A weekend getaway in San Antonio, Texas

Once a year (not in 2020) my girlfriends and I try to get together and meet somewhere for a long weekend in the United States. Between California (where they live) and New York we have done Chicago and we were looking for another “middle group”. We were debating between Austin and San Antonio, Texas. We ended up choosing San Antonio because we thought life would bring us to Austin in the future (bachelorette parties, friends moving there, etc). I won’t sugar coat it, while San Antonio was interesting to see, for an out of state visitor I think it would be better suited to be tacked on as an excursion from another trip, rather than a stand alone trip itself. 

The stand out part of San Antonio was how warm and inviting the people are. In other border cities there is often segregation between those of Mexican-American descent and those of European-American descent, this was one of the most congenial diversity that I have seen. All the locals were welcoming out of towners and quick to share their love for the history of their Texas Mexican Spanish ancestry.  

Accomodations: We stayed at an Airbnb in the Monte Vista section of San Antonio. It is always nice to stay in an area that locals live in. It is less touristy than the main downtown. We had the opportunity to explore Hotel Emma in Pearl Brewery, which looks fabulous if your budget can afford it. 

Friday:

Arrive and get settled into your accommodations. Grab some dinner at La Fonda on Main (2415 N Main Ave, San Antonio, TX 78212), a Tex-Mex restaurant with a quaint old school Mexican ambience. The Paramour (102 9th St #400, San Antonio, TX 78215) also offers great rooftop drinks for those who will make it into town before sunset.

Saturday:

Start your morning off at Commonwealth Coffee in Hemisfair Park. Hemisfair Park is the location of the 1968 World’s Fair. Talk a stroll through Yanaguana Gardens (which reminds me of a subdued version of Parc Guell in Barcelona, Spain).

“Yanaguana” means “refreshing water” by the indigenous Payaya people who inhabited the land before the Spanish came in 1718.

I recommend working your way to Mi Tierra Cafe in San Antonio Market Square, there is roughly one mile between Commonwealth Coffee and Mi Tierra Cafe. During this walk make your way through La Villita HIstoric Arts Village and the Riverwalk, passing by the Cathedral, City Hall, and Governor’s House.  

First stop after Yanaguana Gardens is to window shop the artesenary in La Villita Historic Arts Village. The area originally served as a Barracks for the Alamo, but now mostly supplements as a quaint shopping area, offering stores with local art, handmade jewelry, and souvenirs.

Continue on to the RiverWalk, sometimes referred to as “the American Venice”. 

The Riverwalk referred to as “American’s Venice”, reminds me a bit of Disney meets river, and it should because of the engineer, C.V. Wood who was contracted by the City of San Antonio to help with the riverwalk designs was also the engineer for Disney! Since then the riverwalk has seen much expansion, and some of my personal favorites of the walk are getting out of the retail area and a little more natural waterways in the neighboring communities. 

Make your way through the Riverwalk to San Fernando Cathedral also called the Cathedral of Our Lady of Candelaria and Guadalupe. The exterior is beautiful and often has multicolored lights displayed on it for different holidays and festivities. Behind the Cathedral is San Antonio City Hall followed by the Spanish Governor’s Palace.

Finally arrive at the San Antonio Market Square. In 1780 the King of Spain gave it to the settlers, now it offers festivals and numerous Mexican crafts and clothing stores. Get some breakfast at Mi Tierra Cafe y Panaderia (218 Produce Row, San Antonio, TX 78207), a Tex-Mex Bakery. 

After the Tex-Mex Bakery, head over to the Alamo (300 Alamo Plaza; San Antonio,Texas). The 1744 Alamo Mission, which later was the site of a devastating battle loss of the Texans fighting for independence from Mexico. Davy Crockett famously died here and became the name of the eponymous 1950’s miniseries. 

After the Alamo, head back to the riverwalk for a stop at Schilo’s (424 E Commerce St, San Antonio, TX 78205), a famous German deli with hearty sandwiches. 

You can choose to go home and refresh or continue exploring the city at this point. 

Evening: 

The Tower of the Americas in HemisFair Park is great for sunset, normally it costs $11 to go up, but is free if you get a drink or dessert at Chart House (739 E César E. Chávez Blvd, San Antonio, TX 78205). 

Alternative option: The Botanical Gardens often offer $60 Wine Down Saturday events, from 6:00PM-10:00PM.

We enjoyed live music and grub from the casual, Sam’s Burger Joint (330 E Grayson St, San Antonio, TX 78215). 

Sunday:

Start your morning with some breakfast tacos from La Gloria’s (100 E Grayson St, San Antonio, TX 78215). The outdoor patio offers great views of the river and quaint ambiance. Walk along the river to San Antonio Museum of Art which is free on Sunday from 10:00am-12:00pm and they provide Docent Led Gallery Talks from 11:00 -12:00 pm. 

After the museum, head over to Pearl Brewery, a converted 19th century brewery compound which now has shopping, food halls, and dining. On weekend mornings there is a farmers market.  On premise is the Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery which is located in the Hotel Emma (136 E Grayson St, San Antonio, TX 78215), which offers upscale refurbished architecture and good food and drink.

Burn off your lunch with a long bike ride through King Williams Historic District and the San Antonio Missions. Start your bike ride at Blue Star Bikeshop (1414 S Alamo St). It is an 8 miles bike ride down to the last Mission Espada.  and then rent B-Bike (Bike rental) all the way up the Mission Reach Trail. Blue Star Brewery is on the trail and a great place to stop and get refreshments. It is worth the extra ten minutes to add a loop of the King Williams Historic District.The neighborhood was formerly an enclave for affluent german immigrants. Take your time to gawk at the grandior of the homes and mansions!

Head back to your accommodations and get ready to fly home. Cheers to a leisurely weekend in San Antonio.

A day in…Downtown Brooklyn

Brooklyn Borough Hall, formerly Brooklyn City Hall was built between 1834-1848, and did not include the ornate cupola until 1898. The architect, Gamaliel King was listed as a grocer until 1830 when he became a carpenter and architect. Quite the career change! 

Small businesses sandwiched amid older landmarked buildings, as new luxury developments outpace each other in this once gritty and tired neighborhood. Downtown Brooklyn is now a thriving neighborhood while still holding true to its original bustling community. 

Timing: I love downtown Brooklyn during the annual Atlantic Antic festival which is a street fair run by the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation the first Sunday of October. Unfortunately it was cancelled this year because of COVID.

I would recommend reading or watching the movie, Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, which is set in Brooklyn in general and not specifically Downtown Brooklyn and centers on a female Irish Immigrant in the 1950’s. 

Morning: 

Start your morning with a coffee or specialty tea from Devoción (276 Livingston St), the high ceiling and lush plant life creates the perfect oasis from bustling Livingston St and surrounding Downtown Brooklyn. 

Saunter the 4.5 blocks to Brooklyn Tabernacle (17 Smith St), a megachurch with a Grammy Award winning Choir. The 250-voice choir even sang at Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration! The 1918 edifice started as a vaudeville Metropolitan Theater. Converted in 1978 into Loew’s movie theater which was defunct from 1996- 2000, and reopened in its current use (after extensive renovations) in 2002 as the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church. The euphonious Sunday services are at 9:00 AM, 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM. Expect the service to go at least an hour and a half. 

After church (or those that forgo the service) head to the Brooklyn Borough Hall Greenmarket or farmer’s market. Brooklyn Borough Hall was originally called “Brooklyn City Hall” before Brooklyn was annexed into the greater New York City. The land for Borough Hall and encompassing Cadman Plaza was donated by the prominent Pierrepont and Remsen families. Sample and buy some of the fresh cheese, produce and artisan breads. 

New York Transit Museum (99 Schermerhorn St), which tells the history of public transit in New York City. Nearby you will find Junior’s Cheesecake. The orange seats and tiled floors will take you back to the 1950’s when the restaurant was founded by Harry Rosen. For those not familiar with Junior’s, it’s praised as the best cheesecake in New York. 

Take a walk down the thriving Fulton Mall, a transit mall that was built in 1985. The area transitioned from stores selling fur coats to such stores as Footlocker, Macy’s and Nordstrom’s Rack. A couple architecture gems to look at on this stroll:

  • The Dime Savings Bank of New York (9 DeKalb Ave). The Greco-Roman architecture reminds me of our own Parthenon in Rome, tucked away at an angle on Dekalb Avenue. Built in 1908 by Mowbray and Uffinger,  the interior is even more awe inspiring than the exterior with Greek quarried marble. The site is currently in redevelopment for a 73-story residential tower. 
  • Abraham and Straus, started by Abraham Abraham (yes real name!) and Isidor Straus, who owned Macy’s with his brother. In 1885 Abraham and business partner at the time, Joseph Wechsler chose this site for their store. The store eventually merged with Straus Brothers owned R.H. Macy’s in 1895, although the name did not change until 1995. Straus and his wife also went down with the Titanic (along with another rich New Yorker, John Astor IV.) Eight buildings create this one block, while externally it shows the development of Downtown Brooklyn, internally the buildings connect with fluidity. In 2016 the top floors were sold to be used as co-working spaces.

Enjoy a stroll through the Brooklyn Civic Center, Cadman Plaza Park and Walt Whitman Park. Don’t miss the statue of Henry Ward Beecher, a famous abolitionist preacher and brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Abraham Lincoln were among those who heard this preacher speak at nearby Plymouth Church. 

Take a brief walk to the right to MetroTech Center, a business and technology section in Downtown Brooklyn. The late 20th century/early 21 century renewal project combined public-private partnership that resulted in a great deal of privately owned public space including the nation’s largest urban academic-industrial research park. 

NYU’s Wunsch Building (9 MetroTech Center), formerly the Bridge Street Methodist Church, dates back to 1847. Bridge Street Methodist Church was the first independent black church in Brooklyn, and was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Now it’s an office of undergraduate admissions for NYU Tandon School of Engineering. The building has been a historic landmark since 1981. Famous historical figures who orated at the Bridge Street Methodist Church include Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass!

For those who like to contrast old with new, take a quick look at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James (250 Cathedral Pl).

Head to DeKalb Market for dinner. The food reflects the diversity of the borough. There are fan favorites from Manhattan and some famous outposts of Brooklyn’s diverse culinary scene. Brooklyn staples such as Ample Hills Creamery (Prospect Heights ice cream establishment known for rich ice cream with unique flavors), Bunsmith (Crown Heights Korean style steamed bun restaurant), and BK Jani (Bushwick Pakistani kebab restaurant). You truly cannot go wrong with any of the vendors.

A fun alternative would be to get dinner and a movie at Alamo Drafthouse. They also have an adjacent speakeasy, The House of Wax (445 Albee Square W #4410). 

For those who want a nightcap, you will find The Circa Brewing Company (141 Lawrence St) and those looking for views will enjoy Kimoto Rooftop Restaurant and Garden Lounge (228 Duffield St), which offers some city views.

If you enjoy learning more about Brooklyn, consider checking out some of my A Day In itineraries in Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and Red Hook.

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 (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.

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

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!

A weekend in St. Augustine, FL

Palm trees and sunset in St. Augustine.

St. Augustine, the oldest European settlement in the United States, was founded by the Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565. It was originally called La Florida (“Land of Flowers”) by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who claimed the land in the name of Spain on March 27, 1513. The Land of Flowers still seems to fit this beautiful old area of Florida.

Growing up in America’s northeastern seaboard, I recall someone jokingly referring to Florida as “a sunny place for shady people”and I avoided the state for other southern destinations such as New Orleans, Savannah or Charleston, with rich culture and history and comparably warm climates. Yet, St. Augustine, Florida has been on my American bucket list for a number of years and now I finally got to see it. It was worth the wait as I found the city to be charming, historic, full of good restaurants and genuinely friendly, welcoming people.  Here is a brief weekend itinerary for anyone interested in visiting.

When to go: 

Living in New York City, I would highly recommend going during our cold months (January, February, or March) when you want to get out. The summers in Florida are too hot and humid for me. So anytime from December-March is ideal.  I had the luck of visiting during a festival called “Lincolnville Porchfest” which is a grassroots neighborhood festival featuring local artists at different porches in the Lincolnville section of St. Augustine over President’s Day weekend.

Friday:

Get settled into your accommodations and go out for dinner either at one of the many seafood places along Avenida Menendez with views of the Matanzas River, or go over the Bridge of Lions and try one of the popular restaurants on A1A Beach Boulevard. Having just arrived in St. Augustine, I chose Sunset Grille, arriving at the peak of Friday Night Happy Hour.  I admit that I chose the Sunset Grille based solely on the name and the proximity to St. Augustine Beach, which is across the street. Unfortunately, there are no ocean views due to tall buildings and a berm being in the way. While the Sunset Grille had no romantic sunset views, it had a really lively Happy Hour attended by friendly, ebullient locals who were celebrating the end of the work week and the beginning of the weekend. In sum, while the food was okay, and there are no sunset views, the Sunset Grille is a fun place to kick off the weekend.

Saturday:

Grab some fresh,local produce and rub elbows with the locals at the St. Augustine’s Farmers Market.

Drive over to the St. Augustine’s Amphitheater Farmer’s Market (1340C A1A S). Open Saturday 8:30-12:30pm.

Late morning: Window shopping Aviles St and St Georges St (both of which cater to tourism), check out the Cathedral, the main square, and the gardens at the LIghtner Museum.

Try to get a table outdoors and enjoy a healthy brunch at the Floridian Restaurant.

Afternoon: take a tour of Flagler College (74 King St, historical tours are offered at 10:00AM and 2:00PM and last about an hour).  This elegant college campus was formerly the Ponce De Leon Hotel, built in the late 1800s as a winter resort by Henry Morrison Flagler with the interior designed by Louis C. Tiffany. Flagler was an industrialist, railroad pioneer and oil magnate. The school store doubles as the ticket office and the college students who run the store also serve as the tour guides, so the school store/ticket office is closed from 10-11 AM and 2-3 PM while the tours are going on. Try to get tickets ahead of time because in high season they sell out. The engaging tour guides are very knowledgeable and humorous.

An artist at Lincolnville’s Porchfest.

We stayed at an airbnb in the historic Lincolnville neighborhood near downtown St. Augustine during porchfest, so we walked around Lincolnville and enjoyed the music and banter with the neighbors. Lincolnville is an historic black neighborhood where Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke and stayed over during the Civil Rights Movement.

Evening:

Rose on the rooftop of San Sebastian Winery after the end of a “long” day of window shopping.

Get a happy hour drink  at San Sebastian Winery (157 King St, Monday-Saturday, 10 AM – 6PM and Sunday, 11 AM – 6PM). San Sebastian Winery is in Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railway Building. They have complimentary tours and wine-tasting starting every 20 to 25 minutes. The highlight was making it to the rooftop bar that offers live music most nights.

The charming restaurant called Preserved (102 Bridge St) is housed in a renovated Victorian house. If possible try to get seating outside on the patio. They serve locally sourced ingredients at this southern restaurant.

Sunday

Brunch at Maple Street Biscuit Company or Blue Hen Cafe.

 Spend an hour checking out the beautiful Mission of Nombre de Dios (Saturday 9:00AM- 5:00PM, Sunday 12-4:00PM) and the great cross. The beautiful mission and its grounds present a nice place to enjoy a morning stroll.

A few blocks from the Mission of Nombre de Dios is the beautiful Magnolia Avenue. Definitely worth the two block hiatus from the Mission to drive, bike, or walk down.

Get a coffee fix from Crucial Coffee Cafe before heading to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (9:00 AM – 5:00 PM) They do cannon reenactments on the top level. Try to sit close to where the cannon, so you can hear the history lesson, but you may want to block your ears for a moment as the cannon is fired.

For Sunday night dinner, I highly recommend that you try the large Columbia Restaurant. Call ahead for reservations.  This old-time restaurant has been in the same family for over 100 years. The wait-staff, ambiance and food are phenomenal. I recommend the sangria, paella and the salad.  In my group, we ordered varied entrees, did some sharing and found the food to be consistently excellent.

If you are based on the east coast and are looking for a weekend getaway consider looking at my Barcelona, Cotswolds, Mexico City, or San Diego itineraries.

A leisurely day in…Martina Franca, Italy!

Walking around the center of town in Martina Franca. Take in the beautifully crumbling baroque facades.

Located in the Puglia region of Italy, at the top of the heel, Martina Franca is an ancient town known for its fine food, home-grown wine, textiles, soccer and opera music. The white sandstone buildings are tanned with age and rooftop crevices provide space for wildflowers to grow. The green and blue shutters provide a contrast to the white and tan marble  buildings. Where some see signs of decay and decadence, most tourists will enjoy the genuineness of Martina Franca. This beautiful town provides a wonderful site for a leisurely day in the Puglian sun. 

Start your morning at Bar Adua for a coffee and pastry. The family owned business has been around since 1936. If you have the chance, try capocollo, a kind of cured ham that is the pride of the town.

Walk along the alleyways in the center of town and take in the beautifully crumbling Baroque buildings. In the ‘Centro Storico’, don’t miss the Palazzo Ducale, Piazza XX Settembre, Piazza Maria Immacolata, and Basilica di San Martino, a church built in the 18th century in the Late Baroque style.

Afternoon:

Visit the I Pastini winery. Out in the rolling hills of the Valle d’Itria, I Pastini offers tours and wine tasting at reasonable prices and sells wine to take home or to be shipped. Take the tour and learn how the farming community has lived in Southern Italy for thousands of years, and how wine is made. This region is known for red-wine grapes called “Susumaniello,” which is one of the world’s rarest wine grapes. The vineyard uses the region’s iconic truli in its original capacity, as a farm shed.

Similar to the Italians, take a siesta before the evening. 

Take a passagiata, or evening stroll to Cafe Tripoli. Enjoy an ice cream, coffee, or pastry (or all three!). Cafe Tripoli is the oldest cafe in Martina Franca.  It is the most bustling, and is very popular with the locals, which is always reassuring to tourists. I visited during Easter week, and enjoyed a zeppole, fried dough Easter pastry that is filled with custard and topped with confections and jams. Get a seat outside to soak in the ambiance and watch the locals on their passagata.

End your evening wining and dining at Ristorante Torre di Angelucco. Angela the chef and owner will take pride in explaining the whole menu to tourists, and she will make recommendations based on each diner’s desires. This quaint place will not disappoint you! The wine was inexpensive and the food was fabulous and reasonably priced. All of the fish entrees are great, along with the seasonal local vegetables.

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

A day in…Cambridge, MA!

The view of the Charles River (with the iconic Citgo sign in the background) from the MIT Sailing Pavilion.

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. 

Morning: 

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. 

(c) Boston Globe’s 2019 photo of the Captain America Great Dome!

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

Do not miss the audacious Stata Center building designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry and located at 32 Vassar St.

Afternoon:

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.

Photo of the John Weeks Footbridge during the Head of the Charles Regatta. The bridge connects Cambridge to Allston. Annually in October, the Charles River hosts the Head of the Charles Regatta for rowing, the largest two-day regatta in the world.

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/

Evening:

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.

A day in…Crown Heights, BK

Crown Heights hosts the annual Labor Day Carnival celebrating Caribbean culture. I would recommend going during the day, because the evening can often get rowdy. Above: a fiery female dressed in the traditional Carribean Day clothing.

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: 

The tree-lined Eastern Parkway, is a great location for biking, walking, or running.

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. 

Beautiful Brooklyn Museum at 200 Eastern Parkway.

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! 

The area became the outpost for Brooklyn architects such as Cohn Brothers, Parfitt Brothers, and Montrose Morris who designed many mega-houses. Don’t be surprised to see Tzitzits (Jewish garment with white strings hanging down, reminding practitioners to follow the Commandments and not their eyes or heart) being worn in the neighborhood.

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.

If you enjoy learning more about Brooklyn, consider checking out some of my A Day In itineraries in Red Hook, Prospect Heights and Downtown Brooklyn.

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!