Posts tagged All Topics

Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market: Sights, Sounds, and Smells.

Everything sizzles and pops around you. Steam floats into the night sky like aromatic clouds carrying scrumptious smells of marvelous treats like various meats, or grilled vegetables, or spicy soups — all to the song from a lute; cracked leather-like fingers pluck the instrument, that long necked worn cherry-colored lute called the sueng, releasing a melody of ting-tang-tong-tang-ting to add sweet soundtracks amongst the chitter-chatter of the throngs.

Here and there and everywhere  is food porn galore. From spicy papaya salad to buttered garlic bread, pork balls and chicken balls (not testes) to kababs with zesty yogurt — everything your tantalized taste buds can salivate over.

Needle and thread dive in and out of colorful fabrics with a delicate urgency under soft yellow light as young and old create intricate gifts before your eyes. Maybe you’re looking for a poncho, or a scarf, or a hat — whatever it may be, it can be found as far as the eye can see.

This is the Sunday walking street market in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Once you enter Ratchadamnoen Road; near Thapae Gate cutting through the center of Old Town, you are lost in the ebb and flow of the Thai and tourist slow moving river. And there is almost no turning back — though you probably won’t want to anyway.

Do what I call the Chiang Mai Market Shuffle: right foot slides forward two inches, left foot slides forward two inches, rock your body one way to glance at trinkets, rock the other way to fiend over drool-worthy food, and repeat. It’s packed in the market so you’ll have to do a little shuffle.

The Chiang Mai night market is a place bursting with people, but this river of buying and selling is a treasure trove of Thai and exotic street food and hand-made arts and crafts.  Much of it that is rarely found cheaper or of better quality than here. There is a reason why even Thai people fight the current of bodies to shop here.

Photo of crowds in the Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market in Thailand.

chiang-mai-sunday-night-walking-street-crowd

musician-in-chiang-mai-walking-street

eggs-in-chiang-mai-sunday-walking-street

woman-cooking-in-chiang-mai-sunday-night-walking-street

lady-making-pork-balls-chiang-mai-sunday-walking-street

thai-woman-cooking-pork-balls

Eggs-vegetables-chiang-mai-walking-street

souvenirs-in-chiang-mai-walking-street

making-papaya-salad-chiang-mai-night-market

man-making-papaya-salad

Thai curry Chiang Mai Night Market

Police officer playing guitar Chiang Mai Night Market

IMG_4659

The Chiang Mai Sunday night walking street is definitely a busy place, but one of my favorite things in the city to do each weekend.

HOW TO GET THERE

The Sunday night walking street market is located directly across the from the Thapae gate on the eastern side of Chiang Mai, the entry into the old town. The stands begin to pop up in late afternoon and around dusk, and begins to get overly packed around 7:00pm to 9:00pm.

WHAT TO BRING

Make sure to come on an empty stomach and with smaller bills — many of the vendors cannot break 500 baht and 1000 baht notes. You will also be walking for quite a bit so wear comfortable shoes. Since the market is teeming with people, bring a back that has secure zippers and straps so you can keep your belongings safe.

WHERE TO STAY

Since the walking street market is in the heart of old town, most of the available hostels in hotels are close by and within walking distance. During peak season, Chiang Mai accommodation can fill up fast so make sure to book your hotel or hostel a few days in advance.

Have you ever been to the Chiang Mai Night Market? 

 

5 Secrets to Exploring Los Angeles on a Budget

hollywood-sign

Los Angeles: the city of glamour, fame, and fortune. It can be a “hella” fun place to visit — but it can also bottom out your bank account if you aren’t careful.

[icon type=”angle-double-down”]

Traveling to Los Angeles? Then take note of these simple hacks to save money in the City of Angels. Some travelers come to LA expecting to spend tons of money on the clubs and clothes, and if that’s your intention for a vacation, fine. Splurge on the high-end restaurants and wax museums and “Star Sightings” buses.

Are you a backpacker or budget traveler? Then this guide is for you. If you want to take in all Los Angeles has to offer AND save mad moolah while doing it, here are some ways to make your dollar go the distance.

<< Hunt for Cheap Eats >>

FOOD TRUCKS/STALLS: Los Angeles streets are dotted with food vendors, food trucks, and carts that cater to the fatty in all of us, and also means there are plenty of cheap eats too. Get your nom on by eating at places along the streets you see construction workers and locals grabbing a bite. These are the food trucks and stalls that they eat at every day because they are cheap and tasty. Favorites — Los Angeles has amazing Mexican food, but also keep an eye out for fusions things like Spanish and Korean mix. Also, don’t forget about the quick-grab fruit stands that you usually see in Southeast Asia — they’re in LA too and still only $1-$2 for a bag of fruit.

FIND A FOOD TRUCK: Roaming Hunger Tracker

fruit-stand-la


MEAL DEALS: Like most cities around the US, even the glitzy restaurants sprinkling Los Angeles have specials too. Scout out the happy hours and meal specials before you arrive, or do a quick search for best happy hours in Los Angeles. There are 1/2 price burger nights, Taco Tuesdays, and Thirsty Thursdays abound and easily found. My favorite go to is Cabo Cantina on Tuesdays for all you can eat tacos and cheap beer.

One week, while testing how far I could stretch my budget, I went out with a friend and had dinner and drinks for under $10 each night. Here are some of the places we hit.

Monday’s at The Stand the deals is $1 hot dogs and $2 house Honey Blonde Ale, so we scoffing down some dogs and beers and moved on.

Tuesday in Santa Monica we went to All-You-Can-Eat Taco Tuesday at Cabo Cantina ($4.99) and ate until our bellies threatened to burst.

Friday night at Maui & Sons in Hollywood we hit happy hour and their $3 import beer deals.

<< Hit the Vintage Shops >>

The City of Angels is a bit grungy…but it’s also littered with good things like consignment shops, thrift stores, vintage clothing stores, and shops that sell wardrobes from movies.

What does that mean for you? Super cheap clothes. Get your hobo-chic on.

While wandering Hollywood, Santa Monica or Venice Beach, make sure to step into the numerous vintage clothing stores lining the streets to score some deals on clothes. Some places are just old-school digs, but others get all of the wicked cool props and costumes from studios that don’t need them anymore — even articles like jeans or leather jackets.

These shops around Los Angeles are packed with every era of style your heart might desire. I was short on warm clothing before my trip to New Zealand, so I stopped by a favorite of mine, Iguana Vintage Clothing in Hollywood, and scored an awesome Mexican poncho for only $10. It lasted me for years until someone stole it.

iguana-vintage-hollywood

<< Master the Metro >>

If you’re in Los Angeles with no car, you aren’t completely helpless. The Metro bus and rail system, like most of the US, isn’t top notch compared to some European and Asian countries, but it will take you where you need to be.

The Metro rail is a huge money saver. Grab an all day pass good for bus and metro for $5 and you can go most anywhere in the city. The buses come more often and more on time than cities like Washington DC, but don’t expect the Metro rail to follow suit.

Planning on some late nights out? Some buses in Hollywood run 24/7 every 30-60 minutes too.

Most places of interest around LA will have a bus stop or metro link to that destination. You can get to South Bay, Santa Monica Pier, Hollywood, China town, Venice beach and more all by bus or metro. If you’re a picky about taking buses and metro because the are dirty and grimy, get over it or spend loads on taxis and rental cars.

<< Budget Beds >>

While the United States isn’t very accommodating when it comes to backpacker style guesthouses and hostels, Los Angeles is one of the few spots that I’ve seen in the US that has them. There are a few around the city, one being a hostel located right in the heart of Hollywood. But the hostel that I’ve stayed at and loved was HiHostel just off of the 3rd Street Promenade. Here you can get away from the mayhem of the city and be just a few blocks away from the beach.

As always, some alternatives are AirBnB and Couchsurfing. Obviously the best budget choice is Couchsurfing, but remember that Los Angeles is a tourism epicenter and you’ll need to start looking far in advance. For AirBnB, just remember that peak season for summer and times when there are festivals or events, prices will hike.

<< Do Free Shit! >>

Everywhere you look, someone will be trying to sell you something in Los Angeles. Not like Southeast Asian countries, but take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard and you’ll come out with a million flyers. Ignore all of the paid tours and cheesy attractions, because Los Angeles has amazing free things to do.

You have feet right? Then wander!

Los Angeles has a storied history from its rise by gang influence, to becoming the center of the entertainment world, to the eclectic and unique hippie culture that seems to be stuck in the 70’s.

SANTA MONICA: Hang out on the pier and watch a sunset or lay out on the beach all day. Go to the 3rd Street Promenade to people watch or enjoy a street performer.

VENICE: Gawk at the hippie RVs, fascinating weirdos, and street performers. Hang out in a pop-up drum circle on the beach, or take a stroll along the Venice Beach canals.

BETWEEN: All along the boardwalk from Santa Monica Beach to Venice, there is sometimes a festival or show going on like this car show I stumbled upon.

car-show-los-angeles

HOLLYWOOD: Walk the streets night or day and fight the crowds while following the stars. You don’t need a car to get to the Hollywood sign, just follow a maps app and you can walk there. Head up to the Griffith Observatory, opened in 1935, to have the best view of LA from above, and attend a stargazing night that they put on during the week.

PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY: This you’ll need a car for, so let’s hope you have friends. The PCH is one of the most beautiful drives in the world, so pack a lunch and drive all day up the coast and back.

HIKING: You’ll also need a ride for this, but there is some incredible hiking opportunities just outside of downtown Los Angeles. Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu Creek are national parks close by the city where you can spend all day trekking on and off trails through the rugged landscape taking in the views of the mountains like these below.

<< Getting there >>

Getting to and from the City of Angels can be pretty freakin’ cheap…IF you give effort and search for deals. Los Angeles is a hotspot for domestic and international travel, and being that Mother Nature decides to stay beautiful for majority of the year, it’s always busy. Even with that, there are so many flights coming and going from LAX that airlines are competing for the lowest fare.

Give yourself a few months in advance to look for tickets for flights and trains, and get on a mailing list for airfare alerts when prices drop. Southwest, Virgin, US Airways, and American are the most popular airlines. I’ve personally flown to Los Angeles from DC for $150, but it depends on your timing. If you’re already in the United States, get on AirFare Watchdog and you can schedule alerts for price drops when they happen for the best deal possible.

[x_alert heading=”DISCLAIMER” type=”muted” close=”true”]All links and companies in this article are solely mentioned because I have used them before.[/x_alert]

<< What are your budget travel secrets in major cities? >>

 

 

Get Green! Explore Fontanaro Organic Wine and Olive Estate in Umbria.

The moment I stepped foot in the backyard of Il Fontanaro, I knew I was going to quite enjoy myself. Maybe it was Bob humming along as he cut the lawn, or maybe it was the pool beyond the hedges the overlooked the green gum-drop dotted hills around, or maybe it was the hammock swaying in the breeze (after all, hammocks make everything better). Maybe it was the drive through the valley that did it, or the old brown dogs that greeted us after passing by the family vegetable garden. Even under the grey washed sky it was a beautiful place set in the valley above Paciano, Umbria, and there was much to gawk at.

It could have also been Alina asking if I wanted a glass of wine on arrival. It’s possible.

Oh, and meet Bob, well as I named him…

Welcome to Il Fontanaro Olive and Grape Estate, almost 100 acres of protected wood and land crawling with vineyards or sprouting with olive trees perched in the rolling hillside of Umbria, Italy. After arriving late night to our villa Campodalto where we would be staying during a 10-day blogger tour, day two introduced us to our base of operations in the area where super secret blogger pow-wows would happen. Or, in reality, where we would meet up for lunch or dinner and go over plans for the day and experience what the estate has to offer with its award winning wine and olive oils.

But before we delve into some of the experiences over 4 days around the estate (and my wine glass count which may or may not top 100) I want to share some of my first impressions in photos as I noted above, which are some of the details that made Il Fontanaro such a special place.

fontanaro-farm-sign
dogs-fontnaro-farm

Everybody loves dogs. That is the only reason they are on here to get oohs and ahhs out of you. No, I’m kidding, Fontanaro brings out the big guns in first impressions with the welcome committee consisting of these two. I can’t tell you how many photos us bloggers took of them.

Hammock-fontanaro-farm

Hammock hung from an olive tree overlooking the hillside. Enough said.

pool-fontanaro-farm

Care for a swim in the secret garden?

flower-fontanaro-farm

liac-fontanaro-farm

artichoke-fontanaro-farm

All around Il Fontanaro life and color was bursting everywhere you looked. Beside the large family garden in the front of the property where the family gets the majority of ingredients they cook with, all over were lilac and flowers and even artichoke growing. By the way, the crazy awesome purple flower above is what an artichoke in bloom looks like! If you already knew that, go away. I didn’t, and it was exciting for me. Don’t crush my enjoyment.

farm-equipment-fontanaro-farm

pizza-ovens-fontanaro-farm

Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Award winning at that!)

One of the days on the estate, we had the opportunity and pleasure of getting a tour of the olive orchard and mill where they make the award winning olive oils. We were led through the orchard and told of the history of the farm, the process of growing and maintaining the olive trees, and the process at which they produce the extra virgin olive oil. Our guide, the one and only true Mamma Lucia, told us of how the estate only had a small portion of olive trees growing on it, and now they produce some 2,000 liters of it annually.

olive-orchard-fontanaro-farm

mom-fontanaro-farm

Momma Lucia explains how the olives are harvested, carefully of course, and how the trees are decades old and they have used no chemicals at all on the farm.

olive-trees-fontanaro-farm

Olives in growth, just beginning to pop their little green heads out into the world.

cat-fontanaro-farm

Our other guide, Ciccio, always followed us about the estate and knew of the best places to relax.

bees-fontanaro-farm

Some of the bees in the bee hives just below the olive trees. Not only to they produce olive oils, but also 300kg this year of organic raw honey.

umbria-from-fontanaro-farm

The valley splitting open, revealing the rolling hills of Umbria and the town below. Quite a view from the mill.

olive-oil-mill-fontanaro

lattice-fontanaro-farm

family-photos-fontanaro

Mamma Lucia takes a moment to show us photos of the estate and of baby Alina so we could embarrass her later by telling her how cute she was. Apparently, all throughout their childhood, the kids of the household were always eager to help with whatever they were producing.

olive-oil-processor-fontanaro

Some of the machinery involved in the olive oil pressing.

olive-oil-making-fontanaro

olive-oil-cans-fontanaro

olive-oil-fontanaro-farm

While on the olive oil tour, we had a chance to take shots, of olive oil of course, to see if we could guess the cheap store bought brand versus their organic oil. Instantly I could see the difference; the store bought was a transparent golden color, whereas their olive oil was a thicker consistency and was slightly green. Alina told us how to sip the oil specifically, and doing so I could feel the oil triple down my throat and burn all the way to my stomach. Not in a painful way, but almost like I would sip a fine whiskey.

“I use it for everything. If I feel sick, or have a stomach ache, I take a spoonful of olive oil.”

Now that is something the United States won’t back — organic natural medicine? That would probably be deemed blasphemous. Yet, I believed it, and when she explained all of the benefits of olive oil, and the nutrients and vitamins in organically produced olive oil, it was something I would definitely be using back home.

box-design-fontanaro

fontanaro-farm-award

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Wine Tastings (and my new found love for it.)

Another part of the experience at Il Fontanaro is the wine tastings of their own wine produced from a small vineyard on the property. I can definitely say I love my wine, with their brand being called by the exact same name of My Wine, and no doubt there is reasoning behind it because I never wanted to give it up.

Alina, during the wine tasting, went through the history of wine in the region and the main types produced there, with Il Fontanaro’s stock being exclusive to the guests who stay there.

I remember asking Alina at one point a question that completely baffled me, “Why is it that I haven’t gotten a hangover yet?” I inquired. Truth be told, I get headaches from wine even if I only have two glasses, let alone the first day when I had upwards of ten. Exaggerating that claim or not, she filled me in on the blunt reason behind my lack of hangover, and with her thick Italian accent she retorted, “Because you aren’t drinking shit wine like America.”

We all laughed, but it is potentially true, given her explanation that organic wines from Umbria and Tuscany wouldn’t have preservatives in them, and more importantly, sulfates that cause headaches in wines. With a gulp of My Wine, I nodded and felt enlightened.

discussing-wine-fontanaro

wine-cheers-fontanaro

After the clanking of glasses and sipping of more wine, we were taken into the kitchen where we were to learn how to make authentic Italian pasta from scratch. To my relief, it didn’t appear that I was the only one lacking experience in this field as Alina instructed us each step of the way. And usually delegating the hand-cramping task of making the dough and folding and massaging it to the “strong men”. I think the girls just wanted to sit back and sip wine and laugh at our attempt at cooking.

Pasta Making (I learn how to cook! Kind of.)

pasta-ingredients-fontanaro-farm

making-pasta-fontanaro

Soon, the floor began forming a volcano…well, we formed it into a volcano to stir ever-so gently pesto into it to create the pesto ribbon pasta.

ragu-fontanaro-farm

In Umbria, everything has got to be hearty. Raguout means hunks of meat chucked into a pan and simmered together in glorious carnivorous synchronization of flavor. The kinda’ food that will keep you warm during the cold winters there. I’m sure the red wine helps too.

pasta-creation-fontanaro

ribbon-pasta-fontanaro

Photo Jun 14, 9 21 23 PM

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Just as our dough was settling, we were taught two ways to slice them into pasta: Momma’s and Alina’s. There was a reason why both were never in the kitchen at the same time, since Alina refused to use a hand-crank pasta slicer whereas Momma Lucia snuck us out back to show us how.

 

Bloggers Assembled!

dinner-bloggers-fontonaro-farm

Here around the table daily, us bloggers sat and talked and ate and drank and laughed, all in the good company of Fontanaro Estate’s family. Everything they do on that farm and around the other guesthouses they own is done with a long-lasting passion you can see in their eyes and hear in the enthusiasm in their voices. Though we were visiting for four days, four was not enough since I wanted to stay and actually help with a harvest. At some point I will. Or, mainly sleep in that hammock out back. But it was the perfect location to launch our amazing blog tour from, and a place that helped us all get familiar with the roots of tradition in the Umbria region and history of an ancient art like olive oil.

 

*Special thanks to Linnea of This Is Your Time and Alina of Slow Living Vacations for inviting me on this blog tour, and Il Fontanaro for hosting us. All opinions and use of the word “gnarly” are my own.

Weekly Photo Mojo: Fireflies light up the hillside in Umbria, Italy.

Up in the hills above the 15th century town of Paciano Italy and overlooking the countryside of Umbria sits the villa of Campodalto. At the beginning of my 10-day blogger tour through Italy, this sight was one of the more unexpectedly memorable ones — and it happened on day one after arriving late night to Campodalto where we would stay during our time in Umbria. I just remember wandering outside and into the back lawn that was pitch black. The distant town lights glowed, but the sea of fireflies overpowered even that. There were thousands around us flaring up and fading black, like the visual representation of the heartbeat of the hillside around us, and with the cloudy sky above, it was as if the stars had descended so we could still see them.

fireflies-in-itlay

Read more about the 10-day blog tour around Umbria and Ponza Italy HERE!

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

*This blog tour was sponsored by Slow Living Vacations and This Is Your Time, but all opinions and stories are my own*

Paradise in Italy: Staying at Frontone Beach Villa on Ponza Island

old-ruins-ponza-italy

It’s not every day that you get to look out of your window and see the ruins of a 15th century palace. Or fortress. Or house of a wealthy family. Whatever it was atop that hill across from our villa on Isola di Ponza — that crumbling structure barely clinging to whatever historical moment in time it came from — it was a magical sight. Something out of one of my fantasies. I always dreamed of exploring ruins and castles as a young boy, but I had never thought I’d bee sleeping across from them.

Let alone have a hammock to relax in on the porch of a white-washed villa set in the rocky, green-brushed volcanic hills of Ponza Island.

Our crew of the This Is Your Time blog tour, all bags in tow, plodded along the winding pathways that snake through the hills of grey and orange rock, passing the white painted villas which seemed almost to be carved straight out of the hillside. This was after a winding truck drive down the small hairpin turns which rim the coastal cliffs that were incredibly treacherous and equally adventurous, with our whole blogger crew holding on for dear life.

Which made arriving all the more rewarding and the location even more fantastical.

After a brief hike (around Ponza, you definitely need to have good legs under you) we came up the hill and through the gate to our sweet getaway, our own bright white villa above Frontone Beach overlooking the sapphire blue Tyrrhenian Sea. A gentle breeze brought up the salty sea air and cooled our brows as we all heaved our bags down happily, ready to take in this beautiful place and relax.

vila-ponza-italy

All of us immediately went exploring the house. Or flopping down on our faces on the comfy beds. Maurizio Musella, owner of this villa and head of TuristCasa on Ponza Island, was nice enough to let us use both connected guesthouses while we were on the island. And wow, was it awesome. It had been a long day of traveling, leaving Umbria and the first half of our tour behind, taking a train 2 hours into Formia, and a ferry to the island over 3 hours. There was space to stretch out, plush couches and beds, and the setting sun shining through the doorways.

This felt like home away from home.

villa-ponza-italy-2

What I loved most was the décor; vibrant and lively and totally fitting for an island paradise, with fish painted on the walls, maroon and royal blue ceramic tiles, and handmade plate-ware.

villa-ponza-italy-5

villa-ponza-italy-3

I think I could sit there every morning for breakfast, couldn’t you?

villa-ponza-italy-4

Though we were all “oohing and ahhhing” at our accommodation for the next 3 days, it wasn’t long after arriving and dropping our bags that the beds and couches were enticing us it was nap-time for all.

For most of the time in Ponza when at the villa, besides having some family-style dinners cooked, or a few hangouts, this was mainly our spot to relax. And we were all fine with that. Of course blog tours are hectic, so it was nice to come back each day to such a homey and fantastical villa where we could all enjoy the views and decompress — whether it be from snorkeling all day, exploring the island, or waddling back with stuffed bellies.

villa-ponza-italy-6

Here is our villa above the pink house as seen from the ruins I gazed out at every morning.

villa-ponza-italy-8

Most of our blogger crew hanging out relaxing in the sun and eating lunch whipped up by Federico or Linnea. That table was our gathering spot when we all did work or just wanted to sit around and chat.

me-villa-ponza-italy

This is my “I’m going to destroy this plate of delicious pasta” face.

villa-ponza-italy-7

When I had heard we were going to be staying in a villa on Ponza Island, I couldn’t imagine it was going to be like this. The views alone were breathtaking, with panoramic scenes of the sea in front of you. But also the hospitality of Maurizio was stellar. He was kind enough to give us lifts to and from the port when possible, and even a day excursion by boat exploring the Island (much more on that to come!). And of course I can’t forget the company, with the other members of the blog crew really making it a fun place to stay. How often can you get a group of strangers together in a house and have everything be smooth?

ruins-ponza-italy-2

Unless we had to ride into town, or if we didn’t bus it back, then we followed the path down the cliff-side to the beach and small port below the villa where we could catch a boat. That’s right, we could boat taxi from our villa! Since I was so fascinated by the ruins nearby I tried to do some sleuthing, and apparently it is called Fort Bentick or Fort Gable, built for defense of the port against raiders. But there isn’t much else. Now overgrown and a wind-swept shell of its former self, but still nonetheless nifty.

I mean, seriously, swinging on a hammock looking at these ruins and the Tyrrhenian Sea, can it get any better than that? Though I’ve stayed in every accommodation you can imagine from 5-star resorts with every amenity you can imagine to treehouses with no electricity, this was one of my favorite places I’ve stayed.

*Disclaimer: This trip is thanks to This Is Your Time blog tour and Slow Living Vacations, with our stay courtesy of Maurizio at TuristCasa. All opinions are my own.*

Weekly Travel Photo: Il Trasimeno Lake in Umbria, Italy.

Long golden grass dancing on a gentle wind, bright yellow and purple wild-flowers peeking out of the hills, dark green-brushed mountains in the distance climbing out of the horizon and surrounding the turquoise lake shimmering under the summer sun.

This is Il Trasimeno Lake in the region of Umbria in Italy. Here, our blogger group on tour around Italy began a hike with UmbriAction that would take us through the hills around the lake, showing us the beautiful and unique agriculture and wildlife. Though we had quite a hike ahead, I had to pause and take a moment to admire the view. This was a place I could have seen myself spending an entire day on that very bench writing.

il-trasimeno-lake-italy-2

il-trasimeno-lake-italy

Read more about the 10-day blog tour around Umbria and Ponza Italy HERE!

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

*This blog tour was sponsored by Slow Living Vacations and This Is Your Time, but all opinions and stories are my own*

From Umbria to Ponza: 10 Days of Travel Around Italy

swimming in ponzu banner

Oh how the adventures of backpacking can swing dramatically from lows and highs. Trust me, I would know, because for a chunk of my time in Italy and across parts of Eastern Europe I was living on bread and ketchup as my budget bottomed out and I was left pondering what to do next. Well, slightly freaking out.

And then, the next thing I knew I was on a blog tour around parts of Italy with a group of bloggers, dining on some of the best culinary traditions of Italian cuisine, and exploring the country in ways I wouldn’t have been able to afford. Luckily, I had met a person with a similarly adventurous spirit who was setting up her first blogger tour around the country based around the sole idea of living your life to the fullest.

We met on one of the historical tours I had taken in Rome, and after meeting up a second time to hear about her idea for her blog tour, she invited me to come along. To say I was stoked is an understatement, because what she had told me for the goal of her blog tour fully encompassed the sprit of adventure and inspiration.

That is where Linnea and Alina come in — the two who incubated the idea of a tour through Italy that would embody the ideas of taking advantage of every moment in life, to explore Italy into the deep roots of its culture by taking in everything in a slow-paced and relaxing way, and to get the real Italian experience by spending time with locals. And of course the would be our marvelous guides for the week and half.

With their powers combined, the Slow Living Vacations and This Is Your Time blog tour was formed! It would take us outside of the bustling Eternal City into the countryside of Umbria, amongst the rolling hills and endless olive orchards and vineyards, where we would discover the very essence of Italian cuisine by seeing first hand how hearty pastas, award-winning olive oil, and robust red wines are made. We would hike around the turquoise Il Trasimeno Lake learning from the locals how the flavors of Italy are grown in the fields around us, and what a fisherman’s life is like on the lake.

Then, we were off south of Rome to the Island of Ponza for a complete contrast of culture and flavor. Here the white wine and Proseco flowed, and meats and red sauces became fresh-caught seafood in spices and white sauces. We would explore the island by boat, taking in all of the geo-gasmic natural beauty, and underwater by scuba diving to see what lies beneath.

There wasn’t much mention about this tour on the blog as it happened in June because well, the majority of the tour we were busy doing epic things, and my hands were tied with copious amounts of wine. So for the next few weeks I will be sharing all of the tour on the blog.

But who is this “we” I keep mentioning? I can’t be rude and not introduce the rest, so without further ado I give you the gnarly blogger crew!

Roster of awesomeness in no particular order:

Ryan (why that’s me of course!)

DJ of Dream Euro Trip

Serena of Wishversilia

Anna of Green Holiday Italy

Diana of Browsing Italy

Claudia of Travel Stories

Gillian of Gillian’s Lists

Now let me introduce you to some of the delicious and adventurous tidbits we experienced that we took part in while on this blog tour as a teaser for what is to come!

Part 1: UMBRIA

 

Campodalto 

italian-dinner-campo-dalto

cooking-at-campo-dalto

It was such a contrast going from an uncomfortable and hot hostel, to a villa in the hills above Paciano that felt immediately like home. Though the home of my past never had views like those outside my window, nor did it look this nice, I instantly felt warm and cozy. The villa, Campodalto, is where DJ and I stayed while the other bloggers were split up into other locations around the area. From high up in the hills it overlooked the valley below, with fireflies that would light up the darkness at night, and our host Marliza with the biggest smile and sweetest heart. One of my favorite aspects of the trip happened here, which was the massive Italian style dinner she cooked up for all of us, which was my first true experience of Italian hospitality. Read about the heart-warming experience HERE!

Giacomo Mori

giacomo-mori-winery-italy

giacomo-mori-wine-tasting

One of first activities that we did, which was fitting since we were staying on or around vineyards, was to take a winery tour and tasting of Giacomo Mori. A historic winery set in the hills of Umbria, we were taken below the house into the brick-lined cellars where we learned about their process for making wine, how long their blends are aged, and a bit of the history. Then we went upstairs into the dining room where the table was lined with meats and cheeses — and of course wine! The view out the window was breathtaking, and the wine maker gave us tastings of their best wines, and even their reserve. This was the beginning of my love affair with wine, which I normally do not drink at all!

Paciano

paciano-italy

paciano-italy-2

Marked as one of the most beautiful historic towns in Italy, Paciano, dating back to the 15th century, is an incredibly well-preserved town in the Province of Perugia in the Umbria Region. With the mayor and the head of tourism of Paciano, we were led around the cobblestone streets and learned about the rich industries of agriculture, metal work, and textiles in the region, while admiring the rustic architecture.

Fontanaro Farm

fontanaro-farm-umbria-italy

homemade-pasta-fontanaro-farm

pasta-making-fontanaro-farms

One of the blog tour guides, Alina, also helps run Fontanaro Farm which is owned by her family and the place she grew up — and was our main base of operations while in the Umbria region. Here, Aline showed us how their families award-winning olive oil is produced, and cemented my appreciation of Italian wine by letting us taste the delicious red wines produced on the farm. Also, a big perk for me seeing that I lack a bit in the cooking department, Alina taught us how to make homemade Italian pasta and how to stew up a thick Umbria argue that would easily keep you warm in the winters. The property was surrounded by the vineyard and olive trees, with mountains ranging being and the valley sinking below into golden fields. To be invited into someones house, whether she was our guide or not, was something very special.

banner-organic-farm-umbria-italy

Cantina de Redi 

cantina-de-ricci-Montepulciano-italy

Montepulciano-italy-cantina-de-ricci

Deep below the stone street of the mountaintop town of Montepulciano was the wine cellars of Cantina de’ Ricci, which were carved into stone below the city by the Etruscans dating back before ancient Roman times. In the silent darkness, massive oak barrels lined the vaulted stone corridors which led us into the modern-day Cantina de’ Ricci where we tried fresh-cut prosciutto, cheeses, and other meat while trying their red wine selections. The building, inside of a historic Palazzo or palace, holds onto the traditions the now extinct Ricci family guarded hundreds of years prior.

 

UmbriAction

umbra-action-blog-group

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Ruins in Umbria Italy

Organic farming Umbria Italy

boat-ride-Lake-Trasimeno

Umbria Italy wine tour

What’s the best way to really explore a region? To hump it. No not that kind of humping ya’ pervert, but a real long hike or trek throughout the region to really experience it. On our last full day in the Umbria region we met up with the team of UmbriAction, a company specializing in eco-tourism and adventure tourism in the area. When we first me up with them, we were off to do some bird watching around the marsh area of Il Trasimeno Lake populated by tons of local and migratory birds. After, we went off for a hike into the hillside to see first hand the natural beauty sprouting in the region, and an ancient tower overlooking the lake. We hiked all the way to Azienda Agrarian, the farm of Flavio Orsini where he explained the agriculture in the region, showed us what is unique about his own farm, and gave us a taste of some local flavors. Then we headed around to one of the villages where we met up with local fisherman who took us out onto the lake to show us how they making a living fishing.

 

Part 2: Ponza 

Roman ruins Ponza Italy

ponza-italy

The second portion of our blog trip began. I was sad to leave Umbria and the villa that we stayed in, but as we left the harbor of mainland Italy 2 hours south of Rome and pulled into the port in Ponza, I was slapped by the incredible beauty of the island. Ponza greeted us with its dark blue waters, brushed green hills, rocky cliffs, and colorful villas sprouting about. We took a dinky van from the port to the villa where we were to stay, and to say that the route was treacherous would be a light statement. Treacherous but worth it as the roads on this island were snaking up and down cliff-sides.

 Il Tramonto

sunset-over-ponza

Il-Tramonto-ponza

It had been a long day of travel on the train and on the ferry, and after we were done unpacking in our terrace overlooking the harbor, we were all famished. It was grub down town and Linnea had something special planned for the dinner. We hiked into the hills rising above our terrace and to the highest point in Ponza to the restaurant Il Tramonto, where we were greeted with this breathtaking view from our seats. As the sun set the sky afire, we tried the specialties of the restaurant with buttery melt-in-your-mouth octopus and potatoes, white wine, and other amazing seafood dishes. Oh, and a full desert spread to top it off!

 Boat Tour around Ponza

boat-cruise-ponzu

swimming-ponza

roman-caves-ponza-italy

boat-cruise-ponza

One way to truly see a region is to hike it like I mentioned in Umbria, but on an island, to truly take in the beauty is to boat it! Day two in Ponza we explored the island by cruising around, taking swims in the warm Tyrrhenian Sea, and had a chance to explore ancient Roman sea caves carved into rocks around the island. My favorite part though was when our boat guide took us over to a natural sea cave, where you had to dive beneath the water and swim under a rock arch to reach the interior cave, it was like something out of a movie!

exploring-ancient-caves-ponza-italy

 Orestorante

orestorante-ponza-italy

ponzu-hot-rock-fishIt had been a long day at sea, so after a couple naps and showers it was time to feast again! We boated into town from out private dock and walked atop the hill to Orestorante, a restaurant hugging the cliffside and overlooking the port as the sun set. The restaurants brightly colored and hand-made plates immediately grabbed my attention, but later the seafood would grab hold of my taste buds. From calamari pasta to skewered fish cooked on hot rocks, we sat around enjoying the flavors of the sea we had explored that day while getting to know the owner and chef and hearing his stories about life on the island.

 

Ponza Diving Centre

ponza-diving-ship

scuba-diving-ponza

Our last day on Isola de Ponza was an extremely special one for me, and I can’t tell you just how giddy I was. Because I was going scuba diving! For years I’ve dreamed of scuba diving and while in Thailand I figured I would get my certificate, but I never took the time to. After boarding, the crew of Ponza Diving Centre took us out into the sea, where the certified divers went down exploring depths we weren’t allowed to. But the sun was beaming and we were treated to some snack while we hung out and waited for our turn. Once they were done we cruise on over to an area with massive rock crags jutting out of the sea. I geared up and waddled to the edge of the boat and my destiny, and leapt in. At first, I struggled a bit to get acquainted with the gear, but with their help I was swimming 20 meters down with ease through underwater caves. And this has now become an addiction. See the awesome video HERE!

 

Da Enzo al Frontone

Da-Enzo-al-Frontone-ponza

fried-fish-ponza

The last piece of our blog trip in Ponza was dinner at Da Enzo al Frontone, a candlelit restaurant carved into the rock face beside the beach. Here we were treated to the zero-kilometer style cooking of the restaurant, where they served us tastes of the sea caught that very morning. Now, I’m not huge on seafood normally, but Ponza had really changed that for me. We ate whole grilled anchovies, skewered of white fish that was breaded and served with sweet peppers, and so much more. We were all pretty bummed that the trip was coming to an end, but one last dinner on a beautiful summers night in Ponza eating fresh seafood and drinking wine, you can’t beat that.

And so it ended (sad face)

So, as we cruised back toward mainland Italy and Ponza shrunk into the horizon, our Slow Living Vacations and This Is Your Time blog tour came to an end, but those experiences that I have from it are forever engrained in memory. And of course the awesome people who I met on it! As my budget neared empty I feared that I wasn’t going to be able to experience Italy in an in-depth way, that I’d be stuck just seeing Rome and that’s it, but this tour gave me the opportunity.

*Special thanks to Linnea and Alina for inviting me on this blog tour. All opinions and use of the word “gnarly” are my own.

Banner for the Roman Forum in Italy

Want to see more of Italy? How about Umbria and Tuscany, or Ponza Island, or Rome? Check out these Italy guides for all things history, culture, culinary, and adventure.

HAVE YOU BEEN TO ITALY? WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE REGION?