Encuentro Guadalupe

I have been living in San Diego for 3 years and this was my first time driving into Mexico. The military does a really good job of brainwashing you into thinking you will be immediately kidnapped and held for ransom upon crossing the border in Tijuana. This is obviously not the case and I took way too long figuring this out. This week it was finally time to adventure down south.

Valle de Guadalupe is a perfect day/single night trip from San Diego. Guadalupe is the Temecula of Baja, a town full of vineyards and farm-to-table restaurants. It’s safe and only 2 hours from San Diego. We stayed at Encuentro Guadalupe, which is an eco-friendly hotel consisting of tiny pods built on the hillside. The pool and hot tub make this place the perfect destination for relaxation. I consider myself a hot tub connoisseur, and this place did not disappoint. We had it to ourselves for an hour during the amazing desert sunset. Each room also has a patio with a chiminea that the staff will come and light for you. It was a little too chilly for us, but we can’t wait to come back and sit by the fire and drink some local wine.

The rooms are simple and comfortable with floor to ceiling views of the surrounding hills and vineyards. We wanted to eat dinner at Laja, which was highly recommended, but it was closed for the off-season. We ended up eating at Finca Altozano, which is right down the road from Laja. The food was delicious but it was entirely outdoors and without heating lamps. By the end of dinner my feet were ice blocks- not surprising considering it was 40 degrees. The wine helped distract me from the fact that my face couldn’t move anymore. During the summer this place would be ideal.

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Welcome Sangria

Welcome Sangria

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Lobby

Lobby

Breakfast

Breakfast

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Encuentro Guadalupe is not an easy place to get a reservation. We got one very last minute (the day before) by reserving through booking.com. This is a good way to get a last minute room. Prices start at $380 including tax. It’s expensive but worth the experience!

Tips:

-The driving is simple. Cross the border on 5 South through the San Ysidro crossing. Follow the signs for Ensenada/Rosarito. Once you go through the toll booth in Ensenada follow the exit towards Tecate/Highway 3. Encuentro Guadalupe is right on Highway 3 just east of Guadalupe, you can’t miss it. About 20 minutes from Ensenada.

-Don’t forget toll money. They accept pesos and dollars. You will need about $10 each way. They give change.

-Stop for lobster in Puerto Nuevo or Rosarito.

Otranto, Alberobello, Gallipoli, & Ostuni

Ostuni

Ostuni- The White City

Now that winter is setting in I am having a serious case of summer withdrawal. Specifically Italy withdrawal. In my many posts about Puglia this summer I left out a few of the cities I visited. These are 4 of the little towns we skipped through from our base in Lecce. Perfect little getaways from the city.

OTRANTO

Otranto was a mellow little port town full of charm and not many tourists. My favorite place was this little gallery near the main church called Officina Mosaico. The owners were a lovely couple that made all their mosaics by hand.  Just outside of town was a little lake that they would get minerals from to make some of their glass. They drew us a map so we could drive up there and see it for ourselves. We still managed to get lost but eventually found the little oasis. Smart Cars are really great for abrupt and excessive U-turns.

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OSTUNI

This small and beautiful city on the top of a hill is called “the white city.” We only got to spend an hour or two walking around and buying more leather sandals while enjoying its insanely gorgeous scenery. ❤ ❤ ❤ Very romantic.

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GALLIPOLI

Hate to say it but Gallipoli was not my favorite. We had heard a lot of good things about it but found it to be very grimy, polluted and touristy. Every single shop and restaurant in this town seemed to be aimed at tourists. The harbors were filled with trash. The beaches weren’t nice. It was a sad day for us but it meant we got to spend more time in Lecce, which was a far more appealing to me. Many people we spoke to really loved Gallipoli so it’s possible we just experienced it on an off day….

Exhibit A: This is what the whole harbor looked like….

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Cute little truck full of succulents. The only site worth seeing!

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ALBEROBELLO

By the end of the trip I still couldn’t say the name of this town without tripping over my tongue. Alberobello is home to the little stone cottages called Trulli. This little town was very picturesque and quiet. Definitely stop by if you are in the area, it’s adorable!

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Cocos Island, Guam

Cocos Island is a tiny little uninhabited island off the southern coast of Guam. I had the pleasure of living on Guam for 2 years while I was in the Navy and one of the little day trips everyone did was a visit to Cocos. During the day this island is used as a Japanese-style Club Med and there are about a million tourists all hanging out on the same crappy beach. So instead of trying to relax while someone was screaming in Japanese over a loud-speaker I decided to walk around the island, even though it was against the rules. Apparently there is some toxic chemical all over the island from an old Coast Guard station. I tried not to touch anything and so far have no mutations, knock on wood. I was imagining some type of Chernobyl horror movie situation. It ended up being quite a beautiful little place, but eerie in its emptiness. The ferry ride over was the best part; the water was insanely blue and we passed sea turtles and rays in the water. I just dug up these pictures and thought I would share.

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There was tons of abandoned machinery.

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Some crazy kind of wood that looks like packing material.

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Passport Protectors

Like your passport really needs a protector….but I have always found them very chic and useful. I consistently find myself digging through my purse for my passport while the immigration officer glares at me and the people in line behind me start to huff and puff. One more excuse to buy a cute accessory? Maybe. But I really think it makes your skinny little passport easier to locate whether it’s the color or the added bulk.

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Leather Passport Cover

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J.Crew Passport Cover – On Sale!

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Saks Personalized Passport Cover/Wallet – I just got 2 of these for a wedding present and they are very luxurious….

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Etsy Anchors Passport Cover

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J.Crew Perforated Hearts Passport Cover

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Flight 001 Passport Cover  – PS I love this website.

Sleeping in Ancient Caves: Matera, Italy

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Our last stop before Rome was the ancient town of Matera. This is one of the oldest cities in the world and was used as a backdrop for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. I had randomly seen a picture of it while googling Puglia and decided we needed to go here. It’s not technically in Puglia but it’s only a short 1.5 hour train ride from Bari, which is the only way to get there unless you are driving. This is probably why we seemed to have the whole town to ourselves besides one lovely Japanese woman that was also staying at our hotel. What’s interesting about this town is that up until the mid-1900’s people lived in the caves that line the sides of the canyon. These caves, or sassi, have normal looking stone structures externally so it’s hard to even see them. Our hotel, L’Hotel in Pietra, was constructed inside a 13th century cave-church. It had 9 rooms built into the caves which go deep into the side of the canyon. The owner said it took 4 years to renovate. It was a magical place to stay.

Matera is just starting to see more tourism and more inns and small hotels are being built in the sassi, but it’s slow going and very expensive. There were a ton of empty caves we saw while walking up and down the labyrinthine stairways. The museums inside the caves were small and run by locals. It seems the city itself does not have a hand in running these museums which I guess is good and bad as they definitely need some work. The food here was excellent and we managed to have a few amazing meals with a view like no other. We also burned off this pizza in about 5 seconds walking up and down the endless stairs. One thing we didn’t get to do was hike across the ravine to view the city from the other side of the canyon. We were unfortunately too hungover.

L’Hotel in Pietra— AMAZING!!

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Amazing views.

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We had one killer sunset on our last night.

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Along with some PIZZA! and wine from Matera.

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The Heel of the Boot: Lecce, Puglia

We spent three really great nights here in Lecce -one of the larger cities in Puglia- and as most vacations go, wished we had stayed longer. Lecce is a prime jumping-off point for day trips into southern Puglia. We got a sweet little apartment right in the dead center of the historical district and next-door to Solento Rent which has smart cars at a daily rate of 50 Euro. Lecce itself was a beautiful pedestrian friendly city with lots of great restaurants and shopping– who needs 5 pairs of Italian leather sandals?? ME.

The BEST BEST BEST thing about Lecce was a great little cookie/pasta/pastry shop on Via Giuseppe Libertini right across from the Duomo. They had the most mind-blowing delicious almond cookies. I could eat them every day for the rest of my life and never stop daydreaming of them. And the old man that owns it gave us a million free samples of everything we wanted, plus things we didn’t want but ate anyway.

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Puglia is known for a savory pastry called the Rustico. Its basically a calzone that is made out of heavenly substances instead of the usual gobs of cheese inside a hard crust. I wish I had taken a picture of one. It was epic. We also really enjoyed a restaurant called Doppiozero. We stopped here for lunch one day and feasted on focaccia and pasta salad.

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Besides eating all the carbs in the entirety of the country, we did a little site seeing. The usual: Churches, churches, churches.

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And our last night we made (Andrea made, I drank wine) an amazing rooftop dinner. Airbnb was once again the way to go.

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Lovely Lecce, we will miss you!!!

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Grotta Poesia

When I was researching places to go in Puglia I randomly came across a beautiful picture of a natural ocean pool tucked into sandstone rocks that was protected from the surf. The name of it was Grotta Poesia. That was all I knew when we were driving through the countryside asking local Italians where to find it. I thought everyone would know what I was talking about but we were sent on a little bit of a wild goose chase at first. Apparently there are many places similar to this in the area. We eventually found Grotta Poesia in the town of Roca Vecchia and spent the day cliff jumping, eating fresh watermelon, soaking in the sun, and enjoying the incredible view.

How to get here: Drive into the tiny town of Roca Vecchia and get to the coast. Once you see a tall obelisk-like monument out near the water, park in front of the church or near it. Walk towards the monument and then down to the left you will see the grotto. This is an easy day trip from Lecce.

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If you see the crazy eyes you are almost there.

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You can cliff jump into the grotto or on the side where the waves are. It’s a little harder to get out of but the ocean side jumps are way higher and scarier–and way more fun!

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One Week in Puglia: Monopoli

When I told people I was going to the Puglia region of Italy for my next trip most people had never heard of it. The easy way of explaining where Puglia is located is by describing it as the heel of the boot. I actually didn’t even know what this area was called until my Italy-loving friend Andrea said we HAD to go here on our trip because it is the last place in Italy she hadn’t yet traveled. She said it was where many Italians take their vacations because there are less tourists and the beaches are amazing. One quick google image search later and I was sold. We bought our tickets and then started researching each of the little towns along the water. There were too many to choose from so we kind of randomly picked Monopoli, Lecce, and then Matera on our way out. Monopoli was our first stop and easily one of our favorite places from the whole trip.

Monopoli is located just down the coast from Bari, the main port town in Puglia, and easy to get to on a regional train in about an hour after taking a 4 hour train from Rome. The town sits right on the crystal clear blue waters of the Adriatic. It dates back to 500 bc so needless to say it does not lack in charm. The historical part of the town has streets barely big enough for cars that you can amble up and down all day. We were surprised to find very few tourists here and felt like we had the town to ourselves. Our first day we decided to go on a little sailing trip to Polignano a Mare, the next town up the coast, to relax and soak in some sun and views.

Andrea taking in the views off Polignano a Mare

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After taking our boat trip we spent the rest of our time walking up and down the sidewalks and going into little churches and stores, sitting in cafes, and eating some really good food. There was a boutique hotel named Don Ferrante right near where we were staying with an amazing rooftop restaurant. We sat here one night, prosecco in hand, watching the sunset. If I ever come back, this is where I am staying and I don’t care how expensive it is. We were eating, or trying to eat here, the night Italy lost their futbol game that ended their time at the World Cup. After the game was over the waiters came out to serve us practically crying into our drinks they were so sad. If the scenery wasn’t so amazing it would have certainly ruined the mood.

Don Ferrante

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The town was ready for the futbol game.

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Monopoli by night

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Puglia has many towns like this but Monopoli is a must-see. It’s a sleepy little town, but very romantic and relaxing. If you like jewelry there is an amazing store owned by a German couple down near the water called FLY. We used Airbnb to find an apartment here and found an abundance of cute little places for a good price.

Rome: Eating and Shopping

Accompanying me on my recent trip to Italy was my good friend Andrea. She was the best traveling partner for a trip like this not only because we get along like two peas in a pod, but also because she lived in Rome for three years while getting her master’s degree and speaks fluent Italian. Basically she was my own personal translator, food picker outer, shoe store finder and gypsy shield. This trip would have been near shit without her. Her one true love is Rome since that’s where she spent most of her time living, so we tucked away two extra days here with the sole purpose of eating and shopping. I have been to Rome before and seen all the major tourist sites so our aim was to find some leather shoes, Italian linen shirts for our boyfriends, and the best Roman pizza there is. Mission accomplished on all fronts with some extra site-seeing as an added bonus.

First things first I NEED to mention this pizza place in the Trastavere neighborhood that blew my mind. It’s called Dar Poeta. We went here two nights in a row it was so good. Andrea says when she lived here it wasn’t too crowded and only open certain hours, but since then has definitely started to welcome an increasing number of foreign patrons. Despite this it did not seem touristy to me. We never had to wait more than five minutes to get a table but I would have waited a week if I had to, it’s that good. I highly recommend the Bufala Mozzarella pizza towards the bottom of the menu, it will melt all your brain sensors with the first bite. We finished off our pizza with the ricotta-nutella calzone for dessert and I was in heaven and thankfully wearing a elastic waistband.

Andrea digging in, round one.

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Pizza Perfection- Bufala

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There was not room in my stomach for this but it happened anyway….

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For breakfast- which was hard for us since we were usually still full from the night before- we would go to Compagnia del Pane in the Prati neighborhood. We were staying in a flat just 2 blocks from the Vatican so this was easy walking distance. The apple pastries here were incredible, along with everything else. One of my missions on this trip was to start developing a taste for coffee. Before coming to Italy I associated coffee with what hot sewage might taste like, and could barely even stomach a spoonful of coffee ice-cream let alone a latte. This was the first and only latte I drank and I could barely swallow it even with 3 packets of sugar, but Andrea said it was divine so you can take it from her. I did drink the whole thing and would like to think my taste buds are making improvements so I may enter the adult world of coffee-drinking one day.

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In the middle of our shopping and eating we would sometimes venture to one of Rome’s attractions, but quickly found that the city decided to put all their major tourist spots under construction at the same time. Why they did this in the middle of tourist season is beyond me. The Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and multiple other sites were all covered in scaffolding and ugliness. Thankfully, Andrea took me to Gianicolo Hill which overlooks all of Rome. It is a little bit of a hike but worth the view. At the top there is a beautiful Piazza and also a big fountain called the Fountain of Acqua Paola. It was a perfect sunset walk before stuffing our faces at Dar Poeta. We also did a quick jaunt through St. Peter’s basilica because I remembered that being one of my favorite spots last time. Seeing it just after visiting the Blue Mosque was an interesting comparison.

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To top off our day we had gelato at Gelateria die Gracchi. Andrea assured me this was the best place in Rome. Everything was seasonal and they use very fresh ingredients. You could tell it was good because nothing was colored with bright dyes, and the place was loaded with locals. My favorite mix was chocolate and almond or lemon.

It was a quick two days in Rome, I guess I will just have to come back again!

Istanbul in 2.8 Days

DSC01841I walked past this fruit/juice stand every morning and had to fight my instincts to bite into one of these beauties. Lots of color in Istanbul everywhere I looked, but also about a million tourists clogging everything up. This is what I get for going in the end of June I guess. Despite the tourists, I would go back in a heartbeat. Istanbul has tons to offer and I feel like I only saw a piece of it, starting with all the major tourist sites. I would love to come back in the early fall and see the city in a less crowded light, then also visit the rest of Turkey which is supposed to be even more beautiful.

I stayed just off Istiklal Street in Beyoglu on the European side and used Airbnb.com to rent a small apartment. This was perfect because it was a non-touristy area yet only 10 minutes to Galata tower and 15 to the tram station. I walked a lot which was the perfect solution for all the baklava I ate. I tried a little everywhere I went but the best I had was at a meze place in Galatasaray on my last night. It wasn’t drowned in honey like many I have had- it was light and perfect. I also tasted their version of ouzo, called Raki. The owner even let me keep 2 of the little raki glasses which remind me of Japanese beer glasses. Galatasaray is a great place for meze-style restaurants. DSC02050Before coming to Turkey I am sad to say I had never tasted Turkish Delight. For some reason I always thought it looked like a fruit cake version of candy and I can’t stand fruit cake. I tasted a hefty amount from different places in the city, once again thankful for all the walking I was doing. This place was on Istiklal street and was packed with Turkish men yelling over the counters. There were about 50 kinds here, some covered in saffron or rose petals. I actually prefer the plain pistachio kind.DSC01795 DSC01793 DSC01787Every morning I would have my cup of Turkish tea which was a little stronger than many british style teas and had a little more bitterness to it. I liked how they served it in the glass cups. After my tea I would get one of the Simits from a street cart. They were like a mix between a bagel and a pretzel. Definitely worth a try once but I would take a New York style bagel over this any day.  DSC01830 DSC01838My first full day I went to Topkapi palace and the cisterns. Both were crowded but I was surprised when  the Harem in the palace was not. I paid extra to see this part which was beautiful but very lacking in information. The audio guide was useless as everything they said was written out for you in each room with minimal information to start with. I would recommend getting a written guide somewhere else. The Harem was partially under construction and you were only allowed in certain parts. I felt like they could do a little more work on refurbishing some of the rooms but overall it was worth the extra cash to go in. DSC01911 DSC01899 DSC01882Gorgeous tiles in the Harem.DSC01850 DSC01859 DSC01908

The cisterns were also very interesting and beautiful. This took me only 15-20 minutes to get through not counting the line which moved rather quickly.

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The second day I went to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The line into both was looong and I actually paid some guy 20 lira to get me into the Hagia Sophia faster. The Blue Mosque has free entry so there is no way to get to the front of that line. Afterwards I went to the nearby Seven Hills Restaurant for a drink and the amazing view.

DSC01993 DSC02008 DSC01916 DSC01972Galata Bridge at night. Apparently a great place to watch the sunset but I didn’t make it in time. DSC01821On Istiklal street there are a few places that sell goats milk ice cream. This one guy does this whole routine before finally giving you your cone. The ice cream is much more chewy than regular cream and lends well to being flung around like taffy. DSC01801 Galata Tower by night.DSC01812Shop cat. DSC01950 The last thing I did was take a boat ride on the Bosphorus River. For some reason I was so exhausted I went to the lower deck to sit down and woke up 2 hours later after the ride was over… this was the only picture I got! Something about boats makes me very sleepy. DSC02042