Category Archives: Travelogue

Travelogue: New Shanghai in Photos {Shanghai, China}

Time flies when you’re not regularly updating your blog! I can’t believe I’m nearly hitting my one year mark for when I was in China last fall. There’s been a lot of change in my life this year, but as the mercury starts to dwindle into cool autumn nights and the city gets just a little bit sleepier under heavy covers and thick socks, I’ve been reflective. Call it the end-of-year nostalgia, so to speak. I’ve been clearing some space on my hard-drive, finding photos I haven’t gotten around to sorting through. Here are just a dozen from what I call new Shanghai. Random scenes near The Bund– you know, the riverfront walkway you probably saw in 2012′s “Looper” with Bruce Willis and my pseudo-soul make Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Shanghai’s a beautiful city, rich with culture and filled with ex-pats. Definitely on my list of places to revisit some day…

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Travelogue: Old Shanghai in Photos {Shanghai, China}

The sights and sounds of my trip to China are forever embedded into my memory. It’s been months since I stepped off the plane in Beijing, rushing through the airport to catch my connecting flight into Shanghai, and yet it seems like a part of that experience still lingers. We began our two-week journey in one of the most modern cities in the world, but not without exploring its heritage. Old Shanghai houses beautiful ponds and gardens, architecture of an often forgotten time, and a regard for tradition unsurpassed from the oldest tea house in China to some of the most highly coveted street food in the city.

History aside, it’s in Old Shanghai where I first learned to bargain in Chinese…and quite a learning experience that was! My practice run there though was a great and useful learning tool for the rest of the trip. Just be wary of pick-pockets and never follow someone who claims they can take you to a store that has great deals. Common sense advice for any traveler, I know, but it’s always worth repeating.

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Dining: Flavio al Velavevodetto | Rome, Italy {Testaccio}

th_peruroma 113If there was one place in Rome that I saw recommended often in the “foodie underground,” it was definitely Flavio al Velavevodetto located in the up-and-coming offal- centric neighborhood of Testaccio. This neighborhood is home to some pretty great things such as Il Birrivendolo craft beer bottle shop, the Testaccio Market, and places like Da Bucatino and Da Felice which specialize in true Roman cuisine. I had read about this place a few times from Elizabeth and Eleonara– both ladies whom I trust when it comes to good, honest food, at agreeable prices.

Our experience at Flavio was lovely. It was a glorious meal which included some of the best fresh-pulled mozzarella and prosciutto of our entire trip and the richest carbonara ever. Was it my favorite carbonara dish? Probably not. But believe me, it was damn good. Eggy, cheesey, salty goodness loaded with pancetta. Comforting and filling, I couldn’t finish my plate. It was a stark contrast to the fresh buffla which was clean on the palate and the mild prosciutto di parma which was lean and earthy.  Prices were criminally low, house wine was decent, and the ambiance was cozy. The stacks of ancient clay from Monte Testaccio were prominently featured in the windows of the space providing an extra special treat for history buffs looking for a peak into yesteryear.

Italians took up a majority of the dining room with a packed lunch crowd which is always a good sign. As with every place I’ve written about in Europe so far, if you know you’ll be heading to Rome, be sure to book your table in advance. Italians take lunch seriously and this is a place you don’t want to miss.

Flavio al Velavevodetto is located at 97 Via de Monte Testaccio, Roma, Italia. 

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Travelogue: Embracing Calm in the Valle de Guadalupe | Baja, Mexico

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Eileen walked into the common room and with the most genuine smile on her face said “Do you guys want to see something completely magnificent?” As we stepped out barefoot onto the stone tiles of the villa, she pointed out in the distance to a gigantic new moon– the biggest we’d ever seen. It was silent, it was dark, and we were awe-struck. This was the Valle de Guadalupe.

While the Valle de Guadalupe wine country has been slowly picking up momentum in recent years, it’s charm remains completely in tact. It’s still quiet here. There is still a “middle of nowhere” feel. It hasn’t been Disneyfied like it’s northern Californian neighbor, Napa. The valley is host to dozens of up and coming (and established) wineries– vineyards tending to actual old vines and keeping their grounds bio-dynamic by farming a plethora of vegetables and other native plant-life. A Baja-med climate akin to Tuscany and a deep valley within minutes of the sea lending a terroir that is not unfamiliar to winemakers in California’s Santa Ynez.

Our recent stay at La Villa del Valle immersed us in this terrain. Verdant and bare simultaneously at the height of January’s winter. Beautiful greens and browns that felt like a mix between the Italian countryside and the Arizona desert. While the lawn and flowers were beautifully tended to– trees and herbs were allowed to become unruly; allowed to flourish and be lush. The clear blue skies were striking as a frigidly cold breeze slowly rocked the post that usually holds up the villas hammocks in the warmer months. January is probably the season’s least visited seasons, but that didn’t stop us from making the trek across the US border in search of delicious food, relaxation, and surprisingly impressive wines.

For those looking to really get some R&R, La Villa del Valle cannot come more highly recommended. Located right off the Hwy 3 on the historic Ruta del Vino, this 6-room villa has five-star amenities including luxurious common areas,a wine and botana reception in the evenings, and even a beautiful (heated) pool area. The surroundings are gorgeous– as characteristic as an artist would have portrayed the area decades ago. Old boats abandoned on the far reaches of the property help mark where you are when you’re navigating in the pitch black darkness over the dirt roads leading to the main house.  A pack of dogs scamper about the grounds greeting guests; eager to say hello to a new face.

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While the bedrooms are comfortable, a nap meant to recharge you for an hour could easily turn into an all-afternoon slumber. This is, however,  the sort of place where you want to enjoy outside your room–out in the common area where a library of (actually good) books are available at your fingertips, a spacious living room surrounded by windows complete with couches, a wood-burning fireplace, and an acoustic guitar; on the veranda of your room, or the many seating areas around the villa that become host to your sunset viewings.

I’m not always one for silence and leisure. I was raised on the go and most of my travel involves drowning myself in experiences, sights, sounds…But while there is a unique experience to be had here in the Guadalupe Valley, you’re also thrown into something very unexciting. A slower pace, less noise, a feeling of solitude. This is exactly the kind of unexciting atmosphere one needs from time to time, and after having spent some time with owners Phil and Eileen Gregory, I can’t blame them for leaving Los Angeles when they did. (Interestingly enough, the couple spent many years living just a few blocks from where I live right now– it was great to chat with them about what Franklin Village was and still is…)

I cannot wait to return.

Still not convinced? Check out my photo gallery and take note: the food and wine at Corazon de Tierra (located on the property) is worth visiting alone– we dined there four times in three days and never had the same meal twice, but I’ll dive into the restaurant in another post. The wines that owner Phil creates are expressive and worth a try, and the “little things” such as Eileen’s line of lavender toiletries (which uses the lavender grown on site), the impeccable 5-star service, and the complimentary fresh breakfasts at the restaurant make for the best getaway close to home.

 

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Dining: Just in time for Umbrian White Truffles at Spirito di Vino | Montefalco, Italy

My series of entries from my time in Umbria concludes with our last dinner in Montefalco at the award-winning Spirito di Vino. If I could go back in time to the day of our visit, I would change only two things:

-I wouldn’t have over-ordered.
-I would have made arrangements to stay in Montefalco instead of driving back late (in pitch black darkness) to Perugia.

Spirito diVino has got to be one of my most favorite dining destinations in Italy. Why? Because they’ve got a ridiculously solid wine list (boasting hyper-local and natural wines), and their simple farm-to-table cuisine is rustic yet luxurious. Aside from the copious amounts of Paolo Bea’s wine, it was one pasta dish that particularly blew me away. This, my friends, was the BEST pasta dish we had in Italy:

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Handmade pasta with a light truffle cream sauce, generously covered in fresh white truffle shavings. OMG.

Need I say more? Had the meal ended right then and there, I would have been happy as a clam. My error was in thinking that this needed to be a multi-course affair. Once my (still delicious) pork tenderloin came out with a melange of sweet peppers, I began to fade into the depths of too much food & too much wine sleepiness. My couple of bites of the boy’s eggplant dish was cheesy, comforting goodness which also didn’t help in aiding my looming exhaustion from the day’s wandering.

Luckily, dessert helped put the pep back into my spirit. A clever dessert of sorbets and gelato utilizing the shells & bodies of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that lend them their flavors was an almost meta dessert experience. Walnut ice cream made with the walnut meat and then shoved back into the shell, a sweet green bell pepper turned into sorbet and scooped back into it’s body…flavors I wouldn’t have dared to consider as a sweet end to a meal. And on top of that, a small tiramisu because I’m just a sucker for those it seems.

Overall, this intimate meal was a memorable one. And while the prices weren’t as economical as other places we visited on this trip, it surely didn’t break the bank and was worth every penny. Be sure to make advanced reservations, and be patient with the service. Our lovely hostess was also the only waitress of the evening, but with that wine list, who can really complain?
Spirito di Vino is located at Piazza Mustafa 2, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy, 06036. www.spiritodivino.net. 

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Filed under Comfort Food, Dinner, fruits and vegetables, Italian, Italy, local eateries, local food, organic, Pasta, Pork, seasonal foods, Travel, Travelogue, Vacation, wine

Travelogue: Assisi in Photos {Assisi, Umbria, Italy}

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Updates on here haven’t been as frequent as I have been wanting them to be. I guess this is what happens when we take on more work stuff and hobbies, right? In any case,here are a few photos from my visit to Assisi. We were driving around the Umbrian countryside and decided to make the pilgrimage to where St. Francis of Assisi is from. Don’t ask me what compelled me to go there– while I was raised Catholic, I’m not the least bit religious. Somehow, I was still drawn to this hill-top town and I am very glad that we took the couple of hours to explore. Note the photo of the specialty food shop in this slideshow. The people who run it are darling and really go in for the hard sell. It worked though. We left with two bottles of Umbrian wine, two jars of white truffle & artichoke paste, one jar of black truffle salsa, and some really terrific 12 year old balsamic vinegar. If you’ve got the time to add Assisi to your sight-seeing, it’s worth the trip. A lovely, quiet town (despite having a sort of religious theme-park-feeling parking structure and gift shop) with stunning views, beautiful churches, and killer sunsets.

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Travelogue: An Umbrian Detour to Lake Trasimeno

th_UmbriaWednesdayCanon 009We had every intention of waking up early and soaking in a little bit more of Florence before driving into the next part of our vacation in Umbria. But you know how it goes…you eat a heavy meal, get drunk off of too many glasses of red wine, grappa, and some sort of military spirit you’ve never even heard of…and then all of a sudden, your 7am wake up call became more like 10am and your plans of making it into Orvieto for lunch on your way to Assisi disappear out of thin air.

Not to be the sort that gets down on a shift in the plan, we leisurely ate our breakfast, took one more look at the river, and even did some light shopping by the Ponte Vecchio before hopping in the car to leave Tuscany. The game plan had turned into an “eat lunch wherever we see something good,” sort of thing and we decided that our ambitious Umbrian day-trip would have to do without one piece of the puzzle. As we drove on the autostrada blasting an Italian Top 40s cover of the international Korean hit “Gangnam Style,” we noticed a beautiful body of water in the distance.

It was Lake Trasimeno and we had entered Umbria. I had read about Lake Trasimeno while doing research for our trip, so I was familiar with the ancient town of Castiglione del Lago close by. As we hesitated and drove past it, we instead pulled off to get a view of the water and instead stumbled upon Passignano sul Trasimeno;  a dainty lakeside town that was quiet but had an assortment of restaurants and small hotels. The vibe here was casual– almost like a lazy beach town. And so we parked the car, surveyed our dining options, and popped into this cute little place called Ristorante Luciano.

I won’t lie. The reason why this place won over the others was that the building itself was just so endearing. The decor was vintage-looking and there was a charm about it that drew us in. Luckily, they were still seating late lunch (around 2pm) and were able to accommodate us. Making the most of this impromptu lake trip, we ordered a bottle of sparkling white wine and sat next to a big open window over-looking the water. Continue reading

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Travelogue: Firenze in Photos {Florence, Italy}

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Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was the birthplace of the Renaissance and its balance of old and new can attract any culture-hound. Whereas Venice captivated us with its magic, Florence won our hearts by hitting close to home. Among the stunning old churches and cobblestone streets, there was an air of urban familiarity that lingered; shiny new stores and chic designers in harmony alongside family-owned trattorie.

Staying in a grand old world (but renovated) hotel overlooking the Arno River, we were able to experience a touch of Florentine glamour. A short walk took us to Santa Croce, the Duomo, and the famous Piazza della Signora. A few minutes in one direction landed us back by the river and onto the Ponte Vecchio where we admired vintage jewelry and fine Italian gold. Since shopping for precious gems wasn’t much our taste, we made our way over to San Lorenzo where we bargained hard for Italian leather goods like boots and belts; even a pair of black rubber rain boots when the rain really started to come down; my feet soaking in my black ballet flats.

The historic core was incredibly easy to navigate on foot sans a map and filled with a sense of adventure. Wander around, be mindful of where you’ve been, and it’s impossible to get lost. Just don’t forget to stop every few feet for some gelato– in Florence, gelato is just another form of art. Transcribed from notes on the backside of an Italian take-out menu, October 2012. 

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Travelogue: A Day-Trip in Tuscany

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If there is one piece of advice that I can give you when touring Tuscany, it’s to rent a car (or at least a private driver to tote you from scenic town to scenic town). While it’s not my favorite wine producing region in Italy, Tuscany has a multitude of amazing things to offer the food & wine-centric traveler. A hub for centuries-old vineyards, olive oil producers, and some of the best food in the world, a day-trip through the Tuscan country-side makes for the best addition to your trips to Florence.

Using Florence as a home base, we recently rented a car to take us to our dinner reservations in Panzano. Since we weren’t looking to winery hop until reaching La Strada del Sagrantino in Umbria, we by-passed many beautiful wineries and made a bee-line to Greve in Chianti where we indulged in economical wine tasting at Le Cantine before heading to nearby Panzano for dinner.

Le Cantine, established in 1893, is a great alternative to those looking to get a taste of Tuscany without having to go through the process of drunkenly hopping from one wine producer to another. The process is simple. Buy a wine card that gets you a glass and mosey on over to one of their Enomatic tasting machines, individually priced and calibrated to provide you with a precise tasting pour. Harboring good relations with many of the region’s top producers, you won’t miss a beat here and will instead, have the benefit of finding the wine that best suits you while comfortably enjoying their beautiful tasting room. In addition to good wine at good prices, Le Cantine also offers light fare from Antica Macelleria Falorni, another premier butcher that has been serving the community since 1729 and is located less than a mile away. The meat board we got featured amazing salami and prosciutto of the highest quality and local bread.

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Dining: Ristorante del Fagioli | Florence, Italy

th_TuscanyTuesdayCanon 022We recently dined at Ristorante del Fagioli based on the recommendation of several Florentine blogger friends who praised their rustic Tuscan cuisine and great prices. There was a heavy down-pour on our first night in Florence, so after considering our options, we found it best to try this place which was only a couple of blocks away from our hotel overlooking the Arno. Modestly tucked between small local shops away from the main stretch of high-end boutiques and restaurants, del Fagioli is the type of place you go to when you’re in need of a warm atmosphere and comforting home-style food.

It’s one of those places that feels out of a movie; Chianti bottles hanging from the walls in their signature straw baskets, a dining room mixed with actual Italians harmoniously dining among curious travelers. A no-fuss handwritten menu featuring some of the region’s most popular dishes (yes, including bistecca alla Florentina) at a fraction of the cost of most other neighboring joints.

There was a charm about the place. It was like we’d been there before. Weary from a long day out and about in the rain, we mistakenly (perhaps fortunately) let our stomachs order instead of our brains. And while we both agreed that we ordered entirely too much food, everything was delicious and was expediently brought to our table without much lag in their uber-friendly service.

We started off with a crostini appetizer topped with none other than silky melt-in-your-mouth fatty lardo and rosemary; local bread grilled just enough to give the lardo a bit of warmth. We followed it up with two pasta dishes: rigatoni in a rich veal ragu for him and the most amazing and simple tortelli, freshly made and stuffed with ricotta and lemon in a bright tomato sauce. Every bite of my dish was perfect; the cheese’s richness cut with a nice balance of acidity. At this point in the meal and halfway through our bottle of wine, I was just about ready to roll over and go to bed. But then the entrees came. Involtini for him and a plate of Bollito Misto (mixed boiled meats) with a side of fagioli (white Tuscan beans, their namesake). As we tried to eat as much of these dishes as we could, we had over-estimated our hunger. His dish was dense, rich,and comforting; mine being a complete protein on protein fest. The meat was tender and savory; the beans, petite and plump– delicately flavored with local olive oil and a simple dusting of salt and pepper.

This is the meal you want after a long day. When it’s a little chilly and you want to feel warm from the inside out. If in Florence and looking for a good hearty meal at low prices, del Fagioli’s got what you need. Reservations are highly recommended. Ristorante del Fagioli, Corso Tintori 47R, Florence, Italy. 

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