October 12, 2017

Baltic Cruising on Azamara

I recently cruised in the Baltic Sea on the Azamara Journey. The twelve night itinerary was outstanding in every way, from the ports of call, to my experience on the Journey. Though I had enjoyed sailing on Azamara previously, this was an excellent reminder for me of what an outstanding product Azamara is for a wide range of our clients. The clientele onboard were in general well-traveled, many repeat guests, who also may cruise on Silversea and Seabourn, but do love Azamara and their suites which come with many unique extra privileges.

Azamara, true to its tagline, is most certainly for guests who ‘love travel’. The destinations are the primary focus, with long days and overnights in port, and very convenient docking, generally right in the heart of the city. One feels almost like you are stepping out of your floating hotel each time you go ashore. The complimentary AzAmazing Evening events offered on most cruises is generally destination focused and truly Amazing.

Their ‘port intense’ itineraries do attract guests who are seeking enriching experiences in the destinations. There was a good mix of international travelers onboard, which I consider another great benefit to the American client. Guest lecturers are often featured on Azamara. On the cruise just prior to my boarding of the Journey, Lech Walesa was the guest lecturer, President of Poland from 1990-1995 and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. Imagine what a ‘wow’ that was. I understand that it came to be in great part, by the personal efforts of one of officers.

The Azamara staff all seem happy to be there… and they are ‘there’, in the moment… comfortably engaging, smiling and conversant, without exception. Another very unique feature that makes Azamara standout is the fact that the staff is ‘empowered’ to make decisions on the spot that enhances the guest experience. In my opinion, Azamara has no rival when it comes to the friendliness and accessibility of all the officers… from House Keeping to the Bridge to security, to the Hotel side, F&B… including Monica, the executive chef! It sets a uniquely comfortable atmosphere throughout the ship… not unlike the perfect private club. The recent renovations onboard the Journey enhanced greatly the look and feel of the ship as well.

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March 8, 2017

Festa della Donna ~ International Women’s Day ~ March 8th

Today is International Women’s Day…a Global Day to celebrate all female achievements–past, present, and future.
Courageous women began it in the early 1900s, holding demonstrations for the right to vote and for equal pay and working conditions.

International Women’s Day, originally called International Working Women’s Day, is celebrated on March 8 every year. It commemorates the movement for women’s rights. The earliest Women’s Day observance was held on February 28, 1909, in New York and organized by the Socialist Party of America. On March 8, 1917, in the capital of the Russian Empire, Petrograd, a demonstration of women for bread and peace began…the beginning of the Russian Revolution. The Union of Italian Women officially declared March 8 Women’s Day in 1945. The United Nations began celebrating in International Women’s Day in the International Women’s Year, 1975. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.

Italians celebrate this holiday with mimosa flowers, given by men to the women in their lives, or by women to their friends. An endearing tradition.

November 17, 2016

Ideas for visiting Italy when you only have a week.

Focus on the south, starting with Rome.  The capital of Italy and home to the Catholic Church has thousands of years of rich history: the pull of the Eternal City is inevitable. From the Roman Forum, with the landmark Colosseum, to the Vatican City with St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums, the list of what to see could be endless. But sometimes, you just want to wander around and take in all that history, appreciating the way that it creates visible layers – an ancient column worked into a modern façade, a Medieval church next to a 19th-century house.

The many fountains of Rome are another thing to look out for as they signify the strength of the various rulers and benefactors who built them. The one immortalized by films is the recently restored Trevi Fountain, where legend has it that tossing in a coin will ensure a trip back to Rome!

The food lover will find solace in Rome’s down-home trattorie, where pasta with cacio e pepe should be on most menus – creamy and simple, with the kick of freshly cracked black pepper. Vegetarians also have a blast with the many simply prepared and delicious seasonal vegetables like artichokes (in the fall), made every which way, or the bitter puntarelle served with anchovy sauce, or other bitter vegetables prepared simply on the grill.

Head south to the ruins of Pompeii, south of Naples, are on the bucket list of every art and history lover, while Naples may be given the backseat due to its gritty, chaotic reputation. But give it a moment and you’ll realize that this city has more of a bustling aura than a chaotic one. Not only is it Italy’s third largest, but also one of its oldest, artistic cities, but its city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with impressive archeological riches in the midst of an urban stretch of tumult and confusion. It may seem shabby and unkempt, but dig a little deeper, and its elegance will catch you off guard.

What art has come off the street has made it into the Naples Archeological Museum that also holds almost all of the artifacts, sculptures and frescoes found among the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Other parts of the collection come from the Farnese family. Naples is the city to use as a base when planning trips to Capri, Pompeii, Sorrento and anywhere else around the Bay of Naples.

If Italy is famous for pizza, Naples is the place you must have it, since pizza was invented here in the 19th Century, it’s safe to say the Neapolitans know how it’s done.

Pizza in Naples, Italy

It’s a simple but tasty dough that should contain nothing more than flour, salt and water, topped with fresh tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella and – for purists – not much else. Colleen Colosseumnaples1

November 15, 2016

Lecce, the Florence of Pulgia

 

Lecce is on the Salento Peninsula, the heel of the boot, in southern Italy’s Puglia region and was most certainly on my agenda on my recent travels in Puglia. The climate is fairly mild although it can get very hot in summer. Lecce, sometimes called the Florence of the south, is the main city on Puglia’s Salento Peninsula. Because of the soft limestone that’s easy to work, Lecce became the center for the ornate architecture called the barocco leccese and the city is filled with Baroque monuments. The historic center is compact making it a great place for walking and its restaurants offer abundant fine food typical of Puglia. Also notable are the traditional handicrafts, especially the art of paper ‘mache’.

It is a lively town, with a well attended university, more than 40 churches and at least as many palazzi, all build or renovated between the 17th and 18th centuries. The city’s focal point is   Piazza del Duomo, or Cathedral Square. It dates top 12th C and has a massive bell tower.   Via Vittorio Emanuale is the main street lined with shops and cafes that runs between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza Sant’Oronzo.   Roman Amphitheater was built in the second century AD and once held 25,000 spectators. The amphitheater is partially excavated and concerts are held there.   Church of Santa Chiara, famous for its ceiling with paper mache’ decorations, is a short distance from the amphitheater.   Basilica of Santa Croce, on Via Umberto I, has a richly decorated facade and is considered the emblem of the city.

 

 

 

October 10, 2016

A Visit to Matera

img_510bKnown as a subterranean city, Matera is renowned for its dwellings carved out of calcareous rock. Matera is said to be one of the world’s oldest towns, dating back to the Palaeolithic Age and inhabited continuously for around 7000 years. The simple natural grottoes that dotted this regions steep-sided Gravina gorge became an urban landscape…with an ingenious system of canals that regulated the flow of water and sewage for the inhabitants of the caves, or “sassi”.
Matera became prosperous and was the capital of Basilicata from 1663 to 1806. Eventually the increase in population became unsustainable. By the 1950’s more than half of Matera’s population still lived in the sassi (cave homes)but inadequate health conditions and overcrowding eventually forced authorities to relocate the 15,000 sassi inhabitants into new government housing. Today many of the caves in the Sassi district are restaurants, shops and boutique hotels, making Matera a truly unique place.
I choose Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita, which consists of 18 Sassi or Cave rooms with a restaurant in a former Rock church cave. Our suite, Cave 14 was an impressive example of how a typical dwelling of the Sassi neighborhood can be restored. The bathtub is positioned next to the king size bed, while an adjacent cave (a former stable) houses the lavatories and a stone sink.

 

 

September 2, 2016

Experience Italy in New York City

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The real Little Italy of New York?

For decades, the Little Italy of the Bronx has remained somewhat hidden, obscured by the popularity of Little Italy in Manhattan; in recent years, however, it has started to claim a spot on the list of New York’s most interesting locations. Even though many of the original residents left the neighborhood in the 1970s and 80s, the Italian character of the streets and shops has stayed authentic, perhaps right thanks to its isolation. The food products, from the cheese to the cold cuts to the olive oil, are often imported from Italy, and the business owners are proud Italian Americans.

Bronx Little Italy is dubbed by many as the ‘real little Italy’ simply because of its authenticity.  Many of the businesses here have been around for nearly 100 years or more and are still owned by descendants of their original founders. The bakeries, pastry shops and cheese shops make their fresh homemade products daily as it has always been done. Customers and visitors enjoy the friendly small town atmosphere compared to the Manhattan publicity spotlight.

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Walk a few blocks around the intersection of Arthur Avenue and East 187th Street in the Belmont section of New York’s Bronx and you are likely to hear Italian spoken, smell the tantalizing aromas of freshly cooked Italian food, and see people going about their grocery shopping at the many specialty stores: the bakery, the cheese and salumi shop, the seafood market, the fresh pasta store. Just like what you would see in an Italian neighborhood. And that is the pride of the Bronx’s  Little Italy; many locals say this is the ‘real’ Little Italy of New York, as compared to Manhattan’s Mulberry Street, which many say has lost its authenticity, especially after the Italians moved out, to become merely a tourist attraction.

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Arthur Avenue is always on my list when visiting New York.  A big plus is that I can board a domestic flight home with all my favorite goodies that are not available in Portland.
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