“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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In honor of Lent I am going to feature one church for each of the six weeks to check out. While this isn’t meant to be religious proselytizing, it is meant to show off the amazing architecture that New York City offers us. Check out some of these gems.
#6 Plymouth Church
#6 Plymouth Church (57 Orange St, Brooklyn, NY 11201) known as the “underground railroad depot” in the 1800’s. While many African-Americas sought their own freedom in the north, this became a rest stop before moving on to Canada. The congregation held slave auctions, in which communally congregants would give money to buy an enslaved person their freedom.
#5 St. Peter’s Church
#5 St. Peter’s Church (619 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10022) is known as the “jazz church” for its weekly jazz vespers. This super modern church doubles as an art gallery and musical event space. This church has occupied the current site since 1904, and is the world’s only relationship between commercial property and a church; in the 70’s when National City Bank (now Citigroup) wanted to create condominiums on the site and the church negotiated 5% ownership of the whole site (and the building of a new church!) Jazz Vespers are Sunday’s at 5:00PM.
#4 Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral
#4 The Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral (263 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012) It is so hard to try to start a “creative project” right now, while everything seems so surreal. I am struggling because it feels inappropriate to post about something “normal”, I am pushing myself to post this just to keep on some semblance of normalcy, so in the future weeks when I KNOW it is going to get worse, that I will have something to do besides have anxiety/depression about the at-risk population and our healthcare system as a whole.
Without further talk of the coronavirus, and in honor of St Patrick’s Day tomorrow, I want to write about The Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, dubbed the “sexiest congregation” by Elizabeth Hasselback from Fox News. Martin Scorsese was an alter boy here and featured some of the anti-catholic sentiment in the movie, Gangs of New York. There is actually a tunnel from the Bishop’s house across the street to the Cathedral to protect against Nativist violence in the 1800’s. This church was used for filming where the “godfather” became THE Godfather. Built 50 years before the new and far better known St.Patrick’s Cathedral that was way out in the country when it was built.
Somehow this “side project” seems more important than ever while we keep talking about having faith during a trying time. But I want to push people further, I believe in “prepare for the worst and hope for the best” so we must have faith but ALSO we must all do our best to protect our elders and vulnerable populations.
#3 Trinity Church
#3 Trinity Church (75 Broadway, New York, NY 10006). The stunning Trinity Church is nestled between skyscrapers, on the corner of Broadway and Wall St. Third time’s the charm for this Episcopal church: the first structure burned down in the Great New York City Fire of 1776, the second was torn down because of snow damage, and the third and current building was consecrated in 1846.
The ornate reredos and altar were created in honor of William Backhouse Astor, Sr. This historic house of worship was a welcome site of refuge from the massive debris in the aftermath of September 11th. Trinity’s burial grounds are the final resting place of Alexander Hamilton, Albert Gallatin (Founder and first President of NYU), and Robert Fulton (credited with creating the first commercial steamboat).
#2 St. Patrick’s Cathedral (5th Ave, New York, NY 10022)
Happy Palm Sunday. If you believe in a higher power now more than ever is the time to send global prayers. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is thought of as the St. Peter’s Basilica of the United States. Skeptics initially thought of the proposed construction project as “Hughes Folly” after Bishop “Dagger” Hughes had the idea to build this huge cathedral in what was then mostly farm or uninhabited land. He knew that New York City was going to expand north and he would need a large church to house the parishioners. It was designed by noted architect James Renwick, Jr., who also built the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., the Renwick Gallery in D.C., and Grace Church and City College in NYC. It is situated across the street from Rockefeller Center, this 5th Avenue iconic Roman Catholic cathedral is on many NYC top ten attractions list.
#1 Church of the St. John the Divine
#1. Church of the St. John the Divine (1047 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025)
The 6th largest church in the world! When you walk in, you realize the ENORMITY of the space. I personally love stained glass dedicated to different professions, especially sports and education. Both are rare to see inside a Cathedral.
If you enjoy learning more about NYC, consider checking out some of my A Day in itineraries in RedHook and Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Located just across the Charles River from Boston, Cambridge is easily accessible by public transit, with multiple stations on the MBTA’s red line and one station on the green line. As the home to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), Cambridge attracts many academics and hosts many high-tech companies. It is the “City of Squares,” with cerebral Harvard Square, techie Kendall Square, yuppie Porter Square, eclectic Central Square, and trendy Inman Square. These are a few of the urban centers that encompass Cambridge’s bustling food and drink scene, not to mention small businesses, independent bookstores, and boutique shopping. Cambridge is a bastion of progressive politics and is very pedestrian and bicycle-friendly. The city has become so popular, and the real estate so expensive, that it overflows into neighboring Somerville, and can be confusing at times when streets have the same names. Somerville offers a vibrant scene in its own Davis Square with restaurants and bars, live music, and independent movie houses.
Breakfast: You may want to start your morning off with a quick stopover in Central Square. The area is gentrifying, as startups move into the square, and it has some interesting shops and ethnic restaurants along with stately City Hall and Post Office buildings. An option for morning coffee would be a coffee to-go from the 1369 Coffee House at 757 Mass Ave and then walk down Mass Ave toward Flour Bakery at 190 Mass Ave, to get some delicious French pastries. If you would rather sit down for brunch I would recommend Cafe Luna at 612 Mass Ave, or try Zoe’s, a classic fifties diner, located at 1105 Mass Ave, which offers a great, reasonably priced brunch.
After breakfast, take a tour of the MIT campus, which is famous for its brainy students and also its daring architecture. The iconic Great Dome is reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome. It is known as “the center of the universe” by MIT students, and has been the site of many MIT student pranks over the years: http://hacks.mit.edu/Hacks/by_location/great_dome.html.
Continue your day along the north bank of the Charles River to Harvard’s campus. Keep in mind that Cambridge is a very walkable city, and also has ample public transit. For those who enjoy a morning run, I would say this is one of the best routes in the Boston/Cambridge area, as you can enjoy the views of the river, the bridges and the boat houses along the way.
Upon your arrival in Harvard Square, grab a hot chocolate from L.A. Burdick at 52 Brattle St. and window-shop the boutiques in Harvard Square. There are many independent bookstores but my favorite is the Harvard Book Store at 1256 Mass Ave. Directly behind it is the quaint, Grolier Poetry Book Shop. As you enter the Harvard campus, you may want to join in a tourist tradition of rubbing the left show of the statue of John Harvard. Harvard offers free student-led tours from the Harvard University Visitor Center, in the Smith Campus Center. See website: https://www.harvard.edu/on-campus/visit-harvard/tours. You can do a self-guided tour in which case you should buy a Harvard tour booklet for $3.00. Also available are privately-run guided tours with positive reviews: https://www.trademarktours.com/harvard-tour/
For dinner there are many options. I will separate the restaurants by location. Mr. Bartley’s in Harvard Square is a casual and fun burger place. The walls are plastered with posters from college concerts and photos of celebrities who have dined there. The menu in this bustling restaurant is a political satire with such items as Brexit, Trump Tower, and Taxachusetts. PARK Restaurant & Bar, Alden & Harlow, the Russell House Tavern, and Forage all provide good service and ambiance with a broad menu. Grendel’s Den is a student bar that offers half priced food for Happy Hour. (Massachusetts has some Puritanical laws that do not allow happy hour prices on alcohol.)
Inman Square and Kendall Square offer a variety of restaurants with good vibes and great cocktails. Inman Square has a Tiki-themed BBQ place, Highland Fried (1271 Cambridge St) or if you are craving upscale Mediterranean, Oleana (134 Hampshire St) is great! To cap off the night with a sweet treat, I recommend going to Christina’s (1255 Cambridge St) for an ice cream and an evening stroll. A personal favorite is the burlesque-themed tapas restaurant, Cuchi Cuchi, in Kendall Square.
Thank you to: Eli, Olga, Hannah and Chris for all your great suggestions. Especially Olga for taste testing our way through Cambridge starting with the bread at Bertucci’s back in 2005.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
The neighborhood that made national news during the three-day racially charged Crown Heights Riot in 1991 is undergoing gentrification. Historically, Crown Heights has been the home to a large population of Jewish residents, and the headquarters of the Lubavitch movement is located on Eastern Parkway. Crown Heights also has a large population of African Americans and people from the West Indies, and it hosts the annual Labor Day Carnival celebrating Caribbean culture.
The area is forever evolving and is becoming one of the hippest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. With gentrification, Crown Heights has seen much change over the last decade, including a thriving foodie scene on Franklin Avenue. However, Crown Heights still has great spots that showcase its roots as a split community of African- and Carribean-American and Jewish cultures.
If you like exploring different neighborhoods in NYC, check out my day itinerary in Red Hook.
Without further adieu here is your one day tour of Crown Heights:
Start your morning off with a bagel from Bagel Pub at 775 Franklin Avenue. Then grab a coffee from either Breukelen Coffee House at 764 Franklin Avenue or Little Zelda’s at 728 Franklin Avenue.
Spend the early morning checking out the Hunterfly Road Historic District in Weeksville Heritage Center. Weeksville was one of the largest free black communities. Slavery was abolished in NYC in 1827 but not nationally until 1865, so this enclave became a safe haven for freed men and runaway slaves. It is one of the few historically preserved areas for the African-American community from that time period.
Continue your tour by taking a leisurely stroll among the Cherry trees and through the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden within the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens at 990 Washington Avenue at the edge of Prospect Park. You may also enjoy a visit to the nearby Brooklyn Museum. Both of these call for a paid admission.
For lunch, try the tacos and a Margarita from Gueros at 605 Prospect Place. They also have great lemonade!
After Gueros, take a self-guided architectural tour through South Crown Heights. You can see turn-of-the-century brownstones along tree-lined boulevards. Most of the real beauties are on President St between New York St and Kingston St.
After some cultural and historic intake, peruse the Anyone Comics store before trying a cocktail and a slice of pie from the female-owned bar, Butter and Scotch.
Crown Heights has much to offer on the food scene. Based on what you are craving I would recommend: Barboncino at 781 Franklin Avenue for pizza, Chavela’s at 736 Franklin Avenue for good Mexican food and ambiance with its Spanish-tiled bar and día de los muertos decor, or colorful Glady’s at 788 Franklin Avenue for some delicious Jerk Chicken (and a nod to the Caribbean community that unfortunately gentrification is slowly displacing). If you are with a big group and just want to hang out for a while, Berg’n Foodcourt at 899 Bergen Street is a fun place which provides a food court with many options.
There are many bars to enjoy either a laid-back beer or a well-crafted cocktail. Franklin Park, Mayfields, The Crown Inn, Covenhoven, and King Thai all offer libations.
If you are into music, consider the Murmrr Theatre located on the third floor of a synagogue at 17 Eastern Parkway. It is a great and interesting locale for a concert, although I’m not sure everything is up to Code. The Way Station (a Dr. Who-themed nerd bar at 683 Washington Street) and Friends and Lovers at 641 Classon Avenue regularly offer live music and may be worth checking out.
Thank you to my (current or former) Crown Heights locals for all their suggestions on how to enjoy their neighborhood! Andrew, Lauren, Laura, Adam, Tricia and Chris!
Whether you are visiting New Orleans (“NOLA”) for a bachelor(ette) party, Jazz Fest, Mardi Gras, or just a weekend getaway prepare to indulge all of your senses with music, food, drinks and culture in this one-of-a-kind city. The aromas of Cajun cooking billow into the streets from restaurants and houses, watering your tastebuds. Live jazz flows at all hours from the bars and cafes along Bourbon and Frenchman Street. Whatever you are coming for, the city is bursting with a melange of culture and life.
First claimed in the 17th century under French Rule, with a brief stint under the Spanish in the late 18th century, NOLA was later sold to the United States by Napoleon in the 1805 Louisiana Purchase. The medley of French, Spanish, African-American, and Creole influences are in abundance in the architecture, cooking, and culture of the city today.
Timing: Many people visit the city for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (nicknamed: “Jazz Fest”) which is usually held at the end of April/early May (details can be found here). Mardi Gras, first documented in 1699 by the French, it is now a two-week festival leading up to Ash Wednesday. For more information please follow this link.
Three people to know before you go: Maria Laveau, known as the voodoo queen of New Orleans, Jean Lafitte, a French pirate and smuggler based out of New Orleans who made a deal to help Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans from the British in return for a pardon, and Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnial, governor of Louisiana for over a decade and the last governor of New France, known for building New Orleans into the rich port city which is sometimes called petit Paris.
Arrive Thursday evening and check into your hotel.
Dinner: Kingfish for dinner and then stop by Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, located at the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Philip Street in the French Quarter. Legend has it that Jean Lafitte ran a business here, and it is also claimed to be the oldest structure housing a bar in the United States.
Day 1: Friday
Start your morning off at Café Du Monde for chicory coffee and Beignets (French deep-fried choux pastry, and don’t wear black because the powdered sugar will be everywhere!) Fried dough for breakfast? Definitely indulging in every 7 year old’s impulses! Bring money because Café Du Monde is cash only.
Enjoy the afternoon at a Swamp Tour with Cajun Encounters, and keep in mind that for a small additional charge they pick you up at your hotel. This was one of my favorite things. Listen to authentic Louisiana accents, and see wild boars and alligators. I wore my best camo outfit to blend in. Observe how people live in the Bayou. Behold the houses on stilts with motor boats for transportation, which safeguards property from flooding.
Grab some po-boys for snack time. There are two po-boy shops I recommend: Gene’s, which was featured in Drake’s “In my Feelings” music video, or the Parkway Bakery and Tavern, which has been around for over 100 years. For an afternoon activity, I would recommend one or more of the following: Do a bar-circuit to sample famous drinks (like the iconic and tropical Hand Grenade drink) while people-watching the antics of Bourbon St. It may seem like an adult frat party. Check out the two-story verandas on the mansions in the historic garden district, or some Voodoo shops, or try all of the above.
For the evening, I recommend dinner at the bohemian Three Muses. The restaurant offers live music, small plates, and house cocktails. What more could you ask for!
New Orleans has everything from Jazz, Cajun and Brass Bands playing every night. Enjoy a night of live music wandering around the French Quarter to find your favorite live music location (try Bourbon Street or, for a different vibe, the less crowded Frenchmen Street which many people find to be more enjoyable).
Day 2: Saturday
Start your morning off at the Court of Two Sisters for their Jazz Brunch. The purple flowers of the willow trees cascade over the courtyard, the dappled lighting is supplemented by draped twinkle lights. The buffet offers a leisurely brunch while you imagine life as an aristocratic French Colonialist.
Learn about the history of burial in New Orleans, with a St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 Tour. A guided tour is a must, in accordance with archdiocese rules, so make sure to book ahead of time. The tour guides are local historians who will lead you through the one mile walk over cobblestones. The guide will point out the unique above-ground burial vaults which are a necessity because of the high water table. Buried here are Homer Plessy (of the landmark civil rights case Plessy vs Ferguson), voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, and a pyramid shaped tomb purchased by Nicolas Cage.
In the evening, try a swanky night of pre-dinner drinks at Carousel Bar. Grab seats at the spinning bar! Continue on with dinner across the street at Mr. B’s Bistro. They are known for their shrimp and gumbo! If up for it, enjoy another fun night out listening to the live music. If you went to Bourbon Street the night before try Frenchmen Street, or vice versa.
Imagine a burnt-orange sunset over the Tuscan capital of Florence, a romantic, moonlit glide in a gondola along the winding canals of Venice, or the buzzing Vespa traffic past three thousand years of urban development in Rome. Italy offers adventures for any type of traveller with any company: whether it be a honeymoon, a group tour, or a family vacation. With a gelato shop at the corner of every fountain laden piazza, there is no wonder Italy was the setting for the movie “La Dolce Vita.” Do I even have to mention the birthplace of pizza? Italy is at the top of the “must-see” list for just about every traveler.
This is a simple ten day guide to Italy which should be especially helpful to first time visitors, starting with what I consider to be the big three: Rome, Florence, and Venice. Italy has an abundance of cultural and historical sights to visit with gourmet food and fine wine to enjoy between tours. I enjoy travelling from big cities with a lot of cultural institutions to progressively smaller cities so that when fatigue sets in from sightseeing, the last few days are reserved for a more relaxed pace. For that reason this itinerary goes from Rome north to Florence and then ends in Venice with its international airport.
Timing: The weather is most comfortable from April until October, and I personally prefer travelling on the “shoulder” seasons, meaning May/June or September/October, to alleviate the long lines, congestion and heat. My two exceptions to this plan could include the Carnival in Venice, which is usually in February and during Holy Week (Italian: “settimana Santa,” the week leading up to easter).
You may also be interested in visiting the southern countryside. I wrote about the unique accommodations in the Puglia region.
Day 1 of 10: Rome
Fly into Rome.
Roma Caput Mundi is a Latin phrase meaning “Rome capital of the world” and it conjures up an image of the historical significance of Rome. The steeple loaded skyline reminds visitors that Rome is the capital of the Catholic Church and the seat of the Papacy. The layers of over 4 millenia worth of history interwoven into a modern city attest to the vitality and vibrancy of a city still buzzing with life (and Vespas). Simply walking the streets of Rome, sometimes referred to as “the open air museum,” opens up the famous sights including artistic masterpieces from every century of European history. While exploring without a plan will provide a treasure chest worth of sights, I would recommend sticking to a more concrete itinerary if this is your first time in Rome, or lest you miss the major sights. Rome wasn’t built in a day and it cannot be described in one paragraph nor seen in four days.
I would suggest reading Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, which is set in Rome. I would also recommend seeing some movies set in Rome, such as Eat, Pray, Love and the gore and glory of Gladiator to prepare you for the colosseum, or flash back to your tween years and watch the Olsen twins movie, When in Rome, for the sights of the city. Don’t forget Audrey Hepburn’s Roman Holiday.
Bruin on a Budget tip: I put out a travel alert on the Google search engine. This should enable you to receive email alerts regarding cheap flights from your home city to Rome. I work in education, so I have flexibility during the summer as to when I can book flights, and I have the patience to wait for a good deal. There are many different housing options, and one interesting and less expensive option is to stay at a converted convent. While it will not be luxurious, it will reduce costs, it may be memorable, and you may meet some interesting fellow travelers.
Get settled into your hotel and put your stuff away. Get a recommendation from the hotel as to where to dine.
Day 2 of 10: Catholic Rome
Prepare to spend the entire morning and afternoon at the awe-inspiring but crowded Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St Peter’s Basilica. Make sure to pre-book these tickets online to save time. Some people have had the feeling of being herded through the exhibits, so you should plan for rest, food and water breaks. The sights are wonderful: The Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s masterful ceiling. The Matisse Chapel featuring 16 foot paper cutouts for a stained glass design of a French Chapel is featured within the Modern Religious Art at the Vatican Museums. Raphael Rooms (Italian: Stanze di Raffaello) within the Vatican Palace, considered the eponym’s masterpiece. This over-500 year old palace is all encompassing in its number of European masterpieces.
Bruin on a Budget tip: Rick Steves has a free audio guide in which he offers a splendid narration of the highlights of the tour.
Have lunch near the Vatican, where there are many good places to re-fuel for the rest of the day, then take a walk by Cast D’Angelo at the Tiber River. At some point in the afternoon, do yourself a favor and have a well-deserved nap.
In the evening walk around the Tiber River at dusk. This is a great location to enjoy a sunset cocktail. End your evening walking through Trastevere’s charming streets to a dinner destination. We had a delightful dinner at Grazia and Graziella in Trastevere. The Italians eat late, so prepare to begin dinner around 9:00 pm, unless you want to be the only diners. Back over the bridge in Campo de Fiore is buzzing with nightlife and is the perfect place for a nightcap or an evening stroll.
Day 3 of 10: Ancient Rome
Enjoy the morning filled with sights from the Roman Empire: the Colosseum, Palatine Hill to the Roman Forum.
Stroll through the Campo de’ Fiori to see the locals and the tourists shopping at the farmers’ markets, and find a place to eat a leisurely lunch.
After lunch take a walk through a much-filmed route from Piazza Navona, Parthenon, Galleria Alberto Sorti, Trevi Fountain, and end at the Spanish steps. Make sure to stop for gelato as needed!
Refresh yourself with an early afternoon riposo (siesta), and before sunset, make your way to Piazza Venezia and atop the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument (Italian: Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II) for a panoramic view of Rome. Saunter over to dinner at the popular Ai Tre Scalini in the Monti section of Rome, with its Bohemian style. If there is a line grab a beer at Barzilai across the street, as they have 6 beers on tap which is plentiful for Italy.
Day 4 of 10: Rome to Florence
If you are an architecture nerd like me, you will love spending the morning looking around the Art Nouveau neighborhood called “Quartiere Coppedè,” designed by early 20th century architect Gino Coppedè. Visit the nearby La Casina delle Civette, the fairy-tale like former home of the Torlonia family with its exquisite and creative details. Typically, it’s not crowded. Grab a coffee and snack here before heading out on an early afternoon train to Florence (the high speed train takes about an hour and a half). Be mindful of which train station you are leaving from, as there are a few.
Idyllically charming Florence (Italian: Firenze) may be my favorite place in Italy. Known as “the cradle of the Renaissance,” Florence came to prominence during the 14th century and hit its peak in the 16th century as an economic and artistic center of the Mediterranean. A turbulent political history provides many stories shrouded in secrecy and scandals mostly surrounding the powerful Medici family. The Medicis were patrons to much of the development of the City of Masterpieces, having provided financial support for works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Botticelli. This city is best explored on foot, walking down the cobblestoned streets while admiring the Renaissance art and architecture and the frescoe-filled churches. The capital of the Tuscany region of Italy, Florence also has much to be indulged in the food and wine scene.
Arrive from the train station and settle into your hotel. Enjoy a delicious dinner and good service at Il Vezzo.
5 of 10: Renaissance Florence
Start your day at the Accademia Gallery (Italian: Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze), where you can see magnificent artwork including Michelangelo’s masterpiece of white marble, David among other sculptures.
Enjoy breakfast or a snack at the Mercato Centrale Firenze. The two story cast-iron and glass-vaulted building opened its doors in 1874, and it is still offering fresh produce today. Walk around the artisan San Lorenzo Market, which is outside the central market. Don’t hesitate to join in the fun of bartering before you buy.
Weave your way through the pedestrian streets towards the Duomo (full name: Cathedral of Santa Maria de Fiore) with its garnd bell tower. Check out the Duomo itself, the bell tower and the Duomo Museum.
Walk across the plaza to the octagonal Baptistery of St. John (Italian: Battistero di San Giovanni), which was built between 1059 and 1128, and don’t overlook its bronze doors with “The Gates of Paradise,” which took the artist 27 years to create.
While you’re in the area, you have to give I Fratellini a try. It’s a hole in the wall food shop where you can grab a quick and delicious panini and a glass of Italian wine and blend in with the locals who make the place popular.
Saunter down to the Piazza Della Repubblica to the 1551 “New” Market (Italian: Mercato Nuevo) and rub the nose of the wild boar at the Fontana del Porcellino, which, legend says, ensures a return to Florence. Stop in the Oranmichelle Church (former granary), and down Via Calzaiuoli (pedestrian road) to Piazza della Signoria. Take in the sights of Palazzo Vecchio (or City Hall). For those who are geographically inclined, venture into the Medici wall of maps. From the Piazza make your way to Basilica Santa Croce to see the tombs of Galileo and Michelangelo. Enjoy gelato as needed, a few favorites are grom and gelateria dei neri.
Enjoy a siesta before an Italian-style long meal at Aqua al II. I would recommend getting the pasta and meat sampler which includes five different pastas and 3 different steaks.
6 of 10: Oltrarno
Start your morning off with a tour of the Uffizi Gallery, which consists of 45 rooms stocked with 1500 works of art including Renaissance masterpieces by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian. This was once the workplace of the wealthy, powerful and controversial Medici family. The nouveau riche family were generous patrons of the arts, but they were often enmeshed in scandal, backstabbing, and ambitious social climbing to the fascination of the greater population. Catherine Medici became the Queen of France and brought onion soup, the fork and gelato to the French, in addition to her rumored poisons. As one Medici became the pope, he created the title “Duke of Florence” and subsequently “Grand Duke of Tuscany” and crowned various family members, elevating the family legacy into royalty.
At the Arno River, the landmark Vasari Corridor, an enclosed, elevated “secret” passageway built in 1564 is worth noting. Unfortunately, it has been closed for construction since 2016, with a reopening planned for 2021. Georgio Vasari, an artist, architect and writer who is often called the first art historian for his writing of “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptures, and Architects,” built the Vasari Corridor for Cosmos I de Medici so that he could travel safely from his residence to the government palace without interacting with any of the townspeople.
Grab some sandwiches-to-go from All’Antico Vinao (get anything with cream di pecorino, artichoke spread, or truffle spread on a large focaccia.) Save these for lunch at Boboli Gardens. Along the way, take a brief passiegiata (or stroll) on Lungarno Generale Diaz, parallel to the leisurely flowing Arno River as it provides a beautiful vantage point of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge.
Now in Oltrarno, make your way north to the Boboli Gardens, a beautiful public park located behind the Pitti Palace. Enjoy the fountain of Neptune, and various other sculptures dating between the 16th-18th century. Pick a spot to sit back and enjoy your sandwich while soaking in the beauty of the park, which closes at 6:30 pm.
Take a leisurely walk over to the Basilica San Miniato Del Monte. It’s about thirty minutes, or more if you factor in stopping for photos. You can walk along the medieval walls on Via di Belvedere, opening up to the Porta San Miniato. Be prepared for an uphill walk with some stair-climbing as the church is located at one of the highest points in Florence. Monks perform a Gregorian Chant at the church daily at 5:30 PM. You can find more information here. The church itself closes at 7:00 PM.
Take the five minute walk down hill to Piazzale Michelangelo for a romantic sunset over the breathtaking city. From this viewpoint the varied colors of the sunset are illuminated by the Florentine skyline consisting of a palette of red tile roofs, yellow and salmon-colored buildings, and the commanding presence of Brunelleschi’s burnt orange dome.
To cap off your day in Oltrarno, take a taxi to Trattoria 4 Leoni for a snack; you can’t go wrong with the pumpkin ravioli.
7 of 10:
Morning Train to Venice
The historic and still vibrant city of Venice, famous for gondolas gently floating along winding canals, deserves a spot on your must-visit list. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, Italian people fled the mainland in fear of Barbarian invasion. They found refuge in the marshy lagoons mostly occupied by fishermen. With more refugees finding safety in the islands, there was a need for more infrastructure. Therefore, the people created hundreds of canals and packed wooden stakes into the bottom of the lagoon.They topped the wooden stakes with wooden platforms as the base on which to construct buildings and bridges. Most of the wood for this undertaking was imported by water from Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro. Venice is an engineering marvel, as the sediment consisting of silt and soil was absorbed into the oak or larch wood pilings and the mixture petrified the wood into a stone-like substance.
Walking through the narrow streets, you will be impressed by the marble palazzi (palaces), fine restaurants and cultural sites located within the compact area around the square. Depending on when you visit, you may be able to witness religious traditions such as the Carnival of Venice which is famous for its elaborate masks. Venice was home to Renaissance artist Titian, Baroque Musician Vivaldi, playwright Galdoni, and original philanderer Casanova. A sultry and sometimes scandalous history makes Venice or La Serenissima (“The Most Serene” Republic of Venice) truly one of a kind.
From the train station take a vaporetto #1 to St. Mark’s Square and settle into your hotel. Meander through the streets before ending your night with a bellini from Cafe Florian (boasting the oldest cafe in Europe which was the first to allow women in, placing the cafe on the frequent-must-visit list for Casanova) and take in the grandiosity of St. Mark’s Square in the evening. Enjoy the music of the dueling orchestras from Caffè Florian and Ristorante Quadri.
8 of 10
Start your morning on the top of the Campanile. Take in all the sights of St. Mark’s Square and meander your way to the Rialto Bridge, window shop the many jewelry stores and tourist shops. Over the bridge make your way to Mercato di Rialto selling artisan products and fresh food. Buy some fruit for the day.
Weave your way back over the Rialto Bridge to lunch at the no-frills Rosticceria Gislon (recommended SEPA – calle della bisse, Farini). You can order at the counter or go upstairs for the full-service restaurant. We opted for the counter service to save time.
We went to the Museo Correr, but if you have already seen the Vatican and Uffizi Gallery, this is far less exciting and can be skipped in deference to other sights and experiences, or for a more leisurely pace.
After lunch make your way over to St. Mark’s. Spend some time in the church. Do not miss the ornate Pala D’Oro (or golden enamel high altar). 1,300 pearls, 300 emeralds, 300 sapphires, 400 garnets, 100 amethysts.
Top the day off with an evening at Doge Palace (Italian: Palazzo Ducale) its open until 7:00 PM. We had the place almost to ourselves.
Meander through the narrow winding streets of Venice along canals, shops and houses for less than a mile to find a hidden gem of a restaurant: Al Timon. Al Timon has the occasional tourist venture to this restaurant, and the engaging owner and the staff are very welcoming, but this I am happy to report that this place is quintessentially Venetian. Enjoy a glass of regional wine and/or Italian beer with a small cichetti while waiting for a table. We chose to eat at a table outside, along the canal, next to a small boat permanently docked at the edge of the water for additional seating.
Start your morning off at Museum Accademia.
Take a Venetian Lagoon boat tour to the glassblowing island of Murano, stop for lunch at the colorful fisherman’s island of Burano, and step into the Basilica on the island of Torcello.
End your evening back in Venice with panoramic views from the rooftop of the upscale T Fondaco dei Tedeschi mall.
San Diego, this vibrant coastal city with a laid back vibe allows for any traveler to have a relaxing escape. Don’t be surprised if you hear F18 aircrafts flying overhead because this city has a foundation as a military town. Whether you are a foodie, family of five, or college student on spring break San Diego has something for you. It offers canyons and peaks to hike, beaches to sunbathe or learn to surf at, and is home to many micro breweries to indulge in.
Friday: Brewery Tours
Start your day off with a self-guided brewery tour in Miramar, take an uber because those IPA’s are strong! Miramar hosts Ballast point, Green Flash, Saint Archer, Ale Smith, 32 North, and the glute-friendly Duck Foot.
Soak up some of the hops with lunch from the hole in the wall, Punjabi Tandor. A personal favorite is chicken tikka masala and the garlic naan.
In the evening enjoy happy hour and sunset at subscale Vintana in Escondido. Then end your day of breweries with dinner in the lush beer garden at Stone Brewery.
Saturday: Coastal Adventures in chic seaside community of La Jolla
Start your day off with a low key breakfast at Café Caroline on top of a UCSD Oceanography building in La Jolla Shore. Get a morning coastal hike in at Torrey Pines. La Jolla Cove is known for good kayaking if you would prefer a water sport.
Grab a well earned lunch at Puesto in La Jolla Village. You can’t go wrong with any of the crispy cheese tacos and their rotating seasonal guacamole. Take some time enjoying the sunshine and water in La Jolla Cove.
Make it to a quaint early dinner and/or happy hour at Herringbone La Jolla.
Sunday: Coronado and Balboa Park
Get breakfast at Clayton’s Diner or Leroy’s on Coronado. Despite being called “Coronado Island” this section of San Diego is actually a man-made peninsula, and home to a Naval Base. Walk to Hotel Del Coronado (known locally “Hotel Del”) for some sunbathing.
Drive to Balboa Park and enjoy one of the many cultural exhibits (San Diego Museum of Art, Japanese Tea Garden, Rose Garden, Air and Space Museum, etc.) Get a lunch at Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill, all of their pizza and pasta is phenomenal. They also host a seasonal 9 course Beast Feast.
Enjoy dinner and nightly Mariachi performances in Old Towne. Old Towne is the location of the Mission San Diego de Alcála, by which the city is named after. I recommend Casa Guadalajara, with its vibrant decorations and price conscious happy hour deals.
Evening options: the alternative from the night before either Little Italy for gelato or nightlife in the Gaslamp district.