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A weekend in Matera, Italy

‘Tragically beautiful’ Matera has gone from rags to riches over the past century.  Evacuated in the 1950’s for rampant poverty and disease; Matera was awarded the UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1993 and 2019 as the European Cultural Capital. 

While other cliffside towns are built on top of the deep ravine, the houses and entire sassi is built into and complementary to the preexisting caves.  With hundreds of years of layers placed in one building it is hard to differentiate when different additions were added. 

Matera has been inhabited since the Paleolithic time. In ancient times, cave-dwelling (not to be confused with cavemen) settlers moved into the tofu rock caverns of the steep ravine. During the Neolithic Revolution these early dwellers learned to breed animals and eventually became herders and farmers, which they remained until the 20th century. Eventually more people moved in and the community of cave-like dwellings became known as the Sassi (Italian for “the stones”). You may recognize it as the backdrop for Jesus walking with the cross in Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ

Having never had a ‘golden era’ for art and culture, Matera’s development has never been preserved in a time period. History has not been destroyed to glorify ornate palaces and city buildings stuck in time when the city flourished (such as Florence during the Renaissance and Venice in the Middle Ages). Therefore each house, or one could even say the city as a whole, has been continuously developed in a way mirroring the continuous human development. 

In the 1940’s Carlos Levy, physician, painter and author was sent to exile in the south of Italy for anti-Fascist sentiments. Shocked by the rampant malaria and cholera he described the region as “a schoolboy’s idea of Dante’s Inferno” in a book about his year in exile. This propelled Matera into the public eye as Italy’s “la vergogna nazionale” (‘Shame of the Nation’). Levy’s book can be compared to Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York which propelled the United States to create social reform nearly a half century before. 

Accommodation: We stayed in a carefully renovated, beautiful cave hotel called Corte San Pietro. I would recommend this distinct experience. If you want to read about a few of the other unique accommodation experiences in the south of Italy I wrote about it here: A Trulli, a Cave, and a Masseria oh my!

Getting there: this is the hardest part. Matera was a part of a week-long vacation in the Puglia region of Italy. We chose to take a train to Bari (so that we didn’t have to drive from Rome) and then rent a car. Renting a car is the easiest way to get around this region of Italy. There is a regional train that services Matera from Bari and runs everyday except Sundays. 

I would recommend reading Carlos Levy’s book ‘Cristo si è fermato a Eboli’ or Christ Stopped at Eboli, about his year in exile in the Basilicata region of Italy. 

My friend, Jen, from World On a Whim, recommended a ten day vacation to the Puglia region and Matera. We spent two nights and two days in Matera, and we felt that was the perfect amount of time. 

Friday: 

Arrive into Matera. No amount of scrolling through photos prepared me for the utter awe that I felt when I arrived at the top of the sassi and was blasted with 180 degree falling views of the ancient ravine. Definitely take some time to let it sink in. In our case, we were in a car and that minute went on too long and we were quickly interrupted with honking from a car behind us! Nothing like modern traffic to bring you back to present. Get settled into your accommodation and get dinner in the sassi for your first night. 

Saturday:

Start your morning in the new town at no frills Caffè Schiuma di Rocco Luigi Schiuma (Via T. Stigliani, 92). Spend a little bit of time walking around the Civic Center of the new town of Matera. I am recommending this, because I personally think it is interesting to see the more modern developed sections as a comparison to the Sassi. 

The Sassi is best explored on foot. The whole city is walkable, so definitely pack good shoes because the incline and roads have been smothered over from so many pedestrians. I would recommend starting at Casa Noha (Recinto Cavone, 9) for a foundation of the history of Matera. They have multimedia displays, large video projections on the walls, and you move from different rooms to make the exhibit a little more interactive. Spend a few hours walking around the two Sasso Barisano and the Sassi Caveoso. Sassi Brisano is where all the shops and hotels are, whereas Sassi Caveoso is mostly caves. Briefly check out the Church of Saint Mary of Idris (Via Madonna dell’Idris). Make your way to Cathedral of Saint Mary ‘della Bruna’ and Saint Eustace in the Piazza Duomo. This cathedral is the highest point in Matera and is the middle point between the two Sassis.

In the early evening, get into your car and head to sunset at Asceterio di Sant’Agnese (Contrada Murgia Timone, 75100) or Belvedere di Murgia Timone. We plugged this address into the GPS, but had to park a little away in a parking lot. Make sure to leave to get settled before sunset and explore the green area and the isolated caves in the area. 

Your accommodation should be able to recommend some restaurants based on your preferences. We ate at Da Zero (Via Madonna delle Virtù, 13) and loved the pizza. I would recommend getting an evening glass of wine at Enoteca Dai Tosi (Via Bruno Buozzi, 12) in one of the cozy alcoves. To enter you take a steep set of stairs into a cavernous interior that was a former cistern for drinking water. 

Sunday:

Get a coffee and pastry at Caffè Vergnano 1882 (Via del Corso, 78) then ONLY if you are as big of a nerd as I am, I would recommend going to Museo di Palazzo Lanfranchi (Piazetta Pascoli 1). The Palazzo itself is intriguing architecturally speaking. Yet, I truly went just to see Carlos Levy’s moving large installation portraying the poverty in the 20th century that led to his book. 

The museum is located in Belvedere di Piazza Giovanni Pascoli (Piazzetta Pascoli) which offers a wonderful view of the Sassi from the new town and should not be missed. Again, spend your day walking around the Sassi. I went to the La Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario (Vico Solitario, 11), which I realize is the 3rd museum in two days but I truly wanted to see what it would actually feel like to live here back in the 20th century.

Get a cocktail at Area 8 (Via Casalnuovo, 15) this area, which encompasses Enoteca Dai Tosi, can be very lively at night with college students and it’s great for people watching. 

Cheers to a great weekend in Matera!

If you are exploring the Southern region of Italy, check out my itineraries for the Locorotondo and Martina Franca.

Thank you to my friends Jen and Allison for being my travel companions! Check out Jen’s blog at worldonawhim.com

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A day in…the Santa Cruz Mountains & Soquel Cove!

The Santa Cruz Mountains are dappled with houses among wooded forest. This is what I picture Marin County, thirty years ago before it was turned over by tech yuppies looking for a rustic home. The “Mountain Folk” as my friend who lives there adoringly calls herself and her neighbors, are friendly and remind you of a bygone era of early California settlers. The Santa Cruz Mountains are great to slow down and enjoy the serene nature that California has to offer. One hour and a half south of San Francisco, this is a great day trip retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for Carmel, Oakland, Berkeley, and the Mission District.

Getting there: Continue on 17 from Los Gatos, CA then continue onto Summit Road and a right onto Soquel San Jose Rd. 

Start your morning by getting a coffee and a homemade treat from the female owned Casalegno’s Country Store (3 Laurel Glen Rd, Soquel, CA 95073). It has been around since 1929 and is a great stop for a coffee on your drive through the redwoods of Soquel en route to… 

Spend a few hours hiking the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park (Aptos Creek Rd, Aptos, CA 95003) which offers over 40 miles of hiking trails through 10,223 acres of wildlife. There are so many variations and amount of time you could spend here, you can check out more information here. With so much land, expect to not see many crowds. 

The iconic Capitola Venetian.

After hiking, drive down to Capitola Village and get a well deserved brunch from Zelda’s (203 Esplanade, Capitola, CA) which overlooks the brightly colored guest suites of the Capitola Venetian  and Soquel Canal. Spend an hour looking around the small downtown area. There is a beautiful and brief (10 minute) pedestrian walk along the Soquel Creek.

For those who prefer a leisurely day you could end here, but for those who would like a little more adventure, you can check out some the Wine Trail. MJA Winery Tasting Room, Wargin Winery (5015 Soquel Dr, Soquel, CA 95073), and Alfaro Vineyard Winery (420 Hames Rd, Watsonville, CA 95076) will not disappoint.

MJA Winery Tasting Room

Cap your wine off with some BBQ from the family-owned and delicious Aptos St BBQ (8059 Aptos St, Aptos, CA 95003), they often have live Blues Music playing. Try the tri-tip and my personal favorite, pulled pork sandwich! Those who want brisket, beware that it sells out quickly. Cheers to a relaxing day in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

A huge thank you to Lolo and Ivan for showing me around their beautiful town!

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A four day itinerary in the Cotswolds, England.

The Cotswolds, or the “The Wolds” is a southwestern region of rolling hills and quaint English villages. It was designated an “area of outstanding natural beauty,” the British equivalent of National Parks in the U.S.

The rolling green hills are decorated with honey-colored limestone houses with stone shingled roofs. Each village seems quintessentially British with a local pub and tea shops downtown.

Many of the towns in the Cotswold sprung from the wool industry, with historical mansions built for the wool merchants and smaller homes for the workers. 

With the industrial revolution and the development of cotton this region saw a major economic decline and many people left the countryside for the city. Now it’s a favorite seasonal get-away for Londoners and tourists in the mood for manor house nostalgia.

The Cotswold’s attracts many walkers for the long hiking trails known as Cotswold’s Way, St. Kenelm’s Way and Monarch’s Way. Many of which pass through English farmhouses and property.

Getting in: We rented a car from Robinson Gross (Tredington Park, Tredington, Shipston-on-Stour CV36 4RN, United Kingdom) just outside of Moreton-on-Marsh.  If you plan ahead and give them ample notice, they offer reasonably priced-rides to the train station. We took the train from  Gatwick Airport (directly to the right when you exit arrivals) to Reading and transferred to a second train heading to Moreton-on Marsh. You can also take the train to Oxford and transfer from there. 

The Lion Inn, in Winchombe was one of the coziest locations!

Accommodations: We wanted to stay in a charming older inn, and we had a car and could stay in a town that wasn’t a transportation hub. We chose The Lion Inn, (37 North Street, Winchcombe, Cheltenham) which proved to be a good home base after a day of trekking and exploring nearby villages.

Day 1: Enjoy a meal at your Inn or local gastropub. After a few hours of navigating the train system or driving in from London, get settled into your lodging. We stayed at the Lions Inn in Winchcombe and enjoyed our first meal at their delightful gastropub. We enjoyed a nightcap in front of their roaring fire. To celebrate your arrival and initiate your adventure, I recommend getting dinner at your local Inn, or a local village favorite that is within walking distance. This way you can still get up early the next morning and start exploring.

Day 2: Hike, Explore Broadway Hike, Explore Hailes Abbey, Broadway and Chipping Campden:

I like to get some exercise in before each adventure. Start your morning off by hiking either Cleeve Hill or Broadway Tower. If you choose Broadway Tower don’t bother paying the 5 pounds to go the three flights up, you have an equally beautiful cascading view from the hilltop.  After getting your hike in, feel free to go about your day in your hiking clothing, the area is very sporty. Check out Hailes Abbey, Chipping Campden and Broadway. Hailes Abbey (Hailes, Cheltenham GL54 5PB, United Kingdom) embodies the reminiscent ruins of a 13th century abbey. The heritage site includes a free audio guide and an intact church showcasing medieval paintings.  It also offers a great place to picnic or take a leisurely stroll. Next up on the itinerary is Broadway. I loved Broadway, with its expansive center and many shops and tea parlours.

We had high tea and snacks at Tisanes Tea Room (Cotswold House, 21 The Green, Broadway WR12 7AA, United Kingdom), which was affordable and low key. Tisanes attracts tourists as well as locals, and we noticed a local knitting group meeting for tea and conversation while we were there.

We had high tea and snacks at Tisanes Tea Room (Cotswold House, 21 The Green, Broadway WR12 7AA, United Kingdom), which was affordable and low key. Two of the grand hotels: The Lygon Arms and The Horse and the Hound, offer great options for a more upscale high tea experience. Spend an hour or so strolling through the town’s various shops. Don’t forget to snap a photo in front of the iconic red telephone booth. Next stop on the village itinerary is Chipping Campden, which is a fifteen minute car ride. For those on foot, it is a five mile walk.

Don’t miss an opportunity to walk down Chipping Campden’s High Street and experience the old Market Square, which was a sheep marketplace in an earlier era.

You can also saunter down to Broad Campden and back up, which provides a quaint respite. The walk is decorated with some iconic thatched roof houses. Once back in Chipping Campden, I recommend getting dinner at The Huxley (High St., Chipping Campden, United Kingdom) in the middle of the village center. Check out if they have a live music event, and in good weather,eat outdoors and get a feel for the village and its people. If you are in the mood for a nightcap at the end of your day, I recommend a visit to Hollow Bottom Beer Garden (Guiting Power, Cheltenham GL54 5UX) for a refreshing local brew from among the many beers on tap.

Day 3: Sudeley Castle, Lower Slaughter, Borton-on-the-water, and Stow-on-the-Wold:

Start your morning by exploring Sudeley Castle (Website,10:00AM-4:00PM, ~17pounds). Get your fill of centuries worth of English history! Next head over to Lower Slaughter. En route to Lower Slaughter, drive through small and underwhelming Upper Slaughter, which is not worth the stop. Once parked in Lower Slaughter, walk around the town and enjoy the beautiful running mill and attached cafe. We had the luxury of arriving just as they were putting some scones into the oven! After walking around Lower Slaughter, follow the 1.5 miles path to the left of the river to walk to the neighboring town of Bourton-on-the-water.

Bourton-on-the-water is absolutely beautiful, but does cater more to tourism. The village is known as “the Venice of the Cotswolds”. Enjoy a leisurely lunch and window shopping in Bourton-on-the-water, like the name entails a river runs through it. I loved just walking over the various bridges downtown. Take the leisurely walk back to your car and end your day in Stow-on-Wold.

The charming village of Bourton-on-the-water with it’s idyllic river through the center of town.

In Stow on the Wold, walk around the center of town, which is more “bustling” than the others. The multipurpose St Edward’s Hall is a library, tourist office and museum. If it peaks your interest, check out the English Civil War artwork on the second floor. The building was built in 1878 from unclaimed funds at the local bank. Don’t miss the medieval St. Edward’s Church.

Stow-on-Wold is home to St. Edward’s Church, which back door seems to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien with the door to Moria.

End your day with dinner at Porch House (1 Digbeth St, Stow-on-the-Wold, Cheltenham GL54 1BN, United Kingdom), publicizing itself as the oldest Inn in England. On their hearth, they have witches’ blessings engraved in the 1700s fireplace. Most of the area has fresh local produce and a seasonal menu. When I was there they had butternut squash risotto, it was amazing!

The Porch House, known as the oldest Inn in England.

Day 4: Daylesford, Woodstock and Blenheim Palace, and local favorite Falkland Arms:

Blenheim Palace

Start your morning off with brunch at Daylesford Organic Farm (Daylesford, Kingham, Moreton-in-Marsh GL56 0YG, United Kingdom) in Gloucestershire. In the United States we have John Deere farm equipment, in England they have JCB, started by Joseph Cyril Bamford in 1945. Anthony Bamford, succeeding his father as the current owner of JCB, was appointed a Lord in 2013. He is also a collector of antique Ferraris and other luxury cars. The Daylesford Organic Farm was started by his wife, Carole. This upscale farmstand is a must see, as it represents a positive outcome of a recent tourism movement in the Cotswolds: sleek, clean, and new. Focusing on organic farming and clothing, this farmstand is the definition of country chic. Spend some time walking around the farmhouse and shops.  Those who prefer to be pampered can get a massage at the spa.
 

 Spend the rest of the day at Blenheim Palace. It has a quirky place in history in that on November 30, 1874, Jennie Churchill was attending a party here when she began to go into labor and gave birth to Winston (what a surprise to the guests and the Churchills alike).

Blenheim Palace is the only English palace that is not in royal rule at this time; those “nonroyals” include Winston Churchill, Consuelo Vanderbilt, and Princess Diana before she married Prince Charles.

 In 1702, Queen Anne gave John Churchill the title of Duke of Marlborough and the Blenheim Palace after a successful victory over the French in the eponym, Battle of Blenheim.

I highly recommend the audio guide to enhance your Blenheim Palace visit. Grab a snack and a coffee from the cafe to sustain you through this expansive tour.

After spending the day at the luxurious Blenheim Palace and garden, enjoy a meal in the Village of Woodstock. I recommend the Black Prince (2 Manor Rd, Woodstock OX20 1XJ, United Kingdom), which has elevated pub food and a beautiful riverside dining area.

If you are looking for a long weekend out of Boston or New York, you may enjoy a weekend itinerary in Mexico City, Mexico; St. Augustine, Florida; or Barcelona, Spain.

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A day in…the Mission District!

The Mission District is named after the historic Missión San Francisco de Asís and the adjacent Basilica, known colloquially as “Mission Dolores.” In more recent times, the neighborhood has been a hip Latino neighborhood, known for its art, music and food scene. While gentrification has changed the vibe of some sections, such as Valencia Street and the neighborhood surrounding Mission Dolores Park, much of the southeastern neighborhood still holds roots as a working-class Latino enclave. While this guide is mostly focused on the Mission neighborhood, I include a stop in the Castro District with an evening restaurant option there. 

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for Carmel, Oakland, Berkeley, and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Morning: 

The ornate Basilica in Missión San Francisco de Asís.

Start your morning off with a coffee to go at Four Barrel Coffee (375 Valencia St).

Take a look at  the Missión San Francisco de Asís and adjacent Basilica at the corner of 16th and Dolores Streets. The Mission, founded in 1776, is named after St Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order.  The Mission church, which is the smaller white adobe building next to the basilica, was dedicated in 1791. It is said to be the oldest intact building in San Francisco, having survived the 1906 earthquake while the neighborhood buildings burned down. The Mission includes historical information about the Native Americans Ohlones, who inhabited the coastal areas around San Francisco and who were evangelized. 

Walk three blocks to Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero Street.) for pastries. Enjoy your treat at Mission Dolores Park while people-watching and taking in the views of the city.

Afternoon:

Window-shop down trendy Valencia Street. There is a striking contrast between Valencia Street and Mission Street which caters to the traditional Spanish speaking population in the surrounding environs. 

A yummy burrito from Farolito; you can split with a friend!

Try a tasty burrito from Farolito (2779 Mission Street) for lunch. Don’t forget cash because they are cash only. Another good burrito place is Taqueria La Cumbre (515 Valencia Street) and for any empanadas lovers I would recommend Venga (443 Valencia Street). 

To work off the burrito head down 24th Street to Precita Eyes Muralists (2981 24th Street), a nonprofit organization promoting positive community change through artistic expression. Pick up a $5 map of the murals in the neighborhood and learn more about the meaning behind the artwork (most are deeply-rooted in ideals of social justice.) A significant number of the murals are around Balmy Alley, Clarion Alley, and the Women’s Building (3543 18th Street). Continue on 24th Street until Potrero Street then come back and take a right up Mission Street. 

While mural-viewing, stop for a margarita with a view of the city at El Techo, (2516 Mission Street). They have a reasonable-priced happy hour from 4-6 PM on weekdays.

Epic “Maestrapeace” mural at the Women’s Building. This portion of the mural depicts Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Guatemalan human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Finish your mural tour at the “Maestrapeace” on the Women’s Building (3543 18th Street) or continue on to Clarion Alley. Walk to the Castro to see the LGBTQ epicenter of San Francisco. Indulge your sweet tooth with a treat from Hot Cookie (407 Castro Street). Spend some time walking around and get a chuckle out of the cleverly-named storefronts. 

Evening: Dinner and a movie! 

The iconic Castro Theater

Choose between Castro Theater, Alamo Drafthouse or Foreign Cinema!

Option 1: Grab a seat at the iconic Castro Theater for a movie and grab some post-movie grub at either the nautical Woodhouse Fish Comp or stylish Fin Town. For those musically inclined, the Castro Theater does sing alongs to Disney Movies and even movies like Bohemian Rhapsody. They even provide small goody bags! More information can be found on the Castro Theater website (castrotheatre.com/singalongs.html).

Option 2: Go to the Alamo Drafthouse for dinner and a movie (reserve tickets in advance to guarantee good seating.) 

Option 3: Have dinner at Foreign Cinema, a restaurant which has a cool vibe, where you can sit outside and watch old black and white movies while you dine, or try the indoor ambiance of the building with its high ceilings with movies projected onto the wall (make a reservation, evening seating on a first-come first-serve basis; bar seating can be limited).

A huge thank you to Jamie for giving me all the tips on your vibrant neighborhood! Another thank you to Sarah for testing everything out with me!

If you are looking for other neighborhood guides in the Bay area, check out my guides to Berkeley and Oakland.

A Day in… Polignano a Mar, Italy

The dramatic towering cliffs contrast the clear turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea and are perfect for any shutter-happy tourist. Italy’s Polignano a Mar, is one coastal town in the largest region in Italy,  Apulia (or Puglia in English) known for its picturesque mountain top villages and rolling countryside. The iconic beach town is popular with locals and tourists alike but doesn’t get overly touristy which makes it a fun leisurely beach day. The white pebble beach framed by the natural limestone walls of the Lama Monachile Beach (just to confuse you it’s also called Cala Porte) reminds me of the Grecian or Croatian shore. In fact this region dates back to Greece, back when it was part of  mankind’s first democracy as part of Magna Grecia (ancient Greece). For those who may enjoy Sitges, Spain or Hydra, Greece this has a distinctively similar feel while enjoying its own Italian flair. 

Polignano a Mare was our first stop (after a day of transportation in Bari) on a longer Puglia road trip. From Bari we rented a car and explored the Puglia region and the city of Matera in Basilicata. While we chose to drive, the train between Bari and Polignano a Mare is very straightforward and is roughly 30 minutes and around 3 euros. TIckets can be found on Omio here

If you are also going to Bari, I recommend reading my guide to A Day in Bari

The three areas in Polignano e Mar that are worth checking out are the town center, with many beach shops and restaurants; the iconic Lama Monachile Beach; and the vistas from the cliffside roads.

Parking is easiest to find near the train station or near the Museum of Contemporary Art. After parking or arriving by train, walk through the streets towards the main drag. The initial streets left with much to be desired, I wanted to know why this was such a destination. Then we got into the airy open Piazza Aldo Moro. 

Make your way to the Lama Monachile Beach. The pebble beach can be hard on some people’s feet, but the water and the view are well worth it. While we did not have time to do this during our schedule, there is a boat tour which shows guests around the caves that is highly recommended! Tours can be secured at the tourist office (Via Martiri di Dogali, 2). This is also very close to il Mago Del Gelato (Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, 22), which has great ice cream and coffee.

I tried the Polpo fritto Panini, which did not disappoint! Especially as someone who loves seaside New England food! The girl behind me clearly approves of the food too 😉

The restaurant La Pescaria (Piazza Aldo Moro, 6/8), is a true social scene. That being said, expect to wait to be seated. They have a reasonably priced menu with delicious local seafood, local wines and many people watching. Not to mention that the airy beach decor is great to sit around. This region is large in agriculture and you can eat fresh local produce in all your meals.

After spending some time at the beach or getting a boat tour, I recommend exploring the small town. Both Caffè Dei Serafini (Via S. Benedetto, 49) and La Cueva Cafè (Via S. Benedetto, 49) offers ample outdoor space to enjoy a drink while you can people watch. For those who are interested in art and have more time, the Museum of Contemporary Art Pino Pascali (Via Parco del Lauro, 119) provides a scenic respite from the hot sun.

If interested in the region, here are some itineraries for Matera (in the neighboring Basilicata region), Bari, Locorotondo, and Martina Franca

A weekend in Columbus, OH

Iconic street art in the Short North District of Columbus

Columbus, Ohio, the state captol, seems vastly underappreciated. As a college town, it has many cultural offerings, a substantial downtown and is the third largest fashion hub in America (after the well-stilettoed New York City and Los Angeles). The Sciota River traverses  leisurely through the downtown and offers much natural beauty for exercising. Probably most famously, Columbus is home to The Ohio State University, the flagship public university in the state. Similar to other college towns, there is a large university presence and expect to see many locals in Buckeyes apparel.  As a native Bostonian who now lives in NYC, I also observed that Columbus is notable for its characteristic warm people. The city is situated in the middle of the state of Ohio, and is a 3 hour drive to Ann Arbor, a 2 hours and 45 minutes drive to Indianapolis, and 3 hours to Pittsburgh which make Columbus a weekend getaway for many midwesterners, or a destination as part of a broader midwest tour. I personally went to Columbus for a wedding and tacked Cincinnati (a 2 hour drive south) onto my Ohio vacation. The city is very manageable for a weekend getaway as a couple, a group of friends or a family.

When to go: The best season for a visit is the early fall, when the weather first begins to get crisp, yet outdoor activities are still pleasant. Of course, you may want to include the experience of attendance at a big time college football game to see Columbus at its liveliest. Alternatively, the summers offer many outdoor activities on the lakes. The city has once-a-month gallery hops, which would be a great time to coordinate your trip (more info here). 

Friday Night:

Start your evening in the Short North Arts District. The name comes from a time when the neighborhood was a little rougher and police would call it just short of the north district in downtown. Like many neighborhoods with a similar history it is now a Bohemian enclave. The Short North centers around High Street and has interesting boutiques, restaurants and bars.  A few of my favorite stores are Prologue Bookshop (841 N High St), where the owner, Dan, is the nicest guy and very helpful with book selections. Rocket Fizz (944 N High St), is a fun soda pop and candy shop and Homage (783 N High St) is a vintage tee shirts and hipster sportswear store. Being a hipster haven, Columbus also has a number of stores that sell vinyl records, such as Magnolia Thunderpussy (1155 N. High St). Grab some dinner from one of the many restaurants in the area!   Two especially enjoyable features of the Short North are the steel archway over the public way and the street art, which is open and free. The city of Columbus has created a downloadable map of the public murals.  

Saturday:

Start your morning with some form of exercise along the Scioto Mile, a picturesque downtown grouping of public parks and trails on the east bank of the Scioto River.  There are many options for sightseeing in the area, including the use of rental bikes available at a reasonable cost at the CoGo bike stations.  As a runner, I enjoyed an invigorating early morning jog while taking in the beautiful downtown riverviews. I love the iconic Main Street Bridge which is an inclined single-rib-tied arch bridge which opened in 2010 and the Rich Street Bridge which looks most glorious when lit up at night. 

Based on the timing of the OSU football game, go for breakfast or lunch at the North Market (59 Spruce St), a classic downtown public market and food hall with a variety of restaurants. The original location of Jeni’s Ice Cream is here. Jeni’s has expanded throughout the midwest and is a crowd favorite. Rumor has it that the shop opened during an OSU/Michigan rivalry game and Jeni completely sold out of her ice cream! A few other favorites are Lan Viet Market for Vietnamese food and Dos Hermanos for tacos. The North Market Spices is another shop worth browsing.

If the schedule permits, plan on attending a big time Big Ten football game at Ohio State, and try to get there early, as parking is limited. You will get caught up in the art of pre-game tailgating on the way to the game.  If you are not tailgating, another option is to try the vendors.  The stadium is called the horseshoe or the “shoe” and seats over 100,000 enthusiastic fans. Get inside before kickoff so that you can get acclimated and check out some of the pageantry such as the band, the cheerleaders, the teams entering the stadium to raucous fans, and the singing of the National Anthem. The OSU campus also houses a modern art museum, Wexner Museum (1871 N High St). You can get a tour of the stadium (info here). 

For those who are not in the least bit interested in college football, the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium (4850 W Powell Rd)  or Center of Science and Industry or ‘COSI” (333 W Broad St) are great alternatives especially when travelling with children, and it has a dinosaur gallery. The Columbus Zoo & Aquarium complex includes an 18-hole golf course, a water park and an amusement park. The famous long time zoo director, Jack Hanna, has authored children’s books and hosted syndicated animal television shows.   For those not travelling with kids the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (1777 E Broad St) is another great non-football option!

In the evening, grab dinner at Thurn’s Speciality Meats (530 Greenlawn Ave) a specialty meat purveyor since 1886. Then make an appearance at a couple of the gastropubs in the Brewery District. 

Sunday:

Start your morning in German Village, south of downtown. This historic neighborhood features old brick roads and German specialty restaurants founded after the arrival of the original European immigrants who made a community here. Get a jump-start on the day at Stauf’s Coffee Roasters (627 S 3rd St #1060) and then walk over to the Book Loft (631 S 3rd St), a 32 room bookstore which makes this the nation’s largest independent bookstore. (I do love bookstores!) The most famous German restaurants are Valters at the Maennerchor (976 S High St), Schmidt’s Sausage Haus (240 E Kossuth St) for a German hotdog, and next door, Schmidt’s Fudge Haus (220 E Kossuth St) for dessert. For those looking for a more upscale meal,  Lindey’s (169 E Beck St) has great food and a lovely outdoor patio. Lastly,  the former speakeasy, the Old Mohawk (819 Mohawk St) is worth a trip! Don’t forget to walk off all the German food with a stroll through quaint, Schiller Park. 

After German Village, make your way north to the downtown area. The Statehouse is a Greek Revival style building with what looks like a birthday cake on top. You can get a guided tour of the Ohio State Capitol Building (1 Capitol Square, tours start in the Map Room which is easy to access from the 3rd street entrance). Walk by the Ohio Theater and a few other downtown buildings. Make your way to Topiary Garden, which depicts figures from Georges Seurat’s 1884 painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, at the Old Deaf School Park. 

Cheers to a fun weekend getaway in the understated Columbus! 

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for another Midwest college town of Madison, WI, Ann Arbor, MI or a fun filled weekend in Chicago, IL.

Thank you to Christy for sharing some of your favorites with me!

A Day in…Framingham, MA

Jack’s Abbey Brewery in Framingham, MA. They are open and have great outdoor space.

Framingham, the third city along the Boston Marathon route, is located 30 miles west of Boston. The city brings to mind images of clusters of shopping malls and car dealerships. Yet, beyond these commercial images, Framingham offers a surprising amount of plenty of natural beauty, conservation land, and charming farmhouses and other attractions worth visiting. 

Quirky Fact: Framingham was nicknamed “the largest town in the country” until it was voted to city status in 2017. As with most urban legends, the story was exaggerated, Framingham was the largest town in New England.

Here is an afternoon trip to Framingham to rebut the drive-by shopping-Mecca stereotype and take in its natural beauty:

Start your morning with a cup of coffee on the banks of the Sudbury River at the renovated Saxonville Mills. The refurbished industrial building with exposed beams, high ceilings, and expansive windows harken back to its former use as an early 19th century woolen mill and later as the Roxbury Carpet Company. Now with a renovation, Saxonville Mills Cafe and Roasting (2 Central St.) roasts their own coffee beans. Grab a pour-over coffee and a snack to start your day. The complex also houses The Mill Contemporary Art which hosts open studios the second Friday of each month.

The lush green from Callahan State Park!

Get some exercise and fresh air by hiking along the picturesque trails of Callahan State Park (1048 Edmands Rd.).  With Baiting Brook leisurely running through the conservation land, it has 7 miles of trails on 820 acres of land. Framingham hosts many conservation lands, but Callahan State Park is a personal highlight. Alternatives include Garden in the Woods or the New England Wild Flower Society (180 Hemenway Rd), a 45 acres woodland botanical garden, or  Nobscot Mountain (1 Nobscot Road, Sudbury, MA), 452-acre property between Sudbury and Framingham whose peak provides cascading views of the area.

The Moo Bus (home-made ice cream!) unfortunately is closed for the summer season. Photo from Eastleigh Farms.

After your hike, treat yourself with an ice cream from Eastleigh Farm’s Moo Bus. Their many soft cheese samples are worth trying. Also on the grounds of the farm, browse at the quaint Avenue C Design, a collection of some 20 artisans selling handmade and vintage goods, and at B. Barton and Co., an antique shop. The farm offers tractor and wagon tours of the farmland and animals. You will be surprised to find a serene dairy farm within the boundaries of busy Framingham.

Framingham also has two breweries which are worth a visit, Exhibit “A” (81 Morton St) and Jack’s Abbey (100 Clinton St). Jack’s Abbey has a robust outdoor beer garden which is great for social distancing.

A (half) day in Bari, Italy

The port in Bari. You can see the Lungomare and walkable city wall above.

“Get in, get a meal, and get out.” Is what we heard about this port city, university town and Capital of the Apulia (or Puglia in English) region of Italy. For those who say Italy looks like a boot, this is the capital of the “heel” region. We were pleasantly surprised by Bari when we arrived and spent a half day exploring. The Adriatic waterfront area is beautiful, the weaving streets of the old city were jam packed with historic appeal while still being manageable in a short amount of time. Puglia was once a part of mankind’s first democracy as part of Magna Grecia (ancient Greece), and the region is seeping in history. Do spend the half day recovering from your travels by exploring this transit hub before spending quality time in the picturesque whitewashed mountain top villages, rolling countryside and seaside towns in the Puglia region.

Arrive into Bari and get settled into your accommodation. Bari, with a large train station for the trek West to East and also a large port offering many ferries on the Adriatic Sea, most tourists stop here as a point of transit onto other destinations. For us, we had international flights from the USA to Rome, and then took the train to Bari. From Bari we were renting a car and exploring the Puglia region and Matera in Basilicata. With all the travel we spent a night in Bari to calibrate to the timezone and get over some jetlag.

The two areas of Bari to explore in this half day are the Murat area, which is the modern and mostly shopping district and the old town, Bari Vecchia, which includes historical sights such as churches, a castle and the old city walls. 

Start your day by walking down the main pedestrian shopping street Via Sparano da Bari. Bari is the city where locals go to get their shopping done and the main pedestrian shopping street Via Sparano da Bari, offers many brands in case you forgot any items. They have Zara, H&M, and Sephora. Windowshop or pickup any forgotten items that you may need for your trip. Take a side track down Via Nicolò Putignani to look at the architecture on Teatro Petruzzelli (Corso Cavour, 12).

Making your way into the previously walled city or Bari Vecchia, the true highlight for me was walking the maze-like streets of the old town. Walk along the former walls of the city, Via Venezia, which overlooks the Adriatic Sea.  Do not miss the 11th century Basilica San Nicolas (Largo Abate Elia, 13). Some of the remains of St. Nick or the original Santa Claus are in the crypt, which makes this a pilgrimage destination for many Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians. The Bari Cathedral or Cathedral of San Sabino (Piazza dell’Odegitria) and Castello Normanno-Svevo (Via Pier l’Eremita, 25/b) originally built in 1132 are both worth a peek inside while exploring. Walk by the iconic pink Museo Teatro Margherita (Teatro Margherita, Piazza IV Novembre) which is situated on the waterfront.

 While we did not get a walking tour, there are many free (or on tip basis) walking tours of the city that may be worth your while to get an understanding of the history of the region. For those who are interested in art and have more time, the Pinacoteca Provinciale di Bari or Painting Gallery of Metropolitan City of Bari (Via Spalato, 19) provides a scenic respite from the hot sun.

Get some dinner at La Tana del Polpo (Strada Vallisa, 50), it has an iconic giant plastic octopus on the ceiling like spiderman. The local restaurant has great service, local wines and fabulous seafood. The great thing about this region is that it is large in agriculture and you can eat fresh local produce in all your meals.

 If interested in the region, here are some itineraries for Matera (in the neighboring Basilicata region), Locorotondo, and Martina Franca

A weekend in Ann Arbor, MI!

Ann Arbor, this vibrant college town (actually a city) is home to the flagship University of Michigan. Go Blue! Don’t expect to walk down a block without seeing at least ten people in Michigan Blue and Gold. I went to visit some friends who were going to University of Michigan for graduate school, but this can be a great pals getaway, family destination, or couples retreat. The idyllic Huron River traverses the city and adds a beautiful backdrop to admiring nature during the fall foliage season. The people are friendly, but a weekend getaway is definitely ideal for a college football fan or those interested in looking at midwest college towns. 

When to go: I would recommend going in the Fall, when the weather is mild, the foliage is beginning to change, and the Michigan Football season is in full swing. If possible, try to align your visit with a Michigan football game. Timing wise, it is nice to have an evening game, so you can explore the city during the day. Yet, later in the season (Late October on) the weather can get very cold, so I would recommend an afternoon game if you are going in the late Fall. If you are not a fan of the Fall, summer is a great season to go for the great weather!

Getting there: there is an easy 45 minute bus called Michigan Flyer or the Air Ride that comes from the airport. Up to date schedules and booking can be found here

Friday night:

Arrive into Ann Arbor and get settled into your accommodation. I was visiting friends so this involved many laughs and lots of catching up. Grab dinner at the wine shop and restaurant, Spencer (113 E Liberty St), which provides a seasonal menu and picnic-style seating. Santer on over to Bill’s Beer Garden (218 S Ashley St), which turns the parking lot of the century old Downtown Home & Garden and turns it into a beer garden featuring local brews! 

Saturday: 

For those who enjoy getting a workout in the morning, I would recommend going for a run in the U of M’s Nichols Arboretum (1610 Washington Heights). Head back and get ready for the day (which includes a game, so get some Wolverines apparel on!) Head to the Saturday morning Ann Arbor Farmers Market (315 Detroit St). Make sure to eat something hardy before the game! Take an hour to windowshop some of the downtown stores, while there are many small businesses they mostly cater to outdoorsmen, college students, or birkenstocks wearing hipsters. 

Spend much of the afternoon at a University of Michigan game and tailgate. Tickets can be sold on stubhub or if you know a Michigan student there is a student marketplace where you can get tickets a few days before. University of Michigan has the largest stadium in the country (this includes professional stadiums). I went to a lively tailgate at the MBA Bus before the game! Legend has it that the land the stadium was built on was originally a lake and resulted in consistency similar to quicksand which caused an early crane to be engulfed under the stadium, where it remains today. Fact or fiction? We still don’t know!

For those who need a post game pick me up, I recommend coffee from the funky Roos Roast (117 E Liberty St).

In the evening, get dinner from Aventura (216 E Washington St), which has lovely decor, great tapas and tranquil outdoor seating on the back patio. Get a night cap while recapping the game at Jolly Pumpkin Café & Brewery (311 S Main St) which is a brewery offering high-end bar food and has a great upstairs deck. 

Sunday:

Start your morning off with some breakfast sandwiches from The Jefferson Market (609 W Jefferson St). Then head to campus. If you have a friend who is a student at the Law School, get a brief tour and walk around the law library (801 Monroe St) which was the filming location for Harry Potter! Head over to the University of Michigan Museum of Art (525 S State St) to peruse some of the rotating artwork. 

Don’t forget to grab a sandwich from Zingerman’s Delicatessen (422 Detroit St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104) before heading to the airport! 

Cheers to a fun Wolverine filled weekend in Ann Arbor!

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for another Midwest college town of Madison, WI, Columbus, OH or a fun filled weekend in Chicago, IL.

Thank you to Olga, Eli, and Josie for showing me around Michigan!

A weekend in Madison, Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Capital building!

Madison, Wisconsin, “America’s Dairyland”, is known for their warm people, cold winters, and seasonal ales. Home to the Wisconsin State Capital and the flagship University of Wisconsin, similar to other college towns, there is a large university presence. As you may guess when looking at the Green Bay Packers mascot, the state is known for the dairy and specifically cheese production. While it may not be your cup of tea, I recommend trying some cheese curds while in town. The city is situated between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, and is a 2.5 hour drive to Chicago and 4 hour drive to Minneapolis, which make Madison a great weekend getaway, or a destination among a larger midwest vacation. 

When to go: The best season to go (in my opinion) is the early fall, when the weather first begins to get crisp, yet walking everywhere is still pleasant. The food and beer festivals in September located in capital square are one of the highlights. My favorite thing about Wisconsin is that when the weather gets cooler, dive bars have crock pots full of melted cheese with crackers. It feels like a party at someone’s house, all the locals seem to know each other but are friendly to visitors. Not to mention that Fall, you can coordinate with a college football game to really see Madison at its liveliest. Alternatively, the summers offer many outdoor activities on the lakes. 

Friday:

Get settled into your accommodation. Then start your evening at the gastropub, The Tipsy Cow (102 King St), where you can get a burger, beer and a side of cheese curds! If you are interested in the gastropub scene, walk the one block to Great Dane Pub (123 E Doty St). The Great Dane has pool tables and outdoor beer gardens, which make for a relaxed setting for a Friday night. 

Saturday: 

Enjoying at beer at New Glarus brewery!

Start your morning with a tour of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building (2 E Main St) afterwards peruse the Dane County Farmers market called “Saturday in the Square”. Coming from an East Coast city, I have a great appreciation for anyone who has worked in the agriculture industry.

For those who are interested in architecture, take a quick sidetrack to Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center (1 John Nolen Dr), which is a Frank Lloyd Wright designed waterfront building. Return to the capitol building before window shopping State street west to the University. State Street is a vibrant street with a number of shops, restaurants and art galleries. It terminates at the university campus along with the Wisconsin Historical Society (816 State St) and Chazen Museum of Art (800 University Place). 

Spend your late afternoon in the Swiss Village of New Glarus and eponym brewery.  New Glarus was established as a Swiss Colony in 1845 and incorporated as a Village in 1901. The town retains its Swiss architecture and culture with chalet style houses and lovely quaint stores. 

Sunday:

Don’t underestimate the amount of effort it took to get up there!

Work up an appetite walking around the large and tranquil University of Wisconsin Arboretum. Then get a well deserved hearty brunch from Mickies Dairy Bar (1511 Monroe St). 

For those who have additional time, I would recommend a day trip to either Mount Horeb, the Norwegian village that has become the “Troll Capital of the World” or head to Taliesin Estate, Frank Lloyd Wright’s picturesque former home and the location for a grisly mass murder. 

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for another Midwest college town of Ann Arbor, MI, Columbus, OH or a fun filled weekend in Chicago, IL.

Thank you to Kelly and Chris for showing me around your city!

A (half) day in…Locorotondo, Italy

The raised terraced gardens provide the support to the town of Locorotondo (“round place”), which seems to levitate above the flat countryside dappled with wild red and yellow flowers and trullis as you enter the area. Locorotondo, known nationally as one of the “Borghi più belli d’Italia” (one of the most beautiful villages), is a charming town that provides a wonderful site for a leisurely day in the Puglian sun.

Located in the Valle d’Itria (the Trulli Valley) or the ‘top of the heel’ of Italy, Locorotondo is conspicuously charming, with winding roads of white washed houses decorated with bright-red pots of geraniums and wisteria cascading over stone walls.The green and blue shutters provide a contrast to the white marbles and tanned buildings.

Start your day with a coffee from Caffe della Villa in the center of ‘Centro Storico’ and Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. See locals get their coffee while standing. 

The real joy of Locorotondo is leisurely wandering the streets. Take the afternoon exploring the alleyways in the center of town and take in the beautifully curated window boxes and terrace gardens. As a hilltop village, many of the streets offer panoramic vistas of the Trulli speckled countryside. Two such views are seen at gardens of Villa Comunale Giuseppe Garibaldi and also ironically named “Lungomare” (a road next to the sea..) on the adjacent Via Nardelli. 

Via C. Battisti offers one of the most beautiful (and photographed) views in the village

In the ‘Centro Storico’, don’t miss the chance to peek into three churches: Chiesa Madre di San Giorgio, Chiesa San Rocco and the Chiesa della Madonna della Greca. 

We had a lovely local menu of the day dinner at La Taverna del Du (Via Papatodero 3), which is tucked away in one of the side streets. The region is known for orecchiette, which was part of the pre-fix menu. Other fine dinner option are Bina Ristorante Di Puglia (via Dottor Recchia, 44-50) and U’Curdunn (Vía Dura 19) which were both recommended while we were traveling but we were unable to try. 

Cheers to a leisurely day in Locorotondo! 

If you are exploring the Southern region of Italy, check out my itineraries for the Martina Franca and Matera.

10 Days in Andalusia, Spain

Andalusia, the heart and soul of Spain, has much to offer visitors to Southern Spain, from flamenco, Moorish architecture, and great food. Tapas, or small plated meals, originated in Andalusia as a free accompaniment to an alcoholic beverage at a bar, but are now offered as a meal of sampling and sharing with friends. Bars in Granada have held on to tradition and still offer free tapas with a drink.  Andalusia has characteristically warm welcoming people, a relaxed atmosphere, and is known for its Pueblos Blancos (white washed towns) which make for a great European destination. If you are planning on travelling to this southern region the highlights are: Sevilla, the birthplace of Flamenco; Granada, with the Moorish Fortress known as the Alhambra; Córdoba, which has the church turned mosque turned church called the Mesquita; Rhonda, with the arched bridge over a deep ravine; and then the port cities of Cadiz and Málaga.

Here is a ten day itinerary for the best of Andalusia. There is so much to see in the region, so I had to narrow down the itinerary to the best of Andalusia for history and culture. Three cities for overnight stays, Sevilla, Granada, and Málaga, are included in the itinerary as are a few day trips. 

Transportation: All of the cities and locations in the itinerary are accessible by train and bus.  Travel by train is far nicer than by bus, and you can get relatively cheap tickets for travel between all the cities if you book in advance (roughly 10 euros in advance versus 40 euros if last minute). As an alternative, you can rent a car for the entire ten days, but most of the cities are very walkable, and you would not need a car once you get to these destinations.

Day 1: Sevilla 

Sevilla, the birthplace of flamenco, gives the visitor a feel for traditional Spain.This quintessentially picturesque city has many tiled buildings, intricate ornate interiors, and horse-drawn carriage rides in plazas bustling with life. 

Arrive in the evening and get settled into your lodging. Take a walk along the beautiful Guadalquivir River which traverses through the city, separating the Triana neighborhood from the more historic sites in the center. The most scenic part of the river walk is between the two bridges, Puente de Sal Telmo and Puente de Triana (also called “Puente de Isabel”). Don’t miss walking by the Torre de Oro (Tower of Gold). You may want to browse in Ceramica Santa Ana, a tile store. After your walk treat yourself to a leisurely paella meal at Victoria 8 (Calle Victoria, 8). While paella is better known in the Valencia region, Victoria 8 does an amazing job with paella and it’s a great way to kick off your Spanish vacation.

Day 2: Sevilla

Plaza de España

Start your morning with a free walking tour , which will give you an understanding of the layout and history of the city. The tour ends at Plaza de España, a beautiful municipal building with an ornately tiled plaza. Both were built for the 1929 World’s Fair. Fun fact: if you have seen the 2012 Sasha Baron Cohen movie, Dictator, this is the setting for the palace scenes. You can easily spend an hour here walking around and taking photos of the building and grounds. While in the area, walk through the Parque de Maria Luisa and Plaza de las Americas both of which are beautiful.

After viewing the tiles in Plaza de Espana, enjoy a leisurely lunch at Restaurant Orizo (Calle San Fernando, 41, 41004 Sevilla, Spain). It is across from an old factory building that is now part of the University of Sevilla.

Enjoy some down-time before a late-evening dinner, keeping in mind that the Spaniards eat dinner around 9:00 pm. Start your evening by walking around Las Setas de Sevilla, a huge wooden structure that resembles a mushroom. I recommend dinner at Becerrita (Calle Recaredo, 9) before heading to La Carboneria (Calle Céspedes, 21, A,) for a flamenco show. Flamenco can be found in the rear covered terraza and is free when you order a drink.

Day 3: Day trip to Cadiz

Take a morning train to Cadiz, roughly an hour south of Sevilla, and one of Europe’s oldest cities. Cadiz is a port city on the Costa del Luz (“Coast of Light”), which is the part of Andalusia that faces the Atlantic Ocean. Grab a coffee and some fresh produce from Mercado Central (Plaza de la Libertad) and take a walk around the city, which has a great tourist center and well-marked trails through the downtown area. Don’t miss the Cathedral, including its crypt in the basement, located in the aptly named Plaza de la Catedral. I would recommend climbing the belltower of the Cathedral and then making your way over to Torre Tavira (Calle Marqués del Real Tesoro, 10) for a 360 degree view of the city.

If the weather is nice, you may enjoy going to the beach at Playa de la Caleta, which is located between a castle and a fort. For those with an adventurous side: you can jump off the bridge of the fort into the water!

After relaxing at the beach, get some lunch from Casa Manteca (Calle Corralón de los Carros, 66). It has a very authentic feel, fully-stocked with hundred year old bottles of sherry and eclectic photos of bullfighters on the walls. I personally loved their cheese (“Queso” in Spanish). Take a late afternoon train back to Sevilla. 

Upon your return to Sevilla, relax and get ready for a tapas tour in the center area. I recommend starting at Bar Alfalfa, then continuing to El Garlochi, Los Coloniales, El Rinconcillo, and Taberna Manolo Cateca. None of these tapas restaurants are more than a ten minute walk from each other.

The restaurant at Bar Alfalfa (Calle Candilejo, 1) has great outdoor and indoor seating. I suggest that you try the bruschetta con salmorejo. Next stop is the unique bar, El Garlochí (Calle Boteros, 26), which is dedicated to a year-long celebration of Semana Santa (‘Holy Week’), and is completely decked out in statues, paintings, candles and other religious memorabilia. Some visitors may find El Garlochí to be creepy, but most find it interesting and certainly memorable. When heading to Los Coloniales (Plaza Cristo de Burgos, 19), be aware of which address you are using because there is also a place called Taberna Coloniales. At Los Coloniales, I recommend the roquefort cheese with raspberries and the Chorizo a la Asturiana.  Take a three minute, three block walk to the next stop, El Rinconcillo (Calle Gerona, 40). This restaurant/bar was opened in 1670 before America was a country! When I was there, the proprietors were into their 8th generation of ownership. I highly recommend the ortiguillas fritas and olives. Our last stop is Taberna Manolo Cateca (Calle Sta. María de Gracia, 13) for a glass of sherry from this local tavern. Before heading home, I suggest walking through Plaza Salvador, where many young people enjoy botellón (the colloquial word for drinking in the street) and people flow out of the restaurants and bars that surround this lively plaza. It is interesting to see how the locals socialize.

Day 4: Sevilla

Start your morning at the Seville Cathedral, the world’s largest Gothic Church and the third largest Cathedral in the world. As with most of Andalusia, this Cathedral and later the Alcázar of Sevilla has switched hands between Muslim and Christian rule, and much of the architecture reflects the different times of rule. Many famous people are buried here, including Christopher Columbus and his son, Ferdinand.  Make your way up the sloping ramps of the tower, Giralda, which was once the minaret when this site was a mosque. Ramps were built instead of stairs, so horseback riders can easily ascend to the top. Enjoy your exit from the Cathedral through the Patio de Naranjos (Patio of Oranges), which is a beautiful creation.

Take a one minute stroll to the Alcázar of Seville, a Moorish royal palace and fortress. It has extensive fountain-filled gardens, ornate arches and tiles. This is where Game of Thrones filled The Water Gardens and Sunspear, the seat of House Martell in Dorne. You might compare it to the Alhambra in Granada, although the Alhambra is more impressive.

Treat yourself to a well-deserved lunch at Casa Robles (Calle Álvarez Quintero, 58) near the Cathedral. After lunch, I recommend getting lost in some of the center streets. For those who want to relax, consider booking an appointment (in advance) at Aire Ancient Bath House (Calle Aire, 15) an Arab spa housed in an historic mudéjar-style palace.  The lighting, soft music and scent of jasmine will make this massage a mystical and memorable experience.

In the evening try a tapas tour in the Triana neighborhood. Betis Street, which overlooks the Guadalquivir River, is known for its nightlife although it may cater to a younger crowd. The three restaurants Taberna Sol y Sombra (Calle Castilla, 147), Blanca Paloma (Calle San Jacinto, 49), and Vega 10 (Calle Rosario Vega, 10) all offer great dining options in the area. After sampling your fair share of tapas, head to Casa Anselmo (Calle Pagés del Corro, 49) which provides live music, mostly flamenco shows, with your choice of beverage. If you are interested in getting up and dancing, the lively bar Lo Nuestro (Calle Betis, 31) has live music and the crowd does flamenco dancing. Keep in mind that the Spainiards eat dinner around 9:00 pm, so many of these bars will not have many patrons until well after that.

Day 5: Granada

Granada is the impressive former Moorish stronghold on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains known for the Alhambra, the Moorish palace and fortress complex that is a UNESCO world heritage site. Catch an early morning train to Granada. Get settled into your accommodations and regroup before heading out to the Albayzin neighborhood. The Albayzin, which is an ancient Moorish village, is now a world heritage site. The winding streets with various vendors may remind you of a medina in Morocco. I highly recommend stopping in at least one of the many artisan shops and then getting tea at one of the teterias.

Begin your tour of Albayzin at the Albaicín district with its narrow streets and small houses reflective of its Medieval Moorish past, and then explore the smaller Realejo or Jewish quarter. There are a number of restaurants  centered around the Campo del Príncipe, which is a good spot to use for navigation. Get some churros con chocolate from the local favorite, Café Fútbol (Plaza de Mariana Pineda, 6). After your sweet treat head to the Cathedral of Granada (Calle Gran Vía de Colón, 5) and Royal Chapel, which is the burial place for Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand. Spend an hour or so looking at the Cathedral and Chapel.  The 5 euro entrance comes with an audio guide. After exploring the Cathedral, grab a pick- me-up from Mercado San Agustín (Plaza de San Agustín), a 3 minute walk from the Cathedral. Mercado San Agustín has many stalls which sell tapas, and you can also find fresh produce and hams.

For those who want a little more history and culture, you can stop into the Centro Jose Guerrero, Centro Federico Garcia Lorca, or Huerta de San Vicente (Federico Garcia Lorca’s house and gardens). Make your way to Mirador San Nicolás for beautiful sunset views of the Alhambra. I recommend getting dinner in the area to complete a memorable tour.

Day 6: Granada

Make reservations in advance for a timed ticket to see the extensive Alhambra, and you might want to visit the remains of the Generalife. This will end up being a half day tour to explore the magnificent fortress and all it has to offer as well as the beautiful gardens. The Alhambra was built in AD 889 on the remains of a Roman fortress. It was renovated by the Moors in the mid 13th century, and then went on to house the Catholic Monarchs, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. This is the site in which they gave endorsement for Christopher Columbus’ expedition. The Generalife, built in the 13th and 14th centuries, was the summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid rulers of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus.

The Parador de San Francisco is one of the few places near the Alhambra that serves food. If you are ready for a break and a meal or snack after touring Alhambra and the adjacent grounds, I would suggest that you visit the beautiful Parador hotel.

After your time in the Alhambra, I would recommend walking along the River Darro. You will pass by many churches and 17th century stone bridges. Afterwards, you might want to explore the Albaicín neighborhood, above the River. Don’t miss Calle Caldereria Nueva with its many artisan shops, tetarias (teashop), and hookah lounges. I would recommend stopping at one of the tea parlors for a break from window shopping and store browsing.

In the evening, make it to the Barrio del Sacromonte, the old Gitano (Gipsy) neighborhood to explore the many cavernous Flamenco shows. Cueva de la Faraona (Calle Santo Sepulcro del Sacromonte, 51), Zambra María la Canastera (Camino del Sacromonte, 89), Cueva de la Rocio (Camino del Sacromonte, 70) or Venta El Gallo (Barranco de los Negros, 5,) all provide interesting music in the area.

Day 7: Málaga

Málaga is a relatively small port city, which can mostly be toured in a day. The main streets are beautiful, marble and clean! Who has marble streets?  I chose the last three days in Málaga as a stepping stone to get to other locations, and to have a manageable homebase.Málagat is the birthplace of Antonio Banderas and Pablo Picasso and its place on the art and culture scene is on the rise. Located in the Costa Del Sol, Málaga is the gateway to many beach communities such as Marbella, Nerja, and Fuengirola.

If you are using public transit, you can take the train or bus from Granada to Málaga. I recommend starting your visit with a walk to Calle Molina Larios, as the streets are marble-lined, and this is the central walkway through the downtown shopping district. Walk through Plaza Constitution and make sure you go all the way to Plaza de La Merced.  The Picasso Museum is here, which cannot compare to the Museums in Madrid, but it is worth a visit.

Get a cup of coffee and people-watch at Café Central (Plaza de la Constitución, 11). Postcards naming and describing their various coffees, depending on the espresso-to-milk ratio, are a cool remembrance. Walk by the Cathedral, colloquially called “La Maquita” which means the one-armed lady. Legend has it that at the time the church was being constructed, the Queen could either finish the other steeple or fund the explorations of Christopher Columbus, and thus the second steeple on this church was never completed. In the same plaza as the Cathedral is a restaurant called “Cheers,” and Spain had their own spin-off of the Boston landmark pub.

After working up an appetite, head out east for a late lunch at Chiringuito El Tintero. A chiringuito is a small waterfront eating-place which may range from a tiki bar to a full-service restaurant. Most of the chiringuitos I have tried in Málaga buy freshly-caught fish from local fishermen which are then cooked on pitfire in the sand. One of the best-known local restaurants is called El Tintero (Av. Salvador Allende, 340), which is a large restaurant with abundant patio seating located in El Palo, a fishermen’s town just east of Málaga. Customers order “auction style,” where waiters walk around calling out the dishes that they have in their hand. Customers then flag the waiter down to get that dish. I would recommend the well-known Málaga dish espeto, consisting of sardines cooked by a fire in the sand. Enjoy the nearby beach. Chiringuito Baños del Carmen/El Balneario (Calle Bolivia, 26,) is also highly recommended and is a slightly more upscale alternative to El Tintero.

On your return, enjoy a stroll around the port and the Paseo del Parque. The port was completely industrial until the city renovated it into a chic shopping and eating district in 2011. Paseo del Parque, which is a pretty tree-enclosed waterfront walkway which is also scenic . This walkway is also scenic along the city side, with views of gardens and the town hall.

In the evening get some tapas in the center of the city. There are many fine choices and  one that comes to mind is called Pepa y Pepe (Calle Calderería, 9).

Day 8: Day trip to Ronda + sentinel de las bodegas + el pimpi

The gorge(ous) bridge in Ronda

This is the only day trip for which I would suggest renting a car, but if you choose to take public transit you may want to skip Sentenil De las Bodegas.

Start your morning in Sentenil de las Bodegas.  Houses in this iconic town were uniquely constructed within rock overhangs overlooking the Rio Guadalporcún. The name Setenil is believed to originate in the latin septem nihil (‘seven times nothing’) and it references the seven sieges that were needed for the Christian forces to conquer this city from the Moors in the 15th century.

If you opt to visit Sentenil de las Bodegas, your next stop should be Ronda. For those using public transportation, you can skip Sentenil de las Bodegas and take a bus from Málaga directly to Ronda. Ronda is a mountaintop city featuring a dramatic gorge with a beautiful bridge running through it.

Check out the three bridges, Puente Romano, Puente Viejo and Puente Nuevo or “New Bridge” which was actually built in the 1700’s and which is the most dramatic. When you tour the city, I would recommend walking around the patio of The Hotel Parador, which has great views of the mountains, and then see Puente Nuevo. Try the restaurant bar El Lechuguita (Calle Virgen de los Remedios, 35), a local gem which offers inexpensive and traditional tapas, with a surprising view of Puente Nuevo. Also in Ronda is the cavernous and historic Bull Ring at Plaza de Toros de Ronda. The city is home to the Romeros, a famous bullfighting family, who are referenced in Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel, The Sun Also Rises. For those who are looking to get their heart rate going, you can hike down to the scenic viewpoint at La Hoya Del Tajo, which provides beautiful views of the gorge(ous) city. Be warned that the slope of the terrain is quite steep.

Head back to Málaga and regroup at your lodging before setting out to dinner. Enjoy a late meal at El Pimpi (Calle Granada, 62, 29015) which is a fun place to “see and be seen.” Andalusia is known for its fried fish (pescaditos fritos), and I suggest that you try the fried fish platter. If you are outside on the patio, you can see the Teatro Romano (Roman Theater) and above it a Moorish fortress, Alcazaba. I recommend getting a bottle of the sweet wine to share for the table.

Day 9: Day trip to Córdoba

Córdoba is a beautiful city located one hour and fifteen minutes north of Málaga. Every spring, Córdoba bursts into fragrant bloom with the famous Feria de los Patios Festival, and the month of May brings the “Battle of the Flowers,” in which labyrinth-like streets with white washed homes compete for the most beautiful flower boxes. The main attraction in Córdoba is the Mesquita, which is a uniquely ornate building that is both a Mosque and a Cathedral, drawing to life the back and forth rulership between the Islamic Moors and the Christians. The entire tour will take a few hours.

Get some lunch at either Taberna Salinas (Calle Tundidores, 3) or Taberna San Miguel Casa El Pisto (Plaza de San Miguel, 1). Spend some time strolling around the city center and exploring the sights and sounds of Córdoba.

Return to Málaga to get a late dinner at Chiringuito Gutierrez Playa (C/ Pacífico, 29). This is located near the beautiful Parque del Oeste and Chuiringuito, along with most other restaurants, is located on the beach. After dinner, if you are looking for a treat, take a ten minute walk to get ice cream from the Málagano favorite, Heladería Inma (Calle Moreti, 15).

Day 10: Málaga

An evening view from the Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro

Start your morning with a hike to the Alcazaba, a fortress built by the Hammudid dynasty in the 11th century. There are magnificent views of the city, the sea and the beaches from the top! If you are looking for a coffee break, walk to the Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro. In Spain, a parador is a state run hotel located in castles or fortresses.  After your hike head out to the airport, to the end of your fun-filled vacation in Andalusia!

A weekend in Charlottesville, VA

Charlottesville, VA is a quaint college town (actually a city) surrounded by rural Virginia. Considered the Gateway to the Shenandoah National Park, Charlottesville has a beautiful mountain backdrop and much of the city is centered around the flagship University of Virginia. Having historic roots in early colonial days, the area boasts home to the estates of Founding Fathers (and early American Presidents) James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. 2.5 hours south of Washington D.C, Charlottesville is a fun country getaway and as the slogan Virginia is for Lovers gives way, the people are warm and welcoming.  

Timing: Charlottesville is best visited in the Fall and Spring for the weather. Both in the spring and the fall are Foxfield Races, or steeple races which has become a University of Virginia tradition. You can coordinate with the time of the race if you wish to attend, if you do not wish to attend, I would recommend avoiding this weekend since everything will be far more crowded.

Friday Night:

Arrive into Virginia and get settled into your accommodation. Charlottesville is easily accessible by train, but for many of the sites you do need a car to get around. I had a couple of friends who were either going to school at UVA or working at the hospital and were great hosts when I visited! Get some dinner and explore the Downtown Mall. Centered around Main street, the Downtown Mall is an 8 block pedestrian mall with a number of restaurants, bars and shops. 

Saturday: 

Before leaving grab some grub and coffee to go from Paradox Pastry (313 2nd St SE #103). Then start your morning off by visiting Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, Monticello (931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, VA). Ironically, the same man who wrote the Declaration of Independence (“All men are created equal”) was also a slave owner. The museum is not skittish of Jefferson’s controversial past. Historic Michie Tavern (683 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy) is a five minute drive from Monticello, for those who may be interested in a glass of wine.  Fun fact: the current Nickel depicts Monticello on the back of it. 

Both James Monroe’s Highland (2050 James Monroe Pkwy) and James Madison’s Montpelier house museums are local, too. If you have a preference as to which early president’s home you are most interested in! Maybe I should give my home a name and I will become a president!

After getting your fix of history, get your wine tasting on. My favorite vineyard is Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyard (1616, 5022 Plank Rd, North Garden, VA 22959). It is great to sit outside and enjoy wine tasting with a few snacks. If you want to continue, I would recommend Blenheim Vineyards (31 Blenheim Farm, Charlottesville, VA 22902). For those who wish to pack a sandwich for picnic at the vineyards, Ivy Provisions (2206 Ivy Rd) is an upscale deli offering many options. 

Come back to town and refresh before going out to dinner at the Ivy Inn Restaurant (2244 Old Ivy Rd), The restaurant serves elevated American food in a charming 19th century home, and I recommend sitting on the patio. The Belmont Neighborhood of Charlottesville also offers many culinary delights. Local (824 Hinton Ave) is another favorite restaurant where you can get great mac and cheese and malbec! You can get a slop bucket from Belmont BBQ (816 Hinton Ave) or Mas (904 Monticello Rd) for some great tapas.

Sunday:

For those who want to get outdoors, grab a coffee from Mudhouse Coffee or Shenandoah Joe Ivy before heading to Humpback Rocks Hike (Milepost 5.8 Blue Ridge Parkway, Lyndhurst, VA 22952). This hike on the Blue Ridge Mountains offers splendid views and can be really magnificent in the Fall. 


After returning to Charlottesville, get some well-deserved New York style bagels at Bodo Bagels (505 Preston Ave). Reserve a guided historical tour of the University of Virginia (sign up here). The University was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, and the original Board of Visitors included Jefferson, James Monroe (who was the sitting President at the time) and James Madison. Do not miss the iconic and Jefferson designed Rotunda. Head back to your accommodation and off back home.

Cheers to a relaxing weekend getaway in Charlottesville, VA!