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 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.
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.
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….
Cute little truck full of succulents. The only site worth seeing!
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!
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.
There was tons of abandoned machinery.
Some crazy kind of wood that looks like packing material.
This year, for our annual Big Sur Half Marathon trip, I did not actually run. I sipped my mocha latte from the sidelines and cheered everyone on while watching sea otters in the harbor. Grad school is quite the time suck and I haven’t been able to train. So instead of running, my mushy self spent the weekend relaxing and looking at Jellyfish…which are pretty much the most fun creatures to photograph in the entire universe. I tried to get a good picture of the otters but those suckers just won’t hold still.
Cheers to a wonderful weekend with my girls Ginny and Katie who killed it!! ❤
As a getting out of the Navy present to myself I went on a little one month tour of the east coast and visited friends and family from Maine to Florida. My first stop was a 4-day camping trip in Acadia National Park with one of my best friends. I flew into Boston and we did the long drive up north with plenty of stops at Dunkin Donuts and Tim Hortons (why can’t the west coast have these??) This was my first ever trip to Maine despite living in Vermont for 4 whole years for my undergrad. I was pretty excited for some cool weather and sweet hiking.
Luckily we booked our campsite at Seawall a few months in advance and were able to get a beautiful site in the back of the campground which is on the southwestern side of Acadia National Park and about 30 minutes from Bar Harbor. It’s definitely a little more out of the way than a lot of the other campsites but it was quiet and clean and had a huge cement fireplace that we used extensively. We ended up driving by or walking through a few of the other campsites and found that Seawall was a lot less congested. And most importantly, it was located 5 minutes from a delicious lobster joint named Sawyer’s Lobster Pound. Talk about picturesque New England…
Lobster Roll at Sawyer’s
Sawyers Lobster Pound
One morning we went to Jordan Pond for a brunch consisting of their famous popovers and lobster stew. We made reservations in advance and ended up getting the best outdoor seat in the place. The food was delicious and the popovers were plentiful, not to mention the view which was perfect. Afterwards we walked off our meal with a 3 mile stroll around scenic Jordan Pond and watched loons diving in the water.
Our second day we opted for a 9 mile hike up and down Cadillac Mountain, which is the highest point in Acadia. We started from Blackwoods Campground and sweated our way through the forest and up onto a sloped granite mountain which was covered in really beautiful Asian-looking pine trees. The trail was relatively empty besides a few couples and their cute dogs. After 2 hours or so of moderate hiking we made it to the top only to discover that there was a large parking lot full of tourist who had taken the easy way up via a bus. At least it was good to know that if you want to come up for a nice sunrise view you only have to drive 20 minutes instead of hiking 2 hours in the dark.
Downtown Bar Harbor
Every morning we would make a cup of coffee, or tea in my case, and walk the 10 minutes down to the water. There was always some fog to make it a little more scenic. Couldn’t ask for a better wake up.
Fog at Seawall
Acadia National Park
No better way to end a night in Acadia than drinking a glass of wine by the campfire.
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.
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.
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.
Besides eating all the carbs in the entirety of the country, we did a little site seeing. The usual: Churches, churches, churches.
And our last night we made (Andrea made, I drank wine) an amazing rooftop dinner. Airbnb was once again the way to go.
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.
If you see the crazy eyes you are almost there.
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!
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
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.
The town was ready for the futbol game.
Monopoli by night
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.
I 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. Before 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.Every 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. My 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. Gorgeous tiles in the Harem.
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.
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.
Galata Bridge at night. Apparently a great place to watch the sunset but I didn’t make it in time. On 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. Galata Tower by night.Shop cat. 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.
To finish off my trip to South America I wanted to put up one last post of our day trip to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. If you are going to Buenos Aires and have a extra day to blow I highly suggest checking out this old and beautiful city across the river. As I said before, 7 days in BA is just too long. Too much dog poo, too little sidewalk. So, Joe and I decided to use our last day to take the 1 hour-long ferry across country lines and stroll around this lovely little town. While we were there we had some surprisingly great food, saw some picturesque sights and took a deep breath of the clean air. We arrived at around noon and left just after sunset which was a perfect amount of time, but if I were to do it again I would stay the night. The sunset was amazing!
While walking through the old cobblestone streets we came upon a new-looking little boutique hotel called Charco and decided to make dinner reservations there. If I were to go back I would stay at this place in a heartbeat. So cute and serene, yet right down in the center of the old part of town and on the water. This is where we watched the sunset on their amazing deck and then had one of the best meals on our whole trip. The perfect night to top off a perfect vacation!
Here are some pictures of the rooms at Charco from their website… and some decoration inspo.
PS. Right across the street from Charco was a really interesting little jewelry store.
Getting to Colonia: I suggest taking the Colonia Express ferries which are cheaper than the Buquebus ferries and much smaller. Go to the actual ticket places in BA because they do offer deals there. Of course you have to go through customs and immigration on both sides so that’s a little bit of a pain but they have streamlined it pretty well and we did not wait long. There is no reciprocity fee for Uruguay and you don’t need a visa, but do not forget your copy of the Argentinian reciprocity fee otherwise you will have to pay it again when you return back to BA which would be a huge bummer. If you are going on a summer weekend make sure to reserve your hotels and restaurants early because this place can get busy from what I heard. Bon Voyage!