Sunday, July 19, 2009

Context Travel is up for a NatGeo Award!

Context Travel is a finalist in the National Geographic Sustainable Tourism Award.  This is a huge deal and a well deserved honor.  Please click on this link and help Context earn this prestigious award.

Monday, July 6, 2009

How to save money in Italy

Italy can get expensive.  Follow these tips to save money every step of the way.

1.  Book your hotel on through my Venere partnership and sort by price.  You're in Italy to be in Italy not your hotel room.  As long as you have a private bath and shower you are good to go.  
a.  Rent an apartment for the week at  Much cheaper than a hotel room.
2.  No need to stay next to the Pantheon in Rome or the Piazza San Marco in Venice.  Italian cities are small and walkable...yes, even Rome.  The 15-20 minute walk to the main sights will save you a bundle of money and help you work off those fabulous Italian meals you'll enjoy.  Plus, being a bit away from the main sights means your hotel will be a lot more quiet.
3.  Eat panini or pizza for lunch at a cafe.  
4.  Shop at the local market for fruit and snack on it throughout the day so you eat less at the restaurants.
5.  Grab those breadsticks in the package from the restaurants you eat in and toss them in your bag.
6.  Buy one bottle of water and refill it at the FREE fountains in Rome, Florence, Venice, and Siena.  Can't find a fountain?  Pop in to the cafe and fill it up from the tap.
7.  Buy and drink only house wine by the 1/2 or full liter.
8.  Eat far away from the tourist sights.
9.  Take the bus or metro everywhere you go...never take a cab.
10.  Walk, walk, walk everywhere.
11.  Rent an apartment with a kitchen, shop at the market, cook at home.
12.  Need shampoo or something?  Go to the dollar stores.  They have them all over.
13.  Don't buy soda, water, or gelato from the carts near the sights.  Expensive and not too good.
14.  Buy your train tickets when you get to Italy and save the service charge.  There are lots of trains available so when you get to Rome, or wherever, go to the train station and buy your tickets then.  You can choose the date to travel, the time, and you can make a seat reservation all at the kiosk.  The days of rail passes are pretty much over.  
15.  Eat a snack before dinner like a panino or some cheese that you bought at the market or an affordable cafe.  Then at dinner you can share an antipasti, primi, and secondi.  Better yet don't get a secondi...they are usually the most expensive anyway.
16.  Grab a kabob for lunch.  I know you're in Italy, but they are good and affordable.
17.  Go to aperativo hour (happy hour) at the cafe.  Grab a glass of wine and snack on the great free food that is available.  Then go to dinner so you can order small.
18.  Don't go to Venice!  Just kidding.  Perhaps make it a day trip.  Venice is a very expensive city and that includes the food, public transportation, and hotels.  
a.  To get from the train station to St. Marks is Euro 6,50 by water bus.  Or you can walk over the bridge to Sestieri Santa Croce (a great neighborhood) and cross through to St. Marks Square by foot.  Fun, easy, and beautiful.  Best of all it's free and not very far at all.
b.  Venice doesn't offer free aperativo like the rest of Italy because the finger foods are part of their local culture and cuisine called cichetti.  This a great way to eat in Venice for a lot less money than a formal dinner.  So, hit a cafe and grab some cichetti.  Or better yet.  Do a cichetti walk and find a few to enjoy and skip dinner altogether.
c.  Stay in the Sestieri Castello in Venice.  You can find a place for around Euro 90,00 a night most of the year.
19.  Never sit at a cafe.  Order at the bar, drink or eat it at the bar, and save the surcharge and cover of table service.  
20.  Take full advantage of the free breakfast at your hotel.

The Key is fun, the comes understanding

The key is fun, then comes understanding.  What do I mean?  Italy is filled with historical and artistic treasures that can get overwhelming.  Take your time, have fun.  Those terms from art history class aren't really too important.  The key is to soak in the beauty, understand the story that is being portrayed, and then comes understanding.  The most important step is simply having fun.  Then, embrace the story.  Once you do steps 1 and 2 the understanding is a very easy next and final step.  

Don't weigh yourself down with names, dates, and eras beyond the artist's name and the name of the work.  It doesn't matter if the work was gilded, controposto, sfumato, or anything else.  Just soak it in and enjoy.

Enjoy Italy.  Feed your soul.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cooking Vacations, Limoncello, and a great view

During the How to Tour Italy Project I have been lucky to enjoy the greatest of Italy.  The best part is everything I have done I've told you about during my show or on a video.  Some of my favorite moments have been the food and cooking segments.  In this segment I enjoy one of the greatest views in Positano at Cooking Vacations...from their deck!  I got to make and drink the best Limoncello I've ever had, and I finally figured out that those huge yellow things aren't lemons at all.

Their are so many great things about Positano, but the food is at the top of the list for me.  That puts the view in second and the view is amazing so you can only imagine how good the food is.   Be sure to take a cooking class at Cooking Vacations to dig in to the culture and cuisine of Positano.

The Pantheon

One of my favorite sights in the world the Pantheon always delivers.  It doesn't matter if it is the first time you've seen it or the 1000th...the Pantheon is one of those sights that will send chills down your spine.  I love and every chance I get I sit in awe of it.  I go inside and enjoy the wonderful dome.  I stare at Raphael's tomb reading my favorite epitaph : 

Here lies Raphael.  While he lived Mother Nature feared to be outdone.  When he died she feared to die with him.

I don't think a cooler epitaph exists anywhere.  

I feel lucky when I'm in the Pantheon and a bird is flying around the dome.  It really puts it in perspective.  In fact, on my video from the Pantheon you can see a bird flying around the dome towards the end of the stuff.

And remember...Marcus Agrippa built this :)

Those annoying flower peddlers in Italy

There is nothing you can do to avoid them.  They'll hound you, they'll bother you, they won't leave you alone.  As you're taking a bite of Cacio Pepe, as you're sipping your red...all of a sudden you get a flower shoved in your face, or a stuffed animal dropped on your table.  

They are everywhere and will annoy you all night long.  The only city I haven't seen them in is Siena.  Rome and Milan they are the worst.  Florence does a good job of keeping them a bay, but they're here too.

Tips:  Don't buy anything, don't try to be funny and negotiate, don't take anything they hand you, don't make eye contact.  Say NO firmly!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Don't wait in line for the Colosseum!

Do yourself a favor and take my advice on avoiding the line at the Colosseum.  It's easy.  Simply buy your 3 way ticket for the Forum, Palatine Hill, and Colosseum at the Forum or Palatine Hill.  Enjoy both the Forum and the Hill first, then go to the Colosseum walking right past those that are in line to buy tickets or PICK UP THEIR RESERVED TICKETS from the ticket window at the Colosseum.  If you take my advice you walk right through the middle line into the Colosseum and won't waste a minute of you time.

Enjoy Rome with no line by visiting  Also, subscribe to my podcasts on iTunes for free.

Stuffed Zucchini Flowers...oh my!

A real Italian treat.  These delightful pockets of Heaven are made differently in each region, but I prefer those from Rome (Lazio).  They are stuffed with Mozzarella cheese and anchovies, then given and egg bath and rolled in flour.  Follow this up with a quick fry and a light dusting of salt and you have one of the best treats you can find in Italy.

Check out my video on how to make Fiori di Zucchi Fritti and you'll be enjoying them at home in no time.

Leather and Mosaics in Florence

Two great things to do in Florence are the Leather School at Santa Croce and the Mosaic School right around the corner.  Both are free and well worth a stop.

The Leather School can be entered through the bookstore at Santa Croce or the side of the church.  The leather isn't cheap, but the quality is exceptional.  You can find smaller items that are affordable and are great for gifts back home.

The Mosaic School on Via Macci is amazing.  You can see firsthand how the masters of old worked with mosaic to create their masterpieces throughout Italy.  Be sure to check out the mosaic of the Sistine Chapel ceiling...OMG.