Travel Tips for Solo Travelers

As a long time solo traveler, I’m often asked how I can afford to travel as I do & what are the best online sites & tools for cheap, quality travel.  So I’ve put together some tips for what I consider to be the most helpful, lesser known travel tips for those of you looking to travel solo or otherwise.

Flights

I didn’t use any special methods most of my travel life other than due diligence (ie. repeatedly searching at all hours DAILY for any variance in price) but, as you go along, you learn!  Currently (ie. it’ll change fairly quickly) finding the cheapest direct flights entails a variance of these options:

  • Delete browser cookies before buying ticket because prices go up when you visit multiple sites.
  • You can typically get cheaper tickets if you wait until midnight.  There is more inventory & better rates because many seats are put on a 24 hour hold.
  • Book flights in an Icognito window of Google Chrome so there are no cookies.
  • Use Google Flights, Skyscanner, or Momondo to find the best airfare pricing.  Then book through an online travel agency such as Orbitz or Expedia if there is the possibility that you can’t get off work or some other impediment arises.  These online agencies allow you to cancel flights without penalty by 11PM Eastern Standard Time within 1 day of booking!  OR book through your points credit card so that you get maximum points for the purchase.

WIFI

If you are traveling & staying in hotels that charge wifi fees or even flying an airline that charges wifi fees, a little known trick is to add “?.jpg” at the end of their URL to bypass the expensive fee & use internet for free.

There are a multitude of wifi apps to help you locate free wifi in your travels.  The problem with them is that you need wifi to access those apps!!  I’ve not found them helpful!

Money

ALWAYS check the government website to see if your currency is accepted.  If it is, only exchange a very small amount of cash for local transactions of those who might not be on board (ie. taxis, fruit stands, etc.).  Where International travel is concerned, you should always carry the equivalent of $300-$500 USD with you in case your ATM or credit card is not accepted….or is lost.

Use ATM’s for local currency rather than banks.  In other words, don’t exchange your cash in the airport you depart from or arrive at EVER.  Withdraw what you need from an ATM machine for the best exchange rate with no fees.

If you are okay with investing your travel money in an online only account, ABSOLUTELY use Aspiration!!  They pay the highest interest on any checking account out there & you decide the fee!  You could decide it should be zero!  And there are ZERO ATM FEES WORLDWIDE!!!  You’ll get hit with the fees but Aspiration reimburses them!  Put as much as you want in but, I guarantee, you’ll make it your go-to savings & travel account!!

Accommodations

I have for years been a serial Couchsurfer & have made lifelong friends from hosting, surfing, & just meeting up for activities worldwide!  This is a FREE option for those of us on a major budget or who simply want to live the local life.  I have joined multiple other similar sites, but none have compared to the quality of people, the instant response to emergencies (whether it be a couch to sleep on or a stranded motorist), or the deeply mutual addiction where travel is involved.

Something fairly recent that has rocked my travel is airbnb!  I so wish I had utilized it as a homeowner & rented my extra bedroom out before I decided the world was my home!  Depending on what your budget is, you can rent an entire home, a small apartment, or just a room.  There are other similar options popping up now but, after having consistently perused them all for the same dates & locations, airbnb stands out as the best!

Where hotels are concerned for the person without hotel points (or enough of them), I typically can’t find any better deals than on booking.com or hotels.com.  It’s all dependent on where you are at the time of booking (ie. USA or International).  Hostels can be found on these sites as well & tend to still be cheaper.  BUT always Google search hostels when you’re abroad as, where ever you are, you’re likely to find a local option that may be cheaper.  As a side note, HostelWorld SOMETIMES offers the best rate & sometimes the ONLY rate for certain hostels but they ALWAYS charge a fee.  The same goes with Hostelling International.  Think of that before booking as they may not actually be the cheapest!

Random Tips

Travel Insurance – I see that a lot of travelers recommend it but I’ve NEVER paid for travel insurance, nor have I needed it.  However, I am a healthy person & tend to be even healthier in my travels due to the exercise.  I do hear that World Nomads is the best go-to travel insurance company, though.

On your phone, add Google Maps & Google Translator!  You’ll not regret it as you can use them offline in whatever city or country you’re in!  Just be sure to download your destination!

Don’t spend the money on T-Mobile International, as convenient & relatively cheap as it is, unless you have no extra unlocked phone to take on your trip. On my last trip, I did use T-Mobile International but it would have been much cheaper to simply buy a SIM card for everywhere I visited.  AND, in this case (ie. August 2017) it would been even cheaper than before thanks to Europe deciding to share!  Share what?  I’m not technical so I can’t tell you the details without plagiarizing but…it boils down to buy a SIM card in Europe & it works ALL OVER EUROPE!!!

Getting Around

UberLyft! Cabify!!  LOL  Yes, there are alternatives to taxis everywhere!!   Don’t solely depend on them, though.  If demand is high, these “ride share” options will charge TWICE AS MUCH as a local taxi!!

BlaBlaCar in Europe is a fabulous option.  I’d say it is the Couchsurfing of car sharing!  And, OMG, if you are in Australia or New Zealand, refer back to my post, Saving Money In New Zealand!  I’m positive, with research, it’s possible to find similar getting around deals where ever you find yourself!

Basic Tips

Other than the above, make it a point to learn a few key phrases & words in the language for where you’re headed, bring any medications that may POSSIBLY be needed with you (if prescription, make sure you keep them in the original packaging), don’t pack fancy clothing or wear expensive jewelry, treat yourself to nicer accommodation along the way from time to time, wear a money belt in sketchier locales, travel with a large backpack & a day pack, take a photo with your phone of all reservations, always travel with a copy of important documents (both paper & digital), & FOREVER, keep a good attitude!!

In all aspects of life, things happen.  They change us but we can control how they change us….and we can control, to a degree, what happens.  Safe & informed travels, my friends!!

Making The Most of Mostar

Though it was raining when I arrived, I was determined to make the most of Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina.  After all, I only had a day & a half to do it!  It was unusually cold and rainy when I hiked my way from the train, so I hunkered down in my room at The Hostel Mirror (only $9 a night!) for about an hour before deciding to seek out food.

Mural

Cold as I was, I didn’t have far to go to find a small, non-touristic, locals restaurant.  The kind of place that speaks no English but is excited to welcome you and give you the best seat in the house!  I pointed to a picture of what I wanted &, the owner happily & quickly placed it in front of me.  It was delicious & so was the Bosnian beer!

I had a slow morning the next day, visiting with other hostel guests over a fantastic breakfast (included in the cost!) & finally ventured forth to see the city.   The clouds had parted & the sun peeked out to reveal the most of Mostar!  The Old City was absolutely alive!  I snapped photos, bought jewelry, ate & drank, & visited with shop owners.

Stari Most Bridge

The 16th century bridge, Stari Most, which crosses the beautiful Neretva River, was the main attraction!  For entertainment, a man jumped off of it every hour or 2 (whenever there were enough people watching to make for a good tip).  Enthralling & quite a scene!

Bombed out building

I could have spent days photographing the beauty around every turn in the Old City! I definitely explored every nook & cranny!  I was disturbed, though, by the obvious signs of war.  I had not been aware that Mostar was the most heavily bombed city in Bosnia during the war!  I had thought Sarajevo was & that is the primary reason that I decided not to visit it.  Fortunately, the old bridge & a large portion of the city has been rebuilt!

From atop the SkyBar

Done with exploring, I changed clothes then headed to SkyBar, a rooftop bar, to get some night shots & have a glass of wine.  It was so windy that I didn’t stay longer than the one drink & upon returning to the hostel, sat on the terrace where I enjoyed international conversation at its best with several of the guests!

Panoramic

Mostar holds incredible beauty & history but the people that I met throughout my visit there made it dear to my heart!  The hostel owner who personally took me to a print shop so that I could open a file emailed to me & print it…& the print shop didn’t charge me.  The people beside me at lunch who included me in their conversation, allowed me to photograph them & took my photo too.  The happy restaurant owner, eager to please.  The other guests at the wonderful hostel that was like a home & family.

Neretva River

If you get a chance, visit historic Mostar but know that making the most of it is simply absorbing all that it offers; so much more than the scenery!  The most of Mostar is its heart which is a centuries long coexistence of diverse cultural, ethnic, & religious communities.  You will witness that for yourself as you explore its streets, shops, & neighborhoods.

Relaxing bar
Beautiful copper wares
Incredible laterns
I have a major weakness for jewelry
Evidence of war
War torn building
And….he JUMPS!
Old City diversity
Old City’s beautiful streets
Coming off of Stari Most bridge

 

Day Tripping In Montenegro

A fantastic day trip with Dubrovnik, Croatia as your home base is the small but stunning country of Montenegro!  Mountains, clear cerulean seas, walled towns, and gorgeous beaches!  Day tripping has never really been more enjoyable!

Kotor, Montenegro

My tour bus picked me up in front of my hostel in Dubrovnik, as well as a few more people from other accommodations, then we were on our way.  It’s a gorgeous drive along the Dalmatian coastline and the tour guide gave us history and culture information as we went.  Upon reaching the border, Croatian authorities stamped our passports that we were leaving Croatia but I got no Montenegro stamp, unfortunately.  Same with the return to Croatia.

Bay of Kotor, leaving Kamenari

After a short rest stop in Herceg Novi, we boarded a ferry at Kamenari and leisurely crossed Bay of Kotor (the deepest natural bay in the Mediterranean) to Lepatane.  Not much longer, we found ourselves in the fortified town of Kotor.

Kotor

Kotor is tucked away within a fjord and, within it’s walls you’ll find a maze.  It was built this way for protection purposes and it’s very easy to get lost in!  If you look up, you’ll see a meandering wall rising up to the fortress.  The thing that comes to mind is “a mini Great Wall”!  To get to that fortress, you have to climb 1350 steps!  I made it about 3/4 of the way up before I had to descend so I wouldn’t miss my bus!

The wall climbing above Kotor to the fortress

Because I chose to climb the steps, I had very little time before that to see much of the town.  It’s full of museums, churches, cathedrals, and palaces.  Also, of course, squares, shops, restaurants, and monuments!  Looking down from the steps above, it was absolutely enthralling!

Budva

From Kotor, we motored our way to Budva.  Budva is famous for it’s sandy beaches and, according to our tour guide, is primarily owned by Russian investors.  That explains the newer high rises along the water. Sent our own way, most of us wandered along the beach (aka Riviera) a bit as well as a bit of Old Town.  It’s definitely a tourist city and absolutely gorgeous!!

Our Lady of the Rocks & Sveti Dorde

After Budva, we meandered our way slowly back towards Dubrovnik, passing a couple of famous islets out in the bay, Our Lady of the Rocks and Sveti Dorde, off of the coast of Perast.  If we had had time, we could have ferried out to explore the churches on them.

Sveti Nikola off of Budva

An impossible day trip to forget, Montenegro, though a blip on my trip, it is fondly remembered.  I would love to go back again just to vacation, rather than travel through!

Kotor

Any guesses as to where I’m headed next?

Budva
A different view of Budva
Streets of Kotor
Budva Church
Budva
Budva, another view
Outside of Old Town Budva
Some of the steps up to the fortress, Kotor
Church in Kotor
In Old Town Kotor
Inside a church in Kotor
Kotor & it’s fortress
Kotor Beach
Bay of Kotor
Me, climbing to the fortress in Kotor

Delighted & Dazzled In Dubrovnik

One can’t help but be dazzled when visiting Dubrovnik, Croatia!  I’ve wanted to visit for a while and the photos that I saw online of Dubrovnik showed a beautiful little paradise.  They didn’t lie!

Situated across the Adriatic from Italy, I thought just hopping a ferry would be the cheapest way to get there.  However, I was wrong.  Flights going from Bari, Italy to Dubrovnik, Croatia weren’t cheap either…unless I flew to Rome, Italy & spent the night in the airport.  So that’s what I did (I flew west to go east!) and ended up having the hours fly by due to the wonderful company of another traveler.

Entrance to Old Town

Once I finally arrived in Dubrovnik, all that I wanted to do was check into my hostel, Hostel 365 For U (it had only been open for 2 weeks so everything was nice and new) and take a nap!  Unfortunately, I was too early so, shedding my bags, I dragged myself to Old Town.

I didn’t explore much on my first day but the beauty of this destination was undeniable even though I was too tired to fully enjoy it.  The heat didn’t help either.  You may want to plan a visit sometime other than July!

Dubrovnik as seen from atop Srd Hill just after sunset

Old Town is an incredible walled city that is amazingly intact despite being fought over by the Venetians, Ottomans, and eventually taken by Napoleon.  It was highly coveted because it was a major maritime trading center and one of the wealthiest cities in southern Europe.

The walls were built in the 16th century but parts of the city go back to the 11th century.  One of the pleasures of the wall is that you can walk along the top of it, all of the way around the city! The views are stunning!  With rust red rooftops stretching out to crystal blue seas and the small, green island of Lokrum floating within easy reach.  Everywhere you look is pleasing to the senses!

Old Harbor & Sveti Ivan Tower

The city itself is a maze of narrow streets, steep steps, restaurants, shops, museums, monasteries, fountains, cathedrals, an 800 year old Gothic church, and Europe’s oldest pharmacy.  Looking everywhere at once as I wandered the cobblestone streets, I suddenly emerged at the old harbor.

There are restaurants fronting the marina but you can by-pass them and continue around Sveti Ivan Tower to Porporela (the pier and breakwater).  People were strolling along, sitting on benches staring out to sea, sunbathing, and young men were jumping into the sea from the rocks.  It’s a very restful place to be!  Especially in the heat of summer!

Fort Lovrijenac

Fort Lovrijenac  sits 37 meters above the sea on a rock that juts out into the Adriatic and is impossible to miss.  It’s nicknamed, Dubrovnik’s Gibraltar, but Game of Thrones fans know it as a landmark in the fictional city of King’s Landing.  Much of the TV show has been shot in Dubrovnik.

Sunset above Dubrovnik

The Dubrovnik Cable Car is a fantastic way to the top of Srd Hill where you’ll get the absolute best views of Dubrovnik.  I, however, decided not to do it as I didn’t want to spend the money.  Lucky for me, I met 3 young men (from India, Africa, and Copenhagen) at my hostel and one of them had a car.  They were going to drive up the hill and I was invited to join them.  It was a scary drive but completely worth it!  We arrived at the top right at sunset and “breathtaking” just doesn’t do that view justice!

Church of Saint Blaise

We spent some time getting to know each other for a bit while soaking in the scenery before dropping the car at the hostel and walking to Old Town for dinner.  Old Town at night is completely charming, of course!

The main street through Old Town

Dubrovnik is expensive (I paid $20 for a burger, fries, & beer!) but it’s so full of history and beauty, as I found all of Croatia to be.  It can be seen in a day but why not take your time? There are many great day trips from Dubrovnik, as well.  Dubrovnik is a destination everyone needs to include on their bucket list!  You’ll be dazzled!!

View from a sidewalk
One of many narrow, steep alleyways

Cable car to the top

A view from one of the turrets on the wall
A bar overlooking the island & sea on the outer rocks
Saint Ignatius Church
Alleyway dinner entertainment
Dubrovnik Harbor
Ivan Gundulic Statue in Gundulic Square, Old Town
Looking back from the pier
Yours truly

 

 

 

Puglia’s Polignano A Mare

polignanoPuglia’s Polignano a Mare is a lovely, relaxed, small resort town just a short 20 minute train ride from Bari.  It’s best known for it’s cliff diving, Domenico Modugno (who wrote and sang the classic song, Volare), and it’s amazing ice cream!

This ice cream shop was always busy!
This ice cream shop was always busy!

Another thing it’s become known for is the Ristorante Grotta Palazzese.  The restaurant is built in a cave overlooking the Adriatic Sea.  I had hoped to have dessert and a drink there but you can only get in with a reservation and they didn’t respond to my email request until a month after I had already left!

Grotta Palazzese
Grotta Palazzese

One of my nights in Bari, a couchsurfer wanted to meet up and, once he arrived, he asked if I would like to drive to Polignano.  Of course, I did! We arrived on a Saturday night and it was absolutely packed!  We enjoyed the ice cream and wandered through the throngs of people before finally going back to Bari and saying goodbye.  The next day, I took the train back so I could explore during the daylight on a much more relaxed Sunday.

Blue Flag Beach
Blue Flag Beach

After dining in Piazza Vittorio Emmanuelle II, I walked down to Blue Flag Beach.  The beach is flanked on two sides by cliffs from which the locals dive into the crystal clear blue sea all day long.

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From there I wandered through the labyrinth of narrow streets and among the charming white and beige buildings.  All along the way, you’ll see inspirational poems and quotes written on stairs, chairs, doors, and walls.  All of this is perched on the cliffs and, rounding a corner, you suddenly find yourself overlooking the sea!

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This old town is easily visited in a day so if you’re ever in the Puglia region, it is a must see!

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Mother Church of Santa Maria Assunta
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In Piazza Vitorio Emmanuelle II
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A long flight of stairs down to the rock but the views are gorgeous!
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Overseeing Piazza Vittorio Emmanuelle II
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Blue Flag Beach
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Blue Flag Beach
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Statue of singer, Domenico Modugno

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Inspirational writings truly everywhere!

Stumbling My Way Around Bari

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I don’t know what it is about Bari!  A few years ago, I spent a fun filled night there on my way to Matera but I didn’t get to see the city. Coming in from Corfu, I inadvertently booked a room in Bisceglie thinking I had booked in Bari!  So I finally made it back to Bari determined to spend a few days getting to know it.

Bari

Have you ever been somewhere that, no matter what, it seemed that nothing went right?  Well, for me, it was Bari.  The hotel I’d booked was in a different hotel from where I had to check in.  Once I arrived for check in, they informed me that they didn’t accept credit cards.  Off I went to get some cash…well, that was the intention.  I went to several ATM’s at several banks but my card was declined!  Back at the hotel, the manager offered me a room in the check-in hotel instead of the booked one so that I could pay by credit card.  At least that dilemma was solved!

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By this point, I was in a state of anxiety wondering why I couldn’t get cash!  After locating a café with excellent wifi, I began an online chat with my bank to get some answers!  It seems that there was a “high demand” for debit cards with chips so they cancelled the old cards after mailing out new ones.  What about those of us traveling?  They obviously did not consider all of their customers!  I was informed that they could unblock my card for 30 days but then the card would be useless.

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The following morning, I confidently strolled to an ATM to grab some cash.  Card declined!  Laptop in hand, I returned to the café to find that it was closed!  Luckily, the wifi was available from the sidewalk where I plopped down to get the chat going again!  Having seen all of my attempts to retrieve cash, my bank raised the alarm and blocked my account again!

Porto Vecchio
Porto Vecchio

Things eventually worked out and my friend in America mailed my new debit card to me once I was in Hungary but my first couple of days in Bari were stress filled, to say the least!  I had actually begun strategizing on how I could continue my trip using only my credit card!

Barivecchio
Barivecchio

Due to my situation, my impressions of Bari were obviously tinged with negativity during those first couple of days.  Luckily, I had a couple more days in Bari to rectify that!  Wandering the alleyways of Barivecchia (Old Bari) was the best place to start!

bari

The alleyways of Old Bari twist and turn so much that it’s easy to get lost but I was determined to see all of the tiny streets!  The charm of the Italian way of life is evident throughout with doors open, women making pasta with their neighbors, men sitting in chairs smoking hand rolled cigarettes, and big sisters teaching little sisters how to ride bicycles.  If you research Bari, you’re likely to read that this is not a safe area to wander.  I never take others advice and am glad of it!  I never felt uneasy and the area was charming and clean.

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Bari Cathedral

Bari isn’t a popular tourist destination.  It is a port city and is home to a large university (University of Bari Aldo Moro).  You only really need one day to see the sights.  The Basilica di San Nicola (Saint Nicholas aka Santa Claus) contains the saints remains as well as a crypt dedicated to Orthodox pilgrims.  The nearby San Sabino Cathedral  is less famous but is the actual cathedral of Bari.  Both churches are built in the Romanesque style.  The Swabian Castle (Castello Svevo) is a fortress by the sea but I didn’t spend the money to enter and explore.  It was a very striking and imposing sight as I found my way out of Old Bari’s alleys, though!

Bacio di Latte
Bacio di Latte

I spent a good deal of time in an extremely cute café, Bacio di Latte, on Via Sparano which is a mainly pedestrian strip of high end shops.  Their wifi was excellent as were their apricot muffins!  The staff were wonderful as well!

Bacio di Latte
Bacio di Latte

I didn’t have the best luck with service my first couple of days in Bari.  In fact, I would say I received the absolute worst service of my life at L’Osteria del Borgo Antica near Porto Vecchia!  Excellent service was given at Il Sottosopra Pizzeria Ristorante on Via Nicolo Piccinni which included a complimentary limoncello at the end of my delicious meal!  The cheapest meal that I enjoyed in Bari was had at El Pedro, also on Via Nicolo Piccinni!  It is a self-service restaurant in the buffet style in that you take a tray and choose from various pasta and meat dishes, desserts, salads, and breads; all for 3-4 Euro per portion!  Finally, if you want to enjoy a beer and hang with the locals, KarmAmerican Bar offered me soccer entertainment, wifi, Peroni, and a room full of Italian men!

Castello Svevo
Castello Svevo

Despite a rocky first couple of days, I can say that I managed to enjoy the jewels that I found while in Bari.  The slower pace I experienced there was a welcome relief as well.

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Gelato & Limoncello
Gelato & Limoncello
Learning to ride
Learning to ride

 

 

 

 

The Unforgettable Sassi Of Matera

Matera

All roads lead to Rome but I’m a believer in detours!  Matera is a detour that I made 4 years ago and it called me back!  The cave-dwellings of Matera, the sassi, are unlike anything I had ever seen before or since.

Fior di Cucuzzo
Fior di Cucuzza

When I left this medieval city in 2012, I knew that I would return.  I couchsurfed back then and my host was gracious enough to offer me a couch for my visit this time.  You couldn’t ask for a nicer host or a better location as his home is right in the sassi!  I didn’t get to see him much, though, as he had recently opened his own vegetarian restaurant and wine bar, Fior di Cucuzza!   Amazing food and wines!

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From the train station, I hauled all of my packs through modern Matera past shops, banks, and baroque churches. Though I had been there before, the sudden change from modern to ancient is stunning and put a huge grin on my face.

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Obviously, the only way to see the sassi is on foot.  Considering that’s my “thing”, I was in bliss!  The sassi is made up of two areas, Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso.  I was unaware of that until a conversation with an old Italian man who was compelled to share the pride he has for his ancient town.

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Ancient city & uninhabited caves

Like the cave-dwellings themselves, the history of the sassi of Matera is very interesting and unusual.  Thought to be one of the first Italian settlements, going back as far as 7000 BC, it is also the only place in the world where families live in the homes of their ancestors of 9000 years ago!  In the 1950’s, it was a much different place than now and was a source of shame for Italy.  People suffered from malaria and poverty and lived in such squalor in the caves that the government ordered new housing to be built in the modern part of Matera. Since the 1980’s, the more wealthy moved back to the caves, renovating them and so began the sassi’s climb to chic.

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There are cave restaurants, museums, churches, hotels, galleries, shops, and homes…all climbing the hillside, one on top of the other.  Carved out of the limestone rock and hanging on the edge of a ravine.  You’ll get your exercise wandering the seemingly infinite alleyways, tripping over uneven stone stairways, or even hiking a trail through the ravine to the uninhabited caves above!

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Matera isn’t overrun with tourists yet but the word is getting out and, like me, you may find yourself yearning to go back!

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Matera by night

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Trail through the ravine
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One of many churches in Matera

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Truly Unique Trulli Of Alberobello

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When I first heard of Alberobello, I don’t think the actual name of their buildings was mentioned.  It was a place where I could wander among white, cone-domed, round houses made of limestone.  These are the trulli.

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Trulli with spiritual symbols painted on the roofs

Getting to this UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Puglia region of Italy from Nardo was an all day affair but is a simple day trip from Bari or Brindisi. Alberobello is a touristic site, to be sure.  However, it is a very enjoyable town in which to wander the small, narrow streets among houses that you can imagine hobbits living in!

Hotel Sant'Antonio & church
Hotel Sant’Antonio & church

Before arriving, I had booked a hotel that was further from town than I realized. The Hotel Donatello was wonderful as were it’s owners!  They picked me up from the train station and shuttled me to town and back at no extra charge.  However, I wanted to be more central so, the following day, I moved to Hotel Sant’Antonio. It was perfectly situated and is attached to the trullo church, Chiesa di Sant’Antonio, but it didn’t have the family feel of Hotel Donatello. If you have a car, I recommend Hotel Donatello!

Shops
Shops

Completely free to wander at my leisure now, I explored every street that I could. Some of the 1500 trulli are still functioning as homes and some are rented out to visitors.  Others are shops, bars, and restaurants; these are the ones that offer you a glimpse at the interior of a trullo…that is, unless you’ve rented one!

Soccer night in the piazza
Soccer night in the piazza

The center of Alberobello is a typical Italian town with large piazzas, cobblestone streets, and churches (including the Basilica of Saints Cosmin and Damiano) but with trulli spattered throughout.  My first night in the town square, it seemed the entire town turned out to watch a soccer match on a giant screen!  That was the extent of nightlife in Alberobello!

Facing Rione Monti
Facing Rione Monti

A quiet stroll among the truly unique trulli of Alberobello may be hard to come by in high season (May to October), especially in Rione Monti, the commercial section of the trulli. It is possible though if you find yourself in the less touristic area of Aia Piccola, the inhabited section of the trulli.  You might just be invited in!

Trulli
Trulli

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Interior of a cone roof
Interior of a cone roof
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Basilica of Saints Cosma and Damiano
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Trullo Residence
Trulli Rooftops
Trulli Rooftops
Basilica of Saints Cosma and Damiano
Basilica of Saints Cosma and Damiano

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Head Over Heel In The Salento

Gallipoli

Lecce was just a taste of Puglia’s Salento region in the heel of Italy’s boot!  There are so many medieval towns, castles, olive groves, vineyards, beaches, caves, and clear blue sea to explore and enjoy!  I won’t bore you with the details of my hitchhiking, partying, and all of the wonderful people that I met along the way.  I do want to tell you about each of the villages that I kicked around in, though!

Santa Caterina di Nardo
Santa Caterina di Nardo

Santa Caterina di Nardo – A tiny, coastal village about 7 km from Nardo on the Ionian Sea.  It’s situated between Porto Selvaggio and Gallipoli and offers clear blue waters, low, rocky beaches and tree covered hills.  It is also part of the Porto Selvaggio Nature Reserve.  It is a seaside resort that puts you close to Nardo and Gallipoli, as well as all of the summer festivals.  Unless you have a car, though, it’s not easy getting around!  I couchsurfed here and enjoyed the wonderfully helpful, sweet people that I encountered.  It’s a quiet place, great for relaxing and dining out (I highly recommend Le Terrazze)!

Santa Maria al Bagno
Santa Maria al Bagno

Santa Maria al Bagno –  I didn’t actually spend any time here.  I saw this small fishing village from a hilltop in Santa Caterina di Nardo and passed through it on the way to Gallipoli.  What an important part of history it played during and after WWII, though!  Along it’s beautiful, crescent moon shaped beach, a few buildings accommodated over 100,000 Nazi concentration camp survivors on their journey to Palestine.  Today, you can visit the Museum of Memory and Welcome which is dedicated to all of them.

Festival of St Peter & Paul
Festival of St Peter & Paul

Galatina – My couchsurfing host and his friends took me to Galatina for the Festival of Saint Peter and Paul.  I wasn’t clear exactly what the festival was about until I researched it afterwards (my hosts English wasn’t that great and my Italian is very rusty).  Apparently, Galatina is almost the only place that practices the ritual, tarantismi (spider music).  The tarantella folk dance (which evolved from the spider music) is performed at this festival on June 29th. Tarrantati, victims of a tarantula bite, used to go to Galatina to dance and would then enter the church to be blessed and healed by Saints Peter and Paul.  If you’re so inclined, look up tarantism.  It’s fascinating reading!

Gallipoli Shellfish
Gallipoli Shellfish

Gallipoli – My couchsurfing roommate and I hitchhiked first to the gorgeous beaches of Gallipoli where we relaxed and had good conversation with other sunbathers before hitching into Old Town.  Gallipoli is from the Greek word, Kallipolis, meaning beautiful city, and it is that!  It is built on a limestone island that is linked to the mainland by an ancient bridge.  The first thing that you see is the castle and, just opposite it, the fish market and restaurants.  We dined on the most amazingly fresh shellfish (mussels, oysters, & prawns)!  The town is not only known for its red prawns (gamberoni) but also for its nightlife of which we sampled, as well.

Santa Caterina di Nardo clear blue waters
Santa Caterina di Nardo clear blue waters

So many jewels throughout Italy’s Salento region (the southernmost tip of Italy’s “heel”) and so little time!  The train from Nardo to Alberobello, the home of the strange little trullo houses, was next on my agenda.

Santa Caterina di Nardo beach at sunset
Santa Caterina di Nardo beach at sunset
Santa Maria al Bagno
Santa Maria al Bagno
Santa Caterina di Nardo
Santa Caterina di Nardo
Piazza in Santa Caterina di Nardo
Piazza in Santa Caterina di Nardo (taken from Le Terrazze Restaurant)
Gallipoli Castle
Gallipoli Castle
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Church in Gallipoli
Gallipoli
Gallipoli
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A Marina Restaurant in Gallipoli
Gallipoli Gamberoni
Gallipoli Gamberoni

The Baroque Masterpiece That Is Lecce

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In my travels of Italy, I have no idea why I’d never been to Lecce!  What a jewel of Baroque architecture!  The city is compact enough to walk in one day and there is beauty around each and every corner!  I’m officially in love with Lecce!

One of three walls around Lecce
One of three gates in Lecce, Porta Napoli

Once I arrived in Lecce, I managed to find a hotel that would hold my bags for me while I explored.  I had found a couch for a couple of nights but it was on the Ionian Sea in Santa Caterina di Nardo, about 30 minutes from Lecce.

Paper Mache Art
Paper Mache Art

If you intend to visit the heel of Italy’s boot, Lecce is the perfect home base as it’s between the Adriatic and the Ionian Seas and offers easy access to surrounding medieval towns and beaches.  Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?! As a bonus, it’s the mecca of paper mache art!

Paper Mache Art
Paper Mache Art

The craft of paper mache isn’t something I’ve ever thought about.  I think we all were subjected to it in school but I’ve never seen anything like the craftsmanship you’ll find exclusively in Lecce.  I had the privilege of watching a master at work and it is truly an art!

Piazza del Duomo - View from the Cathedral of the Madonna Assunta
Piazza del Duomo – View from the Lecce Cathedral

Every corner of Lecce offers up jaw dropping architectural delights!  I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my wanderings!  I’d just be walking down a beautiful cobblestone alley and it would suddenly open up to a grand piazza with an array of buildings or churches in the Baroque style.

Piazza del Duomo
Piazza del Duomo

Piazza del Duomo is breathtaking!  It’s enclosed on three sides and contains the Lecce Cathedral, the Bell tower, the Bishop’s Palace and the Seminary Palace.

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Religione Et Bonis Artibus (Religion & the Fine Arts) – I assume this is a school

Winding my way through each alley, I came upon gorgeous buildings that I couldn’t identify and haven’t been able to find a name for online.  Some I was allowed to enter but others were closed.  A lovely art gallery that I entered had once been a church and still contains murals in the alcoves.

Statue of Saint Oronzo & the tourist information office
Statue of Saint Oronzo & Sedile Palace- Via Vittorio Emanuele

Popping out of an alleyway, I found myself on the main drag, Via Vittorio Emanuele.  The street is lined with shops and cafes and is where you’ll find Sedile Palace (now the tourist information center), the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the Church of San Marco, and the statue of Saint Oronzo, the patron saint of Lecce.

Roman Amphitheatre
Roman Amphitheatre

The Piazza Sant’Oronzo is directly behind all of that and is where I was amazed to find the Roman Amphitheatre!  I first noticed an archeological site and then noticed  the amphitheatre.  I spoke with a local and found out that they hold concerts in the center of it nightly during the summer.  It’s pretty incredible the layers of history that lie underground all over Italy!

Piazza Sant'Oronzo
Piazza Sant’Oronzo

I didn’t spend near enough time in the “Florence of the South”, as it’s sometimes called.  Far too soon, my couchsurfing host arrived to drive myself and another couchsurfer to his place by the sea.  Hopefully, as I always return to Italy, I’ll one day make it back to Lecce!

Church of Saint Irene

Bell Tower
Bell Tower

Lecce

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Coming upon the Church of Saint Irene
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Paper Mache Art
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Basilica di Santa Croce
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Basilica di Santa Croce
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Basilica di Santa Croce
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Basilica di Santa Croce
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Doors of the Cathedral of Lecce

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Church turned art gallery
Church turned art gallery
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Roman Amphitheatre in Piazza Sant’Oronzo
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Church beside Porta Napoli, the main gate
Fountain at the castle wall
Fountain at the castle wall
Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie