A Solo Traveler Goes on a Small Group Tour

From the title of my first book, Memoirs of a Solo Traveler – My Love Affair with Italy, many of you know that I travel solo to Italy and I enjoy the experience. I value the freedom that comes with traveling alone.

FrecciarossaI like creating my own itinerary, deciding where I want to go and what I want to do.

imageI like the lack of stress caused by an argument with your spouse, partner, or travel companion. I also abhor being guided around in a large group like a herd of animals.

Photo by Margie MiklasI believe that traveling solo can be very empowering, especially for women. The unique thing about solo travel is knowing that you are the one who has to make things happen. While that choice is yours, so is the responsibility and yours alone. I often meet up with friends for a day or two, which is great.

Margie Miklas in Gallipoli, PugliaHowever, I decided to make a change this spring and join Victoria De Maio on her Puglia Experience, and I’m so glad I did. I had a fantastic time and did much more than I would have done alone. It was so much more than I expected, and I’d recommend it highly to anyone, whether you are a new traveler or a seasoned traveler.

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Let me tell you what made me decide to join this small group tour.

1. Staying in one place, a masseria, for 10 days… and not having to unpack every few days. I liked that idea. From the masseria we  take excursions to other Puglia towns, and participate in cooking classes, wine tastings, and more.

image 2. Everything is included in the price. All the meals, all the wine, all the excursions, cooking classes, wine tastings, and transportation.

Especially in Puglia, without a car, it is costly to get around when you are traveling solo. I have previously hired a driver in Puglia for half a day and I remember what I paid, so I knew that this was really a great value for the money.

Michele from Puglia Wine School

Michele from Puglia Wine School

These two reasons were actually enough for me, although there are many more reasons I’d recommend this small group experience. All I had to do was to see all the photos Victoria posted from last year’s trip and I was hooked. I wanted to go to those places in Puglia that I hadn’t been to before, as well as revisit those that I had seen.

Our driver Fabio and our guide Daniela

Our driver Fabio and our guide Daniela

I can say without a doubt that one of the best parts of going to Puglia with Victoria was feeling the camaraderie not only with the others in the group, but also with our drivers and guides, and all the local people with whom Victoria has established relationships. It is hard to describe but there was definitely the feel of being part of a family.

 imageI knew from Victoria’s writing that she has the same kind of passion for Italy as I have, and now that I have met her and traveled with her, I realize that it’s that passion that makes her small group experiences so special.

imageCheck it out. It may be for you, or maybe not. But you won’t know unless you give yourself the opportunity. I’m so happy I did.

imageWhat do you think? I’m interested in your thoughts. Please leave a comment. Grazie mille.

Posted in Italy Travel Planning, Italy Travel, Italian Culture and Lifestyle, Photography, Italian Cooking, TRAVEL | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Lunch at La Sponda Restaurant

imageLe Sirenuse Hotel in Positano has been in the Sersale family since 1951 when Marchesi Sersale converted their summer villa into a beautiful hotel.

imageIn keeping with the look of a home, this 58-room luxury hotel sits high above the Bay of Positano, affording views to die for.

imageToday, owner Antonio Sersale maintains the tradition and look of a well-appointed palazzo while creating the attention to detail that makes Le Sirenuse one of the Leading Hotels of the World.

imageLa Sponda, the Michelin Star rated restaurant, is booked every night as guests dine in an elegant atmosphere lit by four hundred candles. I was recently honored to be their guest for lunch on a sunny day in June, along with two other Italy bloggers.

imageThe Director of Operations, Giovanni Ciccone, welcomed us with a warm smile and introduced us to Vincenzo, the maitre d’, who ushered us out to the covered terrace where our linen-covered table overlooked Positano and the sparkling blue Tyrrhenian Sea.

imageimageThe I Galli islands stood in the distance, and the sailboats which were buoyed near shore, added to the magical scene below. This could easily be the setting for a movie with entwined green vines hugging the white columns and magenta bougainvillea climbing up the walls. The breeze made for a pleasant comfortable pranzo.

imageOur lunch began with prosecco and a tasty appetizer made with asparagus cream, buffalo ricotta, and olive oil. Its smooth consistency added to the flavor. A surprise touch was a plate of Tuscan olive oil served on Vietri hand-painted plates and a basket of local bread, white and whole wheat. Delizioso.

A local Costa d’Amalfi white wine was next, a Tramonti Bianco per Eva, from Tenuta San Francesco winery in neighboring Tramonti. This wine is a blend made from three varieties of grapes, Falanghina, Pepella and Ginestra. Not commonly available in the States, I was pleased to taste this wine which is considered one of the top wines in Campania.

imageWe were treated to rocket salad as well as Insalata caprese “Sirenuse,” tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad, which was served with balsamic vinegar. Our waiter, Saverio, informed us that it was from Modena and had aged 25 years.

More appetizers appeared, including white anchovies marinated in olive oil and lemon, as well as carpaccio di pesce con insalata di finocchio, pinoli, e olive nere, fish seasoned with fennel, pine nuts lemon, and olives. Tutto buono!

imageI accepted Saverio’s recommendation and chose the special, fresh ravioli pasta with pesto and pomodoro, for my entrée. I have never seen pasta presented in such a colorful and artistic manner. Not only was the presentation beautiful but the pasta was especially appetizing.

imageI definitely felt special as a team of waiters dressed in white shirts and black pants attended to our every need.

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imageAfter the meal, Gianluca, a waiter in training, brought us Le Sirenuse’s own brand of limoncello, followed by  espresso with a plate of Italian cookies, and their specialty dessert, torta caprese al cioccolato, chocolate and almond cake.

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Every aspect of this afternoon was extraordinary and I thank Le Sirenuse for the magnificent lunch at La Sponda and memories that will last until my next visit to Positano. Grazie mille.

Posted in Italian Cooking, Italian Culture and Lifestyle, Italy Travel, TRAVEL | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Italy Travel ~ Images of Florence

Florence is a photographer’s dream. Art, architecture, people, tradition…Around every corner is another photograph. Each one can tell a story. Enjoy.

Plaster cast of Rape of the Sabines sculpture in the Accademia -Photo by Margie Miklas

Plaster cast of Rape of the Sabines sculpture in the Accademia

The original sculpture is in the Piazza della Signoria. This sculpture was created from a single block of marble.

Statue of David at Piazza Michelangelo - Photo by Margie Miklas

Statue of David at Piazza Michelangelo

Original statue of David by Michelangelo ~ Photo by Margie Miklas

Original statue of David by Michelangelo in the Accademia

Duomo in Florence

Duomo in Florence

Love locks on railing around sculpture of Cellini

Love locks on railing around sculpture of Cellini

Basilica Santa Maria Novella

Basilica Santa Maria Novella

View of Duomo from Piazza Michelangelo

View of Duomo from Piazza Michelangelo

Basilica Santa Croce

Basilica Santa Croce

In front of Palazzo Pitti

In front of Palazzo Pitti

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Baptistery doors

Baptistery doors

Carousel in Piazza della Repubblica

Carousel in Piazza della Repubblica

Latest designer fashions in Florence

Latest designer fashions in Florence

Rose window architecture of Florence Cathedral

Rose window architecture of Florence Cathedral

Leather vendors at San Lorenzo Market

Leather vendors at San Lorenzo Market

imageimage image These photos don’t even scratch the surface of all there is to see in Florence. There is always a reason to return.

Have you been to Florence?  What is your favorite monument, place, or memory? I’d love to hear it. Please leave a comment.

Posted in Italian Culture and Lifestyle, Italian Fashion, Italy Photo, Italy Travel, Photography, TRAVEL | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Italian Lifestyle ~ Photo of the Day

Local Italian men  discussing important issues in the early evening in the small Puglia town of Squinzano.

Local Italian men in Squinzano, Puglia discussing important issues of the day ~ Photo by Margie Miklas

What do you think these men are talking about?

Did you notice that the women are conspicuously missing? Where are they and what are they doing?

I’d love to know what your think. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts. Grazie.

Posted in Italian Culture and Lifestyle, Italy Photo, Italy Travel, Photography, TRAVEL | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

 Olympia in Greece~Birthplace of the Olympic Games

Photo by Margie Miklas Ruins at Olympia, GreeceMay 21, 2015

Olympia is not one of the Greek Isles, but rather a city on the mainland of Greece, in a valley on the Peloponnese peninsula. In addition to ancient temples, many remains of the sports structures erected for the first Olympic Games  in 776 B.C. are here.  Every four years at the start of the games, the famous torch is lit here in Olympia and runners transport it to its final destination.

Aside from being a Unesco World Heritage site, Olympia is an important historical spot, and it is much larger than I expected. The first Olympic Games  were held in the stadium here in honor of Zeus. Dating back to the 5th century BC the stadium was 232 yards long by 30 yards wide and had room for 45,000 spectators. When I climbed the hill to look down onto the field, I tried to imagine what it was like to be there during those first games. The fact that I actually was standing in the same place where something so historic occurred more than 2700 years ago was almost mind-boggling.

Olympia, Greece ~ Photo by Margie Miklas

 

Some of the seats at Olympia in Greece Photo by Margie Miklas

Some of the remaining seats at Olympia in Greece

Walking around Olympia was hot even though this is only the middle of May. I’m glad I decided to wear a sleeveless cotton dress instead of pants which would have made me feel  even hotter.

Olympia, Greece ~  Photo by Margie Miklas
The flowering trees amid the ancient structures make this a pretty place. Actually the area leading into the ruins of Olympia is a beautiful park. Park officials unobtrusively wander about and quietly ensure that visitors are not standing on monuments or doing anything that might mar this protected site.

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Temple of Zeus in Olympia, Greece Photo by Margie Miklas image

Temple of Zeus in Olympia, Greece

Olympia, Greece ~  Photo by Margie Miklas

imageBelow, the Temple of Hera is the oldest temple at Olympia, built around 600 BC. Originally the temple was for Zeus and Hera, but later a separate temple was built for Zeus.

Olympia, Greece ~  Photo by Margie Miklas

Ruins of the Temple of Hera at Olympia, Greece

Olympia, Greece ~  Photo by Margie Miklas Visiting Olympia reminded a bit of going to Pompeii although these Greek ruins are so much older. I highly recommend a visit here if your travels find you in Greece.

Have you been here? What was your impression? Is this some place you might like to visit?

I am interested in your thoughts. Please leave a comment.

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A Gondola  Ride in St Mark’s in Venice

  Who would say no to a gondola tour through St Mark’s sestiere? Certainly not me, and I am grateful to Italy XP for the special experience of a quiet ride in a gondola on the small canals away from the crowds and noise near the Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s Cathedral. Near Campo San Moisi we boarded our gondola and for the next thirty minutes I felt as if I had been transported to another world.  

 Experiencing Venice from the perspective of sea level brings an entirely different meaning and feeling to being in Venice. As we slowly glided past Rio de La Veste and beneath the footbridge near Pescina di Frezzaria, I enjoyed seeing inside the lower levels of the ancient buildings while noticing fresh petunias and geraniums blooming on balconies above.  

  

 Of course the typical scenes of laundry hanging piqued my interest and necessitated shooting more photos, since each scene is different. 

  
The tide was low since none of the door frames were sitting in water. The gargoyles above the doors held a story and occasionally someone was sitting in a window high above.

   
Sailing past Ristorante da Raffaele, we soon emerged into the Grand Canal for the last part of this lovely ride. Once again to see the Venetian churches and palazzos at sea level instead of from a bridge or a vaporetto created a new perspective for me, and the views were incredible.

  
Following our gondola ride our friendly and knowledgeable guide walked us through more alleys of Venice from St Mark’s to Rialto, passing through Castello. 

   

 We stopped in Campo San Anzolo where young lovers strolled with their gelatos and we had a brief history lesson about the importance of the wells and cisterns in Venice. 

  
Admiring the rooftop terraces we continued to Corte Contarini del Bovolo where the uniquely-shaped castle stood. When we passed by Teatro La Fenice we could even hear one of the male opera singers rehearsing for tonight’s performance.

  
Thank you Italy XP for this amazing afternoon in Venice. 

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Italy Travels ~ Coming Home

  
After traveling for the past five weeks in Italy, including a cruise to the Greek Isles, my adventurous ride is finally winding down and coming to an end. I am on the last train back to Venice, and tomorrow I will fly back to my home in Florida. These past weeks have left me with so many incredible experiences, good times with new friends, touching moments with the friendly Italian people, delicious seafood, homemade pastas,  perfectly grilled vegetables, fantastic wines and prosecco, and memories that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

  
I feel mixed emotions as I say goodbye to Italy, the place I feel so at home, and look forward to returning to my own house in Florida, and seeing my family and friends again.  

  

I have not even made a dent in keeping up my blog about all the places I visited and how my days were filled with amazing times. I tried to capture some of those moments with my camera.  And I do intend to write about them in the weeks and months ahead.

   
 As I look out the window of the high-speed Italo train from Rome to Florence to Bologna and to Venezia, I appreciate not only the beauty of the tall cypress trees and the hills and mountains in the distance, but I think back to some of the people I have had the pleasure of meeting in Italy.

A young man who graciously offered to lift my heavy large piece of luggage into the overhead compartment of the train, with a smile and telling me it was no problem.
  

The young girl in Naples, who works in the oldest optical shop in the world. Her name is Libera and she patiently took her time explaining the history of the building which was once a cloister.

  
Andrea, the young driver in Matera, who made several stops to allow us to have the best panoramic views of this unique city built from caves. What really moved me though, was hearing  his perspective of today’s world, and how tourism would change the simplicity of his city. He acknowledged that yes, it would improve the economy, but also that everything is not about money, and that their simple lifestyle of leaving doors unlocked and living a quiet life was not a welcome change. Such wisdom from such a young person.

 
Nicola, our driver from Drive Amalfi, who drove us from Positano to Naples in a comfortable Mercedes van. He entertained us with his sense of humor as he spoke honestly about the realities of relationships in Italy, and how the mother of the Italian family is respected and the one with the real power in the family.

  
Giuseppe, Luigi, and Antonio, the three young guys on the beach in Polignano a Mare. They looked like male models in Speedos and were happy to talk with us for a bit and pose for pictures!

  
So many people and so many beautiful times ~ Stay tuned for the stories coming up as soon as I have a chance to recover from jet lag.  

Posted in Italian Culture and Lifestyle, Italy Travel, Photography, TRAVEL | Tagged , , , , | 25 Comments

Transportation in Italy

 photo by Margie Miklas Whenever I travel to Italy I expect to take several modes of public transportation such as trains, buses, subways, and taxis. Of course my feet are the other mode and believe me, I am feeling it during this trip. My Health App informs me that I am walking an average of 5 miles a day, and in these hill towns of southern Italy, I am climbing 10-11 stories a day. It is no wonder when your room in your charming B&B is reached by climbing 30 steps! 

  
But it is good exercise and Mateo,  the friendly manager at Tra le mura in Polignano a Mare, helps carry the luggage, for which I am grateful. I seem to always be apologizing, saying “Mi  dispiace” for the extra weight and large case. In their genteel way, the managers always say that it’s no problem.

What I really love though, are the other forms of transportation, those that I don’t see at home, or if I do, it is a rare occurrence. My favorite are the 3-wheeled trucks called “apes,” pronounced “ah-pays.” Ape means bee in Italian and they are named for the characteristic buzzing sound of the engine. You can read more from an older post I wrote a few years ago.

   
  

  
In Polignano a Mare I had my first Rickshaw Taxi ride and loved it. Here these vehicles are great for navigating the winding narrow streets paved with stone.

 

I also love seeing the small cars in Italy, especially the Fiat 500.

   

This 1979 model came with an attractive young driver named Nicolas, who graciously gave us a ride! What fun!

 

  

Stay tuned for more adventures from Italy!

I’d love to hear what you think! Please leave a comment. Grazie!

Posted in Italy Photo, Italy Travel, TRAVEL | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Visiting the Greek Island of Mykonos

  May 20, 2015   Mykonos is another Greek island which looks like a postcard. With a reputation for a lively nightlife and favorite among celebrities, Mykonos is truly beautiful. White houses with blue roofs and blue trim dot the landscape of this hilltop location. Blooming bougainvillea in brilliant colors add a pleasant burst of brilliance to this white and blue town on the Aegean Sea.

  
The old Paraportiani church is one of the most photographed buildings in Mykonos. Its stark whiteness is almost hypnotizing.

  

The ancient windmills on Mykonos captured my attention. Located in the Chora neighborhood they can be seen from a distance and are iconic symbols of Mykonos, even though they are no longer operational.

   

    What is your favorite Greek island? Please leave a comment. 

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A Visit to Santorini

May 19, 2015

imageSantorini is one of the most popular of the Greek islands and a place I have always wanted to visit.

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As the Norwegian Jade approached the volcanic island of Santorini I was mesmerized by the landscape created by an eruption in the 16th century BC.

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Whitewashed houses sit high above the Aegean Sea on lava rock mountains.

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We had to take tender boats to reach the island, so this process cut into the time we could spend here.

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In order to reach Fira, the main city, we took a cable car for €5 one way. The only other options were walking or riding a burro, and neither choice appealed to us. Fira was busy and chaotic and it took a while to realize that the fastest way to reach the higher town of Oia was go take a taxi. Even this choice took some time but once we arrived in Oia I knew why I wanted to come here. The winding uphill streets and staircases make for multiple photo photo opportunities as well as a sense of gratitude for having good walking shoes.

We found a wonderful place to have lunch where we had a view to die for. I tasted the authentic Greek spinach pie and enjoyed a glass of ouzo which was fantastic!

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Arrivederci, Santorini.

Posted in Greece, TRAVEL | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments