Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Day Trip To San Marino

 

     I could not spend 2 months in Italy without stopping by the small country of San Marino for the day. Not a big day as far as the amount of things I did, I just stopped at the cliff top castles and some of the museums in the castle, but great day regardless. San Marino is a tiny country and most people will not visit just San Marino without visiting Italy unless they had family or friends here I imagine. But great day :)







Choose the continent!!!!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

My 2 Months In Italy



                                                    Video of the trip above
      So I think when you travel, you have the top places you'd like to see, the top places you want to see, and the top places you must see. Italy for me fell into the third one. My family immigrated from there on my mom's side, I grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, I speak the language, I've always had a fascination with the culture, and many more reasons I'll blog about at another time. But not only did I need to visit Italy, I had to do it right. I needed time, significant time. I came to the conclusion that based on what I wanted to do 2 months would suffice. When it was done, I was ready to come home, this was last year in the spring, today I'm ready to go back for another 2 months or more!

     My trip in Italy was divided equally between south and north. While I did do some major tourist places in the south, the south part was more about an ancestry journey, to walk the roads that the people who brought my family here walked, and to try to get a glimpse or an idea of what their life was 100 years ago when they all left from the same port in Napoli. The 2nd part was of course dedicated to the major great cities, Rome, Florence, Milan, etc. But thanks to some friends I got a special treat to see more of Northern Italy I hadn't planned, Belluno in particular, and a great bike ride from northern Italy into Austria. 

     Now talking about budget travel is a paradox for Italy, because to my surprise, traveling in Southern Italy was extremely budget friendly. It's unfortunate for the country because the economy is hurt in the south, but for tourism it made it a lot easier. For example I had a huge apartment in Palermo for around 30 dollars a night, 2 bedrooms, multiple balconies, close to 1500 square feet I'd say. Now went I was in Venice I stayed in a college frat house on a couch for $50 a night with 3 other roommates. So the change happens quick in terms of distance, but nonetheless, here's my go to Italy tips and trick on great things to see, great things to do, short city by city summary, and of course, how to afford it!

  • Plan, I'm a planner, I know many travelers like to land and figure it out. I've done this, I admire this. But I also feel like I don't want to be on a computer on my phone when I land, I want to do that before. So plan if you are a planner, but if not that's ok too.
  • It's really easiest to travel in a geographical direction, and unless you are in a rush you won't need to fly at all from city to city and get amazing views from taking the trains. I did fly out of Sicily into Bari.
  • For the south you will be just fine with Airbnb apartments or decent hotels for much less than you'd pay at home. For Rome and north you'll need to be a little more crafty, I did do the hostels in Rome and Venice and I wrote about being too old for the hostel recently.  If you don't want to do the hostel, apartment private room rentals, small apartments, or small hotels will be your best friend, my room in Florence was about 100 square feet, but the price was great and it had everything I needed. I didn't need much time for Firenze, but if I did I would have been happy in that tiny apartment for months (it was steps from Piazza Santa Croce).

  • If you are staying long term in any spot consider grocery shopping, while of course you will want to try as many delicious restaurants as you can, the grocery stores will carry items, garnishes, cheeses, flavors of meats, that you won't find at home. So you'll save money and get great food.
  • Italy is becoming a lot more credit card friendly, but still a good idea to always have enough cash for a dinner or some shopping. 
  • Unless you are heading to remote country side destinations everything is pretty accessible by buses and trains. Don't forget to get an international driver's license if you do plan on getting a car. 
  • That being said, trains in the south, particular Sicily to my memory are pretty bad with maps and station announcements, it will be a good idea to have maps on your phone or a paper map if you are old school. The stations will have names and you can figure out from there how many stops to your destination.

    Trying out some of the wine out of the barrel in Augusta, Sicilia
  • Be aware a lot of restaurants charge a small table fee to sit there, 1 or 2 euro. 
  • As always though many don't and if you are looking for a wifi signal because you don't roll with international data like I roll, many places will let you use the wifi with purchase of a delicious espresso or cappuccino. 
  • Learn some basic Italian phrases, espically if you are traveling in the south you will find English is not as common as Rome and north. 
  • People told me over and over about the spaghetti is best in this part, the arancini here, the pizza here,etc. I will credit one pizzeria below, but generally in my opinion, the food was incredible everywhere. 
Let's go by region and city by city of what I can remember now:

Siclia:

  • In Palermo Check out Teatro Massimo, the coast line parks also have some cool abandoned forts that aren't even tourist attractions. But they are free for you to check out. Palermo is also great for shopping, the old city, and amazingly cheap restaurants.

    For Grandma, Augusta, Sicilia 2016
  • Augusta: I visisted on my family journey, if you want an amazing quiet seaside get away head to Augusta/Siracusa. The days were super peaceful just walking around the island portion of Augusta. The weekends bring in the influx of everyone from the city and neighboring areas for wine, dining, and get together. You will also find the abandoned gigantic Castle Svevo Augusta here. I wouldn't go inside as it's been deemed structurally unstable... but... you didn't hear it from me, if you want to check out the castle grounds, I hear it's pretty easy to sneak in & check them out.

  • Catania was an unplanned stop due to missing a train :). I hit a cafe with WiFi and quickly checked what I could do in about 2-3 hours. I went to the Castello Ursino museum/castle and also did some clothes shopping at this point to get rid of my Iceland clothes and get a warmer sweater.
Puglia:

  • Lets start with Bari, Bari is a great city to hang out in, the old city (la citta vecchia) is incredible. I loved Castello Normanno, and walking along the port. But really my best experience in Bari was making friends with a guy that was studying there and going to his friends place for some great home cooking!

  • Polignano A Mare... I'll just let the photos speak...





  • Alberobello, a must see for the community of trulli, these are tiny houses that were built for temporary shelter for laborers as well as permanent housing, some people do in fact still live in them, and although I didn't get to last time, next time I plan on staying in one off Airbnb. On your train ride in you will see a few, but once you get there you'll know you have arrived.


Basilicata:

  • Matera was a place I had never heard of until about 2 weeks before my trip I was planning for months, my friend in Italy told me that I was going to be in this region, which I was, I had to see Matera. Matera is an amazing historical city, it's been used in many films, at one point it was slums, but now the tourist influx has regenerated it to an amazing place to visit. Here's one of the few time I will advocate to spend extra for where you stay on a hotel but be sure to stay in one of the cave hotels. I stayed in Locando Di San Martino, it is in the heart of the city, and also had an underground geothermal pool! The rooms and the whole hotel are built into the mountain.


Old house on display in Matera
Geothermal spa
Matera Lunch time :)


Campania:

  • Arienzo is a place most tourists will never visit, as I learned from TripAdvisor it's also a place not too many Italians are even aware of. I'm not referring to the popular beaches in Positano, I'm referring to a tiny town in Campania that my family came from. While I won't say you must visit Arienzo I would certainly encourage you if you have time to go off the map and check out a tiny town on your way to your bigger destination. It was great to walk the same streets in the same place that my family came from. While some of my family has been to Italy, I am now the only living person that has been to the towns our family immigrated from.

    For my Grandfather I never met, Arienzo 2016
  • Naples, I spent about 5 or 6 nights in Napoli and really wish I could have stayed longer, as far as tourist things I saw Museo del Tesoro di San Gennaro, Duomo di Napoli, Castel Nuovo, Castel del'Ovo, Naples Harbor, make sure you check out the historic center, stay there if you can even, and by all means do not skip having some pizza at Gino Sorbillo's, it is by no means overrated and the line moves quick (I ate there twice)! All these things aside, honestly, my favorite part of Naples was wandering aimlessly, hanging out with locals getting drunk, getting lost, waking up hungover with delicious cappuccino and pastries, working out at the gyms meeting people, and just immersing myself in the life. If I were to live in Italy, I could certainly imagine living here. There are so many more things to do, but I will have to save those for next time.





  • Pompeii, you can't go to Campania without checking out the ancient ruins of Pompeii, be sure to check out the before and after books they sell at the souvenir shop showing artist rendering of the before and today of Pompeii. One day will suffice, we are budget travelers, we don't have enough time to spend too much time at any one place unfortunately, you could speed tour in an hour spend a full day there, or do about 2-3 hours, which I think is best.

    Ancient Ruins
  • The Amalfi Coast, it was great to spend a few days here off peak tourist season, I spent off peak tourist prices to stay in Maori, if you are on a budget you can stay here or Minori for significantly less than Amalfi or Positano. Now some locals will tell you that you can walk to Amalfi from there, it's a short walk, but don't do it!!! The lanes are way too narrow, I wondered if it was going to be my last days as I was walking, don't get me wrong I loved the cliff views, but not worth the danger! Anyway, relax here, enjoy the beaches, do some hiking, if you have time do Capri, if you don't I hate to say this, but I think it was very overrated, the Blue Grotto tour is way too short in the cave for the price you pay and Capri was the only bad meal I had in two months there.


I'm not smiling because I'm wondering if this will be my last photo!

Buongiorno Italia!

Ok.. it's overrated but I still threw in a photo, Grotta Azzura Capri
Lazio:
  • Rome... it's a place that has been so historical and so visited and I highly doubt with all the info out there anyone is going to come here for my tourist advice on the Colosseum, the ruins, etc. So I'm gonna talk about the other less main stream tourism things I did in Rome. I wandered the old city of Trastevere neighborhood, on weekends head down to Via Di San Michele for the open market, they have many great restaurants here at night too if you are staying long term you need a break from Italian food. Absolutely check out Giancolo hill here as well, the Fountain of Pope Paul V is actually older than the more famous Trevi Fountain. Take a walk on Tiber Island, it's the only island located on the famous Tiber River. Or go for a nice stroll anywhere along the Tiber River. I recently wrote an article How Old Is Too Old To Stay In A Hostel, on the recommendation of two of my friends my first pass through Rome I stayed at The Yellow Hostel by the main train station and had an absolute blast on their Rollin' Bar Pub Crawl. If that was my last hostel run, it was a damn good one!

           
     


  • Tivoli I had actually heard about last minute from a friend to go and check out the Villa D'Este and the town around it, it's a great day trip!

  • Fiumicino is not only somewhere you will likely fly into, it's a nice relaxing day on the beach especially if it's not peak tourist season.

Emilia-Romagna:

  • The only town I visited was Rimini en route to San Marino which will of course have it's own link. I can't say I gave Rimini a fair amount of time to review, so I will have to go back there next time!
Tuscany:
  • Florence, Firenze... here and Sicily were no doubt my two favorite parts of the journey. My advice here is mostly main stream, the Duomo is so beautiful you can spend the whole weekend here alone, but tickets in advance for the David to avoid the line. Also check out the face mask of Dante Alighieri! I think what makes Florence great is the amount of sheer joy in the people there, I guess it's hard to be sad here, but wow, what a place!



Veneto:

  • Venice, what's it like to spend a couple of days in Venezia? Of course I loved it! But where budget travelers go wrong is spending too much time here, it's very small unless you go to the island and can be covered in 2 days on a time crunch. Of course I'd love to spend a month here, but we are budget travelers, this is not an option we have if we have jobs to get back to at some point and can't take work assignments. Venice is well covered everywhere else on the net, so that's all I'll say, and of course I can't wait to visit again!

  • Belluno was one of my last stops to meet a friend, it was wonderful touring some old museums and castles in Belluno, Asolo, Bassano and more, but one of the best parts was riding bikes from San Candido into Lienz, Austria! Another destination that wasn't planned on being added, but thanks to my friend in Belluno and a couple of hours or so on rental bikes we got to bike the hills of northern Italy all the way into Austria.



                                                                                      
Lombady:

  • I'm not gonna cover how awesome the Duomo is, or what it's like to see the Last Supper painting in person in Milan, because that's all been covered. My big tip for Milan is if you are flying out make sure you check the train times! I got screwed and had to go to the airport at 11pm for a 6am flight!



Choose the continent!!!!


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Vatican City: The Smallest Country In The World



   Well since I went to Russia I had to go to the smallest country in the world too, just kidding. Of course while in Rome I visited the Vatican. I guess I didn't take many photos here so the above is my best. My best money saving tips for Vatican City is of course walk around for free and see all the great sights in St. Peter's Square, but pay whatever needs to be paid to visit the Sistine Chapel, it's a great work of art, but also if you are on a really tight budget the famous churches of Napoli are not as well known still famous in their own right and equally pleasing to the eye in my humble non artistic opinion. You can spend anywhere from a whole day here to a couple of hours if you are in a time crunch.

Choose the continent!!!!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

My Visit To Iran

 "So you're an American and you are going to go to Iran!?" 
"Yeah, is that a problem?"


     It was somewhere in the middle of two months in Italy last year that the thought sprang to me... Where to go next? I always have a loose idea of what's next on the list, and it seems that it always materializes while I'm traveling, so somewhere in central Italy I decided that the next year I was going to go to the Islamic Republic Of Iran.

     While many people told me I was crazy to go to Iran people have told me I am crazy to go just about anywhere I have ever been in my life outside of my border states... In 2005 I was crazy to want to move to Arizona, I was crazy before I moved here to visit Mexico, I was crazy to go to World Cup, to go to Israel, Turkey, I was crazy to go to Chernobyl (maybe this one I agree), crazy to go to Communa 13, so let's face it, I guess I'm crazy... But Iran was so worth being crazy.

In Front Of The Former American Embassy in Tehran
    It's unfortunate about the political climate in Iran with USA and some of the western world, and of course the middle east itself has had some rocky political climate points. But I didn't find any of this in Iran. I found some great people, great museums, great architecture, beautiful landscape, and unforgettable memories. I had read on forums over and over again how the Iranians are the most kind people, the nicest, the humblest etc. And I'm not going to negate this, some of them are, but my number one take of what the Iranians are, they are people. Just like everyone of us, I don't want to get over political as this is a travel blog, but all the people I met there were so unbelievably close to normal and like me. Religion and state are not separate so of course that's different. But I found people talking with me about American & foreign films, taking selfie pics, photo bombing me, hanging out in cafe's watching football with me, working out in the parks, and just living day to day life. I visited the former American Embassy, the anti-American paintings were still there, but absolutely no one bothered me as a tourist. That being said, should we all go to Iran? That's a personal decision. It sucks to talk about it, because there are political tensions, and you can't say without a doubt nothing will happen, but in the same breath you can die crossing the street, taking the train to work, etc.


    Anyway, here's my travel tips for going to Iran:


Walking down Azadi St, one of the main roads

  • Your entry visa will be a whole separate post I will do later, it's a bit complicated. 
  • You will need to bring a lot of cash, no credit cards will work in Iran, exchanging money is fairly easy, bring Dollars or Euros, of course I'd check on travel forums when it's closer to your stay to see if this info is up to date.
  • Hotels... This is going to be different, you will have to email your hotel and make the reservation with an emailed copy of your passport. You will pay the hotel in cash and they hold your passport as a security deposit. This part was super uncomfortable for me as my passport is on me at all times unless I'm in the ocean, but it is the way things are done there. 
  • Getting around Tehran is a breeze, the metro is very easy, but if you decide to walk there are countless gems to find along the way, parks, art exhibits etc.

     
  • In my opinion your must see and do's in Tehran are the Azadi Tower, catch some views from the Milad Tower, take a walk on the Tabliat Bridge, and you can really get immersive in the Grand Bazaar historical market.

                         
  • Something I didn't read about and didn't expect was so much street art, I didn't write any addresses down but you will be delighted to find murals everywhere such as the horses and war mural below.

       
  • My favorite picks for Persian food: Bademjan, Ghormeh Sabzi, and of course Kebab. Surprisingly to me the coffee and coffee shops in Tehran were absolutely top notch!  
  • Interestingly while in some parts of the middle east I have literally been followed by store owners leaving their business behind to get tourist money out of me, in Iran, not a single person recognized me as a tourist. People routinely spoke to me in Farsi before realizing I was not from there.
  • Persepolis.... ughhh... sadly to say, I am a budget traveler, and I did not have enough time to get to Persepolis, next time!!!
     As I have now been to several "conflict" countries, I think about how similar we really are to each other out there and how travel breaks down these racist and xenophobic stereotypes that say otherwise. Three countries in particular I've thought about that I have been to: Italy, Japan, and Germany. 75 years ago, it would be thought to be insane for an American to go to these WWII places, but today no one would bat an eye, they most likely have been or know someone that have been and maybe even would give you an insider tip on a good restaurant there. I hope one day this is the same for everywhere in this world... in less than 75 years of course, I don't know if I'll still be traveling then!

ENJOY MY VIDEO OF THIS TRIP!


Choose the continent!!!!