feel like one of those vivid dreams you can only experience during a colonoscopy anesthesia.

You can pretty much forget everything your neighbors and cousins told you (like stay in Reykjavik and do day trips). This was a last minute trip to replace a badly damaged Yellowstone after severe floods. A 10 day, record breaking 7 hotel road trip around the Ring Road. If I would do this again, I would do it again, almost exactly the same. I will post a detailed itinerary, and more about the food when the time comes, but here are some of the things we learned. Some things were more expected than others.

10 days is ideal. Thats not to say you shouldnt do more, and you can do less. But 10 days for us city slickers felt like a good amount. Its also the minimum amount you need for the Ring Road which I wholeheartedly recommend over the more popular and accessible Golden Circle, Reykjavik and surroundings. People tend to allocate less for islands everywhere. Sicily is the best example, a two week destination but so many try to do it in five days. Dont make this mistake here.

Reykjavik is Skipavik. I always imagined the capital being remarkably foreign, meaning very different where one can enjoy the differences and experience local culture. Much of that went out the window by the time we found ourselves having dinner at a NYC style food hall. Its not so much that you cant experience some culture here, but considering everything else Iceland has to offer, one night in Reykjavik feels more than enough. We spent one day here, and we kept walking by the same streets, same cats and organized tours.

The Ring Road is strikingly beautiful. The Ring Road is the main road circling the island. I was expecting to find many of the attractions striking, but I really didnt expect the drive itself to be so mesmerizing. You will triple your old number of oohs and ahhs per hour record, especially in the north. There was one moment where we stopped at a random side of the road, all alone surrounded by greener than green mountains, waterfalls, and canyons. Narnia meets Jurassic Park. Do yourself a big favor, and do the Ring Road.

Forget the ATMs. After much deliberation we opted not to take out local money, and we didnt need any. We dont even know what the local currency looks like. Its liberating not to deal with this on vacation. We heard that the only time you might need some change is for remote bathrooms, but we didnt really encounter them. You can stop at any gas station, a shop/restaurant, or the occasional remote bush if needed.

Bring a debit card with a pin. On our first try, our pinless CC failed. Once we started using the debit card, we didnt encounter any issues. Fill as soon as you reach half a tank, as you may drive many miles without seeing a gas station.

Iceland Gas Stations are awesome. You can get fresh hot dogs, Skyr – the best Yogurt on the planet, borrow a device to check tire pressure, fill air and wash the car for free, and get any help you need from the super friendly workers. They will also change your baby and call your mom.

Food is actually surprisingly good. The rumors that Iceland cuisine is lacking is widely exaggerated. What it may lack in finesse they more than make up for it in great ingredients. Sure, some meals were better than others, but its hard to screw up fish, and lamb raised in this climate. Expect a lot of lamb, simple fresh fish, flaky fish and chips, fish soup galore with wonderful bread and room temp homemade butter (a luxury in NYC). Iceland is also known for Langoustines, but for the time being, they are importing them, as fishing is banned. I also love the little differences like paying for your meals at the cash register.

Double up on the snacks. Iceland will wear you down in a very good way. Its hard to calculate the time you’ll spend getting to the destinations, and the amount you’ll spend there. If the hike is more than an hour, take a bag with snacks and water. And if you’ll do the Ring Road you’ll be facing some long drives. The snacks will come in handy.

You dont really need to buy water. I had trouble understanding this concept but I get it now. Iceland has some of the best tap water in the world. You can fill your bottles not only from any sink, but from waterfalls and streams while hiking.

Less is more than you think. As with any destination, you will want to see and experience as much as possible. But Iceland is unique in the sense that as popular as it is, much of it is still relatively undiscovered. Most visitors concentrate on the the grandest, popular waterfalls, sometimes missing other gems in plain sight. The best example is Skógafoss. Most people spend less than an hour seeing this magnificence, not realizing that the hike that begins on top of it, is one of the most beautiful easily accessible hikes you will ever do. And there’s another incredibly unique waterfall nearby. You can easily spend a glorious half a day here. Less sites often means richer experiences, and its especially true here.

Book a few tours. As usual, the tours we booked were the highlights. At some point during this adventure you feel ready for someone else to take your hand and navigate. And you really dont realize how much fun it is to hike with a group until you do.

Supermarkets open at 10. This caught us by surprise early on. As a tourist you normally start your adventures early in Iceland, so plan accordingly.

No one in Iceland is actually from Iceland. Iceland hospitality industry is booming and needs a lot of help especially in the summer. Most of the people we met, from tour guides, waiters, to hotel managers, were from other Europeans countries. I think we only met around four people from Iceland.

Iceland is expensive. I saved the worst for last. I can book a beautiful chateaux in Loire Valley for less than a simple motel in Iceland. That’s not a joke. On average we paid roughly $400 a night. And in order to afford the car for 10 days (Blue Car Rental – best service, highly recommend) I had to tell the kids that they would need to rely on grandparents for continuing education. At the very least book well ahead of time. Not only you will have options, but you are not risking the entire east coast of Iceland to be sold out. A common phenomenon in the summer.

I’m sure I missed much. In short, Go!

Categories: Iceland | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

This is Otranto (and Coast)

Variety, the most important attribute in picking destinations for this author (Still me, Ziggy). Something I gathered from experience, and TikTok. I would like to see and experience not only “different”, but all kinds of different. Different foods, nature, monuments, and anything unique that’s hard to classify (mechanical elephants anyone?). This explains why I like spending time in supermarkets in foreign cities, sometimes until closing or they call the cops, whatever comes sooner. On vacation I consume sodas, junk food and other things I dont usually eat at home. Old and new habits, like no longer eating something sweet in the morning, are out the window when I’m in Italy or elsewhere. All for the purpose of trying something different.

I had forgotten how easily I digress and start writing about food even when I dont plan to. The sad reality is I think about food even in inappropriate moments, like funerals, and sex (sorry honey, family), so this is not much of a stretch. But the point I’m trying to make here is that Italy has the type of variety we cant find anywhere else (Spain, Portugal come close). And Otranto, sitting on the heel of the boot, along with that entire Salento Adriatic coast stretch is an excellent example of that. While not exactly known for it’s cuisine (here we go again), its incredibly rich in man-made and natural beauty. You want to see pretty things, and take selfies near pretty things, you are in the right place.

This is why our day in/near Otranto was one the most memorable days of the trip. It had a little bit of everything. Jaw dropping scenery, beaches, great architecture, good food, and sunshine. What else do you need? Maybe rainbows and puppies (for the remaining TCI readers). Its a popular destination in the summer, but also an easy day trip from Lecce. Here’s a nice and easy day itinerary:

Cava di Bauxite – A beautiful quarry lake. Not a must as you can find similar quarries all over the world, but its quite picturesque and so close to Otranto, so might as well.

Otrano – Italy’s easternmost town is another white stunner. Its a popular beach destination for Europeans, but it wasnt overly busy when we were there. Otranto features an imposing castle, port, beach, a striking church, and a charming and clean old town. The problem with planning a day with multiple sites is that you dont get to fully enjoy the ones you want to stay longer. Otranto is exactly the type that makes you want to stay longer and explore.

SoFish in Otranto – One of the joys for me is finding exceptional food in places not known for it. Easier to do in Italy. For some reason Otranto, as with much of Solento (the greater bottom “heel”) is not really known for great food. Yet, we somehow managed to have some of the best meals of the trip on this leg. SoFish as the name implies is a hip, “Fast Casual” joint specializing in quick seafood. It appears that this is a relatively new fast spreading concept, started by the great success of Pescaria in Polignano a Mare.

The menu features a nice selection of seafood sandwiches, salads and particularly craft beer (Reminder: Italian craft beer is most underrated in the world). While everything we tried was good, the lobster roll is worth a dedicated blog post. Its one of the most outrageous Lobster Rolls I ever had. Pricy (for Puglia) but once you get it you see why. More like a well crafted lobster salad with huge chunks of meaty lobster and the rest of the lobster resting on top.

Baia dei Turchi – We opted to skip this beautiful secluded beach in favor of another one. But worth mentioning

Torre Sant’Andrea – Perhaps the jewel of the Adriatic coast in Puglia. Stunning white rock formations off beautiful, crystal clear water where you can swim. You want to spend some time here, and view the rocks from different angles.

Torre dell’Orso – While the best beaches in Puglia are on the opposite side of the heel, closer to Gallipoli, like Punta Prosciutto (make it stop!), you can find some gems here, with Torre dell’Orso perhaps the most famous one. We drove all over the coast from Bari to Otranto, and this was by far the most Caribbean-like sand and water we’ve seen. We ended up at Baia D’oriente to be precise with fairly easy street parking nearby.

Cave of Poetry – An enchanting natural pool where you can bring out your inner diver. After one dive however, I decided to retire my inner diver once and for all.

Categories: Italy, Puglia | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

10 Tips for Matera

Guess who is back? Its me Waldo! After MUCH deliberation, I decided to start blogging again, for now. I have no idea when I’ll get bored again. After hearing one too many times from people that miss my posts (such as wife, kids, etc who probably want me busy doing something else for a change), I decided to give this thing another go. Much has happened to me during the last few years, but instead of boring you with all of that, I’m going to bore you to death with some Matera tips and the amateur photos you so badly missed and didnt even know it. Note: Not writing for a few years has probably left me with the writing skills of a 10 year old. The site tagline, “Dining Well, Spelling Pourly” therefore remains.

Matera, simply put, is one of the most fascinating places we’ve ever seen. A movie set city, a la Dubrovnik. As you walk the streets and its cave dwelling areas (Sassi), it almost feels like you need to watch out for James Bond speeding by a side alley. They really need to start ticketing the dude before he kills someone. One thing you dont have to watch out for is poop. The city is incredibly atmospheric, and surprisingly remarkably clean for one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Not surprising, Matera has been UNESCO’d since 1993. But being designated as the European capital of culture in 2019 really put it on the map, even though its been on the map for 9000 years. While its located in the region of Basilicata, for the purpose of this blog, I’m putting Matera in Puglia since thats where most visitors pair Matera with.

I therefore present Ziggy’s 10 bathroom friendly, obvious and not so obvious, but mostly obvious tips for Matera.

Stay a little longer. So many just do day trips from Puglia, or an overnighter, but I highly recommend staying for at least two nights. Three nights is ideal. Not only you’ll experience the city in all its glory in the morning and night multiple times, but you’ll also have time to hike the fantastic Murgia Materana park. A longer stay will enable a visit to the Crypt of the Original Sin (need to reserve), and/or a full day visit to the spectacular Castelmezzano.

Take a tour. Some places require tours more than others. The complex long history, and geopolitical situation, makes Matera a strong candidate as a city best served by a tour. Might as well make it with a fun local like Alessio Leardi (alessio26@gmail.com).

Reserve your secured parking spot. Probably not necessary for most, as your host will be able to assist you with the parking situation. But in our case this was an unexpected necessity, as PARCHEGGIO NICOLETTI MICHELE was booked solid after we reserved our two spots. You cant park in much of the Sassi areas, and Matera is getting more and more popular, especially after the latest Bond. Just watch the first 20 minutes, and skip the rest of the dullest Bond ever.

Stay at Dimora Santa Barbara. Nicely situated Apartments/Hotel near the Duomo area. Spectacular views from the shared terrace. Some rooms are nicer than others (I think we liked ours the best, at the end of the terrace, I believe its room 1). There are many other interesting places to choose from. Many bloggers will suggest sleeping in a cave hotel. We found most of them much more expensive, and while it may be a fun and fitting experience, it just wasnt for us.

Hike the Murgia. Goes hand with hand with the first bullet, but it seems most people overlook this. The hikes can be as strenuous as you want them to be, but at the very least simply cross the valley and the rope bridge, and hike up on the other side to see some very cool caves and Matera from a different perspective. This is where you’ll get a chance to take that classic shot.

Try the Pane. If you love bread, you are at the right place. Just don’t mention Altamura to anyone as the locals are very sensitive and protective of their bread too turns out. There are quite a few Matera specialties but if I have to pick a must try food here it’s the often oversized, misshaped bread you’ll see proudly displayed in front of restaurants and bakeries. The appropriately named Crapiata and other local specialties were good but to me not as special or unique as the bread. Very hard exterior will almost feel like they sold you yesterdays loaf, but once you start ripping you’ll understand.

Eat at Soul Kitchen. Maybe the 5th time in my life I hugged the chef. One of those meals, that will be featured here at some point in detail. Just get the Podolica Ribeye, and call me in the morning.

Dont ignore rain warnings. If the forecast suggests possible rain, but you want to make a quick harmless Focaccia run, dont leave without an umbrella. When it rains, it pours here, and before you know it, a flash flood will make you look for an arch wide enough to keep you dry. I’m one of those that dont like to walk with umbrellas, and got punished for it here.

Visit the Cathedral. It was easy for us as we stayed right near it, but it could be a schlep depending on where you come from. But its totally worth seeing the 13th century Duomo partly due to its position overlooking the spectacular Sasso Barisano.

Prepare to get physical, physical. When I asked my family during dinner if they have any tips for Matera (tbh, I didnt really have 10 tips on the top of my head ;)) they said two things. Watch the rope on the Murgia bridge (as you climb to it, your instincts will make you extend your head, and your forehead will get hit by an unexpected hard rope. Even some of us who expected this, got hit. Ok, it was me). The other thing they said was to prepare for a workout that wont be very kind to your knees and feet. The numerous layers of the cave dwellings may mean a record breaking number of blister breaks.

Categories: Italy, Puglia | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

This is Green-Wood

IMG_2481Charlotte Canda was a young high society debutante in the 1840’s.  On February 3rd, 1845 while coming back from her 17th birthday bash, she was flipped from the horse carriage and died.  Her death, and its circumstances shook New York.  Charlotte herself designed some of the features of her own tomb in Green-Wood.  Her father, who served under Napoleon, utilized some of Charlotte’s elements from the memorial of her aunt which Charlotte helped design a year earlier.  Her grave is 17 feet high, 17 feet long, and her statue wearing 17 rose petals circling her head.  Her fiance (I know, 17) Charles Albert Jarrett de la Marie killed himself a year later, and buried a few feet away.  Not as close as he’d like because it was a suicide. 

It’s one of the many stories that visitors came to see at Green-Wood around that time.  I hesitate to write “cemetery” because this doesn’t feel like one.  But the more I learn about this place the more I understand why it was once NYC’s number one attraction for over 100 years.  Before NYC was a tourist friendly city, people came to see destinations like Niagara Falls, and Green-Wood.  It was our first major park that inspired the creation of Central and Prospect Park.W

Yep, its now officially the strangest food blog in the world.  And my Brooklyn tour where we spend about 45 minutes in the cemetery is the oddest food tour out of 206 in NYC (rank #7 but who’s counting).  NOLA did this!  If you’ve been with me since the beginning, you’d understand my obsession with cemeteries.  Important cemeteries around the world like Zagreb, Genoa, Arlington, and even tiny ones like in Getaria, Spain are a good way to connect to local culture, and history.  Just like food in a way.

Out of all the famous cemeteries I’ve seen, Green-Wood is still the most striking, and approachable.  While its hilly, and massive, it doesnt require a great effort especially if you have a vehicle.  But yet, many New Yorkers still havent been or dont even know about it.  When I was a kid living in Brooklyn, no one took me there or told me about it.  Today its lost in the shuffle of the many attractions NYC has to offer.  Considering the lack of crowds, its arguably NYC greatest hidden gem, and the best free museum.IMG_5655

Some of the notable sights at Green-Wood:

Battle Hill – Highest natural point in Brooklyn with striking views, Leonard Bernstein’s grave, and Minerva the roman goddess waving to her cousin Libertas (Statue of Liberty)

Inventors like Steinway, Peter Cooper, Elias Howe (Sewing Machine), Samuel Morse (Telegraph, Morse code), and perhaps the most important inventor of them all, Charles Feltman (Hot Dog)

Controversial statues like Civic Virtue, and James Marion Sims (currently in storage) – gynecology pioneer who experimented on slaves.  Green-Wood is where unwelcomed statues go to die.IMG_5666

Henry Chadwick – “Father of Baseball”.  Grave adorned with a baseball theme

Statue of 12 yo Drummer Boy – first Brooklyn casualty in the Civil War

Artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Louis Comfort Tiffany.  I toured with Tiffany’s relatives once.

Bill the Butcher and William Tweed (Gangs of New York)

Notable pets like the infamous Rex and Fannie Howe.  Read about them before visiting.

The grand Nicholas Cage-like Van Ness-Parsons Pyramid.  Nick Cage has a similar tomb in Saint Louis Cemetery in New Orleans.  As of this writing, he’s still alive.IMG_2483

The odd looking bear sitting on top William Beard who painted the famous Bulls and Bears in The Market.

DeWitt Clinton grave and statue that once served as the main advertisement for Green-Wood when it stood in front of City Hall.

Four lakes including the mesmerizing Sylvan that make you forget you are in a cemetery.

The church and dramatic main entrance.  The nest on top of the gate is home to Argentinian Monk Parrots.  One of many bird species residing in Green-Wood.

Charlotte Canda

Click anywhere below to see the images

Categories: Brooklyn, New York City | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

This is Rendezvous Bay

Rendezvous Bay HotelIt’s becoming increasingly difficult to write posts like this considering everything that’s going on in the world today.  Fires in Australia, mayhem in Iran, Hong Kong, impeachment, and this dude is writing about some beach in Anguilla.  But this is a place worth writing about.  And as I get older and wiser its becoming more and more clear that in this fragile world, a beach and even looking at pictures of a beach (which I dont do enough) has crazy healing powers.  Numerous recent studies suggest the same.  There’s a reason why Hawaii is the happiest state in the US year after year, an its not Poke Bowls.

There’s another reason I hesitate to post this one.  I’m not exactly anxious for the world to know about this place.  Its a cliche, I know.  But only once you spend a week here you’ll understand.  In fact I met some nice folks there who asked me in a nice half-kidding kind of way to refrain from writing about it.  With that said, sharing is caring as my mama used to say.  And I do hope, for the same selfish reasons, this place I’m about to mention (the main reason for the post) stays in business long enough.

IMG_2282Rendezvous Bay (special shutout to the person who invented copy and paste) simply put is the perfect beach.  Just like most such beaches, you may not find it at its best behavior when you first see it.  The winds can get too strong, and sometimes it may feel deserted for a reason.  When we first saw it four years ago we werent impressed.  But after spending a week at what looks like its best side, we understood.  It’s one of the most walkable, most swimmable, and most perfect size beaches we’ve seen. But most of all, its almost empty!  From my vantage point, best seat in the theater, one person walking by every 20 minutes.  It’s one of the best sheer beauty to people ratio in the Caribbean.

Just to give you an idea how empty this place is.  One day I was in the water and noticed from a distance a figure, most likely a man with absolutely no one around him for a good mile.  The man pulled down his trunks, bent over and proceeded to either shake the trunks or look for something inside them for a good minute.  It wasn’t clear what exactly he was doing, but there he was doing it.  If he was looking for his keys, there was only one place left to look for them.  His bum can be the symbol of Rendezvous Bay in billboards everywhere with the caption “You can do this here”.

Another big plus is that Rendezvous Bay has arguably the best beach shack in the Caribbean, Sunshine Shack.  Garvey and crew will not rest until you are happy.  Expertly grilled BBQ chicken, ribs, lobster and crawfish when available is pretty much the entire menu, but thats all you need (well, except if you are vegetarian).  Its colorful, inviting, with a bit of a party atmosphere for a change of pace.  Booze, games, and comfortable beach lounges allow you to hang out for as long as you want.  This is the definition of a beach shack if there was ever one.

IMG_2243One of the cool things about this bay is the lack of hotels.  You got CuisinArt in the west as the lone major resort, and a few boutique hotels.  One of which is the reason for the post. Rendezvous Bay Hotel.  Its the oldest hotel in Anguilla, and today for some mysterious reasons, shockingly underrated.  It was 😍😍😍 at first sight for us.  I think I gave the biggest tip ever for just showing me the room.  We loved everything about this place.  From the breakfast burritos, the humongous bed (forget king, more like emperor), the balcony, room size, everything.  I can’t think of another place where I wanted to spend so much time in.  I even loved that we had three keys and for the life of me I have no idea what the other two were for.

But most of all it was the proximity (20 feet) to what seemed like the best and calmest part of Rendezvous Bay.  CuisinArt got the short end of the stick looks like, perhaps because RBH was there first.  We had a safety net, a car, that would take us to any beach we want (and there are 33 of them, many of which stunning).  But every other beach we visited felt like a downgrade.  Its perfectly isolated.  You are not far from some of the best dining in Anguilla, and the public ferry.  Fantastic value (under $300) to boot especially considering what you’ll find 20 feet away.  How often do I write about a hotel.  Not very.

Categories: Anguilla | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Anguilla Random

IMG_2365Its that time of the year.  The time we look back, reflect, and look forward.  The time we argue about the spelling of Hanukkah, and wonder how impeachment works exactly.  The time we look back at the wonderful things we ate during the year all over the world.  The time to call your mom, and watch vacation pictures.  In that order.  Yes, call you mom, and buy her something meaningful this time.  A puppy, a food tour, a trip to Anguilla.  Something that will change her life.

To all the people I met during the last years years, wishing you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a blessed Festivus

The Ziggys

(PS, click on any of the pictures below to view)

 

Categories: Anguilla | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

24 Hours in Washington, DC

IMG_2108When I was watching the Washington Nationals beat the Astros for their first title in the modern era (post iPhone), I never imagined that two days later we would be trapped on Constitution Ave, trying desperately to swim out of the Red Sea (parade crowd).  We spent roughly 24 hours, which was also the amount it took me to plan for this last minute getaway.  Arlington and Indian – that was pretty much my base, the starting point for this trip.  I’ve never been to Arlington, and I got sick and tired of hearing the praises of Rasika.

Saturday

11:50 am – We park at Colonial Parking (reserved via Parking Panda), and checked into the super convenient (for our purpose), State Plaza Hotel.  We accidentally found ourselves in the middle of a quiet, and picturesque George Washington University where my youngest is applying.  This school visit was not planned, but of course we told her it was.

12:30 pm – Plan was to check out Momofuku CCDC, but that means potentially missing our tour at the Capitol.  A Brunch menu makes this decision easier as I feel places like Momofulu and Brunch dont mix.  But a dumb down eggified version of a Momofuku is still probably better than most brunches out there.  Instead we do a quick take out from errr.. Cosi, along with roughly 654 National fans.

1:23 PM – An uneventful walk through the White House, on our way to the Capitol.  The crowd is getting bigger, and rowdier.  Its like the Astor Place riots except that everyone but us is wearing red.  Not fully knowing the parade route we get caught in the middle of it all.  At some point I even lost Mrs Z for a minute.  One can only dream…

IMG_2084

2:03 PM – At this point it feels like we just completed an Amazing Race task as we are greeted by an Anne Hathaway look-alike at the Capitol who gives us the next clue.  Go downstairs and join a group led by an Elisabeth Moss look-alike (whats going on here).  A 45 minute tour of the Capitol is one of the many cool freebies this city has to offer.

3:10 – Still feeling safe underground we cross the tunnel to the granddaddy of all free attractions, the magnificent Library of Congress.  The largest library in the world, with over 168 million items.  It will add 15,000 items by the time I finish writing this post (I’m a little slow).  Since 2006 it started collecting every one of the 50 million tweets.

IMG_20783:48 PM – We peep out like Meerkats and it looks safe to come out and walk outside.  After a Starbucks emergency (for Coffee…), we are off to walk the 2.6 miles National Mall, arguably the greatest outdoor museum and memorial in the world.  The plan was to check out the National Museum of the American Indian (Free), but long lines and… jet lag kicks in.  It was a 3.5 hour drive after all.  From the outside the museum resembles something that belongs in Bilbao.  Thats a good thing.

4:17 PM – We enjoy a local refreshment called Coca Cola.  “Refreshments” are the US version of the Cicchetti or Tapas.  Small, in between meal snacks like Hot dogs, burgers, fries, etc.  Refreshment stands are the only food options in this part of the capital.

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4:38 PM – We are now staring at the Washington Monument.  Not at the actual monument, but at the row of people lying on their back against it with their feet up.  Clearly we missed an Instagram opportunity, or they are just very tired.  This was the world’s tallest building until it was surpassed by Eiffel Tower.  No building in Washington is allowed to be taller.  We end at the Lincoln Memorial, and perhaps the biggest surprise of them all, the mesmerizing Korean War Veterans Memorial.

9:00 PM – Dinner at Rasika West End.  I was curious how a restaurant offering dishes like Chicken Tikka Masala can be considered one of the best Indian in the country, but I get it now.  Its really is just solid Indian offering a full menu of inventive, and expertly cooked mainstream dishes.  The signature Palak Chaat is a beautiful combination of baby spinach fried to a nice crisp along with tamarind, dates, and yogurt.  A lesson in texture and balanced flavors.  Another highlight surprisingly was a perfectly flaky Snapper sitting on top of rice vermicelli.  The Dal Dhungaree was like a very rich Dal Makhni.  And if you like your curries spicy and complex, give the Andhra Chicken Curry a try.  The Date and Toffee Pudding will take you back to Grand Cayman (I imagine only 1% of my readers will get that, but its worth noting)IMG_2120

Sunday

8:10 am – a 20 deep line forming for brunch at the appropriately named Founding Farmers.  In a house that can fit roughly 400 diners, we somehow managed to get the worse seats, right between the kitchen, and the line to the bathroom.  I was in perfect position to trip anyone coming out the of the kitchen but I figured we should try the food first.  Excellent French Toast, and Pastrami hash with eggs, a la pastrami egg Benedict.

10:00 am – Ever since I visited the cemeteries in New Orleans many years ago I’ve become fascinated with them.  My so called Food Tour of Brooklyn includes a visit to Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn a place near and dear to my heart.  Arlington Cemetery was at the top of a very short list of cemeteries on my bucket list.  Its crucial to visit cemeteries with a tour and Free Tours by Foot proved to be a fine option.  Tip:  At The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, dont leave immediately after the changing of the guards is over as many do.  There may be an important and moving wreath laying ceremony that follows.  Another Tip:  Dont miss the US Marine Corps War Memorial, a short drive away with easy parking.

IMG_21301:30 PM:  We have important unfinished business in other states, so bye for now

Bonus for New Yorkers or anyone driving from the north…

2:45 PM  A crab fest like no other at Nick’s Fish House in Baltimore, right off the highways.  If you never had proper Maryland crab cake, this is a good place to have one.  And its such a great place to experience the Chesapeake Blue Crab.  Yes its an experience.  If you never had them, its worth watching some youtube videos and/or ask the waitress on how to crack them open.  I would go to Baltimore just for this.

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A Day in Cinque Terre

IMG_0671This is it folks!  The moment none of you have been waiting for you.  Fresh, off the boat, Cinque Terre pictures that look the same or worse than the millions of CT pictures out there.  It took me 8 trips or so to finally see the famous five villages – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Rick Steves, Monterosso.  Its not official yet, but as you can see, there’s a strong push to rename one, so I’m just one step ahead.

But in order to combat the Rick Steves fan club, and fully appreciate the villages, one needs to stay here for at least a few nights.  And since driving inside the National Park is extremely limited, its better to stay outside, in places like Levanto or Porto Venere.  Consider Hotel Abetaia, near Levanto.  Comfortable, quiet (in the middle of the woods, but modern), good food.  And they set you up with a parking permit in Levanto.  Consider staying at least 2 nights in order to have a full day at the villages.  Here’s a full day sample itinerary:

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Park in Levanto by the train station

Take train to Monterosso al Mare

Hike to Vernazza (Moderate.  Wear appropriate shoes, otherwise they will stop you and turn you around.  We witnessed it)

Have lunch at Il Pirata delle 5 Terre.  Sicilian brothers making all sorts of seafood magic.  Try the tuna.  You may experience heaviest crowds at this village

Take a boat to Riomaggiore to see the village from the water.  Explore Riomaggiore – walk up to the church and Castello.

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Take train to Manarola.  Make sure to take the correct scheduled train that will stop at Manarola.  Not every passing train does.  We initially got on the wrong train and quickly came out,

Have an early dinner at the awesome Cappun Magru and have the namesake dish.  Its the perfect place with the perfect opening hours for this itinerary.

Explore Manarola including a walk on top by the vineyards to see Manarola from above.  Then see the Sunset from the Manarola Scenic Viewpoint (see Google Maps).  This is why you are here.

Take train to Levanto

Write thank you note, or name first born, Ziggy

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10 Genoa Tips

IMG_0474Ahhh, Genoa!  The name that triggers no emotion, confusion, and even anger sometimes.  Why is this guy writing about Genoa now.  What happened to Venice, Rome, and that Cinqua Terras place that he supposedly visited and only wrote about one dish so far.  Isn’t Genoa a working town?  What is there to do for three full days (said Mrs Ziggy when I first pitched the idea).  Plenty, turns out.  Genoa surprised me with its cultural depth, cuisine, attractions, and fashion.  Yes, I said fashion.  This post is not supposed to reinvent the wheel and offer you a complete Genoa guide (plenty of sources out there), but offer you some tips that may enhance your Genoa holiday.

Stay for a while – “More Than This” is the Genoa slogan you’ll see everywhere.  Either Genoa has much to offer or they are just huge fans of Brian Ferry.  But you can very easily fill three days in Genoa alone, and even do some day trips to Boccadasse, Anita Garibaldi Passeggiata, the stunning Camogli, Portofino, and more.  A week doesnt sound too long in Genoa once you factor all day trips and all the Focaccia you can eat.

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Make Pesto with a local – Pesto, like jeans, originated in Genoa.  Book a Pesto making class with Enrica from A Small Kitchen in Genoa.  Enrica is a publisher, food blogger, Pesto championship finalist, and just a delight to be around.  This experience, that ends with lunch at the beautiful terrace of Enrica’s apartment will probably be your most memorable.  You can also take a food tour and book other food experiences with Enrica.  My friends are still thanking me for this.

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Visit Staglieno Cemetery – My apologies to Enrica for following her with well, death.  But if you havent quite made the connection between a magnificent old cemetery to local history and culture, this is a good start.  Staglieno is arguably the most important or at least most beautiful cemetery in Italy.  An outdoor museum like no other.  But it helps to do a bit of research (you can start here), and spend at least 2-3 hours here.  Reading about the monuments will bring some of the stories to life.

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Do some Rolli palace homework – Its almost impossible to come to Genoa and not visit the Rolli Palaces, but its important to arrive with at least the basic understanding of the system of the “Lists” and how it got UNESCO’s attention.  This is what makes Genoa so unique.

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Dont overlook the Royal Palace – A most underrated stunner.  The Palazzo Reale, or Palazzo Stefano Balbi is just a little out of the tourist way.  And I can see how it can be skipped on a short visit.  A mini Versailles in Genoa that was shockingly empty when we visited.  I could practically walked the hall of mirrors naked, with only one or two people marveling watching.  This is also a good place to see the Ligurian pebble mosaic style called Risseu.

See Piazza De Ferrari at night – This is why you need to stay overnight.  Its the same story as many Italian towns.  The difference between a rushed day trip and an overnight stay is, well, day and night.  Seeing the families come out, the lights, fountain, with the palazzos in the background including the magnificent old stock exchange, all add up to quite the atmospheric square.

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Ok, trust me, there was atmosphere 😉

See the old town, but be prepared for some ‘Grit’ – Like many such towns all over Europe, Genoa has a distinct personality.  Genoa’s old town is fascinating, especially to the culinary minds.  But it’s not the most attractive.  Dont be surprised to see graffiti, and prostitutes in some corners.  Maybe thats what they mean by “More Than This”!

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Stay at So&leo Guest House – A well maintained, comfortable, quiet accommodations right between the port area, and old town.  Just a few minutes from Focaccia e Dintorni and many more

Get your Focaccia at Focaccia e Dintorni – The Genoese eat Focaccia for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as a late night snack.  On my morning walks, I must have tried around half a dozen different places, and Focaccia e Dintorni was the clear winner.  Try the Farinata, soft chickpea flatbread a la Cecina.

Eat at Cavour 21, and Trattoria Rosmarino – These were the best meals.  Cavour, old, no frills, no nonsense institution I already wrote about.  Rosmarino, a dazzling Slow Fooder by Piazza De Ferrari.  Who knew Lasagna’s biggest problem was tomato sauce.  Get the Lasagna.

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