Tag Archives: italy

12 of My Favorite Places in 2012

Full disclosure: I started writing this post in 2012, but I finished it in 2013. I’m going to go back in time to let it post in 2012. Forgive my tardiness.

Following the lead of Katie at Katie Going Global, and her 12 Favorite Places list, I decided to create a list of my own favorite places.

While it may not be the most representative photo of a place (or the best photo), the photo and the place struck a chord with me.

In chronological order, 12 of my favorite places in 2012…

1) Cabo Polonio, Uruguay

This coastal village, accessible only by a 4×4 truck, is a 30 minute ride from the nearest road. Cabo Polonio has no electricity, a dusty supermarket and a peaceful way of life. Just a handful of residents make Cabo their home year-round, including sea lions. As you’d expect, the population peaks throughout the summer with those looking to disconnect.

En Route to Cabo Polonio

2.) Montevideo, Uruguay

I saw four new capital cities on this trip and of those, Montevideo was my favorite. The architecture in the old city is beautiful. Beaches line the Rio de la Plata in the middle of the city. I was fortunate to have new friends as local guides and saw many neighborhoods, and a brief stop at the British Hospital. I was there during the festival celebrating Yemaja, the Queen of the Water. Even though Montevideo is a major city, donkeys still help with garbage collection.
Montevideo

3.) Maipu, Argentina

Vineyards always make me smile. This was a really fun day in a really beautiful place not far from the bustle of Mendoza. This particular vineyard’s property extends to the trees in the far back of the photo. I had always thought I don’t like chardonnay because of it’s oaky taste, but I learned that there are options and I do enjoy a chardonnay from a stainless-steel barrel.

Maipu

4.) Valparaiso, Chile

Before arriving, I was told that everyone finds that they either love it or hate it. From the art on the streets, literally, to the spectacular views, I fell in love with Valpo. I had only planned on staying one night only because I couldn’t figure out where I was heading next yet I wound up staying in Valpo for four nights. Art covered the streets, there’s a lively community and the sea breeze doesn’t hurt.

Valparaiso
Valparaiso_2

5.) San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

The Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world. When I arrived, it was experiencing the worst flooding in over a decade.  Here’s a shot of my bus driver calling to find a different route since, yes, that is a river flowing through it. Buildings in town were mostly covered by thatched roofs. Outside, they were mostly covered with layers of plastic tarps to prevent any more water. Inside, buckets were set up to catch the water.

San Pedro de Atacama

Two of my friends arrived in Chile and we spent an amazing few days together navigating the new normal of San Pedro.
SPA2
6.) Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

The world’s largest salt flat is simply surreal. I was there in the rainy season which creates a mirror effect from the salt and the flooded flats. You can play with the perspective but the scenery around you is simply jaw-dropping and reminds you how little we are in this thing called, Earth.

Salar de Uyuni

7. and 7.5.) Lake Titicaca, Bolivia and Lake Titicaca, Peru

I guess I hit on a few superlatives during my travels and here are two more. Lake Titicaca is considered the highest lake in the world, and the largest in South America. Bordered by Bolivia and Peru, I spent time on both sides of, and on, the lake. In Bolivia, I happened to be in town during the weekly blessings of vehicles. In Peru, I stayed with a local family on Amantani, an island on the Peruvian side of the lake.

Lake Titicaca, Bolivia Bolivia

Lake Titicaca, PeruPeru

8.) Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Accompanied by a guide, I felt like I was on a school trip. The coolest one ever. I learned so much. Wildlife and nature are pristine in this paradise. Animals and plants found here are found nowhere else on earth. Here, a blue-footed boobie.

Galapagos 2

9.) Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Nashville has my heart. I love country music, I love live music and I love Southern hospitality. I have never had a bad time in Music City and there’s something to be said about traveling with your girlfriends.

Nashville

10.) Taormina Mare, Sicily, Italy

A beachside town just a few miles away from the tourist mecca of Taormina, this was the start of the off-season. Restaurants were filled with locals, the beaches empty since it was a little chilly but the scenery and the weather excellent for sightseeing, relaxing and just taking in the views.

Taormina Mare

11.) Mt. Etna, Sicily, Italy

Driving from the autostrada in Sicily, you can’t help but notice the mountain as it gets closer. And then as you head up, it gets colder. But the height gets you above the clouds and reminds you of the past explosions. If you kick up some dirt and feel the ground, it’s warm from the cauldron bubbling inside. Super super cool.

Mt. Etna

12.) Gozo, Malta

Malta is an archipelago situated just 90 miles south of Sicily and just north of Tunisia in Africa. Gozo is one of the three islands in the Maltese archipelago and is surrounded by water, rolling hillsides and amazing formations like the Azure Window.  Villages dot the island each offering delicious meals, warm locals and stunning views. The pace of life on Gozo is noticeably slower and more relaxed than on its larger neighbor, Malta.

Gozo, Malta

And the trouble with lists, is that I can’t include each and every place.

Just because I left you out – La Paz, Bolivia; Mendoza, Argentina; Arequipa, Peru; Salta, Argentina and Santiago, Chile – doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy you. As for Minas, Uruguay; Vina del Mar, Chile and Villazon, Bolivia, well, I’m probably not headed back your way anytime soon, but thanks for the memories – including the trying time to get my Bolivian visa.

Thanks for reading! A happy and healthy new year to you and your family.

Advertisements

Transit #indie30

Transit is prompt 22 of the November BootsnAll indie writing project.

How’s this: NYC subway –> AirTrain –> plane –> bus –> train –> bus –> rental car –> Siena, Italy

I had found a great deal – JFK to Milan for the boyfriend and I. Our southernmost destination was going to be the Tuscan countryside. The nearest airport was Florence. Second closest was Rome. Oops. Or not.

We had left late afternoon from Midtown Manhattan. We took the subway to the Air Train to catch our Milan bound flight.

Once we arrived in Milan on our overnight flight (keep in mind the boyfriend doesn’t do well on overnight flights), we had to jump on a bus that would take us to the train station where we would catch a train to Florence.

The train ride from Milan to Florence was just shy of three hours, and when we arrived in Florence, we actually had to get on another bus to go to the airport to pick up our rental car.

Then we had to drive (keep in mind I don’t drive stick) to the Tuscan countryside.

We were checked in late afternoon. We walked around Sienna and had decided to head back to the hotel to eat at the restaurant in the basement. Sounds gross, but it was a Tuscan basement with cafe tables and cobblestone walls. The meal was delicious and the proximity of the bed we were to crash in was well well worth it.

In case you got lost on all the modes of transport, here it is:

NYC subway –> AirTrain –> plane to Milan –> bus to Milan train station –> train to Florence –> bus to Florence airport –> rental car –> Siena, Italy


Celebrate #indie30

Here’s prompt number seven for BootsnAll’s 30 days of Indie Travel Project — celebrate!

It was December 2006. The boyfriend and I had been in Italy for just a few days and we arrived in Florence in the morning on December 31. We had nothing planned. Just our accommodation — a room in a bed and breakfast that a former colleague had recommended which was half a block from the main square and the Duomo.

As we tried to figure out our New Year’s Eve plans with only a few hours to go, the owner of the B&B had told us there would be a large outdoor celebration with music and fireworks in the square at midnight. He had suggested we get to a nearby restaurant early, to try and get an impromptu table for the first seating and then head to the square for the party since everything else inside would have required advance reservations.

This outdoor party appealed to me 0%. While on a smaller scale, it seemed like it would be like New Years Eve in Times Square. Which is not something I ever want to partake in unless I am holding a glass of champagne looking down at the action on the crowded streets below from a heated high-rise building with access to toilets. Big public street parties with large crowds of people do not have any appeal to me at all. And to the boyfriend, even less.

We took the owner’s advice, we went to the restaurant early. We had a surprisingly short wait and were seated with another couple, both Italians. Just before we ordered, I had decided that we would slowly order appetizers, dinner and drinks, stretching our meal over several hours to get us to midnight to avoid the party in the square.

We were really taking our time and probably had just ordered our dinner when the couple seated with us had finished their meal, paid the bill and left. The owner came over to our table and I thought for sure we were going to be asked to hurry up and leave. Not so. Instead, he politely asked if we would mind if his nephew and his girlfriend could join us.

Um?! What? Of course! We’re taking over a table for four with no reservation, we are visiting your country and it’s a money making holiday for restaurants. The owner was delighted that we had agreed that hesent over a round of drinks for the table.

We ate and drank and talked to our table mates. The guy spoke some English, his girlfriend only Italian. With my Spanish and better language skills as a result of the alcohol the boyfriend and I were able to hold a conversation with the guy as he translated for his girlfriend.

The boyfriend ordered a bottle of champagne for the table and to share with the very generous owner.

After the clock struck midnight, we made it onto the streets. At this point we should have probably gone back to the B&B and to bed.

This was nearly five years ago and we have still only been able to piece together our evening with a lot of holes that will probably never be filled. To start, the next day we found wrappers from Italian chocolates in our pockets. Neither of us recall eating them.

We had a few unplanned days later in our trip and we both vaguely remember chatting with some people on the streets trying to figure out where to spend those extra days as we made our way back to Milan. Neither of us are sure how we met these people, or how we started talking or what else we talked about.

As a result of (over) celebrating, we spent the better part of New Years Day, oh, who am I kidding, we spent all day in bed. We left around dinnertime to get some dinner. If I recall, it was ginger ale and rolls.

Once we got home we developed our photos eager to see what we may have missed. We had not yet gone digital so we didn’t know until another week or so what had transpired. The photos helped piece together some of the evening … red wine stained teeth, photos with our table mates, the owners, the waiter – as if we had known them forever and then photos with random people on the street.

So even though we can’t remember all of it, it still made for a very memorable New Years Eve celebration!

* Public safety note: We were young and dumb. We’re also very thankful we were not arrested, injured or robbed while we were less inhibited.


Where did we go, you ask?

Following up on yesterday’s post…we wound up going to Brescia, a small medieval town in between Venice and Milan.

The only hiccup…okay, okay there were two, and they were so minor, but the boyfriend never lets me tell this story without these two key parts because he likes to know where he is sleeping each night, and I happened to prevent that.

1 – I figured we would go to the tourist center to find out what we could see and do for the day, and of course get a recommendation on where to stay. So we got off the train, and because there was only one or two pages about this particular town in the guidebook, there was not a sufficient map. Since we had our luggage (just one wheelie suitcase each — no rucksacks on this trip) this was not the time for aimless wandering. Suitcases on cobblestone…not ideal. We cabbed it from the train station to the tourist center. Which we quickly found out was closed. Until April. It was January. Oops.

Trying to prove that picking a town and finding accommodation on the fly were still great ideas, I wanted to relax the situation a bit and I figured a glass of wine and some lunch would be good right about now. So we crossed the square to a lovely restaurant where we could sit outside. Yes, we could sit outside. In January. (See, there are positives to all of this).

Another positive was our waiter. He was friendly and helpful, especially with accommodation recommendations. The guidebook had said something positive about places near the train station. Yet he told us, and this was a few years ago so I may not remember exactly…but it was more or less ‘The places by the train station are a piece of shit. You should stay here or here.” So we went to each of the places he named, they were across the cobblestone from each other, and walking distance from the square we were in, ensured there was availability at both, were invited to take a look at each of the rooms at both, and settled in for the nicest, and costliest, accommodation of our trip.

The boyfriend does not let me forget this because…

2 – If you plan ahead you do not have to sleep in a ‘piece of shit’ place near the train station, or spend an hour sorting accommodation with luggage in tow.

Hey, it was still fun, and I proved that sorting accommodation on the fly is totally possible.


You say it’s a split-flap

I thought more and more about yesterday’s blog post. I do have the same awe about trains as that little boy I saw yesterday.

Setting: Venice, Italy train station, January 2008

Had convinced the boyfriend that we could ‘wing it’ for two nights, while the rest of our accommodation and destinations had been planned in advance, and there were many. We had been in Siena, San Gimignano, Chianti and Greve in Tuscany, Florence and Fiesole, a small town on the top of a hill outside Florence.

We had added one day/night to Venice, so we had one freebie day/night towards the end of our trip, with no plans. We had to ultimately get back to Milan the day after the day it was for our return trip so anywhere between Venice and Milan was fair game.

I was in my glory watching the train boards flip and change the destinations with that deliberate noise to make sure travelers are paying attention.

The sound that those boards make just get me excited over the opportunity of where you can go next, what’s near the destination and how easily you can get there.

Thank you Wikipedia for telling me that it is called a split-flap display. And this video showcases the noise I am talking about. Thank you random YouTube user. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qA6zn3nP7tY)

I was looking at the destinations on the board and looking down in the guide book to decide which line we should take, and which stop we should buy tickets to.

Since the boyfriend was totally, utterly and completely breaking a sweat not knowing where we were headed next I had to work quickly. I had to figure out a destination while ensuring it would get us headed in the general direction of Milan.

Isn’t this compromise? We planned most of our accommodations in advance…are two nights, with no planned destination or accommodation, that much to ask? If you ask most of my friends, and my boyfriend, the answer is yes. Unfortunately, for any of my travel companions who do think that way, I don’t.

And yes, if I could install a mini split-flap display of some sort in my home, I think I would seriously consider it. I just love that noise and the day dreaming it promotes.


Translation Trouble

This has the potential to take a lot of the fun out of traveling!

Isn’t a big part of the fun not knowing?!

What about the time in Brussels where I ordered fondue and out came mozzarella sticks?!

Isn’t part of traveling trying things you don’t know?

I spent the good part of an hour at a cheese counter in a supermarket in Switzerland just trying different cheeses I had never heard of before. The person behind the counter even got a kick out of it.

Would you ever try centolla? Or are you afraid of the name? Because it’s actually crab legs. And I had them in Argentina. And they were yummy.

Of course there are times when this back fires. There was a trip to Italy. We were in a town called Greve in Chianti. The restaurant was full of locals and if there were any other tourists, they blended in just fine. The boyfriend decided to try the daily special. The daily special was an array of meat, meat so fresh, the plate had an overwhelming smell of wet dog. But to the restaurant, they were so proud. And to not insult, my boyfriend ate the better part of the plate. Every bite was chased by a gulp of water and a sip of wine. But he ate.

I should say my gnocchi, the other house specialty, was delicious and required no such chasers.


WHY leave?

This week’s WHY Wednesday questions why some travelers leave their comfort zone, only to eat foods that they are familiar with and know.

This was in the NYT and is crazy! The best part of traveling is eating like the locals…I don’t travel to faraway lands so I can eat cheese fries.

I have so many fond food memories from my travels but some of my favorites are getting freshly sliced cheese from a Swiss cheesemonger, spicy sausage on a roll with the local sauce in Bosnia and some unidentified tapas plate in Spain that the bartender sent over.

Personally, I’m not traveling just so I can eat something that I would eat after a night out at the bars when I was 22.

Eating while traveling is about finding a local market, tasting things on the menu you can’t get at home and being offered foods that you wouldn’t otherwise try. I ate fruits I never heard of in Costa Rica, I ordered fondue in Brussels only to find out that was actually mozzarella sticks and drank locally sourced milk at a market in Denmark!

Yes, sometimes there can be a negative experience. Like the time the boyfriend ordered the daily special in a small town in Tuscany and wound up getting a plate of fresh meat. So fresh, and chewy, in fact that he, a meat lover, had to follow each bite with a glass of water and a sip of wine. The place was small, and the staff attentive. Not wanting to insult, he finished most of the plate. I went with the pasta special of the day. Even now, years later, I remember how good my gnocchi and wine tasted. But he tried his, didn’t like it and didn’t insult anyone either and now we have a great story.

If something is on the table that you’ve never seen or tried, at the very least, take a bite! You’ll find yourself eating foods you wouldn’t have otherwise found!

Now the exception to this french fry story is ordering pommes frites in Belgium…you’ll need to get them topped with a few squirts of mayo, just like the locals!

Do you have any fond food memories? Feel free to post in the comments section.