I’m almost done writing about Puglia. I got a doozy I’m saving for last. But it would feel incomplete without mentioning “Florence of the South”, even though its not exactly a secret anymore. We happened to be travelling to Florence after Lecce, and that made us appreciate Lecce even more. Even with the tour groups arriving in droves, Lecce still feels like a sleepy hilltop village when compared to Florence. Lecce’s old town is not large, but its golden sandstone streets make for pleasant walks even when you pass by the same streets and cats every morning.
Lecce is one of the strongest reasons that Puglia requires some time (at least 10 days), and it’s old town splendor compliments the Puglia itinerary beautifully. Its also a solid base to explore Salento. You got Otranto and its mesmerizing coast 30 minutes to the east. Gallipoli 30 minutes the other way, along with spectacular beaches like Punta Prosciutto that was calling my name for some bizarre reason. And lesser known jewels like Galatina and its frescoed Basilica in between.
Palazzo Massari, a comfortable bed and breakfast very near the old town ticked all the boxes especially in the parking department. We found Lecce to be easy to get in and out, even with some sneaky ZTL entrances. On your first day, a good way to get oriented with the old town and its history is a food tour with Antonella through Airbnb experiences. While there wont be a food shortage with this one, much of the focus is on history and culture.
Even if you’ve seen every church in Italy, you do not want to miss the significant Lecce handful, especially the crown jewel Basilica di Santa Croce (above). Another gem, of the hidden not so hidden kind is the Jewish museum in the ancient synagogue right next to Santa Croce. A short tour of the six or so rooms and a short video gives you a good understanding of the history of Jews in Salento.
The notion that Lecce food is meh overall (as per some well known bloggers) is a misnomer from our experience. Maybe compared to the major cities of the north, its lacking, but there doesnt appear to be a shortage of good eats. You can eat well and poorly just about anywhere in Italy. Ristorante Blu Notte and 400 Gradi for pizza were the highlights. La bottega del corso is a fun cheese/salumi/bruschetta quicky. The lone miss was an expensive meat-fest at Tabisca. More here, and more to come.
Thanks to Covid, longest Providenciales hiatus since we discovered the Turks and Caicos islands roughly 15 years ago. Like Columbus, we just happened to be sailing the Atlantic, south of the Bahamas until we found these beautiful, barely manned islands one day and we never looked back. Much has changed since then especially in the food department. The weather didnt cooperate this time, but once you are there, the Provo zen kicks in, and you ignore all your problems. A plethora of great dining options help. Unlike previous visits, even some new places delivered this time. Here’s the recap…
Provo is generally expensive, even for NYC standards. But that doesnt mean you cant find cheap local eats. Even with prices pretty much doubling since we started coming to Sweet T’s, its fried chicken is still the best deal in town. You order by the dollar amount. For $5 you get about 10 full wings which is enough for two. Add $2 fries, $1.50 bottled water, $1.50 tip and you got yourself a meal for $10. This has become our usual first stop after landing since its a 2 minute drive from the airport.
One of the obligatory lunches for fish and chips and fish tacos at the Sands. While the fish and chips are still the same old flaky goodness, and perfectly seasoned fries… err.. chips, the fish tacos were just ok this time. The tortillas got soggy pretty quickly and the mango salsa sweetness was a little more prevalent this time. Wife liked them though so who cares
I haven’t been in MR in so long I forgot why I dislike it. Last visit was at the old location at the Alexandra. I figured since its still fairly popular it’s time to try again in the newer location in Turtle Cove. New verdict: Same as the old. Tuna salad was as basic as something you get in a Panera Bread. Coconut Shrimp was more like it. Appetizer lineup was somewhat lacking, forcing me to order things I don’t usually order. Grilled Snapper was serviceable if not a tad dry. The saving grace was the lobster curry. Surprisingly well balanced curry with just enough heat. I would come back just for this. Mango cheesecake was good and pretty to look at. Sexy even if I may say. Ambiance was that of a cheap wedding that didn’t pay for music. Even the drinks were wedding-like weak.
Omar’s Beach Hut
When Grace Bay misbehaves, head to the always dependable Sapodilla Bay (see below) or Taylor Bay, followed by lunch at Omar’s in Five Cays. You will pass a rough stretch on the way, but the location is superb. Omar spent many years managing Bugaloos next door so he’s no stranger to the conch scene. In almost godfather-like fashion everyone gets a chance to meet him. Well almost everyone. Waiter: “Did you see Omar”. Me: “No, I went to the bathroom, but he met my wife”. Waiter: Would you like to see Omar”. Me: “Ahhm, I think we are good, thanks”.
My lone concern was that “Island time” will take away from FIFA time, but it was quick and tasty. Conch fritters was proof that they dont necessarily need to be crispy to be supremely flavorful. Fish tacos topped with a nice tomato salsa were decent. The winner was the oxtail. You can tell a lot of love went into preparing this dish. Just wished there was more rice to accompany that sick dark gravy. And pretty much the best, freshest plantains we’ve had anywhere. Outstanding lunch.
The Almond Tree
One of the new and exciting kids on the Provo block, located in the stunning Shore Club. Pretty busy on a Sunday since many places including all my favorites pretty much closed. Open kitchen, but surprisingly ventilation issues for such an open layout. Nice looking space dominated by a large tree in the center. I’m guessing of a nut variety (almond?). The food is elevated American comfort food with an emphasis on the south.
The standout was the Pulled Braised Short Rib that comes on three little biscuits. Very nicely executed. The Gnocchi was nice and creamy. Pine nuts and sun dried tomatoes just for decor I suppose, and not much truffle essence from the truffle cream. But still enjoyed it. Old Bay Seasoned Shrimps (doubt it was named by famed executive chef Martin Davies) was good but essentially basic shrimp and grits. Maybe average if you eat it regularly in the south or high end places. Bread was stale, and service overall was lacking. Its a soft recommendation from me for now. If you are after the familiar (nothing wrong with that) go for it.
A quick enjoyable lunch at this popular Airstream food truck. I preferred the fried chicken sandwich over the grilled Mahi sandwich, she preferred the Mahi, and we both concluded that the Churros were the best thing we ever ate here. Fresh, light, fluffy and awesome. My lone gripe is the elevated prices even for Provo.
One of two regulars for dinner. Another flawless meal from start to finish. I think the most common complaint about LB has always been the service, but I feel more confident that kinks are mostly fixed. We’ve been coming here long enough to know what works best for us. Any type of Carpaccio. This time a silky smooth, melts in your mouth tuna. Add a touch of their excellent salt.. superb. Conch Chowder is always flavor packed with plenty of heat. Comes with this Harrisa sauce on the side in case you need even more heat and complexity. Steak Au Poivre still the bomb. You can tell it’s cooked well as soon as you touch it. Maybe a tad on the blue side for us as we prefer medium rare. The fries are like the best McDonalds fries you’ll ever have. And yet another perfectly cooked fresh snapper that makes other island Snappers pale in comparison (I’m looking at you Mango).
New for us. A fantastic experience from start to finish that deserves a dedicated post. Will update soon.
Part of our busy lunch rotation (we are the only Seven Stars guests that hardly eat at the resort). This is where we usually get our Jerk and goat curry fix. So often whether in Anguilla or here we get lesser quality fatty goat, but this one was not the case. Not as spicy as I remember but just as enjoyable. Same for the terrific Jerk chicken. That sauce! I till haven’t washed my hands properly since. The local Gon-Ta-Nort Amber is the beverage of choice throughout the week, again.
Our first and last meal on every trip. Sometimes we even sneak one in the middle. Italian with a Caribbean twist. One of a few mid to high end spots that attract many locals. I met an Italian woman in Sapodilla who said “they are the only ones” when I asked about for her favorite Italian on the island. Well, at first she said “my kitchen”. The one gripe this time is that there were no specials on both visits which was always a rarity. Whether its a fresh Wahoo, Grouper, or a pasta of sorts, I’ve always enjoyed the specials here. But we persevered and then some.
The Tuna Carpaccio on one visit, Tuna Tartare on another were standouts, the former in particular. Just the perfect combination of silky smooth tuna with quality EVOO, salt and pink peppercorns. The Gnocchi was the same ol’ pillowy awesomeness. You won’t find more delicate gnocchi anywhere. The only app that paled in comparison to previous visits is the Octopus. Still good, but missing some of the old oomph.
During lobster season you can count on a solid Spaghettoni Lobster Fra Diavolo. We “Scarpetta’d” the heck out of that sauce with the usual quality bread. On the second night we enjoyed the pungent and meaty Orecchiette. The grilled lobster here is serviceable. I would also feel confident ordering ribs and steak here as we’ve done in the past. And you most likely wont find a better Affogato anywhere in the world. Its a mystery why no one else adds Baily’s to the mix.
Summary and Random Tidbits:
Standout meals: Le Bouchon, Caicos Cafe, Indigo, Omar’s, Chinson’s.
Standout dishes: Snapper at LB, Tuna Carpaccio at CC, Conch Chowder at Indigo, Oxtail at Omar’s, Curried goat at Chinson’s, Churros at Cocovan, short ribs app at Almond Tree, lobster curry at Mango Reef, Affogato at CC
If you are staying at the Seven Stars or even if you dont, try the Tuna Wrap and Caesar’s Salad for lunch.
Pick up some sandwiches for the flight back at Julien Deli (Le Bouchon owner). The Julien classic is good, especially according to Julien
A couple of places I wanted to check out but ran out of time:
Sj’s Curryclub – Recommended by a few locals. Opened by a Provo veteran most recently at Graces Cottage. I’m told it’s a small place. I love Indian too much so not usually looking for it on vacation, but I was intrigued by some southern dishes like Chicken Chettinad.
Conch & Coconuts – Recently opened near Turks Kebab. That’s pretty much the extent of my knowledge about it. Would be nice to have a solid affordable local place in the hub even though that particular location can use some sprucing up
You may not know how to pronounce it, but have probably heard of Puglia or Apulia. You may even heard of Bari, Alberobello, Lecce, and your British aunt may have mentioned Polignano a Mare once or twice. But unless you’ve been researching Puglia extensively, you probably never heard of Cisternino. Blame Puglia’s wealth of stunners, many of which concentrated at the heart of Puglia, Itria Valley. I cant think of another Italian region that boasts such wealth in such proximity.
Cisternino therefore is easy to overlook, but I’d argue that its the best base to explore the region with a car. Most pick the more famous Ostuni, 20 km to the south. But Cisternino is not only better positioned, but has a lot of things going for it. It reminds me of the Varenna and Bellagio situation in Lake Como. Its a small mystery why most chose Bellagio to this day where Varenna is not only more convenient, but arguably as attractive.
Draw the main sites in Valle d’Itria, and you’ll find Cisternino smack in the middle of it all. 30 is the magic number. Less than 30 minutes to another white stunner, Locorotondo, the mentioned Ostuni, and mother of Capocollo, Martina Franca. Food heaven Ceglie Messapica and the great Cibus is 16 km away. Cisternino is not only surrounded by Trulli but Trulli capital Alberobello is less than 30 minutes away. Then 30 minutes down the shore you got Polignano a Mare and Monopoli. And the nearby stretch between Savelletri and Torre Canne not only boasts some of the best beaches in the area, but known for its seafood.
Sometimes you come across a place that ticks all your boxes. One of mine is not only good food, but preferably a place that specializes in something. Cisternino is known for the Fornello Pronto, a network of butchers that will barbecue the meat of choice on the spot. Walk in, choose your meat, pay, and grab a table. Might as well make that meat another local specialty, Bombette, small meat rolls stuffed with cheese and pancetta, though you may find various variations.
But if you happen to lead a largish group like I did, or simply seek a more traditional sit down, there are no shortages here. Family owned and operated Ristorante Mezzofanti, recommended by our host, is literally a hidden gem in a quiet corner of the old town. Try the baked Entrecote with breadcrumbs, and honey mustard. Neapolitanish Pizzeria Doppio Zero is dope! And quite popular so make reservations.
Dining options get even more interesting in the country side. One is Il Cortiletto, a Slow Food guide recommendation in the tiny village of Speziale. Here you’ll find a charming cameo appearance of the chicken, and an exceptional version of the Altamura specialty Tette delle Monache, that may or may not be safe to Google at work (its means Nun’s tits). Another option is Masseria Il Frantoio for a family style set menu dinner in a striking environment. If you overlook the lavish wedding service, you’ll enjoy the elevated traditional grandma cooking with matching wine.
You dont have to stay inside Cisternino in order enjoy it, although waking up inside the empty old town is probably an experience in itself. The beauty in this part of Puglia is the variety of accommodations like Trulli, Masserias, or both (Masserias with Trulli). Consider Masseria Cervarolo, or the more subdued and homey Spetterrata, a short 15 minute drive from Cisternino, and 20 from Ostuni.
Unlike the old guards like Anthony Bourdain, today’s TV food personalities are in the dangerous habit of hugging every chef they meet. It seems a bit more natural to chief hugger Phil Rosenthal than Stanley Tucci who occasionally forces it uncomfortably. But whether the hug recipients like it or not, its really the ultimate sign of respect and validation for their hard work. Since we are mostly a polite species, words can only do so much. But for me, in order to waltz into a kitchen to hug the chef, at the very least I need to get a little intimate with his/her meat. I dont care how that sounds.
So perhaps for the 5th time in my life I hugged a chef. It happened in Matera, during Covid times no less. Judging by the firmness of the youngest of the two brothers who run the excellent Soul Kitchen, the feeling I assume was mutual. It was the type of hug you only see in funerals. The equivalent of roughly 500 Google reviews, or 700 Trip Advisor. By the end of the evening, I was at the home of a newly discovered and favorite cousin where we can argue about politics, and Eurovision songs. You just cant talk about Bruno or bread. Matera vs Altamura can be a touchy subject.
Some meals are like movies. They start a bit shaky, and can turn into epics. A table mix-up with another group resulted in some uncomfortable moments but all ended well. I’m always careful abroad with jokes that may not translate well, but I let one get away this time. Other personalities would have kicked us out, but not this loveable teddy bear. I haven’t met the older brother, but I can only imagine that he possesses the same passion as the younger Mimmo. You can see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice, and definitely taste it in his creations.
Mimmo, with high end stints in Miami and other cities, pays homage to Matera specialties like the appropriately named Crapiata (rustic local bean soup) but at the same time can elevate with flair. Most in the know, come here to experience the outstanding Podolica (the southern answer to Chianina and Fassone) Ribeye. This expertly cooked cut ranks up there with anything we had in Tuscany.
And then you have the Risotto with Porcini, a trip spoiler in a way. Just about every mushroomless Risotto whether its red wine or cheese based, tastes inferior after this. Another standout was a Panna Cotta with Crusco peppers and orange infused olive oil. When you finish one of those meals with a dessert like this, its like culinary extasy. Hence what followed. We had other dishes but these were the memorable ones.
In one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, the gastronomy scene is still in its infancy. In my brief time in Matera I didnt get a chance to try much, but you get the sense that its already an especially competitive environment. Soul Kitchen is full of just that and is as solid as its its rock cave home.
Much of this is a copy and paste (including her wonderful emojis) of what Mrs Z posted on her Facebook travel group. This trip was done in mid August in almost perfect weather. Watch road conditions if you attempt this at other times. 10 days is the minimum to do this. If you only have 9 days, skip Snæfellsnes, but thats not to say its skippable.
Day 1– Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik
Blue Lagoon. Allow a couple of hours.
Explore Reykjavik. Main streets, Sun Voyager, Harpa Concert Hall, hot dog at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
Lunch at Cafe Loki – Try to sit upstairs, traditional plate (no fermented shark for us. Stinky food not my jam, and I havent found a single soul that liked it), Lamb Shank soup, smoked trout, Rye Bread Ice cream (yes!!!)
Dinner at Skal! – Inside Iceland’s first Food hall – sunchokes, skirt steak, arctic char. Excellent!
Stay at Reykjavik Residence Apartment. Recommend!
Day 2 – Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Geirabakarí Kaffihús – Good midway point stop. Bakery was the location of “Papa Johns” in ”The secret life of Walter Mitty”.
Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge – This was a fail for us. We walked inside the Gorge until reaching a dead end too soon (large boulder), need waterproof shoes
Búðakirkja – Black Church – The Motif #1 of Iceland. The most photographed structure. Dark skies actually help in this case
Bjarnarfoss waterfall – Cool, relatively unknown waterfall. Short hike to the bridge
Ytri Tunga – Beach where you may find seals, and whale skeleton
Buffet Dinner and stay at Langaholt Guesthouse. Fine stay, nice setting. There’s not much else in the area
Day 3 – Drive to Husavik
Grábrók crater – The largest of three volcanic craters, mostly covered in moss. It stands 170 m/550 feet tall. The last eruption was around 3400 years ago. Can be windy 👍. Beautiful views from the top. Bathroom at the restaurant in the gas station just prior. You just need to buy something. And by something, I mean more chips
Kolugljúfur Canyon – Another cool stop on the way. As nice as the waterfall is, the canyon is the highlight. Walk down under the bridge, but can be slippery 👍👍. Unpaved road to get to the site
Sjávarborg Restaurant – Backtracking 10 km or so, but worth it. Seafood soup, fish of the day ❤️❤️
Glaumbær Farm & Museum (cool cafe inside that looks like a tea parlor ) 👍
Akureyri – Second largest city, cute downtown, good hot dog, ice cream stop. Park by the church
Goðafoss – Goðafoss got its name when Christianity was declared the official religion of Iceland, so the locals threw Norse pagan gods statues into the waterfall. Park and do the east side, by N1 gas station ❤️❤️
Dinner at Naustið – Mussels, fish and chips, Arctic char. Good, but second night better
Stay at Fosshotel Húsavík (2 nights)
Day 4 – Myvatn
Dettifoss – Take the paved 862 to the west lot, largest and strongest waterfall in Europe, Another 15 minutes walk against the flow to Selfoss – allow 1-1&1/2 hours total here
Hverir – Very cool Geothermal area. Nice setting. 👍
Grjótagjá – Quick cave stop. This is where Jon Snow and Ygritte had their romantic rendezvous 🤔
Lunch at Vogafjós Farm Resort – Good Burger! 👍
Hverfjall – 20 min steep hike to crater of a 2500 y/o volcano
Lava field Dimmuborgir – Volcanic rock formations – if time allows
Skútaís – Farm Ice Cream 👍
Skútustaðagígar – a park of pseudo craters, much more appreciated with a drone, but pleasant walk. If time and black midge flies allow. Myvatn afterall is named after the midge flies
Geosea in Húsavík – Geothermal Sea Baths – Try to go at sunset if its a nice day
Dinner at Naustið – Second meal. Fish of the day, fish soup. This is the strength of this place. Reserve in advance.
Day 5 – Northeast
Beitarhúsið – Nice middle of nowhere pit stop for coffee, lunch or whatever. Try the love balls
Stuðlagil Canyon – One of the highlights of the entire trip. Park at the second lot, a mile or so after crossing the bridge, very bumpy ride especially the last mile. Parkplatz Klaustrusel – Stuðlagil on Google. 3&1/2 mile round trip hike. Allow 2-3 hours.
Seydisfjordur – Beautiful drive down to this Picturesque town. Check out the blue church, Fish n chips lunch at Fancy Sheep food truck. 👍
Gufu waterfall on the way back. Short stop
Litlanesfoss, Hengifoss – Steep hike, about 2 hours total (3.6 mile round trip). Unique fall, but not a must. Litlanesfoss halfway just as impressive. Looking back we probably should have relaxed at the hotel spa, or a town pool.
Dinner and stay at Gistihusid in Egilsstaðir
Day 6 – East
Drive toward Höfn on road 1 (against Google advice). Numerous short stops on the way:
Diamond Beach – Park at the west side. Waves can sneak up.💎💎💎
Múlagljúfur Canyon – Better light in the morning but tomorrow is busy, turn at 63.9886667, -16.3971589, 1.5km rough road to the parking lot, 30-45 minute walk to the viewpoint. We tried but elected to skip due to weather, but this seems like a relatively undiscovered gem
Dinner and stay at Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon – go to sauna and hot tub. Get the steak tartare, huge dishes
Day 7 – Glacier lagoon, drive to Vik
Jökulsárlón Zodiak tour 9:30. Arrive by 9 👍
Fjallsárlón Glacier Parking – Walk to observation area to see glacier up close
Hofskirkja church – turf covered roof and unique cemetery. The last turf church built and one a few remaining
Svartifoss – “the black waterfall”, the basalt columns inspired the design of Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík. parking 700 ISK, 90 min round trip.
Lunch at Kjarr Restaurant – cute location w waterfall view on some days, nice pastas especially the seafood
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon – Allow an hour. Walk till the metal deck 👍👍
Dinner at Black Crust Pizzeria – liked the pizza but not the smell of clothes after.
Reynisfjara Beach – black sand and puffins in season
Stay at Hotel Vik
Day 8 – South
Explore Vik’s other side:
Reynisfjara beach – Columns and black sand beach and caves. Be careful of sneaker waves
Dyrhólaey – lighthouse and dramatic black beach views
Skógafoss – Try to come before 10 to beat the tour groups, go up the stairs and hike waterfall alley for at least one mile or at least until Fremri-Fellsfoss. Allow 2 hours. Best hike of the trip
Lunch at Mia’s Country Van – Fish & Chips
Kvernufoss – park at Skogar museum, 10 minute walk to the falls, waterproof clothes if you opt to go behind the fall. Rainbow if sunny
Seljalandsfoss – go behind the waterfall, will get wet, slippery – wear waterproof gear
Gljufrabui – 5 minute walk from Seljalandsfoss (go left), hop on wet stones to go through canyon in water to get to waterfall
Secret Lagoon 👍
Dinner at Messinn Selfossi – Very popular with locals, but disappointing overall. I think we just ordered the wrong dishes for us (wolffish lacking in texture). Reserve if you go.
Stay at Hótel Kvika (2 nights) – Budget hotel but comfortable
Day 9 – Landmannalaugar
Landmannalaugar Hiking Tour with Arctic Adventured – Pickup at 8:15 from Selfoss N1 Gas Station 👍👍👍 ( take sandwiches and snacks with you ). Long day, a lot of driving but highly recommend
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
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.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.
Charlotte 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.