Archive for July, 2013

Fun Things to Do in Durango, Colorado

Men at Work on the Durango & Silverton Light Gauge Railroad

Men at Work on the Durango & Silverton Light Gauge Railroad

I spent most of last week in the mountains of Colorado, and got to revisit the charming western town of Durango (my last trip here was when I was 5 years old). I have vague memories of liking Durango in my youth, but going back as an adult who runs a travel blog, I realized just how much Durango has a lot to offer for young & old alike. For a town of just over 17,000- there are a lot of fun things to do in Durango.

Location is Everything at the Wapiti LodgeBlue eyed puppy on Main Street

Left: Location is Everything at the Wapiti Lodge Right: the blue eyed puppy I met on Main Street

Durango is located in the Four Corners region of Colorado, near Mesa Verde National Park which is one of the coolest National Parks I’ve visited. I didn’t get a chance to revisit Mesa Verde this trip, but I plan to do so on my next trip (yes, I’m already planning on a return trip– hopefully this fall when the leaves are changing colors).

Sunset as seen from Ft. Lewis College in Durango

Sunset as seen from Ft. Lewis College in Durango

The town center is meeting point for a ton of outdoor activities from rafting and fly fishing to mountain biking, but the town itself has quiet a bit of charm and extremely friendly locals.

Durango’s Main Avenue is anchored by two historic hotels: Hotel Strater and The General Palmer. The lobby of the Strater was used as a filming location in the 1983 comedy classic National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Exterior of the Strater Hotel

Left: In Durango, you can one stop shop for guns and taxidermy Right: Stuffed goat

Rocky Mountain elk taxidermy at Gardenswartz Sporting Goods

Hotel Strater is also home of the Diamond Belle Saloon— a very cool old time-y watering hole where waitresses in dance hall cocktails serve old west themed cocktails like the Old Fashioned 1910 and the Whisky Sour 1850 for $7.50 along with a deliciously comforting pot pie for $10.

A smiling waitress at the Diamond Belle Saloon

A smiling waitress at the Diamond Belle Saloon

Oddly this place doesn’t feel kitschy because the atmosphere is the real deal–author Louis L’Amour used to write his western novels in the room above the saloon. The Diamond Belle still has live music every day.

Bluegrass musicians at the Diamond Belle Saloon

Perhaps Durango’s biggest claim to fame is the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum. The Durango is a steam powered train which has been in continuous use for the past 131 years. The train runs from May through October and the 45 mile route to Cascade Station is highly scenic and takes 3 hours to complete.

Left: A vintage safe at the Silverton Freight Yard Museum Right: Colorado Wildflowers

Model Train at the Silverton Freightyard Museum

Model Train at the Silverton Freightyard Museum

If you don’t have time to ride the train, be sure to visit Silverton Freight Yard Museum which has really cool historic artifacts about train travel as well as Colorado history. There is also a fascinating model train as well as a train car which was used as a set piece in the Paul Newman/Robert Redford western film Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. The Durango & Silverton is a great place for kids as well as adults.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway in Black & White

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Things to Do in Puglia: Spend an Evening in Ostuni

Vino Rosado at Relais La Sommità made a nice sundowner

Ostuni may be small but the Puglia’s White City isn’t short on things to do in the evening.  While the city may only have year round population of just over 30,000, the city swells during the summer months. Ostuni has several charming dining choices (including 8 restaurants with 2013 Michelin Stars) within the city limits of La Città Bianca.

Flowers at magic hour

Flowers at magic hour outside Caffe Riccardo

Not only are fine dining options plentiful, but they’re a bargain compared to larger cities in Italy. I ate at two of Ostuni’s Michelin starred restaurants and dinner for 2 (excluding wine) ran about €65 for two and can recommend both.

Watching the sunset at Cielo

Watching the sunset at Ristorante Cielo

Ristorante Cielo,  located at Relais La Sommità, earned chef Sebastiano Lombardi his first Michelin star. His menu features specialties from the region, and during the summer months you can dine outdoors under the the olive trees. It’s rather romantic and the pasta and lobster were spot on. Be sure to book a table ahead (Phone +39 0831 305925)- they fill quickly and only do one seating a night.

Left: the breezy terraces of La Sommita Right: One of La Sommita’s terraces at night

Cielo is one of Ostuni’s Michelin Starred restaurants

Apulian cuisine is the specialty at Ristorante Cielo

Osteria del Tempo Perso is also located in Ostuni’s historic center. The restaurant is situated in a few charming grotto-like rooms in an old tavern and is very atmospheric. They have an excellent wine list. While not all the staff speaks English fluently, I had no problem getting fed well and particularly enjoyed the eggplant parmigiana. Reservations are recommended (I was turned away the first night for not having one). Osteria del Tempo Perso is closed in January. (Phone +39 0831 304819)

Candles in a cave- that’s Osteria del Tempo Perso

Vino at Osteria del Tempo PersoVino at Osteria del Tempo Perso

If fine dining isn’t your thing, chillax in one of Ostuni’s indoor/outdoor cafes. They are easily spotted by the brightly colored bean bag chairs set out on the whitewashed streets. Be warned– some seemingly chic beanbag chairs look far more comfortable than they actually are. Drinks cost around €7. Riccardo Caffe, located in an old 12th century mill house, is a nice spot for a cocktail and a nibble (and had the most comfortable bean bags chairs). (Phone +39 0831 306046)

Relax outdoors in a beanbag chair at Riccardo Caffe

Left: Ostuni’s whitewashed streets at night  Right: Looking down at Riccardo Caffe

Beanbag chairs, cocktails & conversation

Gelato is also a nice option for a hot summer evening and Cremeria alla Scala had the best gelato I tasted during my time in Ostuni, with the peach flavor hitting the spot on a hot summer night.

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Check Out My Latest Feature for Grryo (formerly known as We Are Juxt) Featuring Mobile Photography Tips for Concerts

Robert Plant ticket in front of the Shrine Auditorium

Robert Plant ticket in front of the Shrine Auditorium

Check out my latest feature for Grryo (formerly known as We Are Juxt) – Rock On With These Mobile Photography Tips for Concerts.

It’s filled with killer images and tips for concerts from some of the best concert shooters I know including: Dutch Doscher, Dixon Hamby, Peter Ellenby and Molli Sullivan.

Here’s a little Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters Black Dog goodness from the front row at the Shrine in the video below. Enjoy and rock on, my friends!

 

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A Stay at La Sommità Relais in Ostuni, Italy

The View from the loft of room 13 (Aurora)

During my recent trip to Puglia, I wanted to go someplace where more Italian than Americans vacation, and wound up choosing Ostuni. Part of Ostuni’s charm is how it is refreshingly devoid of American chain brands.

La Sommità Relais is located right at the top of the hill in Ostuni’s historic center, with a great location for exploring the whitewashed streets of La Città Bianca by foot.

Looking down from the loft of Room 13 at La Sommita

The boutique hotel also has a lovely Michelin starred restaurant, Cielo, which has both indoor seating areas and an outdoor patio tucked into an Olive grove that is especially lovely on a summer night.

Views of the First Floor of the Aurora room. The couch can be converted into a bed.

The hotel is intimately sized, with 15 rooms and suites. My suite was #13, or L’Aurora. It was large– 70 square meters with the king sized bed in the loft. There was also a bathing area with a tub & hand shower and sink (but no toilet) in the loft. The quirky layout added to the hotel’s non-cookie cutter vibe.

The king sized bed was tucked up in the loft, along with a bathtub and TV

The hotel was exceptionally quiet, which was nice. The common areas all have wifi, though this being Southern Italy, it went out on occasion and I just chalked it up to part of the Salento experience.

Views from the sleeping Loft

Room rates included a fantastic breakfast spread set out in the indoor Cielo space and outdoors with tables spaced between the olive trees on the property. The salumi spread and killer focaccia were standouts.

The master bath of room 13 was on the lower floor

There was also wifi in the room, and a television I never bothered to watch. I really enjoyed the chillax pace of Ostuni and thought La Sommità was a great base for a few days.

Views of the master bathroom and shower

The indoor dining area of Cielo, the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant

Foccacia for breakfast? When in Pulgia…

Puglia was a bargain compared to the Amalfi coast, and still has a “not discovered by the masses” vibe. I’m all for getting my La Dolce Vita on at a bargain price so I’m sure I’ll be returning to the area.

These cherries were pure yum

Whitewashed walls and olive trees around the pool area at La Sommità

Italians have tuk-tuks too, including this fly one that belongs to La Sommità

view of some of outdoor seating areas at  La Sommità

This tasty Aperol at spritz cost €7 at La Sommità

La Sommità Relais definitely had the best location to watch the sunsets in Puglia’s white city. And they serve tasty hazelnuts along with their reasonably priced Aperol spritzes.

Long view of Ostuni ( La Città Bianca)

La Sommità Relais

Address: Via S. Petrarolo, 7, 72017 Ostuni
Province of Brindisi, Italy
Phone:+39 0831 305925
Room rates start from $302

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Apuglian Architecture: The Trulli Houses of Alberbello, Italy

Rooftops of trulli homes as seen in Alberbello, Italy

When planning my recent trip to Puglia, my friend Gabrielle helped with my itinerary. Her father’s side of the family is from Brindisi and she grew up spending summers in the area. She insisted I go see the trulli houses in the area.

Sign at the Ciesa a Trulli.

Trulli houses (also known as ciesa a trulli) are the traditional stone huts with conical roofs which were built primarily in the 18th century by farmers in the area to keep cool during the hot summer months. Think of them as the Mediterranean’s answer to adobe huts. Their peaked roofs make for a interesting “skyline.”

The trulli of Alberbello have been a UNESCO world heritage site since the mid-90s.

Geraniums provide pops of color in the middle of Alberbello’s commercial area

There are even trulli hotels in the area, and a few have been converted into shops and restaurants. I found it amusing that many trulli hotels come with disclaimers like “if you stay at a trulli hotel you won’t have a spacious room.”

Whitewashed symbols on the trulli rooftops

The streets and homes of Alberbello were well maintained, and the residents in the area were very house proud, inviting in tourists to check out the interiors. I passed because I assumed the invitation came with some sort of implied transaction, and I wanted to avoid that.

The house (2nd on the right) was modern construction yet totally trulli

All of Alberbello had sort of a quaint, Mediterranean shire type vibe. If it weren’t for the locals sweeping up, it might have felt a bit like a movie set.

Catholic shrines and Christian symbols are common motifs are common decorating details

Residents lived in this modern day trulli neighborhood, complete with produce vendors

A local rocking the Danny Aiello look from Madonna’s  Papa Don’t Preach video

Signage in Alberbello

Interior of a trulli house turned snack shop

Serie A Trulli Souvenir Banks

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